POSTSCRIPT / December 24, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Libel suits can't stop the press. Bullets will?

GREETINGS!: Happy Christmas to our loyal readers, whose feedback keeps coming — even when we do not acknowledge it — to guide, inspire, chide, scold, correct, challenge and generally keep us on our toes.

For many of our readers, the year about to end has not been easy. That fact of (their) life, conveyed to us via feedback, has affected our choice of topic and tone.

We have always held the view that a publication without a responsive public is a mere collection of dead and dry pages. It is much like a pile of withered leaves scurrying to wherever the wind blows them.

This coming year, may we be more attentive, and helpful, to each other.

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ANOTHER VICTIM: From the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, comes another pained plea:

“For the nth time, we call on the Arroyo administration to exercise its political will by bringing the killers of journalists, gunmen and masterminds alike, to justice and end the culture of impunity that has allowed these attacks to continue.

“We make this call as we witness the murder of another colleague. Laoag City radio broadcaster Andres ‘Andy’ Acosta, 46, was stabbed to death Thursday (Dec. 21) in Batac, Ilocos Norte.”

Acosta’s death brings to 12 the number of media persons murdered in 2006, and to 48 those killed since Gloria Arroyo assumed the presidency.

Witnesses said Acosta, who was on his motorcycle, suddenly skidded to a halt and collapsed with several wounds. He died at the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital, also in Batac, at around 10:30 a.m.

Acosta worked for Laoag radio station dzJC Aksyon Radyo (Action Radio), an affiliate of the Manila Broadcasting Co. It is the same station where Roger Mariano, a broadcaster killed on July 31, 2004, worked.

A police official interviewed on radio station dzBB said the killing was most likely related to Acosta’s “line of work.”

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HOT EXPOSES: In Angeles City, Sun.Star Pampanga senior reporter Dante Fabian was arrested Tuesday for his exposes on the alleged missing multi-million-peso water pipes and hand pumps bought last year using the pork barrel of Rep. Francis “Blueboy” Nepomuceno (1st Dist.)

Fabian was arrested in Barangay Pulung Maragul while with his friend Jab Tolentino of GMA News. He was taken to Police Station 3 by the arresting officers. His lawyer Angelo Lopez bailed him out with the P30,000 raised by colleagues.

Ashley Manabat, chairman of the NUJP Pampanga chapter, described as “muzzling of the press” the arrest of Fabian and the filing of three counts of libel against him by Nepomuceno and his chief of staff Mark Allen Sison.

Manabat, who went with fellow journalists Bong Lacson and Joey Pavia to visit Fabian at the police station, said, “We will not take this sitting down. This is a clear case of harassment.”

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WOW!: Two recent decisions of the Supreme Court (first division) have been a source of wonder for many who have read them.

Many facts, already checked and established in the lower courts, appear to have been rehashed by the High Court to suit the desired decision.

One decision involves PICOP Resources Inc., the country’s largest pulp and paper milling company that boasts of the only integrated operation using virgin wood pulp to produce newsprint and packaging cartons.

The decision, penned by Justice Minita Chico-Nazario, reversed a Court of Appeals decision granting PICOP’s application for an integrated forest management agreement (IFMA) covering an expired 25-year timber licensing agreement (TLA) earlier granted by the government.

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10-YEAR PLAN: The reasons advanced by Nazario for the cancellation boggles the mind as they blithely ignore relevant facts.

First, it points to an alleged failure of PICOP to submit a five-year forest protection plan and a seven-year reforestation plan.

The fact is PICOP had submitted a 10-year protection and reforestation plan that was approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It was the DENR, through then Secretary Fulgencio Factoran Jr., that specified the need for a 10-year plan. This is understandable since it does not seem logical to submit a five- and seven-year plan for a TLA that would expire less than a year after the 10-year plan had been implemented.

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GOOD PAYER: Second, the SC decision blames PICOP for alleged failing to pay forestry charges. This despite PICOP’s submitting evidence to the contrary by way of a certification from the DENR that no forestry charges are due from the paper firm.

The fact is that PICOP is one of a near-extinct type of forestry operator in this country crawling with illegal loggers. It pays 80 percent of all forestry charges in the entire Caraga Region, the nation’s timber corridor.

That 80 percent translates to 60 percent of total forestry charges collected by the DENR in the entire country! The firm has been cited here and abroad for its efficient operations and for being a good corporate citizen.

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CONSEQUENCES: With the recent decision, and unless reversed by the Court upon reconsideration and review, PICOP, a publicly-listed company owned by some 11,000 stockholders, stands to lose 76,000 hectares in Mindanao.

What is left of its area will no longer be economically feasible. While some 3,000 regular employees of the biggest firm in impoverished Caraga may yet have a job this Christmas, they may have none to look forward to in the coming year.

What is more, the economy of several towns in Surigao del Sur, including Bislig, which was recently converted into a city largely on account of its revenues from PICOP, will be crippled.

Moreover, this newspaper and many other publications will have no paper. They will have to either rely on recycled newsprint, which is of inferior quality, or use dollars to buy newsprint from abroad.

This is not to mention that several manufacturing companies will have no supply of corrugated cartons with which to package their goods.

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MINING CASE: There is another decision, involving Apex Mining vs. Southeast Mindanao Gold Mining Corp., that was promulgated last June 23, and penned also by Nazario. It is under review, the defendant having filed a motion for reconsideration.

Apex Mining was not even a party in interest when the case was filed in the lower courts, or in the DENR administrative agencies such as the Mining Adjudication Board. Not even when small mining claimants filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals.

Suddenly the case resurrects itself before the Supreme Court!

The decision also disregarded previous SC decisions, such as the one in McDaniel vs. Apacible, declaring “a mining claim perfected under the law is property in the highest sense.”

It seems that by confusing a mining permit with a mineral right, the Nazario decision wants to nullify a perfected property right.

It also disregards a doctrine held by the Supreme Court in La Bugal-Bilaan Tribal Assn. vs Victor Ramos that mining contracts are entitled to the due process clause of the Constitution.

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USURPATION: After interest in the moribund mining industry has been revived, Nazario’s pronouncements may just scare foreign investors.

For one, they are now likely to wonder if the Supreme Court, if not the Arroyo administration, is serious about making the mining sector an important contributor to the nation’s economy.

But the most terrifying aspect of the Nazario decision is that it validates a presidential usurpation of legislative power through Proclamation No. 297 dated Nov. 25, 2002. In effect, it holds that a mere presidential proclamation may reclassify a forest reserve.

Section 2, Article XII, of the Constitution declares the State’s full control in the utilization of the country’s natural resources. However, various laws specify which branch of government or agency will exercise such full control.

Over the years, Congress enacted such laws as the Permanent Forest Law of 1961, RA 3092, The Revised Administrative Code of 1987, the NIPAS Law, RA 7586, and the Agrarian Reform Law, RA 6657.

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DOUBLE WOW!!: These laws provide that forest reserves and protected areas may be reclassified only by enactments of Congress.

But the Nazario decision places all the powers of the State over its natural resources in forest reserves in the hands of a single person — the President of the Republic.

That is wielding awesome unilateral control over 12 million hectares of the nation’s total land area of 29 million hectares. That is fully 40 percent of our dear Bayang Magiliw!

Wow! Double wow!! Next time an impeachment complaint is filed in the House, theoretically the president could parcel out tens of thousands of hectares of forest reserve to every congressman in exchange for a “No” vote.

All because of what looks like a poorly-crafted and haphazardly-written decision from the High Court’s first division.

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

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