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‘State terrorism ito laban sa mga batang Pilipino’

“Sinasabi po nila (pulis) na itong mga bata (estudyanteng Lumad) ay ni rescue. State terrorism po ito laban sa mga batang Pilipino… Dahil sa track record ng Pamahalaang Duterte, kailanman hindi ito naging kakampi ng kabataang Pilipino. [Kaya naman] hindi po tayo makapapayag na magpatuloy ang ganitong pang-aabuso laban sa karapatan ng mga bata.” Kim Viznar, Children’s Rehabilitation Center

Groups slam Duterte’s personal vendetta vs ABS-CBN, challenge Congress to prove independence

Groups condemned Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade against ABS-CBN, saying the President only proved vindictiveness in announcing he will defy Congress should it pass a new franchise law for the network.

The group Pirma Kapamilya slammed Duterte’s recent statement that he will order the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) not to issue ABS-CBN a permit to operate even if a franchise law is passed.

“His recent pronouncement reveals that last year’s denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise was nothing more but his personal vendetta at the expense of the viewing public, press freedom, and of the displaced employees of the network,” Pirma Kapamilya in a statement said.

“This is a symptom of his toxic ‘personalan politics’ not needed at this crucial time,” the group added.

Pirma Kapamilya is a volunteer group gathering signatures for a people’s initiative for a new franchise law for the network.

In his latest Monday night public address, Duterte accused Congress is planning to restore the broadcast franchise of the Lopezes.

“I don’t have a problem if Congress restores it. But if you say that if they can operate if they already have a franchise, no. I will not allow them. I will not allow the NTC to grant them the permit to operate,” Duterte said.

He again accused ABS-CBN of being a tax evader.

“Unless and until taxes are paid, I will ignore your franchise. I will not give them the license to operate. That’s nonsense. It’s like giving them a prize for committing criminal acts,” Duterte said.

Pirma Kapamilya however said Duterte continues to spread lies about the tax issue of the network even as the Bureau of Internal Revenue BIR cleared the network of any tax obligations.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) challenged the House of Representatives to prove its independence and finally grant ABS-CBN its franchise.

“We are tempted to thank President Rodrigo Duterte for proving us right about what we have been saying all along, that the shutdown of ABS-CBN was a personal vendetta that a lapdog Congress helped seal,” it said.

“Perhaps it is not too late for the members of the House of Representatives to salvage their reputations, to prove that they are what the Constitution charges them to be, members of a co-equal and INDEPENDENT branch of government, and no longer the willing accomplices to the continuing siege on press freedom and all our other rights and liberties,” the NUJP added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippine mines continue unhampered 4 years after Gina’s shutdown order

In Benguet, critics are dismayed and wary of environmental degradation and natural disasters. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines is also waiting for Malacañang to resolve the suspensions and “move mining forward.”

BY MARIA ELENA CATAJAN/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What you need to know about this story:

  • The late DENR Secretary Gina Lopez’s closure and suspension orders against 28 mines in 2017 were not implemented following a review ordered by Malacañang.
  • A culture of non-implementation of environmental regulations has allowed mining companies to evade sanctions, according to former DENR undersecretary Antonio La Viña, a responsible mining advocate.
  • Residents of two towns in Benguet are worried over the likelihood of disasters in mine sites and environmental destruction.

BAGUIO CITY — In July 2016, in one of her first acts as environment secretary, Regina “Gina” Lopez ordered an industry-wide audit of 41 large-scale mines in the country. Seven months later, 23 metallic mines received closure orders and five others were told their operations would be suspended. 

A statement issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) dated Feb. 2, 2017 cited “serious environmental violations.” 

“My issue here is social justice. If there are businesses and foreigners that go and utilize the resources of that area for their benefit and the people of the island suffer, that’s social injustice,” Lopez said in a press conference that day. 

It was a quick move rarely seen against an industry that has significant contributions to the national economy. Mining stocks plunged.

Mining companies are big employers in rural areas –– over 180,000 workers nationwide, not counting indirect jobs created –– and contributed 0.5 percent to the economy in 2019. 

