POSTSCRIPT / June 28, 2005 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will GMA 'mea culpa' afford her a fresh start?

MEA CULPA: President Arroyo finally broke her silence last night on her wiretapped phone conversations regarding the last presidential elections.

She explained that she was just anxious to protect her votes when she made the phone calls. She added that her intention was not to influence the poll results.

The President said she recognized that she had made a lapse in judgment in making those calls. “I am sorry,” she said, “I also regret taking so long to speak on the subject.” She assured the nation that she would “redouble my efforts to serve the nation and earn your trust.”

Reactions were mostly along party lines. Her owning up to the conversation will not stop the street marches and other protests being staged by the political opposition. They are dead set on unseating her.

The nation is breaking up and the longer she stonewalled and pursed her lips, the worse the situation would become.

With her “mea culpa,” those who are still willing to give her another chance — there is no viable alternative anyway — will have reason to rally around the embattled President. Never mind if some of them will do that more for the nation and than for her.

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THIN AND FRAGILE: Whatever the nation decides to do afterwards, it should according to the lines etched in the Constitution. To stray away from the constitutional path would be dangerous, if not disastrous.

Without meaning to demean or discredit People Power, I submit that it is high time we reexamined the notion that a few thousand street marchers can reverse what a nationwide electorate has done.

The fabric of nation has worn thin and fragile. Any more pulling here and there would tear it beyond repair.

I have always been uncomfortable seeing, say, 30,000 placard-bearing marchers being allowed to undo what some 30 million voters have decided in a solemn electoral process.

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CONSENSUS: While the subjective weighing of candidates for public office is highly qualitative, the counting of the votes cast for them is quantitative. We follow the rule of numbers.

Even the notion of majority in a democracy is numerical. Simple majority, for instance, is 50 percent plus 1. Plurality, which sometimes applies in lieu of majority, requires getting more votes than anybody else. Again, this involves numbers and the counting of votes.

Many of us sensitive Asians deliberating in small groups sometimes minimize hurt feelings by avoiding a vote. We loathe dividing the house. We decide by consensus, with the presiding officer merely announcing a consensus after rounds of discussion.

Still, ascertaining the numerical vote is better, because it makes for a clearer measurement of opinions and choices when a sizeable electorate is involved. The winning vote is more easily determined and recorded.

Certainly, counting the votes is more decisive than waving placards and shouting slogans in the street.

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RECALL: In other settings, there is by law a process called “recall.” An elective official is recalled or removed from office within a time frame by a certain percentage of the voters in his community.

For instance, if the law says 25 percent of the voters in a province can file for the recall of an elective local official, the process will involve gathering verified signatures to satisfy the recall number required.

When the number, 25 percent in our example, is reached, a recall election is conducted. If the incumbent wins, he is retained, but if he loses, he will be replaced by the winner.

With the recall process in place, incumbent are not removed through so-called People Power street marches. They are replaced according to well-defined rules.

In the case of a president, there is no provision for recall. For those who cannot wait for the next presidential election, the nearest equivalent of “recall” is impeachment — which, here we go again, is also a game of numbers.

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DAVIDE TALKS: The need to hew to the Constitution was highlighted days ago in Tuguegarao, where Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. said he would not lead a government formed through “extrajudicial means.”

Davide has been prominently mentioned as an acceptable transition president in the event both President Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro are removed from office. Asked about this possibility, he said: “I will never, never, never sit in any extrajudicial form of government.”

Speaking at a forum attended by judges, lawyers, law students, and teachers of Cagayan Valley at the Cagayan Colleges Tuguegarao law school, the Chief Justice also said he would not sit in a military junta “because for all you know, the next morning I would be dead because of an accident.”

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PRE-NEED CONCERNS: Our lawmakers may want to take a cue from US and Japan legislators moving to protect pre-need and insurance firms that are likely to go under due to unforeseen economic factors, of course without prejudicing planholders.

The Japanese Diet (parliament) passed a law two years ago allowing insurance companies facing insolvency to break their contracts with clients and lower the interest rate they had guaranteed to pay out on policies.

Bloomberg also reported that Japan’s Upper House of Parliament had passed a bill allowing ailing life insurance companies to cut guaranteed rate of return to stay in business.

A report of Reuters, meanwhile, said that US pre-need firms with under-funded pension plans are entitled to relief for three years under a bill supported two years ago by the House of Representatives.

The same report indicated that traditional “defined benefit” pension plans would be allowed to assume a more generous return on investments based on an index of high-grade corporate bonds rather than a current formula based on 30-year US treasury bond yields.

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BONG WORKOUT: A member of the Palms Country Club in Las Pinas, meanwhile, told me yesterday of an incident in the club’s gym where Sen. Bong Revilla reportedly acted in a manner that scandalized local and foreigner members.

As related to me, Revilla arrived around 10 a.m. with three back-up security vehicles blaring with wang-wang and blinkers. His security followed him to the gym where he was to work out. This was against the rules, the member told me.

After his workout, security guards continued to attend to their boss at the showers. One of them even made himself useful by squeezing toothpaste on the senator’s toothbrush.

Club security personnel wanted to do something, but were deterred by the high-powered guns of the senator’s men. Now they are afraid they might get fired for allowing such serious breach of club rules.

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ALCOHOL FUEL: The Philippine Fuel Ethanol Alliance, a partnership of the government and the private sector supporting the National Bioethanol Program, says the Philippines is actively developing alcohol as an alternative source of power.

Marlon Joseph S. Apanada, PFEA communication officer, said in an email: “Indeed, based on the Brazil experience, it is providential to seriously consider producing homegrown fuel to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel, abate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and lessen levels of air toxics, and spur economic growth in the countryside.

Brazil, which saw early on the potential of bioethanol as a homegrown, clean, smart fuel, is now on the path towards fuel self-sufficiency by starting its bioethanol program in the 1970 s. Brazil is now the world leader in bioethanol production and utilization, and its policies continue to support bioethanol as a quality alternative to fossil fuels.

“We want to clarify, however, that the Philippines is not asleep and that our government leaders have actually seen the promise of bioethanol. On May 30 this year, President Arroyo launched the National Bioethanol Program during the inauguration of the San Carlos Bioenergy Inc., which will be the first bioethanol production plant in the country.

“Our legislative and executive offices have also taken the initiative to promote bioethanol. In Congress, Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. have authored HB 2583 and SB 1677, respectively, seeking to establish a bioethanol industry in the country.

“The Department of Energy has convened a technical team to establish fuel standards for bioethanol and bioethanol-blended gasoline. In addition, the DOE, with the assistance of the USAID, has also commissioned a techno-economic study exploring the viability of bioethanol.

“The Sugar Regulatory Administration, together with private organizations in the sugar industry, alcohol industry, and oil refinery industry, has conducted a policy study that comprehensively covers the technical, economic, and policy dimensions of bioethanol.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 28, 2005)

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