Monday, June 30, 2014

Recto: Additional PERA now, SSL IV later

MANILA-Senator Ralph Recto today proposed a “two-step” process in raising public sector pay which would allow state workers to cope with the rise in the cost of living without jeopardizing the government’s ability to fund critical social programs.

Under Recto’s proposal, government would first increase the Personnel Economic Relief Allowance (PERA) of its workers by P2,000 to P4,000 a month.

“This is just an interim measure to allow government workers to cope with the rise in prices of food, basic goods and utilities,” Recto said.

The next step, according to Recto, is the passage of “the fourth edition” of the Salary Standardization Law (SSL). 

“PERA is tactical. SSL IV is strategic,” explained Recto.

Recto said the enactment of an SSL IV should be done after a thorough review and broad consultation to include government workers themselves. 

“One critical aspect is the funding—clear sources of funds must be identified. It is easy to pick a figure out of thin air. The challenge is to back rhetoric with cash,” he said.

Recto has filed a bill seeking to increase the PERA, and a resolution asking the Senate committees on finance and on civil service to review the current government pay scale “with the end in view of crafting a new Salary Standardization Law.”

At present, the government’s “Compensation and Position Classification System“ has 33 salary grades. Except for the top level, each salary grade has eight steps.

 “So there are a total of 257 pay categories which must be studied and adjusted. There must be distinctions and differentiation between and within the salary grades,” Recto said.

“What makes the job harder is that all of these 257 pay categories must be accommodated within a ceiling, which at present is P120,000 a month, the salary the President gets,” Recto said.

At the other end of the spectrum is the P9,000 monthly salary of a Salary Grade 1, Step 1 holder, the entry-level post in government. This, however, is augmented by allowances such as the PERA.

Recto explained that increasing the PERA by P2,000 a month would in effect raise the minimum wage in the government to P11,000 a month.

“Other benefits of increasing the PERA during the transition period towards an SSL IV is that the PERA is not taxable and is not subject to payroll taxes such as PhilHealth and GSIS premium contributions,” Recto said.

Noting that the P2,000 PERA hike translates to a P66 increase per day, Recto said this amount is reasonable and affordable on the part of the government.

“This will just allow them to get by, not get rich,” he said.

With 1,202,364 filled items in the national government plantilla, a P2,000 increase in the monthly PERA will cost government P28 billion a year.

Recto said this can be financed in part from the P25 billion annual savings from the scrapping of the congressional pork barrel.

He said there are “other terminated projects and non-recurring expenses” in the national budget whose funding can be diverted to “pay envelopes of our teachers, policemen and soldiers.”

Recto said these professions make up 82 percent of the national government workforce.

“They’re mostly clustered around the Salary Grade 11 to 13 brackets. They get a basic monthly pay of between P18,549 to P21,436. These are the people who are in need of a salary hike,” he said. 

According to Recto, a comprehensive SSL review is the road to take because a piecemeal approach, or one that singles out a profession, will result in an uneven and distorted classification scheme.

“The need for a pay hike is clearly across-the-board,” he stressed. 

Recto said a careful study that is participated by all will allow government to peg “forward budgetary estimates.”

“In doing the exercise, we should be mindful of the fact that any increase in the salaries of government workers will be shouldered ultimately by their employers – the people,” Recto said.

Government “payroll, pension and premium” expenses will reach almost P680 billion this year.

The last government salary hike was through SSL III, which was given in four annual tranches from July 2009 to July 2012.

But Recto said in his sponsored resolution that “inflation from May 2009 to May 2013 had eroded 15 percent of their pay.”

Legarda Commends Davao Oriental for Conservation of Mt. Hamiguitan

MANILA-Senator Loren Legarda today commended the provincial government of Davao Oriental and its local community for the conservation of Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, personally congratulated Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon during the province’s 47th anniversary celebration held in Mati City.

The Senator also filed Senate Resolution 735 to commend the collaborative efforts of the provincial government, its citizens and the Protected Area Management Board in conserving the wildlife sanctuary.

“By successfully inscribing the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary as a World Heritage Site, the Philippines commits to the international community its strong support for the conservation of its rich flora and fauna,” Legarda explained in the Resolution.

The World Heritage Committee highlighted that the high level of endemicity of its habitat is significant for putting the Philippines in 7th place among the 17 biologically rich countries in the world.

