POSTSCRIPT / October 4, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Scrapping NBN won't satisfy Senate probers

HOT MEAT: Even after President Gloria Arroyo decided — with the nod of her counterpart in Beijing — to scrap the National Broadband Network project, do not expect the bulldogs in the Senate to let go of the hot meat in their mouth.

The reason is simple: The ulterior motive of many of those ripping apart the NBN contract awarded to the Chinese ZTE Corp. is to embarrass, discredit and if possible hound President Arroyo out of office.

That much is clear to most observers of the Senate inquiry into the $330-million project.

On the part of influence-peddlers wanting to grab the project despite their lack of capacity, their game appears to be that if they cannot have that juicy contract, nobody else can.

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SELF-RESPECT: President Arroyo should be credited for showing grace under fire. Weaker personalities would have dropped the NBN project when the hounds in the Senate started barking.

It is a lot easier for a senator who has no commitment to the project sponsor and no interest but to gain publicity points at the expense of the President to say “drop it!”

But a president of a self-respecting country having entered into an understanding with her opposite number cannot behave like a senator playing police, prosecutor, judge and executioner in one sitting.

A president cannot just throw away a government-to-government contract entered into after due diligence upon hearing the usual rustling in the bushes.

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FEEDING FRENZY: More important than dusting off perfunctory allegations of corruption is the preservation of long-term bilateral relations with the country’s most important friend and partner in the region.

So Gloria Arroyo journeyed to Shanghai to personally explain to Chinese President Hu Jintao her difficult decision to discontinue an important project that China has promised to fund with an easy loan.

Responding in kind, the Chinese leader said he understood. Then, and only then, was the NBN project dropped.

But you think the carnivores in the Senate will stop the feeding frenzy after tasting blood? No, they won’t — because they have not ousted Gloria Arroyo.

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FIGHT LIKE HELL: Last Sept. 6, I said in Postscript that the more Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos wiggled, the deeper he sank in the quicksand of his responses to questions on the NBN project.

I suggested that Abalos resign “to shield the Comelec from the splatter, and then fight his tormentors ‘like hell.’”

Last Monday, he finally resigned as the specter of impeachment hung over him. I won’t be surprised if after he let go, he and his family suddenly felt relieved.

I can imagine that Abalos, a lawyer and former judge, is now sufficiently psyched for the counterattack.

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COURT TRIAL: We do not know if Abalos is or is not guilty of bribery as alleged by Joey, the businessman-son of Speaker Jose de Venecia, and by Romulo Neri, former director general of the National Economic and Development Authority.

But having rid himself of the burden of public office, Abalos now has a fair chance of defending himself — in court, which is the proper venue for deciding as close as is humanly possible the guilt or innocence of anybody accused of wrongdoing.

Let’s face it: The Senate or even the two chambers of Congress in joint session are not intended, structured or programmed to perform judicial functions reserved for the courts.

What several senators have been mightily trying to do – to prove the guilt of targeted officials — is open to question.

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NUMBERS GAME: The processing of an impeachment complaint by the House and the trial by the Senate, if it comes to that, are actually not based on the law and the facts of the case.

These political exercises involving constitutional officials are not the correct process for ascertaining guilt or innocence.

Impeachment, as it is with legislative investigations, is simply a game of numbers. Whoever collects more votes, whatever the reasons behind those votes, wins.

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FREE-WHEELING: First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and Abalos cannot clear themselves in a Senate hearing.

How can anybody defend himself in a free-wheeling forum where there are no fixed and fair rules? The very whims and moods of the senators, with one eye on the TV cameras, keep shifting as they play to the gallery and the press.

One would not know if a senator throwing a question is acting as a prosecutor or judge. Or whether he is delivering something for a paying client or performing for media projection.

When the questions start coming, the person being grilled would not know if he had been invited as a resource person, a witness, an accused, or as an accidental prop.

One testifying in good faith is unable to explain fully or proceed in the logic of his honest opinion – and is liable to end up looking stupid or guilty, or both.

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WHAT’S TRUTH?: Aside from telling the truth, a resource person, a witness, a suspect or an accused (one never knows his real role when testifying) has to be sharp and quick.

He should be able to divine right away the motive of every senator asking a question and frame his answers accordingly.

Some senators use the hearings not as fact-finding sorties. They shoot questions to match a preconceived theory that they strive to prove even if they have to squeeze blood from the person under oath.

If the witness does not produce the answers that prove that theory, he is harassed and made to appear as lying.

The poor victim is reminded to tell the truth – truth being whatever supports the theory playing in the mind of the interrogator. Any answer that does not jibe with that theory is deemed a lie.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 4, 2007)

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