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Our issue for August 19, 2006

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August 19, 2006 Issue

 

Main Features

 

Cover: The Life and Times and the Supplement of Alfonso Yuchengco

By Ricky S. Torre and Butch Serrano

 

1. Disorder Rules

Malacañang is forcing another confrontation with the Senate in the Supreme Court by pressing its policy of concealment to avoid explaining the mess that it has made of the evacuation of Filipino migrants trapped in the fighting in Lebanon. The Palace keeps to refuse to allow government officials to appear in the Senate investigation into the disposition of the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund. There’s more than P7 billion there in the migrants’ money, but the migrants in Lebanon are getting out in trickles on charity from the International Organization for Migration and from a Greek shipping magnate. Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the foreign relations committee who has introduced legislation that would amend the migrants law, and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, chairman of the labor committee, cannot get intelligent answers to questions about the chaotic evacuation and the Palace, twisting the Supreme Court ruling on EO 464 is insisting on guidelines for the appearance of government officials at Senate inquiries: the court has ruled that the Senate has power to summon officials to investigations in aid of legislation, but the Palace is ignoring that part of the ruling and claiming it has the right to refuse to allow officials to go to congressional questionings. That is the question hour, but the Palace is pretending not to know the difference. It has something to hide, of course, the transfer of OWWA funds to Philhealth for use in President Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign is an issue that remains unexplained. The fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas intensifies ahead of UN Security Council action and the danger has reached Filipinos in Haifa. Two weeks into the operation, the government has yet to show any kind of organization in coming to the aid of the migrants. Two vessels of the Coast Guard have been ordered to Lebanon but the vessels cannot leave Manila port because nobody ordered funds for the mission.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

2. The Monkey Business Begins

Lakas Rep. Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, has promised Malacañang that “if all goes well,” the second attempt by the opposition to impeach President Arroyo will be over in six session days. The first day is Tuesday and sure enough the majority allies of Mrs. Arroyo on the committee kill seven of the eight complaints filed against Mrs. Arroyo on the technicality that these have been brought within the constitutional ban on bringing more than one impeachment complaint against the same official in one year. Only the complaint brought by 10 Cabinet members and presidential advisers and the Black and White Movement remains for determination of sufficiency in form and substance. Form is no problem. Substance means evidence, and the majority is determined not to allow the minority to present evidence at the committee level. And that means this complaint, too, is dead. Does the minority have a Plan B?

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

3. Root of Disunity

What good are talks for cooperation and unity if the administration is imposing as ground rule not touching the question of the legitimacy of President Arroyo’s rule? That’s telling people to just go on after being robbed on the highway, as if nothing happened. This is exactly what the administration wants to happen in calling that secret meeting between its representatives and leaders of the opposition and the Catholic church. The church has been the first to balk at the brazenness of it. Imagine a prepared statement of unity to be signed by the president of the bishops conference. What made Malacañang even think of preparing a statement of unity and expect the church to sign it? The opposition and the church are not averse to working with the administration for a national agenda, even for unity. But first Mrs. Arroyo must prove to the nation that she is the truly elected president of the Philippines, because it is the question of her presidency’s legitimacy that is causing disunity in this country.

 

4. Insurance

With the opposition to the Arroyo administration’s plot to stay in power beyond 2010 likely to reach the Supreme Court, it is safe to assume that elections will be held next year. That’s why Malacañang and the Commission on Elections are insisting on using the vote counting machines that the Supreme Court has found unprotected against human intervention. Insurance, as they say: if elections cannot be prevented, administration candidates will be annihilated at the polls, so the best way to manipulate the vote away from the eyes of an angry public is to use those vulnerable computers.

 

5. Only for Show

International pressure and a subtle US warning has forced President Arroyo to order the police to solve the extrajudicial killings of leftists and journalists. She give the police 10 weeks to solve the murders. Solve more than 200 murders in 10 weeks? How do the police even begin to do that? Shoot the Army commander said to be behind the killings perhaps? Mrs. Arroyo praised that officer in her speech to a joint session of Congress on July 24 and blamed the killings on communist rebels. What’s the sense in ordering the police to solve the murders when she herself has already solved them?

 

Two editorials.

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Our issue for August 12, 2006

FREE PRESS

August 12, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1. Trapped in Hell

Malacañang on Monday frustrates the Senate investigation into the funding problem in the evacuation of thousands of Filipino migrants from war-torn Lebanon. Despite the administration’s loss of its appeal of the Supreme Court ruling striking down EO 464 as unconstitutional (the ruling became final last month), the Palace forbids officials of the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor to testify at the joint hearing called by the Senate committees on foreign relations and labor. More than 30,000 Filipino migrants are trapped in the fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas. They are hunkering in the Philippine embassy and in churches in Beirut as Israeli missiles and bombs crush Hezbollah positions in the capital and most of southern Lebanon. Fewer than 3,000 have returned home on chartered and scheduled flights, mostly through the mercy of the International Organization for Migration, a group that works with the United Nations. Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Al Francis Bichara has disclosed a shortage of funds, which explains why the migrants are being evacuated only in trickles. The migrants remit billions of dollars every year—$12 billion last year—shoring up the economy and propping up the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Now that they need help, their government is slow to come to their aid, resorting instead to asking for help from other countries to get them out of the war zone. The foreign office denies the shortage of funds and threatens Bichara with an investigation. The OWWA says it has P2 billion and has sent money to Beirut. Bichara, according to the foreign office has apologized for the disclosure, but the ambassador tells the Senate investigation through a patched phone call that as of Monday no money has reached the embassy in Beirut. Where is the migrants’ money? A Greek shipping magnate has offered to use one of his ships to ferry Filipino migrants from Beirut to Nicosia, in Cyprus, and IOM is again moving Filipino migrants from Beirut, paying for their trip by buses to Damascus and their plane trip from there to Manila. Shame! The migrants will have a respite from fear for two days as a result of another Israeli mistake—an air strike on Monday kill 60 people, mostly civilians, among them children, in Qana. The conflict is threatening to escalate, with Israel rejecting international calls for a cease-fire. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is back in the region, saying she’s pushing for an immediate cease-fire, although the US stand, and of course Britain’s, is to isolate Hezbollah, which may be provocating Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, for the United States and Britain to take military action against Iran, which stubbornly refuses to give up its nuclear program despite threats of sanctions from the United Nations. Does the Manila government understand what’s going on the Middle East? Acting Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, whose nomination the congressional Commission on Appointment has yet to confirm, says he cannot see what sort of legislation can come out of the Senate investigation. Doesn’t he know that the Arroyo administration has no policy, no organized plan, for rescuing Filipino migrants in distress in faraway countries? Stupid!

