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Traitor not a hero

If Ninoy did not blow the lid off the military operations, Sabah would have been returned to the Philippines.

TEB

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Sabah should have long returned to the Philippines if not for former Senator Ninoy Aquino’s strong political ambitions and his desire to have the upper hand in his rivalry against the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile vividly recalled Operation Merdeka, which was a military operation to retake Sabah sometime in 1963, that was scuttled by an exposé of Ninoy that greatly favored Malaysia.

Even before Spanish colonization, Sabah was under the Sultan of Brunei and even Sarawak, Enrile went.

The Brunei Sultanate a long time ago sought the help of the Sulu monarch in a conflict in Borneo. After being victorious, as a sign of gratitude, the Sultan of Brunei bequeathed Sabah to the Kirams who rule the kingdom of Sulu, Enrile recounted.

Then it was rented by the British government in an agreement with the Sulu Sultanate.

What happened in effect was that Britain colonized the territory since the lease was indefinite, according to Enrile.

During the term of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, there was a group in Cagayan de Sulu, now Tawi-Tawi, who penetrated Sandakan and tested the capability of Malaysia to defend Sabah.

“They occupied Sandakan for seven days unchallenged since Malaysia then did not have a strong military force,” according to Enrile, who became Marcos’ Defense secretary.

He recounted that after that military experiment, “President Marcos decided to push through with the Sabah claim.”

The retaking of Sabah was tacit policy then, not only of Marcos, who was elected in 1962, but also of his predecessor, President Diosdado Macapagal.

Macapagal assigned then Presidential Executive Assistant Eleuterio Adevoso to relocate about 10,000 Filipinos to reside in Sabah, which was apparently a prelude to recover the territory.

“They are still up to now Sabah residents,” according to Enrile.

“When the plan was drafted to take Sabah from Malaysia, there was a training held in Corregidor, where the so-called Jabidah massacre happened,” he indicated.

“And the one who concocted the narrative was Ninoy and Senator Justiniano Montano of Cavite,” Enrile indicated.

The incident, however, never happened. “A court martial found that it was a mutiny that happened from Tawi-Tawi recruits and not a massacre, so there was some 14 who died,” according to Enrile.

Enrile said Project Merdeka, which was planned to then take over Sabah involved some 180 trainees who were supposed to incite an uprising among the mostly Filipino residents in Sabah.
After Ninoy exposed it, Congress started an investigation that ended the mission.

“If Ninoy did not blow the lid off the military operations, Sabah would have been returned to the Philippines. Malaysia was then a newly-formed republic that did not have the military strength to match the Philippines,” according to Enrile.

From then on, the country’s claim became weaker. “There was no question that the Philippines would have retaken Sabah had Ninoy not intervened. Malaysia did not have a military in place but only police forces then,” Enrile lamented.

As a result, the country’s relations with Malaysia started to sour, while the rivalry between Marcos and Ninoy became fierce, he noted.

In the end, Malaysia benefited at the expense of a valid historical claim of the country, which makes the revelation of Ninoy in 1968 an act of treason.

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Wages of greed

Charges are being prepared against the PhilHealth crooks, but no concrete plan has been laid out regarding the resumption of the stalled law.

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Had greed in government not intervened, the Philippines would have started this year a social scheme that is now globally being pushed as a necessity amid the pandemic, which is the universal health coverage that has even been made into a law in the country.

Filipinos are banking on the Universal Health Care (UHC) law to liberate them from the high cost of hospital services that had resulted to the culture of alternative or self-medication that proves fatal to those with serious illnesses.

At the 53rd annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Board of Governors meeting, the UHC was the hottest topic as finance and health ministers rack their brains for tighter collaboration in mobilizing financing to help countries survive the contagion.

ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa stressed that UHC is indispensable as a foundation of strong health systems.

“We have to build health systems where people from all walks of life, including the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable, can access health services at an affordable cost while maintaining these health systems’ financial sustainability — even in aging societies that many countries in Asia and the Pacific are heading toward,” Asakawa said.

