POSTSCRIPT / August 16, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Confusion explains why taped dialog is unrealiable

TAPEWORM: Secretary Mike Defensor’s unreeling a tapeworm (our term for an expert on tapes and such) to gain the upper hand is not the last thing on the debate over the recording of alleged conversations on how to win elections.

The partisans insist on talking endlessly, treating us to a protracted debate not unlike one on religion. Walang papatalo. Nobody concedes. Everybody wants to have the last word.

But if the debate could lead to a conclusion, it is that there is wisdom in the rule that wiretapped conversations are not admissible as evidence in court.

Note the proliferation of different tapes/discs of the same phone conversations. Note the discovery of tampering in many of these tapes/discs. Note the conflicting expert opinions being rendered on the same recording.

One thing we have learned from the programmed confusion is that while wiretaps are a great aid to investigation, they are a dangerous basis for forming judgments. It is right that they are not accepted as evidence in court.

The raging debate has emerged as the best illustration of how unreliable are wiretaps. The confusion is the best reason why the tapes — all of them — should not be allowed to destroy the credibility of the impeachment process.

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NO LUNCH WITH GMA: Some cabalen told me of a column item yesterday in another paper saying that Pampango journalists were recently smuggled through the backdoor of Malacanang to enable President Gloria Arroyo to lunch with them while appealing for help.

Saying that the comment was malicious, they asked me what I think we should do to neutralize the misimpression that that column item — a case of sloppy journalism — may have created.

The problem with malice is that it is in the mind and is usually unfathomable. Maybe what I would say is that the item was NAUGHTY — as most of us in media are sometimes naughty. My normal impulse would be to ignore it.

But as president of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI), the only media group from Pampanga that had called on the President the past several weeks, I have to set the record straight.

Contrary to the column item, we did not have lunch with the President that day nor did we enter through the Palace back door. We walked, heads high, through the front door and had only fruit juice.

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RISKY CALL: Some of us officers of CAMI went to Malacanang last July 26 — the day after her SONA — to call on President Arroyo at 11 a.m. It was not clear to me what the agenda were since the invitation was just relayed to me by phone.

A few of us confessed to our colleagues that we were not comfortable going to the Palace since we knew, as old hands in this business, that such an innocuous meeting could be misunderstood or misreported by the usual kibitzers.

I parked off J. P. Laurel St., and entered Gate 1 around 10:50 a.m. I chanced on President Arroyo and Secretary Angelo Reyes talking while they were walking out of the Guest House on their way to the main Palace building.

When we greeted each other, the President thanked me — for what I was not sure! As I might be intruding on something, I hurriedly excused myself, explaining that I had to proceed to the Music Room where we were supposed to meet her at 11 a.m.

* * *

NO LUNCH: I entered the main Palace building through the main front door facing the Guest House, walked up the main stairs and entered the Music Room. Most of the other CAMI officers were already there sipping pineapple-guava juice.

Upon being told that the meeting was for 11:30 a.m., not 11 a.m., I concluded then that the President had in mind having lunch with us.

My guess was wrong. After chatting with us for about half an hour, and profusely thanking us for our “help” (I did not know what that “help” was), her body language hinted that she still had to attend to something.

She shook our hands and we filed out, this time through another door that led to the ceremonial halls downstairs and out through the main door.

I repeat, we did not have lunch with the President. But I am not complaining. I can still buy my own lunch. And I can still write what I think.

* * *

POLITICAL STAIN: Some people may remark how amazing it was that a simple call on the President by a press group could generate so much malicious misinformation flying in all directions.

It is not really amazing to me. That is how hopeless our situation has become. Anything we do, or do not do, is slapped with political lard and swung around. Everything, everyone, is tainted with politics.

Before and after CAMI’s almost lunching with the President, there have been a number of media groups also calling on her for various reasons. Talking to the Chief Executive (and other officials) is part of our job, although such activity could also be hazardous as this incident shows.

As for our press friends seeing something sinister in our calling on the President just because they do not like La Gloria, I say “okay lang.” We are still friends and we respect one another despite those occasional naughty items.

* * *

HEAT, NOT LIGHT: Another media item that deserves comment is our printing readers’ reaction to our report on concrete blocks posing a serious hazard at U-turns on Metro Manila thoroughfares.

Some supporters of MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando have gone overboard defending their champion, sometimes resorting to ad hominen against my person.

As I tell some colleagues who cannot write a column without cursing the object of their venom that day, when a person resorts to cuss words, that means he has run out of arguments.

Their cursing adds more heat than shed light on the topic under scrutiny.

* * *

CLARIFICATION: Also for the record, before attacks dogs start frothing in the mouth again, let me clarify a few points about those deadly roadblocks lying in wait for more victims:

U-turns have their uses and I am not advocating their total elimination. But they must be properly engineered, located and managed. We do not automatically insert a U-turn after every intersection that is closed to traffic.

The vicinity of U-turns must have adequate illumination, more than normal street lighting because they pose a hazard that is more than normal.

There must be additional early warning devices such as blinkers and reflectorized or luminous warning signs well before the U-turn.

The approach to the U-turn must not be abrupt but must be delineated gradually so motorists will have enough time and space to move to adjoining free lanes.

It must be recognized that certain intersections must remain open to cross traffic instead of being barricaded and replaced with U-turns.

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EVAT REPERCUSSION: Many friends are losing sleep over the expected lifting of the temporary restraining order (TRO) imposed by the Supreme Court on the expanded Value-Added Tax law.

Big reason: If that happens, the prices of a whole slew of big-tag products — including motor vehicles and appliances — could jump beyond the reach of many consumers.

Aside from the big items, EVAT is also expected to nudge the prices of many basic consumer goods thrown together in the same economic basket.

If not handled adroitly, leaping prices could lead to public disorder, including street mayhem that could force the President to step down — or impose a mailed-fist policy almost like martial law.

No wonder there is talk of President Arroyo considering issuing an executive order, if she could validly do that, to intervene in the tax-price-supply mechanism.

People who have the money have started to buy some items that they actually do not need now but might just need later and which are still available at lower prices.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 16, 2005)

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