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Monthly Archives: June 2006

Our issue for June 24, 2006


June 24, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1. Cover: Manila Mayor Lito Atienza (with 12-page, full-color Manila City supplement)

            By Ricky S. Torre

            On the cover: Superman Returns

2. Freedom from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Filipinos mark Independence Day on Monday protesting against the government’s bullheaded attempt to amend the Constitution and praying for freedom from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Filipinos have freed themselves from the death penalty, says Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, but they have yet to free themselves from vice, corruption, exploitation of women and children, the killing of militants and journalists, torture and “subtle dictatorship.” They have freed themselves from foreign invaders and the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, but not from Mrs. Arroyo, says Bishop Teodoro Bacani. Mrs. Arroyo is trampling on the Filipinos’ freedoms by insisting on amending the Constitution, says National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera. The revision of the Constitution, he says, will “strengthen the rule of the few.” Those few have already made their decision: whether the people like it nor not, the Constitution will be amended for a change to parliamentary government and Mrs. Arroyo and her political allies will continue in power up to 2010. Refusing to accept that the question of her rule’s legitimacy is causing the deep divisions in the country, Mrs. Arroyo twists the charge and pictures the people opposing her as tearing the country apart and blocking progress. The day of reckoning is fast approaching, she says, referring to the forced revision of the Constitution through the government’s signature campaign that is being passed as a people initiative. She says the people will soon be called to “end the deadlocks that have stalled” her government’s efforts to bring progress to the Philippines—meaning the referendum on the proposed amendments. The people? Or her people? Staff at the House of Representatives report Speaker Jose de Venecia as saying that the government will force the victory of votes for the new constitution, that is, the government will rig the referendum, as it did the 2004 presidential election. The day of reckoning may be approaching, indeed.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. The Watch Changes

As they have agreed, Sen. Franklin Drilon hands over the Senate presidency to Sen. Manuel Villar when Congress returns on July 24. The change in leadership takes place just as the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and its allies in the House of Representatives are forcing the abolition of the Senate to remove checks and balances that deter executive abuse of power and corruption. The administration and the House are blaming the Senate for the six-month delay in the 2006 national budget and the stalling of what they claim are important legislation. But only the budget is important among those bills and the Senate is adamant in slashing the budget by P64 billion to remove from Mrs. Arroyo the means to bribe local officials and the poor to win support for her government’s fight to stay alive by amending the Constitution. There is no urgency in renaming streets in the provinces after politicians and in a terrorism bill that endangers the safety and freedoms of even the bill’s authors themselves. More urgent is the bill that would automate Philippine elections, but had Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. not shamed the House majority into voting on it last week, the second regular session would have ended without acting on the proposal. The majority are not interested in the bill because they are sure there will be no elections next year, or if there will be elections, these will be for an interim parliament. If the Senate spent more time investigating alleged irregularities in the government during the second regular session, it is because national interest demanded it. Is Mrs. Arroyo really the president of the Philippines or is she a usurper? Who are responsible for the diversion of P728 million in public funds to Mrs. Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign? Why is the government lobbying for US financial help in amending the Philippine Constitution? Villar is an ally of Mrs. Arroyo, and House Speaker Jose de Venecia is predicting improved relations between the two chambers and even between the Senate and Malacañang during the third regular session. But Villar vows to maintain the Senate’s independence, as he maintained the House’s independence in 2000, when he, as speaker, single-handedly sent the impeachment complaint against Joseph Estrada to the Senate, clearing the way for the president’s trial. That’s one tough speaker’s record that de Venecia has chosen not to duplicate, having pledged his loyalty to Mrs. Arroyo in exchange for a chance to become prime minister. But de Venecia may already be out of the running. The administration is dangling the premiership before Villar: he can have it if he can get the Senate to approve the 2006 budget without cuts.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

