POSTSCRIPT / May 1, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Humpty Dumpty falls off Palace wall. What's next?

HUMPTY DUMPTY: The predicament of First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo is a classic example of an image so damaged Humpty Dumpty-like that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put him together again.

It is not fair, but people are ready to believe the worst said of him.

In fact, if a smiling Mike Arroyo stood at a street corner in Cubao handing out crisp P1,000 bills to passersby, such generosity would still be taken negatively.

Many people would ask where he was getting all that money. Still others would remark that he is actually giving away petty cash from the millions that some donors must have given his foundations under duress. In short, kikita pa siya!

These are exactly the comments we have heard about his recent PR gimmick — his giving away dentures. Imagine how people could be so cruel as to say that “pati pustiso pinagkakakitaan pa!” (He even makes money on those false teeth!)

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VIDEO-AUDIO OFF: So what’s the solution?, a friend of Mike Arroyo once asked me.

Now, that is not a fair question to ask me, because it is not my problem in the first place and I did not wish to develop a migraine analyzing a mission impossible.

But I obliged with some limp suggestions. My brilliant idea: Since the mere sight of him triggers those naughty remarks, what he should do is make himself invisible. Also inaudible.

Turn off the video and the audio.

The President need not exile him as ambassador to the darkest corner of Africa. He could still be around, but could minimize being seen in public, such as clambering up a stage to offer a bouquet to the wife.

He should discard the mistaken notion that as First Gentleman he has a solemn duty to attend to the poor, cut ribbons or be a patron of sports or some activity.

With his social and philanthropic life cut to the bone, he could now close all those foundations (ha, ha, ha!!!) that have given him — aside from millions — a black eye.

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THEY NEED HIM: One big problem is that the parasites clinging to him, those who have been using him to advance their interests, will not allow Mike Arroyo to just vanish.

Without him, they are nothing. They need him out there. So they keep whispering to him, “Sir, puede pang ma-gamot ang image problem natin.” (We can still fix the image problem.)

And they come up with those free dentures and eyeglasses, visits to the sick, donations to sports, at kung anu-ano pa. (Et cetera, et cetera.)

Believe me, maniwala kayo sa akin, those tricks will not do it. Not all the king’s PR magicians can put Humpty Dumpty together again.

His best bet, I think, is to make himself INVISIBLE, and INAUDIBLE — and DEAF to the importuning of his boys who want him to go out there and swing the bat for them.

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TEFLON THINNING: The predicament of Mike Arroyo should not bother us at all. But the problem is that public perception of him, rightly or wrongly, impinges on the image, credibility and effectiveness of his wife the President.

Those of us who want Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to succeed as president do not like her being saddled with such PR baggage. Her Teflon coating is running thin. Issues that properly pertain to her husband are now being directed at her.

The wide-awake opposition is busy aiming its slings and arrows at her by deflecting them to her through a vulnerable Mike Arroyo.

President Arroyo is lucky that until now the opposition has no rallying figure to galvanize all anti-administration forces and those waiting in the shade to place their belated bets.

If the opposition succeeds in unseating the incumbent — unlikely at this point — it will still fail to install an opposition alternative. By lawful succession, Vice President Noli de Castro would be it. And that, if you ask me, is a worse fate.

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HUMAN CHAIN: May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. Among the activities on Tuesday is a “Human Chain for Press Freedom” to be formed 6-8 p.m. by journalists and others of kindred spirit who will converge at Timog and Morato Sts. in Quezon City.

By coincidence, the day comes soon after the April 29 shooting in Vigan City of DZXE commentator Nestor Seguismundo and the receipt of threats by other journalists in various work places.

The suspects in the Seguismundo shooting include policemen, prompting the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines to ask Philippine National Police Director-General Arturo Lomibao to entrust the investigation to an independent task force.

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GLOW OF FREEDOM: The Human Chain on Morato will carry 100 torches, multiplied by candles and other symbolic lights held by participating press groups that include:

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Capampangan in Media Inc., Philippine Center for Photojournalists (PCP), Defense Press Corps, Metro Manila Radio Reporters Organization (MMRRO), Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), Antonio Zumel Center for Press Freedom, College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), and UP College of Mass Communications students.

The torches will be lighted after a 10-minute liturgy for martyrs of press freedom. Various groups are expected to issue statements on repression and violence that have made the Filipino journalist an endangered species.

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POLICE CRITIC: On the Seguismundo case, the NUJP said: “While there are yet no clear suspects, it must be pointed out that Seguismundo had been highly critical of Ilocos Sur provincial police director, Sr. Supt. Mario Subagan.

“For transparency and for the sake of justice, Director-General Lomibao should create an independent team for the case, as well as all recent threat and harassment reports implicating senior police officials.”

The broadcaster was wounded in the stomach by one of two motorcycle-riding men who shot him outside his house in Barangay Bugig. He was the third journalist to survive an assassination attempt in the year’s first four months. The other two were Max Quimbo of Tagum and Pablo Hernandez of the Manila-based tabloid, Bulgar.

Seguismundo has called for the relief of police officers for failing to stem rising criminality, including assassinations and the sale of illegal drugs. His shooting came soon after the NUJP urged Lomibao to launch a swift, impartial investigation into a new rash of death threats and intimidation.

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R.P. RECORD: The NUJP listed these journalists as having received threats: John Paul B. Tia, station manager of MBC-Aksyon Radyo in Iloilo City; Negros Defense Press Corps president and Visayan Daily Star reporter Gilbert Bayoran and broadcaster Annie Calderon; and Louie Logarta of the Daily Tribune. Logarta is also a former president of the National Press Club.

Three other journalists have been killed since the start of the year: Edgar Amoro of Pagadian City, Arnulfo Villanueva of Cavite and Marlene Esperat of Tacurong City.

Last year, 13 journalists were slain, making the country the world’s second most dangerous place for journalists after war-torn Iraq. Sixty-six journalists have been killed in the country since democracy was restored in 1986, with only one killer having been convicted.

International media watchdogs have blamed the continued killings on “a culture of fear” that also targets other social activists and a “culture of impunity” that has encouraged a thriving gun-for-hire business.

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VAT ON POWER: The public better watch the effect on consumer prices/rates of the removal of the Value-Added Tax exemption of power generators and other industries that are heavy users of electricity.

Sen. Mar Roxas, chairman of the Senate committees on economic affairs and on trade and commerce, said at least eight big industries would be hit hard by the removal of the VAT exemption of electricity sales.

The power-intensive industries and the percentage of power costs to their total cost of goods sold are: electronics, six to 34 percent; semiconductor, five to 15 percent; mining, 10 to 32 percent; cement, 20 percent; car assembly, nine to 20 percent; iron and steel, five to 35 percent; petrochemicals, five percent; and glass, nine to 10 percent.

A Senate bloc led by Roxas and Senators Miriam Santiago and Juan Ponce Enrile pushed for the retention of the VAT exemption of all electricity sales. But they were outvoted 11-9 when the Senate finally approved its version of the VAT bill.

The bloc managed to exempt from VAT all electricity sales to households. If this exception is adopted, there would still be a problem in its implementation since electricity sales from power producers down to distributors such as the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) would still be subject to VAT.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 1, 2005)

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