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Hold the line

“Our findings indicate that had control measures and reductions in the US been implemented at a similar time… substantially fewer cases and deaths would have occurred to date.

TEB

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Lately, the government is under pressure from groups which are complaining of being under a lockdown for so long in exchange for a meager subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 in cash aid, specifically for food purchases.

The social amelioration program under the Bayanihan Act was meant to tide over a Filipino family during the days of quarantine to stop the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Those affected by the lockdown and the limited movement of people in areas under relaxed measures, mainly public transport operators and drivers, are becoming desperate as their means of livelihood are lost, forever to some.

Still the government stood firm that it will have to do what is needed to be done.

A recent Columbia University study showed how valuable are the clear-cut and bold decisions from leaders when the outbreak first manifested.

The study conducted by the university’s Mailman School of Public Health showed if strict measures including stay-at-home orders had been implemented in the United States a week earlier, 36,000 or 55 percent of the deaths associated with COVID-19 on 3 May could have been avoided. The action could have also prevented more than 700,000 cases of the virus.

Action taken two weeks earlier could have prevented 900,000 cases and about 54,000 deaths or about 83 percent of the fatalities.

The researchers said the study applies to metropolitan areas with dense populations. It examined the behavior of the virus in counties in New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Miami.

Taken in the context of the Philippine situation, the quick imposition of the strict quarantine period has saved more than 100,000 lives.

As of 21 May 2020, the Department of Health had reported 13,434 as having tested positive for the virus.

The research warned governments succumbing to pressures for the premature opening of their economies, stating “that since COVID-19 is established as a global pandemic, rapid response remains essential to avoid large-scale resurgences of infections and deaths in locations with reopening plans.”

“These findings highlight the dramatic effect that early, coordinated interventions have on the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study said. “Efforts to further raise public awareness of the ongoing high transmissibility and explosive growth potential of COVID-19 are still needed at this critical time,” it added.

Researchers acknowledge the study was based on models that exist in simplified and ideal situations and that stay-at-home orders involve complicated decision making that can take time and relies on citizens to participate.

On 12 March, days after cases of local transmissions of the virus had picked up and a pandemic was already evident, President Rody Duterte ordered Metro Manila to be placed on quarantine and, amid the massive violations of health protocols primarily physical distancing, the quarantine was extended to the entire Luzon island.

“We note that by the end of February 2020, a number of other countries, including South Korea and Italy, were already aggressively responding to the virus,” the study said.

“Our findings indicate that had control measures and reductions in the US been implemented at a similar time, just one to two weeks earlier, substantially fewer cases and deaths would have occurred to date,” the study noted.

The research also showed that lifting restrictions one week earlier could result in more than 200,000 cases and 23,000 deaths more by 1 July across the United States with an assumption of restrictions being relaxed starting 4 May.

Two months of confinement is testing the resolve of many in the long-drawn war, but the trade off in terms of giving in to demands to lift restrictions, against the advice of experts, affects lives that the unseen beast is just too willing to take.

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Commentary

Keep RoW clear

Vigilance is needed to prevent the 2021 budget meant for Filipinos to survive and recover from the pandemic from falling into the wrong pockets.

TDT

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Some P27.4 billion for right-of-way (RoW) acquisitions that are provided under the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act should be placed under close public watch due to the percolating leadership imbroglio at the House of Representatives.

The fate of the funds may be tied up on who sits in the House leadership during the remaining period of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, since it is among the usual source of funds for political leverage.

Members of the House of Representatives are keeping their eyes on the huge amount which is a favorite source of kickbacks.

Under the law, the national government acquires private real property needed for its projects through donation, negotiated sale, expropriation, or any other mode.

Section 9 of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution forbids the taking of private property for public use without just compensation.

In a Senate probe last year, it was found that P2.8 billion spurious RoW claims over the years were traced as having taken root during the previous regime.

The anomaly made it difficult for the government to carry out a tax mapping of real estate properties, which was the ideal setup for the scammers in government.

Probed were P2.8 billion in RoW claims covering a four-lane, 33-kilometer road in General Santos City in 2013.

