Items filtered by date: Sunday, 10 December 2017

Senate, House likely to hold joint session before Xmas break for Duterte’s martial law request – Fariñas

Reuters file photo of President Rodrigo Duterte
MANILA, Philippines — Before lawmakers take their Christmas break, the Senate and the House of Representatives are likely to conduct a joint session to deliberate on President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao.

In a text message on Monday, December 11, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said that the congressional session “officially end on on Friday, Dec 15; hence, we may have a joint session on Thursday (Dec. 14) or Friday (Dec. 15) as part of the 2nd Regular Session, without need of a special session.”

Where is actual invasion, rebellion in Mindanao?

But opposition lawmaker, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman rejected Duterte’s request for Congress to extend martial law in Southern Philippines for one more year.

“Where is the actual invasion or actual rebellion in Mindanao? The Constitution provides that martial law can only be declared and its extension authorized in case of invasion or rebellion when public safety requires it,” Lagman said in a statement issued Monday.

He said another year of martial law in Mindanao would amount to the following:

1) Patent violation of the safeguards which the 1987 Constitution imposes for the limited grounds and duration of martial law and its extension;

2) Malevolent perpetuation of the subjugation of the supermajority in the Congress by the President even against the unequivocal provisions of the Constitution protecting civil liberties and the rule of law; and

3) Blatant mockery of the liberality of the majority of the Supreme Court in upholding the President’s past questionable actions

“Since the original or initiatory declaration of martial law is limited to not more than 60 days, it stands to reason that any extension is subject to the same constraints with respect to duration and grounds,” the lawmaker said.

“There is no more factual basis for the extension of martial law in Mindanao after President Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City from rebels and terrorists almost two months ago, and government combat forces had been withdrawn,” added Lagman.

The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines recommended the extension of martial law in Mindanao for another year purportedly to contain continuing threats by terrorists. But Lagman said “this is not a constitutional ground because threat or imminent danger of an invasion or rebellion has been removed as a ground for martial law in the 1987 Constitution for being self-serving, contingent and even nebulous.”

“It is even arguable that not more than one extension is allowed because a series of extensions would violate the constitutional intent for a limited martial law duration, and the phraseology of the Constitution only authorizes the extension of “such proclamation” (original declaration), but not any extension thereof,” he explained.

Instead of extending martial law, Duterte should “call the armed forces to subdue lawless violence or declare martial law anew but limited by constitutional restraints and subject to the oversight powers of the Congress and the Supreme Court,” according to Lagman.


WHAT WENT BEFORE: The Lavish lifestyle of Jeane Napoles

In 2013, following reports on the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim-Napoles, photos of the lavish lifestyle of her youngest daughter Jeane—including her expensive jewelry, designer shoes and handbags and Porsche cars—circulated on the internet, causing public uproar.

The scam prompted the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to investigate whether the elder Napoles had paid taxes on her reported properties.

In October 2013, the BIR filed in the Department of Justice (DOJ) a tax evasion complaint against Jeane for not declaring income for properties she had purchased and registered in her name, including a unit in Ritz Carlton in Los Angeles, California.

The BIR sued Jeane for P32.06 million in tax liability, inclusive of interests and surcharges, broken down into P31.38 million in 2011 and P680,000 in 2012.

Among the properties was a Ritz Carlton unit acquired in 2011 for P54.73 million and a farm lot in Bayambang, Pangasinan, where she had a 1/9th share and which was purchased in 2012 for P1.49 million.

In September 2014, the DOJ recommended the filing of charges against Jeane for evading payment of P17.9 million in taxes due in 2011 and 2012.

In May and July 2015, Jeane declined to enter a plea at her arraignment in the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA).

In February, the CTA junked the tax protest of the younger Napoles after her camp failed to show up for pretrial for a third time.

Jeane asked the CTA Second Division to set aside its dismissal of her petition for a judicial review of the P40.03-million tax assessment against her.

