MANILA, February 19, 2004 (STAR) A President must honor her office’s dignity, not ‘gatecrash’ the Iglesia - BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - Sure, it’s easy to preach, as when preachy opinion hacks like me do so too often from our bully pulpits.

However, the snub our President received yesterday from Iglesia ni Cristo’s Supreme Bishop Ka Eraño Manalo and the conclave of INC ministers was due to the grievous error she made in attempting to "gatecrash" the gathering uninvited.

Why should the Chief Executive of our Republic, the elected leader of 85 million Filipinos, go to kowtow to a specific "religious" group in a desperate try to win votes and support? Whether it is to the Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, agnostics or atheists, a president must never grovel. Respect for our Constitution and the Chief Executive’s own high office, forbids this. Separation of Church and State, remember?

It will be easy to blame the "over-eagerness" or the stupidity of her subalterns, like the former Spice Boy of Congress, now turned spicy Propagandist, Housing Secretary Mike Defensor. What we hear is that former Justice Secretary Mario Tuquero, a ranking INC lay member, had told Defensor about Bishop Eraño Manalo holding a meeting with his top INC ministers in the INC Central church and nerve-center in Quezon City. Mike immediately rang up President GMA, and allegedly suggested that she dash over to the INC headquarters unannounced to grab this opportunity to meet with Erdie and his bishops and ministers.

In her rush, Alikabok claims, GMA didn’t even bother to send an advance security team to herald her arrival and make certain the way was safe and clear.

Hearing about the President’s surprise arrival, it seems Ka Erdie slipped out through the backdoor and had his son, Eddie Manalo, greet the President instead in a receiving room.

When the President asked whether she could address the INC ministers, even for just ten minutes, the younger Manalo "respectfully" declined, explaining that the gathering was an exclusive conference of the ministers.

The President, rebuffed, left the INC Center. Is it true that while in her car, enroute back to the Palace, she called Mike Defensor on her cellphone and gave him an angry scolding? True, Mike seriously goofed – perhaps having given the erroneous impression to GMA that she would be "welcomed" by Ka Erdie and his holy moly gang. But even if she had been welcome, why should the President have gone at all? To plead with the leaders of a sect which claims to be able to muster millions of votes – what do they maintain, 12 million? Or what?

While she lived, not even the sainted Mother Teresa attempted to gatecrash a Papal meeting or Cardinals’ conclave at the Vatican. But then, if she had, perhaps the Holy Father and his "red hats" might have admitted her, even asked for her blessing.

For her part, it was unbecoming for a nation’s leader to so blatantly court the Iglesia ni Cristo’s blessings.

GMA’s late father, President Diosdado Macapagal, admirably upheld the Presidential dignity when he rejected a suggestion that he go to the same Ka Erdie Manalo to seek the Iglesia’s support in his own re-election bid.

The late President "Cong Dadong" recalled later: "At the possible price of losing the election, I could not comply with the procedure set by the INC to obtain their votes because I could not compromise the dignity of the Presidency.

"I was motivated by the belief that no private citizen our group should impose on the President of the Republic of the Philippines for any purpose and for the latter to accede to the Iglesia condition would make him unworthy of the responsibility attached to his high office."

We, as a nation, must forever remember and salute Cong Dadong Macapagal for that courageous decision, and for the moving words in which he couched the respect for the Presidency which he always held deep in his heart. The poor boy from Lubao, as was his "corny" boast, was not perfect – none of us are – but when push came to shove, his better instincts and his boyhood sense of decency always illumined his reactions and decision-making.

I have no desire to invoke the words of a father to embarrass a daughter, but Dadong Macapagal’s admonition must be always directed to all Presidents of this land.

DM, of course, it must also be recalled, lost his re-election bid, and was trounced by his challenger Ferdinand E. Marcos. True enough, Marcos got the INC "vote", and whether this was a major factor in his victory over Macapagal will be forever debated. (The INCs brag this is so.)

Possibly, La Gloria has been so traumatized by what befell her dad that she now vows not to be a one-term President. But as I told her at the beginning of her term, "God gave you this gift, denied to only but a handful of Filipinos – to be the President of this striving nation. This is your moment to serve and make your place in history, don’t dream about the next election."

