POSTSCRIPT / December 3, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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If innocent, Nani should press account’s opening

PEREZ SIGNED PACT: Justice Secretary (on leave) Hernando Perez signed for the Philippines on Feb. 23, 2001, an agreement with the Hong Kong regional government concerning mutual legal assistance (MLA) in criminal matters.

The assistance assured under the agreement includes “providing information, documents and records” in, among other things, “a criminal matter relating to graft and corruption, unlawfully acquired or acquiring property, bribery, frauds against the public treasury, or misappropriation or fraudulent conversion of public funds or property.”

We cite this footnote in the running feud between Perez and Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez, because if the former wants to disprove the congressman’s claim that the secretary extorted $2 million and had it wired to a Hong Kong bank, Perez and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo should rush ratification of the agreement and use it to open the secrets of that bank account.

Like the second sealed Equitable Bank envelope containing documents in the impeachment trial of then President Erap Estrada, the account in the Coutts Bank in Hong Kong holds the answers to the many questions raised by the accusation of Jimenez.

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WHY IS NANI AFRAID?: In short, if Perez is innocent as he claimed, he should be the first to demand that the Hong Kong account, reportedly opened by his banker-friend Ernest Escaler, be thrown wide open.

And since President Arroyo apparently believes that her beleaguered justice secretary is innocent, she should press the enforcement of the MLA to be able to expedite the clearing of Perez before the end of his one-month leave.

But in a meeting yesterday with foreign correspondents at a Makati hotel, Jimenez asked if Perez was really on leave.

How come, he asked, Perez attended as usual the flag ceremony yesterday at the justice department and even issued a legal opinion or comment the other day on the controversial contract of the Philippine International Air Terminals Corp. (Piatco) for building and operating Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Although he said that the President was not a beneficiary of the alleged extortion, Jimenez accused her of “lawyering” for Perez.

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M.J. MUST PROVE IT: On the other hand, since Jimenez is the accuser, he should show proof of his accusations. It is not right that after he hurls the charges he leaves it to others to prove them.

Jimenez explained yesterday that the documents in his possession have to be complemented by related data that would be secured once the bank account is opened through the agreement with Hong Kong.

We understand from his explanation that the documents in his possession merely show that his $2 million was actually sent and received by the account in Coutts Bank that was allegedly intended to be the conduit for the money to reach Perez.

Is the $2 million, if it was really sent, still intact? What happened to it? Was any part of it remitted to an account of Perez or somebody fronting for him? These are some of the questions that the opening of the account may answer.

There should be no coverup. Like the second Equitable Bank envelope, that account must be opened.

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TO RATIFY OR NOT: The legal assistance agreement with Hong Kong cannot be invoked yet. It will take effect 30 days after both parties serve notice that they have complied with their respective processes for ratification.

Ratification could be problematic. Under the Constitution, treaties have to be ratified by the Senate, but some parties may just raise the question of whether the MLA is a treaty or an executive agreement or something else.

Some authorities opine that when a pact is classified only as an executive agreement and not a full-blown treaty, there is no need for Senate ratification. Other authorities say, however, that there is no substantial difference between a treaty and an executive agreement and that both require Senate action.

Since treaties are normally signed between or among sovereign nations, the MLA may not be considered a treaty since Hong Kong, which is just an administrative region of China, is not a sovereign nation.

Enforcement of the MLA could be expedited if the Philippine government regards it as an executive agreement not requiring Senate ratification. Debate on this point alone could take months among our garrulous officials.

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MERALCO PLOT STILL ON: In a parallel question, many observers are also asking if it is true that Malacanang has aborted its crudely hidden plan to grab control of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) from the Lopez clan.

The question about the Palace’s true intention is fanned by reports that some individuals with “right connect” have been telling friends that they were being tapped for key positions in the power utility firm.

Among those claiming to be the incoming Meralco president is a brother of a key member of the vaunted finance team of the President who had a hand in plotting the takeover plan.

Another official claiming the inside track to the same top post is a former official of the National Power Corp. under President Fidel Ramos who almost ran Napocor to the ground.

With the jockeying still going on, it is presumed that the takeover plan has not been abandoned but only shelved at the moment.

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PICKING ON POOR R.P.: The advisory issued recently by Canada for its citizens not to travel to the Philippines which it said was unsafe prompted a pointed reaction from an official of the foreign office who asked not to be identified for obvious reasons. He said:

“Let’s grant for a moment that what was alleged here are all true — which is probably the case in the mind of the casual observer in Ottawa 10,000 miles away anyway.

“Bombs? The Canadians have issued this advisory against a developing country like the Philippines but not against Northern Ireland or the Basque areas of Spain.

“Al Qaeda cells? Mohamed Atta and cohorts did much of their planning in Hamburg and Brussels. And who has given shelter to someone like Jose Ma. Sison? But, a travel advisory against Germany or Belgium or The Netherlands? Wala!

“Anyway, it’s useless arguing against those who are convinced of their own righteousness.

“But, let me say that, everyday over here, I get up, go to work, go home, go to sleep, see an occasional movie, go to the mall if and when my schedule allows… etc. In other words, I carry on like I always used to since the 1960’s.

“So what is the sad truth here? It’s that while e.g. Australia couldn’t bring itself to close its embassy in Indonesia even after the Bali bombing, they did so in Manila.

“But, guess what: if I were a terrorist, those advisories would give me immense satisfaction. I’d have already won!”

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BREACH OF PROTOCOL: In a related comment, former Ambassador Rodolfo Arizala pointed out what he said were violations of accepted practice involving embassies.

He was reacting to reports that the Australian and the Canadian embassies had informed the intelligence service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines of terrorist threats they had received, but that the ISAFP did nothing. They cited this security problem as the reason for their closure.

Arizala said that embassies are not supposed to deal directly with just any agency of the host government but only with the Department of Foreign Affairs. They should not have gone directly to the ISAFP over the head of the foreign office.

Many times in the past, the same bypassing of the foreign office had occurred in the case of some foreign ambassadors going directly to the President in Malacanang. That is a breach of protocol. Can you imagine the Philippine ambassador in Washington, DC, going straight to the White House without going through the Department of State?

Another unfortunate lapse in the observance of international conventions is the apparent failure, if true, of the government to provide adequate protection to the diplomatic establishments of foreign governments. The host government is duty-bound to protect diplomatic personnel and establishments.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 3, 2002)

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