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Bicam approves BBL

The bicameral conference committee for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) approved late last night the autonomy measure for approval of the Senate and the House, thus putting the bill near the administration’s target for the bill’s passage. The goal was for the signing of the BBL prior to the third State of the Nation Address (SoNA) of Mr. Duterte on July 23. It took the bicam more than a week to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill resulting in some heated exchanges between members. The House and the Senate are expected to ratify the bicameral conference committee report during the opening of the 3rd session of the 17th Congress. Duterte is expected to sign the proposed Bangsamoro measure into law just hours before the SoNA. The final BBL version will be named the Bangsamoro Organic Law that will abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and replace it with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The proposed region would be composed of the current ARMM, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur plus six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays of North Cotabato. The new province and their municipalities would have to vote for inclusion in the Bangsamoro region. Members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) threatened to walk out from yesterday’s bicameral committee deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to protest the preamble and powers of government portions of the proposed act. The timely intervention of Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri averted what could have been a serious turn of event in the BBL deliberations. Members of the BTC, apparently on the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), threatened to walk out, Zubiri said. Zubiri suspended the proceedings after receiving text messages from the BTC members on their intention to walk out from the consultations. The BTC was protesting the wording of the preamble and the repeated mention of “national government” in the powers of government provision. “So, I have to suspend the proceedings immediately because there are serious implications in the peace agreement if they stand up and walk away,” Zubiri said. In the preamble, the BTC wanted to put “We the Bangsamoro people” instead of the bicameral committee’s proposed “We the Filipino people.” Don’t impose on Congress Zubiri said his House counterpart, Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas, stressed the Bangsamoro people cannot impose on Congress and that it should be the Filipino people “ordering the legislation.” “We have to explain to the Bangsamoro people that we are not diminishing their recognition of the Bangsamoro in their aspirations. It is just a matter of style, a matter of wording that is constitutionally compliant,” Zubiri added. Farinas said it was the Filipino people who created the Congress of the Philippines and under Article 10 of the Constitution, it is the mandate of the Congress to legislate the enabling act to govern the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras, subject to the Constitution and national laws. Charter should be followed “All of us took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the Philippines. We have to abide by it. We know what you aspire for but we can’t include all of it because of the Constitution, so they understood,” Fariñas said, referring to the BTC representatives.

Rains to pour for 1 week more

By Jason Faustino and Abraham Doctor Heavy rains may persist in the entire week up to 23 July, the day President Rodrigo Duterte will deliver his State of Nation Address (SoNA), state weather forecasters said. The low pressure area (LPA) continued to enhance the habagat or southwest monsoon, bringing rains over parts of Luzon, including Metro Manila. The bad weather has forced the cancellation of classes in some areas and suspension of work in all Metro Manila courts and the Senate. The LPA, now tropical depression “Inday,” will also bring moderate to heavy rains in Ilocos Region, the Cordilleras, Zambales, Bataan, Pampanga and Bulacan. Farms destroyed Damage to agriculture caused by severe rains from tropical storm “Henry” and the southwest monsoon has reached almost P3 million based on estimates of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). In a periodic report on radio, NDRRMC spokesman Edgar Posadas said the agency expects the cost of agricultural damage to increase as information continues to arrive from field offices.

Boracay’s October reopening on track

By Michael Pingol An undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) yesterday expressed optimism yesterday that the island resort of Boracay can be opened as scheduled six months after its closure last April. DILG Usec. Epimaco Densing said that Boracay’s October reopening is still very much feasible following President Rodrigo Duterte’s closure order to allow its rehabilitation. Famous for its white beaches, the island had been tagged a “cesspool” by the President for the algal bloom and bacterial growth found on its water. Numerous beachside establishments had been found to dump untreated sewage into the waters of Boracay which, prior to its closure, attracted millions of foreign and local tourists each year. Densing said Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has always been checking on the progress of Boracay’s rehabilitation, including the removal of illegal structures. “As per Secretary Cimatu, it’s still on the go to reopen on October 26, which is the target date,” Densing said on radio. Densing said workers are presently demolishing structures that breached the 30-meter easement zone, including part of the West Cove resort. The management and owners of West Cove had been summoned to an inquiry of the Senate on the state of Boracay and efforts being done to ease the effect of tourism in its ecology. “Water quality has also started to improve in the island’s Bulabog Beach, which had been fouled by sewage water,” added Densing. Meanwhile, Densing urged local governments to pass ordinances on the suspension of classes to keep students safe from rains and floods. Under Executive Order 66, local officials should announce class suspensions before 4:30 a.m. for morning sessions and before 11 a.m. for afternoon sessions. Some students, however, trudged through streets inundated by monsoon rains on Tuesday as some officials issued late announcements on class suspensions. “Local ordinances can mandate officials to cancel classes based on rainfall warnings by the state weather bureau in the absence of storm signals in their area,” said Densing. He also rejected a suggestion to transfer the responsibility of announcing class suspensions to the Department of Education, saying local officials have a better grasp of weather conditions in their area.