“In this regard, close collaboration between finance and health ministers is crucial for our member economies to provide cost-effective, inclusive and high-quality health interventions, underpinned by sustainable finance,” he added.

According to the ADB, each year, the cost of health care drives tens of millions of people in Asia and the Pacific into poverty.

It noted that during the pandemic, countries that have achieved UHC, or are close to it, have been able to mobilize critical disease prevention and control measures, such as risk communication, testing, contact tracing and isolation.

The UHC law was exactly the recommended formula but which failed to take off, since its funding fell victim to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) scandal in which huge amounts were diverted straight to the pockets of overstaying officials.

The law seeks to do more since it also provides for the distribution of outpatient or basic drugs to all Filipinos for free.

It also seeks to provide the entire population with preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care.

The landmark law would have offered immediate assistance to Filipinos afflicted with the coronavirus disease. Even with PhilHealth assistance, infected individuals needed to spend an average of P300,000 in case of a severe attack.

The law also provides for a special health fund that will be created and managed by province-wide or city-wide health systems. All resources intended for health services sought to be pooled to finance health services. Such will also be used to cover operating costs, capital investments and remuneration and incentives for all health workers.

Charges are being prepared against the PhilHealth crooks, but no concrete plan has been laid out regarding the resumption of the stalled law.

What happens to PhilHealth also determines the fate of the UHC, since under the law, the health insurance agency would be its implementor.

For the law to be effective, it also needs an estimated P257 billion yearly, which will be sourced from sin tax collections and partly from income generated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Legislators are expectedly reluctant to release huge amounts to the graft-ridden health agency.

A swift resolution of the mess in PhilHealth is needed to remove the hurdles to the implementation of the UHC law, which is delayed during a crisis when Filipinos needed it most.

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Tempest over towers

Little was said about the foreign incursion and the violation of our sovereign rights and territory. Little was said of illegal poaching and the competition for limited aquatic resources.

Dean Dela Paz

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When we first heard about it, the Chinese ruling party called them makeshift shelters that provide temporary protection from the elements for their fishermen too far offshore in the high seas. The grainy satellite photographs did indeed show what appeared to be hexagonal roofs over fragile structures built on stilts in what was then called the South China Sea. That Chinese structures regardless of purpose were located within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines was a matter of concern.

But not much. Fishermen do not constitute a major political block. Little was said about the foreign incursion and the violation of our sovereign rights and territory. Little was said of illegal poaching and the competition for limited aquatic resources inflicted on our vulnerable fishermen and their wooden outriggers up against iron-hulled fishing fleets. And even less was said of the environmental destruction of a fragile ecosystem of which we were stewards. If it’s below the surface, then it’s unseen.

On a grander scale, our typical inability to situate ourselves on the broader landscape of geopolitics, as well as our classic defeatism based on a myopic view of ourselves against others who might have far longer perspectives, curses us to believe lies fed us.

The strange shapes looked far from threatening and we accepted the explanation, confident our agreements with other superpowers would protect us should the shapes conceal silos directed at Philippine bases that host powers unallied with the Chinese Communist Party.

For Filipinos, as we continue to wallow in partisan politics, and where our politics is almost totally local, myopic and focused inwardly both in terms of space and time, we’ve effectively self-inflicted ourselves with extreme shortsightedness. We know only the here and now. Space does not go any farther and time does not extend beyond the present.

Yet we wallow in partisan mud and slime with as much glee as we do with sappy show business intrigue. Simply watch the six o’clock news on tabloid TV and see where our national interests lie.

The military, which has recently taken over our lives, sees us and the dissidents and critics among us as the enemy. Our resultant political perspective is not global. It is parochial and momentary.

Unfortunately, it is also stupid.

In contrast, the Chinese Communist Party that’s been ruling China since 1949, well over three quarters of a century, is our diametric opposite. What they brew, they brew for decades. And it is a complex recipe encompassing diverse strategic initiatives that range from economic, to political, to the sub-sectoral, from agricultural to military and industrial. All pragmatic and totalitarian.

