'BY THE WAY' BY MAX SOLIVEN

MANILA, NOVEMBER 12,  2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - It’s not how they died but the ‘corruption’ they decried which draws ire

President Macapagal-Arroyo and the government are getting flak for what happened at the NAIA Airport Tower. Hoping to sound preachy, let me start out with the assertion that what the slain former ATO Chief, Col. Panfilo Villaruel, and his associate in the foiled "takeover", Navy Lt. (s.g.) Ricardo Catchillar, did was wrong.

Recoiling to the horror of what happened to him, his bereaved family is tearfully protesting that what occurred had been cruel "overkill". It’s reported half of the colonel’s head had been blown away, his arm shattered with bullets. No one can blame them for being angry and indignant – it was, for their dad, a terrible way to die. Many, too, when the body of Navy Lt. Catchillar was brought home to Batista, Pangasinan, expressed sympathy for him.

Yet, we have to put things in perspective. You don’t go armed in the dead of night to seize the vital nerve center of air operations in an international airport without inviting forcible retaliation in a counterattack to regain government control of its airport tower.

No one forced Villaruel and Catchillar to go to the scene of their deaths. Indeed, they "forced" their way in. You can’t cry "murder" when you weren’t there. If you were tasked to break into a barricaded room with armed men inside, wouldn’t you go in shooting?

There had been ample time for the unfortunate tower-seizers to have announced over the radio (as poor Villaruel was said to have shouted at the very last minute) that they were unlocking the door, and coming out with their hands up to "surrender". But it seems the two hold-outs hadn’t trusted the SWAT and other policemen "outside" to abide by such a move – so they remained penned inside until it was too late.

Let’s put emotion aside in this issue. The assault team did as they were ordered, retake the airport control room. How can we pillory them for that?

* * *

As we’ve already pointed out in this corner, Col. Villaruel, when he headed the Air Transportation Office (ATO) was an official beyond reproach. Both incorruptible and competent. What he did a few nights ago, however, was incomprehensibly weird. You don’t go to the airport tower (even the one you built) in the witching hours of past midnight and grab control of that vital installation – particularly at a period when the administration is paranoid about rumored mutinies and coups – without provoking fierce retaliation in a bid to regain control.

I can’t understand NAIA Airport Manager Ed Manda’s absurd allegation that there was no breach of security since Villaruel had a "pass" to gain access to the tower. Whaat? In the dead of night? Don’ tell me no guard wondered what in hell even a legitimate pass-carrier was doing there at that ridiculous hour. Perhaps conducting "research"? Bringing the air controllers and personnel on duty "midnight snacks"? Sanamagan. If Manda really made that screwy remark, that would be reason enough for his sacking. Deny it, Ed, or be accused of lapsing into non compos mentis!

Villaruel’s and Catchillar’s motives – that of denouncing corruption – might have been noble, but that act brought disgrace to our country. Imagine, in the eyes of the world, a nation which can’t even keep its airport control tower secure! I’m amazed that people still are flying in and out of the Philippines – they’re still trusting in our "security" and, much more likely, in the mercy of God, it’s apparent. There’s no statistical count yet, but I suspect, a great many others are already staying away.

What should be a warning to GMA and her sometimes smug officials, however, is the fact that there has been no adverse public reaction to what Villaruel and Catchillar did – in fact, there is even praise, not the least, surprisingly, in the media.

The reason for this ought to be unsettling to the ruling powers: There’s such widespread disgust at persistent, indeed arrogant corruption in the highest reaches of government that many sympathize with Villaruel’s almost bizarre cri de couer. It was from a sense of outrage, many are saying, that this decent man probably flipped.

GMA cannot, no matter how hard she tries on TV, charm her way out of the fact that this administration – far from coming to grips with corruption, greed, and graft – has encouraged it, the Chief Executive not least of all by her rewarding and promotion of so many blatant culprits. These are harsh words which should not be expressed lightly, but only the blind and the sycophant can leave them unsaid.

What offers some respite to GMA is the shape of the opposition as presently arrayed against her. One gazes at her competitors and challengers, and is tempted to exclaim, in disappointment, "None of the above either . . ." There’s no brave Lochinvar come riding out of the West, or from the East – or from the South.

Ay pobre Filipinas! Jose Rizal might lament, if he were alive today. So full of talent, bravery, and promise. So bereft of leadership.

* * *

Let’s stop flogging a dead horse. The Davide impeachment issue is dead, We must bury it and get back to work. I can’t say, get back to normal, since for the nonce, this is an abnormal country.

Speaker Joe de Venecia did a courageous and upright thing. He risked being denounced by his more vociferous colleagues in he House of Representatives by rightly declaring, ". . . The issue has come to an end."

In a showdown vote, De Venecia won support for his staunch position. In the chamber, 115 congressmen voted to junk impeachment bid, with 77 still insisting that the House proceed with the complaint. "This should write finis to this sordid situation," JDV stated.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, too, and the senators did what Drilon had earlier committed the upper chamber to do: Abide by the decision of the Supreme Court.

In truth, neither House – it can finally be said – possessed the moral high ground (although the legislature legally had the right to explore "impeachment") – to seek the impeachment of Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. on grounds that funds had been culpably mishandled or misdirected. The impeachment move boomeranged since it merely served to call attention to the overspending of our solons – on themselves.

I’ve written in this corner, several times, that it is alarming how the House of Representatives, and, worse, the Senate continue to fritter away taxpayers’ money on "pork barrel". Would you believe? Let me restate it: It is nothing short of disgraceful that Senators get P300 million EACH per year in "pork barrel". For what? I’ll bet they spend that money on "funerals" and other get-the-reelection-vote stuff. The same might go for the P65 million EACH per annum every congressman receives in "pork barrel" allocations. Is our Congress one big funeraria? Too often, the hopes and dreams of our people get buried there.

I submit that in the wake of the wasteful Davide brouhaha, every solon and every official in government undertake a re-examination of conscience, and decide, at long last, to give the taxpayer his real money’s worth in terms of true public services, better roads, better bridges, better sanitation, better living conditions, better water-delivery, cleaner air – and, above all, better security.

In matters of "life and death", salus populi est suprema lex. Translating this dictum from Latin into reality has always been our problem.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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