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PNoy INSISTS ON PASSING CONTENTIOUS BBL VERSION


JANUARY 12 -President Benigno Aquino III
THE Aquino administration of President Benigno Aquino III is intent on having Congress approve the controversial Palace version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law despite legislative hurdles and even a suggestion to leave the matter to the administration to be elected in May.
“The determination of the administration to have the BBL [approved] in Congress, in support of the peace process, does not waver,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. in reaction to the suggestion of Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano to leave the matter to the next administration. Alejano said it would be better to leave the BBL until after the election so that it is not used by candidates as an election issue. Alejano said the House can barely muster a quorum and they do not have enough time to tackle every provision in the BBL. “In my personal perspective, let the next administration tackle this. If we will push this now and a lot of issues remain unsolved, violence in Mindanao might worsen,” said Alejano, saying the true relationship between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is one key issue. Senatorial candidate and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez also warned that forcing the passage of a legally flawed BBL during the current Congress may make the country an international laughing stock. Romualdez, a lawyer and president of the Philippine Constitution Association, said most peace advocates want a BBL that will lead to true and lasting peace that is legally binding and not unconstitutional. “We all want peace. We all want the peace process to push through. But instead of attaining long-lasting peace in Mindanao we might end up in chaos because of so many confusing and conflicting provisions—provisions that do not conform with the Constitution and other laws of the Republic,” Romualdez said during his interview on on dwIZ’s “Karambola.” READ MORE...

ALSO: COA raises stink over toilet plan


JANUARY 13 -Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya
TRANSPORT Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said Monday he will stay on the job despite mounting calls that he be fired, and a new audit report that showed his department failed to build comfort rooms in train stations, ports and airports under its P351-million “Kayo Ang Boss Ko” toilet improvement project despite the availability of funds.
“I’m in the DoTC not to be applauded, but to solve problems,” Abaya said in an ANC television interview, saying he would stay at the helm of the Department of Transportation and Communications [DoTC] and beside President Benigno Aquino III until the end of his term in June. “I serve at President Aquino’s pleasure. I would not serve under any President except him. I’m here to help the President. If he tells me I have to go, I’ll go,” Abaya said. Lawmakers and various groups have pressed Abaya to resign over his failure to improve deteriorating commuter train services and his approval of questionable maintenance contracts that critics said made matters worse. “The DoTC is trying to show that we are slowly rectifying sins of the past. Consumers have the right to demand better services,” Abaya said, admitting that only 36 to 45 of the 73 MRT coaches are operational. Despite public anger at the poor train and other public transport services, President Aquino last week said he would not fire Abaya, the president of his ruling Liberal Party. A Commission on Audit report released the same week said the DoTC under Abaya failed to build comfort rooms for all of its attached agencies under the “Kayo ang Boss Ko” (KBK) toilet facilities improvement project, despite the availability of funds since 2012. KBK, a foreign-assisted project, was named after a favorite motto used by President Aquino to suggest that the people are his ultimate boss. The Jan. 7 audit report said the construction of new restrooms and the rehabilitation of old ones have been delayed, suspended or terminated or declared failed bids because of complicated contract details. Because of this failure, women shared the same facilities with men in several train stations and Land Transportation Office branches, and persons with disabilities were left with no option but to use regular restrooms, the CoA said. Also as a result, the transacting public had to bear the inconvenience of long toilet queues at the DoTC agencies, including the LTO, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Manila International Airport Authority, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority, Metro Rail Transit Line 3, Philippine Ports Authority, Cebu Ports Authority, Philippine National Railways and Light Rail Transit Authority. “The government may be left with an unfinished or uncompleted toilet project as a result of terminated contracts which could not be used by the intended beneficiaries and ultimately caused wastage of government funds,” the audit report read. The audit agency noted that the funds for the KBK project were originally earmarked for the improvement of airport facilities. READ MORE...

ALSO: Over P2 billion RH funds still available – Palace


JANUARY 17 -The Senate, upon the initiative of Sen. Vicente Sotto III, had approved a reduction of P1.315 billion, bringing down the RH budget to P1.959 billion. File photo More than P2 billion in funding is still available for the implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law this year, a Palace official said yesterday.
Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said the government has P2.275 billion for contraceptives and other family planning programs. President Aquino had proposed an appropriation of P3.275 billion for the implementation of the RH Law this year. The Senate, upon the initiative of Sen. Vicente Sotto III, had approved a reduction of P1.315 billion, bringing down the RH budget to P1.959 billion. However, during the bicameral conference on the 2016 General Appropriations Act, the House succeeded in trimming the reduction to P1 billion, leaving P2.275 billion for the RH Law. Coloma said Sotto manifested during the Senate deliberations that he would move to delete the budget for the Implanon implant amid the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order against the distribution and selling of the contraceptive. “So there are still funds that can be utilized by the DOH (Department of Health) for family planning aside from the amount from last year that has yet to be used,” Coloma said. Senators bickering Senators are now bickering over their approval of the P1 billion reduction in funds for family planning in this year’s General Appropriations Act. Sen. Pia Cayetano, principal author in the Senate of the RH bill, is blaming finance committee chairman Loren Legarda for the reduction. Cayetano claimed the budget cut for contraceptives was not revealed to her and the other legislators at any point during the congressional deliberations on this year’s General Appropriations Act. Cayetano decried the lack of transparency by the Senate committee on finance when it came to reporting details such as the cut in the budget for the DOH’s Family Health and Responsible Parenting program. According to Cayetano, the details of the budget cut were revealed only after the DOH exposed it. “We are fooling ourselves here when the finance committee headed by Senator Legarda submitted a bicam report to senators that do not show the significant changes made. That is unethical and unacceptable,” she said. Legarda reiterated that details of any increase or decrease in any appropriation was made available to all senators. READ MORE...

