POSTSCRIPT / July 27, 2008 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Palace must not rush signing of MILF pact

QUESTIONS: Before President Gloria Arroyo finalizes a supposed peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, may I suggest that some prior questions be answered for the assurance of the Filipino public:

Why does Malacañang refuse to publish and publicly discuss the text of the proposed agreement?

Who or what does the MILF represent and commit when it signs the document? Does the MILF hold a verified document affirming that it represents the parties it claims to commit?

Is the government of the Republic of the Philippines signing opposite the MILF? If so, why do we tolerate the imbalance of having a band of rebels signing as equal to the Strong Republic?

With MILF singled out, what is the status of the Moro National Liberation Front and other Muslim bands that carry arms and operate now or in the future? Does the government plan to sign separate agreements with them?

Are foreign states/bodies represented in the negotiation and the signing of the agreement? If so, what is their personality? Is their imprimatur or prior approval needed to interpret and enforce the agreement?

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PROTESTS: So much time and resources are wasted over election protests that are sometimes rooted mostly on a losing candidate’s refusing to swallow his or her pride.

The protest over the election of Pampanga priest-governor Ed Panilio comes to mind. He won by a slim 1,147 votes over former board member Lilia Pineda, wife of alleged jueteng lord Bong Pineda of Lubao.

Her protest alleges that the priest cheated her in virtually all the 4,847 precincts in all the 20 towns and the capital city of Pampanga. The protest has been elevated to the Comelec en banc after Pineda won a tactical point in one division.

Would a normal person believe such allegations of massive cheating by a priest who ran without a war chest and a political party?

With her family’s billions and her husband’s bruised pride, Pineda’s protest is likely to be fought all the way to the Supreme Court.

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CITIZENSHIP: Another interesting protest is that one filed against Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn S. Limkaichong, who won in the last election by 7,746 votes over Olivia Paras, and by 40,000 over former congressman Jerome Paras.

Olivia Paras protested, saying that Limkaichong is not a natural-born Filipino, as required of candidates for Congress, but was Chinese when she was born on Nov. 9, 1959.

To our simple mind, the Comelec should not have allowed Limkaichong to run in the first place if she was not a Filipino at birth (she was). After the Comelec approved her candidacy and later proclaimed her winner, it is estopped from unseating her belatedly.

And since the protest came after she was proclaimed and installed into office, the case is a post-proclamation contest that, under the Constitution, should be heard only by the House electoral tribunal — not in the courts or elsewhere.

The protest is unfortunate because with Negros Oriental being among the worst hit by typhoon Frank, everybody on both sides of the political fence should cast aside petty politics and join hands in helping the calamity victims.

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GUIAO NEXT: In the Panlilio post-proclamation case, even if the priest is removed as governor, Pineda the protester will not necessarily take over as governor.

The elections are over. There is already an elected, proclaimed and regularly installed vice governor, who is Yeng Guiao. If Panlilio is removed, Guiao — not Pineda — will take over as governor.

Lilia Pineda missed a chance for a grand display of political maturity when she refused to concede despite the clear, although slim, victory of Panlilio. It is not too late for her to redeem herself — if her husband allows her.

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LAUNDERING: In a parallel way that dirty money can be laundered, Lilia would have been able to launder their family’s name by declaring after the polls that the sovereign people of Pampanga have spoken and she was heeding their verdict.

She could have added value to that act by announcing that she was ready to help and cooperate with Panlilio in projects and activities clearly to the best interest of their cabalen.

Playing her cards according to the reformist wind blowing through her province, she would have earned points, moved higher in the esteem of provincemates and key observers outside, and emerged as the logical successor to the priest-turned-governor.

But I think high pride intervened. It was probably a big blow to the pride that a kingmaker is unable to make himself king or his own wife queen.

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BIG BUSINESS: But in the transactional context of Philippine politics, poll protests are part of the big business.

Imagine what would happen to Comelec commissioners if everything in every election went trouble-free and protest-less? Remember, business-minded people in the poll body have a chance to make big money only when there are elections.

So even when a protest is clearly beyond the jurisdiction of the Comelec, there is mighty effort to justify the poll body’s giving due course to every protest, then hearing and deciding it.

Take the case of Limkaichong. Being a post-proclamation dispute, the Comelec should throw out outright the protest of Paras to give way for the House electoral tribunal, alone, to hear the protest and rule on it.

Even the Supreme Court, in case some lawyers would attempt to divert it to the high tribunal on some legal pretext, should tell the parties to go to the House.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 27, 2008)

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