HEADLINE NEWS EARLY THIS PAST WEEK ...

PHL LIFTS BAN ON 9 HK JOURNALISTS WHO 'HECKLED' AQUINO

NOV 25 --PHOTO: President Aquino answers questions directed to him during the panel discussion in the 2013 APEC CEO Summit at the Summit Plenary, Mangupura Room, Bali International Convention Center in Bali, Republic of Indonesia on Sunday, October 06. Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Tuesday lifted the blacklist order issued against nine Hong Kong journalists who "heckled" President Benigno Aquino III in a regional summit last year. The BI said the blacklist order was lifted upon the recommendation of the of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), which requested for the ban last June. READ FULL REPORT..

ALSO: Teachers say previous administration was more generous with benefits

A group of public school teachers reiterated its dismay with the government by releasing a comparison of benefits they – along with other government employees – received under President Aquino and the previous administration. The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), a 30,000-strong group – along with Ating Guro party-list – said that the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PGMA) was “more generous to its teachers and employees as far as the increases in salaries and other benefits are concerned.” Citing data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), TDC National Chairman Benjo Basas said that the year-end benefits and salary adjustments, as well as incentives to government employees under Arroyo, were “better” compared to those of the Aquino administration. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: ‘DOH chief went against WHO recommendations’

NOV 24 --Health Secretary-on-leave Enrique Ona went against recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) in approving a questionable procurement of vaccines by his department in 2012. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday this was highlighted in the initial report of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of its ongoing probe into the controversial procurement of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10), a vaccine for pulmonary diseases for children. “That’s what I know. That’s in the initial report of the NBI because they already have an initial report,” she bared. De Lima issued this statement following reports that the WHO did not make any recommendation for the more cost effective PCV 13, which she also revealed earlier. “Whatever I said earlier, that was what I knew based on facts, based on the referral that I forwarded to the NBI,” she explained. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Ona offered to resign; Health chief says documents prove no corruption

PHOTO: Health Secretary Enrique Ona. AFP FILE PHOTO --Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Thursday offered his courtesy resignation to President Benigno Aquino III as his month-long leave ended, the Inquirer learned. “I will offer my courtesy resignation to the President because it’s the best thing to do in this situation,” Ona told the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Thursday. The health secretary was in Malacañang on Thursday to see the President. Ona said he had all the documents to prove that there was no corruption involved in the purchase of medicines. “I have all the documents that could show all the transactions were aboveboard and no one made money.” READ FULL NEWS REPORT...

(ALSO) Abad: Budget free of pork 

NOV 26 --ABAB INSISTS NO MORE PORK--‘GOV’T ABIDING BY SC DECISION PDAF IS ILLEGAL’ Budget Secretary Florencio Abad insisted Tuesday that the proposed national budget for next year was free from pork barrel, despite Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s allegation that it included P37.3 billion in lump-sum appropriations. Sen. Francis Escudero, for his part, said the crafting of the national budget for 2015 did not herald the return of the pork barrel, but an exercise of the lawmakers’ power of the purse. Escudero, finance committee chair, defended the inclusion of lawmakers’ proposed projects in the draft of the 2015 budget, saying this was not a violation of the Supreme Court ruling declaring the unconstitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Abad claimed that the executive branch preferred not to pool savings, whose definition in the budget bill was also assailed by Santiago. “Our position is as much as possible, there should be no savings,” Abad told the Inquirer. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: SC asked to strike down 2015 budget  

NOV 25 --PHOTO: PEOPLE’S INITIATIVE Quezon City anti-pork advocates led by People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel System show the first 10,000 signatures they collected and which were submitted to the Commission on Elections. The group vowed to gather at least 177,000 signatures from the city’s six congressional districts. PHOTO BY MIKE DE JUAN
A former lawmaker on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court (SC) to declare as unconstitutional the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2015 as well as the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) of 2015 that are pending in Congress, arguing that the measures are tainted with “pork barrel” funds.
Augusto Syjuco, who represented Iloilo province in the House of Representatives and who held the highest position at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition to prevent Congress from further hearing the proposed 2015 budget. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Aquino admits hands tied in coco levy funds

The government is still unable to tap the P71-billion coconut levy fund to improve the plight of coconut farmers until the Supreme Court makes a final ruling on the case, President Aquino admitted yesterday. But while waiting for the final verdict on the case, Aquino said an action plan is already in place on how to utilize the fund for the welfare of the coco farmers. Aquino’s to-do list includes certifying as urgent a bill that will govern the use of the coconut levy fund to improve the plight of the country’s poor coconut farmers as well as releasing P1.38 billion to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). READ FULL REPORT...
 


