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Duterte’s SALNs secret; PCIJ makes public wealth disclosures of all presidents since Cory

With the Office of the Ombudsman’s latest memorandum circular, SALN access is now restricted across all branches of government.

By Karol Ilagan and Stanley Buenafe Gajete/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

For the past 30 years, the Office of the Ombudsman has made readily available the wealth disclosures of Philippine presidents and other government officials. Until now.

The Ombudsman, with its Memorandum Circular 1, has blocked public access as well as public inspection at reasonable hours of the SALN, for the first time since the law mandating public disclosure of these records was passed in 1989.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2018 and 2019 statements of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN should have been made public within 10 days from the day they were filed. The Ombudsman initially rebuffed repeated requests by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) to obtain copies, claiming that it was still revising the guidelines for public access to the SALNs of government officials.

More than a year since that review started in May last year, the Ombudsman finally came up with its new guidelines: the anti-corruption body is no longer allowing the public to see copies of the SALNs.

The Ombudsman circular states that copies of the SALN may only be provided to a requester if:

  • he or she is the declarant or the person who filed the SALN or the duly authorized representative of the declarant;
  • there is a court order; or
  • the request is made by the Ombudsman’s field investigation units.

Of the six SALN custodians, the Office of the Ombudsman is now among four that have the most restrictive rules in SALN access. (See sidebar: A citizen’s guide to where and how to get a SALN)

PCIJ also requested the Office of the President to release Duterte’s SALN. After all, Malacañang has made SALNs public in the past. We made the first request on June 21, 2019 and followed up repeatedly. The response? Ask the Office of the Ombudsman, which we had already done.

For the past year, repeated requests by the PCIJ for the President’s wealth statement have been tossed back and forth between the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the President. The issuance of the Ombudsman’s circular now essentially makes Duterte’s SALNs secret.

The latest batch of SALNs, covering the year 2019, is supposed to be filed by officials on or before April 30. But because of the Covid-19 quarantine, the deadline was extended to June 30. Once filed, these records must be made available to the public in 10 working days after filing or around July 15.

As the Ombudsman restricts public access to SALNs of the presidents and other officials, we are releasing for the first time the SALNs of all past presidents since 1989, when the law requiring the public disclosure of asset statements was passed.

These documents show that President Duterte is breaking a long tradition of presidents making their annual wealth disclosures public year after year, often even without a formal request from the press or the public to do so.

All SALNs since Corazon C. Aquino’s first statement in 1989 to Duterte’s 2017 SALN can be downloaded here. The 2017 disclosure was the second Duterte filed as president and the last that was made publicly available.

Chart 1. The declared wealth of Philippine presidents from Corazon Aquino to Rodrigo Duterte can be found in this folder. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

Other branches of government have also become more restrictive of access to wealth disclosures. In fact, only two of the six repositories (Malacañang Records Office and the Civil Service Commission) provide access to full copies of SALNs without the need for the declarants’ approval. When President Duterte took office, he promised a more transparent government, but that has not happened.

Last year, the PCIJ published a story based on all of Duterte’s SALN filings since he was Davao City mayor. We found that his wealth increased from less than P1 million in 1998 to nearly P29 million in 2017. We also reported “big spikes” in the wealth of the president’s children, Sara and Paolo Duterte, based on their SALNs.

The president was not pleased. “What we earned outside is none of your business actually,” he said at a public event in April last year. ‘Yung may mga negosyo kami, mga law office kami — what the goddamn sh*t?”

Chart 2. In April 2019, PCIJ reported how President Rodrigo Duterte and his children, Sara and Paolo, have all consistently grown richer over the years, even on the modest salaries they have received for various public posts, and despite the negligible retained earnings reflected in the financial statements of the companies they own or co-own. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

When we asked for the president’s 2018 SALN the following month, the Office of the Ombudsman stalled. Our request for the 2019 filing in August 2020 was also ignored until the Ombudsman released its circular a month later.

Three weeks after assuming office, Duterte signed Executive Order 2 that required the full public disclosure of many public documents. The order specifically said, “all public officials are reminded of their obligation to file and make available SALNs for scrutiny.”

Contrary to the spirit of the order and the requirements of a 1989 law, Congress and the courts have recently issued new guidelines restricting access. The Office of the Ombudsman, the uber custodian of SALNs, has changed its rules several times with varying degrees of openness.

Prior to the latest guidelines restricting public access, all requests must be approved by Ombudsman Samuel Martires. Martires, who belongs to the president’s San Beda law college fraternity, is a two-time Duterte appointee, first to the Supreme Court in 2017 and second to the Office of the Ombudsman in 2018.

Republic Act (RA) 6713, also known as the SALN Law, says that the actual SALNs should be open for public inspection at reasonable hours, available for copying after 10 working days from the time they are filed, and available to the public for 10 years from receipt of the record. These statements contain detailed information on an official’s real and personal properties, loans and other liabilities, and net worth as well as business interests, financial connections and relatives in government. (See sidebar: What’s in a SALN anyway?)

In a recent budget hearing, Ombudsman Martires said his office had stopped lifestyle checks on officials because RA 6713 supposedly set “unclear” standards.

Throughout the world, wealth disclosures are seen as an important anti-corruption tool. “The requirement that public officials declare their income and assets can help deter the use of public office for private gain,” said the World Bank. “Income and asset disclosure systems can provide a means to detect and manage potential conflicts of interest, and can assist in the prevention, detection, and prosecution of illicit enrichment by public officials.”

The SALN serves as a tool for transparency as well as prosecution as the law allows for lifestyle checks, law professor Antonio La Viña said. The wealth record offers a way to make sure that officials “do not benefit, do not increase their wealth because of their work (in government).” Through the SALN, one can track the way officials’ wealth changed over the years in which they were in power, he explained.

La Viña has reservations about everyone getting a hold of the SALNs, but said the Ombudsman circular was very restrictive when it excluded journalists from getting the records. “The media should always be given full access or at least access to the most important part of the SALN, the summary part,” he said.

The law professor surmised that the Ombudsman restricted access because the SALN had been “abused, misused, weaponized.”

To La Viña, however, those in power are the ones “weaponizing” the SALN to go after their enemies.

“President [Benigno] Aquino [III] used it against [Chief Justice Renato] Corona. President Duterte or the people of President Duterte — [Solicitor General Jose] Calida — used it against [Chief Justice Maria Lourdes] Sereno.”