The tax assessment was the basis of the tax evasion case filed against her in the court’s Third Division. A favorable ruling from the Second Division would help in the case.

The court dismissed her petition for judicial review on Feb. 16, when her lawyer Ian Encarnacion failed to show up in court.

When they appealed the dismissal in March, Jeane’s lawyers sought a suspension of the proceedings pending the resolution of the tax evasion in the Third Division.

This riled the Second Division, which chided Jeane on April 10 for seeking to revive the petition for review only to ask for its suspension and cause more delays.

In a petition for judicial review, the younger Napoles argued that the BIR erred in its tax assessment for 2011 and 2012, because, as a foreign student in the United States, she was not allowed to work and earn income.

She said her apartment at the Ritz Carlton was part of the allowances given by her parents.

On June 13, in her “second motion for new trial,” Jeane said the case should be retried because the BIR under the Duterte administration was including her condo unit at Ritz Carlton as her mother’s taxable property.

On June 21, the CTA Second Division said it would no longer proceed with Jeane’s petition questioning the basis of the charges against her.

The court rejected the motion that the new evidence her camp wanted to present was a ground to reopen the case and that it could not entertain the new evidence of the defense since the case did not move to the trial stage.

In August, the CTA said it would proceed with the trial of Jeane for tax evasion despite the BIR decision to impose the tax on her Ritz Carlton unit on her mother who gave the property as a gift to her daughter. —MARIELLE MEDINA, INQUIRER RESEARCH


Singson refutes alleged right-of-way scam under Aquino admin

HEARING. Former DPWH secretary Rogelio Singson attends the Senate probe into the alleged right-of-way scam. Photo by Camille Elemia/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – In front of the main accuser Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, former Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) secretary Rogelio Singson refuted the existence of the road right-of-way scam under the Aquino administration.

Singson also denied getting profits from the supposed controversy, as accused by alleged whistleblower Roberto Catapang Jr.

“Let me say I did not profit or gained anything from these land claims as accused by Secretary Aguirre. There’s no P8.7 billion paid in General Santos,” he said in a Senate hearing on Monday, December 11.

“I was not a corrupt secretary and definitely not a plunderer,” je said.

Aguirre, using Catapang’s alleged knowledge on the matter, accused Singson and former Budget secretary Florencio Abad of benefitting from the scam. He also accused Eldon Cruz, the brother-in-law of former president Benigno Aquino III, of endorsing payment of claims to supposedly fake beneficiaries. Abad and Cruz did not attend the hearing.

Singson also disputed alleged letters of Cruz that were earlier shown in a DOJ presscon. He also cleared Aquino’s eldest sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz from the controversy.

“[These] are fake and spurious letters because I myself verified these letters,” the former public works chief said.

Inaccuracies in witness' claims

In his opening speech, Singson also pointed out the inconsistences in the claims against the Aquino administration.

Contrary to the claims of the witness, he said the Aquino government only paid a total of P2.209 billion from 2010 to 2016 for region 12, including General Santos City,

He also said the supposed questionable road projects in the city started in the 1990s and that the titles were from 2003. He also said that the claims for the payment were filed in 2007 and 2009, before the Aquino administration took over in June 30, 2010.

“These were all done before 2010. Since I took over July 2010, we strictly followed procedure for validation and valuation, infrastructure right of way claim as contained in Department Order 34-series of 2007,” he said.

Singson said he ordered the suspension of land claims in 2012 as he found it questionable that the region had the highest payment claims. He ordered the revalidation of titles, in coordination with the Land Registration Authority central and region 12 offices. The DPWH also asked the Commission on Audit to do financial and legal audit and claims in the region.

“No payments were made in 2012. We just resumed payment March 2013 after we were satisfied with the validity and authenticity of the claims based on the supporting titles from the LRA," the former official said.

