PHNO HEADLINE NEWS EARLY THIS PAST WEEK

HOUSE PANEL VOTES 10-3 TO OKAY FOI 

NOV 25 --PHOTO: Reps. Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin, Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers party-list all authors of the FOI bill, voted against the bill.THE House committee on public information approved on Monday a consolidated version of freedom of information bill that militant lawmakers said contained “more restrictions to information access than freedom.” The committee, chaired by Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte, approved the measure by a vote of 10-3. The three lawmakers who voted against the measure were Reps. Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin, Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers party-list--all authors of the FOI bill. DIWA party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay moved to approve the consolidated version of the FOI bill, which had been discussed by the committee’s technical working group for almost a year. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: SC asked to stop Comelec bidding Automated Poll contract 

NOV 26 --FORMER Immigration Commissioner and Assemblyman Homobono Adaza on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from bidding a contract for the acquisition of the Automated Election System (AES) to be used in the national elections in 2016. He also asked the High Court to exclude Smartmatic-TIM from participating in automating the polls two years from now. In a 19-page petition for certiorari, Adaza and co-petitioner Jonathan Sinel said the bidding should not proceed until several important issues pertaining to the 2010 elections are resolved. The petitioners also questioned the Comelec plan to use old Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in the 2016 voting. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: DOH breaks Ebola rules 

NOV 26 --ONLY days after they were criticized for breaking their own quarantine protocol, the military and the Department of Health were back in the limelight on Tuesday after four just-returned United Nations peacekeepers from Liberia were sent to a hospital that was not designated an Ebola facility. “The decision to let them undergo the quarantine at the AFP Medical Center is based on the guidance from DOH,” said Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc. Cabunoc explained that the four Filipino soldiers, who were among the country’s 112 UN peacekeepers in Liberia, were cleared after Ebola screening in Monrovia. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: P315-M pork charges filed vs House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II 

NOV 28 --House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO  --A group calling for President Benigno Aquino III’s ouster on Thursday filed plunder and graft charges against House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II for the alleged misappropriation of P315.4 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations from 2007 to 2009. Sentinels of the Rule of Law, represented by one of its convenors, Salvador Bañares, filed the criminal complaints in the Office of the Ombudsman against the Mandaluyong representative. In a 63-page complaint affidavit, Bañares said Gonzales should be made accountable for irregularities in his PDAF disbursements, which were uncovered in a special audit of more than 100 lawmakers conducted by the Commission on Audit (COA) in 2012. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Cha-cha resolution before Christmas, says Rep. Naptali Gonzles  

NOV 28 --A resolution seeking to amend restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution is likely to get approved before the congressional Christmas break along with other key economic reform measures, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said yesterday. Also expected to be passed in the coming days is the joint resolution granting President Aquino special powers to address the looming power shortage in Luzon this summer, Gonzales said. The chamber is also expected to ratify the proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 and pass the supplemental budget set to be filed on Monday. Gonzales said the Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 (RBH1), which seeks to boost the inflow of foreign investments by easing the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution, could be put to a vote for second reading in the coming weeks. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. authored the resolution. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Senator Santiago: P2.6-T budget favors President’s allies

NOV 28 --The proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 may yet be the administration’s preparatory budget for the 2016 elections, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Thursday. “It is meant to give more money to the President’s allies and to government departments [that] are viewed as crucial to the [results] of the elections,” Santiago said when asked if the 2015 budget could be considered an election budget. Santiago said that in the P104.5-billion budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), there were appropriations for items that were not part of the department’s main responsibility. One such item is the funding for water service, a function that belongs to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), she said. “There is no more grassroots agency closer to the voters than the DILG. But why does it have [large] appropriations for items that are not clearly indicated as part of its mandate?” Santiago told reporters after speaking at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.Senate President Franklin Drilon declined to comment on Santiago’s observations. READ FULL NEWS REPORT...