That was when senators believed the pocketing of funds started. In 2018, the RoW budget allotted for the Department of Public Works and Highways was pegged at P18 billion, P6 billion of which was set aside for 167 RoW settlements in General Santos City alone.

The name of international fraudster Nelson Ti, said to be a close friend of former President Noynoy Aquino’s brother-in-law Eldon Cruz, surfaced as among the leaders of the syndicate tagged in the scandal.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, in a report, identified Ti as the financier of the syndicate headed by Wilma Mamburam and Evelyn Paloso.

Ti is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 59 for estafa and faces prosecution in the United States for conspiracy to defraud the US, but he remains at large.

Three counts of false statements, three counts of mail fraud, six counts of money laundering and obstruction of proceeding before a US agency have also been filed against Ti.

“The syndicate was successful in perpetuating its crime because of a massive breakdown in the law,” the committee report stated.

With the rush of government projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program, the RoW is critical since private property owners will not readily give up their real estate without a satisfactory compensation.

Such reality is, however, exploited by the syndicates, assisted by corrupt government officials to siphon off public funds.

In the General Santos City scandal, for instance, it was found that huge amounts were funneled to empty lots, which were made to appear to have been acquired through RoW.

A thorough check of the budget is needed to prevent the greedy claws of some public officials to again exploit the current situation for their agenda, particularly as bickering over the budget allocations has started.

Similar to avoiding the coronavirus, vigilance is needed to prevent the 2021 budget meant for Filipinos to survive and recover from the pandemic from falling into the wrong pockets.

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Commentary

Lineage

Rodrigo Duterte need not stay longer than 2022. His daughter and son have come into their own.

TDT

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Power and influence are not permanent. Only change is.

Heraclitus could not be wrong when he said “the only constant in life is change.”

Ferdinand Marcos, the late dictator, learned this the hard way when he was ousted in 1986 by a popular coup.

He controlled the Philippines for 21 years, a feat now matched by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the less-known Ismaïl Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi or Samoa.

But theirs are not the longest.

Daniel Ortega is now in his 22nd as ruler of Nicaragua.

Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Paul Kagame of Rwanda are into their 26th.

And then the Top 10.

10. Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea — 27 years;

9. Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan — 27 years;

8. Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan — 27 years;

7. Idriss Déby of Chad — 29 years;

6. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda — 34 years;

5. Hun Sen of Cambodia — 35 years;

4. Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo — 36 years;

3. Ali Khamenei of Iran — 41 years;

2. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea — 41 years; and the longest-reigning of them all

1. Paul Biya of Cameroon — 45 years.

These countries have never recovered from the internal strife that paved the way for these rulers’ rise. Most of them were men in uniform or are religious leaders with great influence over their subjects.

The Philippines has long recovered after Marcos. However, we view the past administrations from Cory to Noynoy, each and every past Filipino president has contributed to the protection of the country’s democratic gains. We need not be Cameroon or Congo.

Count President Rodrigo Duterte among them.

He has vowed that he won’t extend his rule. He will exit in 2022, dashing the hopes of a few of his followers to make him a revolutionary leader through a self-coup that is purportedly supported by the mass majority.

It won’t fly.

Duterte, however, has cast a long shadow over Philippine politics since his unexpected rise from Davao City.

His daughter, the current Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, is seen as the heir apparent to all the political gains the elder Duterte has laid in front of her.

Another Duterte — Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte — is making his presence felt at the House of Representatives, whose members are revolting against its Speaker, Alan Peter Cayetano.

Cayetano is now being accused by his peers as allegedly having cornered the largest chunks of the infrastructure budget for himself, his wife and his closest allies.

Paolo has not rolled his dice yet. But his recent statements indicate there would be changes in the House if it has not happened yet.

Sara has proven her mettle when she caused the last House coup when she anointed former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Speaker in 2018.

Paolo is being looked at as the force who could shake the House this time.

The elder Duterte need not stay longer than 2022. His daughter and son have come into their own.

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Commentary

A fox in the henhouse

Deemed ‘shameless’ and ‘immoral.’ it was later revealed that the bonuses were personally authorized by Aquino under Presidential Executive Order 24.