“This recognition highlights the need to safeguard the biodiversity and natural heritage of the wildlife sanctuary and its surrounding watershed areas and forests,” said Legarda.

 “Congratulations to the government and people of Davao Oriental for the great effort you all exerted towards this achievement. May you continue to be champions of environmental conservation and encourage other Filipinos to be the same,” she added.

Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is officially the 6th World Heritage Site in the Philippines. Other UNESCO Heritage Sites in the country are Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Baroque Churches of the Philippines, Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and the Historic City of Vigan.

Gov’t Convergence, Public-Private Partnership Vital in Improving Disaster Preparedness—Legarda

MANILA-Senator Loren Legarda today said that convergence among government agencies and close coordination between the public and private sectors are integral to improving disaster risk reduction efforts in the country.

“In terms of building resilience, we already have the necessary laws; the budget allocation has been increasing; early warning systems have been established in most areas; forecasting tools have improved; and many other programs on disaster preparedness are in place. But to ensure that these laws and programs would work, we would need all concerned government agencies and local government units (LGUs) to be in sync. The participation of the private sector is crucial as well,” said Legarda, UN Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia-Pacific.  

Legarda made the statement in response to the assessment of Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the Philippines ranks between 6 and 7 on its level of preparedness for natural hazards.

During the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Bangkok, Wahlstrom said that many LGUs have a good level of preparedness, but noted that the country, both in the national and local level, should already reach level 8 or 9 preparedness, considering the lessons learned after experiencing many disasters.

Legarda said a crucial step is ensuring that DRR is at the core of every government agency’s agenda. All government agencies should be aware of their respective roles before, during and after the occurrence of a natural hazard.

“The agencies of government must work together to protect our environment; improve early warning systems; climate-proof the national budget; ensure the integrity of buildings and infrastructure; educate citizens, including the youth, about their role in DRR; invest in and promote the use of renewable energy; promote social protection schemes, such as crop insurance to ease impact on highly vulnerable groups including farmers and fisherfolk during disasters; ensure that there are back-up systems for communication and other of vital utilities necessary for rescue and post-disaster efforts; and maintain peace and order especially in the aftermath of disasters, among other things that the government must carry out for disaster preparedness and resilience,” the Senator said.

Legarda also said that the government must encourage the private sector to make their enterprises resilient. The business community should have a robust business continuity planning and embed DRR in business processes to strengthen resilience, competitiveness and sustainability.

She added that the government should forge a strong partnership with the private sector in addressing disaster risks.

Legarda noted that the recently enacted “Free Mobile Disaster Act”, which mandates mobile service providers to send out free disaster alerts to subscribers in affected areas, could only be effective with close and timely coordination between relevant agencies and telecommunications service providers.

“Making our nation resilient is challenging but never impossible especially with smooth coordination among agencies of government and all sectors of society. The key is to work together, as one community, as one nation,” Legarda concluded.

Drilon urges gov’t to raise pay for civil servants

MANILA-Senate President Franklin M. Drilon today called on the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to take immediate steps in conducting a pay review for all government employees including policemen and soldiers, in time for the enactment of the 2015 national budget next year.

The Senate leader said the study on how the government can improve the salary rate being implemented with all government employees, including those serving in the military and the police must be fast-tracked “in order to uplift the standard of living of our public employees.”

"I have requested the DBM to expedite its analysis, so that if possible, we can already put into effect the new version of the Salary Standardization Law and we can include the required budget in the 2015 national expenditures program, which we will approve at the end of this year. That way, all public employees can already enjoy their new wages starting next year," Drilon said.

“By raising the salary scheme in government, we will provide the biggest morale boost for state workers and give them continued inspiration to excel in their works,” said Drilon.

“But more importantly, we can attract more competent and dedicated professionals, especially the youth, to work in government and help craft policies and programs that will benefit our people,” stressed Drilon.

In 2013, there were 1,205,375 government employees, he noted.

Drilon said he believes that improved government collection in the past years could provide the state ample funds to capacitate a new Salary Standardization Law.

"With the kind of fiscal discipline being observed by the administration for the past years, I believe we have a great chance of raising government wages without negatively affecting our budget deficit. It is highly important that we help government workers as prices for everyday essentials such as rice or vegetables go up," he said.

