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‘Sabah, Sarawak in Moro federation’

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The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will push the creation of a Bangsamoro Federal State which would include Sabah and Sarawak, risking a strain in relations anew between the Philippines and Malaysia.

The two territories are part of the 13 founding states of the Malaysian federal constitutional monarchy.

Lawyer Rexie Bugaring, the MNLF senior legal adviser, disclosed on Wednesday that the former rebel group plans to elevate the Sabah claim of the Sultanate of Sulu to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

This, he said, would pave the way for the inclusion of the disputed territory in the proposed Federal system of government advocated by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Bugaring added that MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari will submit to President Duterte his proposal to create the Bangsamoro Federal state with Sabah and Sarawak as parts of it.

Sarawak is the largest of the 13 Malaysian states.

OIC or UN?

The MNLF also possesses a permanent observer status in the OIC. It is the recognized representative of the Bangsamoro people in the Philippines in the International Islamic body. Malaysia is a member of the OIC.

“The OIC may resolve the dispute or refer it to the United Nations,” Bugaring said.

The MNLF adviser also said President Duterte could instruct the Department of Foreign Affairs to endorse the petition to the UN.

The MNLF, he claimed, has a pending petition before the UN General Assembly to grant independence to all colonized countries.

Freeze political moves

Nur Misuari, the MNLF founding chairman, however ordered to freeze all political moves on independence to pave the way for President Duterte’s shift from Unitary to a Federal system of government.

The MNLF joined Duterte in that call.

When Misuari “proclaimed independence” at the height of the Zamboanga siege in 2013, Misuari had declared Mindanao, Palawan, Tawi Tawi, Basilan — including the Malaysian island of Sabah and Sarawak — as parts of the Bangsamoro Region (BMR).

Misuari also raised the BMR flag prior to the Zamboanga siege in September 2013.

Misuari included Sabah and Sarawak in the BMR as these territories were parts of the Sultanate of Sulu long before Malaysia became a sovereign country, Bugarin said.

Malaysia came to form only when it united with Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) in 1963.

Singapore was expelled from the Malaysian federation two years later.

The Sultanate of Sulu, however, kept pursuing ownership of Sabah as it should not have been included in the Malaysian federation.

Sabah was handed over to Sulu Sultan Jamalul A’lam as a gift by the Bruneian sultanate, the territory’s former owner.

In 1878 Jamalul, who ruled from 1862 to 1881, signed a lease agreement with British North Borneo, when British colonials allowed the company to operate in Sabah. The island was not part of the British colony as the Philippines was under Spanish rule.

Questionable inclusion

The Sultanate of Sulu and the Philippine government have questioned Sabah’s inclusion in the Malaysian federation, although the government of Malaysia continued paying the sultanate’s heirs of the supposed annual lease as originally signed by Jamalul with the defunct British firm.

Malaysia, however, stopped payment in 2013 following the “incursion” by some 200 Tausug warriors from Sulu, reportedly on orders from Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to take control of the island.

The group was turned back by the Malaysian forces with 60 members of the army killed in close armed clashes.

Malaysia also reportedly received help from former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, who ordered the Filipinos to return to Mindanao.

But while Sulu Sultanate’s Prime Minister or Wazir Amroussi Rasul said their group would seek help from President Duterte to start talks with Malaysia as he promised in 2016, he disclosed that the sultanate did not give the MNLF permission to elevate the Sabah matter before the OIC.

“The MNLF does not have the mandate of our Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram, chief of the Royal House of Sulu,” Rasul said.

“Our Sultan did not give the MNLF permission to represent us before the OIC,” he reiterated.

Malaysia also claims that it has a standing agreement with the Philippine government that the issue of Sabah should not be elevated before any international body.

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‘Honor 15-21 agreement’

Aldrin Cardona

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The “coup” at the House of Representatives was a dud with the allies of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano making the loudest noise charging Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco of orchestrating an attempt at forging a leadership change at the Batasang Pambansa.

Their statements almost effectively hazed the questions earlier raised by several members of the House about Cayetano’s large chunk of budget from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for 2021.

It was earlier reported that a coup de etat was to transpire at the House following frustrations by many House members over the budget inequity under Cayetano’s leadership.

Cayetano is supposed to hand over the House speakership to Velasco at end of October following their “gentlemen’s agreement” that was brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte himself last year.

