Wake Up, Philippines!

Lame concession

Posted in Censorship, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Editorial, Legislation, Media by Erineus on February 27, 2009

Members of media have taken an unequivocal stand against the right-to-reply bill. The proposal to require print and broadcast journalists to give equal space or time to those who wish to defend themselves against attacks, actual or perceived, is seen as unnecessary and an assault on press freedom.

Now comes Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, claiming he is listening and is open to making concessions.

Pimentel has come up with the idea of imposing fines instead of jail time for journalists found violating the right-to-reply rule. “We want to be reasonable,” he says.

Apparently, the senator remains unreasonable.

The dilemma is not between going behind bars and shelling out money for fines. Last we looked, the libel law—existing and working well, by the way—still carries the pain of imprisonment. In spite of this, the accusations keep on coming; stories we see, hear and read every day are anything but sanitized.

The bill’s inherent flaw is that it strikes at the heart of journalists’ sense of fairness. The presumption is that everybody in the business is mindful of the ethics that govern the profession. Those who overstep the bounds are aberrations, and there is a law that takes care of this, as well. The industry, for its part, can find ways to raise its standards. But it must be left alone.

Enough arguments have been put forth. Sadly, what we are seeing now are either face-saving acts by those who supported the bill but later on realized they needed friends in the media, or the obstinacy of some who claim to listen but really only want to have their way.

If the lawmakers are truly listening, they must realize that scrapping the bill altogether is the only reasonable step.

The long wait for automation

Posted in comelec, Editorial, Election by Erineus on February 26, 2009

Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

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The law modernizing the elections, Republic Act 9369, was passed on Jan. 23, 2007. It updated and fine-tuned RA 8436, which authorized the Commission on Elections to use an automated system in the 1998 general elections. Eleven years after national hopes for modern elections were enshrined in law, Filipinos are still waiting for poll automation.

RA 9369 was passed two years ago, but everyone forgot to appropriate funding for it. Perhaps this was fueled by hopes that the Constitution could be amended and the 2010 general elections would not push through. When the Comelec reminded the nation that without money, there would be no poll automation in 2010, Malacañang finally submitted to Congress a proposal for a supplemental budget of P11.3 billion. Now it’s the turn of the House of Representatives to take its sweet time approving the funding.

Instead of speeding up the passage of the supplemental budget, congressmen are deliberating on amending a law that has not yet even been implemented. Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez is reportedly proposing that manual voting be retained for local races including those for Congress. Golez’s House colleagues seem receptive to the idea and are sitting on the supplemental budget until they make a final decision on the proposed amendment to RA 9369.

Why would congressmen want their votes to be counted manually? Maybe they are technophobes who don’t trust machines. Maybe they are sentimental folks who don’t relish parting with tradition. The ugliest speculation is that partial automation, with the old manual system retained in some areas — or, under the latest proposal, at the local level — provides better options for cheating. Surely this is not what Golez and the endorsers of his proposal have in mind.

Whatever the motive for the proposal, Congress should quickly decide whether or not it wants to take the Philippine voting system to the 21st century. Members of the previous Congress had made up their mind on this when they passed RA 9369. Now the present Congress is taking another look at the law. With just 14 months to go before the general elections, Congress does not have the luxury of time for a belated change of heart.

Philippine Star

Cleaning house

Posted in Editorial, Judiciary by Erineus on February 25, 2009

WE welcome recent moves by the Supreme Court to clean House.

Just this week, it found Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes guilty of grave misconduct for leaking a draft decision and fined him P500,000.

In agreeing with the conclusions of the investigating panel, the Court said a “breach of duty amounts to breach of public trust.”

“If only for reasons of public policy, this Court must assert and maintain its jurisdiction over members of the judiciary and other officials under its supervision and control for acts performed in office which are inimical to the service and prejudicial to the interests of litigants and the general public,” the justices said.

The Court added that any release of a draft decision infringes on the confidential internal deliberations of the Court.

Earlier this month, the Court also suspended Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Evelyn Arcaya-Chua for six months for receiving P100,000 in exchange for a favorable decision, even though she returned the money and the complaint against her was dropped.

In suspending Chua, the justices said the decision by the complainant to withdraw her complaint did not prevent the Court from conducting its own investigation and disciplining erring judges.

“The office of a judge is sacred and imbued with public interest. The need to maintain the public’s confidence in the judiciary cannot be made to depend solely on the whims and caprices of complainants who are, in a real sense, only witnesses therein,” said the Court.

The Court said “most telling of all the circumstances pointing to respondent’s guilt was the ‘unwavering stance’” of a witness that Chua solicited and received P100,000 in exchange for a favorable ruling in her cases.

With public confidence already shaken by scandals in the Court of Appeals, recent efforts to clean House can only be seen as a welcome development.

We wonder, however, if what appears to be a mild sanction in the case of the regional trial court judge might be seen as a mere slap on the wrist. After all, if the Court was convinced the judge solicited money in exchange for a favorable ruling, wouldn’t that be the ultimate betrayal of the public trust?