The tempest over installing Chinese telecommunications towers in sovereign and secured military camps should be viewed in this manner. Couple the discourse with the reality that the technical aspect of our power transmission lines is already under their control. Add to the toxic chemistry how we’ve long surrendered our bases to adversaries first through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States and now, effectively, the telecommunications towers to the Chinese Communist Party.

Both allow not simply access but usage, now and generations from now. Unfortunately, our officials simply think in terms of national security, failing to discern these as an insidious shell game of global and generational geopolitics.

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‘Born to kill’

With the US Subic Naval base, Clark served as the second edge of America’s sword for its operations in Asia.

John Henry Dodson

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Inscribed on a battlefield helmet in what is now an iconic movie poster, the motto sums up Stanley Kubrick’s gritty Vietnam War movie “Full Metal Jacket” on the dehumanizing effects of war on soldiers.

Midway in the film, triggered by a particularly hellish boot camp and the daily mind-conditioning that it’s kill or be killed, Private “Gomer Pyle” did just that — shoot dead his stern and foul-mouthed drill instructor.

Played with uncanny realism by R. Lee Ermey, he being a real Marine early in life, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman showed through his death that his “beloved” United States Marines Corps does turn boys into men trained to kill.

Kubrick’s anti-war stance posits that boys forced into manhood emerge from brutal training as damaged goods, with their fingers quick to the trigger and with the gung-ho attitude that “it’s better you than me” inside a cadaver bag.

Movies reflect real life and “Full Metal Jacket” may just give us some insights on the sad episode that brought together, in a flash of deadly violence, US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton and the transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.

Pemberton is already back home in America after half a decade of serving time for the killing of Laude in 2014. He has thanked President Rodrigo Duterte, like the many jailed Filipinos who are now with us after being pardoned of crimes committed abroad.

I dare say it’s very hard to begrudge the President for his grant of absolute pardon to Pemberton and not just on the legalistic notion that he has absolute authority to grant the same, whatever his motivations may be.

As a people with a government that has time and again sought mercy for our countrymen who had run afoul with the laws of other countries, we have to concede that mercy begets mercy.

What’s important is that Pemberton has admitted to committing his grievous mistakes as a 19-year-old grunt, has paid for it with years that he no longer can bring back, and that he has promised to become a better man. Earn your freedom, Joseph. Stay true to your pledge.

As for Jeffrey Laude, may his death  at the still young age of 26 bring forth front and center the social inequity that has made prostitution — served by men and women seen as nothing more than a sub-species, as playthings, as appendages and triangular mounds of flesh, and in many instances as punching bags — a trade predating biblical references.

No one can call the over P4 million in damages that had been mercifully granted by our court to the Laude family as a small consolation or as big enough a payment akin to “blood money.” Life, after all, cannot be measured in pesos and dollars, and by the thousands or even by the millions.

Still, whatever Jeffrey Laude could not afford to provide his family while he was alive, he did so with his passing. He will always be a symbol of the fight for justice and equality transcending gender and racial biases, as well as breaking down socio-economic barriers.

###

I, too, was 19 in 1989 when, with two fellow University of Santo Tomas journalism seniors, we motored around for three nights in the red light district of Angeles City for a group thesis on the prostitution that catered to American GIs stationed at the US-operated Clark Air Force Base.

With the US Subic Naval base, Clark served as the second edge of America’s sword for its operations in Asia. It was a time when communism was threatening the region and the US was still smarting from its debacles in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

As pointed out by University of the Philippines Professor Roland Simbulan in his book The Bases of Our Insecurity, Clark and Subic also helped the American government co-opt Philippine governments with its influence peddling and outright interference on our political affairs.

Just to cite one example I can think of, the Cory Aquino government would have been toppled in the late 1980s if not for the two US F4 Phantom jets that conducted “persuasion flights” against mutinous Filipino airmen aboard their World War 2-vintage Tora-Tora planes.

Without Uncle Sam, the Cory government would have come crashing down like a house made of matchsticks with the many coups d’état it faced.
The Clark and Subic bases are long gone now and whatever American forces still come to our shores, they do so as part of joint military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

How many more Pembertons and Daniel Smiths will we have?

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“If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth.

