Government officials have banded against a United States Senate Resolution calling for the immediate release of detained Senator Leila de Lima as they brand it as blatant meddling.
The Philippine Embassy in Washington warned the move of the American legislators “may be potentially interpreted as posing undue interference” in the country’s domestic affairs.
On Thursday, US Senator Dick Durbin announced that the Senate foreign relations committee has passed Senator Ed Markey’s resolution backing the release of De Lima and the dropping of cases against Rappler CEO and journalist Maria Ressa.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and House Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte also both assailed the resolution.
Approved at the committee level, it condemned the Philippine government for the continued detention of de Lima.
The detained senator was described as a “prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression.” The text of the resolution also called for the dropping of all charges against Ressa who is being charged for violation of the anti-dummy law and cyberlibel.
De Lima, on the other hand, has been in detention since 2017 for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secetary Martin Andanar viewed the legislative action as highly “imprudent.”
“We find the passage of US Senate Resolution 142 by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee highly impudent,” Andanar said in a statement.
“To try to strong-arm the government into freeing Sen. De Lima and dropping charges against Maria Ressa is infringing on our country’s legal process and system, to which they have no say whatsoever,” he added.
For Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, the two US senators who were pivotal in the Senate resolution have made out their cases before the international media and have lobbied through legislative body because they know that “in here, there is no merit to their claims.”
“We continue our good relations with the United States and our independent foreign policy. But, the government sees no point to give attention to an ostensible move by people who have little knowledge of the real matter at hand,” he added.
Panelo, said the US lawmakers have been misled by reports coming from the opposition as well as media considered biased against the administration about the situation of De Lima.
In a television interview, Panelo reminded the US lawmakers to study carefully the judicial process in the country that led to De Lima’s detention.
“What I can’t understand is they adhere not to understand the judicial process of this country,” Panelo said.
“You know, they should know, because the judicial system of that country and ours are almost the same, there is a preliminary investigation conducted by another administrative officer, meaning the public prosecutors who investigate the case and they find probable cause, then the respondent will be charged in court, but before the warrant of arrest shall be issued, there will be another determination of the existence of a probable cause by a judge after evaluating the evidence, in other words there are processes before a person can be charged and then bring him in court.”
From whose authority?
In a social media post, President Rodrigo Duterte’s son has tagged the US lawmakers move as intrusive, questioning their authority to interfere in another state’s jurisdiction.
“Is the US Senate, the world senate? Is it a body of American lawmakers who think they can decide for the whole word? Tagalog: Pakialamero; Bisaya: Maapil-apilon,” Congressman Duterte said in an online post.
Go also shared the same sentiment telling the Americans to look into the charges closely before they accuse President Rodrigo Duterte of political harassment.
“What does the US Senate has to do with the Philippines? Why are they intruding into our matters? Are they senators here in our country? They should know first if this is really a matter of political harassment or if she really has a legitimate case,” Go said in a statement.
“Don’t intrude into the matters that you are not aware of. President (Rodrigo) Duterte is not any way interfering in this matter. He doesn’t do political harassment. He is not that kind of politician,” he added.
Not President’s style
Go explained the President is already 74 years old and is focused on his work as a top official of the country. “Harassing his co-politician is not his cup of tea, not his style,” according to Go.
“Glad to see Senate Foreign Relations Committee pass (Sen. Markey’s) resolution, that I proudly cosponsored, calling on the government of the Philippines to end the troubling detention of Filipina Sen. Leila de Lima and harassment of journalist Maria Ressa,” Durbin said.
The post was shared by Markey claiming that De Lima has been detained for standing for human rights.
“For over 1,000 days now, (Sen. Leila de Lima) has languished in prison. Her crime: standing for human rights and good governance in the Philippines. Today’s passage of my resolution out of the Senate foreign relations committee demonstrates broad support for accountability in her case and with others,” he added.
Recently, the US Senate Appropriations Committee has passed an amendment blocking the entry of any Philippine government officials who are involved in the detention of De Lima. Durbin was the one who introduced the said amendment.
De Lima was detained in 2017 for allegedly receiving drug money from convicted criminals during her time as Secretary of Justice.
Undermining rule of law
In a statement, the Philippine Embassy said De Lima’s and Ressa’s cases are being handled in accordance with Philippine laws and processes.
“We note the sentiments contained in Senate Resolution 142. As close treaty allies that seek to address common challenges, the Philippines and the United States should focus on what they can do together, including capacity-building for the criminal justice system and related institutions,” it said.