Dean Dela Paz

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If there is one idiomatic expression that encompasses all the sordid details of the continuing scam that we are seeing unfold in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the children’s allegory of having a fox guard the chickens in the henhouse is perhaps the most apt.

For just about anyone who’s been following the incredible saga of how crooks have been squandering our money at PhilHealth, the implications of the nursery expression both to PhilHealth’s past and its immediate future are evident. There is little doubt that there scavenged the most ravenous predators, freely feeding among the health insurer’s ranks. And even as we attempt to clean out every crook from every cranny, there will always be those appointed to fiduciary institutions who will compromise it and there fleece to their heart’s delight either through unknowing dereliction or deliberate corruption.

It is in the DNA of political appointees, it seems. It is also part of the political reward system where we continue to populate the coop with our cabal.

It is unfortunate that its applicability is not limited to PhilHealth. It now appears that there have been scavenging packs in the most sensitive institutions where they feed as they please, unchecked and uncontrollable.

Recall two of the most popular presidential incumbencies where whoever was the president at the time had leveraged his popularity to appoint to critical fiduciary positions men who would eventually plunder the institution they were managing. By so doing, they enriched themselves and perhaps a clown-car of friends at the expense of the public.

Allow us to cite scandalous precedents in other institutions at different times and under different presidencies. These examples are not too far back in the past that the victimized might have forgotten. More so because the betrayal of fiduciary responsibilities had led to a drastic depletion in funds that require lifetimes to replenish.

Two decades ago, 14 senior executives of the Social Security System (SSS) including the Secretary of Labor and Employment at the time were charged with graft for channeling SSS funds to purchase equity in a financial institution at a premium to market of over P1.1 billion.

Pensioners’ interests were not in the equation. The rechanneling was meant to augment funding needed to purchase a large bank by a markedly smaller one. Shortly thereafter, it was also discovered that the SSS had invested in a controversial gaming and leisure private corporation. Subsequent testimony in an infamous trial that implicated the highest office in the land revealed that the instructions had come from the Palace.

Two administrations later, in 2012, this time under Benigno Aquino III, the SSS had again figured in a scandalous controversy where its highest officers awarded themselves big fat million-peso bonuses at a time when SSS pensioners were being arm-twisted to increase their contributions to stave off the early depletion of the pension’s funds. Deemed “shameless” and “immoral.” it was later revealed that the bonuses were personally authorized by Aquino under Presidential Executive Order 24.

One opposition lawmaker had identified 19 other state corporations with similar scandalous bonuses. Among them were three of the largest state-run financial institutions, including PhilHealth.

That’s not just one fox in the henhouse. Those are three packs of wolves.

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Commentary

Deja vu

What is urgent now is to help Filipinos keep their heads above water during the onslaught of the virus.

Chito Lozada

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Why does it feel like 2019 all over again as the bickering over the budget started shamefully involving the leadership of the House of Representatives and which resurrected threats to the early approval of the budget?

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano vowed the House’s approval of the 2021 General Appropriations Act in November to have it delivered to the table of President Rodrigo Duterte in December and signed before the end of the year.

That pledge, unfortunately, is metamorphosing into a wishful thought of the overly ambitious leader of the chamber.

An acrimonious trading of allegations led to the 2019 budget being delayed until nearly half of that year was over. Such possibility is now rearing its ugly head as the same individuals are jockeying for lump sums in the current Congress.

Economic managers again needed to be steadfast against efforts to rechannel government resources for political ends.

Memorable in 2018 was the classic tiff over pork barrel between then Majority Leader Rolando Andaya and former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno who is now Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor. Diokno refused to give way and became the target of the assault of House members.

Andaya and his cohorts turned out to be after the P45 billion Road Board funds that congressmen usually tap for election campaign money.

It would take the same commitment and determination to shield the 2021 budget and the Bayanihan 2 stimulus funds from the foul agenda of the current House occupants.

To show which side had the upper hand in the 2018 tussle, President Rodrigo Duterte abolished the Road Board and ordered the return of the motor vehicle user’s charge, which the graft-prone body manages, to the national treasury.

It was an interesting battle between a former and at that time current head of the Department of Budget and Management.