“Our policy makers must ceaselessly look at parts of the National Budget which could permit and put into action sustainable salary augmentation, in a manner that would help our workers, yet would not result in budgetary deficit or decreases in other important sectors such as social and health services,” he emphasized

Drilon also said that improvements in the compensation of policemen and other law enforcers would help drive up recruitment, enabling the state to field more police officers who would protect the public. In an earlier statement, President Aquino had acknowledged that more police officers are needed amid many reports of crime in the nation.

"One good effect of increasing the salary of our government workers is that it can help us fill in the numbers as far as more policemen or soldiers are concerned. By making these professions more financially rewarding, we help convince more people to enlist in our security services, and that means more people in the fight against crime and disorder in our streets," he said. 

On June 30 - expiration of Republic Act 6657 Aquino and CARP, an obstacle to genuine land reform, CL farmers said

SAN FERNANDO CITY, Pampanga-Farmers from the regional group Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Amgl, Farmers Alliance in Central Luzon) and multi-sectoral groups under the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Central Luzon (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance) proclaimed that the implementation of the Republic Act 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and Republic Act 9700 or CARP Extension with “Reforms” (CARPer) has evidently failed and president Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino is actually an obstacle in accomplishing genuine land reform in the region and country.

“We all know who is Aquino, his family and what they did to Hacienda Luisita farm workers, he is a wrong man for a fundamental land reform program,” Joseph Canlas said, Amgl chairperson. 

The groups said that CARP has betrayed the Central Luzon farmers who are hoping for the protection of the rights to land, instead, the law has been instrumental to big landlords to preserve their control over vast lands and eject tenant farmers and farmer-beneficiaries (FBs).

“Let’s not sound like a broken record with the Hacienda Luisita agrarian dispute, which generally, the Cojuangco-Aquino family outwitting the Filipino taxpayers, the farm workers and kept control over the thousand of hectares of sugar lands,” Canlas said referring to the public funds used by the Cojuangco family to acquire Hacienda Luisita and implementing the stock distribution option (sdo) scheme in 1989.

The group added that by the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s feudal control, they utilized state machineries such as the police and military, particularly during the ill-famed ‘Hacienda Luisita massacre’ on November 16, 2004.  In addition, Jovito Palparan’s ‘reign of terror’ in Central Luzon or the implementation Oplan Bantay Laya in 2005 to 2006.  The groups called for justice for the victims of the massacre as well as the systematic extra-judicial killings (ejk) that followed, namely: (massacre) Jhavie Basilio, Juancho Sanchez, Jesus Laza, Jaime Pastidio, Adriano Caballero, Jun David and Jessie Valdez; (ejk) AMT (Tarlac) peasant leader Marcelino Beltran, Tarlac city councilor Abel Ladera, Fr. William Tadeña, AMC (Pampanga) peasant leader Ben Concepcion, Florante Collantes and CATLU president Ricardo Ramos.

In addition, the groups said that the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s firm Central Azucarera de Tarlac Realty Corp. (CAT Realty) is grabbing about 400-hectares of land in Bayambang, Pangasinan that triggered unrest among residents and farmers from 12 barangays, which were formerly part of the Camp Gregg military reservation during the American colonial period.  Elderly farmers said that the Cojuangco family deployed a private armed group during the 1960s to terrorize the farmers into paying land rent.

“Aquino’s family has a bloody record of repressing farmers who assert their rights to land, thus, his governance is basically a combination of implementing anti-peasant and anti-people program and policies, and repression of those who oppose and protest,” Canlas said.

Amgl and Bayan said that since BS Aquino took the presidency, agrarian reform has been a minor issue, seldom articulated on his speeches and promised no upliftment of the lives of Filipino farmers who are the majority of the country’s population.  Instead, his programs were mainly the continuing CARP, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program based on the World Bank-directed Philippine Dev’t Plan (PDP), liberalization of agriculture and Oplan Bayanihan based on US counter-insurgency (COIN) guide.

“The rising violence in Hacienda Dolores is simply sparked by Aquino’s negligence of poor farmers and promotion of PPP.  His major electoral sponsor, Ayala Land is taking advantage of his presidency to wipe out communities of farmers whose ancestors could be traced back during the Spanish colonial times,” Canlas said.

