Beyond the historic 1878 lease document that indicated the true ownership of Sabah as belonging to the Sultanate of Sulu is the fate of nearly one million Filipinos who are the most abused individuals, as they consider themselves abandoned by the two countries.
The dormant claim had caused complications to the status of Filipino residents in Sabah, since the Malaysian government refuses to recognize them, afraid that they may someday instigate a breakaway.
The Sabah settlers also refuse to obtain Philippine passports because of the high possibility of them being deported.
A bigger problem is that, due to the unsettled conflict, the government does not have any diplomatic outpost in Sabah, which practically leaves the Filipino residents to fend for their own.
Filipinos living in Sabah are thus subjected to frequent exploitation by Malaysian authorities since they are considered illegal immigrants.
Also, as a result of the spat, no serious discussions have been made on the residency status of Filipinos living in Sabah, who are considered “undocumented aliens” by the Malaysian government.
The sad plight of the Sabah residents was highlighted during the 2013 standoff in Lahad Datu, which is a district in Sabah, between the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram and Malaysian forces.
The Sultanate of Sulu had a historic lease agreement with the British government, which occupied Malaysia, over the eastern part of North Borneo.
The British authorities, without seeking consent from the Sulu Sultanate, turned over Sabah to the Federation of Malaysia when it was created in 1963.
The Sultanate ceded to the Philippine government its title and sovereignty on Sabah to President Diosdado Macapagal in 1962.
Jamalul Kiram, however, is just one of the many claimants to the Sulu throne, and unifying the royal house is another hurdle in initiating talks with Malaysia.
Former President Benigno Aquino III, who had an intimate relation with former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, had decided to maintain the claim dormant.
The quandary on providing assistance to the Filipinos can only be answered by an agreement between both countries, however.
The Philippines, as a signatory to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and, being the first Southeast Asian country to adopt international legal standards to keep stateless people from falling into legal limbo, is required to immediately settle the situation.
Despite the compelling need to negotiate, however, past administrations have failed to take action, which again places on the shoulders of President Rodrigo Duterte the definitive steps that should be taken.
The President, such as in the drug problem and the relations with China, had shown his capability to muster political will in improving the condition of all Filipinos.
Malaysia had also indicated willingness to resolve the situation, since it also poses a serious humanitarian problem for Kuala Lumpur, which had to constantly keep track of the Sabah population due to the indeterminate citizenship of its residents.
Settling the fate of Filipinos, however, would need to address the ownership issue with the Sultanate that the Philippine government supports.
Both countries, nonetheless, are leading members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has a consensus mechanism in settling disputes which is a possible venue to start the negotiations.
The years of dormancy of the issue should end now while Filipinos have a resolute leader in President Duterte, who the nation trusts will act in the interest of the nation.
Don’t push your luck
Image is also a long-standing problem of Cayetano, who is not known as a unifying force, but rather a divisive figure in his stint in both the Senate and the House.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is committing political suicide in reneging on the gentleman’s agreement among him, President Rodrigo Duterte and Marinduque Rep. Allan Lord Velasco.
Already, the Speaker is losing his support base in the House of Representatives since all of his peers know that Cayetano assumed the Speakership merely on the basis of the term-sharing agreement by which he was able to maneuver Mr. Duterte’s key support.
The fine print of the deal also came from Cayetano that makes it shameful that he is now turning his back on it.
The deal disheartened many members of the chamber who adhere to the principle of the independence of the legislature in deciding its affairs and in choosing who should stand as its leader.
Now, Cayetano had to resort to transactional politics to maintain his tenuous hold to the top House position.
In effect, Cayetano was voted in as Speaker only due to his having begged President Duterte’s intervention, even on a 15-month speakership term, after which another speaker, who already had the majority of the House vote and should have been rightfully elected as Speaker, had little choice but to give in to Cayetano.
Prior to the term-sharing deal, Cayetano was hardly ever considered as a serious contender for the speakership.
Cayetano used the same ploy in 2015 in his failed bid to become the country’s vice president by latching on Mr. Duterte even when he still, at that time, had no blessing from his supposed co-tandem or his family members.
He tried to wrangle a leadership sharing deal personally with Velasco in negotiations that promptly fizzled out.
The thinking then among congressmen was why should Velasco agree to be tied down to a compact when he had a good chance of securing a majority, while the other party had little to zero chance of winning the speakership.
