POSTSCRIPT / February 19, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why not a congressional move for a speedy trial?

ESCAPE VS SPEEDY TRIAL: As they have decided to meddle in the judiciary anyway, instead of passing a resolution setting the stage for the escape of former President Erap Estrada, our honorable senators and congressmen should pass a strongly worded resolution asking the Sandiganbayan to speed up his trial for plunder and other charges.

In exposing their lingering sympathy for a former benefactor, our senators and congressmen must have been emboldened by their shared belief that he is innocent of the charges.

To gain justice for him, they should move heaven and earth — even breach the doctrine of separation of powers — to give him a speedy trial on his way to acquittal and a post-trial knee surgery anywhere in the world.

The accused is guaranteed his right to a speedy trial. The idea is that in a fair hearing, the faster the trial the faster the accused will gain justice and acquittal.

But why are our senators and congressmen conniving instead with Erap’s million-dollar lawyers to delay, or even abort, the trial by opening the coop and giving Erap a chance to flee?

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FIRST ATTEMPT FAILED: Our honorable lawmakers cite humanitarian reasons in their resolution. Isn’t it more humane to speed up the trial, acquit the accused without further delay, and thereby give him all the time to seek medical treatment anywhere?

The same humanitarian reasons were trotted out when he was earlier complaining of dimming eyesight. Erap pleaded with the court to allow him to go abroad for cataract treatment, saying at one point that he would go blind if he were not allowed to go.

The Sandiganbayan replied with a firm No. Erap went to a local clinic as an outpatient. He spent a few minutes for the laser procedure, rested a little longer, then was driven back to his detention suite at the Veterans hospital. The same routine was repeated days later for the other eye. Both treatments were successful.

We are being regaled all over again to the same zarzuela of a patient pleading, this time, for his aching knees. And we have for supporting cast the honorable senators and congressmen pressuring the court in unseemly manner to let Erap go.

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KNEECAP SURGERY IS ROUTINE: The Sandiganbayan and the rest of the public must be told the plain truth that the knee surgery that Erap seeks can be done right here, in one of several hospitals within three miles of where the patient is.

Erap’s case is one of severe osteoarthritis of both knees. The definitive treatment for that is a knee replacement.

We have excellent ortho surgeons in this country — some of them at the St. Luke’s Medical Center and the Philippine Orthopedic Center — who can easily do the job.

Our ortho surgeons do this type of procedure on a regular basis and have a good batting average regarding postoperative clinical outcome. It has become routine to some of them.

The bone doctors we have consulted say that this surgery, though major, is not considered exceptional and can be done within two hours per knee. In a few weeks of post-operative care, Erap could be back to his carousing at his Veterans presidential quarters.

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ENDLESS TREATMENT LOOMS: If Erap were allowed to fly to the US, ostensibly for medical treatment, what would prevent his buying one medical certificate after another to keep himself endlessly seeking medical attention in the modern hospitals of America?

Even while here, we have seen how he has exhausted just the legal profession to throw one obstacle after another to prevent his being tried. What more when the medical profession is brought into the slow-motion court drama?

In the US, every little complaint is subjected to endless medical tests that invariably bring out all sorts of pains and discomfort that, upon request of a patient, will have to be rechecked and treated and so forth and so on.

The parade of so-called medical attention and treatment will never end. Send Erap to the States and, considering his creative lawyers and the billions they have squirreled away, we will never see the conclusion of his Sandigan trial.

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NOT PLAYING ALONG: Senate President Franklin Drilon has explained his “strong reservations” over the resolution to allow Erap to go to the US for treatment. He said the Sandiganbayan should decide Erap’s petition on its own merits without any interference from any branch of government.

He said the resolution puts undue pressure on the Sandiganbayan and exposes the Senate to a possible charge of contempt of court. It also violates the principle of separation of powers and sets a bad precedent.

He added: “If the court approves the petition of Mr. Estrada, it would be accused of succumbing to outside pressure. If the court disapproves the petition, it puts the Senate in an embarrassing light.”

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ABOLISH SENATE NA LANG: There is no serious move at the moment to amend the Constitution, but when the time to do this in earnest comes, we should work for the abolition of the Senate and be content with one fumbling congressional chamber instead of two.

The two houses of Congress are doing substantially the same thing at double the cost to taxpayers. The quality of the legislative output is not doubled commensurate to the double hot air being emitted and the double millions being spent by both chambers operating in tandem.

The setup of having both a Senate and a House of Representatives was borrowed bodily from the US. But their situation was different (from ours) when they wrote their Constitution. They had to balance the conflicts between wider federal concerns and the interests of state and local power blocs.

It is not the case with the Philippines, which is a small country that can ill afford to ape the mammoth American legislative machine. And certainly not with the bicameral legislature that we have.

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WHO SHOULD BE OUT?: Many of the members of the present Senate are no better than congressmen, sometimes even worse. In fact, there are many congressmen, young ones, who are more qualified than some of those who had strayed into the Senate.

We can name a few senators who are a disgrace and an embarrassment to the chamber. But we would pass on that task to our readers who we invite to pick senators who they think should not be there but in the House of Representatives or elsewhere.

If you email your comment, kindly type SENATE on the subject line for easier sorting from the rest. Please indicate your age, sex and location.

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HOLTHE REAPING RAVES: California-based columnist Ben Simpao tells us that the fictional book “When the Elephants Dance” by Tess Uriza Holthe, a FilAm writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is getting good reviews on both sides of the continent.

Holthe, an accountant, was interviewed days ago by Bryan Gumble on the CBS Channel 5 “Early Morning” telecast US-wide, according to Ben. He says the San Francisco Chronicle recently devoted a half-page colored feature to her.

Ben reports: “Next, I have to go to a bookstore in Oakland, Mama’s Boar, where as I understand Tess used to hang out and initiated her manuscripts. She’s from Marin County and that’s a long ride for her over the Richmond Bridge. I wonder why.”

He adds that he is buying a few copies for giving away to Postscript readers selected at random. We think that’s rather complicated.

National Book Store used to have copies selling at P1,025, but all copies, we heard, have been sold. PowerBooks at Makati and SM Megamall still have copies. At Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, the 368-page hardbound book retails at $17.46.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 19, 2002)

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