ALSO: Manila Bulletin Editorial: The drive to clean up the budget for 2015 

NOV 28 ---Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s privileged speech in the Senate last Monday revived once again the key issues over the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Both were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) appeared determined to continue these programs under new names. editorialThe PDAF had been declared unconstitutional because legislators are not supposed to intervene in projects once they are done with their function of approving the budget. But last summer, Senator Santiago charged, congressmen were asked to submit lists of projects for their districts and these projects, it appears, were included in the appropriations of various executive departments and agencies. Thus there were huge lump sums allocated to the Departments of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Health (DOH), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Labor and Employment (DOLE), and to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) – totaling P37.3 billion. The pork barrel funds, she charged, may have been hidden in the huge lump-sum appropriations of various agencies. READ FULL EDITORIAL...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

House panel votes 10-3 to okay FOI


Reps. Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin, Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers party-list all authors of the FOI bill, voted against the bill.

MANILA, DECEMBER 1, 2014 (MANILA BULLETIN) By Maricel Cruz - THE House committee on public information approved on Monday a consolidated version of freedom of information bill that militant lawmakers said contained “more restrictions to information access than freedom.”

The committee, chaired by Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte, approved the measure by a vote of 10-3.

The three lawmakers who voted against the measure were Reps. Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin, Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers party-list--all authors of the FOI bill.

DIWA party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay moved to approve the consolidated version of the FOI bill, which had been discussed by the committee’s technical working group for almost a year.

Colmenares said he opposed the bill because it included several exceptions to the granting of access to information, which “restrict rather than ease access to government documents and information.”

Out of frustration, Colmenares said the Makabayan bloc will withdraw its authorship to the measure.

Colmenares, a House deputy minority leader, lamented the decision of the panel to approve a “toothless” FOI version.

“We just approved a watered-down version of the bill where exceptions become the rule,” Colmenares said, noting that passing these would defeat the purpose of the bill.

Colmenares said they wanted a version of the FOI bill that does not have any exceptions at all with regard to access to public informtion.

“A genuine freedom of information law is what this country, embattled by graft and corruption, human rights violations and social injustices, needs,”Colmenares said.

“The country does not need a watered-down, weak and toothless freedom of information law which, while seemingly generous, actually makes it more difficult for the people to access government information,” Colmenares said.

But Almonte said amendments or any addition to the House-approved version of the measure can still be addressed in the plenary during second or third and final reading.

He said the consolidated FOI bill is both “progressive but well-balanced” after members of the technical working group debated it for nine meetings that lasted almost a year.

“The TWG devoted the most time on the FOI bill deliberating on the provisions on exceptions and even went to the extent of discussing them line by line,” he said.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat said members of the panel aimed to pass the FOI bill at the committee level as soon as possible so debates in the plenary can start immediately.

“A lot of lawmakers have been telling us, ‘how can we endorse the bill if it’s still in the committee level?’” he told reporters after the hearing. “That’s why we resolved among ourselves to approve the bill already so it could be brought to the plenary.”

Following the Public Information panel’s approval of the FOI bill, the measure will be deliberated on by the appropriations committee, which will iron out details on funding its implementation.

Baguilat said funding will be necessary to equip government agencies with the right tools to disclose information through their websites and other means.

Under the consolidated FOI bill, government agencies will be mandated to respond to a party’s request for information within 15 working days.

This period of compliance, however, may be extended whenever the information requested requires a search of the government agency’s field or satellite offices, examination of voluminous records, the occurrence of fortuitous events or other analogous cases.

An imprisonment period of not less than one month but not more than six months, and dismissal from service will be meted out to those who are found guilty of falsely denying or concealing the existence of information mandated for disclosure, and those who destroy or cause to destroy information or documents being requested.

Almonte said the middle of 2015 was a viable target for the bill to be approved on third and final reading since the House leadership has other priority measures such as the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law and the anti-political dynasty bill.

Colmenares objected to restrictions listed in Section 7 of the draft consolidated bill, that included:

• Information authorized to be kept secret under guidelines established by an executive order;

• Records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation;

• Information pertaining to internal or external defense, law enforcement, and border control;

• Draft orders, resolutions, decisions, memoranda, and audit reports

• Information obtained by Congress in executive session.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said if these restrictions are passed into law, the FOI law would ironically curtail access to information in several areas vital to public interest.

“The draft consolidated bill essentially empowers the Executive – primarily – to decide on which information may be disclosed to the public and which information should remain in the impenetrable shroud of secrecy,” Ridon said.

