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‘Helen’ threatens Batanes

July 14, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — Tropical depression “Helen” maintained its strength, but was almost stationary, as it continued to threaten the northernmost Batanes province late Monday morning, the state weather bureau said.

At 10 a.m., the storm, which packs maximum sustained winds of 55 kilometers per hour near the center, was located 360 kilometers east of Batanes’ capital town, Basco, , the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said in its 11 a.m. bulletin.

The storm is expected to enhance the southwest monsoon, bringing rains over Luzon, PAGASA said.

“The storm will pass near Batanes and is headed in the general direction of Taiwan,” PAGASA director Prisco Nilo said in a phone interview.

Moving west “slowly,” the storm is forecast to be at 280 kilometers east of Basco on Tuesday morning, 190 kilometers east of Basco by Wednesday morning, and 120 kilometers east of Basco by Thursday morning, according to the PAGASA bulletin.

The state weather bureau warned residents in low-lying areas against flash floods and landslides.

Sulpicio has own law of the sea

July 14, 2008

Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—In the wake of the multiple inquiries into the June 21 sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars, its owner, Sulpicio Lines, has so far emerged virtually unscathed. It has not been held to account for the disaster.

The inquiries both in Congress and by government bureaucratic authorities during the past two weeks have raked over the coals state agencies charged with ensuring public safety on maritime travel.

They have allowed Sulpicio Lines officials to get off lightly by focusing on public officials, instead of putting the shipping company in the hot seat. Sulpicio Lines has also demonstrated it has imposed its own law of the sea with the dangerous overtones of demolishing government regulatory authority on maritime safety.

While the inquiries were under way, taking the full glare of publicity, Sulpicio Lines mounted an aggressive campaign in the legal and legislative systems to shift the blame for the ferry disaster off Sibuyan Island.

The company’s wide range of culprits included God (for producing storms that sink ships) and the weather bureau and agencies responsible for stopping ships from heading recklessly head-on into typhoon paths (despite storm warnings).

This campaign was unleashed even though Sulpicio Lines had blood on its hands, with 800 passengers and crew still listed as missing, entombed in the capsized ferry, and with its hold carrying a cargo of toxic pesticide that threatens to poison marine life.

The lopsided focus on the accountability of public authorities has left an outraged public asking: The smoking gun is inside the sunken ship, consisting of entombed human corpses, why are inquiries not holding Sulpicio Lines primarily accountable for the sea carnage despite the evidence of lost human lives?

Probes to exculpate liner

Were the inquiries staged to exculpate Sulpicio Lines and to give the company a forum to look for scapegoats to demonstrate that government officials did not provide the shipowners, their captain, with information to allow their ship to steer clear of danger?

The hearings at the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) and the House committees on transport and oversight were biased for Sulpicio Lines and against the regulatory authorities in terms of giving them a forum to denounce public regulatory agencies.

Were the hearings held to whitewash Sulpicio Lines and give it a platform to mount a public opinion offensive on a wide front to divert focus from its own accountability?

In the congressional hearing, many citizens have been prompted to ask on whose behalf and for whose benefit their representatives in the House were asking questions. The fate of the victims apparently was the issue of least concern to members of Congress.
In the bureaucratic boards and legislative hearings, the queries were directed at highlighting procedural flaws on marine safety regulations for the traveling public. It seems the public had no friends in these hearings.

Public unprotected

In the hearings, the public appeared forlorn and unprotected while Sulpicio Lines seemed to have friends in strategic forums ready to bail the company out of trouble and to shield it from pressure to remove the toxic cargo, to pay financial liabilities to the drowned victims, to retrieve the corpses and to allow the dead a decent burial.

In its aggressive legal offensive, Sulpicio Lines filed a number of suits. In one, the Manila Regional Trial Court rejected the company’s petition for a temporary restraining order to stop the BMI inquiry. Sulpicio Lines claimed that the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) had sole jurisdiction to inquire into maritime disaster and added that the BMI was “biased.”

The company took advantage of the ambiguous overlap of jurisdictions of several government regulatory agencies overseeing the industry. However, the court gave the BMI the go-ahead to continue with its hearings.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez saw through the tactic of Sulpicio Lines to plaster the government with multiple suits.

He said the company was attempting to evade responsibility for the tragedy by filing, among other things, criminal charges against the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) for allegedly failing to inform the ferry of the approaching typhoon, and Del Monte Philippines, allegedly for not declaring the toxic pesticide cargo.

‘Squid tactics’

Both PAGASA and Del Monte have disputed these allegations. Gonzalez said suits by Sulpicio Lines were “squid tactics.”

PAGASA has presented evidence that it issued periodic weather warnings tracking the typhoon path. Evidence showed that Sulpicio Lines disregarded these warnings and did not exercise prudence by allowing its ferry to sail into the typhoon’s path, while other major shipping lines tied their ships at port.

Sulpicio Lines has also filed a P3-million civil damage suit against PAGASA for allegedly giving “inaccurate” weather reports on Typhoon “Frank” (international code name: Fengshen). It accused Pagasa of “gross negligence and incompetence” in predicting the typhoon’s path.

Despite the strong pressure of the shipping lobby in Cebu, MARINA is not lifting its order grounding all vessels of Sulpicio Lines until the agency completes its audit of seaworthiness of the entire fleet. The issue here is between passenger and cargo safety and the commercial interests of the company.

Next in hot seat

The House committees on transport and oversight resume their hearing on Thursday on the ferry sinking, promising to put Sulpicio Lines in the hot seat. The shift of focus was prompted by criticism that the shipping company had gotten off the hook in last week’s hearings.

Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentebella, chair of the transport committee, admitted that the grilling last week was focused on the liability of government regulatory agencies, allowing Sulpicio Lines to escape scrutiny. Thursday’s hearing seeks to restore balance in the inquiry.

The correction course also puts the credibility of the committees on the line. Let’s see if the committees could stop the lawyers of Sulpicio Lines from the war path of demolition of the government’s regulatory authority over shipping lines that have drowned more than 4,000 passengers during the past 28 years.

MV Scandalous

July 14, 2008

Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines- The list of accidents Sulpicio Lines has figured in makes for chilling reading. According to Lloyd’s of London, Sulpicio ships have been involved in 45 accidents since 1980, including seven sinkings. (The complete list can be downloaded as a file at http://www.inquirer.net/verbatim/table.pdf.)

The seventh, of course, was the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars last month, at the height of typhoon “Frank.” Lloyd’s, the world’s leading clearinghouse of maritime information, estimated the casualty toll of the latest accident at “150 dead and 700 missing.”

Each death, each missing person claim, was avoidable, if government authorities or the shipping line’s management itself had recognized the company’s safety record for what it was: a scandal, an outrage. We have raised this question before, we raise it again: If an airline had this kind of record, would it still be in business?

We do not need to dwell on the seven engine-trouble accidents involving three ships. (We cannot but note, however, that one stalled ship, the Filipina Princess, was “stranded for 3 days.”)

The record of fires breaking out on board is a little more worrying. Four of the six incidents happened in the last eight years; a fire struck the ill-fated Princess of the Orient several months before the ship capsized (in the middle of a storm); in 2003 a fire on the Iloilo Princess was so severe it caused the ship to roll over. No casualties were reported then, but the vessel was declared a total loss.

The record of Sulpicio ships running aground is even more disturbing. In 28 years, the firm has suffered 19 groundings, including four ships that sustained so much damage they were subsequently declared a total loss. At least two ships ran aground during typhoons. One ran aground and caught fire.

The record of collisions does not build confidence either. A Sulpicio Lines vessel has collided with another ship six times since 1992; a collision has occurred every two or three years.

It is the record of sunk ships, however, that proves that Sulpicio Lines does not deserve its franchise. In particular, the sinking of three ships in the middle of a typhoon—one every 10 years, quite literally—tells us that the shipping company has failed the basic test of common carriers. To assure the safety of its passengers.

We’ve said this before; we’ll say it again. After Doña Marilyn sank in 1988, while sailing in the middle of a typhoon (“Ruby”) and claiming 150 lives, and after Princess of the Orient sank in heavy seas in 1998 (during typhoon “Vicki”) and claiming 150 lives, why did Sulpicio allow its flagship Princess of the Stars to set sail in the middle of typhoon “Frank”?

Its safety record should have told Sulpicio to wait the storm out. (As we’ve noted, at least two other Sulpicio vessels were involved in an accident while sailing during a typhoon.) Its failure to do so can only mean that having the worst accident record among the country’s major shipping lines did not mean a thing to Sulpicio management. If they got away with murder before, what’s another storm, another sinking?

It is true that suspending Sulpicio’s franchise would cause some economic dislocation, but that is the price we have to pay, the price we should have paid many years and thousands of lives ago, to protect the public. That we seem to lack the political will to do so (as we wrote yesterday and we write again today) “all points to a culture that confuses one’s own interests with the public good.”

Sucking up to Sulpicio

July 14, 2008

Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The aggressiveness of Sulpicio Lines only goes to show that we do not have the rule of law, only the rule of lawyers. The shipping line has lashed out by filing suits and motions before the courts, to keep investigators at bay and tie up potential critics in litigation. Everyone knows the sports dictum that a good defense is a good offense, but this is ridiculous: Sulpicio is trying to dribble itself out of any accountability.

To God alone belongs the blame, Sulpicio says, and on its side it has, as proof positive of divine exculpation, the moral endorsement of one of God’s very own shepherds. Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, filled with Christian concern for the poor little rich Go family, the owners of Sulpicio, hopped over to tug at President Macapagal-Arroyo’s skirt to give a little concession to keep the Gos from starving to death. It was, of course, no little concession that the bishop was interceding, with child-like innocence, to obtain. For what the President conceded, as a result of Pueblos’ pastoral concern, was for Sulpicio to be allowed to continue the mainstay of its operations: cargo shipping.

The Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Cebu added the weight of Mammon to the intercession of God’s shepherd, by endorsing Pueblos’ request. The businessmen didn’t specifically endorse Pueblos, of course (it would be too patently a commercial conspiracy to do so), but in essence, they endorsed the Butuan prelate’s logic by pleading financial hardship for themselves. If they were deprived of access to Sulpicio’s cargo holds, it would be catastrophic for themselves and thus for all Cebuanos. To borrow Louis XIV’s phrase, the province is ourselves.

The Butuan bishop appealing for presidential clemency, echoed by the commercial sector declaring humanity is secondary to their bottom line, all points to a culture that confuses one’s own interests with the public good. In this, public officials are no different from the bishop and the Gos’ commercial chums.

The Gos, after all, had already obtained the satisfaction of witnessing Cebu’s congressmen ganging up on government bureaucrats instead of zeroing in on the shipping firm. The Gos, after all, are among the movers and shakers in the island province, thus clergy, merchants and officialdom are merely protecting one of their own. The appeals made by clergy and business councils, combined with the alacrity with which Cebuano congressmen focused on national government agencies while forgetting to take to task a prominent commercial family from their province, show that the bottom line will trump social justice every time.

To borrow a line from Inquirer columnist Randy David, the reason all this can happen, of course, is that the public allows it, following the lead of our very own institutions. Officialdom has known all along that our weather bureau is understaffed, under-funded and ill-equipped; government officials know we have no real Coast Guard to speak of; and maritime insiders have long been grumbling about the head of Marina being a know-nothing do-nothing who owed his job to crony influence. And yet Congress is shocked–shocked!–at it all.

And the public? It had trusted its loved ones to a shipping line expected to have learned the lessons of its tragic past; and to authorities meant to keep commercial greed in check. And now that it wants to recover their dead and give them the benefit of Christian burial–and an answer, at least, as to how and why their loved ones died, Sulpicio responds by unleashing a storm of court cases and injunctions, and a list of bureaucratic requirements to tie up families with red tape for a generation to come. If Sulpicio must pay, it will only do so after it has maximized interest on its insurance payoffs.

The public, in the end, is all bark and no bite. No one, it seems, is prepared to deprive Sulpicio of income to pressure it into at least submitting to a thorough investigation and the kind of management shakeup that should be the minimum fallout from a tragedy of this scale.

Despite Claims Of Under-Recoveries: Big Three Rake In Billions In Global Oil Profits

July 14, 2008

While the Big Three oil firms in the Philippines claim losses due to under-recoveries, their mother companies abroad continue to report record billions in profits. Royal Dutch Shell, the mother company of Pilipinas Shell, posted net income of $27.6 billion in 2007, making it the second most profitable company in the world next to oil giant Exxon Mobil. During the same year, Pilipinas Shell recorded profits of P4.12 billion.

On the other hand, Chevron, mother unit of Chevron Philippines (formerly Caltex), reported net income of $18.7 billion in 2007, 9% higher than in 2006 and enough to rank it the eighth most profitable company in the world. Its local unit in the country reported P2.75 billion in profits in 2007.

Petron, which is co-owned by government and by Saudi Aramco, recorded profits of P5.94 billion in 2007. Its net income has been progressively increasing in the last three years, posting P5.76 billion in 2006 and P3.42 billion in 2005. Aramco, unlike Shell and Chevron, is an unlisted company that is not obliged to report its financials, but its profits in 2007 are likely about $15 billion.

Domestic profits do not even fully reflect the oil monopolies’ overall profits because the transnational oil firms’ local subsidiaries are merely booking their profits abroad through the deceitful practice of transfer pricing to deflect criticisms of their massive windfall profits.

At any rate, the Big Three oil firms are clearly still making billions of pesos in profits, and thus any claim of so-called under-recoveries does not mean that they are taking any losses.

The monopoly oil transnational firms abroad normally already inflate the price of their oil to get their super-profits. This overpricing has even been extremely bloated since last year by increasing speculation in world oil markets. “Transfer pricing” however refers to oil firms’ practice of further padding the price of oil they sell to their subsidiaries to shift recording of profits from subsidiaries to mother corporations. The net result of this transfer pricing is that the seemingly lower profits of the subsidiaries, because of higher costs of oil imports, are actually off-set by higher profits of the mother companies.

Oil transnational firms are able to engage in transfer pricing because of their vast control of the different stages of oil production and distribution. In the Philippines, around 90% of oil in the market passes through the Big Three. They use lower reported domestic profits to disguise the massive global profits they are making and to deflate public anger against them.

Those mega-profits earned by exploiting unchecked monopoly control and covered up through unscrupulous practices, even as ordinary Filipinos reel from the harsh impact of escalating fuel prices, highlight the urgent need for government regulation and control over the local oil sector to help ensure transparency in pricing. (end)

Silip sa likod ng “Kidnap” ng ABS-CBN

July 14, 2008

Silip sa likod ng “Kidnap” ng ABS-CBN

Inabangan ko ang “Kidnap” presentation ng ABS-CBN kagabi, at umasa ako na may masisilip tayong mga bagong impormasyon sa naturang dokumentaryo na maghahatid sa pagkakalutas ng “kaso” at “pagkakahuli” sa mga “kidnaper” ng grupo nina Ces Drilon, Angelo Valderama at Jimmy Encarnacion.

Matatandaang ang grupo nila ay “nakidnap” bago pa man bumisita si “Frank”. Ang pangyayari ay hinarap ng buong industriya ng midya ng buong ingat, dahil na rin sa concern sa buhay ng tatlo, at hindi pa dahil sa politikang naglalaro sa likod ng naturang pangyayari. After all, hindi ganun kalaya ang pamamahayag sa bansang ito, to the point na, ang mga media personality ay nagkakasya sa pagtingin sa mga “pangyayari” bilang simpleng “pangyayari”, disregarding the fact, na may mga dahilan kung bakit nangyari ang naturang “pangyayari”, at may mga nagpapakilos para mangyari ang mga naturang “pangyayari.”

Anyway.

Disappointed ako sa napanood ko.

Ang “Kidnap” ay isang tele-dramang tinubog sa dokumentaryong mala-Eye Witness Account. Bagamat kauna-unawa naman ito dahil ang naging pangunahing layunin ng “Kidnap” ay maipakita ang ordeal ng tatlo sa pinaka-delikadong oras ng kanilang personal na buhay (hindi buhay-media). Ang layuning ito ay umiikot sa batas ng “esklusibistang” praktika sa daigdig ng komersyal na midya sa Pilipinas. Ang “esklusibistang” praktikang ito ang siya ring nagtulak sa grupo nina Ces sa kapahamakan.

Nasabi kong tele-drama ito, dahil na rin sa pag-employ nila ng “re-enactment” (in fairness to the ABS-CBN Current Affairs Team, di naman ito masama, actually, ginagawa din ito ng ibang mga dokumentarista sa ibang bansa at maging dito sa lokal) nang walang sustenidong paglalagay ng mga paunawa na ito’y re-enactment lamang (ito lang ang masama, kasi masasabing isang porma ito ng pag-mislead sa mga viewers), dun sa mga video clips na kinuha sa performances ng mga actor na gumanap bilang sina Ces at ang mga “kidnaper” nila. Tapos sa bandang hulihan ng palabas, ay ipi-play nila ang ilang clips na may nakalagay na paunawang “Actual Video Footages”. Sa mga susunod na eksena ay makikitang nagpapaliwanag si Bb. Maria Ressa na ang mga shots na yaon ay malikhaing kuha ni Jimmy Encarnacion. Sa katapusan ay makikita ang mga pangalan ng gumanap na kidnaper (bagamat “kidnappers” lang ang nakasulat at walang “as” sa unahan nito.

Fine. Pagpupugay kay Jimmy. Now that’s one brave media worker. At dapat lang talaga siyang parangalan at papurihan. Siya lang sa tatlo ang talagang naging media personality sa gitna ng mga pangyayaring iyon. Ang dalawa (Ces at Angelo) ay naging purong bihag lamang.

Pero nabawasan ang legitimacy ng mga video clips dahil sa pagkakahalo nito sa mga “re-enacted scene” na walang paunawa na ito’y mga re-enacted scene lamang. Nakadagdag sa pagkabawas ng legitimacy ng video footages ang pagpapablur nito sa mukha ng isang taong nakunan ni Jimmy (umano) sa isang eksena (yung nakaupong nilalang). Now that’s not Jimmy’s fault. Alam nating lahat na wala siyang kapangyarihang mag-censor sa loob ng naturang network.

Mas tumingkad ang pagiging teledrama ng “Kidnap” nang kapansin-pansing “mawala” sa eksena si Propesor Dinampo. Apat silang bihag, pero bakit ang tatlo lang ang sinentruhan ng dokumentaryo? Now this point runs against a popular claim that our media is objective. And this point shatters the very title of the documentary: kidnap.

Ang napili nilang titulo ay ang popular na tawag sa ginawa sa kanila ng mga kidnaper. Pero wala silang naisingit na sariling pananaw o analisasyon man lamang sa kanilang mga captors (maliban sa claim ni Ressa sa isang bahagi ng palabas na matalino daw ang mga kumidnap sa kanila, which is being equated by others bilang isang porma ng pahayag na nagsasabing hindi ASG ang mga kumidnap sa grupo nina Ces). Mas angkop pa nga sigurong gamitin ang “hostage” pero, with that, kailangan pa rin nilang isama sa daloy ng kwento si PropesorDinampo.

Which brings me to the documentary’s objective.  Sabi nila, “this is a documentary about recklessness and violence, about spirits that will not be broken by the barrel of a gun, about brotherhood, about family, about choices, about fear, and about just what it means to have courage.”  Walang objective.  Pure drama.  Or maybe, baka nalilimitahan sila ng reyalidad na nasa korte na ang usapin kung kaya limitado na rin ang maihhayag pa nila sa publiko.

Yet Still, they should have a specific objective.

At dito maaaring pumasok ang usapin ng komersyalisasyon ng midya.  Bakit ka magsaslita kung mwala ka namang ibang sasabihin?  Bakit?

Dahil may Advertiser.  Dahil may labanan sa ratings.  Period.

(2:24pm).

Editorial Cartoon: Sour Grape

July 14, 2008

Pity

Davao activists dismayed over Arroyo’s failure to address rising cost of food, fuel

July 13, 2008

Davao City– Militant groups were dismayed over President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s move to strengthen her political party amidst the growing demands for more affordable food, lower prices of oil from the people.

The groups of Bayan, Kadamay, Gabriela, Transmision Piston, Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students, Bayan Muna and Anakpawis staged a protest near APO View Hotel on June 18, when the President was in the city for the merger of her party, the Lakas- Christian and Moro Democrats (Lakas- CMD) party with the Kampi (Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino) in preparation for the 2010 elections.

“They prioritize their political ambitions before addressing the economic crisis that is already causing suffering to the people,” said Inday Duterte, the spokesperson and regional coordinator of Anakpawis partylist in the region.

Duterte said the problem on rice that has been going on for months has been making life harder for Filipinos. She added that even drivers and jeepney and taxi operators are suffering from the unabated increase in oil prices. Workers continue to receive measly wages amidst the increasing prices of food and other commodities.

Arroyo graced the Lakas- CMD and Kampi merger in preparations for the 2010 elections. The two were the country’s biggest political parties who currently support the President.

Arroyo said the merger of the two parties would lead to stronger economy.

But Duterte said the President has ignored people’s call for the scrapping of the oil deregulation law which has made life more difficult for Filipinos; the removal of twelve percent VAT in goods and services, the 10-year clamor for a 125 across- the- board wage increase for workers in the private sector and P3,000 wage increase for government rank-and-file workers.

Arroyo proceeded to Davao Oriental the next day for the inauguration of a new market in Mati but Duterte said the President paid no attention to the people there. President Arroyo left after few minutes of checking the new market stalls and didn’t even talk to the people who waited for her to arrive.

“She didn’t want to listen (to the protests) because she wanted to show that there was no economic crisis,” Duterte said.

Jeppie Ramada, secretary- general of Bayan said the merger was not to create policies that will uplift people’s lives but consolidate the influence of landed families and the political elites.

Edil Gonzaga, spokesperson of transport group Transmision- Piston, said his group will hold Black Friday protests each week because of the worsening poverty. The protests will continue until July, in time for the President’s State of the Nation Address. (Grace S. Uddin/ davaotoday.com)

Government to present a revised draft on ancestral domain

July 13, 2008

DAVAO CITY—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the National Security Council has come up with a revised draft of the government’s position on ancestral domain to resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Yesterday, the National Security Council had a meeting and the government came up with revised draft on ancestral domain,” Arroyo told a gathering of Lakas-Kampi party members at the Apo View Hotel here. “Soon we will present this to the MILF so that the peace negotiation can resume,” Arroyo said.

The Malaysia-brokered talks stalled last year over disagreements on the ancestral domain provisions. MILF leaders walked out of the negotiation table, saying that the government’s draft on ancestral domain was totally unacceptable to them.

Arroyo graced the signing of the declaration of merger between the Lakas-CMD and Kampi political parties and announced the administration nominees for the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) polls in August.

Incumbent ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan and vice governor Ansarrudin Adiong led the rest of the party nominees, mostly incumbent officials in the provinces of Sulu, TawiTawi, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Shariff Kabungsuan and Maguindanao.

Arroyo said the ARMM nominees led by Ampatuan pursue a “permanent peace” as part of the party platform and asked the nominees to help “convince the Moro rebels” to resume talks with the government.

“We hope our ARMM Governor, vice governor and all the rest of the party, can help the government convince the MILF that this is for the peace and development of Muslim Mindanao,” Arroyo said. “So, malaki ang inaasahan natin sa (we have great hopes from the) candidacy of ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan,” she said. “We hope that under your leadership, we can finally achieve peace and development in Mindanao,” Arroyo said. (Germelina Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

Duterte blames global warming for the heavy floods

July 13, 2008

DAVAO CITY — Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte blamed global warming and the resistance of landowners against City Hall’s drainage projects for the unprecedented flooding that hit the city early in June.

Duterte said the natural calamities in the world these days are the result of heavy pollution primarily contributed by first world countries; something that people in the Third World can do “very little” about.

But he also said only 13, of the 18 drainage projects scheduled in the city, have been completed because of resistance from the landowners. At the onset of rainy season, areas observed to have poor drainage system suffered heavy floods; including those in Sasa, Mamay, Lanang, J.P. Laurel (Davao Light and Power Company area), N. Torres exit, Barrio Obrero, Lizada, Roxas to Magsaysay, Sta. Ana Ave, Quirino, Central Bank area, Marfori, Maa, Matina, Mac Arthur Highway, GSIS, NHA, Sto Niño, Kawayan and Dumoy.

