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Our issue for February 18, 2006

Manuel L. Quezon III

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS

February 18, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1.Cover: “70 Lives to the Peso�

The ABS-CBN program Wowowee was to celebrate its first anniversary on Saturday, but the crowds began gathering outside the Philsports Arena in Pasig City as early as Wednesday, hoping to be first at the gates and sure tickets. The lucky ones would get cash giveaways of P300 to P10,000. But the really big prizes were a home worth P2.5 million, P1 million in cash, and a public utility jeep. By Friday night, the crowds outside the arena had swelled to more than 30,000—too big for a facility that had a seating capacity of only 9,000 and field capacity of only 8,000. Yet the management of the network, the local government, and the city police sensed no danger. Police, though trained in crowd control and familiar with the lack of discipline of the poor, should have stopped the crowd buildup, told the people to go home and come back on Saturday. They did not. When the gate to the arena opened at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, thousands of people looking for a meal for even just one day, taking their chance own a house, maybe capital for a variety store, perhaps jeep to drive for a living, pushed and shoved, throwing hundreds of people in front down the ramp to the arena. People, mostly women, many of them elderly, were already getting crushed to death in front yet people on the street kept pushing and fighting for a way through. After police and arena security forces had quelled the crowd, more than 70 people lay dead or dying. The final death toll would come up to 74. Don’t ask how this tragedy happened. The investigation that President Arroyo had ordered had traced the stampede to lack of precaution on the part of the network’s management. The question is, why did this tragedy happen? Activist and civic groups and social commentators immediately saw why: poverty drove those thousands to Philsports Arena and to their deaths. While the Arroyo administration is trumpeting nice figures that are truly nothing but economic indicators, the majority of Filipinos are going hungry. “The Ultra stampede is the real state of the economy,� says Sinlakas president Wilson Fortaleza. “It’s not 51 pesos to the dollar. It’s 70 lives to the peso.� But Malacañang cannot see the connection. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye says President Arroyo should not be blamed for the stampede because she works hard to improve the economy. How—by taking the last bite from the mouth of poor with her 12 percent value-added tax?

By Ricky S. Torre

2. After Their Heads

With the Commission on Audit confirming irregularities and the Senate pressing for prosecution, the Office of the Ombudsman says it is opening its own investigation into the alleged funneling of agricultural funds to President Arroyo’s 2004 campaign. Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has said she will merciless toward grafters in the government, so the Senate and the millions of the country’s farmers are looking forward to her hauling the agriculture officials and Mrs. Arroyo to court. But first, the Supreme Court must rule on the legality of Mrs. Arroyo’s gag order to her officials so that the Senate can force current and former agriculture officials to appear before its investigation and tell all about the misuse of P728 million in fertilizer funds and P100 million of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth for Mrs. Arroyo’s political gain. Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban has said his court will give priority to this question. How much longer will the court sit on the challenge to Mrs. Arroyo’s order?

By Guiller de Guzman, Butch Serrano and Wendell Vigilia

3. Pull Together and Maybe . . .

The Catholic bishops are almost there. They know that the Arroyo administration is illegitimate. One call from them to the people and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo falls. But then what happens next? Who will lead the Philippines? How will the country be run. The opposition has no clear leader and no program of government. Doesn’t the opposition think the people know? Mrs. Arroyo’s rule is getting more insufferable, but so long as the opposition has no viable alternative to offer to the people, the church will not help force change.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Masquerade

President Arroyo is shuffling her government again, handing out prime appointments to her loyal allies and their friends not in search of fresh ideas to regain the trust of the nation but to consolidate her power and strengthen her hold on power. None of the new appointments show a change in direction, giving the people no reason to even half believe their lives will improve under Mrs. Arroyo’s administration.

By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

5. Zapped Again

The Supreme Court has voided the authorization that the Energy Regulatory Commission had given to the Manila Electric Co. in 2004 to pass on to consumers in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces a 13.27-centavo-a-kilowatt-hour increase in power rates to cover an adjustment in generation cost by the debt-ridden National Power Corp. The reason: Meralco did not publish its request for an increase and the energy commission did not publish the authorization, violating the Electric Power Industry Reform Act. Meralco says it cannot refund consumers for the illegal charges because the money went to Napocor, which has been as quiet as a mouse since the court announced the ruling. The energy commission is protesting the ruling, insisting that as a quasi-judicial body it has authority to grant rate adjustments. There is no dispute about that, but the energy law is clear about publication. Energy commission chairman Rodolfo Albano says the commission will appeal the court’s decision.

By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

6. Art: Malang Celebrates

Filipino painter Mauro Malang believes he will never be chosen national artist because he has been too critical of the government’s past choices for this honor. He doesn’t care anymore. Now 78, Malang has given up on the government and taken to yearly celebrations of his art. For this year he calls his latest collection of paintings “Celebration�—55 works in gouache, acrylic and oil that, as if to prove that he is the Philippines’ top artist, have sold out during the exhibit at the SM Megamall Art Center. The much admired Covenant oil on canvas sold for P1.1 million.

By Nati Nuguid

Two (2) editorials

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