The Chief Executive is hoping that the two House leaders will honor their agreement.

During a briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque quoted the President as saying that he “is hoping both parties will honor their words and abide by their agreement.”

“I asked him last night (Monday) and that was his answer,” Roque said.

That deal was dubbed as the “15-21 agreement” which should have Cayetano serving the first 15 months of their three-year term and Velasco taking his turn for 21 months until the elections next year.

It was Cayetano, however, who tried to stage a “self-coup” last year supposedly on the request of his peers to serve as speaker for the who three years. Cayetano’s camp says the Speaker has moist eyes on the presidency.

He is now reneging on that deal, though, with Velasco’s allies claim they will not allow.

Velasco was not part of the group that questioned Cayetano’s lion’s share from the DPWH budget. He stayed quiet on Tuesday despite the Cayetano camp’s taunts.

“He’s a gentleman who follows agreements,” one of his allies said. “He believes that one who backs down on vows to his peers could not be truthful to his vows to serve his country and people.”

Velasco issued a statement Tuesday night, saying “being a party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time.”

“When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse. Thereafter, at the end of my term, my peers can then be the judge of my loyal service to God, to the President, and ultimately to the Filipino people,” Velasco added.

This was after lawmakers complained against Cayetano’s supposed favor of his closest allies whom earlier reports said partook of about P20 billion-worth of DPWH projects.

The other members of the House receive just P2 billion in projects, some of them even less.

Cayetano will receive P9,762,773,000 for 121 projects ranging from repairs, widenings and expansion of roads, construction of buildings and rehabilitation of old structures.

He will be sharing the amount with his wife Lani, who represents the other half of Taguig City. They are the only husband and wife living together who represent separate districts of a city.

Cayetano’s budget was defended by Eric Yap, the ACT-CIS Partylist Representative.

“I saw the NEP (national expenditure program) for 2021. (His budget) is P8 billion. But P6 billion of that is for 2020,” Yap said during an exclusive Daily Tribune “Straight Talk” online program.

“But that budget was surrendered to become part of the COVID-19 fight. That’s why we reinstated the amount for 2021. So, it now turns out that only P2 billion is given to Speaker Cayetano,” he added.

For Camarines Sur, some are saying the province is receiving P11 billion. CamSur has five districts with five congressmen. So that’s P2.2 billion each,” Yap continued. “It’s the same amount that Cong. Arnulfo Teves (Negros Oriental) is going to receive.”

Documents obtained by Daily Tribune, however, showed shares divided among five Camarines Sur representatives are not equal.

Cayetano, himself, is the acting representative of the first district that was left vacant by Marissa Lourdes Andaya who died of cancer early this year. He is getting P288,244,000 for three projects in the district.

District 2 will be receiving the most with P3,304,781,000 for 33 projects. It is represented by LRay Villafuerte, a known Cayetano ally who spoke yesterday to claim that a “supermajority of the House” continue to support Cayetano.

District 3 Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr. was to receive P1,127,591,000 for five projects but he reportedly returned it.

District 4 Rep. Arnulf Fuentebella has 12 projects worth only 817,960,000; while District 5 Rep. Jocelyn Fortuno has 21 projects but these were pegged only at a measly P595, 605,000.

Villafuerte, himself, sent messages to the other congressmen and promised them budget for their soft projects that include scholarships, medical assistance, livelihood training and similar light programs.

The distribution of these funds was instructed by Cayetano on Saturday while calls for his removal as House Speaker was simmering over the weekend.

“Your allocated LGSF (Local Government Subsidy Fund) for 2020 which were missing are back,” a message attributed to Villafuerte stated. “We reinstated them as per instruction of the Speaker in Bayanihan 2.”

Bayanihan 2 funds are intended for the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Here with guidelines please. Favor, kindly as you LGU (local government units) beneficiaries (through) Katy to comply ASAP because deadline is end of October,” Villafuerte’s message continued.

Cayetano came under attack over this inequity, leading to Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte to express his frustration and the Mindanao bloc threatening to declare all House leadership seats vacant last Monday.

It did not happen after Cayetano’s allies suspended Monday’s session.

The House went about its usual schedules on Tuesday despite Cayetano’s accusation that Velasco had tried to stage a “coup” four times in the past.

