MARCH 29, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - For the third time in less than a month, Malacañang has ordered the military to prepare for the eventual pullout of its troops from urban poor communities in Metro Manila.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the military was asked to evaluate how long the (troops) should remain in the barangays in urban poor communities.

"We gave them instructions to come up with, shall we say if necessary, an exit plan for such a program but they have to take a look at it," he said.

"Because it’s getting to be a very important concern, I will remind them they should restudy that and come up with timeline (of withdrawal) in order that this does not become a hot issue."

"They have seen the concern of the CBCP. I’m very sure that they are making an assessment of their deployment," Ermita added.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told reporters that President Arroyo did not order the withdrawal of troops when they met in Malacañang last night.

On the contrary, he pointed out, the soldiers would be working closely with local officials, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Philippine National Police and the media.

Esperon said hundreds of families have benefited from the military’s construction and repair of day care centers, and that military doctors and dentists have treated the sick and provided dental care to residents of urban poor communities.

Troops will step up civic action including feeding programs, medical missions and reading lessons, he added.

Esperon said a total of 16,464 people have benefited from various social and medical missions conducted by the military from Feb. 11 to March 24.

The soldiers have been deployed in Metro Manila since November last year, he added.

On the other hand, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the troop deployment was part of a "tactical move" for military operations in Metro Manila.

"We don’t want Malacañang to micromanage what the units, such as the Armed Forces, might be doing in a place like Metro Manila," he said.

Nineteen barangay chairmen from Tondo, Binondo, Pandacan, and Sta. Mesa in Manila, Caloocan City, Quezon City, and Taguig City have welcomed the deployment of troops in their communities, according to Ermita and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales. ‘AFP using NPA tactics’ Meanwhile, retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan said yesterday the military’s deployment of troops in Metro Manila is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the people, just like what the New People’s Army has been doing.

Speaking at a media forum at the Cherry Blossoms Hotel in Ermita, Manila, Palparan said now that troops are sleeping and eating with the people in urban poor communities in Metro Manila, the NPA might be eased out from communities where they have a "certain degree" of influence.

"The AFP is now employing the same Maoist strategy being employed by the CPP-NPA, by living with the people, eating with the people and interacting with the people," he said.

Palparan said the NPA’s strategy is for poor communities to remain poor to create conflict so the communists could wrest power from the government.

However, as long as the military remains committed to fight the rebels and the political leadership has the will to finish off the rebellion, the communists would never win, he added.

Palparan said the CPP-NPA leadership knows that all they have to do is to continue the armed struggle and enjoy its economic benefits.

"The CPP-NPA want to grab power, but they know they will not win," he said. "That is why they have became bandits."

Poverty is not the cause of the communist rebellion but the CPP-NPA themselves, who are "masters of deception and masters of creating a conflict," Palparan said.

On the other hand, Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino revealed yesterday that the CPP-NPA is reviving the Sparrow Unit death squad.

Civil unrest

Meanwhile, party-list group Bayan Muna accused Malacañang yesterday of preparing for a scenario of civil unrest after the May 14 elections.

Speaking at the monthly Kapihan sa Max’s in Manila, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said the administration has deployed troops in Metro Manila to be able to quell massive demonstrations after the elections at a moment’s notice.

"If the elections would not be credible, there would be unrest and it is these communities that deliver the warm bodies for rallies and demonstrations, so they would like to nip it in the bud." he said.

Casiño said that if the opposition dominates the House of Representatives, there would be major protest actions for the impeachment of President Arroyo.

"Soldiers would stay in these communities to prevent rallies that would be staged in support of the impeachment," he said.

Casiño said the Armed Forces and the Department of National Defense have been turning urban poor communities in Metro Manila into a war zone to fight the NPA.

"What they would want to do is to make these communities a no – man’s land," he said.

"That’s why Secretary (Hermogenes) Ebdane Jr. told our members to leave these communities if they can’t stand living with the soldiers, so I am going to ask him what is his problem," he said. – With Jaime Laude, James Mananghaya

Why Filipinos think the Arroyo regime will cheat AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo The Philippine Star 03/29/2007

In all the years I have spent observing Philippine political exercises, no election has invoked so much public skepticism as the May 2007 elections. This time, there are just too many people who are convinced that there will be massive cheating.

A lot of people have approached me during meetings and social gatherings asking if I think the elections will be fair, clean and honest. This collective expression of doubt and misgivings is the result of people’s loss of faith in the election process following the absence of closure over the Garci tapes. If the regime got away with it, it will do it again, so they say.

But can we blame people for thinking that way?

On one hand, we have the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) regime, tagged as "cheater" — at the same time finding itself besieged with the following mega issues:

1. The UN and the international community have called the regime to task for the murders of close to 900 activists. That is blood on Madame Arroyo’s hands.

2. Then there is the jolting PERC Report which now rates the Philippines as the most corrupt country in Asia. In this day and age, any regime that is tagged as the most corrupt would have sunk in an election into ignominy.

3. To blunt regime claims of an economic boom, there is the SWS survey that revealed that 1 of every 5 Filipino households experience involuntary hunger. Another survey showed 53% of Filipinos rating themselves as poor. No regime could hope to win an election with a misery index like this.

4. Then another survey reveals that among the institutions, the national administration (- 1%) and the cabinet (- 3%) rate the poorest compared to the Senate and the Supreme Court.

5. Even before all these negative developments, Madame Arroyo has consistently registered negative satisfaction ratings while majority of Filipinos continue to believe that she is not their legitimately elected president. Another majority wants her ousted from office — a logical consequence of the doubts on her legitimacy.

Thus, it was not surprising that the regime had a difficult time putting together a Senate ticket and in the end, found itself cajoling a showbiz star and five candidates who originally wanted to run with the Opposition. Faced with these depressing conditions, we can’t help detecting a worrisome pattern on the part of the administration that seems to telegraph intentions to attain poll victory by hook or by crook.

These are:

1. The deployment of military troops in the Metro area’s vote-rich depressed communities which this column has concluded to be an election-related move. Other sectors, including a Catholic Bishop, have denounced this as a plan to reduce the Opposition lead by unfair means.

2. The emergence of questionable party list groups which is seen as a brazen attempt to get as many administration congressional seats as possible to outnumber pro-impeachment voters in the new Congress.

3. The revival of government involvement in microfinance despite an appalling track record of failing to collect lent money. This is seen as a ploy to buy community leaders.

4. The renewed misuse of government resources similar to the Philhealth cards in 2004 and the one-sided coverage of administration campaign activities in government-controlled media. In this category would also fall the current ad campaigns of government agencies that are slanted to make Madame Arroyo look good — like the commercial of PCSO.

But the biggest tell-tale sign of all that points to cheating in the May elections is the shameful behavior of the Comelec. This Comelec under the watch of Chairman Ben Abalos will make even the infamous and unlamented Leonie Perez of the Marcos era recoil.

Just look at how some party list groups like Ladlad were eliminated outright. Now compare that to the 12 party list groups that Rep. Etta Rosales exposed as Palace fronts and how Abalos did not even bother to investigate these. In the case of these alleged Palace fronts, government executives already confirmed, as reported on ANC’s World Tonight, as having assisted them.

Until last Tuesday, Abalos had persistently allowed nuisance candidate Jose Pepito Cayetano to run despite obvious misrepresentations in his filed certificate of candidacy and no credible source of the wherewithal by which to conduct a nationwide campaign. Action came only after KBL president Bongbong Marcos categorically denied having endorsed not just Jose Pepito Cayetano but that entire bogus KBL Senate ticket.

"My father did not put up this party to be a repository of nuisance candidates" the young Marcos said on national television. Only then did Abalos realize that he ran out of excuses to allow the nuisance Cayetano to run.

Who wouldn’t think that cheating is a done deal in the May elections with a Comelec under such heavy suspicion? People wonder who Abalos serves: is it the Filipino people or the people who appointed him?

* * * You may e-mail William M. Esposo at:

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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