The SALN was key to the ouster of the two chief justices. In 2012, Congress impeached and ousted former Chief Justice Renato Corona. In 2018, the Supreme Court removed through quo warranto proceedings Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, a critic of Duterte and his administration’s war on drugs. Both Corona and Sereno were accused of failing to fully disclose their wealth in their SALNs.

The PCIJ has also used asset statements to hold presidents accountable for the wealth they have accumulated while in public office. Without access to the full SALNs, this kind of investigative reporting becomes very difficult.

In 2000, we exposed the “millions, mansions and mistresses” of President Joseph Estrada, showing that what he had spent on his lavish lifestyle exceeded the net worth declared in his SALNs.

Chart 3. In July 2000, PCIJ reported how former President Joseph Estrada did not declare his participation in about a dozen companies in which he and his wife were major investors and board members. His wealth disclosures neither gave an idea of the magnitude of the business interests that he and his families were engaged in. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

The PCIJ also reported on the murky finances of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2009 and the spike in the net worth of Benigno Aquino III in 2011. All this reporting relied on SALNs as well.

Chart 4. In August 2009, PCIJ found that the declared wealth of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had increased the fastest, and by amounts much bigger, than the combined net growth of the three presidents before her – Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes
Chart 5. In July 2011, PCIJ reported that President Benigno Aquino III’s wealth had grown nearly three times, or from only P15.44 million as of December 2009 to P55 million as of December 2010. Infographic: Alexandra Paredes

La Viña warned that restricting SALN access to the media might increase impunity among corrupt officials. Before, corrupt officials hid illicit wealth or did not put it in their SALNs. Now, given access restrictions, they will be able to avoid scrutiny.

La Viña also said other SALN repositories might follow the Ombudsman’s lead. It’s important to file a petition before the Supreme Court to clarify access, particularly media access, he said.

In 2019, the Senate, which used to be one of the most open to making SALNs public, stopped releasing copies of the statements filed by senators. Senate Policy Order 2019-001 issued by the Office of Senate President Vicente Sotto allowed access only to SALN summaries and not the actual documents, citing the Data Privacy Act of 2012, which supposedly “restricts the dissemination of personal and privileged information.”

The House of Representatives has been disclosing only wealth summaries of congressmen since 2010. In February last year, it adopted House Resolution 2467 requiring all SALN requests to be approved by a majority vote of the House members in plenary session. Apart from numerous requirements, a requestor will have to pay P300 per SALN if the request is approved. That’s P91,500 for the SALNs of all 305 members of the House.

The Supreme Court has consistently thrown legal roadblocks at requests for the SALNs of members of the judiciary. After the ouster of former Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, the high court issued guidelines that required those seeking access to the wealth statements of justices to state in writing a reason for doing so. These requests also needed to be approved by the Supreme Court en banc. So far, requests from media organizations have been denied. Instead, the court releases only summaries listing the total value of the assets and liabilities of justices.

In the past 30 years, the PCIJ has obtained the full statements, not summaries, of the wealth disclosures of many public officials either through routine requests or in the course of its reporting. While some agencies held back, it was sometimes also possible to walk into the offices of government offices, or Malacañang, and get a copy right there and then. Some presidents, like Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada even disclosed their income tax returns.

The legal requirement to file SALNs is found in RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), the 1987 Constitution, and RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees). (See sidebar: Laws governing wealth disclosure)

The earliest of these laws, RA 3019, enacted in 1960, requires public officials to prepare annual statements of assets but does not require that they be made available to the public. Public disclosure was mandated by the 1987 Constitution for the highest officials of the country, and in 1989, RA 6713, for lower-ranking officials as well. –with additional research by Floreen Simon, Arjay Guarino and Rex David Morales, PCIJ, October 2020

Promotion, protection of breastfeeding practices reap rewards

By Angelica Carballo Pago/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Exclusive breastfeeding among infants 0 to 5.9 months has nearly doubled, from 30 percent in 2003 to 58 percent in 2019.

Women should still breastfeed despite the pandemic, even those found to be positive for Covid-19, according to a Department of Health (DOH) memorandum. This shows how the government has been relentless in promoting breastfeeding in the face of a formidable opponent – milk manufacturing giants who have made their way into the consciousness of Filipino mothers through massive advertising.

Despite the passage of the Milk Code 33 years ago, myths and unfounded beliefs persist amid aggressive promotions by milk manufacturers that claim to give a child advantage in terms of health and IQ points.

Only 35.1 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed until 5 months of age, according to the 2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey of the Department of Science and Technology – Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), although exclusive breastfeeding percentages have been increasing since 2003, but took a dip in 2015.

Nathalie Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, said the Milk Code was meant to protect the interest of mothers and babies from aggressive marketing strategies of formula milk companies. (See related story: Milk and the pandemic: Milk Code confusion cripples LGUs response for infants)

Mothers need support, according to Save the Children Philippines health and nutrition adviser Dr. Amado Parawan. A mother’s decision to breastfeed, he said, predates the birth of the child and will depend on what she believes – or is made to believe. This decision can also be affected by the support she gets – or doesn’t get – from home, work and community.

Maryjoy Mota shows the bottle used to feed baby Pia, when her family was able to scrape a few hundred pesos to buy formula milk. Photograph: Buck Pago

Here’s a timeline of breastfeeding policies and how they have influenced breastfeeding rates.

May 1981 – The International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is adopted by the World Health Assembly. The aim is to protect and promote breastfeeding by ensuring appropriate marketing and distribution of breastmilk substitutes.

20 October 1986 – President Corazon Aquino signs Executive Order 51 or the Milk Code with its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). The Code regulates advertising of breastmilk substitutes, including infant formula, other milk products, foods and beverages, feeding bottles and teats.

1990 – Guided by the World Health Assembly resolutions, which state that “follow-on or follow-up formulas are unnecessary because after six months the baby starts to take complementary foods together with sustained breastfeeding,” improvements were introduced on the IRR, such as the ban on follow-on formulas. This was prompted by the 1987 Wyeth’s invention of follow-on milk for children aged six months and above that undermined the importance of breastfeeding. When the Milk Code was being drafted, follow-on milk was not yet invented. “Complementary food” includes food that is part of the local culture.

2 June 1992 – The Rooming-In and Breast-Feeding Act, Republic Act (RA) 7600, is passed, provides legal basis for rooming-in as a national policy to encourage, protect and support breastfeeding.

