Concept News Central

Same-sex marriage, anyone?

This week, the Supreme Court will conduct a historic oral argument over a petition seeking to legally recognize same-sex marriage — a matter that would surely polarize our predominantly Catholic country. It was lawyer Jesus Nicardo Falcis III who filed the petition on May 18, 2015, a few days after Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Falcis described himself in court as an “open and self-identified homosexual.” In his petition, Falcis sought to declare as unconstitutional the provision in the Family Code that restricts marriages to only between a man and a woman, arguing that such definition could not be found anywhere in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Falcis’ is not only a challenge to the existing legal barriers to same-sex union but, in a larger sense, the doctrines of the major religious groups in the country on marriage as a divine established institution for the union between man and woman. He is also going against the existing cultural bias to the practice. On the other hand, the reality of same-sex union is indisputable. The lack of legal recognition for such union does not deter two individuals of the same sex to live together like married couples do. But in a country that does not even recognize divorce, Falcis’ assault on the ramparts of the existing legal standards of marriage could be quixotic. There may be a middle ground between the contending beliefs and legal positions. House Bill 6595, principally authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, proposes to accord legal protection to all unmarried couples short of allowing same-sex marriage. Alvarez noted the difficulties facing unmarried couples: neither can they declare their partners as beneficiaries in social security benefits and insurance plan nor are they allowed to inherit the property of their deceased partner, among other things. The bill proposes to allow couples to enter into a civil partnership, whether they are of the opposite or the same sex, and provide such partnerships with civil rights, benefits and responsibilities. Likewise, it seeks to protect civil partners from unlawful and discriminatory practices against them on the basis of their partnership status. Unfortunately for Falcis, the bill is still pending before the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality. The Falcis petition may falter, but, together with developments such as the House bill on civil partnership, it may open minds on the necessity of according everyone — no matter what his sexual orientation — equal protection of the law.

The law giveth, the church taketh

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has warned that priests found carrying guns for self-protection, even those facing actual death threats, will face sanctions. The CBCP’s rationale is that priests and bishops are supposed to be men of peace, and it runs against the grain of that dogma for them to be armed. This point of view is rather myopic considering that our gun control law – Republic Act 10591 – includes men of the cloth among those who may legally carry firearms outside of their residence without proving their lives are actually under threat. Under RA 10591, two groups of people who may apply for permits to carry firearms are: 1) those who are actually facing threats; and 2) those whose professions put them in “imminent danger.” Priests and church ministers belong to the second category, as do lawyers, certified public accountants, accredited media practitioners, cashiers, bank tellers, physicians, nurses, and engineers. Businessmen who, “by the nature of their business or undertaking, are exposed to high risk of being targets of criminal elements” are also considered to be in “imminent danger.” Those in the first group will have to actually prove that their lives are in danger by, among other means, filing police reports on attempts already made on their personal safety. The CBCP, just like any organization operating under the laws of the land, can impose rules and regulation on those under it but only insofar as those internal rules do not run counter with the law and do not infringe on personal freedoms. The right to self-preservation is an inherent human right guaranteed by the Constitution. For this reason, the law recognizes the right to self defense and the right of each individual to have the means to defend one’s self. The CBCP should not be so rigid as to take away from member-priests the opportunity to avail of what the law (RA 10591) has granted them – the opportunity not to be like meek lambs being led to a slaughter. At the very least, the CBCP should treat the threats to its members on a case-to-case basis. This is not to say that priests should be armed, but to remind church leaders to be open-minded and revisit many of their outdated dogmas. CONCEPT NEWS CENTRAL

