PHILIPPINES FREE PRESS
June 3, 2006 Issue
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