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Our issue for February 27, 2010

Philippines

FREE PRESS

February 27, 2010 Issue

 

Main Features

 

On the Cover: Senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla

(With eight-page, full-color supplement)

Cover story c/o Dann Fabros and Ricky S. Torre

 

1.Too Many Cooks

The amalgamation of ideas from various civil-society groups, politicians and volunteers leads to an internal “struggle of perspective” in the campaign of Benigno Aquino III. Now, Florencio Abad, Liberal Party campaign manager, says the camp is brainstorming the effects of the way Aquino’s political strategists and handlers are running the show on his campaign, especially in the wake of Manuel Villar’s catching up with him in the polls. Apparently, the conservatives, among them the former senior government officials who broke away from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005 after it became known that she might not have been elected, have had too much say on Aquino’s campaign. They thought there was no need for Aquino to run a “traditional campaign,” Abad says, because it was a “people’s campaign” and people “will go out of their way” for Aquino. As it has turned out, the Liberals need to do it the harder way, including a door-to-door campaign, to get the vote out. The “Cory magic” is still there, but it will not work if you do not fire it. So now Aquino is taking over to run his own campaign and pull away from Villar. The main problem is how to counter Villar’s big-time spending on TV ads, the strategy that has catapulted the Nacionalista candidate to the very front line. And, of course, without violating the Comelec’s obsolete rules on campaign spending. Ten pesos per candidate for the entire three-month campaign?

By Wendell Vigilia and Guiller de Guzman

 

2. Ruling Against Reform

Three recent rulings against reformist local officials have made the Second Division of the Commission on Elections suspect. Did those three commissioners in the division—Nicodemo Ferrer, Elias Yusop and Lucenito Tagle—sell out to the allies of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Pampanga, Isabela and Bulacan? The gubernatorial victories of Catholic priest Eduardo Panlilio of Pampanga, Grace Padaca of Isabela and Joselito Mendoza of Bulacan over Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the three provinces have suddenly turned into defeat in vote recounts presided over by the Second Division. It is also this division that has been making those controversial decisions in the qualification of candidates in May’s general elections, including disqualifying a gay-rights party-list group on moral grounds, as if it had never heard of the separation clause, which the Supreme Court threw at the three election officials’ faces. The loss of Padaca and Mendoza in the recount has been suspicious enough, but really suspicious, though it has been widely expected, is Panlilio’s loss to the wife of the alleged jueteng emperor of Pampanga, Mrs. Arroyo’s best friend, Lilia Pineda. Without a party and without money and only with the Pampangans’ determination to reform politics in their province behind him, Panlilio defeated Pineda in 2007. Pineda has been unable to accept that the people of Pampanga’s will has prevailed over her traditional politician’s tactics, and she has been protesting, and has successfully convinced the Second Division that she is the winner. The recount did not include ballots that were burned in a fire in Mabalacat town where Panlilio’s lead over Pineda presumably was also burned. The Second Division is aware of the destruction of the ballots, and yet dismissed all the filings of Panlilio and accepted all those of Pineda, and proceeded with the recount. Now, despite the time allowed for Panlilio to bring a motion for reconsideration, up to the Supreme Court, in fact, Pineda’s camp is in a hurry to put her in the capitol. The reason for the rush is obvious: no reformist and no interfering allies of his must be around to watch the automated vote counters on May 10.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

3. Defying the Court

Those 43 community health-care workers rounded up by the military in Morong, Rizal, last week could only be communist sympathizers and not combatants or NPA “leaders.” But even if they are actually rebels, they have rights and the military is bound by both domestic and international laws to respect those rights. As the Commission on Human Rights has found, however, the military is handling the suspects like Abu Ghraib prisoners. If it could have its way, the military would ignore the courts, too. It has taken a “general order” from the military chief for the Army to obey a habeas corpus writ from the Supreme Court and produce the suspects before the Court of Appeals on Monday. The excuses offered by the Army for its failure to bring the suspects to court last Friday, defended by in-house rightists in Malacañang, are unacceptable and has erased the credibility of the military in claiming that it respects the rule of law. The Army had six-by-sixes to haul the 43 to its camp, but none to transport them to court? All the officers responsible for that defiance of the court should be called to account. There must be consequences when you defy the highest court of the land, even if you are the military. And the military should explain why it arrested those health-care workers. What is their offense? Treating wounded rebels or rebels ailing from malaria in the hills? That is not against the law. Doctors and nurses may not choose patients.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