In Benguet, a mineral-rich province in the Cordillera region, mayors of two mining towns covered by the order welcomed Lopez’s bold move albeit concerns for thousands of residents who stood to lose their jobs. 

Operations of Benguet Corp. (BC) in Itogon and Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) in Mankayan were ordered closed and suspended, respectively. They are among the country’s oldest mines. 

Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan has had a strenuous relationship with Benguet Corp., at times finding the company responsible for his town’s environmental problems. He is also backing demands of indigenous people’s organizations, which claim ancestral rights to the land, for a bigger share of BC’s profits.

Mankayan Mayor Frenzel Ayong also supported a closer look into Lepanto’s operations. “It’s a welcome development for the government to look into the details of the operation [of LCMC] as well as its compliances with the law,” he said. 

Four years after Lopez’s crackdown,Benguet’s mines continue to operate to the dismay of civil society groups. Benguet Corp. and Lepanto did not cease operations except during strict lockdowns last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The mines that were served with closure orders by former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez were not closed at all and are operating after some of them appealed their cases to the Office of the President and the others to the DENR itself,” said Rocky Dimaculangan, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CMP) vice president for communications and national coordinator towards sustainable mining.

“If there are companies among the firms in the first round of MICC audit that were compelled to suspend their operations, it could be because of other violations outside the audit,” he said.

The mining companies immediately appealed their cases to President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017. The shutdown orders were put on hold amid warnings from the CMP then that shutting down mining companies would put 67,000 jobs at risk and cost the government up to P16.7 billion in taxes.

A Lepanto miner works underground in Mankayan, Benguet. Photograph: Lauren Alimondo/PCIJ

In Cordillera alone, mining companies employ close to 17,000 workers, with over 7,000 in large-scale mines and 10,000 in small-scale mines.

Duterte ordered the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to review DENR’s audit. Lopez, who co-chaired the interagency body with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, questioned the review.

Three months later, in May 2017, Lopez was kicked out as environment secretary after the Commission on Appointments rejected her nomination. She died two years later after a battle with brain cancer.

In an e-mailed response to PCIJ’s questions, Malacañang said it could not disclose its basis for allowing the mining firms to operate despite Lopez’s orders as it was “protected by the deliberative process privilege.” 

“Albeit the proceedings herein are quasi-judicial in character, publicly divulging information and records, which include information on the nature of the case, violations allegedly committed, arguments of the parties, and other filings and pleadings made thereon by mining contractor-parties, relative to pending cases before this office is a violation of the sub judice rule as it constitutes blatant disregard of the same evils sought to be prevented by said rule,” said Ryan Alvin Acosta, deputy executive secretary for legal affairs.

‘Culture of non-implementation’

There has been no word about the MICC review or a final decision from Duterte on the mining companies that appealed to his office, although the DENR under Secretary Roy Cimatu in the last four years has upheld the closure of several mining companies and allowed others to operate again.

In Benguet, the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) slammed the failure to implement Lopez’s orders against Benguet Corp. and Lepanto.

“The audit was the result of the long-standing struggle of the affected communities against the destructive operations of the mines. However, the suspension was never implemented. No mines in the Cordillera ceased their operation,” said Santos Mero, vice chairperson of the coalition fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples in the region.

Fay Apil, director of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Cordillera, said they were still waiting for the MICC to confirm or refute Lopez’s audit on the two mines.

This goes to the “culture of non-implementation” of laws and regulations that has plagued the mining industry, said former DENR undersecretary Antonio La Viña, an advocate of responsible mining.

“It should have been decided quickly. This is why there is so much conflict in the mining industry. It’s an inherently risky activity and there are clear rules, but when rules are violated they are not enforced,” he said.

The DENR should also make sure its cases are airtight, he said, as mining companies have the money to pay the best lawyers.

La Viña said one thing going against the mining industry was its problematic public image because of a history of mining disasters.

“In theory, responsible mining is possible. The mining companies must follow the law. It needs strict compliance because of the destructive nature of the activity,” he said. 

In one of the country’s worst mining catastrophes, the 1996 Marcopper disaster in Marinduque province released 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings into the Boac River when a drainage tunnel was fractured. It caused illnesses that residents suffer to this day.