In his weekly television program, Duterte said City Hall needs billions of money to put up canals like in Roxas Boulevard and Dacudao; and to create another division in the City Engineer’s Office where 300 to 500 workers will be employed to serve as 24-hour quick-response teams in areas with drainage problems. Duterte plans to purchase trucks to transport garbage clogged in canals during rainy days.

He also said City Hall will expropriate lands of local residents where drainage canals will be installed. (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com)

Davao officials demand more rice from NFA

July 13, 2008

DAVAO CITY – City officials voiced concerns over the continuing scarcity of cheap rice in the region, with the National Food Authority (NFA) failing to provide 60-70 percent of the city’s daily consumption.

City Councilor Tomas Monteverde IV said NFA must be having a supply problem because the agency failed to provide rice to the increasing number of people lining up its outlets.

In a special session earlier, the city council requested the NFA to increase the rice allocation in Davao and the rest of Mindanao.

But Lorenzo Camayang, NFA’s manager for Davao City, said NFA has already increased the allocation for the city from an average of 15-20 percent to 30-40 per cent in June.

Camayang said NFA will still increase the rice allocation as answer to the city council’s request and to prepare for the lean months in July to September.

Lemuel Ortonto, chief of staff of vice mayor Sara Duterte, said the city council has yet to receive an update from the NFA regarding their request.

Davao city consumes 9,000 50-kilogram bags per day, or an equivalent of 450 metric tons of rice, according to NFA data. Monteverde expected the NFA to supply 60 to 70 per cent of the city’s rice consumption; or 270 to 315 metric tons per day.

Camayang said the city’s existing supply of 549,254 bags can last 62 days.

The city council had asked NFA to set up two outlets for every barangay (village) to make affordable rice accessible to the poor. Monteverde pointed out barangay Acacia in Buhangin District where people are lining up everyday before the only NFA outlet.

Camayang said NFA has already increased its outlets to 293 from 243 in the city. He promised to put up more outlets once the Department of Social Welfare and Development identify the areas where they are needed most.

City Hall is giving away 250 sacks of rice each week for free. Monteverde said the city plans to increase the weekly distribution to 500 to a thousand sacks but the city government is at a loss where to buy additional supply of rice.

The city distributes two kilos of rice, a can of sardines and a pack of instant noodles, to local residents who cannot afford to buy commercial rice. It has moved its distribution from the Sangguniang Panlungsod building to the barangays. The distribution program covers 700 to 1,200 individuals each week.

Councilor Peter Laviña proposed that the government should expand the area planted with rice and corn; build more post harvest infrastructures such as irrigation and farm-to-market roads to help farmers; and improve credit access to rice and corn farmers as a solution to the present rice crisis.

“All that the government need is political will,” Laviña said.

But he said the city council has to address first the long lines at the NFA outlets before coming up with long term strategic solutions to the rice problem. (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com)

Editorial Cartoon: Bad Breath

July 13, 2008

Real Stinky

Student’s movement commends CBCP stand on economic crisis

July 13, 2008

MANILA, July 12, 2008—As they joined the students’ walkout last July 10, members of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) thanked the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for finally “breaking up their silence” about the current economic and political crises facing the country today.

In a statement sent to CBCP News, Biyaya Quizon, SCMP president, said that the members and officers of their group commend the CBCP leadership, through its president Jaro Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D., for speaking about social justice and the moral and just demands of the impoverished.

“We believe, however, that there should be greater actions to show that Christians are not silent and are taking an active stand on all these issues,” Quizon said.

SCMP also asked, not only the CBCP, but other religions as well to declare July 28, the day when Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will deliver her 7th State of the Nation Address, a national day of prayer and action for justice, and called on all Christian students to “heed the call of God’s suffering people.”

“We should combine prayer and action, and journey with our people towards a new Exodus,” Quizon ended her statement.

Meanwhile, during the July 10 student protest, the young lay leader lambasted Arroyo’s impermanent solutions to the current social and economic problems that the Filipino people face today.

“It can only do as much like giving alms. Tomorrow, the poor will think again how to survive from hunger and poverty,” laments Quizon.

She also said that instead of heeding the suffering of the people, the Arroyo government insults them more with its actions and statements.

It’s easy for Malacañang to say that it cannot allow another wage increase now, but it cannot stop oil companies from increasing oil prices! It cannot bend its policies towards our people’s demands, while it wholeheartedly allows laws such as the Oil Deregulation to be implemented to the poor people’s demise,” Quizon exclaimed.

“The Arroyo government says that only the rich pay the VAT (value-added tax) while they are raking millions from every single commodity we buy and are only brought back into a one-time subsidy,” added Quizon.

Joining the said rally are students from Philippine Christian University, Jose Rizal University, University of the Philippines Manila and Diliman and University of Santo Tomas, which is the only university in the Philippines that bears the Papal seal. (Noel Sales Barcelona)

Bataan Bishop cautions gov’t not to open Nuclear Plant

July 13, 2008

MANILA, July 11, 2008—Bataan Bishop Socrates Villegas cautioned the government not to open the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant citing it may cause hazards to environment and people.

“Our country’s leadership has floated the idea of reviving this monument of greed and incompetence in an effort to address the global energy crisis. This move follows what is being seen as the increasing incidence of unbridled and shameless graft and corruption that the country had in the 1970s and ’80s,” said Villegas in a pastoral statement dated July 7.

Villegas also advised the government to seek other feasible answers to meet the country’s energy crisis.

“We appeal to the national leadership to look beyond the present energy crisis and see the adverse effects of nuclear power in the rest of the world,” the bishop said.

In June, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said the government was thinking to open mothballed 630-megawatt nuclear power plant to boost the country’s energy supply as the country foresees energy scarcity next year.

Former president Ferdinand Marcos pursued in establishing the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which was reportedly tainted with corruption. (Santosh Digal)

Marcos’ legacy lives on under Arroyo’s presidency, says biking priest

July 13, 2008

DAVAO CITY, July 12, 2008―Ferdinand Marcos the dictator is gone, but his legacy lives on under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said Redemptorist priest Amado Picardal.

Recalling the 23rd anniversary of the disappearance of Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano, then assigned in Cebu, Picardal said Romano was actively involved in struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime.

“As we remember Fr. Romano, I am appalled that cases of forced disappearances and political killings are still happening under this supposedly democratic government. Many continue to be missing – among them Jonas Burgos. Marcos the dictator is gone – but his legacy lives on under the presidency of Arroyo. Some of those involved in the abduction and death of Fr. Romano are probably still around and occupying high positions in the military, hiding their dirty secrets and continuing their dirty war,” said Picardal in his blog http://amadopicardal.blogspot.com.

Under the presidency of Arroyo, hundreds of extra-judicial killings of media persons and human rights activists and several instances of allegedly forced disappearances have been reported, most of the cases are linked into politics and military, which the present administration has denied.

Romano courageously spoke out against the abuses of military under martial law. On July 11, 1985, he was abducted by military intelligence agents and since then has not been found. Romano is presumed to be dead, according to Picardal.

“Romano was one of the hundreds of disappearance-victims of the dictatorial rule. After Marcos was deposed by people power (EDSA I), we heard from sources within the military that he died during interrogation. Until now we still don’t know where they buried him,” said the biking priest.

Picardal have known Romano since 1972 when he was assigned in Iligan. He accompanied Romano in the parish mission in Balingoan during Picardal’s summer vacation in May 1972, a few months before the declaration of martial law. Picardal recalled how he was impressed by Romano’s missionary zeal as both moved from village to village conducting mission evangelization seminars among the people.

“Never again! This was our cry after the fall of the dictator Marcos. Now we have more of the same. When, O Lord, can we be truly freed from evil? When can we be freed from corruption and abuses of those in power?” Picardal asked.

“I hope that someday, the truth will come out and those responsible for the abduction and death of Fr. Romano and thousands of disappearances under the Marcos regime and the Arroyo administration will be brought to justice,” said Picardal.

Picardal (54) has been based in Davao as professor and academic dean of St. Alphonsus Seminary. He is also a theologian and BEC expert, poet, environmentalist, occasional hermit, healer, musician, scuba diver, tai-chi practitioner, mountaineer, cyclist and peace advocate. He biked for peace across the Philippines in 2000, 2006 and 2008.(Santosh Digal)

UN, EU experts coming to inspect toxic cargo

July 12, 2008

Tarra Quismundo Margaux Ortiz
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Members of a team of chemical specialists sent by the United Nations and the European Union have started arriving to inspect the sunken MV Princess of the Stars, in which toxic cargo remains trapped.

A statement issued on Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said the team would make an assessment of the shipwreck, which is resting at an angle on the seabed off Sibuyan Island less than a kilometer from the nearest coast of San Fernando town in Romblon province, south of Manila.

“We must ensure that the human tragedy of this ferry collapse is not compounded by the leakage of these pesticides,” said Stavros Dimas, Commissioner for the EU’s Environment and Civil Protection.

“Europe is putting its solidarity with the Philippines into practice by providing its assistance. Our expertise has been highly valued in similar emergencies in recent years, and as ever, we will do all we can to assist the people of the Philippines,” he said.

The team is composed of a marine chemist, an eco-toxicologist and a civil protection expert, Unep said.

Pesticides

It said the team would “spend one week in the Philippines to help provide a clear overview of the situation, determine priority needs and identify any gaps in international aid being offered and/or provided.”

It added that the team would be given support by Philippine government agencies and other UN bodies such as the UN Development Program and the World Health Organization.

The retrieval of bodies trapped inside the ship that left Manila for Cebu City was called off after authorities found that a container van of the toxic pesticide endosulfan owned by fruit and juice producer Del Monte Philippines Inc. was in the cargo hold.

Several other chemicals shipped by Bayer CropScience were also found to have been part of the cargo.

A fishing ban remains in force in the province of Romblon, with continued fears that a leakage might contaminate the Sibuyan Sea and surrounding areas.

Divers on standby

Divers of the Philippine Coast Guard have just been ordered to return to the site and stand by for operations on the shipwreck.

Bayer technical consultant Tess Cayton on Friday assured the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) that its products were packaged in line with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s code of conduct on the distribution and safe use of pesticides.

Cayton said the products, which included Antracol WP70, Tamaron 600SL, Trap 70WP and Fuerza GR3, were highly biodegradable.

“The products easily disperse in the sea. They disintegrate biologically when hit by sunlight,” she said. “The volume of our products are also negligible vis-à-vis the volume of the ocean.”

Cayton also said Bayer’s forwarder had coordinated with Sulpicio Lines regarding the permits and the actual shipping.

“We were unaware that our products were on the ill-fated ship until our forwarder informed us,” she said.

Dangerous

Representatives of Ceva Philippines, Del Monte’s contractor in charge of processing the transshipment permit of the cargo of endosulfan, said they had informed Sulpicio Lines of the nature of the chemical.

“During the preparation of the domestic bill of lading, Ceva Philippines informed Sulpicio Lines that the cargo was dangerous and presented all documents, including the international bill of lading and the material safety sheet, that both clearly state endosulfan is toxic and a marine pollutant,” Ceva Philippines country manager Dante Macaisa told the BMI.

He added: “In line with international shipping standards, the 400 boxes of endosulfan were packed in a 40-foot container with proper codes and prominent markings, including skull and crossbones signs, on four sides, showing the toxic nature of the cargo.”

No acknowledgement receipt

Macaisa said Ceva had submitted 10 shipment documents to Sulpicio Lines.

But the shipping company’s lawyer, Victoria Lim-Florido, said there was no acknowledgment receipt to prove this.

Sulpicio Lines has filed a civil suit against Del Monte for alleged failure to declare the pesticide cargo as dangerous.

Headless female body found off Camarines Sur coast buried

July 12, 2008

Ephraim Aguilar Publio M. Peyra III
Southern Luzon Bureau

NAGA CITY, Camarines Sur — A headless female body believed to have come from the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars that sank near Sibuyan Island in Romblon was buried Saturday morning in Minalabac town, Camarines Sur.

The body of the girl, about 25 years old or younger, was wearing a spaghetti-strap blouse when she was found Friday evening, said Chief Inspector Benjamin España, Minalabac police chief.

He said the head of the girl was missing when recovered.

Three more bodies suspected to have come from the ill-fated ship were recovered by the Navy from the shoreline of Pasacao town in Camarines Sur Thursday afternoon, Ensign Elmer Sumunod, spokesperson of the Naval Forces Southern Luzon, said Friday morning.

Equipped with a rubber boat and cadaver bags, a patrol ship of the Philippine Navy sailed to Pasacao after the Bicol police gave a tip on the bodies.

Sumunod said the three bodies were immediately buried since they were in advanced states of decomposition.

Search and retrieval operations were also launched Friday following reports of four more bodies sighted floating at mid-sea.

It has been three weeks since the M/V Princess of the Stars owned by Sulpicio Lines Inc. capsized at the height of Typhoon “Frank.”

The ill-fated ship carried over 800 crew members and passengers.

After weeks of search and retrieval operations, more than 200 bodies have already been recovered but only a few have been identified by their families.

Aside from Romblon, dead bodies have also been recovered in some provinces in Southern Luzon, prompting “fish scares” in these areas.

On Thursday morning, Vice President Noli De Castro visited Pasacao town to partake of “cocido” (boiled fish) and steamed fish with town officials to prove that fish caught from the area were safe to eat.

De Castro distributed cash assistance to fisher folk whose livelihood was affected as people became afraid to eat fish after decomposing bodies were found floating in the coastal town’s waters since the shipwreck.

“Human flesh turns into protein once eaten by a fish,” said Pasacao Mayor Asuncion Villamante-Arseño.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) regional director Dennis Del Socorro advised that fish caught in Bicol waters were not contaminated, “as long as they are fresh and well cleaned of entrails.”

He explained that fishes which were not exposed to toxic chemicals were harmless and fit for consumption.

Ships’ 45 accidents listed

July 12, 2008

Lloyd’s details Sulpicio’s 28-year history

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:39:00 07/13/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Sulpicio Lines Inc., owner of the MV Princess of the Stars that sank off Sibuyan Island in Romblon last month at the height of Typhoon “Frank (international code name: Fengshen),” has a disturbing history.

For the past 28 years, its ships have not only sunk but have also collided with other vessels, caught fire, stalled at sea for several days, and run aground.

The maritime information database www.lloydsmiu.com has recorded incidents involving Sulpicio Lines vessels from 1980 to 2008. The record includes the June 21 sinking of the Princess of the Stars–the seventh sinking incident to involve the shipping company.

In all, Sulpicio Lines has had 45 sea accidents since 1980.
Of the Sulpicio Lines vessels, six have collided with other ships, six have caught fire, seven have had engine problems and stalled at sea, and 19 have run aground.

The deadliest incident was the 1987 sinking of the MV Doña Paz after it collided with the MT Vector. As many as 4,300 people are believed to have died in the worst peacetime disaster in history.

Although the Doña Paz was involved in a collision, the incident was classified as a sinking in the data provided by Lloyd’s MIU.

The next deadliest incidents were the sinking of the Doña Marilyn in October 1988 and the Princess of the Orient in September 1998 (with 150 fatalities each), and the Princess of the Stars last month.

At present, only 57 of the 864 people on board the Princess of the Stars have been found alive. Hundreds of bodies are believed trapped inside the ill-fated ship that left Manila for Cebu City.

Reached on the phone, Sulpicio Lines lawyer Arthur Lim said he had no comment.

No casualties

Another sinking incident involved the Sulpicio Container I (1980), with no casualties.

There were also no casualties reported in the six collisions involving Sulpicio Lines vessels–the Palawan Princess, which collided with the MV Wilcon VI at the Manila North Harbor (1992); the Filipina Princess, with a Uni-Modest vessel at the entrance of the Manila North Harbor (1993); the Iloilo Princess, with the MV Solid Pearl near the Manila North Harbor (1997); the Sulpicio Container V, with the MV Asia Malaysia at Fort San Pedro, Iloilo (2000); the Princess of Paradise, with the MV LSC Cagayan de Oro off Cebu (2003); and the Sulpicio Express Dos, with the tank barge Golden Arowana 3 off Corregidor (2005).

The six Sulpicio Lines vessels reported to have caught fire were the Philippine Princess (1989); the Princess of the Orient, then refueling at the Manila North Harbor (1997); the Dipolog Princess, then undergoing repair at Pier 7 in Cebu (2000); the Tacloban Princess, then docked in Ormoc, and where two people died (2002); the Iloilo Princess, then docked at Pier 4 in Cebu (2003); and the Princess of the World, then at sea off Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte (2005).

The seven incidents of vessels being stalled at sea involved the Filipina Princess, whose engine broke down twice (in November 1992 and March 1996); the Cotabato Princess, whose engine also broke down twice (July 2002 and March 2004); and the Princess of the Ocean, whose engine encountered problems three times (October 2002, March 2004 and June 2007).

The Sulpicio Lines vessels that ran aground were the Doña Paulina (1980); Don Victoriano I (1982); Sulpicio Container X (1986); Philippine Princess (1990 and 1997); Palawan Princess (1990 and 1995); Cagayan Princess (1990); Surigao Princess (1996); Princess of the Caribbean (1998); Tacloban Princess (1999); Cotabato Princess (2001); Dipolog Princess (2003 and 2007); Cebu Princess (2003); Princess of Paradise (2003); Princess of the Pacific (2004); Filipina Princess (2006); and the Princess of the Universe (2006).

‘Correct but incomplete’

According to data earlier provided by Philippine Coast Guard sources, Lloyd’s MIU has recorded 33 maritime incidents involving the vessels of Sulpicio Lines from 1980 to 2008. A source said the information came from maritime industry insiders.

When validated by Inquirer Research, Lloyd’s MIU investigations/research manager Arne Hanssen said the data were “correct, but incomplete.”

With Hanssen’s comments, the total number of maritime accidents involving Sulpicio Lines ships rose from 33 to 45.

Lloyd’s MIU said that:

The sinking of the MV Doña Paz in December 1987 led to the loss of “more than 2,000 people.”

The Princess of the Stars “sank off Sibuyan Island after grounding, following engine trouble, [leaving] 150 dead and 700 missing.”

The other ships that sank were the MV Carmen in 1987 and the Boholana Princess in December 1990.

300-year history

According to its website, Lloyd’s MIU has “a 300-year-old history in providing information to the maritime world.”

It provides data on vessel movement, ownership, characteristics and casualties, as well as port information and in-depth company information.

Lloyd’s MIU data are published online, and in books and magazines. The data are compiled from various sources, including Lloyd’s Agency Network of 700 agents and sub-agents, leading registries and classification societies and major company registries all over the world.

Its principal offices are located in the United Kingdom, the United States and Singapore. It employs its roster of analysts and researchers in Athens, Barcelona, Mumbai and Vancouver.

With a report from Kate Pedroso, Inquirer Research

Editorial Cartoon: The Drowning

July 12, 2008

Dying

Sogo at Lehitimasyon ng Komersyal na Bawal na Pagnanasa

July 12, 2008

Dito, tulad sa rehimen ni Arroyo, ang halinghing at iri ay sabayang nagsasaad ng pagbulwak ng at pagdisiplina sa bawal. Basta may pera, hindi nabubura, bagkus lalong tumitingkad, ang distinksyon ng bawal at hindi sa mundong ibabaw.

NI ROLAND TOLENTINO
KULTURANG POPULAR KULTURA
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Pejoratibo ang tingin sa mga motel at lodge sa bansa. Pero mas nega (negatibo) ang tingin sa gawain sa loob ng mga motel. “Liko biglang yuko” dahil hindi nga inaakalang marangal ang gawain dito, kahit pa pribadong espasyo naman ito.

Dati ay built-in sa laylayan ng syudad at mga bayan ang night clubs na may dagdag na atraksyon. Sa Bocaue, Bulacan at Calumpang, Marikina ang dinadayo pa para magkaroon ng good time ang kalalakihan. Sa aking pagkamulat, sa Diversion Road sa San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, malayo-layo sa poblacion, matutunghayan ang mga bar, inaanunsyo gamit ang pulang ilaw sa loob at christmas lights sa labas.

Kumbaga, sa simula, parang nakasona ang mga lugar ng aliw. Red-light district ang turing dito bilang sex tourism na atraksyon ng magkakahilerang bars sa Ermita, EDSA Pasay at Quezon Avenue.  Pang-high-end. Supporting role ang mga motel sa daloy ng komersyal na aliw. Mula sa bars at clubs, at maging lansangan, tungo sa espasyo ng higit pang konsumpsyon—ang konsumasyon—ng sex.

Sta. Mesa at Pasay Rotonda ang mga kalsadang naging enclave ng motels. Two-story na gusali—parang precursor ng modernong townhouse—ang disenyo. Yung high-end nito ay may mala-Disneyland na kwartong nagtatanghal ng tema. Sa Anito Lodge sa Monumento, ito raw ay kinabibilangan ng Egyptian, Filipino, Japanese, European, at iba pang motif na kwarto.

Ang two-story na building ay nagsasaad na ng gitnang-uring panuntunan sa bawal na sexual na pagnanasa. Ang ground floor ay car park na rin, inaasahang may dala ang kliyente ng kotse o naka-taxi man lamang. Bawal, kasi nga ay hindi motel ang angkop na lugar at panahon ng sex, batay sa isang bansang mayorya ay Katoliko. Kung hindi ito angkop, lantaran at patagong dinadaot ang karanasan dito.

“Cheap” at “paka”(pakawala) ang tingin sa babaeng sumasama sa motel. “Macho” at balahura (hindi sinsero) ang lalakeng nagdadala naman sa motel. Kung ganito na nga ang tingin, at sa mas mumurahing kwarto sa Quiapo, Avenida at Pasay pa tutungo ang mga kliyente, nagiging dobleng kacheapan ang karanasan.

Ang nangyari sa tagumpay ng negosyo ng Sogo Hotels (Hotel Sogo sa  kanilang “under construction” na website) ay gawing stand-alone ang karanasan sa bawal na pagnanasa (illicit desire). Hindi na kailangang tumungo sa bars bago tumungo sa motel. Maaring dumiretso na kaagad ang seryosong tagpuan mismo sa motel. Magtagpo na lamang sa neutral na lugar (convenience store, mall, kalsada o fastfood outlet) at tumungo na sa motel.

Nakakalat sa prominenteng lugar ang Sogo Hotels.  Katabi ng malls, tulad sa may SM Sta. Mesa at Sta. Lucia Mall. At tulad ng kahon ng sapatos na disenyo ng naunang henerasyon ng malls, ang disenyo ng Sogo Hotels ay kahon din. Kakaunti ang bintana rito. At kung mayroon man, may nakatakip na struktura sa labas ng building para hindi lubos na matunghayan ang nasa loob.

Tulad sa malls, maaaring mawala sa espasyo at panahon ng Sogo. May kontrol sa panahon ang mga kliyente:  madilim o maliwanag sa pribadong kwarto, pero tulad sa mall, parating maliwanag ang publikong erya. Ang espasyo ng kwarto ay magkakahalintulad. Pare-parehong may salamin, banyo, libreng gamit ng twalya at sabon, kobre-kama, telebisyon at remote, kahit pa may mas mahal at murang kwarto.

Kapag nakapaloob sa Sogo, mahirap tunghayan kung anong oras na. Kapag nakapaloob sa mall, hindi rin nakakatiyak kung nasaan na ang kliyente. Tulad sa mall—ang mga tindahan, in-house na establisyimentong hawak ng SM, lokasyon ng sine at fastfood, at iba pa—pare-pareho ang mga laman ng Sogo Hotels: lobby na napakaraming pang-pares na silyang antayan ng kwartong binu-book, front desk, security door, nag-iisang makitid na elevator, at mga hile-hilerang kwarto sa bawat palapag.