"So again, from our side, we respect and we only pay on the basis of validated, verified titles from LRA. Wala kaming kinalaman sa lakaran dun sa mga sindikato for them to produce the title,” he said. –


Ona blames Garin for dengue vaccine fiasco

Enrique Onam and Janette Garin

Former Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Sunday said that his successor at the Department of Health (DOH) was “solely responsible” for the dengue immunization program using Sanofi Pasteur’s Dengvaxia vaccine.

“In the light of the Sanofi Pasteur advisory on the use of the antidengue vaccine Dengvaxia, the leadership that took over the DOH after I left in Dec. 20, 2014, is solely responsible for all the decisions that has resulted in what is becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country today,” Ona said in a statement.

His successor, former Health Secretary Janette Garin, on Friday traced the Dengvaxia mess to the time of Ona at the DOH.

“Talks about the vaccine started during the time of Secretary Ona. In 2014, I think June or July, he already announced that we would be having the vaccine by 2015. He said the department was contemplating putting it [on] the public health program,” Garin said in an interview with ANC.

Garin’s time
The DOH launched the immunization drive using Dengvaxia during Garin’s time.

But on Dec. 1, the DOH halted the P3.5-billion program after Sanofi announced that Dengvaxia could worsen symptoms in vaccinated people who had not been previously infected.

More than 700,000 schoolchildren have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the DOH.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration suspended Sanofi’s license to sell Dengvaxia in the Philippines until the company could comply with local regulations.

The good government committee of the House of Representatives and the blue ribbon and health committees of the Senate open separate inquiries into the fiasco this week.

Ona was secretary of health from June 2010 to December 2014.

Sanofi briefing
“During this period, the Sanofi Pasteur Pharma group would request a briefing for me on the status of the clinical trial of their antidengue vaccine being tested (phase 3 trial) in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, as well as several countries in South America. This occurred almost annually during my term as secretary,” Ona said.

It was of great interest to him, he said, since dengue fever was not only rampant in the Philippines, appearing almost all year round, and was also being used as one of the “measures of our public health performance” by the public.

“I had high hopes, like many others, that the vaccine being developed would eventually control this mosquito-borne disease that afflicts more than 100,000 Filipinos annually and scares so many foreign visitors and tourists,” Ona said.

Unfortunately, he added, during all this time and up to the end of his term, the Sanofi staff, though optimistic, never claimed that the vaccine was ready for general use.

Ona said Sanofi gave him only a vague projection of the time when it might be ready for launching.

“I recall in more than one occasion that I mentioned in passing to then President (Benigno) Aquino of a possible dengue vaccine that may be ready ‘anytime soon,’” he said.

“However, we did not allocate any budget for dengue vaccine for 2016 since I considered this vaccine as still at its ‘developmental stage’ and was undergoing further observation and evaluation,” he said.

Complex efficacy profile
Ona said he was already out of the government in 2016 when he first heard that the DOH was going to purchase Dengvaxia for immunization of children over 9 years old.

“And allocating several billion pesos, an amount more than the entire budget for all other vaccines being procured by the DOH annually,” he added.

“It may be relevant … to cite an article at one of the world’s most respected and credible journals, the New England Journal of Medicine, Sept. 24, 2015, issue, which concluded: the efficacy profile at 25 months of disease surveillance was complex—efficacy caused by serotype 2 ranged from 67-80 percent and lower still for those who were seronegative at baseline,” Ona said.

He said the report came with an accompanying editorial titled “A Candidate Dengue Vaccine Walks a Tightrope” by Cameron P. Simmons.

“If read by any expert in infectious diseases or public health, it would have made one wait for more follow-up studies to further evaluate the safety and efficacy, sans cost. In short, ‘value for money,’ so essential in today’s health environment,” he added.

Garin was unavailable for comment on Sunday. A spokesperson for Garin said the former health secretary was confined in a private hospital in Tacloban City with acute appendicitis.

