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Our issue for June 24, 2006

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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

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