POSTSCRIPT / May 17, 2009 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Villar facing not a jury of his peers, but of foes

WHAT PEERS?: It looks hypocritical for the entire Senate, with its present membership, to sit as a committee of alleged peers and try Sen. Manny Villar on the complaint of a fellow senator with an axe to grind.

Some of the senators asking for the head of Villar are not sitting in judgment as his peers. They are there as political combatants poised to pounce on him, being their rival for the presidency that in 2010.

The so-called “jury of his peers” should drop the charade. The Senate is tasked to enact laws for the general welfare, not serve as a UFC arena where “presidentiables” destroy one another on official time.

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TOSS IT TO COURT: As an elected senator, Villar should not submit to the inquisition. And Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, as a responsible elder, should not permit a farcical trial and even preside over it.

But what if Villar really did something wrong? Then file the proper charges in court.

With the core criminal complaint referred to the court, the remaining ethical concerns raised are best tossed to the people as political issues, not inserted into the regular business of the legislative chamber.

If the majority insists on “trying” Villar despite the obvious bias, the complainant Sen. Jamby Madrigal should be disqualified from voting, and the presidential aspirants among the senator-judges should inhibit themselves from speaking and voting.

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MEGA SCANDAL: The storm kicked up by the bidding for a supply-service contract for poll automation in 2010 draws attention to the prior scandal involving 1,991 vote-counting machines now lying idle in a bodega.

Election lawyer Romy Macalintal suggests that the Comelec dust off the machines, sidelined by a Supreme Court ruling, and use them in 2010 in case of a failure of bid for automation equipment.

The machines purchased in 2006 from MegaPacific Consortium despite the SC’s nullifying the contract are now kept in the Maxilite warehouse on United Nations Ave. in Manila.

The Comelec has not satisfactorily explained why it continues to pay around P3,980,000 a year for storing equipment that it does not own or use.

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AUDITOR SCOT-FREE: The Comelec under then chairman Benjamin Abalos (who later resigned in disgrace) hurriedly paid P1.2 billion of the P1.3-billion price when it became clear that the SC was going to void the contract.

The SC directed the Comelec to reject the machines and recover any payment already made. Abalos et al. defied the order. For its part, MegaPacific sued to collect the P1,000,000 balance. (It would have looked odd if it did not sue.)

It seems the MegaPacific scandal has been consigned to oblivion. There are clear violations of law, yet no charges have prospered. Will the government ever recover payments illegally made? Will any Comelec official go to jail?

Strangely, the Comelec auditor never figured in the investigation. The sordid transaction would not have happened had the auditor — who must approve delivery and payment — did his/her job. But the auditor is scot-free.

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FIRM HAND: Friends say that MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando would be a good executive (read: president) because he has the will to get things done — but lament that in so doing he sometimes rubs people the wrong way.

Such comments find resonance in our thinking that what this country needs is a good manager, somebody who can hold the country firmly (even a benign dictator would do?) although not so tight as to stifle enterprise and freedom.

When we talk of “presidentiables” with demonstrated political will to get things done, we think of, aside from Fernando, the likes of Richard Gordon and Ping Lacson.

The problem with holding a tight rein on the population is that there are free spirits who resist and resent control. In the case of Lacson, people are wary of possible human rights violations. Gordon, an action man, has no such problem.

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DISCIPLINE: The matter of discipline came to mind when I heard Msgr. Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, a Catholic organization involved in feeding the poor and keeping children off city streets, talk about Fernando.

To Pascual (no relation, I think), the MMDA chairman is a “compassionate although stern leader.” If he demands obedience to the law, the priest explained, it is because discipline is needed to attain peace and progress.

Therein lies the dilemma of politicians and state managers. It is clear, for instance, that government/private land must be rid of squatters and the streets of ambulant peddlers. But at what political cost to the executive?

Such a delicate task has fallen on Fernando. To his credit, he has acted firmly on such urban problems whereas his predecessors hesitated.

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BALANCING ACT: When the MMDA relocated squatters, many of them return to their old lairs or other vacant spaces. Fernando’s efforts have earned him a contrabida image, but he persists in his clearing and resettlement programs.

As for sidewalk vendors, the pressure of having to make a living makes hawkers defy the law. So we have the spectacle of Fernando’s operatives continually chasing ambulant vendors. Displaced vendors are not likely to vote for him, but he does it anyway.

The balancing act and his emphasis on discipline will test Fernando’s bid for the presidency.

If it is any consolation, he has earned points with his urban renewal (e.g., the sprucing up and greening of Metro Manila), his road/traffic improvement schemes, and fast-clip public works pursued despite the temporary inconvenience to affected sectors.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 17, 2009)

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