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PSA law plays vital role in post-pandemic recovery

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Telecommunications, power and transport are vital but oftentimes costly for consumers. (Photo: Construction Review)

Foreign competition will play a vital role in the country’s post pandemic recovery and in ending consumers woes on poor but costly services of three vital industries; power, telecommunications and transport.

House Bill 78, or the Public Service Act (PSA) which was passed by the lower house in March, seeks to open up competitions in the three industries. The bill aims to lower their costs, improve quality of services and create urgently needed jobs in a post Covid-19 economy.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, the Ways and Means committee chair who crafted the proposal, said the PSA will seek to redefine “public services” to include “public utilities.”

The lawmaker said consumers’ woes stem from the ambiguity in the definition of public utility that is used interchangeably with public service under the Public Service Act, which has allowed monopolies in the sector for decades to the detriment of consumers and national progress.

The proposal received a strong push from, among others, Socio-economic planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, who said the PSA Law “will be a key milestone in capturing more foreign investments in the post-pandemic era.”

HB 78 seeks to amend the 84-year old Public Service Act and provide a clear statutory definition of a public utility.

Currently, public utilities are subject to a foreign equity cap of 40 percent as provided for under the 1987 Constitution.

Salceda said electricity, power, telecommunications and water, being capital intensive but subject to foreign ownership restrictions “lack competition and therefore, a lack of choice for consumers, with excessively strong market power for the few players, and ultimately market failure.”

“The 1987 Constitution restricts the operation of a public utility to Filipinos only. However, there is no definition of public utility in our statutes. There is the Public Service Act, but it only defines public service and not public utility, hence the ambiguity,” said Salceda.

The lawmaker said public utilities are “clearly not the equivalent of public service but are more plausibly just a subset of the latter.”

“The Public Service Act defines a “public service very broadly to include even such sectors as ice plants and ship repair shops, sectors we would clearly not be suspicious of allowing foreign ownership into. Alas, even these sectors are currently subject to the limits brought about by the ambiguity,” Salceda added.

Salceda noted that the Supreme Court, in one of its recent rulings, offered the key elements of a public utility as “a business or service engaged in regularly supplying the public with some commodity or service of public consequence such as electricity, gas, water, transportation, telephone or telegraph service.”

The provisions of HB 78 are clearly consistent with those elements, said Salceda.

The bill proposes to limit public utilities to transmission of electricity; distribution of electricity; and waterworks and sewerage systems.

The amendments also propose that no other business or service shall be deemed a public utility upon recommendation by the National Economic and Development Authority.

To protect the national interest, the bill sates that the President can suspend or prohibit any merger, acquisition or investment in a public service in the interest of national security; foreign nationals can only invest if there is reciprocity with Philippine nationals; fines for substantially increased and indexed to inflation, thereby strengthening regulatory powers of admin agencies; regulatory powers shall be retained where relevant (rate-setting, franchise/authority to operate requirement); restrictions on hiring of foreign labor if there are Philippine nationals who are competent, willing and able to perform the services; and retention of takeover power, etc. for sectors formerly classified as public utilities because they are “businesses affected with public interest.”

Salceda assured the PSA amendments are constitutional. The Supreme Court has upheld the removal of sectors previously considered public utilities, in the case of JG Summit Holdings, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, where the SC upheld the removal of shipyards from the defined categories of “public utility.”

In the case of the National Power Corporation vs. Provincial Government of Bataan, the SC also noted that “power generation is no longer considered a public utility operation.”

It should be emphasized, said Salceda, that the PSA bill is entitled to the presumption of constitutionality which every treaty, executive agreement, and statute enjoys.

“The burden of proof is on the petitioner to clearly demonstrate that the assailed statute is unconstitutional. This is particularly so regarding economic regulations as opposed to statutes which infringe upon fundamental rights,” he added.

“This strong predilection for constitutionality is based on the deference the judicial branch accords to the legislature as a coordinate branch. It is self-evident that the PSA Bill is an economic regulation.”

Following an analysis of the PSA, its economic impact and benefits are seen to be most significant over the next five years.

The amendments are expected to yield up to 0.22 percent higher gross domestic product growth compared to baseline. Real wages are also expected to go up, by 0.14 percent higher than baseline, following more investments in the country.

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Injured Uy back on track

Ian Suyu

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Not even an injured hand can stop Natalie Uy from chasing the elusive Tokyo Olympics berth.

The Filipino-American pole vault expert said on Thursday that suffering a hand injury won’t derail her from preparing for various Olympic qualifying tournaments in the United States.

Now back on track, Uy said she has moved to a new camp in Georgia together with world No. 5 vaulter in Katie Nageotte under American mentor Brad Walker.

