PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
May 27, 2006 Issue
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
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