POSTSCRIPT / October 19, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Charges, suspension: Binay had it coming

CONDOLENCE: This personal footnote has nothing to do with the suspension of Makati Mayor Jojo Binay. It is more about his getting so rattled by Malacanang’s mailed fist that he gets confused over little things.

Jojo, who I remember from our UPROTC days as a good soldier and a fast worker, sent me a letter of condolence days ago. Why he did, I don’t know.

“On behalf of my wife, Ellen, and our family,” he says, “I would like to express our heartfelt condolences to you and your family on the demise of your beloved mother, Maria.”

“Words are not enough to describe the pain of losing a loved one,” he went on. “…We humbly offer our prayers for your mother, that her soul….”

I am touched, really, despite the fact that my mother’s name is not Maria but Leonila, and that she died a good five years ago, on May 2, 2001.

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BINAY LIE: This reminds me of some columns I wrote when I was editor-in-chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer about a Commission on Audit report on Jojo’s alleged misuse of millions in public funds as the hungry newly-installed mayor of Makati.

(It is uncanny that even at that time some two decades ago he was already being linked to big-time overpricing and payroll padding.)

The audit report was leaked to me by a COA official, who begged me to use it for the sake of good government. He expressed fear that if it was not publicized enough, somebody high up in Malacanang might move fast to save Jojo’s neck.

Remember, Jojo was with the vanguard that dismantled the dictator’s steely network. He was deservedly a minor hero of sorts at the time, at least to the anti-Marcos crowd.

Giving his side would have been okey lang sana, as he was entitled to defend himself, but he said something about me that was false and malicious. He said I published the audit report’s content because I was paid to do it.

Jojo should not think that just because he gets paid royally or rakes in millions for doing something, everyone in media who criticizes him also has the same mercenary motives.

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WHY ONLY BINAY?: If you stay tuned to the newscast long enough, you will catch one familiar line spoken in Jojo’s defense in this his latest encounter with the law.

His apologists will ask: Why only Binay? Why is Malacanang picking on the opposition?

I have heard one of Jojo’s great friends, a popular lawyer who claims to stand as pro bono attorney for millionaires, use that wornout line with dramatic flourish but with no telling effect.

The “Why only me?” question is premised on a faulty theory that if the law cannot catch all the crooks on this side of Culi-culi, it should not be applied on anyone of them.

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WE’LL GET THEM ALL: Reminds me of that time when a CHIP (California Highway Patrol) caught me speeding on the scenic highway 280 snaking through the West Coast mountains.

As I was actually with a covey of cars doing something like 70 miles per hour (the speed limit then was only 55 mph), I demanded to know why he picked on me, an Asian, when the rest of the vehicles were going just as fast.

“Don’t worry,” he said, proceeding to write the violation ticket. “We’ll get them.”

To his protestations that he was being singled out, the Ombudsman may want to stamp her foot on Jojo’s million-dollar fender and say “Don’t worry, we’ll soon get the rest of you.”

Note that the Department of Interior and Local Government has suspended also some mayors who are not exactly opposition types. Samples: Braulio Yaranon of Baguio, Jose Catindig Jr. of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, Jerry de la Cerna of Davao Oriental and Jose Galario Jr. of Valencia, Bukidnon.

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DEMONIZING SC: If you have been paying attention also to the stepped-up justification of the illegal purchase by the Commission on Elections of almost 2,000 automated counting machines at some P500,000 apiece, you will note a curious emphasis.

There is a campaign to demonize the Supreme Court by picturing it as obstructing the computerization of national elections by standing by its voiding of the P1.3-billion contract for the ACMs.

Comelec apologists harp on the line that the 2007 elections should be computerized to minimize cheating and speed up the counting, but that this is not likely to happen because the Supreme Court does not want the Comelec to use the ACMs already available.

The fact is that the Supreme Court — like all concerned citizens — wants honest and efficient elections through computerization if necessary.

What the court has struck down is the anomalous procurement of computerization equipment — not computerization itself. Not only that — it wants the characters behind the illegal transaction to pay for their misdeed.

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FALSE EMERGENCY: The Comelec line is that the ACMs are already there, so why not use them? Time is running out daw.

One of the tricks of government operators is to create a critical time-situation, cry emergency and then dispense with bidding on the ground that the supply or equipment is urgently needed and that the niceties of lawful procedures will get in the way.

The moment the hot ACMs being warehoused with the use of public funds are taken out and allowed to be used, or even borrowed, by the Comelec, the basis for prosecuting the crooks who pushed the illegal deal would be weakened.

That is one of the reasons why nervous officials are insisting that the ACMs be used in the 2007 elections. They also tried selling the idea during the last elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, but failed.

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COMELEC TO BLAME: If we need computerized equipment for 2007, let us buy new ones with everybody watching. New money is being appropriated.

Why not use the ACMs already with the Comelec? Because they are the fruits and the evidence of an illegal act. In fact the spending of public funds to warehouse those computers that the government does not own is another continuing crime.

Let us not blame the Supreme Court for that impasse just because it went after the crooks. Blame instead those who violated the law and the Comelec’s own bidding rules in closing the deal, accepting delivery and paying for the ACMs.

By their utter mismanagement of electoral affairs, the officials whose duty it is to oversee such political exercises have put the process in jeopardy, including the 2004 and the coming 2007 elections.

(Believe me, despite the contrived noise over constitutional changes, there will be elections next year.)

* * *

WHY NO TRO: The Supreme Court ordered that the machines be returned and the more than P1-billion payments recovered, but the Comelec contemptuously defied the order. Is the Comelec more afraid of the supplier than of the court?

If Comelec officials continue to refuse to get a refund as ordered, let them pay for the machines from their entitlements from the government and from their private assets.

There was no urgency or compelling reason to grant a temporary restraining order sought to stop delivery and payment. There was no imminent irreparable damage.

There is relief, as mentioned above, available in case officials and suppliers tried pulling a fast one on the government.

It is ridiculous for anyone to argue that since the Supreme Court did not issue a TRO, it gave the go signal for the delivery of, and the full payment for, the ACMs. If those mouthing this line think so, let them make that statement before the Supreme Court.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 19, 2006)

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