Tuesday, August 5, 2014
MANILA-Vice President Jejomar C. Binay is urging the Department of Health to institute measures to minimize the risk of the Ebola virus spreading in the country.
“We need to provide adequate isolation and hydration facilities and protective wear for our health workers. At the same time, we need to roll out an intensive information campaign that will educate the people on this issue, to eliminate both panic and complacency,” he said.
“We will also require adequate screening and tracking at our ports of entry, especially for our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) coming from Africa,” he added.
Binay, the Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns, noted that as one of the world's leading labor-exporting countries, the Philippines will be more vulnerable than most to a massive outbreak of the Ebola virus.
“We need to anticipate any eventuality with regard to this virus reaching our own shores,” he said.
“I also call on our embassies in areas abroad already affected by the virus to take the proper steps in ensuring the safety of our fellow Filipinos, he added.”
The Vice President noted that Doctors without Borders has already warned that the crisis is out of control and that there is no strategy existing to handle the disease.
“Given the disease's 60 percent death rate and the extreme ease with which one can get infected with it, this is, if anything, a time to err on the side of caution. If it continues to spread, no other disease we have faced before would be as dangerous as this,” he said.
Health authorities have confirmed that seven of 15 OFWs who returned last month from Sierra Leone, one of four African countries severely affected by the outbreak, have tested negative for the virus.
The ongoing 2014 West African Ebola outbreak is the worst in the recorded history of the virus, with 729 reported fatalities in 909 confirmed cases as of July 31.
MANILA-Vice President Jejomar C. Binay appealed to relatives of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Libya to help convince their family members to come home given the worsening conditions there.
“Muli, nananawagan po ako sa ating mga kababayan tulungang kumbinsihin ang kanilang mga kaanak sa Libya na huwag nang makipagsapalaran at bumalik na sa ating bansa. Handa ang po ating pamahalaan na tulungan silang makauwi nang matiwasay para makasama nilang muli ang kanilang mga pamilya,” Binay said.
The Vice President also assured OFWs of assistance once they return to the Philippines.
"OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) has a reintegration program for those who will come home. Members may avail of livelihood assistance and other benefits," he added.
Binay encouraged families of OFWs in Libya to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) at (02) 552-7105 / (02) 834-4685 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Filipinos in Libya can contact the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli to coordinate their repatriation. Binay said the Philippine government will shoulder their repatriation cost.
The Philippine Embassy in Libya is located at KM 7 Gargaresh Road, Abu Nawas, Tripoli. OFWs may reach them at hotline number (+218) 918244208, telephone number (+218-21) 483-3966, and official e-mail addresses email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
So far, only 831 of the estimated 13,000 Filipinos working in Libya have returned home despite the government announcing a mandatory evacuation of OFWs last month.
The DFA has also reported that safe routes for exiting the North African country have narrowed, leaving rescue by sea as the viable option.
Earlier, a Filipino construction worker was beheaded after being abducted by unknown suspects. That killing was followed by the gang rape of a Filipina nurse in the capital Tripoli.
MANILA-The Office of the Vice President (OVP) today revealed that Renato Bondal, one of the complainants in the plunder complaint against Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, Mayor Jejomar Erwin S. Binay and several city officials, will go on a nationwide speaking tour starting with the Visayas region in the next few days.
Bondal will be visiting key cities in Region 6, 7 and 8, said Joey Salgado, spokesman for the Vice President. The tour also shows that the complainants are “apparently well-funded,” he said.
Salgado described the speaking tour as a “circus of lies” where Bondal will be repeating baseless attacks on the Vice President, who is the perceived frontrunner in the 2016 election.
“The Bondal roadshow is nothing more than a circus of lies. That he will be visiting the Visayas region, the first of several stops in a planned national tour, also shows that his group has graduated from local opponents to a well-funded demolition crew,” he said.
“Hindi lang sa Makati sila magkakalat ng kasinungalingan at paninira. Ngayon, gagawin na nila ito sa buong bansa. Lume-level up, in short,” he added.
Salgado reiterated the reply of the Vice President and Mayor Binay to the plunder complaint filed by Bondal alleging overpricing in the construction of Building 2 of the Makati City Hall.
He said the 12-storey building is an office building with parking floors and not solely a parking building/facility as alleged by the complainants.
“That they presented it as a parking building/facility shows their intention to mislead both the media and the public,” he said.
Salgado also said the project passed COA scrutiny.
“From the start until formal turnover, the project was subjected to COA audit. The project passed all the audits,” he said.
He added that the COA did not issue any adverse findings for the project and in fact, found the contract price for the project reasonable.
Salgado also debunked claims that the project did not go through bidding.
“The project underwent bidding as prescribed by law, contrary to the claims of the complainants. All budgetary releases for the project were approved by the City Council in several ordinances, contrary to the claims of the complainants. At no point did the Vice President during his term as mayor, and incumbent Mayor Jun Binay release funds without City Council approval,” he said.
He also said the National Statistics Office (NSO) is not the final arbiter on overpricing.
