POSTSCRIPT / September 11, 2003 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Americans don’t feel safer 2 years after 9/11

TOO LEGALISTIC: Somebody should advise the Arroyo brothers — Jose Miguel (Mike) and Ignacio (Iggy) — that they cannot keep hiding behind the law or their lawyers forever.

Although they are not government officials, the Arroyos cannot fend off every public accusation with a claim to privacy and a challenge for their tormentor to prove his case in court.

We add, since we happen to be in the mood for dishing out unsolicited advice, that they better review their dependence on a law firm that has effectively captured them — and, by extension, the presidency.

While it may sound smart to them and their lawyer-handlers to stonewall Senate investigators with invocation of their right to privacy, there is a point where that defense starts looking contrived and suspicious.

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IT’S NOT ALL LAW: We recognize every citizen’s right to privacy. We respect the law protecting him against undue prying and probing into his private life.

But the law is not everything.

When Iggy was asked a simple request to write his Jose Pidal signature from where he was testifying in the Senate last Monday, and he refused, we felt that placed in doubt his claim of innocence.

If Iggy is truly Jose Pidal, he should have no problem demonstrating before the Senate and the public jury the truth of his claim. He could have taken a sheaf of paper and, pen in hand, asked the senators how many sample signatures they wanted.

When he declined to sign, we caught ourselves murmuring, “That’s it. He and his brother Mike may have lost their case before the bar of public opinion.”

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DANGEROUS DEPENDENCE: The problem of the Arroyos is that they had become increasingly legalistic in their approach to problems. Over the years, they seem to have grown too dependent on an influential law firm fixing their legal problems.

They must be told that people could get tired hearing lawyerly challenges like “Prove it!” and “We’ll see each other in court!”

We see a dangerous trend. The President’s husband, or even the President herself, could sink deeper into the clutches of lawyers fixing things for them — and thereby becoming privy to personal and state secrets.

With due respect, we think the First Family — and all government officials — should not confine themselves to seeing to the legality of their acts. Just as important are the moral, political and PR (public relations) implications.

An act is not necessarily right just because it is, according to lawyers, legal.

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SHIFTING BURDENS: This is not to say that there is truth to the accusation of Sen. Panfilo Lacson that the First Gentleman was into money laundering while hiding behind the alias Jose Pidal.

We must not lose sight of the fact that Lacson made the accusation and the burden of proof is therefore on him. Note that until now, despite his being an expert sleuth, he has not submitted hard evidence to prove his charges.

But some senators, convinced that there are enough gullible Filipinos around, are slyly conditioning us to think that the burden is actually on Arroyo to prove his innocence.

They are turning the world upside-down! And to keep the circus alive, they keep bringing in extraneous matters (nothing to do with the original money laundering charge).

The Senate leadership should be alarmed. What are they doing about this insidious attempt to subvert the integrity of the Senate?

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INSECURITY LINGERS: After two years of the US global war on suspected terrorist havens being waged in response to 9/11 — the Sept. 11, 2001, attack into the heart of America that took more than 3,000 lives — do Americans feel any safer?

No, according to the latest tracking poll of the PIPA/Knowledge Networks. (PIPA stands for Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.) A poll of 1,217 individuals conducted Aug. 26 — Sept. 3 shows that three out of every four Americans (76 percent) still do not feel safer from terrorist threats.

A trendline question asked regularly the last two years also found in the last survey that concern about the possibility of terrorist attacks against the US has not subsided.

For one, 9/11 jolted the greatest power on earth to the realization that it was, after all, vulnerable. If you talk to Americans, you sense that that fear of another attack lingers.

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ISLAMIC REACTIONS: A majority in the poll thinks the Bush administration is overemphasizing “assertive and military” approaches. More than half (58 percent) said the administration should emphasize diplomatic and economic moves.

Two out of every three (64 percent) say that US military presence in the Middle East increases rather than decreases the likelihood of terrorist attacks against the US. They want US military presence there reduced in the next 5-10 years.

“The US is playing the role of world policeman in the Middle East more than it should,” 58 percent say.

A majority believes that US foreign policy elicits reactions in the Islamic world that make it easier for terrorist groups to grow. Sixty-five percent perceive that Islamic feelings toward US foreign policy have grown worse since 9/11.

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GOLDEN MEAN: But the trends shown in the PIPA and similar surveys indicate that Americans are still searching for the golden mean between security and individual rights.

Dr. Steven Kull, PIPA director, comments: “Other polls have also found a reluctance to criticize the President directly when it comes to terrorism. At the same time, when asked specifically about various policies that the administration is pursuing against terrorism, majorities say these policies are not making headway and may even be counterproductive.”

He adds: “It appears that there is a persisting sense that when it comes to terrorism, the US is under threat, and thus the public should rally round the president — even as they seem ready to prod the administration to pursue some different approaches.”

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RISKY ALLIANCE: The implication for the Philippines, particularly the Arroyo administration, seems to be for the government to stay ahead of the build-up of the wave of US public opinion that may reach its crest middle of next year.

Having identified herself with the warlike inclinations of President George W. Bush in the Iraq theater, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could become a victim of the shifting fortunes of her counterpart in the White House.

Although surveys show the American public supporting the US troops being decimated in an unconventional in Iraq, the continued carnage and the failure of Bush to perk up the economy could spell disaster for him in the 2004 presidential election.

To oversimplify it, Mrs. Arroyo may turn out to have hitched on a wagon headed for the dumps. She might want to leave room for a possible distancing if/when her own political situation calls for it.

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INTRUSIVE ACT: It’s not just the economy that could be bothersome. The PIPA poll shows that the American public has grown cool to provisions of the USA Patriot Act that impose stringent measures on most everybody in the wake of 9/11.

Two-thirds of those polled express concern that removing limitations on the government’s ability to monitor and detain individuals may lead to government excesses.

A majority (52 percent) agrees that anti-terrorist measures have gone too far in compromising constitutional rights. Eight in 10 think that Americans detained under suspicion of being part of a terrorist group should have a lawyer.

The Bush administration appears under growing pressure to show that Americans stand to gain more in the tradeoff between security and individual rights.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 11, 2003)

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