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Our issue for August 19, 2006

FREE PRESS

August 19, 2006 Issue

 

Main Features

 

Cover: The Life and Times and the Supplement of Alfonso Yuchengco

By Ricky S. Torre and Butch Serrano

 

1. Disorder Rules

Malacañang is forcing another confrontation with the Senate in the Supreme Court by pressing its policy of concealment to avoid explaining the mess that it has made of the evacuation of Filipino migrants trapped in the fighting in Lebanon. The Palace keeps to refuse to allow government officials to appear in the Senate investigation into the disposition of the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund. There’s more than P7 billion there in the migrants’ money, but the migrants in Lebanon are getting out in trickles on charity from the International Organization for Migration and from a Greek shipping magnate. Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the foreign relations committee who has introduced legislation that would amend the migrants law, and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, chairman of the labor committee, cannot get intelligent answers to questions about the chaotic evacuation and the Palace, twisting the Supreme Court ruling on EO 464 is insisting on guidelines for the appearance of government officials at Senate inquiries: the court has ruled that the Senate has power to summon officials to investigations in aid of legislation, but the Palace is ignoring that part of the ruling and claiming it has the right to refuse to allow officials to go to congressional questionings. That is the question hour, but the Palace is pretending not to know the difference. It has something to hide, of course, the transfer of OWWA funds to Philhealth for use in President Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign is an issue that remains unexplained. The fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas intensifies ahead of UN Security Council action and the danger has reached Filipinos in Haifa. Two weeks into the operation, the government has yet to show any kind of organization in coming to the aid of the migrants. Two vessels of the Coast Guard have been ordered to Lebanon but the vessels cannot leave Manila port because nobody ordered funds for the mission.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

2. The Monkey Business Begins

Lakas Rep. Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, has promised Malacañang that “if all goes well,” the second attempt by the opposition to impeach President Arroyo will be over in six session days. The first day is Tuesday and sure enough the majority allies of Mrs. Arroyo on the committee kill seven of the eight complaints filed against Mrs. Arroyo on the technicality that these have been brought within the constitutional ban on bringing more than one impeachment complaint against the same official in one year. Only the complaint brought by 10 Cabinet members and presidential advisers and the Black and White Movement remains for determination of sufficiency in form and substance. Form is no problem. Substance means evidence, and the majority is determined not to allow the minority to present evidence at the committee level. And that means this complaint, too, is dead. Does the minority have a Plan B?

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

3. Root of Disunity

What good are talks for cooperation and unity if the administration is imposing as ground rule not touching the question of the legitimacy of President Arroyo’s rule? That’s telling people to just go on after being robbed on the highway, as if nothing happened. This is exactly what the administration wants to happen in calling that secret meeting between its representatives and leaders of the opposition and the Catholic church. The church has been the first to balk at the brazenness of it. Imagine a prepared statement of unity to be signed by the president of the bishops conference. What made Malacañang even think of preparing a statement of unity and expect the church to sign it? The opposition and the church are not averse to working with the administration for a national agenda, even for unity. But first Mrs. Arroyo must prove to the nation that she is the truly elected president of the Philippines, because it is the question of her presidency’s legitimacy that is causing disunity in this country.

 

4. Insurance

With the opposition to the Arroyo administration’s plot to stay in power beyond 2010 likely to reach the Supreme Court, it is safe to assume that elections will be held next year. That’s why Malacañang and the Commission on Elections are insisting on using the vote counting machines that the Supreme Court has found unprotected against human intervention. Insurance, as they say: if elections cannot be prevented, administration candidates will be annihilated at the polls, so the best way to manipulate the vote away from the eyes of an angry public is to use those vulnerable computers.

 

5. Only for Show

International pressure and a subtle US warning has forced President Arroyo to order the police to solve the extrajudicial killings of leftists and journalists. She give the police 10 weeks to solve the murders. Solve more than 200 murders in 10 weeks? How do the police even begin to do that? Shoot the Army commander said to be behind the killings perhaps? Mrs. Arroyo praised that officer in her speech to a joint session of Congress on July 24 and blamed the killings on communist rebels. What’s the sense in ordering the police to solve the murders when she herself has already solved them?

 

Two editorials.