“Training is going really well and I am working hard on it,” said Uy, who set a new national record after clearing an impressive 4.30 meter-mark in the Acadia Invitational in North Carolina last 18 July.

(Photo: Rio Deluvio)

Uy’s record-smashing performance was then followed by a slightly decreased 4.11 meter-output, which was still good enough for her to take the first place of the 19-29-year-old category of the American Track League tournament on 26 July.

Uy said despite not being at perfect shape, she is working towards her full recovery and working on other facets of her game.

“I might not be able to do all the drills, but somehow I am able to do a majority of the workouts as of now. I am recovering well from my injury — slowly but surely.”

With no more competitions lined up until December, Uy said that she has now more time to recover and focus on improving her skills before the start of the qualification season next year.

“We don’t have any competitions coming up until December but right now my goal is to get as fast and as strong as possible,” she said.

“I am working on my strength, speed and technique. Working in all of these areas is very important.”

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AFP scrambles to save US funding; insists zero tolerance for human rights abuse

Kristina Maralit

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday insisted it will never support or tolerate any form of abuse by military personnel,  ensuring that all soldiers are trained to operate within the limits and bounds of the Constitution.

AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo issued the statement reacting to H.R. 8313, or the Philippine Human Rights Act, filed before the US Congress by Democratic Pennsylvania Representative Susan Wild seeking to “suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes.”

One such issue being targeted by the proposed US legislation is the alleged human rights violations committed by the military and police.

While the AFP does “not deal with policies and inclinations of foreign governments,” Arevalo said the accusation “is something vehemently denied” by the Philippine military.

“In many instances in the past, we have been empathic about human rights. The AFP has no record of abuses,” Arevalo said in his virtual presser.

He then challenged Wild and other American legislators to “bring their matters to prove their allegations” so that the AFP can conduct its investigation against soldiers who purportedly committed such dastardly acts.

“We will bring them before a court-martial. That is not allowed, that is not supported by the AFP,” stressed the AFP mouthpiece. “We ensure that all our soldiers are operating within limits and bounds of the Bill of Rights. “We say it is unfair to accuse the AFP of being a violator of human rights.”

If passed into law, the measure stopping US public funding for the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) will set the following conditions before it may be lifted:

·         Investigate and prosecute members of the military and police found to have violated human rights;

·         Withdraw military involvement from domestic policy;

·         Establish the protection of the rights of labor leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, indigenous persons, small farmers, LGBTI activists, and critics of government;

·         Take steps to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses; and

·         Fully comply with any and all audits or investigations regarding the improper use of security aid

 

 

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Casimero draws power from ‘bulalo’

Nick Giongco

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A hole-in-the-wall Filipino restaurant cum grocery store in the Connecticut town of Wallingford might hold the key to John Riel Casimero’s bid to put on a show of force when he risks the World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight title this Sunday.

Now inside the bubble at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, an area in the town of Montville, which is 60 miles from Wallingford, Casimero will soon have his bowl of his favorite bulalo (beef soup).

American boxing man Sean Gibbons said his son, Brendan, has just flown in from Los Angeles and will serve as the errand boy in the next few days.

“Brendan won’t be with us in the bubble but he will play a major role because he will be giving us what we need inside,” Gibbons said.

“He will pick up the groceries and other needs.”

The Kayumanggi shop has agreed to concoct Casimero’s request of beef bones and marrow slow-cooked in spices and seasoning as part of his nutritional requirements in the final days leading to the fight with Ghanaian challenger Duke Micah.

Only Casimero, lead trainer Bones Adams, Filipino-American cutman Stephen Lunas and Gibbons are ordered to remain behind closed doors.

“I have already talked with the lady who owns the store and she readily agreed to cook for Casimero,” Gibbons said.

“It’s important that Casimero gets to eat what he wants because these little things, called intangibles, play a role in winning and winning big.”

Earlier in the day, Casimero (29-4 with 20 KOs) and Micah (24-0 wit 19 KOs) faced off during a zoom press conference and the champion didn’t mince words.

“I’ll go for the knockout. This is my first time on Showtime so I want to give everyone watching an impressive performance,” said Casimero, referring to the television network that will telecast the fight.

“This is a big opportunity show the world who I am. I promise I will do my best this fight. I am extremely ready to give it my all,” added Casimero, who has been training in the United States since mid-February.

Micah was likewise upbeat as he vowed to come up with an “electrifying style.”

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One bettor wins P128.4M Grand Lotto jackpot

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One bettor won the Grand Lotto jackpot prize worth P128.3 million during its draw on Wednesday night, 23 September, said the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Grand Lotto is drawn every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.  Ticket priced at P20.

