December 31, 2006
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: Still alive, still in the saddle
It's been another roller-coaster year for the feisty Philippine President, but she's still in power. In 2005, she survived the "Hello Garci" scandal revolving around allegations that she rigged the 2004 Presidential election. This year, she has weathered (and contributed to) several storms:
•Continued fallout from the "Hello Garci" scandal. It won't go away.. but even critics acknowledge that the scandal is no longer likely to bring her down.
•A military coup attempt in February. It's clear she is a captive of the military brass who keep her in line by threatening another military coup attempt (soldiers have shaped Philippine politics in the recent past by helping to chase two presidents from office.)
• Declaration of a “State of National Emergency” through Presidential Proclamation 1017 in February. This was a response to a feared EDSA-type pppular uprising triggered by the military coup attempt.
•Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano has accused the First Family of maintaining a multi-million dollar account in a German bank (get outta here... is he really suggesting that a Filipino politician would stash ill-gotten wealth abroad?)
•Philippines human rights organization KARAPATAN has accused President Arroyo, backed up by the United States government, of launching a “campaign of terror in an effort to desperately cling to power.” Her presidency is becoming increasingly identified as an era of killings and impunity (see next story.)
She's a smart one, that's for sure.
Philippines human rights organization KARAPATAN says there were 185 political killings (including 104 farmers) and 56 involuntary disapperances in the Philippines during the first eleven months of 2006, compared with 189 for all of 2005. KARAPATAN and DESAPARECIDOS say at least 801 people, including 320 left-wing activists, have been killed and about 206 others have disappeared in alleged state-sponsored abductions since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power in 2001. Opposition group Bayan Muna claims that the Philippine military and police are the perpetrators of the killings and disappearances, almost all leftist activists.
Most of the victims are activists belonging to Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela Women’s Party, and member-organizations of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN.) They claim that the killings are allegedly in line with counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya. They especially point the finger at former Major General Jovito Palparan, who commanded the 7th Infantry Division in the northern Philippines and has been dubbed the "executioner" by critics. Arroyo has praised Palparan for leading counterinsurgency operations against communist rebels, but the major general has been accused of ordering killings and abductions. He has denied involvement in the killings.
The Philippine National Police's Task Force Usig, meanwhile, gives the figure of 136 activists killed during the same time period and says that these deaths were due to purges within the left itself.
In November, the American, Australia-New Zealand, Canadian, European, Japanese and Korean business chambers as well as an association of multinational companies issued a joint statement condemning the killings, saying "such violence has no place in a modern democratic state."
On August 21, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Administrative Order No. 157 creating an independent commission to probe the killings of activists and media workers. Led by former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Melo, the commssion is also tasked to make recommendations for remedial action, including appropriate prosecutions and legislative proposals. Pledging to "break this cycle of violence once and for all," President Arroyo stated, "I have directed (the Melo Commission) to leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of justice...the victims and their families deserve justice to be served."
The commission's original mandate was to solve the killings by October 15; but as of early December, it had only completed the organizational phase of work and was justbeginning to conduct out-of-town meetings around the country.
Critics accuse the commssion of conflicts of interest and have urged the beleaguered commission to immediately close shop. KARAPATAN spokeswoman Ruth Cervantes said the commission was "useless because cases are piling up before it could solve anything."
Lebanon War Spillover for OFWs
Thousands of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) were evacuated from Lebanon during the six-week war in June/July. It is estimated there were 30,000 OFWs in Lebanon.
Nevertheless, according to some accounts, the conflict in Lebanon has apparently not discouraged Filipinos from taking jobs abroad. A total of 697,735 overseas Filipino OFWs were deployed as of Aug. 10, or 44,475 more compared to the same period in 2005, according to Labor Secretary Arturo Brion.
With an estimated 12 million people overseas (about 15 percent of the entire population), the Philippines has the largest migrant population in the world.
On February 17, a series of mudslides eliminated the Southern Leyte town of Guinsaugon. The deadly landslides followed a ten-day period of heavy rains and a minor earthquake of magnitude 2.6 on the Richter scale. The government never released a final death toll, but 1,860 people lived in Guinsaugon and only 36 survivors were found.
