POSTSCRIPT / May 12, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mike quits press club; another journalist slain

PALACE UNMOVED: Still another Filipino journalist was murdered Tuesday — the fifth victim this year, the 23rd since President Arroyo became president in 2001, and the 68th since democracy was restored in 1986.

Philip Agustin, 54, publisher and editor of the Starline Times Recorder, was killed as he prepared for dinner at home in Dingalan, Aurora. He just brought home copies of his newspaper reporting anomalies and alleged corruption in the local government. His sister said he had been getting threats since last week.

The police said a .45-caliber slug crashed into Agustin’s head, behind his left ear. This style reminds me of how Ninoy Aquino was executed by a soldier-escort at the airport in 1983.

How long will Malacanang play deaf and blind to this menace decimating the ranks of Filipino journalists?

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MIKE RESIGNS: Six days after his induction as member of the Negros Press Club in Bacolod City, reputedly the oldest press association in the country, First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo resigned amid a media storm.

“The First Gentleman has resigned from the Negros Press Club,” said a one-line email sent Monday to Alex P. Vidal, editor-in-chief of the Iloilo-based Daily Informer, by Assistant Secretary Juris Umali-Soliman, the First Gentleman’s chief of staff.

The resignation came minutes after Arroyo was informed that four NPC board members had tendered their “irrevocable resignation” from the club “to protest the serious damage to the integrity and honor of the NPC by the unwarranted and undeserved induction” of the First Gentleman.

Those who resigned after club president Primo Esleyer “refused to rectify this grievous error” were NPC vice president Arman Toga (Negros Daily Bulletin), secretary Jaime Espina (Today), and directors Henry Cestina (RPN Bacolod) and Amado Villacarlos.

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UNDESERVED: The protesting club officers said in their letter of resignation:

We cannot abide serving under a leadership that wantonly violates the NPC’s rules and traditions and refuses to publicly correct a mistake that has put the Club’s integrity and honor in question both to its members, the Philippine media community and the general public whom we, as journalists, serve.

“While we understand Mr. Esleyer’s concerns about the possible effects of a public rectification of this grievous error, we feel the integrity of the Club and its members, whom we swore to serve, and of the Philippine media community as a whole, hold far greater value.

“Contrary to the publicly announced — and widely reported — claim of President Primo Esleyer, the officers neither met nor passed a unanimous resolution urging the First Gentleman’s induction. It is unfortunate that this occurred on a night when Messrs. Arroyo and Esleyer harped on the truth as the cornerstone of our profession. We are aware that Mr. Arroyo is neither qualified nor deserving of the honor of membership in the Club.

“First, his induction violated long established NPC rules on membership. Mr. Arroyo is not, as far as we know, a practicing photojournalist as he claims.

“More important, Mr. Arroyo is undeserving of the honor of being an NPC member. For, while we respect Mr. Arroyo’s right to free expression, as First Gentleman and husband of the President under whose watch the number of murdered journalists is reaching record numbers — 23 since President Arroyo’s ascension to power in 2001, 13 last year and five this year alone — the implication in his speech that our murdered colleagues deserved their fates was not only irresponsible but reinforces the culture of impunity and violence that has led to this sorry state. How can we reward him with membership in the Club?

“This we would like to make clear to our colleagues and fellow NPC members: We are not shirking our responsibilities. We are upholding our principles as officers and members of the NPC and as journalists of a Philippine media that is under siege.”

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IRRESPONSIBLE DAW: Reporting on the same incident, abs-cbnNEWS.com said in part:

“The four (resigned officers) scored Arroyo after he criticized Manila-based journalists of wielding too much power, saying they ‘do not know how to police themselves.’

“Arroyo implied during his speech before the press club last week that some journalists were killed because of irresponsible reporting. He said no Negros media practitioner has been killed, because journalists here are ‘responsible’ reporters.”

(Arroyo was holding aloft a copy of a national daily [not the STAR] when he accused media of “failing to tell the truth” and maligning him and his family by linking him, his son, Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo, and brother, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, to the illegal numbers game jueteng.)

“‘We have been maligned with secondhand information andtsismis,’ Arroyo said. He said his family is not ‘stupid’ to get involved in the issue that led to the ouster of his wife’s predecessor, jailed ex-president Joseph Estrada.

“‘Our family has never been engaged in jueteng,’ he said. ‘It is really shocking what is happening to the Manila media. Maybe that is the way to sell papers, by selling lies.’

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OTHER SIDE: Reader Boyet Marcelo wrote to clarify an incident reported in POSTSCRIPT last May 10.

In that column, San Pablo City journalist Dodie Banzuela was reported as complaining that a certain Boyet Marcelo saw him last Sunday and threatened to kill him. He described Marcelo as a columnist of a local paper who works at the Barangay Affairs Office at City Hall.

Banzuela added that Marcelo is identified with San Pablo City Mayor Vicent B. Amante, who is accused of corruption in a complaint filed by him and another journalist before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Marcelo wrote to say that that is not true: “I simply visited Banzuela last Sunday to clarify his false accusation that I am being paid to write. There is no truth that I threatened to kill him.”

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PINOYS ALARMNED: The spate of murders of Filipino journalists has alarmed even their compatriots abroad, if the volume and tenor of the email we have been getting are any indication.

A sample email, one from Mariano Patalinjug, Yonkers, New York, says: “The fact that members of the press are being killed is proof that in a country where corruption seems to have reached systemic proportions, some members of the press, true to the tenets of their calling, are doing their job even though conscious of the threat to their lives.

“Democracy needs a free and fearless press if it is to function as it should, and if it is to survive. A free and fearless press is the institution that exposes the abscesses of society. Absent a free and fearless press, democracy withers on the vine.

“The Philippines is indeed fortunate in that it has a free and fearless press.”

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RECORD SAVINGS: Going by the statistics, it seems that among government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), the Government Service Insurance System has topped them in following President Arroyo’s Administrative Order No. 103 prescribing belt-tightening.

The GSIS pledged to realize savings of at least P737 million. At the end of the year, the GSIS overshot that target by nearly P300 million — saving P1.08 billion in operational and administrative expenses.

On top of that, the GSIS turned over to the national treasury P1 billion representing the government’s dividends from GSIS operations. The dividends awarded in 2004 to GSIS members also reached P1 billion after the GSIS board approved a 30-percent increase for them.

To recap, that’s P1 billion in savings, another billion pesos in dividends remitted to the government’s coffers, and still another billion credited to GSIS members. Not bad.

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MEMBERS’ LOANS: As part of cutting off the fat, GSIS president and general manager Winston Garcia has slashed P160,000 from his monthly pay — a deduction that amounts now to a couple of millions.

As nearly one million of the 1.3 million GSIS members now have GSIS eCards, it can be assumed that the state pension fund has granted close to P5 billion in eCard-related loans. That is because upon enrolling to get an eCard, a GSIS member is entitled to a one-time salary loan of P5,000.

One million GSIS members multiplied by P5,000 produces P5 billion in cold cash given to members. The total of these eCard loans should reach P6.5 billion when all of the 1.3 million members get their eCards before the end of the year.

The GSIS has emerged as the top earner among government corporations with a net income of P35.6 billion in 2003. The GSIS also achieved the highest asset level among government firms for the year.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 12, 2005)

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