By Ricky S. Torre

2. Expect Nothing

There are now eight impeachment complaints against President Arroyo but none of them is likely to survive in the House of Representatives. Mrs. Arroyo’s majority allies in the House are going to kill all the complaints right on the Committee on Justice to clear the way for their top priority: revising the Constitution through a constituent assembly. The government-financed private organization that has gathered 10 million signatures to force the revision is going to the Commission on Elections this month to petition for a referendum on the constituent assembly.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. Running from Justice

Jocelyn Bolante, President Arroyo’s point man in the administration operation to buy votes in the 2004 presidential election, is seeking asylum in the United States. Bolante is alleging a threat to his life coming from the communist New People’s Army. NPA spokesman Gregorio Rosal and National Democratic Front official Luis Jalandoni have both denied that Bolante is on an NPA hit list. A group of Filipino lawyers from the University of the Philippines is blocking Bolante’s application for asylum in US immigration court, but Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, showing where the administration’s sympathies lie, says the lawyers’ opposition is just “propaganda.” Bolante, whose US visa the US State Department canceled under the Bush administration’s no safe haven policy, is being processed for removal, but his application for asylum can prolong his stay in the United States, enabling him to continue to dodge a Senate investigation into the misuse of agriculture funds for Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential campaign.

4. War of Attrition

It seems the Arroyo administration has found a way to stop the campaign of One Voice to educate the people on the proposed revision of the Constitution: choking the group’s source of funds. President Arroyo’s allies in Congress have begun insinuating administration’s plans to go after the businessmen who finance the One Voice campaign through the taxman. They probably know who the donors are. If these businessmen can be sufficiently cowed to withdraw their support for One Voice, this group’s campaign to block Mrs. Arroyo’s strategy to save her presidency could stop. Bakbakan na lang!

By Manuel L. Quezon III

5. Campaign Kitty

Giving up on the 2006 budget, the administration is now working for passage of a supplemental budget supposedly to finance its priority projects. The Senate, whose opposition to a suspicious spending of P64 billion in Mrs. Arroyo’s proposed P1.05 trillion budget, is chary about the supplemental budget. The administration insists part of the supplemental budget is for development in the villages, but the senators suspect the administration’s real priority is financing an operation to buy votes in a referendum for a people’s initiative for the revision of the Constitution.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

6. Really Stupid

Guess who’s to blame for the deterioration of nursing education and the cheating in the 2006 board exam for nurses. The established nursing schools. That’s according to the Commission on Higher Education. Don’t blame the fast increasing new nursing schools that are sharing instructors and even deans. These schools have been built as nurse factories to fill the big demand for Filipino nurses in the West. Don’t call them fly-by-night schools. It’s those old schools that are producing nurses who cannot be accepted even in local hospitals. The new nurses are incompetent because the old schools refuse to lower their standards.

Two editorials

Our issue for July 29, 2006

FREE PRESS

July 29, 2006 Issue

 

Main Features

 

1. Cover: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the State of the Nation (with 11-page

supplement) c/o Malacañang. Cover story by Jing A. Mable

 

2. Man on the Run

Jocelyn Bolante was not arrested in the United States. He is detained in a federal facility near Los Angeles because he is either appealing the revocation of his US visa or applying for asylum in the United States. It is more likely the first, as Bolante is not persecuted in the Philippines and therefore has no reason to seek shelter in the United States. To be sure, the US government knows Bolante is wanted only by the Philippine Senate and no charges have been brought against him in Manila. The Senate has asked the US government only for process assistance and not for the cancellation of Bolante’s visa. What really happened is unclear because US privacy laws do not allow disclosure of information until cases like this have been decided. The revocation of a US visa is done in a consular office in the presence of the holder, who may challenge the consular decision in immigration court. But never is a US visa revoked at the border, so what happened to Bolante at LAX is puzzling. He needs $100,000 for bail and has reportedly refused Philippine government assistance. Whatever it is that happened, Malacañang has reason to be greatly worried. A Senate investigation into the so-called fertilizer fund scam has found Bolante, a former agriculture undersecretary, as the point man in the operation that channeled P728 million to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004. The Senate has recommended to the Ombudsman the prosecution of Bolante and several past and current agriculture officials for plunder. Bolante has been on the run since last year when the Senate opened the investigation. That’s an indication of guilt. So long as no charges have been filed in the Philippines, he can keep snubbing the Senate investigation. But now that the investigation has been turned over to the Ombudsman, he and Malacañang have a problem. Mrs. Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, a friend and associate of Bolante’s in the Rotary Club and who is behind Bolante’s employment in the Agriculture Department, is now reportedly in the United States, fueling suspicions in Manila that the administration is either working on Bolante—to keep him quiet—or on his case, whatever it is.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

3. What a Shame

“Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” To be sure, the Catholic bishops will not be the first to break that commandment. They say that Fatima Valdes, President Arroyo’s “undersecretary for religious affairs”—a secular government has an office for religious affairs?—arranged the dinner and there envelopes containing varying amounts—P15,000 to P50,000, depending on the importance of the bishops, perhaps—were thrust into the bishops’ hands or into their pockets. Most of the bishops sent the envelopes back to Malacañang. They will not be bribed into supporting an official who is the cause of deep divisions in the nation and in the bishops conference itself. Malacañang denies the alleged bribery and Mrs. Arroyo’s allies blame the opposition for the allegations. But it’s the bishops who are talking. What has the opposition got to do with the disclosure of the bribery? The opposition cannot even muster 77 votes—it’s now down to 77 with Liberal Party Rep. Jesli Lapus of Tarlac moving to the Department of Education (see No. 6)—to send one of the five (seven by Monday) complaints to the Senate for trial. Certain that none of the complaints will fail to clear the hurdle, the House minority is now saying Mrs. Arroyo should help put an end to this crisis. Lakas Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano says the minority is willing to withdraw the complaints if Mrs. Arroyo will explain the 2004 election. Wow! Why should Mrs. Arroyo do that? Hasn’t she already said that she won that election? If the minority knows the impeachment effort is headed nowhere, why is it wasting its time, which is the public’s time, and money, which is the public’s money?

By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

 

4. The ‘Coup That Failed’

The Arroyo administration insists on linking the July 27, 2003 junior militaryofficers’ mutiny and the Scout Rangers’ plan to withdraw support from President Arroyo on February 24 to prove its claim of a coup d’état and justify her proclamation of a state of national emergency, and maybe to sway the Supreme Court into reversing its ruling that the martial law-style government actions that followed the declaration are unconstitutional. The intention is still to suppress opposition to Mrs. Arroyo’s rule and now, after putting away the military officers involved in the “failed coup,” the government is out to get the civilians who conspired with them, including the businessmen who financed the alleged coup. The Justice Department says it already knows the financiers, as well as where the videotape showing the Rangers’ commander. Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, announcing his withdrawal of support for Mrs. Arroyo was taken—at the home of a “former diplomat.” That can only be Roy Señeres, a former Philippine ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and former head of the National Labor Relations Commission who had a falling out with Mrs. Arroyo and joined the opposition. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales says the church has given shelter to some of the plotters—a threat against Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias in whose diocese 1st Lt. Lawrence San Juan, a July 27 mutineer, allegedly had sought sanctuary. San Juan turned around last week, admitting talks between the mutineers and communist rebels. Was he telling the truth or was he co-opted? With the military officers involved held incommunicado, the public does not know what really happened on the night of February 23. The Court of Appeals has ordered the military to bring Lim to court on Tuesday morning, but even if he is allowed to go free it is unlikely that he will be allowed to talk publicly about what really happened. The July 27 mutineers have already let known the reason for their anger: corruption and favoritism in the military. The Rangers and the Marines want to know who the generals were that allowed the military to be used in rigging the 2004 presidential election. That’s not a crime. But the administration and the generals say there was a failed coup. Was there?