ALSO: SSS pension hike remains possible; House open to override Aquino veto


JANUARY 17 -HOUSE SPEAKER BELMONTE: House open to override presidential veto; Palace bares seniors’ benefits under Aquino gov’t
There’s still hope for a pension increase for some 2 million Social Security System (SSS) pensioners despite President Aquino’s decision to veto the measure that would have raised it by P2,000 a month.
Yesterday, the leadership of the House of Representatives said it is not closing its doors on a proposal by Makabayan lawmakers to override the presidential veto. “We have to study all options, including those from the Left,” Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. said, referring to the Makabayan bloc’s proposal. “Anyway, a smaller increase can be approved by the SSS board with the President’s approval without a need of a new law,” he said. SENATE BLAMED Belmonte added that the bill could have been signed into law if only the Senate was able to pass the House-approved measure that would have amended the SSS charter that empowers its board to adjust members’ contributions. “The SSS pension bill could have been approved by the President if Senate was able to act on its sister bill,” he said in an interview. “Personally, the second bill (House Bill 6112), which we approved, should have accompanied the bill providing for additional P2,000 increase in the monthly SSS pension,” Belmonte said. House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II, a lawyer, explained that President Aquino had wanted HB 6112 to be approved by Congress to complement the SSS pension bill. “We did it in the House but the Senate failed to pass it. The government wants SSS to have the power to increase its premiums to guarantee the hike and avoid bankruptcy of the state-run pension agency,” he said. Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate had earlier called on the House and the Senate to override the presidential veto on their bill seeking to increase the monthly pension of SSS members. The Makabayan lawmakers branded as baseless Mr. Aquino’s fear that his signing of the pro-workers’ bill would bankrupt the SSS. Colmenares said he did not expect Aquino’s rejection of the measure, a move which is expected to adversely affect the chances of Palace-backed candidates in the May elections. The SSS pension bill mandates the Social Security Commission to implement a P2,000 across-the-board increase in the monthly pension. The measure provides that the minimum monthly pension shall be P3,200 from the current P1,200 for the members with at least 10 credited years of service. While those with 20 credited years of service shall receive P4,4000 instead of P2,400. Currently, the minimum SSS pension was nailed to P1,000-P1,200 since 1997. House Bill 5842, which provides for the P2,000 across-the-board SSS pension, was passed on third reading by the House of Representatives on June 9, 2015, and was passed en toto by the Senate on November 9, 2015. The original bill was first filed in 2011 by Colmenares and former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño. Jorge Banal, president of the Federation of Senior Citizens of the Philippines, as well as bishops had earlier lamented the presidential veto, saying the P2,000 pension increase would have benefitted some 2 million senior citizens who live below the poverty line with their P1,200 monthly pension. READ MORE...

ALSO: Bishop, youth slam SSS bill veto
[Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo echoed the criticism and said Aquino’s action only shows his lack of empathy for ordinary Filipinos, whom he calls his “bosses.” “By vetoing the bill for increase of pension of SSS members, PNoy has clearly shown that his program of ‘inclusive growth’ is mere rhetoric,” Pabillo said. “Do we vote those who will continue this anti-poor policy?” According to prelate, this is not the first time that the President has rejected a measure that aims to uplift the condition of the poor.]


JANUARY 17 -President Benigno Aquino III PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III’s veto of a bill increasing the pensions of retirees continued to elicit criticism with a youth group assailing Aquino’s insult to the elderly and a bishop saying the act only showed the Chief Executive’s lack of empathy for a suffering people. Vencer Crisostomo, chairman of the youth group Anakbayan, said Aquino’s offer of a P500 hike instead of the proposed P2,000 SSS pension increase was an “insult” to the elderly. Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo echoed the criticism and said Aquino’s action only shows his lack of empathy for ordinary Filipinos, whom he calls his “bosses.” “By vetoing the bill for increase of pension of SSS members, PNoy has clearly shown that his program of ‘inclusive growth’ is mere rhetoric,” Pabillo said. “Do we vote those who will continue this anti-poor policy?”  According to prelate, this is not the first time that the President has rejected a measure that aims to uplift the condition of the poor. “We must remember that PNoy also vetoed the bill on Magna Carta for the Poor,” he said. The prelate said millions of poor Filipinos needed the measure because it would provide them shelter, livelihood and health services. Aquino, however, rejected the bill in 2013, saying that the government does not have the money to implement it, in the same way he vetoed the SSS pension bill and offered to increase benefits by P500 instead of P2,000. “P500 is just a fool’s consolation. They are giving SSS officials millions in bonuses, but they are saying they have no money to give to senior citizens,” Crisostomo said. He said the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research has data to show that SSS’ huge revenues and reserve funds is more than enough to finance the pension increase. “The hacienda president not only lacks a heart, but is also a big liar,” Crisostomo said, adding that EILER data shows that the yearly members’ contributions and income from investments amount to P160 billion. That income is more than the P56 billion projected annual payout for SSS pensioners and does not include SSS investment reserve funds which are pegged at P428 billion as of April 2015, Crisostomo said. He scored Malacañang for claiming that the P2,000 SSS pension hike will lead to a P16 bilion to P26 billion annual deficit and Aquino was only trying to set the 2.15 million pensioners against the rest of active SSS members. In fact, Crisostomo said the pension hike poses no real danger to the agency’s fund life spanning up to 2029, he added. It’s longer than those of other countries like the United Kingdom which is only up to 2027 and Canada which is even shorter up to 2022. But a Palace official tried to dispute the charge that the Aquino administration lacks compassion for the poor and insisted the government is actually carrying out a number of measures that uplift the lives of the pensioners. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Emil Jurado - Six lost years