Since 2011, Hacienda Dolores farmers were violently displaced from their lands and early this year, a farmer was killed by Ayala Land’s security forces and a peasant leader was gunned down by motorcycle riding men in Porac.  Amgl said that the dispute was “licensed” by CARP as Ayala Land’s partner firms Leonardo-Lachenal-Leonio Holdings Corp. (LLL) and FL Property Management Corp. (FL) took advantage of the Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR) issuances of exemption and conversion orders in 2005.

Amgl said that CARP has also preserved the hacienda formations in Nueva Ecija as FBs are facing systematic cancellations of certificate of land ownership awards (cloa), certificate of land transfer (clt) and emancipation patents (ep).  The 3,000-hectare land in Fort Magsaysay military reservation is yet to be distributed to farmers, despite the fact that the former president Cory Aquino issued Executive Orders 407 and 448 and the Deed of Transfer between the Dept. of Nat’l Defense (DND) and DAR was signed in 1991.  Pascual Guevarra, a local leader was the first victim of ejk of the Aquino regime who was killed on July 9, 2010.

The groups also warned the people that BS Aquino is also incompetent in resolving the basic needs in the country.
“The climbing prices of rice, food and basic commodities are also weighty during the Aquino regime.  At present, the price of rice has increased by P2 per kg, and the people know that the palatable variety ranges from P45 to P50 per kg.  These are occurring while the farm gate price of palay is nailed at P15 to P17 per kg,” Canlas said.

“The prices of petroleum products are endlessly increasing, putting poor farmers to debt caused by high production costs.  Other sectors are also affected through increasing prices of basic goods, fare hike and other utilities,” Canlas added.

Bayan said that BS Aquino is loyally obedient to US imperialism by implementing neo-liberal policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation, that mainly instigate the chronic economic crisis the Filipino population is braving.

“Liberalization and privatization of the power industry and other utilities, deregulation of the oil industry, liberalization of local market of rice and other major goods, privatization of public hospitals are all on Aquino’s menu of deliberately putting the Filipino people into poverty and misery,” Roman Polintan said, Bayan-Central Luzon chairperson.

The groups said that Aquino’s regime is an antithesis or the exact opposite of realizing fundamental reforms in the country it seals off the Filipino people’s hope for a better future and national development.  The contingent of CL farmers, with multi-sectoral groups are to march to Mendiola bridge in Manila to demand the end of CARP and BS Aquino’s ouster. 

“If we care about our children and grandchildren’s future, as we face more hospitals and schools being privatized, cost of living skyrocketing, farms and houses being destroyed, our food security being wrecked into pieces, we are morally and socially obliged to demand Aquino’s ouster and end to his anti-people governance.  Our struggle is the light that never goes out and must be irradiated for our country to survive the unending political and economic crises,” Polintan pointed out.

PNoy to grace 67th anniversary of Air Force in Clark

CLARK AIR BASE, Pampanga-President Benigno Aquino III will grace Tuesday the 67th anniversary rites of Philippine Air Force (PAF) at the Haribon Hangar of Clark Air Base (CAB) in Pampanga.
Serving as the highlights of the event is a flyby of PAF assets over CAB field and conferment of awards to outstanding individuals and units.
The flyby shall include nine T-41D trainer aircraft from the PAF Flying School; three S-211 aircraft from the Air Defense Wing; two OV-10 broncos and two SF-260TP from the 15thStrike Wing; Nomad-22, Fokker-27, and C-130 Hercules from the 220th Airlift Wing; UH-1H helicopter from the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing; Sikorsky-76A, Bell 205, Huey II, and Sokol Helicopter from the 505th Search and Rescue Group; and MD520-MG Helicopter.
The Commander-In-Chief is also expected to deliver a message.
PAF was founded on July 1, 1947- two years after the end of World War II.
It traces its lineage to the Philippine Army Air Corp, which was established in 1941.
This year’s celebration carries the theme “PAF at 67: Soaring High for Peace, Freedom, and Development.”

