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EDITORIALS & OPINIONS OF THE WEEK:
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FROM THE INQUIRER

EDITORIAL:  COMELEC DISARRAY


JANUARY 12 -WHAT IN heaven’s name is happening at the Commission on Elections? It’s just three months away from the critical national elections in May that will install this country’s next president and a vast new slate of public officials up and down the archipelago. But look, the poll body tasked by the Constitution to oversee peaceful, honest and orderly elections is a house in virtual chaos, its members publicly behaving as though they were in a henhouse. Elections commissioners are supposed to be avatars of probity, professionalism, fairness and sensible thought—lawyers first of all and sworn public servants second. But there they are, sniping at each other in full view of the electorate that, at this time, is looking to the poll body to make, at the very least, the rational judgments that would help them make the right choice for their next leaders once they’re inside the voting booth. The Comelec has only seven members. How hard is it for these seven distinguished men and women to sit down and discuss their differences among themselves, especially on matters of grave import—like solving the question of a presidential aspirant’s qualification to be an official candidate, especially if that candidate happens to be trending favorably in preelection surveys—before airing their dispute in public, and in so unseemly a manner at that?  How hard was it for Comelec Chair Andres Bautista to pick up the phone and talk privately first with his colleague Rowena Guanzon, to thresh out whatever contrary opinion he has over the latter’s filing of a brief in the Supreme Court opposing the motion of Sen. Grace Poe to junk the Comelec First and Second Divisions’ decisions disqualifying her from the race? Bautista said Guanzon’s action, which he claimed was made without clearance from him or the full commission, was “not only irregular but [also] personally disrespectful.” Granted that firing off memos to demand an explanation from a supposedly erring official for such unauthorized behavior puts such things officially on the record and is thus an aid in transparency; but did Bautista have to make it all public before talking to the Comelec’s legal department, which prepared the brief, or Guanzon herself, whom he could have given a dressing-down within their offices and away from the cameras, thus sparing the Comelec the appearance of an agency chronically unable to get its house in order? But if Bautista was imprudent in this case, Guanzon is worse. The merits of her brief with the Supreme Court are best left to the magistrates to weigh and decide on; it’s the manner by which she has comported herself in the wake of Bautista’s disclaimer of her filing that leaves a terrible taste in the mouth. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Rina Jimenez-David - Shocking, immoral, ill-timed
[“Shocking,” “immoral,” and “an attack on women” are just some of the reactions to the recent act of Congress removing the entire P1 billion budget meant for the purchase of family planning supplies from the overall budget of the Department of Health. But in her defense, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee that oversaw the budget preparation, said “the decision to cut the allocation for family planning was done after assessing its possible impact on the program.” Legarda cited the finding that as of June 2015, of some P3.27 billion allocated for family planning, “only P955 million (29 percent) had been obligated. For the remaining six months, P2.3 billion or 71 percent has yet to be obligated.” Thus, she pointed out, the DOH is perfectly free to use the remaining amount from the 2015 budget and “the agencies may augment deficient items from their savings.”]