“To prove overpricing, an actual canvass of similar items is needed. This has been established by the courts and also part of COA rules. Not NSO statistics but an actual comparison of similar items,” he said.
The P7,000 per square meter construction cost claimed by the group as the standard building cost “is the approximate cost for a socialized housing unit, not an office building.”
MANILA-Vice President Jejomar C. Binay has expressed optimism the release of four policemen abducted by the New People's Army after a raid on a police station in Agusan del Norte will lead to a resumption of stalled peace negotiations.
Binay described it as a "good gesture," and broached the possibility of peace talks between government and the National Democratic Front gaining ground.
"It paved the way for the continuation of the peace talks," Binay said.
Binay was also asked by local reporters in Butuan City if he would have been willing to go to Kitcharao where the rebels released the policemen.
"Sanay naman tayong makipaglaban sa mga coup. Nine-nerbiyos din ho ako pero ang sinasabi ko na lamang ho ang trabaho ho namin merong professional risks," Binay answered.
The Vice President was in the city to award land titles to residents who were able to fully pay their obligations under the Community Mortgage Program of the Socialized Housing Finance Corporation.
Binay is also set to inaugurate Senior Citizens Centers across Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur over the weekend.
On Sunday, he will inaugurate the National Housing Authority Talacogon Tribal Village in Talacogon, Agusan del Sur.
MANILA-The Senate ways and means panel chair today said he is backing the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s bid to be exempt from the Salary Standardization Law (SSL).
“If better pay would allow it to hire the best and reward the honest, then why not? But there should be performance benchmarks attached to any increase," Sen. Sonny Angara said.
“The bottom line here is to give incentives based on merit. So it can be outside or within the SSL framework. But once it is given, the recipient should live by the rule that to those much is given, much will be required," the senator stressed.
The idea of exempting the biggest revenue agency from the SSL, which sets salary caps in the bureaucracy, was first broached by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima in his speech during BIR’s 110th anniversary rites last Aug. 1.
In pushing for BIR’s exemption, Purisima cited the example of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas which was able “to professionalize its ranks when freed from the rigid salary structure of the law.”
BIR Commissioner Kim Henares welcomed the finance chief’s proposal but admitted that “higher salaries would also mean higher responsibility and accountability.”
Angara proposed to put in place an accountability mechanism, such as a tax advocate office, against corrupt and abusive BIR officials.
The lawmaker also urged the BIR to strictly implement Republic Act 9335 or the Lateral Attrition Law which provides for a system of reward and punishment for BIR officials and employees depending on their performance.
Under the law, officials and personnel of government collection agencies may receive financial incentives for surpassing collection targets but may be relieved or dismissed from their post for failing to meet the goals.
Nevertheless, Angara said he is open to whatever track will be pursued in raising BIR personnel pay.
“It can be a set of special incentives that is tied to meeting quotas or a law exempting it from the SSL," he said.
But if Angara will have his way, “the BIR’s bid should be taken within the context of reviewing the whole SSL structure.”
“The SSL is ripe for a review. If we raise the taxman’s pay, we must also raise the salary of taxpayers in the public sector, meaning the teachers, policemen and others," he pointed out, hinting of pushing for a new SSL for government workers.
On funding incentives while waiting for the SSL law, Angara said the BIR should be authorized to convert its annual P1 billion savings from its personal services budget to additional pay to its deserving employees.
“The BIR has authorized ‘permanent positions’ for 13,578 workers but only about 10,071 are filled. So instead of spending P3.74 billion for salaries, it only spends about P2.78 billion. Perhaps we can use the difference in augmenting pay,” he said.
The neophyte senator said the BIR deserves a higher compensation budget as 75 percent of government’s revenue is raised by the agency.
For 2015, the BIR is expected to collect P1.72 trillion from this year’s programmed P1.456 trillion. With BIR's proposed budget of almost P8 billion, the BIR is expected to collect P21,500 for every P100 of its budget.
Since 1989, three Salary Standardization Laws have been passed, the first being Republic Act 6758 in August 1989.
The next two were via joint resolutions of Congress in March 1994 and the latest in June 2009, which Angara co-authored in the Lower House when he was congressman of Aurora.
The SSL prescribes the government’s “Compensation and Position Classification System" which features 257 position classes spread out in 33 salary grades with each salary grade having eight steps.
Angara said he welcomed the DOF’s position as “this is a radical departure from its no pay hike, no tax break position” if no sources of financing are identified.
“This is a major thaw of its standard cold responses. Hopefully this ushers the era in which the DOF will be more amenable to tax breaks which have the same intention as pay hikes which is to put more in pay envelopes," he added.
Angara is author of a bill compressing the net taxable income brackets from the present seven to five, and lowering tax rates across-the-board.
Under Angara’s Senate Bill 2149, the “no tax zone” will be raised to P20,000. He wants to slash the current highest tax bite of 32 percent for income above P500,000 to 25 percent by 2017.
MANILA-Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said the proposed 2015 budget of P527 million for the assistance of Filipinos in distress abroad is grossly inadequate in light of unstable conditions in strife-vulnerable countries which could anytime trigger the evacuation of Filipinos.
