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Monthly Archives: May 2006

Our issue for May 27, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
 
May 27, 2006 Issue
 
Main Features
 
Cover story: The Da Vinci Code Controversy, by Kit Tatad
 
1. They’re Falling Everywhere
 
President Arroyo has ordered the National Police to investigate the murders of leaders of militant groups that are being blamed on the military and her administration. More than 120 militant leaders have been slain since Mrs. Arroyo took office in 2001, the last ones a day after Mrs. Arroyo ordered the investigation. The military denies having anything to do with the spate of killings, even though a survivor of an attack in Misamis Occidental during the weekend identified one of her attackers as a military agent. It is doubtful that the investigation will produce a credible finding. Already the police are singing the same tune as the military and the Justice Department: a purge in the ranks of the communist movement. Nobody believes them, least of all the leftist organizations that should know, if it is true that they are communist fronts, whether a cleansing of the ranks is going on. Domestic and foreign human rights groups have been pressuring the Arroyo administration to stop the murders, but not until the killings have become almost a daily occurrence that Mrs. Arroyo moves to do something. Police Deputy Director General Avelino Razon, head of the investigation, says soldiers and paramilitary forces are suspects in the murders, but attributes at least 13 of the slayings to a communist purge. Nothing is clear, and perhaps nothing will become clear unless last weekend’s gunman is arrested and he rats on the others. Neither the Communist Party of the Philippines nor its armed wing, the New People’s Army, has not confirmed that those killed or those the government is prosecuting (see No. 2) are rebels or members of front organizations. In the past, however, the NPA denied that the party-list groups are communist fronts. Of these groups, Bayan Muna has lost the biggest number of members to the killers—91. Party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna, a former spokesman for the National Democratic Front, the communist movement’s political organization, denies there is a purge going on within the movement. If what Ocampo is saying is true, then the murders can only be the military’s work. But what does the military hope to achieve? Peace negotiations between the government and the communists, through the NDF, have been suspended because of mutual mistrust. The military’s warmongering, and now the killings, are not helping restore confidence to efforts to revive the negotiations. But then perhaps the military doesn’t want the negotiations to resume, much less a political solution to the communist insurgency. A settlement will end the counterinsurgency war; no war, no modernization of military armaments. No business, too. Could this be the reason for the killings?
 
            By Ricky S. Torre
 
2. Crushing the Left
 
How can the rebellion charges that the Justice Department is forcing on five leftist legislators prove that it’s the communist rebels themselves who are killing the leaders of militant groups opposed to President Arroyo? The charges, refiled after Party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño, Joel Virador, Liza Maza and Rafael Mariano walked free last week, allege that the Communist Party of the Philippines carried out purges in 1982, 1985-86, 1988 and 1989. The Justice Department, however, offers no evidence of any kind that links any of the five to those purges. Neither does the department offer any argument to show that any of the five is responsible for the recent slayings of militant group leaders. How does the department expect the five to be convicted of crimes committed by the communists from 1969 to the present, including of the charge that the five conspired with the opposition and some groups in the military to overthrow President Arroyo? And why is the government going after leftists who, instead of taking up arms, have chosen to bring their struggle for social justice to Congress?
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
 
3. Population: The Growth Slowdown That Never Was
 
The advice from the National Statistical Coordination Board was very clear: “These values should be interpreted with caution as these are projections based on certain assumptions of fertility and mortality and are projected annual average growths for the periods given.” And yet the administration went ahead and declared that the population growth rate had slowed down to 1.95 percent, with Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri saying this was close to the growth rate that would allow the economy to sustain the entire population, and President Arroyo congratulating the Population Commission for the “significant drop” in population growth and claiming it as an achievement of her administration. They would have gone on trumpeting the lie had the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development not pointed out that the figure was only a projection and not actual growth rate. How could anybody have known what the real growth rate was when the mid-decade national census that was to have been taken last year fell through because it was not funded in the national budget? And how could the growth rate have slowed down when the national government had no population-control program? There is a responsible-parenthood bill in the House of Representatives, but it is gathering dust because the administration and its congressional allies won’t allow it to move for fear of the ire of the Catholic Church.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
 
