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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Keep politics out of wage-fixing

Congress should refrain from going back to the slippery slope of legislating wages. It would reopen once again wage-fixing to politics.

The workers’ party-list group Partido ng Manggagawa is pushing a House bill seeking to increase wages across-the-board by P150 daily. We understand Partido ng Manggagawa’s advocacy. After all, as its name implies, it is devoted to furthering the workers’ interest.

What we can’t understand is the recent pronouncement by House majority leader Prospero Nograles that congressmen are giving priority to approval of the pay hike bill, which sets an increase of "between P50 and P80," as sessions wind down in the next two weeks.

The Senate might just approve their own version with alacrity if only to put in the spot President Arroyo who would be faced with the unpalatable task of vetoing the measure, assuming, of course, that she would not succumb to populism.

Let’s hear it from the employers.

Rene Sarmiento, president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said a uniform
legislated wage increase is "anti-development" because "it fails to take into account prevailing economic conditions and other peculiarities in each region as well as other critical indicators like employment level, inflation rate, and productivity among others."

"It will be harmful to the economy especially if the industry to be burdened by a wage increase has the potential capacity of generating revenues for government, creating jobs and providing income for the labor force," he said.

He warned that congressional intervention would be a "double whammy" for businesses in as much as a legislated wage hike would be on top of increases to be granted by the various wage boards and pay adjustment obtained through collective bargaining.

"It will be very destructive on an already fragile economy badly in need of investments and boosting consumers’ confidence," Soriano said.

He said the wage increase would kill thousands of micro establishments and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

He said this will "run counter to the flagship program of the Arroyo administration to promote and strengthen the micro enterprises and SMEs as key generators of employment and economic dynamism."

Leaving aside the hyperbole, Sarmiento is right. Raising wages now will throw workers out of jobs and discourage investments.

But our concern is more with the politicalization of wage-fixing. There are wage boards already created by law to do this job. Let’s keep the pols out of the process. They have this habit of freely spending money they don’t own.


So what else is new?

(This was published Tuesday, May 30, 2006)

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya yesterday said he expects to work out with the Senate a realignment of the Palace "pork barrel" inserted in the proposed P1 trillion budget for 2006.

Andaya was presumably talking about the P6.7 billion which is supposed to bankroll the Kilos Asenso Support Fund (P3 billion) and the Kalayaan Barangay Program Fund (P3.69 billion). The programs were junked by senators for being vulnerable to Palace discretion in choosing the projects and in releasing funds.

The P6.7 billion, in short, is a gigantic pork barrel which Arroyo is likely to dispense to secure the support of congressmen and local officials.

If we understand Andaya correctly, his proposal to the Senate is to transfer the items in Kilos Asenso and in Kalayaan Barangay to the appropriations of line agencies. For example, money for roads will be allotted to the public works department, for irrigation to the agriculture department and for health services to the department of health.

Andaya’s proposal is eminently sensible. In fact, that’s the way the budget is supposed to be prepared. So why did the budget department come up with program-based appropriations such as the Kilos Asenso and Kalayaan Barangay funds in the first place?

The short answer is what the senators have been suspecting all along, that Gloria Arroyo wants to have a P6.7 billion kitty with which to buy support from legislators and local officials.

She is facing another impeachment complaint when Congress opens in July. Just like last year, her allies in the House are looking forward to an early Christmas in exchange for their votes. Instead of Gloria scrounging around for projects from the line departments to distribute to congressmen, she would have ready packages already gift-wrapped under Kilos Asenso and Kalayaan Barangay.

There is, in addition, the charter change campaign. The governors and the mayors are the point men in the people’s initiative to amend the charter. They don’t come cheap. Again the Kilos Asenso and Kalayaan Barangay funds would serve as the cornucopia of LGU delights.

The Senate was correct in scrapping the Kilos Asenso and the Kalayaan Barangay funds. The House, which is controlled by the party of thieves, is expected to push for the reinstatement of Gloria’s pork barrel during bicameral committee deliberations. A deadlock would sink the proposed budget for 2006.

In truth, since we are now at the tail-end of May, it would probably be less messy if the government just runs for the rest of the year under the reenacted 2005 budget. But that would have the effect of giving Gloria the whole P900 billion plus change budget last year as pork barrel.

Whatever agreement is reached by the Senate and the House, the people are royally screwed. So what else is new?


A loaded gun for homicidal maniacs

(This was published Monday, May 29, 2006)

One doesn’t gift a homicidal maniac with a loaded gun. That’s exactly what will happen if legislators pass the proposed anti-terrorism bill.

The Arroyo government is emerging as a worse violator of human rights than its three post-Marcos predecessors combined. This is indicated by data submitted by the Commission on Human Rights during last week’s plenary deliberations on the proposed P1 trillion budget for 2006. It is madness to give it expanded powers to arrest and detain suspects given this record.

The warrantless arrest of five supporters of President Joseph Estrada and the physical and mental torture of the victims have no place in a society operating under the rule of law. When operatives of the Intelligence Service of the AFP grabbed the five, they did not even identify themselves as agents of the law. When the families of the victims went to Isafp headquarters the next day, officials denied with a straight face that the five were under custody.

The actions taken by the government to address the blatant violations of human rights, however, appeared to be directed at justifying the Gestapo-like tactics employed by Isafp agents instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Palace officials washed their hands of the allegations of torture by kicking the buck downstairs, saying such accusations are better answered by operating units. AFP chief Gen. Generoso Senga said arrest without warrants is justified by a Supreme Court ruling which says rebellion is a continuing crime and, therefore, covered by the citizen’s arrest doctrine.

At present, suspects can be detained for at most 72 hours before charges are brought against them. Seventy-two hours is already an eternity when the suspects and their families are kept in the dark on who grabbed them (agents of the law? rebels? criminal syndicates? personal enemies?) and where they are detained.

In fact, the purported informant who tagged one of the Estrada 5 as an intelligence officer of the New People’s Army was arrested on May 1. His arrest was made public by the AFP more than three weeks after the fact. The AFP said the informant, allegedly the communist chieftain in Bulacan, had standing warrants against him. But is it now policy to keep arrests secret from the families of the detainees and to deny the latter access to counsel?

"Terrorism" is a much more inclusive crime under the proposed measure passed by the House and now pending at the Senate. More inclusive than rebellion which is now used to justify warrantless arrests. The three-day period within which to bring charges is also extended to 15 days.

Legislators should freeze passage of the bill until such a time an administration that respects the Bill of Rights is in place.


Tyranny is stalking the land

(This was published Saturday, May 27, 2006)

The Palace is playing Pontius Pilate in the Gestapo-like arrest and torture of five supporters of President Joseph Estrada. One official, asked about the beating of one of the Erap 5, said how detainees are handled is an operational matter that is best addressed by the units on the ground. Another said if the victims have any complaints, they are free to sue their torturers.

Aren’t these people alter egos of President Arroyo who is directed by the Constitution to "ensure that all laws are executed faithfully?"