Homeless amid idle houses

There are at least 3 million people in the country who are homeless. The government, the National Housing Authority (NHA) in particular, has a backlog of 5.5 million houses. Strangely, the NHA, which is mandated to build low-cost social housing to address homelessness, has admitted there are 55,000 houses that have been unoccupied for many years as the chosen beneficiaries of the houses don’t like them or are mired in the bureaucratic process of obtaining ownership of such property. The Commission on Audit has an even higher count of more than 100,000 vacant NHA housing units that are rotting or already dilapidated due to long exposure to the elements. This means billions of pesos spent on building houses that went to waste because they are not serving their purpose. This crazy reality drives the logic of the urban poor group Kadamay to occupy vacant government houses. After all, they are the beneficiaries-in-waiting being applicants for public housing themselves and their takeover of the idle houses leads to their maintenance and fulfillment of the government social responsibility of addressing homelessness while preventing squatting. While the tens of thousands of unoccupied housing and homeless people occupying them seem to show a confusing state of housing in the country (there are houses but there are homeless), the situation points to bureaucratic red tape as the real provocation for the occupation of vacant housing. For housing applicants, they are subjected to unreasonably lengthy screening or vetting, costly and time-consuming documentary requirements, and red tape. For example, in applying for a Pag-IBIG housing or multipurpose loan, the agency requires submission of photocopies of contribution remittance record and official receipt of remittance payment to banks, when the Pag-IBIG clerk can see on their computer screen the data needed to verify the identity of the applicant as well as the contribution history. Consolidating a Pag-IBIG member’s contributions from different employers through the years requires submission of similar papers and processing takes months when the records, again, can be seen on the computer screen. Pag-IBIG clerks keep on citing system upgrading as reason for long consolidation processing. If the government can implement ease of doing business, other bureaucratic processing systems can be simplified so that public service is expedited and relief provided quickly. Isn’t it shameful when public servants tasked to provide homes for the homeless go home at the end of the day while their clients are left to sleep in unsanitary evacuation centers or on the streets? There is no reason the NHA cannot do things swiftly. If it keeps working in its old slow ways, then NHA, no housing authority, is an apt name for them.

No More Delay

The announcement that concerned government agencies are ready to implement subsidies to the poor as part of the safety net features of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) could not have come at a more opportune time. With inflation rising and the poor reeling from increasing prices of fuel and basic commodities, there are mounting calls for the suspension of the implementation of the TRAIN law. It is but proper that the concerned government agencies deliver as soon as possible the safety nets for the poor that are provided for under TRAIN. However, the chairman of the House committee on ways and means, Rep. Dakila Carlo Cua learned to his dismay last month that issuance of the implementing rules and regulations for the roll out of the social protection programs under the law has been delayed, for one reason or another. To the credit of the House leadership, where TRAIN originated, the chamber has consistently called the attention of the Department of Finance and other concerned government agencies through Cua to finish the needed IRRs as soon as possible. Now, the DSWD said it is ready to provide P2,400 – the full amount that each beneficiary can receive for 2018 – to eight million families who were targeted for the unconditional cash transfer (UCT) program under TRAIN, which included 3 million senior citizens. Each of the poor families would receive P200 per month, or an expenditure for the department of P19.2 billion for this year alone. Likewise, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) would roll out next month the program on fuel subsidies to public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers under the Pantawid Pasada program, allocating at least t P977 million for the purpose. What remains to be implemented among the TRAIN safety nets is the issuance of “social benefits card to provide the unemployed, minimum wage earners and the poorest 50 percent of the population with discounts on transportation and rice, and free skills training.” On the other hand, the one bright spot is the DSWD’s release early this year of the grants for over four million families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. The agency is targeting August as the release date of the payout for another 2.6 million beneficiaries listed under the government’s national household targeting system for poverty reduction or Listahanan. The spike in the prices of basic commodities was triggered by the confluence of high oil prices in the world market and weakening peso. It’s fortunate that world prices of the benchmark Brent crude seemed to be in the downtrend from the two-year high of $80 in mid-May to the current price of around $65 per barrel. However, the expected additional interest rate increase that may be implemented by the US Federal Reserve would likely drive down further the value of the Philippine Peso that has already sunk to its lowest level of P53 to a dollar after the Fed raised interest rates. If that happens, the already weak purchasing power of the poor is in danger of being further eroded. It is thus critical for the concerned government agencies to implement as soon as possible the programs to help the poor under the TRAIN, which is also necessary to implement the development programs of the Duterte administration intended to sustain our economic growth. There should be no more delays. Concept News Central