The vote, prior to the horse trading initiated by Cayetano, was split in the middle between Velasco and Leyte Congressman Martin Romualdez, who is president of the Lakas Party that had its heyday during the reign of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Then money flowed as some of the bets angling to win the speakership were quoted as saying that hundreds of millions of pesos were offered.
Image is also a long-standing problem of Cayetano, who is not known as a unifying force, but rather a divisive figure in his stint in both the Senate and the House.
Cayetano may just have to kiss his grander ambitions goodbye in double-crossing his peers.
Overrating the Supreme Court
So far, there seems to be no public accounting as to how the SC spends the Judiciary Development Fund.
At least 31 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the constitutionality of the controversial anti-terrorism law recently enacted by Congress.
A retired chief justice (CJ) of the SC recently stated in a newspaper (not the Daily Tribune) that the numerous petitions against the anti-terror law filed in the SC reveals the public’s trust in the tribunal. That statement is self-serving as it is contestable.
By praising the SC of his time, the retired CJ ultimately praised himself as one its helmsmen, despite having been appointed to the SC without any prior judicial experience on his part.
The retired CJ’s praises for the SC are also contestable because the large volume of cases filed in the SC does not necessarily mean that the people trust the tribunal.
He should know that the petitions against the anti-terror law were filed in the SC because there is no other forum for them. The petitioners have no other choice under the law.
Events of very recent vintage likewise dispute the retired CJ’s one-sided assessment.
When the SC en banc granted the petition for quo warranto filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida and, in the process, kicked out de facto CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno from office, many lauded the action taken by the SC. There were, however, many anti-administration personalities who denounced what the SC did. Their unflattering remarks against the SC were all over the news media.
SC justices should keep their personal quarrels private. The personal animosity between Sereno and Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro was, however, an open secret.
When he was still a member of the SC, Justice Antonio Carpio went around town delivering a lecture on Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, during office hours. Whether he did so on official leave, SC personnel refuse to disclose.
So far, there seems to be no public accounting as to how the SC spends the Judiciary Development Fund, which consists of money paid by all court litigants. The fund is supposed to augment the salaries of low-income judicial employees.
The retired CJ knows that there was a time when the SC refused to allow the public and the media access to the luxurious cottages SC justices use in Baguio City during their so-called “summer sessions” there. Because the SC does not need to hold sessions in Baguio, analysts say those cottages are vacation villas for the justices, maintained by public funds.
Further, the retired CJ is aware that there was a time when the SC refused to let the public and the media access the justices’ individual statements of assets and liabilities (SALN). He should also be aware that the current Ombudsman, ex-SC Justice Samuel Martires, recently banned public and media access to the SALN of top government officials.
Ex-Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., a die-hard follower of President Corazon Aquino and her son, President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III, gave the lame excuse that allowing public access to the cottages and to the SALN undermines the independence of the judiciary.
How the exercise of the constitutional right of public access to public property and public documents can actually undermine judicial independence, Davide did not explain.
Davide was one of the authors of the defective 1987 Constitution. According to former Senator Ernesto Maceda, Davide also wrote Executive Order 1 for President PNoy. That EO, which created the short-lived Truth Commission to investigate anomalies allegedly committed during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was declared unconstitutional by the SC.
The retired CJ should be reminded that his ex-colleague Sereno was twice sued in the SC when she was the de facto CJ. One case against Sereno was filed by then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, who later became a justice of the SC. The other case involved Sereno’s meddling with nominations for judicial posts. Sereno lost in both cases.
Finally, the election protest filed by ex-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo has been pending in the SC sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal for over four years now. The case is assigned to Justice Alfredo Caguioa, a PNoy appointee, whose wife was with the campaign camp of Robredo.
There are other stories that the public should know, but that will be for another occasion.
As uncomfortable as we are at being judged unfairly, that the Philippines remains the worst regional hotspot is a matter of record by both the World Health Organization and other external organizations that compare us, rightly or wrongly, with other countries battling COVID-19.
The comparisons are however debatable as most benchmarks might be inapplicable or inadequate in capturing many of the minute complexities where the virus is itself generally an unknown variable. Understandably, there are reasons to debunk comparative benchmarks as cultural factors including immeasurable and non-comparative standards are applied.
Unfortunately, such inapplicability is worsened by the increasing crash of credibility among the medical community upon whom we entrusted the pandemic responses.