4. Stand by, if by chance space allows: President Arroyo names a new state prosecutor, the one who will prosecute her if suits rain down on her after she leaves Malacañang. Is this constitutional? We doubt it.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

5. Features (c/o Ricky S. Torre and Erwin T. Romulo)

 

Two editorials

Our issue for April 25, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 25, 2009 Issue

Main Features

Cover: Speaker Prospero Nograles and Kampi President Luis Villafuerte

1. The Enablers

Speaker Prospero Nograles resigns as president of Lakas-CMD and Rep. Luis Villafuerte steps down as president of Kampi to give way to the merger the two parties of President Arroyo. But the merger is an old story and the resignations of Nograles and Villafuerte are only intended to project concentration on next year’s general elections. The two parties will still force passage of a resolution for a constituent assembly that will revise the Constitution for a shift to parliamentary government, which will enable Mrs. Arroyo to run for a seat in parliament, there to be elected prime minister. Their intention is to get a ruling from the Supreme Court by June on whether the House of Representatives can revise the Constitution without the Senate, which refuses to take part in a constituent assembly. With three new justices on the court by June, the administration believes the decision will go its way. If that happens, forget the presidential election.

         By Guiller de Guzman

2. Moral Force

Chief Justice Reynato Puno leads a new movement for the moral transformation of the Philippines, largely aimed at shaming the Arroyos and their allies into leaving public life after next year’s general elections. Supported by the Catholic Church and other religious denominations in the Philippines, civic, legal, and activist groups, the movement will define the characteristics of good leaders and muster 10 million votes to ensure the election of such leaders next year. But will there be elections?

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. The Killers

Human Rights Watch blames the continuing vigilante-style killings in Davao City on President Arroyo. By supporting the city’s tough-guy mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, Mrs. Arroyo, the group says, in effect sanctions the killings. More than 800 people, mostly critics of Duterte, according to House Speaker Prospero Nograles, have been killed since 2001, about the same number of activists, trade unionists, human-rights workers and lawyers who have been killed in various parts of the country since Mrs. Arroyo came to power in that year. But don’t expect anything to come out of the Human Rights Commission’s investigation: the National Police, though ordered by Mrs. Arroyo to support the probe, is daring human rights advocates to prove that there are vigilante killings in Davao.

         By Guiller de Guzman

4. Give Earth a Chance

April—Earth Month—is cruel to the United States, which insists predictions of catastrophes caused by climate change are based only on computer models and cannot actually happen. The out-of-season storm system and wildfires that swept from Texas to Tennessee on April really happened, and they were exactly the kind of catastrophes that Europe and Asia, including the Philippines, are asking the United States to help avert by joining the global effort to slow down climate change.

         By J. de Jesus

5. Features

Our issue for April 18, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 18, 2009 Issue

Main Features

On the Cover: Cavite Gov. Eugenio Maliksi

         (with eight-page, full-color supplement)

         By Dann Fabros and Ricky S. Torre

1.Rattled

With their plan to sabotage next year’s general election by revising the Constitution just waiting to be pronounced dead, the allies of President Arroyo are turning to Plan B: find a strong presidential candidate. But there is no one in their ranks. So Lakas-CMD is trying to pressure unaffiliated Vice President Noli de Castro, who is leading in the all polls, into running for the administration. Kampi, Mrs. Arroyo’s original party, has no one, and it cannot dare to play clown and offer its president, Luis Villafuerte, as even half a candidate. The Nationalist People’s Coalition is in disarray, with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, who is said to be Mrs. Arroyo’s choice, vacationing from the party because the boss, Eduardo Cojuangco, prefers to hand the banner to Sen. Francis Escudero for the race. Cojuangco’s choice could send Sen. Loren Legarda, in the top four in most polls, shopping her presidential ambition around for a backer, weakening some more the administration’s chances of retaining power. The worst-case scenario is drawing from the opposition, and here the ruling coalition’s target is Sen. Manuel Villar. But Villar does not need to cross over to the administration to run for Malacañang. If financing for the campaign is the problem, that is for other candidates to worry about, not his. A candidate must be found before November, the advanced deadline for candidates’ registration.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