By Ricky S. Torre

 

5. Cheats

The Professional Regulation Commission has investigated and confirmed the leak in the 2006 board exam for nurses. The findings: two members of the Board of Nursing leaked the questions. But the commission is not disclosing the identities of the two rascals, saying only that the leakers will be prosecuted and dismissed. The candidates are appealing to the commission not to void the results of the June exam, although even many of them recognize the suspicion that will fall on all of the graduates as a result of this irregularity. As it is, the nursing profession is already in a mess, with thousands of unqualified candidates graduating from too many nursing schools that have been built only to cash in on the big demand for Filipino nurses in the United States, Canada and Europe.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

6. Another Politician

Employees of the Department of Education refuse to accept Liberal Party Rep. Jesli Lapus of Tarlac as the new secretary of education. They don’t want another politician heading what is supposed to be professional department. They prefer an educator, Acting Secretary Fe Hidalgo, to take the place of resigned secretary Florencio Abad, who has since joined the opposition. The last time a politician ran the department, the crooks there lost their rackets. Raul Roco forced reforms there, incurring the employees’ animosity. What does Lapus know about education?

By Guiller de Guzman

Our issue for July 22, 2006

FREE PRESS

July 22, 2006 Issue

 

Main Features

On the cover: Antipolo Mayor A. Angelito Gatbalayan (with 7-page Antipolo

Supplement), c/o Advertising and Jing A. Mable

 

: Lindsay Lohan (c/o Gerard Ramos)

 

1. Not the Way to the Truth

Malacañang has done everything to stop the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines from supporting the new impeachment complaints against President Arroyo, from appeals through its officials and allies in the House of Representatives, to cajolery, to outright blasphemy, to bribery. The bishops conference, issuing a statement after its meeting on Monday, have made its position clear: “In the light of previous circumstances, we are not inclined at present to favor the impeachment process as the means of establishing the truth.” Unless all sides are after the common good, the conference says, the process will just be another unproductive—it should have said “futile”—exercise. The conference wants the truth about the 2004 presidential election to be known, but the result of last year’s impeachment process and Mrs. Arroyo’s continuing control of the House of Representatives, the truth is unlikely to come out through the same process. Mrs. Arroyo’s allies have vowed to kill any impeachment complaint even before one could be brought against her. Their so-called appeals to bishops conference to stay neutral is telling the bishops that impeachment being politics, it is none of the prelates’ business. The church cannot do anything if the congressmen do not want to remove Mrs. Arroyo from power. The conference is not disputing that assertion, so as a group the conference is staying away, in fact, won’t have anything to do, with the impeachment. But, in obedience to the Pope’s exhortation, it is allowing its members to be involved in the process. Being citizens of the Philippines, the bishops must not stay in the sidelines, but must take part in the determination of the truth. So Malacañang officials should not read meanings into the bishops conference’s statement and Mrs. Arroyo should not thank the conference for it is not the church’s duty to reorder the Philippine government; it’s duty is to guide the Filipinos in their search for the truth—for now, at least. Not getting the message, the opposition is dismayed at the statement of the bishops conference. Why should they be dismayed when they themselves say they do not have the numbers to send any of the impeachment complaints to the Senate for trial? They should look for other, legal ways to remove Mrs. Arroyo from power, like banding together and choosing a strong and credible leader so that the people will have someone to lead them when the time comes to pressure the House majority to let an impeachment complaint pass or run Mrs. Arroyo out of Malacañang.

By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

 

 

2. There’s Still Hope

Two more Catholic priests, including the priest in the parish that has jurisdiction over Malacañang, and a group of Protestant pastors signed a complaint for the impeachment of President Arroyo. The complaint will be filed on July 24, when Mrs. Arroyo addresses a joint session of Congress. But the increasing number of complainants, even from the religious sector, is no guarantee of piercing the conscience of the majority in the House of Representatives. Those people have no conscience, period. If there is anything sure about the impeachment, it is the trashing of all of the complaints, and the reenactment of the 2005 budget, which gives Mrs. Arroyo power to juggle funds, is a guarantee that the trash bin will be filled to the brim. The administration has already laid the barrier to the acceptance of any of the complaints, so unless the Supreme Court takes up Rep. Clavel Martinez’s petition before July 24, the House majority can just throw out the complaints. The House minority talks about working to get the required 78 votes to send at least one of the complaints to the Senate, but admits it could fail again to clear the procedural barrier. But there is one thing good about the increasing support for Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment from the religious sector: with priests and pastors guiding the people in making decisions, Mrs. Arroyo’s allies will have difficulty winning support across the country for their reelection bid next year. A victory by the opposition in the midterm elections mean an opposition-dominated Congress and that’s hope for Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment. So the opposition and their allies in the public should defeat the administration’s attempt to force a shift to parliamentary government. If they lose this one, they lose all chances of removing a potential dictator from power.

By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

 

3. What’s Their Crime?

Is Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim a coup plotter or is he President Arroyo’s savior? The word is that on or about February 24, junior military officers were pressuring Lim to lead an armed uprising against Mrs. Arroyo, who the junior officers believed was not their commander in chief. Having experienced coups during the term of President Corazon Aquino, Lim reportedly refused but agreed to lead troops of the First Scout Rangers Regiment, which he commanded, in withdrawing support for Mrs. Arroyo. By his reading of the law, he says, there is no such crime as withdrawal of support, the same argument that former National Labor Relations Commission chief Roy Señeres offers in defense of himself against government accusations that he was involved in an alleged coup by urging people to withdraw support for Mrs.Arroyo. The problem, however, is complicated by the supposed arrest week of six junior military officers, allegedly involved in the July 27, 2003 mutiny, and the recovery from them of explosives and a blueprint of the legislative complex in Quezon City. The implication is that there is a plot to attack the House of Representatives, possibly when Mrs. Arroyo addresses a joint session on Congress on July 24. Human rights advocates have no access to those arrested. Are they fall guys of some sort for another plan by the malign Arroyo government to crush the opposition? The release of a video tape showing Lim withdrawing his support for Mrs. Arroyo is also suspicious, being timed with the full-conference meeting of the Catholic bishops. Is the intention to sway the bishops conference to support Mrs. Arroyo? If that is the intention, it has failed because the bishops conference refuses to get involved in politics, although it allows its members, being citizens of the Philippines to get involved in politics, as in the impeachment of Mrs. Arroyo. Whatever is happening in the barracks, it is clear that the military is divided between the supporters of Mrs. Arroyo and those who doubt her legitimacy. In short, Mrs. Arroyo is the problem in the military.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

