POSTSCRIPT / March 12, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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How to force Erap to speed up his trial

DENY HIM LUXURY JAIL: The faster Erap Estrada is tried and his case disposed of either way, the faster he can recede into history, the better for this badly battered nation. The better for him, too.

But like a pesky fly, Erap simply refuses to go. Sensing that conviction is likely, Erap and his lawyers have resorted to dilatory tactics. He is in fact trying to move his case from the courtroom to the street where he presumably thinks he has a better fighting chance.

So, how do we speed up his court trial and his passage to history?

Reader Ronnie C. Tesoro of easycall.com has a suggestion that might work. He says: “If I were the Sandiganbayan, I would order the transfer of Erap et al. to the Quezon City jail. On his own initiative, he would then move for a speedy trial.”

He adds: “In the first place, he should not be given special accommodation considering the seriousness of the charges against him and his son Jinggoy. Plunder charges are of the highest degree punishable by lethal injection.”

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PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT: We agree. From Day One, this nation — the judiciary in particular — was shunted to the wrong track by the cries of the Erap fans that here is a former president clothed with the dignity of the office who should be accorded the utmost respect, comfort and preferential treatment.

That was where we went wrong. In one blinded moment, we forgot about equality before the law. We fell for the ruse that the former president deserved more equality than the rest of us.

We loathe comparing ourselves with others, but look at how they prosecute former chief executives in more enlightened countries. The accused are handcuffed upon arrest, made to wear regulation prison garb, and made to spend time in cells similar to those of other inmates facing similar charges in the same prison.

During the trial, the judge remains in full control. Smart-aleck lawyers are put in their proper places, made to follow the rules and conduct themselves with respectful decorum.

Whatever his station in life or his former position in government, the accused as well as his lawyers do not insult the judge or speak in contemptuous language.

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JUDICIARY HELD HOSTAGE: In this benighted country, we’re treated to the spectacle of an accused, his mustache bristling, hurling insults and contempt at the court. And the justices tremble in their judicial robes. Ano ba yan?

If the Sandiganbayan — and, by extension, the entire judicial system — is in this hostage situation, it’s the judiciary’s own fault. The justices should look at themselves in the mirror.

The justices give the impression they do not have the moral ascendancy, or the balls (if we may use the apt term to express our free thought), to really take charge. They hesitate to make definitive rulings or tell everybody in clear forceful language to cut dilatory antics and behave while within the court’s jurisdiction.

If the honorable judges and justices in this country cannot perform this basic and crucial duty, then it is time for us to pack up and join the crowd lining up for immigrant visas to more orderly societies abroad.

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AGGRAVATING ELEMENT: Erap’s fans whine about how their beloved “presidenti”  is supposedly being maltreated in complete disregard of the high office he once occupied.

That’s precisely the point. Erap’s having been president should not be a reason for giving him special treatment.

He himself brought dishonor to the exalted office, if the preponderant evidence laid bare before the nation is to be believed, and if his own televised admission is to be given credence.

The important point we must remember is that instead of lightening his responsibility, his having been president should make it even heavier. Imagine, he was the president, he was the father of this nation, we entrusted our fate to him — and he did all that!

We repeat (because it seems that many people miss this crucial point) that Erap’s having been president is an aggravating, instead of an extenuating or mitigating, circumstance.

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TEMPERED WITH MERCY: We grant that we can temper justice with mercy. In this Christian culture, why not?

Having made that confession (of signing bank documents as Jose Velarde) in one unguarded moment before an attractive TV lady interviewer, Erap may find his final liberation by following through and telling the court the whole truth, where he did right and where he did wrong.

Having unburdened himself and placed himself at the mercy of the court, we’re sure the justices would be able to work out an arrangement where Erap would make amends for his errors while earning points for his rehabilitation.

Like many of us, Erap deserves some rest. It has not been easy for him and his loved ones. This season of Lent may be a good time for him to think about how to make it easier for him to move on with a lighter burden.

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THE L.T.O. BACKYARD: I rushed to the Land Transportation Office last week upon discovering that the driver’s license I’ve been carrying had expired! (Since it was good for three years, I hardly looked at it.) Listen to our travails so you’ll know what to expect when it’s your turn.

Leave your car home since parking at the crowded LTO main compound on East Ave. in Quezon City is like looking for a slot at the cemetery on All Saints Day. The milling crowds and the characters offering to help (don’t call them fixers) are still around.

At the gate, the guard asked me if I needed a drug test. I said Yes, and he motioned to somebody who said he was with a testing center outside. Why don’t we just take the test inside the LTO compound? He said the lines were longer inside.

I went with this guy to some decrepit apartment-cum-clinic across the street through an alley choked with vendors selling chichiria, ballpens, candies and the like.

A girl at the door asked me to fill up a form and noted at the bottom who referred me to them (presumably for the usual commission). Handing me a small plastic bottle, she led me to the toilet to pee into it. She stood at the open door and watched.

She took the sample to a “laboratory” upstairs, and came back after a few minutes with (1) a form certifying that I was negative of traces of prohibited drugs and (2) a receipt for P300. That was fast service, all right!

* * *

QUICKIE MEDICAL EXAM: Oh, there’s something else, she said. I must also go upstairs for a medical examination. There, another receptionist wrote my name, height and weight on a small form, then motioned me to a man who was supposed to be a doctor. He asked me to read an eye chart.

The “doctor” noted my vision on the form and told me the happy news that I had just passed the medical examination with flying colors! In my excitement I forgot to get the receipt for the P50 fee for this other “medical examination.”

I tell you, this is the kind of small business that keeps this ragged nation going.

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LICENSING WHILE-U-WAIT: Aside from the drugs test, the main difference now is that while we spend more time and money for processing, we go home with our new computer-generated license after waiting for only one to two hours. It used to be three to four months. Also, we now have to pay P50-plus for LTO’s computer system.

But it was still garbage in-garbage out in the LTO computers. Despite the clear entries on my form, the “Jr.” in my name was omitted (making it different from my passport and bank names), and my 175 cm. height was shortened to 156 cm (that’s only 5’-2”, or slightly taller than Senor Rey Pacheco of dzBB). But I didn’t mind their lopping off some 10 pounds from my true weight.

Look at this: Under restrictions, it says No. 2 — meaning I may drive only vehicles weighing not more than 4500 kgs. And, worse, I’m not allowed to drive my or any automatic-shift car. Maybe LTO boss General Lastimoso wants me to hire a driver and boost the Arroyo administration’s employment record. (Check your license if it carries the same restriction.)

When I complained about the wrong entries, the supervisor said I could apply for a corrected license, pay an additional fee and wait for about five months. Five months? I said never mind, thank you.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 12, 2002)

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