Philippine Commentaries

Read Malaya's daily commentaries on economic and political developments that shape Philippine society. Veteran Filipino journalist Joy C. de los Reyes is the paper's editor-in-chief of Malaya, an independent daily newspaper in the Philippines. To visit Malaya's website, just click the Malaya link below.

Friday, March 31, 2006

A regime of rule-breakers

See what ruthlessness in pursuit of self-interest can do? Gloria Arroyo is in perennial danger of being impeached for stealing and buying votes in 2004 and for the continuing cover-up of the original crime. The solution: Scrap Congress and the impeachment process through a shift to a parliamentary system. The immediate danger is eliminated. The bonus is the possibility of staying in power beyond 2010.

Gloria yesterday announced she is fully supporting the campaign to amend the Constitution via people’s initiative. As if people did not know that the signature-gathering campaign was hatched in the Palace.

Truly we are no longer amazed by Gloria’s utter contempt for the law in her drive to stay in power. If she could steal the 2004 election, then no legal or moral restraints would stop her from changing the charter for her own purpose. The initial attempt to change the charter was through a constituent assembly. This was blocked by the near-unanimous sentiment in the Senate that now is not the time for changes given the leadership crisis.

Speaker Jose de Venecia is still flogging the dead horse of a constituent assembly, to the extent of claiming that the House could do it by its lonesome self. His campaign to gather 195 signatures at the House, however, appears to have stalled at 150.

So here comes people’s initiative, the fallback position, no matter that the Supreme Court ruled nine years ago that the law on people’s initiative does not apply to proposed amendments to the Constitution.

The Santiago vs Comelec ruling stemmed from the Pirma campaign of President Fidel Ramos to lift the ban on reelection. It called for the deletion of the single line "The President shall not be eligible for any reelection" (Section 4 of Article VII). The Supreme Court said people’s initiative could not be invoked in the absence of an enabling law. Pirma was stopped cold in its tracks.
The proposed shift to parliamentary system would overhaul Article V1 (Legislative Department) with its 32 sections and Article VII (Executive Department) with its 23 sections. What the Supreme Court said was not allowed with regard to that one sentence among a total of three in Section 4 of Article VII, Arroyo thinks she could push to change a total of 54 sections in Articles VI and VII.

And by be the way, isn’t the Comelec already defying the Supreme Court injunction against entertaining any people’s initiative in the absence of an enabling law by verifying the signatures in the petition circulated during last week’s barangay assembly?

But in a regime of rule-breakers, starting with Arroyo, we should not be surprised anymore.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

The liar’s dilemma

The Commission on Appointments yesterday confirmed the nomination of Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga without grilling him on the results of the investigation of four "Hello Garci" generals he conducted when he was AFP inspector general.

Many were surprised when Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, chair of the CA defense panel, let Mayuga off the hook and endorsed his nomination to the plenary which promptly confirmed him in the afternoon.

Biazon did right in glossing over the results of the investigation. Mayuga had done his job. Perhaps, his findings might have a bearing on the question of his fitness for the top Navy post. But that’s neither here nor there. Higher authorities have taken upon themselves the right to release the findings. Mayuga is bound by the chain of command.

Also, as Biazon noted, Executive Order 464 is still in effect. And AFP chief Gen. Generoso Senga earlier said that disclosing the report is covered by the gag order.

In not putting Mayuga on the spot, Biazon tossed the ball back to where it belongs, President Arroyo. The report was finished in December and submitted to Senga. Senga forwarded the report to Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz who, in turn, passed it on to Arroyo.

It’s been three months since the completion of the report. So what’s holding up Arroyo from making it public? It’s unlikely that Mayuga found evidence to prove allegations of election cheating by the generals mentioned in the conversations between Arroyo and former election commission Virgilio Garcillano. That would blow up this administration sky high.

Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, one of those mentioned in the tapes, is currently chief of the Army and is tipped to become AFP chief when Senga retires this year while Lt. Gen. Gabriel Habacon is Southern Command chief. (Lt. Gen. Roy Kyamko is already retired, along with Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani, who to his credit was not linked to cheating but was mentioned on suspicion he was "working for the other side.")

We’re prepared to bet the whole house that the Mayuga report gave the "Garci" generals a clean bill of health. There lies the problem. A number of senior colonels and lower ranking officers apparently have personal knowledge about the cheating. Remember that colonel during the standoff at the Marine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio who was repeatedly muttering about how they were "used" during the 2004 election?

Arroyo is confronted with the classic problem faced by a liar. A liar can try to cover up the original lie with another lie. That would, however, only firm up perceptions he or she indeed is an inveterate liar.

But why should Arroyo care? She is already as good as convicted by the public on both counts of simple and of systematic lying. That’s the puzzle.

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Selling a fraud

(This was published Wednesday March 29, 2006)

The latest Pulse Asia survey shows that 48 percent of respondents are against charter change, while 43 percent are in favor. This is not big a lead for opposition to Cha-cha. In fact, at the usual 3 percent plus or minus margin of error, the difference is statistically insignificant.

What is interesting in the survey is the finding that among those who favor amending the 1987 Constitution, 52 percent believe Gloria Arroyo is not the best person to lead the country. One could speculate that this group of respondents considers a parliament system as a more effective way of selecting a leader. The presidential system has left the nation stuck with Gloria, who enjoys a fixed term. The shift to the parliamentary system, thus, offers a way to remove her without the tumult and instability associated with a people power-type uprising.

This line was peddled by Gloria when she placed charter change on top of the national agenda during her 2005 State of the Nation Address. It has apparently caught on among a substantial section of the populace. Let’s credit Malacañang spinmasters for this partial success in selling a fraud.

Four out of five people want Gloria out because of her "lying, cheating and thieving." This percentage has been rather stable in survey after survey. A leader who is seen to be illegitimate and who has lost the trust of an overwhelming majority of the people should resign. Otherwise, he/she should be shoved out of office.

Gloria, however, isn’t resigning despite overwhelming evidence she stole the election. She would not allow herself to be impeached either, using all available resources to buy off the members of the House. She then came out with the poisoned gambit of a shift to the parliamentary system where she theoretically could be removed as prime minister anytime.

The first fraud is that she was able to buy time. As calls for her resignation/ouster grew, she unleashed CPR, EO 464 and PP 1017. She very likely is preparing more repressive measures if the widespread opposition to her continued stay in power takes more forceful forms.

The second and bigger fraud is that a shift to a parliamentary system gives Gloria an opening to stay in power beyond 2010. Gloria staying beyond 2010 unimaginable? Well, she has amply demonstrated she will allow nothing to stand in her way to power and in keeping it. Not the Constitution, not the law, not morals or plain decency.