2. Failed Again

If the House of Representatives fails to swing the revision of the Constitution before the end of the first regular session in June, that’s it for the ruling coalition. Speaker Prospero Nograles is giving the effort only up to the first week of June. After that, the coalition must seriously turn to finding a presidential candidate or Malacañang will go to the opposition, and everybody knows what that means—big trouble, especially for the crooks. But Luis Villafuerte, the Kampi president who reads only the letter of the Constitution and ignores its spirit, insists the revision is still possible if the House can force a confrontation with the Senate in the Supreme Court for a ruling on how a constituent assembly votes. He thinks the new justices on the Supreme Court will vote for the administration in gratitude to President Arroyo. Chances are they won’t, so the better minds in the ruling coalition prefer to allow next year’s general election to go through. After all, there is still Plan C: buy hackers to monkey with the Comelec’s computers if the House fails to pass Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia’s proposal for a hand count of the vote.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

3. Blacklisted

Good news: The IMF will provide $1.1 trillion to help struggling economies combat the global recession. Bad news: the Philippines will get very little, if not exactly nothing, of it. The Group of 20 major economies has blacklisted the country, along with Costa Rica, Malaysia and Uruguay, for its uncooperativeness in the international effort at transparency in tax information. This is going to hurt the Philippines, which is offering all sorts of incentives to foreign investors to come here and help the government deal with the worsening unemployment. Malacañang says the government is committed to comply with the international standards in tax information, and it is now calling on Congress to review the tax laws to speed up the country’s exit from the blacklist. Only the tax laws? How about the banking laws? The secretiveness of Philippine banking has always been an encouragement for offshore tax fraud and even local official corruption. This is not going to be easy. Never mind the foreign cheats. There’s nothing they can do to stop the revision. It’s the local crooks who will surely lobby Congress to go easy on this one—secretly, of course.

By Guiller de Guzman

4. Meaningful Darkness

The Philippines saved 611 megawatts of electricity by turning off the lights for Earth Hour on March 28. That will not dent the impact of global warming on the Philippine environment, but taken together with the energy savings of the rest of the world that switched off the lights for Earth Hour, the savings will add up to one big message for world officials going to the climate-change conference in Copenhagen in December: Act now and save Planet Earth.

By J. de Jesus

5. Features

Our issue for April 11, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 11, 2009 Issue

Main Features

On the Cover: Pampanga Gov. Eduardo Panlilio

1. Fr. Eduardo Panlilio, President of the Philippines

Filipinos fed up with politicians and hungry for good government are encouraging Pampanga’s priestly governor, Eduardo Panlilio, to run for Malacañang in next year’s general election. They suggest that he pick Isabela’s reformist governor, Grace Padaca, as his vice-presidential running mate. Panlilio, who has only one supporter on Pampanga’s 15-member provincial board, says he is open to a presidential run, but needs to go through a “period of discernment,” meaning he will study the matter. Meanwhile, he is campaigning for support among civil-society groups and nongovernmental organizations for a reform candidate—who can very well be him, as there is nobody around who can be seen as a real reformist, unless Pope Benedict XIV discovers that he is a Filipino and migrates to the Philippines tomorrow to meet the one-year residency requirement. Not all Catholic clerics are glad about Panlilio’s setting an eye on Malacañang. There are those who like the idea of a priestly president, like Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, who says canon law does not really prohibit priests from going into politics, and those who believe Panlilio must first leave the priesthood before running for the presidency, like Dagupan-Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, for whom service to God is the sole vocation of a priest. But that is not really a problem, because if Panlilio really wants to serve as president, then he can leave the priesthood. The real question is his readiness to run the Philippines. As Sen. Manuel Villar, a declared presidential candidate, says, the presidency is not for OJTs.

     By Ricky S. Torre

2. Let the Debate Begin

The Commission on Elections can go ahead and automate next year’s general election—it will need the computers anyway. But the votes to be counted will not be for the usual local and national offices. They will be for local offices and members of parliament. As we have been saying in past issues, the allies of President Arroyo in the House of Representatives will force the revision of the Constitution before June, and sure enough Speaker Prospero Nograles has given approval for the start of the debate when Congress returns on April 13. Mrs. Arroyo says she wants the election to go through, but is doing nothing to stop her allies. Would she say no if this emergency project hurdles the Supreme Court?

