POSTSCRIPT / February 8, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ping ready to step in if Poe is disqualified

LET’S MOVE ON: Let us cut the debate over the rejection by the Commission on Elections of the petition to cancel the presidential candidacy of Fernando Poe Jr. on the ground that he is not a natural-born Filipino.

Whatever were the merits of the arguments of both sides, whichever way the case could have gone, and whatever reasons were given by the Comelec for its final decision, let us welcome the ruling.

With that decision, the question over jurisdiction — whether the Comelec or the Supreme Court was the proper venue in the first instance — has become academic.

The Comelec ruling will now be elevated to the Supreme Court, the final arbiter, where a binding and hopefully early ruling can be expected.

Learning from the confusion resulting from a similar citizenship challenge filed belatedly against former Manila Mayor Fred Lim when he ran for president in 1998, this time let us resolve Poe’s case early.

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BUM PETITIONS: The filing for intervention in the high court of presidential candidate Raul Roco and other parties is also a welcome development.

The intervention would round up and solidify the case. Experience has taught us that some half-baked or defective petitions are sometimes deliberately filed to have them thrown out on a technicality and/or for lack of merit.

The Fornier brothers who filed the disqualification petition before the Comelec have announced that they would elevate the case to the high court. The consolidation of the various cases would help ensure all the legal bases are covered.

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PING IS ‘PLAN B’: While Poe hurdled the problem in the Comelec, he is not yet out of the disqualification woods. He could still be disqualified if the Supreme Court eventually rules that he is not a natural-born citizen.

This possibility has added to the market value of Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who is still tagging along as a “Plan B” opposition candidate in case Poe, who is Plan A, is disqualified.

Do not take seriously the supposed fight between Poe and Lacson for recognition as official opposition candidate for president. As they play, their toes keep touching ever so tenderly under the mahjong table.

The threat of a civil war in the event of Poe’s disqualification, as aired by his bosom buddy former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, is just a threat. Everything considered, we think it is an unlikely scenario resulting from Poe’s disqualification.

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U.S. PASSPORT USED?: Note that the camp of Sen. Edgardo Angara, Laban president who endorsed Poe’s candidacy and protested Lacson’s nomination by the party’s Secretary General, has turned quiet about Lacson’s bid.

Angara and the rest of the opposition leaders, including Mr. Estrada, are aware of the fragility of Poe’s candidacy and the need for keeping a viable back-up candidate. Lacson is the only one left in their stable.

But the citizenship issue against Poe is not likely to die down that easily.

Operating on a parallel line, some administration sleuths are digging into still unconfirmed reports that Poe — like his American siblings — had used a US passport in his earlier travels before he secured a Philippine passport.

While a passport is not conclusive proof, it is a prima facie evidence of the holder’s citizenship.

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ISSUE STILL ALIVE: But Poe’s holding a Philippine passport at the moment is also not enough proof of his Filipino citizenship. A citizenship hearing is not part of the regular process of examining passport applicants.

Lawyer Mel “Batas” Mauricio said in his free legal assistance program on Channel 7 and dzBB, that any passport applicant submitting false documents to support his claimed Philippine citizenship could land him in hot water.

Mauricio said that knowingly submitting spurious documents, such as falsified birth certificates and dishonest affidavits of loss, is a serious crime, especially for persons presuming to run for president.

It appears that resolving the citizenship question over Poe still has a long way to go.

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ABS-CBN BIAS: An interesting aspect of private media being brought to the fore is their handling of news and public affairs in relation to the coming May elections.

Earl Arezamendez, president of the Filipino Democratic Students Union, is asking the Comelec to look into reports that TV giant ABS-CBN had “shamelessly used its facilities, shows and news programs to campaign” for its newsreader, vice presidential candidate Noli de Castro.

Arezamendez said that during the show “Dong Puno Live” last Feb. 5, ABS-CBN personnel blocked questions and comments unflattering to De Castro. At Mendiola where a field audience was organized, he said he saw how the network’s staff allowed only De Castro supporters to speak.

He said he had wanted to ask De Castro about reports that he was given P750 million to become President Arroyo’s running mate and that he uses his “Magandang Gabi Bayan” program to enrich himself, among other accusations.

“But I was allowed only to ask Noli why he has been defending the highly excessive PPA charge being levied on electricity consumers by Meralco, a sister company of ABS-CBN,” he said, adding that that was only after he threatened to expose the “scripted show.”

* * *

MEDIA TAKING SIDES: In the United States, it is not unusual for media to openly endorse candidates of their choice. But they do it openly and without having to apologize for it. The public is thus forewarned about their bias and editorial direction.

Not so in the Philippines. With pretensions of fairness and balance, local media usually go to great lengths hiding any bias of the editors and/or the owners.

But they are not always successful. The more discerning readers and viewers, and there are many of them, see through the hypocrisy.

Our position on this is that it is all right for newspapers and radio-TV stations to help candidates of their choice provided they do so openly and only after explaining their position.

We think it is abnormal for a newspaper, for instance, to remain uncommitted when there is a clear need for it to speak up and take a position on an important public issue, including presidential candidacies.

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FUTILE EXERCISE: As for the student leader’s asking the Comelec to look into the reported bias of ABS-CBN and its alleged manipulation of the “Dong Puno Live” show, we think that is a futile exercise.

Assuming ABS-CBN was partial to its valued newsreader running for public office, that is a private matter beyond the regulation of the Comelec. The only exception we can think of is if election laws were violated in the process.

But then, fairness and respect for the public require that there be professionalism and transparency in a TV channel’s handling of public affairs. There should be no deception or false pretenses.

If a show is intended to be a campaign vehicle for any candidate, the channel should say so clearly at least before and after the show.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 8, 2004)

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