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Powerless?

Posted by lenolea on February 17, 2009

Adolfo Azcuna, ponente or author of the Supreme Court decision ordering the transfer of custody of US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to Manila recently admitted that Washington could not be compelled to comply with the decision.

Smith, a participant in the RP-US Balikatan military exercise, had been found guilty of raping a Filipino identified only as “Nicole” on November 1, 2005. Makati Judge Benjamin Pozon sentenced him to a minimum of 20 years to a maximum of 40 years imprisonment.

He was initially detained at the Makati City Jail but was later transferred to a facility inside the US Embassy compound in Manila. The verdict is under appeal before the Court of Appeals.

Voting 9-4 with two justices inhibiting, the High Tribunal ruled that the agreements signed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney on Dec. 19 and 22, 2006, which allowed the detention of Smith under US military custody at the US Embassy, were “not in accordance with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).”

Passed by the Philippine Senate and signed by then President Joseph Estrada in 1999, the VFA, among other things, grants extra-territorial and extra-judicial “rights” to US servicemen visiting the Philippines for “military exercises”.

Azcuna, who retired Feb. 16, said that the US is not a party to the case. The Court, he added, cannot order the US to negotiate for the transfer.

In other words, Azcuna himself admits that the Supreme Court’s order for Smith’s transfer is pointless.
The High Court only asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to negotiate with the US Embassy regarding Smith’s transfer to a facility under the Philippine government’s control.

Article V, Section 10 of the VFA states, “The confinement or detention by Philippine authorities of United States personnel shall be carried out in facilities agreed upon by appropriate Philippine and United States authorities. United States personnel serving sentences in the Philippines shall have the right to visits and material assistance.”

The said provision is vague. The facilities mentioned in the provision do not necessarily mean detention facilities. If ordinary criminals convicted of crimes are automatically sent to the New Bilibid Prison, Smith may end up to anywhere but the New Bilibid Prison.

Already, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the government would keep the status quo on Smith pending the outcome of the appeal on his conviction.

Upholding the constitutionality of the VFA has rendered the Philippine government’s hands tied. Nine Supreme Court justices treacherously opted to perpetuate the Philippine government’s subservience to the US government.

Only four Supreme Court justices stood up for the country’s dignity and declared the VFA as unconstitutional. In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Reynato Puno called the VFA a continuing “slur on our sovereignty.” He argued that the VFA has not been ratified as a treaty by the United States and that its provisions are not fully enforceable under US law.

But Puno’s voice and of three other justices were drowned by the executive’s clear influence on other Supreme Court justices.

If the Philippine government is powerless in taking jurisdiction over an American soldier convicted of raping a Filipina, then the US soldiers can go on committing heinous crimes and the US government can always take care of the rapists, murderers and what-have-you within their forces.

The Supreme Court decision provides legal basis for the permanent “visits” of American troops in the country. The US soldiers will continue to render humanitarian missions while they engage in actual combat operations, surveillance and counter-insurgency operations. Direct military intervention is disguised as “military exercises.”

Why can’t the Philippine government just junk the VFA? What is there to lose with the abrogation of the VFA? The dilapidated Chinook helicopters and other Vietnam vintage war materials? The covert military operations of the US forces in Philippine soil under the guise of so-called military exercises? The modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)? The Philippines’ status as a second front in the US’ war of terror?

No, we will not lose anything of real value. We will, in fact, regain our dignity as a nation. If only we have good leaders, we can choose not to be powerless even in the face of a powerful nation trampling upon Philippine sovereignty.

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Resilient economy?

Posted by lenolea on February 2, 2009

After Intel, the world’s biggest computer chip maker, announced plans to close its testing facility in the Philippines, the Arroyo government could no longer hide the impact of the global economic crisis to the Philippines.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said that up to 60,000 jobs could be lost in the country’s key electronics sector.

In October last year, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo even boasted that the Philippine economy is more resilient than it ever has been. She said economic reforms would enable the Philippine economy to weather the current storm.

Data gathered by independent think-tank Ibon Foundation tell otherwise. The Philippine economy is ever dependent on the US economy, now hit by recession.

Twenty percent of foreign investments are from the U.S., mostly in manufacturing, business process outsourcing (BPOs) and financial services.

Twenty-five percent of agricultural exports go to the U.S. Twenty percent of other Philippine exports also go to the U.S.

Another 44 percent of exports go to third markets (Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan), which are intra-transnational corporations’ trade. These exports also end up in American market.

It follows that job losses in economic processing zones (EPZs) not only in electronics but also in garments can be expected.

What about the dollar remittances from our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)? For the longest time, our OFWs keep our economy afloat. In 2007, Filipino migrant workers and immigrants sent remittances amounting to US$14.45 billion. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) predicted yearend remittances for 2008 to hit more than US$16 billion.

Unfortunately, our OFWs are also vulnerable to the global economic crisis.