Gloria forever and ever? Why not, if the people allow themselves to be fooled by this frenzied Cha-cha production scripted, produced and financed by Gloria.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cha-cha a diversion

It should be a no-brainer that Gloria Arroyo is behind the campaign to amend the Constitution. She declared that she wanted to put charter change high up on the national agenda during her State of the Nation Address last year. In her address before the graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy last Saturday, she said she was prepared to spend whatever remaining political capital she has (not much) to pursue changes in the 1987 Constitution?

So where have her efforts come to this far? There’s the House-initiated drive to convene Congress into a constituent assembly. Then there’s the newly launched signature campaign for people’s initiative.

We don’t see either effort succeeding.

The constituent assembly route is blocked by the Senate. There are eight senators, including minority leader Aquilino Pimentel, who favor charter changes by the count of Cha-cha advocates in the House. But these pro-amendment senators are on record as saying they prefer the constitutional convention route. There’s no way an assembly could secure the needed three-fourths vote in the Senate.

Speaker Jose de Venecia has come up with his novel constitutional idea that the House can go it alone because the charter speaks of three-fourths "of all members of Congress." The magic number is 195, representing three-fourths of the total membership of the Senate and the House.
Senators have scoffed at the idea, coming out recently with a unanimous resolution stressing that the two chambers are required to vote separately. The senators need not have bothered. De Venecia’s signature solicitation drive is stuck at around 140, far short of 195.

This is the reason for the launching of the parallel campaign for people’s initiative. There’s no doubt local officials, who are mostly in the pocket of Gloria, can deliver the required 12 percent of registered voters. People’s initiative, however, faces formidable blocks. The Supreme Court has ruled that the law on people’s initiative applies only to legislation. It does not adequately flesh out the people’s initiative provision for charter changes.

So what do we make then of the frenzied Cha-cha efforts?

Our suspicion is that Gloria is just trying to divert attention from the single most important issue facing the nation. And that’s the illegitimacy of her government and the calls for her ouster/resignation.

She is succeeding. So far. But the days are closing in for the filing another impeachment complaint before Congress.

Cha-cha will recede into the background. We’ll be back to where we started. And that is how to force an illegitimate president out of office.

Google

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cadets don’t lie or steal

President Arroyo sought to strike the right note during the graduation of Class 2006 of the Philippine Military Academy last Saturday. She exhorted the graduates to be loyal to the Republic and to be committed to crushing enemies of the state. She asked them to focus on their work and to keep off politics.

At the same time she vowed to sustain military reforms along with efforts to improve the political and economic structures.

As graduation speeches go, Gloria’s was ho-hum. But it deserves fuller attention given its background that there reportedly is an opposition-leftist-rightist conspiracy to overthrow her administration.

Let’s talk about loyalty. The AFP’s loyalty should be to the Republic and Constitution, not to a person. We have been seeing clear abuse of this principle.

Remember the use of Intelligence Service of the AFP to concoct derogatory information against opposition leaders, starting with the purported hundreds of millions of dollars stashed abroad by Sen. Panfilo Lacson? That short step into politicizing the AFP was followed by the giant leap of using the military to manipulate the presidential election in 2004 in Mindanao. Last month, the Armed Forces was called in under PP 1017 to suppress "lawless violence" which in this particular case amounted to nothing more than a few thousand unarmed protesters trying to march to the Edsa Shrine.

It should be no surprise, thus, that using the military to bludgeon legitimate opposition and dissent has resulted in the restiveness in the military. Professionalism of the junior- and middle-rank officers and their men had not been an issue for sometime until Gloria grabbed power from Joseph Estrada. The last time soldiers marched out of the barracks was in 1989 against the Aquino administration.

"I expect you to be loyal to your values, to your nation and to your Constitution," Arroyo told the graduates.

She is preaching to the choir. Cadets don’t lie or cheat and don’t tolerate others who do so. It is in fact the cadets of recent years who are now serving in the Armed Forces who cannot stomach the lying, cheating and thieving they see around them.

Gloria should have addressed the generals whom she had placed in plum positions in payment for their conspicuous devotion beyond the call of duty to keep her in power.

Or herself. She is violating the Constitution and subverting the ideas upon which the Republic stands. She is the last person to lecture cadets – or the citizenry for that matter – on democracy, freedom and ethical conduct.

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Kill-Gloria plot

(This was published Saturday, March 25, 2006.)

The Palace should stop talking about assassination attempts against President Arroyo. It would only give the crazies ideas. We have no history of killing presidents. Let’s make sure it stays that way.

We don’t even have a history of violently overthrowing our leaders. Thanks to People Power, that innovation that has been successfully replicated in other parts of the world. The Arroyo administration was stricken with amnesia during the Edsa 1 and Edsa 2 celebrations last month. It can’t, however, erase history, expunge the memory of those glorious moments from the people’s collective memory or repress the resurgence of that impulse when faced by corruption and tyranny.

Assassinations go with the territory. We have had two cases of foiled attempts. There’s that ex-Huk who waylaid wartime President Jose P. Laurel while he was playing golf after the war. There’s that dud of a grenade thrown at President Manuel Roxas in Clark. But these were the handiwork of individuals who had clearly snapped.

We have no incidence of politically motivated assassination plots save one: that alleged attempt to place a bomb inside a flower box near a lectern reserved for President Ferdinand Marcos. That plot is now shrouded by the mist of martial law propaganda. It’s a truth we have no way of verifying.

That’s what worries us about this alleged assassination plot against Arroyo. It’s only Malacañang which has been talking about it. It first surfaced in the days leading to the PMA alumni homecoming last month. The attempt, the Palace now claims, has been reset to today’s PMA graduation.

Given the Palace’s credibility, or rather the lack of it, the alleged assassination plot is seen as another ploy to justify the crackdown against those calling for Arroyo’s ouster.

It’s like the bomb plot against Marcos. There’s a substantial body of evidence showing that the plot was real, with funding coming from an "oligarchic" family whose overarching business interests Marcos, in truth, had tried to destroy. But it was dismissed as just a "palabas" to justify repression.

So we fervently pray nothing happens this weekend. Real or fake, any assassination attempt would only lead to more vicious assaults against perceived enemies of Gloria. And who knows where the cycle of violence would stop.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Doing it the Palparan way

The military has blamed alleged purges in the communist ranks for the spate of killings of activists in the countryside. The allegation is hogwash. The victims were leaders of "mass organizations," the Left’s term for open and legal groups. Internal bloodletting in the communist party invariably involves cadres and leading members. Moreover, if there were indeed such purges, these would have been broadcast or written about by now considering the porosity of the underground.

The killings bore telltale signs of military operation. Not so discreet surveillance. Hooded men in pairs on motorcycles. Taunting and threats after the attack. The aim is not only to kill the target but also to terrorize his family, friends and sympathizers.

But let’s clear up things first. No, we’re not fellow travelers. Yes, we find executions by agents of the state morally repugnant. And yes, even from a purely practical standpoint, we believe these killings in the long run bring more harm to the overall campaign against insurgency.