“For example, the President can easily cloak details pertinent to the assailed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) through the use of one or a combination of provisions listed in Section 7. Remember how difficult it was to obtain more detailed information on DAP? The situation could get worse if the exceptions in the draft consolidated bill passes into law” Ridon said.

Ridon said the consolidated bill – for the large part – enlarges the powers and control of the President and his Cabinet over government information.

“The bill will still undergo further discussions and debates. Certainly, we will do everything to ensure that the restrictive provisions will not pass into law. We cannot let the Palace nor anyone with vested interests sabotage the people’s clamor for genuine freedom of information by inserting debilitating restrictions to the proposed law,” Ridon said.

The Senate passed its version of the FOI bill in March with 21 senators voting its passage. No one voted against the measure.

Senator Grace Poe, who sponsored the FOI bill at the Senate as chairperson of the public information committee, said the Senate version was stronger than the ones approved before.

The Senate passed an earlier FOI bill during the last Congress, but the House shelved the bill at the committee level, where it languished for more than a year.

Poe said that the Senate’s FOI bill derives its strength from a provision which requires the public disclosure of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth not only of national officials, but also of local government leaders.


FROM THE MANILA TIMES

SC asked to stop Comelec bidding November 26, 2014 10:33 pm by JOMAR CANLAS SENIOR REPORTER


A BEI officer inserting a compact flash card to a PCOS machine, May 10, 2010 elections. // TFA Photo

FORMER Immigration Commissioner and Assemblyman Homobono Adaza on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from bidding a contract for the acquisition of the Automated Election System (AES) to be used in the national elections in 2016.

He also asked the High Court to exclude Smartmatic-TIM from participating in automating the polls two years from now.

In a 19-page petition for certiorari, Adaza and co-petitioner Jonathan Sinel said the bidding should not proceed until several important issues pertaining to the 2010 elections are resolved.

The petitioners also questioned the Comelec plan to use old Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in the 2016 voting.

“Considering that many of these PCOS machines remain unaccounted for and considering further that the remaining PCOS machines are now stored in a warehouse without any configuration facilities, there is no way to determine how many are still usable or can still be repaired.

Without making the inventory and desired tests, it is absolutely a grave abuse of power for respondent Comelec to disburse billions of pesos and conduct public bidding for acquisition of voting machines which may not be necessary and will involve wastage of billions of pesos,” they said.

Smartmatic was the supplier of the PCOS machines used in the elections in May 2010 and in 2013.

The petitioners said the poll body committed grave abuse of discretion for its failure to resolve pending legal questions on its deal with Smartmatic.

Adaza and Sinel said before pushing with the public bidding, the Comelec should first conduct an inventory and technical and forensic testing of the more than 80,000 PCOS machines procured for the 2010 polls.

They asked the SC to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) or writ of preliminary injunction that will halt the Comelec from enforcing its October 21, 2014 resolution, which approved a P2.5-billion budget for procurement of optimal mark reader (OMR) and direct recording electronic (DRE) machines.

Adaza and Sinel said the public bidding set for December 4 should be stopped.

“The aforesaid resolution and the scheduled public bidding have not taken into consideration the existence of unresolved issues which need final resolution before any such public bidding involving the aforementioned PCOS machines and new electoral system machines,” they noted.

The petitioners said Smartmatic-TIM was awarded the contract in 2010 even if it failed to comply with the requirement provided for in Section 12 of Republic Act 9369, also known as the Election Automation Law.

The law mandates that the system procured for the 2010 and succeeding elections “must have demonstrated capability and has been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad.”

Because of this, Adaza and Sinel said, Smartmatic “should be summarily excluded from the bidding.”

On Monday, the Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) asked the Comelec to blacklist Smartmatic from participating in all election-related activities in the country.

The group asked the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee to ban Smartmatic and its local partner, Total Information Management Corp. (TIMC), from joining the bidding for the procurement of 23,000 automated election systems (AESs) to be used in the 2016 presidential elections.

C3E spokesperson Dave Diwa said Smartmatic should be barred from participating in the bidding because it violated the elections law in the past and for its failure to deliver the required services in a specified period.

“Smartmatic is also guilty of misinformation when it declared that Taiwan-based Jarltech International Corp. was its subsidiary in its qualification statements,” Diwa added.