Fake prizes

Senator and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao’s generosity has a limit. He might have given balato (share of winnings) from his fight purse (win or lose) in the past but he is not giving prizes to celebrate his victory over Argentinian Lucas Matthysse last Sunday. Pacquiao made this clear Wednesday after a couple of Facebook posts purportedly from his wife “Jinkee Pacquiao” and “Mrs. Jinkee Pacquiao” say they are giving away a house and lot for first prize, Hermes bag for second prize and brand-new Aerox for third prize for his successful bout. The posts have instructions to like the page, share the post and congratulate Pacquiao in the comment box. There are also photos of the house and lot, bag and motorcycle. Another Facebook post from “Sen. Manny Pacman Pacquiao” says 100 KTM motorcycles are being given away as advance Christmas present to fathers with an accompanying instruction to click the photo of motorcycles to register. The senator warned the public not to be fooled by the fake contests. It’s not that the multi-billionaire has turned stingy. If a mob turns up at his doorstep asking for a house and lot or motorcycle, Pacman will be annoyed that there are still many suckers around.

No-el decision needed by Oct.

Congress should decide whether or not to postpone next year’s elections before the October deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said as he shot down suggestions that the Federalism bid be deferred until after the polls. Alvarez said in a radio interview anti-federalism forces are capitalizing on unfounded fears against his proposal to scrap the mid-term elections in 2019 to serve their goal of derailing the passage of a new charter. He said if the election pushes through, Congress will have a narrow window to work on for the shift to a Federal system of government. Unless the charter change (cha-cha) is done by 2019, the goal of Federalism may become very difficult to achieve, he added. Alvarez said the nation may squander the opportunity of having a President determined to undertake Federalism. Among the candidates in the 2016 presidential elections it was only President Rodrigo Duterte who advocated a shift to a federal form of government. Narrow window As it is, with the national elections next year, the Duterte administration would have a little over two years remaining in his term which is not enough to approve a new charter and allow a proper transition period to the new federal government, Alvarez said. Congress needed to attend first to the proposed 2019 budget then it is confronted with the October deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy of re-electionist lawmakers. Alvarez said after this, Congress will have a Christmas break two months later and the campaign period starts by February next year. “There is simply no time for Congress to tackle the proposed Federal Charter, if we delay it further, we would not be able to do it until the end of the term of President Duterte,” Alvarez said. Alvarez noted those against the move to change the form of government know very well that it will not be possible to implement after the 2019 elections. Not possible after 2019 Postponing the May 2019 mid-term polls is the best option to give lawmakers enough time to subject the various drafts of a federal charter to study and extensive debates, according to him. “We need to focus on this. So, for example, if we decide to cancel the elections in 2019, we would tackle first the NEP (National Expenditure Program) and then after that we would immediately discuss that (cha-cha). We would not do any other thing except to discuss that (proposed federal charter),” Alvarez said. The 2019 polls may be scrapped through a law passed by Congress but if the Senate would not agree, Alvarez said another option is for supporters of federalism to launch a People’s Initiative.