4. Not Now

Sen. Jamby Madrigal travels to Utrecht, the Netherlands, to try to revive interest among the Filipino communist leaders exiled there in the peace negotiations with the government. Madrigal’s objective is to stop the fight to the finish that President Arroyo has declared. Madrigal finds interest on the part of the National Democratic Front, but the government and the NDF must have official contact before the negotiations can resume. Madrigal is not an official emissary and, in fact, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales is threatening an investigation against Madrigal for talking to the rebels in Utrecht. Malacañang says Madrigal’s contacting the insurgent leaders is proof of the conspiracy between the communists and the political opposition to topple Mrs. Arroyo from power. Where else can you find a more stupid government? Malacañang, however, is not really uninterested in the peace talks. If the NPA is willing to agree to a cease-fire in an all-out war that the government itself declared, the Palace is willing to send its negotiators back to the table. Right now it wants to keep the military busy, especially the Scout Rangers and the Marines—they must be kept away from Manila.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

5. Nursing a New Problem

You see them on the streets, on the train, on the bus, on the jeep—young men and women dressed in white and wearing orthopedic shoes. They are students of nursing at schools in Manila that were not there 10 years ago. These schools have sprouted in the last few years when the United States, Canada, Britain and other European countries opened their borders to foreign nurses to meet the demand for health care of their aging populations. The rush to build new nursing schools and accommodate all comers has resulted in a sharp drop in the quality of Filipino nurses. The Commission on Higher Education’s Technical Committee on Nursing Education blames this new problem on the commission’s surrender to political and commercial interests. It seems that the commission and the committee have been clashing on this issue for some time, with the committee being largely ignored, forcing the members to resign last week. Not only is the rush to produce more overseas contract workers resulting in poorly trained nurses, it is also resulting in a brain drain that is leaving Philippine hospitals and clinics short-handed. Even doctors are going back to school to become nurses.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

 Two (2) editorials

Our issue for July 15, 2006

FREE PRESS
 
July 15, 2006 Issue

Main Features
 
On the cover: Manny Pacquiao whips Mexico’s Oscar Larios
 
          By Dominic Menor

1. Uncertainly Safe
 
When does the constitutional ban on bringing a new impeachment complaint against President Arroyo really end—June 26, 27, 28, 29? Or is it July 24? The House of Representatives’ rules do not make this clear, so the opposition is trying to cover all the possible dates with a surplus of complaints, including one coming from another member of the Catholic clergy on July 24, the day when Mrs. Arroyo faces Congress to make her State of the Nation report. House leaders are using the uncertainty for the advantage of Mrs. Arroyo and if they are successful all the complaints brought last week, even the strongest one brought by 300 private citizens led by Zeneida Quezon Avanceña, President Manuel L. Quezon’s last surviving daughter, are dead. They interpret the ban as ending on July 24, the date of last year’s impeachment complaint to the House justice committee. Or is it July 25, a day after the referral?  Maybe it’s September 7, a day after the shameless majority allies of Mrs. Arroyo threw out the first complaint last year? Or maybe after the Supreme Court has decided on Lakas Rep. Clavel Martinez’s petition for review of the House’s action on the first complaint? The picture is as uncertain as Limbo, which the Roman Catholic Church is considering dropping from its teachings because of the emerging theological view that innocent and virtuous but unbaptized people cannot be excluded from full blessedness and therefore should also be received in heaven. Given their political cupidity, Mrs. Arroyo’s allies will not accord the complaints this fairness. The only thing that matters is Mrs. Arroyo’s political survival, which means their own political survival. But even if one of the dates between June 26 and July 24 is correct, that is still no assurance that the House will impeach Mrs. Arroyo. Impeachment remains a numbers game and although some disgruntled members of the majority and some reelectionists who want to make political points ahead of next year’s congressional elections may support one of the complaints, it remains doubtful that the minority can get the 78 votes needed to hurdle the procedural barrier. 
 
            By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia
 
2. Double Standard
 
Malacañang has asked the Catholic bishops conference to sanction Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez for bringing an impeachment complaint against President Arroyo. That’s politicking, says presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor. Church and state should be separate. But instead of even reprimanding Yñiguez, the bishops conference throws its full support behind the Caloocan prelate’s action. Yñiguez has brought the complaint as a citizen of the Philippines, not as a member of the clergy, and the Constitution is clear about this. Sure, Yñiguez is a clergyman, but his action is consistent with the conference’s exhortation to the Filipino people to continue their search for the truth about the 2004 election. The conference has declared 2006 “Year of Social Concerns,” urging Filipinos to speak more about social issues and participate more in actions that can change their society. Why restrain Yñiguez? Former vice president Teofisto Guingona is right: Why the double standard? Why talk about separation when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo actively sought help from the church when she was trying to unseat Joseph Estrada? When it’s Mrs. Arroyo who is seeking help from the church, there is no question of separation. But when it is a clergyman that’s speaking against Mrs. Arroyo policies or actions, there should be separation. And doesn’t Mrs. Arroyo say God placed her in the Philippine presidency? And hasn’t she just attempted to use Pope Benedict XVI to picture herself as having papal blessing in insisting on ruling the Philippines? She has been beaten to the Vatican by Dagupan-Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, who traveled to the Vatican last year and reported the true social and political conditions in the Philippines.
 
            By Ricky S. Torre

3. Why Him Alone?
 
The Office of the Ombudsman, trying to beat a June 30 deadline imposed by the Supreme Court, has recommended the impeachment of Election Commissioner Resurreccion Borra for the irregular grant in 1993 of a contract to a private consortium for vote-counting machines. The Ombudsman also ordered the dismissal and criminal prosecution of eight members of the Comelec’s bids and awards committee and the criminal prosecution of the incorporators of the private supplier. A long-awaited decision coming as lame as this one causes great public disappointment, especially as Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has promised to be merciless to grafters. Mercy the Merciless is not even sure whether she has jurisdiction over impeachable officials, so she is leaving Borra at the disposal of the House of Representatives. Maybe she also doesn’t know that the Comelec acts as a collegial body, so she is singling out Borra as if the guy had the sole decision to award the contract to the unqualified bidder and winner, Mega Pacific Consortium. Members of the House minority say they will bring a complaint for Borra’s impeachment, but they are not sure whether it is fair to move against Borra alone because they know that no single member of the Comelec can approve contracts on his own—the decision is always the act of the whole commission. Gutierrez’s office says the other election commissioners are still being investigated. How? They are already retired. All the Ombudsman investigators need to do is review the records of the case and the Supreme Court’s evaluation of the facts. They have been keeping the records sent to them by the Supreme Court for nearly a year now.
 
