POSTSCRIPT / August 23, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Cohen pleads guilty; Manafort convicted

THIS can’t happen in the Philippines, I muttered while watching TV coverage of the double-barrel hits that President Trump took Tuesday when two close associates lost court battles, threatening his own hold on the White House.

They were (1) Michael Cohen, Trump’s erstwhile personal lawyer and fixer, and (2) Paul Manafort, Republican campaign manager in the 2016 election. Seeing them being cornered early on, Trump tried distancing himself from them, but it was too late.

Dropped by the boss for whom he once said he would “take a bullet,” Cohen pleaded guilty in New York to eight crimes, including his paying hush money during the campaign to two women claiming to have had sexual relations with Trump.

Manafort, also left to fend for himself, was convicted same day in Alexandria, Virginia, of eight financial crimes. It was the first trial resulting from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller of Russian meddling in the last election.

Mueller’s probe could lead to the indictment of some Trump family members. To prevent such thoughts from taking root, the President keeps bombarding the public mind with his “no collusion” mantra.

The investigation and conviction of Trump’s former cronies happened in just a matter of months – a fast clip unthinkable in the Philippines, especially when it is the president’s men who are being made to account.

Footnote on Manafort: Among the clients of this high-flying Washington lobbyist and influence peddler was the Marcos regime. We asked Communications Secretary Martin Andanar if Manafort has any contract with the Duterte administration and he said he has none.

One damning Cohen declaration in court was that “in coordination and at the direction” of a candidate (whom he did not name but who is generally presumed to be Trump), he paid a porn star $130,000 and a former Playboy model $150,000 to silence them, and then got a refund from the candidate.

In the Philippines, instead of hiding the fact, many prominent politicians – including presidents — even boast of maintaining several women aside from their wives.

• Recalling Ninoy’s last instructions

TO HELP round up references to the murder of Ninoy Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983, as he was about to set foot again on native soil with a message of peace for the dictator, we searched our archive.

Our Postscript of Aug. 20, 2015, mentioned an email of Ninoy’s sister Lupita Kashiwahara mentioning his 18 final instructions to her before his return from a three-year exile in the US. Part of her email to me:

“I dug Ninoy’s two-page instructions for his arrival dated July 18, 1983.

“In #7 – ‘I understand a news blackout has been ordered. Contact Bren Guiao and ask him to inquire from Jun Icban of the Bulletin. See if you can circumvent the blackout order. Contact Dick Pascual. He is a loyal friend but be very discreet. I’ll write him a note but give it to him secretly….’

“The instructions (18 in all) were in preparation for the August 7th arrival. I arrived in Manila a week ahead. He postponed the trip to Aug. 21 as a nego point with JPE who declared in the newspapers that there was ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ a plot to assassinate him.

“JPE said they needed a month to neutralize the threat. Ninoy agreed to two weeks as a compromise. Ergo Aug. 21. By that time, most of all his instructions were in place except for the local media. I was very much in touch with FOCAP.”

Among preparations was the tying of yellow ribbons on trees, posts and other street protrusions that can carry a welcome sign for somebody who has been away against his will.

The ribbons were a takeoff from the pop song that caught on in the 1970s with its lyrics: “Tie a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree/ It’s been three long years/ Do you still want me?”

• ‘Extra’ on Ninoy’s murder aborted

That Sunday, I was in our old house in Pasay cleaning the car when the radio said Ninoy had been shot upon arrival from Taipei, his last stop in a multi-leg journey whose details were not a secret to the Marcos network.

The yellow ribbons suddenly seemed to hang limp and ashen. The welcome crowd outside the Manila International Airport was thrown into confusion. I wanted to consult Lupita for bearings, but there was no way of contacting her.

The thought of Ninoy probably being dead on the spot flashed in my mind, knowing the signature shot in the back of the head that government assassins had been employing with a 100-percent success rate.

I drove to our Daily Express office at Port Area planning to have 20,000 copies of a four-page Extra edition in the streets by 4 p.m. As assistant managing editor, my main chore was putting together the front page.

Business editor Ernie Tolentino, who was there before noon, had started assembling the materials. But just when we completed the signature at 2 p.m., Information Minister Greg Cendaña called to ask if it was true we were putting out an Extra.

“Yes, we are,” I replied. “Haven’t you heard? Ninoy has been shot at the airport at baka patay na siya!”

He told me to stop it. Running an Extra, he said, might alarm the public. I pointed out that even without our Extra, people here and abroad would have heard of the big news anyway.

We were still arguing when he said, “O sige, kung ayaw mo!” and banged the phone. Poor Greg must have been under severe stress. Soon, one of our executives was in the office and aborted that Extra.

Brooding over Ninoy’s murder, I recalled one of his notes smuggled months before asking me for an analysis of his plan to come home. He remarked lightly, among other personal things, that he would soon be able to pay his “utang” to my twin sons Peter and Paul who are his godsons.

Hand-carrying those occasional notes was our friend Bren Z. Guiao, the father of basketball coach Yeng Guiao. For more on Bren’s risky errands and other details on Ninoy, please go to the archive.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 23, 2018)

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