POSTSCRIPT / August 26, 2012 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sereno a good choice for reforming judiciary

PRECEDENT: The late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo deserves much of the belated honors that the administration has been heaping on him in death.

But a real problem now is precedence. What happens if another Cabinet secretary (even if similarly unconfirmed by the Commission on Appointments) dies? He or she will have to be showered with at least the same or similar honors.

Otherwise there would appear to be a subjective classification of department secretaries. Maybe there should be such a rating, but it will be a delicate matter when translated into a public display of attention as is now being done.

Any Cabinet secretary who dies in office and receives less attention will be seen as of inferior standing in the eyes of his/her boss the President.

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JUDICIAL REFORM: Since reform is the top item in the order of business in the judiciary, particularly its cleansing of corruption, the appointment of strong-willed Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Punzalan Aranal-Sereno as Chief Justice should be welcomed.

To be blunt about it, the judiciary is in bad need of a no-nonsense Chief Justice burning with a zeal for improving the quality of justice in this country. We must end influence peddling in the courts and the outright sale of decisions.

Sereno can start with the Supreme Court itself, work down to the Court of Appeals, then down the line.

The 52-year-old chief magistrate has enough time (18 years to retirement) for purging the bench of undesirable elements.

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ATTITUDE: Doing it is another matter. We are reminded of a chairman (not the incumbent Kim Henares) of the Bureau of Internal Revenue who tried a cleanup of the BIR, but failed.

This BIR chairman seemed to have stepped on a number of big toes when she started off with the unfair assumption that BIR personnel generally tended to be corrupt – and made her prejudice too obvious.

That attitude, aside from suspicion that she was giving favored treatment to her former clients, spelled disaster. Every fiscal year during her tenure, the BIR never met its revenue targets.

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TOUGH TASK: Leadership is not conferred by a piece of paper of an appointment. Sereno, first SC appointee of President Aquino, has to first win moral and intellectual ascendancy over her colleagues in the Supreme Court.

Only after she is able to conquer this home ground can this comparative newcomer in the tribunal reform the rest of the judiciary, including the bigger Court of Appeals and the lower courts.

It is a tough assignment. It is like wading into a stinking estero, to clean it, without getting muddied in the process.

But with good faith from all parties, including the public, Sereno should be able to do it during her tenure that spans several administrations.

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TRAVEL BAN: The tourism industry suffered big losses when Chinese tourists cancelled bookings because of an advisory by the China government to travel agencies and tour organizers to avoid travel to the Philippines.

Most of media related this ban to the then raging sovereignty issue over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. But concerned quarters in the Filipino-Chinese community said the advisory arose from an immigration bureau issue.

They pointed out that long before the Panatag conflict erupted, the Philippines has been the object of criticisms in China because of alleged abuses and illegal practices of personnel of the Bureau of Immigration targeting Chinese tourists and potential investors.

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EXCLUSIONS: The Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chinese embassy (as early as Dec. 12, 2011, and Jan. 6, 2012) warned the government of the bad publicity stemming from discrimination against Chinese visitors.

Their concern was communicated by the PCCCI in a letter to Vice President Jejomar Binay while the Chinese embassy in Manila did so in a note to the Department of Foreign affairs.

The PCCCI and the China embassy called attention to complaints from a number of Chinese claiming to have been denied entry or blacklisted by immigration officers at ports of entry.

They said that in 2011 alone, some 200 visitors from China suffered BI’s unreasonable “exclusions.”

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ESCORT FEE: Complaints reaching the PCCCI and the China embassy had it that Chinese visitors are being indiscriminately and arbitrarily denied entry without due process.

What is usually invoked is a provision of Commonwealth Act 613 or the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, specifically Section 29 (a) (5) on persons likely to become public charge.

Some complainant said that many times while the excluded tourists are waiting at the holding area for their flight back to their port of origin, a BI officer would give them a telephone number to call in case they intend to come back so they could be escorted through immigration for a fee of $1,000 or P50,000 per head.

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BLACKLIST: Another complaint is that the passports of Chinese tourists availing themselves of the escort service are not stamped. The unsuspecting visitors become “undocumented aliens” and made regular milking cows of BI agents and law enforcers.

The undocumented aliens are allegedly provided with fake Immigration cards that each costs from P20,000 to 30,000.

That is not the only problem. Excluded aliens are automatically included in the BI’s blacklist. To be delisted or removed from the list, the alien must pay between P200,000 and P300,000.

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FACILITATION: An undocumented alien attempting to go home is automatically locked up at the BI’s Bicutan detention facility, and charged as an illegal alien and forced to face summary deportation proceedings that normally take several months to a few years.

To fast-track the process, an alien is forced to shell out between P200,000 and P300,000, according to complaints reaching the PCCCI.

It has been noted that some enterprising BI personnel have even resorted to facilitating the exit of certain individuals with the use of fake passports for a fee of not less than P300,000.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 26, 2012)

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