READ FULL MEDIA NEWS REPORT:

Philippines lifts ban on HK journos who 'heckled' Aquino


President Aquino answers questions directed to him during the panel discussion in the 2013 APEC CEO Summit at the Summit Plenary, Mangupura Room, Bali International Convention Center in Bali, Republic of Indonesia on Sunday, October 06. Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, DECEMBER 1, 2014 (PHILSTAR) POSTED NOV 25, 2014 By Louis Bacani - The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Tuesday lifted the blacklist order issued against nine Hong Kong journalists who "heckled" President Benigno Aquino III in a regional summit last year.

The BI said the blacklist order was lifted upon the recommendation of the of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), which requested for the ban last June.

"Upon evaluation of the NICA letter dated November 21, 2014 and received by the BI yesterday (November 24), the BI has deemed it proper to lift the blacklist order against the foreign nationals," said lawyer Elaine Tan, BI spokesperson.

"Following normal protocol, the BI heavily relied on the advice of the NICA to lift the blacklist as NICA is presumed to be in a better position to know the facts surrounding the initial finding of undesirability and subsequent reversal of such finding", Tan explained further.

With the blacklist lifted, the nine journalists may now enter the Philippines as tourists, subject to regular immigration inspection.

The NICA wants the blacklist order lifted since no incident transpired during Aquino's visit to China for the 26th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.

In last year's APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia, the foreign journalists questioned Aquino about the Manila hostage crisis in 2010 that killed eight Hong Kong tourists.

Aquino was about to meet APEC business leaders when the reporters shouted questions and demanded to know whether he would meet with Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying in Bali and apologize for the hostage tragedy.

Malacañang had said that the reporters "crossed the line" after Aquino was "accosted very rudely and very aggressively."

Last week, the Hong Kong media reported that one of the blacklisted journalists was denied entry to the Philippines.

He received a letter from immigration officers stating that the nine Hong Kong journalists had been considered "undesirable" and barred from entering the country to cover next year's APEC summit in Manila.
 


FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

Teachers say previous administration was more generous with benefits by Ina Hernando Malipot November 27, 2014 Share this:

A group of public school teachers reiterated its dismay with the government by releasing a comparison of benefits they – along with other government employees – received under President Aquino and the previous administration.

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), a 30,000-strong group – along with Ating Guro party-list – said that the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PGMA) was “more generous to its teachers and employees as far as the increases in salaries and other benefits are concerned.”

Citing data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), TDC National Chairman Benjo Basas said that the year-end benefits and salary adjustments, as well as incentives to government employees under Arroyo, were “better” compared to those of the Aquino administration.

ADJUSTMENT UNDER GMA

President Arroyo, Basas said, “initiated the salary adjustment in year 2001, her first year in office and another adjustment in year 2006 and eventually every year up to her last year in office in 2010.”

In 2009, he said, “government enacted the Salary Standardization Law-3 (SSL-3) which granted a four-tranche salary increase up to year 2012.” The final tranche of the SSL-3 ended in 2012 and the Aquino administration “has not initiated any adjustment to the salaries of teachers and employees,” he said.

Thus, he said, teachers are now calling for the enactment of SB 2365 filed by Sen. Bam Aquino granting a P10,000 across-the-board increase for teachers and other government education workers.

Other salary adjustments – through executive orders and General Appropriations Acts – under PGMA included a 5 percent (5%) salary increase to P9,939 effective July 1, 2001; a P2,000 combined increase in Personal Emergency Relief Allowance (PERA) and Additional Compensation Allowance (ACA) effective January 1, 2006; a 10% salary increase to P10,933 effective July 1, 2007; and a 10% salary increase to P12,026 effective July 1, 2008.

Under SSL-3, TDC said, there was an increase of P2,172 to P14,198 effective July 1, 2009, and an increase of P1,451 to P15,649 effective June 24, 2010.