Senate Resolution 142 was branded “ultimately unhelpful, not only because it may be potentially interpreted as posing undue interference in our domestic affairs, but more importantly because it calls on the government to pursue actions that undermine the rule of law, which is the very principle that the United States professes to uphold and stand for.”
Wheeling and dealing
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is expected to release more statements of support from his peers in the next days to be able to duck recognition of his term-sharing deal with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.
“Frenetic” was how a leading member of the House of Representatives described the activities at the Office of the Speaker as various statements are being crafted aside from twice-a-week meetings by Cayetano with the other congressmen.
“That’s how busy the Speaker is with just 36 days left before his expected exit — that is if he will leave,” the Daily Tribune source said.
Cayetano is making sure he is getting the support of what for him is the strongest bloc to have challenged his rule — that of the Mindanao congressmen who have boldly supported the call to have all seats of the House vacant.
The Speaker’s camp this weekend tried soliciting signatures to have the Mindanao bloc express its support for him to stay in his seat.
His “gentlemen’s agreement” with Velasco, however, is his hurdle.
A supposed “Statement of the Representatives of Northern Mindanao (Region 10) on the Issue of the Leadership of the House of Representatives,” a copy of which was obtained by Daily Tribune, is the latest of the statements being solicited by Cayetano from his peers.
After known Cayetano allies have issued their own statements favoring the incumbent Speaker, the new missive is also aimed at generating more support to the Taguig City congressman.
“The Members of the House of Representatives representing the legislative districts of Northern Mindanao are crossing party lines and are united in rejecting any attempt to effect a change in the leadership of the House that is not in keeping with the guidance of the head of the administration coalition, President Rodrigo Duterte.”
“Under its present leadership, with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano at the helm, the House has worked harmoniously and tirelessly to fulfill the legislative agenda of the Duterte administration and passed measures to improve the welfare of the Filipino people.”
“Now, as we deliberate on a national budget while facing a pandemic and an economic recession, we call on all colleagues to cast politics and personal interests aside, support the present leadership of the House and focus on the crucial task of crafting a budget that will address the crisis we are facing and help alleviate the plight of so many of our constituents.”
Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, almost towed the Mindanao bloc in declaring all House seats vacant after several solons discovered the inequity in the distribution of the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for 2021.
It was found that Cayetano is sharing some P10-billion worth of projects inserted in the DPWH under the national expenditure program with his wife, Lani, who represents the other half of Pasig City in Congress.
Some congressmen who are known Cayetano allies are also getting more than the rest.
It was then when Cayetano cried “coup” and accused Velasco of orchestrating a leadership change.
Velasco denied Cayetano’s allegations.
In a statement, Velasco said:
“I have been silent during the duration of the Gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting Speaker.”
“My silence does not mean I’m disinterested nor I have turned my back on the covenant.”
“’Being mum on issues’ means I just don’t want to call attention to myself. Being a party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time.”
“When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse. Thereafter, at the end of my term, my peers can then be the judge of my loyal service to God, to the President, and ultimately to the Filipino people.”
Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza, meanwhile, said Cayetano should respect and honor the agreement which they sealed in front of President Duterte.
“Speaker Cayetano assumed the Speakership on the basis of the term-sharing agreement between him and Cong. Velasco. They agreed upon that arrangement as suggested by Cayetano himself. They agreed to this in front of no less than President Duterte himself, Atienza stated.
He said the Speaker must honor the term-sharing deal between him and Velasco.
“With no conditions,” he said.
“Cayetano did not carry the majority numbers at that time, and Cong. Velasco did not ask for that to be a condition before he agreed to the agreement,” Atienza added.
“Now that his term is about to end and Cong. Velasco is about to begin his, why is the Speaker’s supporters questioning if Cong. Velasco has the numbers? It is totally unfair to make it a condition now,” he said.
Velasco was said to have the numbers when he gave way to Cayetano in respect to the President’s decision.
Atienza called on President Duterte to do for Velasco what he did for Cayetano last year.
“Mr. President, please do not allow the breaking of this gentleman’s agreement to share terms. Otherwise, Congress is doomed to fail if palabra de honor (word of honor) and delicadeza (propriety) are not followed,” Atienza said.
Malacañang has also made clear that it wants the agreement between Cayetano and Velasco honored by both sides.