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. See, She Is No Coddler

Facing impeachment charges in the House of Representatives, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has brought corruption charges against 17 former officials of the Public Works Department for the rigging of bids for road contracts in projects financed by the World Bank. The impeachment complaint against Gutierrez has stemmed from her sitting on the investigation of this scandal for one year and the likely reason is the involvement of her friend, Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Arroyo. Now the complainants can withdraw the charges. She has brought charges against the corrupt officials. The contractors involved will be investigated separately, but, rest assured, charges will be brought against them, too. How about Mr. Arroyo? Well, Mr. Arroyo is a private citizen, right? Is there a complainant?

         By Guiller de Guzman

4. Leave No Trace

After the European Union raised a collective howl against the continuing political killings in the Philippines, President Arroyo ordered her security forces to stop unauthorized hits. More than 800 activists, trade unionists and human-rights workers and nearly the same number of journalists have been killed or kidnapped by the military or the police since Mrs. Arroyo came to power in 2001. In addition, more than 800 criminals have been killed in Davao City by groups believed to be vigilantes, although that city’s mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, and his hit men could behind the extrajudicial killings. Mrs. Arroyo’s order for a stop is more likely for the newspapers only. Her national security adviser, Norberto Gonzales, wants to know what killings the European Union is talking about. So don’t expect the abduction, rape and murder of an NPA commander’s daughter to be the last.

         By Guiller de Guzman

5. Holy Week Feature: Apostle to the Apostles

Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel has a literary anomaly. The race between Simon Peter and an unnamed disciple to the tomb of Jesus interrupts the narration of Mary Magdalene’s seeing the risen Lord. Scholars have been quick to notice the irregular position of the race to the tomb between Mary Magdalene’s going there and her seeing the risen Jesus and concluded that the present shape of chapter 20 is not its original form. The final redactor of John’s Gospel interpolated chapter 20 after the death of the evangelist (and also added chapter 21) for a particular reason, which had nothing to do with the Resurrection.

         By Guiller de Guzman

6. Features

Our issue for April 4, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

April 4, 2009 Issue

Main Features

On the Cover: Fighting Contraband (PASG chief Antonio Villar Jr.)

         With eight-page, full-color supplement

         By Pat Ruaya and Ricky S. Torre

1. Operation: Get Lacson

So, the administration has gotten to Cesar Mancao. Sen Panfilo Lacson has no doubt about that, and no matter what Palace officials say, Lacson sees Malacañang’s hand here. Mancao is pointing to Joseph Estrada as the mastermind and Lacson as responsible under the chain of command for the November 2000 murders of public relations agent Salvador Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito. It’s been eight years, not really very long, but Mancao, at least as suggested by his statement now in the possession of the Justice Department, appears to have forgotten protocol. He could not have ridden in the same car with the chief of police, so that the conversation about a hit on Dacer that he claims he overheard aboard Lacson’s car could not have happened. Also, nobody in the Presidential Antiorganized Crime Task Force referred to Estrada by his mustache. From Lacson to the lowest-ranking agent, Estrada was simply “Erap.” At any rate, Lacson and Estrada are definitely in trouble—Lacson for keeping on trying to nail the Arroyos for corruption, and Estrada for trying to unite the opposition for next year’s presidential election.

         By Guiller de Guzman

2. Their Hands Are Dirty

The independent group of investigators headed by former Supreme Court justice Carolina Griño-Aquino has reinstated the charges against three wealthy drug dealers that the Justice Department dismissed in December. It seems that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has been right: Justice Department officials and prosecutors have been bribed to dismiss the charges. President Arroyo has ordered the Justice Department to bring charges against the three suspects and the Presidential Antigraft Commission to go after the Justice officials involved—Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño and Prosecutors Philip Kimpo and John Resado. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has already approved the prosecutors’ recommendation to dismiss the charges, but the Lady Boss, whose ratings are scraping the bottom, has hissed an order. Now he must reverse himself—or he might be suspected of being in on the corruption, too.

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. Still Lacking Power

Congress has approved amendments to the charter of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp., among which would raise the insurance on bank deposits from P250,000 to P500,000. The new charter, however, still does not allow the PDIC to determine which deposits are legitimate and may be insured and which are illegitimate and therefore may not be insured. And the PDIC is still not allowed to function as a “bridge bank,” that is, an entity that can run closed banks until they are rehabilitated.