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Australian rescuers forced to euthanize some beached whales as toll rises

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A dead whale lays on a beach in Macquarie Harbour on the rugged west coast of Tasmania. (AFP)

Australian rescuers were forced Thursday to begin euthanizing some surviving whales from a mass stranding that has already killed 380 members of the giant pod.

While 88 pilot whales have been saved since the pod was discovered beached on Tasmania’s rugged western seaboard four days ago, the death toll is expected to rise as the window for rescue closes.

“We still have a few more live animals that we think are going to be viable to move,” said Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service manager Nic Deka, praising the hard “yakka” (work) of rescuers who will continue until nightfall and into Friday.

“There is a likelihood that we’ll be continuing the rescue effort tomorrow… our focus has been on those that appear the most viable and have the most chance of success,” he said.

A crew of around 60 conservationists and expert volunteers have spent days wading in the chilly waters of Macquarie Harbour, surrounded by the anguishing cries of dying whales.

“It is emotional,” said rescuer Sam Thalmann.

“There are animals swimming around, they are vocalizing. We can see the bonds and the pairings within them.”

Pilot whales — which can grow up to six meters (20 feet) long and weigh a tonne — are highly social.

Some animals have resisted rescue or tried to return to the pod after being freed, becoming beached for a second time.

Such is the level of distress that authorities said they had to carry out mercy killings of at least four whales.

“Those four whales were euthanized earlier today,” using firearms and specialist ammunition, said Tasmanian environment department marine biologist Kris Carlyon.

“We’ve got a few others that we currently giving veterinary assessment.”

“That’s based purely on animal welfare grounds,” he said.

The crews are now focusing efforts on a group of 20-25 partially submerged whales, using boats fitted with special slings to guide them back to the open ocean.

But, increasingly, attention is turning to how to safely dispose of the carcasses of the nearly 400 whales that have already died.

“Our preference is for disposal at sea. We’re still taking expert advice about where exactly the drop-off point may be,” said Deka.

Left where they are, the whales would “bloat and float”, causing a navigation hazard, polluting the bay, and potentially attracting sharks and other predators, Deka said.

“The decomposition of such a large number of animals could actually affect oxygen levels in parts of the harbor, which could affect the marine life in those places.”

‘Little we can do’

A resident and cruise-boat worker who gave her name only as Monique said the local community has been devastated by witnessing scenes of such anguish.

“You could see that they were obviously suffering,” she told AFP.

“On the beach they were still… puffing, flipping about and you couldn’t really do much to help them.”

The causes of mass strandings remain unknown despite scientists studying the phenomenon for decades.

Some researchers have suggested the pilot whales may have gone off track after being attracted by food close to the shoreline, or by following one or two members of the pod that strayed.

Marine biologist Carlyon said it was a “natural event” with strandings of the species regularly occurring in both southern Australia and neighboring New Zealand.

“We do step in and respond in these situations, but as far as being able to prevent these occurring in the future, there’s really little that we can do,” he said.

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Complaint vs Pimentel up for resolution

Alvin Murcia

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The Department of Justice has submitted for resolution the breach of protocol complaint filed against Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel lll.

“Yung kay Sen. Pimentel submitted for resolution as of yesterday (Wednesday). I’m submitting it to OPG [Office of Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento] but I don’t know if he can sign it, he is out today,” Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon said Thursday.

Fadullon added that he is still awaiting the report of Assistant State Prosecutor Wendell Bendoval about the matter but he has already told him to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

DOJ reopened the investigation on the breach of quarantine protocol filed against Pimentel after receiving a report from the hospital the lawmaker visited in March while awaiting his COVID-19 test result.

The reopening of the criminal investigation was done after the National Bureau of Investigation received a copy of the incident report from Makati Medical Center Medical Director Dr. Saturnino Javier.

“In view of the foregoing and in line with the policy of admitting all evidence that could assist in the judicious resolution of complaint, the preliminary investigation of this case is hereby reopened,” Assistant State Prosecutor Bendoval wrote.

Pimentel visited the hospital in March to accompany his pregnant wife even though he was already showing symptoms of COVID-19. He later tested positive for the highly-contagious virus, drawing outrage from the public for endangering patients and hospital personnel during his visit.

The senator was castigated by the hospital management for violating home quarantine rules, calling his action “reckless and unacceptable.”

Pimentel and the complainant, former dean of the University of Makati Rico Quicho, were then asked to submit their replies on MMC’s report by 21 September.

Legal experts previously said the senator may be fined up to ₱50,000 or face a jail term of one to six months for failing to disclose that he was suspected of having COVID-19 at the time.

