Items filtered by date: Thursday, 07 December 2017

EDITORIAL - Cutting off funding

Terrorism, insurgency and organized crime need funds – lots of it. Cutting off funding is therefore one of the most important weapons against illegal activities. This week the government approved tighter rules that will enhance detection of dirty money used for acts of terrorism as well as drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, hijacking, arson and murder.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council had been pushing for some time for tighter registration and reporting guidelines on suspicious transactions. Among those covered by the rules are banks, securities dealers and insurance companies. AMLC officials said penalties imposed in accordance with due process would encourage compliance. The covered entities will be allowed to use new tools to know more about their clients and determine if dirty money is being laundered or used for terrorist financing.

Besides the AMLC, the Bureau of Internal Revenue can help go after violators of those predicate crimes through their tax payments. Local governments and law enforcement agencies can pinpoint suspicious individuals to the BIR for possible investigation and indictment for tax evasion.

The country can be assured of support from the international community in cutting off terrorist financing. The Philippines came close to being blacklisted by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force because of the exclusion of terrorism from the crimes covered by the country’s anti-money laundering laws. It took years before terrorism was included in the offenses covered by the Anti-Money Laundering Act, with opposition coming mostly from individuals and groups sympathetic to the communist movement. Now that the anti-money laundering police is being given more teeth to help fight terrorism and other crimes, it must make full use of the weapons.


Opinion- Because they could

It’s causing a seismic shift in gender relations in the United States. Will we ever see it happen in the Philippines?

I’m referring to the sexual misconduct allegations that have brought down several of America’s rich and powerful, and shamed even an elderly former president into issuing an apology to his accusers.

The public apologies following swift admissions are just as amazing as the courage of several women (and men) to come out in the open and denounce the powerful and famous sexual predators. Equally amazing, for those who answer to higher authorities, is their swift sacking by their corporations or organizations, even if the accused are superstars in their respective fields.


It surely helped that several of the women are self-made stars in their own right. Their star wattage made their coming out in the open even more impressive, and a strong encouragement for other women to denounce and resist sexual harassment.

Rape and other forms of sexual molestation have been regarded as attacks so humiliating that many women and men, whether famous or little known, dread filing a complaint and detailing their private ordeal to the world.

In many societies even in this age, victims of sex crimes still suffer from accusations that they might have asked for it. This is true especially in cases of date rape, wherein the predator has an edge in claiming consensual sex. The argument is that if a woman (or man) willingly goes out with someone on a date, seduction may be expected. I’ve heard men say that when a woman says no, it can actually mean yes. Such attitudes are reinforced by the popularity of books and movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey.

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* * *

It is said that powerful men also have powerful sex drives, that the hormone or gene or whatever that fuels their determination to succeed is connected to sexual impulses. I don’t think the sex drive has anything to do with income levels. But wealth and power make it easier for a man to indulge the belief that he has a right to impose his sexual desires on another person even if it’s against the victim’s will.

As Bill Clinton replied, when asked by Dan Rather on “60 Minutes” in 2004 why the US president did what he did with White House intern Monica Lewinsky: “I think I did something for the worst possible reason – just because I could.”

“I think that’s the most, just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything. When you do something just because you could,” Clinton went on. “I’ve thought about it a lot. And there are lots of more sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations. But none of them are an excuse…”

Clinton can’t escape mention in the ongoing sexual misconduct scandal sweeping Hollywood, US politics, media and other sectors. But his dalliance with “that woman” now pales in comparison with the mountain of accusations hurled against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and fallen Today Show host Matt Lauer.

Before them, there was top comedian Bill Cosby. What made Weinstein’s case the trigger that set off an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations against others, however, was that his accusers included Hollywood A-listers such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd.

If such women weren’t embarrassed about admitting in public that in their rise to the top, they were once preyed upon sexually by dirty old Harvey, it was OK for other women to come out with their stories of sexual assault, including butt-groping of young women by George H.W. Bush when he was president.

Bush, now wheelchair-bound, quickly confessed and apologized.

* * *

Will we ever see such confessions and apologies in our country? Will the accused be fired pronto by their organizations if they are superstars in their fields?

Skeptics say Philippine culture is different, that divorce and medical marijuana might be institutionalized, but not the “outing” of sexual predators among the rich and powerful.