Reports said the mud submerging the community of Guinsaugon was 10 meters deep in places. The primary school was packed with children; it simply vanished. More than 500 houses were buried. Television showed just a few pieces of metal roofing poking through the mud. Relief efforts had to be called off as fresh mudslides brought boulders crashing down the mountain.
The likely culprit in the disaster is illegal logging on the steep nearby mountain slopes.
Guimaras Oil Spill
On August 19 the oil tanker Solar I carrying two million liters (12,580 barrels) of bunker oil sank off the Philippine island of Guimaras. It is regarded as the worst environmental accident in Philippine history. Sixteen crewmen were rescued while two were still reported missing. The oil from the tanker caused significant damage to rich marine resources in the area; but the nearby popular tourist destination of Boracay Island was saved from damage by the spill.
Mayon Volcano: not a safe place for your luxury condo
In August, about 40,000 people were evacuated from their homes surrounding the Mayon volcano as lava streamed down the volcano's southeastern slopes. Thick clouds of sulfur dioxide gas poured from the volcano while the ground around the summit shook with swarms of small earthquakes. Scientists warned a much larger explosion was possible at any time (but didn't happen... yet.).
In November, new disaster struck when Typhoon Reming buffeted the volcano with so much wind and rain that ash and boulders cascaded down in walls of black mud that swamped entire villages. Hundreds were killed.
Nursing Exam Scandal
The Philippine's status as one of the top sources in the world for nurses was threatened following a scandal over the national nursing board exam. A few days after 42,000 would-be nurses took the June 2006 examination, it was revealed that a section of the test questions had been leaked to hundreds of applicants (Professional Regulation Commission head Leonor Rosero said an internal investigation confirmed all 500 questions on the subject of psychiatric nursing had been leaked; 100 of those were on the actual test. About 20 questions on surgical nursing had also been leaked.)
The initial accusations were made by students, who contended that the president of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) had provided the exams to students who took his coaching classes. Two members of the Professional Regulation Commission’s Board of Nursing are facing criminal and administrative charges for the alleged leak that tossed the future careers of thousands of nursing school graduates into virtual limbo.
Following months of bitter controversy, the Philippines Court of Appeals decided on a “selective retake” covering only those examinees in the areas and categories where the leaks reportedly occurred.
Philippines population slows but still 'not sustainable':
The Philippines annual population growth slowed down to a rate of 1.95 per cent last year, prompting economic authorities to say that this puts poverty reduction goals within reach of being met. If the growth rate stabilises at this level the Philippines would have over 94 million people by 2010, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (present population is estimated to be about 89 million.)
In the context of fierce resistance from the Catholic Church, the government has taken no stand against population growth and has left it up to couples to choose their preferred method of family planning. At present, contraceptives in the country are basically sourced from foreign donation, particularly from the United Nations Population Fund. These donations are expected to stop by 2008.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was quoted as saying that her government would focus more on feeding the hungry rather than on programmes aimed at limiting population growth.
A typhoon-erific year:
(International name first / Philippines name parentheses)
1. May: Typhoon Chanchu (Caloy) made two landfalls in the Philippines, causing 32 deaths and 2 million dollars in damage, mostly to crops.
2. August: Supertyphoon Saomai (Juan) destroyed 400 homes and killed two people.
3. September: Typhoon Xangshane (Milenyo) killed at least 200 and caused 7 million dollars of damage to crops.
4. October: Typhoon Cimaron (Paeng) killed at least 19 people, many of whom drowned, left 15 missing, and caused 9 million dollars in damage.
5. November: Typhoon Reming (Durian) buffeted the Mayon volcano with so much wind and rain that ash and boulders cascaded down in walls of black mud that swamped entire villages. The storm killed 590, injured 1995 and left at least 749 missing.
6. December: Typhoon Utor (Seniang) killed at least three (final tally not in yet); and was listed as the ostensible reason for cancellation 2006 ASEAN Summit in Cebu City.