Tarlac Eye Center inks project partnership agreement with Aussie non-profit org

TARLAC CITY-Tarlac Provincial Hospital Eye Center (TPHEC) has inked a project partnership agreement with Australian non-profit organization Fred Hollows Foundation (FHF) in a bid to reduce the prevalence of avoidable blindness in the country.
Dubbed “A Replicable Community Eye Care Project in Tarlac Province,” it shall increase the capacity of TPHEC’s Linaw Tingin community eye care program with particular focus on the Public-Private Partnership model and economic sustainability.
“Under the agreement, purchase of major equipment and other supplies such as two laptops, LCD projector with screen, LCD projector with screen (5,000 lumens), statim fast autoclave, two portable ophthalmoscopes, portable slit lamp, two schiotz lamp, refracting unit with examining chair, stand, phoroptor head, trial lens set and lens meter shall be jointly provided by FHF and the provincial government,” TPHEC Officer-In-Charge Shelley Mangahas disclosed.
Moreover, the FHF project manager is tasked to handle all financial arrangements of the P5.8 million undertaking and shall work closely with the Sydney-based program coordinator to ensure that spending meets compliance regulations.
“This is a program not only for our fellow Tarlaquenos but for our fellow Filipinos as well. This is a noble project and I hope that with the expertise of Dr. Shelley and a close coordination with FHF, our Eye Center can be a sight saver,” Governor Victor Yap said.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

No revival but natural death to CARP, CL farmers demand

MANILA-Farmers from the regional group Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Amgl, Farmers Alliance in Central Luzon) and multi-sectoral groups under the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Central Luzon (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance) proclaimed that the implementation of the Republic Act 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and Republic Act 9700 or CARP Extension with “Reforms” (CARPer) is not just a gigantic historical failure but a man-made catastrophe to the farming sector of the region, that deserve no legislated “resuscitation” or revival but a natural death and an unmarked grave.
“If CARP has exhibited any positive trait for poor farmers in 20 years, big issues such as Hacienda Luisita, Hacienda Dolores, APECO and other agrarian disputes should have not driven farmers and farm workers to camp out, picket lines and long marches,” Joseph Canlas said, Amgl chairperson.

Amgl said that CARP has been instrumental for the Cojuangco-Aquino family to cover the 6,456-hectare Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac with stock distribution option (sdo) in 1989.  CARP’s chapter 8 for corporate farms served as a loop-hole for the Cojuangco-Aquino family to escape land transfer and schemed to portray the 5,539 farm worker beneficiaries (FWBs) as stockholders of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI).  HLI preserved the powers of the Cojuangco-Aquino family as they controlled its board of directors, implement business decision ranging to mass retrenchment as it did to the officers and members of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) in 2004.  

As FWBs were laid off, their rights as beneficiaries were also terminated as the stocks allocated for them were only redeemable if they work on the sugar estate counted as man-days.  The Cojuangco-Aquino family had control on the allocation of guaranteed man-days that was dwindling down as they convert thousands of hectares.  Agricultural lands shrunk to 4,915-hectares in 2004 as large parcels were converted.  Generally, CARP gave the Cojuangco-Aquino family the power to dispose of the lands, which were the capital counterpart that essentially belonged to the FWBs.

“CARP and sdo made the farm workers to take home a pay of P9.50 in 2004, hence, there was no debate that it was a big failure,” Canlas said.

The groups added that CARP claimed that Nueva Ecija compose 36% of the total number of farmer-beneficiaries in the region or about 95,855 FBs.  DAR recorded that covered lands 169,375-hectares thus averaging the farmsize to 1.77-hectares per FB.  The CARP working scope for the province reach to 179,366-hectares hence the program boast of 94% accomplishment.  Ironically, substantial tracts of lands that composed different haciendas remained intact and evaded land distribution such as: Hacienda Gabaldon, Kilantang, Anggara in Guimba town, Hacienda Rueda in Quezon town, De Santos in Guimba, Cuyapo and Nampicuan towns, Hacienda Tinio in Talavera town, and estates Ilagan, Gonzales, Domingo, Sanggalang, Joson, Angeles, Padre Crisostomo.  

The groups added that FBs are facing cancellation of certificate of land ownership awards (cloa), certificate of land transfer (clt), emancipation patents (ep) and foreclosure cases such as in 238.34-hectare Hacienda Rueda in Brgy. San Andres I, Quezon town; CARP covered 455.33-hectares in Brgy. Pulang Bahay, Quezon town; CARP-PD 27 covered 412-hectares in Brgy. Bicos, Rizal; 569.40-hectare Hacienda De Santos in Brgy. Cacapasan, Cuyapo;  compose the 822-hectares covered by CARP-PD 27 in Brgy. Pacac, Guimba, Hacienda Gabaldon, Hacienda Kilantang and Hacienda Anggara; farmers are facing land cases usually ejectment cases filed by landowners in Sta. Rosa, Jaen, Cabanatuan City, San lsidro and other southern Nueva Ecija towns.