Recto said this emergency assistance fund should be raised to at least P1 billion.
The amount he said is “a drop in the bucket or one-tenth of one percent of the P1.115 trillion pesos” that overseas Filipinos remitted through formal channels last year.
The emergency fund for OFWs should be a dividend of what they plowed back last year, he said.
Funds which can be tapped to assist an estimated 10 million Filipino nationals abroad are lodged in three items in the proposed P2.6 trillion national budget for next year.
The biggest is the Assistance to Nationals Fund or ATN Fund managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has a proposed funding of P350 million next year, up from P300 million this year.
The Department of Labor and Employment has two programs: Welfare Services to OFWS with a proposed budget of P187.7 million, and an Emergency Repatriation Program for which P50 million has been budgeted.
“In all, there’s this kitty of P537 million which the government can dip into in helping a Filipino who is in trouble with the law or Filipinos who must be evacuated from places in turmoil,” Recto said.
“This comes up to about P1.48 million a day. Kulang na kulang. Kung P20,000 ang pamasahe sa eroplano ng isang OFW na maysakit, na kailangan ibalik sa Pilipinas, mga 70 lang kada araw ang kayang pauwiin. Eh sa Middle East pa lang daang libo na ang backlog,” Recto said.
And in a world where civil strife could worsen living conditions of OFWs and trigger their evacuation overnight, as in the case of Libya, the amount cannot fund their mass departure, Recto said.
“Sapat ba ang pondo na pang-arkila ng barko tulad sa kaso ngayon sa Libya? Do we have funds to charter planes in the event that we need to bring Filipinos out of the next hot spot?” Recto said.
“Kung merong 13,122 OFWs sa Libya at sa kahit P10,000 lang ang ayuda bawat isa, aabot na ng P131 milyon ang kakailanganin. Dyan pa lang said na ang ATN fund natin,” Recto said.
Recto said the ATN Fund is not just used to fund mass repatriation “but is tapped to help Filipinos battling challenging circumstances as diverse as being in trouble with the law, or victimized by abusive employers, or incapacitated by a debilitating disease.”
Just to cite an example, an estimated 3,732 Filipinos were languishing in jails in 53 countries at the beginning of last year.
MANILA-Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto today batted for a “new budget accountability form” that will promote transparency by showing if a project, activity or program authorized in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) had indeed been implemented.
Under his proposal, the government will be following the same text and format used in the GAA to prove that it had implemented its provisions.
“The idea is for the executive to return to us the same GAA but this time it will be in annotated form. Every funding item in the GAA of the previous year will carry a corresponding note indicating when it was completed and the amount spent for its completion,” Recto said.
“If a line-item in the GAA says that P100 million is appropriated for this road, then what we want is for the government to submit next year the same GAA with a status report opposite the line-item,” Recto said.
“If the GAA authorizes the recruitment of, say, 10,000 new policemen and 50,000 new teachers, then what we want is for the executive to superimpose in that GAA a note stating the actual number of policemen and teachers hired, “ Recto added.
“Sa post-implementation, GAA format pa rin ang gagamitin, pero modified na kasi nakasaad na doon kung ang proyektong ito ay naimplement nga ba o hindi,” Recto said.
“Sa madaling sabi gusto natin ang GAA ang siya ring magsilbi bilang checklist kung natupad nga ba ang nakasaad dito,” Recto explained.
“The beauty of this approach is that lump-sum funds can be disaggregated. Kung halimbawa block fund ang Calamity Fund, sa proposal ko itemized na sa post-budget reporting kung saan pumunta,” Recto said.
Recto noted “that at present it is hard for Congress or for its constituents to check whether a specific project authorized in the GAA has indeed been completed, or has been realigned or has had its funds impounded.”
The reason for this is that the familiar budgeting format used during the first two phases—Budget Authorization and Budget Execution—is not applied during the Budget Accountability phase.
He was referring to three of four budgeting phases:
1. Budget Authorization, when the budget is being debated in Congress,
2. Budget Execution, when the GAA is being implemented; and
3. Budget Accountability, when projects funded by the GAA are audited.
The first phase, budget preparation, is when details of next year’s spending are hammered out in the executive and collated in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) or the President’s Budget.
The NEP later evolves into the General Appropriations Bill which in turn becomes the General Appropriations Act.
“The problem is that what should have been a seamless progression of the budgeting process is interrupted in the accountability phase because there is no feedback as to the status of the projects, programs and activities sought to be funded,” lamented Recto.
“Kung meron man, mahirap ma-flesh out. Pero kung GAA pa rin ang format, mas madali,” he explained.
Recto said that the Commission on Audit need not make the status report. “DBM, whose recent radical reforms allow it to keep tabs on each and every project, can render the report,” he said.
“At ang status report na gusto natin ay hindi kilometric ang haba. One-liner lang or one brief sentence pwede na. In some cases, pwede nilang sabihing “fully implemented” and that would already suffice,” Recto said.
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