During a briefing, presidential spokesman Secretary Harry Roque quoted the President as saying that he “is hoping both parties will honor their words and abide by their agreement.”
“I asked him last night (Monday) and that was his answer,” Roque said.
It was Mr. Duterte, however, who made sure Cayetano would serve as Speaker first following their so-called 15-21 deal which Cayetano had branded as a “gentlemen’s agreement” which all three of the should abide by.
The agreement gave Cayetano 15 months which should end in October before Velasco sits as Speakers for 21 months until the 2021 elections. Romualdez, meanwhile, serves as Majority leader for the whole three-year term.
Cayetano, however, is reneging on that agreement and wants to serve the full three years as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Jose Mari Chan’s unforgettable Christmases
If Christmas is about love, then Jose Mari Chan is the best man to tell us what love is all about. Known for his Christmas songs that have enthralled and touched generations of Filipinos, including the best-selling “Christmas in our Hearts,” Jose Mari traces his love for music to as far back as he was only five years old, when he would sing along with whatever was playing on the radio.
Jose Mari, who recently guested in Spotlight, the lifestyle online show of the Daily Tribune hosted by Dinah Sabal Ventura and Jojo G. Silvestre, shared with the audience his recollection of Christmases past and his thoughts on love — two topics that, by fate, are intertwined in his life, because “it was during the Christmas season that I met my wife-to-be.”
‘Little Christmas tree’
But of an earlier time, he recalls a Christmas midnight when “my parents went to hear Mass. I was left alone in our home and since there was no more radio because it was 11 o’clock, I went to the piano and began to tinker ‘Silent Night.’”
Another Christmas Eve, when he was either seven or eight years old, “and my parents again went to midnight Mass. I turned on the radio phono and I played a record by Nat King Cole. I remember listening to that song and somehow it became a permanent part of my Christmas memories. That song is called ‘Little Christmas Tree.’ It’s so much part of my Christmas past that when I came out with my album, ‘Christmas in Our Hearts,’ I had to include a part of the melody of that song.”
The gifted child, as early as he was five or six years old, felt connected to music. “In Iloilo, during that time, we didn’t have television yet. So, listening to the radio, I found myself singing along to the songs and then to the movies that I watched, like Jim Kelly singing ‘I’m singing in the rain,’” he recounts.
He credits his musicality to his maternal grandmother, “who hailed from Cebu and, as you all know, Cebu is one rich source of music, the balitaw. So my lola would be singing very often. She would sing me to sleep and I was exposed to the beautiful Cebuano balitaw. So that’s where it all began.”
Disc jockey at 13
At age nine, he sang on radio, “which made my parents very proud.” He would begin his celebrity life, although initially in the Western Visayas, when he was 13 years old when “I became a radio disc jockey on Sundays on DUYHF, an AM station in Iloilo. I would turn on the station at 6 o’clock in the morning. I had a show called Junior Morning Chirper which was JMC, the initials of my name. And then I had another show called Dear JoMari, a request and dedication show. People would send their requests and I would play it on the air.
Every Sunday after, he hosted “Platters on Parade,” a countdown of the top hits, all the way to number one.”If you noticed, the Platters on Parade is POP, which, of course, refers to popular music,” says Jose Mari, who called it differently from similar programs that used the word ‘Hits” as far as Manila.
In college, he hosted Nine Teeners on ABS-CBN and which made him famous among the young. Already a student in Ateneo, he was often invited to other campuses to host events or perform in them.
Meeting the girl
One time, in December 1965, he was invited to be the master of ceremonies of a Christmas program at Saint Scholastica.
“There was a group that came to the show backstage to talk to me,” Jose Mari relates, “and her name is Margarita Ansaldo. Margarita was with her friends and she was president of the student council in Maryknoll at that time.
“They came to see me during the break and she said that she and her caroling group were going to have a party at her home in San Juan, Rizal. She wanted me to join them. But it happened that I was scheduled to fly to Iloilo for my Christmas vacation with my family.
“So, I had to tell Margarita, ‘I am taking a morning flight the next day. But okay, I appreciate that you came all the way to St. Scholastica to meet with me and invite me. Okay, I will go.’”
The day came, and he arrived at the Ansaldo residence, but there were no cars outside. The street was quiet and the place was dark. “I rang the doorbell and a teenaged girl opened the gate. I introduced myself and she introduced herself as the sister of Margarita. Her name was Mary Ann Ansaldo, and her sister Margarita had asked her to wait for me and converse with me while their group still had to sing carols in two more houses before they would return to the Ansaldo residence for the party.”
