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Our issue for April 29, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS

April 29, 2006

Main Features

1.Cover: Constitutional Amendment (brought to you by Pag-IBIG Fund)

2. Politicizing the Death Penalty

In a clear attempt to appease the Catholic bishops, who have expressed alarm over her administration’s haste to amend the Constitution, President Arroyo announces that she is commuting all death sentences to life imprisonment. She times the announcement with Easter to conceal the political intention of her decision under a shroud of spiritual pretense. The bishops are glad, of course, but they are by no means fooled into dropping their uneasiness about what the administration is doing in the villages. Lipa-Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz says in a television interview that the purpose of Mrs. Arroyo’s announcement is clearly intended to mollify the church, but the church is not changing its stand that the nation should continue the search for the truth about the 2004 presidential election. In their Easter message, the only one besides the Pope’s that counts—politicians have no business issuing messages on religious occasions—the bishops carefully choose their words to send a real message to the nation and to Mrs. Arroyo: Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the bishops conference, says “forgiveness,” an “Easter fruit of the tree of the cross” will lead to “a birth of a new family in the risen Christ.” Filipinos, he says, “will taste the happiness of God, when we understand the meaning of Jesus eating and drinking with tax collectors and prostitutes.” He adds, “The fruit of repentance is peace and happiness with God.” Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, calls on Filipinos to imitate Christ, saying, “His pursuit of good for humans was unchanging, because he was bonded with what was true, what was good, and what was honest.” Ouch. Do you think the Palace gets the message? The hides in this administration are too thick to even be affected. Mrs. Arroyo expects no political gains from her decision, Palace officials say. Respect the voice of the people, they say, as if the people were truly the ones behind the signature campaign for the amendment of the Constitution. Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to use the death penalty for political ends has led to the revival of the debate on the maximum punishment. Round up.

            By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

3. Brawl in the Courts

The government-sponsored group gathering signatures to force the amendment of the Constitution is taking the campaign to the Comelec on April 30, following an administration-set timetable. Under this timetable, the Comelec should be done with the verification of the signatures in May, call a plebiscite in June where the proposal to change the presidential system to parliamentary system would be approved—the administration would see to that—and an “interim parliament” would sit by July to work out the rest of the amendments to the Constitution. The Comelec has already said that it will verify the signatures, never mind the 1997 Supreme Court ruling that says the election agency is “permanently enjoined” from entertaining any petition for a people’s initiative the Constitution. That ruling distinguishes between “amendment” and “revision” of the Constitution, but the Comelec seems to be damned sure it can survive a challenge. The minority in the House of Representatives is ready for a brawl in the courts all over the country. When Sigaw ng Bayan goes to the Comelec, the minority, with the help of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, will file for restraining orders in the local courts, a fight expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court.

            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Untrustworthy Dog

Even President Arroyo’s allies in Congress support former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr.’s recommendation to overhaul the Commission on Elections. But would Mrs. Arroyo allow more than just “structural reforms” in the Comelec now that she enjoys the election watchdog’s full loyalty? Davide’s recommendations include changes in the commission, which has two vacant seats. If the nominees to those vacancies are coming from Davide, however, Mrs. Arroyo may not be willing to use her persuasive power to convince two from the current members to give way. Besides the sitting commissioners, especially the chairman, Benjamin Abalos, are resisting replacement, pointing out that they cannot be forced to leave office because their terms are set by the Constitution. But even a constitutional body that has lost the people’s trust needs to be reformed if it must regain that trust. The five committees of the House of Representatives that investigated the Arroyo tapes have recommended automation in the Comelec, and there is a bill in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Richard Gordon, that would modernize the commission. Gordon wants the Comelec to automate first before the government goes full blast into amending the Constitution. But automation is only a partial solution to the problem with the Comelec: the best computers may assure clean balloting, but not the vote count, which is presided over by election officials of questionable integrity. What are Davide’s other recommendations? The Palace is not saying.

            By Guiller de Guzman, Butch Serrano and Wendell Vigilia

5. Sanitized Report

Nobody was surprised when the military announced the results of its investigation into the alleged rigging of the 2004 presidential election because everybody expected the generals involved to be cleared. Even Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani, the only military official who appeared at the Senate investigation into the Arroyo tapes and admitted that President Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, went to Mindanao during the election and gave away millions of pesos for an illegal operation that would give the election to Mrs. Arroyo, was cleared. None of the generals allegedly involved was interviewed during the investigation. But 70 people gave testimony, and the military found nothing against the generals. Who were those 70 people? The political opposition is daring the military to release the full report, but the military’s answer is predictable: no clearance from Mrs. Arroyo, no report.

            By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano

6. These Are Bad Times to Be Children

At least in the Philippines, where seemingly insoluble poverty forces parents to allow kids to work, often as beggars in the streets, or just neglect them, making them wander around the city in search of food. They are rounded up by police and taken to government-run shelters. If their parents cannot be found, they grow up in the shelters as government wards. Those lucky enough to be born to parents who can send them to public schools are still neglected, not by their parents or by their teachers but by the government, which spends more to pay its foreign debts than for education. Because the government spends too little for education, teachers are poorly paid. Teachers spend more time trying to earn extra on the side, neglecting their students, who, in turn, leave elementary school unprepared for high school. Gone are the times when the Philippine government really cared for children and their education. Children, we often say, are the hope of the Fatherland. Alas, that’s just a saying now.

            By Ramiro C. Alvarez

Two editorials

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