POSTSCRIPT / November 13, 2008 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Asking questions now libelous in GSIS book?

PREJUDGED: Most everybody has prejudged the case of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante. That is the problem with the Senate inquiry into the reported diversion of some P700 million in fertilizer funds during the 2004 election campaign.

Whatever Jocjoc says in the hearing that resumes today, if it does not jibe with the preconceived notions of the eternal critics, he would be deemed “lying.”

But it would be a worse travesty of truth if the harassed witness just played to the gallery, or merely recited what the crowd wanted to hear in confirmation of its darkest suspicions.

It is best to remember that Jocjoc is not an accused, yet, but is just a witness and resource person. As long as he cooperates, senators should not take an inquisitorial posture and succumb to the temptation to grandstand before the media.

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POOR WINSTON!: The GSIS president and general manager — a brilliant lawyer, I heard — seems to be losing his cool. Maybe he should take a vacation.

It is amazing that the usually sharp Winston is suddenly unable to distinguish between a declarative and an interrogative sentence, between a period and a question mark at the end of a phrase or sentence.

I asked in the head of my Postscript last Nov. 4: “Who got P3-B interest in GSIS ‘bargain sale’?”

Instead of simply answering the question, the GSIS boss fumed and filed a libel suit against me for saying daw that he got a P3-billion commission. Ang layo naman!

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BALANCE: I started off by reporting that the GSIS “bought 300,963,189 shares in the Manila Electric Co. early this year at P80.91 each and sold them last Oct. 28 to San Miguel Corp. at P90 each….”

Then I asked: “Is GSIS president and general manager Winston Garcia, who engineered the sale, to be commended or condemned?” (Isn’t that a fair, balanced question?)

It depends on who is responding. Winston said and I reported it that he “turned around a seemingly losing proposition into a P12.7-billion profit” when he sold GSIS’s Meralco shares at P90 each when the market price was only P44.50.

For balance, I also quoted his detractors saying that it was a “bargain sale” with San Miguel in effect paying GSIS only P2.50 per month for each share over the agreed three-year term.

He filed a libel complaint against his critics. Because I committed the mortal sin of quoting them, he dragged me into the fray and included me in the complaint!

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LOSSES & STRESS: The stress of a gargantuan cash flow problem and huge paper losses in GSIS’s ambitious but ill-timed $1-billion global investment program must have been too much for Winston.

It is doubtful if he could recoup these losses soon, and show before his Benefactor steps down in 2010 a decent profit to justify the Herculean investment effort.

Meantime, Winston should take reasonable comments in good faith, and just answer the questions that GSIS members and pensioners ask through media.

Harassing the press with libel complaints is no way to respond. Unless, of course, somebody is hiding something.

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RAMPAGE: I was told his expensive public relations experts, who seemed unable to contain the PR conflagration, agreed with his idea of unleashing the street sweeper suit as a last resort. Bad advice.

To show how serious and mindless is the rampage, Winston even included the innocent opinion editors of the newspapers that had published reports and opinion columns that were not to his liking.

Ramon Lim, PhilSTAR opinion editor, libeling Winston? Wow! Mon does not even know the GSIS chief and has no reason to malign him.

Winston, sir, you are the boss of a state insurance-pension system upon whose best judgment some 1.4 million government employees depend.

You could be replaced anytime, but while you are up there, you should dutifully and patiently answer questions related to the billions in your care.

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PARANOIA: His press release shows that Winston is laboring under the misimpression that some columnists and editors of three newspapers as well as the president of a teachers’ organization “confederated” or conspired to libel him.

He identified my co-accused as Dan Mariano of Manila Times, Raul Valino and Lito Gagni of Business Mirror; and opinion editors Ramon Lim (STAR), Rene Bas (Times) and Lyn Ressureccion (Business Mirror).

Also charged before the Pasay City prosecutor’s office was Association of Concerned Teachers president Antonio Tinio, over remarks attributed to him that the GSIS-San Miguel deal was “inimical to the interest of public school teachers.”

My gad, asking valid questions and expressing an opinion on an official act of a public official is now libel? Since when?

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TAINTED PET FOOD: From reader Tony Huang of Hong Kong:

“I am a cat owner in Hong Kong. My girl cat of eight years has been diagnosed with renal insufficiency. From what I’ve gathered happened in the US in the past few years with melamine-tainted cat food, I fear this is also what’s plaguing my cat.

“I have pleaded repeatedly with our local Consumer Council to conduct tests on commercially available cat food here, but they are preoccupied with testing human food at the moment with no plans in sight for cat food.

“I would appreciate it greatly if you could forward me your 1-MB report on ‘Melamine in Pet Food’ for my reference, and as a tool to urge local authorities to take this matter seriously.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 13, 2008)

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