POSTSCRIPT / February 18, 2007 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec can redeem its name, save nation

LAST CHANCE: Has it not occurred to Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos that while the May elections are a big challenge, they are also an opportunity for him to finally redeem his name and that of the Commission on Elections?

Abalos and the rest of the poll commissioners should devote their waking hours to using the powerful agency to ensuring really clean and credible elections. There are still many sectors willing to help if the Comelec just shows good faith.

This may be Abalos’ last chance to redeem his name and resurrect the Comelec — and with it the Republic — from the ashes of the 2004 presidential elections tainted by charges of massive fraud.

His family and friends should talk to Abalos about this. Let us pray for him, that he be able to rise above commercial interests and cast aside any political commitment that may have blurred his vision in the past.

If we and the Comelec still bungle the May 2007 elections, our frail nation may not be able to survive the ensuing crisis.

* * *

PATCH-UP JOB: What? This early the GMA Team seems to be already falling apart like a playhouse hastily glued together from cardboard and sticks.

The backing out last Friday of Leyte Gov. Jericho Petilla from the administration’s senatorial lineup a day before the bandwagon was to roll out in Cebu exposed Malacañang’s failure to cover all angles in putting together a senatorial lineup.

Another embarrassment occasioned by Petilla’s withdrawal was in the GMA Team handlers’ having to swallow their boast that they would not go down to fielding movie stars.

Within the day of Petilla’s backing out, his replacement by actor Cesar Montano was fait accompli. Bakit artista na naman? Wala na po bang iba?

The actor himself said, “I am really glad (about being drafted) because I was chosen to run despite there are so many people more qualified than me.”

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REAL REASON: But we would not swallow oppositionist talk that Petilla withdrew because he was worried about being dragged down by the low approval rating of President Arroyo in some surveys. Petilla is upbeat about the GMA Team.

The supposed plan was for the governor to run for the Senate as a voice of the Visayas, while his mother Leyte Rep. Remedios Petilla runs to take her son’s place at the capitol.

But, as he and his friends tell it, his mother admitted she can no longer stand the rigors of campaigning province-wide. Her governor son said he himself travels about 200 kilometers a day visiting his constituents in Leyte’s five districts.

So now Petilla will run for reelection and, although sitting in the House of Representatives is less physically demanding, his mother will retire.

* * *

PEEWEE CASE: Despite his handicap after being unceremoniously thrown out by order of the Ombudsman, Pasay City Mayor Peewee Trinidad should take his case directly to the people who had elected him to office.

The harassment to which he is being subjected is political. The courts should be able to see more kindly any parallel political move he may take to vindicate himself and his constituents.

I am not a lawyer, but simple logic tells me that the Ombudsman cannot just dismiss from office an elective official facing charges.

I am citing Trinidad’s case, but the principles involved apply to other elective officials similarly situated.

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HIGH-HANDED: In the first place, an official being prosecuted is presumed, like the rest of us, to be innocent. Trinidad has not been convicted, so he is presumed innocent. If so, why was he dismissed?

Maybe he could be preventively suspended, but dismissing him at the outset and disqualifying him from holding public office is something else. That is already imposing a penalty, which is to be done only upon conviction.

In the second place, the Ombudsman’s main function is to investigate and determine if there is a prima facie case against the accused. If it finds probable cause, it files the charge in court, in this case the Sandiganbayan.

If dismissal is in order, the Sandiganbayan (the court) will decide that — certainly not the Ombudsman which is mainly an investigative body and part of the Executive department that is harassing Trinidad.

* * *

ELECTION KASI: It is an open secret in Pasay that Trinidad was dismissed to remove his advantage as an incumbent in the coming May elections.

A woman close to somebody in Malacañang is reportedly eyeing the mayoralty. To pave the way for her election, Trinidad was charged with some alleged violation in the awarding of a garbage collection contract.

It is possible in this imperfect world that the mayor, the vice mayor and the city council (many of whose members were also suspended/dismissed) may have approved a defective contract, but that should be left to the court to determine.

And while the court (Sandiganbayan) is sorting out the legal points and determining guilt, Trinidad and the other accused are presumed innocent.

Presumed innocent, why were these elected officials dismissed outright?Kasi po election na!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 18, 2007)

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