Fitch affirms PH rating, outlook

By Jun Vallecera Fitch Ratings, the first of the three major sovereign credit watchers to elevate the country’s credit standing to investment grade five years ago, brushed aside fears of high and persistent inflation as it affirmed the country’s credit standing as a triple B-rated economy with a stable outlook. Fitch said price pressures should drop to within target level over the next 12 to 18 months. Fitch analysts indicated between now and December next year, the country’s credit stature and its ability to borrow cheaply from foreign creditors was not at risk of deterioration. At the same time, Fitch acknowledged risks to the country’s growth narrative often dubbed some of the fastest expanding in the region and around the world, saying that while local output growth measured as the gross domestic product (GDP) averaged in excess of 6 percent the past several years, the risk of overheating is limited. “While Fitch raised concerns about everheating, it nonetheless reassured that the steps taken by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas may help address these risks,” the Investor Relations Office (IRO), an adjunct of the BSP, said in a statement. “Fitch Ratings said the Philippines’ existing investment grade rating of ‘BBB’ remains intact. Fitch cited robust economic growth, government’s comfortable debt level, and policies supporting macroeconomic stability. The ‘BBB’ is a notch above the minimum investment grade,” the IRO said. Revenues improving Fitch also said the “improvement in [government] revenues should help preserve fiscal stability” even as the government pursues its bold infrastructure development agenda. In its infrastructure program, the government is set to increase spending on vital infrastructure annually from 6.1 percent of GDP this year to 7.3 percent by 2022. As for inflation, averaging well above ceiling at 5.2 percent in June, was seen by Fitch to fall to around 3.8 percent next year as the one-off impact of the tax hikes begin to dissipate, the IRO said. The tax hikes were incorporated in the wide-ranging Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN Act recalibrating the personal income tax structure to put more money in the hands of the consumer and making up for the foregone revenue by appropriately adjusting the excise tax on cars, sugar and fuel. “This is another recognition of the bold economic policy of the Duterte administration to fix the flawed tax system for the first time in over 20 years, and at the same time provide a steady revenue stream for its ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure development initiative as well as for social programs that would accelerate poverty reduction and grow the middle class,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in reaction to the Fitch affirmation of the country’s credit stature.

Joint session only for SoNA

The House of Representatives and the Senate are convening in a joint session on July 23 specifically for the State of the Nation Address (SoNA) of President Duterte as mandated by the Constitution and not for any other reasons, Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia said yesterday. Garcia made the clarification in a radio interview due to the warning of Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri that the senators would walk out of the joint session of Congress for the SoNA if the occasion will be used to call a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution. “As far as I know, the joint session is specifically for the SoNA. That’s why prior to convening this joint session there would be a joint resolution from the House and then from the Senate to convene a joint session to listen to the SoNA of the President,” she said. “Well, Senator Zubiri probably thought about it because in the SoNA the two chambers of Congress will be there, the Senate is there and the House of Representatives is there as well,” Garcia said. Garcia allayed Zubiri’s concern, noting that as mandated by the Constitution and by tradition the joint session of Congress on the fourth Monday of July is solely devoted to the SoNA. “Traditionally, we only convene in a joint session on that particular fourth Monday of July, that’s provided for in the Constitution, in order to listen to the President’s SoNA,” she added.