2003 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months stands at 29.7 percent.

2004 – The Task Force Milk Code begins discussion and debate on the first draft of the revised IRR of the Milk Code. Among those consulted was Swiss multinational Nestlé, who represented formula milk companies.

23 May 2005 – DOH Administrative Order (AO) 2006-0014 or the National Policies on Infant and Young Children is issued. It states that in times of crisis, breastfeeding is the first and best feeding option for infants and young children. It requires mothers and babies to remain together after delivery. Support must be given for mothers to breastfeed even in crisis or emergencies.

2006 – The Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) seeks a temporary restraining order on the revised IRR’s implementation. After initially denying PHAP’s petition, the court overturns its decision and issues a TRO on the revised IRR.

28 May 2007 – DOH AO 2007-0017 or the “Guidelines on the Acceptance and Processing of Foreign and Local Donations during Emergency and Disaster Situations,” states that “Infant formula, breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles, artificial nipples and teats shall not be items for donation. No acceptance of donation shall be issued for any of the enumerated items.”

09 October 2007 – The revised IRR of the Milk Code takes effect after the Supreme Court partially upholds its validity. It strikes down certain provisions, such as the prohibition on advertising and promotion of breastmilk substitutes and introduces sanctions not found in the law.

01 April 2008 – The Department of the Interior and Local Government releases AO 2008-0055, or the “Guidelines on the acceptance and processing of foreign and local donations during emergency and disaster situations.” It endorses DOH AO 2007-0017 to all local government units.

2008 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months rises to 35.9 percent.

16 March 2009 – RA 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Act, which amends RA 7600, is signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It establishes standards for workplaces, health facilities (with the establishment of milk banks) and public places, and calls for breastfeeding breaks and designated facilities in the workplace.

Infographic by Alexandra Paredes

2011 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months rises anew, to 48.9 percent.

21 December 2012 – RA 10354 or The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 is signed by President Benigno Aquino III. It includes breastfeeding as an element of reproductive health care and provides a basis for breastfeeding promotion and education.

2013 – More than half, or 52.3 percent, of infants 0-5.9 months are exclusively breastfed.

2015 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months dips for the first time to 48.8 percent.

29 November 2018 – RA 11148 or the “Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act” is signed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The law seeks to address the malnutrition of infants and young and lactating women.

2018 – The exclusive breastfeeding percentage among infants 0-5.9 months recovers slightly to 54.9 percent.

17 April 2019 – RA 11311 or “An Act to Improve Land Transportation Terminals, Stations, Stops, Rest Areas and Roll-On/Roll-Off Terminals, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes,” establishes lactation stations in transport terminals, stations, stops and rest areas.

2019 – Exclusive breastfeeding improves to 57.9 percent.

Infographic by Alexandra Paredes

11 May 2020 – DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0237 or the “Interim Guidelines for the Delivery of Nutrition Services in the Context of COVID-19 Pandemic” states that mothers who are asymptomatic, or those with close contacts, suspect, probable, or confirmed case of COVID-19 who do not have severe illness and/or who are not in respiratory distress, can continue breastfeeding, provided that they observe strict infection control measures.

15 May 2020 – DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0231 or the “Guidelines on the Standardized Regulation of Donations, Related to EO 51,” provides guidelines on how LGUs can help provide nutrition for non-breastfeeding children under 3 years old. While donations are banned as stipulated in various laws and orders, LGUs can procure formula milk and give them to identified families. The memorandum still upholds the promotion and protection of breastfeeding for infants and young children. #

= = = = = = =

Sources:

Food and Nutrition Research Institute for breastfeeding data

Babymilkaction.org for Milk Code RIRR timeline

Journalists, lawyers slam Nasino’s ‘cruel and barbaric’ BJMP guards

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the personnel of the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology (BJMP) who tried to prevent political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino from being interviewed by reporters at her infant daughter’s wake in Manila yesterday, October 15.

Four BJMP escorts surrounded Nasino to block her from cameras and later attempted to drag her back to jail in violation of the four-hour furlough granted by the court.

The incident caused a commotion inside the funeral parlor as Nasino’s lawyers prevented the jail guards from snatching the grieving mother.

In a statement, the NUJP said Nasino’s visit to her deceased daughter was clearly a matter of public interest as it is part of an issue that touches on some very basic human rights, “particularly that of a mother deprived of the opportunity to nurture her child and, failing that, to comfort her and bid her goodbye in her final moments.”

“The BJMP personnel who trampled on the rights of both the news personnel covering the event and of Ms. Nasino, whose incarceration does not deprive her of the right to free expression were either ignorant of media’s role in a democracy or did not care, not surprising given how the head of state himself has shown nothing but contempt for a free and critical press,” the NUJP said.

The group demanded an immediate and transparent investigation into the incident and for sanctions to be leveled against both the unit commander and the personnel who obeyed what the NUJP described was an illegal order.

Bulatlat’s video of the commotion caused by BJMP guard at Baby River Nasino’s wake.

Cruelty and Barbarity Without Compare

Nasino’s lawyers said the BJMP also lied when they said before Judge Paulino Gallegos of RTC Manila Branch 47 that they lacked the personnel who can guard Nasino overnight and thus asked that her furlough be shortened from three days to six hours.

The lawyers said about 47 jail and police officers guarded Nasino from the Manila City Jail to the funeral parlor and were armed with high powered firearms in what they said was deceptive overkill.

They also complained that the guards flanked Nasino wherever she went and refused to let her speak with her family and counsel or view her baby in private.

The lawyers, members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the guards came looking like they were poised for battle even as they knew Nasino would not risk the chance to bury her child by attempting an escape.

“With their sheer number, the guards were the ones who overcrowded the wake. They also did not observe social distancing,” they said.

“It is clear that Ina’s escorts came to scoff at her grief by destroying the solemnity of the funeral with tension, fear, and intimidation. They arrested her on fake charges and caused the early separation of her baby in jail. What is another act of cruelty and injustice?” they said.

Atty. Ma Sol Taule, one of Nasino’s lawyers, said they know the women jail guards who attempted to snatch Nasino away were just following orders but expressed sadness the BJMP personnel did not understand the grief of a fellow woman who has lost a child.