During the Army’s 109th founding anniversary celebration, the Distinguished Service Award was given to Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan. He was cited for purportedly hurting the rebels’ organizational, political and military infrastructures wherever he was assigned. There might indeed be spikes in the number of purported rebels who turned up dead whenever Palparan showed up. But is there any evidence that rebel activity has been substantially reduced in areas where Palparan was assigned?

Mindoro, where Palparan gained notoriety, continues to be a hotbed of rebellion. Same with Samar. In fact, it is more likely that Palparan has only fanned anti-government sentiments with his scorched earth tactics in dealing with the rebels and their host communities. Palparan gets promoted. He bails out from the scene of his atrocities. Who cleans up the mess he leaves behind if not his designated replacement? The replacement has to regain the trust of the community. He has to re-orient and re-train the troops he inherited. It would be a hard, upward slog in the battle for the hearts and minds of the residents.

The temptation then is to do it the Palparan’s way. It’s a proven ticket to a bigger command and the promotion that goes with it. Why, he might even bag a Distinguished Service Award down the road. What does he care if the rest of the islands turn into another Mindoro or Samar?

We have a high regard for Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz. He is making professionalization and modernization of the Armed Forces his priority.

But if he doesn’t stop the likes of Palparan, he might end up nurturing a monster that will devour us all.

Google

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The AFP as Gestapo

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon has declared former Sen. Gregorio Honasan a "dangerous" fugitive and directed soldiers under him to use "appropriate force" in arresting the latter. The directive is as good as a shoot-on-sight order against the former colonel.

Soldiers are not law enforcers. Their business is killing. Esperon is raising the stakes in the ongoing power play to unacceptable levels.

Honasan may not have the popularity he enjoyed in the heady days immediately following Edsa 1. He may indeed have been the brains behind the Oakwood mutiny in 2003. But his death would have the potential of sparking public outrage against the Arroyo administration not seen since the 1983 killing of Ninoy Aquino. And it won’t be because people adore Gringo. It would be because killing Gringo would be the final, uncontrovertable proof that the Arroyo administration has lost any shred of morality and decency.

Let’s not go into the legality of shooting a fugitive. It might be justified by Esperon’s rules of engagement against one he has judged to be a "dangerous" person. There is, however, a clear difference between a warrant of arrest and an order for execution.

Arresting Honasan is none of the Army’s concern. It is the job of the police. Esperon is being disengenuous in invoking the principle of citizen’s arrest in justifying his directive to the Army to hunt down Honasan.

Esperon should attend the routine briefing given by police supervisors to applicants for private security guards. The routine goes this way: "You guys, as security guards, hold no authority. Your power to ‘arrest’ derives from the citizen’s arrest provision in the Constitution. You can arrest anybody about to commit, is commiting or has committed a crime. But that power may be exercised by any other citizen. You can claim no additional authority just because you wear a uniform or are issued a firearm."

We are talking of security guards. One does not send them after "fugitives" because they can undertake citizen’s arrest.

Esperon is talking about the 70,000-strong Army being tasked with the job of hunting down somebody who has been conveniently tagged as a dangerous fugitive. It’s not as if an ordinary soldier chances upon Honasan and says, "You’re under arrest, sir." The order sent to Army units is to make the arrest of Honasan a priority. Esperon, in effect, has made a posse out of the Army, with a political thorn on the side of the commander-in-chief as the target of frontier justice.

Professionalism in the military? The Prussians at Hitler’s General Staff used to sniff at the thugs in the Gestapo. In our case, it’s the thugs who have taken over the helm of the Armed Forces.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Economic sabotage?

We’re a little surprised that the crime of "economic sabotage" remains in the books. It’s a vestigial law from martial rule that should have been erased with the restoration of democracy. But we understand that the products of the infamous Amendment No. 6 to the 1973 Constitution could not have been simply struck down without messing up the legal system.

So we’re left with laws, including the one on economic sabotage, issued by President Ferdinand Marcos in his exercise of legislative powers during the interim Batasang Pambansa, with such laws remaining in force unless expressly repealed by the legislature.

As we understand it, economic sabotage covers profiteering, hoarding, smuggling and similar acts that tend to harm the economy. Never has it entered our mind that saying something like "the political situation is so bad that foreign businessmen are likely to pass the Philippines as an investment site" could conceivably be construed as economic sabotage.

That’s what Gloria Arroyo’s allies are accusing President Fidel Ramos of. His purported offense was in saying that Palace efforts to resolve restiveness in the Armed Forces succeeded in imposing "temporary and artificial stability" only and that the claimed stability will not be able to withstand "extra-ordinary pressures similar to the standoff at the Marines headquarters in Fort Bonifacio last month.

The accusation is so laughable no prosecutor would entertain such a complaint. But the intriguing side to this attack on Ramos is that it comes from House members from Lakas CMD, of which Ramos is chairman emeritus. It’s perhaps part of a campaign to cut down Ramos to size for his attacks on Arroyo. We doubt, however, Ramos could care about the sniping from relatively inconsequential political players.

But if Arroyo’s lapdogs could do this to Ramos, who’s next? Someone says the leadership crisis is scaring lenders. Another says the rundown infrastructure is driving away manufacturers to neighbors with better roads and ports. A third says the cost corruption is making local producers uncompetitive against Thailand and Malaysia, not to speak of China. Does the Arroyo government intend to haul them off to jail for such statements?

It’s crazy. But who says the people in power are sane? Arroyo a few days back announced that one of these days she might just try smugglers before military tribunals. She said this is perfectly allowed based on her readings of some obscure statutes she failed to identify.

There could, we concede, be method to this madness. Arroyo might indeed be brushing up on the martial law decrees of Marcos. Perhaps the word-for-word cribbing from Presidential Decree 1081, which imposed martial, in Presidential Proclamation 1017, which placed the country under a state of emergency, was deliberate and intentional.

At least Marcos called one-man rule martial law. He was honest, an adjective we had not used to describe Marcos until one congenital liar came along.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Repression breeds resistance

By hauling in Dinky Soliman for leading a band of Black and White members on a stroll by Bay, the Arroyo administration has only further shown its bankruptcy to rule. Fifty or so men and women clad in black and flashing the thumbs down sign cannot bring down a government. Unless, of course, the latter’s hold on power is so tenuous it has to stamp out any spark of protest for fear of a conflagration.

Frankly, we are not impressed by the Arroyo government’s show of force. We see it, on the contrary, as a sign of weakness.

The critical issue facing Gloria Arroyo is her administration’s lack of legitimacy following allegations of cheating during the 2004 election. This issue has not been squarely addressed. The response of Arroyo has been to prevent the truth from surfacing.

The stonewalling and the cover-up started with the House investigation of the "Hello Garci" tapes and the failed impeachment complaint. First came the lies and deception. Then followed calibrated preempted response and Executive Order 464. All this did not work. The latest was the declaration of a state of national emergency, but this also appears not to have cowed those calling for Gloria to resign or be ousted.