Still, perhaps all it will take is one Rose McGowan or Ashley Judd to come out in the open and condemn a prominent tormentor.

The nation can’t be lacking in such victims. Stories have long circulated about the sexual escapades of some of the nation’s wealthiest men. Going by the stories, the sexual targets appeared to be willing victims, accepting enormous sums for their “services.” Yet there could be others who were forced to have sex against their will, but remain scared of coming out and fighting powerful individuals.

A number of the alleged willing victims are from show business, at least one of whom has successfully made a career shift to politics.

There are even more stories of sexual misconduct involving politicians. Occasionally, they are brought down even by impoverished victims – such as in the case of former congressman Romeo Jalosjos, who was sent to prison for paid sex with a trafficked minor.

Many others, however, get away with the abuses. Either they pay off their victims, or else they use their influence to have the lawsuits against them dismissed.

Others even brag about their sexual escapades, including non-consensual ones. Such stories enhance a twisted concept of machismo in our society, which also looks the other way when politicians openly brag about marital infidelity.

If a glamorous movie star is sexually assaulted by a scumbag film producer in our country, he might even brag about it, and keep a video recording of the assault. The thought of that kind of exposure can scare the victim into silence.

As the unfolding events in the US show, however, all it can take is one prominent victim to set the example and end the silence. Seeing sexual predators penalized in the US might embolden some of the victims in the Philippines to come out and go after their tormentors.

The question is whether their predators can be shamed into making a public admission and apology, and convicted and sent behind bars.

For now, the impunity is bound to persist. Why? As Clinton explained, because they can.

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ERRATUM: A line in my previous column should have read, “chalked up to the will of the heavens,” not “choked up.” Sorry.


Duterte says he’s still for land reform, blames ‘extortionist’ Reds for underdeveloped agri sector

President Duterte in an impassioned speech. Reuters file photograph
MANILA, Philippines — Despite his administration’s continued failure to push for the passage of a law that will bankroll the continuation of the acquisition and distribution of landholdings to poor peasants, President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he was still backing the government’s agrarian reform program and would not break his promise of helping uplift the lives of landless tillers.

“I am for land reform. ‘Yan, isa ‘yan sa sinabi ko sa kampanya [that was one of the things I mentioned during the campaign] and I will not renege on it,” said Duterte in his speech during the Kapampangan Food Festival at the Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga on Thursday.

He said the country’s agriculture is the one “really lagging behind” other sectors “almost to a fault” and that “the only way to improve it really is to give more lands (to peasants) if we can afford it.”

The Duterte administration is left with a total balance of over 800,000 hectares of agricultural landholdings that the previous administration failed to acquire and distribute to farmer-beneficiaries (FB) of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program due to the absence of a law that would fund its implementation and the landlords’ stiff resistance to CARP.

Based on data from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), more than 600,000 hectares of these landholdings remain undistributed to FBs, while another 200,000 hectares are not yet covered with CARP notices, which is the first of about 27 steps before landholdings could be acquired by the government in favor of farmers.

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced at least four measures — House Bills 114 and 3051 and Senate Bills 28 and 1056 — to address this gap in CARP implementation. However, after one and a half years in power, the Duterte administration, which has the most number of allies in both legislative chambers, still failed to extend the program.

On Thursday, Duterte promised that, “I will look for money and buy (land)” for peasants, adding that he had appointed a new DAR chief — former Interior undersecretary for Operations John Ruelo Castriciones — after Rafael Mariano failed to get the nod of the Commission on Appointments because “he has the leanings of the Left” and because we have a Congress that is “not really sympathizing with the communists.”

Also, the President stressed the need to “improve the manufacturing side” of the agricultural sector but “we have to have law or peace there.”

He then blamed the communists for the failure of the sector to improve and develop because of the rebels’ alleged “extortion” activities in agricultural areas.

“Eh itong mga komunista, left and right ang hingi eh. ‘Yong bagong pumapasok d’yan, they start to extort. And they say that they are helping the Filipinos for what? Subsidize in what? How many members of the politburo are there, the central committee? ‘Yan lang naman ang nag-enjoy,” he said.