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Posted in DepEd, Editorial, Education, Facts and Figures by Erineus on February 24, 2009

Here is another indication that the benefits of the 30-year record-high economic growth are not trickling down to the poor: up to 3.3 million children will be out of school this year, mostly due to poverty. This is the assessment of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers or ACT, which is calling for urgent intervention by the government to save millions of Filipino children from being deprived of proper education.

The Department of Education estimates that only about a million children will be unable to enroll this school year. But even that modest estimate is too much in a country where basic education is supposed to be free and compulsory, and where the Constitution provides that the lion’s share of the annual budget should go to education.

Though elementary and high school education is supposed to be free, parents still cannot afford the daily transportation fare, snacks and miscellaneous fees that they must shoulder for their children’s education. Sending a child to school also means one less helper in farms or in marginal means of livelihood.

ACT members say that the number of out-of-school youths aged 6 to 15 has jumped by a whopping 78 percent since 2002, from 1.86 million to 3.33 million last year. The teachers’ alliance is urging the government to expand its school feeding program and provide free mass transportation for school children in impoverished or remote communities. The teachers also point out that while public schools are barred from collecting miscellaneous fees during enrollment, such fees are still collected throughout the school year.

Every year that a child lags behind in school makes it harder to catch up with more fortunate classmates. Previous studies have raised concern over the high dropout rate in public schools, with too many children unable to make it past sixth grade. By the time these dropouts become adults, they are severely handicapped by their lack of education. This is a crisis and the teachers are right; this crisis needs drastic intervention.

Philippine Star
Updated June 08, 2008 12:00 AM

Fourth leading killer

Posted in DOH, Editorial, Facts and Figures, Killer by Erineus on February 24, 2009

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Road accidents, according to the Department of Health, have become the fourth leading cause of deaths in the Philippines. Only last Nov. 1, as people rushed home to visit their loved ones’ graves, six people were killed and about 60 others injured when an overloaded bus collided head-on with a Toyota Revo along the North Luzon Expressway in Mabalacat, Pampanga.

One reason for the accidents has been cited by both the Department of Health and the Land Transportation Office: long hours behind the wheel. The LTO said recent studies have shown that the average person can drive only six hours straight before fatigue affects driving. The DOH said lack of sleep and proper nutrition affect a driver’s reflexes and judgment of road conditions.

Most motorists are aware of the problems and try to get some rest and sufficient food during long drives. But such things can be a luxury for certain drivers who must meet certain hours of departure and arrival or meet passenger quotas. What do these drivers do? A number of them take shabu or other drugs to stay awake and ward off fatigue during long drives, according to cases recorded in the past years. As those cases have also shown, drug use has led to worse problems, leading to reckless driving that results in fatal accidents.

The DOH, which conducts a survey on road accidents every five years, reported that such accidents were the ninth leading cause of deaths in the country in 1998. By 2003, road accidents had become the fourth leading killer.

What can be done to address this problem? The DOH surveys cited three likely causes of road accidents: poor road engineering, inadequate education about traffic rules, and lack of road discipline. Road engineering is continually being improved, although the DOH noted that there is still much to be done in promoting pedestrian safety in Metro Manila. Drug tests are now a requirement for obtaining a driver’s license, but this is done only once every few years. Random drug tests may be done on drivers before they leave bus depots. Merely enforcing speed limits especially on roads such as the NLEX could save lives. Traffic rules will be followed and roads made safer if there is better law enforcement.

Philippine Star

Cost of corruption

Posted in Editorial, Graft and Corruption, Poverty by Erineus on February 1, 2009

The failed attempt of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration to prevent Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., former president of Philippine Forest Corp., from testifying on the $329-million National Broadband Network project has once again focused public attention on the perennial problem of corruption.

Graft and corruption has been a fact of national life since post-Liberation days. Almost every administration has had its big and sensational graft cases. At every presidential election, one major issue that is always raised is graft and corruption. Opposition leaders denounce the graft being committed by the administration, but once they take over the reins of government, they also commit graft. It’s just a case of different sets of people pigging out at the trough that is the national treasury at different times.

Economist Alejandro Lichauco has said the Philippines is perennially in crisis because of “the mortal mix of corruption and poverty and a consequent loss of popular confidence in government and the electoral process as instruments of change.” The fatal mix, he said, is poverty so massive and so intense as to have degenerated into a problem of mass hunger, and corruption that is as massive as the massive poverty. A deadly mix, indeed, that is killing tens of thousands of people.

Starting with the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, the Philippine crisis has been characterized not only by corruption and poverty but also by human rights abuses and a culture of impunity. Bruce Van Voorhis, a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, said that these aspects of the life of the nation are linked: “People are poor to a large extent because of widespread corruption; those who wield political power violate people’s rights to attain and maintain that power; a lack of judicial punishment in the courts ensures impunity that permits corruption and human rights violations to continue. The cycle has sadly repeated itself for years.”