World Bank says Philippines getting more corrupt
The ability of the Philippines to improve its governance and curb corruption has faltered over the past eight years despite its vibrant democratic society and free press, according to a World Bank report. The report, 'Governance Matters 2006: Worldwide Governance Indicators,' which covers 209 countries, painted a sobering picture of global trends in governance.
Drawn from the responses of more than 120,000 citizens, enterprises and experts provided by 25 different organizations worldwide, the report showed a sharp decline in the ranking of the Philippines in the control of corruption benchmark from 50.5 percent in 1998 to 37.4 percent in 2005. The country's percentile rank means that it is better off than 37.4 percent of all other countries covered by the study based on the index for control of corruption, defined as the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including petty and grand forms of corruption and the 'capture' of the state by elite and private interests.
In a recent visit to Manila, World Bank managing director Juan Jose Daboub said the Philippines, having one of the most 'open' societies in the region with its vibrant private sector, lively civil society organizations and vigorous media, had "fertile" ground for good economic policies to flourish. "The strength of regional competitors sounds an alarm bell that this country cannot afford to ignore. Time wasted, reforms that lapse, large segments of the population with untapped potential, continued tolerance of corrupt practices will have a real price, not just in lost income and lost market share, but in lost opportunity for millions of Filipinos."
Imelda to visit Hong Kong shoe stores
In September, former First Lady Imelda Marcos obtained court approval to travel to Hong Kong and seek alternative medical treatment for her cough and ailing knees. The 76-year-old widow of the late Ferdinand Marcos faces a string of 32 civil and criminal charges relating to her late husband's P34 billion ($683 million) Swiss bank deposits, and needs court permission to travel abroad.
In recent months, the ex-first lady has suffered from various ailments, among these a recurrent dry cough and persistent knee problem. According to her doctors, the accused may have developed resistance to Western medicine such as antibiotics and cough suppressant due to overuse of the same.
And by the way, Imelda is planning to run for the office of Mayor of Manila in 2007.
Manny Pacquiáo more popular than Jesus!
With a knockout in the third round, Manny Pacquiáo on November 19 finished his trilogy with Mexican fighter Erik Morales and brought to their feet millions of Filipinos watching in Las Vegas and at home.
Emmanuel 'Manny' D. Pacquiáo, aka 'Pacman', 'The Destroyer' and sometimes referred to in the Philippines as 'ang Pambansang Kamao' ('the National Fist') is the reigning World Boxing Council International Super Featherweight Champion. He has a record of 42 wins, 3 losses, and 2 draws, with 33 wins coming by way of knockout.
He is now one of the most visible national figures and is considered a household name thanks to his multiple product endorsements and frequent media appearances.
Shortly after winning his rematch with Erik Morales, Pacquiáo produced the song "Para Sa 'Yo" ( "For You") which became a hit single all over the Philippines. It expressed a nationalistic theme as well as Pacquiáo's struggles in the ring.
War is still a many-splendored thing.
After 500 years of Catholic-Muslim rivalry and conflict in the Philippines, there is no resolution in sight. Talks between the government and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) are at a standstill. Meanwhile, the military is waging a harsh counter-insurgency war against the muslim insurgents, killings thousands annually (mostly civilians caught in the crossfire?)
The helicopters, transport planes, rifles, machine guns, communications equipment, body bags and most of the budget is supplied by the US Government.
"Jus' doin' our part to make this a better world, Ma'am."
U.S. military continues to bring freedom and democracy ("freedumocracy") to the third world
There is a growing US military presence in Mindanao, where hundreds of American soldiers have been "training" Filipino soldiers as part of Balikatan ("shoulder-to-shoulder") exercises. This is the 22nd in a series (begun in 1981) of annual trainings aimed at "improving RP-US combined planning, combat readiness, and interoperability while enhancing security relations and demonstrating US resolve to support the Philippines against aggression."
The American soldiers have been based in Zamboanga City, with frequent postings to the nearby Sulu Islands, where they "train" Filipino soldiers to hunt for Janjalani and Dulmatin and Patek, members of the infamous Abu Sayyaf.