4. Mission: Possible
 
Only 12 session days are left before the second regular session of Congress ends. When Congress returns in July, Speaker Jose de Venecia hopes it will be as the “interim parliament” and its job will be to amend the Constitution. The administration is working for that, after deciding in Saudi Arabia last week that the bogus people’s initiative is too risky to push, by starting a civil war in the Senate with the intention of dividing the chamber and winning the majority to the side of the proponents of a constituent assembly. The administration has a henchman inside who has started the division: Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. Her blood used to hit boiling point at the mere suggestion of a constituent assembly, but after accompanying President Arroyo to Saudi Arabia last week, Santiago, angling for an appointment to the Supreme Court, turned around. She now talks about an opportunity to help write a new Constitution and the likelihood of there being no more Senate by July. She has no problem winning over Sen. Edgardo Angara and there’s no question at all involving Sen. Lito Lapid. But the rest? Sen. Richard Gordon has said that the senators will agree to amending the Constitution, but only if the intention is not to keep anybody—meaning Mrs. Arroyo—in power. In the House, the resolution for a constituent assembly already has the required 182 signatures to pass. But the minority has already more than the required 42 signatures to defeat the resolution, so the majority’s is considered dead. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s over. Santiago’s work is just beginning. But she must hurry. If the administration fails to stop the opening of the third regular session in July, a new impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo goes up.
 
          By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
 
5. Call to the Unconcerned
 
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has proclaimed 2006 as “Social Concerns Year,” urging Filipinos to speak out more forcefully about the issues affecting their lives and to participate more actively in reforming their society and restoring moral values and decency to public life. The proclamation is short of a call to people power, but Malacañang should get the drift, especially with the bishops’ call for the publication of the report on the Inspectorate General Office’s investigation into the alleged use of the military in rigging of the 2004 presidential election and the filing of charges against government officials who channeled P728 million in agricultural funds into President Arroyo’s campaign that year. Mrs. Arroyo, however, has nothing to fear because not very many Filipinos understand what the bishops mean. Subtle calls to action like this do not work on majority of a people who are too busy keeping body and soul together they don’t have time to even notice what’s going on around them. If the bishops want the people to take direct action and set things aright in the government, they should say call them out and, perhaps, they will drop everything and respond. 
 
By Guiller de Guzman, Butch Serrano and Wendell Vigilia
 
6. Pigs
 
In a visit to La Union on May 9, Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Sutherland showed to everyone that he, too, could eat with spoon and fork. It didn’t look bad, at all. And nobody told him to his face that he ate like a pig. Sutherland was only showing that Canada was not really intolerant of other culture’s etiquette, contrary to perception created by the punishment of 7-year-old Filipino-Canadian Luc Cagadoc at an elementary school in Montreal for eating with spoon and fork. His mother, Maria Theresa Gallardo complained to Normand Bergeron, principal of Ecole Leland, about the treatment Luc received in school, but Bergeron told her that the boy deserved the punishment because he ate like a pig. Gallardo’s complaint has drawn international attention and Canada has found itself in the center of a controversy in which it is pictured as intolerant of other culture’s practices. The controversy has reached the diplomatic level, with Vice President Noli de Castro instructing the Foreign Affairs Department to press the complaint against Bergeron and the lunch monitor who punished Luc. But don’t expect Canada to hang the two. At most, what we can expect here is an apology. Let this controversy be a lesson to all prospective immigrants. Most of these Filipinos have no information about, much less experience of, other cultures.  If you want to emigrate to some Western country, learn the ways of that country first before you go. Be prepared for assimilation. Since you are leaving this godforsaken country, don’t expect the government here to intervene for you when you get into trouble there.
 
By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

7. Expulsion from the Promised Land
 

Burbank, California—Although driven out by economic difficulties and political crises in their own country in the past 30 years, the more than 1 million Filipinos who have illegally migrated to the United States are hardly disturbed by an impending overhaul of US immigration laws initiated by Congress. Only a handful of Filipinos are joining street protests against the bill that would expel all illegal migrants, with the Mexicans leading the almost daily demonstrations because they are the most affected. The Filipinos trust that officials and legislators in the Philippines will intervene on their behalf. Many just don’t care, foolishly believing that they can keep dodging immigration agents. But the US Congress is serious this time. The overhaul has been prompted not just by economic problems among Americans, but by national security concerns. All illegals must go, but will be given a chance to apply for immigration from their own countries. That’s out of the question for the Filipinos here. What will they do in the Philippines, where there are no jobs? For quite many, the problem is not just economic uncertainty, but they have nowhere to go—they sold all of their properties to finance their trip to America. And now this?
 
