POSTSCRIPT / August 11, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Pampanga officials sure of GMA surviving crisis

ANGELES CITY: Two mayors of this city of 270,000 — one an incumbent and the other a two-term former city executive — expressed confidence here yesterday that President Gloria Arroyo will finish her term despite the campaign to dislodge her.

Secretary Edgardo D. Pamintuan, former city mayor and now presidential adviser on external affairs, and Angeles Mayor Carmelo F. Lazatin gave their assessment in a “Kampus Kapihan” at the Angeles University Foundation here before a roomful of media members and mass communication students.

Placing President Arroyo’s chances of survival at 90 percent, Pamintuan said the President has the fundamentals for weathering four key issues that are expected to plague her administration:

  1. Expanded Value-Added Tax— If the tax is sustained by the Supreme Court, it could mean higher prices and a protesting population. If it is struck down as unconstitutional, revenue will drop so low that the country will not be able to pay maturing loans. Its credit rating could then drop.
  2. Jueteng— The First Family has been linked, unfairly according to Pamintuan, to tong collection from the illegal numbers game. But if the administration cracks down on it, the millions of workers depending on jueteng will be displaced and add to economic instability.
  3. Wiretapping and alleged election cheating— If any crime has been committed, charges should be filed against the President in the proper forum, which is the impeachment court (Senate). But the House of Representative has not been able to gather enough signatures to send it to the Senate.
  4. Constitution change— President Arroyo has come out in favor of changing the system of government to a parliamentary form so as to accelerate reforms. But those opposing the move are ascribing to it ill motives on her part.

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TIRED OF DESTAB: Lazatin said opposition moves to poison public opinion and mobilize street protests against the President would fail because the greater majority has grown tired of the destabilization being used against the administration.

The mayor noted that the House itself has failed to muster the minimum 79 votes needed to send to the Senate without the usual committee endorsement the impeachment charges against the President.

Like Pamintuan, the mayor said he was against legalizing jueteng. Such a move will not clip the inclination of the people to gamble, he noted, and they would just shift to other forms of gambling.

An alternative game has been proposed, but Lazatin said the shift has not gained ground. What they are doing, he added, was training jueteng workers for other kinds of work. The workers number around 10,000 in Angeles and 200,000 in the entire province.

Pamintuan, whose job involves linking government with the people, said P600 million has been earmarked as loans for small and medium-size businesses that can absorb displaced workers. Organizing, education and training are ongoing.

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MEDIA FORUM: The “Kampus Kapihan” is a weekly forum designed as a non-formal medium of teaching mass communication students.

AUF Chancellor Emmanuel Y. Angeles said the Kapihan would also serve the community by being a regular venue for media-oriented discussions of public issues. Print and broadcast media have been invited with newsmakers to the Wednesday forum.

Noting a comment of a student that not all their views find proper outlets, AUF President Ricardo P. Pama said the Kapihan — which was swarming yesterday with masscom students — would open many possibilities for expression.

Talking about education in general, Pama concurred with an observation that a change in attitude must complement a possible change of system. He cited the need for “a change in men and a change of men” but did not elaborate.

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SHOVING SUMO: In his remarks, Pamintuan noted that while the presidency was a hot seat, it seemed “a lot of people — Erap, Abat, Rez Cortes, Susan Roces, Satur Ocampo and his gang, et al. — may be wanting to sit on it.”

With the President unperturbed by everything the opposition has been throwing at her, he said: “Clearly becoming desperate, the opposition summoned a sumo wrestler in the person of Michaelangelo Zuce, who probably weighs more than 300 pounds, to shove away the President, who is probably less than 100 pounds.”

“The sumo wrestler plodded, clumsily dragging his weight,” he continued. “Yet up to this day, he has not succeeded in shoving the President away.”

What could have been the President’s survival secret?

Pamintuan explained: “What the opposition forgot is that the President knows how to deal with heavyweights. She has first hand experience with one.”

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CHARTER CHANGE: Can the President survive the crisis?

His answer: “Even the so-called whistleblowers of the opposition have started to blow their whistles on the opposition itself. Cuddling and coddling rats, the opposition is beginning to realize, is hazardous to one’s health.”

“As the rats begin to rat on their handlers, the people will also soon begin to see the rot in all this,” he quipped. “Because the rotten is sure to draw in the rats and other pests, the crisis has in fact offered an excellent opportunity for the President to advance her agenda to change the charter. The rotten system needs to be changed now.”

He said the crisis has become the best argument of the President to rewrite the Constitution.

* * *

LOW-COST HOUSING: On local concerns, I learned outside the Kapihan that over 8,000 land titles were distributed to indigent and middle class Angeleños the past seven years by Lazatin (“Tarzan” to his constituents).

Noticing the mayor’s program aimed at mitigating the squatting problem, President Arroyo has contributed P10 million through the National Housing Authority for the development of socialized housing sites.

The city has also linked up with Gawad Kalinga — a non-governmental organization putting up housing for indigents in the country through “bayanihan.” Dwellings have been built in an indigent community in barangay Cuayan for some 300 families.

Under the city’s socialized housing, land costs range from P50 to P200 per square meter.

In 2001, the Housing Urban and Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), the Asian Development Bank and its consultants chose Angeles as their “core project” under the Poor Urban Communities Sector Project.

Talking as a former NHA general manager and Angeles mayor, Pamintuan said Lazatin’s thrusts in housing are quite impressive, but are in need of more funding support.

Last Aug. 8, the mayor presented his proposal to President Arroyo to establish Angeles as the pilot agency in initiating programs for socialized housing. A Palace official said the idea is being considered.

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YOUTH POWER: Through the Angeles City Youth and Sports Development Office, Lazatin has given financial help amounting to P241,767.00 to several Angeleño athletes who competed in national and international sports competitions.

Monthly skills trainings on sewing and basic computer literacy have been made available to out-of-school youth. Some 1,600 trainees for job placement in various local and international companies were assisted though his Public Employment Services Office.

The Integrated Performing Arts of Angeles City provides opportunity to youngsters skilled in dancing and singing. Symposiums and trainings were also conducted for students and student leaders.

More young residents have been tapped for such projects asLambat Droga, as well as clean and green programs. One project involves the cleaning of waterways, particularly the Sapang Balen creek.

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GMA AT 100 KPH: Driving from Manila to this province has become more pleasant with the modern North Luzon Expressway. Angeles is about 45 minutes away from Balintawak, the travel time having been cut by about 25 percent.

The earlier complaints about the “exorbitant” toll fees died down after commuters realized the superior ride and the reduced wear and tear on their vehicles by using the tollway.

One time I was rushing down the NLEx when I came upon a covey of vehicles occupying the entire width of the highway and moving at just 100 kilometers per hour, which is crawling speed to those used to driving at 120 kph or over.

Attempting to pass them, I saw that it was the party of President Arroyo, surrounded by a phalanx of attendants and security men. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the President followed the NLEx’s 100-kph speed limit.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 11, 2005)

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