Nancy Almasco, the spokesperson, said Garin would ask her doctors to delay her operation so she could attend the opening hearing on the Dengvaxia controversy at the House of Representatives.

The House committee on good government will hold Sanofi liable for allegedly misrepresenting Dengvaxia’s side effects because the French pharmaceutical giant disclosed the risks only in late November, months after the congressional inquiry into the vaccine’s safety, Rep. Johnny Pimentel, the panel’s chair, said on Sunday.

“During our hearing, they never disclosed this,” Pimentel said in an interview on dzBB radio.

“We will hold Sanofi accountable for this erroneous representation because during the hearing, they said it was safe. But now, it’s another thing,” he said.

Pimentel recalled that Sanofi representatives, during the hearings that lasted from Nov. 29, 2016, to July 26 this year, testified about the safety of Dengvaxia.

At the time, Sanofi Pasteur’s regional dengue expert Anh Wartel played down the risks, saying “the concerns expressed in the background are based upon ‘what-if’ conjectures.”

It was only on Nov. 29 that Sanofi announced that the vaccine could heighten the risk of illness for people who had not been exposed to dengue prior to immunization.

No committee report
Pimentel raised the possibility that Sanofi representatives “deliberately” misled the congressional inquiry, or that they were “misinformed.”

He said it was a “blessing in disguise” that the good government and health committees had not produced a committee report yet, especially since the draft stated that “Dengvaxia is safe to use.”

“If we had rendered the committee report, we could have absolved Sanofi of responsibility, because they testified that it was safe to use,” he said.

In a separate statement, Pimentel said the committees’ initial review pointed to “unwarranted haste” in getting Dengvaxia approved for use on Filipino children and adopting an aggressive inoculation program using the world’s first licensed dengue vaccine.

“Many of us [on] the committee were in fact dumbfounded by the excessive rush to allow the use of the vaccine and to get the program going,” he said.

“Questions were raised as to why we had to be the first country in the world to launch in April 2016 a public inoculation plan against dengue, when the [Department of Health] could have simply waited for the results of further studies [on] the safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia,” he added.

The House inquiry reopens on Wednesday afternoon. Pimentel said he did not know if Garin would be able to appear at the hearing if she would be operated on for appendicitis.

Meanwhile, the DOH reminded the public that they should not shun other vaccines under the government’s Expanded Program on Immunization.

“Other vaccines are clearly beneficial. [We] continue to recommend them,” Health Undersecretary Herminigildo Valle said. —WITH A REPORT FROM JOEY A. GABIETA


Roque: ‘Hypocrites’ De Lima, Gascon signed AO on EJKs

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO / JOAN BONDOC

Malacañang on Monday called Senator Leila de Lima and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Chito Gascon “hypocrites” for insisting that drug users killed in the government’s war on drugs were victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque reminded de Lima and Gascon of Administrative Order No. 35 (AO 35) adopted during the term of former president Benigno Aquino III.

The President’s spokesperson pointed out that De Lima and Gascon signed A0 35 which does not include drug pushers, drug users and other common criminals as probable victims of EJKs.
De Lima was then secretary of Justice while Gascon was undersecretary for political affairs of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs.

Roque said it was high time for de Lima and Gascon to invoke AO 35 as former members of the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of Persons.

“In the said order, the two, among other signatories of the AO, defined extra-legal killings (ELKs) or extra-judicial killings (EJKs) as killings wherein the victim was a member of, or affiliated with an organization, to include political, environmental, agrarian, labor, or similar causes; or an advocate of these causes; or a media practitioner; or person(s) apparently mistaken or identified to be so,” Roque said in a statement.

Roque said the order stated that “victim was targeted and killed because of the actual or perceived membership, advocacy, or profession.”

“The person/s responsible for the killing is a state agent or non-state agent; and the method and circumstances of attack reveal a deliberate intent to kill,” he said.

