, October 24, 2005
(STAR) It would be a waste of time and effort to respond to opposition attacks.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita made the statement in noting what he called "unfortunate" criticisms coming from former President Corazon Aquino even after the unprecedented joint statement by religious leaders calling for an end to political bickering and turmoil.

"We’ll be realistic. Just because Bro. Eraño Manalo (of the Iglesia ni Cristo) and Bro. Mike Velarde (of El Shaddai) appealed to end all these attacks, we can’t expect the opposition to change overnight," he said.

Ermita stressed Malacañang will just focus on its work "on governance and addressing the needs of our countrymen" and will not respond to opposition tirades.

Manalo and Velarde issued a rare joint statement last week appealing to administration and opposition leaders to "end the political bickering that has been going on for months" for the sake of the nation.

Manalo leads the Iglesia ni Cristo, which reportedly has 10 million members worldwide, while Velarde heads El Shaddai, a Catholic charismatic group that boasts about five million members nationwide.

After the joint statement, Mrs. Aquino, however, was quoted in reports as saying that she regretted supporting President Arroyo in the January 2001 EDSA II that ousted former President Joseph Estrada.

Ermita said Mrs. Aquino’s statements are "not conducive" to reconciliation and national unity being pushed by the religious leaders.

Ermita said Malacañang is seriously heeding the appeal by the two religious groups.

While there is no explicit order from the President to Cabinet officials to tone down political rhetoric in defending her and members of the official family, Ermita said the message is "clearly understood" that they have to heed the appeal.

For his part, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said it was unfortunate that Mrs. Arroyo’s critics did not listen to the call of the religious leaders for an end to political bickering.

"We shall not be drawn into counterproductive exchanges, rather, we will maintain our focus on our people’s welfare and advancement," he said.

Bunye said the President welcomed the call of INC and El Shaddai for an end to the political bickering and "together as a nation, work instead to alleviate the plight of our countrymen."

"The President, for her part, would work to improve the economy, bring back the trust of investors and create jobs and opportunities for our countrymen," he said.

If the political noise would be reduced, Bunye said the country can achieve its economic objectives faster. — Paolo Romero

Pimentel urges colleagues to wrap up Senate probes By Christina Mendez The Philippine Star 10/24/2005

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. urged his opposition colleagues in Congress yesterday to wrap up their inquiries and issue formal reports on the outcome to avoid public cynicism as to the worth of congressional investigations.

Pimentel called on legislators from both the Senate and House of Representatives to see to it that these inquiries are finished to their logical conclusion.

At the Senate alone, the public has yet to see resolutions over the inquiries on the jueteng controversy presided over by the committee on public order and illegal drugs, the allegedly anomalous Venable LLP contract by the Blue Ribbon Committee, the North Rail contract by the Committee of the Whole, the "Hello Garci tapes" by the defense and national security committee, fertilizer fund controversy by the committee on agriculture, and the missing ballot boxes issue by the laws and amendments committee.

Pimentel said the failure of these committees to complete the probe of certain fraudulent government deals and to establish the liability or guilt of the parties involved largely explains the people’s feeling of disenchantment over legislative investigations.

"Senate investigations are worthless if they do not end in specific findings. The probe of the jueteng scandal, the Venable contract, the North Rail mess, the fertilizer fund scam and the missing ballot boxes — all of these investigations should result in concrete recommendations," Pimentel said.

"If not, then, indeed, the investigations are not worth the time and the effort expended on them," he said.

"Critics who try to denigrate congressional inquiries as just a forum for political grandstanding of lawmakers or an instrument to destroy the reputations of personalities are being narrow-minded and subjectively negative in their view of things," Pimentel added.

The veteran lawmaker said it was through the Senate investigations that various scams were unmasked such as the Centennial Exposition, Mt. Pinatubo-lahar projects, Amari land deal, "peace bonds" and Armed Forces of the Philippines’ separation and benefits system that defrauded the government and taxpayers of billions of pesos.

In defending Senate inquiries, Pimentel noted people expect too much from these congressional probes in terms of nailing down erring public officials and their private sector accomplices so that they can be prosecuted and properly punished by the courts.

Naturally, he said, the public would feel frustrated if nothing comes out of the inquiry due to cover-up attempts and pressures from Malacañang which, he said, faces the risk of being embarrassed and indicted from the revelations behind every controversy and anomaly.

"The chairmen and members of the committees should respond to the demands of the people in this regard. Otherwise, the House of Representatives or the Senate should simply fold up and stop wasting the people’s time and money," Pimentel said.

At the same time, Pimentel expressed hope that the Supreme Court will invalidate Executive Order 464, which prevents government officials from attending congressional inquiries without presidential approval, for impairing the investigative powers of Congress.

Pimentel said the inquiries are necessary to maintain the sacrosanct principle of check and balance among the three independent branches of government.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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