JANUARY 13 -THE Japanese government is said to be keeping one train station running for one regular passenger—a teenage high school girl. On the island of Hokkaido, the girl waits for her train at the Kyu-Shirataki station so she could get to and from school. The train stops at that station only a few times a day. I saw this in Facebook, through my daughter Nina’s account.
President Aquino and every presidential candidate should take this story to heart if they really want to know what good governance is. This sounds like a Hollywood movie. Japan has kept the underused station for years—for good reason. It is located at a remote area on Hokkaido island, and passengers and freight service have thinned out. Still, students depend on the train and parents have asked the company to keep the station open for their children. When this tale of the lone teenage passenger went viral on Facebook, people tipped their hats to the Japanese government for keeping education as a top priority. One commentator wrote, “Why should I not want to die for a country like this when the government is ready to go on an extra mile just for me?” He adds: “this is the meaning of good governance penetrating the grassroots. Every citizen matters. No child is left behind.”  * * *  From Day One of the BS Aquino III administration, the President who vowed to lead us to the Promised Land for the next six years has always had a strange sense of values, priorities and loyalties. I am no longer surprised why he coddles and defends members of his Cabinet who bungle their jobs because of their ineptitude, lack of empathy and insensitivity. This has resulted in criminal negligence of the people they have sworn to serve, the same people who pay their taxes and other perks.  Recall that botched hostage operation in August 2010. A dismissed policeman held hostage a bus and killed eight Hong Kong tourists. Despite this, President Aquino tried to play down the incident, this angering Hong Kong and Beijing. And when then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is now running for the Senate under the administration’s ticket, submitted an incident report to the President, BS Aquino III thumbed it down because he did not want his friends and supporters criminally and administratively indicted. Recall, too, that when the President went to look at the bus where the killing took place, he was smiling from ear to ear. I had expected De Lima to resign out of self-respect and delicadeza. She did not. Now, she’s running for the Senate under the administration’s ticket. Should we vote for De Lima, who clearly had no self-respect when her incident report was struck down?  Then came other incidents. Recall that time when the President’s political adviser Ronald Llamas was caught buying pirated CDs and DVDs. Well, he is still there and handling the leftist allies of BS Aquino. In fact, one of them is also in the administration’s Senate slot. She just can’t learn her lesson, having failed twice in a row. Then, there was the late LTO administrator Virginia Torres, a shooting buddy of BS Aquino III. She had always been involved in controversies. It was only after she was caught on camera playing the slot machines at a casino that she resigned. Still, BS Aquino III defended her to high heavens. BS Aquino’s character was also revealed when many of his friends and allies in Congress go involved in the Priority Development Assistance Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Supreme Court called illegal and unconstitutional. But they were not charged. Among them are Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Joel Villanueva, who is now running for the Senate, also under the Liberal Party ticket. READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

PNoy insists on passing contentious BBL version


President Benigno Aquino III

MANILA, JANUARY 18, 2016
(MANILA STANDARD)  posted January 12, 2016 by Sandy Araneta - THE Aquino administration of President Benigno Aquino III is intent on having Congress approve the controversial Palace version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law despite legislative hurdles and even a suggestion to leave the matter to the administration to be elected in May.

“The determination of the administration to have the BBL [approved] in Congress, in support of the peace process, does not waver,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. in reaction to the suggestion of Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano to leave the matter to the next administration.

Alejano said it would be better to leave the BBL until after the election so that it is not used by candidates as an election issue.

Alejano said the House can barely muster a quorum and they do not have enough time to tackle every provision in the BBL.

“In my personal perspective, let the next administration tackle this. If we will push this now and a lot of issues remain unsolved, violence in Mindanao might worsen,” said Alejano, saying the true relationship between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is one key issue.

Senatorial candidate and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez also warned that forcing the passage of a legally flawed BBL during the current Congress may make the country an international laughing stock.


ROMUALDEZ

Romualdez, a lawyer and president of the Philippine Constitution Association, said most peace advocates want a BBL that will lead to true and lasting peace that is legally binding and not unconstitutional.

“We all want peace. We all want the peace process to push through. But instead of attaining long-lasting peace in Mindanao we might end up in chaos because of so many confusing and conflicting provisions—provisions that do not conform with the Constitution and other laws of the Republic,” Romualdez said during his interview on on dwIZ’s “Karambola.”