By Ramiro C. Alvarez
 
Two editorials

Our issue for May 20, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
 
May 20, 2006 Issue
 
Main Features
 
1.Cover: Lakas-CMD Rep. Faysah Dumarpa of Lanao del Sur 

2. The Spy Who Got Caught and Caused Trouble
 
Former president Joseph Estrada, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and San Juan Mayor all say that the information they received from former Federal Bureau of Investigation analyst Leandro Aragoncillo are not classified. The contents of the files they received, they say, are widely known here. What they do not know, or perhaps play down, in the case of Lacson, a former National Police commander, is that anything, even just a newspaper clipping, that the FBI holds as classified is classified and unauthorized disclosure is a violation of national security laws. Worse in the case of Aragoncillo is that he stole the files from the vice president’s office in the White House and the discovery of his illegal acts led to the discovery that the United States is, in the words of House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, digging up dirt on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. While that certainly is true, the White House surely does not want its allies to know that it is snooping on them. Aragoncillo has pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to lessen his sentence. His contact, former Police Senior Superintended Michael Ray Aquino, is fighting the charges against him. Another associate of Lacson, Police Senior Superintendent Cesar Mancao, was arrested in Florida last month, but there are no reports yet about his link to Aragoncillo’s case. If the decision is left to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, the government would squeeze this scandal to the last drop to put Lacson, the Estradas and former House speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, also named as having received classified information from Aragoncillo but who has not broken his silence on this case. But what Philippine laws have been violated here? The reports from the United States say Aragoncillo passed classified information to Filipino politicians who are trying to “overthrow” Mrs. Arroyo. Do the Americans mean “overthrow” the way Filipino politicians understand “overthrow”? To be sure, the White House and the United States Congress are aware that the opposition is trying to remove Mrs. Arroyo from office and factions in the military are trying to overthrow her. To be sure, too, the White House is aware of Mrs. Arroyo’s dictatorial tactics in trying to save her presidency. As in the 1980s, the opposition politicians today are patriots who trying to topple what they see as an illegitimate ruler who, like Ferdinand Marcos toward the end of his rule, may be losing support in Washington. For Gonzales, however, that’s rebellion, the case that he believes the government can bring against Lacson, Fuentebella and the Estradas. He is also talking of extradition for the four, although none of them has been indicted in the United States. But on what will the government rest a charge of rebellion against the four, receiving digests of the news in the Philippine Daily Inquirer from Aragoncillo
 
            By Ricky S. Torre
 
3. You’re Not Free Yet
 
The Justice Department never had a case against Party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza, Teodoro Casiño, Joel Virador and Rafael Mariano. They are accused of rebellion, but the Justice Department could not cite a specific act against any of the five that support the charges—only narrations of events that happened during the time of Ferdinand Marcos and allegations that the five are aiding communist rebels. The stupidity of it all is they are being linked even to the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1970, an event that happened when some of them are too young to be involved. Casiño, for example, was only 2 years old at the time. The Justice Department, however, insists that because rebellion is a continuing crime, the five are responsible for acts that have been committed against the government since the communist insurgency erupted in 1969. That thing about a continuing act may be legally correct, but, except for Ocampo, who was pardoned by President Corazon Aquino in 1986, which of the five has been committing rebellion since 1969? No wonder the court refused to accept the amended complaint to implead the five and former senator Gregorio Honasan with Party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran, whose case, too, may now be junked. Beltran also received presidential pardon in 1986, and Congress repealed the subversion law during the term of President Fidel Ramos. The five lawmakers walked to freedom on Monday. The Justice Department, however, is not accepting defeat. In yet another impolitic remark, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales told the five to “go back to the mountains” because the government would not stop until it could imprison them. 
 
