POSTSCRIPT / January 10, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Let public officials try doing a Mark Jimenez

CHILDISH: If they truly love their country, opposition leaders invited to the Council of State meeting set Jan. 24 must attend in good faith and give President Gloria Arroyo the benefit of the doubt.

They cannot assume, even before attending it, that the meeting is just a ploy of the President to recover from her political setbacks. To stay away is childish.

Opposition leaders lose nothing by attending. Former presidents, who now know better than to get embroiled in partisan politics, would even loom bigger in the public esteem by attending and sharing the lessons they had learned while in Malacanang.

Now if after attending, any participant is convinced that the Council of State meeting was just a palabas, then he/she can say so and explain his/her conclusions — but not before he/she attends it.

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LIVING EXAMPLE: Watching him from a distance, former Manila congressman Mark Jimenez looks to me as a living example of how a public official enmeshed in controversy could humble himself, confess his sins, do penance and come out stronger.

There must be a way to impose that MJ formula — or something akin to it — as a recovery route for key officials so stained by scandal that people have stopped listening to them.

Last I heard of Jimenez, he donated P5 million of his own money to buy relief goods for flood victims in Mindoro, then flew to Bukidnon for a spiritual retreat with members of the Nagkakaisa sa Diyos, Nagkakaisang Pilipino (One in God, One Filipino).

The presence of Jimenez could be a bit disturbing to some politicians, because the practice in the Old Boys Club is to do the opposite — get money from government and contractors instead of digging into one’s own pockets to give away to people in ne

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PLUCKED OUT: That Jimenez is acting this way does not surprise me. Before he got caught in the whirl of business and politics, he was in the novitiate preparing for the priesthood. One gets a hint of the spiritual facet of the man when he talks to him at length.

At that time when the US government was demanding his immediate extradition to face charges of having made illegal contributions to the Clinton campaign kitty, he would disappear some nights and hie off to the novitiate of the Jesuits in Novaliches, his old haunt — to find the answer to his dilemma.

Part of the big question before him was what to do in the face of his being an elected member of the House of Representatives being hustled off by the Arroyo administration to the clutches of US marshals sent to arrest him.

After he linked First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and then Secretary Hernando Perez to alleged big-time payola, he flopped as a fly into the Arroyo ointment. It was messy taking him out of the Manila scene, but it had to be done.

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DILEMMA: I came to know of the dilemma then confronting the man whom President Erap Estrada described as a “corporate genius,” because I happened to have had conversations with him, alone, deep into the night.

I saw the drift of his thoughts that always followed a logical line. I felt the tension within him slowly disappearing, and then I knew the decision was coming — for him to simply face the truth.

The truth was that he made some political contributions to the campaign chest of Bill Clinton who was his friend, had to hide these illegal fund flows in his company books, and did not make truthful declarations on the transactions.

While a foreigner’s contributing to a presidential campaign chest may be normal, in fact a desired option, in this country, it was illegal in the United States.

He decided to just face the truth, admit the fact of his violations. Instead of prolonging the extradition process that the Arroyo administration abetted anyway, he volunteered to fly to Florida to face the charges and get it over with.

All throughout, the administration and the US authorities treated him roughly, despite his being an elected representative of the people, his ill health and need for regular medication. But he had made the decision to just face the truth.

It seems on hindsight that the truth has set him free.

(Taking off from the Mark Jimenez saga, we say that some of our top leaders may want to get off their uneasy pedestal, let their feet feel the earth once more — and face the truth.)

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MORAL RENEWAL: Back from serving time, during which he apparently had a chance for more soul-searching, Jimenez appears to be still in the Yule goodwill-to-men mode.

Will he forgive those who had extorted millions from him and tried to get rid of him by feeding him to the lions? As they say, abangan!

But days ago, he was quoted as saying, “Tama na ang awayan, tama na ang pulitika. Magkaisa na tayo dahil tanging ang Pilipino lang ang maaasahang tutulong sa kanyang kapwa Pilipino.” (Let’s put a stop to bickering and too much politicking. Let’s unite because no one else will help the Filipino except his fellow Filipino.)

Jimenez stressed the obvious, that we need a deep spiritual and moral renewal if we are to prosper and move forward.

“Our leaders and government officials should always seek the guidance of the Lord so that they would be enlightened in their actions and kept away from the wayward path,” he said.

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SUBIC RAPE: Adverting to the four US servicemen accused of raping a Filipina in Subic last Nov. 1, Jimenez urged Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez to stop giving “lip service” to justice and to immediately serve the warrant of arrest on the accused.

Listen to Jimenez talk about Americans: “I have lived for 20 years in the US, where rape is considered as the No. 1 most abhorrent and detestable crime. I’m certain that the American people will never condone rape, much more gang-rape, even if the crime is committed by Americans against other nationalities.”

He made his fortune doing business in the US and South America. In the States, he had the chance to hobnob with White House personalities, a situation that led to his involvement in funding the poll campaign of his friends.

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SURE FAILURE: Falling back from either a Constituent Assembly or a Constitutional Convention to a People’s Initiative to amend the charter is a sure step toward killing moves to amend the Constitution during the tenure of President Arroyo.

If those pushing a People’s Initiative are friends of the President, they must be in disarray or engaged in some holding action since they themselves know that such an initiative is so cumbersome as to ensure failure.

People’s Initiative as one of three modes under Article XVII (Amendments or Revisions) involves a petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters nationwide, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 percent of its registered voters.

Once that number is attained, verified and certified by the Commission on Elections, the proposed amendments “shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after the certification by the Comelec of the sufficiency of the petition.”

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IMPOSSIBLE JOB: Granting we have some 40 million registered voters, a People’s Initiative will need the verified signatures of 12 percent of that number, or 4.8 million.

(Sorry if the figure looks arbitrary, but the Comelec itself cannot decide how many real, individual qualified voters are in its registry.)

How do you gather and verify 4.8 million signatures of supposed registered voters scattered throughout the archipelago? You think the Comelec, even with its P3-billion computers, indelible ink, security paper and all, can do that?

The verification — and the inevitable challenging — of the signatures will spawn bigger trouble than that generated by the last presidential electoral dispute.

We take the first step toward a People’s Initiative as a fallback and that is the beginning of the end for charter change.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 10, 2006)

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