“You are not even human fu*cking beings. You are nothing but unorganized grab-ass-tic pieces of amphibian sh*t! Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn.”

— Sgt. Hartman

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Risking the meter

With non-workers forced to stay home, there is actually less demand for public transport. A fact which makes it easier for PUV… to accommodate the physical distancing needs of workers.

Nick V. Quijano Jr.

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Any talk of risk heats up passions.

So, it is not altogether surprising to find senior government officials are at loggerheads on whether or not it is safe for the public to be less than a meter apart from each other inside mass transport.

Anyway, as I write this, senior officials are scheduled for a serious powwow on the policy of relaxed physical distancing implemented last Monday.

And, judging from their public pronouncements, they are probably in for a shouting match. Mr. Duterte, of course, will have to eventually decide and settle the all-too public squabble.

On the issue, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) insist that people being less than a meter apart inside public vehicles isn’t at all that risky to health.

Siding with the DoTr, National Action Plan (NAP) head Carlito Galvez argues it’s all a matter of managing risks.

Managing risks in this case means passengers won’t be allowed to talk with each other or on their cell phones while onboard trains, jeepneys, buses or whatever other modes of public transport.

The Health department, surprisingly, and the Local Government department are aghast. Beleaguered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III openly warned Mr. Duterte Tuesday that relaxing physical distancing in public transport will lead to 686 fresh deaths each day, 20,580 extra cases per month.

Local Governments Secretary Eduardo Año adamantly characterizes the policy as dangerous.

Setting aside dueling government personalities, avoiding virus contagion inside public transportation, of course, cannot be discounted nor set aside by us.

We need do nothing else except weigh the medical risks or heed advice from medical experts if ever we do take public transport.

In fact, as one public health advocate laments, practicing health and safety protocols under the new policy is basically another burden for the hapless commuter fighting for limited public transport. A burden, not a boon.

A fact recognized by the DoH itself when it pathetically pleads with commuters “to be extra vigilant” and to choose other transport options “that can afford at least one-meter distancing.”

But whatever decision government comes up with, we will know soon enough if our medical safety matters more than the other risk the DoTr claims is as just as compelling — our tanking economy.

There is need to pay full attention to this other risk with which DoTr and our economic managers are framing the whole controversy. We need to scrutinize whether it passes muster or if it is misguided.

The DoTr says relaxing the distancing requirement in public transport is meant to “optimize” the carrying capacity of the various modes of public transport as more people return to work to revive the economy.

To convince us, DoTr says it made a survey of other countries’ health protocols on public transport and found out that many have relaxed their distancing measures, but kept other stringent measures like the wearing of masks.

At first, the claims seem plausible. But there is one crucial fact that’s being skirted — our present mass transport system in this pandemic is as limited as it ever has been.

I find it absurd why transportation officials are not as assiduous in addressing the obvious lack of public transport in the pandemic as they are tinkering with medical protocols. Are they that powerless?

As far as I can tell, the DoTr isn’t upfront on the exact number of jeepneys (both traditional and e-jeeps), buses, UV express vans and tricycles or whatever else presently plying metro streets.

This is a crucial point as the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, ever since it disallowed all modes of public transport to operate in the metropolis during previous lockdowns, has not fully allowed the return of all public utility vehicles (PUV).

What this means is that whatever the number of public transport now operating in the metropolis doesn’t come near as what the metropolis had before the pandemic. Believing otherwise is delusional in the face of demand from jeepney and UV van drivers for more routes from the LFTRB.

So, the pertinent question still is: What really is the state of our present public transport system?

Unless officials have other agenda, seriously answering the question is a reality check on the physical distancing issue.

More so in face of the obvious fact that with non-workers forced to stay home, there is actually less demand for public transport. A fact which makes it easier for PUV, if these are really all out, to accommodate the physical distancing needs of workers.

In short, addressing both safety and economic concerns is not about adding more passengers into PUV, but is about more PUV on the streets.

Email: [email protected]

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Empowering Filipinos to fight the pandemic

The nationwide education campaign empowers every Filipino to be an instrument of change in the fight against COVID-19.

