Top Philippines News Stories of 2005

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

The biggest story of the year here is the election-rigging scandal involving Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (see my August 2005 webpage on the topic.) Since my report...
• There was an attempt to initiate impeachment proceedings in Congress, but it failed due to the control of Congress by Arroyo's own LAKAS party;
• "Hello Garci" tape participant and COMELEC commisioner Virgilio Garcillano("Garci") disappeared for five months, then mysteriously re-surfaced in Mindanao in late November. He then went to Manila and testifed to a joint committee of Congress, but offered only evasive, self-serving and self-contradictory testimony. His re-appearance seems to have been orchestrated by Malacanang Palace to further muddle the issues surrounding the scandal.

Virgilio Garcillano

• Meanwhile, Gloria's presidency continues to lurch along.
• On the bright side, Arroyo was selected this year as the “Fourth most powerful woman in the world” by Forbes magazine.


Dirty Tricks in Lanao?
Soldier voting in Lanao

In a closely related story.....this past September, Brig. General Francisco Gudani testified in the Philippine Senate that he had been mysteriously relieved from his post two clays after the national elections in May 2004. He further testified that he had refused to participate in the election-rigging process in Lanao during the election. Days after the Senate hearing, Gudani and one of his officers, Marine Lt. Col. Alexander Balutan, were court-martialed for refusing to heed their superiors' orders not to testify.


Murder City
Crime scene Murder City newspaper headline

Since December 22, 2004, an anonymous vigilante squad has murdered 106 people in Cebu City. The killings began after Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña announced he was forming an elite police team to go after suspected criminals.
To date:
• All of the murders remain unsolved.
• The police have said no witnesses have come forward and they have no strong leads to pursue.
• Mayor Osmeña has stated that he is happy some of those killed were robbers.
• Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal has denounced the murders. He even said that Cebuanos do not seem to value life as much as before.
• Human rights groups and a multisectoral alliance led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines have spoken out against the killings. The Cebu Sunstar has called Cebu "Murder City" (see headline above.)
• Sample killing: on November 7, Antonio Medina, 25, was gunned down about five meters from the gate of the Mobile Patrol Group (MPG) on Arellano Blvd. Cebu City's Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team also holds office at the MPG. Some people from the MPG reportedly saw the culprits but did nothing to stop the gunman or arrest him and his companion. It took the two men more than three minutes to flee on an XRM motorcycle.
“There were some policemen from inside (referring to MPG) who were in plainclothes but they did not do anything,” a witness told SunStar Cebu. "The police only came out when the culprits were already far" he said.
The victim Medina had just been released from detention after he was held for alleged drunkenness.
Hmmm... you don't suppose the police could have any involvement in the affair?


Philippines #1 most dangerous place for Journalists
Stop Killing Journalists

In May, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, in a report titled Marked for Death, said the Philippines has been the most dangerous country for journalists since 2000, followed by Iraq, Colombia, Bangladesh and Russia.
In the Philippines, 18 journalists have been slain for their work since 2000. All had reported on government and police corruption, drug dealing, and the activities of crime syndicates. Many were rural radio commentators or reporters who were ambushed in drive-by assassinations. Philippine journalists attribute the violence to a nationwide br /eakdown in law and order, the wide circulation of illegal arms, and the failure to convict a single person in the murders.
Victims this year included:
• On March 24, newspaper columnist Marlene Esperat was killed by a single shot to the head in her home.
• On May 4, radio br /oadcaster Klein Cantoneros was gunned down in Dipilog City on the southern island of Mindanao. Cantoneros' br /other told the ABS-CBN news Web site that Cantoneros had been receiving death threats in retaliation for his critical commentaries on local Governor Rolando Yebes.
• On May 11, Philip Agustin, editor and publisher of the local weekly Starline Times Recorder, was shot by an unknown assailant. Police said that the gunman shot Agustin through an open window in his daughter's home, then fled on a motorcycle. On the day of his murder, a special edition of the Starline Times Recorder dedicated to corruption and illegal logging in the nearby town of Dingalan was slated to come out. Valentino Lapuz, a member of the local council who witnessed Agustin's murder, said in an interview with GMA television that the newspaper's special edition linked local mayor Jaime Ylarde to missing government money. Ylarde denied any connection with Agustin's murder on the same channel, according to Agence France-Presse.
• On Nomber 19, Ricardo Uy, radio br /oadcaster and head of the local chapter of the Bayan Muna party in Sorsogon City, was shot and killed by an unknown assassin who escaped on a motorcycle. Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casino said he suspected the military was involved in the death of Uy, the 67th member of the party killed since 2001 and the third this month. None of the deaths have been solved, Casino said. Uy had accused th" The military had used its own radio show to link Uy to communist rebels. "The pattern is definitely the same (as the other killings)--vilification by military elements before death," Casino said. "The man had no enemies and his family could not imagine any other motive for the killing." Uy was the seventh journalist killed in the Philippines this year.
•The databases of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines showed there were 68 cases of media killings from 1986 to May 2005.


