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Justice Sec forms task force to probe PhilHealth

Alvin Murcia



Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will form a high-level task force that will investigate the anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) following a memorandum he received from President Rodrigo Duterte.

“I have just received the President’s memo. I will form a high-level task force immediately,” Guevarra told reporters as he vowed that the investigation will be based on facts.

“We shall base our actions on such facts as may be established and such conclusions as may be reasonably inferred therefrom,” said Guevarra as he responded to query’s shortly after the President, thru Spokesman Harry Roque that the president had issued a memorandum ordering the justice chief to form a task force to investigate the anomalies at PhilHealth.

Je said he is now coordinating with the Office of the Ombudsman, and that he would not issue any statement regarding the reported several anomalies now hurled at PhilHealth.

“I will reserve judgment till the task force has gone to work,” he added.

The task force will be composed of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit (CoA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES), the Office of the Special Assistant to the President (OSAP), and other agencies like the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).

The president’s action was based on the early recommendation of Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, chair of the committee on health and demography.

“Sa paglabas ng kautusan ngayong araw, inaasahan natin na ang Task Force na ito — sa pangunguna ng DOJ, kasama ang Ombudsman, COA, CSC, OES, at sa tulong rin ng PACC — ay gagawin ang lahat upang matuldukan na ang mga problema sa PhilHealth. Bibigyang diin nito ang problema sa kabuuan ng organisasyon, sa loob at baba ng ahensya, na sanhi ng tinatawag nating ‘deeply rooted and systemic corruption,” said Go in a press statement.




Malaysian PM faces major test in state polls

Malaysia has been gripped by political turmoil since the collapse in February of a reformist government.

Agence France-Presse



Semporna, Malaysia — Malaysia’s embattled leader faces state elections Saturday that is his biggest political test since taking office, with analysts saying he desperately needs a win to strengthen his tenuous hold on power.

A defeat for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s allies in Sabah state on Borneo will erode support among his seven-month-old government’s coalition partners, increasing pressure for snap national polls, observers warn.

Adding to his problems, the election comes just days after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim launched a bid to topple his administration, claiming he had mustered enough support from MPs to take over.

Malaysia has been gripped by political turmoil since the collapse in February of a reformist government, which was headed by Mahathir Mohamad and included Anwar, amid bitter infighting.

Muhyiddin seized power without an election and leads a coalition backed by a scandal-plagued party, but his administration has only a wafer-thin majority in parliament, and critics say it is illegitimate.

The Sabah elections were called after a Muhyiddin ally launched a bid to take over the opposition-controlled local government. But rather than cede power, the chief minister dissolved the state assembly.

About 1.1 million people are eligible to vote for 73 assembly seats in the state on the northeastern tip of jungle-clad Borneo island, which is home to a dizzying array of indigenous groups.

Loose coalitions are backing the government and the opposition, but analysts say the vote is too close to call. Results are expected late Saturday.

The outcome will not directly affect the balance of power at the national level, but it is a key test of Muhyiddin’s popularity.

Despite taking power without a democratic vote, he has won praise for his government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and received a 69 percent approval rating in a recent survey.

“He needs a win to show… that the high popularity he enjoys can be translated into votes on the ground,” Ibrahim Suffian, head of independent polling firm Merdeka Center, told AFP.

“If he loses badly, then the government could potentially collapse.”

Muhyiddin has faced pressure from his allies to call a general election soon to secure a stronger mandate, but some observers believe he wants to delay as long as possible.

That, however, may become difficult if he fares badly in Sabah.

Anwar’s power play has added to pressure on Muhyiddin but does not appear to have gained traction for now.

He has refused to reveal the number of MPs backing him while the king, who appoints the country’s premier, has postponed an appointment to see him due to ill health.

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Ray of hope for family of four




BUKIDNON – Losing a home in a fire is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone, as now experienced by a family of four in Barangay 4, Talakag here.

Fortunately, there are people who are willing to extend a helping hand to ease the pain of losing almost all their property.

Recently, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go’s staff delivered essential aid on 18 September to the Cabaring family after their house was destroyed by a fire.

The family of four received cash aid to cover their basic needs, food and medicine packs, masks and face shields, and a bicycle.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development was present during the small event to provide the family with additional aid, including food packs and family and hygiene kits.

Marilo Cabaring was also awarded a Certificate of Entitlement for skills training by Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Various other agencies likewise offered emergency relief to the family, including the Department of Health, Department of Trade and Industry, and the National Housing Authority.

“It’s easy to forget about other issues affecting our communities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we should remember other people’s struggles and continue to do our best to respond and help everyone as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Go in a statement.

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Cadets among 22 dead in ‘shock’ Ukraine military plane crash

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the crash as a “terrible tragedy” and said he would travel to the Kharkiv region on Saturday.

