POSTSCRIPT / January 18, 2004 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Abalos can still redeem himself -- if he wants to

WHY THE FRENZY?: Why should the government use public funds to pay for the private abuses of a deceased dictator? And why should an American court dictate the disposition of foreign assets that are outside its jurisdiction?

It may not be popular to ask these questions, but they have to be raised now because of the spectacle of the President and senators falling over themselves to show torture victims of Ferdinand Marcos that they care.

Seeing this frenzy to please the victims, we wonder where our officials would stop. The money they are generously dispensing is not theirs anyway, so they could be reckless.

What happens if, say, exploited public school teachers, or soldiers (them with da guns!), or neglected war veterans, or victims of post-Marcos official violence, etc., demand their fair share in recovered ill-gotten wealth?

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MEDDLESOME JUDGE: In the first place, the judge presiding over the pineapple plantations of Hawaii has no business telling the Philippine government that funds held in escrow by the Philippine National Bank be paid to torture victims suing in his sala.

If he thinks compensation was in order, the judge should have looked for assets of Ferdinand Marcos and his family in Hawaii or the United States. If the judge bothered to look, he could have found a lot.

This theory of the American judge that Marcos victims must be paid with funds moved from Swiss banks to a Singapore escrow account of the PNB — but which in transit never fell within his legal reach — has been adopted by Philippine authorities without question. Why so?

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NOT THAT STUPID: We say this not because we think that all recovered ill-gotten wealth must go to land reform as already mandated by law, or that the victims of Marcos should not be compensated.

It is just that we think somebody in a position of responsibility should take a second hard look at the order of that American judge presuming to tell us what to do with our own affairs.

Then somebody in the bleachers shouted that the trust fund might be used by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her campaign. And the newspapers gave full play to the loose ball with a warning for GMA not to touch the money!

Ms Arroyo may be running scared, but do you think she would be so dumb as to commit that blunder en flagrante?

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FORWARD FOCUS: Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos can still redeem his name and that of the Commission on Elections — and even come out a winner in the May 10 national elections.

After the mandatory statement that deep in his heart he knew that he/they did not do anything wrong, he should bow to the Supreme Court and not move for a futile reconsideration of its adverse decision. Fighting back will not earn him points.

Abalos should put that legal setback behind him so he could focus on moving forward.

He should tell his followers from Mandaluyong, for instance, to go home, thank you. Their noisy street rallies showing support for him will not amount to anything anyway.

From this day on, he should concentrate on preparing the nation for its May 10 rendezvous with history. That was an awesome job placed on his frail shoulders, but with the rest of the nation pitching in, he could still do it.

To convince the public and would-be impeachers that he has no financial interest in the Mega Pacific deal, he should arrange quickly for the return of the overpriced and overrated computers and the refund of the more than P850 million already paid.

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START IN MANILA: To achieve clean and orderly elections, Abalos will have to be credible and effective. He will have to work overtime in projecting a clean and no-nonsense image. People are looking for doers, not talkers.

Starting in Metro Manila, Abalos can enforce strictly, but fairly, the law on campaigning. He can make an impact if he moves resolutely in removing illegal campaign materials in the streets, shooting down untimely radio-TV political ads, and tracking campaign expenses.

He should be more Solomonic and decisive, and not be afraid to act, in such cases as two opposition candidates being nominated by the same party for the same post.

Many politicians affected, some of them his friends, will raise a howl when he moves to enforce the law. That’s good. The more he should move against their violations.

The aggrieved public likes it when enforcement hurts supposed untouchables. The louder the politicians’ protests, the better for the enforcer, namely Abalos.

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CUT CLEAN: The Comelec chairman should look at the May polls as his last fight as it is also this nation’s last chance to make democracy work. If he fails, if the elections usher in chaos and runaway violence, that will be the end of him and this nation.

If he has secret partisan sympathies, and some observers think he has, Abalos should cut clean from them immediately and in a blatant manner so as to erase all doubts about his fairness and sincerity.

The mood of the public is for regulatory bodies to consistently enforce the rules “without fear or favor.”

Abalos should not worry about displeasing the administration or his covert allies. He should be more concerned about redeeming his name and ensuring the credibility of the May elections.

Having fallen in the public esteem, he will have to work double time to show his fairness, sincerity and competence. Without pubic support, he will fail in his mission.

* * *

COMPUTERIZATION: The Comelec has a mandate to start computerizing the elections. Despite its legal setback, the poll body can still do it if it looks for simple, inexpensive, doable approaches.

The law mandates computerization not just to bring the process up to the standards of the highly technical world. The ulterior objective is to ensure that Philippine elections are clean and the winners known that same day, or the morning after at the latest.

The registration stage is over, so we can forget about its computerization. The voting itself cannot be computerized because we have no voting machines and did not intend to have them this May. So we can forget about that, too.

The automated counting of the ballots also appears to have been ruled out with the invalidation of the P1.3-billion contract for the use of automated ballot-readers and counters.

It would be too late to stage another bidding while suspending the printing of whichever ballots (computerized or manual) will be used. Automated counting thus appears eliminated

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STILL FEASIBLE: Despite the setback, the Comelec can still follow its mandate to introduce automation by computerizing the reporting and consolidation (canvassing) of the count. There is ample time to do this.

With the speed and accuracy that computers bring, in this crucial stage, this will minimize cheating and give the waiting nation a more credible report of the results.

Computerized reporting and canvassing does not demand expenses in the range of the P1.3 billion that would have been thrown into Korean ballot-counters.

Banks have secured computerized systems of reporting between their head office and the branches. The lotto of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes office is another example of how computers can be used for the fast, accurate and secure transmission of data.

Instead of being thrown back to the dark ages of mano-mano elections, the Abalos Comelec can computerize reporting and canvassing and claim a certain measure of success in carrying out the mandate for computerized elections.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 18, 2004)

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