The records of both officials as Budget secretary reflected their styles and integrity.

Three budgets, in 2001, 2004 and 2006, were reenacted for the entire year, while another four, in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009, were partially-reenacted.

Andaya was Budget secretary from February 2006 to February 2010.

Also, in implementing the reenacted budgets, the regime that included Andaya exercised carte blanche authority to rewrite the budget.

Even the budget for capital outlays under Andaya was reenacted, allowing the Arroyo administration to fund new projects, contrary to the constitutional provision that no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.

Budget implementation was micromanaged during the Arroyo administration, which means that most of the decisions on the use of public funds came from the Executive, as against the current budget system, which is rules-based and in which the Palace has little discretion in budget releases.

The budget was sidetracked then despite the fervent appeal of Mr. Duterte to Congress to stop the useless altercations and pass the budget. The Palace said the delay was “unacceptable” to Filipinos who voted for the officials.

What is urgent now is to help Filipinos keep their heads above water during the onslaught of the virus that remains unrelenting despite the almost half-a-year effort of mankind to defeat it.

Those who are tearing at each other like wolves fighting over a kill just to obtain a share of the pork barrel will be remembered in kind when Filipinos troop to the polls in 2022.

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Commentary

Baguio: A model for tourism reopening

With this example and the lessons that will be learned from this experience, other regions will be able to follow suit to reinvigorate the tourism industry.

Harry Roque

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Baguio City, our country’s so-called Summer Capital, is now open for tourists today, 22 September.

Last Friday, 18 September, I was in Baguio City with National Action Plan against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Secretary Vivencio Dizon and chief tracing czar Mayor Benjamin Magalong to inspect the readiness of business establishments along Session Road for the city’s reopening for tourism.

In our inspection of these establishments, we were shown how the city is implementing its Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treatment-Reintegration strategy that is paving the way for Baguio to slowly and safely open its economy and its tourism industry.

Starting today, some 200 guests per day coming from Region 1, who have preregistered via an online platform with their confirmed itinerary and accommodation booking, will be allowed to enter Baguio City as tourists.

Before traveling, visitors are advised to explore and arrange their visit with accredited tour and travel agents of the Department of Tourism. Of course, a negative RT-PCR test result issued is required.

Baguio City’s gradual and strategic reopening of its tourism industry can become a model as to how other local government units can safely reopen their provinces, cities and municipalities to guests from other localities.

Baguio is showing us how it can be done, and that with utmost care and strict implementation of protocols and guidelines to safeguard the public’s health against COVID-19, tourism and other sectors of the economy can indeed open up gradually to provide jobs and livelihood to people.

Aside from the preparations for the opening of its tourism industry, Baguio City is also ramping up its aggressive testing capacity with the launch of the new Baguio Centralized Triage and Testing Facility located at the Baguio Convention Center.

We were also told about Baguio City’s off-site aggressive community testing where they randomly pick people from different barangays who will be subjected to RT-PCR testing. This is even more impressive given that Baguio City is already number one in the country in terms of contact tracing, yet, the city does not stop there and continues to find people who may be infected by the virus.

In fact, Baguio City will also be part of the pilot studies on the use of rapid antigen tests for interzonal travel. As one of the pilot test sites for this, all persons who will be coming into the city will undergo antigen testing.

The Inter-Agency Task Force, in its Resolution 72, approved the recommendations of the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group, in coordination with the Department of Tourism and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, with the assistance of the World Health Organization, to begin the pilot studies on the use of rapid antigen tests for border screening and serial testing in high-risk to low-risk interzonal travel.

With the opening of the tourism bubble in Baguio, we are hopeful that this can be the start of the gradual and safe reopening of other tourism areas in the country as well. With this example and the lessons that will be learned from this experience, other regions will be able to follow suit to reinvigorate the tourism industry and provide jobs and livelihood to people even amids this health crisis.

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Business

PPA goes hi-tech

Traze has the capability to map out the movement of individuals inside PPA facilities even without connecting to the Internet.

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On a sunny Friday morning, officials of the attached agencies of the Department of Transportation (DoTr), headed by Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) general manager Jay Daniel Santiago, led us on an exciting sea trip with a series of breakthroughs unveiled along the way.