Velasco’s allies branded Cayetano’s statement as a lie.

with MJ BLANCAFLOR,
ELMER N. MANUEL
and MICHELLE GUILLANG

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Rangers recover Sawadjaan’s camp

Kristina Maralit

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Government forces closed in on wanted Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) Commander Mundi Sawadjaan after troopers of the 5th Scout Ranger Battalion discovered and took over an ASG harbor site in Indanan, Sulu on Tuesday morning.

In a report by Col. Antonio Bautista Jr., commander of the 1101st Brigade which has operational jurisdiction over the town, the Rangers led by Lt. Col. Herbert Dilag discovered the site where Sawadjaan and around 40 members of the terror group have temporary set up camp for the past several days.

Sawadjaan leads the ASG faction affiliated with the Daesh terror group.

Found in the area were the bandits’ personal belongings and leftover food.

“We are employing the full force of JTF (Joint Task Force) Sulu’s military assets to track down the group of Mundi Sawadjaan. We are winning our peace and development campaign in the island of Sulu. In due time, the dwindling number of the terror group will surely be decimated with the active cooperation and support of the governor and municipal mayors,” BGen. William Gonzales, 11th Infantry Division chief, said.

It was last 20 September 2020 when elements of the Philippine Army’s 45th Infantry Battalion based in Patikul town clashed with Sawadjaan’s group with several of the notorious terrorist and bomb expert’s subordinates neutralized.

They were the same group behind the bloody twin blasts in Jolo, Sulu last 24 August 2020.

Sawadjaan was also responsible for the deadly twin bombings that rocked the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, also in Jolo, in January 2019 that killed 20 people and wounded more than a hundred others.

From 25 August 2020 to present, three ASG members have died in the military’s follow up operations. Samir Sanni and two others were killed in a clash with the Scout Rangers in Patikul last 29 August 2020.

Several days later, nine bandits voluntarily surrendered to JTF Sulu for fear of being killed in an armed encounter with the security forces hot on the trail of the Islamic State-inspired terrorists.

Hot pursuit operations are still being conducted by military, utilizing all of the task force’s land, sea and air assets.

Civil-military cooperation is also being undertaken led by Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan along with the 19 municipal mayors of the province.

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Pandemonium over ‘pandemic babies’

Louise Lizan

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Julia answers pregnancy issue with a photo of well-toned abs. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/JULIABARRETTO

Another year, another controversy for onscreen partners Julia Barretto and Gerald Anderson after newscaster Jay Sonza alleged in a Facebook post on 20 September that they are expecting their first baby.

In said post, Sonza congratulated Gerald and neighbor Julia for proving they are fertile.

“After months of love lockdown and ESQ (exact sex quadrant), may nabuo sa sinapupunan ni Julia (After months of lockdown and ESQ (exact sex quadrant), something formed in Julia’s womb),” Sonza added.

“Fake news!” the actors in question responded. Julia posted a photo of her toned abs, captioned, “FAKE NEWS.” Gerald shared a clip from his current drama A Soldier’s Heart with a caption about fake news.

“Sa panahon ngayon na ang bilis kumalat ng ‘FAKE NEWS’… Akala ko magiging ‘FAKE NEWS’ din ang A Soldier’s Heart (During these times when fake news spreads fast, I thought A Soldier’s Heart would be fake news as well),’” the actor wrote with high hopes that the show will continue after months of delay.

‘Leave Julia Barretto Alone’  
Netizens have rallied behind the Star Magic actress with the Twitter tag, “Leave Julia Barretto Alone” claiming that she is receiving too much hatred for a rumor that even if turns out to be true, is not something to be hated upon.

GERALD Anderson and Julia Barretto respond ‘fake news’ to Jay Sonza’s pregnancy claim.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF BLACKSHEEP PRODUCTIONS

Others also compared that the treatment of Sofia Andres having a baby with boyfriend Daniel Miranda and the alleged pregnancy of Janella Salvador with partner Markus Paterson were far better than how Julia’s pregnancy rumor was received.

Julia is this generation’s most controversial Barretto after being involved in last year’s third-party skirmish between Bea Alonzo and Gerald, leaving adrift former partner Joshua Garcia, with whom Julia recently made amends.

