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Our issue for December 3, 2005

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS

December 3, 2005 Issue

Main Features

1. Cover: Virgilio Garcillano—Hello, Garci, Where Are You?

A supporter of President Arroyo in the House of Representatives leaked to the Philippine Daily Inquirer a draft report by the five House committees that inquired into the Arroyo tapes hoping that the newspaper would highlight the finding that there was a conspiracy to embarrass Mrs. Arroyo. The implication would have been that the congressional investigators cleared Mrs. Arroyo of charges that she rigged last year’s presidential election. But it backfired: the newspaper highlighted Malacañang’s attempt at a cover up. PDP-Laban Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. of Makati says the report does not clear Mrs. Arroyo of the charges just as the September 6 congressional vote that terminated the impeachment process did not clear her of the same charges. The leak has prompted a review of the report, which now needs revision to correct any misimpressions that might have been caused by the premature disclosure. The findings are almost similar to the Free Press’s views at the time of the investigation: there was this tape on which somebody, probably from military intelligence, recorded wiretaps of Mrs. Arroyo’s phone conversations with Virgilio Garcillano; somebody reproduced the tape and leaked copies to disclose the secret of Mrs. Arroyo’s electoral victory—not to embarrass her—to draw charges of fraud or the people to force her out of office; the Palace obtained a reproduction of the tape on CD and, anticipating its being made public, disclosed it but with an accompanying reproduction that Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye claimed was tampered with; but how he knew which reproduction was original and which was fake he failed to make clear to the investigators; all that the administration and its allies did was to discredit the tapes, but the investigators, not having the expertise, were unable to make a determination, although Mrs. Arroyo’s June 27 apology to the nation is a clear admission that the tapes are authentic. The investigation is unfinished. Many questions remain unanswered and not the least of them are: Who bugged Mrs. Arroyo’s telephone? Where is former NBI deputy director Samuel Ong, who claimed he had he mother of all the tapes? Where is Virgilio Garcillano, whose disappearance speaks volumes about the charges against Mrs. Arroyo? The man is the answer to the question of the legitimacy of Mrs. Arroyo’s rule. Does he still live? The Palace insists on closing the book on the Arroyo tapes but the opposition refuses to drop it because the truth must be known. Is Mrs. Arroyo president of the Philippines or is it Fernando Poe Jr.? Wait for the worst, the opposition in the House says. The people hold the final judgment.

By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

2. Fattening Ballot Boxes

A clear picture is emerging from the Senate’s investigation into allegations that P748 million in agricultural funds was channeled to the presidential campaign of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last year: money was indeed released to the Agriculture Department one month before the campaign began and the department in turn released money to Mrs. Arroyo’s political allies—members of the House of Representatives and local government officials—for the purchase of fertilizer and farm equipment to be given to rice farmers, but the farmers never saw fertilizer or a single piece of equipment. In most cases, the money just disappeared. In other cases, the money went to the purchase of other things because the congressional districts were in Metropolitan Manila where there are no rice farms. In still other cases, fertilizer was indeed purchased, but at a steep overprice and you already know why. In some cases where fertilizer was bought, the fertilizer remains in storage because the local governments that received the delivery do not know how to handle the stuff. It is not clear where the rest of the money went. But that’s not all. The Agriculture Department’s fertilizer fund totals P2.806 billion and it has been discovered that P544 million of this amount came from the recovered Swiss bank deposits of Ferdinand Marcos. Under the law, this money should go to agrarian reform, but the money went to the Agriculture Department’s rice program named after Mrs. Arroyo. The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council approved the transfer of the Marcos fund to the Agriculture Department’s fertilizer kitty. Mrs. Arroyo is the head of the council.

By Guiller de Guzman, Butch Serrano, Wendell Vigilia and Ramiro Alvarez

3. The Big Rush

The House of Representatives this week debates the proposal to amend the Constitution to allow a change to the parliamentary system of government. Speaker Jose de Venecia is in a big hurry: he wants to limit the debate to four days. After the debate, he wants the proposal to be thrown to the Senate for concurrence. And concur the Senate must or the House will go it alone. If the Senate junks the proposal, the House will vote to approve the proposal even before approving the P1.05 trillion proposed budget for next year. The senators are aware of the House’s strategy to force the amendment. They have two options: kill the House proposal or bring their own proposal to force the House to work with them on a proposal that will ensure the senators will be part of parliament. Or the Senate can choose not to do anything about the House proposal. In the event of this action by the Senate, the House, interpreting the constitutional requirement as a three-fourths vote of the entire Congress, will vote to approve the proposal without the Senate. It has the numbers to do this, but the Senate will surely raise the matter to the Supreme Court.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Revisiting an Agreement

The Senate has decided to review the Visiting Forces Agreement with an eye to strengthening weak clauses that the Americans can exploit to their advantage in the event of a dispute arising from offenses committed by US troops. The agreement, for instance, does not specify where US servicemen accused of crimes here should be held; it only requires the United States to produce them in Philippine courts. This is a loophole in the agreement that the six, or five, US Marines accused of raping a Filipino woman are trying to exploit in asking to be allowed to return to their base in Okinawa. Another clause that needs revision is the one-year limit set for the Philippines to convict accused US servicemen. If the Philippines fails to close the case within that time, the United States takes custody of the offenders, which gives the accused a greater chance of being exonerated. These two clauses are apparently based on the US model of prosecution under which a case can be decided in one or two weeks. Justice in the Philippines moves like a turtle and a case usually drag in the courts for years. This is the problem also facing the prosecution in the case of the raped woman. Three weeks after the November 1 rape, the accused US servicemen remain unindicted. Their number cannot even be definitely established—the woman can identify only five of her attackers and can’t identify a sixth. But the Americans have produced a sixth Marine whose name just turned up in the summons and is reportedly not present during the crime. The sixth man could be a joker, thrown in by the Americans to confuse the complainant and weaken the case.

By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano

5. Against Their Will

Visiting US servicemen see all Filipino women, especially those in Olongapo and Angeles, as prostitutes. The servicemen also meet Filipino women in Okinawa and, of course, those women are prostitutes deployed to Japan by job agents in Manila in the guise of “entertainers.? The victim of the November 1 rape in Subic is not a whore, but even if she were that doesn’t exempt her from protection of the law. The Philippines has a rape law, but few are aware that it almost failed to clear Congress because of the opposition of male legislators. Only agitation by female lawmakers forced passage of the law, which protects even prostitutes against rape.

By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

6. Pre-Christmas Section: Holiday fashion; Christmas shopping

Gerard Ramos

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