MANILA, OCTOBER 14, 2003  (STAR)  ROSES AND THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces  - Definitely, Malacanang does not see Sen. Panfilo Lacson as a threat but as a nuisance. On August 18, September 2 and October 13, he came out with three exposés. All were given under parliamentary immunity. Despite that, Lacson now has pending libel cases against him filed by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. And from the very start, we had been advising Sen. Lacson to present evidence that would support his charges and to present his charges, not in the Senate, but in the proper court. He has totally ignored our advice. To make matters worse, now he has a second case in court. The Supreme Court has ordered the re-opening of the Kuratong Baleleng case and as Lacson himself admitted, the Supreme Court’s decision has given him a hell of a week.

We want to make it clear that we welcome any and all exposés on graft and corruption in the government – local as well as national. But they must be sustained by facts and by facts, we mean evidence that will be accepted by our courts. But we are wary of charges that are politically motivated. The intention there is not to protect the public, but to destroy a person politically.

So far as we can honestly see, Lacson has not been able to sustain his charges on the Jose Pidal case. What he needs is to present evidence on the two charges, the Jose Pidal and the Toh accounts. Instead of that, he is presenting a third charge and it is supposed to include Mrs. Pidal, which we suppose refers to the President.

It cannot be denied that all these so far baseless charges have brought Panfilo Lacson to the forefront. He is always in the front pages except when eclipsed by Kris Aquino and Joey Marquez. Yet, he has done nothing – so far anyway – as senator.

Among the announced presidential candidates, his "campaign" has certainly started early. But it can only bear fruit if he can sustain his charges in court. And even that will not help him if he loses in the Kuratong Baleleng case. The case has opted him to be "physically scarce". And being physically inaccessible is not good for any candidate. He has said that in the event that he is arrested and held without bail, he will still pursue his charges against the Pidal account and one of his spokesmen added, "It will include Mrs. Pidal." Well and good. But, by now, what the public wants to hear is not mere charges, but see the evidence for even some of the charges.

The Philippines is now said to be the third most corrupt country in Asia. Definitely, we need a war against graft and corruption. That means going after the people in government who are involved in graft and corruption. But to make headlines exposing alleged graft and corruption and not being able to substantiate one’s accusations is to withdraw attention from those really involved in government rackets.

Let us go after corrupt officials. Let’s do it in court, not in the Senate hall in the guise of aiding legislation.

Who gains from the Jose Pidal issue? Chasing the Wind By Felipe B. Miranda (Star)

Two months after Senator Panfilo Lacson charged the presidential spouse with using an alias – Jose Pidal – and engaging in money laundering, one is inclined to ask whether anyone has gained from the political crossfire that attended the senator’s expose. Given the explosive nature of Senator Lacson’s allegations, media predictably feasted on the Jose Pidal issue and the whole nation has been induced to participate in gorging off it.

Television carried the Senate hearings on the Pidal issue live. Radio maximized public awareness of the protagonists’ manifestations before the Senate and beyond. All newspapers bannered Pidal—related charges and countercharges. TV hosts and their voluble guests, radio announcers, newspaper editors and columnists – all being influential opinion makers with some trotting their enviable infallibility – dissected the essential Pidal for the national audience.

On account of all these wondrous allegations, expositions, interpellations, insinuations, rejoinders and their predictable retinue of increasingly provocative material, the nation may now know more about Jose Pidal — real or imaginary character that he is – than the pensive national hero Jose Rizal. Virtually all (94 percent) of those surveyed by Pulse Asia in September 2003 had already heard or read something about the Pidal issue before their interviews. (The survey’s 1200 respondents had been randomly selected and comprised a nationally representative sample of Filipinos 18 years old and above.)

After media’s blanket bombing, the survey respondents present an interesting study in their perceptions and sentiments relating to the Pidal controversy and its lead protagonists. Nationwide, close to half (47 percent) believe Senator Lacson to be a more credible figure than First Gentleman Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, with significantly fewer (33 percent) thinking otherwise. The rest of those interviewed (11 percent) are unable/unwilling to decide regarding the two personalities’ relative credibility.

A plurality (43 percent) believes the allegations against the First Gentleman are inspired by the electoral season and thus may be regarded as mostly political harassment. Metro Manilans are least persuaded by this idea, with only 32 percent of them entertaining it. Nationwide, more than a third (33 percent) holds a different view, believing that beyond personal revenge or politicking, accusers of the First Gentleman have actually found strong evidence of corruption. This perception is proportionately stronger in Metro Manila (49 percent) and among members of the better-off class ABC (42 percent). A fifth of those surveyed (21 percent) avers the reason must be personal revenge by those accusers who had been harassed by the First Gentleman and his allies.

As to what might be best to do regarding the allegations against the First Gentleman, a majority (55 percent) of those surveyed suggests that the Senate investigate these charges; a minority (39 percent) would rather have the courts hear and resolve them and an obviously cynical few (6 percent) say that since nothing will come out of this controversy anyway, nothing ought to be done at all. Among those recommending a senate investigation, bigger majorities obtain in Mindanao (76 percent) and among the poorest respondents from class E (61 percent).

Further analysis of the survey data on the Pidal controversy shows that the First Gentleman had not fared well in the public eye. Among 11 personalities tested for public trust in this survey, the respondents trust him least (15 percent) and distrust him most (45 percent). (In comparison, while Lacson does not come out as a sterling personality himself, he is nevertheless trusted by 28 percent and distrusted by 40 percent.) Among those finding the Senator more credible than him on this issue, Arroyo’s already low trust level reduces further to 10 percent and public distrust for him rises to 55 percent, a majority of this important sub-group.

The Pidal damage is not confined to the first Gentleman but clearly extends to President Arroyo no less. Among the more numerous respondents (47 percent) who find Lacson more credible than Mike Arroyo (33 percent), the president’s overall approval level drops from a 41 percent to 37 percent; her overall trust rating — the lowest in her career as chief executive so far — erodes further from 36 percent to 31 percent. Even her presidential voter preference might have been affected as it dropped from 21 percent in Pulse Asia’s August 2003 Ulat ng Bayan survey to the current September 2003 survey’s 14 percent.

Remarkably, even as the Pidal issue appears to have hurt the Arroyo administration, the public has not endowed Senator Lacson with any capital for having raised it. Public approval for him as a senator dropped much from 51 percent to 34 percent; trust for him degraded from 42 percent to 28 percent between August and September in the same Pulse Asia surveys. His presidential voter preference did not take off but remained basically the same, with a very marginal decrease from 11 percent to 9 percent for the same period.

If the Arroyo’s – wife and husband – are demonstrably hurt by the Pidal controversy and if Lacson also suffers and makes no capital from it, is there any party at all that gains from having this dramatic issue embroil the entire country?

Paradoxically, the nation itself might have gained. With every shocking revelation of heinous behavior by their leaders, Filipinos learn to be properly skeptical about the political leadership and its political theatre. In most instances, the public already suspects moro-moro plays and teapot-bounded, tempestuous performances by feckless authorities. Popular skepticism is definitely growing fast and will eventually cross a critical threshold. Then, like other nations that have walked this dolorous path earlier, Filipinos will make their most proper demand – the reformatting of an iniquitous society and the termination of its atavistic governance.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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