International Papers

That Unimpeachable Filipino

The impeachment proceedings against Philippine President Joseph Estrada descended into chaos Tuesday after 11 of the 21 senator-judges voted not to review key prosecution evidence. Because 15 votes are needed to impeach, the vote indicates that Estrada has sufficient support for an acquittal. Prosecutors had requested access to the records of a bank account where the president was alleged to have stashed $63.5 million of ill-gotten gains during his 18 months in office. (For more background on the impeachment trial, see this “International Papers” from November 2000, or this “Estrada scandal timeline” from the Financial Times.) After the vote, two senior Senate officials and the entire prosecution team resigned in protest. Outside the Senate chamber, thousands of Filipinos, including former President Corazon Aquino and Cardinal Jaime Sin, both leaders of the “people power” movement that toppled President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, took to the streets to demand Estrada’s resignation.

Until Tuesday’s Senate shocker, the trial seemed to be going badly for the president. A news agency story published in South Africa’s Independent Monday speculated that Estrada was “preparing for exile with [his] mistresses,” at least two of whom recently fled the country. (The Philippine Star’s spin was that the mistresses were avoiding subpoenas.) An op-ed in Tuesday’s Philippine Daily Inquirer, written before the vote, called the evidence presented thus far “overwhelming” and called upon the president to resign, while admitting his personality made that unlikely: “His macho pride cannot accept the humiliation of losing his office, even though the evidence so far indicates his culpability.” As of Wednesday morning, the impeachment trial appeared to be suspended. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that the peso hit an all-time low against the U.S. dollar Wednesday, while Manila’s main stock index fell 6 percent.

Selling England by the pound: Britain’s Daily Telegraph dedicated no less than six stories to the case of the “metric martyr,” the grocer who became the first shopkeeper in Britain to go to trial for refusing to sell produce in metric measurements. Despite at least three warnings that his pounds-and-ounces scales were breaking the law, Steven Thorburn insisted on selling fruits and vegetables exclusively by imperial measures. Trading standards officials decided they had to prosecute “to protect consumers from confusion, which could arise if there was no consistency among traders.” (For a summary of Britain’s “confused” approach to the metric system, see this piece in Toronto’s Globe and Mail.) For Telegraph columnist Tom Utley, who claimed not to know what a gram looks like, “never having bought any cocaine,” Thorburn “simply prefers to sell his goods in the measures with which both he and his customers feel comfortable.” No need to obey the law then, eh? The paper, which sees the case not as a question of weights and measures but rather of standing up to Europe, is clearly sympathetic to Thorburn. You can almost hear the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” rising in the background at the climax of its editorial:

An honest man faces ruin because he continued to treat with his customers in the units of their choice. The full force of EU law is being deployed to prevent a free transaction between willing parties. An ancient and trusted system of weights and measures is being tossed aside with no thought for the preferences of the people who use it.

Kuwaiting in vain: On the 10th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War, Kuwait’s highest court rejected a bid to give women the vote. According to the London Times, activists took to the courts after the legislature voted down a suffrage bill in 1999. Adnan al-Issa sued the elections board for failing to register women, including his wife, but the constitutional court ruled that since Kuwait’s electoral law grants political rights only to men, there was no grounds for appeal. Kuwait is the only one of the six Gulf Arab monarchies to have an elected parliament. The Berliner Zeitung said it’s “odd” that the West hasn’t protested the disenfranchisement of 50 percent of Kuwait’s population, since the Western alliance came to its defense to help the democratization of the “feudal-absolutist” sheikhdoms and not just to protect their cheap oil. It concluded, “The explanation … hits the nub of the matter: democracy, they say, brings unrest. Not a despot but parliamentary representatives would decide, for example, that the West should pay a realistic, i.e. higher price, for the oil reserves in their countries.” (German-language translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)