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Senate reveals more questionable Pharmally deals

Controversial medical equipment supplier Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. bagged more questionable contracts from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the ongoing investigation by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee revealed.

At the investigation’s sixth hearing last Monday, September 13, Senator Panfilo Lacson observed that Pharmally may have actually won contracts worth around P12 billion despite having no established record in the business and having only P625,000 in paid up capital when it incorporated in 2019.

Lacson made the observation after Senator Franklin Drilon bared additional P4 billion in test kits contracts were awarded to Pharmally that were not included in the Commission on Audit’s 2020 report flagging questionable transactions between the corporation and the DBM procurement service.

In addition to earlier revelations that Pharmally has bagged more than P8 billion in contracts, Drilon said the following purchase orders were awarded to the company:

  • P300 million worth of KN95 masks at P100 per piece issued on April 23, 2020;
  • P2.88 billion for 41,400 test kits at P69,500 per kit on June 9, 2020;
  • P245.85 million for 312 test kits at P787,968 each on June 10, 2020; and
  • P774.35 million for 17,000 test kits at P45,550 each (no date cited).

“This is not in the COA report. What happened to this?” Drilon asked former DBM undersecretary Christopher Lao who was its procurement service head at the time of the transactions.

While acknowledging that Drilon’s documents may be official DBM records, Lao denied having any idea about the contracts.

Drilon however said Lao himself signed at least two of the contracts.

The Blue Ribbon Committee investigation was triggered by state auditors who revealed “deficiencies” in government spending in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Duterte gov’ts corruption

In his summary of Monday’s hearing, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said Pharmally still has to explain its incredible fortune with the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“Pharmally still could not explain where it got money to pay its Chinese suppliers. The ‘buy now, pay later’ explanation is hard to believe at a time when the demand was highest,” Reyes said.

Reyes rued that former Duterte economic adviser Michael Yang again chose to skip the Senate hearing to explain his role as go-between between Pharmally and the DBM while possibly being the company’s funder.

“One can’t help but ask, is Pharmally, which was underfunded and incapable of manufacturing medical supplies, just Yang’s dummy?” Reyes asked.

Reyes also noted questionable procedures revealed at the Senate hearing, such as “same day deliveries” of overpriced face masks despite the absence of purchase orders.

“DBM-PS was still asking for quotations and here was Pharmally delivering half-a-million face masks within three hours. It looked like a deal was already in the bag,” he said.

Reyes said that instead of spearheading the defense of Yang, the scale of his administration’s corruption during the pandemic should already be obvious to Duterte. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

BAYAN’s Reyes says Afghan gov’t collapse is another defeat for US imperialism

The collapse of the foreign-backed government in Afghanistan is another defeat for interventionist military adventures by the United States, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.

In a statement following reports Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghanil has fled Kabul, Reyes said US military interventionism that pushes imperialistic ends is bound to fail if the local populace see them as invaders.

“However hard the US imposes its version of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, the Afghan people still see them as invaders. US imperialism did not bring them change and development but deeper crisis,” Reyes wrote in Filipino.

The defeat of the US-led military coalition that occupied Afghanistan is another defeat similar to what it suffered in Iraq and Vietnam, he added.

Taliban fighters have started their entry into the capital city after Ghanil has reportedly fled Kabul as the US started evacuating its diplomatic staff with helicopters, reminiscent of the chaos seen when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in April 1975.

The Taliban first gained prominence as an anti-Soviet occupation force that implemented what is seen as a hard line form of Sunni Islam when it first led Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The US led an international military coalition that occupied Afghanistan after the 9-11 attacks in New York, accusing the Taliban of supporting Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in Abbotville, Pakistan in April 2012.

The coalition reportedly spent about $3 trillion dollars in the two-decade conflict, with the US shouldering about $978 billion from 2001 to 2020.

US President Joe Biden earlier ordered the withdrawal of soldiers and urged peace negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban.

Reyes said the US occupation of the country has led to the worst reported cases of human rights violations in the world in the last two decades.