For violating the enhanced community quarantine, he can be fined between ₱10,000 and ₱50,000 or jailed for up to a year.

Pimentel earlier apologized for accompanying his wife to the hospital, but said the trip was “essential” as she was about to give birth. He also said he only learned about his positive COVID-19 test when he was already in the hospital.

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PCCI urges IATF to allow more jeepneys to operate

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THE Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PCCI), tapped by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to be its consultant with regards to COVID 19 pandemic response, has suggested opening more routes for jeepneys to aide more employees that are going to their workplaces during this general community quarantine (GCQ).

In a virtual media conference for the launch of the 46th Philippine Business Conference and Expo, slated to happen on 7-8 October this year, PCCI President, Ambassador Benedicto V. Yujuico urged the IATF to allow more jeeps to operate and open more routes to drivers and operators.

“The IATF should allow jeepneys to ply routes from secondary roads so our people can be brought to the main arteries like EDSA so that they can take buses. That will also help the jeepney drivers who, for more than 6 months without income,” according to Yujuico.

Yujuico added that besides jeepneys, their group is also asking the IATF to consider increasing the percentage capacity of buses to allow more workers to report to their respective workplaces.

A total number of 64,512 public utility jeepneys (PUJs) plying Metro routes are allowed to operate by the IATF as of June, with 50 percent passenger capacity, to augment for the gradual reopening of the economy amid COVID 19 pandemic.

“The IATF should consider the business aspect and the economic recovery and part of the economic recovery is we must allow employees to report to their workplaces for businesses to make money, otherwise they are going to close down. Baka pwede in accordance with what they think what’s right,” according to Yujuico.

He said the PCCI was allowed by the IATF to be observers of what the IATF is doing, and perhaps “little backdoor channeling in terms of some of their suggestions.”

Last August, the PCCI in a resolution, asked the IATF to include private sectors to its pandemic related decisions, as they will be able to use their on-the-ground experience to come up with a holistic approach that will make businesses easier to resume operation and for workers to return to work.

Yujuico maintained that they hope the government would recognize the vital role of businesses in creating jobs and providing income, as well as the need to address the issue of livelihood and poverty to avoid social unrest.

Subsequently, Malacañang had welcomed the group’s inclusion as resource persons and their inclusion, but only on matters related to trade, business, the economy, and policy discussions with regards to the country’s coronavirus response.

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Liza Soberano files charges over ‘rape joke’, and she is not laughing

Sundy Locus

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Actress Liza Soberano on Thursday filed criminal charges against a netizen who made a rape remark on her on social media.

According to reports, Soberano arrived at the Quezon City regional trial court together with her manager Ogie Diaz and legal counsel, lawyer Jun Lim to lodge a formal complaint.

The 22-year-old actress said she decided to push through with the charges to let “people learn the consequences of speaking like that on social media” as she stressed that rape jokes should not be taken lightly.

“I was really upset because the fact that it’s a rape joke it’s not something that should be taken lightly, and the fact that she’s a woman, I would never in a million years do a joke like that,” she said.

“I know that everybody is entitled to their own opinion, that is true, but at some point, you have to be respectful to others online. I want people to learn that there are consequences to everything like rape jokes coz that is not a light matter,” she added.

The issue started when the young actress tweeted a complaint regarding the slow Internet speed at her house earlier this month, and how fast another service provider responded to help her — a privilege not accorded to the common folk.

Soberano’s posts gained thousands of reactions including the comment of the netizen that posted “wala tayong magagawa, wala ng trabaho, kaya di bale ng masira ang image, magkapera lang. sarap ipa-rape sa mga…. ewan!”

The employer of the netizen who allegedly posted the comment on 21 September said that the company does not tolerate such actions and that they are dealing with the matter and will carry out proper disciplinary measures against its employee.

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3 soldiers hurt in Maguindanao blast

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Three soldiers were injured when an anti-personnel mine exploded in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, this morning, the military said.

Troops of the Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion were conducting combat clearing operations in Brgy. Salman when they were hit by the blast, said Lt. Col. Alaric delos Santos, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman.

Medics immediately responded to the area and applied first aid to the wounded, then brought them to the Camp Siongco Station Hospital, he said.

Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, Joint Task Force-Central commander, said additional troops have been deployed to cordon the area and investigate.

The explosion occurred barely a week after a roadside bombing left a Marine trooper dead and four others wounded in Shariff Aguak town on 18 Sept.

The Marines had then just come from an operation against the ISIS-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Brgy. Salman, according to police.

“Inflicting harm to our troops is the desperate device of the weakened terrorist groups to attract attention and harbor support,” said Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., Wesmincom chief.

“We will heighten our security operations and stay on guard against emerging threats,” he added.

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