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Opinion

There goes the credibility of our May 2007 elections!

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
SHANGHAI – Even after two days here in China, I still can’t believe it! When this writer planed in from Bangkok, then flew off here to Shanghai last Tuesday, the news was on television that the Office of the Ombudsman had defied the Supreme Court (that’s my interpretation) by declaring the Commissioners of the Comelec, including Commission on Elections Chairman Ben Abalos Sr., "cleared" of all administrative and criminal liabilities in the case involving the nullified P1.2 billion automated counting machines (ACMs) contract awarded to Mega Pacific Consortium to "automate" the 2004 elections.

In its 52-page supplemental resolution, the Ombudsman’s office even reversed its own earlier resolution which had recommended the filing of charges against the Comelec officials involved in the deal which the Supreme Court – in very strong language at that – had voided.

Susmariosep
, Ombudsman (Justice) Merceditas Gutierrez! As they say in Famfanga – Wha’ affened?

I won’t comment on the legal merits of the case, but even from the stupid layman’s eye, that mega-deal was accomplished with super-speed, and payment for it made, too, at warp-speed – very unusual in any government transaction.

As for the . . . well, vindication of all our Comelec Commissioners, gee whiz. Does this mean they’re all great guys and completely to be trusted? Don’t forget, since there seems to be no great change underway, or any of them in danger of being impeached, with the exception of those retired, they’ll be the same Comelec bosses who’ll handle next year’s May 2007 elections.

Whatever the ramifications of the surprise OMB decision, it doesn’t look good image-wise for La Presidenta GMA. Of course, La Gloria doesn’t control the Office of the Ombudsman – but you can bet many people, not just her usual opposition foes, the remainders of the "Hyatt 10", and her habitual critics, now have something to chew on.

The next question is: Now that Mega Pacific and its ACMs have been "cleared", will those ACMs be utilized in the 2007 elections? Further this commentator sayeth not.
* * *
President GMA is being awaited here in the People’s Republic of China with much enthusiasm – that’s what I hear.

Her visit will be symbolic, since her first stop is scheduled to be Xiamen (the former Amoy), in Fujian province, from where most of our multi-millionaire Taipans originated – like, to cite a few, Lucio Tan, Henry Sy, George Ty, John Gokongwei, et cetera.

Those heavyweights in banking, finance, business, i.e. hotels, manufacturing, beer and even Philippine Airlines, are not the only ones of prominence from Fujian – which we used to spell in the Philippines "Fookien". The grandfather of my partners, STAR President and CEO, Miguel Go Belmonte, our Editor-in-Chief Isaac Go Belmonte, and our Philstar.com (mega-portal) President Kevin Go Belmonte – namely, the late Editor and Publisher of Manila’s Fookien Times, Go Puan Seng – alias Jimmy Go to his Rotary fellows – hailed from Fujian.

Incidentally, our Compadre Joseph Lim (the husband of lawyer-business tycoon Elena Lim) – in partnership with the Chinese government – has 20,000 workers in Xiamen – formerly Amoy – manufacturing mobile phones. With reference to the capital city’s original name, Joseph produces a popular cellphone called "Amoy-sonic." It smells good, I kid thee not.

The most famous descendant of Fujian forebears, though, is our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. If you delve into history, "Rizal" was not our hero’s actual name, but it was the Filipino name his family adopted, "Mercado" – meaning "market", a reminder of the fact that his great grandfather, David Lamco, had immigrated to the Philippines as a "trader."

John Gokongwei’s father — Go Kong Wei — also came from Jinjiang, while his grandfather was from Xiamen. The parents of Carlos Chan of Oishi are also from Jinjiang.

Anyway, Jinjiang is La Presidenta’s first destination, on October 27, when she arrives from Manila on a chartered PAL plane (I presume). She and her party will motorcade their way to great grand-daddy’s hometown, Jinjiang City, where there is – believe it or not – a Rizal monument almost identical to the one which stands in The Luneta, in Jinjiang’s "Rizal Park," which is adjacent to an SM Mall established there years ago by Henry Sy. Jinjiang is 45 minutes’ drive away from Xiamen.

GMA will lay a wreath at the Rizal Monument, visit the Rizal museum – yep, there’s one – then return to Xiamen for a banquet in her honor by the Party Secretary-General of Fujian. Talk about "piracy" by the Chinese of luxury products like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Georgio Armani – etc. – why, they’ve even . . . uh, "pirated" (or Shanghai’d) our national hero!
* * *
The next day, GMA will fly on to Nanchang City in Hangxi province, where she will deliver an address at the famous Nanchang University.

The main object of her trip, however, will be to arrive in Nanning City in Guanxi Province, for the ASEAN-China Summit (from October 29 to 31). As Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, she will co-preside at the Summit with, probably, China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Whether President Hu Jintao will also attend is not yet established. The Summit will coincide with another big event, the ASEAN-China Expo.

If you want to know more about Nanning, you can consult the wonderful book written by my longtime friend and Hongkong fellow-habitué of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Kevin Sinclair (we both used to write columns in HK’s South China Morning Post). In collaboration with Iris Wong Po-yee (formerly of the "Hongkong Standard"), Kevin – who was given Queen’s honors as "Member of the Order of the British Empire" in 1983 for his services to journalism – produced "Culture Shock: China". He says of Nanning:

"Very few foreigners ever make it to the southernmost capital in the land. This is a great pity. The sleepy little city on the upper reaches of the Pearl River in Guangxi is a marvelous gem. Girded by clumps of enormous bamboo, the city echoes in the spring to the sound of local Zhuang tribesmen (there are 14 million of them!) singing in their local dialect to attract lovers. Gracious parks, hotels set amid gardens and broad tree-lined avenues speak of the French heritage which seeped up from Vietnam less than 100 kilometers to the south."

I guess many Pinoys will now inundate Nanning, and the love songs of the Zhuang tribesmen may be drowned out by the chatter of the cling-ons and wannabes latching on to the GMA Cavalcade. But what the heck. Let the good times roll – my only regret is that the Filipino "invasion" will be spending a lot of dollars on P.R. and other reasons.

Xiamen, for its part, is the homeland of millions of overseas Chinese, not just in RP but in Singapore, India, the USA, Canada, Western Europe and South America. The Amoy people, for more than 1,000 years were China’s intrepid traders, sailing out in their junks to the "distant savage lands of the South Seas." In Ilocano, we still call Chinese "Sangley", which means "trader." Gee whiz. Many of Vigan’s richest families are descended from them – we are, the joke goes, a combination descended from (Don Juan) Salcedo and Limahong!
* * *
THE ROVING EYE . . . Our Ambassador to Washington DC, Ambassador Willy Gaa, rang me up to say he has just been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. He was confirmed handily, without challenge. Strangely enough, I might say parenthetically, the nomination of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. for the United Nations, was not included (perhaps his papers are still incomplete) . . . Anyway, Willy Gaa – who was our Ambassador here – to Beijing – for two years until 2005 – said he had as a pasalubong to me, Washington Post’s Bob Woodward’s latest book, savaging US President George W. Bush and the Iraq War decision. Poor Dubya, when one of the duo who exposed Richard Nixon’s Watergate Scandal (thanks to Deep Throat) zeroes in on you, you’re in trouble. And it’s an election "showdown" year for Mr. Bush and the Republicans. Tant pis, as the French would say.

AMOY CHINA FUJIAN HENRY SY JINJIANG JOHN GOKONGWEI LA PRESIDENTA OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN RIZAL XIAMEN
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