June 7, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo assured the nation yesterday she would never become a "dictator," amid allegations of human rights violations and government killings of militants and journalists critical of the administration.

Mrs. Arroyo said she has ordered the police, the military and the Department of Justice to take necessary steps to stop the attacks against militants, media people and ordinary citizens.

"I hope the people will understand that their president is against dictatorship, and will fight for the country’s stability and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution," she said.

"As regards the killings of journalists, the authorities have identified the suspects and filed charges against them. There were some who had been arrested and tracker teams were deployed to hunt the other suspects."

Mrs. Arroyo vowed to bring justice to all victims of crimes, which she said must be solved soon.

"We want to strengthen our democracy," she said.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said yesterday the series of extra-judicial killings remained a threat to national security and assured that the government was giving its full attention to stopping the murders.

"Any threat to the lives and well-being of citizens is also a threat to national security," he said in a statement.

Gonzales said his office was working with other government security agencies to identify the perpetrators of the slayings of political activists and journalists, and bring them to justice.

However, he said the killings — although "greatly disturbing" and "abominable" — did not warrant the declaration of martial law.

"As a social democrat, I am not for martial law," he said.

"There are certain conditions in which martial law may be needed, but the present situation is not grave enough for that."

Gonzales said although he supports a strong and interventionist government, his idea of a strong government is one that derives its strength from the people.

"I am greatly concerned over what is happening," he said.

"Some quarters blame the government, saying these (killings) are part of a plan to declare martial law. Nothing could be further from the truth. The government will not benefit from these killings. It is mandated to protect, not destroy, the lives of citizens."

Gonzales added that only a government that wanted to self-destruct would spark chaos through mass murder.

He said the perpetrators had one aim: to create chaos and portray the government as a weakling before the international community.

Gonzales called on the police and the National Bureau of Investigation to thoroughly probe the spate of killings to determine if the murders of journalists are related to the slaying of leftist militants.

On the other hand, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz reminded government security forces to observe judicial processes when going after those perceived as enemies of the state.

Without directly chastising military and police troops who have been enforcing "warrantless" arrests, Cruz said there is no question that people plotting against the government should be placed behind bars.

"Idemanda itong mga taong nag-coconduct ng armed rebellion sa gobyerno, arestuhin natin at ikulong natin (We shall charge in court people in armed rebellion against the government, we shall arrest and place them in jail)," he said.

However, Cruz, a lawyer himself, said this should come only after proper and legal processes have been observed.

"Use the judicial process, yun ang tama sa (that’s the right thing in a) democratic form of government," he said.

Cruz said an arrest could be made if it is supported by facts and evidence and an arrest warrant.

Legal processes include the filing of charges and the issuance of arrest warrants for suspects, he added.

Cruz said the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Government are working to harmonize the actions of the military and police.

He is hopeful that a joint directive between the DND and the DILG can be issued to remind soldiers and police how to carry out legal arrests.

So far, Cruz is the first Cabinet secretary to publicly air his opinion on the issue in response to growing criticism of what some call state-sanctioned human rights abuses.

Among the abuses purportedly carried out by military and police forces were recent warrantless arrests and the torture of five supporters of ousted President Joseph Estrada by military agents.

The administration has been tagged with alleged human rights violations in the arrests of people identified with the opposition.

It is also being assailed for failing to solve media killings, with some international organizations calling the Philippines the second most dangerous country for journalists — next to Iraq.

Some reports also said Mrs. Arroyo has not ruled out the declaration of martial law, but Palace officials said the current situation does not call for such a move.

Mrs. Arroyo was also strongly criticized for issuing Proclamation No. 1017, which declared a state of national emergency in February to quell an alleged conspiracy to topple her administration.

Under a state of emergency, the Arroyo government restrained street protests and raided a newspaper critical of her administration.

Meanwhile, militants said yesterday said the government is pushing them to take up arms to justify an alleged plan to "illegalize" so-called progressive organizations linked to communist rebels.

Robert de Castro, Bayan Muna deputy secretary general, said the unrelenting assassinations of activists were "a dangerous and bloody trap" being set by the government.

"Our members and allies are very agitated with the killings," he said. "The government is provoking and pushing us to the wall. The government trap is to push our members to take up arms and retaliate against state security forces thereby justifying the all-out armed attack of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Philippines (PNP) against our leaders and members."

De Castro said while he believes that taking up arms "to defend ourselves against armed attack is just," the militants "will not bite the poisonous trap of Gloria." — With Perseus Echeminada, Jaime Laude, Katherine Adraneda

GMA concedes she cannot dictate timeline on Cha-cha By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 06/07/2006

President Arroyo maintained yesterday that she is not the one dictating the pace of Charter change, adding she would freely step down in 2010 and "not one day later," despite talk that she is pushing the shift to a parliamentary system to extend her term.

"I cannot answer for Congress. I cannot answer, either, for the people who are behind the people’s initiative because it has a life of its own," she said.

"Maybe — especially in terms of timetable — this is not in my hands. But all I can say is that I remain president until 2010 and not one day later," Mrs. Arroyo said over radio station dzMM.

She said she would not back away from Charter change, particularly if it leads to a parliamentary form of government, since this would put an end to legislative gridlock.

"The enactment of laws will be faster and those who craft the laws will also be the ones to implement them so the enforcement will be better," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President noted that "in other countries, laws are enacted faster because instead of separation of powers that result in gridlock, especially in the Philippines, there will be a fusion of powers between the executive and the legislative."

She said it would be up to Congress and the proponents of Charter change to debate on what constitutional provisions need to be amended.

Mrs. Arroyo said she would remain focused on good governance and improving the economy to create jobs and keep prices of basic commodities stable.

"I will not stray from this mission," she said.

The President also appealed for unity and cooperation for the sake of the country.

"It is important that everyone is on good terms. I will strive to work with members of Congress and other sectors of society to push the country forward," she said.

"We will have to respect one another even if we don’t agree on everything. I will work hard to lessen political noise," Mrs. Arroyo added.

Early this year, the President said she wanted Charter change to take effect by June but she was strongly criticized by the Senate, which said she could not issue deadlines or timelines for a move that would have to be decided by Congress and the people.

She then formed the Charter Change Advocacy Commission to inform the public on the need to amend the Constitution immediately, while critics accused her administration of trying to railroad the people’s initiative.

There are speculations that a shift to a parliamentary system could affect Mrs. Arroyo’s term as president but she said her term, which ends in 2010, must be respected with or without Charter change.

The President said she would prepare for the country’s future and allot new revenues from the expanded value-added tax to improve health, education and infrastructure.

"I will continue to strengthen democracy and respect freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution," she said.

Members of Congress cannot agree yet on the proposed amendments to the Constitution, particularly on the mode of Charter change.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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