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. 

Angara urges gov't to beef up the country's national police force

MANILA-To fight the crime surge, government should put “more boots on the ground” by hiring 50,000 more policemen, a move which would both raise the national police strength to 200,000 and the cop-to-population ratio to the ideal one per 500, Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara said on Thursday.

"With a current population of 100 million, the country needs about 200,000 policemen, but the authorized 'uniformed personnel ceiling' of the Philippine National Police (PNP) is only around 151,410," Angara stressed.

“Filling all of these, plus adding more," he said, “should be part of the 'last two years’ agenda of the Aquino administration."

“If I may give an unsolicited advice, I think the President should announce a massive policemen recruitment program in his second-to-the-last SONA (Statement of the Nation Address)," Angara said.

"It will send a comforting message to the nation that more men are being suited up to roll back crime," the neophyte senator emphasized.

Last year, 1,033,833 crimes were reported to the police, which Angara said could just be fraction of the total as more victims, skeptic perhaps that the culprits will not be caught, opt not to report to the police what they had experienced.  

“Understated the data may be, it still paints a scary picture: One is murdered every hour, a robbery is committed every 10 minutes, someone is raped every 72 minutes, a theft is happening every three and half minutes,” he exclaimed.

Angara said Aquino’s SONA announcement can be followed through with a request in the 2015 national budget, which the President must submit to Congress within a month after his July 22 speech, for funds to hire the initial batch of rookies.

He proposed that 25,000 policemen be hired in 2015 and the same number in 2016 .

"The initial cost of hiring 25,000 new cops, assuming they will join the service in the second half of the year, is about P5 billion," Angara said.

But he admitted that the number of recruits can be pared down. “Of course, there is the question of funding. We can then downscale the quota and stretch the recruitment period. What is important is to assuage the people that more cops are coming.”

Angara noted that the “first year price tag” of P5 billion is almost equivalent to the P4.8 billion of the scrapped PDAF of senators. “It is one-fifth of what could have been the entire pork of both houses of Congress.”

“If we are looking for a project to which we can rechannel the scuttled PDAF funds, then what could be more worthy than hiring more policemen to keep our communities and children safe?" the lawmaker said.

Angara said the one policeman for every 500 population ratio “is not an option but a mandate of law, Republic Act  6975, the 1989 law creating the Department of Interior and Local Government.”

But a quarter of a century since it was passed, the policeman-to-population ratio, which on paper currently stands at one per 675, has never been achieved, Angara pointed out.

“In contrast, our ASEAN neighbors are fielding more policemen. Thailand has one for every 304 persons; Indonesia, one per 428; Malaysia, one per 267," he said.

In addition to hiring more policemen, the PNP can maximize its force by “unshackling police officers from their desks, and handing over administrative duties to non-uniformed personnel (NUP),” Angara said.

In a bid to free police officers who should be pounding beats instead of doing paper work, the PNP is hiring 13,000 NUPs this year.

Angara said the Philippine ratio of one policeman to 675 population does not translate to the actual number of cops on duty at any given time.

“Cops work in shifts. There are those who call in sick, on leave, in training, or are suspended. Thousands are assigned to headquarters duty or support services.    So the actual number of policemen in precinct duty, or on patrol, who can respond to a distress call is probably a third of the total force, and that is already a very optimistic estimate," he said.

Legarda Honors Centenarian Helena Benitez

MANILA-Senator Loren Legarda honored Dr. Helena Z. Benitez and highlighted her notable contributions to the country, as the former senator, pioneer environmentalist, educator, advocate of culture and civil society leader celebrates her 100th birthday today, June 27.

“Dr. Helena Benitez is a Filipina whose character inspires people. She has established a place in our history with her vision, intelligence, resilience and innovative spirit. Dr. Benitez is a catalyst of change who played many roles and conquered many frontiers,” said Legarda.

Dr. Benitez was a member of the Philippine Senate from 1968 to 1972. She was the first Filipina to have chaired the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the first Filipina member of the Board of the International Association of Universities, and the first Filipina conferred the Presidential Award of the Order of Sikatuna, with a Rank of Datu.

She established the Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company in 1957, was co-founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, served as chair of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, and was multi-term president of the Civic Assembly of Women of the Philippines.

“Dr. Benitez is a trailblazer and a positive force towards nation building. She is a woman leader I look up to and among her many achievements, I wish to highlight her role in environmental protection,” said Legarda, who is also a known environmentalist.

“She is famous for initiating the first comprehensive report on the State of the Philippine Environment in 1971 and authoring several pieces of legislation that allowed environmental issues to come to the forefront of national concern,” Legarda said.

Dr. Benitez is the author of Republic Act 5752, the Municipal Forests and Watersheds Act, which mandated every city and municipality in the country to establish, develop and maintain a permanent forest, tree park, or watershed that covered at least two percent of its territory. She also authored the Philippine Eagle Protection Act (R.A. 6147), the Tamaraw Sanctuaries Act (R.A. 6148), and the Forestry Profession Law (R.A. 6239), among other legislative accomplishments.

Her commitment to saving the environment extends beyond national borders. She headed the first Philippine Delegation on the UN Conference of the Human Environment (UNCHE) in 1972, became the first Filipina and first woman president of the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme, and became the special adviser to Secretary General Maurice F. Strong in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Sustainable Development (UNCED), more popularly known as the Rio Summit, in 1992.

“Dr. Benitez has worn many hats and achieved so much not only for herself but also for the Filipino nation. She continues to live a very fruitful life because at 100 years old, she still serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Women’s University. I wish all Filipinos would strive to replicate her fearlessness, vision, resilience and innovative spirit to nurture a better, greener and more sustainable future,” said Legarda.

On June 4, 2012, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 786, sponsored by Legarda, to honor Dr. Benitez for her service to the Filipino people and to acknowledge her contributions to the nation.


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