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OFWs press for scrapping of mandatory PhilHealth membership

A group of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos pressed their demand for the scrapping of the mandatory Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) membership amid difficulties brought them by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Migrante International said OFWs have been facing job losses amidst the pandemic that is aggravated by “onerous government fees” such as the proposed PhilHealth premium rate increase this year.

The group said mandatory PhilHealth membership has been a burden for OFWs since the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act (UHC) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 20, 2019.

The law requires OFWs to be PhilHealth members before leaving for work abroad.

Migrante earlier said majority of the OFWs have no use for mandatory membership as PhilHealth is practically useless in helping them pay medical bills when they get sick abroad.

Instead, Migrante said PhilHealth membership should be “voluntary for those with capacity to pay contributions.”  

Migrante also scored the corruption at the health insurance agency that has yet to properly account for at least Php 15 billion in allegedly misspent funds.

“PhilHealth has been used as a tool for unscrupulous health officials appointed by the President to amass billions of members’ contributions for their own selfish interests,” the group said.

“Why should contributors suffer by paying increased premiums in response to the agency’s lack of funds?” the group also asked.

Migrante demands “corrupt” PhilHealth officials involved be held accountable and prosecuted. 

Migrante also said OFWs believe that Duterte’s recent announcement to defer the collection of increased PhilHealth premiums is only a tactic to quell the anger and anxiety of the people especially during this COVID crisis.

“Merely deferring the increased premium does nothing to calm down the people,” Migrante said in its statement.

Instead, the group said OFWs want a genuine, pro-people, universal health care program through free and comprehensive medical and health services. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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

Ombudsman’s efforts hide admin corruption

by Sonny Africa

n 2016, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte famously warned government officials against corruption: “Not even a whiff or whisper – I will fire you.” 

The Ombudsman restricting access to the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of public officials and proposing to do away with lifestyle checks is only this administration’s latest effort to hide the growing stench of corruption. Yet with the government’s infrastructure budget bloating and the pork-filled 2021 budget being railroaded through Congress, every check on corrupt government officials is more urgent than ever.

Developments with the proposed pre-election 2021 budget make vigilance especially critical. The unprecedented Php1.1 trillion in infrastructure funds takes up almost one-fourth (24%) of the Php4.5 trillion national government budget. Infrastructure projects are notorious sources of corruption with so-called SOP (‘standard operating procedure’) of 10-40% on projects still acknowledged as pervasive. Presumbably most under scrutiny are the administration’s flagship infrastructure projects but these only account for Php158.2 billion or 14% of total infrastructure projects, implying Php941.8 billion worth of projects prone to ‘SOP’ across the country.

The Office of the President (OP) also has an equally unprecedented Php27.3 billion in potential pork barrel funds consisting of the OP’s Php8.2 billion budget and the Php19.1 billion National Task Force to end Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) recently created under it. The Commission on Audit (COA) has already lamented being unable to audit the president’s intelligence and NTF-ELCAC funds. The presidential declaration of a state of calamity until September 2021 also threatens to give legal license for public funds to be misused.

SALNs are vital tools for the public to keep watch of government officials. It is common knowledge that SALNs are routinely understated but there is just so much lying that can be done under oath so even inaccurate SALNs can be indicative. Combined with lifestyle checks on spending habits, the public can start to get an idea if public officials’ lifestyles are commensurate to their lawful income.

SALNs are weaponized because this is exactly what they are – weapons against corrupt public officials. Unlike private citizens, public officials have powers that can be abused for self-serving gain through bribes, kickbacks and malversation. Any flaws in how they are used should just be corrected because discontinuing them will favor corrupt public officials more than benefit honest ones.

None of which is to say that SALNs and lifestyle checks are currently effective in curbing corruption. The Ombudsman and Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) are understaffed and grossly lack the resources to properly check on over 1.7 million government officials and employees. The Ombudsman and PACC are also helmed by San Beda schoolmates of Pres. Duterte – Samuel Martires and Danilo Yang, respectively – which cannot add confidence about how the office will be used especially against those close to the president.

In this context, media and the public are vital force multipliers to combat systemic and entrenched corruption in government and should be empowered. However, the Ombudsman’s retrogressive efforts significantly cripple media and the public from their vital watchdog role. The Ombudsman is also rolling back gains from the Ill-Gotten Wealth Law (RA 1379) which boldly, even on paper, put the burden of proof on government officials to show that wealth and assets not commensurate to visible sources of income were lawful.

