POSTSCRIPT / August 5, 2003 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Oakwood revalidated Arroyo’s presidency

WRONG TIMING: The arrest yesterday of Tribune publisher Ninez Cacho Olivarez on several counts of criminal libel would have been funny, were it not for the atrocious timing.

Getting sued for libel and arrested is among the hazards of the trade. Ninez, now a battle-scarred member of the oldest profession (i.e. journalism), knows this.

Once the prosecutor files the information in court, it is pro-forma for the judge to issue a warrant. The police or some agent of the law soon moves to arrest the accused.

A newspaperman worth his salt knows how to avoid arrest. If he still gets collared, it is either he does not have the money to post bail or his lawyer has been sleeping on the job.

Since Ninez has the money and since her lawyer Rufus Rodriguez is the alert type, we are tempted to look for other explanations for her failure to prevent the arrest.

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PLAYING MARTYR: When a newspaperman wants a little drama in his life, he plays the martyr and willingly goes to jail for a few hours, at least long enough for the photographers and reporters to document that rare moment.

(But with the scary state of our prisons, one makes sure he does not stay behind bars one second longer than necessary to achieve the pa-martyr effect.)

No, we’re not saying that Ninez deliberately allowed herself to be arrested. Actually, we don’t know what she had in mind. Nor do we have an inside track on what the administration plans to do with/about this pesky fly of a journalist.

What we know is that her arrest was a case of extremely bad timing for the administration. With Ninez persistent in her writing and publishing of items critical of the Arroyo administration, her arrest — even if pro-forma — struck some people as harassment.

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NANI OUT OF SYNC: Talking of bad timing, the disclosure by Batangas politician Hernando Perez that President Arroyo had confided to him that she would run in the 2004 presidential election came at the wrong time.

The President has refrained lately from talking politics to be able to focus on defending the state against a civilian-military cabal to grab state powers by force. Any hint of partisan politics coloring her moves would be fatal.

If Perez cannot help Malacanang discipline rebellious soldiers and outmaneuver coup plotters, the least he could do is refrain from making statements that could distort public perception of the President’s handling of the state of rebellion.

It is bad taste for anybody wanting to look well-connected to divulge a private conversation with the President.

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GAG THE PRESIDENT?: We cannot see what is wrong with the President’s saying that there is a state of rebellion. If there is really such a situation, and there is, what’s wrong with her saying so?

Why gag the President? In fact, it is the duty of the President to keep us informed. When there is a threat as serious as a rebellion, we expect her to tell us right away and move to quell it.

The Supreme Court cannot review the factual basis of the President’s assessment of the state of rebellion. She is in possession of information not available to anybody else, including the magistrates of the highest court of the land.

While the justices are supposed to be gifted with discernment and probity, they are not mind-readers who can trace and evaluate the value-judgment process ongoing in the President’s mind.

On the legal side, there is no law forbidding the President from speaking her mind or declaring the existence of a state of rebellion when, in her judgment, there is such a situation.

Everything considered, the Supreme Court has no choice but to throw out the motion asking the tribunal to strike down as illegal the President’s declaration of a state of rebellion.

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REVALIDATION: On the President’s handling of the Oakwood siege that marked the failed coup attempt, many people we’ve asked said she came out of the episode loaded with plus points.

Her swift and firm response to the threat to the state has revalidated her presidency. She emerged from the confrontation looking more presidential than ever. No wonder, even foreign governments lost no time expressing praise and support.

She set the tone of her reinvigorated presidency vis-à-vis the rebellion when she went on TV that fateful Sunday and addressed the rebel soldiers with a firm, direct command: “This is your commander-in-chief…” and proceeded to order them to stop their foolishness and pack up by 5 p.m.

The best and the worse in people show in moments of crises. Ironically, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may want to thank the Magdalo rebel contingent for providing her that moment.

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EXPECTANT VICTIMS: Two human rights advocates have expressed concern that torture victims expecting compensation from the $658 million tagged as secret Marcos assets may never be able to collect from it, because of a flawed judicial process.

The money, held in escrow by the Philippine National Bank, is expected to be turned over to the government once the Supreme Court decision declaring it as ill-gotten wealth becomes final and executory.

Lawyer Rene Saguisag explained that the recent SC ruling — even if it becomes executory — does not mean that the money would automatically be turned over to the government and the human rights victims be then compensated from it.

He is co-counsel of Robert Swift, Sherry Broder, Rod Domingo and Ruben Fruto in the human rights class suit filed in Hawaii and in the case of the estate of Archimedes Trajano against Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos. He said that while his clients would benefit from the SC decision, he is disgusted at the manner the decision was arrived at.

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CONDITIONS SET: Saguisag cited conditions imposed by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court that, among other things, included following provisions of the Geneva Conventions on International Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations as well as a requirement of a fair, just and democratic process attending the court judgment.

Speaking before a recent symposium of law students at the Malcolm Hall in UP Diliman, he said: “I seriously doubt that the SC ruling would be able to meet the conditions since it is viewed by many in legal circles that the decision was flawed in the sense that due process was ignored.”

Lawyer Salvador Panelo, speaking in the same symposium, echoed Saguisag’s sentiments and called for drastic reforms in the judiciary. He proposed that nominees to the judiciary should undergo qualifying oral and written examinations before they are considered.

“The appointing power of the President should only be ministerial to avoid any suspicion of bias,” he added.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 5, 2003)

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