POSTSCRIPT / June 9, 2002 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Our heroic soldiers need unquestioning support

WAR IS WAR: Those things happen. The law of averages says that people are likely to get killed in a protracted military operation, the likelihood depending on a number of factors beyond the control of the combatants.

The scene of that encounter in Zamboanga del Norte the other day between Abu Sayyaf terrorists and government troops is not like a tennis court where one can clearly see the opposing player in regulation playwear and a racket in hand.

This is not to belittle the loss of lives in that clash. Every human life, even that of one considered an enemy of the state, is as important as the next. What we’re saying is that war is war, and people get killed in the unfortunate clash of forces.

At this point, it is important that we show appreciation for the heroic efforts of our weary soldiers fighting a wily enemy operating in its home ground and using civilian captives as shields. We should hail the bravery and patriotism of our soldiers, especially those who had been killed or wounded in action.

Putting this sad chapter behind us, Gen. Roy A. Cimatu, AFP chief of staff, said, “We’re on our way to dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism exemplified by the Abu Sayyaf. The Burnhams and Miss Yap were not the only ones hostaged by this group — the entire nation was hostaged as well.”

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NO MORE HUMAN SHIELDS: What we should do in grand fashion is renew our national resolve to crush the Abu Sayyaf and other groups in the South that are challenging our Republic and mocking our peaceful aspirations.

With the last hostages out of the way, the government can now unleash the full force of the military without having to tiptoe around for fear of hurting civilian shields of the terrorists.

There is no more reason for a military offensive failing to crush (the term actually used by the commander-in-chief, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) the Abu Sayyaf which, if military intelligence is to be believed, is just a force of not more than 200.

Don’t let the number fool you, however, because various rebel groups in Muslim Mindanao look and act the same. For instance, one cannot distinguish between members of the Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.

Are we hinting that the Arroyo administration should rethink its naïve attitude toward the MILF and the MNLF? Yes, we are.

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IS LACSON LYING?: With the US Federal Bureau of Investigation having reported that Sen. Panfilo Lacson has several dollar bank accounts in the United States, one of which has/had $200,000, what is the prosecution arm of the government doing?

We remember Lacson saying in a privilege speech, a story of which appeared in the media, that he did not have a bank deposit in the US. He added that if anybody found anything, he could help himself to it.

Either the FBI is passing on wrong information or Lacson is lying. This should not be too difficult to sort out, because it is a matter of evidence. Even if the dollars had been withdrawn, there would still be evidence of the movement.

It is also easy to determine the salary and other legitimate income of Lacson prior to his becoming senator and comparing these to his current assets and liabilities.

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WHO’S AFRAID OF PING?: It is not a crime, per se, for a government official to have a dollar deposit abroad. Like it’s not a crime to be rich.

But if the amount is manifestly out of proportion to the official’s legitimate income and his properties legally acquired, the money is presumed by law to have been illegally acquired and subject to forfeiture — with the official himself open to criminal prosecution and administrative sanctions.

The justice department should not wait for the 2004 election fever to set in before acting, otherwise the case will gain political color. The earlier they move, the better for everybody, including the government and Lacson himself.

The problem, of course, is if everybody is afraid of the grim-faced Lacson.

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MORE SENATE FOOTNOTES: In the same way that long passages of our 1935 Constitution were lifted bodily from the US Constitution, we have lazily adopted the American usage referring to the US Senate as the “Upper House.” Even the media, which should know better, is guilty of this.

We tried last time to rationalize the wayward term by suggesting that “Upper House” may have taken off from the fact that the Senate in the old Congress building in Intramuros was located on a floor above the House of Representatives.

We added that the Senate’s being the so-called “Upper House” does not imply its having moral or intellectual ascendancy or superiority — particularly with its present membership — over the House.

To trace the American usage, we asked the historian of the US Senate why that chamber is called Upper House. This response came from Jane Armstrong of the Senate Historical Office:

“The Senate is referred to as the Upper Chamber or the Upper House because of its association to the House of Lords in the British Parliament. Parliament consists of the House of Commons (the Lower House) and the House of Lords (the Upper House). The House of Lords is based on heredity of title, while the House of Commons consists of members elected into office.

“When the US Constitution’s founders created the House and the Senate they loosely compared the two chambers to the two houses of Parliament. While there are distinct differences between the Senate and the House of Lords, it did assume the British moniker, Upper House.

“The term, ‘Upper House,’ should not be considered a judgment of the superiority of either house of Congress.”

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WHAT TO DO WITH THEM: The Senate power imbroglio was the hottest topic in our mailbox until the news broke out on the death of two hostages of the Abu Sayyaf. Not one of the email on the subject was kind to the senators, especially the opposition members who started it all.

When we mentioned last time that the ruckus began when “one restless (senator) who still has to decide what he is again changed his political cape and seduced the more ambitious members of the minority,” reader Fernando Reyes using a Microsoft address commented: “It wasn’t a ‘political cape’ that was changed, Sir. It was a dirty, old, smelly ‘skirt.’ ”

“At 83, having watched the passing political scene for well nigh over 60 years,” he added, “I am almost tempted to do to the politicians what Shakespeare (1564-1616) wanted to do to lawyers. Don’t you, sometimes?”

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NO PROBES ALLOWED: Sen. John Osmena would not find it easy to compel former President Fidel V. Ramos to appear before his committee to answer questions on his (FVR’s) handling of the power crisis of the 1990s and soaring electricity rates.

Congress has adjourned sine die. The next regular session will open on the fourth Monday of July. In the interregnum between the sine die adjournment and the July 22 opening of the next regular session, legislative committees cannot conduct public hearings such as that one that Osmena wants FVR to attend.

We’re sure FVR would not want to be a party to a questionable Senate investigation. If simply “invited,” he can decline the invitation. If subpoenaed, he can ignore the summons.

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RESPECT FOR WITNESSES: It’s not commonly known, but the Constitution itself has something to say about how the honorable members of Congress should treat individuals appearing in or affected by their inquiries.

Section 21 of Article VI (The Legislative Department) says: “The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules or procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.” (underlining ours)

Judging from the way some senators and congressmen harass, insult or browbeat witnesses and experts invited to help educate them, we suspect that many of our lawmakers have not heard of this constitutional injunction to respect rights of individuals appearing before them.

Will somebody please tell them that Senate or House rules or procedures cannot be superior to the Constitution?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 9, 2002)

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