The majority of public officials and employees are honest and do not fear SALNs. Indeed, holding public office also only becomes more honorable if public servants allow themselves to be held to a higher standard. Conversely, hiding corruption and hindering the vigilance of citizens only diminishes public office and officials. #

KMP: No tributes to Cojuangco from farmers

Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco died last night, Tuesday, June 16, at an expensive private hospital in Quezon City due to, according to a news report, lung cancer. He was 85.

All news stories about him so far describe him as a business tycoon, a sportsman, a sports patron, a philanthropist, and political kingmaker. His death even merited a message from Malacañan Palace. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco, Jr.,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

None of the announcements and reports has yet to call Cojuangco what he was accused of for most of his life, a crony of Ferdinand Marcos. In fact, Cojuangco was not just a crony but was said to be the biggest one.  In an article in December 30, 1990, the Los Angeles Times described him as “second only to Marcos in the systematic looting of the Philippines.”

The sector who complains to this day that they were wronged by Cojuangco is one of the country’s poorest: coconut farmers.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said they cannot condole with the family of the deceased, as the Ph105-billion coco levy fund Cojuangco was accused of pocketing in the heydays of the Marcos dictatorship and plunder remain unreturned and unremitted to its true owners.

“Patay na si Danding Cojuangco Jr., hindi pa naibabalik sa mga magsasaka ng niyog ng pondo ng coco levy na dinambong ng mga promotor ng coco levy fund scam,” KMP national chairperson Danilo Ramos said in a statement hours after the announcement of Cojuangco’s death.

It was said that Cojuangco used the coco levy fund to acquire companies, land, banks and other businesses that made him not just one of the richest men in the Philippines but throughout the world.

Danding and Marcos

The book “Some Are Smarter Than Others” by former exile and national librarian Ricardo Manapat described Cojuangco as one of Marcos’ closest and most loyal cronies. They have in fact developed interlocking godfatherships of their sons and grandsons.  Danding even named his eldest son Marcos Cojuangco.

Their business partnership started with rice importations that also involved Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose Aspiras, two other cronies. And when he faced the possibility of being summoned to testify in United States courts in connection with charges of monopolizing coconut trading, Marcos appointed him “Ambassador-at-Large” to prevent that from happening.

At the height of his power under the Marcos dictatorship, Manapat said Cojuangco controlled corporate assets worth $1.5 billion which at the time was 25% of the country’s gross national product. In an April 2, 1990 report, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cojuangco was into rice cartels, sugar, flour, groceries, cement and soft drinks aside from coconut, sugar, agri-business, banking and others.

Danding’s wealth enabled him to own vast land holdings in Central Luzon, Central Visayas and Palawan where he kept hundreds of high-powered firearms wielded by hundreds of guards who were reportedly trained by Israeli mercenaries. He also collected Ferraris and Rolls Royces and owned expensive race horses imported from all over the world, the book revealed.

The coco levy fund

The coco levy fund was the biggest taxation scheme in the country at the time of its imposition in 1971. It exacted taxes on coconut meat produced by farmers amounting to billions of pesos and allowied both Cojuangco and Juan Ponce Enrile to become major players in the global trade of coconut products.

The fund the levy created was supposed to be spent for support activities within the industry, collected from farmers as soon as they sold their products to traders. They were supposed to be issued receipts as proof of their ownership of the fund but majority of them never received the receipts. None of them benefitted from the fund and have in fact suffered because of it due to lowered incomes.

Manapat’s book said that at the height of the coco levy’s implementation, the coconut farmers only earned $19 a month on the average. This meant that they could only afford 10% of the minimum requirement for their family’s food.  Years after Marcos had been deposed and the coco levy fund was ordered by the Supreme Court to be given back to its real owners, many beneficiaries have died still demanding to given back the money owed them.

Nearly a president

But Danding remained rich and powerful after his friend and benefactor was deposed. He never went to jail and kept control of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and other big businesses. He was even a candidate for the presidency in the 1992 national elections.

The KMP revealed that in 1998, when his good friend Joseph Estrada was elected president, Cojuangco’s 4,661-hectare landholding in Negros Occidental spanning two cities and seven towns were exempted from actual land distribution through a joint agribusiness venture between the ECJ Corporation and 1,200 Certificate of Land Ownership Award holders.