JANUARY 10 -“Shocking,” “immoral,” and “an attack on women” are just some of the reactions to the recent act of Congress removing the entire P1 billion budget meant for the purchase of family planning supplies from the overall budget of the Department of Health. “We did not fight for the RH Law just to see it become an unfunded mandate of the government,” declared RH advocate, senatorial candidate and former congresswoman Risa Hontiveros. “We will fight for its full implementation for the sake of women and Filipino families.”
Indeed, without a new budget for 2016 for purchasing supplies, the family planning program seems to have been effectively scuttled. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, presidential candidate and cosponsor in the Senate of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, said “the P1 billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of [RH] services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die.” Equally “shocked” was Sen. Pia Cayetano, who said the budget cut was effectively a slap on her face since it was she who led the charge for the passage of the RPRH Law in the Senate. Cayetano called the action a “breach of trust,” adding: “We work on a basis of trust—that the chair of the finance committee would not make significant changes without informing the body, or in the case of RH, no major changes will be made without informing me, knowing that I sponsored the measure.” * * * But in her defense, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee that oversaw the budget preparation, said “the decision to cut the allocation for family planning was done after assessing its possible impact on the program.” Legarda cited the finding that as of June 2015, of some P3.27 billion allocated for family planning, “only P955 million (29 percent) had been obligated. For the remaining six months, P2.3 billion or 71 percent has yet to be obligated.” Thus, she pointed out, the DOH is perfectly free to use the remaining amount from the 2015 budget and “the agencies may augment deficient items from their savings.” The senator also said the P1 billion cut was used to augment the funds of other agencies: for the air assets upgrading of the Department of National Defense, an increase in the budget of some state universities and colleges, and even realigned within the DOH to “provide for the health facilities and medical assistance to indigent patients.” But Sen. Tito Sotto, who had vocally (and vociferously) argued against the RPRH bill on the Senate floor, said the budget for family planning was cut in response to the ongoing case being heard in the Supreme Court. But the TRO issued by the high court covered only the use of implants to which some groups had objected. There was no mention of all other forms of contraception. * * * The senators (Budget Secretary Butch Abad says the DOH budget cut was made in the Senate) might have overlooked the fact that, aside from the one-year delay in the implementation of the RPRH Law due to the numerous suits filed against it at the high court, the program suffered months of further delay when the DOH conducted a national assessment to see in what areas the family planning program could be more effective—whether in the construction of more clinics or birthing centers, the hiring and training of health personnel, or the purchase and distribution of more effective contraceptives. READ MORE...


ALSO: EDITORIAL - The cruelest cut


JANUARY 14 -It took 14 years and a tortuous struggle before the Reproductive Health Law was finally passed in 2012 despite attempts by conservative groups and the Catholic Church to derail the measure.But three years since its historic passage, the landmark law that provides couples an informed choice along with natural and artificial methods of family planning, as well as sex education for young people, among other features, remains in stasis, held hostage by stalling tactics by its opponents—from charges of being unconstitutional to petitions against some contraceptives claimed to be “abortifacients.”  Despite the longstanding resistance to the RH Law, recent news that Senators Loren Legarda and Tito Sotto had maneuvered to lop off P1 billion from the RH fund came as an unpleasant surprise, the cruel cut described as “shocking, immoral and ill-timed.” Well, “well-timed” might be the better description, it being an election year when courting the (unproven) Catholic vote wouldn’t hurt.  After all, Church leaders are known to conveniently ignore the biblical admonition to “render unto Caesar…” How else explain their hoisting tarps outside a Bacolod church in the 2013 elections, branding pro-RH candidates as members of “Team Patay” (Team of Death)? And Church leaders say only natural family planning is acceptable, never mind that most impoverished women—those most in need of protection—are trapped in violent situations where the choice is often sex or domestic abuse from partners for whom reasoning is an alien concept. The budget cut of P1 billion denies these women (and impoverished couples) access to medically safe, nonabortifacient and effective RH services and commodities, because the fund was earmarked by the Department of Health for free supplies of condoms, IUDs and birth control pills. READ MORE...