“Hindi kami pumayag. Masyado ng maraming pasakit ang dinanas ni Reina Mae at ng kanyang anak sa kamay ng gubyernong ito,” she said. (We did not let it happen. Reina Mae and her child have suffered too much pain at the hands of this government.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups condemn furlough reduction for grieving mother

By Joseph Cuevas

The Regional Trial Court in Manila reduces the supposed three-day furlough for political prisoner and activist Reina Mae Nasino after jail authorities opposed her visit to the wake and burial of her three-month old child Baby River who died last Friday due to pneumonia.

In a hearing today, Judge Paulino Quitoras Gallegos of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 47 changed his original decision and drastically reduced Nasino’s furlough to just 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon of October 14 for the wake and October 16 from 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon at the Manila North cemetery for the burial.

Yesterday, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) sent a letter to the court requesting the visitation to be lessened citing lack of personnel for security.

The letter was signed by Jail Chief Inspector Maria Ignacia Monteron, Acting Office-in-Charge of Manila City Jail (MCJ) Female Dormitory of the BJMP.

Counsels of Nasino from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and her mother filed a Very Urgent Motion for Furlough last Monday, October 12, which was granted Tuesday.

In a text message forwarded to Kodao after the hearing, NUPL’s Atty. Katherine Panguban said, “Hanggang sa mga araw ng pagluluksa ng isang inang nawalan ng sanggol dahil sa mga gawa-gawang kaso laban sa kanya, hanggang sa mga huling oras na pwede pang masilayan ni Reina si River, nakuha pang makipagtawaran ng BJMP-MCJ”. (Up to these days when a mourning mother who lost her baby due to trumped-up charges, up to these last hours when Reina could see River, the BJMP-MCJ still petitioned to reduce the furlough.)

Political prisoners support group Kapatid decried the move by jail authorities who cited lack of personnel to guard Nasino and the added precautions their personnel had to implement in accordance with anti-coronavirus protocolas in opposing the original furlough.

‘Unjust, heartless’

Nasino first asked the court to be allowed to take care of her child but prison officials opposed her petition, citing lack of proper facilities inside the Manila City Jail

The court, through Branch 20’s Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali, sided with the BJMP and denied the 23-year-old political prisoner’s motion.

Kapatid decried the decision, citing rich inmates and politicians were granted privileges in jails for far less compelling reasons.

“Being an activist does not make Reina Mae less of a human being. It does not even negate her rights as a person. She deserves to stay at her child’s side until burial. Equity and compassion, simple humanity, should be standard to all,” Kapatid demanded.

In a statement, human rights group Karapatan called the new decision on Nasino’s furlough a form of torture and another enraging and callous act.

“Wala na ba talagang katapusan ang pagpapahirap, tortyur at inhustisya ng gobyernong ito sa isang ina na naghihinagpis?” the group asked. (Is there no end to the government’s torture and injustice on this grieving mother?)

Karapatan added that jail authorities use logistical issues, funding and resources as alibis to deliberately prolong the agony of many imprisoned political prisoners like Nasino.

Nasino and two other companions were arrested during a midnight raid of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) office in Tondo, Manila in November 2019 and were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Nasino was not named in the search warrant presented by the Manila police.

Bayan also said the guns and explosives were planted, as is the usual practice of the Philippine National Police in its operations against activists and offices of progressive and church organizations. #

Milk and the pandemic: Milk Code confusion cripples LGUs response for infants

By Angelica Carballo Pago/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

The indiscriminate distribution and use of breastmilk substitutes, especially during emergencies, can change feeding practices and put babies at greater risk of illness.

What you need to know about this story:

  • Experts are calling for measures to ensure the health and safety of infant and young children, which can easily be undermined by the milk industry’s aggressive marketing initiatives.
  • The Milk Code does not ban formula milk procurement and distribution by local government units, provided they follow guidelines set by the Department of Health (DOH).
  • Marketing and advertising of products within the scope of the Milk Code, however, are prohibited. Donations of formula milk and breastfeeding substitutes from manufacturers and distributors of these products are banned.
  • Local government units are clueless to the finer details of breastfeeding and infant and young child nutrition laws, to the detriment of mothers, infants and young children in need especially during the current Covid-19 crisis.
  • Milk companies use disasters and crises to market their products, and DOH data show a rise in Milk Code violations during the enhanced community quarantine period.

Here’s one unintended consequence of the Covid-19 health emergency: Parents and guardians are desperately finding ways to feed their babies, with some even begging on the streets or on social media. With lockdowns making it harder to provide proper and adequate food for the family, their health and nutrition — especially of babies — are at risk.

Local governments attempted to solve the problem by distributing formula milk to mothers, only to find out that donations are not allowed by the Milk Code, a 1986 law regulating the marketing and distribution of breastmilk substitutes.

Worse, formula milk makers seem to be taking advantage of the situation to undermine strict government regulations, experts observed.

During the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in March, Maryjoy Mota, a 37-year-old resident of Antipolo, posted on the Antipolo City Facebook group that her two-month-old granddaughter needed diapers and formula milk.

Maryjoy’s daughter, 17-year-old Hazel, had just given birth to Pia (not their real names), two weeks before the ECQ was enforced throughout Luzon in mid-March. Maryjoy’s post drew a hundred other comments from mothers and guardians in the same situation.

With Hazel giving birth to Pia two weeks ahead of her due date, the doctor immediately prescribed a formula milk brand, PreNan, developed for premature newborns. Weighing just 1.7 kilograms, the baby had to be placed in an incubator.

“We were not given any other options or brands, nor given any instructions or assistance to start breastfeeding,” Maryjoy said.

Even when Hazel went for check-ups at the barangay and the district health centers before she gave birth, there were no instructions on breastfeeding, which could have helped them save some money instead of spending it on formula milk, she said.

Maryjoy’s comment on Antipolo City’s Facebook page, asking for milk and diapers for her grandchild.

Sought for comment, an official of the Rizal Provincial Hospital System – Antipolo Annex 1, who asked not to be named, insisted that the hospital followed breastfeeding protocols. But Pia weighed below the 2.5-kilogram birth weight threshold and showed signs of sepsis, the official said.

The formula milk prescribed to Pia met the baby’s caloric requirements, which might not be sustained by breastfeeding, the official said.

But with no income, it was impossible to buy the 400-gram can of milk, which costs P641. Maryjoy’s common-law husband, Ricky, lost his construction job because of the pandemic, while Pia’s parents were unemployed teenagers.