It took an hour before the carolers returned, by which time, the two had exchanged many stories and “I found myself attracted to her,” recounts Jose Mari. When Margarita told her sister that she could already return to her room, Jose Mari requested that she stay and join them in the party, and Mary Ann stayed, and the two ended up being together the whole night.
His best friend and partner
The next day, already late for his flight to Iloilo, he went to his friend Jose Nable, who lived next door, and told him, “You know, John, last night, I met the girl I am going to marry.”
That was December of 1965. Five years later, 1970, he and Mary Ann were wed. This year, they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
That theirs is a strong marriage, he would not easily credit to himself. Whenever asked if he is a good husband, he answers consistently, “You have to ask Mary Ann that question.”
What he is sure of is “Mary Ann is my best friend, my best partner, my wife, my girlfriend, my woman, my friend. To quote my song, “My Girl, My Woman, My Friend.” We share the same interests, we do the same things and she is a wonderful person. Very kind, very understanding and she has never said anything bad about another person. She has never criticized anyone. I am very blessed and lucky.
“And you know what else? My name is Jose Maria Chan named after St. Joseph and the mother Mary. And her name is Mary Ann and Anne is the name of the mother of Blessed Mary. So Joseph and Mary are ever present in our lives.”
DoH insists on face shield at workplaces
The Department of Health (DoH) on Saturday disagreed to the proposal of some business sectors to exclude workers from wearing face shields which they claim affects their productivity at work.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said their position on the matter remains that masks, face shields and physical distancing are essential factors of the minimum health standards which should always be enforced.
“No, because our point and position since the start is that wearing masks, face shields, doing physical distancing, regular washing of hands are still the things which we are pushing and advocating for all,” she said in a televised briefing.
She emphasized that these policies are backed by scientific data and evidence that it allows for protection against the spread of the virus.
Based on studies, Vergeire said that wearing a mask decreases the probability of infection by up to 70 percent which is further increased to 99 percent if coupled with face shields and physical distancing.
However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. expressed a different view of the matter stating that the use of face shields may be ignored if it poses any harm to their nature of work.
“But if the work is dangerous, like using machine tools that can cut off your hands, ignore the face shield and call me if you are held to account,” he wrote on Twitter in response to DoH.
On Friday, several groups in the private sector sent out a joint letter to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) through Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles claiming that face shields inside the office and factories affect their vision and physical safety.
They said that while face shields are important when being out in public, the situation is different when inside the workplace which they stated has “controlled and guided” safety and health protocols.
Among the groups included in the appeal were the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Philippine Silk Road International Chamber of Commerce, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines.
In August, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III first announced the inclusion of wearing face shields and masks even inside the workplace as a precautionary measure that was then already agreed upon by the IATF.
As of writing, COVID-19 infections in the country have gone up to nearly 300,000 with recoveries at 232,399 and a death toll of 5,196.
Warning vs gradual tourism opening
With more industries eyeing to operate anew, the Department of Health (DoH) has warned that gradual opening of tourism sites must be met with caution amid the coronavirus threat.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that ample analysis on such initiatives should first be established in order to prevent any possible surge of cases.
“We are slowly trying to study it so that we can assert and or determine if opening up in fall will not compromise the safety of our population,” she said in a forum on Friday.
She explained that it is important to always strike a balance between health and economy through establishing initial developments before shifting on a wider scale.
“We have to check first, we have to start slow and small before we can fully implement and try to see if really we can go on and open up these kinds of sectors without compromising the safety, or course the transmission risk for people within that community,” she said.
Earlier, Vergeire noted that clusters are still identified in some provinces in the country which before was usually linked to returning overseas Filipino workers or locally stranded individuals.
As of the latest development, the national government is targeting to gradually open both Baguio City and Boracay by the first week of October to tourists in order to help localities jumpstart their economy.
The Department of Tourism said that among the policies to be implemented include the ‘test before travel rule’ where all visitors are required to have a negative RT-PCR test 48 to 72 hours prior to travelling to the island.
They are likewise advised to go on strict quarantine after the test to ensure their safety before the set travel date.
Travelers who are aged 21 years old and below as well as those 60 years old and above will be permitted provided that they have no existing comorbidities.
On the other hand, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said that their locality will only initially accept visitors from Region I as part of its pilot testing.