ALSO: EDITORIAL - Untouchable


JANUARY 16 -MNLF FLAG Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members, led by its founder, Nur Misuari, display the group’s flag in rites held in Indanan town, Sulu province, sometime in July. The MNLF said Misuari declared an independent “Bangsamoro Republik” on Aug. 12, 2013 appointing himself chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO INQUIRER SEPTEMBER 2013 NEWS FILE The latest indignity to befall the thousands of Zamboanga residents who were displaced by the fighting that erupted in 2013 between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front troops involves something that many of us in better-developed areas of the country take for granted: water. According to a report in this paper last Wednesday, so dire is the water situation in Zamboanga—due to an extended dry spell caused by El Niño—that people are beginning to fight over the water rations being delivered to affected communities, and the local church has taken to urging parishes to recite a special prayer “until the Pasonanca water dam is filled enough for the daily consumption of our people,” said one priest. The dam gets its supply of drinking water for residents from the Pasonanca river, which has seen a steep drop in water level because of the drought. The lack of rainwater has reduced the supply’s average flow of about 14,000 cubic meters per hour in previous years to only about 4,000 these days, according to the Zamboanga City Water District (ZCWD), which supplies some 72,000 consumers. Besides those home-based consumers, unfortunately, are about 4,000 families who, since September 2013, have been living in 11 “transitory” sites after they fled the rampage instigated by Nur Misuari’s men. The MNLF’s bloody mischief, a result of Misuari’s apparent pique at having been excluded from the comprehensive Mindanao peace agreement then being worked out between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, resulted in the torching of several sections of the city, the displacement of about 100,000 people, the deaths of a number of civilians (some of whom were said to have been used as human shields by the MNLF troops), and the closure of the Zamboanga airport. Zamboanga, the economic hub of the region, ground to a halt and was a barricaded city for about 19 days as government forces battled Misuari’s men. When the assault ended, Misuari was nowhere to be found. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Solita Collas-Monsod - Legislators thinking of themselves in pushing SSS pension hike


JANUARY 16 -By: Solita Collas-Monsod
House Bill No. 5842, or the proposed Social Security Act, would give our private-sector pensioners an across-the-board increase of P2,000 in their monthly pensions. All 2.15 million of them. What’s wrong with that? It would be great for the pensioners, right? And moreover, think of the political bonanza it would give to the authors and sponsors of the bill in the respective chambers of Congress, in an election year even. But take a closer look at it, do a little arithmetic, and you will realize that our legislators were (as usual?) thinking of themselves rather than the country. And they were willing to let the pensioners bask in false hopes for a while, betting that President Aquino would not dash those hopes in an election year. Their bet failed. The President has vetoed the bill. Only consider: How much will that bill set the Social Security System back yearly? P2000 x 13 months (Christmas bonus) x 2.15 million pensioners = P56 billion. Yearly. That was easy, wasn’t it? Next question: How much does the SSS earn from its investments? Yearly? It gives a range of from P30 to P40 billion a year (last year it was P40 billion). So do the arithmetic. The shortfall of the SSS will be anywhere from P16 billion to P26 billion. So how will the SSS finance that deficit or shortfall? If the SSS takes it from the principal or its corpus, then it will be only a matter of time before it bellies up. Estimates range from 11 years to 14 years. Is that what we want? And think of the pensioners who will still be alive by then. From very little pension to no pension at all. But doesn’t the SSS collect premiums from current members? Why can’t that be used? Oops, sorry. The SSS has things like salary loans, sickness and disability payments, and help for members who have suffered from disasters and catastrophes. In other words, there are other members that the SSS has to take care of: Membership estimates run to over 30 million, or if we take out the pensioners, 28 million. Their needs also have to be attended to. And those members will be put at risk with this pension increase of HB 5842. So the question is: Didn’t our legislators know about this when they were studying the bill? Of course they did. Certainly, the SSS must have told them, and given them all the actuarial estimates. I understand that the SSS told them that a P500 across-the-board increase would be affordable, as long as it is accompanied by lower benefits to current members. But a P500 pension increase wasn’t “bongga” enough, and may not assure election or reelection. So the legislators probably thought (the media reported some of it): “We’ll provide for P2,000. Never mind the impact on SSS long-term financial viability, because the President surely will bring it down to P1,000, rather than veto it. We’ll still come out smelling like roses, because we can blame him for lowering the pension increase.” READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

EDITORIAL Comelec in disarray

MANILA, JANUARY 18, 2016 (INQUIRER)  @inquirerdotnet January 12th, 2016 - WHAT IN heaven’s name is happening at the Commission on Elections? It’s just three months away from the critical national elections in May that will install this country’s next president and a vast new slate of public officials up and down the archipelago.

But look, the poll body tasked by the Constitution to oversee peaceful, honest and orderly elections is a house in virtual chaos, its members publicly behaving as though they were in a henhouse. Elections commissioners are supposed to be avatars of probity, professionalism, fairness and sensible thought—lawyers first of all and sworn public servants second.

