Wake Up, Philippines!

Militarization by other means

MANILA, Philippines — Soldiers erecting checkpoints, entering communities, and rounding up and interrogating residents in various parts of the country have become so commonplace in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime that we take for granted their lawfulness. Do soldiers have a right to do these things?

Not being a lawyer, I can only ask questions. The construction of the 1987 Constitution is easy enough to permit its commonsensical understanding by ordinary citizens. I turn to its words and the values around which it is woven whenever I am bothered by the actions of government. The Constitution is the self-defense and is a necessity of any democratic nation. Every citizen should keep a copy of his country’s Constitution in his pocket.

There is a division of labor between the military and the police that is recognized in every modern society and is upheld in the successive constitutions we have had in our country. The maintenance of peace and order within communities is basically the function of the police. Our Constitution states that such a police force is “national in scope and civilian in character.”

The same Constitution declares among its guiding principles and policies that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” I understand sovereignty to mean the power to govern oneself. To defend a nation’s sovereignty is to protect the nation against foreign invaders. To secure the integrity of the national territory is to protect it against forces that seek its dismemberment. On this basis, one may understand the active presence of soldiers in parts of Mindanao where secessionist movements operate. But how does one account for the presence of military patrols in the streets of Barangay Commonwealth in Quezon City?

I quote from a report that appeared in the Inquirer yesterday (3/3/07): “The military said the deployment of soldiers in some areas of Metro Manila was part of civil military operations in certain barangays where issues like poverty can be exploited by communist insurgents …. Army spokesperson Maj. Ernesto Torres said the deployments had been going on since November last year and were mostly in depressed barangays. Troops are sent to barangays where they stay and ‘talk to (residents), ask them how they are doing and tell them there are programs of government which they can avail (themselves) of,’ Torres said in a phone interview. Torres said this was a ‘holistic approach’ in addressing the insurgency problem. AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said such deployments were ‘normal’ as it was the AFP-NCRCom mandate to ‘protect Metro Manila’.”

Protect Metro Manila against whom? Against suspected communists? Sec. 18 (1) of the Bill of Rights is clear on this: “No person shall be detained solely by reason of his political beliefs and aspirations.” Last I heard is that no one can be penalized for mere membership in a communist organization. But as important, if Metro Manila is to be protected, whose function is this? I always assumed this belonged to the police.

There is basis for this assumption. The Constitution takes for granted that the maintenance of peace and order is not the normal function of soldiers but of the police. And so it specifies those exceptional instances when the government, through the President, may call out the military. Art. VII, Sec. 18 provides: “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion.”

The last time Ms Arroyo invoked these Commander-in-Chief powers was on Feb. 23, 2006 when she issued Presidential Proclamation 1017 declaring a State of National Emergency. Recognizing that these are emergency powers, the framers of our Constitution made their exercise subject to very stringent qualifications. The most important of these is the provision that ensures the undiminished validity of the Bill of Rights even during such emergencies.

The Supreme Court held PP 1017 to be valid insofar as it was an exercise of the calling-out powers “to prevent or suppress lawless violence,” but struck it down as unconstitutional insofar as it claimed powers for the President that did not belong to her office. These are: the power to issue decrees, to direct the military to enforce obedience to all laws including those not related to lawless violence, and to impose standards on media.

The question we must now ask is: Does lawless violence exist today in our barangays, towns and cities to warrant the engagement of the military in the everyday maintenance of peace and order in our communities? If there is, what is its extent? What is the basis for this assessment? What limits are there, if any, to what the military can do in the course of “suppressing and preventing lawless violence”?

If one goes by the 1987 Constitution alone, there can be no doubt that with these recent troop deployments, the military has overstepped its mandate. My fear is that the antiterrorism law (now euphemistically titled “The Human Security Act of 2007”) is aimed precisely at preempting these questions. By routinizing an undeclared state of emergency, the government lays the ground for the militarization of our communities.