Other incentives under President Arroyo, Basas noted, included P5,000 Extra Cash Gifts in November, 2002, and December, 2003; a P3,000 Productivity Enhancement Pay in February, 2005; a P1,000 Educational Assistance in June, 2005; a P5,000 Performance Bonus in December, 2005; a P6,000 Performance Bonus in December, 2006; a P10,000 Performance Bonus in December, 2007; a P10,000 Performance Bonus in December, 2008; and a P10,000 Productivity Enhancement Incentive in December, 2009.

PAY INCREASE UNDER PNOY

In comparison, during the Aquino administration, TDC said, salary adjustments included an increase of P1,450 to P17,099 effective June 1, 2011, and an increase of P1,450 to P18, 549 effective June 1, 2012. Both of these adjustments, Basas noted, are “mandated by the SSL-3 which was enacted in 2009 under GMA.”

From 2010 to 2014, additional incentives under Aquino included a P10,000 Performance Enhancement Bonus (PEI) in December, 2010; a P10,000 PEI in December, 2011; a P5,000 PEI in December, 2012; a P5,000 PBB in August, 2013; and a P5,000 PEI in December, 2013.

Basas lamented that “the teachers are still waiting for the release of their Performance-Based Bonus (PBB) for year 2013.” He added that the PBB for 2013 – which was supposedly to be released by October, 2014, as announced by the Department of Education (DepEd) –“has not been released until this moment.”

Moreover, Basas added, the Productivity Enhancement Incentive (PEI) for 2014 “has no guidelines from the DBM yet.” The PEI, he explained, is an across-the-board incentive of P5,000 for government employees – it amounted to P10,000 from 2007 to 2011.


FROM PHILSTAR

‘DOH chief went against WHO recommendations’ By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 24, 2014 - 12:00am 6 414 googleplus0 0


ONA

MANILA, Philippines - Health Secretary-on-leave Enrique Ona went against recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) in approving a questionable procurement of vaccines by his department in 2012.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday this was highlighted in the initial report of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of its ongoing probe into the controversial procurement of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10), a vaccine for pulmonary diseases for children.

“That’s what I know. That’s in the initial report of the NBI because they already have an initial report,” she bared.

De Lima issued this statement following reports that the WHO did not make any recommendation for the more cost effective PCV 13, which she also revealed earlier.

“Whatever I said earlier, that was what I knew based on facts, based on the referral that I forwarded to the NBI,” she explained.

De Lima, who has administrative supervision over the NBI, also bared that officials involved in the PCV 10 procurement project have been summoned by probers.

The investigation stemmed from complaints received by the Office of the President last June from stakeholders who claimed that DOH officials approved the procurement of PCV 10 in 2012 despite recommendations from the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management, Formulary Executive Council and the WHO that PCV13 was more suitable and cost effective.

PCV 13 covers more diseases as compared to PCV 10, which has limited coverage.

The Bids and Awards Committee was reportedly prepared to procure PCV 13, but Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag “all of a sudden, as alleged, ordered the procurement of PCV 10.”

Ona also issued the certificate of exemption, a requirement for the procurement.

Ona reportedly earned the ire of President Aquino over several other issues, including Ona’s P600-million request for the rehabilitation and renovation of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine; alleged special requests like the possible turnover of a high-end P3-million Toyota Land Cruiser for him and an undersecretary, along with a utility Toyota Hilux; the inauguration of a medical facility in northern Luzon that President Aquino cancelled at the last minute; and the proposed P1-billion rehabilitation of state-run Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.

Ona is currently on a month-long leave supposedly due to allergic reaction to hair dye. But sources said he is on his way out of the Cabinet.


FROM THE INQUIRER

Health chief says documents prove no corruption Nancy C. Carvajal and Nikko Dizon
@inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:17 AM | Friday, November 28th, 2014


Enrique Ona

Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Thursday offered his courtesy resignation to President Benigno Aquino III as his month-long leave ended, the Inquirer learned.

“I will offer my courtesy resignation to the President because it’s the best thing to do in this situation,” Ona told the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Thursday.

The health secretary was in Malacañang on Thursday to see the President.

Ona said he had all the documents to prove that there was no corruption involved in the purchase of medicines. “I have all the documents that could show all the transactions were aboveboard and no one made money.”

Health Secretary Enrique Ona. AFP FILE PHOTO
Ona went on a medical leave on Oct. 28 purportedly because he had eczema and had an allergic reaction to a hair dye he used.