An administration with a clear sense of its duty, not to speak of a moral obligation to correct a patent evil, should have called for an investigation and placed the thugs involved under technical arrest. This, if only to serve as an example to the rest of agents of the state out there who have gone beyond the pale.

In a way we were not in the least surprised by the callousness of the Palace. The killing of critics of this administration has become a daily occurrence. Militants are being shot like dogs by undeniably members of security forces. No one has been arrested for the spate of political killings. On the contrary, senior military officials suspected to be behind the atrocities have been promoted.

Take the case of Jovito Palparan, who as a lieutenant colonel earned the moniker "Butcher of Mindoro" for the killings of suspected supporters of communist rebels. He was promoted to colonel and assigned to Samar where, not surprisingly, the Mindoro model of dealing with "subversives" was replicated.

Palparan now sports two stars on his shoulder boards as chief of the 7th Infantry Division based in Central Luzon. The provinces of Tarlac and Pampanga are now under a state of terror.
Despite the butchering of critics and dissenters, we desperately want to believe that illegal arrests, torture and executions is not a state policy.

Stealing the election, the spin masters of Gloria say, is the norm. So is, they say, looting the treasury. We’re willing to concede that. Past administrations were also greedy; it’s only a matter of degree. But we draw the line at abducting, torturing and killing perceived political enemies.
It’s not that we’re missing the connection between the illegitimacy and thievery of an administration, on the one hand, and the repression that follows when the people can no longer bear the venality and corruption, on the other.

Illegitimacy and mis-governance breed protests. The morally bankrupt administration resorts to repression. Repression fuels more protests. And the cycle goes on.

Still we suppose we are at core starry-eyed idealists. We believe in the Bill of Rights. We believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And we believe Gloria and her lieutenants, despite their thieving ways, still have a conscience and a heart.

We could be wrong, however, as the evil of tyranny appears to be already stalking the land.


Friday, May 26, 2006

No escaping the responsibility

The Palace cannot escape responsibility over the kidnapping, torture and execution by members of security forces of people conveniently classed as "enemies of the state." Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita could turn hoarse saying everyday that kidnapping, torture and execution are not state policy. But for as long as these acts of thuggery persist, the administration stands on the dock as an institutional human rights violator.

The abduction of five supporters of President Joseph Estrada on Monday, for example, cannot be dismissed as an unauthorized action by rogue elements in the Intelligence Service of the AFP. The operation had all the marks of an ISAFP operation. Men in civilian clothes armed with long firearms broke into a house, manhandled the occupants and then hauled them off in unmarked cars. The abductors kept their victims in a secret detention site and subjected them to torture to extract information. The operation was at first denied. Admission only came after the interrogators presumably had had completed their brutal work.

Three days of not knowing the fate of the victims was pure torture to their families. Nobody knew whether the five were dead and alive. The government had officially denied they were in custody. The fear was that the five had been permanently "disappeared," to borrow a word used to describe the way Latin American dictators treated dissenters.

It was probably the victims’ connection to the Estrada camp that saved them from a worse fate. Jinggoy Estrada delivered a privilege speech denouncing the abduction a day after it took place. The families held media conferences. They made a high-profile visit to ISAFP to demand an official statement on whether the victims were in custody.

What if the five were relative unknowns, without connections and with no access to media?

Pure speculation? No; on the contrary the ISAFP practically admitted they had taken in custody another suspect and kept his family in the dark for more than three weeks.

This suspect, a purported high-ranking leader of the communist party in Bulacan, was nabbed on May 1 but his arrest was made public only early this week. This rebel leader, according to AFP officials, was the one who tipped off the military of a plot to assassinate President Arroyo and four Cabinet members. It was information provided by this suspect which led the ISAFP to the five Estrada supporters.

The unavoidable conclusion is that such tactics are now authorized. Action speaks louder than words.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Basic duty of the state

The Commission on Human Rights was underlining the obvious when it said the unabated killings of activists and mediamen show the failure of the government in doing its job. So why should stating a freshman lesson in political philosophy raise the hackles of Malacañang?

Ensuring the safety of its citizens after all is the primordial duty of the state. Some would even say it is the state’s reason for being. Providing for social infrastructure, educating the children and keeping diseases at bay – services we expect from a modern states – come, logically and historically, after securing the lives and property of the citizenry.

The killings are more abhorrent because of the specific targets and who the perpetrators are. For the killing of activists, apparently by state agents, and of mediamen, apparently by criminals and grafters they expose, strike at the heart of democracy which our system claims to be.

Dissenters hold a special place in an open and tolerant society. The media plays an indispensable role in ensuring transparency in government and in promoting discussion of public issues. Violence against dissenters and the media, thus, is rightly considered anathema in a democracy.

If Gloria Arroyo does not understand this – which we think is really the case – she has no business running government.

As president, Gloria’s duty is to ensure that the laws be executed faithfully. It says so in Section 17 of Article VII of the Constitution.

But what we hear from her ad nauseam is about creating jobs, driving the economy forward, reforming the political system, lifting the country to First World status within a generation and so forth and so on.

It may surprise many, but there is not one line in Article VII (the Executive Department) that says such is her job.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, this invocation by Gloria of the burden purported laid on her shoulders to lead the Filipino people to the promised land of prosperity and happiness.

She is a dismal failure in executing the laws faithfully (in fact, she is possibly our worst violator of the laws, starting with cheating in the election and looting the treasury).

This is what the CHR was saying when it placed the blame for the killing of activists and mediamen on her administration. No amount of spin or promises of pie in the sky can hide this ugly truth about her.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Will House return the compliment?

The Senate is expected to end plenary discussions on the proposed P1 trillion budget for 2006 this week. Voting thus can be expected tomorrow at the earliest and next week at the latest. Can we then look forward to the passage of the budget measure during the third session of the 13th Congress?

We are not holding our breath.

Definitely the Senate will be able to pass the measure in the days to come. Towards the end of the year, the chamber already constituted itself into a committee of the whole to fast-track passage of the budget bill. The senators at this stage already know the general appropriations bill inside out. The ongoing plenary debate after Sen. Manny Villar, chair of the finance committee, reported out and sponsored the bill is just a formality.

The next hurdle is the bicameral conference committee. Unless the House does what the Senate did in 2005, we don’t see how the two chambers’ differences could be ironed out before session adjourns sine die on June 9.

It will be recalled that last year the Senate stunned the House by passing without any change the latter’s version of the budget bill. This time the House can return the compliment by adopting in full the Senate version as presented in the conference committee. But will it?
The version reported out by Villar calls for a P31 billion cut. The biggest cuts cover salary increases of P10 billion and early retirement costing another P10 billion. There was also the P2.7 billion cut in the budget of the transport department.

The House, which is dominated by Gloria Arroyo’s allies, may go along with the Senate’s pruning of these items. But there is a cut totaling P6.7 billion that administration House members and Arroyo may not be able to live with.

The P6.7 billion is supposed to bankroll the Kilos Asenso Support Fund (P3 billion) and the Kalayaan Barangay Program Fund (P3.69 billion). The programs were junked by senators for being vulnerable to Palace discretion in choosing the projects and in releasing funds.

