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Duterte flags overpriced test kits, PPE

Francis Wakefield

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Malacañang on Friday said President Duterte is concerned by the wide disparity in the price of testing kits purchased by the Department of Health (DoH) and those procured by the private sector and wants the gap investigated.

There is also the collateral issue of allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE).

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte needs clarity as he is puzzled by the discrepancy in the prices.

Roque said private sector testing kit purchases cost only P1.75 million whereas government purchases of the same cost taxpayers P4 million.

“The President needs answers,” he said in Filipino in a broadcast interview.

“He, along with the rest of us in the country, needs clarity as to the wide disparity in price,” Roque added.

At the same time, three senators stood firm in their call for Duque to resign over missteps that erode the government’s credibility in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think the latest statements of the health secretary will make the 14 senators who passed a resolution weeks ago asking for his resignation, change their mind,” Senator Sonny Angara, previously infected by the coronavirus, said.

“Sad to say, his statements have hurt the department and the government since his remarks caused confusion among the public,” he added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros pointed out the DoH is losing its credibility in terms of giving out data in the fight against the pandemic.

“DoH has to make sure we can rely on the data they provide. We have to ground our policies on the real situation. We cannot afford a divergent interpretation of terms. The DoH has to communicate clearly,” she said.

Hontiveros further explained the government lost the people’s trust following allegations of overpricing in COVID-19 tests and other medical supplies.

“Altogether, these gaffes do not inspire confidence in the health department’s program to address the pandemic. Lives are at stake. The Secretary has to shape up or ship out,” she said.

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Duque’s blunders are “grave and unforgivable.”

“They cannot deny that these are grave and unforgivable lapses made by Secretary Duque being at the forefront of this fight against COVID-19. He was negligent. He did not exercise the due diligence expected of him as PhilHealth chairman. These issues affect the credibility of the DoH to lead this fight,” he said.

Drilon, however, emphasized only President Duterte can decide on Duque’s fate.

The Palace noted reports PhilHealth could lose P8.3 billion allegedly for coronavirus test ‘overpayments’

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque helped craft the Universal Health Care Law and has filed complaints against PhilHealth officials. He referred the matter to Undersecretary Jesus Quitain instead who previously investigated the various allegations and who knows the PhilHealth landscape far more than Roque does.

Earlier on Tuesday, Senator Panfilo Lacson told the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing that with the help of the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service, the Department of Health purchased 10 King Fisher nucleic acid extractor machines for P4 million for each unit.

Lacson compared the purchase against the Sansure nucleic acid extractors bought by the private sector, Project ARK, costing only P1.75 million per unit.

Department Budget and Management Undersecretary Lloyd Lao explained Project ARK’s machines were from China while the DoH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) specifically requested the US brand Thermo Science King Fisher.

Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Francisco Duque III explained to the Senate panel that the procurement of the more expensive US-made machines was deliberate for reasons of compatibility with existing machines used by the DOH and the RITM.

Lacson, however, remained unconvinced and explained the Sansure brand is being used by the Philippine Red Cross in their polymerase chain reaction or PCR-based tests and that Duque’s justification was “false information.”

“They are claiming Sansure is a closed system, which is not true. Because yesterday I confronted Sec. Duque who claimed the reason the agency did not purchase Sansure was because it is a closed system, which is not true,” Lacson explained.

“Giving us false information does not help him.”

Lacson also claimed the DoH also procured PPE priced at P1,979 compared to the PPE that may be purchased for only P1,079.

Drilon on Wednesday said PhilHealth may lose P8.3 billion over alleged ‘overpayment’ of coronavirus tests.

In a broadcast interview, the lawmaker said issue of “overpayment” was raised at the Senate Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.

“The PhilHealth has a package to test. The package is P8,150 per test. In other words, you go to a hospital and have yourself tested and PhilHealth pays the hospital P8,150. Now, what is the cost of the test kits?” Drilon said.

According to the lawmaker, their research shows the kits from China costs P1,500 per test.

Additional overhead and cost of materials cost approximately P2,000 plus a margin of income roughly equal P500.