4. Error of Judgment

Leonardo Echegaray should not have drawn the death penalty, but he did and he was executed in 1999 because of a “judicial error.” Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban says it was proven during the trial that Echegaray was not the father of the girl he had raped; the girl was the daughter of his common-law wife. Despite that qualifying circumstance, the court sentenced him to death and, because of the absence of that information during the review, the Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence on Echegaray. The court can no longer correct its error because Echegaray has been dead all these seven years. Panganiban has disclosed the error as one more reason why the death penalty must be abolished. Judges, including the magistrates who serve on the Supreme Court, are just humans and being humans they make mistakes. And now that Congress has repealed capital punishment and the error of Echegaray’s execution disclosed, what now? Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. says the government must compensate the family of Echegaray for his wrongful death and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales seems to agree. The problem is, the Philippines has no law that requires the government to make restitution for judicial errors. Pimentel says he will remedy this situation by introducing legislation that would allow restitution. Panganiban’s comment, which he says is only his personal opinion, has started a new public debate centering on the question of wrongful execution. The Catholic Church is glad about the abolition of the death penalty, but anticrime groups are still insisting on it and warning of a surge in crime. They take Panganiban’s admission of judicial error as irresponsible and Pimentel’s proposal for compensation as an insult to the victims of heinous crimes—as if only they are right and all the rest of us are wrong.

5. Unkind Cut

The bill that would allow compensation for nearly 10,000 victims of human-rights violations during martial law cleared the House of Representatives last week, but not before the Committee on Human Rights agreed to accept a P2 billion cut in the proposed appropriation of P10 billion. Party-list Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales disclosed that Malacañang ordered the cut and gave instruction to the House leadership not to allow the bill to pass if the committee refused. The Senate version of the bill also sets the compensation at P10 billion.

            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

Our issue for June 17, 2006

June 17, 2006 Issue
Main Features
Cover: Department of Land Reform (with 8-page, full-color supplement)
            By Jing A. Mable
1. Educating the Government

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants to make it appear that her government is solving the classroom shortage, which hogs the headlines every year when school returns in June. Agreed upon last year as a solution to the shortage is packing 100 students in every classroom available and running classes in two shifts. But it is not a solution—it is a palliative, because even before Mrs. Arroyo’s college boys came up with the idea the student-to-classroom ratio was already running at 60-80 to 1 and classes were going on three shifts (three or four hours a shift—what do the students learn?). Adding a handful more students to the ratio is not solving the problem but worsening it. Packing students like sardines in dilapidated classrooms, fire exits and toilets is not dealing with the shortage but making it more pronounced. Whose stupid idea is that? Education Officer-in-Charge Fe Hidalgo, a professional educator who actually sticks her head into overcrowded classrooms, knows better—unlike Mrs. Arroyo, who is only taken to prearranged school inspections, seeing only what she wants to see and announcing “achievements” of her administration. Hidalgo makes a mistake by saying there is a shortage of 6,832 classrooms and gets bawling from Mrs. Arroyo who insists on 100-to-1 ratio so that the shortage will be wiped out. It turns out that even double the figure cited by Hidalgo is badly inadequate to ease the congestion in schools because the actual classroom shortage is 45,000. The embarrassment that Mrs. Arroyo has inflicted on Hidalgo touched the senators, who earlier had slashed the Education Department’s P108 billion budget for 2006 by P1 billion. Understanding the real situation, the senators restored the P1 billion and, unsatisfied, went for billions more when they went into conference with members of the House during the weekend. The result of the first reconciliation tussle over the budget: P4 billion more for the Education Department. Oh, how happy is Malacañang over the great news. This shows the Arroyo administration is giving top priority to education—you better believe that. If you don’t, you’re a “destabilizer.” Hidalgo’s days in Education are probably counted. Hidalgo talks about an ideal student-to-classroom ratio of 45 to 1. Achieving that will take not only building 45,000 classrooms more, but also slowing down the population growth, now 2.3 percent. To reduce population growth, the government needs to enforce an aggressive population management program, but Mrs. Arroyo is so scared of the Catholic Church she won’t touch any such program with a giant condom.
            By Ricky S. Torre
2. Tangle over the Budget
The Senate passes President Arroyo’s proposed budget for 2006, but slashes the P1.04 trillion spending approved by the House of Representatives
by P64 billion. Hardest hit is the Office of the President, whose suspicious development funds the senators see as pork intended to finance Mrs. Arroyo’s salvation program—amending the Constitution. The senators lop off Mrs. Arroyo’s P3.69 billion progress support fund for the villages, her P3 billion village freedom fund, and her P1 billion e-government fund. For printing propaganda materials for the government’s signature campaign for the instant amendment of the Constitution, the National Printing Office gets no budget this year. For insisting on a compromise deal with Imelda Marcos on her family’s ill-gotten wealth, the Presidential Commission on Good Government also gets no budget. Malacañang is protesting the deep cuts and Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House, expecting to make bigger killings this year when the opposition mounts its second impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo, are tangling with the senators in the conference for the reconciliation of the two conflicting versions of the budget for the restoration of the lopped-off spendings.
By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
3. Economic Lies
The bill that would raise the minimum wage by P125 clears the House of Representatives despite objections from business and Malacañang. As set by the bill, which goes to the Senate next, workers will get a raise of P45 on October 1, P40 on October 1 next year, and P40 on October 1, 2008. It has taken the bill six years to get to this stage and yet Malacañang, after saying it is leaving the question of a legislated pay increase to the decision to Congress, is balking, saying it prefers that labor goes to the regional wage boards, which it knows will give workers scraps that will not even ease a bit their economic woes. As usual, business warns of job cuts and closures. But perhaps it is true that businesses cannot afford a P40 increase, which means the government’s claim of a 5.5 percent growth in the economy is a lie and President Arroyo’s talk of bringing the country to the “Enchanted Kingdom of the First World” nothing but hot air. 
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigila

4. It’s Bad to be a Leftist These Days
The Justice Department has found a friendly judge, so Party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran of Anak Pawis, 76 and ailing, is again under prosecution on rebellion charges that Ferdinand Marcos brought against him in 1985. How Judge Encarnacion Joya Moya of Branch 146 of Makati Regional Trial Court found probable cause in a case that became moot when President Corazon Aquino pardoned Beltran and other leftist leaders who fought Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 makes legal minds question the sense of justice and suspect the claims to democracy of the Arroyo administration. Beltran will be arraigned again on Thursday of the rebellion charges for which he was convicted and jailed in 1985. But even if he gets out of this return of Marcos rule he will not be safe out there. Two more leftist leaders were killed in another drive-by shooting on Sunday night and on Tuesday Malacañang released an alleged threat against President Arroyo and other government officials attributed to the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. The purpose of the hit list is immediately clear: bolster the government’s claim that the series of murders involving leftists is a communist purge.
            By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

Our issue for June 10, 2006

June 10, 2006 Issue
Main Features

1. Cover: Sen. Edgardo Angara (with 8-page LPD supplement)

On the cover:
                        666: The Devil and End Times (the remake of The Omen)
                        By Gerard Ramos
2. Dark Days for Human Rights
The warrantless arrest of five supporters of ousted president Joseph Estrada by military agents last week and the murders of Bayan Muna leader Noli Capulong on Saturday and former NPA peace talks adviser Sotero Llamas on Monday have worsened the image of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s government as a violator of human rights. The deaths of Capulong and Llamas take to 224 the number of leftists to be killed since Mrs. Arroyo assumed office in 2001. The killings have attracted the attention of international human-rights groups and on the initiative of Gabriela foreign human-rights lawyers have arrived in Manila to look into the murders. US Ambassador to the Philippines Kirstie Kenny also has expressed the American government’s concern over the killings of leftists. The killing of journalists has added to suspicions that the Arroyo administration is a human-rights violator, prompting an investigation by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee headed by Republican Sen. Richard Lugar. The administration has told the US government that it is investigating the killings, but the deaths of Capulong and Llamas seem to show that nothing is being done to stop what appears to be a campaign to eliminate the leadership of the Left. Mrs. Arroyo has already tried to crush opposition to her rule by placing the Philippines under a state of emergency for a week in February, during which leftist leaders were arrested and charged with rebellion only to lose in the courts. The Supreme Court has struck down the emergency proclamation as unconstitutional and Makati Regional Trial Court has refused to accept the information against five leftist members of the House of Representatives. Party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran remains under police custody, accused of rebellion, an offense he had committed against the Marcos government and for which he received pardoned from President Corazon Aquino in 1986. The arrest of Estrada’s supporters, meanwhile, shows the military and the police cannot be trusted, endangering the terrorism bill approved by the House of Representatives in April and its counterpart bill in the Senate.
            By Ricky S. Torre

3. New Defense Deal
The Philippines and the United States have signed a new security arrangement involving “nontraditional threats”: terrorism, transnational crime and disease that can spread across borders. The new agreement updates the 1956 Mutual Defense Treaty, which has alarmed the Senate—the country’s treaty-ratifying body—as the government has not disclosed the contents of the arrangement. Does this arrangement require the presence here of US troops other than those allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement?         
            By Guiller de Guzman

