FEDERICO PASCUAL: ABALOS MUST STAY ON TO MANAGE MAY POLLS

MANILA, February 10, 2004 (STAR) POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual, Jr. - KEEP ABALOS: It would be a big mistake to force Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos to resign now, three months before the May 10 elections. His untimely removal would just create a bigger problem.

The problems facing the Commission on Elections have been pinpointed. As head of the agency assigned by law to oversee elections, Abalos is – despite his human limitations – in the best position to work out solutions.

Why gamble on a new manager who still has to familiarize himself with the situation? Instead of putting in a new chairman at this late hour, the better option is for everybody to help out.

We are just witnessing the usual pre-election three-ring circus. Everything considered, we think the May elections will pull through successfully.

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THAT’S CAMPAIGNING: Apologists of President Arroyo probably think we are a nation of simpletons. Imagine their telling us they were not campaigning when they put up those billboards and posters hailing the accomplishments of her administration.

Even street repair in Metro Manila is now marked by signs advertising that such routine maintenance is part of the progress under the Arroyo administration.

If this is not campaigning, how come the Arroyo administration never bothered to put up those signs when she was not yet running for president? Bakit ngayon lang nagsulputan ang mga iyan?

Imagine the savings to be realized if we stopped spending for those huge full-color billboards. Pulling them down will help lower the prevailing political temperature and sober up the nation.

Campaign managers who get commissions from the billboards will never tell their bosses that advertising politicians side by side with liquor, tobacco and detergents cheapens them.

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SETTING EXAMPLE: A better response to charges that the President was prematurely campaigning is to say she had no hand in, no knowledge of, the putting up of those campaign materials, which is probably true – and for her to order them removed immediately.

As President, she should set the example for correct campaigning. How can we expect the rest to obey election rules if the President’s campaigners themselves are guilty of flouting the law?

To demonstrate good faith, the President should take the moral high ground and order the total and immediate removal of all – yes, all – those offending political billboards.

She can do this without necessarily admitting that her campaign materials violated the law or that they were put up with her knowledge. * * * DEFINE ‘CAMPAIGNING’: Independently, Comelec’s Abalos can link up with MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando and deputize service agencies to make a big show of removing all billboards put up before today’s start of the official campaign period and outside the common poster areas.

If private citizens and organizations see that the Comelec means business, they are likely to help remove campaign materials cluttering the neighborhood.

There will be a big debate over what constitutes "campaigning," but with President Arroyo ordering the removal of all campaign billboards, starting with her own, a cleanup will have public approval.

The Comelec will have to rush the common areas required by law for campaign posters. Such sites may appear inadequate because we have gotten used to runaway postering, but they would be substantial compliance with the law.

Violators must be denied their usual argument that they had to post materials everywhere because the Comelec had failed to provide space. * * * LONG-TERM BAN: This is the short-term measure. For long-term regulation, a law should be passed forbidding the posting or pasting on public property

of any material containing the name of a living person or official.

We have in mind banishing the practice of politicians putting their names on buildings, roads and bridges, ambulances, fire and police cars, and such public utility to call public attention to their supposed act of generosity or concern.

The practice defaces public structures and property. It also sends the wrong message that such projects came out of the pocket of an official when in fact they were financed by tax money.

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RUSHING A TRUCE: It would be reckless for the administration to rush before the May 10 elections a peace agreement or some kind of truce with communist rebels and Moro secessionists.

We doubt if such a pact rushed under time and political pressure will, on the whole, redound to the national interest.

We have to assume that the dissidents and rebels are not so stupid as to pass up this chance to extract concessions and favorable terms from a government panel under orders from Malacañang to produce a peace pact before May 10.

In the first place, why the sudden rush? We have been locked in endless negotiations for decades. There is no sudden need for a piece of paper whose contents will not be honored anyway.

A peace agreement or political truce may help create a false sense of security and boost President Arroyo’s election bid, but it cannot be expected to help substantially the cause of genuine peace.

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DONG PUNO DEFENDED: Reacting to complaints that the Dong Puno interview of Noli de Castro last Feb. 5 was angled to favor the ABS-CBN’s newsreader running for vice president, US-based colleague Ben Simpao e-mailed his disagreement.

Having watched the show via satellite, Ben said:

"I beg to disagree that the TV outfit did a scripted gig on Noli, that unflattering questions were blocked and questions were selective.

"I think the program was produced as adequately to be on the up and up, more likely patterned after public broadcasting TV forums here in the US, better known as town hall meeting, with a major TV news anchor (NBC, CBS, ABC) interviewing a personality or personalities or candidates on major issues and the audience asking questions.

"The difference here is that the audience or audiences of the Puno program were located in major parts of the country and individuals of various persuasions were made to ask questions to Noli at the main studio.

"One of the questions asked was why only Noli was being interviewed. Puno replied that the other candidates would also be interviewed in succeeding programs. That was the format, instead of all the vice presidential candidates sitting as a panel group.

"Each group of the audience was divided into two sections, possibly for the access of the TV personality to bring the mike closer to the person wanting to ask question. I noticed the participants were in a mixed group, not one side pro-Noli and the other side contrarians.

"There were sharp and pointed questions hurled at De Castro, particularly his accomplishments in the Senate and if he was made to do the bidding of the Lopezes. There were rooters who vowed to vote for Noli, but no mention of GMA.

"There was one student leader who said his group was voting for Raul Roco and Hermie Aquino. A columnist from Bacolod asked what Noli would be able to do if the president would be FPJ.

"And most telling was the question about whether he had a child out of wedlock and Noli’s answer was: He never sired a child outside of marriage (no infidelity), but yes, when he was still a binata (bachelor). How many was not implied.

"At the bottom of the screen (in green color) there were running comments from those who replied to the question of what they think of Noli as a candidate."

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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