POSTSCRIPT / November 13, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Imelda at 89 is too old to be arrested?

FOR everyone’s guidance, the authorities should give a clear answer to the burning question: At what age, if ever, is a suspected or convicted criminal exempted from arrest?

There is no age criterion, but the point was raised yesterday after the PNP Chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde, told media that the age and health of former First Lady Imelda Marcos would be considered by the police when they are sent to arrest her.

Mrs. Marcos, 89, was convicted Friday by the Sandiganbayan for seven counts of graft, each one drawing a maximum prison term of 11 years – for a total of 77 years, a Marcos “lucky number”. It is not clear if the years are to be served consecutively or simultaneously.

The charges filed in 1991 arose from her illegally amassing wealth, estimated at $200 million, grossly out of proportion to her legitimate income as a government official during the martial rule of her husband Ferdinand Marcos. She was a Cabinet minister and Metro Manila governor.

She did not attend the promulgation of her sentence, but was at a party that evening with her eldest daughter Imee, who is governor of Ilocos Norte. Mrs. Marcos herself is now congresswoman representing the second district of that province.

It is not clear to us non-lawyers confused by the uneven application of the law if Mrs. Marcos will keep her congressional seat despite her sentence carrying a perpetual disqualification from holding a public office.

As we write this, she is expected to move for reconsideration and to appeal any adverse ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. She could also explore an arrangement for her staying in a hospital suite instead of a prison cell.

In the event her conviction becomes final, speculation is rife that President Duterte would pardon her. Malacañang said, however, that that possibility is premature and speculative.

Duterte said last year the Marcoses had told him they were willing to return a big amount and “a few gold bars” to help ease budget deficits. He did not say if there were conditions attached.

The question on how to carry out an arrest order was raised after it was noticed that while a police posse waited at the Senate to quickly arrest Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, there was no such eagerness in the case of Mrs. Marcos.

Explaining why some persons are treated more gingerly than others, Abayalde told the press: “The former First Lady hindi naman natin siya… baka magalit sa atin ang matanda. May edad na kasi. Unang-una, we have to take into consideration the edad, ‘yung age… In any arrest, that has to be taken into consideration, ‘yung health, the age….”

He said he had advised the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to handle the arrest if the police would be ordered to do so by the anti-graft court.

The PNP chief said that the custodial center in Camp Crame was ready if Mrs. Marcos would be taken there. He assured that the place was clean and ready: “Palaging malinis ‘yan. We welcome anybody… We have custodial facilities that are ready to accommodate politicians.”

The maintenance of special facilities for politicians (such as lawmakers and Cabinet officials) is another question that has not been explained satisfactorily. These VIP quarters are “luxurious” compared to the crowded, stinking cells of ordinary convicts.

Like a few others before her, Mrs. Marcos could also produce a medical certification that she needs to be confined in a medical center and serve time under “hospital arrest,” a Filipino variation of “house arrest.”

Another politician released from detention on account of his age (now 94) and poor health was former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who is facing plunder charges for his alleged role in the multibillion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund scam. He was freed on bail in 2015.

 Where will Phl be in a US-China war?

A SHOOTING war is not likely to erupt, yet, between the United States and China in their rivalry for influence over the region washed by the South China Sea. But in case it does, on whose side will the Philippines be?

This idle question deserves study in Manila as Beijing has been expressing irritation over the United States sending ships and military aircraft close to isles and reefs converted by China into outposts in the waters being claimed by the Philippines and other neighbors.

Chinese objections to US movements in areas occupied by China were aired during talks Friday in Washington, DC, in preparation for a one-on-one  between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping late this month.

But the US insisted it would continue to “fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.” American and Chinese vessels nearly collided in late September as they maneuvered near a disputed reef.

Despite a Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty that commits both countries to come to each other’s succor in case of an armed attack, with President Duterte in Malacañang, it is unlikely that the Philippines would side with the US.

With the busy SCS having become a flash point, however, it is imperative that Malacañang reassess its options and prepare contingency plans.

After Duterte took office in July 2016, he visited Beijing where he announced an independent foreign policy marked by Manila’s “separation” from Washington. His Chinese hosts served him a sumptuous lauriat of promised investment, loans and aid.

Being a minor military force in the region, the Philippines under Duterte is neither willing nor able to confront China as it grabs and militarizes strategic areas in the West Philippine Sea.

In a speech Friday in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Duterte reiterated: “The Philippines is not ready for a war. We cannot afford it and we cannot manage it.” In a US-China armed confrontation, the Philippines will avoid being caught in the cross fire.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 13, 2018)

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