POSTSCRIPT / November 22, 2012 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Is US breathing down neck of Asean leaders?

ERAP PUEDE PA!: It is too late for sympathizers of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim to question before the Sandiganbayan former President Erap Estrada’s running for city mayor in 2013 against the incumbent.

Two lawyers have asked the Sandiganbayan to rule if the presidential pardon given to Estrada after his conviction for plunder in 2007 allowed him to run again for elective office. When he ran (and lost) for president in 2010, nobody stopped him.

They said that in running, Estrada may have violated the conditions of the pardon granted by then President Gloria Arroyo after he was convicted by the Sandiganbayan of plunder in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The conditional pardon read in part: “I hereby grant executive clemency to Joseph Ejercito Estrada, convicted by the Sandiganbayan of plunder and imposed a penalty of reclusion perpetua. He is hereby restored to his civil and political right.”

There. His civil and political rights have been restored. Estrada can vote and run for public office. Challenge him at the polls, not before the Sandiganbayan.

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AT THE SUMMIT: To whom does President Noynoy Aquino listen: to Palace advisers dabbling in foreign relations or to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and his seasoned diplomats at the foreign office?

Many observers are not comfortable seeing their President addressing his fellow summiteers at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations like he was talking to his Cabinet.

Tough talk, bordering on arrogance, has no place in such a multilateral conference where he cannot be sure the majority of fellow Asean leaders are with him on bilateral issues with China, the object of his indignation.

Just one dissenting vote can prevent the adoption of a crucial decision since the 10-member organization decides by consensus. It is risky antagonizing one or more fellow national leaders.

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BIG BROTHER: Even with the United States behind him, President Aquino should be careful sounding like he can or must have his way always.

Foisting the US as a Big Brother ready to take on the Chinese neighborhood bully will not stampede other Asean members — co-equals of the Philippines — into adopting the US-Philippine position that China must face the group instead of talking with individual members separately.

Assuming the Philippines can convince in their coming meeting the minsters of Viet Nam, Malaysia and Brunei — other Asean members with territorial claims – it does not follow that the six remaining members will openly take a position antagonistic to China.

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OBAMA WORD: Speaking at the 21st Asean summit in Phnom Penh last Tuesday, President Barack Obama himself pleaded for a reduction of the tension arising from conflicting territorial claims.

Obama did not openly follow the aggressive tenor of President Aquino, who at one point rebuked host Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, a known China sympathizer, for saying a consensus had been reached not to “internationalize” the territorial disputes.

The US, which has to cross the Pacific Ocean to validate its self-assumed role as sheriff of the South China Sea, is not likely to confront China and ruin this expansive market for American business.

Will Asean remain united and be able to withstand pressures being exerted by non-member powers with strategic interests in the region?

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NOT INSTANT: Even with the Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty, the US cannot be expected to spring into action in the event a Chinese vessel grazes a Philippine ship or a Chinese gunner fires a shot across the bow.

In that 61-year-old treaty, the US inserted its understanding that “mutual defense” action is not instant, but subject to the usual congressional processes. Unless US forces themselves are attacked, the US Commander-in-Chief will have to ask the Congress for permission to pull the trigger.

President Aquino must be dreaming if he thinks the US will take, almost by reflex, a shooting stance for the Philippines against China, especially at this time when Beijing is in a leadership transition.

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HIGH STAKES: It is too early to assess the cumulative effect on other Asean leaders of President Aquino’s donning the US jersey and carrying the US ball in the Asean-US leaders meeting in the Cambodian capital.

In the context of China’s growing military assertiveness, Aquino told the gathering: “The United States understands this and, for this reason, has chosen to work with us to ensure the peace and continuous advancement of our region.”

How did it feel, we wonder, for Noynoy Aquino to have assumed the job of US spokesman? The stakes are high and our President, we hope, knows where his and his country’s interests lie.

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S.E.C. ON THE JOB: The Securities and Exchange Commission has earned points in its handling of the investigation of the alleged price manipulation involving shares of leading agriculture development firm Calata Corp.

There are at least two reasons: One, it completed the inquiry fast. Second, it was done without controversy.

As we mentioned last Sunday, the SEC has closed this chapter and will now endorse its findings to the Department of Justice. The commission’s Enforcement and Prosecution Department has tagged several traders as suspects in the alleged share price manipulation.

Another body, the Capital Market Integrity Corp., has concluded its own investigation much earlier and tagged several stockbrokers as being involved. It said fines and penalties have been imposed on the brokers.

Calata Corp. chair and CEO Joseph Calata, who asked for the SEC probe, also praised the quiet and speedy investigation.

The SEC can now focus on investigating the Aman Futures Group Inc. which allegedly ran away with P12 billion invested in it by ordinary Filipinos from the Visayas and Mindanao.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 22, 2012)

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