Drilon said a “reasonable” testing cost is around P4,000. The amount is the same value charged by the Philippine Red Cross for their own tests.

“The PhilHealth is reimbursing the hospital for the same work for P8,150. In other words, the overpayment by PhilHealth is P4,150 per test,” he said.

“We will test 2 percent of our population or roughly 2 million Filipinos. If you multiply 2 million by P4,150.00, the potential loss is P8.3 billion to PhilHealth. There is a potential overprice of P8.3 billion,” Drilon added.

The minority leader, in a separate radio interview, warned this may be a “criminal act” as the overpayments were done in the midst of pandemic where the country’s economy has a hard time restarting.

with Hananeel Bordey
@tribunephl_hana

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Cayetano delays ouster

Aldrin Cardona

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House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s allies suspended Monday’s session to give their leader a chance to buy time and avert plans for his ouster.

Telephones burned all day at the Batasang Pambansa despite Cayetano, his rival for the speakership Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco and President’s son Davao City Paolo Duterte not making their presence felt in the Chamber.

The two budget hearings set yesterday — those for the Commission on Elections and the Department of Foreign Affairs — were suspended.

A break of one day would allow Cayetano the precious hours to regroup his forces, which threatened of collapse until Monday when the majority squabbled over funds inserted into the 2021 national budget.

Even members of the House staff were kept off the session. Video and audio monitors were put off to keep talks within the session hall just among the lawmakers present.

Cayetano’s camp tried to downplay the calls to declare the speakership vacant, aired by Duterte over the weekend, by saying the incumbent speaker would still retain his post if subjected to another vote.

Other lawmakers, however, said it’s unlikely.

Cayetano is being questioned for cornering about P20-billion worth of projects from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for himself, his wife Lani and his closest allies.

The other congressmen, however, will receive only P2 billion or less for projects in their districts.

Taguig City alone will receive P6,918,662,000 to fund rehabilitation of roads, highway extensions, construction of pumping station and flood control structure, slope protection, site developments, buildings, parking areas and multi-purpose buildings.

All these projects are to be distributed in the city’s two congressional districts which Cayetano splits with his wife.

Camarines Sur’s first district, with Cayetano as caretaker after the demise of its elected representative Marissa Lourdes Andaya, will receive P288,244,000.

His ally LRay Villafuerte’s second district will get P3,304,781,000.

But some congressmen claimed they have more.

These complaints sent the House crumbling before the weekend with the Mindanao bloc threatening to force a new leadership.

Cayetano’s camp then moved to revive the budget for the grumbling lawmakers, using the Bayanihan 2 funds which are supposed to alleviate the people’s fight against the new coronavirus pandemic.

These will be used for the congressmen’s soft projects through the Local Government Subsidy Fund (LGSF), which include funding for scholarships, medical assistance, livelihood training and similar light projects.

Villafuerte had sent the congressmen messages to announce that they will get their share from the Bayanihan 2 funds.

“Your allocated LGSF for 2020 which were missing are back,” a message attributed to Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte stated.

“We reinstated them as per instruction of the Speaker in Bayanihan 2,” he added.

“Here with guidelines please. Favor, kindly as you LGU (local government units) beneficiaries (through) Katy to comply ASAP because deadline is end of October,” his message continued, mentioning a name whom Tribune sources identified as a media liaison.

Cayetano said he will step down if asked by his peers.

“I advised them, if there are lawmakers who want to move, let them be. I will voluntarily step down,” Cayetano stated.

While Duterte vowed to distance from the inequitable distribution of the budget, he said he will respect the decision of the House members.

“Most of these concerns shrouded doubts over the process and mistrust of the lawmakers ruling the House, those who are acting as if they are bigger than their colleagues,” he stated.

“Now as Congress continues to be hounded by the issue of budget — something that finds its way up to the current House leadership, how it treats its members, how it approves allocations and budgets with fairness or lack of it — let me reiterate my position: I do not want to get involved. However, I wish to help my fellow lawmakers find answers to their questions or remedies to the budget that they proposed for their people.”