Lumikha ng sariling pagpapadaloy ang Sogo Hotels. Hindi na nakayuko dahil nga nagkakakitaan na ang mga nag-aantay sa lobby. Slight na lamang nakatungo. Tanggap din kung same-sex ang nagpapa-book ng kwarto. Pero ang dinodoble ang bayad ay kapag three-some ang nagnanais umakyat.

Ang ginawang inobasyon ng Sogo Hotels, bilang improvement sa naunang henerasyon ng two-story na motel at lodge, ay gawing abot-kaya at mabilisan ang pag-order ng pagkain. Limitado ang opsyon sa marangal na hitsura ng menu. At balita ko na naman ay marangal naman ang kalidad ng pagkain. Na sa kaunti pang panahon, ang pagkain sa kwarto ay magiging tulad na ng pagkain sa panonood ng sine:  integral, affordable, at magkatambal sa iba’t ibang pleasure na binabayaran para matamo.

Efficient ang Sogo Hotel. Parang walang nakakalamang. Maging ang mga pulis na nag-aantay ng libreng kwarto ay pumipila. Mayroon ding channel para sa mas mahalay na palabas. Mabilisan at sistematiko rin ang paglilinis sa mga kwarto. Na palabas pa lamang ng kwarto ay tinatanong na ang kliyente kung “check out” na ang kliyente para kagyat na malinis at muling maisaayos ang nabakanteng kwarto para sa susunod na pares.

Stand-alone ang malalaking building ng Sogo Hotel. Ang kanyang logo ay isang geisha na  parsyal na nakatakip ng pamaypay ang mukha. Geisha na nagsisimbolo ng pagiging entertainer at binabayarang pagsasama, sunod-sunuran na nagbibigay ng aliw. Pati ang pamaypay ay simbolo ng leisure.

Kaya rin may karapatan ang mga gusali na sumiksik sa mga komersyal na lugar sa Metro Manila.  Aliwan paradise ang inaalok na serbisyo nito. Sa mall ay publikong-pribadong aliw ang inilalako:  sa nilikhang publiko natutungyahan ang mga serbisyong bibilhin at iinternalisa ng pribadong konsyumer.

Sa motel ay pribadong-pribadong aliw ang pinatatamasa:  sa pagpasok sa pribadong kwarto maiinternalisa ang pribadong kasiyahan para sa konsyumer na pumiling bumili ng tatlong oras—ang “short-time” na kalikasan ng mga motel. Sa kliyente ang kwarto sa loob ng nirentahang tatlong oras.

Free sex, perverted sex, sex with non-adults na mukha namang adults, extra-marital sex, premarital sex, gay sex, lesbian sex, kahit ano sa pagitan ng dalawang partner, maaari sa motel. Ang kapangyarihan sa kontrol sa panahon at espasyo ng kwarto ay nasa kanila sa loob ng itinakdang tatlong oras o lampas pa rito.

Sexual liberation ito na nakaangkla sa sexual tolerance, lalo na sa sex work, na nagsimula sa panahon ng Amerikanong kolonyalismo. Sa panahong ito, naging bukas na usapin ang premarital at extra-marital na relasyon, maging ang sex work. “Casa” mula sa Kastila para sa bahay-aliw ang designated na lugar para rito.

Ang pagiging bukas sa sex ay itinumbas sa bisyo, tulad ng sugal, alak at pambababae. Bukas pero hindi maganda ang tingin.  Bukas dahil napapag-usapan na sa diyaryo at panitikan.  Kung gayon, ito ay parang sikreto—bukas kapag natunghayan pero sa pangkaraniwang pagkakataon, saradong bukas.

Ang tagumpay ng Sogo Hotels ay gawing komersyal ang kalakaran para sa higit na nakararami. Nasubukan na ninyo bang magpa-book kapag Biernes ng gabi, o pay day ng a-kinse at katapusan? My gad, parang ahas na paikot-ikot ang taong nakaupo, magkatapat sa silya, magkatalikod, at nakatayo sa tagiliran ng lobby, at nagmamadaling pumasok sa security gate para umakyat sa kwarto.

Tila isang champion ang Sogo Hotels, kung gayon, sa liberalisasyon ng sexual na pagnanasa. Nagiging katanggap-tanggap na kalakaran sa dumarami pang bilang ng itinatayong gusali. Ang discontinuity ng Sogo Hotels sa naunang espasyo ng casa at unang henerasyon ng hotel ay gawing mas accessible ang bawal na karanasan. Wala na sa Diversion Road o dating liblib na lugar na makikipagsapalaran sa biyahe pa lamang, hindi na major production tumungo sa motel.

Ang continuity sa naunang mga espasyo ng aliw ay gawing mas komersyal ang kalakaran ng bawal na pagnanasa. Magkakatulad ang mga kwartong kulang sa hotel ang standard, pero dahil nga mas abot-kaya naman ang halaga (lalo na kung may 20 percent discount card) ay OK lang, at mataas ang efficiency ng serbisyo.

At dahil ito ay nasa friendly neighborhood komersyal na lunan sa Metro Manila, mas madali ang akses dito. Hindi nakakatakot tumungo, walang pakikipagsapalaran sa biyahe. Na maari ngang trip-trip lang kahit hindi naman literal na nagbiyahe para sa figuratibong trip to heaven.

Substansyal na katuwang na inihanda ng Sogo Hotels ang bansa sa neoliberal na karansan sa sex, sa abot rin ng makakaya ng Katoliko at estadong konserbatismo. Sex—maging paid sex o leisure sex—ay integral na komponent sa service sector na binibigyan-diin ng gobyerno, lalo na ng admiistrasyon ni Gloria Arroyo.

Walang malisya, dahil kanya-kanyang adult na desisyon itong pribadong karanasan. Walang malisya lalo pa’t ginagawa ito sa lehitimong espasyo at panahon ng motel, tulad ng Sogo Hotels. Na may pagtanggap sa ehersisyo ng bawal na pagnanasang ito dahil mas matimbang ang konsumpsyon ng nakakapagbayad na gitnang uri kaysa sa moral na indictment ng kawalang-angkupan ng sexual na pagnanasa.

Mas matimbang ang finansyal na kapital kaysa sa moral na kapital. Sino ang mas papanigan ng estado?  Wala naman kailangang pagpilian. Tasitong sinusuportahan ni Arroyo ang negosyo dahil may napapala itong pang-ekonomikong aktibidad na mahalaga sa kanyang inaasam na statistikong inuulat kapag SONA (state of the nation address).

Na ang sex ay pwedeng pagkakitaan ay pangarap na naabot ng Sogo Hotels sa 20 branches nito sa Metro Manila. Malaking negosyo na nagsasaad sa negosyante at kliyente na “ramdam ang pag-unlad.”  Sino ang hindi mamaximisahin ang kaligayahan—kahit pa illicit na pagnanasa ito—kung nagbayad ka para matamo ang rurok ng inaasam na tagumpay?

Ginawang empowered na pribadong mamamayan na nakakatamo ng pribatisadong konsumpsyon ng sariling pagnanasa. Na ang sex ay integral na ekonomikong aktibidad basta nananatili sa pribadong spero ng publikong buhay. At ang madilim, walang bintana at aircon na kwarto ay ang materialisasyon ng pribadong spero na ito.

Sa loob ng tatlong oras, ang buhay at kamatayan sa labas ay tumitigil para bigyan buhay ang pagsasakatuparan ng bawal na pagnanasa. Bawal pero nababayaran para maging lehitimo. Bawal pero mayroong pribadong spero sa publikong buhay maaring matamasa ito.

Dito, tulad sa rehimen ni Arroyo, ang halinghing at iri ay sabayang nagsasaad ng pagbulwak ng at pagdisiplina sa bawal. Basta may pera, hindi nabubura, bagkus lalong tumitingkad, ang distinksyon ng bawal at hindi sa mundong ibabaw. Bulatlat

N. Vizcaya Local Officials Rise vs Mining Firm

July 12, 2008

Local officials of the province of Nueva Vizcaya dare to fight a mining giant. This is a stark contrast to the national government pledging full support for transnational mining corporations.

BY BULATLAT
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya (268 kms north of Manila) — Gov. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma and other provincial officials were slapped with a string of charges at the Office of Ombudsman by OceanaGold Phils., Inc., an Australian firm engaged in a multibillion-peso mining exploration project at Didipio, Kasibu town.

They were charged with grave coercion, graft and harassment. Recently, an administrative case was also filed against the governor allegedly for abuse of authority, misconduct and oppression.

Cuaresma has been a vocal critic of the Australian firm’s operations.

In a statement posted at www.nvizcayagov.ph, Cuaresma said, “If compassion is a transgression and if this is the reward of an upright move, I am ready to face the costs. As Governor, I have to defend my constituents who fall victims of abuses and until such atrocities ceased and tribal folks of Didipio will be bequeathed of the injustices OceanaGold had them suffered, I stood firm to my conviction.”

Gold site of greed

She said, “Didipio, the once tranquil hamlet of harmonious and peace loving people fall prey to pretenses of development. It is progress in exchange of dignity.  I am appealing to peace and human right advocates all over the world to help me redeem the self-esteem of displaced indigenous people of Didipio who were illegally extricated from their ancestral domain with thousand still facing ejection to pave the way to what I may describe as the gold site of greed.”

Cuaresma said that her office receives continuous reports from Didipio residents regarding cases of human rights violations, fears and intimidation. She said that the brutal killing of village chief Paulino Baguilat just recently was an aftermath of what OceanaGold calls as “development.”

Cuaresma said that her office still receives continuous reports from Didipio residents on cases of human rights violations, fears and intimidation. She said that the brutal killing of village chief Baguilat just recently was an aftermath of what OceanaGold calls as development.

Making history

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Teddy Casiño hailed the local government’s move. “This is an unprecedented milestone in our country’s history of local governance. This should set a shining example to all other local governments under siege by arrogant and environmentally-destructive foreign large-scale mining companies,” he said

The Provincial Board recently adopted a resolution to totally withdraw support and endorsement to OceanaGold. Eight voted in favor of the move; three against, and one abstention. It shall take effect amid the ongoing impasse between the province and OceanaGold over payment of local taxes.

“This will teach OceanaGold and power-drunk officials of the national government agencies like Environment Sec. Lito Atienza a lesson. They should heed the opposition of the local people – indigenous peoples, small-scale miners and farmers included – and local authorities who will directly suffer the long-term damage from large-scale mining operations. We also hope that other local government units take this historical move of the Nueva Vizcaya provincial government into consideration,” Casiño said.

Casiño is the author of House Resolution No. 594 that mandated the Congressional Committee on National Cultural Communities to probe OceanaGold’s entry into Nueva Vizcaya’s remaining forestlands and the critical watershed areas in the region. Bulatlat

‘Katas ng Saudi’ No More; OFW Earnings Go to VAT

July 12, 2008

With the rising cost of basic commodities coupled with the value-added tax (VAT), millions of overseas Filipino workers say goodbye to “Katas ng Saudi,” or big earnings from Saudi.

BY BULATLAT
MIGRANT WATCH
Vol. VIII, No. 22, JULY 6-12, 2008

“No more ‘Katas ng Saudi!’ OFWs are bleeding dry!”

This was the statement of the Middle East chapter of Migrante International amid the increasing prices of food and fuel that caused the country’s inflation rate to reach a 14-year high.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, said, “With food inflation up to 17.4 percent and fuel inflation up to 22 percent as reported by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (bsp OR Central Bank of the Philippines), the ­so-called ‘Katas ng Saudi’ or OFW earnings becomes a myth and a wish of every OFWs.” He said that millions of ordinary OFWs are receiving only US$350 to US$500 a month.

Monterona cited the price of an 11 kg. liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tank that increased by P76.94 to almost P600 from January to December 2007. “Now, how much is the cost of an 11 kg. LPG tank?” he asked.

He noted as well the Manila Water early this year has implemented a rate hike. Consumers who use 30 cubic meters per month pay an additional P60.

Monterona said, “Our dependents are asking us to send more…[we] tighten our belts and remit almost all of our income…” He said that most of them are looking for part-time jobs just to send more for their families back home.

Monterona said that the Arroyo government, if it has political will, could initiate “doable” economic policies that provide relief to consumers and the public in general.

He said that one of these is the removal of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on power and petroleum products. This, he said, will give consumers especially the poor, OFWs and their families’ immediate relief from rising prices greatly affecting every OFW households’ meager income.’

The OFW leader cited a study by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) which shows that scrapping the VAT on oil can immediately bring down pump prices of unleaded gasoline by P5.83 per liter; kerosene, P5.29; diesel, P4.98; and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), P68.83 per 11-kilogram cylinder.
“The Arroyo administration must set aside its greed for the P54 billion annual revenues collected from VAT imposition on oil products,” Monterona added. He said that VAT assures foreign creditors of debt payments.

“We are calling all OFW-families, dependents and relatives to join scheduled mass actions aiming to put more pressure on the Arroyo regime to scrap the VAT on oil,” Monterona said. Bulatlat

3 OFWs Decry Torture, Now on Saudi’s Death Row

July 12, 2008

Three overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia were arrested and allegedly tortured to force them to admit to a crime they did not commit. They have been sentenced to death by beheading.

BY ANGIE DE LARA
MIGRANT WATCH
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has been the top destination of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Today, there are 900,000 Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia.

Migrante International, however, noted that Saudi Arabia is also one of the worst violators of migrants’ rights.

According to Migrante, five OFWs have already been executed in Saudi Arabia since 2001. They are Antonio Alvesa, Sergio Aldana, Miguel Fernandez, Wilfredo Bautista and Reynaldo Cortez. Had migrant advocacy groups not actively intervened, Marilou Ranario would have suffered the same fate.

At present, three OFWs – brothers Rolando and Edison Gonzales and Eduardo Arcilla – could end up being included in the list of those executed in Saudi Arabia. They have been sentenced to death by beheading after being convicted of killing fellow Filipinos Romeo Lumbang, Jeremias Bucud and Dante Rivero.

During a press conference last July 1 at the Migrante International office in Quezon City, the three OFWs gave their testimonies over the phone.

Torture

On April 8, 2006 at around 9 and 10 p.m., Rolando was watching television at home when police officers arrested him. At the police station, an interpreter was already waiting for them. He denied the accusation that he murdered Lumbang, Bucud and Rivero. According to him, it was then that the police started beating him. “Gusto ko nang mamatay noong pinaparusahan ako,” (I wanted to die as they were punishing me.) Rolando said in tears. “Because I could no longer bear the torture I was forced to admit (to) the crime (we were accused of).”

OFW in Death RowRolando said that before he was arrested, he worked for three months as a driver in Saudi Arabia. He has four children and their youngest daughter is only one-and-a half years old then. “Nasira ang pangarap ng aming pamilya.” (Our family’s dreams have been shattered.)

On the same day, Arcilla went to Rolando’s house to deliver lumpiang shanghai. He just left house of Rolando when the police officers arrested the latter. Arcilla then saw police officers on the ground floor of the building, and he said that they took him with them.

Arcilla said, “When they brought me to the investigation room at around 10:30 p.m. they asked me to admit to killing my three fellow Filipinos. Sinabi ko sa kanila na wala akong alam sa patayang naganap, nagtitinda lamang ako ng Filipino food. (I told them that I knew nothing about the killings as I was just selling Filipino food.) Then, they started beating me up and forced me to admit to the crime.”

Arcilla said in tears,“Yung interpreter pinagtututusok pa yung mata ko, napakasakit. Tapos ibinitin nila ako at binuhusan ng malamig na tubig. Ginawa po nila kaming hayop.” (The interpreter pierced my eyes, it was so painful. They hung me upside down and poured cold water on me. They treated us like animals.)

He said, “Ngayon yung pamilya ko wala ng makain”. (Now, my family has nothing to eat.)

On the same day, too, Edison received a call from his employer and instructed him to go to his company’s showroom the next morning. The following day, he arrived at around 9:30 a.m.. His employer instructed him to go with the man beside him. Edison obeyed even if he did not have any idea as to where they were going. To his surprise, the man brought him to the police station.

He said, “They asked my name and started beating me up. Magdamag, maghapon po akong pinaparusahan at pinagtatapat po nila ako. Sabi ko po sa kanila kahit patayin ninyo ako, wala akong ginawa, wala akong kinalaman sa pangyayari (I was punished day and night and they coerced me to make a confession. I told them, even if you kill me, I did nothing, I had nothing to do with the incident.). They lined us up and asked us to kneel one by one, then they started punishing us. Others could not bear the pain so they just told lies. Now, the three of us are on death row.”

Edison has been working in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for 24 years, leaving behind his wife and three children.

Joel Simbulan, one of the five co-accused and has been sentenced to eight years of imprisonment and 1,000 lashes, told the press, “Pinilit po kaming makagawa ng statement para madiin ang tatlo sa amin sa krimen na wala naman po kaming kinalaman. Ako po ay dinala nila sa disyerto at pilit pinatuturo yung bangkay nung isa na hinahanap nila. Dahil wala naman po akong kinalaman sa patayan, wala po akong maituro. Pinagapang po nila ako at pinagtututulak at pinagpapapalo. Pagdating sa presinto, tuloy pa rin po yung torture kaya nakagawa po ako ng maling statement dahil hindi ko na nakayanan yung torture sa akin.” (We were forced to make a statement implicating the three [Rolando, Eduardo and Edison] for the crime we knew nothing about. They took me to the desert and asked me to show them the body of one of the men they were looking for. Because I knew nothing about the murder, I could not provide any information to them. They made me crawl; they pushed me and beat me up. When we arrived at the police precinct, the torture continued; I was forced to write a false statement because I could no longer bear the torture.)

Abandonment?

Since their arrest in April 2006, they were given legal counsel only in April 2008, or exactly two years after. When they first met the Philippine Consulate General at the corridor of their building cell, they were told, “Hintayin na lang ninyo yung hustisya, basta magpakabait lang kayo d’yan” (Wait for justice to be served, you just have to behave.)

During the visit of a Philippine embassy representative, they asked about their case. They were advised to wait for the Saudi Arabia government process.

The consul-general then told them that they need to submit a letter of appeal but the one they presented was only a statement. Edison told him “Hindi po namin alam gumawa ng appeal wala naman po kaming abogado” (We do not know how to write a letter of appeal, we do not have a lawyer.) They were told that a lawyer will prepare their letter of appeal. “But two weeks ago, we are being called and asked to submit an appeal.”

Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante International, informed them that the appeal has been filed last April 12 and that the case was already at the appellate court.

Norie Gonzales, sister of Rolando and Edison, appealed for help. She spoke with his two brothers and told them, “AnditoNori Gonzales ako sa harapan ng mga press at paulit-ulit ko itong gagawin para makarating sa mga taong maaaring makatulong sa atin, kay Vice President Noli de Castro, Sen. Manny Villar, Sen Jinggoy Estrada at President Arroyo.” (I am here in front of the press and I will never get tired of doing this until our appeal reaches Vice President Noli de Castro, Sen. Manny Villar, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and President Arroyo.)

Regalado said that OFWs accused of any crime are entitled to due process and must not be tortured. “The Arroyo administration should address the plight of OFWs on death row. Blood money is not enough.”

She added, “Now that the Philippine government has been chosen as vice-chair to the United Nations Human Rights Commission despite the human rights violations in our country, Arroyo should live up to the position and give justice to the three OFWs who were tortured.” Bulatlat

U.S. Army in Brzezinki’s Afghan Trap

July 12, 2008

“That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap … The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam war.” So said Zbigniew Brzezinski in a media interview in 1998. Brzezinski, it turns out, had set a trap for George W. Bush and, possibly, his successors, too.

BY J. SRI RAMAN
T r u t h o u t | Perspective
ALTERNATIVE READER
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

“That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap … The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President (Jimmy) Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.” So said Zbigniew Brzezinski in a media interview in 1998.

A decade later, we can look back upon the tactic Brzezinski was boasting about, also as a trap Washington was laying for itself. The US was working to give its own Afghan war to itself. It is a weird sort of war, in which it killed allied troops over a week ago and is struggling to cope with the aftermath.

The former national security adviser, who assisted Carter during 1977 to 1981, was alluding to the plan to aid and arm insurgents in Afghanistan months before the Soviet intervention, with Carter authorizing covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations in the region in July 1978. Codenamed Operation Cyclone, the CIA program for 1979 to 1989 was funded to the tune of $20 million to $30 million per year from 1980 to 1986, and $630 million annually thereafter.

No secrecy has shrouded either the post-9/11 Pentagon-Washington plans in the border areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan or the budget running into billions of dollars for the purpose. The only difference is that, long after the departure of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan and, indeed, the Soviet Union from the world scene, an occupation Army of the US and its NATO allies is caught in a trap. And the trap seems shut tighter than ever before.

The imbroglio found a strange and striking illustration in the incident of June 10, when a US air strike killed 11 soldiers at a Pakistani checkpoint in the Mohmand tribal region of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The coalition forces in the area had been fighting Taliban insurgents, whom the Pakistani Army of a largely tribal composition, could or, according to many, would not stop from crossing the border. The episode provided more than an inkling of the wars within the Afghan war, of which the tribal people on both sides of the border were witnesses and victims.

The incident has led to strong verbal protests from Pakistan to Washington. The Pakistani Army, in a statement approved by chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, has called the attack on the post “unprovoked and cowardly.” Former Army chief and ambassador to the US Jehangir Karamat has said, “This is the first time the United States has deliberately targeted co-operating Pakistani forces,” and noted the absence of any “statement by the US that this was ‘friendly fire’ and that the intention was not to target Pakistani forces.”

Unofficially, sources in the Pakistani Army have talked of a number of similar attacks on Pakistani territory in the past, attributed then to “faulty intelligence.” It is claimed that, as a partner in the US-led “war on terror,” the Army has even owned up to some such strikes to avoid embarrassing its allies. The counterclaim from the coalition forces is that the strikes have been made in “self-defense” and in order to prevent Taliban incursions from the Pakistani side.

The trap consists, above all, in two-way border incursions by the two “anti-terror” allies of the US, which threaten an escalation of hostilities. On June 15, Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed the right to attack his Taliban tormentors on Pakistani territory. This invited a declaration by Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi of a resolve to “defend Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.” Neither of them mentioned this, but the most notable point about it all is this has become a war in which Washington is paying for both sides.

Not everyone might find this a delightful irony, but many could see it in the making down the past three decades. Toward the end of the eighties, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is said to have told then US President George Bush Sr., “You are creating a Frankenstein,” referring to the funding and fattening of the Taliban force. Even earlier, this was obvious to foreign observers in Afghanistan. I was in Kabul as a journalist during 1981 to 1983, and can vouch that few then saw the tribal warriors and warlords under the US tutelage as fervent devotees of democracy, the cause they were supposed to serve under the CIA. The Taliban established an outrageously oppressive regime in Kabul in 1996. But it was not until the late nineties that Washington began to worry about the fundamentalism of the force, funded also by Saudi Arabia. Apprehensions on this score, however, did not unduly affect the conduct of the “anti-terror” war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of “Descent into Chaos,” pointed this out, when asked in a recent interview why Pakistan was backing Taliban insurgency and creating instability in Afghanistan against Islamabad’s own “best interests.” Rashid replied: “I think the real issue was that the US refused to recognize this issue. The US agenda for Afghanistan and Pakistan was that General (Pervez) Musharraf should be involved in catching as many Al-Qaeda – that is the Arab component of the Al-Qaeda leaders – as possible. They were not interested in [dealing with] the Taliban … and there was no real pressure on the Pakistanis to end their support for the Taliban.”

The policy has defeated its own purpose. The post-Musharraf government of Pakistan is holding parleys with top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, accused earlier of masterminding Benazir’s assassination. And, on May 26, in a rare media interview, Mehsud rejected reports that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other leaders were hiding in his region. “… Osama bin Laden is dead, and the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, is not in our territory,” he declared.

The wars within the Afghan war will likely continue. Brzezinski, it turns out, had set a trap for George W. Bush and, possibly, his successors, too. Truthout/posted by Bulatlat

It was Oil, All Along

July 12, 2008

“The war in Iraq has absolutely nothing to do with oil,” so we were told. It actually is about oil, all along.

