MANILA, January 22, 2004 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - President Macapagal-Arroyo is right to hang tough on the scheduled execution of two convicted kidnappers on Friday January 30, next week. The law is the law. If the Supreme Court intervenes to postpone the executions owing to alleged new "testimony", then it’s up to the High Tribunal. But, once more with feeling, the rule of law must prevail. As the axiom taught every law student goes, dura lex sed lex (The law is hard, but it is the law).

The President is called the nation’s Chief Executive. It is her duty to execute the law; i.e., implement it. Not the Pope, not the Cardinals, not the Archbishops, not all the Saints in heaven can or must stay her hand. Certainly, not the noisy Manila Bishop, Socrates "Soc" Villegas, who has been calling the President bad names for not bending her knee to the Catholic Church’s scoldings and its declarations that the "death penalty" is wrong. What sophistry there was in Monsignor Villegas’ unctuous assertion that "there is something more important than justice, and that something important is love." Susmariosep. If there’s no justice in this world, the people will perish. (Is Villegas bucking for elevation to the Red Hat of Cardinal?)

Then there are those 15 European Union ambassadors who went to New Bilibid prison, then started castigating our government’s policy of imposing capital punishment. Some of them insisted, in insulting tones, that GMA ought to stay the execution of the two convicted kidnappers on death row, Roberto Lara and Roderick Licayan. Let me say it again: Don’t meddle. This is our country. Let those cheeky envoys go lecture Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew (he of the barbed tongue) in Singapore if they dare.

Singapore has hanged with enthusiasm and dispatch scores of convicts, including our own Filipina OFW, poor Flor Contemplacion – while we pusillanimous Filipinos, owing to our slow and ponderous legal system, have executed a mere handful. Goh and Lee Kwan Yew would have speedily booted out any complaining, undiplomatic diplomats. The prickly leaders of that City-State, in truth, might even have tarred and feathered them into the bargain. I should know. This writer was kicked out of Singapore by Lee Kwan Yew in 1960. My crime? Lack of respect! At least he didn’t clap me in irons, or decree my being meted out five strokes of the rotan (a punishment so painful and severe that Singapore law requires that a government doctor be standing by when the caning with a heavy rod is administered).

What these insolent envoys are guilty of is lack of respect, not merely of our President but of our laws.

One newspaper took me to task in its editorial for not being grateful for interference in 1972 by foreign editors and publishers and other foreign pressure groups which, the editorial said, had saved us from being meted out the "death penalty" when we were prisoners of the Marcos dictatorship, along with the subsequently assassinated Ninoy Aquino.

Of course, we were all grateful. But this is a case of apples and oranges – the two are not the same. None of us, except for Ninoy – who was later "convicted" and falsely sentenced to death in a military drumhead trial – had been convicted by any court of law, not even a Marcos kangaroo court. Surely, the tyrant could have at any moment sent his military goons to drag us out of our cells and give us a "firing squad" send-off. The only foreign head of state whose opinion Macoy feared and kowtowed to, however, was US President Ronald Reagan, who was his pal anyway – not to mention Nancy Reagan’s friendship with Imeldific. In the end, even old karancho Reagan had to, reluctantly, wash his hands of the EDSA-deposed Macoy.

Indeed, I was – as the newspaper’s editorial said last Saturday (January 17) – marked for death. But this was under "Oplan Mad Dog". I was in a list of 29 persons slated for arrest and "execution" in February 1986. At that time, I was the Publisher of the anti-dictatorship newspaper, The Philippine Daily Inquirer. Yep, the same PDI we have today. It was the eruption of the EDSA "People Power" revolt which saved us. Of course, we were there at the EDSA barricades. Despite the tear gas attacks, the advancing tanks and armored cars, the threat of Marine bayonets, and the prospect of being pulped into Ketchup by an artillery barrage, the EDSA barricades were, for me, the safest place in town.