The idea was welcomed by other local government officials in the Ilocos region who are also considering doing the same thing to their respective provinces.
Although more areas are open to willing to receive tourists, Magalong — who also serves as the national tracing czar — said that only guided tours will be allowed in the meantime to prevent a possible outbreak of the disease.
The DoH said that it will soon be releasing a complete document of guidelines which includes provision for pathways, tests and management of cases specifically on domestic travelers.
At present, the Philippines has reported nearly 300,000 cases of COVID-19 with 232,399 recoveries and total deaths at 5,196.
As the decision nears on what community quarantine to implemented in the country, two health professionals on Saturday had varying views over the idea of whether or not to ease restrictions amid the threat of the coronavirus disease.
The Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines (CDC Ph) reiterated that now is the best time for the government to lift all lockdowns as they claim that the situation in the health system is now improving.
Dr. Benigno Agbayani Jr., an orthopedic specialist from the Manila Doctors Hospital, said that imposing lockdown is a very costly solution which has affected many sectors including the economy and mental health.
He added the number of diseases which have been overlooked over the past months as the public stopped going to hospitals for treatment for fear of contracting the virus.
With this, Agbayani said the perception of worry over the situation which he claims is a mere “seasonal flu” has impaired a number of aspects when the virus could’ve instead been treated with improvements in the immune system.
“Its behavior is like peaking then eventually it goes down. It is not a pandemic, it may be more dangerous than the flu but it doesn’t behave like a pandemic,” he said in an interview with DZBB, noting that it is far different than the Spanish flu in the early years.
Meanwhile, among the recommendations which the CDC Ph was lobbying for was dubbed as the HOPE strategy that means to hospitalize less, open all businesses, prevent illness and don’t wait to cure it, and to educate all primary care physicians on disease prevention.
“Like any seasonal diseases there are other strategies and lockdown is not one of them. We should be strengthening those who are weak,” he added.
However, another group of health experts have cited a number of repercussions which the country may suffer should there be a soon lifting or easing of restrictions implemented.
Dr. Maricar Limpin, a pulmonologist and co-convenor of the Health Professionals Alliance against COVID-19, argued that the Philippines’ health system is not yet stabilized and ready should there be a possible surge of cases accompanied with it.
She said as much as health workers are wanting to end the current situation, it is important to ensure first that all sectors are prepared to actually live with the virus by strict and regulated enforcement of minimum health standards.
It includes having sufficient contact tracing, more modes of transportation while maintaining the one-meter distance and improved detection of cases.
Limpin said it is important to first improve all the set responses in managing the COVID-19 cases before considering measures that will allow for more people to be exposed to the virus.
Lifestyle checks a form of extortion?
Ombudsman Samuel Martires did not mince words in defending his recent move of stopping lifestyle checks on public officials and restricting public access to their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
In a radio interview, Martires revealed that such are just being used by politicians and media practitioners for extortion.
“The lifestyle check is just a fishing expedition,” he said. “We are just looking for evidence against those people undergoing lifestyle checks and according to reports from our investigators, it just becomes a source of extortion.”
Martires earlier announced that he stopped the conduct of lifestyle checks on public officials, saying failure in such does not prove than an official is corrupt. It came three weeks after he restricted public access to the SALN of public officials filed before the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman explained that Republic Act (RA) 6713 is the law on Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public officials, which provides that “public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income” and that “they should not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”
Section 8C of RA 6713, meanwhile, mandates disclosure of SALN to the public at a certain period of time and as long as the one making the request shoulders the cost of reproduction and mailing of the SALN copies, he added.
“The SALN has become a weapon of sorts for some media personalities as they use it against officials,” Martires said. “There have been a lot of politicians who fell victims to these kinds of incidents.”
The Ombudsman also stressed that he is not protecting anyone with his orders.
“I am not protecting any public official,” said Martires, adding that the conduct of lifestyle checks is just a practice copied from Hong Kong.
“We don’t have any laws or basis for doing lifestyle checks,” said Martires and noted that there is no criteria to determine whether a person has unexplained wealth since lifestyle checks are “purely” based on estimates.
“There are no exact figures or basis, that’s why we categorize it as unexplained wealth. But what is the basis really when one can say that it is unexplained when these are all estimates?” Martires said.
“We estimate the cost of living. We estimate the cost of travel and accommodation expenses. We estimate the expenses for food, daily maintenance or drugs,” he added.
