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Opinion

Emma: Witness extraordinaire / Military weighs in - HERE'S THE SCORE by Teodoro C. Benigno

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She didn’t look much the first time she entered the courtroom Friday, a so-so lady with a tale to tell, pert, long-tressed, somewhat shy, lips often pursed, evocative of nothing very important really. Emma Lim was to be a witness in the Senate impeachment proceedings against President Joseph Estrada. She would come, she would go, a fern in the so far crannied wall of the prosecution which until then lacked luster. And the anti-Estrada opposition was afraid the big guns of the defense led by Estelito Mendoza would hack the prosecution to kindling wood.

Until Emma came along.

First, under the prodding of prosecutor Rep. Salacnib Baterina Friday, Emma Lim told the story of her work for Ilocos Sur governor Luis Chavit Singson. She collected cash and cheques in the millions in jueteng money from San Juan mayor Jinggoy Estrada, jueteng lord Bong Pineda, and Malacañang’s Anton Prieto. All of course to be delivered, she said, to President Joseph Estrada who had allegedly taken over the jueteng racket lock, stock and barrel. The one million cheque of Jinggoy Estrada, she said, was unusual because it bore his picture. Hmmm.

So far, everything was on track. Emma Lim committed no big miscue, was prim and proper, her face correctly impassive. But there was one thing you noticed, she was coming alive. And she came alive, wondrously and marvelously alive when Estelito Mendoza – a legal colossus, if there ever was one (the best in the business, they say) – aimed his blunderbuss at her. And fired and fired and fired. Emma Lim should have keeled over like a torpedoed battleship under this relentless questioning.

Instead she came out of it whole while Estelito Mendoza completed his questioning somewhat lame in one leg, his carefully-bundled black hair a little bit askew, limping back to his seat and wondering where Emma Lim got all her spunk. She was not riled one bit by the Great Man, not intimidated at all, not set loose in any kind of turbulent sea where many witnesses drown. She said afterwards to acclaim in a Senate backroom that all she did was tell the truth, tell it simply and gently without any fear or foreboding.
* * *
It was E.M. Forster who said: "Truth is a flower in whose neighborhood others must wither." The defense withered that Monday evening in the face of Emma’s testimony. They said later on that Emma Lim was lying, and she was lying because she was beholden to Luis Chavit Singson and did everything he told or commanded. Was she just a robot? Could she lie under the relentless bombardment of Mr. Mendoza who can melt stone when he chooses to? All who looked on, in and outside of the Senate, were convinced Emma Lim was telling the truth. You know, you just know.

And looking at the faces of the senator-judges, those presumed to be anti-Estrada, they were ecstatic and exuberant. They gazed at Emma Lim open-mouthed, as you do when you see the Niagara Falls for the first time, then smiling, then grinning, almost to the point of hearty, approving guffaws. Asked by Attorney Mendoza whether she was not aware she was breaking the law with her jueteng collections, knowing that jueteng was illegal, that her boss Chavit Singson was openly violating the law – so was she not afraid?

She said she knew she was breaking the law, but who was she really in the scheme of things? Just small fry. The overall jueteng lord, she said, was President Joseph Estrada. No drama at all in what Emma Lim said, no reaching for any peal of thunder, not even any raising of the voice. The face remained the same, the eyes innocently looking at Estelito Mendoza, the lips eventually pursing into silence.

Emma Lim’s answer brought down the house. This shouldn’t happen in a courtroom as solemn as an impeachment trial where the president of the republic no less has a noose dangling over his head. But the anti-Erap jubilation was there, palpable as an iron door breaking open. The face of Sen. Franklin Drilon was an oyster opening into the face of David Letterman. Mirth and merriment were all over Mr. Drilon’s face and he would have boomed into a lusty ha-ha and ho-ho but couldn’t. The others were just as delighted, the prosecutors in thrall. The defense was glum.