Agence France-Presse



Chuguiv, Ukraine — At least 22 people including military cadets were killed and two others were seriously injured on Friday when a Ukrainian air force plane crashed near Kharkiv in the east of the country, the interior ministry said.

Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko confirmed the death toll to AFP, describing the incident as a “shock”, and saying that the cause of the crash was being investigated.

Footage of the crash released by officials on social media showed the smoldering remains of the Antonov-26 transport plane.

“Most of [the dead] were students” of the Kharkiv National Air Force University, the air force said in a statement.

There were 27 people on board, 20 cadets and seven crew, it added.

Twenty-two were confirmed dead, two are injured, and “the search for three more people continues”, the emergency services said.

The injured are in a “critical” condition, regional governor Oleksiy Kucher said on Facebook.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the crash as a “terrible tragedy” and said he would travel to the Kharkiv region on Saturday.

“We are urgently creating a commission to investigate all the circumstances and causes of the tragedy,” he wrote on Facebook.

The plane crashed at around 8:50 pm local time (17:50 GMT), two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Chuhuiv military airbase, the emergency services said.

In photos released by the emergency services, firefighters in helmets and reflective clothing sprayed aircraft debris with jets of water.

The body of the plane burst into flames on landing and firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze after an hour.

The town of Chuhuiv is around 30 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv and 100 kilometers west of the front line where government forces are fighting pro-Russian separatists.

The presidency said that according to preliminary information the transport plane crashed during a training flight.

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell sent his condolences on behalf of the bloc.

“My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives,” he tweeted.

Several military planes have crashed in Ukraine during training flights in recent years.

A pilot was killed in December 2018 after his Su-27 fighter crashed during landing in the Zhytomyr region.

Two months earlier, the same model of fighter crashed in a neighboring region during the Clear Sky 2018 joint military exercises between Ukraine and NATO countries, killing the American and Ukrainian pilots on board.

In 2002, a Su-27 fell into the crowd at an airshow in Lviv in western Ukraine killing 77 people and injuring 165 others.

The Antonov-26 is a light transport aircraft designed in Ukraine during the Soviet era.

It is 24 meters long and has a wingspan of 29 meters and can fly at a cruising speed of 440 kilometers per hour.

In 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was downed killing 298 people over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Moscow has denied the findings of international investigators that a Russian BUK missile hit the Malaysian Airlines flight.

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US maintains plan for TikTok download ban

TikTok has argued that a ban, even if temporary, could cause irreparable harm to the video-sharing application.

Agence France-Presse



Washington, United States — The Trump administration said Friday it would not back down from a plan to ban new US downloads of the popular video-sharing app TikTok, setting up a court showdown ahead of a Sunday deadline.

A Justice Department court filing said it opposes TikTok’s petition for an injunction to block the order from President Donald Trump, who has called the Chinese-owned social platform a national security risk.

US District Judge Carl Nichols set a hearing for Sunday at 9 am (1330 GMT) in Washington for TikTok’s request to block the president’s order before it goes into effect at 11:59 pm Sunday (0359 GMT Monday).

The government lawyers said they wanted to file a brief “under seal,” which would not be available as a public record, citing national security and confidential business information.

The court filing said TikTok had tentatively agreed to sealed briefs but would reserve the right to request that some documents be made public.

TikTok has argued that a ban, even if temporary, could cause irreparable harm to the video-sharing application, which has some 100 million US users.

Nichols, who sits on the bench in Washington, told a telephone hearing on Thursday he disagreed with government lawyers’ claims that the ban — which would not immediately prevent usage of TikTok but prevent downloads by new users and updates — “merely preserves the status quo.”

Analysts also pointed out that any ban could prevent users from downloading updates and security patches for TikTok.

Earlier this month, Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both TikTok and the popular Chinese app WeChat — which has been put on hold in a separate court case in California.

But the TikTok order stops short of a full ban until November 12, giving the Chinese parent firm ByteDance time to conclude a deal to transfer ownership of the app.

A tentative deal unveiled last weekend would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.

The status of the deal, which would include investment from US retail giant Walmart, remained unclear as the parties awaited word on whether it would win approval in Beijing.

As part of its earlier court filing, a statement from TikTok interim head Vanessa Pappas said the proposed ban would be devastating for the social platform, which had been surging in much of the world.

A ban “will cause our user base to stagnate and then precipitously decline,” Pappas said.

She noted that until 1 July, when rumors of a ban first began to circulate, TikTok was adding some 424,000 new US users each day.

The TikTok petition also speculated that Trump was retaliating because of reports the app was used by his critics to snatch up tickets to a campaign rally in Tulsa to which they had no intention of going — an event which flopped with significantly fewer people in attendance than expected.

