POSTSCRIPT / October 30, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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President must speak up on Laude coverup

OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE: Sworn to do justice to every man, President Noynoy Aquino cannot remain silent seeing how the American suspect in the Oct. 11 killing of transgender Jeffrey Laude in an Olongapo hotel is being kept beyond the reach of the law.

As if in a conspiracy to obstruct justice, 19 days after Laude was strangled and then drowned in the hotel’s toilet bowl, prime suspect US Marine Pfc Joseph Scott Pemberton is still being shielded from police investigators and state prosecutors.

Speedy forensic examination of the suspect is crucial, if only because there were indications that Laude fought back, sustaining bruises in the struggle. He could have inflicted scratches and injury on his attacker. Wounds, if any, could heal while the assailant is in hiding.

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U. S. CUSTODY: Pemberton has snubbed the sessions of the city prosecutors probing into probable cause. He has been evading police investigators poised to question him and take his fingerprints, buccal swabs and DNA samples.

To enable Pemberton’s ship, the USS Peleliu, to sail away from Subic Bay, he was transferred last Oct. 22 to a US-Philippine military facility inside Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Philippine armed forces.

The move has failed to quash criticisms that Pemberton has remained under restrictive US custody, safe from Philippine legal processes, despite the fact that the act ascribed to him was a violation of Philippine laws committed on Philippine soil against a Philippine citizen while the US marine was off duty.

It is not clear if Pemberton’s air-conditioned Aguinaldo quarters enjoy extraterritoriality (therefore considered an extension of US territory). By all indications, however, Philippine authorities cannot just enter it, much less subject the suspect to routine processing.

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HINT OF GUILT?: By hiding in connivance with Philippine and US authorities, Pemberton appears guilty of some wrongdoing.

If he did not kill or harm Laude, if he were innocent, he should not have any problem facing investigators, prosecutors or anybody.

Aided by counsel, he could have faced local authorities a day or two after what has been described as a hate crime hit the headlines.

By continuing to hide, Pemberton bolsters suspicion that he killed Laude and that he and his handlers are now busy drawing up a script for when he will finally face the music.

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SAY SOMETHING: President Aquino has not issued a statement on the incident that threatens to undo the Visiting Forces Agreement and the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement being used as cover for US military presence.

Surely, the President is being briefed on the Laude case and has formed an opinion on whether or not Pemberton did it. Although he has the habit of prematurely passing judgment on criminal liabilities of foes and friends, this time he does not have to say anything categorical.

He could say something to at least assure the bereaved Laude family that as father of the nation he will ensure that they get justice and that he has elicited assurance of full and timely US cooperation as stipulated in the VFA preamble and other official communications.

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MUTUAL RESPECT: Such simple reassurance by the President will do much to assuage the hurt feelings of the Laude family that, unfortunately, are being exploited by the usual elements out to fan anti-American feelings.

It might also help maintain the dignified posture of a sovereign host nation if Malacañang’s spokesmen, as well as diplomatic and defense officials, refrain from making statements that betray the administration’s being scared of displeasing the US.

This former US colony needs the mighty United States of America to lean on, but we should not let that embarrassing element ooze out of our eyes, tongue and pores. Even beggars are entitled to some dignity.

If Washington were truly a friend, it should help Manila project an illusion that bilateral relations are marked by mutual respect and fairness, not by one bully taking advantage of the other.

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NO 2ND TERM: It is tragic that it is only now in the twilight of his six-year term that President Aquino finally woke up to the light that a follow-up term is not the solution to weighty problems holding back national growth.

Six more years of the same fumbling could only damage the state of this nation of 100 million where 3.9 million households go hungry while 50 families wallowing in wealth control a quarter of the $272-billion gross domestic product.

Latest survey has shown that a growing number of Filipinos in Metro Manila and Luzon consider themselves poor and “food-poor”. The nationwide self-poverty rate remains at 55 percent — equivalent to about 12.1 million households.

Earlier, President Aquino was dropping hints that he wanted a second term, even to the extent of amending the Constitution on term limits. The other day, he finally snapped out of his daydream.

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SHOCK MOVES: Adroitly followed through, his putting an end to the guessing game could clear the path for last-minute “legacy” accomplishments. The President can consider shock moves to pull back into track his derailed “tuwid na daan” locomotive.

For starters, he can suspend the Three A’s of the Cabinet — Abad (budget/DAP), Abaya (transportation/MRT) and Alcala (agriculture/food) – and then convince them to resign for health or whatever reason.

He has to do this purging fast, before the wily Abad and his camp followers pull a Hyatt-10-type mass defection to seize the initiative and appear like heroes.

Immediately, charges should be filed against pork-tainted thieves in Congress even if they are his allies. Clean the Palace coterie of the corrupt. As we keep repeating, if thine eye leads thee to perdition, pluck it out! Now na!

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 30, 2014)

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