Adding up to the already muddled implementation of CARP is the Hacienda Dolores agrarian dispute in Porac town, Pampanga.  The 2,000-hectare hacienda is farm and homes to about 5,000 farmers and residents and their ancestors have been cultivating the land since Spanish colonial times in 1835.  But in 2004, coinciding the construction of SCTEX, private corporations Leonardo-Lachenal-Leonio Holdings (LLL) and FL Property Management Corp. (FL) have been claiming the lands and in 2011, violently fenced and displaced farmers.  The firms are partners of Ayala Land, Inc. for their 1,000-hectare Alviera project, an eco-residential, commercial, tourist and light industrial estate similar to Nuvali in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.  The private corporations utilized CARP’s provisions as the Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR) issued exemption and conversion orders in 2005.  Evidently, CARP disregarded the historical and moral rights of local farmers to the land, instead allowed big corporations to take control of vast lands.  Since 2011, farmers were usual victims of harassment and violent attacks such as the killing of Arman Padiño and Melenao Barcia.

“CARP failed the Hacienda Dolores farmers.  DAR is even helpless as the case was immediately taken over the Aquino’s office and we know that Ayala was a major contributor to his presidential campaign and we condemn the political pay-back,” Canlas said.

To demonstrate the weakness of CARP, the groups cited the Republic Act 10083 or the Aurora Pacific Economic and Freeport Zone (APECO) that covered a wholesale 13,000-hectares in Casiguran town in Aurora province.  CARP has not guaranteed the rights of farmers in lowland rice granary, more the rights of the fisherfolk and indigenous peoples in different parts of the area which are not covered by the program.  The groups said that APECO has violated the socio-economic rights of the farmers in five barangays and threatens their livelihood and homes.

“APECO is only to serve the Angara family, for them to take control of the vast lands, as they did to many parts of the province.  Clearly, CARP is a useless pile of paper, easily overridden by laws such as APECO,” Canlas said.

Generally, Amgl and Bayan affirmed that CARP is an instrument of deception, to sow an illusion of reform which in reality is serve the interests of big landlords, compradors and foreign monopoly capital. CARP preserves  landlessness that serve as the social base of imperialist dictates such as of the World Bank for its neo-liberal policies and World Trade Organization (WTO) for ample supply of cheap agricultural raw materials for use of resource-hungry economies of capitalist countries such as the United States.  

CARP and the absence of genuine land reform and nationalist industrialization restrain the national economy to develop, for agriculture and industry to harmoniously relate, coinciding the upliftment of socio-economic well-being of the population.  In addition, products and value generated in the country must be redirected to the local economy as source of capital, technology development and social services, which fundamentally require the authentic national sovereignty and freedom from foreign control.  Thus, the groups asserted that the issue of landlessness, concretely affects the interests of different sectors such as the middle class and local businesses and it is only prudent for them to carry out support for peasant and basic sectors struggles. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Drilon backs DOJ for administration of WPP

MANILA-Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said he is opposed to a proposed legislation which seeks to remove the Witness Protection Program (WPP) from the Department of Justice, saying that it is part of the agency’s mandate as the government’s primary prosecution arm to search out for witnesses and ensure their safety to aid in effective disposition of justice.  

The Senate leader threw his support behind Secretary Leila de Lima who sought to retain jurisdiction on the WPP under the DOJ which is the subject of House Bill No. 4583 seeking to transfer administration of WPP to lower courts.

As former justice secretary, Drilon said he fully understands the need for the DOJ to retain control of the WPP.

“It is the duty of the DOJ being the lead prosecutor to gather credible witnesses who have knowledge about the crimes committed. But to persuade a witness to speak out is not an easy task. It is where the WPP plays an important role because it is being used by prosecutors to convince a witness to testify against a criminal offender,” said Drilon.

“The WPP is a factor that convinces witnesses to cooperate with the DOJ in its duty to prosecute criminal offenders and provide justice. It is also therefore the obligation of the DOJ to give 24-hour protection to the lives of state witnesses and provide for their needs while they are in government’s custody,” he added.