4. See You in the Supreme Court
Some stupid members of the House of Representatives call last week’s meeting with members of the Senate on the administration’s persistence to amend the Constitution a “breakthrough” even though the two sides reached no agreement other than to meet again on June 8. Some House members, however, know that the senators are just playing for time. When the third regular session of Congress opens in July, any talk about amending the Constitution will be too late to serve Malacañang’s purpose: abolish the Senate to stop all investigations into irregularities in the government and, of course, prevent the impeachment of President Arroyo. Some of Mrs. Arroyo’s allies therefore prefer a confrontation with the senators in the Supeme Court over the correct interpretation of the constitutional provision on the congressional vote for amendments to the Constitution. They are taking a risk, because the bicameral division of Congress is clear in the Constitution. But, as in Mrs. Arroyo’s dictatorial policies that the Supreme Court had struck down, they seem not to have learned a lesson and counting on the magistrates’ gratitude to the President to win a ruling in favor of a single, majority vote. They can try.
          By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

5. Skin The Watchdog
It seems that the Arroyo administration has lost all sense of decency and morality. Despite calls for the abolition of the Presidential Commission on Good Government for trucking with Imelda Marcos, the Palace even has the gall to say that the first commission under former senator Jovito Salonga accomplished nothing. Well, who brought the more than 500 cases against the Marcoses that have led to the recovery of Ferdinand Marcos’s $600 million loot from Switzerland? The late, upright Haydee Yorac had laid down the policy of nonnegotiation with the Marcoses and their cronies, which she felt was the reason why the administration pushed her out of the PCGG. Camilo Sabio’s commission denies it has authorization from the Palace to strike a deal with Imelda Marcos, but Michael Defensor’s staunch defense of the compromise talks is nothing short of confirmation and proof of the moral bankruptcy of this administration.
            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
6. Deposit on Jail Time
Ousted president Joseph Estrada may have irreparably damaged his defense by admitting in court that he signed bank documents using an alias. While there is no law in the Philippines prohibiting the use of fictitious names for bank accounts, the Jose Velarde account is the alleged depository of payoffs from gambling lords, illegal commissions and kickbacks from taxes paid to him during the first three years of his failed presidency. His admission of signing the name “Jose Velarde” on an authorization for a P500 million loan confirms the existence of the bank account, the strongest evidence of the prosecution against Estrada.
            By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid

Our issue for June 3, 2006

June 3, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1. Cover: Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, president, United Opposition 