          By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
 
4.It’s Not Over Yet
 
Contrary to the Free Press’s view, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales says the Supreme Court’s striking down EO 464, the “calibrated preemptive respons” to street protests, and Proclamation No. 1017 weakens President Arroyo. The administration will appeal the rulings. Why should the rulings weaken Mrs. Arroyo? She never had the power to conceal executive wrongdoings from Congress, or the power to prevent street protests, or the power to intimidate and prosecute the political opposition. Her powers are clearly defined by the Constitution and the laws. Ah, but then, Gonzales says the ruling on 1017 deprives Mrs. Arroyo the power to take over private business. Why does she want that power?
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
 
5. Don’t Be Too Sure
 
For the minority in the House of Representatives, the three adverse rulings by the Supreme Court against President Arroyo are proof that Mrs. Arroyo repeatedly violated the Constitution. Her actions are impeachable offenses, the minority says, so come July she can expect another impeachment fight and this time, minority lawmakers say, the impeachment bill will go to the Senate. Oh? The opposition should study the rulings carefully. Parts of the orders that have been stricken down are legal, and this is Malacañang’s defense against any charge of violation of the Constitution against Mrs. Arroyo. And even if the policies have been struck down in their entirety, the House minority still has a solid wall to bust before they can transmit the impeachment bill to the Senate: greed.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
 
Two editorials

Our issue for May 13, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
 
May 13, 2006 Issue
   
Main Features
 
1.Cover: For Better Lives
 
Workers marched in anger around the world on Monday, demanding better working conditions and higher wages to keep up with the rising cost of living that is threatening to rise even higher as world oil prices soar, pulled up by tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In the Philippines, workers march across the country demanding not only for a P125 raise in the minimum wage, but also for the resignation of the leader they did not elect. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo barricades her palace with barbed wire and giant cargo containers and spends the weekend threatening to reimpose a martial-law-type proclamation should the Filipinos insist on removing her from office, and on Monday tries to court state workers with a promise of a pay raise next year but offers nothing to workers in the industries that will help them cope with increasing prices of basic goods. Instead she offers to cancel penalties and surcharges on social security loans that they have not yet repaid. She also offers tax exemptions to the lowest-paid workers, even though the pay of these workers is not enough to keep body and soul together even without income tax. She offers them scholarships and government health insurance, even though what they need is food on the table every day. Scholarship is not open to all children and government health insurance is good only for one year—if funded. Mrs. Arroyo’s offers are not bad, but having been born rich and privileged, she has not experienced hunger and homelessness. She appeals to workers to ask for a “reasonable” wage increase because employers cannot afford P125. But the P125 the workers are asking for is based on the prices of goods five years ago—before she came to make life harder for the Filipinos. What is reasonable given the threats of higher prices, rent, commuter fares, college tuition? Would pulling her out of office make things better for them?
 
By Guiller de Guzman, Nati Nuguid, Wendell Vigilia and Butch Serrano           
 
2. Stopping Gloria’s Train
 
Former president Corazon Aquino, the political opposition and the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference have launched a new movement to counter the Arroyo administration’s attempt to force a shift to parliamentary government. Civic and Catholic lay organizations will help the movement educate the people on the proposal to amend the Constitution and, it is hoped, make those whom the government has duped into signing up for the change take back their signatures. How signatures can be taken back is unclear, but as it may already be too late to take back the signatures the battleground will surely be the plebiscite that seems to be inevitably coming.The opposition has brought suit in local courts against the Commission on Elections to block the verification of signatures gathered by the government and some courts have ordered the Comelec to stop the validation. But can local courts restrain a constitutional body like the Comelec from doing what it believes is its job? Or is it only the Supreme Court that can stop the Comelec from verifying the signatures. Add all blahs.
 
          By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

3. Indestructible
 
Malacañang says all the opposition forces combined cannot bring down President Arroyo. Given the apathy that has pulled down the Filipino spirit, the Palace may be right. But Palace officials should not be too confident.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano
 
4. Makati, Let’s Go to the Movies
 
President Arroyo thinks so low of the people of Makati. The elites are only a fraction of the city’s population. The poor and poorly educated are still the more numerous and they can be won to the administration’s side by putting a movie actor in the city’s mayoralty—Lito Lapid, who has been sleeping in the Senate since his election to that chamber of Congress in 2004. Mayor Jejomar Binay is guffawing at Mrs. Arroyo’s strategy. Lapid has confirmed that Mrs. Arroyo is pushing him to challenge Binay in next year’s election and he is willing to take her up on this one. In fact, he says, he is buying a house in Makati to establish residence there in preparation for his run against Binay.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Butch Serrano
 
5. Hardly Justice
 
The Presidential Commission on Good Government talks about a settlement with the Marcoses as if a deal were unstoppable. It seems that the ill-gotten wealth watchdog has forgotten that the Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot make a deal with the Marcoses. A settlement will naturallty allow the Marcoses part of their loot and include the dropping of all charges against them. Return some, keep some, and you’re free to go. That’s hardly justice.
 