Drilon pointed out that there are standards the DOJ follows to enroll a witness into WPP and “politics is definitely not a consideration.”

“The primary considerations are the relevance of the testimony and the threat to the life of the state witness. Politics does not and should not play any role in determining who qualifies as state witness,” he stressed.

During his time as justice secretary, Drilon said the WPP became effective in the conviction of then Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez.

The Senate leader concluded that the WPP has been an effective government mechanism for the administration of justice in the country. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Drilon to DBM: Make sure no pork in 2015 budget

MANILA-Senate President Franklin Drilon today called on the Executive, through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM),  to ensure that the 2015 national budget currently being drafted will be free of “pork” or anything that resembles the then Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

“The Senate will exercise the strictest examination of the 2015 national budget to make certain that no revival of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in any form or calling will occur,” said Drilon.

He suggested that funding allocated for PDAF in previous years should be directly channeled for the country’s instruments for social services such as massive backing for public hospitals, free public education in higher levels, poverty alleviation program, and assistance to the agricultural sector.

The 2015 national expenditure program being drafted by the DBM is nearing completion. The draft will be the basis of the national budget to be approved by Congress.

Drilon, former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, said that the PDAF, declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in late 2013 should be avoided altogether in this year’s national budget.    

“The Supreme Court ruling is clear about when congressional involvement with the budget should end. Therefore anything related to the PDAF in the 2015 national budget should be avoided,” he said. 

In 2013, the Senate abolished their PDAF months before the SC declared its unconstitutionality.

Drilon also invited the public to be “active watchers” of the national budgeting process.

“To our people, especially to our youth, take a look, probe and examine piece by piece the laws our lawmakers craft for this country especially the national budget. Please help us monitor and make sure that every peso in the 2015 GAA will be spent for the betterment of our nation,” he concluded. 

PNoy, Drilon to inaugurate P4-B infra projects in Western Visayas

MANILA-President Benigno S. Aquino III, together with Senate President Franklin M. Drilon, will inaugurate and inspect on today/June 27 P4 billion worth of infrastructure projects which will improve tourism, connectivity and business efficiency in Western Visayas.    

The Senate leader, an Ilonggo native and known champion of Iloilo in the national political level, will accompany President Aquino in a tour that featured about nine major infrastructure projects ranging from road expansion projects, social housing units, bridges and major regional facilities.

President Aquino earlier urged his Cabinet during a meeting with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Board to focus on completing similar ongoing projects and “to lay the groundwork for long-term economic development and inclusive growth.”

The projects include the P2.1-billion Iloilo circumferential road, the P700-million Iloilo Convention Center, the P500-million Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue and the P170-million Iloilo River NHA Subdivision Phase I in Barangays Camalig and Lanit Jaro.

The lawmaker said that the support of the President was especially crucial in the overall realization of these projects.

“The executive initiative and concern was a great impetus towards the realization of these projects that would ultimately benefit not only Iloilo, but the national economic situation as well,” Drilon stressed.

“We Ilonggos would like to express our heartfelt appreciation President Aquino in his support to every step we take in the road to development. We are grateful that the Aquino administration sees us as active players for national growth, and that national assistance has been made available in our most crucial undertakings,” he emphasized.

The Senate chief explained that the road and bridge projects are expected to provide significant improvements in Iloilo’s logistical capacity, while the housing projects are seen to contribute to Iloilo’s social programs.

The convention center, on the other hand, is seen to expand Iloilo’s tourism industry and enhance its bid in becoming the regional hub for major local and international events and summits.

Also joining the President are Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

Iloilo circumferential road

President Aquino will conduct a drive-through inspection of the four-lane 14.18-kilometer Iloilo Circumferential Road which cost P2.1 billion charged against the 2011 to 2014 General Appropriations Act.

Drilon described the Iloilo Circumferential Road (C-1) as a new road opening which is envisioned to serve as the most fundamental component of the road network in Metro Iloilo area.

“This new road will not only relieve Iloilo of traffic, but more importantly, will open hundreds of hectares of new areas for development,” he added.

Iloilo Convention  Center

President Aquino will also conduct an inspection of the P700-million Iloilo Convention Center located at Iloilo Business Park in Barangay Mandurriao in Iloilo City

Drilon said the two-storey convention center, which will be situated on a 1.7-hectare of lot donated by the Megaworld, sees completion by end-2014.