For one, the Philippine medical community cannot seem to agree with itself. We saw this in the two years prior to 2020. The deadly Dengvaxia scandal had split the community along several widening fissures and fault lines. From those conflicted and guilty for politicizing the vaccine’s program, to those seeking justice for the dead children, and even those who simply sought the truth.
In this pandemic, chasm-wide fault lines are getting in the way of credible and timely responses. Diagnose the symptoms of an increasing lack of unity within the medical community. Public trust and confidence are quickly waning as division, infighting and intrigue cancel each other out.
Note, the Health undersecretary has more credibility than her principal. Former secretaries have taken to denying involvement with anonymous physician groups.
One faction raised their fists against the authorities where they were negotiating for a two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Without demanding for an ECQ, a larger group that included frontline nurses sought a more intelligent, non-military, health care-focused approach, including quantified allocations to appropriately compensate health workers.
Among the divisive skirmishes was the debate on the dangers of rapid anti-body tests peddled by some against a greater many who exposed its dangers in catalyzing the infection rate.
Poisoned by political partisanship and entrepreneurial posting and peddling in social media, these wars among the community are fought very publicly and very visibly, as factions now go for each other’s jugular on the issue of continued lockdowns advocated by one group against another that pushes for specific medication and a complete opening of the economy. How polarizing is that?
Yet, both are evidence based.
The medical battlefield is aggravated by a lengthening string of reversals coming from supposed experts and scientists who openly argue issues like the toggling of on-again, off-again impositions of quarantine permutations and combinations.
Worse, the infighting has its own comorbidities. People have noticed drastic and self-destructive power play within the Inter-Agency Task Force populated with a forced mix of political appointees and career doctors and scientists. As infections rose, it is unfortunate that guidance has been increasingly dictated by political appointees rather than by scientists as police powers are increasingly employed against a health issue.
While continuously testing various and even divergent hypotheses is integral to the scientific process, warring doctors face the danger of killing their patients as they play the game of one-upmanship.
Ombudsman Martires, retiring yet?
Before asking Congress to restore his office’s original proposed budget of P4.6 billion for 2021, Ombudsman Martires should reassess where he is leading the office.
Former Supreme Court (SC) justice and now Ombudsman Samuel Martires should send himself to pasture and leave the job of going after crooks in government to somebody who will not undermine his own mandate.
As if the Office of the Ombudsman is not grossly underperforming by convicting mere fingerlings before the Sandiganbayan, comes now Martires stopping lifestyle checks on those in government suspected of being corrupt.
Worse, he has made it practically impossible for the public and the media to get access to the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of government officials and workers, short of them filing a petition under the Freedom of Information order.
What’s the point of requiring submission of the SALN if they will just be hidden from scrutiny purportedly because they had been “weaponized” by warring politicians and their minions? So what if the SALN are weaponized by the pot that calls the kettle black and vice versa? Let them burn.
The SALN can only be a weapon against thieving government officials who cannot explain how they can live like kings and queens despite their modest pay and with their respective families not having enough sources of income to afford luxuries.
For those who are not dipping their fingers in taxpayers’ money and those who are not involving themselves in shady government deals, there’s absolutely nothing to fear about their SALN being examined.
Thus, this excuse by Ombudsman Martires on why he limited access to SALN to those with a court order, to his investigators and to the declarant themselves, is pure baloney. In the first place, what would the SALN declarants have a need for the very documents they filed?
Ombudsman Martires talked about logic, but did he find any in his order stopping the conduct by his investigators of lifestyle checks? According to him, he did so because he wanted to ask Congress to amend the law that calls for lifestyle checks because it is allegedly flawed.
Flawed or not, if a law has not been repealed or amended, then it is in full force as it is, isn’t it? And as a public official, isn’t Martires duty-bound to enforce the same instead of subverting it? As a former SC associate justice, Ombudsman Martires should be the first to uphold the law.
True, the Ombudsman is better off proving the ultimate facts alleged in the graft and corruption cases his office is prosecuting: That this governor stole this much money, or that this Cabinet secretary benefitted from sweetheart deals.
There’s no debating Martires’ assertion that the Ombudsman doesn’t need the SALN to score convictions. Indeed, the SALN, at their best, may only mirror the fruits of one’s corrupt ways with the mansions and sports cars bought and luxury travels undertaken, for example.
Yes, the SALN may not be the smoking gun in corruption cases before the Sandiganbayan even if the SALN had been just that in past impeachment cases, wherein the rules of court were loosely applied in the proceedings, if they were applied at all.