The Ombudsman also said that his office should be given a chance to recommend to Congress a law on the conduct of lifestyle check.
“The lifestyle check is not the only way. There are a lot of ways to investigate corruption,” he said.
Martires explained that on the issue of restricting public access to SALN filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, agencies or departments of a government official or employee also have a copy of the document.
He added that the SALN is not meant to be a penal law.
“You are only allowed to publish a SALN, but interpretation is prohibited,” Martires added. “We are aware of our rights but we are not aware of our obligations.”
A 60-foot, 24-ton robot bearing a resemblance to TV and movie animation characters in Transformer or Daimos speaks well of the Japanese skill in breathing life to its anime and manga figures.
Also, the steel-and-carbon-fiber robot is not just for display at the Yamashita Pier in Yokohama City. The machine inspired by the popular 1970s TV series Mobile Suit Gundam is functional after it was tested on 21 September. It walked, knelt and gesticulated.
The Gundam robot, however, won’t be figuring in a movie or TV show to fight giant monsters or robot villains. It won’t even have special powers or weapons to save the world from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). It is just a display at the Gundam Factory Yokohama that is meant to awe visitors.
The smaller UV light disinfection robot that was demonstrated at the Baguio Convention Center (BCC) last weekend outperforms the towering Gundam with its virus-fighting function. While moving around the BCC lobby, its ultraviolet light kills germs including the coronavirus.
The UV light robot, however, was too strong even for the media who covered the demo. Several reporters who covered the display suffered eye irritation and reddening, as well as visual impairment. Upon consultation with an eye doctor, they were told that their eyes would heal after a few days.
The Department of Health warned against exposure to UV light, which it said can damage eyes.
Meanwhile, a female student reveals that the country is not yet ready to become a robot developer.
Lonesa Magbanua, a freshman in Central Mindanao University, Bukidnon, gave the hint in a recent post on social media expressing her and other students’ frustration over the many academic demands of their professors.
In the viral post that has garnered more than 1.5 million views so far, Magbanua complained her eyes ache when reading lessons from her smartphone. Her eyesight is also getting poor, but she has no money to buy corrective glasses.
In Bisaya, Magbanua ranted, “We are not robots who can submit requirements right away. We are not genius that when we see it (lessons) with our eyes, we already understand it.”
Her school reportedly launched an investigation into her grievances; no robots involved, of course.
No El, no way
Senators and President Rodrigo Duterte’s men promptly shot down a proposal emanating from the House of Representatives to postpone the 2022 presidential elections due to the flimsy excuse of avoiding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection.
In separate statements, the public officials chorused that the deferment of elections, as floated by Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Mikey Arroyo, is unconstitutional.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said, aside from being unconstitutional, postponing the polls may spark controversies.
“The idea presents a number of controversial and unconstitutional issues. To name a few, who will hold over their positions? If not, who will appoint their replacements? The tenure of elected government officials is fixed,” Sotto said.
The Senate chief expressed confidence that the conduct of the 2022 polls will be thoroughly reviewed especially the matters of health security and election fraud.
“That should be seriously studied. It’s not only the pandemic to consider,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the health crisis should not be used as an excuse to reschedule the polls and holding elections is a public service that the government “must ensure to deliver.”
“The idea to postpone the 2022 elections, if and when it happens, presents constitutional challenges,” Roque said.
The Palace official noted that the 1987 Constitution is clear on the fixed date for the national elections, which is the second Monday of May every sixth year after 1992.
“We can learn from the examples of other countries, such as the United States, which will be holding an election later this year, on how they conduct polls during COVID-19 pandemic,” Roque said.
“We must not use the existing global health crisis as a ground to cancel and reschedule the elections as this would not sit well with the public,” he added.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said postponement of the elections should be “the last resort” and the government should make sure the polls will push through despite the health crisis.
“We still have time to prepare. Let us also study best practices conducted in other countries. Postponing the elections should be a last resort. The government must ensure continuity of delivery of public services, including protecting Filipinos’ right of suffrage, even in times of crises,” he said in a statement.
The government should study alternative ways to conduct safe, clean and credible elections which is in accordance with the law.
Senate electoral reforms committee chair Imee Marcos also opposed the suggestion noting other countries were able to hold the polls despite the pandemic.
“Many countries have held elections during the pandemic such as South Korea, Taiwan, Belarus, Singapore, Iceland, Poland and the US in November,” she said.
Rep. Arroyo has previously urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider postponing the 2022 polls amid the continuing spread of the dreaded disease.
