Shutting the doors to reform

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Some, or probably most, Filipinos think 2005 to have been exceptionally bad. Indeed, as the Christmas season approached, more than 50 percent said they didn’t anticipate the holidays to be particularly joyful, primarily because of the prohibitive cost of such fare as ham, with which, together with grapes, apples and Edam cheese, poor and middle class Filipinos associate the season’s festivities.

After all, the year that ends tomorrow was the year during which, said Social Weather Stations in a May survey, 57 percent of household heads described their households as poor, up from 48 percent; while 12 percent said their families had experienced hunger at least once in the previous three months. Continue reading

The Ramos factor

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Although seemingly a response to a Communist Party call for a tactical alliance with disgruntled police and military elements, Malacanang’s Christmas Day statement sounded as if it was primarily directed at former President Fidel Ramos.

The statement said Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was politically stronger than ever, after having survived the “Hello Garci” tapes scandal. It also claimed that Mrs. Arroyo has “restored the fiscal health of the country” and “turned the economy around.” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye attributed Mrs. Arroyo’s alleged success to the passage of the expanded value added tax (E-VAT) bill, describing the effort to convince Filipinos to support the additional taxes it would impose on a vast range of commodities and services as equivalent to “selling a refrigerator to an Eskimo.” Continue reading

Out of touch

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Since 2001, when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took power, the Philippines has succeeded in giving the lie to two of its long-standing claims to distinction.

The first is the country’s supposedly having “the freest press in Asia”. Early this year the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the Philippines as the “most murderous” place for journalists in the world –meaning it’s the leading country among those where journalists are deliberately targeted– although Iraq retained the dubious distinction of being the “most dangerous.” Continue reading

The Bagumbayan of reforms

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They’ve been hyped as means of hastening reforms and as reforms themselves. But Constitutional amendments will make reforms not only even more difficult than they already are; they will make them impossible. It isn’t because amendments to the 1987 Constitution are by themselves regressive, but because the people proposing them are not interested in reform, but in stifling them.

When then President Fidel Ramos and company began agitating for amendments to the Constitution over ten years ago, it was primarily out of self-interest. Ramos wanted to remain in power by running for a second term, and among other initiatives launched a signature campaign demanding that the ban on a second term for presidents be lifted. Continue reading

Abat’s folly

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Arroyo administration officials and members of the opposition were for once publicly in agreement. Almost to a person did they belittle former defense secretary and retired Army general Fortunato Abat’s declaration of a “revolutionary transition government” and of himself as president.

So seemingly outlandish was Abat’s establishing himself at Club Filipino, issuing the proclamation, signing two edicts, and declaring that he would not leave the premises until Gloria Macapagal Arroyo steps down, that everyone was running out of words to describe the episode and its chief instigator. Continue reading