But the SALN may provide the smoke that alerts the public and the media about the fire of corruption that will now be hidden because of Martires’ order denying public access to what is, after all, a public document.
The Office of the Ombudsman was previously called the Tanodbayan for a reason: For it to serve as the people’s watchman against corruption. The Ombudsman is not supposed to guard the people so they cannot see what shenanigans government officials are up to.
In fact, the Ombudsman should, in direct contrast to its present policies, make it easier for people to get hold of the SALN so they can serve as force multipliers in sniffing out scoundrels in public office.
Before asking Congress to restore his office’s original proposed budget of P4.6 billion for 2021, Ombudsman Martires should reassess where he is leading the office. Better yet, he should seriously consider retirement before he mucks up his legacy, his lifetime of public service.
Understanding health care workers’ poignant plight
Government must give serious consideration to maintaining the attractiveness of nursing as a career by the provision of fair pay and conditions of employment and career prospects.
The coronavirus pandemic tested the health care systems of practically all countries worldwide, including affluent western and European nations. According to a recent report released by the International Council of Nurses (ICN), there is already a global shortage of almost six million nurses prior to the pandemic, and became more acute due to the virus. Demand for international nurses from the usual destination countries is likely to continue if pre-COVID-19 nursing shortages persist.
According to ICN’s State of the World’s Nursing (SOWN) report, the Philippines is often described adopting a “train for export” model of nurse education, facilitated by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). This, ICN added, is to enable local nurses to move and work abroad, where pay and career opportunities are much more attractive, and for them to then remit part of their foreign currency earnings back to their family.
Most nursing schools in the Philippines are in the private sector, with nursing students paying for their education, often with the express intention of moving abroad to practice when they graduate.
The ICN report said the outflow of nurses from the Philippines has been around 15,000 to 20,000 per annum in recent years. In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) alone, almost 240,000 local nurses are working in OECD countries. A significant number of local nurses are also posted in Saudi Arabia, Europe (UK and Ireland) and Asia/Australasia (Singapore, New Zealand, Australia). The United States is also reported to be the home for almost 150,000 Filipino nurses, earning as much as 20 times what they were making back home.
The remittances flowing back into the country from the migrant nurses help boost the Philippine economy and support the local population. Total remittances to the Philippines have grown substantially in recent years and reached $34 billion in 2018, with much of these funds coming from service workers, especially nurses.
The unremitting migration of local nurses elsewhere to seek greener pastures in recent years has significantly depleted the country’s nursing workforce. The effect of this outflow was greatly felt when the pandemic hit the country, as the government appealed to health care workers in the provinces and those returning from abroad to help beef up the frontline workforce in the capital in the fight against the dreaded virus.
During the early months when the pandemic hit the country, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) issued a temporary suspension order preventing nurses from going overseas. This order put nurses with existing employment contracts with hospitals overseas in a precarious situation of missing tremendous opportunity to earn higher pay and perks that they would not receive if they choose to stay at home.
While the number of COVID cases in the country continues to increase, it was a huge relief for health care workers, nurses in particular, when the President stepped in and ordered the lifting of the suspension order for health workers and new hires who secured requirements by 31 August to leave the country.
Despite the move to allow health care workers with contracts to travel overseas, the President appealed to the remaining frontliners and volunteers to take care of COVID-19 patients and help in the fight against the dreaded virus.
In an attempt to entice local nurses to stay and serve the country first, the DoLE recently urged the government to increase the salary of nurses. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said a significant salary upgrade for nurses is long overdue, adding that this is the reason why some 200,000 local nurses are unemployed despite the Department of Health’s (DoH) emergency hiring program.
Bello said we cannot blame nurses from the private sector from leaving the country. They work from eight to 16 hours, with the average salary ranging only from P9,000 to P18,000 as compared to public hospital nurses’ proposed minimum take home pay of P32,000 a month.
Echoing Bello’s call, Filipino Nurses United’s (FNU) head Maristela Abenojar said we cannot blame private hospital nurses from leaving the country, adding that the government needs to improve their working conditions and increase their salaries for them to stay.
While public hospital nurses are set to receive adjusted salary packages under the Department of Budget and Management’s Circular 2002-4 issued on 17 July, FNU is desolate that the private sector nurses were not included.
