POSTSCRIPT / February 7, 2010 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Uncle Harry coming over to baby-sit Pinoys

CASH COW: Among the measures shelved with the Senate’s failure to muster a quorum on its last session day last Wednesday was a bill giving security of tenure to Chairman Efraim Genuino of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

We are tempted to call the Senate’s forced adjournment an act of God.

It is just too much to award a fixed term to Malacanang’s chief operator of a cash cow like Pagcor. The chairman should be removable upon showing that he had misused millions in the last elections. At the very least, he should be co-terminus with the appointing power.

There was reportedly an expensive lobby to have the Pagcor bill quietly piggyback on other worthy measures such as that one streamlining and strengthening the immigration service. But a Hand slapped it down.

That Genuino wants to cling to the Pagcor mountain of gold should have been a red flag. He should be required to exit with President Arroyo, or earlier, without prejudice.

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UNCALLED FOR: We must owe the United States of America a lot. Ambassadors sent to Manila by the White House are becoming bolder in issuing uncalled-for statements on domestic policies and politics.

US Ambassador-nominee Harry Thomas has not arrived to present his letter of credence to President Arroyo, yet he is already commenting on local political issues from across the US continent and the Pacific Ocean.

During his confirmation process in the US Senate last Tuesday, Thomas was reported to have called for free and peaceful elections here and expressed hope for progress on corruption and human rights concerns.

This career diplomat who speaks some Tagalog said among other things: “If confirmed, I will work to press thePhilippines to ensure that we have free and fair elections in May without violence, which has been a problem in the past.”

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WALA SILANG PAKI: There is nothing wrong with pressing for fair, free and peaceful polls, but elections happen to be a domestic political exercise. In the staid world of diplomacy, a foreign envoy normally keeps away from local political issues.

How we hold elections, Philippine style, is not the concern of a foreign diplomat – unless we ask him to meddle and pass judgment.

If the US government wants to influence domestic politics, it can very well do this through its usual mouthpieces and action groups in the private sector, but not publicly through its ambassador.

We have to maintain the myth that we are a sovereign nation and that our relations with the US are based not only on amity and goodwill, but also on mutual respect, equality and non-interference.

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BABY-SITTER: But considering our colonial past and love affair with America, we have often seen it fit to ask for Washington’s making pakialam in our internal problems.

And having been given the hand, the US proceeds to caress the arm, the body to follow.

Now this is debatable. There are those who do not mind being caressed, especially if they profit from it and/or enjoy it. Then there are those who willingly submit to it, but want it done in the dark.

The fact is that we sometimes need outside help to rescue us in our helplessness, like when we were caught in the vise grip of a US-aided dictatorship in the 1980s. At times, we also ask the US to save us from our own ineptness.

No wonder Thomas also said: “(The US) will continue to press for more progress in eliminating extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and human trafficking, and convicting and prosecuting those responsible for those abuses.”

We have refused to grow. Now here comes Uncle Harry to baby-sit.

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DEFY THE BAN?: After momentary reluctance to get caught in controversy, nine nominees/applicants for the post to be vacated by Chief Justice Reynato Puno upon his retirement on May 17 have allowed their names to be submitted for screening.

Aside from determining their fitness for office, the Judicial and Bar Council will also decide if it would submit to President Arroyo a list of nominees. There is a contention that the Constitution bars the President from making a judicial appointment after May 17 until she steps down on June 30.

If the JBC did not submit a short list, would President Arroyo appoint a Chief Justice just the same? That would trigger a legal storm.

But the tempest could be somewhat tempered if the JBC gave her a list, an act that could be construed as recognizing the President’s power — and duty — to appoint Puno’s successor as the vacancy occurs.

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NINE CONTENDERS: The latest nominees are Supreme Court Associate Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, acting Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval and Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Victor Fernandez.

Nominated earlier were Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Renato Corona and Conchita Carpio-Morales, andSpecial Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio. Former judge Florentino Floro Jr., on the other hand, applied for the post.

Carpio, Morales and Villa-Ignacio accepted their nomination but on condition that any appointment would be made by the next president. Fernandez also imposed the same condition.

They cited Article VII, Section 15, which says: “Two months immediately before the next presidential electionsand up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 7, 2010)

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