POSTSCRIPT / February 6, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who's afraid of Nur and his OIC patrons?

CALIBRATED GAME: Why release Moro leader Nur Misuari — now residing in a private house while facing rebellion charges — without bail or any third-party guarantee?

Why must Misuari be an exception to the rule just because his followers are threatening mayhem after holding for two days a Marine general, a Malacanang official and several others who had gone to their Sulu camp on a peace mission?

If Misuari, former chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, is released on his own recognizance, it will only confirm to the whole world that the Philippine government is afraid to confront those secessionist trouble-makers in the South.

Is it the administration’s calibrated game plan to just keep Moro rebels at bay, avoiding an all-out conflagration, pulling punches and giving them concessions now and then until President Gloria Arroyo safely completes her term in 2010?

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LIMP WRIST: It is comforting to hear Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s misgivings about that MNLF faction detaining a fellow officer ( Maj. Gen. Mohamad Ben Dolorfino) and demanding that Misuari be freed to attend another tripartite meeting in March.

Also admirable, this time, is the lawyer’s instinct of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez reacting to the hostage-taking. If Dolorfino and the rest were prevented from leaving the rebel camp, he said, that was illegal detention.

But now Malacanang wants us to believe that Dolorfino and the weekend picnickers with him were actually just enjoying the nature trip and the hospitality of our Muslim brothers.

That belated explanation cannot draw attention away from the embarrassing limp wrist of the government in dealing with Moro secessionists. It is obvious that the government is scared.

Nasaan na yung (where is the) alleged Strong Republic that President Gloria Arroyo had so grandiosely announced some time back?

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HOLDING BACK: The Arroyo administration barks menacingly and froths in the mouth when handling outspoken critics in media and the Left, but tucks its tail between the legs when it sees Moro warriors brandishing their weaponry.

The weak political leadership in Manila is not doing justice to the bravery and patriotism of our soldiers in the field.

In grand PR fashion, remember, no less than President George W. Bush talked glowingly of the string of high-profile victories scored by our armed forces in the Sulu-Basilan range of the Abu Sayyaf group.

With Abu leaders falling one after another and their fighters decimated, the military’s logical follow-through is to press on. But no, our soldiers reportedly have been ordered to hold back as demanded by the MNLF band of Misuari.

Too long has Malacanang closed its eyes to the fact that those disparate rebel groups are strips cut from the same cloth. When one Moro faction is cornered, the others (including those pretending to side with the government just to gain concessions) come to its rescue.

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SHOWDOWN: The name of Gloria Arroyo and of her predecessor Joseph “Erap” Estrada will not be on the ballot in May, but they will be the main protagonists in what is shaping up to be a proxy fight.

Before he fades away from the political screen, the actor-turned-politician will try turning the tables on his former vice president who, he said, illegally grabbed the presidency from him in 2001.

The main theater will be the congressional elections where Mr. Estrada will go all-out to wrest more than a third of all members of the House of Representatives needed to impeach the president while Ms Arroyo will help at least two thirds of them to win.

By the sheer number of congressmen who must win and remain loyal to Ms Arroyo, her nationwide campaign will be more expensive and more difficult. Her waning popularity as shown by surveys will add to the burden.

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INHERITANCE: Aside from putting Ms Arroyo in her proper place, Mr. Estrada has another item on his urgent agenda.

Before time inexorably erodes his legendary mass appeal, he has to install in the Senate another son from another branch of the lush family tree. Never mind if his mother-and-son tandem of Loi and Jinggoy now sits in the small chamber of 24 members.

Despite the desire of Loi and her children for her to run for another term, the pater familias has decreed that she should retire to become his “caregiver” while his other son, San Juan Mayor J. V. Ejercito, takes over her Senate seat.

That is how it is with political dynasties. They apportion public offices among themselves and decide who and when one of them will take a government post. Offices, plus the millions that come with them, are assigned or handed down like inheritance.

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THREE INSERTIONS: This forcing through of Mr. Estrada, with his son J.V in his arms, has run smack into the political-dynasty objection raised by former Sen. Francisco S. Tatad, an opposition stalwart, and other discerning observers.

But the opposition hardly has any choice but to live with Mr. Estrada’s dream for his son.

With its coffers empty and its machinery in a sad state of disrepair, the opposition more or less revolves around Mr. Estrada nursing his wounds in his resthouse in the woods of Tanay. How does one go against the wishes of somebody who is ready to bankroll the campaign?

Maybe, just maybe, one dynastic insertion into the UNO senatorial ticket can be tolerable, but with J.V. in, how can coalition leaders say no to the simultaneous entry of Allan Peter, the brother of Sen. Pia Cayetano, and Koko, the son of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel?

* * *

VENEER OF LEGALITY: The opposition cannot make an exception of J. V. Ejercito and then bar Allan Peter Cayetano pole-vaulting from Taguig and Koko Pimentel trying to recover from his loss in his last bid for mayor of Cagayan de Oro.

Pero puede na rin siguro, because in this country it is what the political lords (and their patrons) say and not what the electorate really wants that prevails.

We hold elections not really to install in office all the men and women whom the people want to lead them, but merely to create a veneer of legality to justify the choices of the dynasties.

* * *

MENTAL DISHONESTY: It was amusing listening to Koko Pimentel justify in the radio program of a lavishly supportive broadcaster his running on the UNO ticket despite the dynasty issue thrown his way.

A lawyer, Pimentel’s argument is legalistic. He says simply that while there is a constitutional ban on political dynasties, there is as yet no enabling law specifying what a dynasty is. In that, he is correct, legally speaking.

Therefore, says the smart lawyer, he cannot be barred legally from running for the Senate and possibly gaining a seat beside his father, the revered Nene Pimentel. Again he is correct, legally speaking.

But with due respect, I dare say he is wrong. This man who wants to become a senator is at least guilty of mental dishonesty.

Deep in his heart, he knows he is wrong, but he is using a worn-out legal justification for his violation of the spirit of the Constitution.

* * *

NO ENABLING LAW: It is true that there is no law saying that no two siblings or a father-and-son tandem may sit together in the Senate.

Article II, Sec. 26, of the 1987 Constitution simply says, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

But the Congress, whose members will be the first to be hit by an anti-dynasty law, has refused for the past 20 years to enact an implementing law. So now we have such people as Koko Pimentel invoking the absence of a precise prohibition.

Must the country suffer because of the selfish refusal of lawmakers to enact a law carrying out the people’s mandate to prohibit political dynasties? What do we do when the same lawmakers and their sons and siblings invoke — nay, flaunt — their own negligence?

* * *

SAME OFFICE, SAME TIME: As regards the spirit of the Constitution, Mr. Tatad made an indirect reference to it when he said in his Jan. 15, 2007, letter to Mr. Estrada airing his misgivings on the inclusion of dynastic candidates in the UNO ticket:

“But even in the worst of cases, dynastic family members try simultaneously to occupy as many DIFFERENT offices as possible, or else they alternate or rotate in holding on to a particular office that allows them to exercise power.

“Never do they sit together IN THE SAME OFFICE AT THE SAME TIME. This is precisely what the three young men’s senatorial bid threatens to alter.” (capitals mine)

However one looks at it, except probably from the legal point of view, the sitting together as senators in the same small chamber of two siblings or a parent-and-child violates the spirit of the constitutional ban on political dynasties.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 6, 2007)

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