Wed, 12 Sep 2001

Get out of the kitchen if it gets too hot

MANILA: At a dinner with reporters last Friday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson complained that the money laundering and drug trafficking controversy hounding him was taking a toll on his health. He said he never thought that what he considered "a smear job" against him "would be this vicious, this cruel and this wicked."

We recall that Lacson, when he was still chief of the Philippine National Police, said that he was not entering politics. He was quoted as saying then: "I have no intention of getting involved in politics. I am a police officer, not a politician, and the only political act that I have engaged in is to cast my vote during elections."

Apparently he had second thoughts because he did enter politics, ran for senator and won.

Lacson should have known what he was in for when he entered politics. He should have realized that politics was not going to be a picnic.

When one enters politics, he becomes fair game for almost everybody. His entire life is scrutinized, his every feature, wart, trait, failing put under a microscope and then projected to public view.

He had a foretaste of that when he campaigned for senator. Now he asks why these charges are being brought against him only now.

When he was in power as chief of the Philippines' National Police, his accusers were afraid to air the charges against him because he was the second most feared, if not the most feared, government official at the time.

It will be recalled that at the height of Lacson's power as PNP chief, some of the vital witnesses in the Kuratong Baleleng case recanted and dropped out of the panel of witnesses.

They knew that with Lacson in power, they had practically no chance of winning the case against him. Such is the reality of power and the criminal justice system in our country.

Lacson asks now why the present charges were not aired against him during the senatorial campaign.

Oh, yes, some of the charges were brought up during the campaign, but the voters chose to ignore them.

What happened with Joseph Estrada during the 1998 presidential campaign also happened with Lacson in 2001. The voters chose to believe all the propaganda about him.

As for the charges of money laundering, trafficking in drugs, kidnapping for ransom and other criminal activities, these are fairly recent ones.

They surfaced only after Col. Victor Corpus, chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP, brought them up in an interview with the Inquirer.

The charges could not have been raised during the senatorial campaign because the Corpus team had not completed its investigation at that time.

In fact, its inquiry is still going on.

Yes, we agree with the senator that politics can be cruel. The politician is continually exposed to the harsh and cruel glare of publicity.

Things that he said or did in the past are dredged up. Everything that he is doing in the present is subject to the minutest scrutiny by people and the media.

That is as it should be in a democracy where elective officials are accountable at all times to the people who placed them in positions of power.

In ancient Rome, the candidate for public office wore a white toga. The word candidate comes from the Latin candidatus, meaning clothed in white.

The wearing of a white toga was supposed to signify that the candidate had an unblemished record and had only the purest of intentions in running for public office.

Is this something we can say of all of our candidates, some of whom run for public office to earn impunity for their crimes and misdemeanors?

The transparency should not end when a candidate gets elected to public office. The elected public official should lead a life of transparency, openness and honesty.

Election to public office does not, and should not, mean the condonation of crimes committed against the people. Otherwise, big criminals who amass millions from a life of crime can run for public office, buy elections and say that their election has absolved them of their crimes.

Lacson may complain of the cruelty of those who have hurled accusations against him. He may complain about the cruelty of the current investigative process and the Senate hearings. But he has to endure it if indeed he is not guilty.

If he is innocent, then the Senate inquiry, and the court cases, if ever charges are filed in court, should clear him once and for all.

Meanwhile, if he finds the present situation intolerably cruel and unbearable, he would do well to heed the advice of United States president Harry S. Truman: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."