But there they are, sniping at each other in full view of the electorate that, at this time, is looking to the poll body to make, at the very least, the rational judgments that would help them make the right choice for their next leaders once they’re inside the voting booth.

The Comelec has only seven members. How hard is it for these seven distinguished men and women to sit down and discuss their differences among themselves, especially on matters of grave import—like solving the question of a presidential aspirant’s qualification to be an official candidate, especially if that candidate happens to be trending favorably in preelection surveys—before airing their dispute in public, and in so unseemly a manner at that?

How hard was it for Comelec Chair Andres Bautista to pick up the phone and talk privately first with his colleague Rowena Guanzon, to thresh out whatever contrary opinion he has over the latter’s filing of a brief in the Supreme Court opposing the motion of Sen. Grace Poe to junk the Comelec First and Second Divisions’ decisions disqualifying her from the race?


COMPOSITE PHOTOS OF BAUTISTA AND GUANZON INQUIRER FILE

Bautista said Guanzon’s action, which he claimed was made without clearance from him or the full commission, was “not only irregular but [also] personally disrespectful.”

Granted that firing off memos to demand an explanation from a supposedly erring official for such unauthorized behavior puts such things officially on the record and is thus an aid in transparency; but did Bautista have to make it all public before talking to the Comelec’s legal department, which prepared the brief, or Guanzon herself, whom he could have given a dressing-down within their offices and away from the cameras, thus sparing the Comelec the appearance of an agency chronically unable to get its house in order?

But if Bautista was imprudent in this case, Guanzon is worse. The merits of her brief with the Supreme Court are best left to the magistrates to weigh and decide on; it’s the manner by which she has comported herself in the wake of Bautista’s disclaimer of her filing that leaves a terrible taste in the mouth.

READ MORE...

In a counter-memorandum she posted online, Guanzon said Bautista’s memo “has cast a stain on my reputation as a Commissioner and as a lawyer.” Fair enough.

She could have chosen to be professional and serious-minded about it by reining herself, checking her tone and using temperate language, as befits her stature as, indeed, one of only seven people in the country constitutionally charged to oversee the all-important exercise of democratic elections, and as a member of the bar as well. But listen to how she has responded to Bautista, on radio yet: “He has no power over me. He has no authority to discipline me. How dare he issue me a memorandum to reply to him in 24 hours. What does he think of me? His employee?”

It gets even more unsettling in the vernacular, when she casts insinuations on Bautista as being partisan and gloats that her position against Poe was more favored among her colleagues: “Isang boto lang siya e. Lima kami, nanalo kami e. Talo siya e. Panig siya kay Grace Poe e.” (He was only one vote against our five. He lost—and he was for Grace Poe.)

The words would make anyone blanch. Remember that this is an elections commissioner—someone who cannot appear ever too eager to favor, or diss, one candidate over another. After all, in the event the Supreme Court rules in Poe’s favor, where would that leave Guanzon and her outrageous remarks? In so many words, and from her own mouth no less, the woman has basically undermined her reputation by validating the subtext of Bautista’s critique of her actions as those of someone prone to rash, careless and indelicate behavior.

Chair Bautista needs to pull rank, and firmly, if only to get the Comelec functioning smoothly again.


Shocking, immoral, ill-timed By: Rina Jimenez-David @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:04 AM January 10th, 2016

“Shocking,” “immoral,” and “an attack on women” are just some of the reactions to the recent act of Congress removing the entire P1 billion budget meant for the purchase of family planning supplies from the overall budget of the Department of Health.

“We did not fight for the RH Law just to see it become an unfunded mandate of the government,” declared RH advocate, senatorial candidate and former congresswoman Risa Hontiveros. “We will fight for its full implementation for the sake of women and Filipino families.”

Indeed, without a new budget for 2016 for purchasing supplies, the family planning program seems to have been effectively scuttled. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, presidential candidate and cosponsor in the Senate of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, said “the P1 billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of [RH] services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die.”

Equally “shocked” was Sen. Pia Cayetano, who said the budget cut was effectively a slap on her face since it was she who led the charge for the passage of the RPRH Law in the Senate.