The P6.7 billion, in short, is a gigantic pork barrel which Arroyo is likely to dispense to secure the support of congressmen and local officials.

This early palms of administration congressmen are said to be already itching in anticipation of the largesse coming from the Palace to junk a new impeachment complaint set to be filed by the minority.

The itching may turn out to be a case of fungal infection – not of a coming monetary windfall according to folk wisdom - if the Kilos Asenso and Kalayaan Barangay appropriations are scrapped.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Militarism on the rise

Delusions, we hope, are not contagious. Lt. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, who holds sway over the whole of the Visayas as AFP Central Command chief, has said the military is launching a "decisive operation" against communist rebels on Negros island. "Decisive" can be defined any which way, so let’s credit Bagasin for not following the example of some generals who have been vowing to "eliminate" rebel forces in a matter of months.

Bagasin, the general who found himself the ex-future chief of the Southern Command on the eve of his takeover, has spent most of his professional life in Mindanao. He knows insurgencies cannot be rooted out in a matter of months or in a few years. What he meant by "decisive" probably is an operation intended to curb the seeming impunity with which rebels attack government forces and installations in Negros.

In Luzon, however, delusion appears to reign supreme among military commanders. Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, chief of an Army division, has promised to crush the communist rebels in Pampanga and Tarlac before he retires this year. Another division commander has also promised to root out the insurgents in Zambales and Bataan in six months.

It’s all braggadocio. These gentlemen are retiring soon. They will most likely not see an end to the communists in their lifetime. The communist rebels have been with us since the 1930s. They have survived. The Philippines even now holds the distinction of having the most vibrant Maoist rebel movement in the world after the decidedly feudal Nepal.

No, we’re not saying the fight against the communist rebels is lost. Clearly, the rebels will not be marching to Malacañang in any foreseeable future. Such probably is victory enough for a discredited regime. Crushing the rebellion via force of arms, however, is a pipedream without eliminating the social roots of poverty and injustice.

Recognizing the root causes of the communist rebellion is not an academic exercise. It has practical effects on how government deals not only with the rebels but with the people as a whole. The militarist faction in the Arroyo administration is ascendant. We have already seen how Arroyo tried to gut the Bill of Rights to fight "rebels" and "destabilizers."

Now leaders of legal organization suspected to be "fronts" of the communist party are being killed in broad daylight. It is no coincidence that most the killings took place in areas where the military has been boasting about clearing the areas of the Red menace. Who will be next?

The country has lived with the Red menace for close to a century. It’s the threat of militarism, with its state-sanctioned disregard for fundamental rights, that could yet rend asunder the society and the Republic.


Monday, May 22, 2006

PNP, AFP in the dark

The PNP has no information about an alleged communist plot to assassinate Gloria Arroyo, some Cabinet members and opposition leaders. The AFP is also in the dark about the alleged plot.

The information on the alleged deployment of communist hit men upon the personal order of communist party founder Jose Ma. Sison came from national security adviser Norberto Gonzales. It was made public by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez who has since then been driving around in a bullet-proof vehicle.

An AFP spokesman allowed that the military could be wrong. He said Gonzales, as security adviser, has a wider intelligence network than the Intelligence Service of the AFP and the Counter-Intelligence Group. The PNP said that while it also does not have such intelligence reports, it has stepped up efforts to thwart the purported assassination plot.

Diplomatic the AFP and PNP are. But the truth is these organizations do have good intelligence networks and they, among all other government agencies, have the capability to act on the information they receive.

So where did Norberto Gonzales get his information and why did he not share it with the police and military? Raul Gonzalez, the recipient of Gonzales’ information, has the NBI at his beck and call. Why did he not seek corroboration of the information before scaring the people with that story about Joma’s select group of 20 or so killers? The NBI used to have a political section that ran after communists and "subversives." Perhaps the unit has been dissolved. The more likely explanation is the NBI has lost the ability to gather information against enemies of the state after years of being run by Palace hatchet men.

Gonzales’ claim to intelligence expertise is based on his being the founder of the martial law-era social democratic armed group and his underground links with Muslim rebels. He is also a rabid anti-communist who, in all seriousness, believes he knows how Joma and other party leaders think.

By law, Gonzales is in charge of coordinating the work of intelligence agencies. He is supposed to be the clearing house of information. He and his staff are supposed to evaluate the information. More important, they are in charge of disseminating the information to the agencies which in a position to act on these reports.

On the gathering and assessment of intelligence of information, we care not to speculate about Gonzales’ fitness for the job. Perhaps he has indeed received reports about the assassination plot. Perhaps he has also evaluated the intelligence as credible. But when he failed to inform the PNP and the AFP about the information in his hand, there is definitely something wrong with him.

Let’s not even think of the possibility this slay plot was an outright concoction of Gonzales and his coterie of social democratic cowboys.


A presidency on the ropes

(This was published Saturday, May 20, 2006)

Tracing a connection between Gloria Arroyo’s bid to stay in power and imperiling the country’s new drive to resuscitate the mining industry might be a stretch. But the link, even if tenuous, should show how Gloria’s drive for survival is insidiously undermining efforts to move the country forward.

Take the case of the Rapu-Rapu fact-finding commission. The panel, headed by a bishop, was created by Gloria Arroyo as a sop to members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines after they came up with a stand to keep away from the calls for her to step down last year.

The immediate cause was a spill at the mine site on Rapu-Rapu island off Sorsogon owned and operated by Australia’s Lafayette Mining Ltd. The mine was shut down. The pollution from the spill was monitored. Technical experts found the effect on man and the environment was negligible.

Those who want the mine closed, however, spread the canard that fish around the island was found to have high levels of toxic chemicals. The poor fishermen from Sorsogon, as a result, found the market for their catch falling. Another study was also trotted out showing high levels of arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals in the tissues of residents of Sorsogon.

Lost in the feeding frenzy over the "high-level pollution" of earth and sea was the fact that Sorsogon sits astride the Philippine fault with lots of volcanic activity going on. Mt. Bulosan, in fact, is one of the most active among the volcanoes ringing the archipelago. Where there is high volcanic activity, heavy minerals are naturally highly present on the surface.

The commission has recommended the mine’s closure. It has also called for changes in the mining law in order to bar foreign-owned companies like Lafayette from the extraction of mineral resources.

Closure of the mine would throw 1,000 people out of work. It would show to foreign investors the government is not really serious in digging out the country’s estimated $1 trillion mineral wealth.

It’s anybody’s guess how Arroyo will act on the recommendations of the commission. But she is busy wooing the Church. The head of the panel, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, in fact was among the prelates whose birthdays she assiduously graced with her presence some months back.

We would not be surprised if she would adopt the recommendations to win "pogi" points among the bishops. She is that desperate. We could then forget the wealth in minerals that would allow the country to buy more imports, cut debts and ease poverty all around.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Running on fumes

Anational oil inventory of 45 to 60 days is probably gone for good at $70 a barrel. But a week’s buffer? That’s what the officials of oil companies told a recent Senate hearing. So we’ll all be back to walking in case of a hiccup in the global supply of oil.

