POSTSCRIPT / January 10, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Citizens’ team, not COA, must audit PNCC books

MISUARI WILL WALK: We don’t know if it’s just the overcast sky, but whatever is bugging us, we have this creeping feeling again that at the end of the long day, Moro leader Nur Misuari will just go scot-free.

After all that drama of throwing him the book in a Sulu court, secretly picking him up from Kuala Lumpur and whisking him to a high-security Laguna camp, after spending millions prosecuting him for rebellion and other charges, we foresee the government eventually failing to prove its case against Misuari.

(It’s the same dark foreboding we have in the case of deposed President Erap Estrada, whose trial on plunder charges we expect to drag on till Lady Justice drops from exhaustion and Erap walks on a technicality.)

Pardon our unfair prejudgment of the case, and by implication also of our judicial system, but we think walang mangyayari diyan sa kaso ni Misuari. (…nothing will come out of it.)

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WHY NOT EXILE INSTEAD?: That’s one of the reasons why exile for Misuari is, to us, suddenly a tempting option. Kung wala ring mangyayari, we might as well just throw him out and keep him out while that possibility is still there.

Making him languish in jail for his crimes is ideal. But the big question is if our flawed system can pin him down. Wait till the smart lawyers and fixers, the bungling police investigators, not to mention the rescue commandoes and foreign emissaries, enter the scene.

This is one time when we want to be proved grievously wrong in our assumptions. A final conviction will slap us back into recognizing the fact that our judicial system still works.

Otherwise, as we’ve said, let’s just exile Misuari instead of insisting on a trial and exposing not his guilt but the shortcomings of our system.

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EXILE IS PUNISHMENT: We need not apologize in case we exile Misauri. Properly handled, exile will not amount to an escape per se for the accused, nor an act of clemency, nor an admission of the legal weakness of the state’s case.

We can sell exile in its original concept, which is as a painful punishment for someone who professes to love his people but is condemned to be separated from his home and native land.

As for the public funds entrusted to the erstwhile governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, there are many ways of retrieving whatever is still left and of perpetually placing him under the onus of having to cough up the missing funds.

(We wonder at this late date if there has been even just a feeble attempt to freeze assets of the Misuari family. We have not seen any report on this side action.)

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TRANSFER THE TRIAL: We’ve learned from years of listening to lawyers (we’re not a member of the bar) that the general rule is for the trial to be held in a court nearest to the site of the crime. That’s why the rebellion charges were filed in Sulu where Misuari and his followers reportedly took up arms against the state.

We welcome the reported plan of the justice department to ask the Supreme Court to allow the transfer of the trial from Sulu to Laguna where Misuari is detained in a police camp in Santa Rosa with his top adviser.

We hope the tribunal, led by highly respected Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., will focus not so much on the technicalities as on the wisdom of holding the trial in a place that is secure, convenient for all parties and more conducive to a fair and expeditious hearing.

We dare say that moving the trial to another sala meeting those criteria will meet universal approval. The high court is probably aware of this, but the problem may be in trotting out legal arguments to justify the transfer.

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CONTINUING CRIME: The attack by Misuari in Jolo was not a case of an isolated, spontaneous combustion. After he saw his impending repudiation in the ARMM polls, he must have thought of rebelling, mulling over the desperate plot while he was moving from place to place, probably consulting his men, sympathizers and advisers along the way.

The rebellion imputed to Misuari was actually in the nature of a continuing crime. There must have been a series of acts committed in various places at various times under varying circumstances.

In short, the rebellion was not an isolated and one-time act committed in Sulu. In fact, in pursuit of that rebellious outburst, Misuari staged another attack in Zamboanga City several kilometers away across the channel.

Misuari’s rebellion was not committed against the local government of Sulu, but against the entire establishment. It was a challenge to the state and everything it stood for.

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‘TWAS NOT JUST IN SULU: The uprising was so pervasive that if the rebels destroyed property or killed individuals in the process, these separate but necessary acts are considered subsumed into the general crime of rebellion.

In this far-reaching context, while Sulu was one of the staging points of one of several overt acts comprising rebellion, the continuing crime cannot be deemed to fall solely within the exclusive jurisdiction of a court in Sulu.

The rebellion charges against Misuari et al. could be tried in Metro Manila or, as the justice department reportedly wishes, in a sala nearest the detention center in Laguna where Misuari has been confined.

Now, if we may go back to our prior thesis, if our own fumbling would just result in Misuari’s acquittal after so much ado, kung wala ring mangyayari, let’s just think seriously about exiling him for life.

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DON’T REJOICE YET: That was commendable fast action by Malacañang in ordering the rollback of the toll rates in the North and the South expressways operated by the Philippine National Construction Corp.

The Toll Regulatory Board is supposed to be an independent body, but that did not stop President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from responding to the widespread protests against the average 50-percent increase in the rates.

This shows that, despite technical impediments, the President of the Republic can make things happen if she has the political will. There is really no excuse for a president not doing the right thing, especially when it’s popular.

But don’t rejoice yet. Wait till the runners do their usual tasks of explaining to the Palace why the rates must go up. Then we’ll know if GMA was guided by public interest or politics in stepping into the picture.

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SOLOMONIC APPROACH: Our fearless forecast is that the toll in the South Luzon Expressway will be allowed to go up, but that the roll back will stay in the North Luzon Expressway until the PNCC is able to fix the 90-kilometer badly maintained highway.

Why the double standard? Because there is a yawning difference between the condition of the two tollways. Compared to the hellish hazards of the North road, the South is pure heaven.

But the Palace should not think that such a Solomonic approach of splitting the problem is enough justification for raising the toll at the South expressway by 50 percent. That is still too high, if we factor in the basic fact that the rate is that high because of the graft that attended the project from inception to operation.

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NO AUDIT, NO HIKE: We road-users should not be made to reimburse the builders and the operators the graft money, estimated at 40 percent of the project cost, spent to win the contract and keep certain officials happy.

It is high time we taught investors and contractors that crime does not pay. If they want to give grease money to corner juicy contracts, they should know that they may not pass on this expense to their captive clientele.

An independent citizens’ commission should be formed to audit the books of the PNCC, the builders and the contractors to determine the correct figures and the overprice which is being passed on to road-users.

Until the independent audit is completed, there should be no toll increases. This is important.

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REVAMP B.O.T. LAW: Since the Senate is reportedly intending to look into the case, we strongly suggest that lawmakers go deeper to review and revamp the Build-Operate-Transfer law under which the tollways were built.

There are just so many curious accommodations given BOT awardees that they are virtually free to dictate rates and other operating conditions while enjoying government guarantees of sure mega-profits.

Look around and you’ll notice that all BOT projects are overpriced (because of graft) and not making money — but the BOT awardees are raking in mega-profits. That is the blood being sucked from the people under the aegis of officials sharing in the loot.

BOT projects include the light rail transit systems (like the Metrorail on EDSA), the reclamation projects at Manila Bay, and the many inferior and unnecessary power plants that mushroomed under the Ramos administration.

Now that we know, with the benefit of hindsight, that there’s something seriously wrong with the BOT law, do we just sit idly by?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 10, 2002)

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