* * *

By Randy David
Inquirer
First Posted 06:18am (Mla time) 03/04/2007

Comments to public.lives@gmail.com


Of senior citizens, discounts, credit cards

Posted in Consumer, Laws, Senior Citizens, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform by Erineus on February 2, 2009

MANILA, Philippines-FIRST OF ALL, A NUMBER OF FRIENDS HAVE ASKED ME why I was moved from Sunday to Monday, and from a horizontal to a vertical layout. My response: A case of civilian supremacy over the military.

* * *

For many years, since my medicine needs rose because of various ailments often connected with the aging process, I had tried to use my credit card for medical purchases which now run into four-digit figures on a weekly basis. Each time I would present my credit card at the Mercury Drug outlet in our neighborhood, the clerk would inform me that the 20-percent senior citizens’ discount was available only for cash payments. It was futile to argue with the clerk or even with the branch manager, as they would invoke company rules which they had to follow. Not being very knowledgeable with regard to the provisions of the Senior Citizens’ Law, and since the medicines were needed on a regular basis, we accepted their ruling although with much reluctance. Many restaurants and airlines were honoring the senior citizens’ discount even with the use of a credit card, and yet this distribution giant in such a vital sector of the economy appeared to be able to determine by itself what the senior citizen was entitled to in terms of discounts.

Last January, Carlos Manalastas of Sampaloc, Manila decided to do something about this problem. He wrote the Inquirer, asking if the Mercury Drug interpretation of RA 9257 known as the Expanded Senior Citizens’ Act, authored by then Sen. Noli de Castro and Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, was correct.

In reply, Vice President De Castro wrote: “I would like to assure Mr. Manalastas that senior citizens can avail themselves of the 20-percent discount regardless of the manner of payment for the purchase of medicines.”

As I mentioned in an earlier column, armed with a copy of the Vice President’s letter, I proceeded to the Kamuning branch of Mercury Drug and presented my requirements accompanied by the prescriptions, purchase slip booklet and my senior citizen’s ID card. After being informed of the total cost, I presented my credit card. As usual, the clerk politely informed me that the 20-percent senior citizen’s discount was only available for cash payments. After I showed him a copy of Vice President De Castro’s letter, he disappeared for a few minutes. The assistant branch manager then showed up, informing me that the matter had to be referred back to the home office.

When I returned home, I spoke to Vice President De Castro, relating to him my experience. He immediately took steps to address the problem by sending a letter to the president of Mercury Drug Inc., Ms Vivian Q. Ascona. He informed the company that “upon presentation of the senior citizen’s identification, there is no other condition imposed for the grant of the 20-percent discount . . . . The law does not distinguish whether or not the purchase is on cash basis or through credit card.”

In a lengthy reply, Ms Ascona raised the problem Mercury Drug was having with the BIR which “treated the discount as a deduction from gross income instead of as a tax credit.” She also said, “we are selling at a loss every time we sell to a senior citizen and each sale is draining our capital. Accepting credit cards in payment for such sales would further compound our financial sufferings.”

In a meeting chaired by Vice President De Castro and attended by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, Finance Secretary Gary Teves and Ms Ascona, it was decided that the problems with the BIR were a separate matter and would be addressed separately. The benefits granted to senior citizens should not be held hostage to this issue.

Last Tuesday, Jessie Andres, chief of staff of Vice President De Castro, informed me that Mercury Drug had agreed to honor the 20-percent senior citizens’ discount whether payment was in cash or credit card. The company would be sending out instructions to this effect to its different branches nationwide.

Two days ago, after allowing for some time to get the new arrangements in play, I decided to purchase my usual supply of medicines. To my great relief, my credit card was accepted with the 20-percent discount being granted—no hesitation, no questions asked.

Let us thank Carlos Manalastas for raising the issue last January, something we should have done even earlier.

Most of all, we thank Vice President De Castro for his prompt response, truly in the Ramon Magsaysay tradition of attending to the needs of our people who are up against some of the industry giants.