But days later, the President revealed that he had asked Ona to go on leave while he put together an explanation for his decision to purchase P800 million worth of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10) instead of the supposedly more cost-efficient PCV 13, as recommended by global health authorities.

There were apparently other reasons aside from the antipneumonia vaccines: Ona’s asking for a P600-million fund for the upgrading of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, over and above the Department of Health (DOH) budget, as well as authorizing the clinical trial of a malaria-dengue drug that did not have the approval of the Food and Drug Authority.

Ona was the first Cabinet secretary whom Mr. Aquino had asked to go on leave over a particular allegedly corrupt issue.

The President took note of the “immediate danger” that Ona’s decisions would bring, especially because the vaccines would affect children. This was the reason he asked the health secretary to go on leave while the latter prepared his explanation.

Mr. Aquino appointed Janette Garin, health undersecretary and fellow Liberal Party member, as acting secretary.

Garin provided documents

A source privy to the ongoing probe of the supposed anomalies in the DOH told the Inquirer “there is no indication that someone made money. What we are looking at is the discretionary powers of decision makers in the department.”

The source, who talked to the Inquirer on condition of anonymity, said Garin had provided investigators documents about questionable transactions in the DOH under Ona.

While Ona was on leave, the National Bureau of Investigation was looking into alleged irregularities in the purchase of antipneumonia vaccines in 2012 that involved Ona and Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NBI investigation stemmed from a complaint filed in the Office of the President by the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management, the Formulary Executive Council and the World Health Organization over the “inexplicable” change in the type of vaccine purchased.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said only the President knew the fate of Ona. “It’s better to wait for the President’s decision about that,” Coloma said when asked whether Ona would remain part of the President’s official family.

Coloma gave the same reply when asked further if Ona’s leave could be extended.

Coloma said the study on the immunization programs of the DOH, which stemmed from the controversy, was ongoing.

While Ona’s fate remains uncertain, Coloma said the DOH continues to carry out its important programs.

“The quality of public service is not affected because of this,” he said.


FROM THE INQUIRER

Abad: Budget free of pork; ‘GOV’T ABIDING BY SC DECISION PDAF IS ILLEGAL’ Christian V. Esguerra, Leila B. Salaverria and DJ Yap | Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:19 AM | Wednesday, November 26th, 2014


ABAD

MANILA, Philippines–Budget Secretary Florencio Abad insisted Tuesday that the proposed national budget for next year was free from pork barrel, despite Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s allegation that it included P37.3 billion in lump-sum appropriations.

Sen. Francis Escudero, for his part, said the crafting of the national budget for 2015 did not herald the return of the pork barrel, but an exercise of the lawmakers’ power of the purse.

Escudero, finance committee chair, defended the inclusion of lawmakers’ proposed projects in the draft of the 2015 budget, saying this was not a violation of the Supreme Court ruling declaring the unconstitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Abad claimed that the executive branch preferred not to pool savings, whose definition in the budget bill was also assailed by Santiago.

“Our position is as much as possible, there should be no savings,” Abad told the Inquirer.

“But the reality is that events happen [such as] calamities, lawsuits, nonfilling up of positions, new technologies, etc., that help us generate savings, make us terminate or discontinue projects or induce efficiency,” he said.

“But with all the reforms being introduced, savings, if at all generated, will be a small portion of the budget,” he added.

Abad said the government was abiding by last year’s Supreme Court decision, which declared the graft-ridden PDAF unconstitutional.

Asked if the proposed P2.606-trillion national budget included no pork barrel, he replied: “Yes, in the manner that the SC has defined ‘pork’ in [the] ‘Belgica’ [case], which is our reference at this point in time.”

In a privilege speech on Monday, Santiago questioned why members of the House of Representatives had been asked earlier this year to “submit lists of projects they endorsed for their districts.” She described the practice as “pork barrelism.”

Abad admitted that there were such proposals from congressmen.

“We did not ask them [to submit lists]. But they did propose projects for their districts as they always do. And these projects are itemized in the budget,” he said.

Abad said he still had to see details of the alleged lump-sum items in the 2015 budget, noting that the version now under scrutiny at the Senate was the one approved at the House of Representatives.