From the Port of Batangas, where a briefing was held for members of the media, the first part of the event unfolded as GM Santiago conducted a test run of their new automated ticketing machine. There stood in front of us a sleek, white and tall machine to be used for reservation, booking and payment of tickets.

The machine is part of the PPA’s new Unified Electronic Ticketing System, which aims to reduce human-to-human contact and comply with the “new normal” due to the prevalence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. But as what GM Santiago had said, this system was planned and initiated even before the pandemic broke out. This will also enable the PPA to achieve an overall ease of doing business, get rid of fixers and scalpers, and improve port processes for maritime safety and security, while providing reliable service for inter-island maritime operations.

The system, which requires an online application procedure, in support of an integrated vessel booking and payment system for roll-on-roll-off (Ro-Ro) ports, allows passengers to do ticket transactions online via desktop or mobile phones. However, if passengers have no online access, they can directly purchase their tickets using the automated ticket vending machines, which will be situated in all PPA-managed ports nationwide.

And because the system requires the use of valid government-issued ID, it will prevent fixers from scalping or selling tickets at higher prices.

The safety of passengers will also be prioritized as overbooking and overloading in shipping vessels will be prevented. Seating capacity per vessel, which will be available through the online system, will also be based on the authorized number of passengers per vessel as approved by the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).

PPA targets to bid out the project before the year ends and start its implementation by next year. The number of automated ticketing machines will also depend on the passenger traffic in each port terminal.

At the same event, the second part of the series of breakthroughs was revealed when the PPA launched Traze, its new COVID-19 contact tracing mobile application. The app will be used in all PPA facilities and shipping lines nationwide.

Developed jointly by PPA’s in-house information technology experts and third-party developer Cosmotech Philippines Inc., Traze has the capability to map out the movement of individuals inside PPA facilities even without connecting to the Internet.

Designated QR codes are posted in PPA facilities and shipping lines, which must be scanned prior to entry.

Once the passenger downloads the application and scans the facility’s QR code to register, a unique QR code per passenger will be generated containing information specific for contact tracing.

The mobile application will automatically notify the passengers who downloaded the application via email or text message in the event of a reported COVID-19 positive case whom they might have interacted with inside the terminal or while aboard passenger ships.

Finally, after over two hours of travel going to Calapan, Mindoro, we were able to witness the unfolding of another breakthrough.

The PPA Calapan Port PMO proudly revealed to the public its newly-completed access road.

This project has significance for the residents of Calapan as it has been years since the province had requested its completion to ease vehicular traffic and congestion at the port.

And to this day, it was only under the Duterte administration that the project was finally realized.

To note, the construction of the Calapan Port Access Road only started in 2019 and was completed on February 2020.

The milestones that have been reached by the PPA, led by GM Jay Daniel Santiago, prove that any advancement and development can be achieved with strong will, effective leadership and driven by the spirit of true public service.

And with the determination of this administration, coupled with the resolute character of DoTr Secretary Arthur Tugade, transport initiatives for the comfort and convenience of the Filipino people can be realized.

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Commentary

NTC should prohibit TV commercial overloading

NTC should step in and regulate the volume of commercial advertising not just in GMA but in all TV networks, including those which are not members of the KBP.

Victor Avecilla

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In terms of television advertising revenues, two major broadcast networks in the Philippines stand to benefit from the recent non-renewal by Congress of the legislative franchise of the ABS-CBN broadcasting empire. They are the ABC Network (which operates TV Channel 5) and the GMA Network (which runs TV Channel 7).

During the years before the franchise of ABS-CBN expired in May 2020, ABS-CBN and GMA were rivals for radio and television supremacy in the Philippines. Because of its late participation in the broadcast industry in the country, ABC was a far third placer.

All three networks are regulated by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and, with respect to TV broadcasts, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. They were all members of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), but GMA bolted the KBP in 2003.

Under the current regulations of the KBP, its member-stations are not allowed to overload on TV advertising spots (more popularly known as commercials) for every broadcast hour.