READ MORE...

“We will be a laughing stock of the world if we pass a peace measure that is legally flawed and violates our Constitution.” Romualdez said, adding there is still time for Congress to work on “legal” BBL as it will only take political will to pass one.

“If we have political will, we can work on a measure that is free from any legal infirmity,” Romualdez, a senatorial candidate, said.

Romualdez said the revised BBL prepared by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate local government committee, should be the model for a “truthful” BBL.

Marcos’ draft bill took out several provisions that provide greater powers and resources for the new political entity that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Romualdez said he is hopeful that the House of Representatives will be able to come up with its own version that advances not only the interests of a few but of the many, including marginalized tribal folk in Mindanao.

Last year, Romualdez and the Philconsa filed a 26-page petition before the Supreme Court seeking to declare the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro unconstitutional, but the high court dismissed the suite as premature.


MANILA STANDARD

COA raises stink over toilet plan posted January 12, 2016 at 12:01 am by Rio N. Araja and John Paolo Bencito


Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya

TRANSPORT Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said Monday he will stay on the job despite mounting calls that he be fired, and a new audit report that showed his department failed to build comfort rooms in train stations, ports and airports under its P351-million “Kayo Ang Boss Ko” toilet improvement project despite the availability of funds.

“I’m in the DoTC not to be applauded, but to solve problems,” Abaya said in an ANC television interview, saying he would stay at the helm of the Department of Transportation and Communications [DoTC] and beside President Benigno Aquino III until the end of his term in June.

“I serve at President Aquino’s pleasure. I would not serve under any President except him. I’m here to help the President. If he tells me I have to go, I’ll go,” Abaya said.

Lawmakers and various groups have pressed Abaya to resign over his failure to improve deteriorating commuter train services and his approval of questionable maintenance contracts that critics said made matters worse.

“The DoTC is trying to show that we are slowly rectifying sins of the past. Consumers have the right to demand better services,” Abaya said, admitting that only 36 to 45 of the 73 MRT coaches are operational.

Despite public anger at the poor train and other public transport services, President Aquino last week said he would not fire Abaya, the president of his ruling Liberal Party.

A Commission on Audit report released the same week said the DoTC under Abaya failed to build comfort rooms for all of its attached agencies under the “Kayo ang Boss Ko” (KBK) toilet facilities improvement project, despite the availability of funds since 2012.


"KAYO ang BOSS ko!" (KBK): President Benigno S. Aquino III's famous line in his inaugural speech

KBK, a foreign-assisted project, was named after a favorite motto used by President Aquino to suggest that the people are his ultimate boss.

The Jan. 7 audit report said the construction of new restrooms and the rehabilitation of old ones have been delayed, suspended or terminated or declared failed bids because of complicated contract details.

Because of this failure, women shared the same facilities with men in several train stations and Land Transportation Office branches, and persons with disabilities were left with no option but to use regular restrooms, the CoA said.

Also as a result, the transacting public had to bear the inconvenience of long toilet queues at the DoTC agencies, including the LTO, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Manila International Airport Authority, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority, Metro Rail Transit Line 3, Philippine Ports Authority, Cebu Ports Authority, Philippine National Railways and Light Rail Transit Authority.

“The government may be left with an unfinished or uncompleted toilet project as a result of terminated contracts which could not be used by the intended beneficiaries and ultimately caused wastage of government funds,” the audit report read.

The audit agency noted that the funds for the KBK project were originally earmarked for the improvement of airport facilities.

READ MORE...

The P351.86-million toilet project ran into problems because of a DoTC policy to save money by favoring bulk orders, the CoA said.

The DoTC should have invited local contractors and suppliers to build toilets for regional or provincial offices, instead of choosing only one construction firm per region, it said.

“Most of the contracts for the civil works and goods should have been completed or delivered before end Dec. 31, 2014. However, the contracts for civil works were far behind target. Majority of the contractors for the civil works requested for a suspension or [had] already suspended [work] due to delays in the delivery of phenolic boards and granite counter tops,” CoA said.

CoA said the KBK budget should be remitted to the Bureau of Treasury, and contracts that were terminated will need to wait for another budget allocation because the original budget has already expired or been forfeited.

“Since the toilet project is a basic necessity of the riding and transacting public, the department should have considered the most practical and easy procurement scheme to avoid delays,” the audit agency said.

The political opposition continued to criticize Abaya Monday and urged him to take responsibility for his failings.

The leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, slammed the government’s last-minute approach to addressing public transportation problems such as those besetting the MRT.


ROMUALDEZ

“President Aquino is close to finishing his six year term and yet we are still faced with the same old problem of maintenance of the aging MRT-3; that we have to resort to last-minute solutions to the problem,” Romualdez said.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., referring to Abaya’s claim that the MRT services had been sabotaged, said the secretary owes it to the public how that came about under his watch.

Romualdez dismissed Abaya’s claim of sabotage as a lame excuse for his incompetence.

He urged the government to show compassion or malasakit because commuters and motorists have already suffered too much.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate and Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting agreed that the government failed to protect the public interest by entering into a sweetheart deal.

