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Philippine News Digest 87

October 27, 2006 · 

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Contents:
1. Supreme Court rejects Cha-cha
2. Rape trial in RP revives “ugly American” image
3. Church calls for illegal logging to stop

Supreme Court rejects Cha-cha
The Manila Times ­ Top Stories
Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Supreme Court Wed­nesday vetoed a petition that would have paved the way to changing the presidential system to a unicameral parliamentary government. In an hour long session, the 15 Supreme Court judges voted 8-7 against the people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution, Court spokeswoman Gleo Guerra said.

The 52-page decision said proponents of the initiative Sigaw ng Bayan and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) had called for a “revision” of the Constitution and not mere amendments, making it unconstitutional. The Court also cast doubt on the legitimacy of 6 million signatures the petitioners claimed to have gathered supporting the move, Guerra said.

The ruling was a blow to President Arroyo’s plan to amend what she has called some outdated provisions in the Constitution, including one that limited foreign participation in business. She and her supporters see a move to a parliamentary government as the key to fixing the country’s crisis-prone political system. “It is one of the major political reforms that the President wants,” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, adding that he had ordered state lawyers to file a motion for reconsideration.

Arroyo critics, including the influential Roman Catholic Church, have opposed the plan, fearing it could be used by her or other elected officials to prolong their stay in power.

Under the Constitution, Charter change can take place either by a constitutional convention, a constituent assembly of both houses of Congress, or through a people’s initiative, which requires 12 percent of the country’s registered voters to petition. –AFP, PNA

Rape trial in RP revives “ugly American” image
The Manila Times – Opinion
Thursday, October 26, 2006
by Cecil Morella

MANILA: The trial of four US Marines for the alleged rape of a young woman in the Philippines has revived the face of the “ugly American” in this former US colony. Not since the 1960s has a criminal case involving US servicemen created so much bitterness and anti-American feeling than what is popularly referred to as the Subic Bay rape case.

If found guilty the Marines-Lance Cpls. Keith Silkwood, Daniel Smith and Dominic Duplantis, and Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier-could theoretically spend the rest of their lives in a Philippine jail, although no one really believes that will happen. The four-month trial, which ended on October 5, unleashed a wave of anti-American protest and demonstrations outside the US Embassy and around Manila.

It led to calls from the opposition for the abolition of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which spells out the legal framework for American troops taking part in exercises in the Philippines. While the agreement protects soldiers from prosecution during exercises it is less specific when it comes to crimes committed while on leave. So far, no alternative to the VFA has been proposed by either government or by those who oppose the current arrangement.

One vocal opponent is Senator Joker Arroyo, who said the current case exposed the US government’s “failure to take the moral high ground” on actions by its troops on foreign soil, and described the Marines as “sex terrorists.” There were some 20,000 US servicemen at Subic Naval Base, then the repair and supply yard of the Japan-based US Seventh Fleet, and the Clark Air Base, home of the 13th US Air Force, before they and a handful of smaller facilities were handed over to the Philippines in 1992.

In the decades leading up to the handover of the bases, a number of incidents created a groundswell of anger among Filipinos as sometimes it seemed that US soldiers were using the locals for target practice but rarely faced justice.

During the rape trial “Nicole” accused government prosecutors of incompetence and said the Filipino justice department had tried to pressure her family to settle the case out of court.

Judge Benjamin Pozon’s verdict, due on November 27, is bound to cause even more controversy-whether he finds the Marines guilty or innocent. –AFP

Church calls for illegal logging to stop
The Manila Times
Monday, October 23, 2006

MATI, Davao Oriental: Religious leaders in this southern tip province of Mindanao on Sunday was alarmed on the alleged continuous illegal logging as they urged the national government to help address the problem.

The religious group alleged that Davao Oriental province now became the “Eden” of money-thirsty businessmen sipping the juicy resources of the already remaining forest cover out from its origin. The religious leaders led by Cateel town parish priest Fr. Darwey Clark, has allegedly seen how these illegal cutters and log smugglers destroyed the environment. The Cateel parish priest said that logging trucks moving around this town and the province reach an average of 20 truckloads of logs a day from Cateel that go out to Lambajon, Baganga, the nearest town after Cateel while about 10 truckloads of logs take the Compostela Valley (ComVal) province route.

However, personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Southern Mindanao said that some forest holders like the IFMA, CBFMA and CFP allow a number of trees to be cut on designated operational plan areas.

The command and operation center of Southern Mindanao Police Regional Office reported that the PNP’s campaign against illegal logging intensifies more in this province after the Aliwagwag Bailey Bridge incident which killed nine residents on August 20, this year. Since then, joint efforts from the church, nongovernment organizations and local governments pushed for the strict apprehension and confiscation of illegally cut logs.

The apprehended logging trucks turned out to be owned by politicians and famous personalities in the town and neighboring areas. This has pushed concerned parishioners, the church, NGOs, the PNP and AFP to unite for one cause and that’s to deliberately stop illegal logging and push for a total log ban in the province.

“We cannot allow another Leyte tragedy in our province,” Fr. Clark

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