         By Dean de la Paz

4. Features

Our issue for March 28, 2009

Philippines FREE PRESS

March 28, 2009

Main Features

On the Cover: Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim

         Cover story c/o Dann Fabros and Ricky S. Torre

         Manila City Supplement, six pages, full color

         C/o Dann Fabros

1.The Ghosts of Murders Past

The Justice Department has reopened the Dacer murders case with the expected return from the United States of one of the suspects, former senior superintendent Cesar Mancao later this month. Mancao, who has decided not to contest his extradition to the Philippines, claims to have witnessed the planning of the murder of public relations agent Salvador Dacer and is believed to know who ordered the hit, which also cost the life of Dacer’s driver, Emmanuel Corbito, in 2000. Expected to get in a grand tussle with the Arroyo administration when Mancao comes home is Sen. Panfilo Lacson, commander of the National Police and head of the police organized crime task force at the time. Lacson has been trying to remove President Arroyo from power and jail her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, for corruption since his election to the Senate in 2001. He says he has nothing to do with the murders and he believes Mancao has not implicated him. But the administration can do anything and make things happen, including the rehabilitation of Mancao, who has already asked to be made a state witness. Lacson is definitely in trouble here.

    By Guiller de Guzman

2. Ill Winds from the Sea

Calls from 20 of the senators for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States come at a time when China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Angered by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s signing a law that defines the Philippines’s base lines as embracing the Freedom Group of islands in the contested Spratly archipelago and the disputed Scarborough Shoal, China has sent patrols to show who is the mightier one in the seas off the Philippines. New US President Barack Obama has finally called Mrs. Arroyo after dodging her for weeks and only because of the increasing clamor for a review of the VFA, an additional agreement to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. Obama sees the VFA as vital to the US war against terrorism in Southeast Asia, but most members of the Philippine Senate want the agreement renegotiated because of its unfairness to the Philippines. The United States is unlikely to agree to revising the agreement to give equal protection to Philippine troops and can very well cut military aid to the Philippines and leave this country to be bullied by China if Manila abrogates the VFA.

         By Guiller de Guzman

3. The More, the Merrier?

A year before the Filipinos return to the polls, the House of Representatives is considering expanding its membership from 250 to 300. But it seems that 50 more seats seem to be too few considering that the country’s population is now 90 million because Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has introduced legislation that would add 100 more seats to the House. The reelectionists in the House are jumping for joy. The creation of new voting districts will eliminate strong rivals, as the division will make both defender and challenger win without cheating or shooting each other.

         By Guiller de Guzman

4. Shedding Their Jewels

Saddled with billions of pesos in refunds to overcharged customers, the Lopezes sell 20 percent of their holdings in Manila Electric Co. to Pilipino Telephone Corp., the second wireless phone unit of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. The sale relieves the Lopezes of the pressure of having to fend off alone an expected hostile takeover bid by San Miguel Corp., which is aiming for Meralco’s power lines to diversify into broadband Internet. They plan to team up with PLDT chief Manuel Pangilinan to fight off a raid by San Miguel boss Eduardo Cojuangco. Cojuangco, however, appears to have been reviewing his options, as fighting for control of Meralco could prove quite costly and might affect San Miguel’s venturing into other fields, such as energy. An indication that Cojuangco is waiting for better times is a statement issued during the weekend by San Miguel president Ramon Ang saying that San Miguel is willing to let Pangilinan run Meralco. For now, that is.

         By Guiller de Guzman

5. Features

6. Che and Milk, film reviews

         By Makati Rep. Teodoro L. Locsin Jr.

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.

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

Our issue for July 29, 2006

FREE PRESS

July 29, 2006 Issue

 

Main Features

 

1. Cover: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the State of the Nation (with 11-page

supplement) c/o Malacañang. Cover story by Jing A. Mable

 

