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Our issue for December 31, 2005


December 31, 2005 Issue

Main Features

1.Cover: Man of the Year —Archbishop Oscar Cruz

When Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz launched his national crusade against jueteng in 2001, he did not set out to overhaul Philippine society. His goal was to save poor Filipinos from a vice in which they had been wallowing for generations. Neither did he believe he could eradicate jueteng. All he wanted to do was wake up the poor to their exploitation by the gambling lords and their political and police coddlers. To do that he needed to leave the sacristy and step out into the world to stand for morality, fast departing from the Philippines under the rule of politicians and their relatives who have no conscience. It was not difficult because he never believed that priests should confine themselves to their churches and leave the world to governments. His flock was out there, neither pulling themselves out of poverty nor being helped by the government to pull themselves out. Instead they were burying themselves deeper in poverty in trying to win a few hundred pesos and buy a good meal for one day—only a few were winning and just for show. Those who were getting rich were the gambling lords and their political patrons—mayors, governors, members of Congress—and corrupt police. The fall of President Joseph Estrada showed how high in the government the corruption had reached. But Estrada’s ouster did not even reduce official corruption from jueteng. Instead it worsened, the crusade found out. To carry out his self-imposed mission, Cruz would have to go up against the powers that be and work with their enemies. He would endanger many lives including his own. It didn’t matter. From talking to journalists about the wider spread of corruption from jueteng, Cruz went on to bring his crusades findings before an investigating committee in the House of Representatives, where nothing happened, and before two investigating committees in the Senate, where the bravest of his witnesses exposed the involvement not only of local government and high-ranking police officials but also of members of the family of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. None of the people whose greed had been exposed had been prosecuted, but two members of the presidential family had to leave the country for a while and jueteng lords had to rethink their illegal business. For a while, jueteng was reduced. President Arroyo appointed a jueteng fighter whose efforts might have helped a little to the reduction. Most of it was the result of Cruz’s fearless fight. He was not completely successful but he showed what determination driven by sincerity could do in fighting vice and corruption. For stepping out of the church and standing for morality on behalf of the poor, for fearlessly challenging the high and mighty, for showing that vice was never reduced but got worse under the Arroyo administration, and for creating a wider public awareness of the evil that is jueteng and its influence in the country’s corridors of power, Archbishop Oscar Cruz is the Free Press Man of the Year for 2005.

By Ricky S. Torre

2. Indecent Proposal

Instead of speeding Congress’s job in amending the 1987 Constitution, the Consultative Commission has caused a multipartisan uproar in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Legislators have rejected the commission’s proposal to cancel the 2007 midterm elections and extend the terms of all elective officials up to 2010. They call it an “indecent proposal? and, the commission being a creation of President Arroyo, “political bribery? intended to entice members of Congress to approve amendments that would allow Mrs. Arroyo to stay in power after the proposed shift to parliamentary government. The opposition spews the most bile because it sees the 2007 elections as a referendum on Mrs. Arroyo’s government. A defeat of Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the elections, especially those in Congress, will make it difficult for her to govern but this is unlikely to force her to resign. Speaker Jose de Venecia has asked the members of the House to give the proposal a chance—tsk tsk tsk—but the senators have promised to kill the proposal, that is, if it decides to hear the House on the proposal to amend the Constitution.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. Crossing the Line

Former defense secretary Fortunato Abat goes too far in his demonstrations of opposition to President Arroyo’s questionable rule. Given the instability of the government, the restiveness in the military, and the widespread anger with Mrs. Arroyo in a nation that feels it has been robbed of its vote, a “revolutionary transition government? is the last thing a government that is fighting to stay in power will take as a comedy. This is no longer the “rantings of an old man,? as the administration called Abat’s perorations against Mrs. Arroyo before, but a challenge. Mrs. Arroyo orders the arrest of Abat and the Justice Department, seeing a “dangerous tendency? in Abat’s actions, brings charges of inciting to sedition against the 80-year-old retired general, who was commander of the army in Mindanao during the war against the separatist Moro National Liberation Front. “Has the government lost its humor?? asks Sen. Joker Arroyo. No, the Arroyo government has not lost its humor. Something is going on in the military and the challenge of Abat, who may still have influence in the officer corps and in the ranks, needs to be dealt with immediately or the government will be seen as overconfident.

4. Mark’s Back

After serving two years in US federal prison, former Manila congressman Mark Jimenez is back. He’s not talking yet, but President Arroyo’s first justice secretary, Hernando Perez, has something to worry about. Jimenez has accused Perez of extorting $2 million from him in exchange for approval of a power contract for the Argentine company Industrias Metallurgicas Pescarmona Sociedade Anonima, of which Jimenez was a consultant during the term of President Joseph Estrada. The IMPSA contract was approved two days after Mrs. Arroyo took office in January 2001. The extortion case is still pending with the Office of the Ombudsman and alleged government pressure is said to be the reason for the resignation of Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo two months ago.

By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

5. The Year That Was

A review of 2005 in pictures

Two (2) editorials

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