“Abaya is now becoming more of a second rate, trying hard, copycat of his principal, the original ‘Boy Sisi’ Benigno Simeon Aquino, blaming others and raising the sabotage bogey is just a ploy of this duplicitous exiting Aquino administration to camouflage its sheer incompetence, as well as the anomalies that littered in the graft-ridden contracts,” Zarate said.

Zarate said Abaya’s presence in the Transportation Department was an act of sabotage itself.

Also on Monday, a leftist lawmaker urged former MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol to confess all he knew about the scandalous contracts that the government signed for the maintenance of the commuter train system.

“Despite his shortcomings as the former MRT-3 GM, it is not too late to redeem himself by exposing the ring leaders of the botched MRT-3 maintenance deal contracts. He is perhaps the most reliable source of information on the maintenance contract compared to… Abaya who relies on the President to evade accountability over MRT-3’s poor condition,” said Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap.

Vitangcol, in a media forum last week said Abaya should be charged alongside him for approving questionable maintenance contracts for the commuter train system.

He added that some people whom he refused to name had tried to silence him after he had been hung out to dry.

“The one accountable for that contract is the one who awarded and signed that contract. If I’m the only one who signed the contract, then I’m accountable,” Vitangcol said.

Hicap said that the former MRT-3 manager should redeem himself by pinpointing the brains behind the questionable maintenance contracts.

“If Mr. Vitangcol truly wants a closure in this scandalous case that dragged his name and reputation, then by all means he should tell all.... He has nothing to lose but the tag of being the main culprit or operator of the anomalous MRT-3 maintenance deal contract,” he said. With Maricel V. Cruz


PHILSTAR

BUDGET CUT: Over P2 billion RH funds still available – Palace By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 13, 2016 - 12:00am 0 10 googleplus0 0


The Senate, upon the initiative of Sen. Vicente Sotto III, had approved a reduction of P1.315 billion, bringing down the RH budget to P1.959 billion. File photo

MANILA, Philippines - More than P2 billion in funding is still available for the implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law this year, a Palace official said yesterday.

Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said the government has P2.275 billion for contraceptives and other family planning programs.

President Aquino had proposed an appropriation of P3.275 billion for the implementation of the RH Law this year.

The Senate, upon the initiative of Sen. Vicente Sotto III, had approved a reduction of P1.315 billion, bringing down the RH budget to P1.959 billion.

However, during the bicameral conference on the 2016 General Appropriations Act, the House succeeded in trimming the reduction to P1 billion, leaving P2.275 billion for the RH Law.

Coloma said Sotto manifested during the Senate deliberations that he would move to delete the budget for the Implanon implant amid the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order against the distribution and selling of the contraceptive.

“So there are still funds that can be utilized by the DOH (Department of Health) for family planning aside from the amount from last year that has yet to be used,” Coloma said.

Senators bickering

Senators are now bickering over their approval of the P1 billion reduction in funds for family planning in this year’s General Appropriations Act.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, principal author in the Senate of the RH bill, is blaming finance committee chairman Loren Legarda for the reduction.

Cayetano claimed the budget cut for contraceptives was not revealed to her and the other legislators at any point during the congressional deliberations on this year’s General Appropriations Act.

Cayetano decried the lack of transparency by the Senate committee on finance when it came to reporting details such as the cut in the budget for the DOH’s Family Health and Responsible Parenting program.

According to Cayetano, the details of the budget cut were revealed only after the DOH exposed it.

“We are fooling ourselves here when the finance committee headed by Senator Legarda submitted a bicam report to senators that do not show the significant changes made. That is unethical and unacceptable,” she said.

Legarda reiterated that details of any increase or decrease in any appropriation was made available to all senators.

READ MORE...

Former Albay congressman Edcel Lagman, principal author of the RH bill in the House, had accused Sotto of sabotaging the law by reducing funding for it.

But Sotto said his Senate colleagues are equally responsible for the funding cut because they approved it.

The reduction in funding for the RH Law is a serious step backward for Filipino women and low-income families, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

In a statement, the group said the reduction would cut vital support for lower-income Filipinos who rely on state-provided contraceptive services for protection from sexually transmitted infections and for safe birth spacing and family planning.

“Research published in 2013 indicates that up to 50 percent of pregnancies in the Philippines are unintended, largely due to lack of availability of modern contraceptive services,” it said.

The human rights watchdog said the funding cut “threatens to roll back hard-fought gains in maternal health and reductions in infant mortality over the past decade made possible by government-subsidized or free contraceptive services.”

It noted that the United Nations Population Fund has criticized the decision of Congress to cut funding for the RH Law as a threat to “the basic human right to health as well as the right to reproductive choices.”

“It also risks exacerbating the country’s HIV crisis,” it said.

The group pointed out that the Philippines is one of only a handful of countries at risk of a full-blown AIDS epidemic.

It said the funding cut was a victory for those who opposed the RH Law.

The group lamented that while President Aquino had pushed hard for the passage of the reproductive health and responsible parenthood bill, he failed to stop the move to reduce funding for family planning.

Women workers urged for the restoration of the P1-billion budget for contraceptives.

Members of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) said the reduction of funding for family planning was a betrayal of the RH Law and the women’s cause.

“The hard-won victory of the RH Law is being killed by legislative maneuvering of anti-women lawmakers,” PM secretary general Judy Ann Miranda said.