Thirty-two percent of 8.2 million overseas Filipinos are in the US. At least 52 percent of remittances are from or via the US. Current unemployment rate in the US is 7.2 percent, the highest since 2006.

How many OFWs in the US have so far lost their jobs? The Philippine government does not divulge. It probably does not know.

Our OFWs in Taiwan were the first to be hit by the crisis. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), close to 400 OFWs have been retrenched from the export and manufacturing companies in Taiwan as of November last year.

An independent estimate by Migrante International reveals that as of December 5, the total number of OFWs who were laid off in Taiwan has already reached 1,401 from 24 companies.

Labor Minister Jennifer Wang of the Council for Labor Affairs of Taiwan announced that 3,000 more OFWs are expected to be retrenched by the end of 2008 and more than 11,000 more by this year.

How does the Arroyo government deal with the crisis?

Mrs. Arroyo announced the allocation of P330 billion for economic stimulus package. “The plan aims to upgrade infrastructure, expand social protection, and ensure sustainable growth in the midst of the global economic crisis,” she said.

However, the jobs to be created from the fund are short-term. Among these include hiring of more street sweepers, construction of village pharmacies, road maintenance projects, repair of hospitals, utility services for public schools, irrigation projects, etc.

Undeterred by retrenchments of OFWs, Mrs. Arroyo issued Administrative Order 247, instructing the POEA to identify countries that are “aggressively recruiting foreign workers and which are natural deployment sites for OFWs.”

The government’s intensification of the labor export policy is tantamount to admitting it cannot provide quality jobs for Filipinos here.

Social protection? The Arroyo government’s idea of social protection is almsgiving. Malacañang announced that the stimulus package will also cover a P10-billion subsidy to 640,000 poor families nationwide. The target beneficiaries comprise less than four percent of the country’s poor as the 2006 Family Income and Expenditures Survey reveal that 8.7 million families have income of less than P8,300 per month.

It’s another thing if such funds will ever reach the poor.

Moreover, the recently approved national budget is telling. The Arroyo government has allotted P252.55 billion for interest payments of debt. Compare this to the P158. 21 billion for education, P27.88 billion for health and P10.62 billion for social welfare and development.

Until now, Mrs. Arroyo and her managers refuse to admit the extent of the crisis. Doing so would unmask that there are no such things as “sound fundamentals” that make the country “resilient” from the crisis.

In reality, our export-oriented, import-dependent economy is ever in crisis. As long as we have leaders who only think of how they could steal more money from public coffers, as long as we remain tangled in foreign interests, as long as we do not develop our own agriculture and industries, we will never get rid of unemployment, poverty and hunger.

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Most dangerous addiction

Posted by lenolea on January 18, 2009

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently named herself as the czar in the illegal drugs campaign.

She immediately ordered authorities to conduct random drug testing in public and private schools in the country. Then, a member of the House Oversight Committee on Dangerous Drugs said the random drug test should also include teachers and professors.

Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa also ordered his men to conduct random drug tests on clients of bars and similar establishments in Metro Manila.

Malacañang said it would also conduct drug testing in government offices.

In an instant, everybody became a suspect of illegal drug addiction. Why go after the victims of substance abuse instead of going after the drug lords?

Former University of the Philippines’ College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin said Mrs. Arroyo’s order has no legal basis at all. Agabin said “search” can only be done if there is probable cause against an accused and it cannot be translated into drug testing.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairman Leila de Lima, voiced out opposition to the random drug tests in schools. She said doing so would compromise the basic human rights of the child against self-incrimination; the right of the child to be protected in his person, effects and correspondence; and the right of the child against unlawful searches and seizures.

We would want to believe that Mrs. Arroyo has the political will to resolve seriously the illegal drugs problem in the country. Facts reveal otherwise.

From January 2000 to October 2008, records of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed that 575 cases against almost 1,000 drug suspects were dismissed by judges and state prosecutors for failure of policemen to appear as witnesses.

As early as September 2002, the Gulf News reported that Mrs. Arroyo said she wanted the 226 drug lords and their drug pushers banished in a year. More than six years after, not one of the so-called drug lords have been apprehended.

What we have seen over the years, however, is the most dangerous kind of addiction – that of insatiable greed for power even at the expense of the majority. This is most dangerous because it affects the lives of every citizen.

Such addiction has deprived millions of Filipinos of social services as the bulk of taxpayers’ money goes to corruption, military spending and debt servicing.

Such addiction has deprived us of good governance, too. It has been threatening even the so-called democratic institutions in the country.

The recent brouhaha over moves to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno is a case in point. Judicial independence is being undermined by the powers-that-be for their selfish interest of holding on to power beyond 2010 through Charter change.

Deception and repressive measures are also symptomatic of such addiction.

If this nation must undergo rehabilitation from all the ills plaguing it, those who are most addicted to power must first be removed.

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