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Separate Opinion
The time to repair the roof

By Isagani A. Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:25:00 01/11/2009

Filed Under: Government, Laws, Justice & Rights, Politics

DELAY is one of the worst defects of our government and is the principal reason why our society has not progressed much since our liberation from martial law. It is still hampered by the snail-like pace with which we address our problems compared to the lightning speed of our neighboring countries in dealing with their own difficulties.

When I visited Thailand during the ?60s, I could see with nationalistic pride and satisfaction how very much advanced we were compared to what appeared to me as a backward country trying hard to keep pace with us. Now the situation has reversed. Thailand has outdistanced the Philippines considerably, not to say humiliatingly, as have the many other Asian countries that have practically demoted us to the bottom of the list.

I speak only of the economic list, for the Philippines is far superior in other respects to the wealthy countries that do not have the liberties our people enjoy even in our poverty. Our proudest example is our Bill of Rights. We can marry whom we choose and when, but in Singapore even chewing gum is taboo. China limits the number of children per family but here it is limitless. We don?t have an emperor as in Japan but there is a woman here whose ridiculous dream is to be our queen.

But let me go back to the vice of delay that, to repeat, is one of the reasons why our government has not acted fast and competently in the solution of our own troubles. I shall not speak of our erratic economy on which I am a complete ignoramus. But I can deplore certain political and criminal cases that should have been resolved long ago but instead are now practically archived.

Imelda Marcos was charged with many crimes after Edsa I but her conviction for graft by the Sandiganbayan as affirmed by a division of the Supreme Court was reversed by it en banc in 1998. Her other cases are still festering unworriedly. As for Joseph Estrada, it took all of six years to convict him of plunder that, for a change, was washed away in nothing flat by GMA?s pardon.

The Kuratong Baleleng killings occurred as far back as 1995 but it is now 14 years later and the case is still pending. It was even the subject of a long Senate investigation, but nothing came out of what is now a still mysterious and largely forgotten massacre.

We were shocked two years ago by a general?s wife found with an incredible amount of US dollars who called it ?gratitude money? collected by her husband as AFP comptroller. Later, some senior military officers were charged in court martial proceedings for enjoying private foreign travels with their spouses on convenient official time and expense. That is the last we have heard of those scandals, and nevermore.

Not to be outdone, another group of generals (some accompanied by their wives) attended a police convention abroad with the inexplicable allowance of P9.2 million from our national treasury. The staggering sum could have been kept a dark secret from our people were it not for the official curiosity of the customs authorities in Russia. The exposed rascals can easily escape punishment by the simple expedient of delaying their conviction.

The Senate investigation of the unlawful disposition of the P728 million fertilizer fund was suspended in 2006 after Jocelyn Bolante escaped to the United States. The show was resumed recently after his forcible return. It is still in progress despite the announced finding of the senators that he has been lying under oath and does not deserve to be believed.

If that is their feeling, why do they allow him to continue deceiving them? If they have heard enough of his prevarications, why don?t they punish him for contempt of the Senate in the exercise of its implied power as judicially recognized? Are they afraid that Bolante will go to the Supreme Court and be sustained by the justices like the protected Romulo Neri?

Way back in 1950, the Senate investigated the purchase of the Tambobong-Buenavista estate by the government. Jean Arnault was asked to whom he had paid the sum of P440,000 as part of the agreed price, but he said he could not remember. The Senate then ordered him confined in the national penitentiary to improve his selective memory.

Arnault sought relief from the Supreme Court but got nowhere. The justices denied his plea and said that his release depended on him alone. They held that all he needed to do was answer the legitimate question put to him by the Senate and he could then go free. He did not get the lenient treatment the present Supreme Court recently gave the retentive Neri for invoking his president?s executive privilege.

And so the investigation of the side-stepping Bolante provides the public with an Abbott and Costello comedy skit with him as the smart guy making fun of his confused partner. The wily witness has been playing cat-and-mouse with the senators who do not seem to get the joke?on them. And so the investigation of the P728 million fertilizer fund will continue endlessly and the punishment of the culprits will be forever delayed.

President John F. Kennedy said, ?The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.? The political climate here is cloudy, and the leaky roof may cause the whole building to totter and collapse. Heaven help us when it does.



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