, December 5, 2005
(STAR) Malacañang branded yesterday as an assault to democracy the murders of journalists even as it tried to parry criticisms that the Arroyo administration was not doing enough to stop the killings.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the recent conviction of former police officer Guillermo Wapile last Nov. 29 was a "landmark decision" that would encourage witnesses to come out and testify on the killing of journalists.

Bunye noted the conviction marked the first time that somebody was finally made to pay for the murder of a journalist in the country.

"In one landmark decision, no less than a police officer has been convicted by the court. Several cases are in various stages of trial and if witnesses could just remain steadfast, we are optimistic that decisions would be forthcoming," he said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which earlier described the Philippines as the world’s most dangerous place for journalists, called the conviction of Wapile as "a significant step for press freedom in the Philippines."

But three days after Wapile’s conviction, Cebu-based radio journalist George Benaojan was killed by unidentified gunmen near a market in Talisay City.

A bystander was also wounded while the gunmen fled in a taxi. The journalist died a few hours later in hospital.

"The government is especially concerned over cases where journalists come under threat in the legitimate exercise of their profession, which makes the crime an assault on the democratic system itself," Bunye said.

He said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Justice are working closely to bring killers of journalists to justice.

Bunye said the PNP and the DOJ already made significant gains in the prosecution of several suspects. — Paolo Romero

Palace: Cha-cha not for GMA’s benefit The Philippine Star 12/05/2005

President Arroyo’s drive to amend the 1987 Constitution to shift the present form of government to a parliamentary federal system is not for her personal benefit or to ensure her political survival, Malacañang said yesterday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo has been consistent in pushing for Charter change and "it would be unfair to impute such statements that the amendments are to benefit her personally."

"It will be recalled that during the 2004 campaign period, it was only the President who included Charter change as part of her campaign platform," Bunye said. "Memory appears to be failing those who are now claiming that the proposed shift is only being done for political expediency."

"We are glad to hear reports that the Senate is now more open to consider charter change even through the more expeditious method of constituent assembly," he said.

Administration and opposition senators have reportedly warmed up to convening a constituent assembly, where both the Senate and the House of Representatives will form as one Charter-amending body.

However, opposition senators said they would agree to the convening of a constituent assembly if it cuts short the term of the President while others said Charter change was Mrs. Arroyo’s way of ensuring that she will remain in office until 2010, while pleasing her political allies who have long been pushing for a change in the form of government.

Senators earlier repeatedly bucked moves for a constituent assembly, touted as an expeditious and cost-effective mode for amending the Constitution. Many of the senators objecting to the constituent assembly mode either have presidential or vice presidential ambitions in 2010 or fear the Senate’s abolition once a unicameral parliament is in place.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday it would be premature to speculate on whatever political implications a shift in the form of the government would have on Mrs. Arroyo’s political future, as Congress has yet to come up with a draft constitution while the Consultative Commission (con-com) has not yet finished its nationwide consultations.

"The President is more concerned with having the Constitution amended as soon as possible than anything else," Ermita said in a telephone interview. "She will abide by whatever will come out of Congress."

Bunye said the Palace’s public statements have been consistent and fundamental political reforms, particularly Charter change, are important components of the Arroyo administration’s political and economic roadmap.

"We call upon our leaders to seize the moment and waste no time to address the weaknesses of a poisoned political system," he said. — Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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