POSTSCRIPT / April 24, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Phl needs master plan, one voice in China row

TALKING HEADS: Sometimes a foreign office spokesman tells the media something newsy about the Chinese intrusion into Scarborough Shoals off Zambales. On other days, a presidential spokesman also has something else to say.

Since they both represent the Executive department, are they declaring, separately and in their respective styles, the official stand of President Noynoy Aquino on our territorial dispute with China?

We are asking because what these Executive officials say will be construed as the formal position of the Philippine government on the bilateral dispute.

Even assuming the lines of the various talking heads run parallel to each other, we may not be able to quibble later after realizing belatedly any error or discrepancy in our policy presentation to the public.

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LONG-TERM VIEW: Since the President is the government’s sole spokesman in foreign relations, he may want to designate immediately a specific somebody – and nobody else — to speak for him during those times when he cannot do it himself.

A team of legal aces and seasoned diplomats can plot the master strategy. Handling bilateral disputes is no simple matter, especially in this case where the other party is a cunning and experienced player on the international stage.

Malacañang should be strict about the government speaking with only one authoritative voice. It should weigh its words very carefully and ensure that their intent and affect are carried out over the long term.

We say “long term” because China — with a civilization much older than that of the United States on whom the Philippines rely for aid and comfort — can even afford to wait it out until an issue resolves itself in its favor through the bungling of the other party.

The President should take a long-term view of issues, because the territorial disputes with China can outlive his administration.

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WEIGHING WORDS: By this time, we should have learned from the error of not weighing our words and diplomatic options carefully when dealing with wily enemies of the state emboldened by foreign supporters.

For instance, we continue to lose propaganda points to rebels by our mindless use of terms and other details with dire political implications.

For too long, we have ignored the consequence of sitting as the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) across the negotiating table with a band of secessionists calling itself the Moro National/Islamic Liberation Front.

That has helped give the gang a status of belligerency, a label that placed it on equal footing with the Philippine government and boosting its campaign for the support of Islamic sectors sympathetic to certain liberation fronts.

We have not been careful with what we say and how we say it. In our territorial dispute with China, let us not fall victim to the same bad communication habit.

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DE LIMA POWERS NIPPED: Thank god, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has stopped Justice Secretary Leila de Lima from investigating cases involving high government personnel, particularly those involving plunder and graft.

The justice secretary has been put in her proper place by her signing a Memorandum of Agreement with the anti-graft agency “to simplify procedures to be observed… for a more efficient and effective investigation and prosecution” of cases.

The MoA reaffirms the Ombudsman’s exclusive authority over cases of plunder, graft, forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth, violations of RA 7659 or the Heinous Crime Law, money laundering, and corruption of public officials.

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JURISDICTION: The DoJ is stopped from handling cases of direct, indirect or qualified bribery, and other offenses or felonies whether simple or complexed with other crimes committed in relation to their office by the public officials and employees specified in the MoA.

The anti-graft agency will have “primary jurisdiction in the conduct of preliminary investigation and inquest proceedings over complaints for crimes cognizable by the Sandiganbayan” under RA 8249 that defines the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

Henceforth, the Ombudsman will handle cases of officials and employees under the category of Salary Grade 27.

Salary Grade 27 refers to city councilors and up for executive positions, colonels and up for the Army, naval captains and up for the Navy, and senior superintendents and up for the police, among others.

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SECOND REBUFF: It was the second major jurisdictional setback for De Lima who has been accused of megalomaniac tendencies for encroaching on the turf of constitutional bodies.

Earlier this month, the justice secretary was taken aback by an en banc decision of the Commission on Elections that disapproved the dropping of charges against South Cotabato election supervisor Lilian Radam despite her admitting involvement in massive poll fraud in her area in the 2007 senatorial elections.

De Lima unilaterally dropped the charges and enrolled her in the DoJ witness protection program without the approval of the Comelec that had filed the complaint. The secretary wanted to use Radam as state witness in the election sabotage case against former Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos.

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LOWER GRADES: Under the new MoA, complaints cognizable by the Sandiganbayan that are filed before the DoJ will be immediately endorsed to the Office of the Ombudsman.

The MoA also stops De Lima from ordering a preliminary investigation that, upon conclusion, will still be forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman for review and approval.

But the Ombudsman and the justice department agreed to have concurrent jurisdiction over cases involving government personnel falling under Salary Grade 26 and below.

The office where such a complaint was filed for preliminary investigation acquires jurisdiction over it to the exclusion of the other. Cases thus resolved by the Prosecutor General or the provincial or city prosecutor need not be reviewed or approved by the Office of the Ombudsman.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 24, 2012)

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