Of course, we prayed. We held up statues of Mother Mary. We had battalions of nuns between us and the armored cars, fervently throwing Ave Marias, Pater Nosters, and rosaries, at the "enemy". The military – moved by God and Realpolitik – deserted Macoy and joined us. Which is why we won. Enough already. The law was designed to protect the victims, not the perpetrators of crime. If only the "poor", as the bleeding hearts bleat, are compelled to pay for committing crime this is injustice. Justice then must be done. The law must be stringently implemented – not relaxed – in order that the rich and the powerful be brought to book, with equal ferocity. Dura lex sed lex. A civilized society which does not defend itself is doomed to descend into anarchy, chaos, barbarism and despair. In an ideal world, "love" and forgiveness would be terrific. This, alas, is not an ideal world.

It is better that criminals die, so that innocent victims can live.

* * *

Three employees of the National Archives "confessed" to a Senate investigating committee yesterday that their Director, Ricardo Manapat, had ordered them to forge the documents pertaining to FPJ’s father. These are very serious allegations.

What will the Commission on Elections First Division, chaired by Comelec Commissioner Rufino Javier, do now? What we heard was that the Comelec had earlier been poised to "disqualify" FPJ from running for the Presidency . . . today! Is this true? Okay, Commissioner Javier, the ball is in your court.

What’s interesting is that Javier belonged to the Gang of Four which had plumped for the controversial multi-million-peso Photokina contract (what about the latest Mega scam?) and eased the strongly-dissenting former Comelec Chairman, Justice Alfredo Benipayo, out. Who are the members of the committee now hearing the seven-page petition of lawyer Victorino X. Fornier which seeks to disqualify Poe as not being a "natural born" Filipino? Is it the rest of the Gang, namely Luzviminda Tancangco, Ralph Lantion and Mehol Sadain?

Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Jr., is correct in testily asserting that the Comelec must not succumb to threats of pro-FPJ groups to "people power" that poll body if it dares disqualify Poe. But the Comelec, by the same token, must be just and fair. The "revelations" of the three Archives employees are a blockbuster which cannot be ignored.

This fellow Manapat is beginning to look worse and worse. What? I heard a National Archives employee alleging on TV that Manapat had the practice of putting dead rats on the desks of employees he hated, or ordering punishment in the form of employees being instructed to put their desks against the wall, and sit there staring at the wall. The same whistle-blower alleged that Manapat had even once fired a .22 caliber pistol at a security guard – but he missed. If this is true, then he’s a bad shot. Is this the kind of National Archivist our dear President GMA has put in charge of our national records? Waw!

* * *

Candidate Poe made an interesting remark to the group of businessmen and executives from Philippines, Inc., whom he addressed at the Polo Club yesterday. He was asked what he intended to do with ex-President Joseph Estrada if he were elected President next May. FPJ replied that Erap "is my friend. But the law must prevail."

FPJ’s opening statement to his audience was: "I am a Filipino." He declared that his aim, if elected, would be to re-establish "the rule of law" within the first 100 days. This does not differ from the pledge of another candidate, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson. Candidate Raul Roco promises the same thing. Former Senator and Education Secretary Roco, on the other hand, made a weird statement yesterday. He maintained that the death penalty is no deterrent to crime.

Roco even pandered to the "poor" in a transparent effort to win the masa to his side. He averred that the rich and powerful had never been executed in the Philippines, alleging that they "easily bribe themselves out of Philippine jails". Roco revealed that "all 38 death convicts executed since 1965 came from the class of the poor who cannot afford good lawyers, then (were) made to face a flawed judicial process that promotes the culture of violence in the country."

C’mon, Raul. What promotes violence is the fact that crime is not punished. Poverty is no excuse for crime. It’s true that, too often, the rich and powerful get away. This is what can and must be corrected. However, to let the "poor" off the hook when any of them commits a heinous crime would be criminal in itself. You’re a lawyer, Attorney Roco. Dura lex sed lex.

If you ask me, by the way, there are a lot of sleazy lawyers in this land who ought to be dispatched to the lethal gas chamber, too. Not to mention judges and Injustices.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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