Danding’s SMC is also the primary initiator of flexible labor policies in the country that promoted contractual labor and laid off tens of thousands of workers across SMC companies, the KMP said in its statement.

“Danding Cojuangco Jr. is the embodiment of the landlord-comprador-bourgeoisie ruling class who have enriched and empowered themselves through exploiting the Filipino masses, especially workers and farmers,” Ramos said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte is a paper tiger in strategic terms and is in the process of being torn apart

By Jose Maria Sison

In tactical terms, Duterte has still enough power and enough armed minions to abuse the people and act like a real tiger. He can still kill any specific social activist, critic or anyone opposed to his brutal and corrupt regime. He can still persecute journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, bishops, priests and opposition leaders as well as their institutions and organizations in so many ways.

But in strategic terms, Duterte is a paper tiger already in the process of being torn apart. Every oppressive or exploitative act that he commits is rousing the people to fight back. Thus, the patriotic and progressive forces are gaining ground rapidly. Duterte is lucky if he can survive politically before the middle of 2022 or he will be even more unlucky and meet a more powerful resistance if he succeeds to extend his power beyond 2022 through any foul means offensive to the sovereign will of the people.

In taking advantage of the COVID-19 problem in order to grab emergency powers, subject the people to extreme repressive measures and steal public funds in the hundreds of billions of pesos, Duterte has sabotaged the Philippine economy and bankrupted his own government and has thus grievously offended the people whom he has deprived of the means of livelihood and frustrated with the false promise of food assistance and economic relief.

In their tens of millions, the workers, peasants and the lower middle class are hungry and angry at the Duterte regime and are eager to move against it. The professionals and entrepreneurs have been deprived of income and have fallen into debt and bankruptcy and are ready to join the toiling masses in concerted actions to protest and make demands. Even the big compradors and landlords who are not his close collaborators now consider him a plague worse than the COVID-19 virus.

The Christian churches are now calling on their people to make Duterte account for his crimes against humanity, his gross and systematic violations of human rights and his blasphemy in cursing and spitting on God’s face. He can invoke the freedom of thought and belief. But he cannot use his state power to persecute and humiliate the Churches without meeting the just resistance of believers,

Duterte has terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP in obedience to Trump’s order for him to do so in 2017. And to prove his continuing puppetry to the US, he obsequiously promised to Trump that he would do everything in his power to destroy the revolutionary movement and to allow US corporations to have 100 per cent ownership of land and all types of businesses, including natural resource exploitation and public utilities.

Since then, the inter-imperialist contradictions between the US and China have sharpened. The US is now displeased with Duterte for having allowed China to build and militarize seven artificial islands in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, control the Philippine national power grid and to put up cell towers of China Telecom and its Philippine dummy in the AFP military camps in collision with the EDCA which privileges the US to have its own bases within AFP camps.

Despite his betrayal of Philippine sovereignty in his relations with China, Duterte has gotten far less than the loans that he expected to get from China even at the most onerous terms for his much-touted plan of infrastructure-building. It has become obvious that China has preconditioned most of the loans with demands for the most outright and brazen surrender of Philippine sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and its rich oil, gas and marine resources.

While Duterte and his military minions boast daily in government and commercial mass media that they have wiped out the armed revolutionary movement several times over, they expose their big lie by railroading a bill of state terrorism supposedly aimed at destroying at the same time the armed revolutionary movement in the countryside by likewise destroying any form of legal opposition that can be suspected or interpreted as being helpful to armed revolution.

The armed revolutionary movement of the Filipino people is daily being taunted and insulted by militarist psywar that it is already dead and being challenged to prove that it is still alive and kicking. In this regard, the leadership of the revolutionary movement has announced that each one of its more than 100 guerrilla fronts will deliver lethal blows to their enemy every week and every month in accordance with their current strength within the context of national guidelines under the principle of centralized leadership and decentralized operations.

Indeed, if the revolutionary forces of the people would carry out their fighting tasks very well against the enemy armed units, the human rights violators and plunderers, they can contribute significantly to the isolation, discredit and overthrow of the traitorous, tyrannical, genocidal and plundering Duterte regime. When they were much smaller and weaker and less experienced, the revolutionary forces contributed significantly to the overthrow of the Marcos fascist dictatorship from its inception in 1972 to 1986.

