MANILA, August 27, 2003 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven  - Waw! Just like in the Pilipino movies! Sorry for Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, his key witness who claimed he saw the First Gent sign checks "Jose Pidal" in the amount of millions of pesos, has been…uh, rescued from the safe house in Tagaytay in which he was being "held".

Anyway, that’s the official version. Lacson, of course, is angrily declaring that Eugenio "Udong" Mahusay Jr., was abducted, with the connivance of his brother, who just happened to be a policeman, P02 Jojo Mahusay, by coincidence one of the security men of one of President GMA’s Cabinet members, Housing Czar and former congressional "Spice Boy", Secretary Mike Defensor.

Mike choppered over to the Milestone Apartelle in Tagaytay City where Udong was being – according to his story – guarded by armed men, but in the end there was no confrontation and he got Mahusay "safely" out. The tale was that it had been Udong who had asked to be fetched by Defensor – the fellow’s plea was, Ninong sunduin nyo na ako! (Godfather, come and fetch me!). Defensor asserted that he didn’t have any policemen or soldiers with him on his retrieval mission, to avoid a firefight with Udong’s "guards". There were only five of them, he averred – himself, Julie Ann (Mahusay’s wife) and her daughter, and his brothers Patrolman Jojo and Ferdie Mahusay.

Sus, what a happy family reunion, di ba? Did they accomplish this ticklish mission just like that? The two armed guards offered no objection when they picked Udong up, the Defensor explanation went. Waw – when TV reporters arrived, Udong was cautioned by Defensor not to give any statements – and when he tried to ask forgiveness of President Macapagal-Arroyo, Defensor yanked the microphone from him, promising the journalists "a bigger story" later.

Is it true, though, that the rescue group utilized two Presidential Security Group (PSG) helicopters? Guess Defensor merely borrowed them from the non-interfering President GMA – or were they hijacked without her knowledge?

In any event, Lacson’s expectation of a Senate hearing may have been scuttled. If there’s no witness, how can there be a hearing? That’s what Senate Blue Ribbon Chairman Joker Arroyo had remarked last Monday.

My driver was the first one to give me the news, when I returned to the car yesterday afternoon. Bumaliktad na si Mahusay, (Mahusay has somersaulted), he exclaimed. He had heard it on the radio.

"Do you believe that?" I asked him. Seguro, my driver speculated, "he was terrorized or bought, or both."

But all drivers are cynics. So I say, that’s just his opinion. As for me, I believe in the goodness of human nature, and that Udong truly "repented". Or something like that.

* * *

Raul Roco, as promised, appeared to have breakfast with us yesterday morning at our Tuesday Club in the EDSA Plaza Shangri-La hotel in Ortigas Center. He humorously quoted Scripture. "Max", he grinned, "you can write that ‘on the third day he arose’ . . ." What arose I’ll leave to your imagination.

To prove he was normal, not sick or dying, Roco had donned one of those atrocious shirts of his which appeared cut out of old tablecloth or curtains. ("Much more classy," he winked, "than those sported by Mayor Lito Atienza".) Roco claimed the cloth, at least, had come from Kamuning, not Hawaii.

Roco let us feel his wrist, so we could detect the pulse. He insisted his blood pressure is 130 over 80, and at its worst it went up only to 140 over 85. Prostate cancer? Raul emphasized, "Not at all!" He admitted that "way back in 1996" he had a "slight prostate operation, but that’s all healed now." He vowed: "I’m in perfect health – and running hard for the Presidency!"

Why had he been missing for over three weeks? He explained he had been in the United States for that period, giving speeches and meeting with Fil-American groups from New York City and New Jersey to Houston (Texas), and from Los Angeles to San Diego, California. He had come home only Tuesday, August 19, a week ago.

Why had he been silent on most of the major issues and crises? That’s what this writer and the other members of the Club asked Raul.

The former Senator and DECS Secretary said he had been making comments from New York City, and on his weekly radio program over Station DZBB (he reminded us that he’s had this program over DZBB "Aksyon Roco at Raul" for the past seven years). Sanamagan, while we listen frequently to DZBB, a very popular station, we never heard those statements.

Al Ghozi’s "escape"? Roco replied that he hadn’t wanted to comment about it. The Oakwood Mutiny? Raul handed me a typed copy of the statement he had issued in New York City – but, to my surprise, it was dated July 26, 2003, or on Saturday, a day before the July 27th barricade of Oakwood by the 320 putchists, led by Trillanes, Maestrecampo, Gambala, Layug and Alejano. A typographical error, or an example of prescience?

The statement read: "The government should be supported in its defense of the democratic way of life. Military officers should protect the people and the state and not be an instrument of insurrection. Still the government should stop abusing the patience of the people by showing zero tolerance for corruption and adhering to the Rule of Law. Government should exert every effort to reacquire moral ascendancy by rededicating itself to truth and justice, the cry of EDSA II."

Kinda mild, if you ask me, for an opposition candidate. The suspicion of some is that Raul is still hoping against hope for an "endorsement", at the last minute, from GMA.

* * *

What’s more interesting is the second typed Statement Raul handed to me, datelined New York City, July 27, 2003 – or the day of the Oakwood rebellion.

It declared: "To start regaining the Filipino people’s trust, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should rededicate her commitment to the demands of EDSA II for ‘truth and justice’. The political games are over for the President."