Comelec chair Sheriff Abas responded by saying that the matter is up for Congress and President Duterte to decide.
The commission also said it plans to conduct the 2022 national elections for two to even three days should the contagion persists.
2-day polls pushed
Opposition lawmaker, Senator Francis Pangilinan, also reiterated that the suggestion is against the 1987 Constitution and pointed out that the pandemic should not be a reason to postpone the polls.
He backed Comelec’s idea to hold a two-day election to prevent flocking of people in voting centers.
He said basketball courts, plazas, gymnasiums, convention centers should be used to ensure social distancing.
Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson noted that extension of elected government officials’ term beyond 30 June 2020 is unconstitutional.
“Any discussion or debate on this issue is an exercise in futility, if not a waste of time and energy,” Lacson said.
Lacson also warned the Comelec of future legal challenges if they will push through with their suggestion to hold a two-day election as it goes beyond the day specified by the Constitution.
with MICHELLE R. GUILLANG
and MJ BLANCAFLOR
Narcos get virus lull
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis has slowed down not just the movement of people, goods, and the country’s economy. It has also slackened the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, the Duterte administration’s top anti-narcotics official lamented Friday.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Wilkins Villanueva said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the agency’s drug-clearing operations in barangays, with local government units’ efforts mostly concentrated on battling the contagion.
Still, Villanueva assured that the agency, along with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement arms of the government, will not cease in exerting efforts to rid the country of the drug menace.
“Our drug-clearing operations in barangays have slowed down because of the pandemic. Local governments are busy with COVID-19 concerns, so, our rehabilitation program have been stymied. But it will not stop us from clearing barangays at that was what Chief PNP and I agreed on,” Villanueva said during his high-level meeting Philippine National Police chief PGen. Camilo Cascolan, National Bureau of Investigation director Eric Distor and Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael.
“We will go straight to the barangays. Why? Because narcotics, no matter where it came from, may it be China, the Golden Triangle or Africa, it will surely land in the barangays,” he added.
Villanueva last 6 August, or 702 days before the deadline set by President Rodrigo Duterte to eradicate the country’s problem with illegal drugs, led the launching of the agency’s Barangay Drug Clearing Program (BDCP) which aims to clear the remaining15,388 drug-affected barangays by June 2022.
These barangays represent 36.6 percent of 42,045 barangays in the country that are still plagued by illegal drugs.
The PDEA chief shared that from July 2016 to 31 August 2020, 20,165 of the target number of villages have been declared as cleared, with most of the remaining drug-affected barangays spread out in Luzon and Visayas.
“Most of the affected barangays are in big cities, the metropolis. It’s like this, wherever there is money, there is drugs. And if your barangay happens to be in a city where there is a lot of money, then definitely your barangay in one way or another will be affected by illegal drugs,” stated Villanueva.
“We are now at the phase where we do identification of target personalities and the conduct of intervention program for those identified drug personalities. For the remaining 33 percent of drug-affected barangays, we are headed towards the intervention program,” he added.
Real numbers bared
Meanwhile, latest data from government agencies involved in the war on illegal drugs, also known as Real Numbers PH, show that 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in 176,777 drug operations conducted until 31 August 2020.
Said figure is way below the more than 27,000 deaths critics and human rights advocates claimed to have resulted in the President’s unforgiving fight against illegal drugs.
For the same period, 885 government employees were also collared in stings broken down into 431 government workers, 352 elected officials, and 102 personnel from the military and police. Drug suspects arrested totaled to 256,788 with some 10,308 of whom were tagged as high value targets (HVT).
Narcotics and drug laboratory equipment worth P53.46 billion were also seized with methamphetamine, or shabu, accounting for P43.69 billion.
More than six hundred drug dens and 17 clandestine laboratories were also raided and dismantled during the said period.
Villanueva disclosed that PDEA, along with other law enforcement agencies, will resume `Oplan Tokhang’ once the COVID-19 crisis eases.
As one of the administration’s way of addressing the drug problem, Oplan Tokhang became controversial and gained notoriety because of it being perceived as “a war against the poor.”
Villanueva clarified that it is not an anti-drug operation but a means to convince suspected drug users and pushers to peacefully turn themselves in.
Under Oplan Tokhang, to be done particularly in areas which have no barangay anti-drug abuse council, law enforcers would “knock-and-plead” with residents believed to be involved in the illegal drugs trade to mend their ways.