“I could only hope that Congress and its members will be able to resolve this issue before everything goes out of hand, before it could bludgeon the credibility of the institutions and inflict damage beyond repair.”

“I leave this issue to the members of Congress as I believe that it is within their rights as elected officials to come up with a favorable solution to an issue that could badly impact the development of their districts and their people.”

“As a collective body, the members of Congress have the power to change the course of which the leadership is leading them to and address a problem to ensure that the programs and projects for their people are delivered and delivered expeditiously.”

“The members of Congress have the power to correct everything that they perceive as wrong happening within the Lower House or change leadership as they demand fair treatment and reforms.”

“If the members of Congress will push for a change in House leadership, as a reaction to their sentiments, obviously I would be among the casualties because I am a deputy speaker. I am ready to accept the consequences,” he added.

Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the Chief Executive cannot meddle in the affairs of the Lower Chamber, even if his son moves to oust Cayetano.

“The Constitution is clear. Only the members of the House of Representatives can decide who would be their leader. We leave (the matter) to the House of Representatives,” Roque said.

The Palace official, however, said the P4.5-trillion national budget for next year should be passed “on time” despite the ongoing disputes in the Congress.

“Let’s just say that because the 2021 budget is also our biggest stimulus package, it is non-negotiable to the President. It needs to be passed on time,” Roque said.

In 2019, President Duterte brokered a term-sharing deal between Cayetano and Velasco to put an end to the speakership deadlock which bugged the House for months.

Duterte publicly endorsed Cayetano to be the House Speaker for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, while Velasco will sit in the remaining 21 months.

with HANANEEL BORDEY,
MICHELLE GUILLANG
and MJ BLANCAFLOR

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‘Election year fund’ open to corruption

Hananeel Bordey

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Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned that the infrastructure budget and funds for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in the 2021 national budget are in danger of being used for the 2022 elections.

Drilon noted that the 2021 national budget is considered as a budget in preparation for the elections.

“I would like to attribute good faith. You cannot discount that this is part of the preparation for 2022. I have been in Congress long enough to know that if there is anything you should exercise extra vigilance, it is what is called the election-year budget,” he said.

The veteran lawmaker generally said that lump sum allocations in some projects are prone to abuse or corruption.

So far, Drilon said the Senate has flagged the P469-billion lump sum funds under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the at least P16.5 billion for NTF-ELCAC.

Several members of the House of Representatives also questioned the DPWH budget, which listed more than P20 billion in programs allocated to the City of Taguig and Camarines Sur.

The two congressional districts of Taguig were split by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his wife Lani.

Camarines Sur’s first district is also under the care of Speaker Cayetano after the demise of its elected representative Marissa Lourdes Andaya early this year.

The second district of the province is represented by Cayetano’s Nacionalista Party ally LRay Villafuerte.

The funds will be under the care of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, son of former Senator Manny and Senator Cynthia Villar — the NP’s power couple.

“That’s our concern. We don’t want to attribute malice. Certainly, it is open to corruption and abuse for the 2022 elections,” Drilon said referring to the lump sum funds under the DPWH and the NTF-ELCAC.

The minority chief said the lack of transparency on the NTF-ELCAC funds have raised red flags on the allocations made by the Executive Department.

He said it is worrisome to provide P20 million to each barangay cleared of insurgency and the description of some projects was tagged as “soft programs” that include livelihood training, assistance to indigents in the form of medical, educational and transportation assistance.

“These are precisely the items which you recall in the past enabled the corruption. We recall the P728-M fertilizer scam. These funds could no longer be accounted. You remember there were ghost scholars and ghost trainings at the TESDA,” he explained.

“This is the reason why we are opposing this. Even in a CoA (Commission on Audit) audit, it is almost impossible for CoA to perform to audit this,” he added, noting that the task force will be ‘playing God’ in the release of funds.

Drilon said they will push its abolition if possible and will ensure transparency in the programs implemented by the NTF-ELCAC.

Just like the funds for the task force, Drilon said they will scrutinize the lump sum and re-appropriations flagged by Senator Panfilo Lacson under the DPWH budget.

