Malacañang sounded neither threatened nor scared with Vice President Leni Robredo’s announcement she’d unite the political opposition against President Duterte.
“After all, she is the highest elected member of the opposition,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in shrugging off Robredo’s painfully inept attempt at saber-rattling.
For Roque, Robredo’s statement was clearly par for the course, something that should have been left unsaid.
Nonetheless, the Palace believes that an active opposition has a vital role to play in a healthy, well-functioning democracy.
Roque challenged the opposition to promote not only responsible and constructive debate but also to push the national conversation to a higher level of political maturity.
“Also, (we expect them) to present to our people a viable alternative platform of government to address the longstanding problems of the nation. Our people deserve no less,” Roque said.
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By AFP — June 21, 2018 12:03 AMThe United States struck hard against the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as it announced its withdrawal from the UN body, which US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley branded as “a cesspool of political bias.” Haley condemned the “hypocrisy” of UNHRC members and its alleged “unrelenting bias” against Israel. Sought for comment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines “respects the decision of a co-equal sovereign state.” Haley came to Washington to announce the decision alongside President Donald Trump’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both insisted the US would remain a leading champion of human rights but, for many, the decision will reflect Trump’s general hostility to the world body and to multilateral diplomacy in general. The announcement came after the top UN human rights official criticized Washington for separating migrant children from their parents who are seeking asylum after crossing into the country from Mexico. “For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers.” But Haley and Pompeo stressed the decision had been made after a long year of efforts to shame the council into reform and to remove member states that commit abuses. “These reforms were needed in order to make the council a serious advocate for human rights,” Haley said. “For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers. Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” he added. The Geneva-based body was established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide, but its pronouncements and reports have often clashed with US priorities. Israel tack angers Washington In particular, the council’s focus on Israeli behavior towards Palestinians in the territory it occupies on the West Bank and in Gaza has infuriated Washington. But, as Haley stressed, Washington also believes it comes up short on criticizing even flagrant abuses by US opponents like Venezuela and Cuba. “Countries have colluded with each other to undermine the current method of selecting members,” Pompeo said. “And the council’s continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable,” he said. Pompeo added since its creation, “the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined.” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US move, branding the council “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.” Haley, who issued a warning a year ago that Washington would make good on its threat to leave the council if reforms were not carried through, used even starker language. Hypocritical body “We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” she said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regretted the US decision, adding: “The UN’s human rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.” Last Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a Jordanian, had rebuked Trump over the US practice of splitting up migrant families detained on the Mexican border. “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said. Item 7 US criticism stems from the fact that Israel is the only country that has a dedicated agenda item at council meetings, one defended in particular by the Arab bloc of countries. Known as “Item 7,” it means Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians comes under scrutiny at each of three annual sessions. The United States refused to join the body when it was created in 2006, when George W. Bush was in the White House and his ambassador to the UN was John Bolton, now Trump’s UN-skeptic national security advisor. After Barack Obama came to power, Washington joined the council in 2009. But when Trump took office, he adopted a hostile approach to world governance, leading Washington to quit the UN cultural agency UNESCO, cut UN funding and expressed a plan to leave the Paris climate agreement.
By Mario J. Mallari — June 12, 2018 12:05 AMWPS conflict inherited The Aquino administration “mismanaged” the government’s approach to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dispute that President Duterte has mended to restore good relationship with China, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday. The Duterte administration merely inherited the WPS conflict from the previous administration, he added. Lorenzana said when Mr. Duterte assumed office in June last year, tension between Beijing and Manila existed while trade with China was greatly reduced to almost zero. He added Chinese tourists mostly avoided the country and Filipino fishermen cannot venture into Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal. Government troops deployed in the area were also harassed, he added. “Now, we sell our bananas there, their tourists here have doubled, we can fish there and our troops are not harassed except in that isolated incident in Ayungin Shoal,” Lorenzana said. “Is that mismanagement?, we have managed it very well through the President’s leadership,” said Lorenzana. “For me, that is not mismanagement. The one that mismanaged was the previous administration dahil nagkagulo-gulo rito dahil mismanaged (everything was in disarray since it was mismanaged),” the defense chief added. Tension erupted between the Philippines and China after a standoff at the Panatag Shoal in 2012 when Filipino troops attempted to apprehend a Chinese fishing vessel caught poaching off Zambales. Former President Aquino, however, ordered the withdrawal of Philippine ships in the area two months after, to end the standoff but the Chinese vessels had remained until now. The Aquino government subsequently filed a case against China before the United Nations (UN)-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the territorial dispute. In 2016, the PCA ruled in favor of the Philippines but Mr. Duterte decided to set it aside for the moment while restoring relations with Beijing as part of his independent foreign policy. Soldiers morale very high Lorenzana also belied claims by Magdalo party list Rep. Gary Alejano that there is demoralization in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) due to the Duterte administration’s handling of the WPS issue. “Go to the field, our troops are in very high morale...they are doing their best to protect our country. Now the West Philippine Sea issue is another issue but within AFP, our soldiers morale is high,” stressed Lorenzana. Alejano claimed demoralization was caused by the supposed order by the President to stop patroling the WPS. Lorenzana and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. belied Alejano’s information supposedly sourced from senior military official. “He (Duterte) did not even hint that they (AFP) stop patrolling that’s why we are (conducting) regular (patrols) there,” Lorenzana said. Plane landing not unusual Lorenzana also doused any irregularities in the June 8 landing of a Chinese cargo plane in Davao City. While he admitted that he learned of the landing after the fact, Lorenzana said the Chinese plane made prior coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) for the stopover. They (Chinese) have coordinated (their intention) to land in Davao to refuel then (fly) en route to Cairns, Australia...upon its return it will refuel again, that’s the arrangement. So nothing unusual there, other countries do that also, landing to refuel,” Lorenzana said. Lorenzana also stressed that there is no need for a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), similar to the agreement with the United States, for the aircraft of other countries to have stopping over in the country. “MDT or no MDT, if they need to refuel they can also refuel...in fact, us we can refuel to other country when it is necessary but we will have prior coordination, that’s what they (Chinese) did,” he said. No longer US-focused Senate President Vicente Sotto III also defended Mr. Duterte’s policy of maintaining friendly ties with China despite recent reports about Chinese Coast Guard elements boarding boats of local fishermen. “The President is the architect of our foreign policy. We are no longer US-focused. We are now gearing towards friendly ties with all nations,” he said. The Senate leader said the Philippines’ association with the United States in the past made the country among the targets of Japan during the Second World War. “No country wants to go to war. That is why we are exhausting all possible means to avoid it from happening,” said Sotto. He also appealed to media and the public “not to swallow everything that doomsayers say.” Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano has repeatedly claimed that Malacanang issued a directive to the AFP to cease patrols in WPS, which Executive and defense officials denied. Alejano, a former Marine officer, stood by his claim saying it came from his sources in the military. Sen. Panfilo Lacson also called for more transparency on the report of the landing of a Chinese military plane at Davao International Airport. The reported landing of Ilyushin II 76 operated by the People’s Liberation Army came amid purported harassment of Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal by Chinese Coast Guards. “First, there are strict internationally accepted standard protocols to be followed before a state aircraft, and I assume more so in the case of a foreign military aircraft is allowed to use our country’s airspace,” he said in a text message to the Daily Tribune. “For one, a request through proper diplomatic channels is made beforehand, and the same is forwarded to the defense department who will either approve or reject such request,” said Lacson. If such protocols were followed by the Chinese military aircraft, the senator said there’s no reason why the concerned government officials should not make public the same. “Being silent or vague on this issue will only raise more questions. What could be worse is if they did not observe such protocol, or were not even aware until such Chinese military aircraft had already landed. Then, we have acted like a province of China rather than an independent and sovereign state,” he said. Palace officials and Philippine Air Force (PAF) Tactical Operations Group in Southern Mindanao commander Lt. Col. Richie Pabilonia claimed that the Chinese military plane only refuelled and its landing had a diplomatic clearance. No harassment on fishermen Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, confirmed a report that Chinese Coast Guard personnel seized the catch of Filipino fishermen in the Ayungin shoal in May in violation of an agreement between the two nations allowing Filipinos to fish there. Roque refused to describe the latest incident as harassment, adding the Chinese Coast Guard gave the Filipino fishermen noodles, cigarettes and water in exchange for their catch. The fishermen, who appeared with Roque in the news briefing, said they were powerless to stop repeated seizures by the Chinese. “The (Chinese Coast Guard personnel) board our boats, look at where we store the fish and take the best ones. We cannot do anything because their huge vessels are there,” said Romel Cejuela, one of the fishermen. “We have addressed this issue to the Chinese and we are demanding that the Chinese take steps to stop the coast guard from doing these acts,” Roque told reporters. “That is unacceptable. That is why we informed the Chinese we will not allow fish to be taken from our countrymen,” he added. Duterte’s administration rejects criticism that its response to Chinese activities in the hotly contested waters has been weak. Duterte’s aides have said previously the Philippines is taking “all diplomatic action” to protect its claims while insisting it would not anger China by engaging in “megaphone diplomacy”. Manila, which has pursued trade deals and investment from China, instead holds regular talks with Beijing on the dispute.
By Jaimes R. C. Sumbilon — July 6, 2018 12:03 AM“The three OTC officials are in hot water over their alleged misuse of P3.3-million PUVMP funds.” Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade has ordered the suspension of the head of the Office of Transportation Cooperatives (OTC) and two other officials over their alleged misuse of P3.3 million worth of public funds. In a suspension order signed by DoTr Undersecretary for Administration Artemio Tuazon Jr., OTC chairman Emmanuel Virtucio, executive director Eugene Pabualan and Finance and Administration division chief/special disbursing officer Wilfredo Clave Jr. will be suspended for a maximum term of six months pending results of an investigation due to grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. The three OTC officials are in hot water over their alleged involvement in the misuse of P3.3-million funds allocated for Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). The DoTr gave them three days to respond to the charges. In a statement yesterday, the department said it had downloaded P3.3 million to the OTC for the implementation of the PUVMP on Dec. 15, 2017. However, the Commission on Audit (CoA), in its 2017 report, discovered the OTC immediately released the P3.3-million budget as cash advances: P2 million to Pabualan and P1.3 million to Clave which they deposited to their personal accounts. State auditors also found only P33,000 had been liquidated by Pabualan while Clave liquidated only P537,255.36, leaving an unliquidated balance of around P2.73 million. Tugade has ordered that there will be no further downloading of funds unless the P3.3 million released to the OTC has been fully liquidated. “Why did they deposit the funds to their personal accounts? Is that their money? They should explain what happened to the P3 million. If not, they should no longer be working in their offices,” Tugade said. The same audit report also discovered other irregularities allegedly committed by the OTC chief such as his failure to request authority to impose fees on certificates issued to participants of seminars and trainings conducted by the OTC; failure to observe rules and regulations involving the reimbursement of travel expenses; penalty charges due to airline trip cancellations; claiming transportation allowances despite being provided with a transportation vehicle; travel expenses amounting to over P200,000 not authorized by the DoTr secretary; miscellaneous expenses incurred on weekends and holidays and in places not indicated in a travel order; and clothing allowance despite not having met the required six months of rendered services. Virtucio was also asked to explain the office’s irregular procurement of a pick-up vehicle contrary to the approved authority to purchase issued by the DoTr secretary, and through a negotiated procurement instead of a competitive bidding; the OTC’s hiring of Contract of Service Personnel who did not have technical expertise and performed regular functions of the agency; and using cash advances amounting P85,000 to procure common supplies, instead of applying the standard procurement procedure. Tugade assured the three officials of a fair investigation, but he warned heads will roll if they are found guilty.