In Itogon in September 2018, 19 months after Lopez issued a closure order on Benguet Corp., disaster struckasclose to 100 small-scale miners taking refuge in a company bunkhouse and a church during the onslaught of Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: “Mangkhut”) were buried in a landslide. 

Palangdan blamed the tragedy on Benguet Corp.’s operations, but the company pointed to illegal small-scale mining that it said it didn’t control. The bodies of the miners were not recovered. 

Miners rest in this bunkhouse near Benguet Corporation’s office in Itogon, Benguet. Photograph: Jean Nicole Cortes/PCIJ

Philippines’s oldest operating mines

Benguet Corp. has been in Itogon for more than a century, the oldest operating mine in the country. It started open-pit and underground mining operations in the town in 1903, employing thousands to extract ores of gold, nickel and silver. 

It ended its underground operations in 1992. But when pocket miners invaded the Acupan tunnel –– one of two underground mines that formed the company’s gold operations –– the company opened it to investors and established the Acupan Contract Mining Project (ACMP).

ACMP saw a large-scale operator and groupings of small-scale miners working together under a mine lease agreement while it prepared the mines for the final phases of rehabilitation and decommissioning.

Benguet Corp. lawyer Froilan Lawilao said it was the first of its kind. MGB hailed it as a model for partnership between a large-scale corporate mine operator and small-scale miners. 

Sixteen mining associations and cooperatives, involving up to 1,000 small-scale miners, operate their own pocket mines under a 60-40 profit sharing agreement. 

Lopez however thought the economic benefits to the community did not outweigh the environmental dangers. She ordered the Itogon mines closed after the DENR audit found Benguet Corp. liable for the October 2016 mine tailings spill that contaminated a 1.6-kilometer stretch of the river.

The audit report said the company committed the following violations:

  • operating a prohibited controlled disposal facility;
  • maintaining and storing toxic and hazardous materials without an accredited Treatment Storage and Disposal (TSD) facility;
  • failing to install air pollution control devices and apply for a permit to operate upon installation, and 
  • failing to rehabilitate the Antamok open-pit mine after it ceased its operations.

Benguet Corp. received the show-cause order on Oct. 28 and filed its reply on Nov. 1. The company claimed it had proof the findings were altered from an original version that declared the company compliant with mining laws.

Lawilao said company officials were told by DENR inspectors that Benguet Corp. passed the audit. A memorandum dated Aug. 16, 2016 stated that the company had complied with all legal and technical standards and “contributed to the local economy, except for some minor lapses.”

Lawilao also noted inconsistencies in the audit report, where the auditors allegedly interchanged the sites of Benguet Corp. with Lepanto. “These inconsistencies are serious and [indicates] the mine audit report was haphazardly prepared,” he said.

More disturbing was the “generalized finding of deficiencies for BC and Lepanto,” he claimed. 

Benguet Corp., he explained, did not rehabilitate the Antamok open-pit mine because its operations were merely suspended. There are plans to reopen it. 

And because Benguet Corp. began operations before the Mining Act of 1995, it was not required to deposit an approved amount for rehabilitation once operations cease.

When small-scale miners’ rushed to the Antamok mine site, it eventually prompted Benguet Corp. to apply for final decommissioning, which will turn the area into a Minahang Bayan. This will allow small-scale miners to operate legally and under the government’s radar.

Lawilao said the infractions committed by the company were “mostly permitting issues or operational concerns” that could be fixed without stopping their operation. Executives were surprised when they saw the news in September 2016 that Benguet Corp. was among the companies recommended for closure, he said. 

“In a nutshell, we alleged that we were issued a stoppage order without any basis. The audit findings are not bases to suspend the mining company’s operation because these are minor offenses. We were just advised to implement remedial measures, like to register the [tailings] dam,” he said.

Benguet Corporation’s Tailings Storage Facility Dam No. 2 in Itogon, Benguet. In 2020, the company’s plan to raise the level of the dam was met with protests from downstream communities. Photograph: Jean Nicole Cortes.PCIJ

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) opposed Benguet Corp.’s plans to continue its mining operations in Itogon, however, and stood firm that it was time to return the land to the municipality. 

