POSTSCRIPT / January 14, 2003 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Cabinet men must also renounce election plans

SLOW DRAG ON ERAP: What’s wrong with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wanting to see the plunder case of her predecessor Erap Estrada decided by the Sandiganbayan before she steps down in June 2004?

Isn’t it that we are for speedy disposition of cases? One of the reasons for miscarriage of justice in this country is the deliberate dragging on of cases. Delays give operators a chance to bribe parties (even judges) and tamper with evidence and the records.

President Arroyo said the early conclusion — either way –of the Estrada trial would “free (her successor) of that burden” and pave the way for national reconciliation with justice. We agree.

We find it unusual that Mr. Estrada and his lawyers want his case to drag on when the attitude of any innocent man facing charges normally would be to confront his accusers right away and get the charges heard without delay.

On accusations that by her comment the President wanted to influence the court, just note that she did not volunteer her views on the matter. She was just responding to an interview question.

With GMA having renounced her option to run in 2004, the opposition should grant her good faith.

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LAWYERS SET PACE: But with lawyers virtually dictating the pace, it is doubtful if the Sandiganbayan could decide the Estrada case before the May 2004 election. That would be like expecting the moon to overtake the sun as it raced across the sky.

If the big Marcos cases, swimming in roomfuls of documents, are still in limbo after 15 years, we cannot see how the Estrada case could be cleared off the Sandigan dockets with finality in the next 15 months.

In this context, we see GMA’s wishing for an early disposition of the Estrada case only serves to highlight her view, shared by many, that the case has divided the nation and slowed down efforts to jumpstart the economy.

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NON-PARTISAN CABINET: Carrying on the non-partisan spirit GMA’s giving up her presidential option, we want to extort (that dirty word again) solemn pledges from her Cabinet members and other key appointees still in government that they also will not run in the 2004 election.

There is the lingering suspicion that this or that Cabinet secretary is engaged in a mad fund-raising binge and political positioning in preparation for his running for the Senate or some other office in 2004.

In some cases, the suspicion is without basis, but in this milieu where the air has been poisoned by partisan politics, such cynicism is to be expected.

To help clear the air, make it easier for the public to grant officials good faith, and enable the country to move on, it would help if members of the President’s official family sign an undertaking renouncing all thoughts about running for some office.

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SELF-SERVING STANCE: An unnamed leader of the House of Representatives, meanwhile, has landed on the front page with his announcement that there is no more turning back on the chamber’s Cha-cha (Charter change) initiative.

While we are leery of officials who talk a lot but are scared to be identified, based on our conversations with congressmen we sense that there is indeed widespread interest among them to amend the charter before the 2004 election.

But we also sense that the motivation of most pro-amendment congressmen is self-preservation. Many of them favor charter change packaged with term extension or a holdover for all of them during the transition from the present to the new political system.

In the Senate, the smaller half of Congress, there is no matching enthusiasm for rushing amendments before 2004. Most senators appear engrossed with their own power games to bother with rewriting the charter.

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LIMIT CHA-CHA AGENDA: Tarlac Gov. Jose V. Yap told us yesterday of the sentiment of his fellow local officials that if the Constitution were to be revised before the 2004 election, it should be just to change the form of government and nothing more.

He cited widespread fears that the moment the Constitution is opened for rewriting, no part will be left untouched. Performing a major surgery on the Constitution at this point might prove fatal to the patient, he said.

Various vested groups are just waiting to get their hands on the Charter and insert provisions protecting their interests. If there could be an ironclad guarantee that only the form of government will be revised, Yap said, amendment moves might gain adherents.

With the air around us having become highly politicized, even the declaration of the President that she was keeping her hands off Cha-cha moves is being given political interpretation. This is clearly not the right time for amending the charter.

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PILOT E-VOTING FIRST: Without commenting on the technical features of the voting machines that the Commission on Elections reportedly wants to buy and use in 2004, we suggest that the use of such gadgets be limited to some pilot or experimental areas.

Computerized or electronic voting and counting can be tried out in Metro Manila, at least two other urban centers each in Luzon, the Visayas (Cebu one of them?) and in Mindanao (also Davao?), and at least one town in each of the regions.

The reasons are obvious. One reason is logistical. Another is time. Still another is technical.

We may not be able to afford an expensive nationwide computerized system for 2004. We may not have the time to put everything in place and train all the people needed. And with no local experience to go by, we may run into unique problems that cannot be solved fast enough.

The live-fire experience in the pilot areas will serve as basis for whatever we want to do after 2004.

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U.S. SAFER THAN R.P.?: Let us not lose sleep over the advisory to Americans from their government not to travel to selected areas in the Philippines because they are supposedly unsafe.

That’s their official perception at the moment. The only thing we can do is give them updated data, which they are likely to ignore as long as our President does not jump and unfurl our flag alongside the Stars and Stripes flying above the invasion forces massing to attack Iraq.

Or if we are in a quarreling mood, we can try issuing our own advisory warning Filipinos against going to the US, because many spots there are more dangerous to life and limb than Manila.

But such an advisory would only be ignored, both by Filipino travelers and American officials. That’s how the world turns and we might as well resign to it.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 14, 2003)

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