“For the past two elections, we’ve been made fools by Smartmatic. We ask the Comelec to reconsider its stance on the blacklisting of Smartmatic,” he said.


FROM THE MANILA STANDARD

DOH breaks Ebola rules By Florante S. Solmerin, Francisco Tuyay and Macon Ramos-Araneta | Nov. 26, 2014 at 12:01am

Exempts 4 peace keepers from island quarantine


AFP Spokesman Lt. Harold Cabunoc

ONLY days after they were criticized for breaking their own quarantine protocol, the military and the Department of Health were back in the limelight on Tuesday after four just-returned United Nations peacekeepers from Liberia were sent to a hospital that was not designated an Ebola facility.

“The decision to let them undergo the quarantine at the AFP Medical Center is based on the guidance from DOH,” said Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.

Cabunoc explained that the four Filipino soldiers, who were among the country’s 112 UN peacekeepers in Liberia, were cleared after Ebola screening in Monrovia.

When asked whether the screening test was the same one given to people from other countries who later developed Ebola, Cabunoc said “the DOH can discuss further details about their quarantine procedures and duration.”

Col. Roberto Ancan, the commander of the Peacekeeping Operations Center, also declined to comment on why the four peacekeepers were brought to the AFPMC on V. Luma in Quezon City instead of the announced quarantine facility on Caballo Island at the mouth of Manila Bay.

“Let the DOH answer you that question,” Ancan said, adding that the four soldiers were enlisted personnel who stayed behind in Liberia to arrange with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force for transportation of their military equipment.

The military and the DOH came under fire last week for breaking their own announced quarantine protocol when they visited the peacekeepers isolated at Caballo island.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang later belittled the break of quarantine protocol because he was told that Ebola is only contagious when a person is already showing symptoms of the illness that has already killed more than 5,000 people all over the world.

But Dr. Anthony Leachon, president of the Philippine College of Physicians, said the point was that they broke their own quarantine protocol.

“It was a breach of protocol,” Leachon said. “Quarantine is an enforced isolation during the 21-day incubation period.... It might send the wrong signal.”

But DOH spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy said there was no need to bring the four soldiers to Caballo Island since “there were only four of them” and their quarantine was already set to end on Dec. 3 so it was decided they could be isolated at the AFPMC.

Suy exploaned that while the AFPMC was not one of the Ebola facilities announced earlier, it also had a quarantine facility.

The DOH spokesman confirmed the four peacekeepers arrived through a commercial flight on last Saturday after they were cleared to travel by United Nations personnel.

Suy said the Filipino peacekeeper who fell ill with malaria two weeks ago is already back in Caballo Island to complete the 21-day quarantine period. “Currently, zero na ang kaniyang parasite level,” Suy told reporters in a media briefing.

Another peacekeeper who developed a sore throat is also well now and was also not brought to the designated Ebola facility, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

But a third peacekeeper from Caballo Island was rushed to the AFPMC Monday night because of chest pains, but officials declined to elaborate for the sake of the soldier’s privacy.

The first batch of the 133 peacekeepers, composed of 108 from the AFP, 24 from the Philippine National Police and one from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, from Liberia arrived on Nov. 12.

Since then, they have been quarantined on Caballo Island. They will stay there until Dec. 3 when they will undergo another routine medical test.

The peacekeepers were earlier tested negative for the virus prior to their departure from Liberia and they were also cleared in a thermal scanning procedure after landing in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, three volunteers from San Lazaro Hospital will join the Rapid Response Team sent by the Philippine government to West Africa to assess the situation of our Overseas Filipino Workers in Ebola-stricken countries, according to Senator Loren Legarda.

Citing information relayed to her by Suy, Legarda said the DOH was informed a month ago about the deployment of a team that will assist in repatriating Filipinos from Ebola-hit countries in Africa should the Philippine government raise the alert there to Level 3.

The Rapid Response Team is comprised of representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Labor and Employment, Philippine National Police and the DOH.

The presence of DOH experts is seen as important in conducing health checks on Filipinos currently in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, where Ebola has killed thousands.

“The DOH knows that they are very essential,” Legarda said. “I cannot understand why the DOH is not on top of this.”

Senator Cynthia A. Villar, a known advocate of Filipino migrant workers, earlier quizzed Legarda on the failure of the DOH to send its personnel to West Africa.

