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.


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