Imbes na i-rehab, mas inisip pa nito kung paano mas pagkakitaan pa ang lupain lalo na ang bahaging nasa ilalim ng kanilang mining patent (Instead of starting rehabilitation, it found a way to continue to profit from the land especially in areas under its mining patent),” the CPA’s Mero said.

Halimbawa, ang mga proposal nilang rehabilitation is to transform the Antamok Open Pit mine para sa bulk water reserve ng Baguio. Noong hindi umubra ay gawin daw na sanitary landfill. Mayroon din silang pagtatangka na mag-venture sa real estate at pag-convert ng bahagi ng kanilang mining patent into an economic zone,” Mero added

(For example, there was a proposal to rehabilitate the Antamok Open-Pit mine by transforming it into a bulk water reserve for Baguio. When it didn’t work, they said they could turn it into a sanitary landfill instead. They also attempted to venture into real estate by converting parts of their mining patent into an economic zone.)

Mero was worried that disasters could strike again if the tunnels were not rehabilitated. “Many of the abandoned tunnels were not properly backfilled. These pose hazards to the community especially during continuous rains, strong typhoons and earthquakes. There are also reports that in their contract mining areas, they are now mining the pillars, further weakening the ground,” he said.

The people are better off finding alternative livelihoods, said Mero.

“More than 100 years of mining yet our town and its people remain poor. The [landslide during typhoon ‘Ondoy’ in 2009] and subsequent closure of SSM (small-scale mining) operations and the pandemic have totally exposed how hard life is in Itogon. Even if we host the oldest mining company, we are also concerned about the unrehabilitated tunnels and open pit mines,’ Mero said.

Benguet Corp. had been under the control of the Romualdez family until the administration of Duterte, when Benjamin Philip and Daniel Andrew Romualdez, sons of alleged Marcos crony Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, left the company after decades of fighting government sequestration.

The economist Bernardo Villegas, an independent director, was installed as chairman in late 2019. The company reported nearly P116 million in net income that year on revenues of P802 million. 

Lepanto: First copper concentrator

Lepanto, on the other hand, was established in 1936 and was the first to operate a copper concentrator in the Philippines. 

The company alone employs over 2,000 employees and boasts of its ISO certificate, first issued on May 12, 2016, stating that the company had complied with environmental management standards. 

The audit report said Lepanto committed the following violations:

  • dumping mine tailings directly to the river;
  • violating health and safety regulations;
  • maintaining and storing unregistered TSD; and
  • operating a controlled dumpsite.

Lepanto also contested the 2017 suspension order that cost the company over P1.8 billion, the company’s resident manager Thomas Consolacion told reporters then. 

It was granted a stay order on Oct. 12, 2017 after it filed an appeal with Malacañang. The company was ordered to pay P27,275 in fines to the MGB and P100,000 to the Environmental Management Bureau. Lepanto also agreed to monthly inspections.

Read Lepanto’s memo on the lifting of the suspension order here.

PCIJ reached out to Lepanto corporate communications head Butch Mendizabal for an interview and for copies of the suspension order and appeal it had filed with Malacañang. The company declined both requests.

Notwithstanding Lepanto’s ISO certification and support from residents directly employed by the company, protests from host and downstream communities hound the industry giant. 

The call to cancel Lepanto’s mining permit started in 2002 when local scientists, health professionals, and academicians formed Save the Abra River Movement (STARM) with a series of environmental investigative missions and studies from 2002 to 2005, which yielded proof of the river’s decline due to mining.

Communities dotting the Abra River banks have long attributed the rivers’ siltation and pollution to Lepanto’s operations, endangering the people’s primary source of irrigation, fishery and other livelihood.

The Tailings Storage and Facility 5A of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company. Photograph: Lauren Alimondo.PCIJ

“Abra River is an integral component of the broad people’s call for Lepanto’s closure,” said Mero. 

From Benguet, the river flows to the municipalities of Cervantes, Quirino and San Emilio in Ilocos Sur, and traverses the towns of Luba, Manabo, Bucay and Bangued in Abra. Its waters meet the West Philippine Sea in Santa, Bantay and Caoayan, also in Ilocos Sur.