Philippines #2 on Asia Graft List
500 Peso note

Foreign businessmen have ranked the Philippines the second most corrupt country in Asia, according to results of a survey conducted by a Hong Kong-based consultancy group, the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. (PERC). PERC, which provides advice to companies and governments on how to do business in Asia, polled more than 900 expatriate respondents across the region in January and February. Across Asia, perceptions of corruption were little better than a decade ago even though governments had lost power in part because of their reputation for nepotism and cronyism and had been replaced by administrations promising cleaner governance. "Many of the same old problems continue," PERC said in the report. "Only the actors have changed."
In the Philippines, a regular bottom-dweller in the survey, "corruption is clearly less today" than it was in the worst days of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was overthrown by a popular revolt in 1986, PERC said.
But it was more difficult to say whether the current administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo "is any cleaner or dirtier" than that of her ousted predecessor Joseph Estrada, now on trial for alleged corruption, the consultancy group said.
The Philippine government lost about $48 billion to corruption over a 20-year period, according to a World Bank study in 2000. US-based investment bank Morgan Stanley placed the losses at $204 billion between 1965 and 2001.


Philippines #139 in Press Freedom
World Press Freedom Day logo

Well... you can't be at or near the top of every list.
The Philippines, where a total of 69 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since the restoration of democracy in 1986, has been ranked 139th among 167 nations surveyed for the World Press Freedom Index of the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), or Reporters Without Borders. "The country's poor press freedom ranking - we are at the lowest 20 percent of the index - betrays the growing occupational hazards being faced by Filipino journalists, particularly those in the provinces. They face increasing risks to their personal safety as they go about performing their jobs."
The Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility previously noted that only two of the 54 most recent killings of Filipino media practitioners have been resolved by authorities in a manner that resulted in the criminal conviction of the culprits. The 52 other cases are still being investigated either by the police or the prosecutor's office, pending in court or have been dismissed for lack of evidence.


National Debt Tops 5 Trillion

The national debt of the Philippines has for the first time topped five trillion Pesos (94 billion US dollars.)


Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

In April, German cleric Joseph Alois Ratzinger was elected as the 265th pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. A close friend and confidante of his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI is also known as a staunch conservative. For more than 20 years he was head of the congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican - the Vatican's guardian of orthodoxy. He is expected to continue John Paul II's strongly traditional interpretation of the Catholic faith, including opposition to birth control and abortion, homosexuality, priestly marriage and women priests. I'm so glad to see that he's focusing on the most important issues that face humanity today.
His selection as pope means one thing for the Philippines: more babies, lots more babies. Just what this place needs.


1.6 Million More Filipinos
Speaking of making babies...
Philippines Population
1800: 1,561,251
1900: 7,158,000
1950: 20,275,000
1980: 48,098,460
1990: 60,703,206
2000: 79,740,000
2003: 84,619,974
2004: 86,241,697
2005: 87,857,473
2025 (projected): 107,073,000


Cha-Cha, Com-Com
"Hit us baby one more time," to paraphrase the popular song by Britney Spears. And once again, Charter change or "Cha-cha" is in the news as its proponents push for a change in the Philippines' government system: from presidential to parliamentary. These proponents say it's the perfect time, no thanks to the "Gloriagate" tapes scandal. But are these new calls for amendments in the fundamental law sincere or is this just a ploy to keep the people's attention from the allegations of vote-rigging and corruption involving President Gloria Arroyo?
Familiar figures behind "Cha-cha," a matter that has never been placed before the electorate in the past, have all-too-suddenly reappeared from their semi-private existence into the public eye. One example is former President Fidel Ramos, whose supporters took the initial steps of the Cha-cha during his term.