Cayetano called the action a “breach of trust,” adding: “We work on a basis of trust—that the chair of the finance committee would not make significant changes without informing the body, or in the case of RH, no major changes will be made without informing me, knowing that I sponsored the measure.”

* * *



But in her defense, Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee that oversaw the budget preparation, said “the decision to cut the allocation for family planning was done after assessing its possible impact on the program.”

Legarda cited the finding that as of June 2015, of some P3.27 billion allocated for family planning, “only P955 million (29 percent) had been obligated. For the remaining six months, P2.3 billion or 71 percent has yet to be obligated.”

Thus, she pointed out, the DOH is perfectly free to use the remaining amount from the 2015 budget and “the agencies may augment deficient items from their savings.”

The senator also said the P1 billion cut was used to augment the funds of other agencies: for the air assets upgrading of the Department of National Defense, an increase in the budget of some state universities and colleges, and even realigned within the DOH to “provide for the health facilities and medical assistance to indigent patients.”



But Sen. Tito Sotto, who had vocally (and vociferously) argued against the RPRH bill on the Senate floor, said the budget for family planning was cut in response to the ongoing case being heard in the Supreme Court. But the TRO issued by the high court covered only the use of implants to which some groups had objected. There was no mention of all other forms of contraception.

* * *


The senators (Budget Secretary Butch Abad says the DOH budget cut was made in the Senate) might have overlooked the fact that, aside from the one-year delay in the implementation of the RPRH Law due to the numerous suits filed against it at the high court, the program suffered months of further delay when the DOH conducted a national assessment to see in what areas the family planning program could be more effective—whether in the construction of more clinics or birthing centers, the hiring and training of health personnel, or the purchase and distribution of more effective contraceptives.

READ MORE...

The situation has not been static, either, as our population increases each year, with the momentum seeming to be speeding up.

“Access to contraceptives is an essential condition for exercising the basic human right to health as well as the right to reproductive choices,” declared Yoriko Yasukawa, regional director for Asia and the Pacific for the UN Fund for Population.

“Global evidence clearly shows that universal access to family planning is essential to prevent maternal and newborn deaths; is vital to achieving gender equality; and contributes to poverty reduction and inclusive development. We strongly encourage the reversal of the budget deletion.”

* * *

The UNFPA acknowledged that the Aquino administration has shown increasing resolve to implement the family planning program. For one, the population growth rate slowed down from 1.9 percent in 2010 to 1.7 percent in 2015. Modern contraceptive use, for instance, increased from 34 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2013, and this, said the UNFPA, “contributed to a decrease in the maternal mortality ratio from 129 in 2013 to 114 in 2015.” Still, this decline is still much slower than the rate the country sought to achieve as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

“While the situation is still far from ideal, initial steps undertaken by Government to ensure greater access to family planning for the poorest of the poor who need it most have begun to show positive, beneficial results,” said the UNFPA. “Failure to sustain this commitment can swiftly reverse gains and put the country in a more difficult position to achieve its vital development target to reduce maternal deaths.”

The budget deletion, it said, “comes at an especially critical time as the country is seeking to strengthen efforts to battle the crisis of increasing teen pregnancy.” It also pointed out that “for a country with a large population of young people, important investments should be made on comprehensive sexual and [RH] care, including access to contraceptives, to achieve a more educated and healthy population, more productive workforce, and growing economy to maximize the potential of the huge population.”


EDITORIAL: The cruelest cut SHARES: 173 VIEW COMMENTS @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer
02:20 AM January 14th, 2016

It took 14 years and a tortuous struggle before the Reproductive Health Law was finally passed in 2012 despite attempts by conservative groups and the Catholic Church to derail the measure.

But three years since its historic passage, the landmark law that provides couples an informed choice along with natural and artificial methods of family planning, as well as sex education for young people, among other features, remains in stasis, held hostage by stalling tactics by its opponents—from charges of being unconstitutional to petitions against some contraceptives claimed to be “abortifacients.”

