POSTSCRIPT / January 25, 2007 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Tatad splits from Erap over JV's senatorial bid

ERROR: A principled disagreement over the dynastic dream of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada to install another son, J. V. Ejercito, in the Senate has sent former senator Francisco S. Tatad distancing himself from the United Opposition chairman emeritus.

Tatad unburdened himself in a 3,200-word letter to Mr. Estrada last Jan. 15, after the New Year’s day meeting of opposition leaders in the latter’s San Juan residence while he was out on a holiday pass from his Tanay detention.

He also questioned the wisdom of including in the UNO ticket Koko the son of Sen. Nene Pimentel, Alan Peter the brother of Sen. Pia Cayetano, and a bevy of political butterflies.

To allow one family’s multiple representation in the Senate, he warned, would be an error.

“Not only would the President (Mr. Estrada) be perpetuating an error,” Tatad said. “He would also be confirming the suspicion of those who reject any possibility of his assuming any leadership role in a post-Arroyo scenario before or after 2010 — that his idea of the national interest is seriously impaired by his devotion to the personal.”

* * *

HOPEFULS: In his letter, Tatad recalled that Tito Sotto, among those present, had much to say about his group seeking inclusion in the UNO senatorial ticket.

The package included: Tessie Aquino Oreta who did not seek reelection after her first term ended in 2001: Sonny Osmeña who ran unsuccessfully on the administration ticket in 2004; Greg Honasan, now under detention on rebellion charges; Loren Legarda who wants to go back to the Senate at the cost of her vice presidential protest against Noli de Castro; and Sotto himself who is back on entertainment TV in preparation for the campaign.

Mention was also made of: Ping Lacson who had abandoned his earlier plan to run for Manila mayor and decided instead to seek reelection; Ed Angara, reported to be putting up a “UnityTicket,” but in whose behalf Loren Legarda had reportedly called Mr. Estrada for inclusion in the UNO lineup; Manny Villar and his group which includes Joker Arroyo, Ralph Recto and Kiko Pangilinan; and Franklin Drilon’s Liberal Party which was reported to be pushing for Noynoy Aquino.

* * *

FAMILY BALL: In so many words, Tatad said he could not stomach the idea of including San Juan Mayor J. V. Ejercito – as well as Koko Pimentel and Alan Peter Cayetano — in the opposition’s slate.

Tatad poured it out: “With great pain, I expressed some reservations about drafting Koko Pimentel, Alan Peter Cayetano and J. V. Ejercito while Koko’s father (Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel), Alan Peter’s sister (Sen. Pia Cayetano), and J. V. Ejercito’s half-brother (Sen. Jinggoy Estrada) are sitting in the Senate until 2010.

“I just could not accept the idea of such bright men doing what the ‘trapo to end all trapos’ would probably not do, and for the Senate, with all its absurdities, to end up as a mad and shallow ‘Family Ball.’ Where Malacanang failed, UNO might just succeed – we would abolish the Senate’s reason for being.

“I would have been proud to campaign for these men if this one impediment did not exist, or if their next of kin gave up their Senate seats right now. But under the circumstances, the Titanic would sink if the three wonders came on board.

“I would rather encourage J. V. Ejercito to go for a third term as mayor of San Juan; Koko Pimentel to try his luck a second time in Cagayan de Oro, where he lost his mayoralty bid when his father was Senate President; and Alan Peter to do something exciting in Taguig in the meantime. They have all the time in the world to wait; they can wait; they should wait.

* * *

TRUTH & ETHICS: “I had to die in that meeting to be able to say the first line of a long sentence,” Tatad said. “I had already lost too many friends because of politics, and I did not want to lose any more than I already have.

“But the truth needed to be said, and nobody else seemed willing to say it. I had to take the risk. The ancients said it so well: Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, sed magis amica veritas – ‘Plato is dear to me, Socrates is dear, but the truth is dearer still.’

“This was not a question of the Constitution or the law, but simply of ethics – of what is right and proper. Article II, Sec. 26 of the 1987 Constitution says, ‘The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.’“No enabling law has been enacted, but we have a serious moral duty to live by the Spirit of the Constitution, and not to make the problem of dynasties any messier than it already is.”

* * *

SAME OFFICE: Tatad continued: “Political dynasties are either appreciated or hated, tolerated or feared. 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.

“The obvious assumption is that the voters are so pissed off with GMA that they will eat any kind of dung we give them. This is false. We cannot have such a very poor opinion of our people.

“In the end, they will prove us wrong, whatever the paid pollsters tell us. But should error and madness prevail, three families would be holding six Senate seats – one-fourth of the Senate – after May 2007. Thereafter, 12 or eight or six families could end up controlling all 24 seats. Husbands and wives, together with their sons and daughters, and uncles and aunties, why not, could end up running as one big gang.”

* * *

NO VESTED RIGHT: Tatad reminded the opposition that it has a special responsibility to make sure this does not even begin to happen, because “the Senate is a small body of 24 members, representing a nation of 90 million Filipinos or about 18 million families.”

“No single family has a vested right to be represented there,” he added. “Membership in the Senate is a privilege conferred by the people. It is a gift from them, except when cheats manage to rig the electoral process.”

“No two senators from a single nuclear family had ever sat there until Jinggoy was elected in 2004, after his mother Sen. Loi Estrada had been elected in 2001. But this was the result of an extraordinary situation, an exception which proves the rule.

“We all know how and why it happened. In 2001, the President was removed in a coup after his impeachment trial was cut short by a walkout of the prosecutors. He wanted to show – and the opposition and the voters agreed with him then – that despite his removal he continued to enjoy popular support which the people were willing to translate into Senate seats for his wife Loi and his son Jinggoy.

“That, however, was to be a one-shot deal only, not to be used as a precedent or model.”

* * *

SELF-SERVING: Tatad told Mr. Estrada: “Now that Senator Loi has decided, in your words, ‘to retire’ and become your ‘caregiver,’ that exceptional situation would cease to exist, and what many believe was truly an error would be finally cured.

“But were the President to inflict his other son J.V. Ejercito on the UNO ticket, then he would be perpetuating an error, and encouraging others to follow his example, as seems to be happening now to the two otherwise bright young men – Alan Peter Cayetano and Koko Pimentel.

“Not only would the President be perpetuating an error. He would also be confirming the suspicion of those who reject any possibility of his assuming any leadership role in a post-Arroyo scenario before or after 2010 – that his idea of the national interest is seriously impaired by his devotion to the personal. This is totally unnecessary and unfair.

“We at UNO cannot possibly support this error without in effect telling the masses, whose champions we say we are, that, contrary to what we have been saying to them, and what we have led them to believe, our primary interest has never been to serve them but only to serve ourselves. We would thereby be throwing away our moral advantage, and making our party the most effective campaigners for the administration.”

* * *

TURNING POINT: Tatad concluded: “This, for me then, is a new turning point. I began my political career in 1969, when I was appointed to the Cabinet at 29, the youngest such appointee in our history. Through the years, I have fought many fights, many of them lost causes. I have not learned to exchange principle for personal pleasure or profit, and I have always paid the price.

“This allows me to stand on my own, with no fear of powers or personalities, of the dark or of the light; to snore quietly in my sleep every night in the hope of waking up in the morning to a loving and merciful God, and to speak up whenever truth demands a witness, and something that needs to be said in speech and in silence is not being said.

“I would be untrue to myself if I said that what the leaders of UNO propose to do with their ‘Unity Ticket’ is right. It is most certainly not, and I will not dishonor our friendship by keeping silent or pretending that it is right, or of little or no consequence.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 25, 2007)

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