“When the company started, there were still no laws prohibiting the dumping of waste directly into the bodies of water. For decades, Lepanto disposed of its waste in the streams, which eventually found their way to the main river system,” said Mero.

Companies were allowed to use natural water bodies for their mine wastes provided that these were treated. The company used to course mine waste through a tributary creek connecting to the storage facility. 

Lepanto built its first dam to contain silt and wastewater in the 1960s, but the company suffered three dam failures until 1993, releasing volumes of tailings to the river and destroying rice fields along its banks.

In the municipality of Santa in Ilocos Sur, Lepanto’s tailings dam poses a threat to all communities along the Abra River. “We are the catch basin. All waste from upstream will eventually reach our communities here, where the river exits,” said Vice Mayor Jeremy Bueno.

In March 2017, during the hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in Baguio City, Bueno told lawmakers that “Lepanto’s Tailings Dam 5A on the Abra River’s headwaters is a clear and present danger to life in the entire river basin.”

Bueno said his position on the matter remained the same. “There has been no significant change, even when the company was ordered to cease its operation, the looming threat from the tailings dam remained,” he said.

In 2004, Lepanto faced fines for polluting the Abra River. It was penalized by the Pollution Adjudication Board after failing the effluent standards required on rivers. The government slapped the company with minimal fees in the same year.

The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) launched another probe in 2008. A test conducted in April that year found that lead content in Dam 5A exceeded the normal lead levels. The research findings and succeeding pollution probes by the EMB further strengthened the call for Lepanto’s closure.

But MGB’s Apil said Lepanto made adjustments to its operations before Lopez’s audit report came out, piping its tailings from its mills to a tailings dam in compliance with her orders for all mines to stop channeling their waste through bodies of water.

Lepanto recorded heavy losses in 2019. Its net loss widened to P1.03 billion from P775 million as revenues dipped 3% to P2.12 billion amid weak gold trade in 2019. The company was controlled by the family of businessman Felipe Yap.

Sinking towns

The environmental issues in Benguet’s mining towns are beyond the findings of Lopez’s audit report.

In October 2015, a sinkhole measuring about 150 meters swallowed six houses during the onslaught of Typhoon “Lando” at Sitio Kamangaan in Barangay Virac in Itogon.

Later, about 500 more houses were identified to be at risk of being swallowed by the sinkhole.

A report by the National Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines (UP) said the subsidence was caused by a pipe out that started at the old drain tunnel of Benguet Corp. Heavy rains triggered the collapse of soil.

At that time, Mayor Palangdan insisted Benguet Corp. must admit responsibility for the Virac sinkhole and stay true to a promise to rehabilitate the mine. The sinkhole created a five-hectare danger zone.

But Benguet Corp. did not take responsibility for the sinkhole. Instead, it offered remedial measures and a relocation site at their old timber yard, former dumping grounds of the mining firm. However, resettlement is being hampered by disputes between land claimants and the mining company.

Those rendered homeless have since been renting homes while BC employees were given temporary resettlement.

Mining next door. These households are located near Benguet Corporation’s mine in Itogon, Benguet. Photograph: Jean Nicole Cortes/PCIJ

In 2018, when Typhoon “Ompong” struck, Palangdan was ready to renounce mining and go back to farming after small-scale miners were buried alive in a landslide widely attributed to the town’s mining operations.

He lamented how the town was destroyed, forcing people to look for other means of livelihood. 

Benguet Corp. again denied responsibility for the landslide and said illegal mining and gold processing activities were carried out without its permission. 

MGB also attested that the landslide was not caused by mining alone, as there were aggravating circumstances.

Environment Secretary Cimatu immediately ordered a halt to small-scale mining in the Cordillera and deployed soldiers and police to enforce the ban, sealing all tunnels. 

The death of the miners revived calls for the opening of a common mining site under the “Minahang Bayan” scheme for small-scale miners. 

The Minahang Bayan centralizes the processing of mineral output within a zone, helping curb illegal, unregulated and indiscriminate mining. It also allows the government to better monitor gold production by small-scale miners.

In 2019, a Minahang Bayan permit was awarded to the Loakan Itogon Pocket Miners Association (LIPMA) within the patented mineral claims of Benguet Corp., which endorsed the application. 