He said that civilian deaths has been treated a mere “collateral damage” that has also bred continuing armed resistance against the occupation.

Reyes added that future developments would indicate whether the Taliban would commit human rights violations it was accused of in the past.

Meanwhile, United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban to exercise utmost restraint as he voiced concern about the future of women and girls under another Taliban regime.

The Taliban are being accused of curtailing women’s rights to education, work, free expression and others.

Pope Francis on the other hand Pope Francis called for an end to the conflict in Afghanistan so its people “can live in peace, security and reciprocal respect.”

In his Sunday address in Vatican City, Francis said, “I join in the unanimous worry about the situation in Afghanistan. I ask you to pray along with me to the God of peace so that the din of weapons ends and that solutions can be found around a table of dialogue.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Protesta sa Araw ng Kalayaan upang ipaglaban ang West Philippine Sea laban sa agresyon ng China

Ipinagdiwang ng mga progresibong grupo sa pangunguna ng Bagong Alyansang Makabayan ang ika-123 anibersaryo ng deklarasyon ng kalayaan ng Pilipinas mula sa Espanya sa pamamagitan ng isang kilos protesta sa harapan ng konsulada ng Tsina sa Makati city noong Sabado, Hunyo12. Tinutulan nila ang anila’y kapabayaan ng gubyernong Rodrigo Duterte sa West Philippine Sea at pang-uupat ng Tsina sa mga mangingisdang Pilipino sa loob ng Exclusive Economic Zone ng bansa. (Bidyo nina Jek Alcaraz at Joseph Cuevas. Editing ni Jek Alcaraz)

Activist groups challenge NPA to ensure justice for blast victims

They challenged the NPA conduct a thorough investigation and submit its report to the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Activist groups condemned the death of two civilians in a botched military operation by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Masbate last Sunday, June 6.

In a statement, progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the incident was a violation of the International Humanitarian Law that prohibits harm on unarmed civilians in the course of an armed conflict.

“These civilian deaths are condemnable. We extend our sincerest condolences to the families of the two victims,” Bayan said Wednesday.

Human rights group Karapatan likewise criticized the NPA unit responsible for the “deplorable and lamentable incident.”

“We take to task the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) and NPA for the woeful and tragic incident and expect them to make sure that it does not happen again. The parties to an armed conflict should always distinguish civilians from combatants and adhere to ‘the principles and rules which limit the use of violence in times of armed conflict,’” Karapatan said.

The group added it expects the group to live up to its promise to ensure prompt investigation and to indemnify the victims through their families.

The Makabayan Bloc of progressive parties at the House of Representatives who, like Bayan and Karapatan, are incessantly accused by government agencies to be “CPP front organizations” and “NPA recruiters and defenders” also condemned the incident.

“We condemn the military action by a unit of the NPA in Masbate City that caused their death and injuries to others for violating international humanitarian law,” Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, ACT Teachers’ Party and the Kabataan Youth Party said.

“Mariing kinukundena ng Kabataan Partylist ang naturang aksyong militar ng NPA na humantong sa pagkamatay nina Kieth at Nolven Absalon sa Masbate. Ipinapabatid muli ng Kabataan ang taos-pusong pakikiramay sa kanilang pamilya,” the Kabataan Party in a separate statement said.

(Kabataan Party firmly condemns the NPA military action that led to the deaths of Keith and Nolven Absalon in Masbate. Kabataan sends its heartfelt condolences to their families.)

‘Rules of war violation’

Cousins Keith (21) and Nolven (40) Absalon were killed by a roadside explosion reportedly set off by a NPA unit in the area last June 6 at past six o’clock in the morning while the victims.

Nolven’s son Crisbin Daniel (16) was likewise injured.

Keith was a college football star who played with the Far Eastern University junior and senior football teams, earning most valuable player honors in high school. He was also a member of the under-19 Philippine national team.

Nolven was a chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Masbate Electric Cooperative Employees Union.

As per its practice after each military action, the NPA admitted responsibility for the incident last Tuesday.

The death of two civilians and injury of another however prompted the CPP to speak for the guerilla army it leads.