          By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
 

Our issue for May 6, 2006

PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
 
May 6, 2006 Issue
 
Main Features
 
1.Cover:Lakas–CMD Rep. Faysah Dumarpa of Lanao del Sur
 
Rep. Faysah Dumarpa is a Muslim and she should be opposed to the broad coverage of the proposed terrorism bill because, among other possible applications, her people are vulnerable to the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists. But she supports the bill. “Terrorism is the scourge of the 21st century,” she says. The Philippines needs a law that would make the country extremely effective in fighting this new enemy.
 
By Diony Tubianosa
 
2. Bitter Defeat
 
Malacañang is forcing a positive spin to its loss in the Supreme Court. Administration officials says the opposition won but the government also won. But how can the administration have won when it is the very reason for Executive Order 464 that the Supreme Court has struck down—the protection of government secrets by preventing government, military and police officials from appearing before congressional investigations without President Arroyo’s permission? Rarely are government officials called to the Question Hour in the House or the Senate and this has to do mostly with matters that involve congressional oversight. No fireworks there. The fireworks are in the investigations into alleged irregularities in the government that the House and the Senate hold for the maintenance of the checks and balances principle without which the administration can just do what it pleases as if it’s unaccountable to the people. Accountability is what the Senate is forcing on the Arroyo administration, but administration officials think the courts are in the government’s pocket so that they push their luck too far. Now listen to the words they say about the Senate investigations into the Northrail contract, the Venable contract, the P728 million fertilizer scam and the Arroyo tapes. Their bitterness show they are hurting and their promise of continuing to fight the investigations only say they really have something to hide. They lost the fight, that’s clear. With Executive Order 464 out of the way, those investigations will continue and all the officials concerned had better come forward with the truth.
 
            By Ricky S. Torre, Butch Serrano and Wendell Vigilia
 
3. Death to Death Penalty
 
Expanding her attempt at mollifying the Catholic Church, President Arroyo is certifying legislation that would abolish the death penalty. She won’t meet even a bit of resistance in Congress: the opposition in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate support the abolition of capital punishment. The division is in the public. The families of heinous crime victims and the Chinese community oppose the proposed repeal of the death penalty law. The Chinese fear that with the death penalty gone, the police will step up attacks on the children of wealthy businessmen or the businessmen themselves. With their income from illegal gambling seriously threatened, the police may indeed resume kidnapping wealthy people.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Rebels
 
The Justice Department brings rebellion charges against former senator Gregorio Honasan and party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño Rafael Mariano, Liza Maza and Joel Virador for attempting to overthrow the government of President Arroyo. Still developing. 
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
 
5. How About a New Election?
 
With Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo controlling Congress and the people angry but not moving, the opposition is talking about forcing an early presidential election. But how do they go about it? There is no law that would allow unscheduled elections, although the Commission on Elections says it could be done through an amendment to the Constitution through people’s initiative. To be sure, the opposition can gather more than enough signatures for a people’s initiative and the exercise would be legal. With 12 percent of all voters asking for it, the Comelec could call a plebiscite for the approval of the amendment. But where would the money come from to finance a plebiscite? Even if the opposition can produce the money, how would they stop the fraud machine called Lakas-CMD from sabotaging the plebiscite? Joseph Estrada will surely run in an early election and the polls say he will soundly defeat Mrs. Arroyo. Malacañang, however, will never risk it. The remnants of the Marcos rule in the administration still remember the “snap” election that Ferdinand Marcos called as a fatal error. Mrs. Arroyo, Palace officials says, has snap election option. But maybe pressure is building from outside, as it did during Marcos’s time. After the New York Times’s pointing out what a danger to democracy Mrs. Arroyo is, here comes the Heritage Foundation attacking Mrs. Arroyo for her dictatorial strategies.
 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
 
Two editorials