While some local leaders were aware of the plight of new mothers like Hazel, the Milk Code posed an obstacle. Sangguniang Kabataan Chairman Arky Manning of Barangay San Isidro in Taytay, Rizal learned this the hard way.

The Department of Health (DOH) gave Manning a memo for violating Executive Order (EO) 51, or the Milk Code of 1986, by “accepting and distributing milk formula donations” given to mothers with infants in Taytay in April and May 2020.

Manning explained that it was part of the “Tulong Kay Baby (help for baby) project,a donation drive that he had organized with his friends. They bought milk and diapers using funds given by private individuals. No mass distribution or random donation of milk happened, he claimed.

Manning was one of the 291 violators flagged by the DOH from March 1 to July 24, largely covering the ECQ period in Luzon. Reports of violations came from the general public, submitted through http://mbfp.doh.gov.ph. MBFP, which stands for DOH’s Mother and Baby-Friendly Philippines, is the reporting platform for violations of the Milk Code and the Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009 (Republic Act 10028).

The list of violators included health workers, non-profit organizations, and local executives such as Manning, and Mayors Andrea Henares of Antipolo City and Marcy Teodoro of Marikina City.  Also on the list were celebrities such as Say Alonzo and Marian Rivera Dantes, who together with Nido, a brand that Dantes endorses, and the YesPinoy Foundation, were reported to have distributed follow-on formula. Dantes even posted it on Instagram to her 9.4 million followers.

EO 51 issued by former President Corazon C. Aquino, otherwise known as the Philippine Milk Code of 1986 or simply, the Milk Code, regulates the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, including milk formula, breastmilk supplements and other similar products by prohibiting the advertising and promotion, whether written, audio or visual, for such products. It adheres to the International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 1981. Breastfeeding advocates have hailed the Milk Code as one of the strongest breastfeeding protection laws in the world.

The Milk Code’s Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (RIRR), released 30 years after the law was signed, prohibits the donation of infant formula and breastmilk. Administrative orders from the DOH and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) further disallow the donation of infant formula milk and breastmilk substitutes in times of disasters and calamities.

According to data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, exclusive breastfeeding rates have continuously gone up in the last 10 years, reaching 57.9 percent in 2019. The global exclusive breastfeeding rate stands at 41 percent. The United Nations targets to increase global breastfeeding rates to 50 percent by 2025. (See sidebar: Promotion, protection of breastfeeding practices reap rewards)

Marketing is prohibited, the milk is not

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the law did not bar local government units (LGUs) from procuring formula milk.

“If local government units procure formula milk, the law does not cover it. EO 51 is a regulatory tool used by the Department of Health to regulate the advertisement of manufacturers that formula milk is more important than a mother’s milk. That’s our first objective — we would like to know that breastmilk is still the best for babies,” she said.

DOH Memorandum No. 2020-0231, dated May 15, 2020, laid down the guidelines on the standardized regulation of donations covered by the Milk Code. Formula milk and breastmilk substitutes can still be provided to those in need, with the following conditions:

  1. The local government unit buys it using its own budget (procurement);
  2. Breastmilk should still be the first choice and the procured formula milk is given to identified mothers/infants, not distributed en masse;
  3. Distribution, preparation and use of breastmilk substitute and formula milk must be done under the supervision of health and nutrition workers;
  4. There should be no brand name, logo or identifiable marks of the manufacturer; and
  5. No public relations, announcement or the likes may occur.

Dr. Mianne Silvestre, executive director of Kalusugan ng Mag-Ina (mother’s health) Foundation, echoed Vergeire’s explanation.

“The Milk Code is there to regulate the marketing and advertising of formula milk and breastfeeding substitutes, and not to penalize parents who give these products to their children,” Silvestre said. “Nobody goes to jail for feeding formula milk to their babies.”

Sharing a similar view, Dr. Paul Zambrano, a technical specialist at Alive and Thrive, a private initiative to reduce child undernutrition by improving infant and young child feeding practices, said: “Marketing (of formula milk and breastmilk substitutes) will undermine the practice of breastfeeding and complementary feeding with healthy food after six months. It’s meant to save lives. It is meant to prevent the top killers of children in that age group – diarrhea and pneumonia. ”

The problem, Silvestre said, was that formula milk was being marketed as the first option instead of breastfeeding. This goes against the hierarchy of infant feeding choices laid out in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding published by the World Health Organization (WHO), which states that donated breast milk from a wet nurse or milk bank takes precedence over formula milk.

Infographic by Alexandra Paredes

Even for Covid-19 positive mothers, the WHO still recommends continued breastfeeding and rooming of babies with their mothers. Transmission of Covid-19 through breastmilk or breastfeeding has not been established.

No guidance for LGUs

What can and cannot be done under the code does not seem to be clear to local governments, even to the DILG. In an interview with PCIJ, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, affirmed that the ban extends to selective distribution of milk to identified mothers and babies and referred to the National Nutrition Council website for guiding policies.

Taytay’s Manning said no guidance came from any government agency, particularly the DOH or DILG, on how they could respond to the needs of mothers and their babies.

During the quarantine, local officials, such as Quezon City Councilor Ariel Inton, repeatedly appealed to the DOH to lift the ban on milk donations.

In a Facebook livestream, Inton, a lawyer, gave practical advice to barangay officials planning to distribute formula milk to their constituents. “Tell them that you are handing it out as loans or ask for coins so they won’t say it’s a donation, so you can give the children something to eat,” Inton said.

For Ynares, while the Milk Code has an important purpose, it can also be a “bane during crisis.”

“It poses a huge challenge for families and the government to provide essential nutrition required for child growth and development particularly during extraordinary times,” the Antipolo City mayor said.

A National Nutrition Council advisory said that LGUs should consider that some recipients of pandemic relief goods have young children and pregnant and lactating mothers. Families are supposed to be monitored by Barangay Nutrition Scholars and Barangay Health Workers, who will provide them with low-cost, one dish-meal recipes as well as recipes utilizing their relief goods.

But Maryjoy said there were no vegetables and nutritious food in their relief packs. The lack of proper nutrition may have affected her daughter Hazel’s milk supply, she said.

“The first relief pack we received had three kilos of rice, two cans of sardines, and two Lucky Me noodles,” she said.

