PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
April 22, 2006 Issue
1.Cover: NPC Rep. Generoso DC Tulagan of Pangasinan
2. The Senators’ Initiative
Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Jinggoy Estrada and Jamby Madrigal have launched a national movement to force President Arroyo to step down. They are going around the country rallying people to support the opposition in Manila with movements of their own. Their intention is to show the world the national outrage that the Palace claims does not exist, unlike the massive opposition to the rule of Thaksin Shinawatra that forced the Thai premier to step down last week.The United Opposition, led by Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, is adding to the pressure on Mrs. Arroyo by daring her to call a snap election, but the thick faces in the Palace say the answer to the country’s problems is not new elections but revising the Constitution. Only direct people’s action can break down this thick-hide resistance, but how? Mrs. Arroyo has the military, the police, and maybe the courts on her side and not even criticism in the international press can shame her. Her government is protesting The New York Times editorial about her heavy-handed tactics in dealing with opposition to her rule, even inviting the Times editors to come to Manila to see for themselves that the Philippines is a democratic country. Don’t Palace officials know that the New York Times has reporters and correspondents going in and out of the Philippines and seeing how riot police beat protesters out of the streets? It is possible that those journalists have already observed how the Arroyo administration is manufacturing a people’s initiative to force a revision of the Constitution, but we bet you the Palace will blame the unfavorable reports on the opposition. The Catholic Church has already noticed how the government is carrying out the signature campaign, expressing alarm over the haste with which the government is trying to amend the Constitution. But can the latest statement from the Catholic bishops galvanize the people to unite, as the Thais did, and join the senators’ initiative? It is a shame that the Filipinos, who invented people power, are not moving to use that power on an increasingly despotic ruler while the Thais have succeeded in forcing out of office a leader who is only accused of corruption.
By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia
3. What Are They Counting On?
The Arroyo administration is treading on a very thin line by launching a bogus people’s initiative to force the amendment of the Constitution for an immediate shift to the parliamentary system. Administration officials are aware of the 1997 Supreme Court ruling that there is no law that allows the people to initiate a revision of the Constitution but they are pushing critics of the government signature campaign to challenge the government in the High Tribunal. What are they counting on? PresidentArroyo’s latest appointee to the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., answered that question on Friday. The Court, he said, can reverse its 1997 ruling depending on the “wisdom of the times.” The opposition is right in deciding not to go the Supreme Court, but they will bring charges against any official or group that touches the signatures gathered from the campaign.
By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
4. Terrifying Bill
Would the Senate pass the terror bill? Written in atrocious English, the bill, as passed by the House of Representatives last Tuesday, is really designed for fighting terrorism, but it has provisions that the government can use to put down opposition to the rule of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The approved bill would penalize anybody, or any group of people, for inciting others to commit acts of terrorism through “speeches, proclamations, and writings.” Given the Arroyo administration’s twisted view of criticism, the opposition has reason to fear the use of the fight against terrorism on them.
By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
5. Thievery Confirmed
The Commission on Audit has submitted its final report on the campaign finance scandal called “fertilizer scam.” The final audit report shows why farmers received no fertilizer when the Agriculture Department spent P728 million for fertilizer in 2004: the money went to people who were either dead or not farmers and to nonexisting organizations. It took a nationwide audit to determine what happened to the fertilizer fund, earmarked for a hybrid rice program named after President Arroyo, and the findings are as damning as the complaining farmers and the Senate investigators have expected. The operators who ran the scam using the rice program for cover overpriced supposed fertilizer purchases by as much as 682 percent, or by P128 million, not to line their pockets, as corrupt officials usually do, but to create a special fund to finance Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential campaign.
By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano
6. Easy Way Out
It has been 20 years since the government launched an effort to recover the ill-gotten wealth of Ferdinand Marcos, but all that the government has gotten back is the equivalent of P35 billion from the late dictator’s Swiss bank accounts. Where’s the rest and how exactly how much is that? There is no way of telling. The ill-gotten wealth watchdog Presidential Commission on Good Government has filed 578 cases against Marcos’s widow, Imelda, involving P220 billion in stolen wealth. Those cases have been gathering dust in Sandiganbayan, the antigraft, for a good part of the past two decades, and the government is nowhere near winning any of them. It may be true that there is at least that much more to recover from the Marcoses, but the government is having difficulty proving it. It is clear from the start that the recovery effort is going to be a war of attrition between the government and the Marcoses, and, after two decades, it looks like it’s the government that’s losing the war. To save face, however, the PCGG says it is willing to initiate compromise talks with Imelda Marcos, who is only too willing to sit down with the government to put an end to all her troubles. The PCGG wants full disclosure, that is, Mrs. Marcos should disclose all other assets that the government has not identified. Does the PCGG really believe Mrs. Marcos and her children will do that?
By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
Impractical and economically disruptive, President Arroyo’s plan to move major departments of the government to the Visayas and Mindanao is probably dead. No department has moved and none is bold enough to take the lead. Mrs. Arroyo has probably realized the difficulties involved, but she still wants changes in the departments to improve public service. She has issued an order for the departments to “rationalize” their operations. “Rationalize” simply means “reorganize,” that is, shut down unnecessary operations and move staff around. It has been two years since the order to reorganize came down but only the Agrarian Reform Department has submitted a reorganization plan to the Budget Department. The employees of the other departments are resisting reorganization because the plan will surely lead to layoffs and demotions.
By Ramiro C. Alvarez