The 2007 Newsmakers (Part 1 of 2)

by Malou Aguilar/Asianjournal.com

TO SAY 2007 was an eventful year for the Philippines would be an understatement. President Macapagal Arroyo survived a generous serving of impeachment attempts from the opposition as a staple reaction to various corruption scandals. Violence also reared its ugly head that resulted in the bombing of the House of Representatives, among others. The number of extra-judicial killings rose together with the Philippine peso while another failed mutiny underscored the dire need for political change. Here are top ten newsmakers as chosen by the Asian Journal editors.

The Rise of the Peso

The Filipino peso increased in value, strengthening 18.7 percent against the dollar this year and heading for its biggest annual gain since at least 1994. It has been the best performing currency in Asia this year. The resurgence of the peso was partly attributed to a record amount remittances from an estimated 8 million OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers). Funds sent home by overseas Filipinos, which account for about 10% of the $117 billion economy, increased 15.2% in the first 10 months of the year.

2007 Elections

Last May 14, the Philippines held its national and local elections for half of the seats in the Senate and all the seats in the House of Representatives, plus thousands of provincial and municipal positions. As expected, the elections were tainted by violence, totaling to 126 lives and 148 others wounded by election-related violence.

The administration’s Team Unity (TU) slate was defeated by the Genuine Opposition (GO) ticket, getting only three of the ten available seats in the Senate. Winners included Oakwood mutiny leader (and now of the Manila Pen standoff), Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero and Allan Peter Cayetano. In the House of Representatives, the administration’s ruling coalition was strengthened, garnering 88-90% of the seats.

Estrada’s Verdict and Pardon

After a five-year trial, former President Joseph Estrada was convicted (reclusio perpetua) of massive plunder by the Sandiganbayan graft and corruption court. Found guilty for accepting P545-million jueteng protection money, and for collecting P189.7-million as personal commission from the sale of Belle Corp., after he pushed the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Social Security System (SSS) to buy Belle Corp. shares.

This is the first time in Philippine history that a former President got convicted of crimes committed while in office. His co-accused son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada was acquitted of all charges filed against him.

Six weeks after his conviction, Estrada was granted full pardon by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a move that was seen as the President’s own political survival rather than an interest in serving justice. It was also assumed that the two had cut a deal for Estrada to agree to end his participation in the Arroyo impeachment drives. Estrada, on the other hand, insisted that he was innocent of the charges in spite of acknowledging his guilt by accepting the pardon.

Malacanang Bribery Scam

The year 2007 has been a controversial one for the administration. Aside from impeachment cases filed against Arroyo, another scandal hit the Palace when an administration staff allegedly distributed envelopes containing P200,000 to P500,000 to local officials and congressmen. The bribery attempt was purportedly distributed in exchange for their support of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo against another impeachment attempt at the House of Representatives.

The bribery attempt was exposed by priest-turned-governor Ed Panlilio (Pampanga) and Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Crispin Beltran.

ZTE-NBN Deal

In April 2007, the $329 million contract between the Philippine Government and Chinese Telecom giant ZTE was signed to connect government agencies throughout the Philippines through the Internet. The contract was signed in Boao, China, during a time when the government was not allowed to sign contracts because of the upcoming national elections. The contract became controversial for alleged overpricing, an anomalous bidding process, and being of questionable necessity.

In September, the controversy blew up when Jose ‘Joey’ de Venecia III accused COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr. of trying to bribe him with $10 million dollars to back out from the bidding on the NBN project in favor of ZTE, a telecommunications company to which Abalos is apparently connected.

When the Senate investigated further, Venecia said that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo told him to “back off” from the contract. His testimony threatened to bring down the Arroyo Administration while Malacanang Palace shifted into high gear to contain the explosive scandal.

(www.asianjournal.com)

(To be continued)

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