POSTSCRIPT / May 23, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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With evidence lost, no choice but compromise

42nd VICTIM: As I was typing this, a report from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines came in that Palawan broadcaster Fernando “Dong” Batul was murdered yesterday morning on his way to anchor his regular Bastonero program on DYPR in Puerto Princesa.

He is/was the 42nd journalist killed under the Arroyo administration. It is uncanny that during this rampage of assassins targeting journalists, not a word of assurance or a vow to catch the killers has been heard from the President.

Batul was murdered just three days after UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura warned that “when violence poses a permanent threat for journalists, it poses a threat to the whole of society.”

Recent victims included Albert Orsolino, gunned down in Caloocan City on May 16, and Iring Maranan, mauled just hours after Orsolino’s murder, by a councilor of San Pablo City, Laguna, in full view of a crowd of about 100, including journalists.

The death toll of journalists during Ms Arroyo’s watch has outstripped the 34 recorded during the 14-year Marcos dictatorship.

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LOST OR SOLD: Behind the plan of the administration to compromise the Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases is the well-kept secret that the government cannot win its cases anyway, because vital documents had been lost or stolen. (Some say sold.)

So, if the all-important evidence is missing, the next best thing to do is to compromise. No choice.

Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor should not feed us the crap that a compromise is being considered because the administration wants to recover and use the Marcos fortune for housing, education, food security and health care.

We all know that once the money is transferred from the Marcoses to the government, it is liable, like the vital documents covering it, to get lost or stolen again.

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WHERE’S MONEY?: Until now, the public is in the dark as to what happened to the initial $685 million transferred by court order from the Swiss accounts of the Marcoses to the Philippine treasury.

That money was supposedly for agrarian reform and a small token slice of it for victims of Marcos torture. Who got it instead?

Accused of misusing the bulk of that Marcos fund to advance her candidacy in the last presidential elections, President Arroyo has not been able to account publicly for it.

Early on, in a grand act of distraction, the President asked Congress to set aside P8 billion for the Marcos torture victims. Imagine, the President was urging the legislature to usurp the judicial function of awarding damages to parties in a lawsuit!

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PCGG & PALACE: And then also, Defensor should not insult the people by telling them that Malacañang has nothing to do with the move of the Presidential Commission on Good Government to strike a deal with the Marcoses.

Believe it or not, Defensor explained: “The PCGG is an independent constitutional body — independent of us — but I think the Palace also wants a speedy, fair and just resolution to efforts to recover (the ill-gotten Marcos wealth).”

By its name alone, one would know that the PCGG is an agency under the President.

Somebody should tell Defensor that the PCGG is not a constitutional body. It is an appendage of the Palace, a presidential creation under Executive Order No. 1 signed by then revolutionary President Cory Aquino on Feb. 28, 1986.

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MOTIVATIONS: But Defensor is right in saying that the Marcos family wants the compromise just as badly as the Arroyo administration. The two parties have that common desire for closure — but for far different reasons.

The Marcoses not only want to be finally free to withdraw and use the wealth that they had squirreled away during the dictatorship.

THEY ALSO WANT TO BUY BACK RESPECTABILITY.

One lesson here for those in public service is that if they have to steal, they must steal really big.

They will need tons of money later to buy investigators, prosecutors and judges, to retain the best lawyers, hire the best PR experts to project an unsullied image, and to bribe the poor masses.

They will also need lots of money to buy a compromise with whoever is sitting in Malacañang on the day of reckoning.

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FOR THE POOR: As for the Arroyo administration, it seems that it needs the Marcos billions in the same manner or for similar reasons that it needed the repatriated Swiss deposits during the 2004 presidential election campaign.

As those Swiss accounts were pried open in the name of farm sharecroppers and torture victims, now somebody wants the balance of the Marcos loot in the name of housing, education, food security and health care for the masses.

One would weep hearing them invoke the name of the poor while somebody reaches for the loot with sticky fingers.

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QUESTIONS: The matter of compromise should not be a hush-hush affair between the Arroyo family (with the PCGG fronting for it) and the Marcoses. The public is entitled to know the answers to some questions.

Who is asking for a compromise — is it the government (PCGG) or the Marcoses?

What specific cases are being compromised and why (specify reason for each case)? What is the amount involved in each case?

What cases are deemed virtually lost because the evidence is missing? Who is held accountable for lost or stolen documents?

Is the compromise being considered only for specific cases or is it an omnibus settlement that will free forever the Marcoses, their in-laws, cronies and agents of all criminal and civil liabilities in all cases arising from or related to the Marcos dictatorship?

Who are the lawyers, runners and contacts working on the compromise?

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FOR WHOM?: President Gloria Arroyo has issued an Executive Order reducing the tariff on crude oil and refined petroleum products from 3 percent to 0-2 percent if/when the need arises in the next six months.

The intention, the President says, is to cushion the impact of rising oil prices on consumers and the economy.

Questions from the badly scarred public: Who pockets the savings? How sure are we that ALL the savings derived from the tariff cuts will be used to lower retail prices to benefit consumers and not retained by the oil firms?

With the oil industry having been deregulated under RA 8479 — meaning the government cannot dictate prices — how can the administration force the oil companies to pass on to consumers their entire tariff savings by lowering pump prices?

Maybe the administration has an airtight scheme for forcing oil companies to pass on to consumers ALL their savings from tariff reduction. If such a scheme is in place, Malacañang may want to explain how it works.

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GOV’T ASLEEP: While the Malacañang experts are at it, they might also want to comment on revelations of the socio-economic think tank IBON Foundation that petroleum products have been overpriced by P3.64 per liter from the year 2000 to last April.

The overpricing, according to IBON, fattened the oil companies by about P5.42 billion in extra profits. Last year alone, oil products were overpriced by 84 centavos per liter, based on IBON calculations.

The administration cannot dismiss the IBON analysis by discrediting the group as leftist, as if that description is derogatory in this day and age. Numbers are numbers, whether they come from the left or the right.

Why cannot the government, being the agency that is supposed to carry out and protect the will of the majority, function as an ombudsman ceaselessly on the lookout for attempts to cheat the public?

Why does it take an IBON, or a businessman selling air-conditioners to gather data, interpret them for the public, and alert us of any unusual trend in prices?

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VAT HIJACKED?: We cannot blame consumers for being skeptical about government supposedly stabilizing prices and a host of other gut concerns.

At the height of the campaign last year for the passage of an expanded Value-Added Tax, Malacañang said the additional revenues — including the 2 percent tacked on last January to raise the VAT rate to 12 percent — will be used for education, public health and other essential services.

Has the government really dedicated revenues from VAT increases to financing public services, as promised?

As I understand it, VAT collections go straight to the general fund and not to a legislated trust fund for the essential services that Malacañang dangled before taxpayers to hypnotize them into accepting a wider and higher VAT net.

The discrepancy between what the administration says and what it does is one of the reasons why many of us are skeptical whenever it says it intends to do this or to attend to that.

To mend its tattered credibility, the administration may want to show that ALL COLLECTIONS from the expansion of the VAT base and the raising of the rate to 12 percent have been going exclusively to essential services, as promised.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 23, 2006)

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