There was one instance, Maryjoy said, when her family received a few kilos of rice and 16 pieces of dried fish (tuyo). To increase Hazel’s milk, Maryjoy bought malunggay and cooked it with noodle soup.

While the DOH had specifically instructed that assistance should be provided to breastfeeding mothers, Maryjoy said no one from her barangay came to ask how her daughter and granddaughter were doing. “They only gave me a 150-gram pack of powdered Bear Brand milk, only for her to drink, but none for the baby,” Maryjoy recalled.

The usual relief pack distributed by LGUs during the quarantine period contained a few kilos of rice, canned goods and instant noodles. The nutrition council however urged LGUs to include dark green and yellow vegetables; root crops; legumes, beans and seeds; fruits; poultry and eggs; meat or fish; and pasteurized fresh milk.

Only a few cities and municipalities were able to distribute fresh produce.

Maryjoy shows the 150-gram pack of powdered milk she received after lining up at the barangay hall. She believes the lack of nutritious food affected Hazel’s (not her real name) milk supply. Photograph: Buck Pago

“We are in a crisis situation, and even the government’s hands are tied because of supply chain problems. The local government units have to procure thousands and thousands of produce to give to their constituents who need it not now, but yesterday. That is the limitation, and we understand when canned goods are distributed given the situation,” said DILG’s Malaya.

Malaya pointed out that on top of the relief packs given to households, a one-time cash assistance was given in the form of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).

“The family can go to the market and buy what they think is nutritious food for lactating mothers. The government has already provided funds for them and they can make that choice if they wish to,” Malaya said.

But for Maryjoy, the SAP she received had to be divided among three households.

The P6,500 is to be divided among three families, with each receiving P2,000, but I get to have the extra P500 because it was I who lined up for that money,” Maryjoy said. Most of what she got eventually went to repaying debt incurred when her husband lost his job.

Milking disasters

Breast or bottle? This question remains contentious. Since the Milk Code was enacted in 1986, the milk industry has taken advantage of every possible loophole to undermine the law. When the Milk Code took effect in 1987, international milk manufacturing company Wyeth invented the follow-on formula for babies six months old and beyond.

The Milk Code’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) were revised to include a ban on advertising follow-on formula in 1990. A revised IRR was drafted in 2006, adding further safeguards 30 years after the Milk Code was signed, but this was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.

A report released in May 2020 by WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Baby Food Action Network said that despite the pandemic, milk companies continued to skirt laws in many countries and continuously promoted their products.

“There is no guarantee that these donations will occur over the long term,” said Dr. Nathalie Africa-Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. “The intention really is to introduce the product and to generate dependence with the belief and the hope that women will continue to patronize the products that they were provided for free initially.”

Studies have shown that mothers exposed to breastmilk substitutes were highly likely to abandon breastfeeding, and the indiscriminate distribution and use of formula milk put infants at greater risk of illness, which might be fatal.

A study in Indonesia in the aftermath of the May 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta and Central Java found that the distribution and use of breastmilk substitutes resulted in changes in feeding practices. Uncontrolled distribution of infant formula exacerbated the risk of diarrhea among infants and young children during the emergency, the study found.

“(The Milk Code) is very relevant because let’s look at what the companies do during times of emergencies, they use it to try to market the product,” said Zambrano.

DOH data confirmed these observations. The health department noted that a rise in reports of Milk Code violations from the public began to occur in the week when the strict lockdowns  began, peaking during the week of April 6 to 12 with 90 cases.

Infographic by Alexandra Paredes

Apart from solicitations, there were product advertisements, such as Marian Rivera-Dantes’ Instagram post. Corporate and private donations also happened online, mostly through Facebook posts, according to the DOH data.

Zambrano pointed out that the relevance of the Code had always been questioned during emergencies. He recalled a situation in Cagayan de Oro after typhoon Sendong in 2011 when distribution of formula milk became rampant.

Silvestre downplayed the matter and said only a few mothers were unable to breastfeed their babies due to medical or physical reasons.

“These few cases are being hyped up to rationalize the lifting of the prohibition during emergencies. When in fact, it is during emergencies when we should intensify the protection of mothers to enable them to breastfeed their babies,” Silvestre said.

Formula milk manufacturers have been accused several times of unscrupulous means of advertising their products, targeting mostly low-income families or those who can least afford their product.

A 2018 report from Save the Children Philippines revealed that baby formula brands in the Philippines are using “aggressive, clandestine and often illegal methods” to get poor mothers to choose their product over breastfeeding.

Hospital staff also gave brand-specific recommendations to mothers who had just given birth, clearly a violation of the Milk Code. The report named Nestle, Abbott, Mead Johnson and Wyeth as the companies who are using these illegal tactics.

All four companies denied the allegations in separate statements sent to the Guardian in 2018.

Cheapest, but not the best

Hazel is helping her mother with their online selling business, earning a few extra pesos to help augment their family’s income. She expects breastfeeding to be temporary and will likely go back to feeding Pia formula milk.

Maryjoy said they had begun feeding Nestogen One to Pia, the cheapest in the market at P78 per box. It wasn’t prescribed by the doctor.

“But Pia doesn’t want it, she won’t swallow it,” Maryjoy said.

As Hazel handles deliveries and client meet-ups for their online selling business, Maryjoy has no choice but to give Pia formula milk. 

“I need to go back to school,” Hazel said.

Asked where they will get the money to buy formula milk, Hazel shrugged. –PCIJ, October 2020

= = = =

Editor’s Note: The real names of Hazel and her baby, Pia, were not used because they are minors.

ABS-CBN reporter named 2020 McLuhan fellow

Three months after the forced closure of their media company, an ABS-CBN reporter was named the 2020 Marshall McLuhan Fellow at the conclusion of today’s Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar.

Christian Esguerra was presented the prestigious distinction by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in the first ever online version of the annual event.

Esguerra was cited for the quality of his reports on television and online along with PhilStar.com’s Camille Diola who in turn received this year’s Award of Distinction.

Esguerra and Diola were among this year’s seminar panellists with Rappler’s Lian Buan, ABS-CBN’s Mike Navallo, GMA Network’s Raffy Tima and ABS-CBN’s Chiara Zambrano.

“More than the personal recognition, I‘m hoping for greater courage and solidarity among journalists. Journalism, especially at this time, is not for the timid and subservient,” Esguerra said of his award.

Esguerra also received the Titus Brandsma Emergent Leadership in Journalism Award in October 2019, the latest of only three recipients so far.