E-VAT Implemented
After months of delay, the national Expanded Value Added Tax (E-VAT) , aka Reformed Value Added Tax (R-VAT) Law, was finally implemented on November 1. The E-VAT is the centerpiece measure of the Arroyo Administration's revenue generation package to address the government's fiscal crisis. It is estimated to generate P28-30 billion from July to December 2005 and P97-P105 billion in 2006.  Critics charge that the country's poorest families will find themselves even more indebted by the controversial taxation package.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reportedly gloated that RA 9337 or Reformed VAT is yielding "positive" results for the country's economy. Fuel prices are down, the peso is up. But are ordinary Filipinos doing better?
Critics say Arroyo's attitude towards the RVAT and its results is indicative of how she and most other government officials "serve" the country: they look at the statistics and pore over ratings and numbers. But they fail to see the real, actual effects of their governance. They push for economic development but they miserably fail in upholding and working for the more important thing, human development. They say healthy economics translate to better lives. But that is not true in the Philippines. The unemployment rate is still up and a great number of the 'employed' are underemployed in the informal economy. More people are eating noodles becuase they are inexpensive compared to meat and fish. Most are unable to afford medical or dental care.


US Marines Charged with Rape
US Marines training with Philippines Marines

On November 4, five U.S. Marines were arrested and charged for the alleged rape of a Filipina woman. The 22-year-old woman was allegedly raped by the group of Marines on November 1 following joint military exercises in Subic, a former U.S. naval base north of Manila. Details of the alleged rape were not immediately released.
Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo insisted in a written statement that "The perpetrators of this heinous crime shall be br /ought to justice. Philippine authorities are currently investigating this crime and we shall pursue this matter with vigor and in accordance with our laws and treaty obligations."
The five Marines were initially held in the custody of the U.S. Embassy and were not allowed to depart with their ship following the alleged incident.
The U.S. Embassy, citing the Visiting Forces Agreement, said both U.S. and Filipino authorities would "work together to determine the facts of the case and to ensure that accused individuals are available to both Filipino and U.S. investigators." "The U.S. takes reports of violations of U.S. and Philippine law by U.S. personnel very seriously, and will fully cooperate with the Philippine authorities in the investigation of this incident," the embassy said.
Romulo said he had been br /iefed by the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission (VFACOM) and he was "deeply concerned by this report." "I have instructed the VFACOM to fully assist the victim of this crime and to support all efforts by our authorities to investigate, prosecute and try this case," he said. He also said he had instructed the commission to make immediate recommendations on "additional measures that will help prevent any repetition of this sad and tragic incident."
The United States Embassy on November 8 refused to turn over to Philippine authorities the five US Marines. Next, in spite of a request by the Philippine government that the U.S. Embassy not allow the five Marines to leave the country and to make the accused "available to Philippine police, investigative and judicial authorities", they were sent out of the country to Japan.
The case has provoked widespread condemnation from groups opposed to the presence of US troops who have been conducting military exercises with Filipino soldiers. The United States has forces participating in counterterrorism measures in the Philippines on a rotating basis. The case suggests the possibility that the historically imbalanced relationship between the Philippines and the United States remains unchanged.


South Reclamation Project
South Reclamation Project

On September 28, the Cebu City Government finally received from Manila a long-awaited special patent for part of the South Reclamation Project. The SRP, as it is known locally, comprises 300 hectares of land that was reclaimed in a massive project utilizing a 12.292-billion Yen loan from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation almost a decade ago. The three-year delay of the SRP titles has been "hurting the City Government badly," for without the titles, the City cannot sell the SRP to investors, and has been under pressure to get the patent (title) so it could begin to sell or lease land to potential investors and big businesses so as to meet the hefty loan payments. Among the planned construction projects for the SRP is a modern sports complex (replacing the overused Cebu City Sports Center) and a hotel. Mall operators have also expressed interest to build malls and pour their investments into the SRP. The SRP has a modern highway (called South Coastal Road) which connects Cebu City to Talisay City and due to its quality and isolation, the road cuts travel time between the two cities by as much as 50 minutes.
Release of the patents had been held up for a long time by a dispute with neighboring Talisay City, which is also claiming 53.44 hectares of the SRP. That dispute is still not settled, but Talisay reportedly can no longer interfere in the issuance of the titles. "If Talisay City has objections to the special patent, it will have to go to court, as the DENR no longer has jurisdiction on the issue," said a spokesman.