          By Guiller de Guzman

4. Beyond the Birds and the Bees
 
Are high school students ready for sex education? Shouldn’t this sensitive subject be left to parents to teach to their children? The Education Department has not even began introducing sex education in high school but the Catholic Church is already trying to block the new program, insisting that the subject be left a matter between parents and children. If it were only the church, which has a right to assert its teachings, the controversy will not be so scandalous. But self-appointed members of lay organizations are spreading lies about the program, claiming that the use of condoms will be taught in schools, complete with demonstrations. The program’s plan, however, does not include demonstrations and the word “condom” appears only twice in the text, cited only in the discussion of sexually transmitted diseases. The Education Department is going ahead with the program but for how long it can keep the subject up depends on Malacañang.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman

5. The Roots of the Education Problem
 
One reason why sex education must be taught in high school is the runaway population growth, which is also the root of the acute classroom shortage in public schools. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has long warned UN member countries about the problems that overpopulation can cause but apparently the Philippines has ignored the agency’s warning. The Unesco’s records show that as of July 2005, 36 million, or 35.4 percent, of the Philippines’ population are children up to 14 years of age and 22 million of them are eligible for public education. The Philippine government has built only 36,000 schools for these children. 
 
            By Ramiro C. Alvarez
 

 

Our issue for July 8, 2006

FREE PRESS
 
July 8, 2006 Issue

Main Features
 
Cover: Parañaque Mayor Bernardo Bernabe (with 8-page full-color supplement, Parañaque City)
 
1. The People vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
 
A group of citizens led by a daughter of President Manuel L. Quezon and a national artist for literature files a complaint for the impeachment of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the House of Representatives on Monday. The complaint, signed by nearly 300 private citizens and endorsed by House Minority Leader Francis Escudero and PMP Rep. Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan, raises the same charges in the first complaint that the House majority dismissed last year on a technicality: electoral fraud, lying, cheating and breach of public trust, but adds violations of the Constitution using as evidence the Supreme Court rulings against Mrs. Arroyo’s mailed-fist policy on street protests without permits, prohibition to government, military and police officials to testify in any congressional investigation without her permission, and declaration of a state of national emergency in February to crush opposition to her rule. On Tuesday former vice president Teofisto Guingona files a complaint in intervention on behalf of the “people’s tribunal” that tried and found Mrs. Arroyo guilty of crimes against the people. At least two more complaints are expected to be brought in the House against Mrs. Arroyo, who is in the Vatican on the first leg of a European trip.
 
Malacañang is not at all disturbed, confident that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House will protect the President as they did last year. Last week, Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, asked the House not to entertain any new impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo, saying that the first impeachment process is not yet over because the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on a petition brought last year by Lakas Rep. Clavel Martinez of Cebu asking the court for a review of the House’s action on the first complaint. Commentators say, however, that this is not a problem because the Supreme Court has not acted on the petition, and Martinez and her seven co-petitioners can just withdraw their petition if necessary. The bigger question for the new complaint is whether it can hurdle the procedural barrier in the House. At least 78 legislators (three-fourths of the remaining members of the House; Reps. Rolando Andaya and Ronaldo Puno have joined the executive) need to support the complaint for it to go the Senate. To be sure, the majority will again use sheer numbers to defeat the complaint.
 
            By Ricky S. Torre andWendell Vigilia
 
2. One Voice: Let the Constitution Alone
 
A new group composed of former election officials, Catholic bishops and prominent citizens has risen to try to stop the Arroyo administration from revising the Constitution to perpetuate current officials in power. The new group, Once Voice, will also try to stop the bogus “people’s initiative,” a signature campaign being undertaken not by the people but by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, to force the amendment of the Constitution by Congress. How? The group will conduct community discussions to explain to the people the country’s problems hoping that the people will understand that the solutions are not a parliamentary government run by the same officials and a unicameral legislature dominated by the allies of President Arroyo, but social and political reforms. This strategy will work in the referendum on the proposed new constitution, but will not stop President Arroyo and her allies from rewriting the Constitution, submitting a new one to a referendum, and rigging the vote to ensure the approval of their ticket to continued stay in power. The only way to stop the administration-sponsored “people’s initiative” is to challenge its legality in the Supreme Court, but if One Voice is planning to do this it is not saying at this point. Dropping all pretenses at noninvolvement, Malacañang says there is no turning back—the co-opted Commission on Elections will validate the signatures from the government-financed campaign, Congress will sit as an “interim parliament” in July, and the amendment of the Constitution will proceed in August. (Manolo, you’re a member of One Voice. Is One Voice going to the Supreme Court for a ruling on the people’s initiative?)
 
          By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. Can You Kill an Insurgency?
 
Can you kill the communist insurgency? Not with an army. You can shoot all the communist insurgents in the mountains and in the jungles, but others will take their place. To kill an insurgency, or to drive it away, a government must eliminate the social and economic ills that send people to the mountain to fight for justice. The Arroyo administration does not get, but the Commission on Human Rights does: the P1 billion that President Arroyo is giving to the military and the police is better spent to deal with the country’s socio-economic problems. But no one in the administration is listening.

4. Alms for the Poor
 
The Metro Manila wage board has approved a raise of P25 in the minimum wage for workers in private busineses in the metropolis. What will that amount buy? A kilo of rice, a couple of tins of sardines, but not a bus ride from Monumento to Makati or a lunch at work. But that’s all the employers can give, according to the wage board. Wage Order No. 12 takes effect in July. The approved raise is P50 short of the P75 moderate labor filed for and P100 lower than the raise militant labor groups are demanding.

5. Bloodthirsty
 
President Arroyo has signed a bill repealing the death penalty law, but this is not the end for anticrime activists. Dante Jimenez, head of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, has asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban and the justices on the Supreme Court to find out if the tribunal indeed had made a judicial error in affirming the death sentence on Leo Echegaray in June 1996. Jimenez wants Panganiban and the justices who concurred in the court’s decision to be impeached.
 