Dreams can turn into nightmares, if too stubbornly pursued – and without a care for the consequences.

Will GMA be re-elected? She had the high ground. But to be re-elected "at any cost", that’s another matter.

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GMA ought to take heart.

Yesterday noon, this writer was the guest speaker of the Philippine Insurers Club, addressing that 52-year old organization of ranking insurance executives and their guests in the packed Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula hotel.

The club, headed by its president, Ms. Joy Padiernos Carlos (vice president) of Pacific Union Insurance, Rufino "Noni" Abad, immediate past president (president of Tico Insurance Co.), Roberto Crisol (vice president of the club) who introduced me, and Ricky Ko Pio, executive vice president of Cibeles Insurance, turned out to be a lively and enthusiastic group very much concerned about the present elections, our problems, and who would win in May.

They took a straw ballot among the club members (visitors didn’t "vote") and here are the fascinating results:

FOR PRESIDENT: (1) GMA with 67 votes (54 percent of club members present); (2) Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, 22 votes (18 percent); (3) Raul Roco, 20 votes (16 percent); Brother Eddie Villanueva, nine votes (7 percent), Fernando Poe, Jr., five votes (4 percent), Eddie Gil, zero, with two "abstaining".

FOR VICE PRESIDENT: (1) Noli de Castro, 40 votes (32 percent); (2) Herminio Aquino, 38 votes (30 percent); Loren Legarda, 32 votes (26 percent), Rodolfo Paso, one vote. Fourteen abstentions.

Need we say more? I forgot to ask them about "Loser’s Insurance". But who ever "loses" in this country. Those who don’t win always cry out: "I wuz cheated!" * * * Starting 1 p.m. this afternoon, 14 members of the Supreme Court will start hearing the FPJ disqualification cases. The hearing is expected to last several hours and last until late evening.

The 14 Supreme Court justices who will sit en banc this afternoon may be "classified" into two categories. The two categories are: (1) the GMA appointees who number seven. These are Justices Antonio Carpio, Renato Corona, Alicia Martinez, Conchita Morales, Romeo Callejo, Adolf Azcuna and Dante Tinga. These magistrates may further be classed into the career jurists, namely Justices Martinez, Morales and Callejo and the political appointees who are Justices Carpio, Corona, Azcuna and Tinga.

Next, (2) The non-GMA appointees. These are Chief Justice Hilario Davide who is both a Cory Aquino appointee in 1991 and an Estrada appointee as Chief Justice, then the Ramos appointees – i.e., Justices Renato Puno, Jose Vitug, Artemio Panganiban and Leo Quisumbing – and the Estrada appointees, Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and Angelina Gutierrez.

I do not expect the 14 members of the High Court to vote along "party lines", unlike the nine members of the United States Supreme Court who apparently voted for or against President George W. Bush in the Florida poll controversy according to the party of the president who had appointed them to the US Supreme Court. There is a sharp division in the voting among the nine members of the Court on landmark cases in accordance with their Republican Party or Democratic Party "affiliations".

Contrary to rumors floating around, there is no "consensus" yet among the 14 members of the High Court on whether to disqualify FPJ or not. According to a High Court justice, the Justices are not talking to each other about their initial impressions on the issues. After today’s hearing, the parties will be required to submit their respective memoranda, after which the cases will be considered submitted for decision. The Court’s ruling, as I said yesterday, can be expected on or before mid-March.

Perhaps more important than the "self-serving arguments" the parties involved will articulate are the submissions of the four amici curiae (friends of the court) who are all eminent in their own fields. The four are Ateneo Law Dean Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, a recognized authority on Constitutional Law; retired SC Justice Vicente Mendoza, also a recognized authority on Constitutional Law; former VP Law Dean Merlin Magalona, and eminent Civil Law professor Ruben Balane who holds the prestigious J.B.L. Reyes professorial chair in the UP College of Law.

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . It was sad to hear of the death yesterday of our old friend, the renowned ABS-CBN broadcaster Frankie Evangelista, whose career virtually encompassed that network 50-year history. I heard his wife, Patria, tearfully speaking about his demise over our car radio, and we join her and, in truth, the entire nation in mourning. Frankie, the subsequent announcement revealed, had succumbed at only 69.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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