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Our issue for April 8, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS

April 8, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1.Cover: Philippine Veterans Bank

2. Government’s Initiative

In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had failed to pass a law that would allow the application of the people’s initiative provision of the Constitution to changing the Constitution. The people’s initiative provision applies only to specific amendments to the Constitution and to local legislation, not to a total revision of the Constitution. The ruling frustrated President Fidel Ramos’s and Jose de Venecia’s attempts to force the amendment of the Constitution to extend their terms of office and those of all elective officials. That’s not too long ago, but the Arroyo administration seems to have already forgotten it, or perhaps is ignoring it, confident that it can win a challenge because 12 of the 14 magistrates on the Supreme Court are appointees of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Perhaps accepting that it cannot force the amendment of the Constitution without the Senate’s approval, the administration has turned to people’s initiative, with the Department of the Interior and Local Government issuing an order on March 10 directing local governments to call the villages to assemblies on March 25 and October 21 to gather voter signatures for a petition to amend the Constitution. No information campaign preceded the March 25 assemblies, so that people across the country went to the assemblies without knowing what it was they were signing. But perhaps it didn’t matter. Cash, rice, and groceries were given away in exchange for signatures, an exercise that Malacañang calls “democracy in action.” Private legal groups are expected to challenge the legality of the signature campaign in the Supreme Court. The minority in the House, which has already gathered more than enough signatures to block the majority plan to force a constituent assembly, has promised to question the campaign’s legality in the Supreme Court if the administration insists on using it to amend the Constitution. But the shameless allies of Mrs. Arroyo in the House are even challenging the Senate to a fight to the last man. The Constitution will be amended, whether the Philippines likes it or not.

            By Ricky S. Torre, Butch Serrano, and Wendell Vigilia

3. Connecting the Dots

A fake passport is no proof of electoral fraud, says Virgilio Garcillano. Well, not the passport itself, but its use to mislead investigators shows that indeed Garcillano had something to hide and he hid it by lying to House investigators. Only the most stupid sleuth will fail to connect the dots. Sen. Panfilo Lacson and three members of the House have already filed perjury charges against Garcillano, and other members of the House minority are filing more charges against him: 20 counts of perjury, based on the number of times he told the House that he never left the country at the height of the Arroyo tapes scandal last year.

            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Confirmed

The Commission on Audit has confirmed that P100 million in recovered Marcos ill-gotten wealth was used in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign. The money was used in buying fertilizer at excessive overpricing that ran into the millions of pesos so that cash could be raised to push Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign in the countryside.

            By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano

5. Continuation of Joseph Estrada’s testimony at Sandiganbayan

            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

6. Intolerable Cruelty

On March 8, Maria Delmar Redota, 9, a second-grader at Silangan Elementary School in Upper Bicutan village, Taguig, came home obviously unwell. At first, she refused to talk or eat. Then she became feverish and all the more refused to eat. Her parents took her to a hospital and she was found to be suffering from tonsillitis. A week later, she was dead. It could not be tonsillitis that killed the girl. A classmate of Delmar told her parents that a substitute teacher, a Mrs. Brenda Elbambuena, punished Delmar and another girl for sharpening their pencils in the classroom and scattering shavings on the floor. The teacher, the parents had found out, stuffed the pencil shavings in the mouths of the girls and forced them to swallow them. The other girl, Justine Caraga, also 9 years old, pretended to swallow the shavings, then spat them out the moment Elbambuena turned her back. Delmar did not know what to do and swallowed the shavings. The shavings could have hurt her throat and the lead could have poisoned her, and that could have killed her on March 15. Elbambuena has been suspended and the Education Department will open an investigation into her intolerable cruelty. Also under investigation is Susana Quiambao, who forced quiz flunkers in her Grade 6 class in General Santos City to undress and swallow chili. The Education Department’s Order No. 92, issued in 1992, forbids teachers to use corporal punishment on students. The Revised Penal Code and the Child Abuse Law are also clear about physical injuries to minors. Not to some teachers it seems.

            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

Two editorials

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