Thursday, November 21, 2013

‘PDAF scrapping could displace 150,000 scholars’

MANILA-Malacanang should immediately adopt the  “tens of thousands” of college scholars  orphaned by  the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Priority Development Assistance Fund as unconstitutional ,  Sen. Ralph Recto said today.

Recto said a mechanism should be put in  place to ensure that there will be no disruption in the schooling of students whose tuition  and other school fees  are bankrolled  by  the funding scheme  ordered void  by  a 14-0  High Court vote.

The Palace, Recto said, can begin with a “comfort statement” that  “no student will be left behind” as PDAF exits from the budget menu.

“This can be done through a presidential directive to state universities and colleges (SUCs) to continue accepting PDAF-supported students. That should be the first step,” he said.

Next, according to Recto, is to create a funding mechanism for college scholarships which will be compliant with the Supreme Court decision.

“For the 2014 requirements, what Congress can do is augment the individual budget of the 114 SUCs, to include an expanded scholarship program that will not only address the tuition of PDAF-supported students but new entrants as well,” he said.

This, he said, is already addressed by Sen. Francis Escudero’s “commendable” proposed amendment in the 2014 budget, which seeks to funnel P2.5 billion for scholarship slots in all SUCs.

The 114 SUCs have a proposed combined budget of P36.8 billion for 2014, up from this year’s 34.9 billion.

In administering the scholarship fund, Recto said the SUCs must be completely autonomous in selecting scholars, using admission standards  they will themselves prescribe.

“This is not about retaining pork. This is about retaining students in school, “ Recto said.

Without a safety net for PDAF-funded college students, at least  “150,000 college students” are in danger of losing their scholarship, Recto warned.

This number, he said, is bigger than the 118,819 people displaced by the Moro rebel siege of   Zamboanga City last August.

The number could even be higher, Recto said,  “as there are estimates placing the number of PDAF-funded scholarship slots at 400,000.”

If true, this forms a sizeable chunk of the estimated 1.2 million students enrolled in 114 SUCs, Recto noted.

This, however, does not include enrollees in 56 technical-vocational schools run by TESDA, most of which offer tertiary courses, he added.

“If we don’t fill the void, we are creating a new class of displaced people,”Recto said. 

Legarda, UN Ask: How Safe Is your School?

MANILA-Senator Loren Legarda and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) led by Ms. Margareta Wahlstrom, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for DRR, today encouraged schoolchildren, teachers and communities to assess the safety of their schools with the launch of the international program, “How Safe Is Your School?”

“Through this program, we invite citizens to participate in the process of making schools disaster-resilient with the initial step of assessing the safety of schools in their communities not only in terms of ensuring the structural integrity of the buildings but also in making sure that students and school staff are prepared in the event a natural hazard occurs,” said Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change and UN Champion for DRR and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia-Pacific.

“Among the most vulnerable to disasters are children. It is estimated that 66.5 million children are affected annually by disasters. It is therefore important to make our communities, including our schools, disaster-resilient to keep our children out of harm’s way,” she stressed.

She added that regular earthquake and emergency drills must be conducted in schools and their administrators and personnel should know the proper response and actions to take when natural hazards occur.

Legarda noted that the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol damaged at least 85 schools in Regions VI and VII; while Typhoon Yolanda caused damage to school infrastructure worth P174 Million.

The Senator also recalled that in 2006, the landslide in Barangay Guinsaugon, St. Bernard, Southern Leyte killed more than 1,000 people, including 246 elementary schoolchildren.

She added that in the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, 10,000 schools collapsed killing 17,000 children; while in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China, 7,000 schools collapsed killing an estimated 10,000 children.

“If our schools are not structurally sound, a single strong temblor could kill hundreds of children studying inside their classrooms, unaware of the disaster that would fall upon them. This makes this initiative all the more important,” she said.

“Building the resilience to disasters of the education sector is a worthy investment. It brings the double benefit of saving lives and achieving our development goals. I therefore enjoin everyone to assess the safety of our schools and let us work together towards the resilience of our children’s second homes,” Legarda concluded.