Jolo Island in the Sulu chain was the site of heavy fighting, with hundreds of casualties on all sides during 2006. US concern with Islamic fundamentalism in the region is a big factor in the growing US military presence, which could again be used as a launching pad for US military interventions in the region.
But a US military spokesperson clarified that no US soldier had been involved in actual combat. “They are supporting the AFP in the operation through the Kapit Bisig framework, such as providing humanitarian assistance, civil military operation program and life support system” he said.
Oh, I see.... just handing out toothbrushes again. Thanks, I feel much better now.
Conviction in Subic Bay Rape Case
On December 4, US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, 21, of St. Louis, Missouri, was convicted of raping "Nicole" (not her real name) inside a van after meeting her in a bar on the former Subic Bay Naval Station, which reverted to Philippine control in 1992. Three other marines, Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier, Lance Corporal Keith Silkwood and Lance Corporal Dominic Duplantis, were found not guilty of being accomplices; after the verdict, they were sent to Japan to face disciplinary action related to the case.
The marines' attorneys admitted that the defendant had sex with the plaintiff; but maintained that the sex was consensual - that no rape was involved. Following the conviction, which included a 40-year prison sentence, there was an immedite controversy over whther the Philippines or US Embassy would maintain custody of Smith while he appeals the conviction.
The case has aroused a great deal of controversy in the Philippines and opened up once again the long-festering issue of US military presence.
Cha-Cha? Con-Con? You bet your Con-Ass!
In July 2005, President Arroyo awarded a million-dollar lobbying consultancy contract to an American law firm to “secure grants and (US) congressional earmarks” for her initiative to “reshape the form of Philippine government …into a parliamentary federal system.” Thus began her two-year long Charter Change (Cha-Cha) campaign.
The initiative to switch from a US-style presidential republic to a unicameral parliament under a federal setting has been widely interpreted as a ploy to keep popular attention off allegations of vote-rigging and corruption involving the President, mandate suspension of the May 2007 national elections, and circumvent the constitutional limitation on term of office for Presidents, which would effectively extend her control of the country beyond 2010 when her current term is slated to end.
There are 3 ways to achieve charter change:
1. Constitutional Convention (Con-Con), wherein delegates are elected to draft the proposed changes.
President Arroyo in June 2005 announced that she would call for a Constitutional Convention in 2006. The effort collapsed, probably because it required approval by two-thirds of Congress.
2. People's Initiative: Early in 2006, the administration switched tactics and began a "People’s Initiative" to directly amend the constitutionby means of a huge and costly national signature collection campaign. In November, the Supreme Court ruled that the signature campaign by the Sigaw ng Bayan (the administration campaign) could not be passed off as a people’s initiative because of the questionable procedures that the group had used.
Oh, you mean just because the Malacanang-managed project involved collection of signatures from millions of people who had no idea what they were signing?
3. Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), wherein the House of Representatives and Senate constitute themselves into a deliberative assembly to draft and propose changes in the Constitution. Following the recent Supreme Court decision, the administration switched gears again and got its supporters in the House of Representatives to introduce House Resolution 197, which would form Congress into a constituent assembly that would revise the Constitution, scrap the Senate and install a parliament, upon a three-fourths vote of all members of Congress. House Speaker Jose de Venecia sent an ultimatum to the Senate to go along with the resolution, and the maneuver has ignited a storm of protest. Needless to say, Philippine Senators are not about to vote themselves out of a damned lucrative job.
So.. it's anybody' guess what will happen next (probably not much, is my guess...)
Top Cebu News Stories of 2006
Love him or hate him, but Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmeña is an institution unto himself. During his previous stint as mayor in 1988-1995, he was lauded as an able administrator. More recently his hallmark seems to be fighting with neighboring cities and politicians.
His long-running spat with Congressman Eddie Gul, the patron of neighboring Talisay City, has produced such fallout as the driving out of Talisay vendors from Cebu City's Carbon Market and a war over ownership of the SRP (see story below.)