The pattern is obvious. When a government has lost the debate, it resorts to repression. Arroyo’s government is following this route. That repression only leads to stiffer resistance and the ultimate overthrow of tyrannical regimes ought to give pause to Gloria and her cabal. History has shown, however, tyrants never learn from their predecessors’ folly.

And that we fear is what the country will go through before the leadership crisis is resolved.

Gloria is already edging toward a regime of undeclared martial law. The crackdown on peaceful assemblies. The threats to a free press. The arrest of critics on trumped up charges. These are shots across the bow presaging the imposition of martial law.

Despite the crackdown, the resistance is not ebbing, let alone ceasing, to what is seen as an illegitimate administration resorting to unconstitutional means to stay in power.

Gloria’s claim to a return of stability is hollow. She has not seen the worst of what a bestirred people can do. But the people should have no illusion either that they have seen the worst of what an administration fighting for its survival can do.

The fight is on. We can only pray it does not sunder the whole nation.

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Malacañang’s ‘resolve’

(This was published Saturday, March 18, 2006.)

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye yesterday said the Palace will meet constitutional challenges to the presidency with the same resolve that it showed in facing the purported coup timed with the anniversary of Edsa 1 last month. He said Gloria Arroyo will not be pushed around either by impeachers or coup plotters.

Does Bunye mean that the police will start bashing skulls of protesters, arresting political enemies without warrants and threatening to shutdown media when another impeachment complaint is filed against Arroyo?

That’s the only sense we can make of this Palace’s expression of "resolve" in meeting the expected revival of the impeachment complaint that was blocked through technicality by Arroyo allies in the House last year. The previous impeachment complaint was scuttled mainly through the outright buying of the support of congressmen. We do not expect the transactional government of Arroyo to abandon this route. So why threaten "impeachers" with unspecified resolute actions when paying off non-impeachers will do?

Is it perhaps because Arroyo is not sure this time that the old tactics will work?
House members are facing an election in 2007. They also have to worry about their political survival. If the current overwhelming public sentiment that Gloria should go persists, not a few of erstwhile supporters would throw their lot with the pro-impeachment bloc.

Public sentiment against Gloria, thus, has to be reversed. The pressure on the mass media will mount. Crackdown on protest actions will intensify. And, introducing a dimension that was lacking in last year’s impeachment process, the military will be brought in to intimidate the forces arrayed against Gloria’s continued stay in power.

When all fails, the Arroyo administration can round up the more strident critics in the House.
Take the case of the six members of the House who have been ordered arrested for rebellion. Crispin Beltran is now under detention. It’s only a matter of time before the Department of Justice under Raul Gonzalez of lapdog loyalty to Gloria hands down an indictment against the five others. Since rebellion is a non-bailable offense, that’s already six votes that are literally locked up. If the numbers are still threatening to Arroyo, trumped up indictments also for rebellion against a dozen more House members can always be filed by the ever-loyal Gonzalez.

Speculation? Yes, but we only have to recall the post-war case of the members of the House from the Democratic Alliance. They were tagged as communist-supported election cheats. They were expelled. The hurdle was cleared for the passage of the Parity Rights amendment to the Constitution.

Let’s not underestimate Arroyo’s "resolve" to twist the Constitution and the laws in her desperate bid to stay in power.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

The real and actual danger

What kind of insanity is going on? The Armed Forces the other day announced that its 130,000 men have been directed to track down former Sen. Gregorio Honasan, against whom a Makati regional court has issued an arrest warrant arising from the rebellion charges filed against him in relation to the Oakwood mutiny in July 2003.

AFP spokesman Col. Tristan Kison, who by his position is assumed to be speaking for the organization, said the action against Honasan is not limited to fielding teams to hunt and take him into custody. He said the directive covers all units. If Honasan is sighted in Laguna, the 1st Infantry Battalion will arrest him; if sighted in Bataan, then the task goes to the 24th IB.

"Our priority now is Col. Honasan because the (arrest) warrant is already out," Kison said.
We are impressed by the AFP’s zealousness to go after "enemies of the state." But who gave the idea to the AFP that it is now authorized to run after people with arrest warrants issued against them?

Arresting people is the job of the police and the NBI. There are other specialized law enforcement agencies (as many as 30 as of last count), but they deal only with a narrow list of offenders, say, forest guards going after illegal loggers.

The AFP is not among these agencies with law enforcement powers. Soldiers are trained to shoot and kill hostiles. They have no idea how to go about arresting people and the legal procedures involved.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, a former Marines commandant and AFP chief of staff, has warned the military against being intoxicated by power. In the case of Honasan, some potent brew clearly has gone to the head of the generals. They should sober up fast.

It is, of course, possible that the military was acting under the orders of the civilian leadership. The AFP leadership has repeatedly been saying it strictly adheres to the principle of civilian supremacy. Somebody other than the AFP leadership, then, must have given the order to sic the soldiery on Honasan.

We are no longer surprised. The military was used to steal the election. It is now being openly used against those who oppose the administration.

Biazon is only half right. The generals might get intoxicated with power. But that’s only a possibility. The real and actual danger is posed by those whose brains have been completely and possibly irreversibly addled by power.

We see them strutting on the public stage everyday. They don’t wear uniforms.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Two unacceptable choices

It’s plainly obvious that Gloria Arroyo is now practically a hostage of the military.

If we are to believe the AFP, a group of officers would have withdrawn its support from Gloria Arroyo last Feb. 24, triggering her downfall, if the military leadership had not uncovered the plot and convinced the officers to abandon their plan. So Gloria is now heavily indebted to the military leadership. And considering that the restiveness in the officer corps has hardly abated, Gloria will have to rely more and more on loyal senior generals to maintain her grip.

That said, Joker Arroyo has done the nation great service in warning that the role of the military has gone beyond what is expected of it, that is, suppressing any attempts to subvert the Constitution and the chain of command. Despite the divisions, the military – as a corporate entity – has come into its own.

The AFP leadership, as early as last year during the height of the "Hello Garci" scandal, said its primary concern was to keep the organization intact, stressing it would not take sides in the raging political war. What happened was it actually took the side of Arroyo last month. While so doing, it sent a strong signal, however, that it will brook no interference by outsiders in resolving internal issues that the brass would like people to believe are minor issues of discipline.

Despite all this hardline talk about not entertaining amnesty for purported plotters, the AFP is not about to deepen the fissures within the officer corps by meting out harsh punishment. All in the name of keeping the organization intact. The chain of command must not be broken at all cost, save perhaps when it’s only the very head which is about to be lopped off as was the case in Edsa 1 and Edsa 2.

That’s the unmistakable warning to Arroyo. The AFP leadership is saying the autonomy they claim must be respected or else…

The military – not the opposition, civil society, business or the bishops – is now the key player in the current leadership crisis. We doubt at the moment the generals are entertaining thoughts of grabbing power for themselves and ruling through a junta.