Drilon asks Napocor to speed-up oil spill cleanup

MANILA-Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said today that cleanup and containment efforts of the oil spill in Estancia, Iloilo are expected to go full-scale within 48 hours, the deadline imposed by the Power Sector Assets and Liability Management (PSALM) to a private company contracted to remove the remaining fuel oil in the tanks to prevent further spillage.

“I was informed by the National Power Corp. that they had already contracted yesterday Kuan Yu Global Technologies Inc. through the Power Sector Assets and Liability Management (PSALM), for the full-scale cleanup operations in Estancia,” said Drilon.

“The condition set by PSALM is for the winning bidder to mobilize within 48 hours after the award of contract. Given that, we expect that the clean-up operations will be intensified in the coming days,” he added.

With the manpower and equipment for the full scale clean-up operations expected to arrive by Friday tomorrow, Drilon took the time to thank the efforts of the Napocor, the Philippine Coast Guard oil spill response personnel, and local residents, who have been already busy trying to contain the oil spill’s damage.   

“The P87-million contract will enable them to siphon and transfer the remaining fuel oil from the ship, as well as towing and refloating of the stranded barge, oil spill containment and clean up of the waste oil and debris, and full clean up of the affected shoreline areas, “ Drilon added.

Drilon previously asked the Napocor to assume full responsibility for the event, and to fast-track the oil spill cleanup, right after his personal visit to Iloilo last week.

Power Barge 103 (PB103), owned by PSALM and operated by National Power Corp. (Napocor), was swept aground near the coastal town by strong winds and rising storm surge of super typhoon “Yolanda” on November 8.

That barge was already sold to a company, but not yet awarded. “They are passing the buck on who should pay for the expenses to make sure that the oil spill is solved. So, I told Napocor just to do it because we cannot let these legal squabbles stop solving this problem,” said Drilon.

“They can deal with the other issues surrounding the oil spill later. Right now they need to act with the most urgency, since the oil spill poses a serious health and environmental hazard to the areas affected,” pointed out Drilon.

Drilon said that the continued presence of the oil spill in Estancia threatens the town’s well being and livelihood.

“Thirty families had to be mandatorily evacuated since they were closest to the spill site – including children, the elderly, nursing mothers and those with ailments- while the remaining residents have to wear masks. These people are suffering,” he said.
Lastly, the Senate President said that even with the concerted efforts for the oil spill cleanup already taking shape, he will continue to closely monitor the situation.

As Yolanda batters a third of country’s rice production Recto pushes for special insurance for rice, corn farmers

MANILA-As agricultural damages continue to mount due to the recent onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto pushed for the immediate passage of a bill establishing a special insurance program for rice and corn farmers heavily hit by calamities.

“This piece of legislation aims to aid our rice and corn farmers in times of severe calamity. Right now, typhoon Yolanda alone had been estimated to have wiped out a third of the country’s rice-growing areas. We need to act fast if we are to arrest this very sudden decline in rice production,” Recto explained.

No less than the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for urgent assistance to Filipino farmers because of the damage dealt not only by Yolanda, but that of typhoon Santi that ravaged farmlands in northern Luzon in October.

“If we want to avoid entire regions of the country having to rely on food aid, we need to act now to help vulnerable families to plant or replant by late December,” the FAO said in its most recent statement, saying it estimates Yolanda to have caused crop losses worth $110 million and inflicted damage to the agriculture sector of more than twice that figure.

This is why Recto is calling for the immediate passage of Senate Bill 714 entitled, “Special Rice and Corn Insurance Program of 2013,” which establishes a special insurance program that will enable rice and corn farmers cultivating land with a maximum area of five (5) hectares to replant as soon as weather and soil condition permits.

“The devastation caused by Yolanda should be addressed on all fronts. While we plan for the rehabilitation and recovery of all those affected by the typhoon, we should also ensure the least disruption in crop production, ensuring food security and farm incomes,” he said.

“The FAO is right when it expressed urgency in aiding our farmers. Instead of having them rely on food aid from relief operations for a longer period of time, they should instead be assisted in tending to the damages caused to their farmlands.”