He proposed, the Statement added, the following:

"(1) Banish Mike Arroyo from interfering with and influencing any government projects, programs or contracts pursuant to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administrative orders. This will start dissipating the perceived manipulation of government people and resources by Mr. Arroyo, Mr. Ronnie Puno and their gang.

(Waw! If the date is right, he even got ahead of Ping Lacson.)

"(2) Stand by her ‘palabra de honor’. Government will not regain credibility when deception is used as an instrument of government policy."

"(3) Replace the Secretary of National Defense with a man or woman dedicated to truth and justice." (Woe to Angie Reyes.)

(4) Organize an Investigating Commission, independent of the President but authorized by Congress."

"Signed: Raul S. Roco."

* * *

Palabra de honor about what? About not running for reelection in 2004. But there’s this Agence France-Presse report yesterday to the effect that Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye had "suggested for the first time Tuesday that she may reconsider an earlier pledge not to stand in next year’s presidential election".

Toting Bunye cited the fact that many of the members of her party, including former President Fidel V. Ramos, are "really urging her to run." Former Justice Secretary Nani Perez has hinted GMA may make an announcement between October 15 and November 15.

Let’s see what happens.

In any event, Roco hopes to forge a coalition between his Aksyon party, the Promdi and Reporma groups, and get support from the Liberal Party.

A vice presidential runningmate? Nobody yet. Being a Bicolano, he reeled off possibilities from the Visayas and Mindanao, but didn’t rule out a possible Luzon candidate either.

"Anyway, I’m in the race to stay!" Raul stated yesterday.

He reported that sadly in the US, he had found the Philippines "off the radar screens".

Why? He retorted that there’s so much uncertainty. Businessmen and potential investors want predictability – and the question remains, who’ll be the next President. He said that other negative factors were the "flipflop policies" of the GMA administration. "They’re not even sure whether the present Constitution will stay or be amended, or changed."

Next: "Why is Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport not open yet? That’s what they’re asking in America." (Ask DTI Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas, who had been tasked to open Terminal 3 by last month, July – and now August is almost over. Anyway, Mama Judy Araneta-Roxas is already campaigning for Mar to become Senator.)

"One of the worst developments," Roco averred, "was the one-year suspension without pay slapped on Governor Rafael Buenaventura of the Bangko Sentral by the Court of Appeals! That’s what every official, businessman and banker he met in the US were exclaiming about. Can you imagine Federal Reserve Chairman Allan Greenspan suspended by a Circuit Court in New York? Unthinkable!"

Roco pointed out that this is the real reason our peso has plummeted to an all time low of P55.42 to the dollar. "The Buenaventura suspension made the peso go down!"

Incredibly, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ lawyers have not rushed to file a motion with the Court of Appeals’ Fifth Division for urgent reconsideration. Or gone up, posthaste, to the Supreme Court to knock that CA ruling down with a "restraining order" – that’s what mystified Raul.

Incidentally, Governor Buenaventura, who’s said to have been undergoing medical treatment in the US is returning only today.

Susmariosep: The peso itself is in the ICU (intensive care unit).

* * *

Preoccupied and distracted as we are by all the coup-coup talk, "Jose Pidal" gossip, and other terrible events, like the bank hold-up staged by 15 armed thugs (many of them in fatigue uniforms) of the biggest American bank, Citibank, right in the heart of Makati, let’s not forget the other important matters in the life of our nation.

One of them is the push for ratification today, in the Senate, of a long-pending treaty – the Mutual Declaration in support of the Mutual Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Asia and Pacific, where the Philippines is a co-signatory.

The agreement, signed by all member-states in Asia and Pacific during the UNESCO Regional Convention in 1983 and adopted in the Geneva Conference at its 27th session in Paris on November 13, 1993, is still hanging fire in our Senate. It still hasn’t been ratified by the Senate, whereas 18 other member-states have already done so: India, Indonesia, Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Turkey, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal and, Sus, even Papua New Guinea.

Since President GMA is going to Paris to be one of the two opening and keynote speakers (the other represents Europe) of the huge UNESCO Biennial Convention there, participated in by some 129 countries if I’m not mistaken, GMA can exhibit it as a model for other member-states and submit it as a major milestone of the present Administration in the field of Education.

The Philippines will not merely be reaffirming its commitment to borderless education globally, but assume leadership in this dimension.

The crucial committee meeting is being heard today, where the ratification motion is being sponsored by Senator Manuel Villar, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Since Villar is being supported in this by Senator Joker Arroyo, reportedly, all it needs are the affirming signatures of the other committee members: Senators Loren Legarda, Juan Flavier, Robert Jaworski, Tessie Aquino-Oreta, who, I believe, also belongs to that other important committee, the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture.

This is chaired by Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, who himself is a UNESCO commissioner. The Vice Chairman is Senator Serge Osmeńa III, and its members are Ramon "Jun" Magsaysay Jr., Robert Barbers, Noli de Castro (will he be pushed into running, too, for President?), Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla, John "Sonny" Osmeńa, Ed Angara, Rodolfo Biazon, Luisa "Loi" Ejercito and Vicente "Tito" Sotto.

I don’t exactly know how this interlooking thing works, but I hope our senators, taking a breather from endless politicking – will give this essential measure a final, successful boost.

That’s what is needed in this topsy-turvy hour: Some attention to the things that count.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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