But at the rate Arroyo is leading the country to perdition, generals might just think they could do no worse than her.

The way out is for Arroyo to resign. But she won’t. Who will then give her the boot. The military? Equally unacceptable alternatives. Forcing us to choose one or the other is the real tragedy.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Exits Nora Aunor

A team from the Department of Justice has given the five party-list congressmen 15 days to file their answer to allegations of the police that they have engaged and are continuing to engage in actions to overthrow the government. After 15 days, whether the congressmen have filed their answer or not, the prosecution team will consider the case submitted for resolution. If probable cause is found, rebellion charges will be filed. The court is then expected to issue arrest warrants against them.

Why did then the government have to invoke warrantless arrests and go through the aggravation of declaring a state of national emergency, which only further alienated it from the people, when everything, in the end, will have to go through the normal process of prosecution?

From where we sit, the case against the five looks laughable. The "evidence" presented so far by the police consists of mere allegations that the five congressmen have purported links to the Communist Party of the Philippines and are working in pursuit of the party’s goals. There are no acts specified as satisfying the elements of the alleged crime.

The police have trotted out a confessed member of the communist party who swore he saw the five in a meeting with a purported communist leader. The PNP’s witness hid his face by pulling his shirt over his head and peering behind the neck through a pair of sunglasses. A "bayong" with holes for his eyes would have been a more fitting attire.

Yesterday, another witness was presented, one who gratuitously volunteered that he was gay. He said he was looking for a gay friend when he caught sight of Rep. Satur Ocampo meeting one of the escaped Magdalo officers in Batangas. The witness could be a eunuch for all we care, so what’s the rhyme or reason for highlighting his sexual preference? To provide verisimilitude to his claim he saw Satur and the officer after emerging from the toilet?

The "comedia" the police are foisting on us would be laughable if not for the apparent intentional mockery of the justice system. The policemen seem to be saying they can ride roughshod over civil liberties and laughingly get away with it.

But on the other hand, the PNP approach might just be the touch of comedy needed to complement the delusions of their "commander-in-chief" (the PNP is supposed to be a civilian organization, but it appears to be hung up on military forms).

Gloria Arroyo is dead serious in wiping out critics. The police, obviously without meaning to, make her ludicrous by parading the Makapilis and the Facifica Falayfays as star witnesses in her claimed Leftist-Rightist conspiracy to overthrow her.

Nora Aunor is gone. In her place is Marquis de Sade mounting a farce of a drama featuring the inmates of a mental asylum.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Cornered animal

For somebody who’s hanging on to power by her fingertips, Gloria Arroyo sure has gall in saying "one comprehensive, continuing sweep" will crush the campaign for her resignation or ouster.

Questions over the legitimacy of her administration are not about to die down. To cover up her original sin of stealing the election, she has resorted to repression not seen since the days of Ferdinand Marcos. The people, instead of being cowed, have met stepped-up repression with stiffer resistance.

So what else can Arroyo do to still the calls for her resignation or ouster after banning rallies, threatening media and seeking to arrest critics without warrants?

Suspend the writ of habeas corpus? Declare martial law?

As it is, resorting to warrantless arrests is already as good as suspending the writ. She cannot continue rounding up critics on trumped-up rebellion charges in the expectation that those who want her out would be intimidated into quiescence. Rallies and demonstrations are good as banned courtesy of toadies at local governments who routinely deny applications to hold mass gatherings.

The curtailment of civil liberties through legally questionable edicts has not put to an end to agitations for her to step down or be kicked out from office. The results, on the contrary, are the growing resolve of her critics to step up their efforts and the broadening of the forces arrayed against her.

She could declare martial law, but she would be crazy to presume the Armed Forces would stand solidly behind her. The reliefs of Brig. Gen. Danny Lim as commander of the First Scout Rangers Regiment and of a few other officers in the Armed Forces and the National Police are not signs that the chain of command is intact. The crackdown, on the contrary, is the most compelling evidence to surface that the military and the police are deeply divided. Martial will exacerbate the division, not patch it.

The 1987 Constitution provides for automatic review by Congress of the factual basis for the declaration of martial law. If Gloria declares martial law on the ground that the people who want her out are marching in the thousands in the streets, the more her repressive tactics will be seen as a desperate effort to keep herself in power.

That is the bottom-line. Gloria has lost her credibility. Her administration is totally discredited. She is like a cornered animal striking out mindlessly at her enemies.

She has become paranoid. With good reason. She has become the people’s enemy.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Slippery slope of politicalized soldiers

Some Palace "geniuses" have come up with the idea of Gloria Arroyo holding "pulong-pulong" with the soldiers to elicit their concerns and grievances. It’s a crazy step that could only lead to the further politicalization of the Armed Forces.

Grassroots consultations have their uses. Gloria, who is isolated and alienated from the people, can benefit from a dialogue with the common folks. She needs a reality check. Her boasts of an improving economy, for example, jar with the reality of rising expenses against a flat or falling income among the poor. The doña could learn humility by talking to the muchachos and muchachas.

Barangay-type of democratic consultations, however, have no place in a hierarchical organization bound by strict discipline like the military. Sure, soldiers are people, too. They worry about food on the table, schooling for the kids and health care when their families get sick. But for the commander-in-chief to directly go the ranks – with officers pointedly excluded from the consultations – is to short-circuit the chain of command.

The Palace says the dialogues will focus on basic concerns such as low pay, lack of housing, demoralization. Fine, but the soldiers are not dumb. Gloria might think she can buy their loyalty with higher pay and access to housing. The effect we see is that she would only be injecting her patented "transactional" politics into the ranks of the soldiery.

She has done it to the officer corps by, for example, amply rewarding the election cheats and undeservedly punishing the professionals. Now she intends to contaminate the enlisted men with the same virus of patronage.

The Armed Forces has been inculcated with the Western principle that the soldier has no role to play in politics except to vote. In this tradition, soldiers are not supposed to think about things like what is the good life or the social arrangements that best enable citizens to realize their full potential. Whether this is good or bad is beside the point. An apolitical military is just presumed to be the best.

There is, on the other hand, another distinct tradition of soldiers being purposely indoctrinated of their institutional role as defenders of the faith, however the latter is conceived. This is specially true of a military evolving from a revolutionary army. Soldiers are required to attend regular meetings where the political issues of the day are dissected. There are even political commissars to ensure their ideological purity, political correctness and loyalty to the Great Leader.

That is the slippery slope Arroyo is treading in the planned dialogues with the enlisted men. As we said, she might succeed in winning over the soldiers to her side. The more likely possibility is the dialogues would just expose her hypocrisy – as similar attempts to woo the popular have boomeranged – and prompt the men with guns to turn against her.

