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Opinion

Travesty

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Some months ago, I watched with fascination BBC’s live coverage of the British Parliament’s public inquiry into the phone hacking scandal involving some of the country’s largest media institutions.

During that long inquiry, none of the legislators stood from their seats and questioned the witnesses directly. All the interrogation was done by a prosecutor who mustered the evidence, organized the questions and, like a surgeon with a scalpel, meticulously probed for the truth. If any legislator had anything more to ask, the question was coursed through the prosecutor who wove it into his own line of inquiry.

Because of that, the inquiry was a most decent and thoroughly professional proceeding. No politician indulged in grandstanding. No one heckled or badgered or threatened witnesses.

Although the entire proceeding, because of its obvious import to freedoms guaranteed citizens in a democracy, be they royals or celebrities, was televised live, no politician took advantage of them for political profit. The truth was ferreted without resort to innuendo. Justice was achieved without resort to unjust behavior.

This inquiry was a joy to watch. It did not insult the intelligence of the ordinary citizen. It tried very hard not to displace proper judicial proceedings that happens when parliament produces a farcical semblance of the court.

Our Senate’s “subcommittee” hearings not only pales in comparison. The Pimentel “subcommittee” is the complete opposite of the dignified inquiry we saw at the British Parliament. At the Philippine Senate, for weeks running, we have witnessed a complete travesty.

The triumvirate of senators indulging in this “inquiry in aid of legislation” have put together a political striptease, a political circus and a kangaroo court rolled into one.

The runaway “subcommittee” long ago abandoned all pretense to fairness. The proceedings were partisan from the first minute. It warps our sense of justice by beginning from the proposition that the accused is guilty until he proves himself innocent in the court of public opinion. It evolved into a burlesque version of a proper court, where the three senators conducting the hearings arrogated the functions of prosecutor, judge and executioner.

Unhampered by the normal rules on evidence, the “subcommittee” threatens our public’s understanding of how justice is achieved under the rule of law. The scope of the inquiry has become elastic, depending on what the muckrakers turn up with. The accused was never given a bill of particulars. Witnesses are bullied when they are not coached.

What happens when the “subcommittee,” having guised itself as a quasi-judicial inquiry, arrives at conclusions a proper court could not possibly arrive at given the usual rules on evidence? A crisis in confidence in our institutions ensues.

The arrogance of the triumvirate conducting this travesty grows by the day. When President Aquino, reflecting the public’s growing discomfort with the antics of the “subcommittee,” indicated his own impatience, Sen. Koko Pimentel shot back brusquely. He told Aquino to keep his hands off the activities of the Senate.

How long will this travesty drag on in the face of growing public disinterest? The three impervious senators appear to have wandered into a universe of their own making.

Interloper

It has to be a form of extortion, the sort only the most brazen powerbrokers will find the gall to pull.

Back in 2002, a group of well-meaning investors formed Subic Coastal Development Corp. (SCDC) negotiating with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) for lease of 16.5 hectares of the former American base. The lease was won and SCDC built what is now the Moonbay Marina Resort.

While SCDC was negotiating for the lease, however, then Zambales Governor Vicente Magsaysay walked into the picture, offering his help. The negotiations were then into their late stages and the uninvited Magsaysay could only be of ceremonious assistance.

Thinking that as the end of that, SCDC thanked Magsaysay and went into the business of making a return on their investments. That was not the end of that, however. In 2008 , Magsaysay demanded control of one hectare of the leased property as “payment” for his “help.”

Although shocked at the demand, SCDC understood that they could not sublease any part of their contracted area without SBMA’s approval. The matter was brought to the SBMA.

Subsequently, a memorandum of agreement was forged between the SBMA, SCDC and Magsaysay’s Mobi and Red Enterprises (MRE). The agreement allowed SCDC to sublease one hectare of its concession to MRE only if the latter meets all the terms and conditions set down by SBMA within 30 days after the MOA was signed.

As Magsaysay himself admitted, MRE was unable to meet all the terms and conditions set by the SBMA. Consequently, the SBMA did not issue MRE a sublease, it also affirmed SCDC’s legal control over the property. SBMA collected from SCDC all the payments due from having control over that portion of the leased property.

In the same manner, SBMA approved SCDC’s development plan for the area as well as its sublease in 2013 to a Japanese firm, Cresc Inc. The Japanese investor was ready to build up its one hectare portion of the leased area.

Then, like a menacing comet, Magsaysay returned.

The local political lord filed a case against SBMA, SCDC and Cresc at the Olongapo court presided over by Judge Richard Paradeza. In the suit, Magsaysay lays claim to the one hectare lot despite having failed to meet SBMA’s conditions years before and having paid none of the fees due for the lot.

Although the case might have been dismissed outright for sheer lack of merit, Judge Paradeza nevertheless issued a TRO to stop development of the lot. Here is another reason why investors are reluctant to come.

 

AS MAGSAYSAY

AT THE PHILIPPINE SENATE

BRITISH PARLIAMENT

CRESC INC

INQUIRY

JUDGE PARADEZA

JUDGE RICHARD PARADEZA

MAGSAYSAY

SBMA

SCDC

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