POSTSCRIPT / September 4, 2003 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Udong out-performs his lawyer-boss Mike

SELECTIVE AMNESIA: From where we sat, we saw the performance of office messenger Eugenio “Udong” Mahusay Jr. in the Senate hearing last Tuesday two notches better than that of his former lawyer-boss, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

While Udong appeared mostly collected, courteous and well-coached in his testimony, Arroyo had a hard time parrying searching questions and feigning amnesia. The First Gentleman thus impressed us as not telling the whole truth.

Arroyo gained points with his emotional plea for Sen. Panfilo Lacson not to drag his family into the fray, but he lost some while dodging questions of Sen. Edgardo Angara on the extraneous subject of family apartments in San Francisco (US).

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HIDING UNDER SKIRT: Contrary to advance billing that he would exploit the hearing to pin down Arroyo, Lacson exuded restraint. Actually, he had no choice but to take one step backward since Udong, his star witness, had recanted his earlier damning affidavit.

But grazed by Arroyo’s reference to the former policeman’s alleged heavy hand and his “skirt” of parliamentary immunity, Lacson returned oblique fire by calling Udong aside to examine pictures supposedly not fit for public viewing — thereby teasing the imagination that he had some saucy photographs as reserve ammo.

To us, the worst performers were two lady senators, Tessie Oreta and Loi Estrada, who spat venom while grilling Udong. In formal deliberations of the august Senate, vicious partisanship and ill temper are out of place.

The line of questioning of a few other senators showed partisan direction, but they were not as obnoxious.

Some senators chose not to speak at all, because, according to them, they could not pose intelligent questions as no documentary evidence of Lacson’s charges was given them beforehand.

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KURATONG-STYLE: Special mention must be made of Sen. Robert Jaworski who slammed the joking mood in the chamber. The former basketball star said the Senate must severely punish witnesses, like Udong, who swear to and later recant statements made before it.

While there is no guarantee that Udong was now telling the truth, his turn-around left Lacson groping for shreds of evidence of money laundering by the First Gentleman. The hearing might just turn into a fishing expedition to prop up a weak case.

If, as Jaworski admonished his colleagues, the Senate should punish false witnesses, the venerable body should also do something about members invoking parliamentary immunity while violating with impunity people’s rights Kuratong-Baleleng-style.

Also, like Sen. Aquilino Pimentel — who earlier turned down Udong’s offer of derogatory information on Arroyo — senators should have enough discernment to know a bum steer when they see one.

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NATION DIVIDED: After saying last time that the nation is drowning in political saliva, we have to beat our breast and admit that we in media are actually helping create the very problems we deplore.

Many politicians are encouraged to spout inanities and malicious statements because media give them time and space without much thoughtful evaluation. As a result, print and broadcast media teem with false reports.

Sometimes we print politicians’ statements that they never made but which were just manufactured by their press agents. To keep the charade going, we go to the other party for reaction — and the latter gladly obliges.

We are taught in journalism school that one element of news is conflict. For lack of anything better to do, some of us prod antagonistic politicians to engage each other in endless debate. It’s no different from a sabong (cockfight).

This is one of the reasons why we now have a highly divided society.

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IT’S ALL SALIVA: There are measures we can take to minimize this problem, to rein in the propensity of some of us in media to focus on — or even create — divisive issues. One step the media can take is toward self-policing.

We think that our elders in the profession — publishers and editors in the case of print media – should get together and agree on internal guidelines and sanctions for everybody down the line.

For instance, we should discourage stories that say “So-and-so official said yesterday….” So what if he said it (assuming he really said it)? It’s all laway (saliva).

We have noticed that around seven out every 10 promised action never got done after the publication of the press release on what the official “said.” Why don’t we wait till he does it?

If we apply just this one rule, we’ll have media less cluttered with non-news. We’ll have a quieter, less stressful atmosphere, one that is more conducive to improving the quality of our lives.

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EBDANE TARGETTED: Quarters moving to replace Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as Philippine National Police chief through a media campaign are setting a dangerous precedent that could inflict permanent damage on the police as an institution.

The detractors of Ebdane are riding on the drift apparently set by the recent resignation of Gen. Victor Corpuz as armed forces intelligence service chief, and that of Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes.

Part of the demolition campaign is the repeated reference to the escape last July of Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi. This despite findings of an independent fact-finding body that there was no collusion but negligence on the part of the jailers.

Precisely, Ebdane should be kept and pressed to recapture Al-Ghozi. Police sources said the terrorist’s general location has been determined. They added that it was just a matter of time and negotiating with a group holding him before he is brought back.

Some senior officers lusting after Ebdane’s post reportedly have linked up with some politicians who want a replacement PNP chief beholden to them.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 4, 2003)

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