 

Our issue for July 1, 2006

FREE PRESS
 
July 1, 2006 Issue

Main Features

Cover: Kate Bosworth plays Lois Lane in Superman Returns

1. War
 
Instead of halting the killing of leftists, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declares a war to the finish with the communists by announcing P1 billion in new spending for the military and the police to wipe out the communist insurgency in two years. Her government is also bringing more than 860 charges all over the country and filing criminal charges in the Netherlands against the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, in an apparent attempt to deflect blame from itself for the killing of more than 220 leftist leaders since she took office in 2001. The military has originally set a 10-year timetable for defeating the communist insurgency, but Mrs. Arroyo, needing to give the nation a reason to rally around her instead of kick her out of office, has ordered the deadline cut to two years, well ahead of the end of her term in 2010. She gives as reason for the all-out war the insurgency’s hindering of economic development in the countryside, although official corruption and political patronage in the local governments are behind economic disasters in the provinces, resulting in the worsening of poverty and driving rural folks to the side of the communist insurgents. She announces P75 billion for investments and development projects in rebel-infested areas of Luzon and gives the protection of these projects as a major reason for the war against the communists. What is Mrs. Arroyo counting on? No government previous to hers, not even the government of President Corazon Aquino, which honestly tried to deal with rural poverty, managed to dent the communist insurgency. It is not possible that Mrs. Arroyo does not know that the communist rebels will not stop fighting until they win and become the country’s rulers—that is the objective of any communist insurgency—and it is not possible that she honestly believes her government can set a record by defeating the rebels. It is more likely that she is trying to project her government as strong, determined, and deserves support from the people. She is wrong. The opposition is taking the case of the killings of leftists to the United Nations and with this, her administration will be drawing even more international attention for its being a violator of human rights. The war against the insurgents will certainly bring a lot of collateral damage, with that, increasing public anger. By choosing war instead of pressing the peace negotiations, Mrs. Arroyo may be hastening the demise of her own rule.
 
            By Ricky S. Torre
 
2. Take 2
 
The minority in the House of Representatives brings a new complaint for impeachment against President Arroyo next Monday, continuing its attempt to legally remove from power the leader whose legitimacy has become even more suspect with her prohibition of official testimony in congressional investigations without her permission and with her heavy-handed tactics in dealing with public calls for her resignation. Struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, together with a proclamation of national emergency in February that quickly turned out to be just a strategy to crush opposition to her rule, these policies have given the House minority additional evidence of violations of the Constitution against Mrs. Arroyo. Add to these testimonial and documentary evidence coming from the Senate defense committee’s investigation into the Arroyo tapes scandal and the minority has a stronger case against Mrs. Arroyo this time. But will the complaint hold this time? If 2007 were not an election year, the complaint would be dead outright. The government is operating on the reenacted 2005 budget, giving Mrs. Arroyo a free hand in juggling funds—she can simply raise her congressional allies’ share of the pork barrel by P30 million each to restore it to the original P70 and she’s out of danger. But 2007 is an election year. With about a half of the House up for reelection, Mrs. Arroyo’s allies will have to listen to their constituents’ demands for her ouster. Then again, they don’t have to. The administration’s political operators can handle the election question as ably as they did in 2004.
 
By Guiller de Guzman, Wendell Vigilia and Butch Serrano
 
 
3. Don’t Be So Sure
 
With the Senate leadership changing hands when the third regular session opens on July 24 comes the question: Is this the total end of congressional independence under the rule of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Malacañang and the administration-dominated House of Representatives are looking forward to the subjugation of the Senate even with the incoming Senate president’s assurance of maintaining the chamber’s independence. Sen. Manuel Villar, the incoming Senate president, remains an ally of Mrs. Arroyo and that seems to be the basis of the Palace’s and the House’ optimism. But Sen. Franklin Drilon, the departing Senate president, is moving to the opposition’s side and he is bringing with him Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan and Sen. Juan Flavier, tilting the balance of power in the chamber to the opposition’s side. If Villar plays the administration’s game, he will find it hard to lead and deliver.             
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano

4. Nearing Confrontation
 
The Arroyo administration, through its surrogate Sigaw ng Bayan, is preparing to ask the Commission on Elections to validate 9 million signatures it has gathered in the campaign to force the amendment of the Constitution by Congress. The surrogate is not paying attention to former president Fidel Ramos’s advice to go to the Supreme Court first for a ruling on the validity of the people’s initiative, confident that in the event of a challenge, the administration will prevail. But the opposition is just waiting for the administration to take the signatures to the Comelec: the moment the poll body touches the signatures, the opposition goes to the Supreme Court.
 
By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
 
5. Is There a Price for Human Life?
 
How much is human life? In the absence of a law that allows compensation for the families of convicts wrongly executed, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales says the family of Leo Echegaray, erroneously executed for rape in February 1999, according to Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, can go to the Board of Claims and it can receive P20,000. Shocking, isn’t it?     
 
(This is supposed to be Nati Nuguid’s assignment. Unfortunately, she died on Monday. Guiller de Guzman takes over.)

6. We’re Vulnerable
 
The volcanic and seismic activity in the Pacific Ring of Fire is worrying scientists in the Philippines. They say that the restiveness of Mount Merapi on Indonesia’s Java island has no connection to the restiveness of Mount Bulusan in Sorsogon province here, but what worries them is not really the eruption of a volcano but the occurrence of an earthquake with magnitude great enough to generate a tsunami. The devastation from a tsunami, especially in the Manila Fault Line that runs from the Visayas to Manila Bay, would be much greater than the destruction from an eruption of Mount Bulusan. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has been warning about such a catastrophe even before the December 26, 2004 tsunami that killed more than 300,000 people in 12 countries on the Indian Ocean Rim, but nobody seems to have been listening. Neithern the national government nor any local government has drawn up plans for safety and reconstruction.
 
By Ramiro C. Alvarez
 

 

Our issue for June 24, 2006

FREE PRESS

June 24, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1. Cover: Manila Mayor Lito Atienza (with 12-page, full-color Manila City supplement)

            By Ricky S. Torre

            On the cover: Superman Returns

2. Freedom from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Filipinos mark Independence Day on Monday protesting against the government’s bullheaded attempt to amend the Constitution and praying for freedom from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Filipinos have freed themselves from the death penalty, says Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, but they have yet to free themselves from vice, corruption, exploitation of women and children, the killing of militants and journalists, torture and “subtle dictatorship.” They have freed themselves from foreign invaders and the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, but not from Mrs. Arroyo, says Bishop Teodoro Bacani. Mrs. Arroyo is trampling on the Filipinos’ freedoms by insisting on amending the Constitution, says National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera. The revision of the Constitution, he says, will “strengthen the rule of the few.” Those few have already made their decision: whether the people like it nor not, the Constitution will be amended for a change to parliamentary government and Mrs. Arroyo and her political allies will continue in power up to 2010. Refusing to accept that the question of her rule’s legitimacy is causing the deep divisions in the country, Mrs. Arroyo twists the charge and pictures the people opposing her as tearing the country apart and blocking progress. The day of reckoning is fast approaching, she says, referring to the forced revision of the Constitution through the government’s signature campaign that is being passed as a people initiative. She says the people will soon be called to “end the deadlocks that have stalled” her government’s efforts to bring progress to the Philippines—meaning the referendum on the proposed amendments. The people? Or her people? Staff at the House of Representatives report Speaker Jose de Venecia as saying that the government will force the victory of votes for the new constitution, that is, the government will rig the referendum, as it did the 2004 presidential election. The day of reckoning may be approaching, indeed.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. The Watch Changes

