COLUMN: EXPERIENCE ABOVE POPULARITY - NOLI

MANILA, January 6, 2004 (STAR) POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual, Jr. - GIVE FPJ LEEWAY: By tradition and for practical reasons, the presidential candidate of the party is usually given the option of handpicking his running mate.

This is how it should be. How would the standard bearer lead his forces to battle if he were not comfortable with his vice presidential partner?

It’s not our concern, but if they have to move forward at all, we think the opposition elements banking on Fernando Poe Jr. to recapture Malacañang should respect his choice of Sen. Loren Legarda, or whoever, as running mate.

Poe is the only viable candidate of the opposition forces orbiting around deposed President Joseph "Erap" Estrada. If Poe abandons his presidential bid in exasperation, where would that find them in May?

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MASS & MOMENTUM: Judging from the various parties’ registration hoopla at the Commission on Elections, this kibitzer rates the administration team the likely winner if national elections were held tomorrow.

The administration’s show of force at the Comelec grounds yesterday, the last day for filing certificates of candidacy, had mass and momentum, even if contrived, that other parties did not have in their earlier group filing.

Yesterday’s registration rally was a reflection of the administration coalition’s superiority in terms of money and machinery. These elements, by themselves, do not guarantee victory, but they are a big plus.

The forces behind Poe, meantime, are mired in confusion. Two of their disgruntled senatorial bets (Miriam Santiago and John Osmena) had abandoned them, while another one, Rep. Imee Marcos, appeared yesterday also on the way out.

Do not be surprised if Santiago and Marcos end up in the administration’s senatorial ticket.

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CONTINUITY CITED: In the press conference that followed the mass registration, Sen. Noli de Castro offered what to us was an acceptable explanation for his sliding down and running for vice president with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The top newsreader of ABS-CBN said although he has been a topnotcher in presidential surveys (way ahead of President Arroyo herself), he realized that continuity in governance was critical in hastening national recovery and progress.

He noted that President Arroyo has had three years of being hands-on president, giving her the unique advantage of not having to spend half of a six-year term learning the presidency first.

She can plunge into the job with dispatch and confidence, avoiding her past errors and pursuing the lines that had proved right and beneficial.

We take it that De Castro knows that, unlike Arroyo, he is not prepared to take on the awesome responsibilities of the presidency. He then deferred to her.

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CHACHA STILL ALIVE?: What is this crap attributed to Speaker Jose de Venecia about another fastbreak for constitutional amendments changing the government system to a parliamentary setup?

De Venecia was quoted as saying that delegates to a constitutional convention could be elected together with the regular officials in the May elections, and for the elected delegates to convene in August to rewrite the charter.

The most startling element of the reported De Venecia plan is for the president elected on May 10 to serve only until 2007, when the parliamentary setup he has been talking about is adopted.

When we fill the ballot in May, we are signing a covenant for a six-year presidential term. The tenure of whoever wins as president cannot be cut short by a new charter being applied retroactively.

Puede ba, let’s not make the coming elections more chaotic. De Venecia may want to put aside muna his obsession of becoming a head of government (prime minister).

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U.S.-SADDAM TIES: When we wrote last year that a public trial of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein might bring out details of Washington’s having coddled the dictator with his weapons of mass destruction, two readers accused us of spreading unfounded reports.

Last week, we received this article written by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.:

"So it looks like our Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was rather friendly with Saddam Hussein (a.k.a. The Monster) back in the 80s, when Mr. Rumsfeld was working for the Reagan Administration. This according to newly de-classified documents that were never intended to see the light of day.

"Of course Mr. Hussein was ‘Our Monster’ back then. But still it is rather striking that Rummy’s mission when he met with Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister was to reassure The Monster that his actual use of weapons of mass destruction – not mere possession, but using them to kill tens of thousands of people – would not get in the way of warmer US-Iraqi relations.

"It was 1984 and Saddam was using chemical weapons, according to the Reagan administration’s documents, ‘almost daily’ against Iranians and Kurds.

"Mr. Rumsfeld had already met with The Monster himself back in 1983. He was sent back to Iraq in 1984 to make it clear that Washington’s interests in ‘continuing to improve bilateral relations with Iraq, at a pace of Iraq’s choosing, remain undiminished’ in spite of these daily atrocities.

"These were the written instructions that Rumsfeld received as special envoy of the Reagan Administration.

"Some may still remember that the main reason given for our armed forces invading Iraq, in defiance of international law and most of the world, was that Saddam supposedly had weapons of mass destruction.

"These alleged weapons are still missing in action. But even if they did exist, it is hard to believe – in light of these documents – that our leaders took us to war for this reason.

"The new documents were discovered by the non-profit National Security Archives (www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/) and reported last week in the New York Times and Washington Post.

"They corroborate previous reports in the Times that the United States provided Iraq with battle planning assistance, and other military and intelligence support, at the time that Iraq was using chemical weapons in its war with Iran.

"Of course, Rumsfeld and his superiors had their reasons. But who doesn’t? It is rare that any political leader commits atrocities just for the sheer pleasure of it.

"In this case Washington and The Monster were strategically allied against Iran. Washington’s relationship with Saddam – including hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural credits – continued right up to the time that he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

"But all of this is history, which in America is synonymous with forgotten. Which is why the Bush administration will do everything possible to make sure that Saddam is not brought before an international tribunal, where there is a greater chance that he could implicate some of his former friends and allies in Washington.

"This is not just a matter of suffering embarrassment for being friends with monsters. Among the crimes that Saddam could be tried for is killing people with chemical weapons. In an honest judicial proceeding, Rumsfeld and his superiors could be named and indicted as co-conspirators.

"Since Saddam’s capture we have been told that the purpose of the ongoing war is to bring democracy to Iraq, in fact to the whole Middle East.

"Of course, the majority of Americans still believe that Saddam was involved in the massacre of September 11, according to the latest polls. It seems that no justification is too ridiculous or far-fetched to serve as an excuse for this war.

"On the same page that the Times reported the story about Rumsfeld’s past mission to Iraq, there was a little box that appears on most days with the title ‘Names of the Dead.’ It began with the same sentence that appears each time: ‘The Department of Defense has identified 463 American armed service members who have died since the start of the war.’ Only the number changes, and beneath are listed the soldiers who were killed the day before.

"Can anyone tell us why we have soldiers dying in Iraq?"

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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