“What do you think is the reason why they are not sending any representatives?” asked Villar.

“I wish I could ask Secretary Garin now. They must be in the forefront of this battle? I wish I can answer you [but] I cannot answer for the DOH, ” said Legarda.


FROM THE INQUIRER

P315-M pork charges filed vs House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II Marlon Ramos
@inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:47 AM | Friday, November 28th, 2014


House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO

A group calling for President Benigno Aquino III’s ouster on Thursday filed plunder and graft charges against House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II for the alleged misappropriation of P315.4 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations from 2007 to 2009.

Sentinels of the Rule of Law, represented by one of its convenors, Salvador Bañares, filed the criminal complaints in the Office of the Ombudsman against the Mandaluyong representative.

The group previously called for the impeachment of Mr. Aquino and supported moves for the PDAF abolition after a P10-billion pork barrel scandal broke out last year and prompted the filing of plunder charges against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, who are under detention.

In a 63-page complaint affidavit, Bañares said Gonzales should be made accountable for irregularities in his PDAF disbursements, which were uncovered in a special audit of more than 100 lawmakers conducted by the Commission on Audit (COA) in 2012.

Citing the COA findings, he said Gonzales authorized cash advances amounting to P280 million “without specific purpose” while another P60.5 million in cash advances “not covered by bond” were sourced from his pork barrel.

The COA also noted that a total of P117 million in cash advances were released “without liquidation of previous cash advances.”

It said more than P146 million of Gonzales’ PDAF was used for “transactions with suppliers of questionable existence,” including the purchase of almost P5.4 million for food, groceries, cleaning materials, trophies and office supplies from ARJT Trading Center.

Several private contractors had also denied supplying different items purchased out of Gonzales’ pork barrel allotments amounting to more than P18.86 million, according to the COA.

“There were no duly acknowledged distribution list, justifications for the procurement of items and/or proof of necessity or urgency, such as the declaration of calamity, request from the end-users/beneficiaries, proof of posting and publication of advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation,” the COA said.

Hearsay

Gonzales brushed off as “hearsay” the COA evidence used against him by the Sentinels, referring to the Special Audits Office (SAO) report on his PDAF.

“If that is their only basis, I vehemently deny it. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said the SAO report standing alone cannot be the basis of a court case. It is hearsay evidence, it should [be] more than the SAO report. It is not yet finished, not yet final. I still have to go through an exit conference with the COA,” he said.

Gonzales said not a single centavo of his PDAF had gone to detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the PDAF scams.

He justified why he got more than the P70-million-a-year allocation for each representative. “I [was] the senior deputy majority leader from 2007 to 2009 and understandably, according to leadership, I [would] get more for my district,” said Gonzales, who is on his third and final term.

Selective prosecution

More than a year after the COA made public its audit report in August 2013, Bañares lamented that only opposition lawmakers had been charged for their role in funneling billions of pesos in public funds to Napoles and other bogus nongovernment organizations.

“Is this a matter of selective prosecution, which is directed only against the members of the opposition, while members of the Aquino administration continue to be immune from prosecution?” the complainant asked.

Only Enrile, Revilla and Estrada have been indicted in the Sandiganbayan and detained for their alleged role in embezzling portions of their PDAF.

Besides Gonzales, former Customs Commissioner and former Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon and incumbent Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap are also facing investigation in the Office of the Ombudsman over the pork barrel issue. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan


FROM PHILSTAR

Cha-cha resolution before Christmas By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 28, 2014 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - A resolution seeking to amend restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution is likely to get approved before the congressional Christmas break along with other key economic reform measures, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said yesterday.

Also expected to be passed in the coming days is the joint resolution granting President Aquino special powers to address the looming power shortage in Luzon this summer, Gonzales said.

The chamber is also expected to ratify the proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 and pass the supplemental budget set to be filed on Monday.

Gonzales said the Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 (RBH1), which seeks to boost the inflow of foreign investments by easing the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution, could be put to a vote for second reading in the coming weeks. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. authored the resolution.

“We hope we can get a three-fourths vote approval on this, but we’re optimistic because this is a crucial, non-political constitutional reform that has direct benefits to ordinary Filipinos,” Gonzales said.