They are now definitely in a much stronger and better position to give a greater contribution to the effort of the Filipino people to get rid of a tyrant of a lower calibre than Marcos, a mediocre mimicry of his master monster. They can assure all their allies that under current circumstances the balance of forces does not yet allow seizure of political power by the revolutionary proletariat but certainly allows constitutional succession among the conservative forces to depose a physically, mentally and morally deranged tyrant and provide relief to the suffering people.

As they did in the fight against the Marcos fascist dictatorship, the conservative forces can avail of the broad united front of forces against the Duterte tyranny, persuade the civilian and armed personnel of the state to withdraw support from the tyrant and apply their principle of constitutional succession to get rid of him and his gang of butchers and thieves. If they succeed, then they shall have created the conditions for the resumption of peace negotiations with the NDFP. All advocates of a just peace can seriously consider this point. #

= = = = = =

The author is the chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

NDFP expresses support to Pinoy athletes but calls for probes on SEAG mess

Even Liberation Philippines, the official newsletter of the underground revolutionary group National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), expressed support to Filipino athletes who have begun competing in the 30th South East Asian Games.

In a social media card posted on its Facebook page, Liberation encouraged the Filipino people to continue supporting the Filipino athlete amid allegations of corruption in the Philippine hosting of the biennial regional sports spectacle.

The image showed a triumphant looking female athlete holding up a Philippine flag.

Liberation Philippines image posted on the long-standing underground publication’s Facebook page.

“The Filipino people should continue to support the Filipino athlete. Their outrage is directed at the evil Duterte-Cayetano combine,” the long-lasting underground publication said, quoting a statement issued by NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison last November 25.

In one of his several reactions to the controversies surrounding the games’ hosting, Sison expressed disgust at the Philippine government’s “naked and shameless incompetence, waste and plunder of public funds in the mismanagement of the hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games.”

‘Cayetano should resign’ 

Sison urged the entire Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), led by House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, to resign and be replaced by “a Filipino Olympian, a World Record holder or a Former National Athlete, with known administrative skills and with a competent team” who could “quickly assess the situation.”

Sison expressed confidence that the SEA Games can still be saved, adding, however, “it will require Herculean efforts and strong national unity that could only come from a high sense of patriotism and credible new leadership.”

He said Cayetano and his entire committee should all be investigated and prosecuted.

Cayetano for his part has repeatedly apologized for the problems besetting the hosting of the games, including unfinished venues, mismanagement of athletes’ accommodations and food, even allegations of overpriced installations and apparel.

He, however, blamed the Senate for the delay in the approval of the games’ budget, an allegation immediately refuted by his Senate counterpart Vicente Sotto III.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte also expressed anger at the fiascos surrounding the games.

“The blunders could have been avoided. Those are actually easy to address. That’s why the President is angry,” Panelo told reporters at the sidelines of the president’s trip in South Korea Tuesday, November 26. 

‘Plague afflicting Philippine sports’

In light of the government’s blame games, however, Sison said, “it is time to re-examine and finally end the corrupt bureaucrat capitalist rule of reactionary politicians, retired military generals and oligarchs in Philippine sports who thrive on stealing public funds.”

“They are the plague afflicting Philippine sports. Their corruption takes away from athletes the leadership roles, state funding and competent management of their national associations.,” Sison said.

“Left on their own and with adequate state and public support, our athletes can do better in looking after their own development and welfare than the likes of Cayetano,” he added.

Sison said that while it turns out the P50-million cauldron could be the most scandalous problem that arose from the games, investigations to be held may reach up to the highest office in government.

“[I]t should light up the paper trails of corruption, ineptitude and mismanagement that lead to and incriminate the Office of the President and the Office of the House Speaker,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

2020 national budget, hiniling na i-sentro sa serbisyo at kabuhayan

Hiniling ng iba’t-ibang grupo na ilaan sa serbisyong panlipunan at pang-matagalang kabuhayan ang nakasalang na pambansang badyet ng pamahalaan sa susunod na taong 2020.

Sa isang press conference noong Martes, 26 Nobyembre, isiniwalat nila na ang maling paggamit ng pondo ng bayan tulad ng kontrobersyal na hosting ng Southeast Asian Games at maging ang “Build Build Build” program ng administrasyong Rodrigo Duterte na anila’y para lamang sa madalian at di permanenteng ganansiya.