“This is something that we will watch out for. This P469-B must be disaggregated. Otherwise, this will become a lump sum fund where the participation of Congress will become again after the enactment, which is prohibited under a Supreme Court decision. It is very critical therefore that P469-B should be identified,” he said.

Drilon, on the other hand, declined to comment on the row among some congressmen over the alleged inequitable distribution of funds for infrastructure projects under the 2021 National Expenditures Program.

“I will not want to respond to that. Inter-parliamentary courtesy prevents me from doing so. But we note that a statement of a certain congressman who said that they are frustrated about lack of transparency on discretionary items,” he said.

Drilon said the Congress should also decide whether it will prioritize the supply side or the demand side in terms of funding.

This is a matter that should be resolved as the budget for the Department of Health (DoH) only came fifth in the ranking despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a good debate. This is an ongoing debate. We’ll look at the budget as a whole because we are in a pandemic. This is a very peculiar budget. This is the first time we are confronted by this situation,” he said.

“Congress must decide which one to support more — the so-called demand side, meaning those who are needing the funds such as the social services. It’s a debate as to what should be given more emphasis: social services of infrastructure,” he added.

For him, the Department of Finance and the Department of Budget and Management are seen leaning towards funding the infrastructure more than providing cash assistance to the consumers.

“Where do we put our money at least for next year? Which should be given more support? The infra projects or social service? When the decision is made, then you carry out that policy,” he said.

“Who needs them most? Our fellows who are now out of work and have less to eat — they need amelioration? Remember there is no (Social Amelioration Program) in the 2021 budget. This is a debate that we will have to resolve. This is a very crucial debate,” he added.

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Catriona fights back; fans defend Xyriel

Kathleen A. Llemit

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GRAY PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/ATTYJOJI

It’s a tale of two women subjected to unwanted attention. Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray went to court on 18 September to sue a tabloid that published nude photos allegedly hers, but which she claimed as fake. Former child star Xyriel Manabat, meanwhile, had netizens coming to her defense after lewd comments on her Instagram post.

The beauty queen was accompanied by her talent manager Erickson Raymundo and legal counsel Joji Alonso at the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office on 18 September.

“The first case has been filed before the Quezon City Prosecutors Office while we await the results of the NBI investigation on the identification of other respondents,” Alonso posted on her Instagram account (@attyjoji) on 19 September.

The tabloid Bulgar published the alleged topless photos on its Facebook page on 18 July and in a print article the following day, 19 July.

On 21 July, Catriona sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation to locate the source of the nude photos. The photos were published following a controversy involving Catriona, her current boyfriend Sam Milby, and ex-boyfriend Clint Bondad.

On 30 July, Catriona’s camp sent a demand letter to Bulgar, with editor Janice Navida and writer Melba Llanera as respondents.

On 4 August, Navida posted a statement on the Bulgar website. It read in part: “Hope, too, that you may see our intention to help you in clearing your name to the whole universe that the nude photo circulating online is fake and edited only, that’s why when we learned about your clarification on the matter, we quickly posted your camp’s statement on our Facebook page and website to enlighten everybody about that controversial photo.”

Xyriel victimized by maniacs
Meanwhile, former child star Xyriel Manabat was subjected to lewd comments after she posted a selfie on her Instagram account (@xyrielamanabat). She posted the same photo but with different angles of her wearing a tight white T-shirt that showed off her ample bust on Monday and last weekend.

These were captioned with the mechanics of a sponsored contest. Netizens reacted with suggestive and sexual comments.

But others called out the negative comments, asking to stop sexualizing the teen actress.

The 16-year-old recently graduated from high school. She took a break from showbiz to concentrate on her studies. She rose to fame after starring in several dramas, notably the inspirational 100 Days to Heaven in 2011.

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PNP bags Dawlah Islamiyah recruiter

Kristina Maralit

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A leading member of the Dawlah Islamiya operating in Metro Manila was arrested by elements of the Quezon City Police on Monday.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief PGen. Camilo Pancratius Cascolan announced the apprehension of Kevin Madriñan, also known by the aliases Ibrahim Abdullah Madriñan and Ibrahim Khalil Al-Garaba.