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Gloria’s doctrine of self-preservation

(This was published Saturday, March 11, 2006)

We are dumbfounded by the Palace’s new line justifying attempts to muzzle media during purported national emergencies. The Palace says seeking to slant new coverage is demanded by the principle of necessity and survival. What message are the powers that be trying to put across?

The drive for survival is associated with an organism’s efforts to preserve itself in the face of inhospitable conditions. In its benign form, survival simply means trying to adapt oneself to the changing environment. But self-preservation has another more frightening meaning and that is shedding off all restraints to survive.

Clearly muzzling of the media, suppressing protests and trying to cow critics, is self-preservation of the latter kind.

It’s probably true that Gloria Arroyo’s rule is in imminent danger of being overthrown. Arroyo is seen as having cheated her way to the presidency. She is seen as an illegitimate president. Her credibility is near zero. People overwhelmingly do not trust her. The country is doomed under such a leadership. Ergo, she must go.

The threat is real enough. But Gloria is not the Republic and the latter will surely survive even without her. The contrary, in fact, is the more likely scenario. Her continued stay will so weaken the institutions of democracy that a communist seizure of power becomes a distinct possibility.

The law and morals are being thrown out the window in the name of ensuring her survival. Remember Gloria’s vow in December 2002 on the grave of Jose Rizal that she would not run in 2004 because she was the single biggest cause of the nation’s division? It was the drive for self-preservation (this was the time when the capers of the Jose Pidals were starting to come out) that made her turn her back to her pledge. She cheated in the 2004 election also for the same reason. The "Hello Garci" cover-up, the prostituted impeachment process, the calibrated preempted response, Executive Order 464, PP 1017 – these were all prompted by the drive for survival.

In the process, the credibility of Congress, the judiciary and the civil service has been eroded. Institutions outside government which are indispensable to the functioning of democracy such as a free press are under siege.

The drive for survival – in this case that of a discredited administration – can never justify the destruction of the social fabric. One cannot destroy everything held sacred in the name of self-preservation.

The Palace should also remember that self-preservation cuts both ways. The bigger social organism, by necessity, can and should excise rotten and cancerous segments also in the name of survival.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Why the obfuscations

Let’s call a spade a spade. Party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros Baraquel was arrested while she was leading a rally the other day in Quezon City. Authorities should not describe the grabbing of a person and taking her to a police station for questioning as an "invitation." The last time the state was in the business of issuing "invitations" was during martial law. "Invitation" was a euphemism for arrest. The administration, by resorting to such Marcosian tactic, is only firming up public perception of a disguised martial law as way for Gloria Arroyo to stay in power.

Yesterday, the police came up with another doublespeak to describe Baraquel’s arrest. They said they only took the legislator out of harm’s way preparatory to breaking up the rally which they said had no permit.

Lying and obfuscation apparently are contagious. If the highest officials of the land can speak from both sides of the mouth, then policemen probably think they also have a license to feed the public with arrant nonsense.

In the case of Baraquel, the police could very well justify her arrest for violation of the Public Assembly Act. She joined a rally without a permit; that’s enough ground to arrest her. The fly in the ointment is that Baraquel, as a legislator, is immune from arrest while Congress is in session for offenses carrying a penalty of six years. The policemen who grabbed Baraquel might not be aware such privilege is bestowed on legislators by no less than the Constitution. But as stability-and-order apostle Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez is fond of saying, ignorance of the law is not a defense.

And speaking of Gonzalez, two Iloilo-based news weeklies, which have no love lost toward the justice secretary, have denounced their being placed under government monitoring. Gonzalez’ answer?

If he could order the monitoring of Manila-based papers, why could he not monitor two pesky rags in his hometown?

Going back to legislators, Palace mouthpieces have twitted five other party-list congressmen facing arrest for seeking the protection of the House. The line goes like this: The five routinely boast about the courage of their conviction. So why don’t they face the music like real men?

The aim obviously is to deflect the people’s attention from the real issue, which is the order for their arrest without court warrants. They are said to be engaged in rebellion, a continuing crime for which the offender can be arrested without warrant. But the suspects aren’t going anywhere. The police can file a complaint with a prosecutor. The prosecutor can conduct a preliminary investigation and, upon finding probably cause, file charges in court. Issuance of warrants of arrest then follows.

The government need not go through legal and public relations contortions if it has the goods on the suspects. And that probably is precisely the reason for these short-cuts that violate civil liberties. The government simply does not have a case.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fertilizer fund scam smokescreen

Moves are afoot to obfuscate the facts of the P728 million fertilizer scam, the proceeds of which were used to help buy the 2004 election for Gloria Arroyo.

The Commission on Audit has confirmed that the fertilizer used in the program was overpriced by at least P127 million. COA records also showed that more than 100 House of Representatives members, 53 governors and 26 town mayors received between P3 million and P10 million each in fertilizer funds from the DA, all shortly before the 2004 elections.

Arroyo has directed the Presidential Anti-Graft Council to investigate the scam. The PACG chief, Constancia de Guzman, has been making the rounds of talk shows, vowing that her office will get to the bottom of the systematic stealing of the money. We wonder how De Guzman could even start scratching the surface of the scam when the suspected mastermind and the prime beneficiary are out of her reach.

A Senate inquiry has tagged former DA Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc Joc" Bolante as the architect of the scam. He controlled the money, he chose the conduit-politicians and he named the bogus beneficiaries. But being out government now, Bolante is not covered by the PAGC inquiry.

Bolante could conceivably have done it on his own. But everybody at the DA knew he was Mike Arroyo’s boy. He was not answerable to anybody, not even the agriculture secretary. Not once did he deign attend the executive committee weekly meeting during his four-year stint at the DA, preferring to report to LTA building in Makati.

The Senate inquiry finds Arroyo accountable for Bolante’s caper, she being the prime beneficiary of the scam. Arroyo submitting herself to an investigation by a body of her own creation like PAGC? That will be the day.

In fact, it was Arroyo herself had been throwing roadblocks into the inquiry conducted jointly by the Senate committees on agriculture and on public accountability.

DA documents show that aside from Bolante, those who supervised the program were DA Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales and former DA assistant secretary Ibarra Poliquit, now a vice president at the Government Service Insurance System. When invited to the Senate inquiry, Gonzales and Poliquit invoked Executive Order 464, which bars officials from attending congressional proceedings without the permission of Arroyo.

Here now comes Arroyo seeking to play the hero. The Senate committees have already submitted a copy of their findings to the Ombudsman. Our reading is that the PAGC "investigation" will just serve as a smokescreen while the real action (inaction) takes place at the Ombudsman headed by Merceditas Gutierrez, another Mike Arroyo boy, or rather girl.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The bully with a knife

The Palace says, on one hand, that the issue of the constitutionality of the declaration of a state of national emergency is moot and academic after its lifting. It also says, on the other hand, that it is prepared to declare an emergency again and again if the purported destabilizers do not stop in their efforts to unseat Gloria Arroyo.

