Televise the SC automation hearing

AMBASSADOR Tita de Villa, chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, enthusiastically accepted my suggestion (per my July 12 column) to prioritize voter education in the campaign for credible polls launched recently by “Eleksyon 2010.” She saw the absolute need to orient our people, especially in the rural areas, on the basics of the automation system of the Commission on Elections and, in general, of voting wisely.

Immediate support. Manuel V. Pangilinan, top honcho of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, did not need much persuasion either. He instantly committed P100 million to start the education program. Without much ado, too, GMA Network boss Felipe L. Gozon and Inquirer chair Marixi R. Prieto agreed to support it fully.

An early and effective forum to learn the internals of the Comelec automation is the hearing called by the Supreme Court this Wednesday. Although the petition filed by Prof. Harry Roque et al. posed mainly legal issues, the Court wisely required not only the Comelec but also tech savvy groups, notably the University of the Philippines Computer Center, the National Computer Center, and the Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines to participate.

To make this knowledge about the Comelec automation available to as many people as possible, the Supreme Court should allow the live television coverage of the hearing. I realize that the Court has a standing policy of banning the live broadcasts of court proceedings. But this ban is intended mainly to protect the constitutional rights of the accused against possible prejudice caused by the premature airing of prosecution evidence.

In the automation case, however, there is no accused to speak of. The airing of the hearing would not violate the constitutional rights of anyone. Quite the contrary, public interest would be served by the live coverage.

Indeed, the Court knows the extreme importance of this case. As I said earlier, the Court already went beyond the normal procedure of limiting the hearing to the formal parties and to the legal issues raised by them. I think the intention is to ferret out all conceivable aspects of automation and to find out what the chances of system and human failure are. The Court will help allay public anxiety over the Comelec automation by opening the hearing to live TV and radio coverage.

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Diplomatic send-offs. During the last 10 days, I attended several receptions for ambassadors ending their tour of duty here. The Johann Strauss Society of the Philippines (JSSP) serenaded Austria’s Herbert (and Martina) Jaeger with a dinner-musicale at the Mandarin. Emceed by impresario Eddie Yap, JSSP’s homegrown talents (George Yang, Chit Gohu, Jack Salud and Roger Chua) belted classical and Broadway songs. Days later, at another gathering, the irrepressible ambassador handed the highest Austrian government awards to JSSP’s Fortune Ledesma and Letty Syquia for their steadfast promotion of Austrian-Philippine relations.

I fondly remember Jaeger for our cerebral skirmishes over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain entered into by the Philippines with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Jaeger, a noted lawyer in Austria, and I tussled on the Supreme Court’s power to interfere in the conduct of foreign relations.

Great Britain’s Peter and Jill Beckingham, one of the best loved diplomatic couples ever, were feted by Marixi Prieto and Sandy Romualdez to a private dinner. The one-of-a kind culinary specialties were rivaled only by the lively conversation, ranging from the legality of Joseph Estrada’s new presidential run, to Jaime Augusto (and Lizzie) Zobel de Ayala’s hosting of President Macapagal-Arroyo in Colombia, to the chances of Stella Araneta’s beauty wards, especially Bianca Manalo, of winning an international crown. As chair of the Board of Judges of this year’s Binibining Pilipinas Pageant, I was happy about the last item.

The Beckinghams reciprocated later with a farewell reception at their lovely North Forbes Park home, plus a private golf tournament at the Alabang Country Club, followed by dinner hosted by Ed Lacson, the last two I regretfully missed.

New diplomats’ guide. Argentine envoy Mario Schuff so loves the Philippines that he volunteers to guide new diplomats into the labyrinths of Filipino habits and traits. During the reception he and his wife Sol hosted, Spanish Ambassador Luis Arias confessed that he could not have wished for a better orientation to our country than that given by Mario and his gentle wife Sylvia.

Schuff knows the Filipino psyche so well that he can accurately anticipate how our people would react to given situations. “I want to observe your 2010 elections but Buenos Aires beckons. I have already overstayed the usual tour of four years,” he sighed.
Ambassador Salwa Moufid hosted a grand reception at the Sofitel ballroom to celebrate the 57th National Day of Egypt and to bid farewell to her friends. She put up an artifact exhibition, served the “rich cuisine” of her country and invited her guests to “walk through the history of Eternal Egypt.”

Among the many mementos she displayed were pictures of my official visit to Cairo in 2006 during my term as chief justice. I signed a judicial cooperation agreement, including an educational exchange on Sharia law. Egypt (along with Pakistan) has a mature judiciary that our own Sharia judges could learn from.

Au revoir dear friends. Till we meet again somewhere in the world.

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