THE RULE OF LAW BY FEL MARAGAY: MANILA STANDARD TODAY AUGUST 3, 2009
Some members of the Arroyo Cabinet are appearing in expensive television infomercials primarily to sell themselves to the public as potential candidates for president or senator. To be frank about it, the messages that they put across to the televiewers about the services and projects of their respective departments or agencies are just a pretense for the political purpose of the 30-seconder advertisement.
But I have yet to see the most seasoned politician in the Cabinet, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, appearing in any of these informercials. Some Malacañang watchers say Atienza does not need those TV ads because he is taking another crack at the mayoral post of Manila where he has a 100-percent awareness rating. But he is a well-known figure all over the country that his inclusion in the senatorial slate of the administration cannot be ruled out. What if President Arroyo asks him to run for senator? Some media commentators even think he should set his sights at the presidency.
Whenever people ask Atienza what elective office he is going to seek, he gives no straight answer since the deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy is still on Nov. 30. He believes that if you declare that you are running for a certain position before you file your certificate of candidacy, you are already transgressing the law. “To me you are already violating the law. You are violating the Constitution because it is very clear that we must not prematurely campaign,” he told members of the Philippine Constitution Association at the Manila Hotel on July 21.
Atienza, who served as Manila mayor for three consecutive terms, relates the story of a mayor of Honolulu by the name of Jeremy Harris who was very popular he was able to beat his opponent by a landslide. But when Harris was sworn in as mayor, he declared, perhaps in the euphoria of the occasion, that he was running for governor of Hawaii in the next elections. A constituent sued him for making that seemingly innocuous statement and as a consequence, he was not only booted out as mayor but was also disqualified from running for governor. The environment czar says that is the kind of enforcement of laws that our country needs if we really want order and sanity reigning in the government.
He stresses that the rule of law, the respect for the Constitution, is the basic anchor that should prevail if our country is to move forward, maintain political stability and wisely use its bountiful natural and manpower resources for economic advancement. When Edsa 2 broke out in January 200l after all members of the prosecution panel in the impeachment case against then President Joseph Estrada walked out, the Manila mayor refused to join the “mob” to the consternation of his own relatives, close friends and some Catholic clergymen who were prodding him to defect to the other side. “You cannot be removing presidents by street action and another people power. And with that decision, I stood pat and I stayed on, rallied our people in the city to defend the Constitution.”
This was the same guidepost he followed in coming to the defense of the Arroyo administration against all destabilization moves and coup plots by her political foes and renegade soldiers, The rule of law is also the underlying reason why Atienza is not budging an inch in pursuing the move to get the oil depots of the Big Three industry players out of Pandacan.
It is the basic right of the citizens to have a clean and safe environment. The continued presence of these oil storage facilities in the very heart of the capital city of the republic tramples upon this right. At any given day, the depots contain 300 million liters of oil, aviation gas, liquefied petroleum gas and other petroleum products which are among the most volatile substances on earth.
There is no more city in the world, whether in Asia or Europe, that still harbors oil depots in its midst. It is only in Manila that its residents are exposed to this extreme danger to their lives and properties. Experts warn that if these oil depots explode as an offshoot of a terrorist attack or an accident, it could cause damage over areas within a 14-kilometer radius, which is practically the whole of Metro Manila.
In March, the Supreme Court upheld with finality the legality of a ordinance, passed during Atienza’s term as Manila mayor, mandating the transfer of the oil depots to a site far away from the metropolis. But within two weeks after the high court’s ruling, the present city administration railroaded the promulgation of the infamous Ordinance 8187 that changed the classification of the present site of the facilities and other similar areas. This had the effect of overturning the ordinance for the dismantling and relocating these facilities.
But Atienza, along with environmental activists, is confident that the unwanted ordinance will eventually be invalidated by the high tribunal for the simple reason that the judiciary will not tolerate an act that makes a mockery of the law and compromises public safety and welfare.