 “The entire (CPP) and (NPA) express their deep remorse over the untimely and unnecessary deaths of cousins Keith and Nolven Absalon and injury to others,” CPP information officer Marco Valbuena said.

“The entire CPP and NPA take full responsibility for the tragedy. There is no justification for the aggravation this has caused the Absalon family,” Valbuena added.

In another statement issued June 9, Valbuena said the takes cognizance of the grave sentiments and denouncement expressed by concerned quarters.

Valbuena admitted that the botched military operation appears to have violated rules of war as well as the NPA’s own policies.

“Indeed, the unfortunate incident involves a breach of international laws of war and of the internal rules of the NPA which gives the highest priority to the protection of civilians at all times,” Valbuena said.

He explained that the NPA unit and personnel responsible are under the authority of the NPA and the so-called People’s Democratic Government it has established in areas under its control.

Valbuena said that the incident is currently being “fully assessed, with the aim of avoiding such errors in the future.”

In line with the NPA’s rules, Valbuena said those found responsible can be meted out “disciplinary action or punishment” corresponding to their individual responsibilities and conduct during the incident.

‘Proper mechanism’

Bayan and Kabataan however said that while the CPP have promptly owned up to the tragedy and promised indemnification, they challenged the NPA conduct a thorough investigation and submit its report to the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Government of the Republic of the Philippines Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

“There should be accountability in accordance with the mechanisms agreed upon by both parties to the armed conflict…The JMC should be convened as a mechanism for the aggrieved parties who wish to file a complaint against erring armed units,” Bayan said.

Makabayan has urged the Absalon family to file a complaint against those responsible to the JMC.

“Marapat lamang na paganahin ang malinaw na patakaran, tulad ng (JMC) ng CARHRIHL bilang awtoridad sa ganitong mga kaso, para matiyak ang hustisya at pananagutan,” Kabataan for its part said.

(The JMC must be activated as the proper mechanism in addressing such cases. This is to ensure justice and accountability.)

Valbuena said their groups agree to the recommendations.

“Under the CARHRIHL, we are obliged to cooperate with the NDFP Section of the (JMC) if a complaint is filed before it,” he said.

He added that the CPP and the NPA shall likewise consult pertinent provisions of the Geneva Conventions as guides to determining the proper resolutions. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bayan on Fr. Jun Mercado: ‘Remarkable human being’

Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado Jr. made his mark as a peace champion in behalf of the Bangsamoro. Quite unknown or forgotten however was his past as one of the founding leaders of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

In a tribute, Bayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo revealed Mercado was one of the first vice presidents of the country’s biggest alliance of progressive organizations. He was a stalwart of the national alliance of patriotic and democratic mass organizations at the height of the Filipino people’s struggle against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, Araullo wrote. She added that Mercado was once of its founding leaders when the alliance was founded in 1985 and served as one of the vice presidents of Bayan’s founding chairperson Senator Lorenzo Tañada.

“[Fr. Jun] spearheaded the formation of the People’s Caucus after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. The People’s Caucus was organized by Bayan in order to form a broad front that would continue to push for fundamental socio-economic and political reforms in the post-Marcos era,” Araullo said.

Araullo recalled that one of the main projects of the People’s Caucus was to put together a blueprint for the conversion of the former United States military bases into productive industrial and commercial hubs once the Philippines would be able to reassert national sovereignty over the sprawling prime real estate in Subic, Olongapo and Clark, Pampanga.

“This was to disprove allegations of pro-US quarters that the local economy built around and dependent on the US military installations would collapse should the US pull out. This was important in the campaign to reject the renewal of the RP-US military bases agreement in 1991,” Araullo said.

Both the former US Navy base in Subic and the US Air Force base in Clark have since become economic enclaves when the Americans left in a hurry as Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the early 90s.

Mercado died last May 23 in a Cotabato hospital of a heart attack as he was battling Covid-19.

 ‘Jovial and untiring’

Araullo remembered Mercado as a “very jovial, unassuming, cooperative, sincere and untiring Bayan official and People’s Caucus secretary general.”