He said the Senate leadership has already committed to act on RBH 1 as soon as the House approves it. Sen. Ralph Recto has filed a counterpart bill.

“Our agreement with Speaker Belmonte is that they act on the economic provisions, and if they are successful in proposing amendments, we will take it up in the Senate,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said.

Drilon said he has not discussed with Belmonte the details of the economic provisions being readied for amendment.

He said he was not setting a timeline for the deliberation on the measure.

“The fact is at this point, it has not been passed, so it is difficult to assess if there is still time. Remember, that this is not only for next year, since it is an amendment to the Constitution, the effects of which are beyond this Congress,” Drilon said.

Floor discussions

The chamber resumed plenary deliberations on the measure with Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe saying interpellators on RBH 1 would likely be fewer in the coming days. He maintained the resolution would be supported by Filipinos in a plebiscite.

Gonzales also said the chamber aims to pass the proposed Anti-Trust and Competition Law that seeks to consolidate and update laws on competition and establish a strong regulatory agency to deal with anti-competitive practices.

Gonzales said the anti-trust measure is among the economic priority measures listed by both the House and the Senate. The Senate is also expected to pass its own version before the Christmas break.

Also slated for passage is the proposed Customs Modernization and Tariff Act which seeks to align the country’s Tariff and Customs Code with the simplified and harmonized customs procedures and practices adopted in the Revised Kyoto Convention and other international and legal standards.

Belmonte on Wednesday met with leaders of the Joint Foreign Chambers and Philippine business groups to update them on the efforts of the House to pass reform measures.

He said the meeting reinforced “our collaboration in pursuing reforms that would help attain our goal of an inclusive economic growth and development for our country and our people.”

The House is also working on other measures, including the proposed amendments to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Charter aimed at strengthening its regulatory and supervisory powers, rationalization of fiscal incentives to consolidate all existing incentive-giving laws to avoid confusion, redundancy, tax avoidance and other inefficiencies, while facilitating investments; and Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act mandating a full disclosure policy for tax incentives by requiring taxpayers to report incentives in the income tax returns.

The proposed law also seeks the establishment of a Tax Expenditure Account in the national budget to reflect the amount of tax incentives granted to private individuals and corporations.

Also being rushed is the Rationalization of Mining Revenues that seeks to increase the share of the state in mining revenues, and ensure the timely release of local government units’ share in mining profits.

“We are also pursuing measures to promote the development of our infrastructure to encourage more investments, both local and foreign. In this regard, we are studying amendments of the Build Operate Transfer Law, the Cabotage Law and the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA. Firmly embedded in these reform measures is the ethos of competitiveness,” Belmonte said.

Thankful

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad thanked lawmakers for the approval of the P2.606- trillion national budget for 2015.

“On behalf of the Aquino administration, we extend our gratitude to our colleagues in Congress for taking swift and appropriate action on the administration’s budget proposal, thus facilitating the enactment of next year’s expenditure blueprint before 2014 comes to a close,” Abad said.

Abad said the DBM has always emphasized the importance of passing the budget law on time so that agencies can “spring to action as soon as the next fiscal year begins.”

“In fact, the government has already begun pre-procurement activities as early as Aug. 1 of this year. This measure, along with the new regime of the General Appropriations Act-as-Release-Document, means that the early passage of the budget will kick-start the fast, high-quality and cost-effective implementation of the 2015 budget,” he said.

“This will then translate to the more efficient delivery of public goods and social services to the people, without compromising quality or raising costs,” Abad said.

“We mustn’t forget what an essential role the 2015 budget plays in our campaign for rapid, sustained and inclusive growth in the country. With 37 percent of the proposed budget now allocated towards social services and 27 percent of the total program already channeled to economic services, we are taking sure and certain steps to improving the lives of every Filipino,” he said.

“This has been the Aquino administration’s goal from the start: to serve the public better through a transparent and citizen-centric national budget, all in the spirit of reform, better governance and daang matuwid,” he added. – Zinnia dela Peña, Christina Mendez


FROM THE INQUIRER

Senator Santiago: P2.6-T budget favors President’s allies TJ Burgonio and Leila B. Salaverria
@inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:41 AM | Friday, November 28th, 2014

The proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 may yet be the administration’s preparatory budget for the 2016 elections, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Thursday.