Despite the longstanding resistance to the RH Law, recent news that Senators Loren Legarda and Tito Sotto had maneuvered to lop off P1 billion from the RH fund came as an unpleasant surprise, the cruel cut described as “shocking, immoral and ill-timed.” Well, “well-timed” might be the better description, it being an election year when courting the (unproven) Catholic vote wouldn’t hurt.

After all, Church leaders are known to conveniently ignore the biblical admonition to “render unto Caesar…” How else explain their hoisting tarps outside a Bacolod church in the 2013 elections, branding pro-RH candidates as members of “Team Patay” (Team of Death)?

 And Church leaders say only natural family planning is acceptable, never mind that most impoverished women—those most in need of protection—are trapped in violent situations where the choice is often sex or domestic abuse from partners for whom reasoning is an alien concept.

The budget cut of P1 billion denies these women (and impoverished couples) access to medically safe, nonabortifacient and effective RH services and commodities, because the fund was earmarked by the Department of Health for free supplies of condoms, IUDs and birth control pills.

READ MORE...

Sotto, who opposes the RH Law, had proposed the cut, citing the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order but callously ignoring that the TRO covers only certain hormonal contraceptives.

For her part, Legarda denied sneaking in the cut in the budget deliberations as chair of the Senate finance committee, saying that all information about the national budget was made available to both chambers of Congress before it was enacted into law. She said part of the money would go to the air defense needs of the military, with China’s increasing presence in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, and to some education projects.

Still, the RH Law’s main authors, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Pia Cayetano, find the fund cut “unacceptable,” and point out that the lack of funding would render the law “inutile.” Indeed.

“The P1-billion budget cut threatens to deprive some seven million women of [RH] services. This abandonment is immoral in a country where some 200 out of 100,000 women who give birth die,” Santiago said.

The cut would also mean depending on private and foreign donors for contraceptive supplies—a possibility that is unsustainable and would resurrect the charges of “contraceptive imperialism” initially raised by the law’s critics.

What is particularly galling is that Legarda has always described herself as prowomen and proenvironment. As a green advocate, she should have made the connection between the environment and the impact of a runaway population on the planet’s dwindling resources; she should have figured out how a huge carbon footprint could drain the gains made in reining in global warming and climate change.

Legarda has defended the budget cut as a response to the low (29 percent) use of the family planning program’s budget of P3.27 billion in 2015, with 71 percent, or P2.3 billion, still to be obligated for the next six months. These remaining funds are still available in 2016 and could augment deficient resources, she said.

Well and good, so it must be asked: Why did the DOH use up only 29 percent of funds appropriated for the program? What tedious processes have delayed full implementation of the three-year-old law, and what measures can speed them up?

Imagine what was lost: in the words of a UN Population Fund official, “important investments on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care … to achieve a more educated and healthy population, a more productive workforce and a growing economy.”


EDITORIAL: Untouchable @inquirerdotnet  Philippine Daily Inquirer 01:31 AM January 16th, 2016


MNLF FLAG Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members, led by its founder, Nur Misuari, display the group’s flag in rites held in Indanan town, Sulu province, sometime in July. The MNLF said Misuari declared an independent “Bangsamoro Republik” on Aug. 12, 2013 appointing himself chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO INQUIRER SEPTEMBER 2013 NEWS FILE
INQUIRER CARTOON 2013

The latest indignity to befall the thousands of Zamboanga residents who were displaced by the fighting that erupted in 2013 between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front troops involves something that many of us in better-developed areas of the country take for granted: water.

According to a report in this paper last Wednesday, so dire is the water situation in Zamboanga—due to an extended dry spell caused by El Niño—that people are beginning to fight over the water rations being delivered to affected communities, and the local church has taken to urging parishes to recite a special prayer “until the Pasonanca water dam is filled enough for the daily consumption of our people,” said one priest.

The dam gets its supply of drinking water for residents from the Pasonanca river, which has seen a steep drop in water level because of the drought. The lack of rainwater has reduced the supply’s average flow of about 14,000 cubic meters per hour in previous years to only about 4,000 these days, according to the Zamboanga City Water District (ZCWD), which supplies some 72,000 consumers.

