POSTSCRIPT / May 20, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Poll victory can’t wash away criminal liability

WITH broadcaster Noli de Castro pulling away from the pack and nearing the 10-million-vote mark reminiscent of the phenomenal poll performance of Erap Estrada in 1998, will it be Kabayan Noli for President in 2010?

This is no flippant question. Noli de Castro riding the wave to the presidency as early as 2010 is a clear possibility – if he maintains or even improves on his amazing vote-getting potential.

A possible bid for the highest post in the land will depend largely on his performance during his six-year stint as a neophyte senator in the incoming Congress.

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BUT in our crazy world of politics, preparation for the post or performance in office are sometimes overshadowed by the favorable perception of the masses of a charismatic figure.

Some people will disagree, but we think former Presidents Magsaysay and Aquino were not prepared for the technical demands of the presidency.

But that did not prevent Magsaysay from becoming an extremely popular president and Aquino from being an effective transition from the dark night of martial rule to the restoration of democracy despite several attempts of political adventurers to forcibly grab power.

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WE dare say at the risk of displeasing his millions of fans that Noli is also not technically prepared for the Senate, whose main function is lawmaking.

But lack of preparation becomes almost irrelevant if the official is able to capture and continue to hold the imagination of the masses. The more important factors are popularity and perception.

Noli is a media creation, whether his fans are aware of it or not. But that point hardly matters as long as his followers believe in him. Now if only he could keep their adulation through his six-year term on to 2010…

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WHEN asked about the possibility of his making a stab for the presidency, Noli invariably says that he has no such ambition.

But he said the same thing when asked repeatedly before the drafting of senatorial tickets if he was going to run for the Senate. This simply means, to us, that the presidency is not a closed option for him.

Put another way, Noli’s running for president is within the realm of possibilities, especially with his exciting performance at the polls.

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MEANWHILE, it would be worth the time of the Lopez clan, who owns ABS-CBN that launched Noli’s political career, to consider getting involved in their ward’s possibly making it to the presidency.

Anyway, such is an accustomed role for the Lopezes who in the old days of their patriarch Don Eugenio were a king-maker. With their sprawling business empire at stake, it would not hurt if they had a president to boot.

Between Noli and Sen. Loren Legarda, another ABS-CBN talent with an eye on the presidency, the former is more manageable. More so if the Lopezes help Noli in his coming Senate job and play a key role in building him from the ground up.

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ON other senatorial candidates, particularly those facing criminal charges, it is absurd to conclude that they would be automatically absolved by the mere fact of their being elected to office.

If we accept this strange theory of political amnesty, we would see individuals with criminal cases opting to run for public office instead of defending themselves in court.

If we drop cases against senatorial candidates on the sole basis of their poll victory, we would be under legal compulsion to grant winners of other elective posts such as congressmen, governors and mayors the same or similar favorable treatment.

Imagine the wholesale exoneration.

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SOME quarters are pushing the idea that rebellion and other criminal charges filed against some senatorial candidates be automatically quashed the moment they are proclaimed winners.

If any of these prominent candidates have been arraigned, we cannot see how their election can automatically remove their case from the jurisdiction of the appropriate court.

The election, a political process, has nothing to do with the court and the judicial process.

Adopting this theory would result in a grave injustice. While senatorial candidates could shake off criminal charges merely by winning in the election, the other persons charged with them who are not running for office are not afforded equal protection.

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THERE is a related thinking, however, that elective officials running for reelection conceivably can have administrative – not criminal – charges against them dropped as a political consequence of their being reelected.

The theory is that the electorate was duly apprised of the administrative charges but that it still cast a vote of confidence and reaffirmed its mandate for the official. Reelection is deemed, under this theory, to have the effect of political amnesty.

But while administrative charges are deemed dropped, or directly forgiven by the people, criminal charges already being heard in court against the official are a different matter.

Note that we are talking of reelection (and of administrative charges). If reelection has a political cleansing effect, what happens to the co-accused of the officials who are not running for (re)election?

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FROM Sen. Franklin Drilon came this rejoinder to comments that he could be disqualified for appearing on TV and commenting on the conduct of the last election:

“Certain quarters have claimed that some senatorial candidates, including me, Jun Magsaysay, Noli de Castro and Kiko Pangilinan, violated the election law when we appeared on television on the morning of May 15. Let me stress that we were invited by the TV stations to exchange views on the conduct of the May 14 elections. We did not engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity.

“Let me cite the prohibition under Section 2 of Resolution No. 3636 (Rules and Regulations Implementing Republic Act No. 9006 otherwise known as the “Fair Election Act” for the May 14, 2001 National and Local Elections), which states:

“‘Sec. 2 Prohibited campaign. — It is unlawful for any person, or for any political party or association of person to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity, outside of the campaign period.

“‘Any election campaign or partisan political activity is prohibited on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, day before election day and on election day.’

“Section 1 of said resolution defines election campaign or partisan political activity as referring “to any act designed to promote the election or defeat of a particular candidate or candidates to a public office which may include any of the following:

“‘iii. making speeches, announcements or commentaries, or holding interviews for or against the election of any candidate for public office; xxx’

“It is important to note that not all post-election discussions in media are prohibited. To consider post-election discussions by the media a violation of our election laws is to put undue restraint on the freedom of every citizen to discuss in public his or her views on the election and other matters.

“Please note also that the prohibition applies to any person, including TV hosts, radio commentators and newspaper columnists, and not just candidates.

“One does not have to be a lawyer to see that mere appearance in a TV program the morning after election day to discuss the conduct of the polls is not at all engaging in an election campaign or partisan political activity, as defined by law.”

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WITHOUT meaning to pursue the point, we note, however, that we saw and heard a senatorial candidate (we won’t say yet who) telling the TV audience last Tuesday (May 15) that he was getting all those votes because of his integrity, etc.

His spiel sounded to us like a campaign line, a direct response to charges linking him to various scandals including covering up for drug lords. At the time he was making those political remarks, there was still voting in some Caloocan precincts.

We think that was electioneering on the very day voters were still lining up to cast their ballots. That he was invited to the TV show is irrelevant.

But of course we do not expect the Commission on Elections to go after candidates who had strayed into this gray area. The Comelec is already saddled with complicated problems without having to sally into this new minefield.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 20, 2001)

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