To stop a loan shark

Impoverished farmers, fishermen and ordinary wage earners can’t help but turn to loan sharks to settle their financial problems. But after securing loans from 5-6 providers, they realize the interests they are paying for their loans are too high. Since there’s no more law penalizing usury, the interest rates imposed by loan sharks have become the headache of the “borrowers” who are finding it hard to pay their debts. For this reason, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading a bill intended to give people an alternative source of financing so they are not tempted to borrow from loan sharks. House Bill No. 7446, or the “Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso” or the “P3 Fund,” seeks to establish a financing program for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). It seeks to provide an affordable and simple micro-financing program for small businesses, notably in the poorest areas. It also aims to bring down the interest rates of loan packages for small businesses so they would no longer have to run to informal lenders. The beneficiaries of this bill will be the micro enterprises and entrepreneurs, including market vendors, agri-businessmen and members of cooperatives, industry associations and cooperators. Under the proposed legislation, the P3 loan beneficiaries will not be required to provide collateral. The Small Business Corporation (SB Corp.), the financing arm of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), is tapped as the lead implementing agency of the “P3 Fund” to help Filipinos alleviate their lives. Loan sharking is not new in the country and even some cooperatives have turned in this nefarious activity for the tubong-lugaw (excessive) profit they get from it. We support the early enactment into law of HB No. 7446, but there should also be a law criminalizing loan sharking. Likewise, bring back the usury law to stop the biggest loan sharks of all – the banks and credit card companies.

Flying high

‘Local aerospace parts factories, which employ some 3,000 workers, are forecast to produce $2.5 billion worth of products by 2022’ Last June 4 to 6, Clark, Pampanga hosted the 2018 Aeromart Summit, an international convention for the aerospace, MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) and airport infrastructure industries. The country’s participation in the event was more than just a venue provider. The Philippines is actually a significant player in the global aviation industry making it a rightful host of the gathering of aviation suppliers, contractors and decision-makers. More importantly, the Aeromart Summit showcased the growing capabilities and potential of the Philippines in aerospace manufacturing, aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul and aviation training. There are dozens of OEMs that are actually engaged in the manufacture and export of plane parts. For example, Cavite-based Famous Secret Precision Machining Inc., which has been assembling light sports aircraft since 2008, started producing commercial aircraft parts since 2010. In commercial aircraft maintenenance, there is NAIA-based Lufthansa Teknik Philippines which not only provides MRO services to German carrier Lufthansa Airlines but also to other domestic and international airlines. In pilot training, the PATTS College of Aeronautics based in Paranaque City is the country’s main aeronautics and plane mechanic school. The Philippines itself is an aviation hub with its airports across the archipelago, airlines and a very robust travel and airfreight market. Local aerospace parts factories, which employ some 3,000 workers, are forecast to produce $2.5 billion worth of products by 2022, according to the Board of Investments, one of the institutional organizers of the Aeromart Summit in Clark, the second gateway to the Philippines. Surely, the summit has generated investment and outsourcing opportunities in Clark and other aviation hubs in the country. More importantly, local aerospace industry players would be able to reach out to a wider global market. With its great potential and very promising future, the local aerospace industry is indeed flying high.

Handshake for peace

Optimism now oozes that with the Singapore summit, there is also the big possibility the Koreas which are in state of war for a long time might become one again, like what happened to East and West Germany in 1990. It was a handshake – a simple handshake at that – lasting for about 10 seconds and the world inured to despotism watched with keen interest. Being over and done with, many ‘’encomiums’’ necessarily followed the Singapore summit between North Korea’s strongman Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump. As the two leaders might have engaged in a swift exchange of concessions and promises – and we won’t say pleasantries – the historic meeting is being felt and continues to be felt like a political earthquake throughout the world hankering for true and lasting peace. Such a political earthquake that brings no damage but a real sense of security was perhaps felt all the more in the Korean peninsula and its vicinities. Just a few months ago, North Korea and the United States were engaged in a vicious exchange of words the led many to believe the two leaders might be leading their countries and the world into nuclear armageddon. Knowing full well we’re no longer on that dangerous path, all those anxieties and serious concerns associated with war have somehow evaporated. As we may not be very much sure what exactly were agreed upon in the Singapore summit, it can be safely assumed that ceasing the US-South Korea war games is a significant concession. In return, North Korea has committed to undergo a denuclearization which should be ‘’complete,’’ and ‘’verifiable,’’ — something that should not be on paper alone. Optimism now oozes that with the Singapore summit, there is also the big possibility the Koreas which are in state of war for a long time might become one again, like what happened to East and West Germany in 1990. The reaction from across the world towards a dramatic day in Singapore was generally one of hope for peace and probably prosperity.