“It is meant to give more money to the President’s allies and to government departments [that] are viewed as crucial to the [results] of the elections,” Santiago said when asked if the 2015 budget could be considered an election budget.

Santiago said that in the P104.5-billion budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), there were appropriations for items that were not part of the department’s main responsibility.

One such item is the funding for water service, a function that belongs to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), she said.

“There is no more grassroots agency closer to the voters than the DILG. But why does it have [large] appropriations for items that are not clearly indicated as part of its mandate?” Santiago told reporters after speaking at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Senate President Franklin Drilon declined to comment on Santiago’s observations.

Not for irrigation

Liberal Party (LP) secretary general Senen Sarmiento has explained that the funding for water services in the DILG budget was not related to irrigation.

The Salintubig project was designed to improve health and sanitation and provide water to rural communities in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals, he said.

Santiago, in a privilege speech on Monday, claimed that the 2015 budget contained some P37.3-billion in pork barrel, and had a loophole that would allow the declaration of savings any time of the year.

She questioned the allocation of a sum for a water system in the DILG budget.

“Are these local politicians expecting some windfall during the campaign period? Is that why the budget is skewed like that?” she said.

The Senate approved the budget measure on Wednesday night, and hoped to reconcile its version with the House of Representatives’ next week so it could be signed into law by President Aquino before year-end.

Pork barreling

On Thursday, Santiago maintained that the consultation with legislators to identify priority projects reeked of pork barreling.

“In other words, there may be no separate item called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), but the funds have already been built into the proposed 2015 budget,” she said, referring to the pork barrel that the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional last year.

“These funds, regardless of the name, may be considered pork barrel because they are national funds used for local projects selected by legislators, and they are granted in lump sums,” she said in a separate statement.

After Santiago’s privilege speech, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the budget did not contain pork.

Santiago agreed with the definition of savings in the Senate version of the national budget.

The Senate defined savings as balances of “unobligated” appropriations arising from the difference between a project’s approved budget and contract award price; final discontinuance of a program, activity or project; inability of an agency to implement a program due to external causes, and decreased cost of a project.

“That is the technicality on which Senator Escudero and I agree,” Santiago said, referring to Sen. Francis Escudero, the finance committee chair.

“My objection is this: If you define savings as an act of discontinuance and disallowance then you can stop a project at anytime and then resume it maybe next year or in some other future time, but with this amendment that will no longer be possible. I agree therefore that the mere insertion of the word ‘final’ disapproval will serve to ward off any evil that I’ve been warning against,” she said.

Lawmakers’ intervention

Escudero, speaking at a news forum in the Senate on Thursday, said a test case was needed to determine the extent of prohibited postenactment intervention by lawmakers in the execution of the budget.

In striking down the graft-ridden PDAF and the DAP, the Supreme Court also prohibited lawmakers from intervening in the implementation of the budget after its passage.

Under the previous system, the lawmakers used the PDAF to identify “hard” or infrastructure projects to be implemented after the budget approval, as well as to fund their “soft” projects such as educational and medical assistance.

But some lawmakers believe that even without the PDAF, they can endorse people asking them for help to programs of executive departments, such as those for medical assistance or education.

Escudero said he believed this was postenactment intervention prohibited by the Supreme Court ruling on the PDAF. He said he no longer endorsed people to executive agencies for assistance.

Extent unstated

But he said the extent of postenactment intervention was not expressly stated in the Supreme Court’s PDAF ruling.

The matter needs to be tested to determine what the lawmakers could or could not do in relation to the decision, he said.

“There has been no case yet filed to test the actual definition of postenactment based on the definition of the court,” Escudero said.

He said there were many factors to consider in determining if recommending beneficiaries was prohibited or not.

For instance, he said, if a lawmaker endorses a beneficiary but the department does not approve it, will this be considered a violation? If the endorsement from the lawmaker is only recommendatory, will this be considered prohibited as well?

But Escudero said he would rather not second-guess the Supreme Court on the matter and would leave it to the judiciary to resolve should a case be filed.

Budget bill provision

The Senate’s version of the 2015 budget bill includes a provision stating that postenactment intervention is not allowed. Escudero said the provision was copied from the Supreme Court ruling.