Madriñan was presented to the members of the media by Cascolan after the weekly flag raising ceremony in Camp Crame.

The PNP Chief said Madriñan has long been in the wanted list as a liaison officer of the terrorist group in Luzon.

Madriñan is also said to be a close associate of Abu Sayyaf Group commander Mundi Sawadjaan, who is among the government’s most wanted terrorists.

Sawadjaan was responsible for last August’s deadly twin blasts in Jolo, Sulu and the explosions that rocked the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in January 2019.

“He (was) under investigation. We (were) monitoring him. What we are looking into is the recruitment he has been doing here in Manila. His recruits, those we call “balik-Islam,” are sent to Mindanao for exposure on said (terror) activities,” he stated.

Cascolan noted that Madriñan, also an Islam convert, was apprehended by security officers late afternoon of Saturday, 19 September 2020, at Atherton corner Burbank Streets, North Fairview, Quezon City.

Seized from him were one .45 caliber pistol with a high-capacity magazine, a hand grenade, and three pieces of P1,000 bills.

Madriñan, Cascolan stated, had links with Ysuf Macoto of Cavite and Muhammad Paras of Bulacan.

Madriñan was left in Luzon to continue with his recruitment of converts when the two joined the Dawlah Islamiya forces in the siege of Marawi City in 2017.

Both Macoto and Paras died in battle.

Madriñan took over as the terror group’s point person in Luzon following the arrest of Datu Omar Palte, also in Quezon City, at the start of the year.

Palte formerly belonged to a faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter led by Commander Esmael Abubakar alias “Bungos” and later joined Dawlah Islamiya, led by Esmael Adbulmalik alias “Turaife/Turaypi,” in 2018.

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Congress squabble derails ’21 budget

Hananeel Bordey

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Drilon assures safeguards in National ID

The power struggle shaking the House of Representatives may derail the passage of the 2021 national budget which the Philippines could not afford to have, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned on Monday.

This will not be good to the country’s chance to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and may derail efforts to put the economy back in harness.

“Certainly, a power struggle in the House of Representatives will affect our timelines and I hope not because we are still in the middle of a pandemic, we have about 10 percent unemployment and we expect to have a contraction of our economy,” Drilon said.

“A delay in the budget will be very critical. We can only express hope that this power struggle, which is a business of the House, will not derail our budget preparations. We cannot delay the budget for 2021 because of the condition we are in today,” he added.

On Sunday, President’s son and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte confirmed sending a text message attributed to him with a warning to declare all seats in the House vacant due to the ongoing quarrel over the infrastructure budget under the proposed 2021 expenditure program.

Some lawmakers exposed House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano as being able to get a lion’s share from the infrastructure funds for his district in Taguig City, as well as the other district represented by his wife Lani.

A new document obtained by Daily Tribune listed 53 projects amounting to nearly P7 billion for Taguig City.

Cayetano is a Nacionalista partymate of DPWH Secretary Mark Villar.

Villar’s parents — Manny and Senator Cynthia Villar — head the NP.

Botched deal
Cayetano’s questioned share of the DPWH funds is seen by others as related to the term-sharing deal between the House Speaker and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco which Cayetano no longer wants to honor.

Cayetano and Velasco have agreed to a 15-21 term-sharing agreement as proposed by President Rodrigo Duterte. Cayetano is now reneging on that deal despite Duterte’s latest vague remark on their deal.

“Lord is pitiful,” the President was quoted as saying.

Cayetano ouster
A “coup” was said to have been planned yesterday but lawmakers loyal to Cayetano suspended the session to give their leader more time to reorganize his group.

Cayetano, according to several lawmakers, is now using money meant for the Bayanihan 2, funds which are supposed to alleviate the people’s fight against the new coronavirus pandemic to appease the ongoing revolt against him.

Parts of it will now be used the congressmen’s soft projects through the Local Government Subsidy Fund (LGSF), which include funding for scholarships, medical assistance, livelihood training and similar light projects.

