POSTSCRIPT / August 24, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Paranoid gov't seeing communists in media

RED BOGEY: The Arroyo administration seems to be getting paranoid, if the latest utterances of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales are any indication.

Gonzales warned at a press forum last Monday that communists have infiltrated the information media and are using them to subvert the government.

He added, though, that while the communists in media have been identified, the government will not harass or drag them to court. His assurance was not really necessary. Not a heavyweight, Gonzales is taken lightly by most media professionals.

Still, the security adviser’s resurrecting that bogey at a time when communism has gone out of fashion is a bad sign. With the Arroyo administration showing symptoms of creeping paranoia, we can never say what it might do next.

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MADNESS: Paranoia, which is marked by an excessive anxiety or fear for one’s well-being, typically includes “persecutory beliefs concerning a likely threat, or a belief in a conspiracy theory.” In the original Greek, paranoia means madness.

A paranoid regime — one that sees a communist lurking behind every critical comment or unfavorable news item — is liable to make a serious misstep.

Big brother Norberto urged the media to police their ranks. Instead, I think President Gloria Arroyo better police her lineup of characters whose advice she seeks on national security and other concerns affecting human beings.

Gonzales was candid enough to admit that the government is losing the propaganda war to the Left. This is despite its control over a massive media infrastructure, including three television stations.

The President better ask her security and media handlers why.

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EXECUTIONS: Early symptoms of official paranoia, according to many observers, are the unabated extra-judicial killing — physical elimination — of pesky journalists and militants.

Stung by local and international criticisms that she is not doing anything about the executions, President Arroyo has created an “independent” commission to investigate the alleged involvement of the military and police.

The commission is headed by retired SC Justice Jose Melo. Members are NBI Director Nestor Mantaring, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno, Bishop Camilo Gregorio of Batanes, and lawyer Rogelio Vinluan of ACCRA Law.

The group’s independence has been doubted. Two members, Mantaring and Zuno, are officials of the justice department that has been pursuing rebellion cases against party-list representatives of Bayan Muna and Anak Pawis.

Considering that the military and the police stand accused by the families of victims, the commission will be hard put to secure witnesses, much more nail down the killers, who may or may not be military or police types.

Will the commission be allowed to look into classified documents to know the anti-insurgency plan of the military for which P1-billion has been infused by the President to wipe out the insurgents?

Will the commission be allowed to investigate the President’s alleged link to these killings?

The Melo commission, it is obvious, is marked for sure failure.

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NERI POLICIES: Seeing how millions still wallow in want and how neighboring countries have been galloping ahead of us, I wonder what guides the economic reforms being carried out by NEDA Director General Romulo Neri.

The economy remains weak and vulnerable to domestic and external shocks. The country depends largely on such external factors as the remittance of Filipinos laboring abroad, foreign borrowings, and portfolio or paper investments.

Under Neri’s policies, while new taxes have boosted revenues, these are being eaten up by debt payments. More than 70 percent (the independent Ibon Databank says it is 90 percent) of revenues go to paying the public debt.

The payments should reduce the budget deficit, but Neri’s policies seem to make matters worst. With 90 percent of revenues going to debt service, the government has to keep borrowing to meet current expenses. The Treasury said the total outstanding debt of the national government by September 2005 was P4.02 trillion, or a 5.5-percent increase from the end-2004 level of P3.8 trillion.

Social services are on an all-time low, a situation worsened by the austerity program. Real spending on education this year is 4.5 percent less and on health 19.2 percent lower than in 2001.

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SACHET ECONOMY: Investment policies have left exporters and manufacturers at the mercy of stronger traders. The country now imports more than it exports.

The liberalized investment climate means that foreign direct investments will see the outward flow of profits.

Portfolio investments (or paper securities like stocks, bonds, and T-bills) can bring in billions of dollars, but just as easily fly out at the slightest hint of political or economic instability. This could result in balance of payments deficits were it not for OFW remittances.

Consumers are forced to pay more for goods and services because of the exorbitant Value-Added Tax, but taxpayers do not see or feel the supposed benefits of higher taxes.

We have been reduced into a “sachet economy,” because millions of Filipino households can no longer afford to buy in bulk. Whenever they have spare money, they buy necessities in small quantities such as those packed in sachets.

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REDEFINITION: The NEDA under Neri has revised statistical methods and definitions to come up with better social indicators and make them affirm the claimed economic growth.

By simply changing the definition of joblessness, and not by job creation, Neri was able to reduce the unemployment rate to 8.2 percent in April. But IBON Databank estimates that job scarcity is 43 percent of the country’s labor force.

Using its revised definition, government pegs the national average poverty threshold per day at only P33.72, which means that a Filipino who earns this much daily is already considered non-poor. This has allowed the Arroyo government to claim that it has lowered poverty incidence from 33 percent of the population in 2000 to 30 percent now.

But IBON estimates (using the daily cost of living) that as many as 8 out every 10 Filipino families — or some 12.8 million families (around 76 percent of the population) — may be poor.

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WAGES VS PRICES: Government also uses the poverty threshold figures to set and justify the meager minimum wage, which despite the recent P25 wage increase in the national capital, is only 44 percent of the estimated cost of living for a family of six (P675.54 as of June 2006).

The increase is not enough to keep up with the country’s high cost of living, which is a result of high prices brought about by monopolies in vital industries.

The Arroyo administration has the most number of oil price increases (69 times since 2001, or an average of once a month), and was responsible for making power rate hikes regular (26 times from 2001 to 2005). Water rates also had the steepest increase under Ms Arroyo.

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CLINIC CASE: Now the smoke is clearing up on the Gestapo-like orders to transfer the Malacanang Clinic from San Miguel to the Presidential Security Group hospital across the Pasig river. The unfolding sight is not pleasant.

Susana Vargas, Malacanang deputy secretary for finance and administration, was identified as the official who ordered Clinic Director Rolando Deduyo to pack up and move the clinic.

Vargas allegedly told Deduyo that the President herself had approved the transfer. She also insisted that the clinic has been operating illegally since its mandate is only to serve Malacanang employees and dependents.

This legal twist makes Presidents Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos, Aquino, Ramos and Estrada party to an illegal act since they all allowed poor patients from outside the Palace to be treated at the clinic.

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IMPERIOUS: The Clinic director packed up in haste without checking with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who claimed not knowing about the eviction. Neither did he ask Presidential Management Staff Secretary Arthur Yap, who is supposed to know what is happening in the Palace.

Clinic employees who went to the PSG compound found out they had no place at the PSG hospital. In fact, even their director and assistant directors have had to hold office at the extension clinic in the Mabini Hall.

Why the indecent haste? Somebody simply wanted to make her awesome presence felt?

Last Friday almost all the clinic employees wore black to show their disgust at what was happening to them under the “compassionate leadership” of the President.

This is a stark example of how President Arroyo became the object of anger and hatred by her own personnel, thanks to an imperious underling.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 24, 2006)

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