The FNU said some nurses in the private sector cannot even afford their own basic needs because their salary is “way below” the minimum wage. These overworked nurses, FNU added, are made to handle a patient load beyond the DoH-set standard of 1:12 patients with no additional pay for overtime or extended work.
Abenojar said nurses’ work in private hospitals is not valued in the country, adding that it is an example of the neglect and exploitation our nurses face.
FNU’s call is now being addressed as concrete actions are being taken care of by relevant government agencies to enhance the working conditions of health care workers. The urgent task is to agree on the terms, start aligning and operationalizing whatever changes will be formalized.
My take right now is for Bello and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to lobby at Congress for the urgent deliberation and passing of the law that would increase the salaries of nurses working in both public and private hospitals.
Moving forward, the government must give serious consideration to maintaining the attractiveness of nursing as a career by the provision of fair pay and conditions of employment and career prospects in order to ensure that the mid- to long-term supply of new nurses is not compromised.
Indeed, 2020 is the Year of the Nurse. At times like this, we are all reminded of the important role all of our health care heroes play in caring for people in crisis. I will continue to salute our health care workers and be grateful for the work they are doing. They are the country’s real heroes, no doubt.
Clinging to parochial interests, like salivating for a big share of public works projects… borders on criminal intent to do harm.
Thanks to the word war at the House of Representatives, ostensibly fueled by unequal allocations of the multibillion-peso funds for infrastructure projects, we are alerted on how crucial this year’s proposed national budget is.
Before the serious stuff, we should first congratulate House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for this event. Many are saying if it wasn’t for his unbridled ambitions for higher office come 2022, there wouldn’t be a brewing power struggle at the House.
The loose talk, however, on Cayetano’s political ambitions can be safely ignored. Scrutinizing the proposed P4,606 trillion budget takes precedence over the bleak future political fortunes of the House Speaker.
Anyway, the first “wang-wang” with which the Congress fight alerted us is the fact that the proposed budget is an “election year budget.”
Such a budget type is a euphemism for the actual fact politicians need to get their hands on wads of expense money ahead of the 2022 national and local elections.
“I have been in Congress long enough (to know) that if there’s anything that we should do, (it is to) exercise extra vigilance in what is called the election year budget because that will be the source of favors that those in power will be dispensing,” says opposition stalwart Franklin Drilon.
Exercising vigilance on the budget, of course, means we thoroughly scrutinize voluminous documents. But the multibillion-peso fund for public works is where everyone is presently examining with a magnifying glass.
Drilon charges the multibillion-peso fund for public works projects “is open to corruption and abuse for the 2022 elections.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson similarly expresses concerns over the public works budget. Lacson, however, isn’t so much about looking out where the funds eventually end up, but on the shady methods used in making funds available for the projects.
This early, Lacson is warning officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) they have a “lot of explaining to do” on the presence of the unconstitutional lump sum allocations in their budget.
At the same time, Lacson is also questioning why in the DPWH’s P532 billion budget officials are again appropriating money for infrastructure projects, which had already been funded this year.
Alarm and scandal over the public works projects, particularly when called out as “pork barrels,” are nothing new. It’s a yearly egregious occurrence at the House.
So much so the only charitable thing which can be said about it is that enterprising solons have an insatiable fetish for public works projects.
But with this pandemic crisis and its devastating effects, we must finally find a cure for this deranged fetish. No wishful waiting for a vaccine here.
True, there is an unshakeable cynicism Congress can’t mend its old ways. Overnight cure might be impossible, but we really need to keep on trying and forcibly rehabilitate, if need be, the congressional pigsty.
Lately, however, there are salient indications a congressional rehab might not be as difficult as first thought. In fact, the recent astonishing remarks of Mr. Duterte’s old friend and ally, former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, can be taken as a clear hint even administration allies want to air out the foulness in Congress.
While his candid roasting of the national leadership – when he called “the handling of the COVID pandemic in the entire Philippines is a failure” – shocks allies, Alvarez’s more important pitch, however, is that with the country facing “big problems,” there is need to elect capable national leaders in 2022.
“Let’s choose a President who can handle this COVID situation. One who has brains and not just one who shows courage. We need someone who has brains,” Alvarez says.
“It is not yet clear when this COVID will end and there is no medicine yet. This will cross over to the next administration. That’s why we need to choose a President who is knowledgeable,” he adds.