Monsoon, ‘Henry’ inundate MM, Luzon

By Jason Faustino and Mina Diaz While exiting the PAR, Henry may still enhance the habagat. Some areas in Metro Manila and nearby provinces became virtual waterworlds as heavy rains brought about by the southwest monsoon and typhoon “Henry” pummeled the country yesterday. According to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the monsoon rains triggered floods or landslides in Metro Manila, Zambales, Bataan, Cavite, Batangas, Mindoro provinces, Palawan and Western Visayas. Waist-deep waters were recorded in several towns in Bulacan and Bataan provinces. Partial report from the authorities showed the affected villages were from the towns of Dinalupihan, Hermosa, Orani, Abucay, Pilar, Orion, Limay, Mariveles and Morong and the City of Balanga. In Sitio Aquino, Barangay Panilao in Pilar, Bataan, members of the Philippine National Police conducted a search and rescue operation for some missing persons who were reported to have been among those who were taken by raging waters. In Meycauayan City, areas hit by floods were barangays Tugatog, Caingin, Lawa, Saluysoy, Camalig, Poblacion, Malhacan and Bangkal that were submerged under eight inches to two-foot deep water. In Bulakan town, the villages of Taliptip, Sta. Ana and Bambang were under one foot of water while Barangay Tumana in Sta. Maria town was under two feet of floodwater. In Zambales, 64 families were evacuated in Castillejos and San Antonio. Landslides hit the Kaybiang Tunnel Road in Cavite’s upland town of Maragondon around 4 a.m. Tuesday, rendering the tunnel impassable to motorists. Another landslide struck a portion of the major road connecting the Cavite towns of Alfonso and Indang via the Luksuhin Road in Barangay Tambo Malaki in Indang. Also, 12 villages in Naic, Cavite were declared under the state of calamity, namely, barangays Labac, Mabulo, Bancaan, Bagong Karsada, Bucana Malaki, Sapa, Bucana Sasahan, Munting Mapino, Timalan Balsahan, Timalan Concepcion, Balsahan and Latoria. In Cagayan and Palawan, 351 seagoing passengers, five vessels and three motorboats were stranded due to inclement weather, the National Disaster Risk Response and Management Council (NDRRMC) said. There were 83 passengers who were unable to leave Coron Pier; 35 in Rio Tuba Port; 213 in El Nido Pier, all in Palawan; and 20 in Toran Wharf, Cagayan, NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad said. Two of the stranded ships were at Coron Pier, another two in Rio Tuba and one in El Nido, all in Palawan. Two stranded bancas were also reported in Rio Tuba and one in Toran Wharf, Cagayan. Strong winds in Purok Balinghoy, Barangay Busay, Bago City, Negros Occidental heavily damaged four houses, affecting four families or equivalent to 15 persons. Seven barangays were also reported flooded in Sta. Cruz and Sablayan towns, Occidental Mindoro. In Metro Manila, floodwaters submerged R. Papa and Aurora Boulevard-Araneta Avenue in Quezon City. Residents reportedly used broken refrigerators to get across the floods. According to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, flooding also occurred in Laon-laan between Lacson and A. Mendoza; España between Lacson and Maceda; España between Lacson and M. dela Fuente; Barangay Tatalon Roxas District, northbound and southbound; E. Rodriguez de los Santos Medical City northbound and southbound; Doña Carmen westbound; and Cubao Tunnel Aurora northbound. The inclement weather prompted Malacañang to cancel work and classes in Metro Manila and other areas in Luzon. “The suspension of work for private companies, offices and schools is left to the discretion of their respective heads,” the Palace said in its Memorandum Circular 47. In Mandaluyong City, several students and people going to work used pedicabs to pass through the flooded Maysilo Circle in Mandaluyong City. In Marikina City, the first alarm was sounded off for the Marikina River as it swelled to 15 meters. This, as two cars were submerged and had to be pulled off from the river. The owners left their cars and were not able to take them out before the waters rose. The Philippine National Railways canceled several train trips due to high-water level along the line. In its weather bulletin, PAGASA said “Henry” is expected to leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) on Tuesday evening or Wednesday evening as it heads for Taiwan and mainland China. The weather bureau said the storm was last spotted 635 km northeast of Basco, Batanes moving 30 kph west northwest with maximum winds of 17 kph and gusts of 210 kph. While exiting the PAR, “Henry” may still enhance the southwest monsoon that would dump more rains in Central Luzon, Southern Luzon and west of Visayas. Meanwhile, a new weather disturbance spotted southeast of PAR may turn into a low pressure area while an existing LPA over the West Philippine Sea is influencing rainfall along Central and Southern Luzon and the western side of Visayas. With Angie M. Rosales and PNA

Rody bridges PH-China divide

“These will spur vibrant economic activities. President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday expressed confidence the territorial issues between the Philippines and China will be resolved soon as promised by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. Duterte disclosed the commitment given to him by Xi during a recent visit to the People’s Republic of China where they discussed, among other things, the friendship and cooperation between the two governments. “We have promised to deal with the problem… that we will discuss this at some other time,” he said during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge and Estrella-Pantaleon in Intramuros, Manila. Duterte expressed confidence China will be “fair and that equity will be distributed” although he said he cannot elaborate on what he and Xi talked about. “In all of these discussions, China never asked for any, not even one square (meter) of real estate in this country,” said Duterte. He said China’s geopolitical position is critical to that country but that there are concerted efforts to resolve issues. The President was obviously referring to a joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea for offshore oil and gas resources, which both countries claim, without needing to address the touchy issue of sovereignty. Expansive claim Critics have warned such move can jeopardize the 2016 arbitration ruling which had invalidated China’s expansive claim to the WPS which it calls South China Sea. Duterte thanked the Chinese government for helping the Philippines bankroll the two bridges as part of the administration’s ambitious Build, Build, Build program. “Allow me to express my appreciation to China for its generosity in funding the construction of these two bridges. As a friend, China has once again proved that it intends to join us in achieving lasting progress by addressing traffic congestion in Metro Manila,” he said. “Indeed, the construction of these bridges will not just connect these very strategic areas but will also contribute to our quest to spur vibrant economic activities through an efficient and reliable road transportation network,” Duterte said. 30 months The President directed the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and other concerned agencies to ensure that the construction of these bridges will be finished within 30 months or earlier. “As an important part of our Build, Build, Build Program, I expect you to fast-track the implementation and execution of these bridges, as well as all other major infrastructure projects already in the pipeline,” the President said. One of the bridges will replace the existing structure connecting Estrella Street in Makati to Barangka Drive in Mandaluyong.
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