Corruption retards economic and social development, lowers the quality of public services and infrastructure and raises the prices of goods and services. In all these aspects, it is the poor who suffer the most because they cannot avail themselves, for instance, of the services of private doctors and hospitals or buy expensive goods. In some cases, corruption literally kills: for instance, a ship sinks and hundreds of people die because a coast guard officer was bribed to allow the overloaded, non-seaworthy vessel to leave port.

In 2000, the World Bank estimated that the Philippines had lost $48 billion (P1.968 trillion) to corruption from 1977 to 1997. Think how many kilometers of roads and bridges and how many schoolhouses and hospitals that money could have built. Think of the other public infrastructure and public services that could have been improved with that kind of money. But all that public money went into the private pockets of corrupt, greedy government officials.

Graft and corruption flourishes because of the culture of impunity. Have you heard of any big fish being convicted of corruption and plunder, except deposed president Joseph Estrada? Yes, Estrada was convicted of plunder, but he did not spend even a day in a real prison. Only six weeks after his conviction, he was pardoned by President Arroyo. Was that any way to set an example for the other grafters in government and to would-be grafters and plunderers?

And so the graft and corruption continues. But from time to time a ray of light pierces the darkness and gives the nation hope that we might yet be able to start punishing the grafters. Such a ray was Lozada, whose courageous and forthright testimony at the Senate may yet save the nation from the grip of scandalous, graft-ridden deals.

But whistleblowers like Lozada cannot, just by themselves, ensure a successful campaign against corruption. Graft and corruption has become so ingrained in the national life that it is considered “normal.” Even people like Lozada are ready to consider a 20-percent “commission” on government deals acceptable. But that should not be acceptable. A 20-percent “commission” is an illegal and immoral “tax” on a poor and overburdened people. They have to realize this, watch every government transaction that may be tainted with graft, and denounce officials who are stealing taxpayers’ money — their money.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date: First Posted 00:43:00 02/12/2008

Vetoing openness

Posted in Budget, Constitutional Rights, Editorial, Right To Information, Tax by Erineus on February 1, 2009

In the 2007 budget law, a right-to-information provision was vetoed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (In 2008, the provision did not even find its way into the budget law.) In the P1.4-trillion General Appropriations Act of 2009 that the President is about to sign, the provision is back. Will the President veto it again?

Sen. Francis Pangilinan is right to sound the alarm. “Mindless of the numerous corruption scandals that rocked the nation last year, the Office of the President once again did not include the Right to Information section in its proposed 2009 P1.4-trillion budget. It is not clear whether this was devious desire or just an oversight,” he noted in a press statement. He said a people’s organization, Alyansa Agrikultura, had alerted him to it.

What does the section say?

“Right to Information. Subject to limitations as may be provided by law, the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, guaranteed under Section 7, Article III of the Constitution as well as with the state policy of full disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest, every government agency shall, upon request by any citizen, make available the data under their possession for information, scrutiny, copying, or reproduction of all records of information, in any form whatsoever, pertaining to the implementation of the appropriations under this Act including but not limited to information on projects, disbursement of funds, reports, contract bidding and awards.”

This is a tonic provision that can help restore public confidence in the political process. It is also, after the passed budget was amended to accommodate a P50-billion “economic stimulus package,” a necessary one. Requiring “every government agency” to “make available the data” a citizen may request “pertaining to the implementation of the appropriations under this Act” will help counter inordinate greed in government spending – or at least supply concerned citizens with the legal ammunition to fight corruption.

But President Arroyo vetoed a similar provision in the 2007 budget. She did not include the provision in the 2009 bill. Now that it has been inserted into the budget and actually passed, will she veto it again? We can think of only one reason she would do so: to protect the corrupt.

* * *

Denying transparency

The use of bicameral conference committees to forge a legislative measure acceptable to both the House and the Senate is a longstanding practice – and one that, as we and others have pointed out more than once, is prone to abuse. It has, all too often, given rise to the so-called third chamber of Congress, a shadow (and shadowy) branch of government. The way the “bicam” on the 2009 budget has conducted its business, however, occasions deeper worry; the concentration of power that we know is unhealthy for democracy has become even more acute.

The substance of the “economic stimulus package” that is a feature of the 2009 budget as finally approved is crucial, of course. A pro-administration congressman said of the P50-billion package: “This could be construed as a way to bankroll the political ambitions of some people.” Or the political interests of the administration.

But it is the way the administration engineered the passage of the budget that is gravely troubling.

Members of the bicameral conference committee had authorized Rep. Junie Cua, the chairman of the House appropriations committee, and Sen. Edgardo Angara, the chairman of the Senate finance committee, to meet over the holidays to thresh out the differences between the respective bills. The members were wrong to do this: to concentrate the power of the purse in only two pairs of hands.

But Cua and Angara did meet; they did the work of reconciling provisions and amending the budget – and they did not bother to report to their members afterwards.

“I cannot recall any similar occurrence in the past when this has happened,” House Deputy Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said. Oh, the bicam did meet, after the changes had been fixed. But only for 15 minutes. “This is farcical,” Zamora said.

That much is transparent.

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:23:00 01/29/2009