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Our issue for March 4, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS

March 4, 2006 Issue

Main Features


1.Cover: 20th Anniversary, People Power Revolution (with 5-page supplement)

2. Buried Alive

Farmer Christopher Lipato was watching his carabao nibble at the grass in the rice field when he heard the roar of something coming from the mountain above the village. When he looked up, he saw a wall of mud speeding across the field and swallowing everything on its path. Lipato, 28, turned and ran like hell, pursued by the furious avalanche of mud and rocks. It was over in 10 minutes. Lipato survived, but lost his wife, son, and father. They were among more than 1,500 people still missing in the mudslide that buried the village of Guinsaugon in St. Bernard town, Southern Leyte, on February 17, a tragedy that geologists say had just been waiting to happen. The province sits on a fault on the earth where the ground is unstable. In December 2003, the top of Panaon Island collapsed, killing more than 100 people. In November 1991, landslides and floods caused by a tropical storm killed 6,000 people on Leyte Island. These were forgotten in the wake of last Friday’s tragedy in Guisaugon. Television talking heads kept asking about logging, mining, and quarrying until the weather bureau explained that it had been raining in Southern Leyte since February 1. The area has an average February rainfall of 127 millimeters in the past 30 years, but the last two weeks brought a rainfall of 500 millimeters. Two weeks of continuous rains softened the mountainside, planted to coconut trees whose roots cannot hold too much water, and at about 10:30 a.m. on February 17, gravity pulled down a part of the mountainside that had been so weakened. The avalanche of water, mud, rocks and coconut trees buried 300 homes and an elementary school. Reports say up to 3,000 people lived in the village. About 200 children and teachers were in the school at the time of the tragedy. An international rescue team, including 1,000 US Marines, is digging through the mud against wind and rain to find the buried homes and the school. More than 170 people have been rescued and 74 bodies recovered as of Tuesday. Text messages, probably coming from teachers in the buried school, give the rescuers hope that people are still alive under the mud.

By Ricky S. Torre

3. Face-off

The Senate and Malacañang face off before the Supreme Court on Tuesday to argue their differences over President Arroyo’s Executive Order 464. Don’t expect the court to decide soon who’s right and who’s wrong here. The court has all of one year to sit on the case after the final arguments, this time written, are submitted in 15 days, and all that time government, military, and police officials can refuse to face congressional inquiries to help the Arroyo administration protect its secrets—unless the court decides the country has had enough of Mrs. Arroyo.

By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano

4. Who’s the Culprit?

The senators believe they already know who authorized the use of P100 million in recovered Marcos ill-gotten wealth for the 2004 campaign of President Arroyo—Mrs. Arroyo herself. She is the chairman of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, which approves all expenditures for the land reform program. The Commission on Audit will audit the disbursements from the P35 billion pot of Marcos loot in the government’s coffers to trace the money’s trail.

By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano

5. Chicanery

The language of the provision is crude and ungrammatical and its meaning can really be stretched to make room for foul political play. Nothing there, nothing there, say the allies of President Arroyo in the House of Representatives. But even some of her allies agree that as it is written, the provision in the draft constitution prepared by the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments can mean next year’s midterm elections can be postponed to allow all elective officials to stay in office until 2010. The chicanery has been detected early, and it shows Congress, at least the House, cannot be entrusted with the job of amending the Constitution for the country’s good.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

6. For a Breath of Fresh Air

Does anybody in this country believe that Michael Defensor’s efforts to get Joseph Estrada temporarily freed to prepare for his court defense is not Malacañang’s strategy to win over the ousted president and weaken the opposition? Ask anyone in the financial district of Makati or anybody in the slums of Manila and Quezon City and you will get the answer no. The state prosecutors know who they are fighting here and whether they stay on the case or not depends on how Sandiganbayan, the antigraft court, handles the government’s not so subtle interference.

By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

7. For the Country’s Gain or Loss?

The Arroyo administration has suspended licensing of new mining ventures in response to the Catholic Church’s call for a stop to mining in the country and the repeal of a mining law that gives foreigners more rights in exploring for minerals in the Philippines. The suspension, however, does not mean the government is bowing to the church. Licensing will resume soon and existing ventures will not stop to maintain the government’s $3.4 billion revenues from mining and expand these by $1.4 billion more. The government argues, too, that halting mining operations will wipe out 200,000 jobs and bite deeply into the state’s finances. These concerns stand in sharp contrast to the church’s and environmentalists’ worries about repetition of the fish kills in the waters off Albay and Sorsogon, the poisoning of the waters off Rapu-Rapu Island, and the accident on Mt. Diwalwal last year that killed 17 people. Their apprehensions are well placed, but it is doubtful whether the government will give up an entire industry to prevent accidents that, in the first place, can be prevented through improved oversight.

By Ramiro C. Alvarez

Two (2) editorials

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