As if to confirm the lawmakers’ claim, a message from Villafuerte was sent to many of their peers, saying: “Your allocated LGSF for 2020 which were missing are back. We reinstated them as per instruction of the Speaker in Bayanihan 2.”

Noting the House’s previous experience after the ouster of former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Drilon said a change in leadership will affect the budget-crafting process.

“We are not talking in theory. We have actually experienced in the House of Representatives caused the delay in the budget. The budget provides the spending authority for the government. If there is no spending authority because of the delay in the budget, what would happen is, there will be a re-enacted budget and a re-enacted budget would mean that new programs will not be funded,” he said.

Terrible effects
“The effects will be terrible. We expect our GDP to contract by anywhere between 6 to 9 percent by the end of the year. If we again delay the budget for 2021, you do not expect a recovery or the recovery will be derailed. More than any other time in the past, it is critical that the budget be enacted on time,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III shared Drilon’s opinion but he said the Upper Chamber cannot interfere with the squabbles in the House of Representatives.

“If they do not settle their issues, yes, the budget might be delayed. But I’d rather no(t) meddle and speculate on what’s happening in their turf,” he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, on the other hand, said the arguments in the House will also cause the deterioration of respect to the institution.

That’s pork
“More than the possible delay in the passage of the 2021 national budget, any ugly squabble in plenary over the distribution of earmarks aka “pork” is exactly that — ugly,” Lacson said.

“When statesmanship goes out of the window, our people’s respect towards the legislature as an institution as well as its individual members somehow dissipates. Any way we look at it, it is sad and lamentable, to say the least,” he added.

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Meralco discount for lifeline users

Maria Romero

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The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s biggest distribution utility, on Monday said it has paid the P19-million fine imposed by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for allegedly violating billing advisories during the coronavirus lockdown period, which resulted in “bill shocks.”

Meralco said it has settled the amount a month after the ERC imposed the penalties. The electricity retailer, however, wanted the regulator to reconsider the second component of the fine.

“Meralco filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration (concerning) the directive to provide a retail rate discount to lifeline customers,” Meralco told the local bourse. The company was referring to the discounted rate given to low-income households that cannot afford to pay at full cost.

The ERC previously directed Meralco to set the charges to zero for a month for some two million “lifeline” or low-income customers who use less than 100 kilowatt hours of energy, to provide them relief amid the health and economic crisis.

The total discount to be provided to all lifeline consumers was estimated to be around P200 million, which should not be charged to the non-lifeline consumers.

Meralco earlier announced it would voluntary provide power rate discount totaling P101 million as relief to 2.77 million lifeline customers to mitigate the impact of the health crisis.

Meralco filed a Motion for Partial Reconsideration concerning the directive to provide a retail rate discount to lifeline customers.

The ERC pointed out that Meralco failed to inform consumers that their electricity bills were “estimated” during the strict quarantine period, or when restrictions prevented Meralco representatives from reading meters in households.

The ERC previously directed Meralco to set the charges to zero for a month for some two million lifeline or low-income customers who use less than 100 kilowatt hours of energy, to provide them with relief amid the health and economic crisis.

According to ERC chief Agnes Devanadera, Meralco also violated the installment payment scheme mandated by the commission, adding that the firm’s neglect “created chaos and confusion” among the public.

The backlash from customers over the power rates during the quarantine period has prompted the ERC, the Department of Energy and lawmakers to conduct separate probes.

Meralco has since apologized for the bill shock and assured lawmakers that customers were only charged for the actual electricity they consumed.

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Stop gap

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All is not lost for tourism workers who lost their jobs when the coronavirus pandemic shut down business establishments. Take it from former Boracay acoustic singer Jason Plaza who was forced to return home to Capiz.

Plaza used to make P2,500 to P3,000 per night singing in bars in Boracay. When community quarantine shut down the nightlife in the world-famous resort island, the cash flow stopped. Plaza eventually found his “voice” through online busking and harana.

From his home, Plaza sings live on Facebook and earns tips from online viewers worldwide. He now earns P10,000 per session. He also does online serenades at P400 per song. His earnings now sustain his family.