With oil prices at record highs, industry players can’t afford the carrying cost of keeping huge volumes of their products in tank farms. Apparently, it’s now some sort of a cash and carry business. Only two local refineries, which keep a decent inventory, are operating. With deregulation, small players now account for up to 12 percent of the market. These small players directly import finished products, and they don’t have the financial muscle or the storage capacity to stock up. If the balloon again goes up in the Middle East, that’s it, folks, the buses and the jeepneys will be running on fumes within a week.

It’s now the fashion to describe the Marcos years as unlamented. We still remember, however, the time when adequate oil supply was considered as no less than a national security imperative. But we are just too old-fashioned, we guess. The global oil market has undergone a sea change. The days of national oil companies and subsidiaries of global cartels are no more. We now have a diversity of players, each trying to survive in a cut-throat environment.

It’s good that the country has Saudi Aramco for its partner in Petron. The Palace said Saudi King Abdullah gave assurance of a stable supply of crude during President Arroyo’s visit to the kingdom. Saudi Aramco holds a 40 percent stake in the local company, with the government holding another 40 percent and the rest distributed among small investors. Based on that holding, the Saudis have been given management control over the company.

Let’s count our blessings, and stop all the loose talks about taking back control or buying out the Saudis.

Price was another concern raised during the Senate hearing. The consensus was that $60 to $70 oil will be with us for the next three years. Beyond that nobody knows. Exploration costs are rising. Rigs are in short supply. Most prospects for oil in commercial quantities are in politically unstable places.

Again there is nothing the country can do about rising crude costs. As long as remittances from overseas workers continue flowing, we can afford the dollars to pay for oil imports. And there’s the danger. Most of our OFWs are in the Middle East. An upheaval in that volatile region could send our workers home.

Disruption of supply plus lack of dollars to buy more expensive oil could be the likely fatal double-whammy.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

And Gloria didn’t steal 2004 election

The regional court of Roxas City has issued a preliminary injunction stopping the Commission on Elections from verifying the signatures gathered by the Sigaw ng Bayan movement for a people’s initiative. The injunction came at the end of a 20-day temporary restraining issued by the court.
What this means is that the people’s initiative route to amending the charter is stopped cold on its tracks. The charter change advocates could conceivably win the case in the end. But at the rate court cases are resolved, their July deadline for having an interim parliamentary system in place is already beyond reach.
Similar cases have also been filed in other places. The opposition to charter change needs only one victory and people’s initiative is dead. This is because people’s initiative requires the support of at least 3 percent of the registered voters in all legislative districts.
We are not even talking yet of the dispute over people’s initiative as a mode of revising the charter. The proposed shift to a parliamentary system is an overhaul and the 1987 Constitution says such revision can only be done by Congress by a two-thirds vote or by a constitutional convention.
This is the reason the Gloria Arroyo-Joe de Venecia tandem has shifted back to revision by congressional action (Okay, let’s call it "constituent assembly" following the term used by the 1935 Constitution).
The Senate has agreed to a dialogue with the House, but this opening of communication lines could not by any means be called a breakthrough. The senators’ consensus that the two chambers should vote separately on proposed changes stands. We do not see the Senate badging from this position.
Arroyo insists that charter reforms are absolutely necessary to push the country forward. She cannot stress the importance of charter reforms enough in her speeches.
Question: If charter change is that important, why doesn’t Arroyo instruct her partymates in the House to work for the holding of a constitutional convention? The senators have repeatedly said they have no objection.
The framers of the 1987 Constitution foresaw the likelihood of sharp divisiveness over charter amendments. The answer is provided right in Section 3 on the Article on Amendments and Revisions.
The section says: "The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a constitutional convention or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention (emphasis supplied)."
The assumption, of course, is that the leadership has the highest respect for the people’s sovereign will. Which is like saying Gloria did not steal the 2004 election.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A trifling challenge

Let’s not be more popish than the Pope. The bishops have spoken. They are not calling for the banning of the film based on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code despite the supposed heresies it contains.

Yesterday the Movie and Television Classification and Review Board approved the showing of the movie without cuts although it restricted viewers to 18 years old and above. Good. Banning the movie would have made us the laughingstock of the whole world.

The book is work of fiction. And its author fully exploited his license as a fictionist. He claims Jesus Christ is not divine and that he sired a child by Mary Magdalene. He goes on to claim that since the time of Constantine, the Church has ruthlessly suppressed these "historical facts."

There’s the claim by Brown that his assertions are backed by ancient documents and current academic researches. That claim has been, to our mind, successfully debunked by the minor industry that mushroomed in defense of doctrine and of the Church as an institution.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines got it right when it said it would rather focus on teaching the faithful, on exposing the erroneous claims of both the film and the book on which it is based.

The bishops described the film in a pastoral statement as "a monetarily profitable attack on the Divinity of Christ."

Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, vice president of the CBCP, said it will "challenge the maturity of Christians" who will watch the film.

"Banning the film is the soft stance. Challenging Christians to be mature in their faith is the more difficult stance," he said.

Well said. The Da Vinci Code is but the popularization of an underground strand of thought that for centuries has sought to debunk established doctrine. The Gnostic doctrine that there are mysteries that are revealed only to initiates, for example, has stood in opposition since the early days of the Church to the accessibility of salvation to all believers.

The Church has been in full retreat for sometime in the face of assaults by modernism. Its magisterium has been undercut by secularism and popular culture. Ex cathedra pronouncements fall on ears made deaf by the cacophony of voices competing in the mass media.

The Da Vinci Code is a trifling challenge to the Church. But it should be a welcome opportunity for the Church to help strengthen its members’ faith.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Here we go again

The charter clearly says: "Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by 1) The Congress, upon a vote by two-thirds of its Members…"

The operative word is "Congress," not the "House" or the "Senate." But the House leadership insists the bigger chamber can do it alone because of the clause "upon a vote by three-fourths of its Members." Following the House leadership’s interpretation of this clause, all that is needed is 196 signatures to propose amendments. The 196 figure in this case represents exactly three-fourths of the 260 members of Congress, composed of 24 senators and 236 representatives.

Let’s humor Speaker Jose de Venecia and Rep. Constantino Jaraula, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments. Let’s say the House is able to pass a resolution signed by 195 members proposing amendments in the 11 working days that remain before Congress adjourns sine die on June 9. It will stay as a House resolution, no matter how De Venecia packages it. It can’t possibly be passed off as a resolution of Congress even if some senators strayed into the floor during the House deliberations.

De Venecia described Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s support for a constituent assembly as a "breakthrough" in his efforts to amend the charter. Santiago, however, is not the Senate even if she is joined by Senators Edgardo Angara, Lito Lapid and Ramon Revilla Jr., the likely "scabs".
Also it should be remembered that Santiago qualified her support for the holding of a constituent assembly on the non-participation of the Senate as an institution.

