We're lagging behind and no propaganda blitz can fix that problem

- Matt Wolf, Max V. Soliven -

At the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, the President finally admitted that the country is in the midst of a crisis and that his government needs to rally public support to get things back on track.

not_entHe was right to add: "I assure you, the critical voices and challenges to the present leadership do not fall on deaf ears."

Those are nice words. What about the reality? The way things are going, the Chief Executive shirks from making hard decisions, is swayed by a woman's tears, is loathe to discipline some of his family members who have been sticking their noses into so many deals, and doesn't even spank the naughty members of his gossipy Post-Midnight ad hoc "Cabinet."

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy", the popular maxim went when we were kids. On the other hand, all play and no work -- just an endless series of outings, parties, dinners and celebrations -- are even worse than being dull: They sap a leader's energy, distract him from his priorities, and those back-slappers and sycophants who suck up to him everywhere he goes make him believe that everything is rosy.

I hope that yesterday's humble "confession" that things aren't going well is heartfelt, and not mere lip-service. Let's not even harp on that over-invoked, discouraging low five percent rating. As a matter of fact, by today the Action Hero's popularity may even have sunk below floor level. But this should be a prod, not a deterrent to determination and effort -- and a drastic change in attitude and lifestyle.

When I was a boy, one of my favorite comic strips was an adventure cartoon by Milton Caniff (1907-1988) called Terry and the Pirates. The series first began appearing in October 1934.

With a few revisions, the late Caniff's comic strip -- which was not really comic but breathtaking -- could be revived as Erap and the Pirates, the twist being that the "pirates" were some of the wiseguys around President Erap.

The strip, run by Associated Press in newspapers all over the world (my late father used to bring me to the Silver Dollar, a bar and cafeteria on old Plaza Santa Cruz, to buy the latest), featured handsome hero Terry's and his daredevil sidekick Pat Ryan's encounters with strong and multifaceted personalities, some admirable and quite a number of them evil.

In 1940, with war raging in China, that's where the action developed.

As America entered World War II, the strongest character cartoonist Caniff developed, even sharper a personality than Terry himself, was -- brace yourself -- the "Dragon Lady."

This was where the name "Dragon Lady" originally came from. In his book, America's Great Comic Strip Artists, Richard Marschall described how she had been created: "To have the embodiment of evil, a sinister half-Oriental eminence with venomous proclivities, appear as an agonizingly tempting beauty was masterful. And true to life -- if all evil were ugly, would not sinning be easier to resist?" Mind you, I'm talking of the comic series.

But I think it's time Sir Erap joined the resistance movement.

* * *

I'm afraid that our President can never resist what he believes are witticisms. Now, he's come out with the Three P's.

Interviewed over DzBB radio yesterday, Erap replied that there was no longer time for a fourth P, "pag-ibig" or "love." His priorities now, he quipped, were pagkain (food), pabahay (housing) and peace and order.

The trouble is that he took the same occasion to again assail the media for asking "nitpicking" questions, including those speculations about his health.

It's true enough that we newsmen sometimes stumble into what can only be described as "tabloid" journalism, known as "yellow journalism" in the past, and nowadays brought up-to-date as "paparrazi" journalism. When Erap gets seen stealing into the Makati Med in the dead of night, ears prick up and some eager-beavers over-hastily jump to the conclusion that he's there for a medical check-up.

Okay, so the journalists who made a big deal about the nocturnal expedition spoke recklessly. (He can be believed when he says he visited a sick relative, even a lady relative perhaps, and dropped by to condole with the grieving family of our friend, Free Press Editor Teddy Locsin, who had just died in room 902).

On the other hand, even when the President's got a fly on his face (or worse, when his fly is open) that's news. He's a public person, and therefore is under public scrutiny -- every minute, sad to say.

The truculence the President exhibits towards certain sectors of the media somehow reminds me of former US Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (of Maryland).

Agnew, Richard M. Nixon's Vice-President, might have been literally laughed out of office, except that he actually fell in 1973 because of corruption charges he couldn't refute. Too bad for him. When Nixon resigned, Agnew could have become President.

What irritated the press was the fact that Agnew, who was prone to gaffes, had a chip on his shoulder with regard to the media. Agnew called the press "an effete corps of impudent snobs." He added that "the views of this fraternity do not represent the views of America."

The anti-press speech was really written for him by one of his then speechwriters (surprise), the present pointman of the Religious Right, Patrick J. Buchanan. In a speech in San Diego (Calif.), "Ted" Agnew upped the ante by accusing press critics as the "nattering nabobs of negativism" (like Erap, he had his three n's). In another address at Des Moines (Iowa), Agnew swung out at the media for too much "instant analysis."

The media may have hated Agnew for his outspoken assaults at them, but his speeches -- glowing with resentment -- contributed much to the political vocabulary of our day.

Another contributor was the great Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson (later US Ambassador to the UN), who was too cerebral to be elected American President. It was Stevenson who coined the expression hurled against pessimists -- "prophets of doom and gloom."

So, it's clear that it's not only in the Philippines that the press and media-persons are resented. It's part of that never-ending confrontation which provides a "braking mechanism" to the careening about of the Powerful.

* * *

Another judge, RTC Executive Judge Owen Amor of the Daet (Camarines Norte) Regional Trial Court, has bit the dust. Amor was arrested the other day after he was caught receiving marked "bribe" money. He had allegedly demanded P500,000 from Police Supt. Danilo Manzano, plus a pick-up truck, in exchange for the dismissal of cases pending in his sala against Manzano (incurred during the latter's stint as intelligence chief of the PNP in Bicol).

Since the venue of the Dishonorable Amor's entrapment was the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City, this means that the Daet judge travelled all the way from his provincial station to Metro Manila to collect his bribe -- possibly feeling it was safer than in his home bailiwick. Unfortunately for him, Judge Amor's picture was in all the major newspapers yesterday -- he had become an instant celebrity of the wrong kind.

Amor is the third trial court judge to be nabbed and charged with receiving marked money in less than one year. The other two judges were Angeles City Municipal Trial Court Judge Wilfredo Zuriaga and San Fernando (Pampanga) RTC Judge Daniel Liangco.

There have also been several trial court judges dismissed by the Supreme Court for a number of offenses, mostly for corruption. However, it appears that no trial court judge dismissed for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Revised Penal Code has been "jailed" up to now. Bribery is a criminal offense under Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code. It is punishable with a prison term of prision mayor in its medium and maximum periods, meaning a jail term of more than eight years.

Dismissal from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits is not enough for hoodlums in robes dismissed for bribery. Why, if swindlers who issue "bouncing checks" are meted out a jail term, why shouldn't crooked judges who make a fat living out of dispensing injustice and making a mockery out of their exalted positions not be sentenced to imprisonment, too?

If anything, their crime is much worse. For, in addition to their betraying their oath and their high calling, they devastate the public's trust in our judicial system.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) should not stop at dismissing corrupt and unworthy judges. Those rats must be prosecuted like the hoodlums they are. "Dismissal" is just a slap on the wrist.











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