Julia was also the target in her grandfather’s funeral fiasco which involved a physical confrontation with aunts Gretchen and Claudine Barretto. Recently, the Julia-and-Gerald rumor arose once more after they were allegedly seen in the actor’s Zambales beach house together.

Despite the baggage of belonging to a controversial family, the 23-year-old actress revealed in a recent interview with G3 San Diego, “What’s not to love about being a Barretto? I love it because of my grandfather.”

‘I’m not allowed to jump’
Janella’s pregnancy rumors started with a simple phrase: “Oh my God. I almost jumped and that’s not good. I’m not allowed to jump,” Janella, though not visible in the video, was heard saying in boyfriend Markus’ Facebook livestream.

This phrase, however, gave “birth” to a hundred speculations that the 22-year-old is pregnant — because not being allowed to jump could be a pregnancy precaution.

The couple had just gone public with their romantic relationship on 12 September. Paterson shared a video of them slow-dancing to the song, “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and sharing a sweet kiss in the end with the caption, “My (world).”

Meanwhile, Salvador posted a memory of their trip to Osaka. “The best hugs in the world from the best potato in the world,” the caption reads. Rumors of their relationship first sprouted in August 2019 with the two young stars carefully treading the topic when asked.

A source from Pep.ph confirmed that Janella is pregnant and will be giving birth this October, yet none of those involved have neither confirmed nor denied the issue.

JULIA Barretto remains unfazed amid controversies.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/JULIABARRETTO

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Med workers asked to stay in Phl

MJ Blancaflor

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President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed to health care workers without contracts abroad to stay in the country, saying the government still needs them in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chief Executive said this Monday night after he approved the overseas deployment of nurses with complete documents such as visas as of 31 August. Previously, only those with contracts as of 8 March were allowed to leave the country for work.

“This is not really to offend those health workers of ours, doctors, nurses who want to go abroad to earn good money. I do not have anything against you, but I hope you will have the spirit and the fervor to serve the Filipino people because we also need help and we have a crisis also to deal with,” the President stated in a recorded address.

Duterte, however, said he respects the decision of medical professionals who chose to work overseas.

“But to those who are still here, please stay for a while until after this COVID-19 will pass. It will come to pass. I’m sure,” Duterte said.

“The others, just wait for some time. We are just calibrating the travel of our people because we also need manpower,” he added.

Nurses have long appealed for the total lifting of the ban, saying that it is the frontline workers’ right to seek better salaries abroad. There is no word yet from the President on when he would decide on the matter.

The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) welcomed the President’s decision to allow and expand the exemption on deployment ban, noting that this would benefit about 1,500 workers who had secured documents to work abroad.

FNU president Maristela Abenojar said the move was not a blow on the country’s workforce since over 200,000 local health professionals remain unemployed.

The deployment ban was first implemented in April as the President said that he wants to keep health workers safe from working in countries with high cases of COVID-19.

The Palace on Tuesday, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the Chief Executive would support the proposed measure of his son, Deputy House Speaker and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, which seeks to hike the salary of nurses in the private sector.

House Bill 7659 urges the National Wages Productivity Commission of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) to establish a minimum wage for nurses in private-owned medical facilities to make it at par with their counterparts in public hospitals.

Citing figures from DoLE, the bill noted that registered nurses receive an average salary of P9,757 monthly, lower than the pay of minimum wage earners each month.

with Elmer Manuel
and Gabbie Parlade

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‘Solve virus, become president’

MJ Blancaflor

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Malacañang on Tuesday dared Vice President Leni Robredo to come up with a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying she might become the country’s top leader if she has one.

In a televised briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said this as he asked Robredo to open her eyes and ears to the administration’s efforts in addressing the health crisis.

“I am challenging VP Leni. If she has a solution that doesn’t need a vaccine and a cure, reveal it. I’m sure she might just become President immediately if she could find one that doesn’t need a vaccine or medicine,” Roque said.

His remarks came after Robredo said President Rodrigo Duterte should not just wait for vaccines against COVID-19.

Robredo said this in response to the President’s latest tirades Monday night, where he mocked her for suggesting steps to respond to the ongoing pandemic.

President Duterte, criticized for his communication style and reliance on military leaders to address the crisis, said in his speech that Robredo should spray pesticide throughout the country if she is determined to get rid of coronavirus.