She said senators who agreed to cut the budget for contraceptives are anti-women. – With Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy, Mayen Jaymalin


MANILA BULLETIN

SSS pension hike remains possible January 17, 2016 Share1 Tweet0 Share0 Email0 Share12


HOUSE SPEAKER BELMONTE: House open to override presidential veto; Palace bares seniors’ benefits under Aquino gov’t

There’s still hope for a pension increase for some 2 million Social Security System (SSS) pensioners despite President Aquino’s decision to veto the measure that would have raised it by P2,000 a month.

Yesterday, the leadership of the House of Representatives said it is not closing its doors on a proposal by Makabayan lawmakers to override the presidential veto.

“We have to study all options, including those from the Left,” Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. said, referring to the Makabayan bloc’s proposal.

“Anyway, a smaller increase can be approved by the SSS board with the President’s approval without a need of a new law,” he said.

SENATE BLAMED

Belmonte added that the bill could have been signed into law if only the Senate was able to pass the House-approved measure that would have amended the SSS charter that empowers its board to adjust members’ contributions.

“The SSS pension bill could have been approved by the President if Senate was able to act on its sister bill,” he said in an interview.

“Personally, the second bill (House Bill 6112), which we approved, should have accompanied the bill providing for additional P2,000 increase in the monthly SSS pension,” Belmonte said.

House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II, a lawyer, explained that President Aquino had wanted HB 6112 to be approved by Congress to complement the SSS pension bill.

“We did it in the House but the Senate failed to pass it. The government wants SSS to have the power to increase its premiums to guarantee the hike and avoid bankruptcy of the state-run pension agency,” he said.

Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate had earlier called on the House and the Senate to override the presidential veto on their bill seeking to increase the monthly pension of SSS members.

The Makabayan lawmakers branded as baseless Mr. Aquino’s fear that his signing of the pro-workers’ bill would bankrupt the SSS.

Colmenares said he did not expect Aquino’s rejection of the measure, a move which is expected to adversely affect the chances of Palace-backed candidates in the May elections.

The SSS pension bill mandates the Social Security Commission to implement a P2,000 across-the-board increase in the monthly pension.

The measure provides that the minimum monthly pension shall be P3,200 from the current P1,200 for the members with at least 10 credited years of service. While those with 20 credited years of service shall receive P4,4000 instead of P2,400.

Currently, the minimum SSS pension was nailed to P1,000-P1,200 since 1997.

House Bill 5842, which provides for the P2,000 across-the-board SSS pension, was passed on third reading by the House of Representatives on June 9, 2015, and was passed en toto by the Senate on November 9, 2015. The original bill was first filed in 2011 by Colmenares and former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.

Jorge Banal, president of the Federation of Senior Citizens of the Philippines, as well as bishops had earlier lamented the presidential veto, saying the P2,000 pension increase would have benefitted some 2 million senior citizens who live below the poverty line with their P1,200 monthly pension.

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SENIORS’ BENEFITS

But Malacañang said the senior citizens are not being left behind following President Aquino’s rejection of the pension increase.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Undersecretary Manuel Quezon II said that despite the vetoing of the SSS pension hike bill, senior citizens were able to get additional benefits under the Aquino administration.

He said these include the mandatory PhilHealth coverage for all senior citizens since June, 2015.

“More than 4.8 million senior citizens have been enlisted under the healthcare program,” Quezon said, noting the amendments to the 2010 Expanded Senior Citizens Act signed by President Aquino in 2014.

Quezon also said indigent senior citizens were able to receive “augmented social pension” under the 2010 Expanded Senior Citizens Act

“Under the law is a provision to increase funding for the medical needs of our indigent senior citizens at P500 monthly pension. This was implemented under the Aquino administration and from 2011 to May, 2015, we were able to provide social pension to 937,556 senior citizens,” he explained.

The Palace official also said the age to qualify for indigent senior citizens’ pension went down from 77 years old to 65 years old.

“In 2015 alone, 760,736 indigent senior citizens were served,” Quezon said.

He also said that SSS pensions increased by five percent since 2014.

“I believe that the good bishops will be enlightened by additional information that has been brought out,” Quezon said.

“I think these are significant. And I think the bishops will then be reassured that if only we take more time to understand the issues then we will not only understand the issues but they are reassured na hindi naman pinapabayaan ang ating mga senior citizens [that we are not leaving behind our senior citizens],” he said.

BACKLASH FOR LP BETS

Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, vice presidential bet of Liberal Party, defended Aquino’s rejection of the SSS pension increase but admitted that the veto will be politically unfavorable to her and fellow bets enjoying Malacañang backing.

“Totoo na iyong magsa-suffer niyan iyong mga kandidato ng administrasyon kasi kahit papaano ang palo niyan, sa amin. Pero palagay ko naman, kung ano man ang dahilan ng Presidente, ginawa niya ang dapat gawin (It’s true administration candidates will suffer. But I believe whatever the president’s reasons were, he did what he had to do),” she said in an interview Friday.

Senatorial bets Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian (NPC, Valenzuela City) and OFW (overseas Filipino worker) welfare advocate Susan Ople called for “middle ground” to address the issues raised by SSS pensioners and management.