BY BILL MOYERS AND MICHAEL WINSHIP
Truthout.org
ALTERNATIVE READER
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Oh no, they told us, Iraq isn’t a war about oil. That’s cynical and simplistic, they said. It’s about terror and al-Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire and ashes. And now the bottom line turns out to be…the bottom line. It is about oil.

Alan Greenspan said so last fall. The former chairperson of the Federal Reserve, safely out of office, confessed in his memoir, “Everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” He elaborated in an interview with The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first Gulf War.”

Remember also that soon after the invasion, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told the press that war was our only strategic choice. “We had virtually no economic options with Iraq,” he explained, “because the country floats on a sea of oil.”

Shades of Daniel Plainview, the monstrous petroleum tycoon in the movie “There Will Be Blood.” Half-mad, he exclaims, “There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet!” then adds, “No one can get at it except for me!”

No wonder American troops only guarded the Ministries of Oil and the Interior in Baghdad, even as looters pillaged museums of their priceless antiquities. They were making sure no one could get at the oil except … guess who?

Here’s a recent headline in The New York Times: “Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back.” Read on: “Four western companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.”

There you have it. After a long exile, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and British Petroleum (BP) are back in Iraq. And on the wings of no-bid contracts – that’s right, sweetheart deals like those given Halliburton, KBR and Blackwater. The kind of deals you get only if you have friends in high places. And these war profiteers have friends in very high places.

Let’s go back a few years to the 1990s, when private citizen Dick Cheney was running Halliburton, the big energy supplier. That’s when he told the oil industry that, “By 2010 we will need the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.”

Fast forward to Cheney’s first heady days in the White House. The oil industry and other energy conglomerates were handed backdoor keys to the White House, and their CEOs and lobbyists were trooping in and out for meetings with their old pal, now Vice President Cheney. The meetings were secret, conducted under tight security, but as we reported five years ago, among the documents that turned up from some of those meetings were maps of oil fields in Iraq – and a list of companies who wanted access to them. The conservative group Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club filed suit to try to find out who attended the meetings and what was discussed, but the White House fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep the press and public from learning the whole truth.

Think about it. These secret meetings took place six months before 9/11, two years before Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq. We still don’t know what they were about. What we know is that this is the oil industry that’s enjoying swollen profits these days. It would be laughable if it weren’t so painful to remember that their erstwhile cheerleader for invading Iraq – the press mogul Rupert Murdoch – once said that a successful war there would bring us $20-a-barrel oil. The last time we looked, it was more than $140 a barrel. Where are you, Rupert, when the facts need checking and the predictions are revisited?

At a Congressional hearing this week, James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who exactly 20 years ago alerted Congress and the world to the dangers of global warming, compared the chief executives of Big Oil to the tobacco moguls who denied that nicotine is addictive or that there’s a link between smoking and cancer. Hansen, whom the administration has tried again and again to silence, said these barons of black gold should be tried for committing crimes against humanity and nature in opposing efforts to deal with global warming.

Perhaps those sweetheart deals in Iraq should be added to his proposed indictments. They have been purchased at a very high price. Four thousand American soldiers dead, tens of thousands permanently wounded, hundreds of thousands of dead and crippled Iraqis plus five million displaced, and a cost that will mount into trillions of dollars. The political analyst Kevin Phillips says America has become little more than an “energy protection force,” doing anything to gain access to expensive fuel without regard to the lives of others or the earth itself. One thinks again of Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood.” His lust for oil came at the price of his son and his soul. Posted by Bulatlat

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.

Editor’s Note: This Bill Moyers comment on America’s oil policy was presented on Friday 27 June 2008 on Bill Moyers Journal. Other portions of the program can be viewed here TO/vh

Freeing the Press

July 12, 2008

The unabated killings of journalists and the power that local political warlords continue to wield in the provinces; the continuous pressures exerted by the Arroyo administration on the media; the serious implications of the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court which virtually legalizes police repression on media; and the self-imposed limitations of media agencies and journalists – all of these, among many others, affect the freedom of the press (or worsen the lack of it) in the country. These problems seem insurmountable but they are not.

BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
ANALYSIS
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Writers from all over the world gathered in Stockholm, Sweden July 1 to decry the harassments and censorship that they are confronting.  Bangladeshi novelist-in-hiding Taslima Nasreen complained about the numerous threats to her life issued against her by Islamic fundamentalists after she had written about women’s oppression and the role of religion. To make matters worse, the Bangladesh government banned her from returning to her home country instead of protecting her rights. Turkmen writer Yusuf Azemoun decried the strict censorship being imposed by the Turkish government on media.

The Arroyo administration claims that the Philippines has one of the freest press in Southeast Asia. But the country has been described as the second most dangerous place for journalists in the world, next only to Iraq. Ninety-one journalists have been killed from 1986 to 2007, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).  Of this total, 55 journalists were killed from 2001, the year Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency.  This is being attributed to the culture of impunity prevailing in the country under the Arroyo administration.

What is this culture of impunity?  It is the ability of the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes to get away scot-free, much like soldiers accused of being involved in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. But in the case of killings of journalists, which happens mostly in the provinces, these are often perpetrated by local political warlords who wield power in the provinces and who control most, if not all, the money-making ventures (both legal and illegal) in their respective areas.  Their power emanates from their control of local politics, their vast landholdings and numerous business interests which include illegal gambling, logging and drugs. Tragedy befalls anyone who dares expose their dealings. And this power is strengthened and their impunity fanned by the Arroyo administration that relies on local political warlords – aside from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and her allies in Congress – to stay in power.

A court decision with serious implications

Just last June 20, the Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Reynaldo Laigo dismissed the class action suit brought against the PNP and other government officials by journalists and media organizations.  Journalists filed the suit after the police cuffed, manhandled, threatened, pointed guns at them and herded them into buses and brought them to the police camp in Bicutan in the aftermath of the Manila Peninsula standoff.  The rough handling and intimidation of journalists were committed after the leaders of the standoff, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, have already surrendered peacefully to police authorities, which makes it more suspect.

It is interesting to note that the court decision dismissing the suit filed by journalists was signed last June 20 but was only released a week after on June 27; and as of June 30, the complainants have not yet received a copy of the decision. Why? Was it done on purpose to dissipate the reaction of the media and the public?

In justifying his decision, Laigo claimed that the rights of journalists were not trampled upon when they were cuffed, manhandled, herded into buses, and brought to Bicutan. He even added insult to injury by saying that journalists were fortunate that the police did not file counter-charges against them. What kind of reasoning is that?

This court decision practically gives the police the power to prevent journalists from covering events by giving them the legal basis to arrest, manhandle and charge in court those who refuse to heed their orders not to do so.  This is censorship plain and simple and violative of the public’s right to know.  This is the legal authority and justification the Arroyo administration has been yearning for and which it failed to appropriate through executive edict.  Remember the media guidelines that the Arroyo administration tried to impose in the aftermath of the supposed Left-Right conspiracy in February 2006, which was made as a pretext by the Arroyo administration to declare a state of national emergency?

Self-imposed limitations

Carlos Conde of the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times came out with an interesting and informative article titled “Torture: Just a Story” which was published by the GMANews.TV.  He described the difficulties journalists face in writing about torture in particular and human rights cases in general.

One problem Conde raised is the mindset of journalists, which is shared by their mentors, superiors, and colleagues alike, to treat everything as “just a story,” and to refrain from being involved in advocacy as it may compromise one’s objectivity.

Conde also related tales of journalists being ostracized in their beats and being denied access to information by their sources because of their reportage on human rights. In one case, according to Conde, a journalist was warned by a military general not to set foot on a military camp again.

There is also the mindset among journalists to treat certain subjects, such as human rights, as belonging to the fringes and to be ignored. In my own experience in human rights advocacy, we have encountered journalists who told us that unless a human rights case is sensational – because of the sheer number of victims, the grossness and brutality of the violation, or there is direct evidence linking a high government official to the crime – it would never be published or aired.

This mindset for the sensational may also be the reason crime stories permeate tabloids, broadsheets, radio and television news reports. This is also the source of the scoop mentality that afflicts most journalists. Objective but sensational – sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

Aside from the mindset of journalists, some stories do not see the light of day because it impinges on the sensibilities of editors, publishers, sponsors, companies, or agencies that place ads on the media agency concerned.

These problems emanate from the orientation and nature of the press in this country.  The media are supposed to be “objective,” whatever that means.  But every event has a cause, and every story has different sides to it. What to emphasize is now left to the writer, the editor and the publisher; and that is where the subjective position of those concerned comes in.  I would rather be, “panig sa katotohanan, panig sa bayan” (stands for the truth, stands for the country) than “walang kinikilingan, walang pinoprotektahan” (does not take any sides, does not protect anybody) because the second is a fallacy.

A media agency also operates as a business venture and that is where the objective interests of the stockholders come in.  Added to this, journalists have a job to keep and protect; losing a source, the inability to chase and come up with sensational stories, and touching on the sensibilities of publishers could mean losing their jobs.

Freeing the press

The unabated killings of journalists and the power that local political warlords continue to wield in the provinces; the continuous pressures being exerted by the Arroyo administration on the media; the serious implications of the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court which virtually legalizes police repression on media; and the self-imposed limitations of media agencies and journalists – they all affect the freedom of the press (or the lack of it) in the country.

These problems seem insurmountable but they are not. We are not lacking in stories of people from the media who have defied the powers-that-be.

Philippine press freedom icon Jose Burgos defied Martial Law by publishing the We Forum in 1977, the year the protest movement against Martial Law was on an upsurge. He was subsequently arrested and the We Forum office raided and padlocked in 1982.  Burgos was not cowed by the Marcos dictatorship and he published Malaya which was also critical of the dictatorship immediately upon his release.  There were also many lesser-known journalists who did the same all over the country. They reported about the numerous human rights violations and excesses of the dictatorship and published news about the growing protest movement in the country.

These men and women of the media who dared to defy the Marcos dictatorship were the product of the intellectual ferment and growing protest movement against Martial Law at that time and they contributed significantly to it. They dared to make a stand against the evils of the dictatorship and joined the Filipino people in bringing it down. In the process, the Filipino people freed them from their encumbrances and they joined the people in their fight for freedom. That was the peak of press freedom in the country.

Press freedom is not measured by the lack of censorship – because it would always exist whether from pressures of the government and its security forces, certain segments of the population such as fundamentalists, or by the corporate interests of media agencies themselves – but by the political will and actions of the people and journalists in confronting it.

Some media persons say that press freedom is the foundation of all the rights of the people.  On the contrary, press freedom is the result of the people’s assertion of their rights.  Bulatlat

US puts RP on ‘trade review’ for labor killings

July 11, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — The United States Trade Representative (USTR) will keep the country under “active scrutiny” for possible violation of international labor standards in its “no union, no strike” policy in special economic zones that has allegedly resulted in the rise of killings of labor leaders between 2001 and 2007, an official from an international watchdog said Thursday.

The July 3 USTR decision was in response to a petition by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) in June 2007 requesting a USTR inquiry into whether the Philippine government has ensured that all Filipino workers enjoyed the right to freedom of association, ILRF lawyer Brian Campbell told INQUIRER.net in an exchange of e-mail.

US law requires that a country afford its workers’ “internationally recognized worker rights,” including the right to freedom of association, in order to participate in its Generalized System of Preferences program.

The USTR ruling, thus, puts in possible jeopardy the Philippines’ participation in the GSP program which extends preferential treatment to Philippine exports to US.

The US remains the Philippines’ largest trading partner with more than a billion dollars in trade between the two countries every year.

While the USTR ruling does not suspend benefits to the Philippines, Campbell said the US office would closely monitor reforms by the Philippine government.

“[The] USTR will…convene another hearing this fall to assess whether the GRP [government of the Republic of the Philippines] has made any steps to remedying the problems raised in the petition,” he said.

The USTR also ruled that it would continue to review whether the Philippines was eligible to participate in the GSP program. It seeks to ensure that the Philippine government is protecting its workers’ internationally recognized labor rights.

“We welcome the USTR’s decision to deny the Philippine government’s request to end the inquiry and instead to keep the review open,” Campbell said.

“We hope that the Philippine government will take the necessary steps to end the impunity enjoyed by those who kill and harass trade unionists so that businesses in the Philippines can continue to enjoy preferential trade benefits under the GSP program,” the ILRF said.

Aside from the rise in killings of trade union leaders between 2001 and 2007, the ILRF also cited efforts by Philippine government authorities to deny its workers the freedom of association through enforcing “no union, no strike” policies in the special economic zones and by assuming jurisdiction to end labor disputes in violation of international standards.

After a hearing conducted by the USTR in October 2007, Campbell said ILRF requested that the inquiry remained open pending a showing by the Philippine government that it had taken concrete steps to implement all of the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Phillip Alston, as well as the recommendations of the International Labor Organization’s Committee on the Freedom of Association, which has repeatedly found the Philippines’ assumption of jurisdiction regulations in violation of international standards.

“We are hoping that the Philippine government will take this seriously and begin to implement reforms that the international community has been calling for years and not needlessly place the nearly one billion in trade benefits it receives at risk,” he said. (PDI)

5.4 quake jolts Central Mindanao

July 11, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — A 5.4 magnitude earthquake rocked parts of central Mindanao early Friday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties from the 1:32 a.m. (1732 GMT) tremor, the epicenter of which was located 65 kilometers west of Koronadal, the capital of South Cotabato province, Philvocs chief Renato Solidum said.

The US Geological Survey put the magnitude at 5.2 and struck at a depth of 27.5 kilometers.

Intensity 4 was felt in the towns of Banga, Surallah, Sto. Niño, Norala, Tebuli, Tambakan, Polomolok, Tupi, Taktakan, and Pantangan, and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.

Intensity 3 was felt in Palembang town, Sultan Kudarat province, while Intensity 2 was felt in the cities of General Santos and Cotabato, where a magnitude 7 earthquake in 1976 triggered a tsunami and killed thousands of people.

“This is a tectonic earthquake and it is not related to the Aurora quakes,” Solidum said in a text message.

Solidum was referring to the string of tremors or “earthquake swarm” in Aurora province in the northwest and nearby provinces, which started last week, and was caused by the movement of the East Luzon Trough in the Pacific Ocean.

The quake was the second moderate tremor that hit Mindanao this week according to the USGS.

On Thursday, another undersea quake, measuring 4.8 magnitude, struck 140 kilometers southeast of Davao.

The Philippines sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where continental plates collide causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity. With Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao (PDI)

Gumanoy sisters’ mom maintains daughters were kidnapped

July 11, 2008

By Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 16:24:00 07/11/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The mother of two sisters allegedly abducted by the military maintained that her daughters were kidnapped and accused the military of “manipulating” her daughters to “cover up” the incident.

In a statement on Friday, Maria Gumanoy, mother of Rose Ann and Fatima and the wife of slain peasant leader Eduardo Gumanoy, said her daughters were only pressured by the military to deny the alleged abduction. Maria also accused the military of “drugging” her daughter Fatima, 17, who was confined at the AFP Medical Center in Quezon City.

“Fatima was lying in bed and was constantly guarded by the military. She could barely talk especially when the military was around. No doctor chosen by the family was allowed to see and check up Fatima,” Maria said.

Rosa Ann, 21, surfaced on Thursday at the Philippine Army Headquarters in Fort Bonfiacio to deny allegations that she and Fatima were abducted.

But their mother said Rose Ann’s appearance before media was only caused by her fear for her sister’s life.

“Rose Ann was threatened and was forced to cooperate with her abductors. I knew this would happen because my daughter feared the worst for her and her sister, Fatima,” said the mother.

Maria added that the military was “blackmailing” Rose Ann because they knew “she was very close to Fatima and I believed she could not bear to see her sister suffering what she had experienced in the hands of these perpetrators.”

Karapatan, the militant human rights group that accused the military of abducting the Gumanoy sisters, said the military was using the Gumanoy sisters to “clear their involvement in the death of Eduardo Gumanoy,” said secretary general Dorris Cuario.

“From the very beginning, we have already mentioned that the military will try to do everything to save again their neck for what they did to Rose Ann and Fatima. We are anticipating that the military will force the two to cooperate with them so that the military will be spared from further shame and damage,” she added.

“If the Philippine Army is serious in helping them, then the Gumanoy sisters must now be released to their family so that they can live free from fear,” Cuario said.

Editorial Cartoon: Kicked

July 11, 2008

Another setback on our fight for freer press.

Court Starts Hearing Tagaytay 5 Bail Petition

July 11, 2008

After more than two years of being abducted and detained, the Tagaytay 5 finally had their day in court as the latter started hearing their petition for bail.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

The Tagaytay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 18 has started hearing the Tagaytay 5’s petition for bail after more than two years of their being abducted and detained.

Judge Erwin Larida Jr. started hearing the case last July 4 and is expected to hold hearings in the succeeding Fridays of July. The Tagaytay 5 is composed of Axel Pinpin, a consultant of the Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Association of Peasants in Cavite) and a poet who was a fellow in the 1999 University of the Philippines (UP) National Writers’ Workshop; Riel Custodio, a Kamagsasaka-Ka member; Aristides Sarmiento, a freelance researcher for various non-government organizations; and Tagaytay City residents Enrico Ybañez and Michael Masayes.

The series of hearings follow their June 16 arraignment for the crime of rebellion, to which the five entered a “Not Guilty” plea.

The five were abducted by a composite Philippine Navy and Philippine National Police (PNP) team on April 28, 2006 in Tagaytay City.

Pinpin, Custodio and Sarmiento had just come from a meeting with coffee farmers in the city and were on their way to Manila for the forthcoming Labor Day rally. They had hired Ybañez as their driver while Masayes accompanied Ybañez.

Three days after, they were presented to the media as “communist rebels” who were conspiring with “dissident soldiers” in an alleged plot to “destabilize” the Arroyo administration. They were subsequently charged with rebellion.

Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento said that they expect the prosecution together with their PNP “abductors-torturers” to “demonize” them to secure a conviction – which, under the Revised Penal Code, carries a penalty of reclusion perpetua (20 years and one day to 40 years in detention).

“The prosecution and the PNP will again publicly peddle their pack of lies and life-threatening intrigues,” they said. “They will again cover up the truth about the case of the Tagaytay 5 in order to get their much-awaited judicial victory against ‘bomb-wielding communists-terrorists out to destabilize’ the corrupt and fascist Arroyo regime. They will repeatedly gloss over substantive issues and matters of judicial principles such as the human rights violations committed by government authorities during our abduction, interrogation, incommunicado status, prolonged detention, and delays in the judicial process, in order to consign us to perpetual silence and public oblivion.”

They vowed, however, to assert “rigorously” the following “truth(s) and substantive issues”:

· That they were waylaid and abducted by more or less 60 heavily armed men without necessary warrants on April 28, 2006; hence violating their basic right against arbitrary arrest;

· That they were not carrying guns or explosives of any kind at the time of their abduction, yet the list of evidence showed that they were in possession of one handgun; but all their personal belongings (including dentures and flashlights) and money totaling almost P800,000 (or ¥1,904,700 or $18,300) were missing and never accounted to them, an act which they said is “tantamount to highway robbery by law enforcement agents” and which violates their right against unlawful search and seizures;

· That they were shuttled to various military camps and safe houses, where they were repeatedly interrogated against their will and without counsel – acts which violate the basic rights of arrested persons under the Miranda Doctrine and judicial guarantees against illegal detention;

· That they were physically and psychologically tortured, having been hidden from their families, lawyers and friends for seven days and nights, to enable their abductors to extract extrajudicial confessions, again without the aid of counsel of their choice; thus violating their rights against torture and self-incrimination;

· That they were “persecuted” in a court after being held for more than 100 hours without charges, thus violating basic rights against illegal detention;

· That they we were detained and padlocked 24/7 in a police camp with no provisions for sunlight and outdoor exercises for 10 months, thus endangering their health and welfare; and that it took a 67-day fasting/hunger strike to gradually improve their detention conditions; and

· That their court hearings are few and far between, and are often postponed “for whatever flimsy reason,” thus prolonging their hardships, and “effectively silencing some critics and dissenters of the current regime.”

Pinpin, Custodio, and Sarmiento also said that on several occasions during the 26 months since their being charged with rebellion, the prosecution and the PNP were asked to present all necessary evidence and affidavits.

“But all the prosecution can show are three joint testimonies packed with lies and half-truths on what really happened on that fateful night of April 28, 2006 – full of loopholes, self-serving alibis, pock-marked with hearsays and afterthoughts, and coached assertions,” they said. “The prosecutors haven’t produced in court any credible evidence to buttress their trumped-up rebellion charge – for they have none, and have nothing to hold on to; for it is cardinal rule in criminal proceedings that any illegally obtained evidence is inadmissible in court, and that planting of evidence against any suspect is punishable by law as incriminatory machination.” Bulatlat

Principe Demands Reinvestigation of Rebellion Case

July 11, 2008

Elizabeth Principe, currently detained on charges of rebellion, wants a reinvestigation of her case. Her husband, meanwhile, remains missing after being abducted in February 2007.

BY JOAN GARCIA
HUMAN RIGHTS
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Candon City, Ilocos Sur (347 kms from Manila) – The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 23 is expected to hear the Motion for Reinvestigation filed by Elizabeth Principe through her lawyers belonging to the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and DINTEG Cordillera Indigenous People’s Law Center.

The reinvestigation aims to determine the probable cause on the charges filed against her. Principe, 58, is currently charged with rebellion and is also implicated in a 1991 strafing incident in Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur.

She is a consultant involved in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). She was abducted on November 28, 2007 and was presented to the media by the Philippine Army days after being kept incommunicado, tortured and illegally detained by the Intelligence Service Group. As of this writing, she is detained at the Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Principe was a volunteer for the Roman Catholic Church in Isabela where she lived with the poor. It was also in Isabela where Principe trained community health workers in villages and taught preventive medicine and sanitation. Together with her colleagues, Principe educated residents on scientific bases of diseases and provided simple methods of treatment to those who needed medical attention.

According to her daughter Lorena Santos, Principe was attracted to missionary work when she was still a high school student at the St. Theresa’s College (STC) in Quezon City. At STC, Principe read about the lives of the saints who, by strength of will, prevailed over hardships and sufferings for the sake of their faith. She then joined catechist workers and went to squatters’ areas to spread the faith.

However, it was only after studying at the University of the Philippines (UP) that she became exposed to social realities, particularly after reading La Loba Negra and the Recto Reader. Principe started joining protest actions on national issues during her college years.

When her classmate Pastor Mesina Jr. was shot dead at a rally, Principe became more active and joined the Nationalist Corps and then later the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK, Democratic Alliance of the Youth). Principe then founded the Progresibong Kilusang Medikal (PKM, Medical Progressive Movement), an organization of medicine and pre-medicine students at UP Diliman which later branched out to other schools.

Principe’s husband Leo Velasco was also abducted on February 19, 2007 in Cagayan de Oro City, allegedly by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). He remains missing to this day. Velasco is also named as an accused in the rebellion case.

In a statement released by the human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), Santos explains that “not only did this government deprive me of my parents by abducting and illegally arresting them, but this government will be depriving this country committed and patriotic servants. As long as the government does not free my parents and all victims of political persecution and enforced disappearance, my family and I, together with other patriotic individuals and organizations will never stop calling for their freedom and justice.” Bulatlat

Arroyo Welcomes More U.S. Participation in the ‘Killing Fields’ of RP

July 11, 2008

A historic event worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records may have occurred in Washington in the last week of June. The worst “torture” president that the United States has ever had met the most corrupt and brutal president ever inflicted on the Filipino people. Grotesque or farcical? George W. Bush is now credited with the horrendous deaths of nearly a million Iraqis, over four thousand American soldiers, the cruelties of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and a severe economic recession. Arroyo claims the distinction of having scored several thousand victims of paramilitary violence (903 extra-judicial killings and 193 enforced disappearances, according to the Philippine human-rights monitor Karapatan, or Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), open bribery of officials by raiding the public treasury, unscrupulous cheating in elections, and untold kickbacks from government transactions (such as the ZTE Broadband scandal, among many) – all with impunity.