2. Man on the Run

Jocelyn Bolante was not arrested in the United States. He is detained in a federal facility near Los Angeles because he is either appealing the revocation of his US visa or applying for asylum in the United States. It is more likely the first, as Bolante is not persecuted in the Philippines and therefore has no reason to seek shelter in the United States. To be sure, the US government knows Bolante is wanted only by the Philippine Senate and no charges have been brought against him in Manila. The Senate has asked the US government only for process assistance and not for the cancellation of Bolante’s visa. What really happened is unclear because US privacy laws do not allow disclosure of information until cases like this have been decided. The revocation of a US visa is done in a consular office in the presence of the holder, who may challenge the consular decision in immigration court. But never is a US visa revoked at the border, so what happened to Bolante at LAX is puzzling. He needs $100,000 for bail and has reportedly refused Philippine government assistance. Whatever it is that happened, Malacañang has reason to be greatly worried. A Senate investigation into the so-called fertilizer fund scam has found Bolante, a former agriculture undersecretary, as the point man in the operation that channeled P728 million to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004. The Senate has recommended to the Ombudsman the prosecution of Bolante and several past and current agriculture officials for plunder. Bolante has been on the run since last year when the Senate opened the investigation. That’s an indication of guilt. So long as no charges have been filed in the Philippines, he can keep snubbing the Senate investigation. But now that the investigation has been turned over to the Ombudsman, he and Malacañang have a problem. Mrs. Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, a friend and associate of Bolante’s in the Rotary Club and who is behind Bolante’s employment in the Agriculture Department, is now reportedly in the United States, fueling suspicions in Manila that the administration is either working on Bolante—to keep him quiet—or on his case, whatever it is.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

3. What a Shame

“Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” To be sure, the Catholic bishops will not be the first to break that commandment. They say that Fatima Valdes, President Arroyo’s “undersecretary for religious affairs”—a secular government has an office for religious affairs?—arranged the dinner and there envelopes containing varying amounts—P15,000 to P50,000, depending on the importance of the bishops, perhaps—were thrust into the bishops’ hands or into their pockets. Most of the bishops sent the envelopes back to Malacañang. They will not be bribed into supporting an official who is the cause of deep divisions in the nation and in the bishops conference itself. Malacañang denies the alleged bribery and Mrs. Arroyo’s allies blame the opposition for the allegations. But it’s the bishops who are talking. What has the opposition got to do with the disclosure of the bribery? The opposition cannot even muster 77 votes—it’s now down to 77 with Liberal Party Rep. Jesli Lapus of Tarlac moving to the Department of Education (see No. 6)—to send one of the five (seven by Monday) complaints to the Senate for trial. Certain that none of the complaints will fail to clear the hurdle, the House minority is now saying Mrs. Arroyo should help put an end to this crisis. Lakas Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano says the minority is willing to withdraw the complaints if Mrs. Arroyo will explain the 2004 election. Wow! Why should Mrs. Arroyo do that? Hasn’t she already said that she won that election? If the minority knows the impeachment effort is headed nowhere, why is it wasting its time, which is the public’s time, and money, which is the public’s money?

By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

 

4. The ‘Coup That Failed’

The Arroyo administration insists on linking the July 27, 2003 junior militaryofficers’ mutiny and the Scout Rangers’ plan to withdraw support from President Arroyo on February 24 to prove its claim of a coup d’état and justify her proclamation of a state of national emergency, and maybe to sway the Supreme Court into reversing its ruling that the martial law-style government actions that followed the declaration are unconstitutional. The intention is still to suppress opposition to Mrs. Arroyo’s rule and now, after putting away the military officers involved in the “failed coup,” the government is out to get the civilians who conspired with them, including the businessmen who financed the alleged coup. The Justice Department says it already knows the financiers, as well as where the videotape showing the Rangers’ commander. Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, announcing his withdrawal of support for Mrs. Arroyo was taken—at the home of a “former diplomat.” That can only be Roy Señeres, a former Philippine ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and former head of the National Labor Relations Commission who had a falling out with Mrs. Arroyo and joined the opposition. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales says the church has given shelter to some of the plotters—a threat against Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias in whose diocese 1st Lt. Lawrence San Juan, a July 27 mutineer, allegedly had sought sanctuary. San Juan turned around last week, admitting talks between the mutineers and communist rebels. Was he telling the truth or was he co-opted? With the military officers involved held incommunicado, the public does not know what really happened on the night of February 23. The Court of Appeals has ordered the military to bring Lim to court on Tuesday morning, but even if he is allowed to go free it is unlikely that he will be allowed to talk publicly about what really happened. The July 27 mutineers have already let known the reason for their anger: corruption and favoritism in the military. The Rangers and the Marines want to know who the generals were that allowed the military to be used in rigging the 2004 presidential election. That’s not a crime. But the administration and the generals say there was a failed coup. Was there?