The good thing about Plaza’s means of livelihood, including his acoustic shows in Boracay, is that he gets paid at the end of every gig. The same goes for other musicians like him.

In the gig industry, the practice of “perform now and get paid later” is rare. If it ever happens, performers should avoid performing live the out-of-this-world piano piece titled “As Slow as Possible,” created by the late American composer John Cage in 1985; it also has an organ version written in 1987.

Cage is well-known as the composer of “4’ 33”” in 1952. The piece is plain silence for four minutes and 33 seconds.

“As Slow as Possible” is more unconventional than “4’ 33”” in that its performance will last more than several lifetimes.

The organ recital started at the St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany in 2001 followed by an 18-month pause. It took another 12 years before a note changed.

The gap before the next chord change is long, but there is already a fan base waiting for it in February 2022.

Attendees to an organ symposium in the German town of Trossingen in 1997 decided that Cage’s piece should be performed for 639 years, the equivalent age of the world’s first large organ built in Halberstadt in 1361.

The performance, which is currently directed by Rainer O. Neugebauer with the help of other musicians, will end in 2640.

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Paolo nixes Cayetano

Aldrin Cardona

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The hours leading to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s requested meeting today with Davao City Representative Paolo Duterte was quickly broken by the presidential son’s jig away from the squabble over the uneven budget distribution at the Batasang Pambansa.

Several lawmakers claimed Cayetano has sent an SOS to the young Duterte as his seat is now threatened with barely two months left in his 15-months of the term-sharing deal for the speakership brokered by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte.

A meeting with the Davao City lawmaker, one congressman said, could save Cayetano from ouster if the planned call to declare all House seats vacant today transpires.

The young Duterte, however, opted to distance himself from the burning issue.

“As much as I am part of Congress with a duty to be involved in the goings on inside, I cannot discount the fact that I am a Duterte,” he said. “Anything that comes out of my actions or mouth could be construed or manipulated as having the blessing of my father. And so I would rather suffer or work in silence rather than sacrifice the supposed independence of the House from the Palace.”

That said, another Daily Tribune source stated, makes Cayetano’s hold on the speakership untenable despite the deal which he now reportedly wants to unilaterally scrap.

That “gentlemen’s agreement” was for Cayetano to lead the House of Representatives for 15 months — which his camp said would end in October — before Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco takes his turn at the House leadership for 21 months until 2022. The third party to that deal, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, agreed to sit as House Majority Leader for one full term.

Not so gentlemanly
Cayetano’s peers, however, are saying the Speaker is reneging on that deal. Last week, Cayetano had asked the President’s position on the deal but received a vague answer.

A day after, leading house members questioned the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) over its distribution of projects in the billions of pesos to the districts of the City of Taguig and Camarines Sur.

Taguig City is divided into two districts, one of which is represented by Cayetano while the other has his wife, Lani, as representative. They used separate addresses and voted in separate precincts when they ran, despite being husband and wife.

Camarines Sur’s District 2 is represented by Cayetano ally Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte.

District 1 has Cayetano, himself, as its “caretaker congressman” following the death of Marissa Lourdes M. Andaya on 5 July this year due to cancer.

The Cayetanos’ and Villafuerte’s districts received more than P20-billion worth of projects from the DPWH, whose secretary Mark Villar (son of Manny and Senator Cynthia), is a Nacionalista partymate of Cayetano and Villafuerte.

This sent a good number of congressmen grumbling about what they called was an “unfair treatment” from Cayetano. Many of them receive less than P2 billion in infrastructure funds yearly.

These congressmen said they are supporting calls to declare all house seats vacant. It could be raised today, they said.

The young Duterte had earlier expressed his frustration on the uneven budget distribution, a fact he admitted in his statement.

In his message to his allies, Duterte said he was never consulted by Cayetano on the budget distribution and opted to stay away from the wrangling bunch.

The young Duterte added: “I will ask the Mindanao bloc to declare the seat of the speaker and deputy speakers vacant on Monday. The Mindanao congressmen will not perish if they will not be given a share of the budget. I am also encouraging the minority.”