The Chief Executive also slammed Robredo anew for her criticisms on the government’s handling of the crisis.

“Leni has been saying a lot of things. You know, Leni, if you really want to do away with COVID, from an airplane, spray pesticides in the entire Philippines or Manila to kill it all,” Duterte said.

“Do not add something to the pandemic by making such reckless statements that we are not doing enough,” he added.

Duterte said the government has been exhausting its resources to provide the medical equipment needed by hospitals amid the health crisis, but asked the public to wait for COVID-19 vaccines.

“What do you want? There are hospitals, beds and funeral parlors. They are all there. What do you want? The microbes, the virus is flying around. That’s why you still have to wear a mask,” Duterte said.

Robredo, for her part, said that spraying pesticides would not suppress the continuous surge of COVID-19 cases.

She also emphasized that there is more to fighting the COVID-19 crisis than wearing masks and waiting for vaccines.

“I cannot help but have takeaways. It is not enough to have hospitals, beds and funeral parlors, and saying that all we have to do is wait for vaccines,” Robredo wrote in a Facebook post.

She said the government should overcome humanitarian emergencies such as poverty, hunger, unemployment and mental distress caused by the pandemic.

The vice president, who has been praised for running COVID-19 recovery programs despite her office’s measly budget, has also sent a comprehensive letter addressed to Roque last 30 June where she provided detailed suggestions on how to improve response efforts.

Roque, however, said Robredo’s suggestions are nothing new since these are being conducted by the administration.

“Open your eyes and ears so that we do not appear redundant in saying all about what the government has been implementing,” he said.

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Bikini belle

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When the Supreme Court issued a Mandamus on Manila Bay on 18 December 2016, which directed 13 government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve the bay, including restoring and maintaining its waters to be fit for swimming, skin diving and other forms of recreation, everyone supposedly won from a cause favorable to the environment.

That legal victory became a public triumph based on the thousands of people who flocked to the baywalk area last Saturday to walk on the artificial sand laid there to revive a part of the beach where tons of trash always wash up after a storm. The inauguration of the area beside the United States Embassy by officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Manila City Hall, followed by its opening to the public, saw awed promenaders, vloggers, reporters and bureaucrats taking unlimited selfies until sunset.

If there are winners in the controversial project, there are also losers. They include critics of the government who earlier claimed that the dolomite sand used to recreate the beach is damaging to the bay and the cost of which should have been spent instead to feed the hungry at this time in the pandemic.

The biggest loser was P/Lt. Col. Ariel Caramoan, commander of the Ermita police station, which has jurisdiction over Manila’s baywalk. He was relieved from his post by Philippine National Police chief Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan for failing to enforce physical distancing on the crowd that gathered along Roxas Boulevard to enter the renovated shore.

Lt. Col. Alex Daniel, the Manila Police District’s chief comptroller, who replaced Caramoan, was not the biggest winner though even if he benefited from his colleague’s relief.

Neither are the dolomite miners in Cebu that supplied the artificial sand for the Manila Bay shore.

The real winner for the day was 46-year-old Renalyn Macato who jumped the gun on everyone else by being the first to be on Manila Bay beach wearing a red swimsuit last Sunday.

Macato’s daring photos taken by her friend are trending on social media, and the hands-down favorite among the many memes that were posted by netizens for the #ManilaBayChallenge.

Moreover, the mother-of-three won’t even be prosecuted or disqualified to run as the poster girl for the new Manila Bay, even if she was not wearing a mask at the time. Her shoot sans mask and face shield had the permission of authorities at the time, because it was a solo pictorial at a crowdless part of the beach.

There were netizens who were not pleased with the instant fame earned by Macato in her bikini, and she was even mocked by a grandmother from Las Piñas City. But she is unfazed from the cyberbullying and is enjoying the 39,000 shares of her photos.

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Cayetano delays ouster

Aldrin Cardona

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other lawmakers, however, said it’s unlikely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But some congressmen claimed they have more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with HANANEEL BORDEY,
MICHELLE GUILLANG
and MJ BLANCAFLOR

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‘Election year fund’ open to corruption

Hananeel Bordey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Catriona fights back; fans defend Xyriel

Kathleen A. Llemit

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GRAY PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/ATTYJOJI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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