Joe Zaldarriaga

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Since the outbreak of the dreaded coronavirus in the country at the onset of 2020, the national government implemented various means to contain the virus through strict community quarantine measures. We are now on the sixth month of nationwide lockdown but the continuous increase of confirmed cases in the past weeks reinforces the importance of practicing healthy habits and preventive measures to curb the spread of the disease.

To help overcome this big challenge, the Department of Health (DoH) has come up with a campaign in collaboration with various government agencies and the private sector called BIDA Solusyon sa COVID-19. The nationwide education campaign empowers every Filipino to be an instrument of change in the fight against COVID-19, by encouraging them to change and practice preventive behaviors in stopping the spread of the virus.

One of the private corporations that readily extended its arm to support BIDA Solusyon is the Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) Group of Companies.

To show its commitment in participating in the campaign, more than 14 companies and foundations under the MVP Group, from all different industries, including utilities, investments, financial services, infrastructure, media and health care, pledged to closely work with the government to fight the pandemic.

Recently, Meralco and PLDT-Smart donated hospital equipment to the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC), the new COVID referral center, which will contribute in the campaign against the pandemic. As a result, the bed capacity of the center reached 250 allowing EAMC to accept more patients affected and infected with the virus. The new building of EAMC is now called the Center for Emerging and Reemerging Infectious Diseases.

IATF-EID chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. thanked the MVP Group: “This is a great service to our people, a quick call to action of the clarion call of the President to prepare and equip COVID-19 hospitals.”

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte also expressed her gratitude, “We are grateful to the MVP Group’s generous donation of high-quality medical equipment to EAMC. These will greatly benefit the people of Quezon City, most particularly the underprivileged and vulnerable. These equipment will make EAMC more responsive to the needs of our people, a great contribution to our main goal of a higher level of service for the community.”

The Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings Inc. (MPHHI) likewise created a COVID crisis management team to ensure the health and safety of health care workers, so they could give continuous service to Filipinos, especially those directly affected by the pandemic.

The programs of these hospitals also continue to run full-force in the Group, including adding more hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, as well as supplying PPE and posting additional staff.
Among the hospitals under MPHHI are Makati Medical Center, Asian Hospital, Davao Doctors Hospital, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and Medical Center at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

To help disseminate information about the BIDA Solusyon campaign, PLDT-Smart’s physical stores and business centers nationwide, and offices of Meralco, Bayad Center and Maynilad, displayed and distributed educational materials of the campaign.

Likewise, the Light Rail Manila Corp., operator of the LRT-1, is also promoting the campaign by distributing materials to more than 100,000 daily passengers.

To prevent the spread of the virus in our main expressways, the MVP Group is also rolling out contactless RFID payment in toll booths and in toll roads, including NLEX, CAVITEX and CALAX.

The PayMaya group is also promoting cashless transactions on its platform to ensure safety when customers pay or transfer their funds, protecting the health, safety and welfare of commuters, government and big and small businesses alike.

Maynilad has committed to provide continuous water supply for COVID-19 hospitals and centers, and also assured the immediate connection of water facilities to new mega quarantine facilities.

Maynilad will also put up contactless hand wash stations with liquid soap for more effective handwashing.

DoH Secretary Francisco Duque III also thanked the MVP Group for its contribution to the BIDA Solusyon campaign: “We want to thank the MVP Group for the substantial support they have been providing DoH in ramping up health system capacities; this is really crucial in the overall objective of the health sector in leading the effort to increase and enhance health system capacity.”

Secretary Duque called for continued synergy, unity and alignment among government agencies and the private sector, as well as a joint effort with the Filipino people to be COVID-19 warriors.

He emphasized that this is a fight of every Filipino, and that discipline is the most important value needed today, which must be ingrained to everyone.

The DoH head also highlighted how the BIDA Solusyon campaign is a very important and crucial behavior change campaign. The victory of the Philippines in this war against the pandemic rests on its success.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, MVP group’s chairman commented, “The gratitude is ours for giving us a chance to help the government and the people. We are privileged to be part of this initiative and be in the frontline in the battle against COVID-19.”