“Most of these concerns shrouded doubts over the process and mistrust of the lawmakers ruling the House, those who are acting as if they are bigger than their colleagues,” he stated.

“Now as Congress continues to be hounded by the issue of budget — something that finds its way up to the current House leadership, how it treats its members, how it approves allocations and budgets with fairness or lack of it — let me reiterate my position: I do not want to get involved. However, I wish to help my fellow lawmakers find answers to their questions or remedies to the budget that they proposed for their people.”

Spare chamber’s credibility
“I could only hope that Congress and its members will be able to resolve this issue before everything goes out of hand, before it could bludgeon the credibility of the institutions and inflict damage beyond repair,” he explained.

“I leave this issue to the members of Congress as I believe that it is within their rights as elected officials to come up with a favorable solution to an issue that could badly impact the development of their districts and their people.”

“As a collective body, the members of Congress have the power to change the course of which the leadership is leading them to and address a problem to ensure that the programs and projects for their people are delivered and delivered expeditiously.”

“The members of Congress have the power to correct everything that they perceive as wrong happening within the Lower House or change leadership as they demand fair treatment and reforms.”

“If the members of Congress will push for a change in House leadership, as a reaction to their sentiments, obviously I would be among the casualties because I am a deputy speaker. I am ready to accept the consequences,” he closed.

with HANANEEL BORDEY
and MICHELLE GUILLANG

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Go: Medics need back up

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With the unrelenting pandemic, the country direly needs to form a Medical Reserve Corps to address the health crisis and those that may emerge, Sen. Lawrence Christopher “Bong” Go said.

He expounded that the coronavirus disease contagion took the whole world by surprise since in just a span of a few months, the health crisis altered the way humanity lives.

“It will continue to influence the way we move forward in the foreseeable future,” he explained in his weekly “GOing Forward” column.

He noted that it has been a tough fight for the whole country, especially for medical professionals who are at the frontlines of this battle.

“While we continue to handle this crisis with a whole-of-society approach, we learn lessons on where our country lacks in resources and where we need to improve our response to this health threat,” the senator indicated.

As Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Go said it is his duty to push for measures that will improve the well-being of Filipinos.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that our country of more than 100 million Filipinos needs proper and sufficient healthcare facilities to cater to all their medical concerns,” he averred.

Better health force
Go is advocating the swift passage of Senate Bill 1451 or the Medical Reserve Corps Act of 2020, which aims to mobilize a dedicated group to complement the existing health force and support emergency response efforts during a crisis.

The bill seeks to give the Secretary of Health the authority to mobilize, in coordination with the Secretaries of the Departments of National Defense, Education and Interior and Local Government, persons with degrees in medicine, nursing, medical technology and other health-related fields who have yet to obtain their licenses. Of course, they will be duly compensated once called for duty.

“It is a grim reality that our medical personnel are already strained by the number of COVID-19 patients. This, in turn, hinders our overall capacity to combat other diseases immediately and effectively. This also leads to the delayed treatment of our fellow Filipinos who are suffering from other ailments,” according to the close ally of the President.

“We believe the additional support provided by a medical reserve corps will be of great help to our limited healthcare system,” he added.

Measures pushed
The senator had authored and filed laws that aim to improve the country’s health infrastructure such as increasing the bed capacity of government hospitals, creating numerous quarantine facilities and testing laboratories and establishing different health units across the country to enhance the capabilities in epidemiology and disease surveillance.

In the 18th Congress, through the concerted efforts of legislators, Go listed several health-related measures which were eventually signed into law such as the Malasakit Centers Act; bill increasing the salaries of our civil servants, including our government doctors, nurses and other allied professionals; and bill increasing the hospital bed and service capabilities of several government hospitals scattered around the country.

“While I am glad that we are making good strides on this aspect, there remains another gap that needs to be addressed — and that is the low number of country’s medical personnel,” according to the solon.

Medical professionals can only handle so much during a health crisis, Go noted. “I have personally seen how exhausted and affected they are during this pandemic. In order to help them, we need to increase our medical human resource. President Duterte himself has acknowledged this and deemed this an urgent matter in his latest State of the Nation Address,” the senator related.

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