In Mankayan, sinking was first observed in 1972 or almost four decades after Lepanto started mining operations.

The subsidence has crept into the villages of Colalo and Poblacion, pushing former Mankayan mayor Materno Luspian to call for an independent probe to find the cause and solution to the perennial danger.

In 1975, a team from the then Bureau of Mines, Commission on Volcanology and Bureau of Public Works investigated ground movement in Barangay Poblacion.

The team found cracks along concrete pavements, house floors and walls, and displaced posts. Buildings and structures were found to be below standard and erected over weak foundations.

The probe found no conclusive evidence that underground work at the mines caused ground movement. Sinking was attributed to rainfall, topography, highly fractured and altered overlying rocks as well as disturbance of the slope by man and nature.

‘Bold moves need support’

Lopez’s Feb. 2, 2017 order was contentious even inside the DENR. Protocol was not followed, too.

Apil said the DENR didn’t normally slap mining companies with outright suspension orders. Usually, the DENR  informs the company first about its violations and gives it time to comply. 

The audit report was also submitted directly to the DENR central office in Quezon City, bypassing the regional offices. “Unfortunately, we were not provided [with the report] here in the region. It was only there, at the DENR central office that they vetted the results,” Apil said.

Mero said it resulted in confusion on the ground. It was not clear what agency was to enforce the directive and ensure the shutdown of mines. The MGB regional office had minimal participation in the audit, he said. 

On Aug. 9, 2019, MGB’s Cordillera office recommended the permanent lifting of the suspension order against Lepanto after it said the company fully complied with all the requirements set by the MICC.

On Jan. 9, 2020, Apil also endorsed granting Benguet Corp.’s appeal against the closure order but imposed conditions that the company would implement its corporate social responsibility programs.

Four years after Lopez’s shutdown orders, the status of Malacañang’s review is still unknown. CMP’s Dimaculangan said the MICC scheduled a second round of audits in early 2020 although he said he’s unaware if this was completed.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told PCIJ he’d defer to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, whose office refused to divulge information on the specific cases.

The CMP said it was also waiting for Malacañang to finally resolve Lopez’s shutdown orders and “move mining forward,” citing the industry’s potential to contribute to economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“To achieve this, we believe that the government should resolve the suspension orders issued by former Secretary Lopez, which is still pending with the Office of the President, after compliance with any corrective measures recommended by the MICC,” said Dimaculangan. 

President Duterte, who has kept the previous administration’s ban on open-pit mining, has repeatedly warned he would shut down mining operations in the country if miners didn’t follow tighter environmental rules.

But it was clear that Duterte didn’t have as much zeal for Lopez’s crusade, said La Viña, as when he ordered the shutdown and rehabilitation of the tourist island of Boracay in 2018.

“The lesson there was: You have to do bold things with the support of the president,” said La Viña. –– With research and reporting by Sherwin de Vera and Lauren Alimondo, PCIJ, January 2021

This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.— PCIJ

Journos pedal for jailed colleagues

Media groups and supporters held a biking event Sunday morning to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of a journalist in Tacloban City on what they claim are trumped up charges.

Members of the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya), the International Association of Women in Radio and Television-Philippine Chapter, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) biked around Quezon City to call for the dropping of charges against Eastern Vista executive director Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

The bikers along Quezon Avenue on their way to the Commission on Human Rights.

Cumpio was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Philippine National Police (PNP), allegations uniformly leveled against arrested critics of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The event also called for the immediate release of Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem whose case was dismissed by the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court just last Friday due to inconsistencies in the statements submitted by police witnesses.

Salem was arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the PNP last December 10, International Human Rights Day.

She remains in jail, however, pending the issuance of a release order by the court.

The bike event started at the University of the Philippines and made its first stop at ABS-CBN where a brief program was held.

The bikers pedaled on to the statue of press freedom icon Joaquin Roces and then to the Commission on Human Rights were programs were also held.

Altermidya national coordinator Rhea Padilla and Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity convenor Tonyo Cruz vowed to continue their struggle to free Cumpio and Salem.