Tommy is a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He is arrogant, has high blood pressure (hospitalized with a mild stroke in 2003), and has spent billions of taxpayer pesos on his pet SRP project while simultaneously trying to close Cebu City Medical Center (CCMC) because it costs the city money (as if a city-run hospital for the poor is supposed to generate a profit.)
He is also considered the spritual father of the Cebu vigilantes (next story), after he announced a reward of up to P20,000 for anyone who could “permanently disable or neutralize” criminals in December 2004, one day before the vigilante killings began.
Since December 2004, there have been at least 177 killings by the 'Cebu Vigilantes', of which only five have been solved. The Philippine National Police (PNP) claim to have absolutely no leads or suspects in the murders, most all of which are committed against petty criminals in public by motorcycle-riding men wearing ski masks and using 45-caliber automatic pistols. Many attribute the deaths to the police themselves (Imagine that!)
The Cebu chairperson of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) claims to know 'six to eight men' who are behind the attacks. He turned over his notes to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) but so far there have been no arrests or charges.
Many found it ironic that human rights was to be one of the subjects up for discussion during the ASEAN Summit, and yet extra-judicial killings happen frequently in host Cebu City.
ASEAN Summit Scrubbed
The 'Non-Event' of the year in Cebu was definitely the hotly-anticipated 12th ASEAN Summit. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political, economic, and cultural organization of countries located in Southeast Asia. The summit was set to be hosted by Cebu Island from December 11 to 13, but was abruptly cancelled at the last minute by President Arroyo. The ostensible reason for the cancellation was the potential disruption from a small typhoon bearing down on the central Philippines; but it is widely believed that security concrens led to the President's decision.
Government units including the Philippine government, Cebu Province, Cebu City, Mandaue City, Talisay City, and Lapu-Lapu City spend billions of pesos preparing for the meetings. The biggest boondoggle of the affair is undoubtedly the hastily-constructed Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City, which reportedly cost the provincial taxpayers a hefty P800 million (16 million dollars.) Critics of the CICC label it an 'Imeldific' (reference to Imelda Marcos) and expensive white elephant, the money for which could have been better used for poverty alleviation projects.
This is a proposal to carve Cebu Island, presently a single province, into three smaller provinces (Cebu del Norte, Cebu del Sur and Cebu Oriental).
In favor: proponents Reps. Antonio Yapha for Cebu West, Simeon Kintanar for Cebu South and Clavel Martinez for Cebu North. Critics claim the three want to create political fiefdoms because of their impending departure from political power (they are on their last terms in Congress).
Opposed: Most everybody else. The present governor of Cebu Province, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, is the biggest opponent (she would lose her job.)
New name and the loan is due, but no tenants or income generation yet.
The South Road Property (previously identified by the equally unmarketable name of South Reclamation Project) is a 295-hectare property development project of reclaimed land located a few kilometers south of Cebu's central business district. It is registered with Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) as a Special Economic Zone. The SRP is now in its final stages of completion. Designed for mixed land use, it can easily accommodate the manufacturing, commercial, tourism, IT service enterprises.
In August the City shelled out about P275 million as SRP loan payment (one story I read said half of that is for interest, another story I read said the payment is 100% interest with no principal included.) The original P6.3 billion ( $126 million dollars) loan is from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP). There is as yet no income generation from the project. Insiders say it's because potential tenants (primarily trans-national corporations) are leery of sgining up for a lease; they would prefer toproperty, but this is not allowed under Philippines property law.
The SRP is Mayor Tommy Osmena's signature project, a big risky enterprise for which he has been willing to send his city deeply into debt. If the SRP succeeds, it will be his proud legacy; if it fails, Cebu will be paying off an empty landfill for many decades.
2006: Survival is worth celebrating
Some people bemoan the lack of progress here, noting that the Philippines is falling further and further behind its neighbors in economic development and the ability to solve huge long-standing social problems.
Personally, I view any year in which this country didn't completely collapse as a big success: congratulations, Philippines, you're still alive!
Note: most of the photos on this page are culled from the Internet; to all the news sources I borrowed from, thank you.