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Epic evil should stop

The PhilHealth scandal is much bigger than any ordinary government misdeal since placed at risk are the future of Filipino children and of course, the nation itself.

TEB

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Despicable is the fact that the backlash from the stealing of public funds intended for the health services will penalize even Filipino children and deprive them of a good future.

A World Bank study on human capital made it clear that the Philippines lacks investments in health and education which is made worse since the capital put in is made even smaller through corruption.

The Philippines has a human capital index of 0.52 based on the study. It means that children will not realize nearly half of their potential to prepare them for adulthood which also translates to the economy missing 50 percent of contribution from the labor force.

“While successive governments in the Philippines have enacted human capital development laws, they have generally failed to provide adequate financing to ensure effective implementation,” according to the World Bank paper.

The Philippines, the study says, allocates to health and education programs 4.4 and 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) respectively, which are way below the 6.5 and 4.5 percent global average.

Those are investments in the future that are imperative since the Philippines is among countries in the so-called demographic sweetspot where majority of its population are young and are expected to provide the impetus for strong growth.

Consider also that based on the estimate of some past officials, the state health insurer Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) loses an estimated P50 billion to corruption each year.
The amount which should have provided children education and assured their health only went into the pockets of an opportunistic few.

Greed thus overcame the prospects of a good future for the nation.

The dearth of funds resulted in understaffed and overcrowded clinics and schools, underpaid providers, inadequate infrastructure and a lack of administrative and technical capacity, according to the multilateral lender.

The WB also noted hampered efforts to improve governance.

“Widespread fraud in the distribution of textbooks, theft of funds or supplies, and ghost workers in municipal health facilities are all reflected in the country’s outcomes,” it added.

The effects are magnified by the pandemic as marginal families and other vulnerable sectors become largely dependent on government assistance since many Filipinos lost their jobs or businesses.

Also placed at risk are decades of progress in building human capital, including improvements in health, survival rates, school enrollment and reduced stunting, the WB research stated.

Low outturn from productivity also puts at risk efforts to lay the foundation for sustainable, inclusive recoveries and future growth.

The PhilHealth scandal is much bigger than any ordinary government misdeal since placed at risk are the future of Filipino children and of course, the nation itself.

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Green means opportunity

Concept News Central

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One of the good things that sprouted out of the unprecedented mess that is the COVID-19 pandemic is the new entrepreneurship among Filipinos.

From hobbies or skills learned out of sheer boredom during the quarantine weeks arose business ideas that are now taking root and blossoming.

Lately, green thumbs have gained quite some mileage, not just for the lucrative livelihood they found but also for the accompanying “pests” that came with the season.

Before the pandemic, trees were being cut or relocated to give way to urbanization. In fact, agricultural lands were being rumored to be snapped up by capitalists in the name of housing and development. Some billionaires in our midst are said to have been profiting hugely from lands bought at a pittance while farmers get displaced or are told to plant kamote (sweet potato).

The advent of the coronavirus changed some things, however; from the urban populace ignoring nature around them (or what had been left of it) came a sudden surge of interest in gardening, whether for food or for mental wellness.

Ornamental agriculture became a “thing,” with an increasing horde getting into the business of growing plants for decorative purposes and landscape design, to herbal gardens and vegetable farming. New modes of city farming gained more interest, such as hydroponics or aquaponics.

And just like before — after online sales boomed, and also when a significant increase in bicycle and motorcycle usage (to cope with lack of public transportation during quarantine) was noted, government came in with calls for regulation.

Taxing online businesses received a backlash, with government accused of killing micro-entrepreneurs before they can even grow. The issue on bicycle registration also got some of the same reaction, as people are ever more sensitive to shelling out money not just because we are in the midst of hard times, but also because many no longer trust the way government has handled public funds.

In recent news, an agriculturist from the Bureau of Plant Industry, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, thinks an accreditation process should be in place for all seller “plantitos” and “plantitas” out there.

The terms plantitos and plantitas were coined out of the words “plant” and “uncles or aunties” and gained some “cool” factor from the range of personalities that went into the hobby.

