Niche of the month

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The exchange between Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Michael Defensor and opposition Senator Jamby Madrigal, which occupied the front pages of some newspapers for the better half of the week just past, was on the surface about the environment. But it was actually all about staying in the public eye through the media. As in most controversies of this kind, it was about politics and its twin, ambition.

One of the most high-profile allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Defensor has his career mapped out for him: the Senate in 2007, and beyond that, Malacanang, assuming that the gods of Philippine politics will look with kindness on that goal. Continue reading

‘The pretensions of tyrants’

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US President George W. Bush’s inaugural speech last January 20 offered no surprises. The threat implicit in the sentence “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world,” and the assertion that the US goal is “advancing [the ideals of] self-government…with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world” was only a reiteration of the policy Bush had followed during his first term, of which the attack on and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq are only the initial examples.

George Bush isn’t the first US President to use God and freedom to justify the foulest deeds either. The US has a history of invading, destabilizing or subverting other countries, and of killing and destruction that goes back a hundred years. Continue reading

Part of the problem

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Corruption, primarily in government, has become a major issue in poor countries including the Philippines.

One of the reasons is that it’s there, like Mount Everest, having been around for decades in these countries, and having grown into proportions so monstrous it’s evident in every arena of public life.

Another reason is the international finance institutions’–for example the World Bank’s and the Asian Development Bank’s–relatively recent focus on it. Continue reading

EDSA on their minds

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Not only the successful operation on his knee has reenergized and emboldened former President Joseph Estrada. There is also the death of Fernando Poe Jr. last December, which became an occasion to demonstrate Poe’s continuing popularity and to make the government quake in its jackboots; the rapid decline of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s approval ratings; and, somewhat ironically, the primary lesson of EDSA 2, which in 2001 drove Estrada out of Malacanang.

Estrada had previously languished in Tanay in melancholy acceptance of his fortunes as a detention prisoner on trial for the capital offense of plunder after the supposed defeat of his compadre Fernando Poe Jr. in the presidential elections. Continue reading

Change for the worse

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Like individual media practitioners, entire media organizations have been targeted and attacked before. But unlike attacks on the latter, media organizations have only rarely been targeted in the Philippines.

After the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, attacking media organizations–raiding their offices and destroying their equipment, beating their staff members, and in some instances setting fire to printing presses and newsrooms–became an almost regular occurrence in Indonesia. Continue reading

Same goal, different killers

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At least two international organizations have separately described 2004 as uniquely bad for the press worldwide. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents more than half a million journalists in 110 countries, described the year as “the worst year on record” for the press, while the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF-Reporters Without Borders) called 2004 “the deadliest year for a decade” for journalists. The RSF assessment was released last January 5, while that of IFJ was made as early as mid-December, 2004.

IFJ based its assessment on its list of 120 journalists killed worldwide. Although RSF’s list of journalists killed was shorter at 53, it nevertheless agreed with IFJ that 2004 had been particularly problematic. Continue reading

Pardoning Romeo

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About convicted criminals there are two attitudes–or schools of thought, if you will. One is focused on retribution, the other on rehabilitation.

The retribution crowd we’re all familiar with. They cheer whenever anyone’s sentenced to death; they campaigned for the death penalty, and they’d like the list of “heinous crimes” lengthened so more people can be executed. They want those on death row to walk the last mile to the lethal injection chamber ASAP. In public forums they will ask those opposed to the death penalty how they would feel if it were a member of their family who had been killed, kidnapped or raped. They think once a criminal always a criminal. Continue reading

Starting right

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Fun is one of the few things–the uncharitable say it’s the only thing–most Filipinos apparently take seriously. Celebrating the Christmas season is thus serious business, an event to which virtually all the energy of the entire populace is focused for months, and from which no one will be deterred.

The focusing begins as early as September, when the radio stations start playing Christmas songs, and accelerates right after November 1, when some homes start putting up Christmas lights to make even longer what’s already one of the longest celebrations of Christmas on the planet. Continue reading