The purpose behind the advertising volume restriction is to maintain the balance between TV as a source of popular information and entertainment, and TV as a source of revenue for the network.

Broadcasting requires the use of the airwaves via the ionosphere, which belongs to the State. By regulating the volume of TV advertising spots per broadcast hour, TV keeps its audience appeal, and remains a steady source of revenues for network owners.

More specifically, too many advertisements on TV may lead to a drastic change in audience behavior. Longer segments for commercials encourage audiences to take longer breaks away from the TV monitor (trips to the comfort room, refrigerator-side snacks, telephone calls, etc.). In the long run, less and less people will get to watch advertisements, and sponsors will end up shortchanged.

An overload in advertising spots will make audiences lose interest in TV. If that happens, sponsors will cease to advertise and the TV industry as we know it will collapse.

Decades ago, ABS-CBN Channel 2 obtained the license to broadcast live via satellite a world heavyweight boxing match. The network got a windfall of sponsors to buy advertising spots for both the live telecast and the evening prime time replay. To the unpleasant surprise of network management, the boxing match ended early when one of the prize fighters got knocked out in the first round.

That outcome notwithstanding, ABC-CBN went on to air all advertising spots it contracted, both after the fight was over, and hours before the evening prime time replay. For that infraction of the KBP rules, ABS-CBN was made to pay an administrative fine.

Since then, the KBP strictly monitors commercial overloading among its members-stations.

It appears that GMA left the KBP over the issue of commercial overloading. GMA did not want to be restricted on the matter of advertising spots in its TV programming.

During the years before May 2020, GMA programs were known for the seemingly endless advertisements during its commercial breaks. Observers noticed that on many occasions, the volume of commercials is so large that the actual program gets marginalized by the advertisements, and that some live programs have to be reset to the following day for lack of available airtime.

After ABS-CBN went off the air in May 2020, observers noted the substantial increase in what was already considered as saturated commercial advertising on GMA. The KBP is unable to do anything about it because GMA is not a member of the association.

Accordingly, the NTC should step in and regulate the volume of commercial advertising not just in GMA but in all TV networks, including those which are not members of the KBP. The NTC is mandated by law to make sure that broadcast activities are in the public interest. It is not in the public interest if networks engage in advertising overloading.

As long as the NTC does not regulate advertising content, any regulation it issues against TV advertising overloading will be legally sustainable.

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Commentary

Reruns don’t sell

Several investigations were held on the supposed trampling of rights and the alleged summary executions… but the charge that those crimes were state-sponsored was never proven.

TDT

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The worn-out narrative of detractors is sliced, diced and then recycled periodically to win a desired attention, primarily from gullible Western governments, which are always scanning the globe for leaders who are not in the mold of their liberal democratic ideals.

Take for instance the recent European Union (EU) Parliament’s allegations of a “rapidly deteriorating human rights situation” in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, which were based entirely on made-up claims of the usual foes.

The recent attacks were continuations of previous failed efforts to whip up adverse public sentiment, which paradoxically resulted to an upswing of support for the President based on recent survey results.

Legislators of the EU are patrons of groups who have long sought to unseat the President through the mob rule route, and their symbiotic relations have persisted since Mr. Duterte assumed power.

The claim of a doubling of the supposed deaths in the war on drugs was proven as wishful peroration.

For the nth time, the European Parliament, in a resolution, wanted the temporary revocation of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus status of the country, which provides for duty-free entry of Philippine goods to EU member states perhaps until a more pliable leader is seated in Malacañang.

Timing the sanctions when traders needed it most has an apparent agenda.

The true intent of the European lawmakers’ move was to sow intrigue since some of the demands made would need the Duterte administration to breach local laws and even the Constitution, such as the unconditional dropping of all cases against Rappler founder Maria Ressa.

Ressa is facing cyber libel and violation of anti-dummy law charges, which, in turn, she claims are part of efforts to silence Rappler due to the frequent critical commentaries and stories that appear in the online news outfit.

Since Ressa said it, then Mr. Duterte must be condemned for the “seriousness of the human rights violations” in the country, including the “deteriorating level of press freedom,” based on the logic of foreign kibitzers.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said the allegations of EU legislators are “wholly unfounded” and based entirely on what those who have an ax to grind stated.

