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Thursday, October 12, 2000

Philippine President
Estrada should resign

Bullet The issue: The archbishop of Manila has called on President Joseph Estrada to resign.
Bullet Our view: Estrada's departure would be in the national interest.

THE Catholic archbishop of Manila didn't support Joseph Estrada's election bid for the presidency of the Philippines, largely because of his notorious womanizing and gambling. So Estrada isn't likely to heed Cardinal Jaime Sin's call for his resignation.

However, the outspoken cardinal exerts considerable political influence in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. He was one of the key figures in the "people power" campaign to overthrow Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Sin's statement that Estrada "has lost the moral ascendancy to govern" is a serious blow to the beleaguered president's already damaged credibility.

Sin organized a massive rally last year to protest the president's proposal to amend the constitution. Estrada backed down.

The cardinal has also been critical of alleged corruption in the Estrada administration. However, this is the first time he has openly urged Estrada to resign. His statement was backed by a council of 75 Catholic priests in Manila.

A former leading man in Filipino movies, mayor of a Manila suburb and senator, Estrada was easily elected in May 1998 but it has been mostly downhill for him since. It soon became obvious that he was severely underqualified for the presidency. He quickly came under criticism for government by crony and failure to come to grips with the country's problems.

The recent hostage crisis in the southern islands involving Muslim rebels, which has dragged on for months, brought renewed criticism of the president for indecisiveness.

Estrada's popularity has faded, even among the poor, formerly his most enthusiastic supporters. Investor confidence in the economy has collapsed in the face of mounting evidence of corruption and the hostage situation, resulting in a plunging stock market and weakening of the peso.

The latest challenge is an accusation that Estrada has taken millions of dollars in payoffs from operators of an illegal gambling game. The accusation was made by the governor of Ilocos Sur province in Northern Luzon Island who said he personally delivered to Estrada money he collected from the gambling operators. Estrada has dismissed the allegation as a smear.

The opposition is talking about an attempt to impeach the president but his ruling coalition seems to have the votes in Congress to thwart such an effort. That may change if dissatisfaction continues to grow. Estrada has nearly four years left of a six-year term, with no provision for re-election. His performance has been so inept that speculation that he might be forced to resign before the completion of his term has become common.

Estrada's resignation would be in the national interest, but conditions do not appear to have deteriorated far enough to force him out. Unless a crisis develops that demands a change -- possibly through a coup -- the Philippines may limp along until 2004 with a discredited, ineffective leader.

Protecting free speech

Bullet The issue: A federal appeals court has struck down the federal government's rules requiring radio and television stations to provide air time for responses to personal attacks and personal endorsements.
Bullet Our view: The ruling is an important step toward gaining full rights of free speech for broadcasters.

ONEROUS rules that required radio and television stations to provide air time for responses to personal attacks and political endorsements have been struck down by a federal appeals court.

The decades-old rules deserved trashing even before the arrival of the technology-enhanced information age. Their nullification will bring the broadcast media a step closer to full benefits of First Amendment rights of free speech.

One of the rules required stations that endorsed political candidates to give free rebuttal time to opponents. The other regulation assured politicians and other private citizens free air time to respond to personal attacks made on programs. Broadcasters challenged the rules for years.

The Federal Communications Commission finally last week suspended the rules for the remainder of this year's election campaign to test the validity of the broadcasters' complaints. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out the rules permanently, saying it was "folly" to suppose the suspension "cures anything."

The court said the commission could write new rules. FCC Chairman William Kennard said the commission would "determine how best to ensure that the public receives balanced coverage of controversial issues."

Kennard still doesn't understand that regulating media coverage of politics -- whether in print or over the air -- should not be the government's role. Any suggestion that a government agency should impose restrictions assuring "balanced coverage" of politics by the print media would be met with justified outrage.

The government's authority to control the airways should not be used to regulate the broadcast of political opinion -- a practice that has become a trademark of totalitarian regimes.

Edward O. Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, called the court decision "a historic victory in the 20-year fight to grant broadcasters the same free-speech rights as print journalists."

Broadcasters will gain those full rights only when the government agrees entirely to stop abusing its power over the airways to control political speech.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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