, March 11, 2006 (BULLETIN) By FERDIE J. MAGLALANG & GENALYN D. KABILING - Malacañang yesterday defended its call on print and broadcast media entities not to allow the use of their facilities as propaganda tools by some quarters to advance their own political agenda, notably to grab power from the government.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye made the defense as various media organizations opposed the government’s move to impose a prior restraint over media reporting of alleged "seditious" actions by some disgruntled military officers last Feb. 24.

"From the start, we have drawn the line between responsible reportage and the media being used as a propaganda tool of groups out to overthrow the democratic system," he said in an official press statement.

The Arroyo administration had alerted the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to monitor media coverage of the Feb. 24 foiled coup attempt, threatening broadcast media entities of a possible revocation of their franchise or license to operate.

When Mrs. Arroyo placed the country under a state of national emergency, the Daily Tribune, which is highly critical of the President and her administration, was raided and put under watch by the police.

At least seven journalists, most of whom were editors and columnists, were said to be under strict surveillance by authorities, threatening them with arrests for purportedly supporting rebellion.

"The principle of necessity and survival guides the actions of the State," Bunye said, mindful that the President’s move to put the country under a state of emergency was intended to save it from a "clear and present danger" of a power-grab by some quarters.

The government has pinpointed to what it branded as a "conspiracy" among leaders of leftist and rightist groups to overthrow the government and establish a civilian-backed military junta, with the support of opposition and civil society groups.

While the Philippine prides itself to have a "liveliest and freest" media in Asia and the world, Bunye said the freedom of the press being enjoyed under the present democratic system is not at all an absolute right that is without responsibility.

"The freedom of the press, as well as all human freedoms for that matter, are not absolute but are circumscribed by the general welfare and the rule of law," he said.

As this developed, Malacañang was insulted over the harsh depiction of human rights violations, including local prison conditions in the country by the US State Department and Amnesty International.

Bunye said the government continues to uphold civil liberties as well as look for means to decongest provincial jails in the country.

"The portrayal of human rights violations in the Philippines is vague and unfair. The country’s democracy has been as healthy as ever, with our public institutions operating within transparent, lawful bounds," Bunye said in a statement.

He said the government is working closely in the investigation of cases of human rights violations handled by an independent commission as well as in the proper education of the uniformed services.

The Amnesty International has expressed alarm over the killings of leftwing activists in the Philippines and called on the Arroyo government to condemn extra-judicial killings.

The US State Department, in its 2005 Human Rights Report, also deplored overcrowded jails in the Philippines, including the lack of food and basic infrastructure for the prisoners.

Bunye said the problem of overcrowded jails started even before the President’s term began in 2001.

GMA releases P5 M for campaign against smuggling By GENALYN D. KABILING (BULLETIN)

Taking the crackdown on smuggling operations on a higher gear, President Arroyo yesterday ordered the release of R5 million for the "Big Brother Watch" of the Bureau of Customs against the entry of smuggled goods in the country.

The President asked the Department of Budget and Management to release the funds that seek to tighten the government’s surveillance system on smuggled goods before they reach the local ports.

The allocation of funds for the anti-smuggling "Big Brother Watch" was among the three directives issued by the President during her inspection of the 37 smuggled container vans of imported ceramic tiles worth R20 million recently confiscated in Port Area, Manila.

"I will go to the DBM to order the release of the R5 million for the Big Brother Watch of Customs so that we will know there are smuggled goods coming in even before they reach our harbors," the President told reporters, a few days after she ordered a "no-holds barred" crackdown against illegal trafficking of goods that deprive the government of much-needed revenues.

The Big Brother Watch project involves elite customs intelligence operatives tasked to monitor, inspect and prevent the entry of smuggled goods in seaports and terminals all over the country.

Aside from the tight watch on the entry of smuggled goods, the President also ordered the customs bureau to hasten the purchase of modern x-ray machines from China that will facilitate swift inspection of imported goods.

"This X-ray machine is better because it can detect not only smuggled goods but also terrorists’ materials. It’s good for business and also for our anti-terrorism efforts," she said, adding the inspection will be cut down to five minutes from the usual five hours.

Also, the President directed Finance Secretary Margarito Teves to make a formal request to the Office of the Ombudsman for the establishment of a "green lane" exclusive for cases involving erring revenue and customs agents.

"We want to show we are serious in the collection of taxes, protection of industries and eliminate sources of corruption," she said.

During her visit, the President also encouraged customs agents to be more vigilant against smuggling and help end all forms of revenue leakages and other fraudulent activities in all customs operations.

Mrs. Arroyo also praised the Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales and his entire team during an inspection of the smuggled ceramic tiles confiscated from suspected big-time smuggler Samuel Lee last weekend.

She ordered Morales to donate the confiscated ceramic tiles to the National Housing Authority (NHA) after the shipments are forfeited in favor of the government.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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