On Executive Order 464, it took the Supreme Court eight months to reach a ruling. It will take a miracle for the tribunal to rule on the disputed "three-fourths vote of all its Members" before July which is De Venecia’s target for having an interim parliament in place.

And again, why the rush?

This brings us back to the motive behind these frenzied attempts to the charter to meet the July timetable. Gloria Arroyo faces another impeachment complaint when Congress reopens in July.
The impeachment drive is unlikely to succeed given the administration’s lock on the votes of House members. The proceedings, however, will reopen an old can of worms. The "Hello Garci" scandal. The raid on the treasury through the likes of the fertilizer scam. The seeming state policy of executing dissenters.

Questions over the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration will simply not go away. Which as it should be, as stealing the election is the biggest crime one can commit against the sovereign people.


Monday, May 15, 2006

A perverted sense of justice

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita has said that the five party-list members of the Batasan who were charged with rebellion last week should not be bothered with the filing of charges if they have nothing to hide. Such a cavalier disregard for the citizens’ rights, we suppose, should no longer surprise.

It’s not a question of an accused hiding or not hiding something. The state wields enormous powers. The Bill of Rights is precisely there to ensure the citizens are protected from the whimsical application of state powers.

What is the process that seeks to guarantee a citizen from abuses? First a complaint is filed with the prosecution service for determination of probable cause. In this phase, the subject of a complaint is afforded all the opportunity to air his side. Upon the finding of probable cause, the prosecution service files an information before the court. The judge then issues a warrant for the arrest of the accused. Bail is then routinely granted except on capital offenses and where there is strong evidence of guilt.

In the case of rebellion, the process is short-circuited. Anybody whom the government suspects is a rebel can be arrested without warrant. The suspect is already in jail before the prosecutors start doing preliminary investigation. The prosecutors can take their own sweet time filing the charges in court. Even after the filing of charges, the accused is not entitled to bail.

One should not be bothered by the prospect of staying in jail for who knows how long?

At the best of times, assuming the state’s scrupulous respect for the Bill of Rights, being charged with rebellion is not something a citizen could dismiss off-hand. Under the Arroyo administration, where persecution of political enemies appears to be the rule, one charged with rebellion faces the very real prospect of rotting in jail for fabricated offenses.

Let’s take the case of the Batasan 5. They were ordered arrested on Feb. 24. Good that they were able to place themselves under the custody of the House leadership; otherwise they would have been in jail long before the charge sheet was filed in April. The judge dismissed the charge early May. The prosecution was quick to file a new case last week.

And the charge? Conspiracy in committing rebellion.

The specific acts? None. Except that as purported members of the communist party central committee, the Batasan 5 were held responsible for New People’s Army ambuscades, attacks on police and military installations, exaction of "revolutionary taxes" and a laundry list of acts of violence.

Someday Gloria will be on the dock for plunder and of murder of political enemies with Ermita as one of her co-conspirators. We will resist the temptation of telling them they should not worry if they have nothing to hide. Promise.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Stop the political killings

Two leaders of the leftist party-list Bayan Muna were gunned down in Isabela on Wednesday. The slain husband and wife were the nth victims of death squads which cannot possibly operate with seeming impunity without the tacit support of security forces. It is even likely that the killers – who have been gunning down Bayan Muna leaders all over the length and breadth of the archipelago - are themselves soldiers.

The Palace has been silent over the killings. Likewise the defense department and the military establishment. The leadership does not even have the Marcosian hypocrisy of denouncing the killings and declaring that it is state policy not to engage in execution of suspected rebels or rebel supporters.

In the face of such silence, suspicion is growing that the killings are state-sanctioned. The Arroyo administration must erase that suspicion. It has to act now, if only for two pragmatic reasons.

One, the execution of above-ground personalities of the Left is on balance likely to harm more than help the counter-insurgency program. Killing legal leftist personalities might temporarily hobble the political infrastructure of the rebel movement, but would not permanently cripple it. Communist structures organized along Leninist lines have perfectly adapted in a Darwinian process of evolution to the hostile environment of repression. They will survive and emerge stronger and fitter.

State-sanctioned killings invariably generate a backlash. The kin and friends of the victims understandably will learn to hate the state, its instrumentalities and its representatives. It is fairly common for whole communities to turn sympathetic to rebels following the killing of one of its own.

Two, the leadership, especially Gloria Arroyo, should start thinking this early of the inevitable. Those in power today will not be there forever. In time, justice – for execution as unstated state policy is a crime against humanity – will catch up with them.

Gloria and Mike should forget about their retirement plan of living off the rental income from their conjugal property in the California.

Good if succeeding governments during Gloria’s lifetime turn out to be friendly. But in the event a hostile administration takes over, which is more likely to happen, systematic murder of political enemies will be up high there with plunder in the charge sheet against her.

Let’s not even talk about morality. As we said, execution of political enemies is a crime against humanity. But it’s useless to appeal to Gloria’s better nature. She doesn’t have any.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Peace in Mindanao?

The government has announced that peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Kuala Lumpur are almost over and an agreement is to be signed soon. The government expects that the agreement would finally put an end to the long-running secessionist rebellion in the South.

We are not that optimistic.

For one, we doubt that the Tripoli Agreement which was struck with the Moro National Liberation Front could be improved upon. The Tripoli pact, on paper, sufficiently met the MNLF’s demand for an autonomous Muslim Mindanao. The Muslims were granted the right to govern themselves, with the national government only reserving its power to tax, defend the national territory and conduct foreign relations.

The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is not exactly a total failure. For better or for worse, the Muslims were given the right to administer their own affairs. That the ARMM has been hijacked by the traditional power brokers among Muslims themselves, however, speaks volumes of the great divide between vision and implementation.

The MILF, it should be remembered, broke away from the MNLF precisely over the Tripoli Agreement. The MILF saw the agreement as a sell-out of the struggle for an independent Islamic republic. Now that it is the MILF’s turn to come to the negotiating table, what specifically does it demand that seeks to improve upon the treaty to which it had turned its back?

The word from government negotiators is that the MILF is demanding a broadening of the territorial coverage of ARMM. This had been a long-disputed issue with the MNLF which government claims has been decisively resolved by the plebiscite where an overwhelming majority of residents of areas claimed as part of the Bangsa Moro homeland rejected their inclusion in the ARMM.

The current Kuala Lumpur negotiations are seeking to resolve the issue through the framework of ancestral domain, the same principle that guides the government’s relations with other indigenous peoples.

Here is where the negotiations could very likely fall through. There are a slew of other indigenous peoples in Mindanao with stronger claims to disputed areas as their ancestral domain. The Christians too are unlikely to yield control over the lands they have been tilling for generations (and with perfected titles to boot) because in some forgotten time in the past the lands were held by natives of whatever tribe or of whatever religious persuasion.

An agreement may indeed be near at hand as the government claims. Peace, however, is not easily secured by a piece of paper.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shades of R.A. 1700

In the context of political action, "going to the mountains" is a euphemism for taking up arms against the government. So when Secretary Raul Gonzalez dared the "Batasan 5" to go back to the mountains, is he not in effect admitting the five congressmen, while pushing for the agenda of the Left through open and legal means, are not engaged in rebellion after all?