2. Mounting National Pride
To most of the world it is known as Mount Everest, named after a 19th century official in British Raj India. But the Tibetans who live under the shadow of the 8,848 m mountain’s North Face call it Jomolungma, which translates to “goddess, mother of the world,” and the Nepalese who live below the mountain’s South Face call it Sagarmatha, meaning “goddess of the sky.” She is a jealous goddess, blocking access to her secrets with a sea of ice—the Khumbu Icefall—5,800 m below, where avalanches come in ice boulders the size of office buildings, and with a “Death Zone,” 7,900 m above, where the rarefied air gives too little oxygen to sustain human life for long periods and where the weather could turn evil any moment. At this zone on May 9-10, 1996, eight members of two climbing expeditions perished in a snowstorm, taking the number of those who would dare reach the top to 142 since 1921. The dead in the 1996 disaster included the leaders of the expeditions who were among the most seasoned alpinist in the world, Scott Fischer of the United States and Rob Hall of New Zealand. What the mountain takes, the mountain keeps—and all those who perished lie buried under the perpetual snow. That tragedy has been blamed on “commercial climbing”—$65,000 can get even amateur climbers to the summit; guided by professional alpinists, all they need to do is hold to the ropes and breathe easily from their oxygen tanks. Few succeed; most turn back, stopped by foul weather or by their own limitations. But some people are really made of different stuff and they will persist in scaling the mountain any way they can just to get to the top of the world. For the First Philippine Everest Expedition, the objective of the climb is to put a Filipino, for the first time, on the summit of Everest. The Expedition succeeded: Heracleo Oracion, of Lucban, Quezon, summited on May 17, followed the next day by Erwin Emata of Davao. A third Filipino climber, Romeo Garduce of Balanga, Bataan, had broken away from the Expedition last year when the group could not give him assurance that he would be the lead climber. Garduce wanted to be the first Filipino on top of Mount Everest but although the most accomplished, was beaten to the summit by Oracion and Emata, reaching the summit three days later. Nevertheless he joins Oracion and Emata in the honor of putting the Philippines on the list of countries whose mountaineers have conquered the world’s tallest mountain.
By Guiller de Guzman
3. Truce and Powwow
Representatives from the Senate and the House meet on Wednesday to talk about amending the Constitution amid the insistence of President Arroyo’s allies in the House on a constituent assembly and a new debate on Sen. Richard Gordon’s proposal to amend the Constitution by legislation. Gordon has also introduced legislation that would enable the constitutional provision for amendments by people’s initiative. It is true that the term “constituent assembly” does not appear in the Constitution, but the concept is present in Section 1, Article XVII, which requires a three-fourths vote by all the members of Congress. Independent Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay agrees that Congress may amend the Constitution, but cites jurisprudence that distinguishes Congress’s legislative power from its constituent power. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is not far behind that argument, but she goes further by saying she will vote for the abolition of the Senate in the constituent assembly, which she now supports, together with the bogus people’s initiative mounted by the government, after accompanying President Arroyo on a trip to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago. Santiago, who brought the case against the Commission on Elections that led to the Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling that there is no law authorizing constitutional amendment by people’s initiative, has now turned against her chamber and, to be sure, she is not alone, although majority of the senators still oppose the constituent assembly proposal. 
            By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia
4. The Hell With You
Even before the House minority can put its new impeachment complaint against President Arroyo on paper, the majority is already serving notice that the complaint will go nowhere. The majority will block it no matter what evidence the minority presents—too hell with the law, to hell with the Philippines. Mrs. Arroyo stays and her allies in Congress stay: they will rule whether the people like or not. The majority, however, is not solid. Many who have yet to receive the promised bounty for voting against impeachment last year are prodding the minority to go ahead and bring a new complaint, promising their support. But the minority knows that these people are unreliable. All Malacañang needs to do to bring these people back into line is hand over the money. Of more concern to the minority is the unreliability of some of its members. At least nine of them disappeared during the vote on last year’s impeachment, most infamously KBL Rep. Imee Marcos of Ilocos Norte who, after blasting Mrs. Arroyo almost every day, flew to Singapore for a holiday. Now she is protesting Minority Leader Francis Escudero’s warning of expulsion for members who will not vote for the impeachment bill this time. That decision, however, was made not by Escudero alone, but by the minority bloc. Where was Marcos when the bloc met last week?
          By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia
5. Let’s Just Fight It Out in Court
Imelda Marcos will not deal. If the Presidential Commission on Good Government wants to get her family’s wealth, the commission should prove in court that the Marcoses’ wealth is indeed ill-gotten. The staff of Mrs. Marcos has made this stand clear in reaction to the PCGG’s increasing talk of a settlement, annoying the Senate into striking out the commission’s appropriation from this year’s five-month late national budget. The PCGG’s new tack runs counter to the Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling prohibiting the government from entering into a compromise agreement with the Marcoses, but the commission says that ruling was limited to just one case, forgetting that it is a precedent. By the admission of commission chairman Camilo Sabio, the PCGG has no presidential authorization to deal with Imelda Marcos, only support from Palace officials. In that case, Mrs. Marcos will not even consider disclosing her family’s wealth knowing that she has no assurance that she can get away with some and walk free after a settlement. 
          By Guiller de Guzman and Nati Nuguid
6. No Place to Write
Burbank, California—United States Sen. Richard Lugar has started looking into the unpunished killings of journalists in the Philippines following the ranking of the Philippines by the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres’ as the second most dangerous country for journalists in the world after Iraq. Reports of the killings are embarrassing the Filipinos here: the murders are giving the Philippines the image of a country in the grip of a despot who doesn’t tolerate opposition to her  rule. Not helping the country’s image is last week’s watch-listing of Nelly Sindayen, Time magazine’s correspondent in the Philippines and Monday’s killing of yet another journalist in Puerto Princesa, a critic of President Arroyo’s ally Edward Hagedorn. The Philippine government’s answer to the international criticism involving journalist murders is that not all the killings are job-related and that some of the cases have been solved with the arrest of the killers and their being charged in court. The foreign critics’ response: the filing of charges does not solve the murders—the killers must be punished and the killings must stop.
            By Ramiro C. Alvarez

Two editorials