Despite issues raised by Santiago against the proposed budget, Malacañang on Tuesday said it remained “hopeful” that these would be resolved soon and that the budget bill would be ready for President Aquino’s signature next month.

Preenactment

If a senator sees that there is a part of his province that badly needs a new road, he could propose funding for it under the 2015 budget, especially if the Department of Public Works and Highways had failed to include it among its proposed projects, Escudero said.

“It’s preenactment intervention, not postenactment. It’s well within the purview of what the Supreme Court allows in its definition of pork barrel. And that’s what the House did,” he said.

While there are lump-sum funds in the budget of certain executive departments, these are only temporary because the departments will be required to itemize the projects to be funded before the money is released, he said.

Senate version of savings

As for Santiago’s warning about the definition of savings, Escudero said the Senate had come up with its own definition that was compliant with the court ruling invalidating most of the activities under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

The Senate’s definition of savings does not allow such to be declared anytime, but it allows savings to be declared before the end of the year in certain instances.

For instance, if a project originally costing P10 million was awarded early in the year for only P9 million, there would be

P1 million left. This remaining amount could already be considered savings even before the end of the year, so that this could be used to fund other projects.

If authorities would wait until the end of the year to use this, the cost of materials might already go up.

Savings could also be declared under the Senate definition if a project is discontinued or the agencies no longer have the ability to commence it, but through no fault of theirs.

Programmed appropriations that have not been released due to the fault of the concerned agency could not be considered savings, and would instead have to revert to the general fund.

The Senate version defines savings as “the portions or balances of any released appropriations in the general appropriations act which have not been obligated.”

But Escudero also said he agreed with Santiago that if a project was deemed terminated in one year, it could not be commenced again the following year.

No pork, House insists

House leaders on Tuesday took exception to Santiago’s criticism.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said, “Our budget has no pork, and it is precisely its function to define savings.”

Davao Rep. Isidro Ungab, chair of the House appropriations committee, said it was not true that the House-approved General Appropriations Bill redefined “savings” to mean that it could be declared “at any time for justifiable reasons.”

“We ensured that the definition we crafted is one which complies and [is] in full compliance with our Constitution, existing laws, rules and recent Supreme Court jurisprudence on the matter,” he said in a text message.


FROM THE MANILA TIMES

SC asked to strike down 2015 budget November 25, 2014 10:34 pm by JOMAR CANLAS SENIOR REPORTER CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JEFF ANTIPORDA REPORTERS


PEOPLE’S INITIATIVE Quezon City anti-pork advocates led by People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel System show the first 10,000 signatures they collected and which were submitted to the Commission on Elections. The group vowed to gather at least 177,000 signatures from the city’s six congressional districts. PHOTO BY MIKE DE JUAN

A former lawmaker on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court (SC) to declare as unconstitutional the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2015 as well as the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) of 2015 that are pending in Congress, arguing that the measures are tainted with “pork barrel” funds.

Augusto Syjuco, who represented Iloilo province in the House of Representatives and who held the highest position at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition to prevent Congress from further hearing the proposed 2015 budget.

He claimed that Congress abused its discretion, thus the budget hearings should be stopped.

Syjuco sought the High Court’s intervention after Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s allegations that the budget bill was pork-laden.

He particularly criticized the “lump sum” funds contained in the 2015 NEP, such as the proposed P501.670 billion presidential special purpose fund (SPF), which is more commonly known as the “President’s pork barrel.”

Also, the former congressman disclosed that the incoming budget contains “clones” of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was partly declared unconstitutional by the High Court. Syjuco further alleged that the Liberal Party campaign fund was inserted in the 2015 budget.

He noted that the proposed P20.9 billion Grassroots Participatory Budgeting (GPB) program is actually a resurrected DAP. He called this “DAP clone, DAP junior, or LP campaign kitty.”

The 2015 NEP will be the basis of the legislature in passing the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) that proposes a P2.606 trillion national budget next year, which is bigger than the 2014 P2.265 trillion budget by P341 billion.

Syjuco also scored President Benigno Aquino 3rd and the executive branch for redefining “savings.”

The former lawmaker specifically asked the court to halt the executive, through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), from further implementing the 2015 NEP and GAB.

But Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. maintained that the budget bill complies with the Constitution and existing jurisprudence so that it is free from any form of pork barrel.

