POSTSCRIPT / August 2, 2011 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Raising false hopes on poll fraud probe

TATTERED FAITH: The administration should be careful not to raise false hopes that an investigation into alleged fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections can nullify the victory of some of the proclaimed winners from the president down and then install new-found winners.

Failing to clarify the intent and effect of the investigation might just damage beyond repair the people’s already tattered faith in the electoral process, one of the underpinnings of our democratic system.

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MOTIVES & METHODS: What is the motive behind the investigation?

Do we want to ascertain with finality who won in the elections for national posts? Or do we just want to see what crimes were committed and then punish the guilty? Do we want to lay the basis for updating election laws? Or are we just intent on smearing targeted personalities?

If the goal is to proclaim the true winners after an honest canvass, this can be done only by the two chambers of the Congress acting jointly as a national board of canvassers. That option is no longer legally feasible.

If the intention is to punish the perpetrators, complaints supported by evidence should be submitted, so these can be investigated by police and prosecution agencies and the proper cases filed in court.

If the inquiry is in aid of legislation, committees of the Congress can have a field day. But the hearings might degenerate into a circus featuring politicians investigating fellow clowns.

If it is for strengthening the election code, congressmen and senators need not call an inquiry to know the loopholes and how to plug them — because they also resort to them.

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TARRING TACTICS: If the ulterior motive is to smear targeted personalities, the most effective method is to ventilate charges, with or without offering evidence, in the scandal-oriented mass media.

Related to the tarring tactics, it must be pointed out that criminal acts are personal in the sense that a person to be liable must have been personally involved in the act imputed, unless a conspiracy is proved.

For instance, if poll cheating in a town happened to have benefited the mayor, it does not necessarily follow that he was the one who ordered or committed the crime.

On another scale, assuming that former President Gloria Arroyo is guilty of poll fraud, specific acts of cheating in specific instances still have to be proved.

The presumption of innocence does not apply to her alone, but to all persons accused of a crime.

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PEPING SAYS: On Hacienda Luisita, Postscript has received an email from businessman Jose “Peping” Cojuangco saying:

“Whenever I can, I follow your column which I find to be one the fair commentaries currently in the media. I write you to clarify certain facts about Hacienda Luisita.

“I particularly appreciate your insight in saying that ‘either way the poll goes, the results will not necessarily produce a better deal for the farmers — unless both the government and the Cojuangco-Aquino clan put in place a program infused with the true spirit of agrarian reform.

“It was precisely this concern for the farmers that the stockholder program was proposed by the HL, and was accepted by the farmers in two successive, previous referenda. Allow me to qualify your assertion that they were management-sponsored surveys — one was conducted by the Department of Agrarian Reform with volunteers from the University of the Philippines supervising the polls.

“A little-known fact is that at about the time Hacienda Luisita/Tabacalera was purchased by the Cojuangco family, it had subjected more than 6,000 hectares of its original 12,000-hectare holdings to farmers under the Land Tenure Act during President Magsaysay’s administration. Tragically, most of these farms no longer belong to the original recipients, because, as you acknowledge, of the absence of a sustainable support system for the small farmers unversed in managing and marketing.

“Another seldom-mentioned element in this issue is that HLI voluntarily endowed all the Luisita recipient workers of their shares for free, instead of charging them for the farms. Each family also received, again at absolutely no charge, individual 240 square-meter home lots that most of them still retain for their families, to this very day.

“The problems that have been cast at Hacienda Luisita have clearly been instigated in time with the terms of President Cory and President Noy Aquino. The Cojuangco family has never, ever been against Land Reform. I think you would be hard pressed to disagree that had Luisita been parceled out previously, most of the distributed plots would today have been sold and resold, with the recipients if not unemployed, then most likely drastically worse off than their present situations. The leftist cult Bayan has been externally inflaming trouble at Luisita, including the fatal strike that featured 118 arrested for criminal acts leading the injuries and deaths. Of these, only eight were Luisita workers, the rest were ‘imports,’ paid for the sole purpose of committing criminal unrest.

“Among the current aspersions still being cast at Luisita is the misleading insinuation that it was originally purchased with ‘inappropriate’ loan guarantees by the Central Bank. The guarantee, in truth, pertained only to assurances to the foreign banks that foreign currency would not be withheld from Luisita in fulfilling its obligations. Luisita was paid entirely with private funds without any financial dole from the government. It is unfortunate that the issues continue to be obfuscated by the self-serving motives of third parties who do not have the true interests of the farmers at heart.

“Mr. Pascual, I assure you that I speak for all in the Cojuangco family that we embrace your wisdom in proposing that it is time to “cut through the legalistic and bureaucratic jungle and marshal government resources to transform Luisita tenants* — whether new landowners or stockholders — into a new breed of Filipino farmers enjoying his enlightened brand of agrarian reform.’ (I note: *Luisita has no tenants, but Farm Workers who are all members of a labor union).

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 2, 2011)

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