“The bill went through a rigorous process of debate and discussions in both chambers. Both chambers found merit and justification for the additional pension,” Gatchalian said.

He added: “I think the better solution is finding a common ground and formula instead of killing the hopes of the pensioners.”

Ople, who heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, called on the executive and legislative branches to agree on a common solution.

“The executive and legislative branches of government could have found an acceptable middle ground in providing relief to our SSS pensioners. The search for concrete solutions to the needs of 2 million pensioners must continue,” she said.

BONUSES FOR SSS EXECUTIVES

As this developed, Malacañang said that the bonuses for SSS officials should be treated as a separate issue from the recent presidential veto.

Quezon said bonuses for officials of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) such as the SSS are needed because the government also needs to maintain highly qualified officials within the system.

He noted that bonuses are performance-based under the Aquino administration.

“Because of the reforms that have been put in place, the handling of government funds and the existence of GOCCs [are] really dependent on performance,” he said.

“What is the proof of the performance? Under the Aquino administration, the life of the SSS, the life of the funds has been extended by three years. So that’s a concrete proof of both prudent management and achievement,” he added.

Quezon cited Singapore, where good performance in government is “reasonably paid.”

“I think it’s a basic principle of modern government… Remember these are government funds that are in the billions of pesos and that, therefore, there should be an incentive for people to not only do their job well but to do it honestly,” he said.

He said that these officials could opt to work in private sectors and receive a much higher pay but chose to work in government instead.

“I believe that the SSS can prove that they have performed in this level. Now, of course, it’s not good to hear because of course that doesn’t really address the disappointment, let’s say, of our senior citizens. But, again, I believe that if we all commit and help the government to ensure that everyone is paying their due, we would be able to speed up the increase,” Quezon said.

“No one wants to keep the benefits low, but we have to realize that collections can still be improved, and that once they reach certain levels then there is added security to ensure payouts in the future,” he said. (CHARISSA M. LUCI, MADEL S. NAMIT, and BEN R. ROSARIO)


MANILA STANDARD

Bishop, youth slam SSS bill veto posted January 17, 2016 at 12:01 am by The Standard


President Benigno Aquino III

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III’s veto of a bill increasing the pensions of retirees continued to elicit criticism with a youth group assailing Aquino’s insult to the elderly and a bishop saying the act only showed the Chief Executive’s lack of empathy for a suffering people.

Vencer Crisostomo, chairman of the youth group Anakbayan, said Aquino’s offer of a P500 hike instead of the proposed P2,000 SSS pension increase was an “insult” to the elderly.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo echoed the criticism and said Aquino’s action only shows his lack of empathy for ordinary Filipinos, whom he calls his “bosses.”

“By vetoing the bill for increase of pension of SSS members, PNoy has clearly shown that his program of ‘inclusive growth’ is mere rhetoric,” Pabillo said. “Do we vote those who will continue this anti-poor policy?”

According to prelate, this is not the first time that the President has rejected a measure that aims to uplift the condition of the poor.

“We must remember that PNoy also vetoed the bill on Magna Carta for the Poor,” he said.

The prelate said millions of poor Filipinos needed the measure because it would provide them shelter, livelihood and health services.

Aquino, however, rejected the bill in 2013, saying that the government does not have the money to implement it, in the same way he vetoed the SSS pension bill and offered to increase benefits by P500 instead of P2,000.

“P500 is just a fool’s consolation. They are giving SSS officials millions in bonuses, but they are saying they have no money to give to senior citizens,” Crisostomo said.

He said the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research has data to show that SSS’ huge revenues and reserve funds is more than enough to finance the pension increase.

“The hacienda president not only lacks a heart, but is also a big liar,” Crisostomo said, adding that EILER data shows that the yearly members’ contributions and income from investments amount to P160 billion.

That income is more than the P56 billion projected annual payout for SSS pensioners and does not include SSS investment reserve funds which are pegged at P428 billion as of April 2015, Crisostomo said.

He scored Malacañang for claiming that the P2,000 SSS pension hike will lead to a P16 bilion to P26 billion annual deficit and Aquino was only trying to set the 2.15 million pensioners against the rest of active SSS members.

In fact, Crisostomo said the pension hike poses no real danger to the agency’s fund life spanning up to 2029, he added. It’s longer than those of other countries like the United Kingdom which is only up to 2027 and Canada which is even shorter up to 2022.

But a Palace official tried to dispute the charge that the Aquino administration lacks compassion for the poor and insisted the government is actually carrying out a number of measures that uplift the lives of the pensioners.

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In a radio interview on Saturday, Undersecretary Manolo Quezon III of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office said the administration has many programs for senior citizens for the past five and a half years.

For instance, the government imposed mandatory PhilHealth coverage for all senior citizens in June last year with more than 4.8 million senior citizens being enlisted under the healthcare program.

This is done by amending the 2010 Expanded Senior Citizens Act signed by President Aquino in 2014.

Another form of assistance is for indigent senior citizens who received “augmented social pension,” Quezon told dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

From 2011 to May 2015, some 937,556 senior citizens are under the social pension program, he said.

Also, the government adjusted the age limit for senior citizens to qualify for indigent ‘senior citizens’ pension. Quezon said that from 2011 to 2014, the Department of Social Welfare and Development prioritized senior citizens aged 77 years and above.

