June 14, 2006 (STAR) Malacañang countered claims yesterday that a "subtle dictatorship" is now enslaving Filipinos and that the country must free itself from a "disguised authoritarian rule."

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye Jr. said that contrary to the claims of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Arroyo administration was actually fighting all forms of dictatorship.

"This government has protected the people against assaults to our democratic way of life, to our republican institutions and to the rule of law. Everyone’s voice can be heard in a society where a free media prevails," he said.

"This government has implemented all means — political, economic and social — to make this nation a safer and better place to live in by fighting for good governance and actively pushing for investments, jobs and all means to liberate the people from poverty."

Speaking at a protest rally in Iloilo City Monday, Archbishop of Jaro Angel Lagdameo, CBCP president, identified a so-called "disguised authoritarian rule" as one of several problems the country needed to eliminate.

"Without these, the celebration of Philippine Independence Day in this Year of Social Concerns would be more meaningful," he said.

Lagdameo made no clear reference to President Arroyo, who had been heavily criticized for allegedly curtailing civil liberties in the name of national security.

At the rally, Lagdameo called on the people to continue resisting moves to amend the Constitution.

"We have freed ourselves from the punishment of the death penalty," he said.

"But we still have to free ourselves from drug addiction and drug lords, from jueteng addiction and jueteng lords, from the temptation to extort and to bribe, from exploitation of women and children, from the killings of militants, labor leaders and journalists without the benefit of just trial, from torture and maltreatment of every kind, from graft and corruption and subtle dictatorship."

Lagdameo said Filipinos were enslaving their own countrymen.

"A painful experience of Filipinos today is that even if we freed ourselves from foreign oppression, there are still Filipinos who enslave their fellow Filipinos," he said without elaborating.

Lagdameo led 2,500 protesters at the Iloilo Capitol grounds in a chant of "No to Cha-cha (Charter change)."

"My reason for being here is because this is a principled and moral statement," he said.

Lagdameo said any changes in the Constitution should be implemented through a constitutional convention whose delegates are elected by the people.

"We are not against Charter change per se, but we are against Charter change by the present Congress converting itself into a constituent assembly," he said.

"From history we learn that dictators are products of and supported by parliamentary forms of government," he said.

Lagdameo said the CBCP position is that the reform and modernization of the electoral process should be continued and that the 2007 elections should be held.

"We can go on expressing our (sentiments)," he said. "We are not alone. This is not the only time that (religious groups) have held similar activities."

Mrs. Arroyo’s opponents have blamed the military for what they said were the extrajudicial killings of more than 600 left-wing activists since she took office in 2001.

Her administration has denied any responsibility and has ordered an investigation of the killings.

Militant groups staged marches and protests in Metro Manila and other major urban centers to condemn the wave of killings, efforts by Mrs. Arroyo’s followers to revise the Constitution, and her refusal to step down.

Police said they detained 13 left-wing students who tried to disrupt the Independence Day flag-raising ceremony at the Aguinaldo shrine in Kawit, Cavite Monday.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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