Without meaning to be, Emma Lim was witty as she guilelessly corrected Estelito Mendoza who recalled her companion was eating – was it tea or coke? And she said he was drinking, not eating. Then again Atty. Mendoza commented a Ferragamo bag was light even when you purchased shoes. And again Ms. Lim said without meaning to be cute or disrespectful that it depended on how many shoes or items you bought in a Ferragamo store. Mr. Frank Drilon was fit to die – laughing.
* * *
By the way, Emma Lim used a Ferragamo bag to carry another bundle of jueteng money.

President Joseph Estrada is into hard times. The German magazine Der Spiegel recently reported that he pocketed 40 percent ($8 million) of the ransom money paid to the Muslim kidnap banditti Abu Sayyaf while presidential aide Robert Aventajado got 10 percent. Der Spiegel has the prominence in Europe of Time, Newsweek or Paris Match. And so its report about the Messrs. Estrada and Aventajado was a meat cleaver that cut deep and drew a lot of blood.

An "irate" and "really upset" President Estrada threatens to file a libel suit against Der Spiegel – but I wonder. The magazine, which claims to have tapes of conversations between Aventajado and Abu Sayyaf commander Robot (through German satellite espionage), may have more to expose. German spies or intelligence agents are some of the best in the business and Der Spiegel is a highly-respected heavyweight weekly magazine in world media.

Seeking to placate the Roman Catholic Church and the left, the president reportedly also issued orders to annul, repeal, or take back death sentences for those on Death Row, and release 200 political prisoners. What it has unleashed instead is a storm and the perception that the president is now The Boy on the Burning Deck fighting desperately for his life. As we have said a long time ago, with all the scandals strung around his neck like a giant albatross, President Estrada can no longer effectively govern the nation.

And should resign posthaste.
* * *
The warning was clear, audible, with a fire-engine stridency. It came from former defense secretary and AFP chief of staff Renato de Villa. If Malacañang understands every word he said, the palace should now be shaking in its boots. For General de Villa said the Armed Forces may "intervene to save the state" if the situation further deteriorates and no "consensus" is reached between the Estrada regime and opposition groups demanding his resignation or ouster. The military, De Villa said, "may have to do its own constitutional duty . . . to protect the people."

That is what we have been saying all along. The Armed Forces have opted out of shielding Erap Estrada because of its belief and conviction that his continued stay as president will bring the nation to perdition. The warning came as the government starts to spin out of control because the president has completely lost the trust and confidence of civil society. The Church, the business community, the middle class have trained their guns on the president. The economy is paralyzed, foreign investors stay away. The international business and financial community has pronounced a verbal diktat the Philippines must be avoided at all costs. This is disaster.

In the face of all this, Mr. Estrada should resign but he won’t, preferring to await the decision of the Senate’s impeachment trial. He is convinced he will be acquitted. But even if he is – and this is precisely where the Armed Forces come in – their warning is that they will still take him out because there is hardly any chance popular trust and confidence will ever be restored. In other words, the storm has been unleashed and there can be no abating until the president steps down. Or is taken out.

General De Villa would not be talking this way unless he has the pulse of the Armed Forces. Many look at him as the model of "an officer and a gentleman" and he is simply voicing out what many retired generals and flag officers have said. The trouble is that President Estrada refused to listen, preferring to rely – so it seems – on the advice of cronies like Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco. History repeating itself.

But a word of clarification. On the assumption that the Armed Forces will find it necessary to take the president out – and that shouldn’t take very long – it is highly doubtful they plan to take over the government and establish a military dictatorship. Even if "anarchy and bloodshed" should explode in the streets. The emphasis is always on "the people" and "the Constitution." This means the Armed Forces will shy away from martial rule, having learned the lesson of the Marcos dictatorship weaned on the supporting bayonets of the military.

Watch. History is turning.

ARMED FORCES

DER SPIEGEL

EMMA

EMMA LIM

ESTELITO MENDOZA

ESTRADA

LIM

PRESIDENT

PRESIDENT ESTRADA

PRESIDENT JOSEPH ESTRADA

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