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Our issue for June 17, 2006

FREE PRESS
 
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

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