“[He] lent his sharp intellect, articulate voice, persuasive charm and warm hearted generosity for the pursuit of BAYAN’s advocacies through its political education and information campaigns as well as mass mobilizations including people’s strikes under the Cory Aquino administration,” she said.

The priest was born and raised in Bulacan and Manila, respectively. His father was an American -trained World War II pilot.

Far from being a priest, Mercado originally wanted to become a politician. His plans drastically changed when he heard Oblate priest Bertrand de Merz introduce the Oblates of the Missionary Immaculate (OMI) in a visit to his school. The young Mercado entered the seminary in 1964 after high school at age 16 and professed his first vows as an Oblate in 1967. Mercado went on to study Classics and Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas and Theology and Missiology at the Gregorian University in Rome.

As a seminarian, Mercado’s scholarship was drawn to the rituals of birth to death of the Tausug in Sulu province. This influenced his decision to pursue Islamic Studies and Arabic Studies in Italy and Special Studies in Islamic Archaeology in Cairo. In a Philippine Daily Inquirer interview, Mercado described his dedication to study Islam as a “great passion (and) thirst.”

Thus, after his historic role as one of Bayan’s founding leaders and helmsman for the People’s Caucus, Mercado transferred himself to Mindanao from where he became active and well known for his championship of the Bangsamoro. From his Notre Dame University base in Cotobato City, Mercado played the role of peacemaker.

In so doing, Araullo said Mercado was being consistent in his advocacy for the Moro’s right to self determination, a role he played in all of his five decades as a religious.

“[He was] unwavering, if at times critical (in his) support for the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) peace negotiations…[as well as in] his courageous and unflinching role as a human rights advocate and defender of civil and political rights in the troubled island,” Araullo said

She added that Mercado took a principled stand against the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s martial law declaration in Mindanao in the wake of the Marawi Siege and became a convenor of Mindanaoans for Civil Liberties and Barug Katungod Mindanao.

Araullo said Mercado exemplified the activist priest who found and practiced the highest convergence of being the servant of God and service to the people.

“He did not shirk from social and political activism as unbecoming of a man of the cloth but embraced it with scholarly enthusiasm and imbued it with a high moral and spiritual conviction. His life-long focus on the plight, struggles and aspirations of the Moro people is a testament to his profound understanding and embrace of the most exploited, oppressed and discriminated against among God’s people,” Araullo said.

The Bayan leader said they are privileged and proud to have been a part of Mercado’s life’s journey as a “remarkable human being.”

“May his fine example shine a light on many more religious men and women who aspire to be relevant and contribute significantly to our people’s national and social liberation,” she said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘It is just a sweeping accusation, no different from red-tagging’

“The designation is arbitrary, has no clear standards, with no evidence presented and no specific terrorist acts cited. It is just a sweeping accusation, no different from red-tagging, that violates the rights of those designated. Those listed will also suffer the freezing of their bank accounts, a direct injury. All of this was done without due process.” — Renato Reyes, Secretary-General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan

Groups: ‘New ECQ is display of gov’t’s incompetence’

Groups condemned government’s announcement of plans to put Metro Manila and and provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal under the strictest quarantine measure anew.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte for another round of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is a display of “never-ending cycle of incompetence.”

“We are going back to ECQ but without the government assurance that there will be increased free mass testing, better contact tracing and increased capacity of our hospitals including more health workers. We are going back to ECQ without the assurance of aid for the economically displaced,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.

Reyes said the IATF recommendation again places the burden and sacrifice squarely on the people.

“We cannot merely rely on lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID. The lockdowns are only supposed to buy government time to beef up the health care system,” Reyes added.

In a Facebook post on March 27, Presidential spokesperson Herminio Roque Jr said the ECQ shall again involve the heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols.

Curfew shall also be imposed from six o’clock in the evening to five o’clock the next morning.

Nearly 10,000 new cases daily are being reported in the Philippines in the past few days, the worst in the Western Pacific.