BY E. SAN JUAN, JR.
Monthly Review
HUMAN RIGHTS
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

A historic event worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records may have occurred in Washington in the last week of June. The worst “torture” president that the United States has ever had met the most corrupt and brutal president ever inflicted on the Filipino people. Grotesque or farcical? George W. Bush is now credited with the horrendous deaths of nearly a million Iraqis, over four thousand American soldiers, the cruelties of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and a severe economic recession. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo claims the distinction of having scored several thousand victims of paramilitary violence (903 extra-judicial killings and 193 enforced disappearances, according to the Philippine human-rights monitor Karapatan, or Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), open bribery of officials by raiding the public treasury, unscrupulous cheating in elections, and untold kickbacks from government transactions (such as the ZTE Broadband scandal, among many) – all with impunity.

Scourge of Human Rights

International groups – from Amnesty International and the World Council of Churches (WCC) to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) – have all concurred on the outrageous truth of the “killing fields” in the U.S. neocolony. An editorial of the Philippine Star (6 June 2007) noted that the country is one of the “least peaceful countries in the world, ranking 100th among 121 in the first-ever Global Peace Index drawn up by the Economic Intelligence Unit.” United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Philip Alston reported to the 8th session of the UN Human Rights Council that Arroyo’s “state security forces have been involved in many of the killings of left-wing activists, indigenous leaders, trade union and farm leaders and civil society organization members and that the military remains in a ‘state of denial’ over these killings” (see E. San Juan, U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines, New York, 2007). “Not a single soldier has been convicted,” Alston added, urging the Arroyo regime to end the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) policy of “systematically hunting down the leaders of [legal and open] leftist organizations” such as Bayan Muna and assassinating their members (see the website of the UN Human Rights Council).

The Arroyo regime recently defied the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session by rejecting the recommendation to strengthen the Witness Protection Program and approve the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. In its comprehensive survey “Scared Silent: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines,” Human Rights Watch observed that in spite of public-relation ploys such as the Melo Commission and Arroyo’s refrain that there is “no state policy of killing people,” not one case has been solved, not a single military officer or soldier prosecuted for the murders and disappearances of activists such as Jonas Burgos, Luisa Posa Dominado, Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño, and thousands more (Inquirer.net, 5 October 2007).

Last year the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) concluded its meticulous appraisal of massive evidence with the judgment that the Arroyo regime and its sponsor, the Bush administration, were guilty of “gross and systematic violation of human rights, economic plunder and transgression of the Filipino people’s sovereignty.” The first session of the Tribunal on the Philippines in 1980 unequivocally condemned “the dominant economic and political role of the U.S. in the Philippines and in the region through the implementation of an imperial policy” (PPT Verdict 2007). Arroyo’s ritual obeisance to Washington may be cited as one more proof, falling in line with a tradition of subservience of the Filipino oligarchy since the time of Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon to the first president of the 1946 Philippine Republic Manuel Roxas up to Presidents Ramon Magsaysay (sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency) and Diosdado Macapagal (Arroyo’s father) to the notorious Marcos dictatorship and its unconscionable successors. No wonder both John McCain and Barack Obama parroted worn-out clichés about “Asia’s first democracy,” the Philippines as a faithful client regime during the Cold War and the current crusade against terrorists personified by politically informed combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the New People’s Army.

Subaltern Medicancy Forever

Winding down as a tiresome fiasco and farcical boondoggle, Arroyo’s road show to the Empire’s heartland this June may have been cursed by the sinking of the Philippine ferry MV Princess of the Stars and the ravages of the deadly typhoon Frank. Thousands of victims and their families await her sycophantic pilgrimage with cries of help and anger. After wasting at least $1.5 million of public funds and getting a promised aid of $100,000 from State Dept. bureaucrat John Negroponte, infamous for organizing mass carnage in Central America, the Arroyo entourage is returning a the feckless attempt at fanfare. One episode of de facto president Arroyo’s visit strikes this writer as particularly telling. George W. Bush surpassed his father’s “I-love-your-democracy” apologia for the despot Marcos when he praised “the great talent” of “Philippine-Americans” whenever he dines at the White House – a nod to Filipina chef Chris Comerford. Arroyo’s pathetic “thank you” sums up over a century of gruesomely asymmetrical “U.S.-Philippines” relations so beloved by U.S. experts on the Philippines and their Filipino acolytes. Sadly hilarious but also infuriating to those out in Manila streets demonstrating against the brutality and injustice of Arroyo-U.S. neoliberal privatization program.

Meanwhile, we learn that on June 17, retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (not one of Bush’s talented ‘Philippine Americans”), in his testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Bush and his henchmen of committing war crimes by authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques. Taguba headed the committee that investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Subsequent inquiries by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups have revealed the scale and depth of the current administration’s violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the Geneva Convention on the treatment of what the U.S. calls “unlawful” enemy combatants, otherwise considered political prisoners.

Arroyo’s trip was ostensibly made to lobby for the passage of the Veterans Equity Bill – Senate Bill No. 1315, approved by the Senate but pending at the House. This bill would set aside $350 million (out of $1 billion) for ten years to pay for the basic needs of thousands of Filipino veterans of World War II, most of whom are now dead, who were denied their rightful veterans’ back pay. Without Arroyo’s help, local organizers (such as the National Federation of Filipino American Associations) have mobilized enough support for the passage of the bill in the Senate. So Arroyo’s opportunistic appearance in Washington is clearly intended to prop up her severely damaged image after Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the U.S. Senate sub-committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and several congressmen chided her last year for her intolerable record of flagrant human-rights violations.

Just as Arroyo’s early trip in August 2005 was besieged with indignant protests, likewise her visit last week was met with numerous “lightning” demonstrations by outraged Filipino-Americans decrying her insensitivity to the plight of thousands of disaster victims, and the millions suffering from the rice shortage, fuel crisis, and unemployment brought about by the short-sighted neoliberal policies of the regime. With over half of 90 million citizens subsisting on $2 a day, the Philippines exports daily 3,000 contract workers to 186 countries around the world, getting in return $10 to $12 billon in overseas remittances, enough to pay the heavy foreign debt. In 2007 the U.S. Congress allocated $30 million of citizens’ tax dollars for the beleaguered AFP on condition that Arroyo implements Alston’s recommendations, a condition still unfulfilled in deeds up to now. The aid rocketed by 1,111 percent when Bush declared the Philippines the “second front” in his war after 9/11 (IBON Media Release, 21 Sept 2006). Between 2000 and 2003, U.S. loans and grants to Arroyo increased by 1,176 percent, primarily funding for counter-terrorist schemes in addition to USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) spending for livelihood projects and infrastructure – activities that camouflage intelligence or special police operations in communities sheltering NPA (New People’s Army) or MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) partisans.

Pentagon to the Rescue

Less to pacify Arroyo’s entourage and more to threaten Myanmar’s junta, China, North Korea, and other recalcitrants – Al Qaeda supporters – in the Asia-Pacific region, Bush ordered the deployment of the strike group led by the nuclear-armed carrier USS Ronald Reagan to the Philippines. The alleged task of this armada of aircraft carrier, cruiser, three destroyers, and a frigate is to assist in the rescue of the survivors of the capsized MV Princess of the Stars, now being attended to by the Philippine Coast Guard. This may be the first time in military history that a nuclear-powered carrier has been assigned to perform distribution of relief goods in a situation far smaller in scope than the cyclone disaster in Myanmar or the earthquake destruction in China. But again, it’s a war against those unruly subjects, impoverished peasants and workers, including the Moros and the Filipino communists, that justifies this illegitimate intrusion.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon questioned the utility of an aircraft carrier of that size (with 6,000 crew and numerous F-18 airplanes) designed mainly for combat and rescue of distressed airplanes. As of this writing, the USS Ronald Reagan was moored near the coast of northwest Panay, clearly within Philippine territorial boundary (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 June 2008). In addition, the U.S. Embassy revealed that the USNS Stockham and U.S. Navy P-3 planes are on standby to provide maritime surveillance and other security needs (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 June 2008). This substantiates once more public suspicions of the sustained complicity of the US with the AFP campaigns against Moro insurgents, in particular the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – including the notorious bandit-group with ties to local military and politicians, the Abu Sayyaf – and the Communist Party-led NPA guerrillas active in Panay and Negros, the two islands that suffered the most from the typhoon Frank. This intrusion of the USS Ronald Reagan is an outright violation of the Philippine Constitution and bilateral treaties with the U.S.

A local group, Pamalakaya, accused Arroyo of committing an impeachable crime: the Philippine Constitution expressly prohibits the entry of nuclear weapons into the country. While Arroyo’s spokesmen claimed that the USS Ronald Reagan is only “nuclear-powered,” the US Embassy is silent on the presence of nuclear weapons in the possession of the task force group. Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya’s chair, charged that the presence of the U.S. naval group is intended not only “to warn and provoke the local armed resistance groups [NPA, MILF] but also to score a psywar victory against China and North Korea that Washington is capable of shifting and redeploying US troops at any given situation or time” (GMANews.tv, 26 June 2008). At present, the US stations over 100,000 troops in Asia and the Pacific under its Pacific Command, with 80,000 troops based in Japan and Korea, and several hundreds at any one time in the Philippines.

Terms of Mutual Endearment?

How did this happen? The peculiarity of the presence of U.S. combat troops in the Philippines may be explained by the leech-like stranglehold of the U.S. on the Filipino ruling class and its military/paramilitary establishment. A series of unequal bilateral treaties sealed this toxic partnership. Obama correctly pointed to the 1954 Manila Pact that “formed a cornerstone of U.S policy in Southeast Asia during the Cold War.” But that was only the beginning.

The real key to U.S. control may be found in the Military Bases Agreement of March 14 and March 21, 1947 between the two governments. The first allowed the U.S. extensive military facilities in the Philippines for 99 years, chief of which were Clark Air Base (130,000 acres) and Subic Naval Base which housed nuclear-armed submarines for decades until both were scrapped in 1992. Thereafter 14,000 U.S. troops left the Philippines. This agreement prohibited the Philippines from granting base rights to any other country. It put no restrictions on the use of the bases or on the types of weapons the U.S. could store or deploy in them. Despite minor amendments, this agreement allowed the US to use the bases as springboards for unlimited U.S. intervention in Asia, such as the aggression in Korea, Vietnam, and lately Afghanistan and Iraq (see Civil Liberties Union, A Question of National Security, Manila 1983). The second agreement allowed the US to provide military aid to the Philippines on the condition that a US. military advisory group be assigned to supervise the AFP and that Filipino military personnel be sent to the US for training. It also prohibited the Philippines from accepting military aid or advisers from any other nation without the consent of Washington. In the context of the campaign against the Huks, communist-led peasants fighting for land and justice at the time, the weapons and advisors supplied by Washington were used to suppress and kill Filipino “subversives” and preserve oppressive oligarchic rule, as well as subsidize the Marcos dictatorship and its repressive sequels. Under the framework of the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, the Joint RP-U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) continues to this day to be one crucial agency in perpetuating the reactionary, anti-people orientation of the AFP and its cognate institutions, the state security personnel of every administration up to Arroyo (see the relevant documents conveniently catalogued in Daniel Schirmer and Stephen Shalom, The Philippines Reader, Boston, 1987, including details of military aid to Marcos). It may be added here that a JUSMAG/CIA functionary, Col. Nick Rowe, was slain by rebel forces on April 21, 1989, while allegedly shadowing “Cuban” advisors helping the NPA in South-Central Luzon.

Although the bases were shut down in 1992, the U.S. maintains its dominance through JUSMAG and the Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Board (established in 1958), which operates as a “new bilateral defense consultative mechanism” to oversee military cooperation between the two countries. These two mechanisms were reinforced by the Security Engagement Board (SEB) in 2006 designed to deal with nontraditional security threats such as terrorism, piracy, natural disasters (for example, the recent ferry sinking and typhoon), bird flu, and the like not falling under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that calls for battling external security threats in either countries. This was supplemented by the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) signed in November 2002.

Very few know the details of this notorious MLSA. Its salient provision is its mandating the Philippine government to supply all the logistical support and supplies needed by the Pentagon during its exercises and redeployment. Pretty much a bargain compared to the costly Clark and Subic bases of the good old days. Of course, the humanitarian services performed by the troops are only a pretext for the U.S. to interfere in local civil wars in the region, labeling them “international terrorism.” This agreement with the client regime thus insures a virtually un-evictable presence of the U.S. military as police watchdog to promote and secure US economic and geopolitical interests – from profits in oil, energy, and mineral resources to safeguarding the Malacca Straits where 25 percent of all globally traded oil passes.

Immediately after 9/11, the U.S. Department of State promptly labeled the NPA as a terrorist organization so that Arroyo can call on U.S. troops to help her counterinsurgency campaign, even though the Philippine Constitution (Art. II, Sec. 3) prohibits foreign troops’ involvement in internal security matters. Aside from infringing on Philippine sovereignty, the SEB allows the US (to quote IBON, 26 May 2006) “to maintain a prolonged military presence in the country which suits the U.S. military’s current strategy of seeking temporary access to facilities in foreign countries that enable U.S. forces to conduct training and exercises” rather than spending for permanent physical bases. Moreover, the Philippines functions as an important link in the security chain of the U.S. in the Western Pacific. The SEB enhances the U.S.’s limited infrastructure for refueling and logistics needed in its operations in the Arabian Gulf and Western Pacific areas. Mindanao and Sulu islands have been considered strategic locations for monitoring developments in Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. where there is a rising trend of “Islamic revivalism,” of which the MILF is an instance.

There are also numerous clandestine partnerships allowed by executive “understandings” and philanthropic channels. But it is primarily the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that legitimizes unrelenting U.S. intervention in the Philippines. Initiated by former president Fidel Ramos under the rubric of “Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement” drawn up by the Pentagon, the VFA was finally approved during the Estrada administration (Daniel B. Schirmer, Fidel Ramos: The Pentagon’s Philippine Friend, 1992-1997, Cambridge, MA, 1997).

Made fully operational after Sept. 11, 2001, the VFA makes up for the loss of Subic and Clark in a much more efficient way. It allows the Pentagon to land anywhere in the country without entailing the cost of maintaining physical structures and insuring environmental safety. It also has no responsibility in whatever damage it can cause by its joint exercises with the host country. While the MLSA (renewed for another 5 years) permits the U.S. to use the Philippines as a launching pad for wars of aggression through the pre-positioning of war material in “virtual bases,” the VFA allows the unhampered entry of U.S. troops for covert operations in the course of “Kapit-Bisig” war games and “Balikatan” joint exercises with its surrogate army, the AFP. Sara Flounders’ sharp analysis of this new Pentagon concept of “Cooperative Security Locations” – 5,458 discrete military installations around the world – highlights its key features: facilities with rotational U.S. presence, containing prepositioned equipment, rapidly scalable and expandable, offering bilateral and regional training. One virtue is the overwhelming influence gained by the U.S. on smaller and developing nations, verified by former U.S. Pacific commander Admiral Thomas Fargo who explained in March 2003 that “relationships built through exercises and training are ‘our biggest guarantor of access in time of need’” (Sara Flounders, “Expansion of U.S. Bases Spurs Philippine Resistance,” International Action Center, 29 March 2008).

The virtually permanent presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines can be accounted for by the VFA, MSLA, and other instrumentalities enforced by a subservient government parasitic on U.S. military aid and political sponsorship. The Arroyo regime easily fits the bill. Because other countries in the region (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia; Myanmar has rebuffed U.S. humanitarian offers) cannot tolerate U.S. ships or troops stationed in its territory, the U.S. has no alternative but to support authoritarian rulers like Marcos and Arroyo if it wants to curb Al-Qaeda influence, check China’s expansion, and project its military might in the Asia-Pacific geopolitical sphere. Surely, the splintered tiny Abu Sayyaf always used to rationalize U.S. troops in the Philippines is no threat to U.S. global hegemony. U.S. military basing in the Philippines can only be explained by the long-range global strategy of preserving U.S. superpower status by preventing the rise of competitors such as China (Herbert Docena, “In the Dragon’s Lair,” Foreign Policy in Focus, 26 February 2008).

Carnage and Mayhem All Around

Immediately after 9/11, the Pentagon announced that it would be sending 3,000 troops to the Philippines for joint operations against the Abu Sayyaf. Over 1,000 troops were eventually sent to participate in “Balikatan 2002″ that took place in the combat areas of Basilan and Zamboanga where guerillas of the MILF were operating. This differed from previous exercises since it was now located in war zones, with soldiers using live ammunition, with no time constraints.

In July 2002, an International Solidarity Mission conducted a thorough fact-finding mission that led to three important conclusions: “1) American soldiers were directly involved in the raiding and shooting of an unarmed civilian in his house; 2) human rights abuses are continuing unabated under the Arroyo regime and are abetted by US military forces; and 3) the U.S. military support operations that displace and violate the rights of Moro people and other Filipinos, including women and children” (Solidarity Mission Statement, July 2002). Because of such incidents, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel accused the regime of “treason,” turning the country into a deadly laboratory for the testing of the effectiveness of U.S. troops, tactics and weaponry against the so-called terrorists” (Ellen Nakashima, “Philippines Debates U.S. Combat Role against Rebels,” Washington Post, 23 Feb. 2003).

Another involvement of U.S. troops in counterinsurgency plots may be cited here. In 2004, US troops made the University of Southeastern Mindanao as their temporary camp, an area claimed by the MILF as their territory. The U.S. in effect converted civilians into human shields, potential collateral damage, in the event of armed confrontation between known antagonists in the region. This was part of the annual “Balikatan” exercise, this time in Carmen, North Cotabato. The humanitarian medical missions, distribution of toys, and building of Gawad Kalinga homes all serve as cover for U.S. military intelligence-gathering and other tactical operations. In 2006, the “Balikatan” exercise from February to March was the biggest, involving 5,500 U.S. troops and 2,800 Filipinos. This took place in the hotly contested regions of Jolo, Maimbung, Patikul and Panamao, Sulu, and North Cotabato.

A recent incident reveals how deeply entangled the U.S. is in local counterinsurgency programs of the neocolonial state. In the town of Ipil, Sulu, last Feb. 4, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) killed eight non-combatants (women and children), including a soldier on vacation. The widow of the slain soldier testified that she saw four U.S. soldiers in a Navy boat. Subsequently, General Ruben Rafael, commander of Philippine troops in Jolo, stated in an interview that “a U.S. military spy plane circling high above the seaside village provided the intelligence that led to the Feb. 4 assault” and that “the crew of the P-3 Orion turboprop, loaded with a sophisticated array of surveillance equipment pinpointed the village as a stronghold and arms depot for the radical Islamist Au Sayyaf movement” (Paul Watson, “U.S. Role in Philippine Raid Questioned,” Los Angeles Times, 9 March 2008). This same P-3 Orion spy planes was mentioned by the US Embassy as ready to be used for the disaster relief in Panay and Negroes where the NPA guerillas are vigorously challenging AFP terrorism. U.S. embassy spokesperson Karen Schinnerer in Manila admitted that “an aerial reconnaissance vehicle” gathered intelligence over Sulu “at the request of Philippine forces.”

Heavy saturation bombings in Barangays Buansa and Cagay, a camp of the MILF in Indanan, Sulu, were carried out for five hours on April 30. Early last year, U.S. troops participated in attacks on the Moro resistance fighters in this region. Witnesses of this latest genocidal foray attested to US-supplied “smart bombs” dropped by OV-10 airplanes, slaughtering many members of the 360 families who fled the area. Based on the research of Alexander Martin Remollino, U.S. troops in Sulu belong to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines that employs U.S. Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations personnel “to conduct deliberate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in very focused areas, and based on collection plans, to perform tasks to prepare the environment and obtain critical information requirements” (Bulatlat, 4-10 May 2008). In lay idiom, this means clearing the area of enemy forces by spying and utilizing all weapons and logistics necessary to “neutralize” hostile elements. Although the AFP claims that those attacks were aimed at the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemayah Islamiyah, an Indonesian-based group, the MILF has responded by declaring that the territory involved is theirs and that no other group is allowed to operate from within the premises.

What is happening in the southern Philippines is clearly a carefully designed war to occupy and sanitize a whole region rich in natural and human resources, as well as a potential strategic base for military adventures. The problem is that it is inhabited by Moros, aboriginal peoples, and other Filipinos resisting U.S. imperial conquest and oligarchic despotism. Prodded by the International Monitoring Team headed by Malaysia that helped enforce a ceasefire, the MILF and the Arroyo government were close to signing an agreement last February on wealth-sharing and ancestral domain. But the U.S.-Arroyo attacks have worsened the displacement of 75,000 Moro civilians – the loss of property, farmland, and livelihood, not to speak of innocent lives – and permitted more extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, and torture of Moro dissenters and ordinary citizens (Sandra R. Leavitt, “Pressure Brings Continued Progress in Mindanao Peace Negotiations,” Shigetsu Newsletter No. 912, 18 Feb. 2008).

Approaching the Endgame

What is the future for Arroyo’s brutal authoritarian rule? Collaborating with the torture president in the White House and his deceptive “iron fist and hand of friendship” policy, Arroyo has dug herself a grave deeper than all her corruption and ruthless political maneuverings can. If U.S. troops succeed in building infrastructure – presumably better roads, schools, clinics, ports, which testifies to the failure of local governance – will that wipe out Moro separatists, local civilians who demand jobs, dignity, social services, and a measure of communal autonomy that are due them under Philippine laws and the UN Charter? A BBC reporter displayed her ignorance of the fraught history of U.S. colonial domination of the Philippines – its civic culture, social practices, and institutions – when she reduced the whole complex fabric into a question-begging dilemma: “If Philippine government bodies could manage their resources to shelter and assist their own people, maybe all those special forces [U.S. troops] could go home” (“U.S. Plays Quiet Role in the Philippines,” 28 March 2008).

But how can this moribund state apparatus controlled by U.S.-loving oligarchs and their self-serving intelligentsia and bureaucrats manage to do that? The economic crisis gripping the country seems irresolvable by Arroyo’s handouts and paltry rhetoric. The undefeatable MILF is withdrawing from peace talks with the Arroyo regime, just as the National Democratic Front or NDF (together with its “terrorist” affiliate, the NPA) has postponed negotiations unless the U.S.-decreed stigma of “terrorist” is repudiated and extra-judicial killings halted. Surely, 90 million Filipinos, with their long tradition of fierce insurrections, will not allow the shameless puppetry of the Arroyo regime, with her generals and kowtowing officials, to continue for another hundred years. As a UPI Asia Online forecast puts it, the decrepit Arroyo band-wagon faces “bigger, bolder insurgency” in the years to come, despite the super-power’s “humanitarian” schemes and grotesque patronage. Posted by Bulatlat

E. San Juan, Jr. was recently a visiting professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. His recent books are In the Wake of Terror (Lexington Books) and US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave Macmillan). He will be a fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, in Spring 2009.

Protests Mark Fil-Am Friendship Day

July 11, 2008

While the Arroyo administration celebrated July 4 as Filipino-American Friendship Day, Filipino activists showed their indignation to the “continuing relations between a master and a slave.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance) and allied organizations marked the Filipino-American Friendship Day with protests. As in the past, they underscored the unequal relations between the Philippine and U.S. governments.

Justice for Hazel

Gabriela held a picket in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to demand justice for Hazel, a Filipina allegedly raped by an American soldier in Okinawa, Japan.

Hazel’s mother, Nanay Melly, joined the protesters. She said, “Since I appealed for help last June 19, we have not heard from the DFA.”

In a correspondence with Gabriela, Fr. Rommel T. Cruz, MSP, guardian of Hazel in Okinawa, said that the biggest obstacle in the case is Consul Ako Alarcon. Cruz said, “Ako’s continued silence about Hazel’s case is not helping Hazel get justice. Wala talagang pakialam sa kaso!” (He is not concerned at all.)Justice for hazel

In a statement, Joms Salvador, spokesperson of Gabriela, said, “The Arroyo administration is slacking off in its responsibility over Hazel, seemingly hoping that the case would just quietly die down.”

Salvador added that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could have taken up the case of Hazel when she visited U.S. President George Bush. “That Arroyo did not say a word on the case is not unexpected. A minion, after all, constantly fears to tick off her master.”