The new edifice will have an iconic design inspired by Iloilo’s Dinagyang and Paraw festivals. It is designed to attract and accommodate large sized conferences, summits, congresses, fairs, and trade shows and exhibits. It can accommodate more than 3,700 people, noted Drilon.

“This is a realization of a lifelong dream of the residents of Panay Island to have their own highly impressive and sophisticated convention center at par with those of Cebu and Davao’s that will be capable to hold the best and the most glamorous of the conferences, exhibitions, among others,” said Drilon.

“This project is designed to position Iloilo as a prime convention destination in the Visayas,” he added.

Improvement of Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Avenue

Another road infrastructure President Aquino and Drilon are set to inaugurate is the Sen. Benigno Aquino Avenue, which was widened into a tree–lined, 10–lane avenue, complete with red-tiled bicycle and pedestrian lanes.

The avenue, commonly known as the Iloilo-Jaro Diversion Road, is the main gateway to the city from the Iloilo International Airport in Cabatuan. It also connects Iloilo City to other central towns in the province.

The road improvement cost P494.2 million and includes widening of concrete pavement in both directions, provision of a bicycle and walk lanes, construction of a two-lane service road, loading and unloading bays, sidewalks, drainage system, and planting of tress and ornamental plants.

Drilon pointed out that the newly-renovated road is very conducive to pedestrians and bikers: "This kind of road inspires and helps commuters shift to biking and walking. Given the heavy traffic in the streets of our cities, there is a great potential for bicycles and walking to be the preferred mode of transportation for our countrymen on the go.” 

Drilon noted that such initiatives are not exactly unheard of in the country, as he pointed to several road projects in Iloilo which the senator had supported, where non-motorized travel has been integrated in the road systems.

The senator thus said that similar efforts should be made throughout the entire country: "We need to explore more options and choose the best alternatives. These programs will not only help alleviate our environmental concerns, but they will also promote a healthier regimen for our people.”

Low-cost housing

The President will also formally turn-over some 1,000 low-cost housing units to their beneficiaries. The P170-million Iloilo River Subdivision Phase I in Barangays Camalig and Lanit, Jaro is now home to 1,000 families, who used to live on the banks of the Iloilo River and have been a major source for river pollutants.

“Today, because of our efforts, the river is no longer a community toilet, but a place where people can fish,” said Drilon.

Drilon said that multisectoral organizations have been tapped to ensure the families’ welfare and spearhead a social preparation, and "to address the different needs of this newly-organized community.” 

“The provision of housing units alone would not solve the problem of poverty and lack of support affecting every informal settler. Any effective plan then would need to strike at the socio-economic roots of the problem,” said Drilon.

Drilon said that President Aquino is also expected to conduct a drive-through inspection of five key bridges in the province including the Aganan Bridge in Pavia Iloilo (P66 million) and the Iloilo Bridge (P88.2 million), the Iloilo Bridge II (P150 million), the Jaro Bridge (P157.7 million), and the Floodway Bridge (P53 million) located in the city.

Drilon also cited the P11.2 billion Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project Phase II as among the big-ticket projects being undertaken in Iloilo. The project will provide uninterrupted irrigation water supply to 32,000 hectares of farm land and benefit more than 783,000 farmers in Western Visayas.

Follow Iloilo’s lead

Drilon said the developments in Iloilo can be applied in other parts of the country: “We will not stop pursuing our development goals because we want to show to the whole country that if it can be done in Iloilo, it can be done anywhere.” 

“What we see here is not the vision and effort of a select few. This truly is an endeavour that enjoyed assistance from the executive, local government units, and our great partners in the business sector,” Drilon said.

Drilon emphasized that the successes being experienced in Iloilo is a combination of a "united and result-oriented political leadership, and a highly cooperative and effective partnership with members of the private sector in Iloilo.”

“We can only do that if we can create an environment conducive to investment. More investments mean more jobs. More jobs mean less poverty. To attract investments, we embarked on a massive public infrastructure development,” Drilon underscored.

“In Iloilo, we have proven that we can create change when we put our collective interest before individual interest. In Iloilo, we are nurturing big dreams and are working hard to realize these dreams,” he concluded. 


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