The five-party list congressmen Gonzalez wants to place behind bars do not hide their historical links with the communist rebellion. They are diffident in publicly saying their agenda is congruent with the 12-point program of the National Democratic Front which calls for the setting up of a "national democratic" government, but they admit as much when pressed.

The point is they are waging their struggle in the democratic arena. Participating in lawmaking, making speeches and leading rallies and demonstrations are perfectly legal acts. Even calling for the ouster of Gloria Arroyo does not constitute an armed rising against the state.

We understand that the filing of rebellion cases against the five is the government’s opening salvo in an offensive that seeks to meet the perceived inadequacy in the available legal armaments against the long-running communist-led insurgency.

The rebels openly avow that their campaign to overthrow the government is waged on two fronts: the armed and the parliamentary. Going after armed rebels is a straightforward military task. The problem is the how to counter the parliamentary component.

The Batasan 5, for example, enjoy full protection of the Bill of Rights. They even enjoy a privileged platform from which to make a pitch for their political programs as members of the House.

The government’s strategy, hatched by a newly formed inter-agency legal task force headed by the national security adviser, is to accuse the aboveground personalities like the Batasan 5 as part of a conspiracy engaged in rebellion.

The strategy is clearly a throwback to the days when suspected leaders and members of communist "front" organizations were hauled to jail on the strength of the Anti-Subversion Law. Leaving aside the anachronistic element in R.A. 1700 related to the purported attempt to seek the transfer of the people’s allegiance to foreign powers (this was at the height of the Cold War, remember?), the legal strategy being implemented by Gonzalez upon the egging of the military is a perfect copy.

R.A. 1700 has long been struck down for being contrary to the spirit of the post-Marcos democracy. That Gonzalez is resurrecting the ghosts of R.A. 1700 only goes to show the bankruptcy of his principal, Gloria. She is losing the war against the rebels because of the illegitimacy of her administration and her failure to improve the well-being of the people.

Her recourse is intimidation, jailing or killing of critics and dissenters. Thus are the seeds of authoritarianism sown.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What’s the AFP hiding?

(This was published Thursday, May 4, 2006).

What is the Armed Forces hiding that it has barred mediamen from all offices in Camp Aguinaldo save that of the spokesman? Probably plenty. But we are unsure these are secrets that we usually associate with the need to maintain operational and tactical security.

We concede the existence of military information – missions, force structure, ongoing operation – whose disclosure to hostiles could lead to setbacks and loss of lives. The AFP should rightly keep this kind of information tightly under wraps. After all, there is a real war out there against communist rebels and Muslim secessionists.

Mediamen, in the course of their news coverage, regularly get hold of this kind of information, usually through the inadvertent disclosure by sources. But we have yet to hear of a newspaper or a radio station reporting that this or that unit has launched an operation from its base against a camp of the NPA’s Tan Fulano Command at, say, the foothills of Sierra Madre in Bulacan.

So why the directive preventing mediamen from going around Camp Aguinaldo and interviewing officers, soldiers and civilian employes? The directive was issued by AFP chief Gen. Generoso Senga.

We can only think of two reasons. One, the AFP is afraid of being embarrassed by the disclosure of unflattering information. Second, the AFP does not want stories that contradict its official pronouncements to come out.

The cases of corruption immediately come to mind. Generals have been accused of lining their pockets thick. And it is now clear, after the buildup of cases against former AFP comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, that corruption is not mere camp scuttlebutt. And let’s not even talk about the Boracay hotel, which cost a senior colonel his command when he questioned its construction.

The AFP has tagged a number of senior officers as participants in a purported plot to overthrow the Arroyo government which was supposed to coincide with celebration of the 20th anniversary of the People’s Power revolt in February. Among the villains was Brig. Gen. Danny Lim, who was sacked as commander of the First Scout Ranger Regiment.

The AFP story remains full of gaps and inconsistencies. It’s probably just a matter of time before some persistent mediamen succeed in piecing together the real story about the purported plot. Then there’s the continuing story about disgruntled soldiers and continuing restiveness in the AFP.

Thus, it’s understandable why the AFP is trying to muzzle the media. The truth is ugly. So hide
it. And the public’s right to information be damned.


Rebellion raps vs Erap, Ping?

(This was published Monday, May 8, 2006.)

Fil-Am Leandro Aragoncillo has pleaded guilty to charges he took secret US government documents and turned them over to local opposition leaders. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Michael Ray Aquino, a former PNP colonel who has been living in the United States since the downfall of President Joseph Estrada, has been charged as Aragoncillo’s co-conspirator. Aquino allegedly received the stolen documents from Aragoncillo and passed these to the opposition leaders. Prosecutors have named the alleged recipients as co-conspirators but have not indicted them. The alleged recipients were Estrada, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella.

It’s anybody’s guess why American prosecutors have not indicted Estrada, Lacson and Fuentebella. Perhaps the prosecutors are still building a case against the three and eventually will charge them. That’s the lookout of Estrada, Lacson, and Fuentebella.

But what’s all the noise coming from the Palace about the three being liable for rebellion because of the Aragoncillo case? Receiving purloined information from a foreign state cannot by any stretch of the imagination be construed as rising up in arms against the Philippine government.

The information passed on by Aragoncillo might have indeed been a factor in the opposition’s decision to mount a campaign to oust Gloria Arroyo. Among the information stolen by Aragoncillo reportedly were assessments by the US Embassy of the strengths and weaknesses of the Arroyo administration. The reports were said to be unflattering and the opposition might have interpreted this as weakening support by Washington toward its erstwhile staunchest ally in this part of the world.

But calling for the ouster of Gloria and mobilizing people behind the call is not rebellion. There is no armed uprising. What has been taking place are rallies and demonstrations for Gloria’s removal from Malacañang. Incidentally, that’s a far cry from treason, one of the charges also being studied by Gloria’s minions.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has long been saying that the anti-Gloria rallies and demonstrations constitute inciting to rebellion. He may yet instruct his prosecutors one of these days to file inciting to rebellion charges against leaders of the oust-Gloria campaign. But it won’t be because a former Marine, White House staffer and FBI intelligence analyst purloined secret information.

The Philippines has been independent from the United States since 1946. We will have to sort
out the mess that is Gloria by ourselves.


The bullies are at it again

(This was published Saturday, May 6, 2006)

While the members of the Supreme Court are hurling thunderbolts at Malacañang from their Olympian heights, the minions of the latter seem to be bent on destroying, termite-like, the foundation of the judiciary by questioning the independence, competence and credibility of the lower courts.

The tribunal has cut the Executive department down to size by ruling against Executive Order 464, the calibrated preemptive response to rallies and demonstrations, and PP 1017. Gloria’s minions are saying they are, in fact, the winners in the rulings, contrary to expert opinion and public perception. That’s to be expected. Gloria’s legal team has suffered three stinging slaps in its face. Its members are just putting up a brave front in the face of the unmistakable SC rebuke of the administration’s claim to over-reaching powers.