Besides those home-based consumers, unfortunately, are about 4,000 families who, since September 2013, have been living in 11 “transitory” sites after they fled the rampage instigated by Nur Misuari’s men.

The MNLF’s bloody mischief, a result of Misuari’s apparent pique at having been excluded from the comprehensive Mindanao peace agreement then being worked out between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, resulted in the torching of several sections of the city, the displacement of about 100,000 people, the deaths of a number of civilians (some of whom were said to have been used as human shields by the MNLF troops), and the closure of the Zamboanga airport.

Zamboanga, the economic hub of the region, ground to a halt and was a barricaded city for about 19 days as government forces battled Misuari’s men. When the assault ended, Misuari was nowhere to be found.

READ MORE...

It’s been two years since then, and thousands of refugees have yet to return to their communities; they live in miserable conditions in poorly equipped evacuation centers, all but forgotten now that the media hubbub over the Zamboanga siege has faded.


Zamboanga City starts water rationing due to El Niño: The Zamboanga City Water District said it has started a 12-hour rationing daily as the El Niño phenomenon, which has been seen to intensify this year, has rapidly drained its main water sources. At least half of the city’s 98 barangays (villages) are waterless for half a day on a daily basis because of the rationing scheme, which started Friday, according to Leonardo Ray Vasquez, ZCWD general manager, said at This means that about half of the city’s 72,000 water consumers will not be having a full day’s supply of water until the situation returns to normal. “The El Niño is draining our rivers so fast,” he said. Inquirer Mindanao 09:32 AM January 8th, 2016

And now they must contend with the desperate lack of water all over the city—a situation where they are in an even more hapless situation.

 The ZCWD has received reports that water rations intended for the refugees were not reaching their intended target because home-based families, or the permanent residents living around the evacuation centers, were insisting that the water tanks service them first.

“We are being prevented by home-based villagers from getting our supply until all the other families were [done] fetching theirs,” said Asikal Asiral, a camp leader at Buggoc, one of the transitory sites. “But we are powerless.”

The government’s indifference to the plight of the Zamboanga refugees has been apparent all this time, but the desperate situation in which the displaced families find themselves these days highlights once again the callousness of state authorities.

An even bigger wound is inflicted when news gets around that the fugitive Misuari, for whom there is a standing warrant of arrest for the widespread death and devastation he unleashed on the city, not only remains at large, but is also apparently so untouchable that, just last week, he reportedly led over 2,000 MNLF members and supporters from all over Mindanao at a gathering in Sulu.

The MNLF described the event as a “general leadership meeting,” as if Misuari were only hosting a drab corporate confab. His presence was confirmed by the military, but it said it could not apprehend him because serving him the warrant of arrest for the Zamboanga bloodbath was the job of the police. In Manila, Malacañang was hardly shocked at news of such a high-profile fugitive traipsing around Mindanao and generally making a mockery of the law; it merely said it was up to the Philippine National Police to figure out how to arrest him.

But would that even happen? One Habib Hashim Mudjahab of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council was reported as saying that the gathering in Sulu was coordinated in advance with local authorities, who must then have agreed to kowtow to Misuari and his powerful band of armed brothers.

The victims of the MNLF honcho continue to cry for help and justice, while he lives it up.


Legislators thinking of themselves in pushing SSS pension hike By: Solita Collas-Monsod
@inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 01:24 AM January 16th, 2016


People fall in line at the Membership Assistance Center of the Social Security System (SSS) Building at East Avenue, Quezon City. RAFFY LERMA

House Bill No. 5842, or the proposed Social Security Act, would give our private-sector pensioners an across-the-board increase of P2,000 in their monthly pensions. All 2.15 million of them. What’s wrong with that? It would be great for the pensioners, right? And moreover, think of the political bonanza it would give to the authors and sponsors of the bill in the respective chambers of Congress, in an election year even.

But take a closer look at it, do a little arithmetic, and you will realize that our legislators were (as usual?) thinking of themselves rather than the country. And they were willing to let the pensioners bask in false hopes for a while, betting that President Aquino would not dash those hopes in an election year.