ABS-CBN Rank and File Employees Union president Jon Villanueva for his part thanked the media organizations and press freedom advocates for their continuing support to the beleaguered network.

ABS-CBN Rank and File Employees Union president Jon Villanueva.

Members of the Photojournalists Center of the Philippines welcomed the bikers at ABS-CBN.

The NUJP meanwhile hailed Mandaluyong RTC Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio’s cancellation of the search warrant used against Salem that “suffered from vagueness.”

“Even as we eagerly await Icy’s (Salem) return to freedom, we denounce the gross injustice she was subjected to by the agents of a government bent on suppressing the independent media and freedom of expression,” the NUJP said.

In a separate statement, the NUJP demanded the release of Cumpio it said was arrested and is being detained on spurious charges.

“The ordeal of Frenchie Mae is part of the increasing persecution of the critical media by the forces of a government so intolerant of criticism and dissent that the mere exercise of democratic rights is enough for one to be branded an ‘enemy of the state,’” the NUJP said. # (Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Protesta inilunsad sa pagsisimula ng oral arguments kontra terror law

Nagsama-sama ang iba’t-ibang grupo na tutol sa RA 11479 o ang Anti-Terrorism Act sa Padre Faura sa Maynila ilang oras bago simulan ang oral arguments nito sa Korte Suprema, Pebrero 2.

Kaugnay ito sa 37 petisyon kontra sa nasabing batas na ayon sa mga aktibista ang pinakamaraming petisyon sa kasaysaysan ng mga batas sa Pilipinas.

Mariin nilang tinututulan ang terror law at sinabi na malaking banta ito sa pagpapahayag ng mamamayan laluna sa paglaban ngayon sa tiraniya.

‘Isiwalat ang modus operandi ng pekeng pagpapasuko ng PNP’

“Ipinapanawagan ng KMU na ilantad at labanan ng mga manggagawa ang ganitong aktibidad ng rehimeng Duterte at mga ahenteng militar at intelligence nito laban sa kilusang-paggawa. Nananawagan kami sa lahat ng biktima ng ganitong atake na ilahad ang kanilang mga kwento at isiwalat ang modus operandi ng pekeng pagpapasuko ng PNP.” Elmer Labog, Tagapangulo, Kilusang Mayo Uno

‘Instead of red-tagging, address the root causes of armed conflict’

“Let’s not forget the ‘2018 Red October’ plot. The Duterte regime is repeating its old and cheap narrative to hide its incompetence in handling the pandemic and economic issues. Instead of red-tagging these (18 SUCs) schools, address the root causes of armed conflict and heed the people’s demands.” Regina Tolentino, Deputy Secretary-General, College Editors Guild of the Philippines

Wage hike necessary, overdue amid pandemic and high prices

The Duterte administration gave least number of wage hikes and lowest wage increases of any administration in past 35 years.

by IBON Media & Communications

Research group IBON said that, amid rising prices of basic commodities, minimum wage earners are suffering from how the Duterte administration has been giving the least number of wage hikes and lowest wage increases of the past six administrations in the post-Marcos era. This only made working class families even more vulnerable to the economic shocks triggered by the pandemic. Multiple strategies are needed to arrest the economic distress of poor and low-income households especially since the onset of the pandemic.

IBON noted how the real minimum wage, or the value of wages after adjusting for inflation, is worth 7.2% less today than at the start of the Duterte administration. (See Table) This does not even yet fully include the recent surge in prices of pork, fish, chicken and vegetables. IBON estimates that the real value of the National Capital Region (NCR) minimum wage has fallen to Php434.47 from Php468.06 in June 2016. This is the lowest real wage in over eight-in-a-half years or 103 months.

The Duterte administration was sparing with its wage hikes even before the pandemic. The NCR minimum wage was only increased twice, in September 2017 and November 2018, and by such small amounts that they did not even make up for inflation. When the lockdowns started in March 2020 the real value of the minimum wage was already 3.6% less than in June 2016 – this only deteriorated further to being 7.2% less today.

IBON pointed out that other administrations hiked wages six or seven times and that even the Estrada administration hiked wages twice in its short 2 ½ years in power. These resulted in the real minimum wage increasing by 2.7% (Arroyo) to as much as 54% (Cory Aquino) compared to the more or less continuous decline under the Duterte administration.