This year’s Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar discussed the coverage of various issues in the news in the past year: COVID-19, China and the West Philippine Sea, the relationship of the press and the government, the state of the press, and other governance issues.

The McLuhan Fellowship, named after the Canadian communication theoretician, had been sponsored by the Embassy of Canada in the past 24 years.

The fellowship consists of a two-week familiarization and lecture tour of Canadian media and academic organizations, and later, a lecture tour of Philippine universities.

It was first awarded in 1997 and among its 21 fellows were Sheila S. Coronel (Columbia Journalism School and Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism), Yvonne T. Chua (VERA Files), Ed Lingao (TV5), Carolyn O. Arguillas (MindaNews), and Cheche Lazaro (ProbeTV), among others. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

De Lima, rights defenders warn UN on Duterte’s ‘snake oil salesman of a government’

By adopting a more diplomatic tone in its resolution on the state of human rights in the Philippines, did the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) expect the Rodrigo Duterte government to suddenly behave? Senator Leila de Lima asked.

Reacting to the Council’s position on the penultimate day of its 45th General Session last Wednesday, the imprisoned Senator asked the UNHRC if after 28,000 murders and hundreds of cases of attacks on critics and human rights defenders, does it expect the Duterte government to “grow a conscience and cultivate an appetite for the promotion and defense of human rights?”

In a statement read at an online press conference by her spokesperson Atty Fhillip Sawali last Thursday, October 8, the Senator also expressed doubt that the technical cooperation offered by the UNHRC to Duterte’s government will finally enable it to fulfill its international obligations on human rights.

De Lima said the resolution is “not responsive to the human rights calamity under the Duterte government,” adding the new UNHRC resolution is out of sync and incongruous with its earlier resolution calling for in-country investigations by independent experts on reports of human rights violations the President himself encouraged.

“It does not meaningfully address the need to stop the policies and practices that result in EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and other gross human rights violations. It does not put in place an independent investigation of the killings and other abuses,” de Lima said.

She added that technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic investigative and accountability and similar measures do not result in any concrete mechanism that can lead to the prosecution and punishment of the masterminds and perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations.

The Senator said she fears that the government may just use UNHRC’s supposed technical assistance and capacity-building programs as convenient covers to hide its actual policy of contempt towards human rights and human rights defenders.

“In other words: the new UNHRC resolution fails to take concrete steps towards ending the killings. It likewise fails to advance the cause of justice for the numerous victims and their bereaved families,” she said.

De Lima urged the UNHRC “not to be easily swayed by the snake oil salesman of a government that has clearly declared an open war against human rights and the rule of law.”

 “How do you disable a killing machine? You confront it tenaciously, with all the talents and tools that you have, aiming at disarming and dismantling it, and holding responsible all its masterminds and operators,” de Lima said.

Diplomacy at work?

Philippine government officials were quick to welcome the UNHRC resolution and claimed the international body trusts that Philippine criminal and judicial institutions to address human rights violations.

In an online briefing Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the resolution “shows that the UN Human Rights Council trusts the institutions tasked to address human rights violators.”

“We will fully cooperate with the UN Human Rights system because that is what we want. We are not saying we are perfect. Do not criticize us and help us instead,” Roque said.

Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra for his part said he will get the proferred technical cooperation with the UNHRC going and create a panel to review drug operations resulting in deaths.

The latest UNHRC resolution was co-sponsored by the Philippine government.

‘Simple posturing’

Asked on the possible reasons for the tone of the resolution and the calmer response by the Philippine government, National Union of Peoples Lawyers president Edre Olalia said it appears that the Duterte government is shifting its stance from belligerence to mollification.

“After overwhelming, persistent and consistent condemnation by the international community on the state of human rights in the Philippines, the Duterte government painted itself to a corner by its combative stance in the past,” Olalia said.

“The calmer tone may be a tactical approach to temper criticism of its record and it may also be a strategic approach to preempt accountability for its human rights violations,” Olalia added.

The lawyer also explained that voting at the UN is political and influenced by set voting patterns, lobbying, quid-pro-quo among States, and regional considerations.

“But what is relevant is whether the victims receive justice or the perpetrators are only emboldened further. In the end, it is the policy and reality on the ground that matters,” he said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay added that the Duterte government should not be too quick on claiming it won points with a resolution written in fine language.

“What is very clear is that there still needs to be strong domestic accountability and impartial investigations,” Palabay said, noting that the resolution is still based on the report filed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) detailing thousands of rights violations by the Duterte government.

“The challenge here is how the Philippine government honors and views OHCHR recommendations, as well as those by other independent local and international human rights organizations,” Palabay stressed.

Palabay recalled Duterte’s recent online address of the UN General Assembly where he called for “open dialogue” and “constructive engagement” but complained that human rights had been “weaponized” against him and his government by local and international critics.

“Duterte is clearly just posturing. In any case, the ball is in the government’s court, so to speak,” she said.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas also dismissed the government’s assurance of dialogue and cooperation with human rights mechanisms.

“Any technical cooperation and capacity building on human rights for the part of the Duterte government  would just be tokenistic and superficial. Duterte’s practice of human rights promotion is practically naught. Soon enough, he would [again] be verbally lashing at the UNHRC and human rights defenders,” the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UN urges Duterte gov’t to investigate, prosecute rights abusers anew

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) again urged the Rodrigo Duterte government  to conduct “independent, full, and transparent” investigations to ensure accountability for rights violations and abuses in the Philippines.

In a resolution Wednesday (Philippine time), the UNHRC also condemned all “acts of intimidation and reprisal, both online and offline” against human rights groups and other critics.”

In its 45th General Session from September 14 to October 7, the Council took note of the scathing report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) last June 4 detailing the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs that has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

[READ: UNITED NATIONS: Rights violations widespread and persistent under Duterte gov’t]

The new resolution recommended that OHCHR and Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet assist the Philippines in its “fulfillment of its international human rights obligations and commitments” through:

  • technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic investigative and accountability measures
  • data gathering on alleged police violations, engagement with civil society
  • national mechanism for reporting and follow-up
  • counter-terrorism legislation
  • and human rights-based approaches to drug control.

The resolution was sponsored by the Philippine government itself, along with fellow member-States India and Nepal, as well as non-members Hungary, Thailand, Turkey and Iceland.