Moro Separatist War Rages On
Moro soldiers

Most Pinoys here in Cebu seem barely aware of it, but there is a hot war raging in the Southern Philippines. It started earlier this year when the government sent troops to Jolo, it was 1999 when Joseph Estrada declared all-out war on the muslim, it 1985 when Ferdinand Marcos sent three battalions to, it was 1903 when American troops attempted to subdue the moro fighters......Heck, it's been going on since 1502 when Magellan brought metal swords and Catholicism to the Philippines.
In 300 years of colonial control, the Spanish were unable to subjugate the Muslims in Mindanao. The US took over as colonial master #2 during the Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1902 in the north; and then between 1903 and 1906 American soldiers killed more than 3,000 muslims in Mindanao. The U.S. made them become part of an independent Philippines in 1946, a move the Muslims viewed as a betrayal of a trust. Prior to independence, the vast majority did not consider themselves Filipinos and retained their identity as a separate people.
There are presently three separate groups waging war for independence in the southern Philippines:
1. MNLF: Moro National Liberation Front. When martial law was declared in September 1972 by Ferdinand Marcos, government attempts to disarm Muslims, who feared Christian armed groups as well as military retaliation, provoked open rebellion. Foremost in this struggle was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), whose founders were among those Muslim youth trained abr /oad. The MNLF's primary goal is the creation of an autonomous Muslim state in the southern Philippines. In January 1987, the MNLF signed an agreement relinquishing its goal of independence for Muslim regions and accepting the government's offer of autonomy.
2. MILF: The Moro National Liberation Front is the vanguard of the Islamic movement in the Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao and the neighbouring islands. The MILF was formed in 1977 when Hashim Salamat, supported by ethnic Maguindanaos from Mindanao, split from the Moro National Liberation Front, advocating a more moderate and conciliatory approach toward the government. In 1987, the MILF refused to accept the agreement that the MNLF signed, and initiated a brief offensive that ended in a truce later that month. The MILF fields around 2,900 troops.
3. Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of the Islamist groups fighting to establish an Iranian-style Islamic state in Mindanao.  The Abu Sayyaf group, whose name means "Bearer of the Sword," split from the MNLF in 1991. Although based almost exclusively in the southern islands, Abu Sayyaf has ties to a number of Islamic fundamentalist organizations around the world, including Osama bin Ladin's al-Qaida and Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of organizing the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. 
In February, three bombs exploded:
1. On a bus along a busy Manila highway just below a station for an elevated train and near the Intercontinental Hotel. Police said three people were killed and at least 60 others injured as the bus exploded in flames and sent debr /is that hit two other buses.
2. A blast in General Santos City, Mindanao, the same day that could be heard a mile away. Police said at least three people were killed and at least 28 others injured. Arrested suspects have been linked to the outlawed Abu Sayyaf group.
3. Another bomb injured at least five people when it went off almost simultaneously at a bus terminal in Davao, also in the Mindanao. Mayor Rodrigo called it "the handiwork of terrorists."
"You can attribute this to us," an Abu Sayyaf leader, Abu Solaiman, said in a call to local radio 20 minutes after the first two blasts. "There is one more to come," he said before the Manila blast.
Also in Febr /uary, fighting flared on Jolo Island in the Tawi-Tawi group, with about 90 soldiers and rebels killed.
War raged again this November, with four soldiers killed and 22 wounded, and up to 20 Abu Sayyaf rebels believed killed.
There is no solution in sight.


Medical Brain Drain Accelerates
Medical br /ain Drain

The Philippines has become one of the world's biggest suppliers of health care workers, but the exodus of nurses and doctors in the past five years for higher-paying jobs overseas has reportedly left the country's own health system in a state of near collapse. A recent Philippine Medical Association conference paper said: "The crisis in medical human resources is now upon us. The delivery of health services is being compromised. We have to address the problem before the health system completely collapses."
Meanwhile....the number of nursing schools in the Philippines will double next year, according to a recent University of the Philippines study. It's a sure bet it's not the P6,480 to P11,880 ($120 to $220 US) a month many nurses make in the Philippines that's attracting students. Nurses are leaving the country three times faster than they are entering the Philippine work force, according to the study. Because they speak English and are educated in an American-based school system, Filipinos are a highly recruited nationality. For them, it's a ticket out of an economically struggling country.
And because the job demand in industrialized countries is for nurses, not doctors, it is estimated that 4,000 Philippine doctors are enrolled in nursing schools. Given that an entry-level doctor will make less than $4,000 a year in the Philippines, nursing in America for $40,000 a year becomes the proverbial carrot at the end of a long stick. "Doctors are leaving for a variety of reasons: political instability, low pay, corruption, poor working conditions and the threat of malpractice ," said former health secretary Jaime Galvez Tan. "But above all, they don't see much hope for the future and the future of their children."
AFP quotes a 50-year-old Filipino surgeon who has been practicing since 1980: "It was different back then. Medicine was a respected profession and money was being spent on healthcare. But what we have today is a health system in terminal decline."

Hope you enjoyed all the happy news... MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR from the Philippines!!