Furthermore, Alvarez says, “Another problem is the economy. The people are unemployed, businesses have closed down, and OFW (overseas Filipino workers) are coming home jobless. The President must know how to revive these businesses.”
While some of us will take Alvarez’s remarks as mere politicking, what he does admit is responsible and sensible. Substituting “congressman or senator” for “president,” for instance, we see that what this pandemic crisis essentially needs are national politicians acting firmly, once and for all, in the country’s overall interests.
Still clinging to parochial interests, like salivating for a big share of public works projects, that does not do anything worthwhile for everyone’s future welfare borders on criminal intent to do harm.
Email: [email protected]
UN should know better
I therefore call on the stakeholders in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East and Africa: if we cannot be friends as yet, then in God’s name, let us not hate each other too much.
President Rodrigo Duterte succeeded in bringing across the message that nothing is more precious than human lives during his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The pandemic, however, restrained the appreciation of the precisely aimed statements of the President, many of which were intended at his inconsolable detractors.
Calling the onslaught of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as the biggest “test the world and the United Nations faced since World War II,” Mr. Duterte raised the need for the whole world to act together to defeat it.
In one of his weekly addresses to the nation, the President revealed the demands of some foreign pharmaceutical giants for a “reservation charge,” which was a show of greed that appalled him.
With the very existence of mankind probably at risk if the advance of the virus is not halted, Western drug outfits still have their priorities clouded by the profit motive.
The intervention of a body such as the UN is needed to assure the universal access to a cure when it is made available.
Similar to other international bodies, the UN had mostly turned into a grievance forum aside from being a venue for annual social events that contribute little to the improvement of people’s lives.
Mr. Duterte believes that the UN is capable of a bigger role during the crisis period.
“We will need to ask hard and fundamental questions about the vision and mission that the United Nations conceptualized 75 years ago,” the President said.
He added that while each nation has its own strategy in fighting the pandemic, “what the world needs are coordinated international plans and efforts to pursue a common purpose.”
With his plea came a warning that “COVID-19 knows no border. It knows no nationality. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no age. It knows no creed.”
“When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy,” he appealed.
Speaking for the developing world, Mr. Duterte said that a global health agenda with enough resources and policy space for the World Health Organization (WHO) should be set up.
“We need a WHO that is quick to coordinate and quicker to respond. The Philippines will do its part in the pooling of global resources. Our health workers are among the best,” he offered.
He also sought a moratorium on superpowers’ rivalry for hegemony.
“When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled flat,” according to the President.
“I therefore call on the stakeholders in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East and Africa: if we cannot be friends as yet, then in God’s name, let us not hate each other too much,” he added.
The entire address of the President has one core message which is that the wellbeing of one person will contribute to the overall betterment of mankind.
He cited for instance the ordeal of Filipino migrant workers who were among those whose future was abruptly disrupted by the contagion. More than 345,000 overseas Filipino workers needed to come home after losing their jobs.
The number of affected Filipinos is multiplied considering that many families depend solely on remittances of migrant workers to survive.
Mr. Duterte’s philosophy from the start of his presidency that the lives of the innocent can’t be compromised holds true for the world during the global catastrophe.
Distorted priorities indeed
Martires was among those who voted to oust Maria Lourdes Sereno over alleged non-filing of some mandatory asset declarations.
Perhaps former Supreme Court associate justice Samuel Martires had good reason for deciding to scrap lifestyle checks on public officials before he had even warmed his chair at the Office of the Ombudsman.
He may have had solid reason, but it currently escapes ordinary citizens who may consider these lifestyle checks as the last recourse to investigate graft and corruption allegations.
Lifestyle checks are usually made on those who figure in graft allegations. It is also called for when “unexplained wealth” is observed.
It is not merely a tool to sic investigators on someone nor is it supposed to be used to ruin anyone’s reputations.
If our government is doing it right, and justice really intended, then it should be used to prove one’s innocence.
Martires at the budget hearing in Congress last Tuesday said that as soon as he sat as Ombudsman, he had the lifestyle checks stopped because he already had doubts over some of the provisions of Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
He would like to propose amendments, he added, because he thinks some of these provisions are vague and lacking in logic.
“…What is living beyond your means? Those who earn P50,000 a month, lives in a small house, saved money, bought a BMW on a promo, zero interest, in installment — is he living beyond his means? I don’t think so. What he has are distorted values and distorted priorities,” he added.
