POSTSCRIPT / June 27, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Noli to pro-poor drive, Ping to anti-graft fight

VISA RENEWAL: Another visa rule revision is causing anxiety among Filipinos working in the US.

The State department announced days ago that aliens with expiring working visas would no longer be able to renew them in the States. They will have to exit and apply for a new visa in a US embassy or consulate outside the US.

In the case of Filipinos, they will mostly be flying across the Pacific all the way back to Manila to apply for a new working visa. That will be very costly, time-consuming and a bit chancy.

Theoretically, an alien with an expiring US visa can drive across the border either to Canada or Mexico and there apply for a new visa, then drive back with it. But friends have told us that it does not work that way.

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ONLINE INFO: For some reason — is it prejudice or policy? — an alien who does not apply for a US visa in the American embassy in his home country and applies elsewhere is immediately suspect.

The speculation among Pinoys is that US consuls are programmed to suspect that anybody applying for a visa outside his home country may have had a problem with the US embassy back home.

But, granting that, there should be no problem since consulate records worldwide are supposed to be centralized and on-line. It should not matter where you present yourself for processing.

When you appear at a US port of entry, the immigration officer just inputs the personal data on your passport and immediately accesses everything about you in the computer in front of him. The only data missing is probably what you had for breakfast that morning.

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CHANCY RENEWAL: With the prohibitive plane fare, it is no joke flying back to Manila to have a new visa stamped on your passport.

The time required to do all that will also mean that you will have to either go on leave, if so entitled, or suffer a gap in your earning period.

The bigger problem is that there is no assurance that the local US embassy would grant a new visa. Then you are stuck in the Philippines.

An applicant is supposed to have complete paperwork from his prospective employer in the States, including a certification that the firm had tried hard to look for an American to do the job but found none and that this Flip from Manila would be the perfect fallback that the employer was ready to grab off the plane.

With the post-9/11 paranoia and the drift of America toward isolationism, all that paperwork is no guarantee of an open sesame to returning to your job in the US once you step out.

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INSIDE TRACK: In the States, where visa renewals used to be processed, it was much easier, especially when handled by lawyers who have an inside track at the State and the Justice (immigration) departments.

Don’t ever think that lakaran happens “only in da Pilipins.” Many successful immigration lawyers used to work with that office and know key people crucial to their being able to deliver visas to their paying clients.

We are not saying that palakasan (we don’t mean “sports”) is the rule. We are just saying that if you have immigration or visa woes, it pays to get the right lawyer with the right connection for the right fee of course.

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BULK FROM INDIA: Explaining the new procedure, State department spokesman Richard Boucher said that US embassies abroad are better equipped than their offices in the US to interview and fingerprint the growing number of visa applicants.

(Btw, holders of diplomatic or official visas are exempted. They will continue to be processed in Washington, DC, and in New York.)

Almost half of the working visa applicants going into computer and information technology industries have been from India. The other nationalities in the top five are Japanese, Chinese, British and South Koreans.

They are also many Filipinos holding responsible IT jobs, many of them as programmer analysts.

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A TURN-AROUND: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cannot offer any excuse once she fails to make good her pro-poor campaign promises, to turn around the economy, and to restore this nation’s faith in itself.

When she took over from former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in January 2001 in the midst of political convulsions, she was marked for failure. The displaced forces simply had to make sure she failed.

But now the cards are stacked in her favor: She has won her own six-year mandate with a convincing margin of more than one million votes over an extremely popular actor. The administration coalition that carried her to victory went on to capture a clear working majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The armed forces and the national police are lined up behind her. The Church has declared that the May elections that she won were generally clean, honest and credible. The White House has sent its congratulations and encouraging remarks. The badly beaten opposition is in disarray, with some of its key figures shamelessly looking for the right connect back to the Palace.

To top it all, GMA is no longer running for reelection and is rid of the pressures of preparing for her reelection. She is also extremely rich already and her children are well established.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, if she so desires, could be the President that she wants to be remembered in history.

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U.S. FORMULA: The only big problem left is money. What the government collects in revenue is way below what it needs for operations, debt service, losses to graft and corruption, and development investment.

But even that is not beyond solution — assuming we are going to see unfolding before us starting June 30 a new (not repackaged, but truly new) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In case you have not noticed, btw, a basic formula for restarting the national engine has just been suggested by the US embassy.

Charge d’affaires Joseph Mussomeli, pending the return of Ambassador Francis Ricciardone for the June 30 inaugural and beyond, has pointed to the two most urgent problems confronting this country: Corruption and Overpopulation.

We agree.

To attack these two problems, he told Rotarians in their joint meeting days ago, the Arroyo presidency will need greater resources and stronger political will.

We take it that resources refer to money, which we are confident our economist-president will be more than capable of raising, given the improved political environment.

As for political will, only the President can provide it. Without political will, the entire scaffolding of her presidency collapses.

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SIX-POINT AGENDA: To recall, these were the six items that the President promised during the campaign: To triple the loans to small and medium enterprises, create one million jobs a year, deliver clean water, provide electricity to 1,500 barangays a year, build new school buildings across the country and provide scholarship to the poor, and cut by half the price of common medicines.

This six-point program was hurriedly put together in the last weeks of the campaign to lure back the teeming masses who were then gravitating toward the popular actor who was promising food, jobs and schooling.

But while the President must attend to redeeming her promises, we want to invite her attention to the twin concerns of corruption and overpopulation.

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NO UNTOUCHABLES: Any move to fight corruption must first hurdle the problem of credibility. The people think everybody high in government is tainted. They no longer trust their leaders’ willingness to jail big-time grafters.

If I were GMA, I would convince Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson to accept a Cabinet-rank position as Anti-Graft Fighter with iron-clad guarantees that nobody, even relatives of the President and her closest political operators, is untouchable.

While incoming Vice President Noli de Castro looks after pro-poor projects, Lacson can grapple with official corruption. There will still be due process, but for Lacson to be effective, he needs adequate power and true independence.

Big question: Will the likes of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo be untouchable? The answer is No. Di ba, Malacanang said he is innocent, so he should have no problem. Lacson can investigate all he wants, but if Mr. Arroyo is really innocent, he need not worry.

In fact, Mr. Arroyo’s opening himself for scrutiny will help improve the credibility of the government’s anti-graft campaign. Any hint that he is exempted will torpedo any attempt of the Arroyo administration to clean house.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 27, 2004)

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