Meanwhile, Lian Santos, deputy secretary general of Migrante International said, “Hazel’s plight not only reminds us of the Arroyo administration’s criminal neglect of overseas Filipino workers and their families, but also of how iniquitous the relationship is between the U.S. and the Philippines.”

He added, “As a Filipino, I feel shame for this administration that treats OFWs like cheap commodities, hailed when needed and abandoned and neglected in the times of their need.”

Raping RP’s natural resources

In his speech at the rally, Himpad Mangumalas, spokesperson of Kalipunan ng mga Katutubo sa Pilipinas (KAMP), criticized U.S. imperialism’s rape of the country’s natural resources.

Mangumalas said that Moro and indigenous peoples are driven away from their ancestral lands to give way to American corporations’ projects.

Military agreements

Rita Baua, Bayan international officer, said, “There can never be equal relations between the Philippines and the U.S. so long as both countries retain and strengthen military agreements such as the Mutual Defense Treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement, Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and Security Engagement Board.”

She said that the assistance of the U.S. to the typhoon victims is but a veil to the U.S.’ underlying interests.

Baua called on all “freedom-loving Filipinos to resist U.S. intervention and aggression. She also said, “The real and long-lasting friendship that the Filipino people can forge with the American people is a common fight against U.S. strategic politico-military, economic agenda against the peoples of the world.” Bulatlat

Grade School Participation Rate Plunges to 16-Year Low

July 11, 2008

Since it came to power more than seven years ago, the Arroyo administration has, among other feats, earned the distinction of bringing down the elementary school level participation rate to a 16-year low. The secondary school participation rate, meanwhile, has decreased by as much as 14.85 percentage points since 2001.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Since it came to power through a popular uprising more than seven years ago, the Arroyo administration has, among other feats, earned the distinction of bringing down the participation rate (the proportion of the number of enrollees at the prescribed level of education for their age) at the elementary school level to a 16-year low.

The secondary school participation rate, meanwhile, has decreased by 14.85 percentage points since 2001.

According to the Department of Education (DepEd), elementary schools posted a participation rate of 99.10 percent for school year 1990-1991. It decreased to 85.10 percent the following school year, but rose to 85.21 percent in school year 1992-1993, continuously increasing until school year 1999-2000 when it reached 96.95 percent. It slightly decreased in school year 2000-2001, but went on another upward trend until school year 2002-2003 when it plunged to 90.29 percent from the previous school year’s 97.00 percent.

This was the start of a continuous downward trend. From 90.29 percent in school year 2002-2003, elementary school participation rates decreased to 88.74 percent in 2003-2004, 87.11 percent in 2004-2005, 84.44 percent in 2005-2006, and 83.22 percent in 2006-2007. The 2006-2007 elementary school participation rate is actually the lowest in 16 years. (See Table 1)

Table 1. Elementary School Participation Rates, 1990-2007

School Year

Participation Rate (%)

1990-1991

99.10

1991-1992

85.10

1992-1993

85.21

1995-1996

92.70

1996.1997

94.33

1997-1998

95.09

1998-1999

95.73

1999-2000

96.95

2000-2001

96.40

2001-2002

97.00

2002-2003

90.29

2003-2004

88.74

2004-2005

87.11

2005-2006

84.44

2006-2007

83.22

Source: Department of Education

At first glance, the statistics appear to be better at the secondary level. With the participation rate at 54.71 percent in school year 1990-1991 and 58.59 in school year 2006-2007, it could at least be said that the secondary school participation rate did not reach a 16-year low under the Arroyo administration.

However, the secondary school participation rate of school year 2006-2007 represents a 14.85-percentage point reduction since 2001. (See Table 2)

Table 2. Secondary School Participation Rates, 1990-2007

School Year

Participation Rate (%)

1990-1991

54.71

1991-1992

55.42

1992-1993

56.75

1993-1994

57.62

1994-1995

58.47

1995-1996

62.25

1996-1997

63.38

1997-1998

64.04

1998-1999

65.22

1999-2000

65.43

2000-2001

72.25

2001-2002

73.44

2002-2003

59.00

2003-2004

60.15

2004-2005

59.97

2005-2006

58.54

2006-2007

58.59

Source: Department of Education

What proved to be a continuous upward trend from 1990 to 2002 in secondary level participation rates was cut drastically in school year 2002-2003, which showed a steep 14.44-percentage point decline. The participation rate improved slightly in the next school year before going down again in 2004-2005. The 0.05-percentage point increase from 2005-2006 to 2006-2007 was not enough to even bring back the secondary level participation rate to the school year 2003-2004 level.

“If we compare the period from 2001 to 2007 to that of 1990 to 2000, we can see that the poverty incidence is higher now compared to the previous decade,” said France Castro, secretary-general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and president of the Quezon City Public School Teachers Association (QCPSTA). “Basic goods have become so expensive that the parents of our students have become unable to afford even basic education. They now find it very difficult to send their children to school.”

“And even if basic education is said to be free, it’s not really free,” Castro added. “There are still many fees collected from students, like Red Cross fees and anti-tuberculosis fees, for instance.”

Castro said that there have been nominal increases in the basic education budget in both periods. However, she pointed out that the increases were bigger in 1990-2000 than in 2001-2007.

Estimates by the socio-economic think tank IBON Foundation show that the government now spends P2,000 ($44.00 at the July 4 exchange rate of $1:P45.45) per Filipino for education – or only 14 percent, in real terms, of what it spent in 1998.

The Philippine government currently spends 12.0 percent of its public expenditure and 2.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education – way below the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) standards of 22.0 percent of public expenditures and 6.0 percent of GDP. Bulatlat

No Actual Tuition Hike Freeze; Students Find Even SUCs Prohibitive

July 11, 2008

More than one month after Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced a moratorium on tuition and other fee increases, students in four of Metro Manila’s state universities and colleges (SUCs) have not received any refund yet from tuition and other fee hikes. The rising cost of public tertiary education has aggravated the plight of many Filipino families grappling with the economic crisis.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
BULATLAT
Volume VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

On May 26, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo directed the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to put off any increase in tuition and other fees for state universities and colleges for the school year 2008-2009.

In her speech, Arroyo said, “The last thing that our parents need at this point to keep their children striving for college diplomas is another round of adjustment in tuition fees and other school expenses.”

On the same day, CHED Chair Romulo Neri issued a memorandum to the presidents of all SUCs (state universities and colleges) urging the governing boards to put off or defer planned increases in tuition and other fees. Neri added that SUCs that have already closed enrollment for the first semester may opt to either refund the students concerned or credit the amount to the tuition and other fees for the succeeding semester.

After more than a month though, Bulatlat visited four of the biggest SUCs in Metro Manila and found out that none has complied with the order yet.

Fake, useless

Students from SUCs hit Arroyo’s announcement as a mere lip service.

The University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman and the Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST) implemented tuition and other fee increases last school year.UP hiked its tuition last year by 300 percent, or from P300 ($6.50 at last year’s average exchange rate of $1:P46.15) to P1,000 ($21.67) per unit . EARIST raised its tuition from P15 ($0.32) per unit to P100 ($2.17) per unit. New fees such as the energy fee and development fee were also collected.

Fee increases imposed last year are, technically, not covered by the moratorium ordered by Arroyo.

Mikko Samson, a second year journalism student of UP Diliman, called the President’s announcement “fake.”

Diana Enera of EARIST said of the order, “Nakakainis! Walang silbi” (It’s irritating and useless.) Antonio Perdigon Jr., another EARIST student, added, “Pampalubag-loob.” (It is meant to appease us.)

Sophia Prado, student regent of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), said the order “intends to pacify the anger of the country’s scholars.”

Prado said that the PUP administration deferred the proposed tuition increase, not in compliance with Arroyo’s order but because of student protests.

In February, more than 5,000 PUP students walked out of their classes and stormed the CHED’s main office in Pasig City when they heard about the proposal to increase their tuition from P12 ($0.30 at last February’s average exchange rate of $1:P40.67) per unit to P100 ($2.46) per unit, Prado related.

The PUP student regent, however, slammed the imposition of P100-tuition per unit for students enrolled at the PUP’s Open University and graduate school.

This semester, too, the PUP administration collected P250 ($5.65 at last June’s average exchange rate of $1:P44.28) from every student as development and modernization fee. Prado said that despite her manifestation of protest at the Board of Regents (BoR) meetings, the administration pursued its plan of imposing additional fees.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Normal University (PNU) hiked its tuition from P35 ($0.77) per unit to P100 ($2.20) per unit. Miscellaneous fees amounted to almost P1,000 ($22.00).

In an interview with Bulatlat, PNU President Atty. Lutgardo Barbo disclosed that they received the CHED memorandum regarding the freeze in tuition and other fees only after the enrollment.

Dr. Susan Declaro, PNU Vice President for Administration and Finance, said they have not received specific guidelines from CHED on how to implement Arroyo’s order.

Barbo said they are still studying whether to refund the tuition increase or to credit it to the next semester.

Alvin Peters, national president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), said that based on their monitoring, SCUs actually imposed tuition and other fee hikes. “Walang kaseryosohan ang gobyerno. In-announce kung kailan marami ang nakapag-enrol na. Hindi malinaw kung paano mababawi” (The government is not serious about it. It was announced after many students have enrolled already. It is not clear how the students will get their payments back.)

Peters also questioned the timing of the announcement. He said, “Nakapakete sa mga dole-outs, bahagi ng populist rhetoric na may ginagawa kunwari sa lumalalang krisis sa ekonomiya”  (It is packaged as one of the dole-outs, a part of populist rhetoric to show that something is done to address the economic crisis.)

Prohibitive

The rising cost of education coupled with the increasing prices of basic commodities has made education prohibitive for many students in SUCs.

Samson applied for Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). After one month of processing the required papers, she has been moved to a lower bracket. From Bracket D with P600 ($13.20) per unit, she has been qualified for Bracket E, equivalent to P300 per unit of tuition. Still, she paid more than P7,000 ($158.08) this semester.

Samson lamented that UP’s bracketing system is erroneous. No one in her family is employed. They rely only on pension from the Social Security System (SSS). Her father died a few years ago.

She said, “Akala ng mama ko, makakatipid kami. Parang private na rin daw pala (ang UP)” (My mother thought we would spend little. She said later that UP seems like a private school.)

To sustain her schooling, her mother uses the SSS card as collateral for incurred loans. There were times, she said, when they had to do with P900 ($19.80) per month. She has two siblings.

Samson related they she knew students who passed the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) but opted to enroll in other schools that offer scholarships or have lower tuition. She noticed, too, that most of her classmates came from private secondary schools.

EARIST’s Enera’s plight is almost similar. Her father used to be an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) but is now jobless. Her mother works as a laundry woman.

She took the entrance test at EARIST thinking that tuition is affordable. “Nagulat kami na mataas ang tuition” (We were shocked to know that tuition is expensive.)

Enera said that two of her siblings were supposed to enter college, too. “Huminto sila para pagbigyan ako. Hindi na kayang pag-aralin” (They stopped schooling to give way to me. Our parents cannot send all of us to school.)

Before the enrollment, she thought she herself would have to quit school. “Nangungutang na lang ng pantustos sa pag-aaral.” (We just borrow money to sustain my schooling.)

Meanwhile, Perdigon, a third year business student at EARIST who was not hit by the tuition increase, complained of the energy fee, the laboratory fee and other new fees imposed on upper class students. His family also finds it hard to keep him in school.

His father is the only breadwinner, working as a cook for a carinderia (eatery). Like Enera, one of his siblings who should also be in college stopped schooling.

PUP freshmen Roy Torongoy and Rodel Sumooc are no different. Torongoy’s father is a driver; Sumooc said his mother’s eatery is their only source of the family’s income.

Although PUP’s tuition is pegged at P12 ($0.27) per unit, both students paid P958 ($21.64) upon enrolment. Torongoy said, “Compared to other schools, mas mura nga rito pero bulok-bulok naman (ang) facilities” (Compared to other schools, it’s cheaper here but the facilities are dilapidated.)

PNU Student Arsadon Vera said that they did not expect that tuition and other fees have gone up to P3,450 ($77.91). Her sister Katherine, a PNU graduate, related she was compelled to borrow money from a friend during enrolment.

When Katherine entered PNU in 2004, tuition was pegged at P35 ($0.62) per unit. Although she heard about the impending hike, she was nonetheless surprised by the rate of increase.

State subsidy

Students from SUCs deemed that the government must increase state subsidy to education.

Samson said that UP education must not be commercialized. She called on the government to increase state subsidy so that poor but deserving students may enter UP. She also criticized the excessive spending for the UP centennial celebrations.

Enera and Perdigon said the EARIST administration used as justification the decreasing budget for tuition and other fee increases.

Even PNU President Barbo, also president of the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PAASUC) in the National Capital Region, said that government must pour in money to education. He deplored that the PNU, the oldest university and the country’s national university for teacher education, was not able to get increases in budgetary allocations in the past years. “We have always been lobbying for higher budget but nothing happened,” he said.

He said that most SUCs in the Philippines are not at par with the best universities in the world due to poor facilities. Barbo asserted that government earnings from expanded value-added tax (VAT) must be spent for the basic needs of state educational institutions. He also said that debt servicing eats up the biggest chunk from the national budget. “Let them [lending institutions] understand that we are already dying. How can we pay them?” he said.

Asked if he agrees on Arroyo’s order, Barbo said, “I think it’s a stop-gap solution, a band-aid measure.” He said that SUCs may defer increases this year but may always opt to implement hikes in the following years due to budgetary constraints.

Review policies

Peters said that from the start, they have been critical of Arroyo’s declaration of moratorium. “Government has no political will to regulate tuition… Pagpapapogi lang ni GMA sa panahon ng krisis”  (GMA only wants to earn good points amid the crisis.)

He added that education in the Philippines is essentially deregulated. Peters explained that the Higher Education Modernization Act (HEMA) authorizes governing boards of SUCs to fix tuition and other fees.

Peters also slammed Arroyo and the CHED for not controlling the tuition and other fee hikes of private higher educational institutions (PHEIs). He said that PHEIs have soaring tuition and other fees. He pointed out that the Education Act of 1982 has given school owners the power to increase fees.

The NUSP called on legislators to review policies on education. “These laws are the very reasons why the government cannot control the rising cost of tertiary education,” Peters said.

The Long Term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP) reveals the government’s thrust on education, Peters said. “Malinaw na talagang nasa balangkas ng pagbabawas ng SUCs, pagbibigay ng fiscal economy na nagbubunga ng pagtaas ng matrikula at iba pang bayarin. Sa esensya, tinatalikuran ng gobyerno ang obligasyon sa edukasyon” (It is clear that the government is in the framework of reducing the number of SUCs, provide fiscal autonomy resulting to tuition and other fee increases. In essence, the government is abandoning its obligations to provide education to the Filipino youth.)

PNU President Barbo said, “The quality of education in any country is directly proportional to the vision of its policy makers.” He also called on the government to provide higher budget for education.

Peters also asserted that the Arroyo government should undertake substantial economic reforms. “Apektado talaga ang kabataan sa pagtaas ng presyo ng mga bilihin, gasolina at pamasahe” (We are also affected of the increasing prices of commodities, oil and transportation), he said.

Prado said that PUP students are among those hardest-hit by the economic crisis. She said their parents come from the basic sectors of the society. “This is why we support the demand of workers for wage increase and the call of farmers for genuine land reform,” she said. Bulatlat

Manila Pen Case Dismissal Hit: Police Warned Against Using Court Decision to Arrest Journalists

July 11, 2008

The arrest and investigation of media practitioners who covered the Manila Peninsula incident by the police were justified, said a Makati regional trial court judge. He even said that journalists were “so lucky for not being charged with criminal cases.” Media groups called the decision the biggest blow on press freedom since 1946, adding that the situation is even worse than martial law.

By Ronalyn V. Olea
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 22, July 6-12, 2008

Mas masahol pa ito sa martial law. Sa martial law, alam mo ang limits. Ngayon, gugulatin ka na lang.” (This is worse than martial law. During martial law, you know the limits. But now, you will just be caught flatfooted.)

Journalist Vergel Santos more or less summed up the sentiments of his colleagues at a roundtable discussion last July 2 in Taguig City.

Irked by the June 20 decision of Makati regional trial court (RTC) Branch 56 Judge Reynaldo Laigo, Santos said this has the biggest chilling effect in the journalism profession.

In his five-page decision dismissing the civil case filed by media practitioners, Laigo maintained, “The order issued by Philippine National Police National Capital Region Office (PNP-NCR) Chief Gen. Geary Barias was but lawful and appeared to have been disobeyed by media when they intentionally refused to leave the hotel premises.”

Laigo added, “An appropriate criminal charge under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code could have been initiated against them…they were so lucky as none had been initiated. Their having been handcuffed and brought to Camp Bagong Diwa for investigation and released thereafter, was justified, it being accord with police procedure.”

He also said that the pronouncements made by Barias and other defendants and the advisory of Secretary Gonzalez following the Manila Peninsula incident “have not and will not in any way curtail, much less avert media from exercising freely their rights to cover or obtain information on future events.”

Journalists were handcuffed and “processed” after the Manila Peninsula incident.

Thirty-six journalists and camera operators, along with representatives of some media organizations and the academe, filed a civil suit against the police and authorities after the siege.

Atty. Harry Roque, legal counsel of the complainants, said he was surprised that the civil case has already been dismissed. Laigo’s ruling was issued June 20 but Roque said he was the last to get a copy. “Nauna pa si Barias makakuha ng kopya. Siya pa nga ang nag-leak sa media.” (Barias was the first to get a copy. He was even the one who leaked it to the media.)

Roque initially thought that the dismissal pertains to their petition for preliminary injunction intending to prolong the temporary restraining order (TRO). Earlier, Makati RTC Executive Judge Josefina Salonga granted their petition for TRO directing the PNP, Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) not to repeat the offenses against the media.

Roque said that contrary to Barias’ pronouncements and to Laigo’s opinion, Ashzer Hachero of Malaya testified before the court that the police issued no categorical order for journalists to leave the hotel premises.

Wrong decision

Roque said, “Dahil sa Chavez vs NTC ruling, sa tingin ko, with all due respect, mali ang desisyon ni Judge Laigo.” (Because of the Chavez vs. NTC ruling, I think, with all due respect, Judge Laigo’s decision is wrong.)

The Supreme Court upheld press freedom in its ruling on Chavez vs. National Telecommunications Commission. “Kahit advisory, kung ang resulta ay magkaroon ng takot ang media upang gampanan ang kanilang trabaho, ay paglabag sa karapatan ng pamamahayag.” (Even an advisory, if it will cause chilling effect on media in performing their jobs, constitutes violation of press freedom.)

Roque said he is still studying whether to go to the Court of Appeals or to the Supreme Court to file an appeal.

He said he is ready to take the case to the United Nations Committee of Human Rights in Geneva when all domestic remedies have been exhausted. ”Naniniwala na ang ginawa ng ating kapulisan ay seryosong paglabag sa Article 19 ng International Covention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)” (I believe that what the police did is a serious violation of the Article 19 of the ICCPR.) The Philippine government is a state party to the agreement.

Warning

In a statement, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said, “The RTC decision would not only legitimize an illegitimate attempt to subvert press freedom, the Constitution and democracy. It would now embolden and arm the regime with the license to repeat the offense, as it has several times threatened to do.”

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) also expressed alarm, “The dismissal of the suit and the executive rationale behind the police’s arrest of covering journalists to start with, immediately brings uncertainty and danger to media practitioners in future urgencies – uncertainty and danger not from the inherent risks of emergencies, but from the mandate that police and the government have granted themselves (now with court backing) to dictate what would be out of bounds for news coverage.”

In a statement, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), an alliance of tertiary student publications, criticized the court ruling, “…in effect, [it] excuses authorities’ abuse of power over unfounded allegations and baseless accusations.” “After accusing members of the media of colluding with the military rebels, the police were unable to support their accusations,” the CEGP said.

Roque said that Barias is obviously happy with the decision. He told the media, “Huwag kayong mabigla kung gagamitin [ang desisyon]. Hindi na lamang kayo aarestuhin kundi kakasuhan na rin.” (Do not be surprised if the police will use the decision. You will not just be arrested, you will also be charged.)

But Roque also warned the PNP that the RTC decision is binding only to the parties thereto and has no jurisprudential value. “Akala nila, sapat nang basehan, nagkakamali sila. Hindi pa po ito pinal.” (If they think they have enough bases, they are mistaken. The decision is not yet final.)

If the PNP will repeat the offense, Roque said, “Pupwede na natin silang kasuhan ng kasong kriminal, coercion or serious illegal detention.” (We can also file criminal charges against them, such as coercion or serious illegal detention.)

Judiciary

Ellen Tordesillas, one of the complainants, said she is concerned on the possible loss of faith in the judiciary.

In an interview, Carol Araullo, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance) chair, said that justices, because they are appointed by the executive, are vulnerable to undue influence or interference by the executive department.

She said, “If media practitioners, despite their being influential, were slapped by the RTC decision, how could the ordinary citizens who do not have the political and economic power to voice out the injustices done to them obtain justice?

Policy

Santos said the attacks on media are ‘methodical and conspiratorial.’ “May mga pwersang gustong sumupil sa atin.” (There are forces out to suppress us.)

The CMFR deemed that the ruling was issued “in the context of a clear policy by a regime hostile to press freedom and the people’s right to information to do all it can, both within and outside the law, as well as to stretch to the limit of what is legally allowed.”

It added, “No regime has the right to dictate that a decision to stay and cover is wrong and can be penalized.”

Araullo said, “In covering the news, intentionally or not, journalists are able to expose the oppressive nature of the state, the use of state power to protect and promote the interests of a few ruling elite. An administration like Arroyo, which is under siege and hugely unpopular, cannot tolerate even that. And the purpose of the actions at the Manila Pen is to instill fear among media practitioners.”

She said that the message to the media is clear, “Better behave, either by self-censorship or by meekly following military or police orders or they themselves will be targets. The state is the number one violator of human rights, particularly civil and political rights. It is important that journalists remain independent and fair and assertive of their right to cover the news, especially controversial political issues. In a sense, it is an important shield or defense against an all-powerful state.” Bulatlat

Suspected dengue, typhoid outbreaks down 440 in Romblon

July 11, 2008

Veronica Uy
INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines — A suspected case of typhoid and dengue outbreak in Romblon province downed about 440, mostly school children, Councilor Benjie Mayor said Thursday.

Seeking the help of the national government, he said his town needs doctors and medicines to cope with the situation.

In a text message, he said half of Romblon East Central School’s 700 students were feverish, while 10 similarly sick students from Romblon West Central School were not attending class.

“Sixty-nine are confined at the Romblon District Hospital due to a typhoid outbreak. ‘Di kasama sa bilang ‘yong nagpa-check sa rural health centers (Not included in the count are those who went to rural health centers for checkup),” he said.

“’Yong iba pinauwi muna. Kulang sa doktor at gamot (The others have been sent home due to lack of doctors and medicine),” he added.

Romblon was where the MV Princess of the Stars sank with over 800 passengers and crew on board on June 21. Only 87 have been found alive.

The ship was found to be carrying 10 tons of the toxin endosulfan, and has prompted authorities to ban the eating of fish off Romblon, depriving its residents of a major source of livelihood.

Only 8 of 206 bodies identified weeks after ferry sinking

July 11, 2008

Tina Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — Only eight of the 206 bodies recovered from the ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars have so far been identified, according to the National Bureau of Investigation.

Lawyer Allan Contado, bureau spokesperson, said the identified bodies have been released to their families.

Of the 206 bodies brought to Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes in Cebu City, 186 have already been processed, he said, citing a report sent by the NBI medical experts in the area.

“Only 20 have yet to be processed, but we expect more bodies once the ship is refloated,” Contado added.

The NBI has also taken DNA samples of at least 686 relatives of the victims for processing.

“The DNA processing would be conducted in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and would take weeks,” he said.

Earlier, the bureau stopped the public viewing of the mostly unrecognizable corpses, saying these could only be identified through DNA testing.