And in 2015, seniors citizens with ages from 65 years old and above qualified under the program. In that year alone, Quezon said 760,736 indigent senior citizens were served by the government.

Also, SSS pension increased by five percent on May 31, 2014.

The SSS also increased the funeral benefits from a fixed amount of P20,000 to a maximum amount of P40,000 depending on the number of contributions and average monthly salary credit as of August 2014.

SSS also put up a voluntary provident fund, called the Personal Equity and Savings Option fund for SSS members to provide more avenues for retirement security.

And, together with the national government, the SSS opened a P7-billion educational assistance loan program that started in 2012. And, as of June 2015, over P3.1 billion worth of loans have been disbursed for 67,299 qualified student beneficiaries, Quezon explained.


MANILA STANDARD

Six lost years posted January 13, 2016 at 12:01 am by Emil Jurado

THE Japanese government is said to be keeping one train station running for one regular passenger—a teenage high school girl. On the island of Hokkaido, the girl waits for her train at the Kyu-Shirataki station so she could get to and from school. The train stops at that station only a few times a day. I saw this in Facebook, through my daughter Nina’s account.

President Aquino and every presidential candidate should take this story to heart if they really want to know what good governance is.

This sounds like a Hollywood movie. Japan has kept the underused station for years—for good reason. It is located at a remote area on Hokkaido island, and passengers and freight service have thinned out. Still, students depend on the train and parents have asked the company to keep the station open for their children.

When this tale of the lone teenage passenger went viral on Facebook, people tipped their hats to the Japanese government for keeping education as a top priority. One commentator wrote, “Why should I not want to die for a country like this when the government is ready to go on an extra mile just for me?” He adds: “this is the meaning of good governance penetrating the grassroots. Every citizen matters. No child is left behind.”

* * *

From Day One of the BS Aquino III administration, the President who vowed to lead us to the Promised Land for the next six years has always had a strange sense of values, priorities and loyalties.

I am no longer surprised why he coddles and defends members of his Cabinet who bungle their jobs because of their ineptitude, lack of empathy and insensitivity. This has resulted in criminal negligence of the people they have sworn to serve, the same people who pay their taxes and other perks.

Recall that botched hostage operation in August 2010. A dismissed policeman held hostage a bus and killed eight Hong Kong tourists. Despite this, President Aquino tried to play down the incident, this angering Hong Kong and Beijing.

And when then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is now running for the Senate under the administration’s ticket, submitted an incident report to the President, BS Aquino III thumbed it down because he did not want his friends and supporters criminally and administratively indicted.

Recall, too, that when the President went to look at the bus where the killing took place, he was smiling from ear to ear.

I had expected De Lima to resign out of self-respect and delicadeza. She did not. Now, she’s running for the Senate under the administration’s ticket. Should we vote for De Lima, who clearly had no self-respect when her incident report was struck down?

Then came other incidents. Recall that time when the President’s political adviser Ronald Llamas was caught buying pirated CDs and DVDs. Well, he is still there and handling the leftist allies of BS Aquino. In fact, one of them is also in the administration’s Senate slot. She just can’t learn her lesson, having failed twice in a row.

Then, there was the late LTO administrator Virginia Torres, a shooting buddy of BS Aquino III. She had always been involved in controversies. It was only after she was caught on camera playing the slot machines at a casino that she resigned. Still, BS Aquino III defended her to high heavens.

BS Aquino’s character was also revealed when many of his friends and allies in Congress go involved in the Priority Development Assistance Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Supreme Court called illegal and unconstitutional. But they were not charged. Among them are Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Joel Villanueva, who is now running for the Senate, also under the Liberal Party ticket.

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The President’s defining moment came with “Oplan Exodus” when the President made his best friend, then suspended Police Chief Alan Purisima handle the botched operation. Forty-four police commandos got slaughtered by a combined force of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other villagers. That incident pointed to the President as having the ultimate responsibility.

Mr. Aquino never apologized for what happened, not even after the survivors and relatives of the Fallen 44 cried out for justice. This despite the fact that the National Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department had already identified who among the Moro rebels were responsible.

And now that Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile is seeking a reopening of the Mamasapano massacre probe—he says he has new evidence and would like to ask more questions—BS Aquino III cries the re-opening is “politically motivated.” Santa Banana, BS Aquino III must be hiding something we, the people, don’t know. Well, come Jan. 25, we will soon know.

* * *

There are no less than three friends and supporters of BS Aquino III who should have been fired long time ago.

They are, in this order: Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Alcala and Naia general manger Jose Angel Honrado, a relative of the President who also once served Mr. Aquino’s mother.

Abaya is perhaps the biggest albatross around the head of the President for his inexcusable mishandling of the MRT, amounting to graft and corruption. People want Abaya to resign, but the President continues to defend him.

Santa Banana, Abaya must have something on BS Aquino III.

Social Welfare Secretary Soliman is another. Her incompetence and lack of empathy with survivors of calamities, to the point of having relief goods rot in DSWD warehouses, constitute criminal negligence.

Thank heavens these people now only have five more months. They have inflicted enough damage on the country already. I can safely say that BS Aquino III’s reign was a period of six lost years in Philippine history.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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