Perhaps because the pandemic had been able to spread more seeds of doubt against the capability, efficiency and motivations of our public servants, the mere suggestion of regulation — no matter how well-intentioned – caused some of the optimism gained from ornamental gardening to drop.

It’s all very well “to make ornamental agriculture an official, regulated industry within the farm sector,” as that report went, but let’s ensure this tiny seedling of an industry is nurtured and protected enough to flourish even more.

As it is, there are related issues that have to be dealt with pronto, including the illegal poaching of plants up north, a well-known source of plants that are commercially sold, as well as the protection of the environment.

Some “plant thieves” had reportedly “nearly wiped out the Montsera or Swiss Cheese plants long inhabiting the Mines View Park and Burnbham Park,” a CNN article says. It has been enough to cause new terms to grow “a plantdemic” and “plantvestigators” to put a stop to this needless profiteering.

A deluge of plant grabbers and land grabbers may land us all in deep waters. Oh, wait, even those are in contention these days.

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Cleaning up PhilHealth

A properly working PhilHealth with trustworthy officials is important in implementing the Universal Health Care law that provides for Universal Health Coverage for all Filipinos.

Harry Roque

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s announcement of the report and recommendations of the PhilHealth Task Force last Monday, 14 September, was a turning point in the issue of alleged corruption and wrongdoings in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.

More so, the President’s nod to go-ahead with the filing of administrative and criminal charges against PhilHealth executives who failed to exercise due diligence in the performance of their duties, proves that this Administration is serious in cleaning up the ranks in the PhilHealth and in other government agencies, by getting rid of corrupt officials and employees.

According to the report of the Task Force, those who were responsible to set the policies and operational guidelines for the management of PhilHealth — the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee — failed to exercise due diligence, particularly in the disbursement of the National Health Insurance Fund.

The report found that there was lack of due diligence and due care in the approval and implementation of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) without sufficient standards. IRM fund releases were found to have been rushed even when the circular implementing the scheme was not yet effective. Because the IRM was implemented without sufficient standards and guidelines, it easily became subject to abuse and corruption.

It was also found that in converting the IRM into special privilege, the need for prior Board approval was removed in the Circular. Also removed were other requirements previously imposed upon healthcare institutions or HCI such as survey and post-survey requirements. The evaluation of IRM fund beneficiaries were likewise centralized at the Office of the President and Chief Executive Officer.

Lack of due care on the part of the Board and the Executive Committee was also found in IRM fund releases that were made even in the absence of mechanisms to monitor fund utilization and liquidation, and without withholding taxes that were due thereon.

Another major finding of the Task Force is that lack of due diligence and due care was shown in the approval of PhilHealth’s ICT budget “upon a mere representation of the SVP in charge” who said that PhilHealth’s whole management information system would collapse unless the said budget was approved.

The Task Force found that members of the Executive Committee concealed important information or documents to obtain the approval of the Board on ICT procurement. Other irregularities were found in the ICT procurement, including major discrepancies and inconsistencies in an internal audit report, and questionable procurement decisions by the Board.

Lastly, PhilHealth Management was found to have adopted questionable policies and weak enforcement practices that, according to the Task Force report, “failed to check, investigate, prosecute, and penalize wrongdoings.” These were evidenced in cases that involved fictitious crediting of remittances and in the weak enforcement of penalties in cases involving HCI.

All these pieces of evidence of negligence by some officers of the PhilHealth will make them liable for administrative and criminal charges under the following laws: RA 3019 for Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Revised Penal Code for Malversation of Public Funds or Property and Illegal Use of Public Funds or Property, and Gross Misconduct and Gross Neglect of Duty under Civil Service Laws.

And while more investigations are still to be made, this development — the findings of Task Force PhilHealth — brings us one step closer to cleaning up the ranks in PhilHealth and ensuring that justice will be served to those who deserved to be punished.

As a lawyer who has filed cases against PhilHealth officials and employees in the past, and as the primary author of the Universal Health Care bill in the House, I am very much pleased to see that the PhilHealth will soon be rid of unscrupulous individuals.