“The problem here in Metro Manila is that, Tokhang turns into an anti-drug operation. What is Tokhang for? That house visitation is just letting the people in the house, the house of the alleged drug personality where we will say `Hey, you’re in our list of durg users. Just go to the barangay and avail of the intervention program.
That’s the only purpose of Tokhang,” the PDEA director explained.
“We will knock on their doors, convince them to surrender because intervention is available. Now, if they don’t surrender, then we’ll resort to anti-drug operations because you refuse it,” he added.
Meanwhile, the PNP will conduct a case buildup against suspected drug personalities should they refuse to peacefully surrender to authorities.
“We will prove to the court that we need to arrest you because of illegal activities related to illegal drugs,” Cascolan, co-author of `Oplan Double Barrel,’ sequel to Oplan Tokhang which centered on HVT, stated.
He also reiterated the PNP’s resolve to prosecute and put behind bars policemen who are purportedly serving either as drug pushers or protectors of drug syndicates.
Tugade: Pinoys won’t abandon ship
Despite the serious blow Filipino seafarers suffered from the global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade assured the world that Filipinos will continue manning vessels.
Tugade said the Philippines remains committed as a partner in global maritime activities.
In a virtual meeting during the celebration of the World Maritime Day 2020 which is a side event to the 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the DoTr chief emphasized the importance of maritime trade and shipping activities particularly during critical periods such as the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Tugade said Filipino seafarers will not falter in their professionalism and dedication despite the restrictions posed by the pandemic.
“Filipino seafarers carry with them the values of dedication, resiliency, discipline, and excellence. The country will continue to strengthen itself as a maritime nation”, he said.
“Our aspiration towards becoming a more developed maritime nation will grow with the years. We can assure you that. I am deeply grateful for your support and faith in us as we shape the Philippines into a maritime nation, ready to forge ahead with a remarkable and global impact,” Tugade noted.
Joining Tugade in the high-level virtual meeting were United Nations Global Compact CEO and Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo, International Labor Organization director general Guy Ryder, International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary general Kitack Lim, International Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Stephen Cotton, International Chamber of Shipping Secretary General Guy Platten and UNGC special advisor Sturla Henriksen who served as moderator.
370K Filipino sailors
In the meeting, Tugade highlighted Filipino seafarers’ contributions to global navigation as the Philippines has been providing international shipping with trained and qualified mariners for decades. Of the estimated 1.5 million seafarers worldwide, over 370,000 or about 25 percent are Filipinos.
The DoTr chief also highlighted policies adopted by the government that paved the way in strengthening the country’s maritime industry and the steps the Duterte administration took thus far to protect the health and safety of Filipino seafarers.
Among these measures, Tugade said, are the establishment of the “green lane” for the safe and unimpeded movement of seamen amid the pandemic, the identification of ports to serve as crew-change hubs and the establishment of one-stop shops for the uniform processing of those arriving in the country.
“I am happy to report that as of August of this year, the Philippines was able to activate three crew-change hubs in the country and are fast-tracking immediate activation of three more in the next 30 days,” Tugade noted.
Tugade added the validity of standards of training, certification and watchkeeping convention (STCW) certificates, record books, identification and record books of Filipino seafarers to ensure their unhampered deployment and crew changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DoTr chief assured the other ranking global maritime officials that Filipino seafarers will continue to show professionalism and dedication despite the restrictions posed by the pandemic.
“Filipino seafarers carry with them the values of dedication, resiliency, discipline, and excellence, and that the country will continue to strengthen itself as a maritime nation,” he said.
Tugade also recounted the strides the Philippines has made in the development of maritime-linked infrastructure amid the pandemic.
Under the Duterte administration, 369 port projects were completed since 2016, which included 14 port projects which were recently inaugurated through a virtual event.
“I remember distinctly well when I had this conversation with IMO secretary general Kitack Lim in July where he encouraged us to continue on our firm policy to support shipping and the Filipino seafarers. Today, I am happy to declare and to report that as of August of this year, barely two months after that conversation, the Philippines was able to activate three crew-change hubs and are fast-tracking immediate activation of three more in the next 30 days,” Tugade remarked.
In his response, UNGC Special Advisor Sturla Henriksen acknowledged the dedication being shown by Filipino mariners.
“Having served many years with the shipping industry, I can confirm the commitment and the dedication of the Filipino seafarers is remarkable. So, thank you so much,” he said.