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Our issue for February 25, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS

February 25, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1.Cover: EO 464

Anticipating a restraining order to come down from the Supreme Court, Malacañang has allowed administration officials to go to budget hearings in the Senate. The Palace has also let it be known that President Arroyo is willing to recall her controversial Executive Order 464 if the senators are willing to behave. This shows the Palace is no longer sure it can win this case despite its repeated assertions of confidence that the Supreme Court will decide for the order. Mrs. Arroyo may have the majority on the court—nine against four—but not the assurance that her appointees will deliver. What is at stake here is not the Senate’s pride, but the constitutional requirement of openness in government and the people’s right to know what their government is doing in their interest or against their interest. Mrs. Arroyo has issued the order prohibiting government, military and police officials from appearing before any congressional investigation without her permission supposedly to protect the officials from humiliation, following the experience of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales in the Senate last year. But the real purpose of the order is clear to the senators: Mrs. Arroyo has skeletons hidden in Malacañang. Her new chief of staff, Michael Defensor, has said it: the order is intended “to protect the administration.? He does not mean the skeletons in Mrs. Arroyo’s closet, of course. But his choice of words is really descriptive of the order’s purpose. Without the order, the Senate will find more evidence and confirmation that P728 million in agricultural funds and P100 million in recovered Marcos ill-gotten wealth was channeled to Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004. The Senate may also just succeed in squeezing an admission from some military official of unlawful surveillance of the opposition during the election, an operation that led to military intelligence agents’ tracking of Mrs. Arroyo’s phone conversations with her henchman in the Commission on Elections, Virgilio Garcillano—and the Arroyo tapes scandal. Satisfying the senators is dangerous to Mrs. Arroyo, who is invoking executive privilege in this controversy. But her privilege is hobbling legislative work and preventing the people to know what is going on in her government. And just as important, her executive privilege is keeping from the people the answer to their question, Is she their president or not?

By Ricky S. Torre, Butch Serrano and Wendell Vigilia

2. Wrong Number

The senators did not do their homework. They just exploded when PCGG chairman refused to answer their questions about a supposed settlement with Eduardo Cojuangco on the disputed shares of coconut farmers in San Miguel Corp. Sabio could not have told them anything even without Mrs. Arroyo’s gag order, because the PCGG did not know anything about any settlement with Cojuangco. It was a group of coconut farmers who proposed the settlement. The government had nothing to do with it.

By Guiller de Guzman and Ramiro C. Alvarez

3. Twisted

President Arroyo’s party, the Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino (Kampi) is pushing the Senate into a confrontation before the Supreme Court. Because the Senate will not go with the House of Representatives and help amend the 1987 Constitution through a constituent assembly, Kampi, headed by newly designated secretary of the interior, Ronaldo Puno, is campaigning for 195 signatures in the House to force passage of a resolution that would make Congress sit as a constituent assembly and introduce amendments to the Constitution. Puno says the support of 195 members would meet the constitutional requirement for a congressional revision—a vote by three-fourths of all members of Congress. By this, Puno understands the constitutional provision as the members of both the Senate and the House, a total of 260, but since the Senate would not participate, then 195 members of the House would suffice. This is twisting the constitutional requirement, understood as the two houses of Congress voting separately. The provision does not expressly require separate voting, but excluding the Senate and limiting the vote to three-fourths of the House is just going too far.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. People Power

4.1. In 1986 the Filipinos won the world’s admiration after toppling a dictator without firing a single shot. They regained their democratic rights, and peoples of the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe followed their example, freeing themselves through people power. In 1991 the Russians, led by a reform-minded president and a flamboyant local politician, forced the Soviets out of business and achieved freedom. People power became a new way of bringing about change, with newly restored democracies looking up at the Philippines as the innovator. Wherever in the world she went, President Corazon Aquino looked like a hero, the leader of a people who valued freedom, rights, and self-determination. Fifteen years later, however, the world would be disappointed with the Filipinos and would call them a mob by misusing people power.

4.2. In 2001 the Filipinos forced the corrupt Joseph Estrada from the presidency and prided themselves in the confirmation, by themselves, of their power to change the way they are governed and their country is run. But this time the world did not approve of their action. Estrada was a democratically elected leader and if he was truly corrupt the Filipinos should have used democratic processes to remove him from power. The world saw the Filipinos’ action this time as the act of a mob, and it would not take long for the world to find out that Estrada’s ouster was not the will of the majority of the Filipinos. Three months after his arrest, up to 3 million people from the slums of Metropolitan Manila jammed the same place from where the mob kicked out Estrada, demanding that the new government talk to them and tell them what it intended to do about them now that their chosen leader was no longer in office. But instead of talking to them, the unelected leader who had taken over the reins of government used her influence on the religious groups that had sent the millions there, and the leaders recalled their people. Unfortunately those who were left behind were hotheads who Estrada’s followers paid to provide muscle to the weeklong protest, and it was the ugliness of their anger that the world saw as the end of the Filipinos’ attempt to protest their poverty.

4.3. Can It Happen Again?

No. Not soon. Filipinos who have given up hope just leave their country for jobs overseas. They leave by the thousands every day, taking the number of those who have left closer to 10 million. Those who have no means to leave cannot do anything but endure poverty. There is no one to lead them in forcing change this time. Their supposed representatives in Congress represent not them but themselves. It will take something really revolutionary for people power to happen again. What?

By Guiller de Guzman

5. Assigning Blame

The search for somebody to blame for the February 4 stampede at Ultra that killed 74 people and injured more than 500 others continues. As the Justice Department investigates the causes of the stampede, ABS-CBN is campaigning for public sympathy, putting all sorts of people on the air with something good to say about the network. But the evidence of criminal neglect is there in the pictures coming in from the public and on file videos from other networks—all showing that ABS-CBN allowed the crowd to build up to generate heightened interest in the first-anniversary show of Wowowee. And over three days. The motive can only have been profit.

By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

Two (2) editorials

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