But as we repeatedly have been saying, there are many ways to skin a cat. We do not expect the administration to just roll over because of Supreme Court pronouncements. Gloria’s hatchet men know they cannot openly attack the High Court. So they are now assaulting the judiciary at the flanks.

This is the only explanation we can think of for the Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez’ intemperate outbursts against two regional trial judges who have dealt DOJ prosecution teams embarrassing setbacks on three high-profile cases.

Makati Judge Benjamin Pozon earlier rejected a move by the DOJ to downgrade the charges against three of the four Americans in the Subic rape case to accessories. Pozon subsequently junked the illegal detention charge filed by the National Bureau of Investigation against former NBI deputy director Samuel Ong for allegedly holding intelligence agent Sgt. Vidal Doble, who is said to be the source of the "Hello Garci" tapes, against his will.

The DOJ has sought a reconsideration of Pozons’ resolution on the rape case. It has sought Pozon’s inhibition in the case against Ong. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has been publicly accusing Pozon of being "anti-government," placing him in the same category as the NPA, Muslim secessionists, and destabilizers. .

The other day, Makati Judge Jenny Lind Aldecoa-Delorino threw out the rebellion charge sheet against five party list congressmen, former Sen. Gregorio Honasan and a clutch of anti-Arroyo retired and active military officers, and communist party founder Jose Ma. Sison and practically all high ranking cadres of the communist rebellion.

The case was meant to prove the purported opposition-Leftist-Rightist conspiracy to bring down Arroyo. Its collapse in the hands of Delorino only tends to reinforce the suspicion the rebellion conspiracy is another concoction.

Here again comes Gonzalez, muttering under his breath about some "mystery" surrounding Delorino’s ruling. Gonzalez said the DOJ would seek a reconsideration and a motion for inhibition.

Who’s next? Nobody knows. But the not-so-subtle warning is out. The administration will not hesitate at tarring judges who rule against it.

The bullies clearly have not learned their lesson.



(This was published Friday, May 5, 2006)

It’s three strikes against Gloria Arroyo. But she’s still out there at the plate, taking practice swings to cow critics.

The Supreme Court has effectively junked EO 464, the calibrated preempted response to protest rallies and the declaration of a state of national emergency. The rulings might be finely nuanced, but there’s no room for mistaking the Supreme Court’s actions. Assaults on the Bill of Rights cannot be countenanced on the basis of self-claimed defense of the state.

The principles upheld by the Supreme Court are nothing new. The wonder is why Gloria embarked at all on these raids into constitutionally protected grounds. Her legal advisers are getting the flak, and rightly so, for serving her ill. But the tyrannical streak and the personal meanness that unleashed state violence against legitimate dissent are exclusively characteristic of Gloria.

The Constitution and the institutions of democracy are precisely there to protect the people from the accidents of morally bankrupt and psychologically aberrant people at the top. Who knows from where the tyrannical impulse springs? The proto-dictator probably derived happiness in childhood from throwing tantrums at "muchachos" and "muchachas."

But enough of psycho-babble. Let’s go back to what we can clearly see: a ruthless administration without a moral compass.

The Panganiban court has done an outstanding job. But there are many ways to skin a cat. We doubt Gloria and her subalterns would overnight gain respect for people’s right and liberties because of the pronouncements of the Supreme Court.

Warrantless arrest has been struck down? Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez can always be relied upon to concoct charges against the enemies of the administration. Take the case of the rebellion charge filed by the justice department against scores of people, including six party-list congressmen. It listed alleged acts of violence by the communist rebels, including the Plaza Miranda bombing way back in 1971, then linked the accused to the alleged communist conspiracy.

The ludicrous charge prompted Bayan Rep. Teddy Casino to protest that he was only in short pants when grenades were thrown at the Liberal Party "miting de avance."

What parents, the schools and the church were unable to inculcate – morals and civics – in the current tenants and Malacañang, the Supreme Court cannot remedy.

The would-be tyrants will not easily be deterred. Vigilance should be maintained.


A formula for detention without trial

Five party-list congressmen were ordered arrested on Feb. 24, the day a purported power grab was to be launched by a conspiracy among the opposition, the Left and rightist adventurists. The order for their arrest without warrants was justified by the imposition of PP 1017 which placed the country under a state of national emergency.

The congressmen – Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, and Joel Virador of Bayan Muna, Liza Maza of Gabriela and Rafael Mariano – sought and were granted custody by the House leadership. A week later, PP 1017 was lifted but the order for the five’s arrest stayed on the basis of a complaint filed by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

The convenient justification was the doctrine that rebellion is a continuing offense, therefore, those engaged in the offense can be arrested at any time.

The information filed by the PNP CIDG underwent preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice. The prosecution panel found a prima facie case against the five and a slew of other purported leaders of the conspiracy, including strange bedfellows former Sen. Gregorio Honasan and communist party founder Jose Ma. Sison.

An information was filed before the sala of Makati Judge Jenny Lind Aldecoa-Delorino, amending an earlier charge sheet naming Rep. Crispin Beltran and Oakwood mutineer 1Lt. Lawrence San Juan. Judge Delorino threw out the amended information, saying it’s a different case altogether from the one where Beltran and San Juan are the accused.

The chronology of events should show clearly enough that at this moment there is no case against the five congressmen. But Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez makes it appear that the decision not to arrest the congressmen was by his tolerance. Gonzalez said he did not want a media spectacle. So he was letting them go. Anyway, they could be arrested anytime.

So we are back to the question: What is the basis for continuing to threaten them with arrest without warrants?

We are left with that PNP CIDG complaint which says there is an ongoing rebellion being waged by the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army and that the CPP/NPA has been joined by the opposition and right-wing adventurists. The five are leaders of "front" organizations of the communist party; therefore, they are engaged in rebellion.

Following this line of reasoning, all the government has to do is have the police accuse somebody of rebellion to have him arrested and thrown into jail (rebellion is a non-bailable offense).

The DOJ can then take its own sweet time building a case. When the DOJ finally gets around to filing a case and the case is thrown out by the courts, the hapless "rebel" continues to be a guest of the state while the DOJ files a motion for review. The DOJ suffers another setback, it proceeds to build another case.

If this is not formula for indefinite detention without trial, we don’t know what is.

At least when Stalin was executing or sending "enemies of the state" to Siberian exile, his kangaroo courts were scrupulous in having the sentences sealed and signed – in triplicate.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The logic of politics

The hawks in Gloria Arroyo’s official family are positively ecstatic that the May 1 demonstrations calling for Gloria’s ouster turned out to be a "flop." The rallies failed to muster warm bodies in the hundreds of thousands. The demonstrators were successfully blocked by policemen on their way to Malacañang via Mendiola.

If laying siege on the Palace and then occupying it to formally close the book on Arroyo’s illegitimate government were indeed the aims of the May 1 rallies, then it was indeed a flop. Gloria is still entrenched in power. The bureaucracy continues to function under her direction. The AFP and PNP remain loyal to her. Foreign governments continue to recognize her government.

