POSTSCRIPT / September 13, 2007 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap fate irrelevant to EveryJuan's life

POWER PLAY: So former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was convicted yesterday of plunder and sentenced to life in prison by the Sandiganbayan after a six-year trial.

Erap’s foes, notably former Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson who provided the information that did him in, are now happy? President Gloria Arroyo may be a bit relieved, though somewhat uneasy?

So what? Their reactions to this latest blockbuster bio-flick on Erap have no immediate impact on EveryJuan eking out a marginal existence in the slums and the countryside.

This is political high drama where the masses are mere groundlings. From where they stand, gaping, whether Erap was convicted or acquitted would be irrelevant to their wretched lives.

It would be a big mistake, therefore, for plain folk to allow themselves to be carried away or used, getting sideswiped in the process, in this high-stakes power game of the Politicos, the Ruling Elite and Big Business.

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LET THEM BE: My suggestion then to EveryJuan, and also to the Middle Class, is: Don’t take sides. Bayaan ninyo silang mag-away.

Those politicians are birds of the same feather. Pare-pareho lang sila.When they roost, some of them may be able to grab the higher branches tonight. But that is only for tonight.

Watch closely, from a safe distance, how Gloria and Erap will arrive eventually at a modus vivendi favorable to them — in the same indecent way a settlement appears to have been forged more or less with the Marcoses and Danding Cojuangco.

The case of Erap is not yet resolved. The appeals route goes all the way to the Supreme Court, and it will be a slow due process that gives both sides ample time to work out something, maybe even a presidential pardon, along the way.

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GRACEFUL EXIT: It would be careless of President Arroyo, who is in search of an exit strategy for 2010, to allow a final conviction of her predecessor for massive graft.

After three years or even less, she herself will need somebody in Malacanang who will be willing to cover her tracks. And there is a lot to cover.

Politicians scratch one another’s backs. Their party labeling, as it is with their loyalties, is temporary. Note how they freely amble across the imaginary line between partisan groups.

This space for Postscript would be filled up with names if we started listing the prominent politicians — notably senators and congressmen — who frequently shed party colors to join the other side for convenience.

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FOREIGN EYES: Erap may have captured the sympathy of his fans among the urban poor, but he has reason to worry about how his conviction is presented to the outside world.

The CNN website, for instance, carried an AP story yesterday whose thrust was the court verdict that Estrada took $81 million in bribes and gambling tong. It mentioned that he was deposed in a peaceful People Power revolt reminiscent of Ferdinand Marcos.

With the notoriety of our politicos and rampant graft, plus recent reports of similar convictions of high officials in Korea and Thailand, Erap’s conviction is likely to be well taken abroad. A court decision is presumed to be in order.

Accompanying the CNN report was a police mug shot of Erap (serial number across his chest) looking like he had been dragged from his hideout, his shirt and hair disheveled, and his eyes peering like he was caught red-handed.

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HYBRID STATUS: What is the difference between “nationality” and “citizenship”?

The terms were used in my Postscript last Aug. 26 about Filipinos born before July 4, 1946, possibly being American citizens for having been born in these islands that were at that time still US territory.

I asked reader Elbert Friend, whose memo was the basis of that column, to differentiate between “nationality” and “citizenship.” He emailed me this:

“When the US acquired the Philippines in 1898, the US Congress provided special status for its new subjects by legislating the category of US national for inhabitants of the Philippines. It was a category identified as neither US citizen nor alien, but a hybrid called US national. Upon complete independence in 1946, those Filipinos who were not US citizens became aliens, losing every aspect of their statutory US nationality.

“As the status of US national for Filipinos was the direct result of the United States’ assumption of sovereignty over the Philippines, there remained no justification for continuing such status after the Philippine independence in 1946.

“US ‘nationals’ are persons owing permanent allegiance to the United States. They have all the rights and privileges like citizens except they do not have political rights. In short, ‘nationals’ cannot vote or be voted upon.”

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DIVESTITURE: Friend continued: “The constitutionality of the actions of Congress in creating a hybrid status and denying citizenship is in question.

“When Congress legislated the special status as US nationals, the statute provided that those opting to remain as citizens of Spain or other countries may remain as such. In other words, the Filipinos then were free to choose.

It is submitted that the divestiture of US national status of Filipinos born during 1898-1946 territorial period without due process of law (without their consent) was unconstitutional and therefore null and void.

“Our friend Eli Pamatong puts it plainly: While prolonging the life of a person can be done without first obtaining his consent, consent to taking that life cannot be implied. It’s like a gift. You cannot take it back without the receiver’s consent.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 13, 2007)

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