As they have agreed, Sen. Franklin Drilon hands over the Senate presidency to Sen. Manuel Villar when Congress returns on July 24. The change in leadership takes place just as the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and its allies in the House of Representatives are forcing the abolition of the Senate to remove checks and balances that deter executive abuse of power and corruption. The administration and the House are blaming the Senate for the six-month delay in the 2006 national budget and the stalling of what they claim are important legislation. But only the budget is important among those bills and the Senate is adamant in slashing the budget by P64 billion to remove from Mrs. Arroyo the means to bribe local officials and the poor to win support for her government’s fight to stay alive by amending the Constitution. There is no urgency in renaming streets in the provinces after politicians and in a terrorism bill that endangers the safety and freedoms of even the bill’s authors themselves. More urgent is the bill that would automate Philippine elections, but had Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. not shamed the House majority into voting on it last week, the second regular session would have ended without acting on the proposal. The majority are not interested in the bill because they are sure there will be no elections next year, or if there will be elections, these will be for an interim parliament. If the Senate spent more time investigating alleged irregularities in the government during the second regular session, it is because national interest demanded it. Is Mrs. Arroyo really the president of the Philippines or is she a usurper? Who are responsible for the diversion of P728 million in public funds to Mrs. Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign? Why is the government lobbying for US financial help in amending the Philippine Constitution? Villar is an ally of Mrs. Arroyo, and House Speaker Jose de Venecia is predicting improved relations between the two chambers and even between the Senate and Malacañang during the third regular session. But Villar vows to maintain the Senate’s independence, as he maintained the House’s independence in 2000, when he, as speaker, single-handedly sent the impeachment complaint against Joseph Estrada to the Senate, clearing the way for the president’s trial. That’s one tough speaker’s record that de Venecia has chosen not to duplicate, having pledged his loyalty to Mrs. Arroyo in exchange for a chance to become prime minister. But de Venecia may already be out of the running. The administration is dangling the premiership before Villar: he can have it if he can get the Senate to approve the 2006 budget without cuts.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Error of Judgment

Leonardo Echegaray should not have drawn the death penalty, but he did and he was executed in 1999 because of a “judicial error.” Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban says it was proven during the trial that Echegaray was not the father of the girl he had raped; the girl was the daughter of his common-law wife. Despite that qualifying circumstance, the court sentenced him to death and, because of the absence of that information during the review, the Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence on Echegaray. The court can no longer correct its error because Echegaray has been dead all these seven years. Panganiban has disclosed the error as one more reason why the death penalty must be abolished. Judges, including the magistrates who serve on the Supreme Court, are just humans and being humans they make mistakes. And now that Congress has repealed capital punishment and the error of Echegaray’s execution disclosed, what now? Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. says the government must compensate the family of Echegaray for his wrongful death and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales seems to agree. The problem is, the Philippines has no law that requires the government to make restitution for judicial errors. Pimentel says he will remedy this situation by introducing legislation that would allow restitution. Panganiban’s comment, which he says is only his personal opinion, has started a new public debate centering on the question of wrongful execution. The Catholic Church is glad about the abolition of the death penalty, but anticrime groups are still insisting on it and warning of a surge in crime. They take Panganiban’s admission of judicial error as irresponsible and Pimentel’s proposal for compensation as an insult to the victims of heinous crimes—as if only they are right and all the rest of us are wrong.

5. Unkind Cut

The bill that would allow compensation for nearly 10,000 victims of human-rights violations during martial law cleared the House of Representatives last week, but not before the Committee on Human Rights agreed to accept a P2 billion cut in the proposed appropriation of P10 billion. Party-list Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales disclosed that Malacañang ordered the cut and gave instruction to the House leadership not to allow the bill to pass if the committee refused. The Senate version of the bill also sets the compensation at P10 billion.

            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

Our issue for June 17, 2006

FREE PRESS
 
June 17, 2006 Issue
 
Main Features
 
Cover: Department of Land Reform (with 8-page, full-color supplement)
 
            By Jing A. Mable
 
1. Educating the Government
 

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants to make it appear that her government is solving the classroom shortage, which hogs the headlines every year when school returns in June. Agreed upon last year as a solution to the shortage is packing 100 students in every classroom available and running classes in two shifts. But it is not a solution—it is a palliative, because even before Mrs. Arroyo’s college boys came up with the idea the student-to-classroom ratio was already running at 60-80 to 1 and classes were going on three shifts (three or four hours a shift—what do the students learn?). Adding a handful more students to the ratio is not solving the problem but worsening it. Packing students like sardines in dilapidated classrooms, fire exits and toilets is not dealing with the shortage but making it more pronounced. Whose stupid idea is that? Education Officer-in-Charge Fe Hidalgo, a professional educator who actually sticks her head into overcrowded classrooms, knows better—unlike Mrs. Arroyo, who is only taken to prearranged school inspections, seeing only what she wants to see and announcing “achievements” of her administration. Hidalgo makes a mistake by saying there is a shortage of 6,832 classrooms and gets bawling from Mrs. Arroyo who insists on 100-to-1 ratio so that the shortage will be wiped out. It turns out that even double the figure cited by Hidalgo is badly inadequate to ease the congestion in schools because the actual classroom shortage is 45,000. The embarrassment that Mrs. Arroyo has inflicted on Hidalgo touched the senators, who earlier had slashed the Education Department’s P108 billion budget for 2006 by P1 billion. Understanding the real situation, the senators restored the P1 billion and, unsatisfied, went for billions more when they went into conference with members of the House during the weekend. The result of the first reconciliation tussle over the budget: P4 billion more for the Education Department. Oh, how happy is Malacañang over the great news. This shows the Arroyo administration is giving top priority to education—you better believe that. If you don’t, you’re a “destabilizer.” Hidalgo’s days in Education are probably counted. Hidalgo talks about an ideal student-to-classroom ratio of 45 to 1. Achieving that will take not only building 45,000 classrooms more, but also slowing down the population growth, now 2.3 percent. To reduce population growth, the government needs to enforce an aggressive population management program, but Mrs. Arroyo is so scared of the Catholic Church she won’t touch any such program with a giant condom.
 
            By Ricky S. Torre
 
2. Tangle over the Budget
 
The Senate passes President Arroyo’s proposed budget for 2006, but slashes the P1.04 trillion spending approved by the House of Representatives
 
by P64 billion. Hardest hit is the Office of the President, whose suspicious development funds the senators see as pork intended to finance Mrs. Arroyo’s salvation program—amending the Constitution. The senators lop off Mrs. Arroyo’s P3.69 billion progress support fund for the villages, her P3 billion village freedom fund, and her P1 billion e-government fund. For printing propaganda materials for the government’s signature campaign for the instant amendment of the Constitution, the National Printing Office gets no budget this year. For insisting on a compromise deal with Imelda Marcos on her family’s ill-gotten wealth, the Presidential Commission on Good Government also gets no budget. Malacañang is protesting the deep cuts and Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House, expecting to make bigger killings this year when the opposition mounts its second impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo, are tangling with the senators in the conference for the reconciliation of the two conflicting versions of the budget for the restoration of the lopped-off spendings.
 