Dr. Renato Bautista, officer in charge of the NBI medico-legal division who heads a group of forensic experts in Cebu City, said in an earlier interview that the order to stop public viewing was also prompted by complaints from business establishment owners in the area where the bodies were being examined for identification.

“Business in the area has been affected because of the very foul odor coming from the cadavers. That’s why business establishments, particularly the restaurants, were complaining because people have been avoiding the place,” Bautista said.

“And the city health officers were asking us how we could control the foul smell, so we’ve decided to seal the cadavers and stop the public viewing,” he added.

And besides, Bautista stressed, the bloated and decomposing bodies made it hard for the relatives to properly recognize them.

“[The cadavers] were already in the advanced stage of decomposition. It would already be impossible for the bodies to be identified [through viewing],” he explained.

The NBI official said their only chance to identify the bodies now would be through DNA testing, dental record and fingerprint analysis.

Court junks Sulpicio suit to stop hearing

July 11, 2008

Allison Lopez Jerome Aning Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The Manila Regional Trial Court Thursday dismissed for lack of merit a petition by Sulpicio Lines Inc. to stop the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) from investigating the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars.

In a three-page decision, Judge Antonio Eugenio Jr. of Manila RTC Branch 24 said the power and duty of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) revealed “no inconsistency” with the BMI’s prerogative to investigate maritime incidents.

Sulpicio Lines earlier claimed that MARINA had the sole authority to look into maritime accidents and that the BMI members were biased.

In junking Sulpicio’s petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO), the court cited the 2005 memorandum of agreement (MOA) in which MARINA and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) recognized the BMI’s authority to investigate marine casualties or incidents.

MARINA, said the judge, “clearly abdicated” its supposedly exclusive jurisdiction in the MOA.

No need for TRO

On the apparent bias of certain BMI members, the court said there was no need to resort to a TRO as the complainants could seek the inhibition of those they believed to be partial.

BMI vice chair Rear Adm. Benjamin Mata and BMI member Capt. Amado Romillo resigned from the board on Tuesday to preserve the integrity of the investigation.

Judge Eugenio, however, warned the BMI and MARINA “to get their act together” as both agencies under the Department of Transportation and Communications were undertaking separate probes of the same maritime incident.

Eugenio said there was a danger that the two agencies could arrive at “conflicting findings, which would only embarrass the department.”

The court said it would continue hearings on Sulpicio Lines’ prohibition/injunction case against BMI on July 14-17.

To confuse issues

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Thursday said Sulpicio Lines was attempting to evade responsibility for the sinking of its ferry by filing criminal charges against the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and Del Monte Philippines Inc.

“These are all squid tactics in order to muddle the case,” Gonzalez told reporters. “The more you confuse everybody on issues, the more you can find a presumptive defense for your liability.”

Gonzalez urged Sulpicio Lines to acknowledge its responsibility in the tragedy, which killed more than 800 people and threatens ecological and economic damage on Sibuyan Island.

Sulpicio Lines earlier filed a P4.45-million civil suit against PAGASA for allegedly failing to inform the crew of the ferry about the approaching Typhoon “Frank” (international code name: Fengshen)—a charge the state weather bureau denied.

The company also filed a case against Del Monte for allegedly not telling Sulpicio Lines that the multinational fruit company’s pesticide cargo loaded on the ship was toxic.

During Thursday’s hearing at the BMI, Del Monte general manager Luis Alejandro disputed the shipping line’s claim.

He said that based on the information sent by shipper Makhteshim Chemical Works Ltd., all four sides of the 40-foot container van housing the endosulfan were plastered with stickers showing that the contents were toxic, including a picture of a skull and cross-bones and the words “marine pollutant.”

Alejandro said that the endosulfan shipment was wrapped in several layers of hard plastic and fiberboard and that documents, including the bill of lading and the material safety data sheet, showed the nature of endosulfan.

Bayer CropScience (Philippines) Thursday denied in a statement that it was the manufacturer of the endosulfan carried by the ferry.

Mountainous waves

Susan Lisbo, 43, one of 28 people aboard a life raft that was miraculously swept to the coast of Quezon province, also testified during Thursday’s BMI hearing. She repeated her earlier account to reporters on how she survived the tragedy.

Lisbo said waves lashing the vessel woke her up at 3 a.m. but at around 8:30 a.m. the sea calmed down and the sun came out. The sea became turbulent again half an hour later and at 10:30 a.m. she thought that the vessel was in danger in the midst of mountainous waves.

“I noticed that when the boat swayed, it did not return to position. It was a bit tilted already,” she said. Even before the abandon ship alarm was sounded, she donned a life jacket and headed for the exits.

Divers to start search for missing fishermen

July 11, 2008

Carla Gomez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

BACOLOD CITY – Divers from the Philippine Coast Guard will begin today their search and retrieval operations for over 80 missing fishermen from Cadiz City, Negros Occidental believed to be trapped in fishing vessels that sank off Olotaya Island in Capiz at the height of Typhoon “Frank.”

At least 30 fishing vessels from Cadiz City sank at the height of the typhoon on June 21 in areas around Olotaya Island, an islet near Roxas City, the capital of Capiz province, on Panay Island.

As of Wednesday, the bodies of 48 fishermen on board the Cadiz fishing vessels had been retrieved but 82 were still missing, said Cadiz City Vice Mayor Samson Mirhan.

Coast Guard Lt. Commander Edgar Ybañez said the latest recovered body was that of Alberto Savillaga. It was retrieved from FB Laura Rovi that sank in waters near Carles, Iloilo, said Ybañez.

More bodies of the missing fishermen might still be trapped in the submerged fishing vessels, he said.

“We are asking the survivors to pinpoint where their vessels sank so we can send divers to search for their companions,” Ybañez said.

Mirhan said the Philippine National Red Cross and the National Bureau of Investigation have been gathering more pieces of information from the relatives of the missing to be used in the identification of the bodies, should these be found.

NBI has also been gathering DNA samples from the relatives of the missing in Cadiz City.

Class suit planned over endosulfan use

July 11, 2008

July 11, 2008 02:26:00
Carla Gomez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

BACOLOD CITY – The Negros Organic Agriculture Movement (NOAM) is preparing to file a class suit against the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority to compel the Department of Agriculture agency to stop allowing the use of the deadly endosulfan pesticide in farms across the country.

The continued use of endosulfan in farms is “tantamount to genocide,” according to NOAM secretariat head Renato Bañas, because the pesticide “does not only kill the natural organisms in the soil but also those who consume the products to which the toxic chemical has been applied to.”

The class suit will be filed by NOAM and its allied groups from Iloilo, Cebu, Bukidnon and Manila anytime soon at the regional trial court here, Bañas said in press conference here Wednesday.

Joel Alapar, a member of NOAM, said they decided to sue the FPA because “the life of every Negrense is undermined and threatened by the continued proliferation of poison-laced food products because the Department of Agriculture continues to allow the use of toxin-based agricultural inputs.”

Alapar said it was lamentable that it took a sea tragedy for the public to become aware of the use of endosulfan by big farms in the country.

Painful lesson

Alapar was referring to the possible pollution of the Sibuyan Sea after it was discovered that barrels of endosulfan, a toxic pesticide intended for the Del Monte pineapple plantation in Bukidnon, were in the cargo hold of the MV Princess of the Stars that capsized off Sibuyan Island in Romblon on June 21.

Albert Lozada, another NOAM member, noted that while agricultural officials in the Philippines still allow the use of endosulfan in farms, communities around the world are fighting to eliminate endosulfan because it is a highly toxic and persistent pesticide that continues to threaten the health and well being of children, farm workers and people in rural areas.

Breast milk

Endosulfan primarily attacks the nervous system, he said. It is also a suspected endocrine disruptor and causes low dose exposure while in the womb and has been linked to autism and birth defects, he added.

Lozada said studies have shown that endosulfan has even been detected in breast milk, and could contaminate waterways near fields where it is applied to crops.

The NOAM officials called on the DA, particularly the FPA, to immediately ban endosulfan especially from food production.

They said the Department of Trade and Industry should also require appropriate disclosure of toxin or use of toxin in the production process that may contaminate products made available in the market.

The Department of Health, through the Food and Drug Administration, should also undertake periodic evaluation of food products sold in the market for any trace of toxin or use of toxin in the production process that may contaminate the product made available in the market, the NOAM members added.

Congress should also undertake an investigation into the continued use of endosulfan and similar other pesticides that have been banned in other countries for the danger they pose to people’s health and the natural environment, they said.

House probe

Negros Occidental 5th district Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, assured the matter will be investigated in the House.

Negros Occidental provincial board member Adolfo Mangao Sr. said he would also file a resolution at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) seeking to ban endosulfan in Negros Occidental and to call on SPs in other provinces to adopt and support the move.

“The collective voice of provincial boards throughout the country would have a bigger impact,” Mangao said.

Palitan ng Kuro Hinggil sa Komentaryo ko sa “Batang Langoy” ng I-Witness

July 10, 2008

Narito ang palitan ng mga ideya resulta ng komentaryong naibato ko tungkol sa “Batang Langoy” ng tim ni Jay Taruc pra sa I-Witness ng GMA7.

Nakakatuwa ang palita ng mga kuru-kuro.

=================================================

— On Thu, 7/10/08, Andy Tejada wrote:

From: Andy Tejada
Subject: Re: (ThePhilippineCinem a) Komentaryo sa “Batang Langoy” Episode ng I-Witness
Date: Thursday, July 10, 2008, 12:05 AM

Ilang taon na ba ang nagsulat nito at ano ang ginagawa sa buhay?

Dear, the docu is not a two-hour film na kayang ma-cover ang lahat ng aspects na gusto mong makita…

I was moved by what I saw… and it prompted me to write and suggest sa mga producers to look for some sponsors to let these kids get out of that situation… I even suggested that they be trained as long-distance swimmers para sa Swimming Team ng Pinas… Why not? Malay natin, they become Olympians in the future :-) I channeled my emotions into something proactive… what needs to be done now… Not complaining on what i saw and tell them (the producers) “what should have been done”…

And please, the shots you are mentioning are quite impossible. You’ll realize this if you work on a docu for television someday… As far as i’m concerned, the “langoy” part was not exploitative. ..

Oh, by the way, I would like to comment on your writing… It gives me an impression that you’re still a college student who is very idealistic pa sa mga views niya…

I was once like you… :-) Reminds me of my college papers (in Social Sciences… hehehe)

Andy
===================================================================

— On Thu, 7/10/08, cris pablo wrote:

From: cris pablo
Subject: Re: (ThePhilippineCinema) Komentaryo sa “Batang Langoy” Episode ng I-Witness
Date: Thursday, July 10, 2008, 10:48 AM

kaniya-kaniyang opinyon yan… pero andy, hindi naman siguro dapat condescending ang tingin natin sa nagsulat na para bang ini-imply natin na mas mababa siya dahil college student siya because of the way you seem to read his writing style or his prose…

sa aking palagay, valid naman din ang kanyang nakita dahil sarili nyang opinyon ito. at importanteng marunong din siyang magsabi kung anong eksena, anong shot, anong sinabi o dialogue o spiel ba ang nagbigay sa kanya ng ganoong pakiramdam.

mali ba ang paalala niya sa ating mga taga-media tungkol sa ganitong mga kaso kung saan ipinapa-reenact natin ang isang eksenang alam nating bawal nga gawin pero for the sake of a good coverage ay ipinapagawa natin?

madaming guilty sa media sa puntong ito.

tulad ng isang news team sa isang network na pinalagyan ng mga kalat ang isang dagat para masabing madumi ito.

tulad ng isang public affairs host na mahilig magpaiyak na well aware siya sa isang docu niya na krimen ang gagawin ng kanyang subjects pero hinayaan niyang gawin nila samantalang alam niyang gagawin lang nila yun para may makunan siyang video. at pagkatapos nang hulihin sila ng gobyerno ay saka siya naghugas kamay at kesyo hindi niya alam ang naging plano.

when are we really just exploring and exposing or exploiting?

minsan sa sobrang nahigop na tayo ng kultura ng naghahari-hariang media, okay na sa atin ang mga ganitong gawain.

pero hindi ibig sabihin nito na ganoon ang ginawa ng i-witness team ni jay taruc. pero hindi man ganoon ang ginawa, kung ganoon ang naramdaman ng ating sabi mo nga ay tila ‘college student pa’ na komentarista or reaksyonaryo, ay baka nga may maling nailagay na video, o spiel kaya niya naramdaman ang ganoon.

sa panahon ng napakaraming instruments to document even our most mundane daily routines kung saan halos pati kasambahay sa ating tahanan ay may kamera ang kanyang cellphone, siguro ay nagiging sopistikado na din ang mga mag-aaral at natututo nang bumasa kung ano ba sa media ang totoo, ang pilit, at ang nagkukubli lang sa kunyaring pagserbisyo sa bayan.

I personally know jay taruc and he is very nice and responsableng mamamayahag. it is the writer, director or editor na maaari ding dahil sila ang siyang pumili ng mga final shots, edit, spiel, interview who may have slipped a little.

sayang at hindi ko napanood.

i used to be a director-writer- associate producer for i witness for the kara and vicky episodes and we always did our documentaries with the best of intentions.

it was always a happy experience to hear from those brave souls who are willing to risk counter-ridicule just to question or correct ‘media’.

peace.

================================================================
(ito naman ang sagot ko)

Maraming salamat sa mga pumansin. Lalo na syempre sa mga bumatikos.

Hindi naman paninira kay Taruc ang aking objective kung bakit ko naibulalas ang mga puntong naisulat ko. Ang akin lang, ito’y tulong sa kanila para makita nila kung ano ang hindi nakita ng kanilang grupo. Ang mga kilala at kaibigan ko sa midya ay regular ko ring pinapaalalahanan, lalo na sa mga usaping nangingibabaw na ang kapangyarihan ng marketing department sa trabaho ng editorial department ng kani-kanilang mga pinagtatrabahuhang media institution, ganun din sa papel na ginagampanan nila sa mga usaping katulad halimbawa ng coal-fired power plant, at yung simpleng pangunguha ng bidyu sa mukha ng mga mahihirap na suspek sa petty crimes kahit pa tinatkpan na nila ang kanilang mg mukha.

May mga kontra-punto sana akong maihaharap pa, lalo na sa naging mga sagot ni G. Tejada, pero hahayaan ko na lang ito dahil hindi naman siya ang target ng aking opinyon. Ganunpaman, maraming salamat sa pagbibigay mo ng iyong panig. Isa itong patunay na nananatiling malusog ang daloy ng diskusyon khit man lang dito tayo nagkakapanagpo s net.

Oh! Nais ko ring linawin Mang Andy na hindi na ko estudyante sa kolehiyo. Damatands na rin ako at naghahanda nang humarap sa midlife. :) Yun nga lang, sana’y iwasan natin ang ganung klase ng mga kasagutan sa mga puntong hindi natin kayang sagutin.

Napakalaking pambabastos ng ganung remarks sa mga college students. Para mo na ring sinabi na napilitan lang silang maging ideyalista dahil sila’y mga nasa kolehiyo pa. At pambabastos din ito sa mga kaedad ko, kaedad ninyo at sa mga mas senior pa sa atin. Wala na ba tayong karapatang maging ideyalista porke wala na tayo sa kolehiyo?

Natutuwa ako na naaalala mo ang iyong youthful years nang dahil sa estilo ng pagkasulat ko ng komentaryo. Pero ipinapangako ko, hindi tayo magiging magkapareho.

Ako’y isang simpleng pamatnugutang kartunista (editorial cartoonist) lang naman po. Sa sarili kong bulsa, ilinalabas ko ang kauna-unahang editorial cartoons mag sa bansa. Matatawag itong komiks pa rin (wala pang pormal na tawag kasi di pa ito nagmi0mainstream), dahil ang pangunahing midyum nito sa pagtalakay ng mga isyu ay mga editorial cartoons na nilakipan ng politikal na komiks strip sa ibaba nito. Pero sa pamamagitan nito, nakatok ko na ang mga pinto ng ilang tanggapan ng pamahalaan dito sa amin pati na ang halos lahat ng tanggapan ng simbahan.

Ako’y masaya sa aking ginagawa. Nagko-cntribute sa pagpapayaman ng editorial cartooning sa bansa, habang nakikibahagi sa pagtalakay sa mga maiinit na usaping yumayanig sa atin. :)

Tenstsu and mabuhay tayong lahat. :)

Editorial Cartoon: Magic Trick

July 10, 2008

Or an illusion.

De la Paz ties to Arroyo foes led to ‘removal’

July 10, 2008

July 10, 2008 05:50:00
Daxim Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang’s decision to “remove” Corazon de la Paz from the helm of the Social Security System (SSS) was due to her close ties to the Makati Business Club (MBC) and groups critical of the Arroyo administration.

This was according to a ranking government official working closely with state financial institutions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.

“There were just too many issues,” the official said, referring to De la Paz’s dealings with anti-administration groups and organizations. “I think she’s too closely identified with the Makati Business Club and even the Black and White Movement.”

“Just last week, there was another,” the official added, although he declined to specify what the last straw was that prompted De la Paz’s replacement by Romulo Neri, chair of the Commission on Higher Education, effective Aug. 1.

As SSS administrator, Neri will also head a new Cabinet cluster, the National Social Welfare program, that Ms Arroyo created Tuesday.

De la Paz said that she only learned of Malacañang’s move when she received a call from Finance Secretary Margarito Teves on Tuesday night while she was attending a business meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“He called me up to tell me about the decision,” she said.

Interviewed upon arriving from a foreign business trip Wednesday afternoon, De la Paz acknowledged that politics figured in her departure from the state pension fund for workers in the private sector, but said that she submitted her resignation to Malacañang last month.

“If you are in government, there will always be politics,” she said in a telephone interview.

De la Paz refused to elaborate, however, on the political aspect of the change in leadership at the SSS, which manages P248 billion worth of assets and contributions from 27 million members.

“You know I will not answer questions like that,” she said when pressed further about the reasons for her departure.

Time to leave

The outgoing SSS chief said, however, that she had been at the helm of the pension fund for seven years already and that it was a “good time” for her to leave.

She said there was a “confluence,” of the Palace appointment of Neri as her replacement and her need for more time to take care of personal affairs.

“I need to look after my health, too,” De la Paz said.

Against Neri appointment

A number of senators are against the appointment of Neri, a reluctant witness in the Senate probe of the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal, to the SSS, saying that it could further stoke political controversies amid the economic crisis.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Neri was qualified to serve as chief executive officer of the state-run pension fund.

As part of the MBC, De la Paz joined calls for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down during the so-called Hyatt 10 crisis in 2005, in the wake of the “Hello Garci” wiretapping controversy in which Ms Arroyo allegedly rigged the 2004 presidential election in her favor. The President has denied the allegation.

Unwise, untimely

In the Senate, Sen. Manuel Roxas II described Neri’s appointment to the SSS as “unwise” and “untimely,” especially considering that Neri has “minimal, real-life experience in the marketplace to sit atop the SSS which has nearly 30 million members.”

“I would not have made the appointment. These are turbulent times for the country—the stock market is volatile, the peso is losing steam, and we are beset with global uncertainties,” he said. This appointment will just drive unneeded political controversy.”

Sen. Francis Escudero said that Neri had already proved that he placed the interest of Ms Arroyo above the interest of the public when he refused to divulge what the President had told him after telling her that he was offered P200 million to favor the overpriced ZTE Corp. contract for the $329-million NBN deal.

The deal, which is being investigated by the Senate, was scrapped amid allegations that officials, including the President and her husband, received bribes from the Chinese telecommunication firm. The First Couple have denied the charges.

Off limits

“I am worried that he would take over the private money of private citizens that should be off limits to the political or financial interests of anybody in government. I just hope and pray that he will not spend the SSS’ money for political gains,” Escudero said.

Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal was surprised by the changing of the guard at the SSS. “People who have anomalies hanging over their heads should not be appointed in any government position,” she said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said naming another political appointee to a state pension fund, like Government Service Insurance System chief Winston Garcia, would send an alarming signal of Ms Arroyo’s plans on the SSS and GSIS funds, especially with the coming elections.

Ermita said concerns over the management of the pension fund was “definitely on the mind of a fellow like Secretary Neri” who, he said, was told by the President: “Don’t put in jeopardy the SSS interest or its members.”

“Everyone knows the competence as an economist and as an executive of Secretary Neri,” Ermita said, pointing out that before joining the Cabinet, Neri had served as chief of the Congressional Planning and Budget Office of the House of Representatives and professor at the Asian Institute of Management.

Neri will serve as SSS administrator with Cabinet rank and head the newly launched national social welfare program of government.

Covered by executive privilege

With the SSS being elevated to a Cabinet portfolio, Neri will be covered by the doctrine of executive privilege, Ermita said.

This means that Neri will continue to be barred from disclosing details discussed during Cabinet meetings or conversations with the President, including his knowledge of the NBN deal with ZTE Corp. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Michael Lim Ubac

Tomgram: Rick Shenkman, American Stupidity

July 10, 2008

<<I picked this one from http://www.tomdispatch.com.  You can visit the site for more interesting views.>>

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[Note to TomDispatch readers: With this post, TomDispatch is shutting down for a few days. Expect the next piece on July 7th or 8th. With the sunny days of summer ahead, what could be better -- consider this a last holiday hint -- than picking up a copy of this site's new book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, before you head for… wherever it is you're heading, including the backyard. Tom]

The buck stops… well, where does it stop? And who popularized that phrase, anyway? Herbert Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover, Harry S. Truman, George Washington, or none of the above?

Wait, don’t answer! The odds are — as Rick Shenkman, award-winning investigative journalist and founder of the always provocative website History News Network, tells us in his new book Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter — you’ll be wrong. And when you realize the depths of the ignorance so many Americans take into the voting booth, you may indeed wonder, as Shenkman does to great effect in his new book, where indeed the buck stops.

So here we are heading toward another July 4th, that glorious day when American independence was declared and the Liberty Bell rang out to the world — the first of which didn’t happen on July 4th, the second of which was made up “out of whole cloth” in the nineteenth century in a book for children (but you knew that!). Think of today’s post as a bit of counter-programming to our yearly summer celebration of history, a way to ponder what exactly, in the 8th year of the reign of our latest King George, any of us have to celebrate. Consider instead the state of our national brain, preview Shenkman’s new book (which should set anyone’s mind spinning), and, while you’re at it, watch his recent interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show by clicking here. Tom

How Ignorant Are We?

The Voters Choose… but on the Basis of What?
By Rick Shenkman“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson

Just how stupid are we? Pretty stupid, it would seem, when we come across headlines like this: “Homer Simpson, Yes — 1st Amendment ‘Doh,’ Survey Finds” (Associated Press 3/1/06).

“About 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the fictional cartoon family, according to a survey.”The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just 1 in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.”

But what does it mean exactly to say that American voters are stupid? About this there is unfortunately no consensus. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who confessed not knowing how to define pornography, we are apt simply to throw up our hands in frustration and say: We know it when we see it. But unless we attempt a definition of some sort, we risk incoherence, dooming our investigation of stupidity from the outset. Stupidity cannot mean, as Humpty Dumpty would have it, whatever we say it means.

Five defining characteristics of stupidity, it seems to me, are readily apparent. First, is sheer ignorance: Ignorance of critical facts about important events in the news, and ignorance of how our government functions and who’s in charge. Second, is negligence: The disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. Third, is wooden-headedness, as the historian Barbara Tuchman defined it: The inclination to believe what we want to believe regardless of the facts. Fourth, is shortsightedness: The support of public policies that are mutually contradictory, or contrary to the country’s long-term interests. Fifth, and finally, is a broad category I call bone-headedness, for want of a better name: The susceptibility to meaningless phrases, stereotypes, irrational biases, and simplistic diagnoses and solutions that play on our hopes and fears.

American Ignorance

Taking up the first of our definitions of stupidity, how ignorant are we? Ask the political scientists and you will be told that there is damning, hard evidence pointing incontrovertibly to the conclusion that millions are embarrassingly ill-informed and that they do not care that they are. There is enough evidence that one could almost conclude — though admittedly this is a stretch — that we are living in an Age of Ignorance.

