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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) apologized for the setup of the regional media interaction during the visit of President Gloria Arroyo Thursday.

Press Sec. Cerge Remonde said he had no intention of excluding other media outlets in the opportunity to interact with the President after she inaugurated the 15,000th Botika ng Barangay outlet at Brgy. Tiring, Cabatuan, Iloilo.

Remonde said one of the activities in the presidential visit was the regional media interaction.

He said that when the President broached the idea of a media interview, he recalled the request of Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo for a one-on-one interview with her.

“I recalled that request coursed through my office a month ago and I suggested to the President that we grant the request via the regional media interaction,” Remonde said over Bombo Radyo.

The OPS chose Aksyon Radyo anchorman John Sapio to throw pre-approved questions at President Arroyo during the “canned” interview.

Initially, an anchorman of state-owned Radyo ng Bayan was chosen to anchor the media interaction but Sapio later replaced him on orders from Malacañang.

Remonde said he later learned that some media outlets, particularly radio stations, boycotted the media interaction.

“I apologize to the Iloilo media for what happened. Rest assured that we will arrange another interaction with the President including other outlets. It is not our intention to exclude any outlet from the chance to interview the President. I sincerely apologize for what happened,” said Remonde who once headed the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters sa Pilipinas (KBP).

In his program Firing Line Thursday evening, Aksyon Radyo station manager John Paul Tia said it was Malacañang that requested Sapio to anchor the interaction.

Tia said if broadcasters from other private media outlets were chosen to interview Mrs. Arroyo, they might have covered the event instead of boycotting it.

Joecel C. Bañas, Aksyon Radyo assistant station manager, said the interview was broadcast over Radyo ng Bayan, not their own station.

Bañas said they assigned one of their reporters, Johnny Diaz, to provide live feeds via telephone of the media interaction.

Bañas said they were willing to hook up with Radyo ng Bayan if there was no available communication.

The media interaction was also webcast in the OPS website.

Also, Sapio was not at liberty to ask questions not included in the pre-approved questionnaire.

“We did not force ourselves to get the chance to interview the President. It was the decision of Malacañang. If other outlets were chosen for that opportunity, we will not react,” Bañas said in his noontime program Balita, Banat, Bulig.

Other radio stations who joined the boycott said they preferred a broadcaster from a state-controlled media outlet to anchor the media interaction with the President.

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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

SEVERAL AM radio stations “boycotted” the visit of President Gloria Arroyo in Cabatuan, Iloilo late Thursday afternoon.

Bombo Radyo-Iloilo, RMN-Iloilo and GMA’s dySI Super Radyo did not cover President Arroyo’s visit to protest the arrangements made by Malacañang for the regional media interaction.

The one-on-one interview with the president was anchored by John Sapio of Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo.

According to the Presidential Management Office, the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) chose Sapio to interview the President.

Ronel Sorbito, RMN-Iloilo station manager and Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters sa Pilipinas (KBP)-Iloilo president, they have nothing personal against Aksyon Radyo and Sapio.

“Our protest has nothing to do with our fellow broadcasters. This is a protest against the OPS’s arrangement of the interview with the President. We can understand if someone from a government media outlet anchored the interview. But if the OPS’s intention was to task a broadcaster from a private outlet to interview the president, they could have given other outlets the same opportunity,” Sorbito said.

President Arroyo led the inauguration of the 15,000th Botika ng Barangay outlet in Brgy. Tiring, Cabatuan. The village-based pharmacy sells essential medicines at half the price.

Except for Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo, other radio stations did not broadcast the “canned” interview with the President. Instead they went on with their usual newscasts and programming.

Television networks ABS-CBN and GMA covered the event. Correspondents of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and state-owned outlets Philippine News Agency, Philippine Information Agency and Radyo ng Bayan were also present.

By Seth Mydans/Int’l  Herald Tribune 

MANILA — When former President Corazon C. Aquino died this month, Filipinos filled the streets in mourning and in celebration of the golden moment in 1986 when she led them in a peaceful uprising that some called a revolution.

The nation’s dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos, had fled as masses of people faced down his tanks, and democracy was restored after 20 years of repressive rule. Mrs. Aquino, the opposition leader who became president, ushered in wide-ranging political reforms.

But the weeks since Mrs. Aquino’s death at the age of 76 have been a period of self-examination and self-doubt among many Filipinos, as they consider how little has really changed since then.

“The legacy is the mess we are in,” said F. Sionil Jose, 84, the nation’s most prominent novelist, pointing to continuing poverty, inequality and political disarray as evidence that the nation failed to capitalize on its moment of possibility.

“We have a word for it — sayang — ‘what a waste,’” he said.

In schools, coffeehouses, rice fields, churches and offices around Manila and in the countryside, there seemed to be a shared sense that the people of the Philippines had failed themselves.

“We thought all we needed to do was remove the dictator and do nothing about it,” said Teresita I. Barcelo, president of the Philippine Nurses Association. “We thought the problem was just the dictator. I say the problem is us. We did not change.”

Sister Dory Reyes, 61, a former Roman Catholic nun and teacher in the farming town of Santa Maria, said: “The poverty is still there. The corruption is still there. Unemployment is still there. I don’t see improvement.”

The Philippines, with a population of 92 million, is one of the most vibrant nations in Asia, with a flamboyantly free press and a creative, assertive body of independent organizations and interest groups.

But it has not managed to tame its Communist and Muslim insurgencies or its restive military, which seems constantly to be plotting coups. The military has regularly been accused of human rights abuses and disappearances.

And the political arena sometimes seems more like a form of mass entertainment than a place of governance.

Since Mrs. Aquino left office in 1992, there have been three presidential elections, two attempts at impeachment, two apparent attempts to stay in power through constitutional change, one popular uprising that ousted an elected president and another that failed.

“We keep coming up with new ways to describe the country,” said Sheila Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University in New York, who for years was a leading journalist in the Philippines.

“Democracy in decay, a nonfunctioning democracy, a challenged democracy,” Ms. Coronel said, listing some of the epithets. “There was a time when the phrase ‘illiberal democracy’ was fashionable.”

Almost nothing in the Philippines escapes politics, and Mrs. Aquino’s funeral procession on Aug. 5 has been widely seen as a protest against the unpopular incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose term is scheduled to end next May.

“When Cory’s term ended, she did not seek to extend her stay,” said Consolacion Paje, 53, a housewife, as she stood in the rain with tens of thousands of people to view the funeral cortege, referring to Mrs. Aquino by her common nickname. “That’s what makes her different from Gloria. Cory was honest. She had integrity.”

Mrs. Arroyo is barred from running for a second six-year term as president. But the nation is transfixed by the possibility that she could amend the Constitution and stay in power as prime minister in a parliamentary system, a concern she sought to tamp down last month during her state of the nation address.

Despite constant attacks on her, Mrs. Arroyo is a ferocious politician, and she has already used her majority backing in Congress to turn aside attempts at impeachment.

With so much energy expended on political theater, not much progress has been made in improving the lives of ordinary Filipinos in a nation where 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

“Things get harder and harder every year,” said Ernesto Policarpio, 74, a farmer in Santa Maria, 20 miles northeast of Manila, who sells snacks and supplies from a stall by his rice field for extra income.

He paused to sell a single cigarette to a young man who lighted it with a lighter hanging from a string.

“But here in the province you don’t feel the hard times as much as in the city,” he said. “Here if you have nothing to eat you can always go to the neighbor and ask for food.”

Mr. Policarpio said he had worked abroad for a while, as many Filipinos have, earning $2,000 a month as a security guard in Los Angeles until the economy stumbled and he headed home.

Eight million Filipinos work overseas, or 25 percent of the country’s work force, its leading export. They send home about $17 billion a year, accounting for 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, according to the World Bank.

Before the financial crisis, the Philippine economy was growing by an average of more than 5 percent a year, World Bank figures show. But even that was not fast enough to outpace some of the world’s worst corruption or a birthrate that will bring the population to an estimated 101 million by 2015.

Many families here depend on remittances from abroad, and an overseas job can be one of the highest ambitions for the upwardly mobile.

“I’m optimistic,” said Danica Canonigo, 16, a high school student in Santa Maria. “I’m looking forward to another future in another country.”

This umbilical connection to the outside world may come in part from the history of the Philippines, which was an American colony for half a century, until 1946, after spending 400 years as a colony of Spain.

“We are not yet a nation,” said Mr. Jose, the novelist. “This is the whole problem. We have all the trappings of a modern state, but we are not yet a nation.”

The Philippines remains a collection of fiefdoms and oligarchies and political dynasties that include the children of Mr. Marcos and of Mrs. Aquino. She was herself elected as the widow of a prominent politician, Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

“I’m for Noynoy,” said Win Rico, 25, who serves coffee at a Starbucks outlet in Santa Maria, referring to Senator Benigno S. Aquino III. Mr. Aquino’s name has become a hot item in next year’s presidential election maneuvers since his mother’s funeral.

“I think Noynoy is a person who will put our country first,” Mr. Rico said, “the same as his father and his mother.”

As of April 22, this is what Iloilo Flood Control Project in Jaro district looks like.  President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered for the completion to be hastened.  However, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said that the two contractors for this project have two different time frames in finishing the construction. (Photo by Tara Yap)

As of April 22, this is what Iloilo Flood Control Project in Jaro district looks like. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered for the completion to be hastened. However, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said that the two contractors for this project have two different time frames in finishing the construction. (Photo by Tara Yap)

 

By Francis Allan L. Angelo 

ONE of the contractors of the P4-billion Iloilo Flood Control Project (IFCP) might not beat the deadline set by President Gloria Arroyo for the completion of the project.

 

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said the President wanted the project to be completed end of this year instead of September 2010.

 

Treñas, who met Mrs. Arroyo Friday last week, said the President set the new deadline in time for the rainy season.

 

The multibillion-peso project is designed to prevent massive flooding in the city and surrounding towns just like what happened last year at the height of typhoon Frank.

 

The mayor said he met Engr. Al Fruto of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH-6), IFCP project manager Jerome Borjal and representatives of contractors Hanjin Heavy Industries and China International Water and Electrical Corporation (CIWEC) to discuss the President’s instruction.

 

Officials of CIWEC, which is undertaking the improvement of Iloilo River, Upper Ingore creek and the banks of Jaro river mouth, said they can finish their work May to June 2009.

 

But Hanjin representatives said they might not beat the new deadline even if they work until 10pm daily.

 

The Korean firm said they will finish Package 1 of the project March or April 2010. The package includes the Jaro Floodway; construction of bridges in Brgy. Pagsanga-an and Anilao in Pavia, and Brgys. Tacas, Balabago, Buhang and Bitoon in Jaro district; and improvement of Aganan and Tigum Rivers.

 

Hanjin reported that they have completed more than 80% of their projects in the city.

 

The Jaro Floodway is 80% completed while Tacas Bridge is 94.97%, Balabago Bridge-89.40%, Buhang Bridge-88.80%, and Bito-on-85.75%.

 

The Daily Guardian learned that Fruto went to Manila early this week to discuss the new deadline with the DPWH central office. He was unavailable for interview.

 

The IFCP management staff said the rains since last week affected the progress of the project.

 

“You cannot just rush the project because of the massive work,” the staff said.

President Gloria Arroyo pays respect to slain Lt. Colonel Angel Benitez at their home in Remonville Subdivision, Jaro, Iloilo City. (Rey Baniquet/Malacañang photo)

President Gloria Arroyo pays respect to slain Lt. Colonel Angel Benitez at their home in Remonville Subdivision, Jaro, Iloilo City. (Rey Baniquet/Malacañang photo)

The family of Marine Corporal Angel Abeto – sister Annie Grace, mother Sonia, wife Daisy and uncle Gerry Casandra – talk to the media before meeting the President. (FAA)

The family of Marine Corporal Angel Abeto – sister Annie Grace, mother Sonia, wife Daisy and uncle Gerry Casandra – talk to the media before meeting the President. (FAA)

Benitez’s widow to Gloria: Help our kids’ education

 

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

JUSTICE for the slain soldiers and modernization of AFP equipment were the main messages the bereaved families of two slain soldiers relayed to President Gloria Arroyo yesterday.

 

President Arroyo arrived in Iloilo City from Cebu to pay respect to slain Lt. Colonel Angel Benitez at their home in Remonville Subdivision, Jaro district.

 

Clad in black blouse and pants, the President was met by Benitez’s widow, the former Ma. Elena “Kooky” Antenor-Cruz. The media was barred from covering the meeting inside the Benitez residence.

 

Aside from financial and livelihood assistance, Mrs. Benitez said she asked the President to give justice to her husband’s brutal death in the hands of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members.

 

“I asked the President to give justice to my husband because he was brutally killed. Justice is enough for us. They are saying that he died a hero but I lost my husband and the kids lost their papa,” Kooky said.

 

Benitez’s widow said she hopes the government will do its best to eliminate the MILF “for the peace of our country.”

 

Mrs. Benitez said she was concerned with the education of her four children who are still in high school and elementary.

 

“I talked to the President about the education of the children. That’s the most important thing right now. I want them to finish their college education so they will have a good future,” Mrs. Benitzez said, adding Mrs. Arroyo assured them that she will help.

 

“I told her that I don’t want to be assured verbally because with what happened to my husband, the children deserve a better future right now,” she added.  

 

Lt. Col. Benitez and Kooky have four children – Twinkle, 15; Carlo Luis, 13; Vincent Jaime, 11; and Mark Angelo, 9.

 

“The children were happy because the President went here to visit us and pay respect to their father. They were surprised that she came over.”

MODERNIZE THE AFP

The family of Corporal Angelo Abeto of Mandurriao, Iloilo City was also present at the Benitez residence to meet President Arroyo.

 

Corporal Abeto’s wife Daisy, mother Sonia, sister Annie Grace and uncle Gerry Casandra were in tow to see the President.

 

Daisy said her husband’s death should serve as a lesson to the government to immediately respond to soldier’s wounded in the battlefield.

 

Abeto, who was wounded in a skirmish with the MILF last August 11, waited for four hours before he can be airlifted to Cebu for treatment. He died of massive blood loss and was buried Friday last week.

 

Abeto’s plea for help was aired by a giant TV network covering the Mindanao conflict.

 

“I feel bad because it took a long time before he can be flown to the hospital. It’s okay if we lost him as long as he was given immediate attention,” Daisy said.

 

Annie Grace, who is blind, said she asked the President to help her finish her political science course because her slain brother was the only one who supported her studies.

 

Annie Grace is a member of the Philippine track and field Paralympics team.

 

Casandra said his nephew’s death should prod the national government to modernize the AFP assets to facilitate evacuation of wounded soldiers. He also asked the President to eliminate the MILF in an “all out war” lest more families will lose their relatives to the Mindanao conflict.

 

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr. said the Abetos will receive a house and lot from the Gawad Kalinga project.

 

Gonzalez accompanied the President during the meeting with the Benitez and Abeto families to hear their requests.

 

“All the benefits will be given to the bereaved families. In fact, part of it was already given to them. What is important is that we will pursue the killers of our soldiers,” Gonzalez said.

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