POSTSCRIPT / September 20, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Keep quiet, so Gloria can then pardon Erap

HARPING ON IT: It is irresponsible for high officials to keep badgering Malacanang to pardon former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada at this time when his conviction for plunder is still fresh in the public mind.

Having said their piece that the 70-year-old Erap deserves pardon or to be included in an omnibus amnesty, they should leave it at that.

Senate President Manuel Villar, for instance, goes around telling everybody who would care to listen that Erap should be pardoned or, as he has been saying lately, granted amnesty with a bunch of political prisoners.

We heard him the first and the second time he talked about presidential pardon. There is no need for him to harp on it.

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BEHAVIORAL: A psychiatrist friend tells me that there are several reasons for this kind of behavior of politicos obsessed with capturing Malacanang.

Villar may be trying to unburden his conscience over his having done the dirty job, as then Speaker of the House, of reading non-stop into the record the impeachment charges against Erap over the angry objections from the floor.

He may be trying to live down that embarrassing episode. The irony was that that chore was not even his. It was assigned to then Deputy Speaker Alfredo Abueg Jr. of Palawan, but when Villar got wind of it and saw the possibilities, he grabbed it.

He is going out of his way to show contrition. That makes sense, because the detainee tending to his feathered flock in Tanay is more valuable to Villar in 2010 than the lameduck roosting by the Pasig.

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RIGHT TIMING: But when (not if) President Arroyo pardons Erap or signs an amnesty proclamation that includes him, it will not be because, but in spite, of Villar and other presidential wannabes needling her.

Whether pardon or amnesty, we can be sure that such accommodation will be forged after the two presidents are convinced that such move is to their common interest – not because of kibitzing.

It is wrong psychology to publicly pressure Ms Arroyo. If those noisy politicians demanding instant freedom for Erap really want him pardoned, they should keep quiet or make lakad quietly.

They do not have to make a big show of demanding it — and then claiming part of the credit when it happens. Such antics betray bad faith.

There is also the matter of timing. How would it look if right after Erap was declared guilty, the President butted in with a pardon?

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SUB JUDICE: There are other reasons why presidential wannabes should tone down or turn off their free-Erap statements.

One big reason is that the case is, in a way, sub judice.

We are still in that period when Erap can move for reconsideration of the Sandiganbayan’s convicting him. His lawyers have announced that they are finalizing the motion.

Failing in his bid to overturn his conviction, Erap can keep going up all the way to the Supreme Court, where the focus will be on the applicable law and not so much on the facts.

In midstream, political interference by way of a presidential pardon or a Congress-approved amnesty could be disturbing. It could sour the mutual courtesy among the three branches of government.

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COSTLY DELAY: From March to April this year, the National Power Corp. entered into negotiated deals with Australia’s Hunter Valley Coal Corp. for five panamax loads of coal at a price of around $84 per metric ton, or a total of P312.2 million per shipment.

Panamax vessels are built to the maximum measurements that will fit through the locks of the Panama Canal. Each panamax loads around 65,000 tons of coal.

Napocor made the purchase despite its claims that it had secured its needed stocks since last December.

Napocor’s delayed purchase, made at a much higher price, was blamed for the sudden rotating brownouts in many parts of the country last April because its power plants lacked the coal they needed.

* * *

DELIBERATE?: It is intriguing that Napocor has entered into a negotiated deal after declaring a failed bidding for coal.

Industry sources said the bidding was cancelled as there were no bids submitted after Napocor set a ceiling price of about $68 a ton, which was far below the market price.

One is tempted to ask if the price was not deliberately made too low to force a bid failure and enable Napocor to then go for negotiated purchases where the price is comparatively higher.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. had said that the $84-per-metric-ton negotiated price of Australian coal is much higher than the prevailing price of $64/MT and triple the procurement cost for coal at $28 to $30/MT under long-term sales contracts.

The Department of Energy has repeatedly told Napocor to enter into long-term coal supply contracts so the price would be much cheaper, but officials of the power company appear to have ignored this directive.

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ALL’S WELL…: I do not watch much TV, but I was told that ABS-CBN has apologized for showing my picture last Sept. 12 instead of that of my namesake Federico C. Pascual who was GSIS boss when the state firm bought shares of Belle Corp. on orders of Erap.

The gesture is much appreciated. News reporting is a fast-paced activity and in the rush of things we all commit errors. The test of a true journalist is not in his never making mistakes, because he does, but in his making prompt corrections and sincere amends.

Good luck to the ABS-CBN, its staff and its owners the Lopezes.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 20, 2007)

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