Coloma also dismissed Santiago’s claim that next year’s budget is aimed at funding the administration’s political machinery for the 2016 elections.

Santiago particularly questioned funds for a water supply project placed under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which is under Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, the administration’s prospective standard-bearer in 2016.

Coloma said the 2015 budget, as with previous expenditure plans, is based on the Philippine Development Plan.

Meanwhile, at the Senate, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. questioned the P12-billion allotment for the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) that was included in the errata submitted by the DBM.

Marcos noted that the funds are intended for projects “that are not within the mandate of the agency.”

During plenary discussion on the DILG budget for 2015 the other night, he asked why there are funds in the DILG budget for water supply and low-cost housing when the agency is not mandated to undertake such projects.

The chairman of the Senate committee on local governments insisted that the DILG is not empowered by law to build housing units since this function was given to the National Housing Authority (NHA), or to create water supply, the concern of the Local Water Utilities Administration or the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Meanwhile, anti-pork advocates based in Quezon City led by the People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel System or PIAP-QC also on Tuesday submitted the first 10,000 signatures to Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Quezon City.

“In just two months of massive campaign, we were able to gather the signatures from communities, schools and factories here in Quezon City,” said Malou Turalde, the group’s spokesperson. The group has vowed to collect at least 177,000 signatures from the city’s six congressional districts to contribute to the target of 6 million signatures nationwide.

The signature campaign, Turalde explained, is part of the People’s Initiative (PI) that allows direct exercise by the people of the sovereign power reserved by the Philippine Constitution to enact legislation.


FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

Aquino admits hands tied in coco levy funds by Genalyn Kabiling November 27, 2014 Share this:


SPIRIT OF 71 – President Aquino, flanked by his Cabinet on one side, meets with 71 coconut farmers who marched for 71 days over 1,075 kilometers from Davao City to the Palace to seek a dialogue and seek the Chief Executive’s help to finally resolve the P71-billion coco levy fund controversy. (Richard V. Viñas)

The government is still unable to tap the P71-billion coconut levy fund to improve the plight of coconut farmers until the Supreme Court makes a final ruling on the case, President Aquino admitted yesterday.

But while waiting for the final verdict on the case, Aquino said an action plan is already in place on how to utilize the fund for the welfare of the coco farmers.

Aquino’s to-do list includes certifying as urgent a bill that will govern the use of the coconut levy fund to improve the plight of the country’s poor coconut farmers as well as releasing P1.38 billion to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

“Once we are given authority to use the fund, I want to ensure the plans are ready to hasten the delivery of much-delayed benefits to your sector,” the President told the farmers in a three-hour dialogue that was frank, emotional and long. It, however, ended on a positive note.

Present during the meeting were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Presidential Assistant for Food Security Francis Pangilinan, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras

The 71 members of the coconut farmers’ group KILUS Magniniyog marched from Davao City to Malacañang to personally appeal to the President to release the P71-billion coconut levy fund and create a Coconut Levy trust fund via an executive order.

TRUTHFUL

At the start of the dialogue, a candid President told the farmers that the legal issues surrounding coconut levy fund are not yet over. He said Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling on the motion for partial reconsideration in the case against the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (Cocofed) as well as on the motion for partial entry of judgment on the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCBP) shares of the Cojuangco camp.

“If I were a traditional politician, you would probably hear grand promises from me today but you know me, it is important to be true to you,” he said.

The President also expressed support for the passage of a priority bill that will ensure long-term benefits to the farmers using the coco levy funds ands assured the farmers they will be consulted on the contents of the proposed measure.

“Once we agree on the provisions, we will present the bill to Congress and include it in the list of bills certified as urgent to ensure its speedy approval,” Aquino vowed.

“I will not allow that while we are waiting for the decision of the Supreme Court, the coconut farmers will be neglected. We have not abandoned you,” Aquino said.

Aquino said the P1.38 billion released to the PCA is intended to support farmers’ incentives under the coconut planting program, coconut fertilization program, and anti-coconut scale insect infestation program.

“We fully support you and we are on your side,” Aquino said.

Another government option to raise funds for the coconut farmers is the planned sale of the government’s UCPB shares, the President shared which can earn as much as P1.1 billion.

In the meantime, the President said he will look into the farmers’ proposal to craft an executive order on the disposition of the coconut levy fund.
 


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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