“Moreover, they added that for purposes of the focused mandate of AO No. 35, killings related to common criminals and/or the perpetration of their crimes shall be addressed by other appropriate, mechanisms within the justice system,” he added.

Roque then questioned why de Lima and Gascon were now calling that those drugs users and pushers who died under the government’s drug war were victims of EJKs.

“How is it now that when drug pushers or users die, Senator De Lima and Chairman Gascon insist that these are EJKs?” he said.

“Their sudden about-face is baffling given that these drug pushers and users are not members or affiliated with any political, environmental, agrarian, or labor organization. These drug pushers or users are likewise not journalists,” he added.

If the two believed then that the AO they adopted was correct and in accordance with the law, Roque said “they should be the first to defend the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs because the AO No. 35 signed by former President Benigno Aquino III is correct.”

“But if they believe today that the reported deaths in the war on drugs are EJKs, they should also admit to the nation and to the world that what they did during the Aquino administration was wrong and that Aquino only signed AO No. 35 so that his administration would not be blamed for the deaths of drug pushers and users during his presidency,” he said.

The Palace official said it was now time to expose the hypocrisies of de Lima and Gascon.

“It is high time that the hypocrisies of Senator De Lima and Chairman Gascon are exposed in favor of the truth. The Filipino people deserve no less,” he said. /cbb


House expects to get on Monday Duterte’s request to extend martial law

President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo by KING RODRIGUEZ / Presidential Photographers Division)

President Rodrigo Duterte will ask Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao for a year before both houses adjourn for their Christmas recess on Friday.

House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea informed him that Mr. Duterte had already signed the request and the letter is expected to be delivered on Monday.

Medialdea confirmed to reporters the signing of the request which seeks an extension of martial law in Mindanao for an entire year after the original extension expires on Dec. 31.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which originally scheduled their last day of session for Dec. 13, will only have until Dec 15. to jointly vote on the extension.

“I, of course, relayed it first to the Speaker who said we will discuss it tomorrow. We will have to discuss it with our Senate counterparts,” Fariñas said.

The House leader said the process for the reextension will be the same as when Congress approved the first extension last July 22.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said on Friday that he expected the Palace to seek an extension and would immediately take up the matter with other senators when he receives the request.

Mr. Duterte sought the martial law extension after the military said it needed to sustain the military’s “momentum” against terror groups that have started regrouping after their defeat in Marawi City.

“Not [extending martial law] will allow them to regroup again and, as you know, there have been reports that they are recruiting already in the Lanao area,” said Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong.

‘Credible threat’

“So I think this will help curb their activities on the ground,” Andolong said, noting there is a “credible threat” that the military needs to address in Mindanao.

Andolong did not elaborate on the “credible threat,” but Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military is monitoring the Daulah Islamiyah fi Ranao (Islamic State in Lanao) group and their foreign allies.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar also said the Daulah Islamiyah fi Ranao group, which is connected to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, had been planning to attack another city in the country.

Speaking in a radio interview on Sunday morning, Andanar also cited unclarified intelligence reports about terror groups that are supposedly stepping up their recruitment activities.

In justifying the extension of martial law, Andolong said it would also help in the rebuilding and rehabilitation of Marawi City and other war-torn areas.

“How do we continue the rebuilding if we cannot secure the area? Our engineers might be ambushed,” Andolong said, citing the usual security threats in conflict areas.

Aside from the Daulah Islamiyah fi Ranao, Padilla said there could also be attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao, Lanao and Cotabato, and the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

In addition to the jihadists, Padilla said the military also needed to guard against attacks by communist rebels who have, in the past, attacked construction activities in Mindanao.

65% increase in attacks

Padilla said there had been a 65-percent increase in attacks perpetrated by communist rebels in Eastern and Western Mindanao from January to November this year.

The martial law proclamation over Mindanao is set to expire on Dec. 31, unless extended by Congress. —With reports from Nikko Dizon

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