Surprised? My guess is most people would be. The general impression seems to be that we are living in an age in which people are particularly knowledgeable. Many students tell me that they are the most well-informed generation in history.

Why are we so deluded? The error can be traced to our mistaking unprecedented access to information with the actual consumption of it. Our access is indeed phenomenal. George Washington had to wait two weeks to discover that he had been elected president of the United States. That’s how long it took for the news to travel from New York, where the Electoral College votes were counted, to reach him at home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Americans living in the interior regions had to wait even longer, some up to two months. Now we can watch developments as they occur halfway around the world in real time. It is little wonder then that students boast of their knowledge. Unlike their parents, who were forced to rely mainly on newspapers and the network news shows to find out what was happening in the world, they can flip on CNN and Fox or consult the Internet.

But in fact only a small percentage of people take advantage of the great new resources at hand. In 2005, the Pew Research Center surveyed the news habits of some 3,000 Americans age 18 and older. The researchers found that 59% on a regular basis get at least some news from local TV, 47% from national TV news shows, and just 23% from the Internet.

Anecdotal evidence suggested for years that Americans were not particularly well-informed. As foreign visitors long ago observed, Americans are vastly inferior in their knowledge of world geography compared with Europeans. (The old joke is that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”) But it was never clear until the postwar period how ignorant Americans are. For it was only then that social scientists began measuring in a systematic manner what Americans actually know. The results were devastating.

The most comprehensive surveys, the National Election Studies (NES), were carried out by the University of Michigan beginning in the late 1940s. What these studies showed was that Americans fall into three categories with regard to their political knowledge. A tiny percentage know a lot about politics, up to 50%-60% know enough to answer very simple questions, and the rest know next to nothing.

Contrary to expectations, by many measures the surveys showed the level of ignorance remaining constant over time. In the 1990s, political scientists Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter concluded that there was statistically little difference between the knowledge of the parents of the Silent Generation of the 1950s, the parents of the Baby Boomers of the 1960s, and American parents today. (By some measures, Americans are dumber today than their parents of a generation ago.)

Some of the numbers are hard to fathom in a country in which for at least a century all children have been required by law to attend grade school or be home-schooled. Even if people do not closely follow the news, one would expect them to be able to answer basic civics questions, but only a small minority can.

In 1986, only 30% knew that Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that ruled abortion legal more than a decade earlier. In 1991, Americans were asked how long the term of a United States senator is. Just 25% correctly answered six years. How many senators are there? A poll a few years ago found that only 20% know that there are 100 senators, though the number has remained constant for the last half century (and is easy to remember). Encouragingly, today the number of Americans who can correctly identify and name the three branches of government is up to 40%.

Polls over the past three decades measuring Americans’ knowledge of history show similarly dismal results. What happened in 1066? Just 10% know it is the date of the Norman Conquest. Who said the “world must be made safe for democracy”? Just 14% know it was Woodrow Wilson. Which country dropped the nuclear bomb? Only 49% know it was their own country. Who was America’s greatest president? According to a Gallup poll in 2005, a majority answer that it was a president from the last half century: 20% said Reagan, 15% Bill Clinton, 12% John Kennedy, 5% George W. Bush. Only 14% picked Lincoln and only 5%, Washington.

And the worst president? For years Americans would include in the list Herbert Hoover. But no more. Most today do not know who Herbert Hoover was, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey in 2004. Just 43% could correctly identify him.

The only history questions a majority of Americans can answer correctly are the most basic ones. What happened at Pearl Harbor? A great majority know: 84%. What was the Holocaust? Nearly 70% know. (Thirty percent don’t?) But it comes as something of a shock that, in 1983, just 81% knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was and that, in 1985, only 81% could identify Martin Luther King, Jr.

What Voters Don’t Know

Who these poor souls were who didn’t know who Martin Luther King was we cannot be sure. Research suggests that they were probably impoverished (the poor tend to know less on the whole about politics and history than others) or simply unschooled, categories which usually overlap. But even Americans in the middle class who attend college exhibit profound ignorance. A report in 2007 published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that on average 14,000 randomly selected college students at 50 schools around the country scored under 55 (out of 100) on a test that measured their knowledge of basic American civics. Less than half knew that Yorktown was the last battle of the American Revolution. Surprisingly, seniors often tested lower than freshmen. (The explanation was apparently that many students by their senior year had forgotten what they learned in high school.)

The optimists point to surveys indicating that about half the country can describe some differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties. But if they do not know the difference between liberals and conservatives, as surveys indicate, how can they possibly say in any meaningful way how the parties differ? And if they do not know this, what else do they not know?

Plenty, it turns out. Even though they are awash in news, Americans generally do not seem to absorb what it is that they are reading and hearing and watching. Americans cannot even name the leaders of their own government. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Fewer than half of Americans could tell you her name during the length of her entire tenure. William Rehnquist was chief justice of the Supreme Court. Just 40% of Americans ever knew his name (and only 30% could tell you that he was a conservative). Going into the First Gulf War, just 15% could identify Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense. In 2007, in the fifth year of the Iraq War, only 21% could name the secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Most Americans cannot name their own member of Congress or their senators.

If the problem were simply that Americans are bad at names, one would not have to worry too much. But they do not understand the mechanics of government either. Only 34% know that it is the Congress that declares war (which may explain why they are not alarmed when presidents take us into wars without explicit declarations of war from the legislature). Only 35% know that Congress can override a presidential veto. Some 49% think the president can suspend the Constitution. Some 60% believe that he can appoint judges to the federal courts without the approval of the Senate. Some 45% believe that revolutionary speech is punishable under the Constitution.

On the basis of their comprehensive approach, Delli Carpini and Keeter concluded that only 5% of Americans could correctly answer three-fourths of the questions asked about economics, only 11% of the questions about domestic issues, 14% of the questions about foreign affairs, and 10% of the questions about geography. The highest score? More Americans knew the correct answers to history questions than any other (which will come as a surprise to many history teachers). Still, only 25% knew the correct answers to three-quarters of the history questions, which were rudimentary.

In 2003, the Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad investigated Americans’ knowledge of world affairs. The task force concluded: “America’s ignorance of the outside world” is so great as to constitute a threat to national security.

Young and Ignorant — and Voting

At least, you may think to yourself, we are not getting any dumber. But by some measures we are. Young people by many measures know less today than young people forty years ago. And their news habits are worse. Newspaper reading went out in the sixties along with the Hula Hoop. Just 20% of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 read a daily paper. And that isn’t saying much. There’s no way of knowing what part of the paper they’re reading. It is likelier to encompass the comics and a quick glance at the front page than dense stories about Somalia or the budget.

They aren’t watching the cable news shows either. The average age of CNN’s audience is sixty. And they surely are not watching the network news shows, which attract mainly the Depends generation. Nor are they using the Internet in large numbers to surf for news. Only 11% say that they regularly click on news web pages. (Yes, many young people watch Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. A survey in 2007 by the Pew Research Center found that 54% of the viewers of The Daily Show score in the “high knowledge” news category — about the same as the viewers of the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News.)

Compared with Americans generally — and this isn’t saying much, given their low level of interest in the news — young people are the least informed of any age cohort save possibly for those confined to nursing homes. In fact, the young are so indifferent to newspapers that they single-handedly are responsible for the dismally low newspaper readership rates that are bandied about.

In earlier generations — in the 1950s, for example — young people read newspapers and digested the news at rates similar to those of the general population. Nothing indicates that the current generation of young people will suddenly begin following the news when they turn 35 or 40. Indeed, half a century of studies suggest that most people who do not pick up the news habit in their twenties probably never will.

Young people today find the news irrelevant. Bored by politics, students shun the rituals of civic life, voting in lower numbers than other Americans (though a small up-tick in civic participation showed up in recent surveys). U.S. Census data indicate that voters aged 18 to 24 turn out in low numbers. In 1972, when 18 year olds got the vote, 52% cast a ballot. In subsequent years, far fewer voted: in 1988, 40%; in 1992, 50%; in 1996, 35%; in 2000, 36%. In 2004, despite the most intense get-out-the-vote effort ever focused on young people, just 47% took the time to cast a ballot.

Since young people on the whole scarcely follow politics, one may want to consider whether we even want them to vote. Asked in 2000 to identify the presidential candidate who was the chief sponsor of Campaign Finance Reform — Sen. John McCain — just 4% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 could do so. As the primary season began in February, fewer than half in the same age group knew that George W. Bush was even a candidate. Only 12% knew that McCain was also a candidate even though he was said to be especially appealing to young people.

One news subject in recent history, 9/11, did attract the interest of the young. A poll by Pew at the end of 2001 found that 61% of adult Americans under age 30 said that they were following the story closely. But few found any other subjects in the news that year compelling. Anthrax attacks? Just 32% indicated it was important enough to follow. The economy? Again, just 32%. The capture of Kabul? Just 20%.

It would appear that young people today are doing very little reading of any kind. In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts, consulting a vast array of surveys, including the United States Census, found that just 43% of young people ages 18 to 24 read literature. In 1982, the number was 60%. A majority do not read either newspapers, fiction, poetry, or drama. Save for the possibility that they are reading the Bible or works of non-fiction, for which solid statistics are unavailable, it would appear that this generation is less well read than any other since statistics began to be kept.

The studies demonstrating that young people know less today than young people a generation ago do not get much publicity. What one hears about are the pioneer steps the young are taking politically. Headlines from the 2004 presidential election featured numerous stories about young people who were following the campaign on blogs, then a new phenomenon. Other stories focused on the help young Deaniacs gave Howard Dean by arranging to raise funds through innovative Internet appeals. Still other stories reported that the Deaniacs were networking all over the country through the Internet website meetup.com. One did not hear that we have raised another Silent Generation. But have we not? The statistics about young people today are fairly clear: As a group they do not vote in large numbers, most do not read newspapers, and most do not follow the news. (Barack Obama has recently inspired greater participation, but at this stage it is too early to tell if the effect will be lasting.)

The Issues? Who knows?

Millions every year are now spent on the effort to answer the question: What do the voters want? The honest answer would be that often they themselves do not really know because they do not know enough to say. Few, however, admit this.

In the election of 2004, one of the hot issues was gay marriage. But gauging public opinion on the subject was difficult. Asked in one national poll whether they supported a constitutional amendment allowing only marriages between a man and a woman, a majority said yes. But three questions later a majority also agreed that “defining marriage was not an important enough issue to be worth changing the Constitution.” The New York Times wryly summed up the results: Americans clearly favor amending the Constitution but not changing it.

Does it matter if people are ignorant? There are many subjects about which the ordinary voter need know nothing. The conscientious citizen has no obligation to plow through the federal budget, for example. One suspects there are not many politicians themselves who have bothered to do so. Nor do voters have an obligation to read the laws passed in their name. We do expect members of Congress to read the bills they are asked to vote on, but we know from experience that often they do not, having failed either to take the time to do so or having been denied the opportunity to do so by their leaders, who for one reason or another often rush bills through.

Reading the text of laws in any case is often unhelpful. The chairpersons in charge of drafting them often include provisions only a detective could untangle. The tax code is rife with clauses like this: The Congress hereby appropriates X dollars for the purchase of 500 widgets that measure 3 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches from any company incorporated on October 20, 1965 in Any City USA situated in block 10 of district 3.

Of course, only one company fits the description. Upon investigation it turns out to be owned by the chairperson’s biggest contributor. That is more than any citizens acting on their own could possibly divine. It is not essential that the voter know every which way in which the tax code is manipulated to benefit special interests. All that is required is that the voter know that rigging of the tax code in favor of certain interests is probably common. The media are perfectly capable of communicating this message. Voters are perfectly capable of absorbing it. Armed with this knowledge, the voter knows to be wary of claims that the tax code treats one and all alike with fairness.

There are however innumerable subjects about which a general knowledge is insufficient. In these cases ignorance of the details is more than a minor problem. An appalling ignorance of Social Security, to take one example, has left Americans unable to see how their money has been spent, whether the system is viable, and what measures are needed to shore it up.

How many know that the system is running a surplus? And that this surplus — some $150 billion a year — is actually quite substantial, even by Washington standards? And how many know that the system has been in surplus since 1983?

Few, of course. Ignorance of the facts has led to a fundamentally dishonest debate about Social Security.

During all the years the surpluses were building, the Democrats in Congress pretended the money was theirs to be spent, as if it were the same as all the other tax dollars collected by the government. And spend it they did, whenever they had the chance, with no hint that they were perhaps disbursing funds that actually should be held in reserve for later use. (Social Security taxes had been expressly raised in 1983 in order to build up the system’s funds when bankruptcy had loomed.) Not until the rest of the budget was in surplus (in 1999) did it suddenly occur to them that the money should be saved. And it appears that the only reason they felt compelled at this point to acknowledge that the money was needed for Social Security was because they wanted to blunt the Republicans’ call for tax cuts. The Social Security surplus could not both be used to pay for the large tax cuts Republicans wanted and for the future retirement benefits of aging Boomers.

The Republicans have been equally unctuous. While they have claimed that they are terribly worried about Social Security, they have been busy irresponsibly spending the system’s surplus on tax cuts, one cut after another. First Reagan used the surplus to hide the impact of his tax cuts and then George W. Bush used it to hide the impact of his cuts. Neither ever acknowledged that it was only the surplus in Social Security’s accounts that made it even plausible for them to cut taxes.

Take those Bush tax cuts. Bush claimed the cuts were made possible by several years of past surpluses and the prospect of even more years of surpluses. But subtracting from the federal budget the overflow funds generated by Social Security, the government ran a surplus in just two years during the period the national debt was declining, 1999 and 2000.

In the other years when the government ran a surplus, 1998 and 2001, it was because of Social Security and only because of Social Security. That is, the putative surpluses of 1998 and 2001, which President Bush cited in defense of his tax cuts, were in reality pure fiction. Without Social Security the government would have been in debt those two years. And yet in 2001 President Bush told the country tax cuts were not only needed, they were affordable because of our splendid surplus.

Today, conservatives argue that the Social Security Trust Fund is a fiction. They are correct. The money was spent. They helped spend it.

To this debate about Social Security — which, once one understands what has been happening, is actually quite absorbing — the public has largely been an indifferent spectator. A surprising 2001 Pew study found that just 19% of Americans understand that the United States ever ran a surplus at all, however defined, in the 1990s or 2000`s. And only 50% of Americans, according to an Annenberg study in 2004, understand that President Bush favors privatizing Social Security. Polls indicate that people are scared that the system is going bust, no doubt thanks in part to Bush’s gloom-and-doom prognostications. But they haven’t the faintest idea what going bust means. And in fact, the system can be kept going without fundamental change simply by raising the cap on taxed income and pushing back the retirement age a few years.

How much ignorance can a country stand? There have to be terrible consequences when it reaches a certain level. But what level? And with what consequences, exactly? The answers to these questions are unknowable. But can we doubt that if we persist on the path we are on that we shall, one day, perhaps not too far into the distant future, find out the answers?

Rick Shenkman, Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter, New York Times bestselling author, and associate professor of history at George Mason University, is the founder and editor of History News Network, a website that features articles by historians on current events. This essay is adapted from chapter two of his new book, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter (Basic Books, 2008). His observations about the 2008 election can be followed on his blog, “How Stupid?” His recent appearance on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” can be viewed by clicking here.

Excerpted from Just How Stupid Are We?, by Rick Shenkman, by arrangement with Basic Books.

Copyright 2008 Rick Shenkman

Mobile court resolves 20 cases in one day

July 10, 2008

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:52:00 07/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The decisions came down swiftly Wednesday from judges presiding at the first hearings of a justice-on-wheels program outside the packed Manila City Jail.

In less than 15 minutes, the charge of robbery-holdup against Aldrich dela Cruz, 20, was provisionally dismissed by Judge Reynaldo Ros after the accuser failed to heed repeated summonses to appear in court since the alleged crime happened in December 2007.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim were present during the initial proceedings inside a bus that was converted into a courtroom, marking the launching of the mobile court program in Metro Manila.

The mop-haired Dela Cruz, wearing the usual yellow T-shirt of a detainee, got some words of wisdom later from Puno and Lim, who told him that he should shape up from now on and he would get all the help that he needed if he decided to put his life in order.

All told during the daylong hearings conducted by Ros and three other judges on the bus, 20 cases were resolved and the inmates got either temporary or permanent freedom from various crimes, mostly against property, for which they had been charged.

87-year-old inmate

One of the inmates who queued outside the bus was 87-year-old Juanita Fedelino, whose case for alleged drug pushing had been pending for the last six years. “Even if I didn’t do it, I will admit that I did it just to get this over with,” she said.

The justice-on-wheels program, patterned after a similar project successfully implemented in Guatemala to decongest prisons there, was launched in the Philippines four years ago with funding from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Four buses that had been converted into courtrooms were acquired in 2004. These buses have been deployed in the provinces in an attempt to bring justice to many of the accused languishing in remote jails. With the alarming increase in prison populations in Metro Manila, Puno decided to field one in the metropolis.

The Manila City Jail is one of the most crowded in the capital. It was built to house only 1,000 inmates but is now crammed with more than 5,000.

Likely surge in crimes

Puno told reporters that he was worried that with the current economic crunch, there could be a surge in crimes.

“It’s only natural. If times are hard, crimes against property rise. That’s a big problem, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and the local government units, have to work together,” he said.

“The poor who are accused of illegal acts need access to justice because if you are already hungry and are oppressed by the justice system, that is a dangerous thing for a country,” Puno told reporters.

“If a person is hungry and suffers injustice, he will be thinking bad things,” he said.

Socialize justice

Puno said he had ordered an inventory of pending cases and hoped other local governments units would cooperate with the Supreme Court in the same way that Lim had.

He also said that the high court was thinking of how the additional funds would be used to bring down the cost of justice.

The proposal of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to remove the filing fees for criminal cases, and only charge filing fees for civil cases, is being studied, he said.

“We will consider that because when you talk of criminal cases, liberty is the issue. That is why we will look into this especially if they have no money to pay these fees. Liberty is beyond cost. We will think of how to socialize the cost of justice,” he said. With Eliza Victoria, Inquirer Research

Romblon fishermen set fluvial protest vs Sulpicio

July 10, 2008

Niña Catherine Calleja
Southern Luzon Bureau

SAN FERNANDO, Sibuyan Island — Fishermen here are organizing a fluvial protest for Thursday in Sibuyan waters to press for the immediate removal of the sunken vessel of Sulpicio Lines Inc. from their fishing ground.

Delbert Ruiz, a town resident, said around 20 fishing boats with 200 fishermen would sail to let Sulpicio owners know that they were angry and exhausted.

Since the Department of Health (DoH) has declared a ban on the harvest and sale of fish in this town due to possible contamination of sea waters by the pesticide endosulfan still inside the sunken ship, fishermen have been grappling with the loss of their sole livelihood.

Mayor Nanette Tansingco issued the fishermen a permit to rally Wednesday.(PDI)

African groups push for endosulfan ban in Philippines

July 10, 2008

TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — Civil society groups meeting in Durban, South Africa, for a conference on waste backed calls for the Philippines to ban endosulfan, the EcoWaste Coalition said on Wednesday.

The groups drafted an open letter pushing for the adoption of agro-ecological and equitable practices that would cut farm dependence on toxic chemical inputs, EcoWaste national coordinator Manny Calonzo said in a statement.

The groups from eight African countries have been meeting in Durban to discuss waste, incineration and toxic chemical issues, he said.

Quoting from the letter, Calonzo said the groups expressed dismay over the discovery of a 10-metric ton shipment of endosulfan in the M/V Princess of the Stars, which sank off Sibuyan island on June 21 at the height of a typhoon.

The discovery of the toxic cargo halted the search and retrieval operations for the dead and missing passengers, and prompted the government to suspend fishing in waters around the island.

“Coming from countries that are still struggling with the toxic legacy of obsolete pesticides in our communities, we could not help but seriously question why endosulfan, a neuro-toxic organochlorine pesticide, was allowed to be used in the Philippines and even shipped through a vessel carrying humans,” Dr. Paul Saoke of the Physicians for Social Responsibility-Kenya, said in the statement e-mailed by EcoWaste.

Calonzo said that Hemsing Hurrynag, a member of the Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives steering committee, asked the Philippine government to ban endosulfan “without exemption.”

The discovery of the shipment has brought to light the continued use of endosulfan pesticide in fruit plantations in the country.

Sulpicio Lines Inc., owner of the ill-fated ferry, has sued Del Monte Philippines for shipping the cargo without disclosing its toxic nature.

“Our policy makers and regulators, we hope, will heed this latest appeal for a total ban on endosulfan to prevent local and global damage to health and our fragile ecosystems,” Calonzo said.

Joey Papa, president of Bangon Kalikasan (Rise Nature) Movement, pressed the government to ban all toxic chemical inputs to agriculture, including endosulfan.

“It should ban the use of all toxic chemical inputs to agriculture. If endosulfan is not allowed for paddy rice culture, why allow it for pineapple plantations? The precautionary principle must prevail above business considerations,” Papa said in a statement.

Since endosulfan is highly toxic to humans, wildlife and the environment, 55 countries have banned the chemicals while others have restricted its use, according to Calonzo.

Responding to the Sulpicio suit, Del Monte Philippines said on Wednesday that warning signs signifying that the endosulfan shipment consisted of toxic substances were all over the container van as well as the documents submitted to ferry owner.

Del Monte general manager Cito Alejandro said the company had not misdeclared the cargo. He said Del Monte would counter charges against Sulpicio Lines for its allegations against the food manufacturer.(PDI)

New crop of officers reject failed ‘Palparan solution’

July 10, 2008

QUINAPONDAN, EASTERN SAMAR—A top military officer admitted on Tuesday that the “Palparan solution” did not help any in solving the country’s communist insurgency problem.

Lt. Gen. Pedro Ike Inserto, commanding general of the AFP Central Command, was referring to retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who became controversial for instigating an all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, New People’s Army (NPA).

Hundreds of alleged extra-judicial killings and human rights abuses took place in areas where Palparan was assigned.

“Nothing came out with this Palparan solution. Look at him, he has long retired from the service yet he is still being hounded by allegations of human rights abuses,” Inserto said.

Inserto mentioned the “Palparan solution” several times in his talks with the 801st Infantry Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Francis Lanuza, other military officials and five town mayors in the province, but he declined to elaborate what he meant to local journalists.

“You know about it,” was Inserto’s curt answer.

The Central Command chief, however, belied claims of human rights groups that Palparan had enjoyed the support of Malacañang and the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Inserto went to this town, the base of the Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, to assess the counterinsurgency campaign in Eastern Samar province.

Palparan served as the top Army officer in Eastern Visayas for eight months in 2005 and vowed to end the region’s insurgency problem.

According to the human rights group Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas, 36 extra-judicial killings and 712 human rights abuses were committed during his stint. Palparan, however, denied any involvement in the allegations.

Palparan assumed command of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province on Sept. 1, 2005. His first stint in Central Luzon was in 1981 when he was executive officer of the 24th IB based in Pampanga province.

New generation of officers

According to Inserto, there is now a “new and young generation” of AFP officers headed by Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano, who do not condone any human rights abuses.

“We have realized that winning the battle is not through an armed struggle but winning the hearts and minds of people. The (military) operations that we have conducted were one of the reasons why up to now, the insurgency problem still persists in the country,” Inserto said.

He urged the military to closely cooperate with other sectors in society, like local government units, church leaders, journalists and the villagers in their battles against the CPP rebels.

“We have to work especially with the Church. When a priest says that you are ugly, though you look like Fernando Poe Jr., people will believe him,” Inserto said.

‘Benevolent Torturer’ tag

As early as 1981, Palparan earned the tag “Benevolent Torturer” for releasing activists after interrogation and torture.

In an approach never done by commanders before him, Palparan expanded the theater of war by deploying special operation teams (SOTs) in about 200 towns and cities where suspected CPP front organizations flourished. The military called these white areas.

The human rights group Karapatan said at least 71 summary executions, five massacres, 14 frustrated killings and 46 disappearances occurred in all of Central Luzon’s seven provinces from February 2001 to August 2006 during Palparan’s 11-month stint. With a report from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon


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