POSTSCRIPT / September 7, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Congress playing sheriff of Hawaii district court?

NO R.P. HEARING: Is the P10 billion just approved by the Senate (P8 billion by the House) as compensation for victims of Marcosian torture separate from the $150-million payment earlier ordered by the US District Court in Hawaii paid to the same claimants?

The question is being raised because if the answer is Yes, the payments could result in double compensation. And if it is No, which is likely, then the victims may have to go through another process of proving in a Philippine court, or a similar body, their individual cases.

Rod C. Domingo Jr., Filipino counsel for some 7,500 claimants, had told Postscript that the Hawaii court originally ordered $1.9-billion compensation, but reduced it to $150 million (P8 billion) to conform with a compromise between the defendant Marcos estate and the plaintiffs.

He said this judgment, affirmed by the US appellate courts, has become final and executory. Ten percent of the net amount (after expenses) recovered for the victims would go to their lawyers.

We proceed from the assumption that there is almost universal agreement that the victims must be compensated for the wrongs inflicted on them or their family members.

Still, the appropriation of P10 billion (or P8 billion) by Congress raises many interesting issues that must be resolved to ensure that the payment is not embroiled in controversies.

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NAGGING POINTS: Some of the lingering questions are:

In approving the appropriation, is Congress just carrying out the decision of the Hawaii court? If so, since when have our senators and congressmen been reduced to acting as sheriff or agent of an American court?

Have the victims filed any claim before a Philippine court? If not, is not the legislature usurping the judicial function of hearing claims, deciding them and fixing compensation for each injury?

Is it proper for Congress or Malacanang to merely affirm or adopt the Hawaii court decision and move to execute it without reviewing each of the individual claims?

Will payment of compensation mean that Congress and President Gloria Arroyo (if she approves it) are validating the charge that Ferdinand E. Marcos or his administration in fact inflicted the injury alleged by each of the 10,000 or so claimants?

Are we about to adopt a state policy of compensating victims of torture inflicted by officials or their agents? Does this mean that victims under other regimes, including that of President Arroyo, should also be compensated?

Since the defendant in the Hawaii suit is the Marcos estate, why is Congress appropriating public funds for paying Marcos’ victims? Why not force the Marcoses to pay from their current assets?

The hoard recovered from Switzerland and turned over to the Philippine treasury is no longer Marcos money but public funds in the care of the government.

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CLAIMS BOARD: A Human Rights Claims Board is to be created under the bill to see to it, among other tasks, that the funds set aside for the victims are properly disbursed.

The quasi-judicial body would consist of two representatives from the public sector to be appointed by the President and three representatives from non-government organizations that were attending to the needs of the victims during the martial law period.

Will this body merely take off where the Hawaii court had left off? Will it recognize and adopt the decision of that court and, in effect, act as its agent? If not, will it hear all over again the claims of the alleged Marcos torture victims?

Would it be proper for the claims board to dispense with examining the cases independently from the earlier action of the Hawaii court?

Now if there is a claims board for Marcos victims, why not similar bodies in the future to attend to other victims or persons similarly situated? Why the unique attention to Marcos victims?

If President Gloria Arroyo approves the final version of the bill, will she be estopped from disapproving any bill that may be passed later for paying individuals claiming to be victims of torture under her administration?

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BANKS LAZY?: Maybe Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri was quoted out of context, but it was disconcerting to see him criticizing the banking industry for supposedly being “lazy” in helping boost the economy through increased lending.

One of the flagship programs being pursued by the administration is infrastructure development to attract investors, especially in the countryside.

But by making that unfortunate remark, Neri may have given local and foreign investors another reason for concluding that investing in the Philippines is such a high-risk venture.

Over the years, foreign direct investments here have dropped, according to the Asian Development Bank, as businessmen noted the “political uncertainties” and a lack of public investment in infrastructure.

Instead of considering the factors — such as creditworthiness of borrowers and the overall business climate — behind the seemingly lukewarm attitude of the banks in lending, Neri accused them of being remiss in their obligation to be prime movers of the country’s economy.

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TOO SWEEPING: The state of the business environment has everything to do with Neri’s job as socioeconomic planning boss and director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority.

It is his responsibility to make sure that the business environment is attractive enough to draw serious investors.

Leonilo Coronel, executive director of the Bankers Association of the Philippines, was right when he said that Neri’s statement against banks supposedly not lending enough was too sweeping.

Neri should have investigated first what factors have been impeding a more brisk economic activity.

Investors are still hesitant to come in, because of flip-flopping business policies. Note that many taipans and big businessmen here have been investing elsewhere They do not seem to have confidence in the stability and predictability of economic policies.

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POVERTY: On Neri’s claim that poverty had been reduced, data from the National Statistics Office show that while poverty may have been reduced, it was only because the minimum annual per capita income under which a person is considered poor has been lowered.

In 2004, the National Statistical Coordination Board set the threshold at P12,475 ($243.37, based on an exchange rate of P51.26 to the US dollar) for the whole country and P14,178 ($276.59) in urban areas.

For 2003, the board set the national threshold at P13,113 ($255.81), of which P8,734 ($170.39) was intended for sustaining food needs and the balance of P4,379 ($85.43), for other basic needs.

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LAKESHORE UPDATE: The intramurals threatening the Lakeshore subdivision project beside the North Luzon Expressway in Mexico, Pampanga, appears headed for resolution, to the relief of lot buyers.

The Regional Trial Court of Quezon City has thrown out for lack of a “cause of action” a suit filet by a disgruntled broker against Nestor Mangio, chairman and president of Central Country Estate Inc.

The case was filed by Luisito Hipolito, a broker for the joint venture between CCEI and Sta. Lucia Realty Development (SLRD) Inc. for the development of Lakeshore. The CCEI is the owner of the subdivision while SLRD is the developer.

Judge Jose Paneda of RTC Branch 220 rejected all claims of Hipolito, saying he has no cause action against Mangio or the CCEI since they have no obligation to him under the Joint Venture Agreement.

The court also dismissed Hipolito’s contention that CCEI unilaterally revoked the JVA and did not secure an environmental clearance and an authority to convert the agricultural area to a subdivision. He is not the proper party to file such a case, the court said.

Hipolito had demanded from CCEI his commission for brokering the joint venture. But CCEI told him that it was the SLRD that was under obligation to pay his commission under the JVA.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 7, 2006)

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