POSTSCRIPT / September 5, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Solicitation diverts focus from roots of fiscal crisis

BAD TASTE: While every peso we can lay our hands on may help lighten our Debt & Deficit burden, we cannot be gathering cash or soliciting donations in just any manner.

For instance, it was in bad taste to waylay and extort millions from guests of President Arroyo accompanying her to China on a PAL jet cruising at 33,000 feet.

It was also grave abuse of authority to order low-salaried policemen to voluntarily donate their one-day salary intended for their families to a fund that nobody has ever been able to satisfactorily define.

Speaker Jose de Venecia should have seen the impropriety of his soliciting millions from captive guests of the President who, in that awkward moment, really had no choice but to write a check or mumble a promise with a smile.

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UNDER DURESS: Under such extraordinary duress, any businessman or policeman would have no choice but to cough up a supposed voluntary donation.

Arbitrarily depriving policemen their one-day pay raises many questions. Don’t the families of the officers need the money? And why hit only policemen and not everybody else in government? How is the fund to be managed?

As for the midair extortion, that was no different from highway robbery. An aggravating element was the coercive presence of the President when De Venecia proceeded to tap the taipans and other victims on board.

De Venecia must be reminded that his contributing an initial P500,000 did not invest him with powers to extort money from people around him, even from those who may want to assuage pangs of conscience by a public act of charity.

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DISTORTED VALUES: Earlier in the House of Representatives, there was the sickening misapplication of the norms dictated by propriety and the Constitution.

Under the charter, congressmen are entitled to their P35,000 monthly salaries for services rendered. Yet they gave up with fanfare one-month’s salary for a bailout fund whose title in the books and whose administration have not even been defined.

On the other hand, while the same lawmakers are never legally entitled to pork barrel (as holding and using such a fund is assigned by the charter to the Executive department), they refused to give up their P65-million pork. A few did, but so grudgingly and with so many conditions.

Somebody should tell congressmen that they could keep their salaries, but not their sticky pork barrel.

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DIVERSIONARY: But the more important, and probably the more dangerous, point about the fund-raising frenzy all around is that it is misleading. It is diversionary and dangerous.

The high-profile solicitation, with the tantalizing total periodically announced, appears to have diverted public attention from the root causes of the budget deficit and the public debt soaring to unprecedented levels.

The politicians are again taking advantage of Filipinos’ well-known weakness for diversion and their having a short span of attention.

Raising a rescue fund may help cure the symptom (such as paying part of the interest due on loans), but it does not attack the root causes of the fiscal malady. It lulls people into thinking, quite erroneously, that something substantive is being done.

Until now, nobody — not even the President — has shown the nation a clear and comprehensive solution that addresses the root causes.

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NO ROAD MAP YET: As we keep saying in this column, we want to see our economist President, whom the people have mandated to lead the nation in the next six years, unfurl a Road Map to Recovery.

While raising money for a rescue fund helps, there is nothing better than attacking the root causes of the fiscal crisis.

Academicians of the UP School of Economics have warned that the Debt & Deficit crisis could spell disaster in two to three years if nothing was done. (Those who want to read the UP paper may access it at www.manilamail.com.)

Since it was mainly the politicians who brought the crisis upon us, they should not now go around soliciting money from the people, the victims, but drawing into their own bank accounts and surrendering part of what they have amassed.

To cut the cost of corruption and to set things aright, politicians should give up without reservation the obscene funds (such as pork barrel, intelligence funds, social funds) that have been the traditional sources of graft money and part of the root of the runaway deficit.

This is one time when the doctor, and not the patient, should take the bitter pill.

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BUSH LEADS POLL: In time for the Republican Party nominating convention in New York last Friday, Time magazine has released its latest survey report showing reelectionist President George W. Bush with a hefty lead over his closest rival.

The poll showed that if elections were held today, 52 percent would vote for Bush, while 41 percent would vote for the Democratic nominee John Kerry. Some 3 percent would go for Ralph Nader.

The Time poll was conducted from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. Poll results are available at the www.time.com website and will appear in the Time magazine set to hit newsstands on Monday.

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BUSH VS KERRY: When asked what they consider to be the most important issues, 25 percent of registered voters polled cited the economy as the top issue.

Following closely, 24 percent cited the war on terrorism as the top issue. Iraq was rated the top issue by 17 percent of registered voters, moral values issues such as gay marriage and abortion were the top issue for 16 percent, and health care was the most important issue for 11 percent.

On the economy, 47 percent said they trust Bush more to handle the economy, while 45 percent would trust Kerry.

On health care, 48 percent trust Kerry to handle health care issues, while 42 percent trust Bush.

On Iraq, 53 percent trust Bush to handle the situation in Iraq, while 41 percent trust Kerry.

On terrorism, 57 percent trust Bush to handle the war on terrorism, while 36 percent trust Kerry.

On providing strong leadership, 56 percent said they trust Bush to provide strong leadership in difficult times, while 37 percent said they trust Kerry.

On tax policy, 49 percent trust Bush to handle tax policy, while 40 percent trust Kerry.

On commanding the Armed Forces, 54 percent said they trust Bush to be commander-in-chief of the armed forces, while 39 percent said they trust Kerry.

Was the US right going to war with Iraq? Over half of those surveyed (52 percent) think the US was right, while 41 percent think it was wrong.

Have US actions in Iraq made the world safer? Almost half (45 percent) think US actions in Iraq have made the world safer, while 45 percent think the world is now more dangerous. In a similar Time poll taken Aug. 3 5, over half (52 percent) said the world was more dangerous, and 38 percent said the world was safer.

The Time poll was conducted by telephone among a random sample of 1,316 adults, including 1,128 reported registered voters and 926 likely voters. The margin of error for registered voters is +/- 3 percent points, and +/- 4 percent points for likely voters.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 5, 2004)

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