‘Human rights crisis’

A human rights alliance said the latest UNHRC resolution indicates that the international community has acknowledged the human rights crisis in the Philippines and persists in its scrutiny of the Duterte government.

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) said the resolution is proof that the Duterte administration, despite its belligerent stance and statements in past HRC sessions, has also started to acknowledge “domestic and international pressure for justice and accountability” for its reported human rights violations.

“The resolution comes after the damning report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the persistent and widespread killings and human rights violations in the Philippines, the numerous statements of UN Special Procedures expressing concern on the situation, the European Parliament resolution calling on the European Commission to initiate the temporary withdrawal of trade perks of the Philippines in the light of the serious rights violations, and the proposed measure at the US Congress to end military and police aid to the Philippine government,” EcuVoice said in a statement.

EcuVoice led the filing of dozens of reports of human rights violations by the Duterte government at the HRC’s 43rd General Session in Geneva, Switzerland last February and March that became part of Bachelet’s report recommending investigations to be conducted in the Philippines.

Human rights group Karapatan said the new resolution is “a sign that the international community remains committed in closely monitoring the situation of human rights in the country.”

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, however, expressed disappointment that the new resolution “looks over the urgent demands of victims, their families and communities” for in-country probes.

 “[I]t (the resolution) falls short of a decisive and adequate response to the worsening human rights crisis in the country — and we strongly believe that technical cooperation and capacity-building activities would not stop the administration’s human rights violations,” Palabay said.

Karapatan challenged the Duterte government to allow access to UN investigators if it has nothing to hide in line with Bachelet’s original recommendation.

It also urged governments, parliaments, civil society groups, and international non-governmental organizations to conduct independent investigations to validate the real human rights situation in the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Battle of the bastards’: House squabble, budget railroading irk farmers group

Condemning maneuvers that led to the railroading of the proposed 2021 national budget at the House of Representatives (HOR), the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) likened the infighting by administration allies at the chamber as a “battle of the bastards.”

Comparing developments at the HOR to an episode of the television series Game of Thrones of the same title, the KMP said the shameless squabbling of Reps. Alan Cayetano and Rep. Lord Allan Velasco over the Speakership and the multi-billion pork barrel led to railroading of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget.

Cayetano on Tuesday, October 6, railroaded the 2nd reading of House Bill No. 7727, the proposed 2021 national budget, while his supporters moved to suspend session until November 16.

The motions were approved by Cayetano’s supporters despite objections by Representatives attending the hearings via online meeting app Zoom.

The move allows Cayetano to bypass the October 14 deadline when he is supposed to relinquish his post to rival Velasco in accordance with their so-called term-sharing agreement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“These two Allans have no shame. They both deserve the anger and condemnation of Filipinos. They are openly engaging in a power struggle to gain control over the House and the pork barrel,” KMP said.

The farmers group said the shameless squabbling of HOR leaders denies other representatives the chance to scrutinize the proposed P4.5-trillion budget riddled with budget cuts for much needed social services while increasing funds for debt servicing, military and intelligence.

“Just to remind these two ‘bastards’, the national budget is not their personal money and Congress is not their playground. They ought to be legislating pro-people measures and reforms,” KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Paramilitary leaders’ death brings ‘deep sense of justice,’ Reds say

Hawudon Jomar Bucales’ death last Sunday brought “a deep sense of justice” to the people of the community, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said in announcing it was the New People’s Army (NPA) that ambushed and killed the leader of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani.

The CPP hailed the death of Bucales, calling him a mastermind of the brutal murders of tribal leaders and a school director in September 1, 2015 that later became known as the Lianga Massacre.

“The NPA unit in Surigao del Sur deserves the highest commendation. The Party and the Filipino people congratulate them for their success,” the group said.

“The broad masses of Lianga celebrate the successful NPA ambush. They feel a deep sense of justice with the death of Bucales,” it added.

A spot report by the Lianga police said the October 4 incident in Sitio Mamsapranon, Barangay Banahao also killed one Alberto Belonio Dela Peña and wounded paramilitary troopers Ronald Acevedo and Artemio Muldes as well as their companion Oliver Rosaldo.

A statement by the 3rd Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army said Muldes also died.

Bucales and party were on their way home on board two motorcycles from an Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representative (IPMR) meeting in Barangay San Isidro when waylaid by the NPA’s Guerilla Front 19, the police report said.

A 25-minute gun battle ensued that ended when the guerrillas withdrew, it added.

Massacre mastermind

The CPP said Bucales played a key role in the murder of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) executive director Emerito Samarca and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo in 2015.

 In a House of Representatives hearing on November 11, 2015, Bucales seemingly justified the massacre by accusing the award-winning school for Lumad children of brainwashing its graduates to later join the NPA.

“Siya ang naglalason sa mga tao…Iyan ang rason, kasi iyong mga graduate ng ALCADEV, pumupunta sa kilusan,” Bucales said.

 (He [Samarca] poisoned the minds of the people…That was the reason, because ALCADEV graduates later joint the [communist] movement.)

The murders prompted then Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel, now the province’s Second District Representative, to demand the Magahat-Bagani’s disbandment, calling it a “monster created by the military.”

Senator Koko Pimentel and former Senator Teofisto Guingona III also called for the arrest of Bucales and other leaders of the paramilitary during a Senate inquiry on the massacre.

They were ignored by government security forces , however, allowing Bucales to roam free in Andap Valley, a mining hotspot of the country.

The CPP said a “people’s court” had previously been formed to try Bucales and others for the Lianga Massacre where the Magahat-Bagani leader’s key role in the murders were pointed out.

The group said Bucales ignored their summons and refused to stand trial.

Continuing threats against Lumad schools

The CPP also said Bucales’ Magahat-Bagani received guns, funding and publicity support from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and mining companies operating in the area.

“He and his paramilitary group were being misrepresented as ‘NPA surrenderees’ by the 3rd Infantry Battalion in order to funnel funds for counterinsurgency into their pockets. Endorsed by the military, he was appointed by Lianga town officials as its Mandatory Indigenous Peoples Representative, the CPP said.

The CPP said Bucales has recently been issuing renewed threats against the leaders of the ALCADEV community school in behalf of the military.

“In recent months, the people of Lianga have been subjected to intense militarization, aerial bombings and gross human rights abuses, in order to break the people’s resistance to the further aggression of mining operations in their areas,” the CPP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)