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Converted into bargaining chips

THE NATION certainly rejoices that the execution of three Filipinos—two of them females—in China which had been scheduled this week, has been postponed.

Unfortunately, President Benigno Aquino III’s statements in December put us in a situation now in which China—true to its self-interest as a nation—could very well utilize Filipinos in death row as bargaining chips.

It was solely Mr. Aquino who linked the fate of the death-row convicts to Philippine policy decisions, announcing that he ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony which honored a Chinese dissident in order to convince it not to execute the three Filipinos. Mr. Aquino in effect converted the fate of all Filipinos in China’s death row into bargaining chips in the relations between our two countries. With the intense media coverage of this episode, China obviously very well realizes the political clout it can wield in our country.

But what should our government have done?

For starters, Mr. Aquino should just have shut up, as many heads of states did when asked why they didn’t send representatives to the Nobel event. But even as he should just have kept mum, the President should have mobilized the DFA to lobby through its networks for the execution to be postponed and even for the sentences to be commuted. But then the DFA appears to be rudderless for several months now, with Mr. Aquino or his people spreading the word that he doesn’t like Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, who they said would be taken out soon.

Chinese law in fact provides room for commuting death sentences, as it stipulates a two-year period before a judgment of execution will be carried out, except for those who committed heinous crimes. During that period, if the criminal shows repentance and exemplary behavior, he can have his sentence reduced to life imprisonment, or even a set term of 15 to 20 years. Over 99 percent of criminals given the death penalty with the two-year reprieve had had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment or set terms.

The DFA should have instituted a system first of telling Filipinos in death row that their sentences could be commuted through these process, and second, of mobilizing lawyers or lobbyists to convince the Chinese body deciding on such commutations to give favorable rulings to our countrymen.

* * *

What I have found fascinating in my two decades in media are the stories behind the stories.

My old reliable contacts in the religious community when I was in government trusted my objectivity as a journalist, despite my criticisms against the incumbent administration, that they brought to me the following case:

They claimed there was gross injustice in the very negative media reports regarding Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres, a shooting-range buddy of President Aquino who bypassed at least a dozen other LTO officials lobbying for the post to “deep-select” her.

Stripped of the hack-job spin, the accusation was that she had approved the registration of a Mitsubishi Pajero whose original documents belonged to a motorcycle in Isabela. The devious PR spin was that therefore, the LTO chief was tied to car theft syndicates, whose brutality hogged the headlines recently. The report with a few more details was repeated yesterday, filed from the paper’s Northern Luzon bureau. The facts speak for themselves:

“The Pajero’s first certificate of registration was issued June 7, 1999 signed by the head then of the LTO Tarlac District Office Luciano Llanilo.

“The car first changed ownership after nearly a decade, in Feb 2008 and then in March 2009.” It was the transfer documents for these which Torres signed, as the seller submitted the original certificate of registration. Torres became LTO Tarlac district head only in 2003.

If all certificate of registrations by previous LTO officers are presumed anomalous and have to be investigated and the supporting documents retrieved, the second-hand market for cars will collapse, as a buyer would have to wait years before the accuracy and validity of the car’s first certificate of registration are verified. LTO investigations also showed that the falsification of documents had nothing to do with carnapping but was only done to devalue the vehicle in order to lower the tax.

I have read word for word the articles regarding the accusations, and I must say I admire the deft deviousness of the PR man who fashioned all these. Indeed, my sources say that the PR man handling the media attack is believed to be one of the most expensive in the industry now.

But who would have the resources to contract such an expensive PR man?

Torres was caught last month in the crossfire between factions claiming to own the private firm Stradcom. The firm has been able to maintain its contract as exclusive provider of information technology to the LTO since 1998, through two administrations—an extremely lucrative operation whose revenues have totaled P12 billion. No typo there: P12 billion. Stradcom, which has been under the tight control of one stockholder, Cesar Quiambao, was reportedly close to ranking figures in the previous administration and to a group of retired police officers in the LTO.

Stradcom has filed administrative cases against Torres, and appears to be determined to take her out. Torres on the other hand recommended to Transportation Secretary Jose de Jesus that the LTO’s contract with Stradcom be terminated earlier than the 2013 date under existing agreements.

Indeed, in a lot of stories, the real story often involves money.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer