Angie M. Rosales

Peace window still open

“Reds won’t be asked to lay down arms.” President Duterte said the 60-day window for peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines remains open no matter the war of words with CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison. But as to when the renegotiations resume is uncertain at this point. “I don’t know the next step,” he said, while ruling out such conditions as a coalition government with the rebels and the extraction of so-called revolutionary taxes. “But I do not (seek to) disarm them” as well, he quickly added. According to the Chief Executive, force was the last thing in his mind but that he was prepared to sign a peace pact with Sison if the communist leader was up to it. “If nothing happens, I tell you, prepare for war because this rebellion of the communist party will go on,” he said in a speech delivered in Matina, Davao City Saturday night. He emphasized that the peace offer is time bound and extended on the basis that the communist rebels are in no position to demand anything as a precondition to negotiations. “I no longer want to talk to you if I will just serve three years. After three years, when I’m no longer there, you will have to wait for another three years,” he told Sison while referencing part of the communist leader’s take on the President’s tenuos hold on political power. Mr. Duterte previously ordered for a more thorough review of the peace terms the rebel group offered to government. No coalition gov’t “When you sum it up, it boils down to power-sharing or coalition government which I cannot give to them because it is not within the power of the presidency to concede anything as important as authority. Hindi ko maibigay sa kanila (I cannot give that to them),” he said. He called on Sison and the CPP-NPA to come to the peace table quickly or risk the rekindling of hostilities with government forces. Apart from the communist insurgents, the President acknowledged that other peace pact with the Muslim insurgents who he said should also put down their arms and finding peace in Mindanao as proposed under the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). “(Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Haj) Murad (Ibrahim) is just biding his time, well and good. We hope that someday we can have peace at last,” he said. Peace deal under review He repeated his call for Sison to come home and dialogue with the government under the banner of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), a key agreement between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) extending immunity to rebel peace negotiators. Unless Sison comes home and forge a peace agreement in an in-country dialogue with the government, then Sison and his rebels cannot possibly find peace. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and Secretary Jesus Dureza reiterated the President wants the rebels to stop the extraction of the revolutionary tax on business and individuals and bluntly ruled out Malacanang’s participation in any coalition government. But he said peace arrangements may be pursued by local government units with insurgents in their respective areas of responsibility. Dureza said President Duterte’s terms for a new round of peace talks with the communist rebels was forged in the wake of the command conference Malacanang convened just last week.

Draft charter unveiled today

The 22-man Consultative Committee that reviewed the 1987 Constitution will submit the draft Federal Constitution to President Duterte today. The draft Charter, a product of hard work by the body led by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno and former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., main proponent of federalism in the Philippines, will be used as reference by both the House and the Senate in coming with the final revisions to be presented to the public in a referendum. “This is a significant step towards realizing PRRD’s (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s) promise to shift to a federal form of government,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said. “We’re hoping that Congress will give it much weight as it prepares to submit proposed revisions to the Constitution to the people as a constituent assembly (con-ass),” he added. Malacañang is likely to provide inputs as well to the document, particularly the recent pronouncements of the President on the election of his successor even before his official term ends, if Cha-cha has already been realized and following the holding of a plebiscite. The said document is also expected to be endorsed by the President to the two Houses of Congress during or after his third State of the Nation Address (SoNA). While the Palace’s preferred mode of revising the 30-year-old Charter is through con-ass, the Senate and the House of Representatives still have unresolved issues, particularly on the issue on whether they should vote jointly or separately.

Rody: Pinoys free to hit me

‘But don’t use God’s name in vain’ President Rodrigo Duterte said Filipinos, including Church leaders, can criticize him all they want but no one should use God’s name in attacking him. Foreigners, however, have no right to attack him, the President added. The President made the statement Saturday night, in a speech in Davao City, some two days before his scheduled one-on-one dialogue with Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles in Malacañang. “It’s fundamental, it’s almost basic. There is really a clear-cut (line) between religion and governance. You cannot use God to criticize me,” he said. The President, even before his “God is stupid remark” was made, has been at the receiving end of criticisms by Church leaders over his numerous controversial policies and the use of profanities in his speeches. “When you criticize me, criticize me with all the heart’s content. Do it. I’m even asking you to do it to know if I am performing well. Do it,” he said. But those critics from the religious sector, Duterte said, must not involve God in attacking him. Church, State separation “When you are member of a religious faith, you have to be neutral, and not be involved in government affairs because it is the concept of a Republican system that there is a separation of Church and State,” he said. “So when you criticize me, do not use the platform of God, that God will send you to hell, that God will never forgive you, or hell is waiting for you. Do not do it. Do not take God’s name in vain,” the President said. Duterte then reminded his critics that not everyone shares the faith and that he’s not non-believer. Not aliens “That’s why I said, ‘whoever told you that your God is my God?’ I never said I do not believe in God. For all your protestations, you’re too presumptuous,” he said. Every Filipino, as a matter of right, is entitled to criticize him but this does not include foreigners living in the country. “I choose to be elected by the people and if I fall short of their expectations and they begin to be disappointed, discontented or whatever, they have every right (to criticize) for I may have failed them in my promises. Kaya okay sa akin ‘yan (That’s why that’s okay with me),” he said. “But certainly not a foreigner, however holy you are, I will not allow you to do it in my country for, after all, we are not supposed to do it in other countries too,” Duterte said. The President said critics can even use profanities while students protesting his policies can even ask for a two-week vacation just so they could carry out demonstrations. “I’ll give you the streets of Manila. I’ll declare a two-week vacation for you. Sige, tao lang (Go on, we’re just humans),” he said. “You know why? What’s the principle behind (this)? It’s that you’re the one paying my salary. If you are not satisfied or feel that you are shortchanged, o di murahin mo ako (then curse me),” he said. Duterte said anyone but the priests or those from the Church and everybody connected with a religion should get back at him by using God’s name in vain.

Parens patriae vs tambays

Citing parens patriae or the father of nation doctrine, President Duterte slammed the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) yesterday for criticizing his policy of rounding up loiterers at night. The lawyers’ group also branded the anti-loitering drive as a form of warrantless arrest by law enforcers. Duterte lashed back at IBP national president Abdiel Dan Fajardo saying there’s nothing unconstitutional about his pronounced policy as it is well within the broad powers of the State to protect its citizens. “Look guys, if you are the president of IBP, there is no need for a law for me to order the clearing of the streets. If I say, ‘arrest and take into custody the young people,’ that is well within my parens patriae – the father of the nation – to protect them from crime,” he said in a speech Saturday night in Davao City. “(There’s) nothing wrong with that,” he added. The President even dared IBP to haul him to court, even up to the Supreme Court to challenge him on his “duty to protect the people of the Republic of the Philippines.” Who knows law better “We will see each other there. You do not deprive government to reduce us to inutility. We’re both lawyers. (Let’s see) who between us know the law,” he said. “My second fundamental duty is to preserve the nation, period. That’s about it. Wala na akong drama-drama (I don’t engage in any dramas). If you do not agree, well you can go to the Supreme Court. Walang problema (I have no problem with that),” the President said. Duterte also belittled Fajardo’s argument that the policy is a form of warrantless arrest. “Of course it is not. (It is) under the broad powers of the State, the police power of the State to protect its own citizens,” he said. “Ewan ko lang kung saan mo nakuha ‘yung theory (I don’t know where you got your theory). But that would be parens patriae. It is a very sacred obligation of government to help the helpless. Because of their tender age, we are not going to arrest them. We have to take them out physically,” Duterte said. No detention It is considered an arrest but they are being brought to the barangay captain and returned to their parents the following day, he said. “That they are being used as a courier, they’re being used by gangs as you can see in street rumbles. So they are young because of their tender age, we have to take them out of the streets and place them overnight – in safe places and after that they are returned to their parents,” the President said. Fajardo said they stand opposed to the so-called anti-tambay campaign of the government because people are being arrested arbitrarily. He called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to follow the rule of law.

‘Senator‘ Bong Go cleared

President Duterte closed the book yesterday on questions regarding Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher “Bong” Go’s involvement in the P16-billion purchase of two Philippine Navy frigates by declaring “there’s no misdeed.” The President even ended up calling his trusted aide, Senator Go. In a speech in Davao City, the President brought up the matter on graft and corruption, an issue that he said he will never tolerate and exonerated Go from the allegations that he intervened in the selection of the combat management system (CMS) for the frigates to be bought by the Philippines from South Korean firm Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI). Duterte belittled attempts by members of the Senate opposition to pin down Go in the alleged anomalous deal that was initiated in June 2013, then still under the previous administration. “Wala talaga silang makuha. Naging popular tuloy si Bong Go. (They didn’t get anything from him. They only made Bong Go popular). Senator Go, where are you?” he said during the opening ceremony of the annual National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) celebration in Mindanao held at SMX Convention Center in Labang, Davao City. Everyone’s looking for him “Wala man ‘yang kasalanan, tingnan mo pina-testify sa court, eh wala. Tapos na ‘yun eh. O ngayon, akala siguro nila na pareho sa kanila ang orientation - pera (He didn’t commit any misdeeds, look, they even had him testify before the court, but came out with nothing. It’s done. Now, they probably thought they have the same orientation – money),” Duterte said. The President said Go was able to answer point-by-point the issues thrown him, with the military at the receiving end of the criticisms eventually, “Ito ngayon, lahat ng tao naghahanap (kay) Senator Go. (Now everyone’s looking for him). If you forget him, just remember ‘stop’ and Go. Stop, go,” he said. The President said Go comes from a well-off clan that owns the largest printing press outside Manila. Prior to this, it was only Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque who dismissed any supposed involvement of Go on the project, citing the pronouncements of former Navy flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado who said that the President’s special assistant never approached him to inquire about the project or made any form of communication to influence him in his decision-making.

DU30 warns Cabinet men

‘Don’t waste taxpayers’ money’ President Duterte issued last Friday the sternest warning yet against non-performers in his Cabinet saying he will not hesitate to dismiss officials who waste taxpayers’ money. “So I would like to call the attention of the secretaries, especially Secretary (Mark) Villar, that if there is any slippage of any work of any kind by the national government, if you delay or if I see tomorrow, beginning are all invited to see me in Malacañang,” he said in a speech in Davao City. The President issued the warning amid growing public discontent on the worsening vehicle traffic jams caused by the simultaneous constructions of roads and other infrastructures. The Chief Executive himself noted most of road projects have not been completed on time and are always the subjects of graft and corruption allegations. “Every program of the government ends up in an investigation,” he said. Duterte said he will hold his Cabinet officials accountable for any irregularities. “I have fired so many. I’ve committed sins, faults (I have) plenty but this I can tell you, money (was) never an issue. That’s why I’m saying this. I’m exacting now something like this: if your project gets skewed, I will hold the secretary responsible,” he said. “If there is delay or slippage, they call it and it is about 20 percent, you are out. I will cancel the contract. Lahat gusto ko (I want everything to be) under a Swiss challenge. Swiss challenge, you produce the bridge and I will pay you. If you do not publish it in accordance with the specs, as my specifications, I will not pay you,” the President said. A Swiss challenge is a procurement process in which an unsolicited bid is opened for other proponents to match or to submit a better offer. The President lamented that most projects, even those involving highway acquisition or easements to widen the shoulders of the road, end up in corruption. “So I said, if they do not cut on corruption, we will never, never improve,” he said. Sue government Mr. Duterte, likewise, challenged the public to take legal action against the government over accidents from “unlighted, uncovered” infrastructure. “It’s almost nonchalant so make it a criminal issue. Pag nahulog ka diyan, nabunggo ka kasi (If you fall or crash due to it because it’s) unlighted, uncovered, you sue the government. Siguradong manalo kayo diyan (You will surely win the case),” he said. “Sue the government and I will sue the supervisor and maybe ask the secretary, ‘kindly explain to me why it has come to this situation,’” he said. Mr. Duterte vowed he would immediately act on complaints on graft and corruption. “If it is something that ails, that bugs you because it involves graft and corruption or [if the] government is not doing what it’s supposed to do, just bring it to my attention and I will act on it immediately, especially if it involves corruption,” he said. To disprove his critics who claim he intends to hold on to power beyond his term, Mr. Duterte also challenged the Consultative Committee (ConCom) reviewing the 30-year-old Constitution and Congress to oversee the election of a new President during the transition period to a federal government, even ahead of the expiration of his term. Opposition so engrossed “Those in the opposition, they’re so engrossed every time they look at the proposal (amending the) Constitution, (they’d say) ‘Duterte will make it longer for him to stay in power,’” he said in a speech in Davao City. The President said he would ask Puno (Reynato) to make a “correction” in the draft Federal Charter to include his suggestion that his term expires once the Federal Constitution takes effect. “And I would like Congress to approve it,” he said. “Make me stop being President during the transition. In other words, elect a President before you make the transition from unitary to federal. I would be willing to accept the proposal. And that’s coming from me,” Duterte said. The President, whose term ends in 2022, scoffed at his critics while inviting Vice President Leni Robredo to take his place “if she’s interested in it.” “Robredo, if you want, (it) depends (on you), you can have it. You can have it if you want. That’s my answer to you,” he said. “So I urge Congress and the Puno committee to make the final changes. Make me President only (until) next year, 2019 and I will accept it,” Duterte said.

Duterte: I’m no atheist

“The President renewed his challenge to those who could prove him wrong by attesting to the existence of the Supreme Being.” “I’m no atheist,” President Duterte said a few days away from his scheduled one-on-one meeting with Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles. “I believe in one supreme God. I never said I do not believe in God. I’m not a prognostic and I’m not an atheist. I just happen to be a human being believing in that there’s a universal mind somewhere which controls the universe,” he said. In an apparent thinking out loud moment, the President recently issued statements questioning God’s fairness in creating the concept of original sin and Christian beliefs even amid flaks from critics and some of his political allies. “So I do not believe in God? Yes of course, there’s God. There are billions and millions and billions and trillions of stars. If there is nobody that has really the technology in his mind, we will just be colliding with each other most of the time and nothing would be left for humans even to exist,” he said. Existential question “And that is my case because that is the issue of the day. So that you should know whereof your speaker comes from,” the President said. “Why is there so many agony and pain and injustice and all? We’ll never really know until maybe God chooses the time for us to know the answer,” he added. The President renewed his challenge to those who could prove him wrong by attesting to the existence of the Supreme Being. “If there is anyone of you there, the noisy ones, who would say that you have been to heaven, talked to God, saw him personally, and that He exists, the God that is yours, and if He is true, I will step down from the presidency tonight,” he said. “You do that today, one single witness that there is a guy, a human being, who’s able to talk and to see God. Of the so many billions na dumaan dito (who passed by here), I just need one. And if there is one, ladies and gentlemen, I will announce my resignation immediately. Then para magklaro na tayo (we can be clear about that),” he added. Dialog set tomorrow The President has since formed a committee to hold a dialog with the Catholic Church on Monday in Malacanang, in an apparent effort to mend ties with the religious institutions and other sectors following his controversial “God is stupid” remark. In his speech in Lanang, Davao City last Friday, Duterte questioned the need for religious groups to ask for donation from its followers. “Kung tumutulong kayo sa tao, bakit kami ang nagbibigay ng pera sa inyo (If you’re helping others, why do we have to give money to you?),” he said. The President scoffed at the fees exacted by the Church in performing sacraments and in the apparent compulsion to put up lavish places of worship.

Palace: Peace process still on

“He doesn’t see why the talks have to be held abroad.” Peace negotiations with communist rebels are still on, despite the communist group’s leadership’s reluctance to sit down and talk peace just so that the conditions set by President Rodrigo Duterte are met. With or without the participation of Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, founding chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and other officials from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Malacanang said localized peace talks are to be pursued, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said. “Yesterday, we were briefed on the different agreements that were entered into and he (President) stuck by his decision - (that) ‘I’m (Duterte) open to peace talks, but it has to be conducted here,’ and under the conditions that the president has imposed,” Roque said. Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza added in a statement that the doors for resumption of peace talks with the NDFP are still open. “This is, however, subject to the following wishes of the President that there will be: no coalition government; a stop in the collection of the so-called revolutionary tax; local venue of talks; ceasefire arrangement where armed NPAs (New People’s Army) are encamped in designated areas. Localized talks possible “In the meantime, localized peace arrangements may be pursued by the local government units with their local insurgents in their respective areas of responsibility,” Dureza said. This “way forward” in the stalled peace talks was decided following the consolidation of various positions expressed during the command conference convened by the President Wednesday night in Malacanang, he said. “The President also expressed his wish that Norway continues as facilitator in the event peace talks are resumed,” Dureza said. Roque hastened to clarify that there was no change in the position of the President on the resumption of the peace negotiations saying that the Duterte merely asked for time to review all the talks in the past and was surprised when the CPP-NDF insisted that it will be held in Norway. “He doesn’t see why the talks have to be held abroad,” Roque said, adding that the so-called conditions laid down by the President are reasonable. Localized peace talks will be pursued instead and some local government officials are already engaged in it resulting in the surrender of rebels, particularly in Davao, he said. Insofar as Norway is concerned, the Norwegians can still help in any which way they want, Roque said. “I just don’t know what will be their participation. Let’s just say that the President did not dispute that Norwegians can be a third party facilitator. But there was no outright statement that they will continue to be a third party facilitator. Anyone can help in the process if they want. If the Norwegians can help in localize peace talks. They are more than welcome to do so,” he said. Joma sinks to irrelevance Roque said he is no longer keen on addressing some of Sison’s tirades against the Duterte administration, particularly on the matter of the President insisting on the next round of peace talks in the country and not in Oslo, Norway – the third party facilitator. “I know some of you get frustrated because you always want me to comment everytime Joma Sison says anything. I’m not under compulsion to comment on anything Joma (Sison) says. He’s completely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. So Joma Sison can say anything he wants, that’s his opinion; he’s even living ten thousand miles away. So I don’t see how he can even be relevant,” Roque said in a news briefing in Malacanang. “So excuse me for saying this but it will now be a policy. Dededmahin ko na ‘yan si (I will now ignore) Joma Sison, because he ceased to be relevant now that wala na tayong peace talks (now that we no longer have peace talks with them).

ERC officials finally served suspension orders

“The embattled commissioners stand ready to comply with the directive.” Officials of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) ordered suspended by the Ombudsman were finally served their suspension orders, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said yesterday. This developed nearly three weeks after the second suspension order for the officials to vacate their post for three months was handed down. Roque said the continued stay in office of the four ERC officials last meted with a year-long suspension collectively exposes them to further administrative charges and sanctions. The Palace official said their continued defiance to the second suspension order last June redounds to a usurpation of authority. “I think some of them are lawyers. They know that (this) is usurpation of authority if there is really a suspension without a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals,” he said. Roque also gave warning the defiant official may already be committing a crime by insisting on their continued stay in office. In a 14-page resolution issued by the Ombudsman last month, Commissioners Gloria Victoria Yap-Taruc, Alfredo Non, Josefina Patricia Asirit and Geronimo Sta. Ana were found guilty of simple neglect of duty for allowing power distributor Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to deploy billions of pesos worth of consumer deposits to finance their operations. They were the same officials ordered suspended for one year in December last year but subsequently secured an injunction from the Court of Appeals allowing them to return to work last April. Two months later, they were told anew to temporarily vacate their posts for three months. Rolando Faller, acting as their lawyer, claimed there had been no restraining order from the CA and no directive from the Office of the Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to implement the suspension order. The embattled commissioners stand ready to comply with the directive if one is issued and served. He feared they will effectively abandon their office if they comply and that abandonment of office is a crime. Further, the decision of the Ombudsman was clear on the suspension sent through the Office of the President. Roque, however, said there can be no abandonment where the suspension order is legal.
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