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Widow gets needed aid




SARANGANI – After the death of her husband because of a fire incident at their home, Jeaneth Divinagracia received a ray of hope as she got emergency aid from Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go’s staff on 11 September.

Divinagracia – who is still mourning the passing of her husband Berio Divinagracia – received cash assistance, food and medicine packs, masks, face shields, and a bicycle.

She was also given family kits, hygiene kits, and extra food packs by representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

They were joined by Department of Labor and Employment director RD Agravante as well as representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry, National Housing Authority and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

The Department of Health and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation likewise pledged to extend additional assistance.

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Five drug suspects fall

Neil Alcober



Operatives from the Marikina City Police early Saturday arrested five suspected drug pushers in a drug buy-bust operation in Barangay Marikina Heights in Marikina City.

The suspects – identified as John Michael Libao, Paul Erickson Libao, Rogelio Labrador, John Zel Bellen, and Benedict Corgado – were nabbed by the police following a sting operation at No. 208, Narra Street at 1 a.m.

Of the four suspects, John Libao was found out to be included in the unified drugs watchlist.

Seized from the suspects were ten sachets of suspected shabu weighing more or less 20 grams with an estimated street value of P136,000; a coin purse; one gun replica; one empty magazine of gun replica; and the P500 buy-bust money.

The suspects are facing charges related to Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

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Trump to name Amy Coney Barrett to US Supreme Court

The President said this week he will announce his pick to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Agence France-Presse



Washington, United States — President Donald Trump intends to name Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, US media reported Friday, who if confirmed would cement a solid conservative majority on the high court.

The President said this week he will announce his pick to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday, and various media outlets said it would be the 48-year-old conservative judge.

Citing sources close to the process, various media outlets, including The New York Times and CNN, said Trump would nominate Barrett.

If she is confirmed, the court would shift to a 6-3 conservative majority.

Asked by journalists if Barrett will indeed be nominated, Trump responded: “I haven’t said that.”

But he added that he had already made a decision “in my own mind” and that Barrett is “outstanding.”

The media reports noted the mercurial Trump could still change his mind before the official announcement, expected at 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) Saturday.

Democratic opponents, led by presidential candidate Joe Biden, have demanded that Republicans back off on replacing liberal icon Ginsburg — who died last week — until after the 3 November election, after it’s determined whether Trump will get a second term.

Leaders of the Republican majority in the Senate, which is tasked with confirming Supreme Court nominees, said they have enough support to hold a vote on the nomination either before the election or at worst during the “lame duck” session between the election and the inauguration of the next president in January.

“We will certainly do that this year,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said.

Barrett, a practicing Catholic and law professor, was only appointed to the bench for the first time in 2017. Deeply conservative, she is considered hostile to abortion rights — a key issue for many Republicans.

In 2018, the mother of seven was on the shortlist presented by Trump for a seat vacated by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a position ultimately filled by Brett Kavanaugh after a ferocious confirmation battle.

Earlier Friday, Ginsburg became the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state at the US Capitol, where the justice’s relatives, US lawmakers, and dignitaries including Biden paid their respects.

Ginsburg’s last wish reportedly relayed to her granddaughter, was for her seat to be decided by whoever wins the next election.

Trump cast doubt upon the veracity of that in an interview Monday, suggesting it could have been a ploy made up Democratic leaders.

Republican leaders have said that if the fate of a disputed election rests with the Supreme Court, they will need a full bench of judges to prevent a deadlock.

The Democrats have vowed to do everything in their power to prevent the confirmation of a new justice before the election, but with a 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate, there is little they can do to stop it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week the Democrats “have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now,” prompting speculation that if the Democrats win big in Congress but lose the White House, they could try to impeach the president a second time or expand the number of judges on the Supreme Court to 15 from its current nine.

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Agusan Sur fire victim gets aid from Go’s team




Fire victim Bobby Balderas received a bicycle and food pack from Bong Go's team.

AGUSAN DEL SUR — Senator Christopher “Bong” Go’s team visited on 18 September Bobby Balderas (in photo), a single father whose house was completely razed in a fire here last 12 September.

Balderas and his child received emergency assistance from the team which included cash aid, food and medicine packs, masks, face shields and a bicycle last 18 September.

Also in attendance during the event were representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development who provided added financial assistance, food packs and family and hygiene kits. The National Housing Authority was likewise present to offer their services and help the Balderas family rebuild their home.

Other national agencies committed to provide emergency assistance and services, such as the Department of Health, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Trade and Industry, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

“Palagi po naming uunahin ang kapakanan ng mga mahihirap at pinaka-nangangailangan, lalo na po ‘yung mga kababayan nating biktima ng sakuna at walang-wala po talaga. Tulungan natin silang magkaroon ng kabuhayan upang makaahon sa kahirapan,” the senator said.

p: wjg

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Go supports DepEd 2021 budget proposal




Sen. Bong Go urged DepEd and other concerned authorities to exert more effort in improving further the digital educational system while face-to-face classes remain prohibited.