Under the bill, the premium for the insurance shall be fully-paid for by the State through the Special Rice and Corn Insurance Program to be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Reform through the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation.

Recto also urged Malacanang to certify the bill as urgent, saying that the peculiar climate of the Philippines increases the vulnerabilities in agriculture that consequently expand the mandates of government agencies.

“We may be facing more Yolandas in the future. The need to institutionalize a system to aid our farmers get back on their feet in the soonest possible time becomes even more apparent,” he explained.

“If agricultural production continues to bear most of the damage every time a typhoon passes our country, then we may be facing a food crisis sooner than we expect if we don’t extend assistance to our farmers.”

Recto added that aside from rice and corn, he is also open to the inclusion of other crops in his proposed insurance system.

Aside from extreme weather conditions, diseases and pest infestations similarly lead to crop losses.

“In order to recover from these damages and to plant anew, farmers need assistance through access to agriculture extension services and immediate capital infusion to acquire needed inputs,” Recto stated.

The measure also attempts to address the seeming helplessness rice and corn farmers feel when calamities such as the recent typhoon damage hundreds of millions of pesos of croplands. 

Salazar denies concealing Ombudsman’s dismissal order vs UPRIIS employee, vows to answer graft raps

Photo shows DA Undersecretary Antonio Fleta (3rd from right), Former NIA Administrator Antonio Nangel (2nd from left) handing over a P1-million check as prize to GBM IA chairman Arturo Villa (3rd from left), vice-chairman Felix Venancio Melegrito (2nd from right), UPRIIS Manager Josephine Salazar (left) and Cabanatuan City Mayor Julius Ceasar Vergara. (DA File Photo).
CABANATUAN CITY, Nueva Ecija-The operations manager of the National Irrigation Administration’s  Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation Systems yesterday denied allegations that she did not serve the dismissal order of the Office of the Ombudsman against an agency employee which was implemented four years ago as she vowed to answer the graft charges filed against her by two anti-graft foundations.

          Salazar said the graft charges are unfounded and without any legal basis, adding  this would nevertheless afford her the opportunity to air her side on the controversy.

”I am innocent of the charges levelled against me and I am confident that once the issues have been properly ventilated, that the Office of the Ombudsman will dismiss them for lack of merit,” she said in a press statement.

          She issued the statement even as the Bantay-Bayan Foundation and the NGO Empowerment Foundation filed a graft case before the Ombudsman for allegedly failing to serve the anti-graft order dismissing Melanio Santos, senior water resources technician of Division 3 office of UPRIIS.

          Last May 6, director Ma. Luisa Salonga-Agamata of the Civil Service Commission’s public assistance information office wrote then-NIA administrator Antonio Nangel regarding an anonymous text complaint launched through its Contact Center ng Bayan against Salazar involving the case of Santos.

          Another anonymous text complaint claimed that another UPRIIS employee, German Maniego was dismissed by the Ombudsman whose order was implemented by Salazar, resulting in Maniego’s ouster.

          Published reports also linked Salazar to the supposed non-serving of the Ombudsman order against Santos.

Salazar lamented that the news reports accusing her of inaction in the case of Santos constitute trial by publicity, are intended to besmirch her name and worse of all, make a mockery of responsible journalism because her side was never sought by the reporter who filed the report.

“This is the height of irresponsible journalism if I ever saw one by some people who did not even give me the benefit of an answer by getting my side. The publication where the news reports came out has exhibited malice towards me and my person and threw balanced reporting out of the window,” she said.

          In her reply to Salonga-Agamata’s letter, Salazar stated that she assumed her post as operations manager of UPRIIS on October 27,2011. “”From the date of my assumption up to this writing, I have not received any communication or instruction from the Office of the Ombudsman regarding the dismissal order of Mr.  Santos,”she said.         

          In the case of Maniego, Salazar said the latter is an employee of the UPRIIS’Division 2 based in Talavera, Nueva Ecija who has never worked under her supervision.

          Ï am not yet designated as UPRIIS operations manager when the dismissal order was served to Mr. Maniego, hence there is no way that I had a hand in serving the order against him,” she said. (Manny Galvez)  


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