* * *

Rodrigo M. Profeta, barangay chair of Barangay 603 Manila, wrote to complain about a McDonald’s food branch located at the SM Centerpoint. Apparently, this branch requires senior citizens to present not only a senior citizen ID card but also a BIR TIN card before granting them the 20-percent discount.

C’mon, George, say it isn’t so! It is absurd to require a BIR TIN card for a taste of your delicious hamburgers.

* * *

Which brings me to another problem on retail transactions using credit cards, debit cards and automated teller machine cards.

Recently, Trade Secretary Peter Favila noted that a number of retailers have been charging differently on specific items, depending on the mode of payment. “Purchases using credit cards are priced higher than those paid with cash,” he said.

Favila explained that under Department Administrative Order No. 10, “When the consumer opts to pay either through cash or card, he or she should pay only what is stated on the price tag. There should only be a single price tag indicating the cost of each item. The price tag should be inclusive of the value-added tax for items covered by VAT. It is unlawful to charge an additional tax over the price tag,” Favila said.

It is time for consumers to be aware of these rules and regulations so as to protect themselves from unfair trade practices. It has been said that vigilance is the price we pay for freedom. It is also the price one pays for fair and lawful treatment from greedy business establishments.

By Ramon J. Farolan
Inquirer
First Posted 00:12am (Mla time) 03/05/2007

WB links government officials, politicians to bid rigging

The World Bank (WB) not only indicted seven contractors for allegedly manipulating three biddings for road projects worth $33 million it had offered to finance; it also linked politicians and government officials to the manipulation.

In its four-page decision on the case of the seven contractors, the WB accused them of engaging in “fraudulent practices,” including “misrepresentation of facts to influence the procurement (bidding) process for one or more procurement packages.”

“In addition, they include participation in a collusive scheme, also involving politicians and government officials, whereby awards were directed to particular contractors in exchange for bribes, kickbacks and payments to designated losing bidders,” the WB said.

Three of the seven contractors are Filipino companies, while four are Chinese firms.

The Filipino contractors are E. C. de Luna Construction Corp., owned by Eduardo de Luna, which the World Bank blacklisted permanently; and Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corp. and CM Pancho Construction, Inc., which were each barred from participating in WB projects for four years.

The Chinese contractors are China Geo-Engineering Corp., China Road and Bridge Corp., China State Construction Engineering Corp., and China Wuyi Co. Ltd.

Unlike construction firms participating in biddings for its projects which it can identify and sanction, the WB did not name the politicians and government officials it linked to bid manipulation and who it said were taking bribes and kickbacks.

The officials are presumably from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the agency implementing WB-financed projects that conducted the three failed biddings for the $33-million worth of roads between 2002 and 2006.

The WB withdrew its funding offer after discovering evidence of bid manipulation.

During the second hearing of the House committee on public works on the blacklisting of the seven contractors last Wednesday, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla suggested that the Philippine government should ask the World Bank for the names of politicians and government officials and its evidence against them.

“We should be interested in finding out who these people are. In fact, we must prosecute them,” he said.

Padilla said it is reports about corruption from international agencies like the WB that give the Philippines the reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Less than two hours after Padilla made the appeal, the hearing panel chaired by Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado cleared the seven blacklisted contractors.

Mercado said his committee found no evidence that the contractors were engaged in fraudulent and collusive practices as the WB had accused them of doing.

Over the weekend, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said a WB official in Washington D.C. has told him that they are willing to furnish the government the evidence they have against the contractors.

“According to him, we can have access to all these pieces of evidence for the purpose of prosecution. At this point, I cannot elaborate, but there is an ongoing process for the World Bank to provide our country with solid and concrete evidence enough for prosecution,” Pimentel said.

The contractors claimed that the bank punished them without giving them a fair hearing.

The WB, however, insisted that it followed due process in deciding to blacklist the seven companies.

In 2006, after the three failed biddings for the WB-financed road projects, President Arroyo approved the recommendation of DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane for his department to take over the projects and to pursue them using its own funds.

In the succeeding biddings, E. C. De Luna Construction, one of the seven WB-blacklisted firms, won a P100-million contract for a road in the Negros provinces.

DPWH Undersecretary Manuel Bonoan told the Mercado committee last Wednesday that the WB has not yet barred the contractor from its project at the time it won the contract.

“The blacklisting was made just recently,” he said.

However, he admitted that as early as 2002, when the first bidding for the same projects that were to be financed by the WB was held, the bank had already informed the DPWH of its findings and the contractors involved.

Resume investigation

Pimentel, in the meantime, urged his colleagues yesterday to get to the bottom of the scandal and cautioned them against statements that might undermine the investigation.

He said that while Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile might be correct in saying that Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s revelations about the connection between First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and WB-blacklisted contractor Eduardo de Luna might be considered hearsay at this point, it created the impression there was an effort to disparage the evidence.

“What he said may be technically, legally correct. But then its implication is that, let us put a stop to the hearing,” Pimentel said.

He said it was unfortunate that the Jan. 27 hearing lasted only for two hours and Lacson, together with the other members of the Blue Ribbon committee, was not able to pursue his questioning of De Luna and other witnesses-resource persons.

The Senate minority leader suggested that the inquiry be resumed.

“The investigation should be resumed at once to give the persons concerned the full opportunity to produce the necessary evidence,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairperson of the Senate economic affairs committee leading the investigation, said she would call another hearing if Lacson could present his witness on the alleged P70-million bribe given by contractors to a powerful person close to Malacañang holding office at LTA Building in Makati City.

Santiago gave Lacson two weeks to present his witness.

De Luna denied he was the one carrying the bribe in a carton box or that it was for the First Gentleman in exchange for a P1.4-billion road project.

In a statement, Pimentel stressed that the Senate, the Office of the Ombudsman and other investigating agencies concerned must be able to secure from the WB all the documentary and testimonial evidence that served as its basis for debarring three Filipino contractors from its infrastructure projects.

He said it would be through an inquiry that the Senate could validate the findings and conclusion of the World Bank that the three construction companies – E. C. de Luna, Cavite Ideal and CM Pancho – were engaged in “collusive and corrupt” practices in bidding for public works projects that prompted the bank to blacklist them.

Pimentel said it was deplorable that the three contractors blacklisted by the WB were not barred from bidding for projects as long as these were not funded by the bank.

“The World Bank has debarred the erring contractors for life, and we suspend them only for 15 days, it’s as if we are playing around with our laws,” he said. —Aurea Calica

Author: Jess Diaz
Source: Philippine  Star
Updated February 02, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=436704&publicationSubCategoryId=63


QC councilors are squatter coddlers

Posted in Laws, LGUs, Poverty, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform, Squatting by Erineus on February 2, 2009

WHAT is this? The Quezon City Council has proposed an ordinance declaring a moratorium on the eviction of squatters in the city “until there are enough relocation sites for affected families.” That means squatters from all over the Philippines, professional squatters or otherwise, will flock to Quezon City because here councilors coddle squatters. QC is already known as the “squatter capital of the Philippines.” It has the most number of squatters and it has the biggest squatter colonies. The new QC ordinance will make the city named after President Manuel Quezon the “squatter capital of the world.” I think this is the QC Council’s gimmick to gain entry to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Why are the councilors doing this? Simple. Next year is election year and squatters are voters. And politicians will do anything, even sell their own mothers, to get votes.

It won’t only be the squatters already in place who would vote for the councilors who passed the ordinance but also the new squatters from other parts of Metro Manila and the Philippines. So you see, the incumbent councilors would have the advantage over all other candidates because of the squatter votes. The ordinance, the councilors would say, is for humane considerations. But it is actually in aid of political considerations.

The presiding officer of the QC Council is Vice Mayor Herbert Bautista. Herbert is the heir apparent of Mayor Sonny Belmonte and is expected to be the next QC mayor, there being no announced aspirants except Rep. Mary Ann Susano of the second district. But if this is the way the QC Council is performing under him, then it bodes ill for the city. How can Herbert and the councilors have the temerity to ask the people of Quezon City to vote for them when they are selling them, the taxpayers, down the river?

The taxpayers, the homeowners and businessmen, have made QC the richest city in the Philippines, richer than Makati with its high-rise condos and even higher real estate prices. Thanks to these taxpayers, QC has more than P3 billion in the bank—and growing. Think of the commissions the grateful banks give to those who decide where to deposit the funds.

Where does the money go? The government spends it for the millions of squatters in the city who do not pay taxes at all. And for the councilors. Those useless tarpaulins polluting the city, greeting GMA and INC Bishop Eraño Manalo happy birthday, congratulating graduating students, wishing “happy valentine” and “happy fiesta” to nobody in particular—they were all paid with the taxes you paid. And all for what? To remind the voters of the names and faces of the councilors.

Those basketball courts and pool halls in the squatter colonies—they were paid with your money. Those concrete semi-arches with the names of the councilors etched in stone like the Ten Commandments at the boundaries of each barangay—they were paid with your taxes. Those unnecessary waiting sheds (unnecessary because the Metro Manila Development Authority is already putting up better waiting sheds) with the names of councilors painted in big bold letters on them—they were all paid with your taxes.

What do you, the taxpayers, get in return for the taxes you pay? Nothing. You would expect the city government to at least help you reclaim your property from the squatters because you are a taxpayer and they are not. (They use up your taxes instead.) But does the city government help you? Are you kidding? I have been trying to get the QC government to recover my lot from squatters since the time of Mayor Adelina Rodriguez. Did any of the mayors help? Ha ha ha. If they did, why are the squatters still there and I am still here looking from the outside?

What do the councilors do to help the homeowners? Help the homeowners? On the contrary, they pass ordinances increasing the real estate taxes for lots squatted on. The owners pay those taxes, not the squatters who use the lots. They may pass more ordinances prohibiting the ejectment of squatters.

Can the councilors pass an ordinance overturning the rights of ownership? Can the council prevent lot owners from ejecting squatters from their properties by the mere passage of an ordinance? Can the council prevent the city government or the MMDA from performing their duties of ejecting squatters and restoring law and order? Of course they cannot, but why do they try to block the enforcement of laws? Because of votes.

When there is a squatter demolition in any part of the metropolis, who are the first to show up to stop the law enforcers from doing their duty? The councilors—and the congressmen, especially Rep. Bingbong Crisologo. They will berate the law enforcers and play up to the squatters, not realizing that they are actually guilty of obstruction of justice. Because of votes. Votes are actually more powerful than the law or justice. Politicians will beg, steal or borrow, sell their own mothers and violate the laws in exchange for votes.

What can we taxpayers do? Well, aside from a tax revolt, the best way is the ballot. Do not vote for the squatter coddlers. If a councilor or congressman tries to stop a demolition, remember his name and don’t vote for him in next year’s election. Vote for his rival, whoever he is, so long as he is not a squatter coddler himself. Don’t vote for the politicians whose tarpaulins you see polluting the city. They are stealing your taxes to pay for those tarpaulins. Don’t vote for politicians whose names you see painted on waiting sheds. They did not pay for those waiting sheds. You did. Don’t vote for politicians whose names you see on the backboards of basketball goals erected in the middle of streets so that squatters can play basketball, instead of working, and preventing the public from using the street.

Don’t vote for squatter coddlers. By the way, the author of the proposed ordinance granting a moratorium on the eviction of squatters is Councilor Bernadette Herrera-Dy.

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:16:00 02/02/2009

The hammer of corruption

POLITICAL CORRUPTION is not just harming business; it is damaging the nation. It seeks illegitimate personal gain from bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft and embezzlement. It is odious rent seeking where access to politics is organized with limited transparency and competition to promote and protect narrow interests.

Intentional wrongdoing

Consequently, it has sullied society’s integrity and corroded its institutions. Its intentional wrongdoing has derailed the country from performing or conducting itself as envisioned by the Constitution.

Because politics is our country’s daily diet, our social, economic and cultural tattered landscapes testify to corruption’s brutal impact on them.

Last year, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) issued a statement supporting the call of five senior bishops led by CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo to “combat corruption and rebuild our country economically, socially and politically.”

Out of sight, out of mind

The bishops’ clarion call got the people’s attention. But as soon as a new issue arose, it got out of sight and out of mind.

Before it did, MAP issued a public statement expressing its deep concern that the span and depth of corruption has badly shattered trust and confidence in the country because of the way the government has become. One proof lies in the comparative inflow of foreign direct investments and foreign aid to the Philippines vis-à-vis its Asian neighbors, which is a fraction of what the others get.

The world has been increasingly critical of the thriving culture of corruption in government with near-total impunity. The consequences of corruption are direly affecting the country’s competitiveness; business growth; and capacity to survive. It is worsening poverty; compromising public order and safety; mocking the rule of law; and destroying society’s moral fabric.

And there is no let-up.

Corruption indices from Transparency International and the World Bank, for instance, point to a palpable deterioration from where the Philippines was measured 10 years ago, now just a quarter percentile away from the bottom. Yet, despite the consequences, the government remains oblivious, apathetic or intractable, favoring self-good over the national interest.

Transformation

To stop the spreading malignancy and save itself from a living death, the obvious way out is for society to transform itself into a nation of no-nonsense upright citizens. But then, how can a society wracked with social cancer heal itself? Through radical treatment? By whom? Alternative options? In what ways?

Corporate governance practitioners in the private sector who ensure ethics, transparency and accountability in the workplace, are vital human resources that can be harnessed to help transform the country.

For example, MAP’s growing circle of Management Men of the Year could link up with Ramon Magsaysay, Galing Pook, TOYM, and alumni of other national and international awards to campaign for good governance in their respective fields.

Such an alliance could also reinforce the Coalition Against Corruption (CAC) composed of organizations from the business sector, civil society and the Church. Together they could further strengthen society’s ethical backbone and promote greater public participation in governance in a vigorous bid to stem the creeping tide of corruption, apathy and helplessness.

The absence of effort by society, or vital sectors thereof, to effect self-change invites intervention. Weak societies make iron-fisted rule possible. In cultures where the leadership takes its responsibilities seriously they excise swiftly those deemed to have betrayed the public’s trust like a malignant tumor, more so in bad times when corruption is not only a crime but also an act of treason.

No borders

Corruption respects no borders. Rich and poor societies alike are afflicted, their corrosion differentiated only by the state of their national condition, that is, by the strengths and weaknesses of their leaders, institutions, systems, processes and peoples. But if we inhabit the Hall of Shame, for now, the West merits a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Its bacchanalian orgy of greed and fraud has led to global chaos, inflicting widespread misery and anguish throughout the world. It’s not the first time either that they mess up the planet, to include global warming. Because they enforce the rules that they craft on the weak and exempt themselves when it doesn’t suit them, hell has broken loose time and again. Be it political or financial, the consequences are always deadly.

Black hole

MAP, either alone or as part of a growing coalition, should continually militate against practices that undermine good governance, business excellence and competitiveness. What is good for the nation is beneficial for business. To look askance would be to abet the crime, increase risk and inevitably sink deeper in a black hole that the country can ill-afford.

For the Philippines to have a better quality of life, the line must be drawn on the sand now.

By Rafael M. Alunan III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:07:00 02/01/2009

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is a member of the MAP board of governors and president of Lopez Group Foundation Inc.. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph.)