The provision states: “Nothing herein shall be construed to authorize legislators… to intervene, assume, or participate in any of the various postenactment stages of budget execution, such as but not limited to the areas of project identification, modification and revision of project identification, fund release and/or fund realignment, unrelated to power of congressional oversight.”

The Senate, however, refrained from further specifying what would or would not fall under postenactment intervention lest it be construed as adding a self-serving provision, Escudero said.

“If we define postenactment—for instance, that we can recommend as long as there is no amount specified, or as long as agencies are not required to accept our recommendations—we will be criticized and would be told that we had a self-serving definition,” he said.

“We’ll let it be resolved in a test case,” he added.

Escudero noted that many members of the House of Representatives were concerned about being able to help constituents because they receive numerous requests for assistance.

To be fair to House members, he said, they are usually the ones who know the problems in their districts because they have the capability to go around and check the conditions of their constituents.

Escudero also noted that there have been many scholars of lawmakers who lost the chance to continue their education because the Commission on Higher Education excluded them from its scholarship program even though they are qualified for assistance under its criteria.

Different definition

Meanwhile, Escudero also said those who insisted that there was still pork barrel in the proposed 2015 budget were apparently using a different definition of the term.

He said that for some, any item in the budget that is recommended by a lawmaker was pork, even though legislators had the power to recommend projects that answered the needs of their constituencies.

Escudero said the Senate budget bill was guided by the Supreme Court ruling on the pork barrel.

It is not prohibited for lawmakers to recommend projects for funding during the crafting of the budget, as this is preenactment intervention, he said.

Lump sums in the budget are inevitable and are not the problem, he said. Problems arise if the lump sums are subject to discretionary use, Escudero added.

He said he wondered why there were complaints about lump-sum funds, pointing out that the Senate included provisions in the budget bill requiring agencies to submit details of projects to be funded from lump sums before the funds could be released.

Lump sums

Lump sums in the 2015 budget include the allocations for the salary of personnel. Escudero said it would be impractical to list the names of all government employees.

He said the process could allow lawmakers to remove government employees by simply erasing their names from the list.

Other lump sums in the budget are the contingency fund (P2 billion); e-government fund (P1 billion); rehabilitation and reconstruction program fund (P20 billion); miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (P90 billion); and the pension and gratuity fund (P127 billion).


MANILA BULLETIN EDITORIAL

Editorial: The drive to clean up the budget for 2015 November 28, 2014 Share this:

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s privileged speech in the Senate last Monday revived once again the key issues over the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Both were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) appeared determined to continue these programs under new names.

The PDAF had been declared unconstitutional because legislators are not supposed to intervene in projects once they are done with their function of approving the budget.

But last summer, Senator Santiago charged, congressmen were asked to submit lists of projects for their districts and these projects, it appears, were included in the appropriations of various executive departments and agencies.

Thus there were huge lump sums allocated to the Departments of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Health (DOH), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Labor and Employment (DOLE), and to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) – totaling P37.3 billion. The pork barrel funds, she charged, may have been hidden in the huge lump-sum appropriations of various agencies.

And, Senator Santiago added, the budget appeared to have been crafted with an eye to the coming presidential election. A budget of P1.57 billion for Patubig projects was given to the DILG of Secretary Mar Roxas, aspiring Liberal Party presidential candidate, when this should properly be under the National Irrigation Administration.

Senator Santiago also questioned the budget bill’s new definition of savings. Savings are supposed to be determined after a project is completed and its fund is not fully used up, but under the new definition, a project may be discontinued or abandoned at any time and the funding is diverted to other projects.

The fight to straighten out the national budget for 2015 was lost in the House when it approved almost everything presented by the DBM, including hundreds of pages of “errata” and “typographical errors.” The Senate sought to meet some of Senator Santiago’s objections. It required government agencies to submit to Congress and the Commission on Audit an itemized listing before using the lump-sum funds. It also removed the phrase “at any time” in the definition of savings.

But many other provisions objected to by Senator Santiago and a number of opposition congressmen remain in the General Appropriation Act for 2015 approved by the Senate last Wednesday. The only course left for those intent on cleaning it up may be the Supreme Court once again.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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