A properly working PhilHealth with trustworthy officials is important in implementing the Universal Health Care law that provides for Universal Health Coverage for all Filipinos.

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Road to recovery: Bayanihan 2 law

In our country now, more than just economic revival, a holistic re-establishment of dignity, hope and livelihood is essential. One can only hope this law is the beginning.

Dean Nilo Divina

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The President recently signed into law Republic Act 11494, the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, or more popularly touted as Bayanihan 2 law, providing for a P165.5 billion fund for priority government programs in hopes of spurring recovery from the pandemic. The fund is supposed to cover spendings for health care resources, cash assistance, agriculture support, and coronavirus vaccines procurement; adequate number of testing centers that provide available, affordable and accessible testing to the public; and the hiring of skilled medical and support workers to address the COVID-19 pandemic, among others.

The law builds up on certain subsidies provided under Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. Emergency subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 is mandated to be given to affected low income households in areas under granular lockdown and to households with recently returned overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

The same amount is mandated as unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced workers or employees due to COVID-19. These include probationary, project, seasonal, contractual and casual employees in various affected institutions such as private health, culture and arts, creative industries, broadcast, construction, public transportation, trade and industries, cooperatives and other sectors, such as freelancers, self-employed, and repatriated OFW or whose deployment were suspended due to government-imposed deployment ban, as may be identified by the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).

Bayanihan 2 law also beefed up support for frontline workers. Apart from assuming all medical expenses of public and private workers in case of exposure to COVID-19 or any work-related injury or disease during the state of national emergency as declared by the President, the government shall compensate them or their heirs as the case may be. In case of death of the health worker from exposure to COVID-19, the heirs shall be provided P1 million, while P100,000 shall be given in case of sickness for severe or critical case, and P15,000 for mild or moderate case.

The compensation retroacts from 1 February 2020 and any compensation shall be exempt from applicable taxes under the Tax Code. The duty to compensate the health worker or his or her heirs shall survive the expiration of Bayanihan 2 law, on 19 December 2020.

For the financial sector, banks, quasi-banks, financing companies, lending companies, real estate developers, insurance companies providing life insurance policies, pre-need companies, those providing in-house financing for goods and properties, asset and liabilities management companies and other financial institutions including the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the Social Security System (SSS) and Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund) are required to implement a one-time 60-day grace period for the payment of all existing, current and outstanding loans falling due, or any part thereof, on or before 31 December 2020.

This covers but is not limited to salary, personal, housing, commercial and motor vehicle loans, amortizations, financial lease payments and premium payments, as well as credit card payments, without incurring interest on interests, penalties and other charges until 31 December 2020. Parties may agree to an even longer period.

As with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the law does not require creditors to not charge interest during the period of deferment; only interest on interest. Hence, it is best to clarify such issues with the creditor to avoid the same questions raised under the first Bayanihan law. Further, the foregoing grace period does not apply to interbank loan and bank borrowings.

It may interest the public to know that for utility bills such as for electricity, water, telecommunications and other utilities falling due within the period of ECQ or modified ECQ, a minimum of 30 days grace period shall be given without incurring any interest, penalties and other charges. Unlike in loans, it is explicit that interest cannot be charged for this period.

After the grace period, unpaid residential, MSME and cooperatives utility bills may be settled on a staggered basis for at least three monthly installments. Note that for electric bills, the minimum 30-day grace period and staggered payment shall apply to all payments within the period of the Community Quarantine.

Lastly, a minimum of 30-day grace period reckoned from the date of the lifting of ECQ or MECQ shall be granted on both residential and commercial rents of lessees not permitted to work and MSME and cooperatives ordered to temporarily cease operations, falling due within the period of the Community Quarantine, without interest, penalty, fees and other charges. All amounts due during Community Quarantine shall be amortized in equal monthly installments until 31 December 2020 without any interest, penalties and other charges. There shall be no increase in rent during this period.

It has been said that the most essential factor to economic recovery is the restoration of confidence. In our country now, more than just economic revival, a holistic re-establishment of dignity, hope and livelihood is essential. One can only hope this law is the beginning.

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