By Ricky S. Torre

 

5. Cheats

The Professional Regulation Commission has investigated and confirmed the leak in the 2006 board exam for nurses. The findings: two members of the Board of Nursing leaked the questions. But the commission is not disclosing the identities of the two rascals, saying only that the leakers will be prosecuted and dismissed. The candidates are appealing to the commission not to void the results of the June exam, although even many of them recognize the suspicion that will fall on all of the graduates as a result of this irregularity. As it is, the nursing profession is already in a mess, with thousands of unqualified candidates graduating from too many nursing schools that have been built only to cash in on the big demand for Filipino nurses in the United States, Canada and Europe.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

6. Another Politician

Employees of the Department of Education refuse to accept Liberal Party Rep. Jesli Lapus of Tarlac as the new secretary of education. They don’t want another politician heading what is supposed to be professional department. They prefer an educator, Acting Secretary Fe Hidalgo, to take the place of resigned secretary Florencio Abad, who has since joined the opposition. The last time a politician ran the department, the crooks there lost their rackets. Raul Roco forced reforms there, incurring the employees’ animosity. What does Lapus know about education?

By Guiller de Guzman

Our issue for July 22, 2006

FREE PRESS

July 22, 2006 Issue

 

Main Features

On the cover: Antipolo Mayor A. Angelito Gatbalayan (with 7-page Antipolo

Supplement), c/o Advertising and Jing A. Mable

 

: Lindsay Lohan (c/o Gerard Ramos)

 

1. Not the Way to the Truth

Malacañang has done everything to stop the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines from supporting the new impeachment complaints against President Arroyo, from appeals through its officials and allies in the House of Representatives, to cajolery, to outright blasphemy, to bribery. The bishops conference, issuing a statement after its meeting on Monday, have made its position clear: “In the light of previous circumstances, we are not inclined at present to favor the impeachment process as the means of establishing the truth.” Unless all sides are after the common good, the conference says, the process will just be another unproductive—it should have said “futile”—exercise. The conference wants the truth about the 2004 presidential election to be known, but the result of last year’s impeachment process and Mrs. Arroyo’s continuing control of the House of Representatives, the truth is unlikely to come out through the same process. Mrs. Arroyo’s allies have vowed to kill any impeachment complaint even before one could be brought against her. Their so-called appeals to bishops conference to stay neutral is telling the bishops that impeachment being politics, it is none of the prelates’ business. The church cannot do anything if the congressmen do not want to remove Mrs. Arroyo from power. The conference is not disputing that assertion, so as a group the conference is staying away, in fact, won’t have anything to do, with the impeachment. But, in obedience to the Pope’s exhortation, it is allowing its members to be involved in the process. Being citizens of the Philippines, the bishops must not stay in the sidelines, but must take part in the determination of the truth. So Malacañang officials should not read meanings into the bishops conference’s statement and Mrs. Arroyo should not thank the conference for it is not the church’s duty to reorder the Philippine government; it’s duty is to guide the Filipinos in their search for the truth—for now, at least. Not getting the message, the opposition is dismayed at the statement of the bishops conference. Why should they be dismayed when they themselves say they do not have the numbers to send any of the impeachment complaints to the Senate for trial? They should look for other, legal ways to remove Mrs. Arroyo from power, like banding together and choosing a strong and credible leader so that the people will have someone to lead them when the time comes to pressure the House majority to let an impeachment complaint pass or run Mrs. Arroyo out of Malacañang.

By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

 

 

2. There’s Still Hope

Two more Catholic priests, including the priest in the parish that has jurisdiction over Malacañang, and a group of Protestant pastors signed a complaint for the impeachment of President Arroyo. The complaint will be filed on July 24, when Mrs. Arroyo addresses a joint session of Congress. But the increasing number of complainants, even from the religious sector, is no guarantee of piercing the conscience of the majority in the House of Representatives. Those people have no conscience, period. If there is anything sure about the impeachment, it is the trashing of all of the complaints, and the reenactment of the 2005 budget, which gives Mrs. Arroyo power to juggle funds, is a guarantee that the trash bin will be filled to the brim. The administration has already laid the barrier to the acceptance of any of the complaints, so unless the Supreme Court takes up Rep. Clavel Martinez’s petition before July 24, the House majority can just throw out the complaints. The House minority talks about working to get the required 78 votes to send at least one of the complaints to the Senate, but admits it could fail again to clear the procedural barrier. But there is one thing good about the increasing support for Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment from the religious sector: with priests and pastors guiding the people in making decisions, Mrs. Arroyo’s allies will have difficulty winning support across the country for their reelection bid next year. A victory by the opposition in the midterm elections mean an opposition-dominated Congress and that’s hope for Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment. So the opposition and their allies in the public should defeat the administration’s attempt to force a shift to parliamentary government. If they lose this one, they lose all chances of removing a potential dictator from power.

