MAX SOLIVEN: GEORGIA ON HIS MIND

MANILA, January 28, 2004 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - The Commission on Elections may make a few noises about eyeing the President’s moves and jaunts as a possible violation of the ban on premature campaigning, but don’t expect anything to happen.

The Comelec may decide to sue newspapers, like us in The Philippine STAR, for that ad alleging an opposition candidate’s birth certificate was forged, but taking on the Chief Executive herself is a different proposition altogether.

If GMA is doing any premature campaigning (punishable with imprisonment ranging from one year to six years), she’ll get away with it. Opposition candidates may be complaining, but the ability to undertake early campaigning (before the approved date of February 10th) is part of the equity of the incumbent.

GMA can simply retort that she’s just doing her job as Chief Executive, and "serving" the people. And she’s doing it with government money, and being backstopped by government officials.

If you’re up there, you’re up there. But be careful. The higher one is, the bigger the fall.

* * *

I don’t know whether the Supreme Court will "stay" the executions – scheduled for this Friday, January 30 – of Roberto Lara and Roderick Licayan, who were convicted for kidnapping a businessman in 1998. (Why do our media, including this newspaper, keep on sounding racist by identifying victims as "Chinese Filipino" or "Tsinoy"? Do we ever say "Ilocano Filipino" victims or Saluyots?)

I even heard Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo on television saying that the High Tribunal may delay sending the two to the lethal gas chamber in order to examine new evidence. Let’s wait then to find out what happens.

In the meantime, the President is right to continue to declare that, otherwise, the death penalty will be imposed as scheduled. Dura lex sed lex. It’s like that line from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which said, "The moving finger writes and having writ moves on, not all your piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it." Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the law must be followed to the letter.

An Opposition candidate who exhibits no hesitation (despite the non-stop weeping accentuated by media, and church frenzy over the two poor fellows) is Senator Panfilo Lacson. The nation’s former top policeman told Philippines Incorporated businessman’s forum that the two convicts were arrested during his watch as head of the now-defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force. Flatly, Ping Lacson asserted: "They are guilty. We should know. We arrested them." He pointed out: "They were identified by the victims."

As for the Catholic Church, the church does not want anybody "executed" at all. How about a prayer for the victims, especially those dead, buried or cremated, of heinous crimes? And what about future victims?

* * *

We must not miss the significance of the pointed remarks made by United States Secretary of State General Colin Powell – shucks, right in Moscow itself – expressing grave concern about Russia’s democracy. Sanamagan.

In unusually blunt language, America’s equivalent of foreign minister published a front-page article in the Russian daily Izvestia – in the old days the workers’ official newspaper – which warned that Russian politics was not adequately subject to the "rule of law". Even more grimly, Powell stated that there were "limits" to the US-Russian relationship without shared values.

Then, with obvious, but unstated reference to Russian interference in the state of Georgia (meaning Georgia, the former state of the vanished Soviet Union, not Georgia, USA), Powell underscored that it was understandable that Russia had a "natural interest" in its neighbors’ affairs, but the sovereignty of Russia’s neighbors and their rights to peaceful and respectful relations across borders must be respected. (Georgia seized independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union committed suicide; i.e., abolished itself. The Red Flag was lowered from the Kremlin on Christmas Day 1991 – for the last time, since it was raised to signify the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.)

Georgia’s problem is that it was never allowed to become fully sovereign.

To begin with, the 4.4 million Georgians comprised 15 different nationalities (only 67 percent were fully Georgian in race and Christian religion). In April 1989, the first disorders erupted in Abkhazia. This autonomous region of northern Georgia along the shores of the famed Black Sea, inhabited by 183,000 Abkhazians who belong to a Turkic Muslim minority, demanded independence for themselves, not under the rule of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. South Ossetia also revolted, peopled as it was with 165,000 inhabitants speaking a language related to Persian.

When Edward Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister (remember him?) was finally elected president in 1992, he had to crack down on lawlessness, banditry, and fight a civil war. Shevardnadze didn’t have an easy time of it. He had to survive two serious assassination attempts, first in a car bomb, then an attack on his motorcade by 15 men wielding anti-tank grenades, rifles and heavy machineguns.

When Abkhasians acceded, he marched his army into that province and was battering down the resistance when the Russians barged in and drove Shevardnadze’s astonished forces out with heavy artillery.

The Russians then compelled the Georgians to accept Russian bases on their soil, as a member of their Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The Russians are still there, in force, although the Americans have begun training the Georgian Armed Forces! Would you believe? The US has poured more than $1 billion into Georgia. What a kettle of fish.

Obviously, the Americans are ready to take Georgia under their mantle of "protection", whatever that means. Two months ago, Shevardnadze, whose ineptitude had finally brought the nation to economic ruin and political anarchy, was virtually "deposed" in a bloodless coup – through People Power, coupled with demonstrators crashing into parliament and breaking up the furniture.

Shevardnadze wisely resigned to clear the decks for new elections. Mikhail Saakashvili, 36, the country’s most popular politician for the past two years (according to opinion polls), who had earned a reputation as a crusader against corruption and for his anti-poverty programs – sounds familiar? – was handily voted into the Presidency in a landslide January 4 election.

Saakashvili’s advantage is that he speaks excellent English, with a slight American accent, thus endearing him to the Americans. He had studied in the Ukraine and France before going to Columbia University in New York to earn his law degree, and had practiced law under the aegis of a New York law firm. (Indeed, he speaks French, Ukrainian and Russian with equal fluency).

He’s got all the ingredients: a Dutch wife named Sandra, and a handsome son called Misha. But he faces tough sledding ahead.

Colin Powell, however, attending his inauguration in Tbilisi, under the watchful baleful eye of his Russian counterpart, Foreign Secretary Ivan Ivanov who also attended, now wants Russia to vacate its bases in Georgia. Surely, the Russians won’t. They suspect, although the Americans stoutly deny it, that if they depart, those bases might immediately be occupied by Americans.

Is that a formula for trouble between Washington, DC and Moscow, or is it? Sus, it may not be another Cold War yet, but it’s getting cold.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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