RSVP To A Lynching

by Juan L. Mercado

May we share some items that crossed our cluttered desk in the past turbulent week?

“It’s going to be one huge lynching party.” That is what would happen if the Senate were to confront Janet Napoles in the pork barrel scam, wrote Sun Star columnist Frank Malilong.

Many senators fumed after their names cropped up in the Napoles list. But will bringing back Napoles to the chamber help the search for truth in the Priority Development Assistance Fund scandal? “I doubt it… The first time she appeared before them, she knew nothing about the scam.” The senators are understandably obsessed with punching holes in her story—and saving their skin.

Napoles brought this upon herself. But what’s the point in making her prey to the overwhelming anger? Any Senate hearing on the Napoles list cannot be remotely justified as in aid of legislation. Nor will it be an exercise of the Senate’s established oversight functions.

The Senate is not the proper forum to determine whether Napoles spoke the truth with her affidavit. That power resides in the Ombudsman and, eventually, the Sandiganbayan.

What citizens want to see now is the Department of Justice speeding up the filing of cases against all those involved in the scam, regardless of whether they appear in the Napoles list or not. It’s time for the Ombudsman to bring charges and for the Sandiganbayan to hold trial without delay.

“We can’t afford to turn the Napoles case into a political circus. This is a criminal case. And it rightfully belongs in the judicial system.” It is not impossible that many of the senators and congressmen appearing in her list are innocent. They may have been wrongly accused for reasons only she knows.

“But like any other citizen under the same set of circumstances, they should seek relief from the courts. The Senate is not a trier of facts. The courts are. If the DOJ or the Ombudsman or the Sandiganbayan clears them, such determination of innocence would carry far more weight than any similar finding by the Senate.”

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The Viewpoint column “Alternative scenarios” (5/28/14) discussed Indonesia’s protests against China’s claiming part of the Natuna archipelago in Indonesia’s Riau province. It straddles potentially large gas fields. Indonesia twice accused Beijing of claiming part of Natuna.

The column cited Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s sketch of a “good scenario” and a “less benign one” for this region’s future over the next two decades.

One would be a region at peace, with countries working to secure shared interests. The other would be a region splintered by territorial disputes and protectionism. These two scenarios will play out in the context of how the United States, China and Japan interact. Lee says the next three years will be “a historic opportunity” for Asia.

“It is eerie,” Hungkag e-mailed, but this column “parallels [the situation] in the Baltic states and other border states before World War II. Remember when these states were the subject of a tug-of-war between the West and Germany?”

Hungkag added: The United States was distant but later took steps to help these small states during the war. Later these states were the subject of Cold War activities between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Chinese claim the whole of the South China Sea because in their “historical records,” this sea belongs to them. “If nobody resists this, then they will claim all of Asean because they assert they have [a paper trail].”

Wrote Edgar Lores: “The macrocosm of world affairs reflects the microcosm of our national affairs. The covetousness of China for resources [mirrors] … the covetousness of our senators for pork barrel funds. The covetousness of the congressman for pork is a reflection of a man’s covetousness for his neighbor’s wife and goods.”

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The law extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program is set to expire by the end of June, wrote Leonardo Fuentes. The House committee on agrarian reform railroaded the approval of a bill that proposes to extend CARP.

This ignores a study by National Scientist and UP professor Raul V. Fabella, titled CARP: Time to Let Go. After 26 years, CARP reduced agricultural productivity, drove away investments in agriculture and created a new class of farmers—the landed poor.

Some highlights: CARP sought to distribute 5 million hectares of land or 16 percent of total land area. In contrast, Japan’s reform distributed only 1.76 million hectares comprising 4.7 percent of its land area.

There was an increase in the production of palay and corn. But a 40-percent decrease in coconut production resulted. It was an 8-percent dip in sugar harvests. The noneconomic size of farms made them into  high-default risks that financing institutions avoided. “They were condemned to fail.”

Slightly half the number of agrarian reform beneficiaries were organized. Thus, others missed out on government and nongovernment assistance for ARBs. Yet, more than half of them cluster below the poverty line.

Instead of continuing the fragmentation of productive agricultural lands, the government should focus its limited resources on providing support to existing reform communities. The focus should be on unglamorous but vital programs, such as irrigation, farm-to-market roads, mechanization, etc.

That’d “give the agricultural sector the much-needed boost to be more efficient and globally competitive in this era of Asean trade integration, which comes on stream next year.”

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E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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