The European politicians made a conclusion based entirely on Ressa’s rants against the President, including what she claimed as the “weaponization of the law” against her.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo gave the meddlers a good piece of advice to think about.

“Do not assault our sovereignty. You don’t have the right to dictate on how we implement our laws,” he said in his program Counterpoint.

Panelo also noted the country has a Constitution that promotes human rights and upholds the rule of law and due process.

Several investigations were held on the supposed trampling of rights and the alleged summary executions conducted by independent local bodies such as the Senate and even the Commission on Human Rights, but the charge that those crimes were state-sponsored was never proven.

The Department of Justice has an ongoing review of deaths that happened during anti-drug operations that incidentally are largely under the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency instead of the police force.

What was found in most cases were the hands of yellow attack dog Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV behind the concocted scenarios, aside from those of Ressa, who seems to be getting a lot of help from the discredited demagogue.

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Commentary

VP Robredo, surrender mansion!

If that is so, then the challenge is on Robredo to ask for a reduction in her office budget, too.

TDT

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Like the rest of her confederates in the Liberal Party (LP), Vice President Leni Robredo has been publicly complaining that public funds are not being spent prudently during these deadly times of COVID-19.

Robredo also took a swipe at the allegations of widespread corruption among top officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., or PhilHealth, and their conspirators from the private sector.

“Marami sa nagkakasakit hindi kayang bayaran iyong cost ng kaniyang hospitalization, ng kanyang medication (Most of those who get sick cannot afford the cost of hospitalization, of medication),” Robredo was quoted by reporters.

Observers see Robredo’s latest public commentary as another desperate attempt to be politically relevant. Last week, she was criticized for her cosmetic attempt to look “presidential” when she sported a new hairdo during an appearance on social media. She also wore eyeglasses and several books were on her table.

Former film actress Vivian Velez slammed Robredo’s cosmetic politics and called it an attempt on Robredo’s part to look intelligent.

In 2019, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. called Robredo boba and suggested that someone from the public ought to give Robredo a brain.

Although Robredo repeatedly wails at what she says is the misuse of public funds, she currently lives in a luxurious mansion at the plush New Manila district of Quezon City.

All the expenses for her use of that mansion, including utilities, are paid for by public funds. That’s millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money spent just to make Robredo comfortable.

It is not certain, however, if Robredo charges her clothing expenses to the government, or if the LP uses the mansion as a regular meetina place.

Anyway, Robredo is the only Vice President of the Philippines to have the audacity to live in a mansion paid for by public funds. No other vice president has had that luxury. Past veeps were provided office space by the government, but they did not have the free use of a luxury mansion like the one Robredo uses today.

The Constitution only allows an official residence, to be paid for at public expense, for the President of the Philippines. None of the other heads of the coordinate branches of the national government — the Senate President, the House Speaker and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — has an official residence in the National Capital Region paid for by public funds.

If the heads of the legislative and judicial branches of the national government do not have official residences, why should the Vice President, who is not even the head of a branch of the government, be entitled to an official residence?

For the record, the vice president has no constitutionally defined duty other than to succeed the president. Whatever function VP Robredo currently does, is not exactly defined by law.

Robredo can afford to pay for her own house, but she apparently prefers to live in the New Manila mansion because it does not cost her a single centavo to do so.

So much privilege for so little responsibility. Why, Robredo’s job is the best in the world!

Last week, it was reported in the news that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte asked that the annual budget of the Office of the President for 2021 be reduced to P8.23 billion, down from the 2020 budget of P8.25 billion.

If that is so, then the challenge is on Robredo to ask for a reduction in her office budget, too. Her office, after all, has less official expenses than the Office of the President does.

The savings generated from a reduction in Robredo’s annual budget can be added to the Social Amelioration Funds badly needed by economically displaced Filipinos during the current health crisis.

Robredo can begin by relinquishing the luxury mansion she is currently using at public expense — unless Robredo is not willing to put her money where her mouth is, which is very likely.

So, the next time Robredo decides to talk about the misuse of public funds, she should start with herself.

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