Sa halip, ayon sa mga grupo, ay dapat dagdagan ang badyet para sa edukasyon, kalusugan, agrikultura, at iba pa. (Bidyo ni Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)

SEAG cloaks land-grabbing and illegal deals, farmers claim

Beyond the series of embarrassing reports related to the ill-prepared hosting of South East Asian Games (SEAG) are possible cases of massive land-grabbing and illegal deals, a farmers’ group claimed.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) accused the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), led by House of Representatives Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano, of selling off vast tracks of agricultural land in Central Luzon to a Malaysian firm under the guise of hosting the biennial sports event.

“The Philippines government’s real intention in the hosting of the SEA Games is to pimp our land and resources, particularly the 9,450 hectare-New Clark City in Central Luzon,” KMP vice-chairperson Joseph Canlas said in a statement.

Canlas said that the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) inked a multi-billion deal with a Malaysian company MTD Capital Berhad for the development of New Clark City (NCC) as a SEAG venue for two events.

Canlas’ group, however, said the sports complex is a part of the Phase 1A Development of the NCC that also includes the construction of a national government center complex.

The group said the PHISGOC and the BCDA, chaired by Vivencio ‘Vince’ Dizon, “circumvented legal processes and entered into a Joint Venture Agreement with MTD Capital Berhad for the construction of world-class sports facilities inside the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.”

 “As a result of the deal, the [Philippine] government will have to pay the Malaysian firm the amount of Php11.1-billion for five years as repayment for the 20,000-seater athletics stadium, a 2,000-seater aquatic center, and an athletes’ village,” the KMP said.

The Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) gave a green light to the deal that did not go through proper public bidding, the group added. 

As it turned out, the KMP noted, the project was a build-and-transfer and not a joint venture agreement.

“Dizon, who leads the BCDA, was recently appointed as Presidential Adviser for Flagship Projects. He is a known broker of Chinese investments in the Philippines, and a close ally of House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano who is also under fire because of the overpriced Php50-million Olympic cauldron and the despicable PHISGOC SEA Games hosting,” the KMP revealed.

By 2020, MTD will start Phase 1B of the project that will build two seven-story government buildings, an integrated operations center, government housing, parks, and recreation centers, among other infrastructure, the farmers added.

The group also revealed that at least 10 local and foreign firms are eyeing investments in NCC including the $2-billion China Industrial Park spanning 500-hectares to be constructed by the China Gezhouba Group. 

The Chinese industrial park will cater to light and medium industries such as those engaged in semiconductor and information technology, the group said, adding that farmers and indigenous peoples groups will finally be driven away from the area.

“Wala o kulang ang lupang sinasaka ng mga magsasaka pero ibinuyangyang sa mga dayuhan ang mga lupang agrikultural at lupang ninuno sa Tarlac at Pampanga,” Canlas said.  

“May kumikita ng bilyon-bilyon sa mga proyektong nakakabit sa SEA Games at isinasangkalan ang karapatan sa lupa ng mga magsasaka at katutubo,” he added.

P2.2 billion a year

KMP’s revelations echoed warnings repeatedly issued by Senator Franklin Drilon who earlier slammed the Rodrigo Duterte government’s decision to borrow a large sum of money to host the games.

“We are incurring a loan here. Inutang natin ito from a Malaysian firm payable in five years’ time at P2.2 billion a year,” Drilon said in a television interview on November 21.

The government will be paying a Malaysian bank a total of P11 billion for the next five years over its hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has claimed.

 While clarifying that he is not against the hosting of the SEA Games, Drilon said that borrowing money raises the question of propriety considering the government is already suffering from a P624-billion deficit this year.

Drilon and Cayetano also traded bards on the P50 million spent on the games cauldron to be lit on the formal SEAG on November 30 at NCC.

Cayetano has reportedly confirmed that P1.5 billion of the funds for the SEAG did not undergo bidding due to time constraints brought about by delays in the Senate’s approval of their requested budget.

Cayetano blamed Drilon for the delay. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Injustices breed activism, teachers tell Bato and Albayalde

The Filipino people’s intensifying poverty and other social injustices drive students to activism, a teachers group said in response to accusations they encourage their students to join rallies.

Replying to accusations by Senator Bato dela Rosa and police chief Oscar Albayalde that teachers encourage “anti-government” sentiments among students and the youth, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said it is not the teachers’ fault but poverty, corruption and human rights violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The two officials separately blamed the teachers following a Senate hearing where dela Rosa presented parents who complained that their children have left home and joined activist organizations.