By Ricky S. Torre and Wendell Vigilia

 

3. What’s Their Crime?

Is Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim a coup plotter or is he President Arroyo’s savior? The word is that on or about February 24, junior military officers were pressuring Lim to lead an armed uprising against Mrs. Arroyo, who the junior officers believed was not their commander in chief. Having experienced coups during the term of President Corazon Aquino, Lim reportedly refused but agreed to lead troops of the First Scout Rangers Regiment, which he commanded, in withdrawing support for Mrs. Arroyo. By his reading of the law, he says, there is no such crime as withdrawal of support, the same argument that former National Labor Relations Commission chief Roy Señeres offers in defense of himself against government accusations that he was involved in an alleged coup by urging people to withdraw support for Mrs.Arroyo. The problem, however, is complicated by the supposed arrest week of six junior military officers, allegedly involved in the July 27, 2003 mutiny, and the recovery from them of explosives and a blueprint of the legislative complex in Quezon City. The implication is that there is a plot to attack the House of Representatives, possibly when Mrs. Arroyo addresses a joint session on Congress on July 24. Human rights advocates have no access to those arrested. Are they fall guys of some sort for another plan by the malign Arroyo government to crush the opposition? The release of a video tape showing Lim withdrawing his support for Mrs. Arroyo is also suspicious, being timed with the full-conference meeting of the Catholic bishops. Is the intention to sway the bishops conference to support Mrs. Arroyo? If that is the intention, it has failed because the bishops conference refuses to get involved in politics, although it allows its members, being citizens of the Philippines to get involved in politics, as in the impeachment of Mrs. Arroyo. Whatever is happening in the barracks, it is clear that the military is divided between the supporters of Mrs. Arroyo and those who doubt her legitimacy. In short, Mrs. Arroyo is the problem in the military.

By Guiller de Guzman and Wendell Vigilia

 

4. Not Now

Sen. Jamby Madrigal travels to Utrecht, the Netherlands, to try to revive interest among the Filipino communist leaders exiled there in the peace negotiations with the government. Madrigal’s objective is to stop the fight to the finish that President Arroyo has declared. Madrigal finds interest on the part of the National Democratic Front, but the government and the NDF must have official contact before the negotiations can resume. Madrigal is not an official emissary and, in fact, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales is threatening an investigation against Madrigal for talking to the rebels in Utrecht. Malacañang says Madrigal’s contacting the insurgent leaders is proof of the conspiracy between the communists and the political opposition to topple Mrs. Arroyo from power. Where else can you find a more stupid government? Malacañang, however, is not really uninterested in the peace talks. If the NPA is willing to agree to a cease-fire in an all-out war that the government itself declared, the Palace is willing to send its negotiators back to the table. Right now it wants to keep the military busy, especially the Scout Rangers and the Marines—they must be kept away from Manila.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

5. Nursing a New Problem

You see them on the streets, on the train, on the bus, on the jeep—young men and women dressed in white and wearing orthopedic shoes. They are students of nursing at schools in Manila that were not there 10 years ago. These schools have sprouted in the last few years when the United States, Canada, Britain and other European countries opened their borders to foreign nurses to meet the demand for health care of their aging populations. The rush to build new nursing schools and accommodate all comers has resulted in a sharp drop in the quality of Filipino nurses. The Commission on Higher Education’s Technical Committee on Nursing Education blames this new problem on the commission’s surrender to political and commercial interests. It seems that the commission and the committee have been clashing on this issue for some time, with the committee being largely ignored, forcing the members to resign last week. Not only is the rush to produce more overseas contract workers resulting in poorly trained nurses, it is also resulting in a brain drain that is leaving Philippine hospitals and clinics short-handed. Even doctors are going back to school to become nurses.

By Guiller de Guzman

 

 Two (2) editorials