Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Legarda: Sustainable Development, Resilience Help Address Unemployment

MANILA-Amid statistics showing an increase in the country’s unemployment rate, Senator Loren Legarda today said that gearing towards sustainable development and resilience will help address the lingering problem of joblessness.

The Senator noted that a recent SWS survey showed that unemployment rose to 27.5%, or an additional 12.1 million Filipinos jobless, in the last quarter of 2013.

Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committees on Environment and Natural Resources, and Climate Change, said that the disasters that struck the country in the last quarter of 2013, particularly the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol and typhoon Yolanda, were among the likely factors that led to the hike in unemployment rate.

“In order to address the increasing rate of unemployment, sustainable development and disaster resilience must be embedded in the government’s efforts. We need to be disaster resilient not only to protect lives and homes, but also to safeguard our schools, hospitals, malls, buildings, farms, plantations and factories, which all provide employment for Filipinos,” she said.

“Gearing towards sustainable development will also help improve our employment statistics. For instance, renewable energy projects can generate jobs that are badly needed. A study by the Greenpeace shows that 650,000 jobs have been generated by renewable energy in Europe alone,” she stressed.

The Senator also pushed for the promotion of green jobs and green skills in the country, noting that other nations encourage their citizens to engage in management in agriculture, forestry, horticulture, environmental information technology, and other careers that contribute to environmental preservation.

“All these efforts would complement our existing job generation strategies such as strengthened employment creation and facilitation by local governments, bringing in direct foreign investments to spur local labor demand, and promotion of self-employment, particularly on micro enterprise activities,” said Legarda.

“As a fundamental development strategy, building resilience would help our government sustain the country’s socio-economic gains, make a difference in poverty reduction, and eventually ensure the achievement of sustainable development goals,” she concluded.

Congress wants Sandiganbayan to focus on most significant graft cases, assign minor issues to RTCs, says Drilon

MANILA-Senate President Franklin M. Drilon wants the Sandiganbayan to concentrate its resources in trying the most significant graft cases, and to transfer jurisdiction to hear and decide “minor cases” to the Regional Trial Courts (RTC).

Drilon emphasized that the proposal is aimed “at decongesting the clogged dockets of the Sandiganbayan.”

“The list of pending cases at the country’s anti-graft court is not getting any shorter, given the strong resolve of the administration to purge the government of corrupt individuals and finally halt the culture of corruption in the bureaucracy,” said Drilon.

He said that about 50 percent of the pending cases in the Sandiganbayan are considered minor cases “which can actually be heard faster by the regional trial courts.”

The Senate chief pointed to some provisions of the law that “only contribute to the backlog” even if the men and women of the Sandiganbayan are trying their best to fast-track the judicial process.  

Drilon was referring to the existing law vesting in the Sandiganbayan the jurisdiction over all graft cases involving public officials occupying Salary Grade 27 and above regardless of the “nature and gravity” of the offense.

“As a consequence, the country’s anti-graft court has to deal with even the most minor of cases, thus further aggravating its workload,” said Drilon.

He added that it takes five years or even more for the Sandiganbayan to try and decide an average case.

The Senate chief thus said he will propose another amendment in the Sandiganbayan’s charter to allow the transfer of minor cases to the RTCs. Minor cases, he said, “are those where the information does not allege any damages or bribes, alleges damages or bribes that are either unquantifiable or not quantified, or alleges quantified damages or bribes amounting to P1 million only or less.”

He said the expertise and competence of a trial court judge is “more than sufficient to hear such kind of cases.”

Drilon has previously filed a bill which seeks to amend the proceedings of the Sandiganbayan, which will authorize a justice-designate to hear and receive evidence on behalf of a division. Presently, the Sandiganbayan is composed of five divisions, with three justices each; and the presence of the three justices is required to receive evidence and try a case, and there must be a unanimous vote to secure an acquittal or a conviction.

The Senate leader said he expects Senate Bill No. 470 to be sponsored on the floor by March.

"The most potent deterrent against the spread of corruption is the certainty of punishment. We must therefore strengthen current procedures and mechanisms to ensure the swift prosecution and resolution of anti-graft cases,” stressed Drilon.

“The speedy trial and disposition of graft cases would certainly erase any delusions by anyone that stealing from public funds is a crime that they can get away with," he added. 

Lastly, the Senate leader said the current Congress is committed to pass various legislation aimed at tightening anti-corruption safeguards, enshrining transparency and ensuring prompt delivery of justice. The package includes, among others, the Freedom of Information Law, Whistleblower Protection Act, amendments to the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program Act. 

Recto: Probe sorry state of P12-B fund made possible by rice imports

MANILA-Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto has called for a probe into the “sorry state” of a P12 billion agriculture fund pooled from tariff payments on rice and other agricultural imports which were later loaned to groups most of whom have defaulted on their repayment.

Recto filed Senate Res. 495 directing the Senate committee on agriculture to inquire on the ACEF and evaluate its status.

Recto said audit reports on the Agriculture Competitive Enhancement Fund (ACEF) are littered with adverse findings like  “dismally low repayment rate”, “double recording of loan releases”, “return to sender of demand letters”, and “loans without collateral.”       

Some grantees, Recto said, “have done a Houdini and can no longer be found.”

He said P2.5 billion worth of loans were covered by letters of confirmation whose addressees could not be found or who did not reply at all.

Conceived as a safety net when the country joined the World Trade Organization, the ACEF was created by RA 8178 in 1996  to assist farmers affected when tariff walls came crashing  down  as a result of  the  Philippine ratification of the  General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

It was to be funded by “in-quota tariffs” collected from imported commodities, such as rice, placed under the restricted Minimum Access Volumes (MAV) which the Philippines imposed.

By May 15, 2013, total actual collections of ACEF has reached P11.8 billion, of which P10.3 billion was from “MAV” quotas and P1.2 billion was from so-called sugar conversion fees.

Of the P11.8 billion, almost P8.9 billion was released by the Department of Budget and Management to ACEF Executive Committee  which administers the fund.

The said body in turn released P2.6 billion as grants to local governments, government corporations and state colleges, and P5.9 billion as loans to 304 groups which, except for 10, were private corporations.

Almost a billion pesos of the grant portion went to the National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR), a DA-subsidiary President Aquino recently ordered abolished.

Quoting audit reports, Recto said the loan portion of the ACEF fund  suffered from low collection rate. “For every one peso lent, only 14 centavos were collected.”

The amount in arrears is P5.1 billion, he said. “For that amount, we can repair 5,000 kilometers of farm roads.”    

Recto said that while 294 private parties were granted a total of P4.4 billion in loans, only 23 had fully paid as of December 2011.   

Of the remaining 271 private borrowers, only 15, or 5 percent of the total, had no arrears. 

As a result, P2.2 billion in loans were already due and demandable two years ago.

Recto said all ACEF transactions audited by the CoA in 2010 and 2011 transpired before the Aquino administration.

He said current agriculture officials have implemented “remedial management” on ACEF utilization as spelled out in Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 12–2013.

Among these are loan restructuring, the suspension of some surcharges and penalties, and the demand for more collateral cover.

“In spite of these, we have to study the present state of ACEF,  draw lessons from how it was used, so that if it will be retained as a mechanism of using imported rice duties  to promote farm productivity, we avoid the shortcomings of the past,” Recto said.

“If we are going to import more rice in the future, then we must see to it that the original intent of plowing back to farmers the taxes levied on these imports is honored,” he said.

As of May last year, ACEF has an available balance of P3 billion. 


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