POSTSCRIPT / May 5, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Political summit aims to protect politicians?

THEY ARE ALL THE SAME?: Now we should be worried. When grizzled politicians, their familiar faces on the front pages, get together to plot something — as in a “national political summit” — our gut tells us that something worrisome is in the offing.

Trapos* (traditional politicians) meet in such fashion for only one reason, and that is to attempt consolidation and protect their common interests. Note that we’re talking of their interests, not the interests of the people. (*”Trapo” means “rag” in Pilipino.)

This is not to say that those who boycotted the political summit were different in that they had public interest in mind. Those cry-babies were also thinking of their own political interests when they stayed away.

Almost all politicians bear the same stripes, however hard they try to hide their streaks. Political parties and programs do not mean anything in these parts. There is no product differentiation among parties. Wherever we look, we see the same damaged generic politico disguised in various party brands that do not mean anything.

Who’s representing the people’s interests at the politicians’ summit?

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REAL AGENDA OUT: Just on the first day of the three-day convention, the cat was already out of the bag. It turned out that the gang wanted to amend the Constitution, shift to a parliamentary system and give tax-money subsidy to their party machines!

We all know why they want to change the Constitution. It’s to cover their tracks and give themselves a fresh start to do again exactly what they have been doing as government (mis)managers.

Changing the system is just an indirect excuse for a politician’s failure as leader and administrator. Changing the charter is in effect saying that their failure is traceable to the system, not to their incompetence and corruption.

Note also that shifting to another system requires transition and, therefore, term extensions (holdover) for incumbents and the redefinition of term limits for incoming officials – which is pure ecstasy to politicians now on their last term and their kin preparing to take their place.

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BLAMING THE SYSTEM: Changing or laundering the system inserts teflon layers that will distance and shield corrupt officials from the dark deeds of their past. It’s like selling and reselling stolen goods, dismantling the old company, burning the records and putting up a new business.

While they grow hoarse extolling the virtues of charter change, they say nothing about their having to amend or reform themselves. That’s because the fault — they would want us to believe — lies not in themselves but in the system.

It’s also like buying another car when the old one keeps stalling or meeting with accidents. The driver kicks the car, refusing to admit that he may be to blame. Maybe he does not even know how to drive properly or to maintain the vehicle for optimum operation. Changing the car won’t solve his problem.

Cha-cha? Excuse me while I vomit.

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WITH OR WITHOUT J.B.C.: Oh yes, we noted that another idea broached at the summit was the scrapping of the Judicial and Bar Council that screens and recommends appointees to the bench. Note that the judiciary is not represented in the summit.

The JBC is another illustration of what we mean when we say that it is not so much the system as the people operating within the system that spells success or failure.

The idea behind the creation of the JBC is laudable because it seeks to improve the quality of appointees to the bench and insulate the courts from politicians and other elements that prostitute the judicial process.

While in the past, members of the judiciary were directly chosen and appointed by the President, the screening and nomination had been transferred to the multi-sectoral JBC with the President’s choice limited to a short list submitted by the council.

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NO GUARANTEE: But even under the JBC system, we’ve seen how lawyers with shady (as in dark) or hazy (as in lackluster) backgrounds still managed to grab key posts in the judiciary by maneuvering their inclusion in the JBC list and making sipsip to the appointing power.

It’s not really the system but the people operating within the system that will give us salutary results. What guarantee do we have that junking the JBC will stop the appointment of criminally-inclined and mentally-challenged lawyers to the Supreme Court and lower courts?

What guarantee do we have that amending the charter without amending ourselves will solve our national problems?

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BANTAY KONTRATA APPEAL: Reminds us of a recent letter to the JBC of the Bantay Kontrata, a citizens’ graft monitoring team, regarding the Supreme Court ruling upholding the validity of the controversial $350-million garbage incineration contract of Jancom Environmental Corp. with the government. The letter says in part:

“We are writing with reference to the violation by the Supreme Court’s Third Division of Supreme Court Circular 12-94-A requiring the re-raffling of the Jancom case to other Divisions due to serious conflicts of interest on the part of Justice Antonio T. Carpio.

“Justice Carpio had served a Chief Presidential Counsel under whose auspices the Philippine government came to an arrangement with Jancom. Note that a Memorandum of Agreement was executed on Aug. 4, 1995, a year before the official opening of bids of Aug. 5, 1996, which granted Jancom the exclusive right to bid for the San Mateo Waste to Energy Project.

“Justice Carpio, by his own admittance also served as a legal counsel to Vivendi, Jancom’s foreign partner. Documents furnished signed by officials of Jancom and Vivendi show Vivendi to be the 80-percent owner of Jancom.

“The conflict of interest of Mr. Carpio is grave. As Circular 12-94-A requires, the Jancom case should have been re-raffled to another division. It was not enough that Mr. Justice Carpio inhibited himself from the case.

“The contract has shown its immortality despite a bevy of fatal flaws. Further, we would like to ask as concerned citizens and the potential victims of such a grave injustice: Can the court uphold the validity of a contract which has the following flaws, each of which is fatal in its own right?:

  1. “The contract violates the amended BOT Law — The Jancom contract was executed without the requisite NEDA-ICC approval.
  2. “The contract violates the Philippine Clean Air Law and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act that ban incineration as a process of disposing municipal solid waste.
  3. “The bid was rigged. A document from Dionisio de la Serna to President Fidel Ramos dated July 27, 1997, states, ‘We have arranged with the prequalified proponents to only allow the Jancom to bid for the San Mateo site.’ A Memorandum of Agreement executed on Aug. 4, 1995, or one year prior to the official opening of bids, signed by Dionisio de la Serna also stipulates that Jancom will be the sole bidder for said project.
  4. “The Pre-Bidding Award Committee unanimously declared a failed bidding when Jancom failed to post a bid bond by the opening of bids on Aug. 5, 1996.
  5. “The contract was signed by three government officials in December 1997 who were authorized only to (a) recommend to the President, (b) oversee the implementation, and (c) facilitate the resolution of issues and concern.
  6. “The object of the contract is no longer available. The San Mateo site was declared closed by no less than the Supreme Court despite pleadings from MMDA to reopen this for use.

“x x x Common sense alone will draw the conclusion that the 3rd Division relied on legal technicalities to the disadvantage of the government and the Filipino people.

“We ask who will protect the citizenry when a Division of the Highest Court of the land violates it own rules and bends the law? We hope the members of the Judicial and Bar Council are able to move to correct the error and the injustice meted by the Supreme Court’s 3rd Division.

“We pray that soon our judicial system is finally rid of corrupt practices. We hope that court decisions really uphold the law rather than make justifications for circumvention of our laws by the unscrupulous.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 5, 2002)

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