Senator and Senate Finance Committee vice chair Christopher “Bong” Go has expressed his support for the budget proposal of the Department of Education (DepEd) during the Senate Committee on Finance hearing held on Friday, 25 September.

In his manifestation, Go called on schools and other educational institutions to adhere to President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to postpone face-to-face classes until a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available in the country.

The senator stressed the importance of ensuring the health and safety of the students, teachers and wider community as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the nation.

“Ang pera naman po ay kikitain ‘yan, pero ang perang kikitain ay hindi mabibili ang buhay na mawawala. Huwag nating pilitin kung hindi pa kaya. Mas lalong dadami ang mga magpopositibo na kaso kung hindi natin paghahandaan ng mabuti ang pagbabalik ng mga guro at mag-aaral sa eskwelahan,” he said.

(Money can be earned but it cannot buy lives that will be lost. Let us not force it if we can’t. There will be more positive cases if we don’t prepare well for the return of teachers and students in schools.)

Go, however, agreed that the education of the students can no longer be put on a standstill. He urged DepEd and other concerned authorities to exert more effort in improving further the digital educational system while face-to-face classes remain prohibited.

The Senator commended their efforts but urged their endeavors remain flexible and adaptable to the different needs and situations of their students. He reminded DepEd to ensure that schools are ready for the opening of classes on 5 October through blended learning techniques.

Furthermore, he commended DepEd for recognizing the pandemic’s mental toll on people, and for taking the necessary steps to address the needs and concerns of the students, their parents and the teaching and non-teaching personnel.

According to Go, psychological concerns must be taken into consideration when drafting programs and policies for the upcoming school year.

On that note, he asked teachers to focus on their goal to educate students and refrain from putting unnecessary pressure. He expressed empathy for the challenges students are facing, adding that he too is not immune from experiencing unreliable internet connection.

“Let us not pressure our children learners, if possible. Huwag po muna natin silang ibagsak dahil talagang ‘yung iba po ay pressured, minsan pumupunta po sa bundok makakuha lang po ng signal, lalung-lalo na po kapag hindi sila nakakasagot dahil walang signal. Kawawa naman po sila, napi-pressure po ‘yung bata, malaking epekto po iyon sa kanila. Ang importante po, walang masayang na taon. Ang importante po matuto sila,” said Go.

(Let’s not fail them because they are pressured moreso when they can’t answer because there is no signal. Sometimes, they climb a mountain to get signal. They are pitiable and that has a big effect on them. The important thing is there is no wasted year and they learn.)

He also lamented about poor internet connectivity, urging private internet providers to improve their services.

“Ako nga rin po… hirap din po sa paghanap ng signal para sa internet. Minsan kinakailangan pang lumabas ng bahay para gumanda or umayos ang koneksyon, ito po sana ang iniiwasan natin para sa ating mga kabataan na lumabas pa at doon po posibleng makakakuha sila ng sakit kapag sila ay lumabas na,” he said.

“Sa lahat po ng internet providers, kung gusto niyo talagang tumulong, ngayon na po. Ayusin niyo po ang inyong mga internet connectivity,” he appealed.

The senator expressed his support to provide DepEd and its attached agencies with enough resources to effectively and efficiently perform their functions during such a very uncertain and trying time.

“Magbayanihan po tayong lahat upang makapagbigay ng agaran at kalidad na serbisyo sa ating mga mag-aaral,” he said.

Earlier this year, Go asked government to bridge the gaps in the delivery of education without imposing unnecessary mental, emotional and financial stress on Filipino families. He specifically encouraged the Department of Information and Communications Technology and other relevant agencies to work together to fulfill the vision of providing universal internet access that is both stable and affordable for all Filipinos.

“Siguraduhin natin na may pantay-pantay na oportunidad ang mga bata na makapag-aral kahit saan mang parte ng bansa sila naroon at anumang estado nila sa buhay. Bigyan din natin ng konsiderasyon ang marami nating kababayan na walang pambili ng kagamitan, walang access sa internet at walang pambayad sa matrikula at iba pang gastusin dahil nawalan ng trabaho ang pamilya dulot ng epekto ng pandemya,” said Go.

He also called on DepEd and the private sector to work in partnership in order to make sure that all schools and families are adequately trained and equipped to use the new digital learning platforms.

“Importante rin masigurong handa ang mga teachers natin. Kailangan handa sila na gumamit ng mga makabagong paraan para masigurong hindi makompromiso ang matututunan ng mga bata.”

p: wjg

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