It has been more than two years or 27 months since the Duterte administration’s last wage hike to Php537 in November 2018, said IBON. This is the longest period without an increase since July 2004 under the Arroyo administration when the wage increase came after a dry spell of 29 months.

IBON noted that the current minimum wage is even further away from meeting the basic needs of workers’ families. The Php537 minimum wage in NCR is Php520 or 49% short of the Php1,057 family living wage or the amount a family of five needs for a decent living as of December 2020.

As it is, the December 2020 inflation rate of 3.5% is the highest in 21 months, mainly due to higher inflation in food and non-alcoholic beverages, health and transport. The prices of pork, ampalaya, sitao, cabbage, carrots, habitchuelas, tomato, potato and eggplant significantly went up from anywhere between Php40 to Php120 per kilo since December last year. Price increases were even worse for the poorest 30% of households nationwide with a 4.3% inflation rate.

IBON said that the Duterte administration needs to give much greater attention to alleviating widespread economic distress among poor and low-income families. The most urgent measure are new cash subsidies of Php10,000 monthly for at least 2-3 months especially while record unemployment and falling household incomes are not resolved. Price controls are also needed on the food items whose prices are soaring especially amid reports of alleged exploitative pricing by wholesale and retail traders.

The Duterte administration however also needs to go beyond short-term damage control, stressed IBON. The long-term solution to rising food prices is for meaningful government support for farmers and fisherfolk to increase agricultural productivity and output. Yet, IBON pointed out, the share of the national government budget for agriculture has been falling from 3.6% in 2019 to just some 3.2% in 2021.

IBON moreover stressed that a substantial wage hike remains just and necessary even amid the pandemic economic shock. The group said that it is incumbent on the government to come up with schemes to enable a wage hike that increases incomes of low-income households and which will also stimulate aggregate demand in the economy. Among others, this can include mandating higher wages while giving wage subsidies to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Wage hikes are long overdue and it is unfair for the working classes to always be made to bear the burden of adjustment to economic crises. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

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.

Farmers vow to fight ChaCha, 100% land ownership by foreigners

A farmers’ group said it will oppose efforts at the House of Representatives to tinker with the Constitution, saying charter change (ChaCha) will only benefit President Rodrigo Duterte as well as foreign powers and local political warlords.

In a statement, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the proposed 100% ownership of land by foreigners will worsen landlessness, poverty, and hunger among the majority of the Filipino population.

““The revived Charter change proposals will only make worse the current Constitution and will aggravate the situation of Filipinos now reeling from the effects and heavy burden of the pandemic and economic recession,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

“ChaCha will also further bastardize the existing system of governance dominated by landlords and oligarchs,” Ramos added.

KMP is among the various groups that trooped to the HOR this morning as theHouse Committee on Constitutional Amendments is conducting a hearing on proposed revisions to the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution. 

The bill wanting to amend the Constitution was filed by House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco he said is aimed at removing the remaining protectionist economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

Other proponents of the change, such as Ako Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin Jr., said the protections in the charter make it difficult for the government to create more jobs and improve the economy, more so that it has been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The KMP however said the move aims to further open the local economy to the plundering of land grabbers and large foreign corporations.

“The economic and political repercussions of ChaCha will be irreversible. Filipinos must fight ChaCha attempts to the end,” KMP said.

The farmers added it is like handing the entire Philippines on a silver platter for foreign businesses to devour.

“We cannot allow foreign businesses to take over our land, natural resources, media, and strategic industries. We cannot be second-class citizens in our own country. With ChaCha, everything else will worsen for Filipinos,” the group explained.

KMP warned that multinational agricorporations such as Del Monte, DoleFil, Sumifru and other large plantations, as well as foreign mining companies, will further expand at the expense of farmers and indigenous peoples.

President Duterte also earlier said he wants changes in the Constitution to remove the Party List system and punish Leftist parties that have consistently won seats in Congress.

“All democracy and freedom-loving Filipinos must [therefore] resist Charter Change and Duterte’s tyranny,” the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)