Their bet failed. The President has vetoed the bill. Only consider: How much will that bill set the Social Security System back yearly? P2000 x 13 months (Christmas bonus) x 2.15 million pensioners = P56 billion. Yearly. That was easy, wasn’t it?

Next question: How much does the SSS earn from its investments? Yearly? It gives a range of from P30 to P40 billion a year (last year it was P40 billion). So do the arithmetic. The shortfall of the SSS will be anywhere from P16 billion to P26 billion.

So how will the SSS finance that deficit or shortfall?

If the SSS takes it from the principal or its corpus, then it will be only a matter of time before it bellies up. Estimates range from 11 years to 14 years. Is that what we want? And think of the pensioners who will still be alive by then. From very little pension to no pension at all.

But doesn’t the SSS collect premiums from current members? Why can’t that be used? Oops, sorry. The SSS has things like salary loans, sickness and disability payments, and help for members who have suffered from disasters and catastrophes. In other words, there are other members that the SSS has to take care of: Membership estimates run to over 30 million, or if we take out the pensioners, 28 million. Their needs also have to be attended to. And those members will be put at risk with this pension increase of HB 5842.

So the question is: Didn’t our legislators know about this when they were studying the bill? Of course they did. Certainly, the SSS must have told them, and given them all the actuarial estimates. I understand that the SSS told them that a P500 across-the-board increase would be affordable, as long as it is accompanied by lower benefits to current members. But a P500 pension increase wasn’t “bongga” enough, and may not assure election or reelection.

So the legislators probably thought (the media reported some of it): “We’ll provide for P2,000. Never mind the impact on SSS long-term financial viability, because the President surely will bring it down to P1,000, rather than veto it. We’ll still come out smelling like roses, because we can blame him for lowering the pension increase.”

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In other words, they were leaving it up to the President to worry about the financial viability of the SSS. They were playing a political game.

Let’s continue with the thought processes of those legislators: “Anyway, the impact of our (irresponsible) actions now will be felt much later. Public memory is very short. And besides, the future governments will not let the SSS go down. They will save it.”

Well, how much will that “save” cost? That, too, has been estimated by the SSS. A government subsidy (covering the difference between SSS revenues and expenditures) would amount to P130 billion in 2028, and rising by an additional P20 billion a year. Think of the opportunity costs of that money: Which items of competing expenditures would be foregone by the government to save the SSS? And when we talk about a government subsidy, let us remember that it is the Filipino people who are paying for it. But, of course, that’s 14 years from now.

Which gives rise to another question: Is that the kind of political leaders we want? Who think only of the short term, and think only of the benefits to themselves?

Just listen to what they are saying now: How heartless is P-Noy, how cruel, how lacking in compassion, his fear that the SSS will go belly up is a “phantom fear,” he should give it as a gift to the Filipino people to commemorate Edsa.

Good grief. Look at the facts, the numbers. Ignoring them will not make them go away.



And the speed with which the bill was passed! By the way, the only legislator who voted against the bill was Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. Good for him.

I will say this, however. I think the President should have allowed the P500 across-the-board increase, that being what the SSS had suggested in the first place. Instead of vetoing the bill outright. Perhaps he was tired of playing “chicken.”

The Reader may well ask: How come the Government Service Insurance System pensioners get much larger pensions than the SSS pensioners? My husband’s SSS pension is something like P5,000 a month; my GSIS pension is something above P20,000—and I never earned (as a University of the Philippines professor) anything near to what he was earning.

Again, there’s no “magic” in it. It’s simple arithmetic. Government employees contribute 9 percent of their income every month to the GSIS. The private-sector employees contribute only 3.63 percent of theirs to the SSS. What’s more, that 3.63-percent contribution is subject to a maximum P15,000 of income, while GSIS members have no such ceiling; they pay 9 percent on total income.

The government contributes 12 percent of income as its contribution, so the total is 21 percent. In the SSS, employers pay 7.36 percent, so the total is 11 percent. If the private sector wants larger pensions, it should contribute larger amounts. Truth hurts.

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