By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
 
3. Economic Lies
 
The bill that would raise the minimum wage by P125 clears the House of Representatives despite objections from business and Malacañang. As set by the bill, which goes to the Senate next, workers will get a raise of P45 on October 1, P40 on October 1 next year, and P40 on October 1, 2008. It has taken the bill six years to get to this stage and yet Malacañang, after saying it is leaving the question of a legislated pay increase to the decision to Congress, is balking, saying it prefers that labor goes to the regional wage boards, which it knows will give workers scraps that will not even ease a bit their economic woes. As usual, business warns of job cuts and closures. But perhaps it is true that businesses cannot afford a P40 increase, which means the government’s claim of a 5.5 percent growth in the economy is a lie and President Arroyo’s talk of bringing the country to the “Enchanted Kingdom of the First World” nothing but hot air. 
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigila

4. It’s Bad to be a Leftist These Days
 
The Justice Department has found a friendly judge, so Party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran of Anak Pawis, 76 and ailing, is again under prosecution on rebellion charges that Ferdinand Marcos brought against him in 1985. How Judge Encarnacion Joya Moya of Branch 146 of Makati Regional Trial Court found probable cause in a case that became moot when President Corazon Aquino pardoned Beltran and other leftist leaders who fought Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 makes legal minds question the sense of justice and suspect the claims to democracy of the Arroyo administration. Beltran will be arraigned again on Thursday of the rebellion charges for which he was convicted and jailed in 1985. But even if he gets out of this return of Marcos rule he will not be safe out there. Two more leftist leaders were killed in another drive-by shooting on Sunday night and on Tuesday Malacañang released an alleged threat against President Arroyo and other government officials attributed to the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. The purpose of the hit list is immediately clear: bolster the government’s claim that the series of murders involving leftists is a communist purge.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

Our issue for June 10, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
 
June 10, 2006 Issue
 
Main Features

1. Cover: Sen. Edgardo Angara (with 8-page LPD supplement)

On the cover:
 
                        666: The Devil and End Times (the remake of The Omen)
 
                        By Gerard Ramos
 
2. Dark Days for Human Rights
 
The warrantless arrest of five supporters of ousted president Joseph Estrada by military agents last week and the murders of Bayan Muna leader Noli Capulong on Saturday and former NPA peace talks adviser Sotero Llamas on Monday have worsened the image of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s government as a violator of human rights. The deaths of Capulong and Llamas take to 224 the number of leftists to be killed since Mrs. Arroyo assumed office in 2001. The killings have attracted the attention of international human-rights groups and on the initiative of Gabriela foreign human-rights lawyers have arrived in Manila to look into the murders. US Ambassador to the Philippines Kirstie Kenny also has expressed the American government’s concern over the killings of leftists. The killing of journalists has added to suspicions that the Arroyo administration is a human-rights violator, prompting an investigation by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee headed by Republican Sen. Richard Lugar. The administration has told the US government that it is investigating the killings, but the deaths of Capulong and Llamas seem to show that nothing is being done to stop what appears to be a campaign to eliminate the leadership of the Left. Mrs. Arroyo has already tried to crush opposition to her rule by placing the Philippines under a state of emergency for a week in February, during which leftist leaders were arrested and charged with rebellion only to lose in the courts. The Supreme Court has struck down the emergency proclamation as unconstitutional and Makati Regional Trial Court has refused to accept the information against five leftist members of the House of Representatives. Party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran remains under police custody, accused of rebellion, an offense he had committed against the Marcos government and for which he received pardoned from President Corazon Aquino in 1986. The arrest of Estrada’s supporters, meanwhile, shows the military and the police cannot be trusted, endangering the terrorism bill approved by the House of Representatives in April and its counterpart bill in the Senate.
 
            By Ricky S. Torre

3. New Defense Deal
 
The Philippines and the United States have signed a new security arrangement involving “nontraditional threats”: terrorism, transnational crime and disease that can spread across borders. The new agreement updates the 1956 Mutual Defense Treaty, which has alarmed the Senate—the country’s treaty-ratifying body—as the government has not disclosed the contents of the arrangement. Does this arrangement require the presence here of US troops other than those allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement?         
 
            By Guiller de Guzman

4. See You in the Supreme Court
 
Some stupid members of the House of Representatives call last week’s meeting with members of the Senate on the administration’s persistence to amend the Constitution a “breakthrough” even though the two sides reached no agreement other than to meet again on June 8. Some House members, however, know that the senators are just playing for time. When the third regular session of Congress opens in July, any talk about amending the Constitution will be too late to serve Malacañang’s purpose: abolish the Senate to stop all investigations into irregularities in the government and, of course, prevent the impeachment of President Arroyo. Some of Mrs. Arroyo’s allies therefore prefer a confrontation with the senators in the Supeme Court over the correct interpretation of the constitutional provision on the congressional vote for amendments to the Constitution. They are taking a risk, because the bicameral division of Congress is clear in the Constitution. But, as in Mrs. Arroyo’s dictatorial policies that the Supreme Court had struck down, they seem not to have learned a lesson and counting on the magistrates’ gratitude to the President to win a ruling in favor of a single, majority vote. They can try.
 
          By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

5. Skin The Watchdog
 
It seems that the Arroyo administration has lost all sense of decency and morality. Despite calls for the abolition of the Presidential Commission on Good Government for trucking with Imelda Marcos, the Palace even has the gall to say that the first commission under former senator Jovito Salonga accomplished nothing. Well, who brought the more than 500 cases against the Marcoses that have led to the recovery of Ferdinand Marcos’s $600 million loot from Switzerland? The late, upright Haydee Yorac had laid down the policy of nonnegotiation with the Marcoses and their cronies, which she felt was the reason why the administration pushed her out of the PCGG. Camilo Sabio’s commission denies it has authorization from the Palace to strike a deal with Imelda Marcos, but Michael Defensor’s staunch defense of the compromise talks is nothing short of confirmation and proof of the moral bankruptcy of this administration.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
 
6. Deposit on Jail Time
 
Ousted president Joseph Estrada may have irreparably damaged his defense by admitting in court that he signed bank documents using an alias. While there is no law in the Philippines prohibiting the use of fictitious names for bank accounts, the Jose Velarde account is the alleged depository of payoffs from gambling lords, illegal commissions and kickbacks from taxes paid to him during the first three years of his failed presidency. His admission of signing the name “Jose Velarde” on an authorization for a P500 million loan confirms the existence of the bank account, the strongest evidence of the prosecution against Estrada.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid