Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Newsbreak Story

Cheats Inc
By Miriam Grace A. Go
Newsbreak Assistant Managing Editor

Around this time last year, some of the political operators who helped President Arroyo win in the 2004 elections were called to work again. The month before, on Aug. 8, 2004, the President filed her reply (with a counter-protest) to the election protest of actor Fernando Poe Jr., her closest rival. Poe had alleged that Arroyo's votes were padded by more than one million and thus reversed the results of the election in her favor.

There were two ways Poe wanted the votes verified, both involving revisiting the election returns (ERs). The documents accomplished by teachers who man the polling precincts, the ER is the first step in consolidating the ballot count. In the absence of any manipulation, it should reflect the true number of votes. The figures from the ERs are then consolidated in the municipal statement of votes (SOVs), and the figures in the SOVs are totaled in city or provincial certificates of canvass (COCs).

For Luzon and the Visayas, Poe asked for the "ER-down" counter-checking. Through this approach the totals in the ERs would be compared with the ballots from the corresponding precincts. His camp was convinced that in the President's bailiwicks in these island groups, the figures in the ERs, SOVs, and COCs were consistent since these were supposedly accomplished before the elections, and were switched with the genuine forms before the local canvassing.

For Mindanao, he wanted the "ER-up" approach. The figures in the ERs would be added up again to check if the SOVs reflect the accurate totals, then the SOV figures will be totaled and checked against the figures in the COCs. (This is the move that President Arroyo's allies in Congress refused to do during the canvassing of presidential and vice presidential votes.) Poe was convinced that in this southern island, operators for President Arroyo left the ERs and SOVs alone and just tampered with the figures in the COCs.

In questioning or proving President Arroyo's victory, therefore, the election returns would be the most crucial documents.

Switching ERs

So starting September 2004, or three months after President Arroyo was proclaimed winner, a group hired by the administration reportedly started printing ERs that they intended to fill up and then switch with the genuine ERs that were in some of the ballot boxes being kept in the House of Representatives.

The target of the operation was ERs from the Muslim Mindanao area and surrounding provinces, where the alleged vote padding was done only in the COCs. Apparently, the ER-switching was meant to fix the records to pass future scrutiny. The figures in the new ERs, when added up, would now be consistent with the totals in the COCs.

The administration has repeatedly denied allegations of cheating.

But this is the story that six operators who worked for President Arroyo told NEWSBREAK in recent interviews. We sought them out as we tried to complete the picture of what actually happened during the presidential elections. Most of them are long-time NEWSBREAK sources, and had provided information in our series of reports on poll fraud last year.

They said that even if they revealed damaging information regarding the elections, they doubt if the opposition would really go out of its way to identify them and ask them to surface. "Some of them have utilized us in the past and they will be needing us in the future," one of them said. For security reasons, however, these sources shall remain unidentified.

One of the sources entered the room in the Batasan complex and participated in switching the fabricated ERs with the original ones in January and February this year. His participation was confirmed by two other sources, one of them a police officer who belonged to the group that planned this post-proclamation operation.

The other sources were privy to this Batasan operation because they belong to the small circle of operators who carried out the padding of Ms. Arroyo's votes before elections and after canvassing in various regions nationwide.

The President, her close advisers, and officials of her party have maintained that she won in the elections fair and square. If the accounts of her own operators are to be believed, however, the administration not only planned to cheat way before the May 10, 2004, elections, but continued tampering with the presidential votes even after Poe had died in December 2004, and just before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal dismissed with finality his protest in March 2005.

Testing the Waters in 2001

Three sources, who did special operations for the senatorial candidates of the People Power Coalition in 2001, said Ms. Arroyo and her strategists, as early as then, were already studying how vote-rigging could be done for her possible candidacy in 2004. At the time, she had just assumed the unfinished term of ousted President Joseph Estrada, and was therefore eligible to run to get her own mandate.

On May 18, 2001, the Friday after the senatorial elections, President Arroyo reportedly met with election lawyer Roque Bello, a retired regional director of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in his 60s who is known in political circles to have the sophistication and the right contacts within the poll body to influence the votes to favor whoever his principal is. We were able to reach Bello on his cell phone last August 2, but he declined to give an interview.

In that 2001 meeting, the President was supposed to have been given Bello the orders to make sure Ralph Recto would win a full six-year term, to prevent Francis Pangilinan's votes from being shaven, and to keep hardline opposition candidates from winning.

What the President actually wanted from Bello at the time was to effect a 13-0 sweep for her slate, one of the sources said. The President, he disclosed, was apparently aware of how Bello was said to have achieved for former President Ferdinand Marcos's slate the 21-0 sweep during the Interim Batasang Pambansa elections in 1978. Still, some opposition candidates "who also operated" slipped into the winning circle.

"She realized [from the 2001 results] that [unlike during the dictatorship] it is no longer possible to carry out special operations for entire slates; individual candidates pay for operators. She learned that it would be easier if she focused on her votes alone," another operator said.

In early 2004, the President reportedly considered Bello and Garcillano for the two commissioners' seats about to be vacated at the Comelec. Garcillano was eventually named and on February 19 started a series of meetings with local Comelec officials at the residence of alleged jueteng lord Rodolfo "Bong" Pineda in Greenhills, San Juan. The meetings continued until March.

Bello, however, was reportedly tapped to devise a strategy to get a pre-determined number of votes for the President. One of those who worked in Bello's group said Bello proposed that genuine ballots be filled up before the elections and switched with the ballots that voters will cast at the precincts. He reportedly explained that working on the ballots would mean that the succeeding documents, from the ERs up to the COCs, would be "clean" and pass any scrutiny.

By April, the President's strategists decided to abandon Bello's proposal because they deemed that dealing with the ballots would be a lot costlier and would involve more risk of getting discovered. They left the ballot stage out of their strategy and opted for filling up genuine ERs, SOVs, and COCs with pre-determined numbers of votes. The forms were provided by the Comelec.

'Blackjack,' the Operator

The wholesale switching of pre-fabricated election forms was done in a few provinces in Luzon, particularly Ilocos Sur and the Arroyo's home province of Pampanga, and in the entire Visayas. The Visayas operation, particularly in Cebu, was considered more sophisticated because the administration effected an artificial dramatic increase of voters' population and registered "ghost precincts." This was to justify the lopsided share of votes that operators would enter into the prepared election forms.

The regional and provincial election officials whose cooperation was needed for this operation were planed in to Manila and billeted either at the Aloha Hotel or at the Grand Boulevard Hotel, both along Roxas Boulevard. The "production line," sources said, was in safehouses in the target provinces.

"Nobody would be too stupid to bring in those bulky ERs and COCs in the hotels," one of them said. He said that the safehouse in Cebu was rented for six months, but was occupied only from March to June 2004. The safehouse in Iloilo was located in a private subdivision. The forgers of signatures (called "golden arms") and those who thumbmarked the forms (called "pianistas") were flown in from Manila, the sources said.

The master operator, or the one who gave direction to negotiators and bagmen, for the three regions in the Visayas, was said to be Victor Rigor, who was a liaison between Malacañang and the then Ministry of Local Government during the Marcos regime. This means that Rigor, now in his mid-50s and known in the political circle as "Blackjack," was connected to the agency in the same years that Ronaldo Puno, Ed Soliman, and Gabriel Claudio were there. The three worked in Arroyo's campaign, either officially or in the shadow campaign teams. Puno is a strategist closely identified with the First Gentleman, and is now congressman of Antipolo City. Soliman is an undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. Claudio was the campaign manager of the President last year and is at present the presidential adviser on political affairs.

NEWSBREAK was unable to reach Rigor, but one of his operatives confirmed the information.

This operator said Rigor differentiates his work from cheating, which is "the changing of the election results." He said Rigor would maintain that what he does is just "influencing" the outcome of the election by a vote-delivery system.

Vote Padding

The Arroyo camp was confident that with the fixed votes coming mainly from the Visayas, the President would be able to win by at least one million votes. However, when the results from Poe's bailiwicks in Luzon came in, the President's strategists estimated that the votes could wipe out her margin from the Visayas.

Dagdag-bawas was then carried out in the Muslim region and a few neighboring provinces in Mindanao.

"They panicked, so Garcillano's operators just switched votes indiscriminately," one of the operators said. Since the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was Poe's stronghold, the easiest way to pad Arroyo's votes there was to just switch her totals with Poe's in the COCs, the source pointed out.

Evidence in the custody of the opposition—including the fifth copy of the ERs that they were entitled to under the law, but which the police and military confiscated in a raid in Rizal—seem to support the accounts of the administration operators.

An administration strategist said that the top 11 provinces where the padding of votes for the President was maximized were (according to the percentage of votes they contributed, from the highest): Cebu, Pampanga, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Bohol, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga del Sur, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, and Basilan. The padded votes amounted to 1.2 million.

Arroyo officially finished with 12,905,808 votes, against Poe's 11,782,232. If the alleged padding of votes is true, then her lead of 1.12 million is well within the margin provided by the operation.

The extent of the vote-padding acknowledged by the source is not very far from estimates that other camps have come up with.

Verzola Study

Roberto Verzola, an engineer teaching at the UP, published a study on the results of the 2004 elections based on the ER-based quick count of the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). He said the ERs from Namfrel, although incomplete, already indicated a total vote padding of 837,454 in favor of President Arroyo—mostly from the "source" provinces acknowledged by the administration strategist.

Sixto Brillantes, who was Poe's counsel in the election protest, said that based on the evidence they have, the extent of the cheating was between 1.3 million to 1.5 million votes.

Verzola and Brillantes separately pointed out that when Namfrel stopped its quick count, Arroyo's lead over Poe was only about 600,000 votes. At the time, there were still 4 million votes from Poe's bailiwicks that had yet to be counted, and only 1 million uncounted votes from Arroyo's areas.

In a briefing with journalists in August, Verzola said that based on the Namfrel figures, President Arroyo could have won over Poe by only 77,000 votes, but only because the "highly questionable" votes from Central Visayas and the ARMM were included.

To Poe's camp, this means that if the votes from these two regions would be corrected, Poe could emerge the winner, with a lead of 200,000 to 300,000 votes over Ms. Arroyo.

So when Poe filed his protest, according to administration operators, the Arroyo camp intended to "correct" the incriminating ERs from Mindanao that were in the ballot boxes in Batasan. This was when Bello and his network of operators were again called in.

Clandestine Trips to Batasan

The operator from Bello's group said that the questioned Mindanao provinces involved 10,000 ERs, but 4,000 were "duly corrected" before these were sent to Manila during the canvassing. Using official paper from Comelec, they tried printing the 6,000 more ERs from September to November 2004.

He said "wastage resulted [because] the ERs could not be reproduced exactly as the ones done by Ernest Printing," referring to Comelec's official printer of ERs for last year's polls. They couldn't source a numbering machine, a Heidelberg similar to what Ernest Printing used.

In mid-December, however, a contact of Bello was able to "borrow" the numbering machine from Ernest Printing. The operator said they printed the ERs during the Christmas week. The ERs were accomplished by "golden arms" and "pianistas" again.

The source said they made "four clandestine entries" into the Batasan in January and February 2005. He said a police general helped them in the operation. Policemen guarded the room of ballot boxes. He said the guards "looked the other way" when they entered, which was either late Sunday evening or early Monday morning.

The last entry, the source said, was made the weekend before Valentine's Day. The police official who facilitated their entries was named to another government agency immediately after the operation.

As election campaigns go, the operators said, they consider their work completed once their principal has been proclaimed. After the proclamation comes the "cleanup," when they close headquarters, abandon safehouses, recall those assigned in the field, and hopefully count victory bonuses.

For their biggest candidate last year, they noted, their "cleanup" was of a different kind.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Starting Your Own Biz

How to Find out What Kind of Business to Start

The most important aspect of starting a business is that it must be something you enjoy. If the primary motive is money, but you don't enjoy it - it is a bad fit, and that is a sure formula for failure. However, if it is something you enjoy, you won't run out of enthusiasm. Your creative juices will flow, making your business a cut above the others, and increasing your chances for success.


  1. List your interests. This will help you focus on businesses that will provide the greatest probability for success and eliminate possible failures.
  2. List your skills. No one can be all things. If any aspect of business does not within your skill range these are the areas where you will need to get help
  3. Assess your personality. Are you a people person, or do you enjoy working alone? Do you love to serve others, or do you find people a pain? One ingredient that is sure to lead to failure is a reclusive or abrasive personality. Think about the people that you have met in business. Who were the ones that you wanted to give repeat business to?
  4. Determine how much risk you can tolerate. Going into business can be scary; especially the first couple of years. Some businesses are scarier than others. If you lie awake nights wondering how large loans are going to be paid, or if you're going to be sued, maybe a business with less upfront capital or probability of lawsuit is more for you.
  5. Determine how much time your business will require, and ask yourself if you are willing to commit the time. Many businesses require a huge time investment. Can you and your family tolerate a twelve or fourteen hour day schedule?
  6. Take some classes. An excellent place to start is SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), an organization that helps educate individuals considering starting a small business. After taking some SCORE classes some people are convinced that starting a small business is for them, while others are convinced it is not.
  7. Have a plan. As the old saying goes, if you aim at nothing, you will hit it.
  8. Set it up legally. Hire an attorney experienced in setting up businesses. He will guide you through the paper work and make sure things are done properly. A good attorney will not just do the paperwork and determine the business type (Inc, LLC, etc.) but will also advise you on common errors to avoid that can get you into trouble.


  • Find out about grants which may be available to help get your business started. The Princes Trust is a great starting point if you are aged between 14-30, and can offer lots of useful advice, as well as providing grants.


  • Keep in mind that the vast majority of new businesses fail. Always maintain a "plan B" just in case.

Losing Credibility

Viewpoint : 'Black oxygen'

Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

OIL prices closed at $67.40 a barrel last week. That's a long way from $1.80 a barrel in the 1950s. And when Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries clamped an embargo in 1973, prices bolted overnight from over $2 a barrel to $11 plus. Quarrels at fuel pump queues erupted and economies went into tailspin.

Refinery fires, rising US and China demand, the Ecuador oil industry upheaval plus "just-in-case buying" spooked markets, the BBC reports. "We could easily test $70 a barrel."

Malacañang mumbles, meanwhile, about "coercive powers" for the President to enforce energy savings. The opposition is hypnotized over scraping up 79 votes to impeach the President.

Others are distracted by personal concerns. California Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller issued on Aug. 17 a bench warrant for Sen. Panfilo Lacson's arrest in the handcuffs controversy. The court ordered Lacson to appear on Sept. 7, reports the Philippine News of San Francisco.

"In a worst-case scenario, we need to have coercive powers for the executive," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said. But "regular laws will work." Will they?

What do you remember about earlier oil crunches? Newsroom colleagues ask those who're older (the Associated Press prefers the 1978 phrase "near-elderly" for us.)

Which one? The World War II fuel crunch? Or the 1973 artificial shortage, stemming from the Opec embargo?

Fuel dumps were bombed in that now dimly remembered war. Japanese forces controlled gasoline stocks. We read by coconut oil lamps. The horse-drawn carriage reappeared. Our 350-cavan "batel" sailed from Batangas to Cebu in seven days. And we hoofed it. One walked four hours on 20 kilometers of eerily deserted roads to reach the city from our evacuation home.

In 1973, you could only buy five liters at a time. So, people coasted from one gas pump queue to another. You hauled five-gallon containers "just in case" a station allowed an extra sale.

Abroad, 55 miles per hour speed limits were clamped on. President Jimmy Carter called for the "moral equivalent of war" to reduce dependence on foreign oil. That included filling the US strategic petroleum reserve and research for alternative energy. He was not reelected.

Habits die hard. Wasteful use of fuel continued. Few politicians think beyond the next election -- or impeachment -- even in countries that have no oil wells.

"I have this thing about Moses," Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once griped. "He marched us for 40 years through the desert and led us to the only place in the Middle East that had no oil."

Failure to prepare is foolhardy because, unlike the 1973 artificial crisis, today's shortages are real, writes Peter Maas in his just published book, "The Breaking Point."

Supply's lead over demand was once considerable, but refinery shortages and surging demand have whittled that down. If use pulls ahead of production by even a fraction, oil prices could soar to triple-digit levels, Maas warns in The New York Times magazine. That'd trigger a global recession and affect almost every product, from cell phones to medicine.

Disruptions can come from terrorist attacks, producer shutdowns or geological factors. That'd "cut off the black oxygen that the modern world depends on."

The impact on ways of life would be profound. Pharmaceutical supplies and fertilizers for food production would dwindle. Ships and planes would be mothballed.

"Saudi Arabia is the sole oil superpower." Its 263 billion barrels reserve is almost double runner-up Iran's 133 billion barrels. Unexploited reserves in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge are only 10 billion barrels. New oil strikes in other countries offer small increments.

But today's record prices are straining producers. Indonesia, for example, is laying the basis to whittle back fuel subsidies. Even Saudi Arabia is feeling the strain as the world burns 84 million barrels daily.

Decades-old oil fields are not as "geologically spry as they used to be. Some may be incapable of producing, on a daily basis, the increasing volumes of oil that the world requires." "One thing is clear," warns Chevron, the second-largest American oil company's new ads. "The era of easy oil is over."

Will today's producers be able to meet rising world demand in the months ahead? The answer, Maas thinks, will depend on Saudi Arabia. Can it increase output beyond the target of 12.5 million barrels it set for 2009? Can it ramp up production, say up to 20 million barrels from wells that are past their prime? And more important, is it willing to do so?

"We have the petroleum equivalent of running an engine at ever-increasing speeds without stopping to cool it down or change the oil," says a Saudi expert. And geology may not be forgiving. Wanton overproduction can wreck fragile and irreplaceable reservoirs, says Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi oil and security analyst.

Conservation, however, is a job consumers haven't buckled down to. "It's not our problem to tell a democratically elected government that you have to do something about your runaway consumers," a Saudi expert says. "If your government can't do the job, don't expect other governments to do it for you."

When elephants collide, the ants get squashed. That's the danger we in impoverished oil-short countries face.

The government is held hostage by the impeachment controversy, Sen. Joker Arroyo rightly notes. Can a half-paralyzed regime lead us in the inevitable belt-tightening?

Monday, August 29, 2005

PPI Blues

Besieged pre-need firm blames clients

Alcuin Papa
Inquirer News Service

BESIEGED pre-need firm Pacific Plans Inc. (PPI) has fired back at its plan holders blaming them for the failure of negotiations.

In a statement to the Inquirer, PPI said the "hardline stand" taken by the plan holders who had organized themselves into the Parents Enabling Parents Coalition (PEP-Coalition) was the reason the talks bogged down.

But Philip Piccio, president of PEP Coalition, denied they took a hardline stance and insisted it was the coalition which bent over backwards to accommodate PPI and come up with an amicable settlement.

The two sides have been at loggerheads since April after PPI filed for rehabilitation in a Makati court, saying it could no longer service its traditional or open-ended plan holders.

According to new PPI president Alfredo Non, PEP Coalition wanted all assets and fixed trust funds of Lifetime Plans Inc., a company spun from PPI, reconsolidated back to PPI and that the funding of the open-ended plans "should not be restricted to its corresponding trust fund assets."

"This is contrary to all existing regulations and will be detrimental to all fixed value plan holders. [It] would have the effect of dipping into the separate funds of other plan holders," Non said.

Non also said the coalition disowned a joint statement by the two sides that was presented to media at the onset of the negotiations. He added that the plan holders refused to enter a joint manifestation with the Makati court hearing the rehabilitation case.

In response, Piccio said assets of PPI should never have been spun out to Lifetime. "They (PPI) should have never taken (PPI assets) out in the first place because it was a fraudulent scheme to escape their obligations. Even courts and the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) see it that way."

Piccio also denied PPI's claim that they disowned the joint statement and refuted Non's claim that they refused to file a joint manifestation before the Makati court informing it of the negotiations.

"That is an outright lie. The joint manifestation was never filed because they never filed it. They never wanted it filed," Piccio said.

Energy Conservation

Save on gas, electricity
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star

Don't expect crude oil prices to drop back to last year's $35 a barrel, after surging to $58 in recent weeks. OPEC is at peak production, but world demand for fuel is so steep and refining capacities are too low. Your only remedy is to change lifestyles towards conserving gasoline, diesel and LPG.

Start with changing your motoring habits. The Department of Energy suggests these:

Regularly tune up your vehicle engine. Misfiring wastes fuel. Check your tire pressure too. Soft tires put more pressure on engines and thus use up more fuel. And check your fuel tank and lines for leaks. Clean the air filter and change oil regularly.

Plan your trips. Take the shortest route and the best time, with the least traffic. Before driving off, take out unnecessary loads that only burden your vehicle.

You do not need to warm up your engine. Just start it, then drive slow until the temperature rises. The most fuel-efficient speed is between 75 and 90 kph; maintain that cruising speed on the highway. In cities, try as much as possible to maintain an even cruise. Flooring your engine and then frequently braking only wastes fuel. Avoid jackrabbit starts; you don't have to mimic that crazy jeepney driver. Accelerate steadily to the highest gear, and stay there as long as possible. Coast your vehicle to a stop when you see a yellow or red light.

Weaving in and out of lanes, erratic speeds, pumping the pedal are sure ways to increase fuel consumption. Good driving is the surest way to reduce it.

Electricity rates will surely rise because half of mainland power plants and most island barges run on bunker oil or diesel. The single biggest operating expense in factories is electricity or fuel. Operations managers should seek advice from the Energy Management Association on how to conserve these. For instance, by checking boilers for leaks and factory machines for creaks that mean it's time for some oiling. Plan also the best time to run those machines outside the peak load.

In offices, turn off unnecessary lights. Use light-colored paint on walls and ceilings to increase illumination. Design light wells to maximize entry of sunlight. Keep air conditioners clean and in good running condition. Set the thermostat at economic temperature, not too cold that you have to wear a jacket.

Meralco suggests these for homes:

Your flat iron is one of your highest electricity user. Do all ironing at one time, preferably in the morning when the air is not yet hot, so you won't need an electric fan, and there's still natural light. Dampen clothes moderately; excessively moistened fabric takes longer to iron. Switch off the iron in the last few minutes. The remaining heat will be enough to press smaller items. For uniforms, choose wash-and-wear fabric.

The refrigerator is your second biggest power user. Give it room to breathe. Set it four inches from the wall so the heated condenser coil at the back does not send heat back to the unit. Check door gaskets for leaks of cold air. Defrost regularly; avoid letting the freezer ice build up to one-fourth inch, which forces the motor to work harder. Set the thermostat at the lowest possible without spoiling the food.

For lights, use natural lighting as much as possible. Turn off unnecessary lights. Replace incandescent with fluorescent bulbs; 11 watts of the latter gives the same illumination as 40 watts of the former. Use low wattage bulbs in areas that do not need strong lighting. Clean bulbs regularly; dust and dirt lessen illumination by as much as 50 percent. Use lamps that provide direct lighting on beds, desks or work areas.

In cooking, plan ahead to avoid wasting LPG or electricity. Prepare all ingredients before turning on the stove. Thaw frozen food thoroughly before cooking. Match pots and pans with the size of stove heating elements. Avoid using big burners for small pans. Cover pots and pans to prevent heat loss. Use flat-bottom pans on electric stoves for faster heat transfer. Switch off the stove in the last few minutes of cooking. The remaining heat will simmer the food.

In machine washing, wash and dry full loads to maximize electricity use. Do not over-wash clothes or overload the dryer. Hang clothes to dry on sunny days.

Unplug television sets, stereos, electric fans and computers when not in use. Whenever possible fix the fan directly at you instead of rotating it. Encourage the family to watch TV together instead of individually in separate rooms. The bigger your TV set, the higher the wattage – 12-1nch screen means 65 watts, 20" means 110, 42" means 210 – and thus more electricity used. And that doesn't include yet your VHS-VCD-DVD player, your precious karaoke, and your kids' videogame machine.

Bernas' Column

Sounding Board : Too late the hero

Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Inquirer News Service

I HAVE not been an avid fan of the hearings on impeachment, but friends do entertain me with highlights. One such highlight is the debate among members of the pro-impeachment group on when to sign up in support of impeachment. Those in the up-front group have already signed and they are inching toward the magic 79. Another group, I understand, plans to show their hand only during the roll-call vote in plenary.

I tend to agree with those who say that, if the number 79 is not reached before the plenary vote, their cause will have been lost. The history of past impeachments shows that there is little interest in coming to the plenary session when the vote has been lost in the Committee. Absences then abound. Therefore, whatever noble reason the second group might have, they may be headed toward a case of "too late the hero."

Another update I got is that there's a claim that my column last Monday contradicted what I said when I appeared as amicus curiae during the hearing of the Davide impeachment. At that time I said, and the Court agreed, that an impeachment proceeding is deemed initiated when a complaint has been filed and transmitted to the Committee on Justice and that, therefore, another complaint after that would violate the one-year ban.

Indeed, that is what I said. But let us look at the context of that statement. There was a first complaint. This first complaint was held to be sufficient in form on Oct. 13, 2003, but it was dismissed for insufficiency of substance on Oct. 22, 2003; it was then awaiting referral to the plenary. The second complaint, however, was filed on Oct. 23, 2003, or the day after the first had been dismissed for insufficiency of substance. In other words, the first "proceeding" was already well on the way when the second complaint came. Clearly, therefore, the second complaint could not ride on the first proceeding because the first proceeding had already gone too far. Malayo na ang tren. (The train has left.) Thus, the second complaint would have required a new and second prohibited proceeding. So, indeed, the Court held.

The situation in the current controversy is different. On different days, the Lozano complaint, the "amended complaint" and the Lopez complaint were filed. The substance of all three complaints came under the umbrella of "betrayal of public trust." As I indicated last Monday, the phrase betrayal of public trust was meant by the Constitutional Commission to be a catch-all phrase that could encompass many elements. All three were referred to the Justice Committee on the same day. Since they all involved betrayal of public trust, they could be combined as one to be tackled in the same proceeding. Thus, only one proceeding was initiated when the three were referred to the Committee.

I was also told of the warm eloquence displayed in attacking my use of the phrase "bill of particulars." If I had not used that phrase but had simply said that the amended complaint was nothing more than a specification of "betrayal of public trust," would eloquence also have been vented on me? Of course, because specifics were the dreaded monster!

I grant that the phrase "bill of particulars" is normally used only in civil or administrative cases. A respondent in a civil or administrative case asks for a "bill of particulars" or specifics in order to be able to prepare a proper response to a complaint. A defendant in a criminal case, of course, would not ask for a bill of particulars. He would rather ask for dismissal on the ground of defective information. An impeachment case, however, cannot easily be categorized as civil, criminal, or administrative. It is sui generis. But what is to prevent people involved in an impeachment debate from borrowing the phrase "bill of particulars" to communicate what they mean? It means details, specifics, chapter and verse, and other synonyms which can be found in Roget's Thesaurus. But then, as I said, this is precisely what the defenders of the President dread. It is not the phrase "bill of particulars" they are objecting to but the complaint's content.

Again, I must say that this is not at all surprising. Impeachment is a political process. For that reason the responsibility for it has not been given to a court characterized by cold neutrality but to a political body. A political body can be intensely partisan. This fact explains 95 percent of what has been happening in the Committee hearings.

Along every step in an impeachment process, a president and his or her men get to work. The president's power of persuasion is not inconsiderable. The essence of the president's persuasive task is to convince the object of his or her courtship that what he or she wants is what they too should choose for their own sake. Political animals always consider what is good for their own sake. I am, therefore, not surprised that the opposition is waging an uphill battle.

The presence of an impeachment process in our and in the American Constitution is symbolic of the commitment to the rule of law. It is the consensus of most historians that the attempted impeachment of Richard Nixon was a shining moment in the nation's history. In the final analysis, the process that forced Nixon to resign from the presidency was a bi-partisan effort. (And Nixon could obtain pardon because, under the American system, pardon can be given before conviction. Not so in our system!)

Unfortunately, impeachment as a symbol of the rule of law does not always manage to reflect what it symbolizes. What is going on now in the justice committee definitely does not.

(P.S. Is the surprise declaration of a Monday holiday a ploy to prevent the collection of more signatures in a Monday session?)

Friday, August 26, 2005

PAL Reloaded

PAL firms up domestic re-fleeting plan
Inquirer News Service

PHILIPPINE Airlines (PAL) has firmed up its plan to upgrade 13 of its aircraft for domestic flights after signing a contract to lease three more Airbus A-320 planes, PAL president Jaime Bautista said Thursday.

With the contract, PAL will have six leased A-320s, the last of which will arrive in February, Bautista said.

It has 30 planes for local and international flights.

PAL will spend about $65 million to modernize its domestic fleet, he said, explaining that the amount would cover the spare parts provisioning required by the leasing company.

"We have a commitment already with a leasing company," told the Inquirer after PAL's annual meeting of stockholders Thursday. "Between now and 2008, we will be modernizing our domestic fleet with new leases of the same type of aircraft."

With the economic outlook uncertain because of surging petroleum prices, PAL, controlled by tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan, has thought it wise to enter into five-year leasing agreements instead of buying new planes, Bautista said.

PAL's competitor Cebu Air Pacific, controlled by the family of diversified tycoon John Gokongwei, has bought 12 new Airbus 319 planes for $500 million. It has also leased two new A-320s for major domestic routes, such as between Manila and Cebu City and between Manila and Davao City. The A-319s will be arriving between September this year and early 2007.

Bautista said use of newer planes would allow a faster turnaround time, which is essential in improving PAL's on-time performance.

PAL has to set aside about $5 million for the spare parts provisioning of each aircraft, Bautista said. The leasing company usually requires a provisioning of 10 percent of the value of an aircraft, which is about $40 million.

PAL reported a 73-percent increase in its net income in the April-June first quarter of its fiscal year at $27.5 million (roughly P1.5 billion), against $15.92 million in the same period of the previous fiscal year.

The April-June profit exceeded the full-year profit of about P1.2 billion in the previous fiscal year ended March 2005. Clarissa S. Batino, with


Passion For Reason : Juridical guerrilla warfare

Raul Pangalangan
Inquirer News Service

THE BEST way to kill the impeachment complaint is to wear out the people. No need to show that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is innocent. Just tire the sovereign people, bore them, make them indifferent to whether or not she is guilty. Reduce Gloriagate from a debate about principles to a wager on technicalities bereft of moral content. That is the peril of the vote by the House of Representatives' justice committee to focus first on "prejudicial questions." To paraphrase Sun Tzu, war is like fire. Rather than putting it out, let it burn itself out.

Three impeachment complaints have been filed against President Arroyo, the first, filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano, apparently the weakest. The next step, under the Constitution, is for the proper congressional committee to say whether the complaints are sufficient in form and substance.

However, the Constitution also says: "No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year." Pro-Arroyo congressmen say that the committee must first settle the "prejudicial" issue of whether the Lozano complaint has triggered off the one-year bar and, if yes, whether it can be supplemented by the stronger complaint drafted by opposition lawyers. Their goal, obviously, is to lock in the vulnerable Lozano version and knock out the high-octane opposition draft.

The Supreme Court has laid down the controlling doctrine. In Francisco v. House of Representatives, the Court cited the one-year bar and threw out a second impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Hilario Davide. The anti-Davide forces invoked Rules 16/17 of the impeachment procedure adopted by Congress, which says that "impeachment proceedings [are] deemed initiated" only after the justice committee has acted on the complaint; by that rule, the first complaint couldn't have activated the one-year rule. The Court thus struck down Rules 16/17 as unconstitutional and pegged the triggering moment much earlier: when the complaint is filed and referred to the justice committee.

Citing one of the founding fathers of the 1987 Constitution, the Court said: "Father [Joaquin] Bernas further explains: The 'impeachment proceeding' is not initiated when the complaint is transmitted to the Senate for trial [nor] when the House deliberates on the resolution passed on to it by the Committee. ... Rather, the proceeding is initiated or begins when a verified complaint is filed and referred to the Committee on Justice for action. This is the initiating step which triggers the series of steps that follow." Pro-Arroyo congressmen now claim that Lozano has tripped the constitutional switch.

But, as Rep. Francis Escudero said at a forum in the University of the Philippines, opposition legislators have anticipated this, and deftly packaged their complaint so that it can either "stand alone" as an independent complaint or merely supplement Lozano's.

There is no technical bar to a supplement. I have heard forced analogies to judicial process, both civil and criminal, all of them inapt to the "sui generis" ("class by itself") nature of impeachment proceedings. The current procedural rules on impeachment are silent on supplements. Therefore, to hinder the other complaints is an exercise of discretion. Our legislators must not wash their hands through technicalities, and be candid enough to confess that they are voting their true selves.

This gap ("lacuna") in the rules beckons us to turn to the "intent of the framers." Note the following exchange in the Constitutional Commission when they drafted the one-year bar.

Commissioner Villacorta: "Does this mean that even if evidence is discovered to support another charge ... a second ... proceeding cannot be initiated [within] one year? ... The intention may be to protect the public official from undue harassment. [But] is this not undue limitation on the accountability of public officers?"

Commissioner Romulo: "Yes, the intention here really is to limit. This is not only to protect public officials ... from harassment but also to allow the [Congress] to do its work, which is lawmaking. Impeachment proceedings take a lot of time."

Hearing the three complaints together will advance this constitutional intent -- no undue "harassment" of the respondent, or additional work for Congress.

But in addition, Rep. Teodoro Locsin shows that there is in fact a proper technical way to construe the three complaints. Congressional time is not normal people's time, he said. Congress can simply stop the clock and by parliamentary fiat freeze time, and the record will not show that they actually debated past midnight. Now by such reckoning, time stood still while Congress was on its constitutionally mandated one-month break. That Lozano filed first in that twilight zone is of no consequence.

Which brings us back to the controlling moment in Francisco, namely, July 25, when Congress re-convened, the "session day" when Speaker Jose de Venecia endorsed the complaints to the justice committee, simultaneously at 11:20 a.m. (recorded in the official Journal). Therefore, Francisco will hold that none of the complaints could have blocked off the others.

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. That, shorn of fancy lawyer talk, is one big part of the rule of law. The justices read the one-year bar liberally in favor of the "accused." This gave solace to the Chief Justice, who was worthy, but now it purportedly gives safe haven to President Arroyo, who is not. The solution is not to fudge what the Court said in Francisco, but to carry out our compelling intuitions through the disciplined craft of the law, and in Unger's words, "find the mind's opportunity in the heart's revenge." Remember Sun Tzu: Take away the energy of the enemy, take away their heart.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mercado's Column

Viewpoint : Governance by bile

Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

WHY does Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmena remind one of the late, unlamented Soviet dictator Nikita Khruschev?

No, it's not Nikita Sergeyevich's vodka-guzzling. Compared to this Ukrainian-born Russian metalworker's intake, the mayor's intake is a piker. And hasn't he been on the wagon?

Drinking triggered Khruschev's ouster. That a souse's had his finger on the triggers of nuclear missiles in Cuba scared the Politburo members witless. After they arrested Stalin's successor, they threw away the key to his dacha. Up to his death, seven years later, Nikita smudged his role in Stalin's murders.

Osmena denies a hand in Cebu's esquadrones de la muerte. These death squads surfaced after Osmena announced last December that cops who will "permanently disable any criminal" will get P20,000-bounties. The Catholic Church, lawyers and human rights groups protested "murder with a wink."

Since then, bonneted gunmen on motorbikes have killed 88 people. Most victims had police records. Some served time, but none for crimes that carried death penalties. No crime lord has been bagged. As expected, the police are clueless.

"Death squads shield sponsors from liability," notes the United Nations Working Group on the desaparecidos [the disappeared]. "An illusion of spontaneous violence provides plausible deniability."

But is "deniability" unraveling with Victim No. 88? Alemar Luna fired and hit one of his assassins. Thereafter, Osmena's security man and favorite police gunslinger--SPO1 Adonis Dumpit--disappeared.

Like Comelec's Virgilio Garcillano, Dumpit now prefers to stay in Davao Oriental(?). Necklaced with salvaging charges, the cop says he likes rural life. Osmena isn't eager to get his gunman back, any more than Khruschev wanted Lavrenti Beria around him. Cebu newspapers say gunshot wounds take time to heal.

Khruschev was a boor. As the Soviet Union's premier, he startled the 1960 UN General Assembly when he banged his shoe on a desk and screamed at Philippine Sen. Lorenzo Sumulong: kholuj stavelimik imperializna. (Translation: "jerk, stooge and lackey of imperialism.")

"We're going to make imperialists dance like fishes in a sauce pan," Kruschev told The New York Times. At a Kremlin reception, he fumed at Western diplomats: "We will bury you."

Osmena won't win the "Mr. Congeniality" award either. "Land grabber," he fumed at Talisay Mayor Eduardo Gullas. "We will beggar you." Gullas belatedly claimed 54 out of Cebu City's 295-hectare South Reclamation Project. This ill-advised claim delayed the issuance of titles.

That left Cebu City twisting in the wind with a P600-million annual bill, in interest alone, for the SRP yen-loan. That's over a quarter of City Hall's budget. Devaluation almost tripled repayments for a loan Osmena had bragged "Cebuanos wouldn't pay a single centavo for."

For over a decade, Osmena blacked out any mention of his loans--until the hemorrhage erupted. Today, the loan is crippling basic services. Cebu tops all local governments in liabilities, the latest Audit Commission report reveals.

"One of his legacies will be strapping every man, woman and child, who lives within city limits, with the country's biggest per capita debt repayment burden," noted Cebu Daily News.

Like Khruschev, Osmena relishes casting threats around and inflicting pain as policy instruments. He lashes out at those who think differently--in the Integrated Bar, university think tanks, business groups or the press.

He even lights into innocent by-standers, as his brawl with Gullas showed: He ejected Talisay vendors from Cebu's Carbon market. He fired an exemplary employee of 17 years from his traffic office. Reason: the man lived in Talisay. He has questioned, before the Court of Appeals, the law (RA 8979) elevating Talisay into a city.

The national government's P7.6 billion six-lane South Coastal Road is a major economic artery. But it passes Talisay. Osmena bars entry to the coastal road, thus disrupting traffic, classes, businesses for thousands. He issues passes for a road his city does not own.

With pastoral visits to southern parishes snarled, Sun Star Daily asked Ricardo Cardinal Vidal: "Didn't you get a pass, Your Eminence?" The prelate replied: "I'll use that road only when it is open to all."

Like Khruschev, Osmena swears by an eye-for-an-eye policy: use force, so opposition capitulates. With that approach, Mahatma Gandhi once said, all would end up blind.

"Force is enveloped in a paradox," a Royal Canadian Mounted Police guide on negotiation noted. "You cannot 'talk it out' after you've tried to 'take them out.'"

The wisest leaders make it easy for opponents to agree. They make ample use of third-party intermediaries. "Face-saving lies at the heart of the negotiations."

Whether responsible for a nation, like Khruschev, or a city, like Osmena, the leader must remember: the desired outcome is not victory but mutual satisfaction. Force is only used to educate, not to smash.

"The quiet revolution in local government is [the] crafting of partnership-based models," the World Bank notes. Governance by bile doesn't help cities confronted by exploding demands from growing numbers of indigents.

Centuries back, the brilliant military strategist Sun Tzu wrote: "The best general is the one who never fights." In today's lingo, that can be rewritten as: "The best crisis manager is the one who never assaults." But what if the leader's spleen is locked into overdrive?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Alternative Energy

Commentary : Surviving the oil crisis

Alvin A. Mejia
Inquirer News Service

OIL is a basic commodity in modern society. It literally runs our lives. Come to think of it, it controls our lives through its price. With oil prices rising to new heights and as global demand grows faster than global oil production, it's about time we aggressively promoted alternative energy resources to break us free from the shackles of oil.

We are witnessing aggressive bullish movements in oil prices. The New York contract for light sweet crude oil closed at $66.80 per barrel last Aug. 12. Oil traded below the $50 per barrel mark a year earlier. Oil firms in the Philippines have continuously increased the prices of their petroleum products and we expect them to move together with the bullish world market. We shouldn't be surprised to see a domino effect on the prices of food, transportation and electricity soon.

In the midst of the current oil crisis, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo calls on every Filipino to conserve energy and keep in mind the survival of the nation. Government institutions are ordered to cut their energy consumption and the public is encouraged to use bicycles or walk to get to their destinations.

We agree that these are necessary measures to help us survive this particular wave of the impending energy crisis. But our position in this global trial could have been much better if had we been able to maximize the development of our renewable energy resources. Had we been keen on putting up the foundations to do so, we could have been a major player in the world of renewable energy generation. Which is actually part of the Philippine Energy Plan of the Department of Energy.

We aim to achieve energy independence and reach the 60-percent self-sufficiency level by the year 2010 and increase our renewable energy-based capacity by 100 percent in 10 years. The Philippines also aims to be the world's leader in geothermal energy as well as the largest wind power producer in the South East Asian region. Solar, hydro, biomass and wind energy resources are now aggressively being developed throughout the country and we need all the funding we can get to support the development of these projects.

Funding from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) will provide a big boost to the efforts to realize these projects. This is one of the global cooperation schemes established by the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to mitigate the process of climate change and help developing countries attain sustainable development. Participating industrialized countries, which are major contributors of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that speed up the global warming process, have agreed to achieve a 5.2-percent reduction of their 1990s emission levels to be realized in the 2008-2012 commitment period.

Under the CDM framework, GHG emission-reduction activities such as the development of renewable energy projects can be implemented anywhere in the world by these industrialized countries. The CDM erases the geographical boundaries in terms of fulfilling GHG reduction commitments for the industrialized countries and allows the channeling of funds to developing countries where putting up these projects is more cost-efficient.

We have gone far in terms of establishing the Clean Development Mechanism here in the Philippines. Efforts toward capacity building are being done, projects are being constructed and institutional foundations are being laid down. However, the rules and regulations for the national approval process for the CDM authority have not been promulgated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). We cannot fully establish the CDM in the Philippines without a framework of approval for projects that could come under the CDM. The absence of this framework brings uncertainty and impairs our national capacity to compete with other countries that are now leaving us behind.

The Philippines, like many other developing countries, is inclined toward developing small-scale renewable energy projects since there are not too many options open for us. The CDM defines small-scale projects as those that generate less than 15 megawatts of energy. These small-scale projects can finally bring power to those areas that are too far to be reached by the country's electricity grids since they are easier to set-up. However, it is difficult for the proponents of these small-scale projects to get funding from banks and ordinary investors because of their size and the low credit rating of the proponents. These projects need to be put under the CDM but uncertainty lurks, as the foundations for the mechanism have not been laid.

The CDM is a tool we can use to help our environment, attain sustainable development and achieve energy independence. We have the potential to be a major player in the world of CDM and renewable energy. We have to be creative in forming long-run survival strategies amid this oil crisis. We urge the promulgation of the national approval process for the CDM national authority. It is a matter of national survival.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Wider Wi-Fi

ePLDT expands wi-fi coverage abroad with new roaming deals

Erwin Lemuel Oliva

FOLLOWING its latest investment in wireless fidelity (wi-fi) provider Airborne Access, ePLDT this week announced the signing of new wi-fi roaming deals to extend its coverage overseas.

ePLDT, an information and communications technology subsidiary of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., said the wi-fi roaming deals would allow its own subscribers to access wireless broadband services in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, and Japan.

The deals are with Maxis Malaysia, Starhub, Hong Kong CSL, T-Mobile USA, and NTT Communications. Roaming arrangements with NTT, Korea Telecom, and True Thailand will follow.

The roaming deals will allow ePLDT subscribers to access at least 18,700 wi-fi hotspots in selected Southeast Asian countries and North America.

ePLDT is also a member of the Wireless Broadband Alliance formed in March 2003. Its mission has been to drive the adoption of wireless broadband technologies and services around the world by developing a common commercial, technical, and marketing framework for wireless network inter-operability.

The group operates over 35,000 wi-fi hotspots around the world.

Ray Espinosa, ePLDT President, said the company envisions the Philippines to become one of Asia's fastest-growing wifi markets by the end of 2005.

ePLDT has recently invested about 20 million pesos into Airborne Access, a Philippine firm that provides wireless fidelity (wi-fi) services.

The latest investment makes the PLDT subsidiary a majority stakeholder in the company, increasing its stake to 51 percent from 1.9 percent, according to Espinosa.

The new capital infusion would support Airborne Access' rollout of new wi-fi hotspots in the country. The company targets to have 300 wi-fi hotspots by end of 2005.

Airborne Access currently deploys an average of five to eight wi-fi hotspots a week.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Deja Vu

The Long View : 1983 and 2005

Manuel L. Quezon III
Inquirer News Service

IN 1983, on the anniversary of the Plaza Miranda bombing, Ninoy Aquino came home. The man who was hustled down the side stairs of the airport tube where his China Airlines flight had docked was a man far different from the ebullient senator of 1971.

He was a man purified of any suspicion of self-interested action; a proven patriot. He had returned not even to fight, but to try and make peace with the dictatorship and hopefully make it relax its grip. Ferdinand Marcos returned his offer of reconciliation with a bullet. Except that Marcos said it did not come from him, but from the communists.

In the presence of 2,000 soldiers sent to meet the exiled senator, Ninoy was taken down by three Philippine Constabulary officers; and before his feet touched the tarmac, he was shot in the back of the head. The nation was stunned, first into terror and then into rage.

From the first timid testing of the waters by the people who lined up to view Ninoy's remains at his old home at Times Street, and who followed his bier in the millions, it was apparent that 1983 would be a real annus horribilis for the Marcoses.

A few days after Ninoy's death, oppositionists formed JAJA-Justice for Aquino, Justice for All and declared:

"We demand the immediate resignation of President Marcos, the entire Cabinet, the Executive Committee, members of the Batasang Pambansa, and top generals of the military. A responsible transition government composed of men and women of unquestionable integrity should be established to pave the way for the realization of genuine democracy in this country."

These objectives would remain the aim of the opposition from then on. In no time, these objectives and sentiments catalyzed the formation of what came to be known as the cause-oriented groups and the partisans of the parliament of the streets.

The gap left by the refusal of the middle and professional classes to take part in sordid-not to mention, dangerous-political affairs was now closed. From one end of the political spectrum to the other was a solid band of opposition to the murderous dictatorship.

Marcos swiftly resorted to his old trick of divide and rule, but the more he sought to divide, the more convinced the opposition became that he was weakening and could not rule.

Writing after Edsa, Ma. Serena Diokno summed up this period as "a movement of unity and struggle-of oneness in opposition to the Marcos regime, its authoritarian apparatus, and its abuse of the Filipino people; of differences within a movement colored by various shades of political understanding, at times sadly marked by personal political ambition; and of unrelenting struggle against a dictatorship propped up by the government of the United States."

Indeed, it took some groups longer to get over their caution in dealing with others. But the Church was firmly in place in the battlefront. Jaime Cardinal Sin directed the operations from the time he officiated at Ninoy's funeral Mass, where he bestowed the martyr with the honors befitting a head of state.

In retrospect, this process seems to have been a continuous march, along city streets lined with buildings from where supporters rained yellow confetti, to the tune of ati-atihan drums and the wailing of police sirens. In reality, it was a series of skirmishes and crises, of exhilarating advance and painful retreat and regroupment.

It's defining events were summed up by Diokno as, "the early conflict between the Church's call for national reconciliation and the people's demand for the removal of Marcos, the agonizing period of deciding whether or not to take part in the parliamentary (Batasan) elections in May 1984, the failed Bayan congress... in May 1985, and the founding of the BANDILA..." Through it all, the quibbling among oppositionists would continue, without stop, but also without any harmful effects. The movement was unstoppable, even by the pettiness of some of those who comprised it.

It embarked on efforts learned from leftist teach-ins, forums, mass actions like marches and boycott campaigns against crony businesses; and the use of striking symbols and slogans with the color yellow. Its members continued to quarrel among themselves over means and even ends.

They quarreled about the ideal form of transitional government and its legal details, about the need or folly of including the US bases as an issue, and about the restructuring of political processes, if not society itself. Taking a cue from Ninoy's arrival statement, Cardinal Sin proposed, on Sept. 23, 1983, an eight-member national council composed of four representatives from within and outside the government. This was the opening salvo of the Church's effort to steer the irresistible forces of change into peaceful and orderly channels.

On Jan. 7 and 8, 1984, the Congress of the Filipino People (Kompil) was held, in an attempt to unify the opposition groups. It was composed of moderates, and attempted to answer two questions: should the "Marcos Resign" movement go on, and, if Marcos ever quit, who should be entrusted with running the government? By 1986, people had decided that the time for involvement had come precisely because the things the Left despised but which the moderates valued-order, decency, the safety of property-were in grave peril. They, who were leery of politics, had taken over it completely, to restore everything to the way it was, and put politics and power again in its subordinate place.

Where is today's Kompil? Or can such an assembly be repeated today? That is the question. But it's well to remember that apathy was a genuine worry to the committed then, as it is today. Then the leaders on both sides were as notorious as they seem to be today.

Friday, August 19, 2005

We Are The Problem

Commentary : The short life of ecclesiastical exhortations

Asuncion David Maramba
Inquirer News Service

"PERSONALLY, I'm not very happy with the reaction," Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said. He "was convinced the President had not done enough in response to the July 9 statement of the CBCP," the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines ("Restoring Trust: A Plea for Moral Values in Philippine Politics" -- to refresh our short memories).

For the time being, let us leave President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to her conscience, which I trust will never leave her. What I was enthusiastic about was not just the call to Ms Arroyo but the call to you and me, a call that went beyond the usual "Let us pray" bit.

In that pastoral statement was expressed a very concrete proposal to do something: "We urge our people in our parish and religious communities, our religious organizations and movements, our Basic Ecclesial Communities to come and pray together, reason, decide and act together always to the end that the will of God prevail in the political order ... People ... should come together and dialogue in order to move the country out of its present impasse." The Inquirer editorial last July 12 noted its significance; so did Manuel L. Quezon III on July 14.

There is nothing trifling or easy about this call to action; to meet and examine whether Gloria still has the moral ground to govern. This is nothing less than a challenge on a virtually political undertaking most churchgoers regard as alien to churchgoing.

Nevertheless a group of friends met informally in response to the call "to come together." It was a small group of six, fed-up and quite desperate about the situation. It was brainstorming of the loosest kind. We flitted from one concern to another. Clearly the group was seeking direction and focus.

If the movement, for movement it is, ever gets off the ground, certain questions have to be answered: Who will set up the mechanics and formulate the guidelines for the meetings? What questions or points will be discussed in this "bill of particulars"? How long will the meetings be? Who will facilitate? What figures or data are needed? What will the objective and focus be? Perhaps some pattern or sequence similar to the favorite observe-judge-act can be adopted. Lest the discussion-dialogue degenerates to direction-less monologues or gripe sessions without arriving at "findings" or conclusions, such guidelines have to be drawn.

Another problem has to be cleared besides the who-how-what. If the pews do talk back, to whom will the conclusions and recommendations be submitted? To a collecting-coordinating-collating body? To the media? Will there be some body or person to guarantee that something will come of the effort?

I ask such questions because one wonders, for example, whatever happened to the "observations and suggestions" asked of parishioners during the last Priests' Congress. Were their papers taken seriously or thrown away, or were only the agreeable ones considered? Why go through an exercise that will be ignored anyway?

If seriously attempted, such gatherings can be done. The laity in every other parish is rich with organizing talents. The Catholic Church is the biggest network in the country with captive audiences every Sunday, over-achieving in devotions and charitable works but under-achieving in human development and education endeavors. For example, not a few have commented that while the Church insists on natural birth control, it has not taken advantage of its vast parish network to teach it.

If this exercise goes through, a good cross-section of the country can be covered. As such, its results would be more reliable than today's debased rallies that are a little more than a contest in numbers (read: "hakot," hauled-in) and so much "political noise," ill-disguised as prayers and healing.

But alas, not even two months after July 6, the exhortation, like a passing wind, now seems to have gone the way of such statements. Are fleeting life spans and natural deaths the fate of ecclesiastical exhortations, so easily forgotten by sender or receiver?

The Church, however, has not forgotten. Bishop Iñiguez, deploring the neglect, may be echoing the sentiments of the bishops who may be watching Ms Arroyo. But Ms Arroyo seems to be "skirting the truth." Will she be able to turn back the cycle of politicking, "rewarding," "avenging" or face-lifting?

And how about us? Will anything come out of the call for some concerted action on our part? If the effort of our small group will come to naught for lack of guidance or support, the least we can do is include ourselves in the examination of conscience. Ms Arroyo may be "deserving of the highest scrutiny" -- she is not yet absolved. Neither are all the lesser government officials down to the "barangay" [village] council chair. Neither are we.

"What kind of Christianity have we been living?" asked Father Tanseco, S.J., after noting that we, the only Christian country in Asia, have produced the two most corrupt Catholic presidents and the second most corrupt country in the region. Father Jaime Bulatao, S.J., called it split-level Christianity, one kind for inside the church and another, outside. We keep the two apart, like oil and water. Believe it. A priest, no less, asked of someone who was trying to live "whole": Can't he compartmentalize?

Are we also living the same political culture practiced and perpetrated by our politicians whom we roundly condemn? If we choose a candidate mainly for "connection" and if we put down our spoon in the middle of a meal and fall over each other to greet the mayor who has just walked in -- two hours late -- then we are part of the problem.

Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist. Comments to; fax +632 8210659

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Inquirer Business

Budget deficit stays below target ceiling
7-month balance of payments shows $1.99-B surplus
Agriculture growth slows down sharply
Local partner completes takeover of PriceSmart
San Miguel Indonesia revenues up 34%
Chinabank to double authorized capital to P10B
High oil prices top off a slew of bad news for economy

Our Way Out

Analysis : A coherent alternative

Amando Doronila
Inquirer News Service

THE "BLUEPRINT for a Viable Philippines" represents an attempt by the academic community (in particular, the University of the Philippines) to engage the nation in a serious discussion of policy alternatives amid the proliferation of quick-fix solutions to the current political crisis engulfing the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Since the crisis heightened in June-July, following the explosion of the notorious Garcillano tapes, the movement to topple the Arroyo government has taken several forms-including (1) the demand for her to summarily step down; (2) coup plots; (3) constitutional revision seeking to give the President a "graceful exit," and (4) impeachment.

Although proponents of these courses of action have sought the President's replacement, none of these groups has put forward policy alternatives that could elevate their movements above personalistic objectives. This failure to present policy alternatives constitutes gross irresponsibility. Political change leads to chaos if nothing is put in place to fill the vacuum left by abrupt leadership removal, replace demolished structures, and provide a policy framework for a successor government.

In this regard, I am reminded by a statesman's definition of politics "as a conflict of ideas" rather than the "sordid battle of personal hostilities and ignoble ambitions" -- a definition that captures the essence of the political conflict fostered by the current crisis.

The squalid state into which public discourse has sunk is epitomized by the fierce squabble over the authenticity of the tapes. The squabble has already drawn experts in the high technology of tape-tampering into the melee on credibility.

The "Blueprint for a Viable Philippines," regardless of its ideological orientation, is a timely academic intervention that shuttles politics to the arena of "conflict of ideas."

Among the four forms cited above-all seeking an end to the Arroyo regime before its allotted electoral term ends-only one so far has taken shape as a realistic prospect for regime change -- impeachment.

The President faces an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives, which has already started the impeachment process. In view of this development, it would not be too early to consider policy alternatives that could serve as a political, social and economic roadmap for any successor regime-just in case the impeachment action succeeded.

Although the Blueprint did not refer to the impeachment complaint, it supplies the policy deficits of the regime change movements and a starting point for policy framework that can spare the nation from muddling through into the unknown. The resignation call is the most bankrupt in policy alternatives, and it does not even offer the minimum and basic requirement for an orderly regime change-a person to replace a widely reviled and very unpopular head of state.

The Blueprint offers what the coup proponents have been sadly wanting -- a viable program, although they took pains to draft a political manifesto that sought the formation of a "transitional revolutionary" council (in short, a junta composed of an odd mixture of rightists (represented by ex-generals), middle-class do-gooders, a medley of fragmented leftists, remnants of the discredited Joseph Estrada regime, and straggling supporters of election losers. The problem with this alternative is that it labels itself as a "transition revolutionary" junta. This description highlights the fact that before any group can form a "transition revolutionary" council, it must first of all launch a revolution -- and a successful one at that. Without winning a revolution, it is sheer nonsense to talk or dream of "revolutionary transition."

It might as well be that this movement was not taken seriously by the more discerning public and was dismissed as flights of romantic fancy of frustrated armchair revolutionaries.

It is for this reason why I consider as dangerous a political movement that is centered on just the replacement of reviled leaders, and why any carefully thought-out approaches for more fundamental change beyond constitutional cosmetic renovation deserve our serious consideration.

The Blueprint declares it "offers an alternative analysis of our national problems," and contrasts its analysis and recommendations with those offered by the present government and/or other conventional frameworks. In this respect, it is specific in drawing the contrast between its approaches and those of the conventional frameworks embraced by the Arroyo administration. It identifies at least six key policy issues to differentiate its program from the orthodoxy of the Arroyo program.

These issues include constitutional change, public debt relief, the fiscal crisis, industrialization, agricultural modernization and self-sufficiency, trade liberalization, employment, educational and public health service reforms, population control, and infrastructure development.

These issues provide the "conflict of ideas" in which sharp contrasts between the Blueprint's perspectives and the regime's liberal economic policies can be drawn.

The policy differentiation challenge is as well addressed to the institutional opposition, whose efforts, in its long-running battle to unseat the regime, have been directed at uncovering scandals that could trigger mass mobilization demanding the President's resignation. But the opposition has failed to present policy alternatives. It has, at the same time, failed to mobilize power movements of the scale that toppled the Ferdinand Marcos and Estrada regimes.

The opposition and regime adversaries need not adopt the Blueprint's ideological framework. The Blueprint, at least, attempts to present a coherent alternative.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Under Watch

At Large : Citizens' Impeachment Watch

Rina Jimenez-David
Inquirer News Service

EVEN as Congress debates the many complicated rules and convoluted processes for hearing the impeachment complaint filed against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, citizens' groups have been formed to monitor the progress (or lack of it) made in determining the validity of the charges raised against Ms Arroyo and the appreciation of the evidence presented.

One of these groups is the Citizens' Impeachment Watch, which claims as its main reason for being the need to "generate the support of the middle class," of groups like professionals, business organizations, and even students, "to steer them toward political action." Founders of Citizens' Impeachment Watch say they are also determined to ensure that "the impeachment case against Ms Arroyo prospers to pave the way for truth and justice"; as well as to "guard the impeachment process by actively lobbying in both Houses of Congress to encourage the legislators to vote according to their conscience and make sure that the process is transparent and will not be soiled by partisan politics."

Citizens' Impeachment Watch, it seems, is born of the puzzling and frustrating indifference of the public to the controversies now swirling about the President. While public opinion polls indicate the majority of the citizenry believes President Arroyo cheated her way to victory in the 2004 polls, we have yet to see an explosion of spontaneous public anger as we did in 1986 and 2001.

Part of the reason is what Impeachment Watch says are the conflicts within the political opposition itself, with "each group ... pushing its own agenda and selling its own formula for political change." There is also widespread skepticism that an impeachment charge will ever prosper in the House of Representatives, what with the majority allied with the President's party.

* * *

"CAUGHT in the political crossfire are the so-called middle forces," says Citizens' Impeachment Watch. "Though silent at the moment, majority of them believe that Mrs. Arroyo has lost all moral authority to govern this nation because of allegations of systematic electoral fraud. Although they want Mrs. Arroyo to step down, the middle forces are wary of the discredited group of traditional oppositionists. They view these people as opportunists. They are also cold to the idea of extra-constitutional means for change because such a path might result [in] violence and chaos.

"The Citizens' Impeachment Watch is one avenue wherein the middle forces can exercise their democratic right to participate in the process of change. It can be one vehicle for the mobilization of the middle forces to act now and break their long silence."

Among the activities both ongoing and planned of Citizens' Impeachment Watch are: organizing and establishing links with the middle forces (business, academe, professionals), organizing symposia and fora around the country, lobbying in Congress through letter-writing campaigns and personal meetings with legislators during the impeachment process, putting up "impeachment watchboards" in strategic locations in various parts of the country "to let the public know the status of the impeachment case," including in schools and public markets, and building an online information network, possibly through a website, e-mail alerts and online petitions.

Some 50 people's organizations and non-government organizations compose the Citizens' Impeachment Watch, including the National Peace Conference (NPC), Pascres, Pilipina, the student group Akma, the labor group Piglas, and Bantay ICT.

* * *

EVER since it got caught up in "Gloriagate" -- the maelstrom swirling around the hearings on the "jueteng" illegal lottery, in which witnesses have linked people around the President to the illegal numbers game, the wiretapped conversations that indicate the President had conspired to cheat during the last elections, and now the filing of impeachment charges -- Congress has all but abandoned its main line of work, which is to introduce and study legislation.

One of the measures waylaid by recent events was the Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Act with Rep. Edcel Lagman as main sponsor, which was already reported out of committee and had been set for floor deliberations. This proposed law is actually but the latest version of measures that have been filed in past congresses seeking to enshrine in law a national population policy and guaranteeing reproductive rights to all citizens regardless of the current occupant in Malacañang.

But while Congress dithers on this issue, the province of Aurora has gone ahead and passed a provincial ordinance providing for the "Aurora Reproductive Health Care Code of 2005."

* * *

IT'S really no mystery why Aurora should be showing the way, since the incumbent governor is Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, who during her term as a representative in Congress led many initiatives, including sponsoring very controversial bills ranging from reproductive health rights, divorce, rights of sexual minorities and rights of battered women.

"It is so simply worded and easy to replicate," says Angara-Castillo of the Aurora ordinance, adding that other local governments could easily adapt the measure to their own realities and circumstances by adding or removing certain provisions.

Making the unanimous passage of this groundbreaking ordinance truly astounding is that half of the provincial board members do not even belong to the same party as the governor. So conscious was she about accusations of railroading that the governor kept away from the debates, leaving the steering to Vice Governor Annabel Tangson.

As the governor noted during the ordinance's launch: "With political will, it can be done!"

Monday, August 15, 2005

Glo To Defer VAT?

Arroyo advised: Defer VAT

Michael Lim Ubac Christine O. Avendaño
Inquirer News Service

AMID SURGING oil prices, an economic adviser has urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to defer the implementation of the 10-percent expanded valued-added tax should the Supreme Court lift the freeze order on the VAT law.

The tribunal is expected to lift the temporary restraining order this month.

Albay Representative Joey Salceda yesterday said that once the freeze order was lifted, "the administration will exhaust means to legally postpone the effects of the VAT reform law until global oil prices ease to $50 (per barrel) where we reckon it would be tolerable."

Implementing the VAT law will further raise the prices of fuel, electricity and a host of other products and services.

Salceda, one of the President's economic advisers, warned that at $67 per barrel of crude, the pump price of unleaded gasoline could easily exceed P40 a liter "even with mitigating measures."

Crude prices rose to $67.10 a barrel in New York Friday, up at least 60 percent since August 2004, prompting the Arroyo administration to urge the public to conserve energy.

But Rigoberto Tiglao, Presidential Management Staff chief, said last night that Salceda's proposal covered only fuel because of the oil crisis.

"No move on the executive('s) part," Tiglao said in a text message to the Inquirer, as he noted that the subject was still "moot and academic at this point since there's a temporary restraining order."

The Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the VAT law, the centerpiece of the President's economic reform agenda, on July 1 just hours after it took effect because of petitions seeking its nullification.

Tiglao said Salceda had offered his proposal only to Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla. It was "very, very preliminary," the PMS chief said.

But Salceda, the House of Representatives' economic expert, said he had already briefed the President on the consequences of pushing through with the VAT. "She has not yet texted me back. My personal guess? She would be open to it."

He said the administration should not be cowed by the threat of another downgrade from credit rating agencies. "We just have to make a case. Let's not be too afraid (of them)."

Three international rating agencies -- Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service -- downgraded their credit outlook on the Philippines to negative from stable partly because of the freeze order on the VAT law.

A credit downgrade raises the cost of borrowing funds abroad.


Salceda said that while economic managers were "keenly sensitive to the market signals of a suspension" of the VAT law, "it would be fiscal folly, nay suicidal, to insist on its implementation at this point even if there were no political crisis."

The President is facing a widespread clamor for her removal from office over allegations of poll fraud. Impeachment complaints have been filed against her in the House of Representatives.

A top investment analyst in a foreign bank operating in the country last week said that record crude prices were a bigger threat to Ms Arroyo's survival than the political scandals she was facing.

The VAT law covers previously exempted products and services such as petroleum products, electricity, coal, natural gas and other indigenous fuels, sea and air travel, and medical and legal services.

It also covers cotton, cotton seeds and non-food agricultural products, works of art, literary works and musical compositions, and increases the corporate income tax from 32 percent to 35 percent.

"Even for one who is the most rabid fiscal hawk in government, I can't be oblivious to the oil price spike and its impact on consumer welfare and the general economy," Salceda said.

The lawmaker said that at $67 (per barrel of crude oil) plus VAT, "the inherent contractionary impulses would be so magnified as to overwhelm most of its beneficial impact."

Low deficit

Salceda explained that doing away with the VAT this year was feasible.

He explained that the projected deficit for the first half of the year was P97 billion, but the government had trimmed it down to P67 billion.

"A P30 billion baon (buffer from the) first half deficit (in lieu of) the P28 billion proceeds from VAT law in 2005, this would allow us to meet targets," said Salceda.

He was referring to the projected P28 billion in revenue to be generated this year alone with the inclusion of the power and oil sectors in the VAT net.

"Imposing the oil and power VAT at this point would do more harm than good and even upset our fiscal goals as it would stoke consumer pessimism," he said.

Even if the VAT law were imposed, the government would not get the projected revenue because of its contractionary effect on the economy, Salceda said. "At a certain point, consumers do cope (with rising prices). So there will be less spending."

To lessen borrowings, Salceda said the administration was selling assets like the Philippine National Bank and postponing projects with no automatic loan backing.

"We would focus on overseas development assistance utilization to afford support to aggregate demand. It's also a good time to rebuild the Malampaya stake and award exploration contracts," he said.

Supreme Court of the Philippines

Department of Energy (DoE)

Cruz's Column

As I See It : What's wrong with Mike Defensor?

Neal Cruz
Inquirer News Service

"WHAT'S happening to Mike?" a friend asked me last weekend. He was referring, of course, neither to Big Mike A nor Little Mikey, but to tiny Mike Defensor who is trying to look big in the eyes of President Macapagal-Arroyo. Mike Defensor it was who called a press conference last Friday to say that the "Hello Garci" tape presented by lawyer Alan Paguia was "not authentic." To prove his point, he presented a technical report by an American expert and a Filipino self-styled "audio expert."

"It is my opinion," reported the American "expert," one Barry Dickey, "based on the examination of the copy provided, that several anomalies exist which question the integrity of (the recordings)." Mike obviously expected to be hailed "a hero" for his efforts. Instead, he became a laughingstock. Even defenders of GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) and, therefore, his allies, are laughing.

Rep. Prospero Pichay, one of GMA's staunchest defenders, dismissed Mike's report as "rubbish." "He (Mike) should be concentrating on the environment department's reforestation program instead of trying to prove himself a sound expert," Pichay twitted him, adding that the report has "no additional probative value." Paguia, reportedly the source of the tapes given to Dickey, had earlier admitted that he edited the tapes, Pichay said. The job of investigating the authenticity of the tapes belongs to the National Bureau of Investigation, not to Defensor, he added.

The NBI itself revealed that Mike's Filipino "audio expert" seems to be one of those "witnesses for sale," whose tribe has suddenly mushroomed here. According to an Inquirer story, the "expert," Jonathan Tiongco, had earlier presented himself as a witness to the NBI, but the NBI rejected him. Tiongco then gave his affidavit to reporters. When reporters asked him about the charges of murder against him, he replied that media should not look into that part of his life.

It was Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes who revealed that Tiongco was facing "numerous murder, estafa and extortion charges." Tiongco had earlier filed murder, kidnapping and graft charges against Reyes and anticrime crusader Teresita Ang See. Tiongco accused the latter of staging the kidnapping of Chinoys.

Tiongco had also presented himself to a senior Department of Justice official. "I sensed there was something wrong with him," the official said of Tiongco. "I called the NBI and they warned me against (believing) what he was saying."

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, another staunch defender of GMA, said he himself was "reluctant to believe" Tiongco.

This shadowy past of Tiongco Mike Defensor either did not know or, knowing, disregarded. And so Defensor still decided to use him. Result: Nakuryente siya. (He got it wrong.)

"Mike is like the bullfrogs in that old fable," my friend said. "He is inflating himself to look bigger than the other frogs in GMA's pond. One of these days, he will just burst from too much hot air."

Mike's caper does look like an act of desperation. It is incredible why he wasted time and money (taxpayers' money appropriated to his department?) to fly to the United States and hire an American sound technician to examine tapes that—their source himself, Paguia, admitted—were edited.

The tapes were taken by Paguia from an original that played at least three hours long—the tape supposedly now with former NBI Deputy Director Sammy Ong. Paguia said he edited it and provided a narration to make the listener understand the contents better. Therefore, any technician will find them "not authentic." Elementary. Any damn fool will know that. Except Mike.

The other tapes that Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former Sen. Francisco Tatad had sent to Australia and the United States for examination have been declared "authentic." To remove any doubt, it should be the Sammy Ong tape that should be authenticated not just by any doohickey "expert," but by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Scotland Yard.

But is that still necessary? President Macapagal-Arroyo herself has confessed that she talked on the phone to a "Comelec official" while the votes were still being counted. For that, she has apologized. Her own lawyer admitted that the official was Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. Some Comelec officials have admitted that they were invited for dinner to the home of the President in La Vista, Quezon City. It was during this dinner, held before the elections—during which GMA reportedly asked the help of the Comelec officials—that GMA's kumare and kabalen, Lilia Pineda, wife of suspected jueteng lord Bong Pineda, distributed envelopes with money in GMA's presence, according to Michaelangelo Zuce. All the persons concerned denied Zuce's claim.

Even without Zuce's testimony, the mere fact that GMA invited Comelec officials to dinner in her home and talked on the phone to a Comelec commissioner—never mind what they talked about—is already a grave impropriety that makes her unfit to be President and bolsters the suspicion that she and others cheated in the last elections.

She was a candidate and anybody knows that a candidate talking to Comelec officials during an election is highly improper and unethical in the same way that a judge should not talk to a litigant with a pending case in his sala.

By the way, it is really the practice of GMA to invite people to lunch or dinner to ask for their help. Recently, as part of her media blitz to improve her public image, she invited Pampango journalists for lunch at Malacañang, during which she asked for their help. For ethical reasons, some of the journalists did not want to go, but they were persuaded by Malacañang flunkies to attend. GMA probably knew that the affair was unethical because the journalists were let in not through the front entrance but through a side door.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Media's Fault?

Commentary : Media and elections

Violet B. Valdez
Inquirer News Service

(The following was adapted from a talk delivered at the International Conference on Politics in a Transition Period and the Role of the Media. The conference was held in Ulanbataar, Mongolia last month. The author is a faculty member of the Department of Communication of the Ateneo de Manila University.)

AT THE CENTER of the storm engulfing the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo is the conduct of the national election which she officially won. Today, however, the integrity of that election is in question, and Ms Arroyo is accused of having acquired her seat through massive electoral fraud. The evidence is an audio tape which carries, allegedly, wiretapped telephone conversations between her and an election official. Among those discussed in the conversations was a plot to rig the elections. Neither the authenticity of the tape nor the voices in it have been officially established, but it continues to wreak havoc on an administration already beleaguered by mammoth problems.

Free and fair elections are key to a democracy. The ability of the citizenry to choose its government in an open, fair process is the hallmark of a democratic society. Thus, democratic societies enshrine institutions which protect and foster the integrity of elections, among them, the press.

The media play a crucial role in elections by being themselves: observers and recorders of events and issues, thus bringing public events into the public sphere—that abstract space in which citizens discuss and debate public issues. This information and opinion-formation role of the media implies the notion of the press as a watchdog, a role that underlies the ideology of popular and representative government because "it springs from the idea of the populace as sovereign entering into a social contract with a governing establishment that will serve popular interests."

The present controversy provides an opportunity to re-examine the conduct of the 2004 elections and the role of the media. Also, it draws attention to a compelling need to scrutinize the ways in which the press deals with elections. How did the media cover the elections? Did the journalists conduct themselves in keeping with professional standards?

Uncovering media coverage

A number of studies provide clues to the quality of the media coverage of the 2004 elections. A content analysis done by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) showed serious failings, gaps and flops in the election's coverage by major newspapers and TV newscasts. The CMFR found that the coverage tended toward the trivial and sensational and lacked in thoroughness and balance; it was also dubious. Celebrities, surveys and mudslinging dominated the news to the exclusion of reports on platforms, policy issues, development issues and elections at the local and Senate levels. News reports were often inaccurate, if not fabricated, and made frequent use of anonymous sources.

The skewed coverage and the trivialization of the elections did not escape voters, according to a study done by the Ateneo Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC). From data obtained from voters belonging to the poor segment of the population, the IPC found that the participants in the study thought they had inadequate information particularly about candidates running for national positions. One participant said that news revealed only "what the candidates did on a particular day of the campaign and not what they (wanted) to do, what they have already done, what they have accomplished or (wanted) to accomplish."

Bribes shape news

Professional conduct was far from exemplary, as can be gleaned from a report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). Obtaining data from a sample of print and broadcast reporters and editors who covered the elections, the PCIJ's findings revealed that there were journalists who took bribes, that the acceptance of bribes had shaped election news, and that the concern for ratings or circulation was paramount when editors judged the newsworthiness of an election story or issue.

The report of a non-government observer of the elections, the National Democracy Institute, reflected the findings of the three studies. It observed various forms of anomalous conduct, including that of journalists or media outlets taking money in exchange for either positive or negative coverage of opponents—depending on the donor's interests, or news organizations' soliciting advertising from candidates and parties, or the partisan affiliation of many media outlets and executives, and "blurred (the) lines between objective journalism and press agentry, as those providing the commentary are usually representing those being covered."

Watchdog media, credible elections

The lack of integrity of the media coverage implicated the integrity of the elections because the media were an important source of information and source of influence in the choice of candidates. By a good margin, the news media, according to the IPC study, was the most important source of influence of low-income voters during the elections, followed by family, church and political party, in that order.

These reports reinforce the impression that some sectors of the Philippine press were complicit in the anomalies observed during the 2004 elections, that they failed to perform the fourth estate's role as a watchdog that monitors activities of public interest and fearlessly exposes abuses of power and authority. For as long as the Philippine press is unable to perform these roles, the country will suffer elections whose results neither echo the people's voice nor count the people's vote.