Migrante International also scored the announcement, saying the new lockdown measures only show the Duterte government has failed in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Migrante said the government’s militaristic response is to blame for the country’s failure to check the spread of the virus, including its new variants.

“Kaya po sa pagbabalik ng ECQ sa ating bansa, ang kailangan po natin ngayon ay panagutin ang mga nagkasala, ang mga nagkulang at naging palpak mula nang unang ipatupad ang lockdown noong isang taon,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

BAYAN, ipinaliwanag ang #DutertePalpak sa pandemya

Ipinaliwanag ni Renato Reyes, pangkalahatang kalihim ng Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), ang aniya’y maraming kapalpakan ng gubyernong Rodrigo Duterte sa isang taong pagharap ng bansa sa pandemyang coronavirus. Sa harap ng Commission on Human Rights sa Quezon City noong Marso 17, 2021, inilahad ni Reyes ang kawalan ng maayos na sistema sa pagharap sa pandemya na nagdulot ng isang taong nagdurusa ng mamamayan sa mga hakbangin ng pamahalaan. Kabilang dito ang matinding pagbagsak ng ekonomiya, malawakang pagkawala ng trabaho, walang sapat na ayuda sa mga maralita, at patuloy pagdami ng nagkakasakit ng COVID – 19.

Aklan activists warn of more SEMPO-like raids by police, seek help from local leaders

Activists in Aklan province asked local political and church leaders to stop a repeat of mass killings and arrests of civilians by the police.

In an open letter to Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores, Representatives Carlito Marquez and Teodorico Haresco Jr., the Diocese of Kalibo, and the local media as well as to residents, members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Aklan and the Makabayan bloc appealed for the preemption of a repeat of the massacre of nine Tumandok tribespeople and the mass arrest of 16 others last December 30.

“[W]e are conveying our appeal to all of you to take necessary actions so as to preempt the perceived occurrence of a SEMPO (Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations)-like operation in the province of Aklan that might cost lives of civilians,” the activists said in their January 24 letter.

The activists explained they suspect that another SEMPO is about to happen, this time against leaders and members of both BAYAN-AKLAN and the MAKABAYAN Bloc in the province.

Makabayan is a group of progressive political parties that are members of the House of Representatives, including Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Kabataan Youth Party and ACT Teachers Party.

“We are making the public aware that the gale of red-tagging campaign of the NFT-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) is blowing strongly in the province of Aklan amid (the) crisis of COVID19,” they said.

The activists said tarpaulins demonizing their groups abound in Kalibo City while surveillance and monitoring of their activities increased since January 4.

The activists suspect that State forces are behind the harassments.

The 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army also increased its harangues against their organizations on its Sunday block time radio program, the activists complained.

The Tumandok had been subjected to the same threats and harassments before the Rizal Day massacre and mass arrests, the letter explained.

“The current red-tagging and subjecting of activists under intense surveillance are incidents that serve as preludes to warrant-less search and arrests, massacre and killings,” the activists said.

The appeal added that local political and church leaders personally know the activists who are engaged with them in dialogues and humanitarian activities for Aklanon’s welfare.

“Yes we are activists, but we are not terrorists,” the letter said.

“[W]e are appealing to the provincial government of Aklan through Governor Florencio T. Miraflores and to the Chairman of the Committee of on Human Rights in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Aklan to immediately take necessary action to protect our civil, constitutional and human rights as your constituents in the province,” the activists said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Muling pagsusulong ng Charter Change, mariing tinutulan

Nagtungo sa tarangkahan ng Batasang Pambansa ang iba’t-ibang grupo kahapon, Enero 13, upang tutulan ang muling tangka ng mga kaalyado ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte na baguhin ang Saligang Batas.

Ayon sa Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, bukod sa economic provisions na nagreresulta sa 100% pagmamay-ari ng mga dayuhang korporasyon sa mga lupa at mahahalagang industriya sa bansa, nais din ng Charter Change o Cha-Cha na magkaroon ng term extension sa mga pulitiko mula kongresista hanggang kay Pangulong Duterte.