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Our issue for January 21, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS

January 21, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1.Cover: Lung Center of the Philippines Anniversary (with 8-page full-color supplement)

2. Step Down, He Says

“I said this is what should be done, but it’s not being done,? former president Fidel Ramos tells reporters in a news conference on Monday. What is it that he has told President Arroyo she should do to avoid being forced from office? Step down and run in parliamentary elections. If she is elected, very well. If she loses the election, that’s it. She’s out. But Mrs. Arroyo has cheated him. Sure, she is pressing for the amendment of the Constitution to allow a shift to parliamentary government, but she is insisting on staying in power even after the shift. And who’s behind this proposal of the Consultative Commission, which she appointed, to cancel next year’s midterm elections? That cannot be the commission’s own initiative. Dissenters in the commission say the people never recommended the cancellation and they do not even want the Constitution to be amended. They want to elect new officials. So this proposal is suspect. Mrs. Arroyo knows the elections will not go the way of her administration, so the elections must be scrapped. The sharp politician that is Ramos has quickly understood it and now he says he doesn’t like “this woman? anymore. He has been meeting with political leaders, including leaders in the religious sector, for some vague project that involves “people empowerment and global competitiveness.? His most recent meeting, with Senate President Franklin Drilon and former senator Vicente Sotto III, and talk from the camp of Joseph Estrada that the opposition is working out a joining of forces among Ramos, former president Corazon Aquino and the ousted president has set off alarms in Malacañang. Mrs. Arroyo is bringing in new political strategists, a move disguised as a Cabinet reorganization, and is calling the Council of State to a meeting set for January 24 and is inviting Ramos, Mrs. Aquino, but not anymore Estrada after the ousted president has said he, being the legitimate president, wants to preside over the meeting. Mrs. Aquino hasn’t said anything, but Ramos says he will go to the meeting. He says he still supports Mrs. Arroyo but his support is diminishing. He insists on his proposal that Mrs. Arroyo step down by 2007. Her making clear to the nation that she will relinquish power can help bring calm and stability as the nation waits for the elections. But that’s out of the question for Mrs. Arroyo. So what exactly is he doing? The opposition in the House of Representatives says the matter of unity among the three former presidents has been mentioned in a meeting last month, but just mentioned. There is no pursuit of that matter as a priority. Drilon has not yet spoken about what he, Sotto and Ramos talked about and Ramos, in his news conference Monday, is talking only about his own disappointment with Mrs. Arroyo. Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. believes Ramos is out for a bigger role in Mrs. Arroyo’s government and the opposition should not trust him. In Mrs. Arroyo’s government or in a new, parliamentary government?

By Ricky S. Torre, Wendell Vigilia and Butch Serrano

3. Pirma 2

President Arroyo’s backers in the local governments will launch a campaign for 5 million signatures to force the Consultative Commission’s proposal to cancel next year’s midterm elections. As Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. sees it, the plan announced during the weekend by Eastern Samar Gov. Benjamin Evardone is an “administration ploy? to keep Mrs. Arroyo in power until 2010. He could be right, and he says he will fight the plan. In the House of Representatives, the opposition is questioning the legality of the plan. What is the legal basis of this campaign that is admittedly intended to extend the terms of all elective officials, including those barred by the law from seeking another term next year? The people’s initiative provision of the Constitution remains limited to the recall of local officials. There is still no law that enables the provision to apply to anything on the national level.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Nothing to Crow About

Fed up with President Arroyo’s crowing about the strength of the peso and the continuing positive trade on the stock market, Sen. Manuel Roxas II has joined the ranks of official and private economic observers and stated for Mrs. Arroyo the correct view of things: the peso’s gains are temporary, holding only as long as the holiday season, and the uptick in the stock trade is normal at the start of a new year, with players shuffling their investments by selling off slow stocks and buying fast performers. These are private transactions, mostly paper trade, and if there’s any real cash that change hands, the money goes to private accounts—nothing goes to the economy. Being an economist, Mrs. Arroyo should know this. But she continues to go around and talking about these as signs of economic recovery and investor trust in her government. This is deception. There is no significant development in the Philippine economy, such as discovery of oil or of a canyon of gold, that can suck boatloads of new investment that will permanently bring up the peso’s value. The peso goes back to the ICU after the last of the holiday remittances from Filipino migrants. If the remittances top $10 billion, that is not because the migrants have confidence in Mrs. Arroyo’s government but because more Filipinos have left the Philippines to work overseas. The reason is not difficult to see—there are no jobs here; whatever jobs are available here do not pay enough for Filipinos to live decently. The “headline statistics,? as Roxas calls the government’s reports, do not translate to anything in the economy that the citizens of this country can feel in their daily lives. The peso’s advance has not even resulted in lower prices of basic goods, Roxas says. Mrs. Arroyo’s gung-ho talk of recovery is just irritating. But there is no one in the Palace who has balls to correct Mrs. Arroyo. Her “zero credibility? press secretary, Ignacio Bunye, says Roxas is demeaning the “heroism? of Filipino migrants. What heroism? The migrants have only one thing in mind when they leave for jobs overseas: to support their families. They care nothing about an economy that can’t produce jobs for them.

5. Economic Bunglers

A study done by Philippine economists has shown that the economy’s failure to get out of the rut is the conflicting interests of the government agencies who job is to develop the economy. Officials of these agencies always aim to please the president so they can keep their offices, but their programs contribute nothing to economic growth. An example is the Department of Land Reform’s decision to cancel the stock distribution option at Hacienda Luisita, seen not only as retaliation against former president Corazon Aquino for withdrawing her support for President Arroyo but also the final blow to the ailing sugar industry’s struggle for survival. Hacienda Luisita is the country’s largest sugar plantation. Its breakup will leave only the small, dying plantations to sustain the industry. The absence of coordination among the economic agencies and the pursuit of individual interests by these agencies’ heads have already ruined the tobacco and abaca industry and have now gotten the rice industry involved in campaign-finance scandal. And the Finance Department’s revenue strategy of imposing a higher tax on consumption is driving the majority of Filipinos to hunger. Would a shift to parliamentary government solve this stupidity?

By Ramiro C. Alvarez

6. Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, 1914–2006

By Nati Nuguid

Two editorials

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