Dela Rosa and Albayalde said teachers should “just do their jobs and not make students turn against the government.”

Dela Rosa went as far as ask that teachers who encourage students to join rallies must be fired.

“They should be removed. Parents enter [sic] their students there [in schools] to become professionals, not to fight the government,” Dela Rosa said.

Albalyalde, for his part accused the teachers of brainwashing their students.

“What they should stop [doing] is brainwash[ing] the students. You are a teacher, you act like a teacher,” Albayalde said.

Their statement did not sit well with the teachers.

What the teachers are doing

 “The two officials are not in the position to lecture us on our jobs. Their stances show that they have very little appreciation of the objectives of education,” ACT national chairperson Joselyn Martinez retorted in a statement Friday, August 16.

Martinez  said teachers are teaching their students patriotism, love of humanity, human rights, heroism, history, rights and duties of citizens, ethical and spiritual values, moral character and personal discipline, critical and creative thinking, scientific and technological knowledge and vocational efficiency as mandated by the Philippine Constitution.

“It is not the teachers’ fault if the government leadership acts in contrast to the values upheld by education. They should not blame us if the youth calls out the government for the ills that they see in society. We are only doing our job,” she explained.

Martinez said that the government should not find fault in teachers encouraging students to attend rallies as these are “real-life events that hold many learnings for the students.”

“It exposes our students to people from different walks of life who have grievances that are worth hearing. It helps broaden the youth’s view of our society and offers education that cannot be learned inside the classroom and from textbooks,” Martinez said.

It is the two officials who should show respect instead of preventing the youth from exercising their rights, the teacher said.

Part of democracy

Martinez hit dela Rosa and Albayalde for “demonizing activism and rallies which are basic constitutional rights of the people, including students and teachers.”

“In the guise of attempting to curb armed rebellion, dela Rosa and Albayalde are in effect discrediting the fundamental rights of the people to free expression, self-organization and to protest. It is them who are not doing their jobs as being government officials, their constitutional duty is to respect and uphold such rights,” Martinez said.

“Rallying is not a crime. It appears that dela Rosa’s and Albayalde’s rants all boil down to this administration’s intolerance of dissent. They should stop in their desperate bid to silence critics. We’re in a democracy after all,” Martinez said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Research group: Davao businessmen may be benefiting from Duterte admin’s infra program

Amid government hype of its Build, Build, Build program, research group IBON noted that there has been a conspicuous increase in public infrastructure spending in the Davao region that seems to have favored Davao-based businessmen.

The group observed that close allies of the president have benefited from the government spending surge by clinching a number of contracts.

IBON cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA)  showing that the gross value of public construction in the Davao Region increased by 17.6% from 2016-2017.

The region had the highest increase of gross value in public construction among other regions during the same period.

Among the Davao-based businessmen is the family of former Special Assistant to the President and newly-elected Senator Bong Go who through CLTG builders secured 20 contracts in 2017 for road networks in Davao, said the group. These were worth around Php3 billion in solo projects and joint ventures.

In 2018, CLTG Builders also bagged Php116 million worth of projects in Davao. CLTG builders is owned by Bong Go’s father, Desiderio Go.

Another notable Davao-based businessman is Dennis Uy who, according to the president’s Statement of Contributions and Expenditures, donated around Php30 million to his presidential campaign.

Data from the Public-Private Partnership Center shows that Uy has three unsolicited proposals in Davao that include the Davao International Airport worth Php48.8 billion, Davao People Mover worth Php30 billion, and the Davao Sasa Port Modernization Project worth Php18.7 billion.

Another unsolicited proposal of Uy is the Pasay City Reclamation Project worth Php62 billion.

IBON meanwhile noted that other businessmen may also be gaining from the Build, Build, Build program.

For instance, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar’s father, Manuel Villar, through Prime Asset Ventures Inc. (PAVI) is eyeing two unsolicited proposals worth Php213.3 billion.

These include the LRT 6 Cavite Line A project worth Php56.3 billion, and the Cavite LRT Line 6c and Sucat Line 6b Projects worth Php157 billion.

IBON reiterated that while the country badly needs infrastructure, genuine development from the Build, Build, Build program can only be achieved if it supports the development of domestic agriculture and Filipino industries.

The Duterte government should not be beholden to its backers and instead pursue an infrastructure program that is not profit-oriented and provides for the Filipino people’s welfare, said the group. #