Ombudsman Martires’ logic in this case is the one that beats understanding, seeming to miss the whole point of a “check” in the first place.
Martires’ explanation shows he has already judged the matter before anyone can even look into it.
So what amendments does the Ombudsman have in mind to strengthen the anti-graft law in the Philippines?
Martires had also earlier restricted public access to the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of public officials filed in the Ombudsman.
He said these SALN are not necessary to prove plunder, as he thinks these records are only being used to ruin reputations of public officials.
His exact words in a GMA-7 report: “In the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, we do not need SALN to prove undue injury, undue advantage, even plunder. For what is SALN? It’s being used destroy the reputation of government officials.”
To recall, Martires was among those who voted to oust Maria Lourdes Sereno over alleged non-filing of some mandatory asset declarations.
The former Chief Justice lost her fight in 2018 after it was shown that she “did not submit 10 years’ worth of SALN prior to her appointment in 2012.”
SALN are required by law under Article XI Section 17 of the Philippine Constitution and Section 8 of RA 6713.
The law requires officials to submit these SALN upon assumption of office and every year thereafter on or before 30 April.
These documents could show not just bad judgment on some officials’ part in using their savings, but potentially reveal any items that “cannot be attributed to a salary, investment, gift, inheritance or other legal sources and therefore are likely to have come from illegal means.”
Now that more inexplicable movements of funds and national budgets have been observed in this time of the pandemic, a lifestyle check and these SALN are mire necessary than ever.
The Ombudsman, however, has practically declared it a waste of time.
Nobody thought so, however, when Sereno and even former President Joseph Estrada were on the gangplank.
Lessons from Northern Mindanao
Governor Emano’s immediate action, having declared a state of calamity even as early as January this year, has helped control the number of cases in the province.
Iligan City in Northern Mindanao and Lanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are the only two areas that are currently under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) because of rising cases of COVID-19.
This makes the neighboring city of Cagayan de Oro (CdO) a hub for patients seeking treatment in the city’s designated COVID-19 referral facility — the Northern Mindanao Medical Center, and in other medical facilities in the city. CdO also has several licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories, which is why many patients from neighboring provinces and cities come to CdO not only for treatment but also for their COVID-19 testing-related needs.
Last Monday, I and my team visited CdO where we conducted my regular press briefing. CdO City Mayor Oscar Moreno informed us that the city still has available isolation facilities that are being used particularly for the temporary quarantine of repatriated overseas Filipinos (ROF) and locally stranded individuals (LSI).
In controlling the spread of the virus, Mayor Oscar Moreno emphasized the need to strictly follow the minimum public health standards and the importance of local government unit (LGU) interventions like containment of local cases and the enforcement of proper quarantine measures for ROF and LSI.
The city’s protocol on ROF and LSI is commendable as these returning individuals are fetched from the airport or seaport by the LGU and health authorities and are immediately brought to isolation facilities for swabbing and temporary quarantine while they await the result of their PCR tests.
The city government of CdO has also ramped up its testing capacity with the purchase of RT-PCR machines for the use of some of its medical facilities. With improved testing, Mayor Moreno said they are hoping to serve not just the people from the region but also from the neighboring regions of BARMM and CARAGA — a truly admirable case of neighbors helping neighbors to beat the pandemic.
Misamis Oriental Governor Bambi Emano, who was also my guest in the said press briefing in CdO, highlighted the importance of working closely with local chief executives especially in implementing strict protocols in choke points to protect borders and the people of Misamis Oriental.
On the part of the provincial government, Governor Emano’s immediate action, having declared a state of calamity even as early as January this year, has helped control the number of cases in the province. This has also allowed them to gradually build their critical care capacity, with isolation facilities established in municipalities and barangays all over the province.
In the case of Iligan City, it is admirable that Mayor Celso Regencia has appealed to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to escalate his city’s quarantine classification to control the rising number of cases. Mayor Regencia said that the current MECQ classification is already helping lower the number of COVID-19 cases in the city.
Similarly, Iligan City is also ramping up its isolation capacity by renting local hotels as temporary quarantine facilities and adding isolation facilities with the assistance of the national government through the Department of Public Works and Highways.
From what I had seen personally, the people in Northern Mindanao are showing resiliency in facing and dealing with the pandemic. They are not taking the COVID-19 situation idly, and definitely not letting it hinder their way of living. They are being careful and are clearly practicing what I have always been saying, ingat buhay para sa hanapbuhay.