What kind of game is this? The bully sticks a knife into one’s side, pulls it out and returns it to its sheath. He then says, look, Ma, there’s nothing in my hands. He gets away with it. The next time, he sticks the blade into another fellow. He again feigns innocence of any murderous intent.

The Arroyo administration has pulled off the same stunt three times. The first one, declaring a state of rebellion, was after the May 1, 2001 siege on Malacañang. The second, a state of national emergency, was in July 2003 when soldiers grouped under Magdalo seized the Oakwood luxury apartments. The latest was on February 24 purportedly to crush a Leftist-Rightist conspiracy.

In all three cases, the presidential edicts served as the basis for the issuance of orders directing the Armed Forces and the police to round up critics of the administration without warrants. The fit-all crime was rebellion, a continuing offense.

The standard line of the administration when the cases were brought before the Supreme Court was that the proclamations were but descriptions of the prevailing conditions, and that the Executive exercised no powers in addition to what it exercised in the ordinary course of implementing the law.

So why the need for declaring a national emergency? The administration would not deign to give an explanation, saying enough of the questioning, it’s now moot and academic.

The Supreme Court yesterday started hearing oral arguments on the petitions seeking that the latest proclamation of a state of emergency be unconstitutional. That’s an improvement over outright dismissal of the petitions for being academic. But it’s still a long way from the court ruling that such proclamations run against the Constitution.

Do the people, in the meantime, then simply have to live with the open threat of warrantless arrests, ban on peaceful assemblies and curtailment of the freedom of the press?

The Arroyo administration invokes the right of the state to defend itself. Let’s gloss over for the moment the claimed identity between the administration and the state (Gloria is not the Republic, although she acts as if she is). Nobody questions the state’s right to survive. But it must do so on the basis of the social contract.

A democracy does not resort to totalitarian ways to preserve itself. The moment it does, it has transformed itself into the very enemy it claims to fight.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How not to fight insurgency

Here we go again, the Armed Forces saying it will be able to defeat the New People’s Army within four years. Ferdinand Marcos was not able to crush the communist rebels during his 14-year one-man rule. The generals are dreaming if they think they could root out the insurgency under Gloria Arroyo’s discredited regime.

During the Marcos years, a ragtag band of former Huks based in Central Luzon developed into a guerrilla army of up to 12,000 full-time fighters operating in all but the smallest islands in the archipelago.

In 1971, Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus by invoking the Red bogey. A year later, he declared martial law to counter what he said was a "leftist-rightist" conspiracy (sounds familiar?) to destroy the republic. The communist rebels were almost wiped out during the early years of martial law. But they were able to survive and proceeded to gain strength as state repression became more intense and corruption became more widespread.

Whatever we say about Marcos, he was elected president twice with an unquestionable mandate, which cannot be said of Arroyo. The military too was solidly behind Marcos when he declared martial. More important, the people, while they did not exactly welcome the declaration of martial law, acquiesced to it and, in fact, for a time found comfort in the discipline enforced by the soldiery.

Gloria? The military is more fragmented than it was during the last days of Marcos. Favoritism and corruption in the AFP is probably worse now. How could a deeply divided military be expected to focus on its primary mission of fighting the insurgents?

At the moment, three battalions are tied up in Metro Manila to counter coup threats. That blowhard Brig. Gen. Jovito Palpalaran boasted his 7th Infantry Division had bottled up the Scout Rangers in their camp in San Miguel, Bulacan, after the arrest of Rangers commander Brig. Gen. Danny Lim.

Who’s running after the NPAs then?

The Gloria administration, borrowing a page from the martial law book, is trying to whip up anti-communist hysteria. The attempt to arrest the five leftist party-list representatives for alleged rebellion is an example. The people, however, are not biting. They see all the "palabas" as part of Arroyo’s desperate bid to stay in power.

With a corrupt and discredited government, whose primary instrument of dealing with insurgency is divided, we don’t see the rebellion being pushed back soon. The contrary is more like it - the rebels gaining strength as the Arroyo administration becomes more isolated from
the people.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

In defense of an unfair and delirious press

The Arroyo administration is now putting forward a face of reasonableness and moderation after seeking to frighten the bejeesus out of the media with threats of arrests and closure.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s take on the "responsibility" of media best exemplifies the post-emergency mask of the administration. Bunye said freedom of the press was never under threat; the government just wants the media to be "fair and sober."

Question: Where does it say in the Constitution that the press has to be fair or sober? Or in the Revised Penal Code or the Civil Code for that matter?

The Constitution says "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press…" Nothing could be clearer than that. Media owners and staffers, of course, are liable for libel and for inciting to sedition and inciting to rebellion. Media owners and staffers, we would like to believe, are aware of these possible civil and criminal liabilities. They would all have found themselves serving time now if they were not aware of these limitations on press freedom. We are talking here, however, of specific stories that qualify as offenses listed in the codes.

What is unacceptable are "advisories or guidelines" backed by threats of arrest and closure on how media should do its job. These smack of prior restraint which is anathema to the functioning of a free press.

A newspaper can be as unfair and as biased as its publisher wants it to be. It’s still a constitutionally protected right. One can put up a newspaper solely dedicated to exposing the venalities of the Gloria administration, with nary a care to carrying the side of Arroyo as mouthed by Bunye or whoever is the Palace’s spin master for the day.

The same newspaper can be unremittingly delirious. Day in and day out, it in can say the Arroyo administration is a government of cheats and thieves. That Arroyo’s continued stay in power will lead the nation to perdition.

Such a (hypothetical) newspaper might even sell. It would never run out of scandals to print. People tend to believe the worst about Gloria Arroyo. What we are saying is that even pamphleteering in a newspaper format is constitutionally privileged.

We go to another government bugaboo - newspapers with an ideological or political agenda. In mature democracies, communist parties have their own newspapers. Of course, the publications are in furtherance of the party’s program and agenda. That’s their reason for being after all. The reader’s eyes might glaze at the party jargons and slogans.

But nobody forces one to read such mind-deadening tracts. Pay P15 a copy for such a propaganda sheet? No, thank you.

In the same way we would probably not waste time on a newspaper devoted to singing paeans to Gloria even if it was given away for free.

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The old Gloria trick

(This was published Saturday, March 4, 2006.)

The Supreme Court yesterday said oral arguments on the petitions seeking that Presidential Proclamation 1071 be struck down as unconstitutional will go on as scheduled on March 7.

This we gotta see. The high tribunal sidestepped a similar issue in 2001. It’s about time the Supreme Court grabbed the bull by its horns although we have no illusion a ruling would deter the Arroyo administration from twisting the Constitution to keep its precarious hold on power.

On May 1, 2001, a horde of supporters of President Joseph Estrada laid siege on Malacañang. In reaction, the Arroyo placed the country under a "state of rebellion" and ordered the arrest without warrants of a number of opposition leaders, including Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Gregorio Honasan.