Days before May 1, some sections of the oust-Gloria indeed sought to paint the planned demonstrations as some sort of a final drive to push Gloria out of Malacañang. There was a palpable apocalyptic element in the propaganda drive and mobilization campaign.

The adventurists in the ranks of protesters have found their match in the reactionaries among administration officials. They very well deserve each other. Our only fear is that in the days ahead, the extremists may very well gain the upper hand on both sides and set the stage for a final, winner-take-all battle.

Taking off our ideologically colored glasses, we can take a more sober look at the May 1 demonstrations. Workers were able to express their demand for higher wages. They were able to denounce the government’s assaults on people’s rights and liberties. They were able to renew the demand for Gloria to step down on pain of being ousted by people.

In short, they were able to exercise their right to peaceably assemble to seek redress. There is nothing momentous in this exercise of constitutionally protected rights. But it so happens that the Arroyo administration sees attempts to bring down the government in any gathering of those who are against it. Thus we have seen the calibrated preemptive response to protests and the declaration of a state of national emergency.

Perhaps, we are a voice in the wilderness for harking back to times past when rallies and demonstrations were seen as legitimate ways of expressing political beliefs. That bashing heads is not the alternative to hearing the cries of the discontented and answering their grievances.

The extremists on both sides, to repeat, seem to be ascendant. The middle forces are about to be marginalized. Is it still possible to reverse the trend? Our heart says yes. But our head, recognizing the dynamics of politics, says no.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More turbulence ahead

The protesters did not press their march to Mendiola. They voluntarily dispersed after holding a short program at Morayta and Recto. The police, this time, showed en enlightened application of the maximum tolerance policy. They allowed the protesters to march from Liwasang Bonifacio, blocking them only a few hundred meters from the Don Chino Roces bridge on Mendiola.

We hope future protest actions will be as peaceful and orderly, although we have this disquieting feeling that yesterday’s demonstrations were but the opening act to heightened confrontation.

The formal institutions through which political differences are articulated no longer seem capable of resolving these differences.

Elections, the highest expression of the people’s sovereign will, are seen as tainted and manipulated. As a result of Gloria Arroyo’s cheating, her administration is seen as illegitimate. The House is perceived as a "tuta" of Malacañang. The Senate, in its efforts to seek the truth behind the allegations against Gloria, has been effectively blocked by the administration’s claim of executive privilege. While the Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional the more egregious attempts by the administration to curtail people’s rights, there is lingering doubt on its independence. The media is the target of obvert and covert assaults on its independence.

As in the Marcos years, the streets are emerging as the arena where political battles are decisively fought.

The next sharply divisive issue on the horizon is the Palace-backed campaign to amend the Constitution. Gloria, bent on staying in power, is determined to push the shift to the parliamentary form of government through dubious means. The opposition to Cha-cha at the moment is going through the legal route, banking on the Supreme Court injunction against people’s initiative.

This will change, however, if the tribunal flip-flops on its 1997 ruling. A broad alliance against Cha-cha was launched last week under the leadership of President Corazon Aquino. Cory has warned that the opposition to charter change is preparing to bring its campaign to the streets.

The country is in for more turbulence ahead. We may yet wistfully remember this year’s May 1 demonstrations as the "peace time" of our nation’s political life.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Restive labor

Suspend the writ. Declare martial law. That’s the honest way of dealing with lawless violence threatening the security of the state. But Gloria Arroyo is anything but honest. So we have calibrated preemptive response and a mongrel called state of national emergency.

The Palace is threatening to unleash another state of national emergency in the event today’s Labor Day protest actions turn violent. The experience with this administration, however, is that violence nearly always is first resorted to by government forcers. The only exception we can think of is the May 1, 2001, siege on Malacañang by pro-Estrada forces. That, however, was born of unique circumstances. President Joseph Estrada was removed in January and placed under detention days before.

Today Estrada is no longer the issue. Gloria is. Her cheating in the 2004 election as shown in the "Hello Garci" tapes. Her use of government money to buy the support of local politicians for that election. The subsequent cover-up of the "Hello Garci" scandal and the fertilizer scam. The violent dispersal of protesters.

Arrests without warrants. The attempts to suppress the media.

It is now the administration waging war against the people, the institutions of democracy, the rule of law and the Constitution.

May 1 is Labor Day, the one day in the year reserved for workers. At times the event was celebratory as was its observance on the Labor Day after Edsa 1. Most other times. the day was marked with demonstrations calling for higher wages, among other economic benefits. These have come to be expected and met with routine obeisance to the cause of labor.

Workers, however, do not live in a vacuum. They are part of a bigger society and are conceded to be among those more aware and assertive of their rights. They have much to complain about, principally, static wages in times of spiraling prices. Were this administration perceived as genuinely concerned about the workers’ lot, today’s Labor Day celebration would certainly be another ritualized affair held at the Liwasang Bonifacio.

The threat, if we are to believe Gloria’s spin masters, is a march by the workers in their thousands to Malacañang. The threat probably is real enough. People want the illegitimate Arroyo administration out. The workers are simply articulating this near-universal sentiment.

Security forces are ready to break up attempts to march to the seat of power. Let’s pray expectations of mayhem do not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Brazen contempt for the Constitution

(This was published Saturday, April 29, 2006)

Gloria Arroyo and her underlings just don’t get it. The Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional two directives with dictatorial tendencies. The first was Executive Order 464 which sought to wall off the Executive department from congressional scrutiny. The second was the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) which authorized police to violently disperse rallies and demonstrations in violation of the "maximum tolerance" policy.

The spirit of the Supreme Court twin rulings is clear. The Executive department cannot arrogate unto itself powers that would upset the check and balance among three branches of government. It also cannot ride roughshod over the Bill of Rights.

Any day now, the Supreme Court is also expected to rule on Presidential Proclamation 1017 which placed the country under a state of emergency last February. It’s a near-certainty that the high court would also strike down this directive for being unconstitutional for allowing warrantless arrests, banning demonstrations and muzzling the press.

But Gloria and her minions appear not to have learned their lessons from the high court rulings.
Palace officials are at the moment fighting a rear-guard action against the ruling on EO 464 by drawing up a list of officials who are required to secure presidential permission before appearing in legislative inquiries and specifying areas where it can invoke "executive privilege."

The discredited CPR is being rehabilitated in the guise of strict implementation of the "no permit no rally" rule. Police officials, after initially saying they would revert to the "maximum tolerance" policy, are now talking of arresting "violators" of the law on public assembly. We can already see the practical effects of this "get-tough" stance. If policemen try arresting demonstrators in rallies without permits, the latter for sure will resist. Violence will be the inevitable result.

What takes the cake is Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez’ warning yesterday that in case protesters march and lay "siege" to Malacañang on Labor Day, the administration would not hesitate to re-impose a state of emergency.

Warrantless arrests, ban on demonstrations and muzzling of the press again?

Gloria and her people only have contempt for the Constitution. But do they have to be this brazen?