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Our issue for August 12, 2006

FREE PRESS

August 12, 2006 Issue

Main Features

1. Trapped in Hell

Malacañang on Monday frustrates the Senate investigation into the funding problem in the evacuation of thousands of Filipino migrants from war-torn Lebanon. Despite the administration’s loss of its appeal of the Supreme Court ruling striking down EO 464 as unconstitutional (the ruling became final last month), the Palace forbids officials of the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor to testify at the joint hearing called by the Senate committees on foreign relations and labor. More than 30,000 Filipino migrants are trapped in the fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas. They are hunkering in the Philippine embassy and in churches in Beirut as Israeli missiles and bombs crush Hezbollah positions in the capital and most of southern Lebanon. Fewer than 3,000 have returned home on chartered and scheduled flights, mostly through the mercy of the International Organization for Migration, a group that works with the United Nations. Philippine Ambassador to Lebanon Al Francis Bichara has disclosed a shortage of funds, which explains why the migrants are being evacuated only in trickles. The migrants remit billions of dollars every year—$12 billion last year—shoring up the economy and propping up the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Now that they need help, their government is slow to come to their aid, resorting instead to asking for help from other countries to get them out of the war zone. The foreign office denies the shortage of funds and threatens Bichara with an investigation. The OWWA says it has P2 billion and has sent money to Beirut. Bichara, according to the foreign office has apologized for the disclosure, but the ambassador tells the Senate investigation through a patched phone call that as of Monday no money has reached the embassy in Beirut. Where is the migrants’ money? A Greek shipping magnate has offered to use one of his ships to ferry Filipino migrants from Beirut to Nicosia, in Cyprus, and IOM is again moving Filipino migrants from Beirut, paying for their trip by buses to Damascus and their plane trip from there to Manila. Shame! The migrants will have a respite from fear for two days as a result of another Israeli mistake—an air strike on Monday kill 60 people, mostly civilians, among them children, in Qana. The conflict is threatening to escalate, with Israel rejecting international calls for a cease-fire. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is back in the region, saying she’s pushing for an immediate cease-fire, although the US stand, and of course Britain’s, is to isolate Hezbollah, which may be provocating Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, for the United States and Britain to take military action against Iran, which stubbornly refuses to give up its nuclear program despite threats of sanctions from the United Nations. Does the Manila government understand what’s going on the Middle East? Acting Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, whose nomination the congressional Commission on Appointment has yet to confirm, says he cannot see what sort of legislation can come out of the Senate investigation. Doesn’t he know that the Arroyo administration has no policy, no organized plan, for rescuing Filipino migrants in distress in faraway countries? Stupid!

By Ricky S. Torre

2. Expect Nothing

There are now eight impeachment complaints against President Arroyo but none of them is likely to survive in the House of Representatives. Mrs. Arroyo’s majority allies in the House are going to kill all the complaints right on the Committee on Justice to clear the way for their top priority: revising the Constitution through a constituent assembly. The government-financed private organization that has gathered 10 million signatures to force the revision is going to the Commission on Elections this month to petition for a referendum on the constituent assembly.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. Running from Justice

Jocelyn Bolante, President Arroyo’s point man in the administration operation to buy votes in the 2004 presidential election, is seeking asylum in the United States. Bolante is alleging a threat to his life coming from the communist New People’s Army. NPA spokesman Gregorio Rosal and National Democratic Front official Luis Jalandoni have both denied that Bolante is on an NPA hit list. A group of Filipino lawyers from the University of the Philippines is blocking Bolante’s application for asylum in US immigration court, but Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, showing where the administration’s sympathies lie, says the lawyers’ opposition is just “propaganda.” Bolante, whose US visa the US State Department canceled under the Bush administration’s no safe haven policy, is being processed for removal, but his application for asylum can prolong his stay in the United States, enabling him to continue to dodge a Senate investigation into the misuse of agriculture funds for Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential campaign.

4. War of Attrition

It seems the Arroyo administration has found a way to stop the campaign of One Voice to educate the people on the proposed revision of the Constitution: choking the group’s source of funds. President Arroyo’s allies in Congress have begun insinuating administration’s plans to go after the businessmen who finance the One Voice campaign through the taxman. They probably know who the donors are. If these businessmen can be sufficiently cowed to withdraw their support for One Voice, this group’s campaign to block Mrs. Arroyo’s strategy to save her presidency could stop. Bakbakan na lang!

By Manuel L. Quezon III

5. Campaign Kitty

Giving up on the 2006 budget, the administration is now working for passage of a supplemental budget supposedly to finance its priority projects. The Senate, whose opposition to a suspicious spending of P64 billion in Mrs. Arroyo’s proposed P1.05 trillion budget, is chary about the supplemental budget. The administration insists part of the supplemental budget is for development in the villages, but the senators suspect the administration’s real priority is financing an operation to buy votes in a referendum for a people’s initiative for the revision of the Constitution.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

6. Really Stupid

Guess who’s to blame for the deterioration of nursing education and the cheating in the 2006 board exam for nurses. The established nursing schools. That’s according to the Commission on Higher Education. Don’t blame the fast increasing new nursing schools that are sharing instructors and even deans. These schools have been built as nurse factories to fill the big demand for Filipino nurses in the West. Don’t call them fly-by-night schools. It’s those old schools that are producing nurses who cannot be accepted even in local hospitals. The new nurses are incompetent because the old schools refuse to lower their standards.

Two editorials