The targets of the roundup went to the Supreme Court. Enrile secured a ruling that he be allowed to post bail, with the Supreme Court saying the evidence against him was hearsay.

The question on the constitutionality of the declaration of the state of emergency, however, remained pending. On May 6, Arroyo lifted the state of rebellion. On May 10, the Supreme Court dismissed the main petitions, saying these were moot and academic following the lifting.

The state of national emergency from Feb. 24 to March 3 lasted two days longer than the state of emergency in 2001. The end, in both cases, came as the Supreme Court was about tackle the question of constitutionality. In the first case, the Gloria administration enjoyed a graceful exit. This time, there is a good chance that the tribunal would quash the constitutional mutants the Arroyo administration had unleashed on its critics.

The Constitution speaks only of two "emergency" powers the President may exercise as commander-in-chief. One is the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the other is the declaration of martial. It does not talk of any animal called state of rebellion or state of emergency in the context of the commander-in-chief provision.

A ruling by the Supreme Court is called for, one which hopefully would curb the executive’s penchant to resort to measures infringing on people’s rights and civil liberties. The 1987 Charter, born out of martial law experience, was intentionally designed to prevent a return to tyranny. It subjects emergency powers of the executive to legislative and judicial review.

What the executive could not do with the suspension of the writ or the declaration of martial law, the more it could not do by invoking empty labels such as a state of rebellion or state of national emergency.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Gloria has no other option

Malacañang should stop the "moro-moro" about a supposed assessment on whether the state of national emergency should be lifted or not. The initial shock of its declaration has worn off and the returns have since been diminishing. The Arroyo administration has to lift the state of emergency for its own good.

It’s been exactly a week today when the state of emergency was declared. What has the government to show for it? Well, it claims that it was able to nip in the bud a leftist-right conspiracy to seize power. Arroyo propagandists would want people to believe that without the declaration, Gloria would have been overthrown by now.

The scenario was possible. The dissatisfaction with the Arroyo administration has reached boiling point. Had hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets and the military withdrawn its support, the Arroyo administration would have been history by now.

But what is the cost to the Arroyo government? Let’s take a look at the military. A general in the AFP and a chief superintendent in the PNP have been relieved for allegedly supporting the supposed coup attempt. The restiveness in the military and the police, however, remains a dagger pointed at the heart of the Arroyo administration. If the stand-off at the Marines headquarters over the change of command last weekend was any indication, the AFP is even more racked by divisiveness than ever. The brass is unable to impose discipline or unwilling to gut the organization by sending the best and the brightest in the officer corps to the stockade.

On the civilian side, the state of national emergency has only netted Rep. Crispin Beltran, the old labor movement warrior. Five other party-list congressmen face arrest, but they were still holed out there in the House and the administration could not anything. If law enforcers dragged them out kicking and screaming, it would only reinforce perceptions that Gloria has become a tyrant in the mold of Marcos.

That’s the bind the Arroyo administration is in. The declaration of national emergency has only alienated Arroyo further from the people. She is seen as staying in power only by naked force. Repression is meeting stiff resistance. She can up the ante by suspending the writ of habeas corpus or declaring martial. But none of the two will invest her administration with legitimacy.

In the meantime, businessmen, investors and lenders are jittery. The longer the state of emergency is in effect, the bigger is its toll on the economy, the one sphere where Arroyo is conceded by not a few as performing respectably.

The Arroyo administration has no option but to cut bait. It has to lift the state of emergency soonest. These purported consultations with her Cabinet are meant to pave the way for a graceful exit from the corner Arroyo boxed herself in.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Resist assault on press freedom

(Statement of the Philippine Press Institute adopted during its regular board meeting, March 1, 2006)

The Philippine Press Institute views with grave concern attempts to curtail press freedom following President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s declaration of a state of national emergency.

A newpaper’s printing press and offices have been raided for offenses authorities have not deigned to make public or explain. Warnings have been issued against violations of "standards" that are shrouded in obfuscation and mystery.

"No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press," the Constitution says. Where no law can trespass through the front door, no proclamations, decrees, orders or directives can intrude via the backdoor in the guise of preserving law and order and national security.

The State is trampling grounds protected by the Constitution and hallowed by tradition. The exercise of emergency powers does not suspend the Bills of Rights. Prior restraint on the press is anathema to a democratic way of life.

That no newspaper has been closed down and no journalist has been hauled off to jail do not make the assaults on the press any less repugnant. The intent is to intimidate. While the Philippine press, with its long tradition of resistance to tyranny, is not easily cowed, the line should immediately be drawn where the press should not yield an inch of ground.

The PPI, thus, calls on both member and non-member publications to expose and to resist any form of State attempt to limit their exercise of press freedom.

The PPI also commits itself in solidarity with all sectors fighting the creeping return to the dark days of repression.

The duty of the media is to report as truthfully as we could, guided by our best lights. Let there be no doubt as to our resolve to carry out our task.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

AFP’s mantra

The Armed Forces keeps repeating the mantra that officers and men who no longer support Gloria Arroyo represent a minuscule portion of the 130,000-strong military. Also that the military remains professional and subordinate to civilian authority. The events over the past few days make hollow all these claims of the military.

The military can be said to be fully supportive of Gloria only in a banal sense. The AFP has not withdrawn its support from Arroyo, ergo, it squarely stands behind her. The flaw in this argument is that following the chain-of-command and remaining faithful to the Constitution is assumed to be an iron-clad rule.

A few officers saying Gloria should go are probably mentally disturbed. A score saying so are probably crazed. But when hundreds of officers – many the cream of the corps – and their men call for Gloria to step down, that does not make for an insane asylum. That makes for a rebellious faction in an institution which has a monopoly over the State’s instruments of violence.

Brig. Gen. Danny Lim, the West Point-educated commanding general of the Scout Rangers, is under custody. His close friend, Col. Ariel Querubin, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade, has been relieved. At the PNP, Chief Supt. Marcelino Franco has been sacked as chief of the Special Action Force. One does not rise to high command in these elite units by being a lousy officer. In fact, Lim was awarded the Gold Cross, when the medal was not yet "dalawa singko," for rallying his men despite his wounds in defending their camp in Jolo in day-long fighting in the early 1970s. Querubin is a holder of the Medal of Valor, which needs no gilding for being the AFP’s highest combat award.

A similar check on the background of the lieutenants and captains who participated in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny would show them to be the Lims and the Querubins of their generation.

Isolated cases? So why are the superiors of Lim and Querubin handling them with kid gloves? Because these two are but the tip of the iceberg. The AFP leadership knows they are inviting mutiny in the officer corps if they subject the two to harsh disciplinary action.

(There’s a major service commander who would execute the two by firing squad if he had his way. But what could one expect from a "sipsip?")

That’s the pragmatic explanation for the AFP leadership’s benign handling of Lim and Querubin. But what if senior generals, despite their avowals of support for Arroyo, are sympathetic?

Just asking.

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