Staying alive

Most Filipinos who go abroad do so to earn a living for themselves and their loved ones. In seeking greener pastures, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) endure a lot of sacrifices to earn the distinction of being the “new heroes” of the working class. Many OFWs had come home in boxes too as crime victims, with abusive employers oftentimes being the culprits. Case in point would be the death of Joanna Demafelis, an Ilongga who went to work in Kuwait in 2014 but ended up stuffed for a year inside a chest freezer. A Kuwait court pinned Demafelis’ murder on her employers, Lebanese Nader Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun, and the two were sentenced to death in absentia in April. In South Korea, the skeletal remains of Angelo Claveria, 34, also from Iloilo, were found hidden in a septic tank. He had been missing since 2016. Unlike the open-and-shut Demafelis case, the police in South Korea are clutching at straws on the still whodunit Claveria case. On May 20, the body of another Filipina, 24-year-old working student Jastine Valdez, was found in the bushes near a mine in Kilternan, Ireland. She was strangled to death with her abductor, Mark Hennessy, killed in a police operation. In Bratislava, Slovakia, locals paid tribute to a Filipino migrant, Henry Acorda, who died on May 31 after being assaulted by a suspected Neo Nazi. Some 3,000 mostly young Slovaks held a vigil and protest at the site of the attack. The brutal killing of 36-year-old Acorda was caught on CCTV. The suspect, Juraj H., kicked him on the head again and again even when he was already unconscious on the ground. Juraj H. is now under police custody and facing charges of manslaughter and a 12-year sentence if convicted. It’s hard enough that OFWs have to sacrifice a lot by battling homesickness, although technology now helps them to be in touch with family members back home through Internet video calls and Facebook posts. They also have to stay sane with the culture shock and the difficulties of adjusting with the laws of their host countries. In serving as pillars of the Philippine economy with their billions of dollars in remittances, there is one primordial concern which OFWs must contend with – staying alive. Towards this end of ensuring the self-preservation of OFWs, the Philippine government, for its part, must continue to work closely with their host countries if only to ensure they do not come home, cold as ice, inside wooden boxes. A lot more can and must be done so their “Bagong Bayani” tag does not come across as mere lip-service.

Shut up!

Acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Carpio has chastised critics of the High Court’s 8-6 decision ousting Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice. The verdict has sparked a controversial discussion of its merits. Among other arguments, critics continue to insist the decision is unconstitutional as, according to them, the chief justice can only be removed from her post by impeachment. There were even calls for the impeachment of the justices who voted in favor of ousting Sereno. Accusations flew thick that the SC ruling was laced with politics. In the Senate, a resolution was proposed essentially expressing the sense of the lawmakers for the SC to reconsider its decision. But Carpio, who was among the six dissenters, said these criticisms should stop. Parenthetically, while Carpio did not agree with the majority decision that Sereno could be ousted via quo warranto he categorically said the former chief justice is liable for violation of the SALN law. “The Supreme Court decides. We must just follow,” was the succinct reminder from Carpio. That should remind us of a dictum from a certain general who had a large poster placed in his office that read: Rule No. 1-The General is always right. Rule No. 2-If the General is wrong, Rule No. 1 applies”. Put in a more lofty manner, as the final interpreter of the law and the Constitution, the High Court’s decision must be respected by everyone. That’s not muzzling any criticism of the High Court’s verdict. In fact, those who disagree with it can avail themselves of the appropriate recourse. They can file a case to challenge the decision—if they have the legal personality to do so or assist the eligible party in filing such case to articulate their position. Ironically, by perpetuating the accusation that politics has invaded the inner sanctum of the High Court these critics themselves are contributing to such impression and thereby undermining the stability of the Supreme Court as an institution. Now the critics of the SC must take heed of Carpio’s concise but wise counsel. It’s practically a cease and desist order. While Carpio’s reminder was put subtly, it should remind us of one of the most colourful lawmakers in the recent past, Didagen Dilangalen and his infamous outburst “Shut up!”
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