Commentary: The long road to social reform

Posted in Agrarian Reform, Justice and Peace, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform by Erineus on February 1, 2009

“[A] man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” With these words US President Barack Obama in his inaugural address invoked – oh so gently – the long and bitter struggle for racial justice in his country: 625,000 dead in the Civil War, the lynchings, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, violence at Selma, the murder of Martin Luther King, and all the rest.

The wider meaning could be that social change does not come easily or cheaply when it runs up against powerful vested interests – a lesson that has been impressed upon us here in the Philippines time and again.

Take, for example, the recent failure of Congress to enact a reform or an extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). Farmers’ organizations, committed lawyers, Church people and bishops had lobbied, marched, camped and fasted in the effort to move the nation’s lawmakers to do its duty as mandated by the Constitution, but all in vain. The landlords and their allies in Congress, including the family of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were too powerful; thus what came out was a mere token six-month “extension” of the law, with its teeth – compulsory acquisition – removed. Here we have a classic example of elite democracy, in which political power is held by an economic elite and used to defend the interests of that elite – at the continuing expense of the non-elite.

The excuse of the congresspersons, that they need more time to consider the issues, inspires ridicule. As though the facts were not clear, for example, in the massive study of Arsenio Balisacan, which was discussed by Solita Collas-Monsod in her column more than a year ago. (“A look at CARP’s impact on poverty and growth,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12/1/07) While pointing out there and in other studies the many weakness and failures of CARP, Balisacan does show unequivocally that land ownership promotes both economic growth and poverty reduction.

Equally distressing for those concerned about social reform and social justice is the decision of the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, declaring unconstitutional a Davao City ordinance prohibiting aerial spraying of fungicides on banana plantations in the city. For years, workers living on the plantations with their families, aided by non-government organizations, had lobbied against the spraying, which they say causes skin and eye irritations, tightness in the chest, and various other ailments. The lobbyists gathered impressive testimony both from the affected residents of the plantations and from medical and other experts, and eventually convinced the city council to pass an ordinance forbidding the spraying, with a three-month deadline for the companies to switch to other forms of spraying.

The powerful Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) took the issue to the courts, claiming that the fungicides are not hazardous to health (contrary, it seems, to a warning on their labels), and moreover that three months was not sufficient time for a conversion to other forms of spraying. The Regional Trial Court examined the facts quite thoroughly and affirmed the validity of the ban. Thereafter the PBGEA went to the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, claiming among other things that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet and that the Davao City ordinance was therefore unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals took more than a year to act on the appeal. At the same time, the NGOs kept up a steady drumfire of support for the ban and of pressure on the Court to decide the case and give the workers some relief from the poisons descending regularly on their homes, their workstations, their children on the way to school. They marched, held prayer rallies, obtained support from other NGOs, and from the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of Davao. They came in a caravan to Cagayan de Oro City and camped out by the Court of Appeals even over Christmas. There was full support from Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Bishop Honesto Pacana of Malaybalay in Bukidnon province where aerial spraying is forbidden, from Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro and Rep. Risa Baraquel. The campers caroled before the Court of Appeals, fasted, shaved their heads and marched in a torchlight parade by night. The solicitor general, in response to a request from the appellate court, issued an opinion supporting the validity of the ordinance.

But all in vain, it seems. On Jan. 9, the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro declared the ordinance unconstitutional, basically on the ground that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet. It could have, I am told, affirmed the validity of the ordinance while recommending that the Davao City council grant an extension if after sincere efforts by the banana producers to meet the deadline, this would turn out to be impossible.

The case will now probably go to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, it reminds social reformers of a significant fact. Having begun at the bottom, where many believe a campaign should begin, having organized, and lobbied local government successfully, having gained a victory at the legislative level, reformers may face another line of defense on the part of those clinging to their vested interests – the courts.

The courts also stood in the way of justice and equality for Obama’s father and American Negroes for two centuries before him. But in time, through dogged persistence and sacrifice, even this obstacle was overcome.

So let it be in the Philippines.