Cops made to read Bible for ‘humane outlook’ as PNP returns to war on drugs

(Bible image from Reuters, PNP seal from PNP)
MANILA, Philippines — As they return to the government’s war on drugs, members of the Philippine National Police are now made to read Bible passages to lift their moral aptitude and gain “a more humane outlook” in the performance of their duties and functions, an official said.

“Nakita namin na kailangang magkaroon ng mas malawak na pananaw ang ating mga pulis para magawa nila ang kanilang tungkulin sa tamang pamamaraan at may takot sa Diyos, kaya nagpo-focus din kami sa spiritual aspect ng kanilang reorientation at reformation (We noted that our policemen must also have a broader perspective of their duties, including fear of God. That is why we are now focusing on the spiritual aspect of their reorientation and reformation),” PNP Training Service director Superintendent Elpidio Gabriel Jr. told the Philippine News Agency in an interview.

Gabriel said the PNP is now focusing on spiritual reformation in the “internal cleansing program” dubbed “Focused Reformation/Reorientation and Moral Enhancement for Police Officers”.

National Capital Region Police Office director Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde, in a separate interview, said the PNP leadership has made it a point to continue and intensify the FORM-POLICE training.

“Actually, tuluy-tuloy naman talaga ito since I assumed (my position) on July 1, 2016 iyong FORM-POLICE namin sa NCRPO. Ang tawag ay ‘Balik sa Kampo’ program kaya nga may Tent City kami sa loob ng kampo (Actually, it is a continuous program since I assumed my post on July 1, 2016 — the FORM-POLICE of NCRPO. We call it ‘Back to Camp’. That is why we have a Tent City inside the camp),” Albayalde said, adding that all erring policemen undergo the reorientation program.

Meanwhile, pending guidelines from the national headquarters on the PNP’s return to anti-illegal drug operations, Albayalde said he had issued a directive to all district directors to strictly implement the vetting process of personnel to be assigned to the Drug Enforcement Unit.

“We will not hesitate to send another batch of police officers to the Focused Reformation/Reorientation and Moral Enhancement if that is what’s needed to correct their lapses. We shall also continue other refresher courses on human rights laws and police operational procedures needed by our police officers,” he said in a statement.

“This is to ensure that police officers are trained, qualified, and disciplined to handle their assignment,” he added.


With less poor Pinoys but not enough in middle class, WB lays out recommendations for prosperity

A family settles in their temporary home a month after supertyphoon Yolanda struck. (File photo by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon)
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines, along with the rest of East Asia and the Pacific, has lifted numerous households from poverty over the past two decades. But beyond this, it must ensure its citizens are able to improve their situation in life (upward economic mobility) and are able to hold on to the gains they have made (economic security).

This is the World Bank’s position in its recently released study, “Riding the Wave: An East Asian Miracle for the 21st Century.”

In the Philippines, over five percent of citizens live on less than $1.90 a day as of 2015, making them part of the “extreme poor.” In that year, the nation also accounted for 13.8 percent of the region’s extreme poor.

Nevertheless, the Philippines has been lumped with Cambodia and Indonesia among the “out-of-extreme-poverty” countries — where extreme poverty levels are low, but so are the shares of the middle class (those living on more than $15 a day). A sizable share of the population is still either moderately poor (living on $1.90 to $3.10 a day), or vulnerable to falling back into poverty (living on $3.10 to $5.50 a day).

Like its neighbors, the Philippines is facing a “growing concentration of income and wealth at the top, as well as limited access to basic services, often of poor quality, even among the middle class.” Despite their economic security, the middle class cannot access high-quality public services in housing, water, and even modern sanitation.

Education is a particular challenge in the Philippines, said the World Bank.

And though the middle class benefit from social protection measures like health insurance and pensions that come with secure jobs, they are not immune to shocks.

“In the past couple of decades, different parts of the region have been affected by two major financial crises; several spikes in food prices; natural disasters ranging from earthquakes to tsunamis; and repeated hits by massive cyclones,” the report said.

With communities concentrated in low-lying coastal areas or hazardous urban neighborhoods, millions are exposed to severe consequences of natural shocks.

“In such areas, insecurity of tenure provides little incentive for households to invest in risk management, and poor provision of services such as health care compounds the effects of disasters such as flooding,” the report said.

Most households in the region also did not move upward through the economic classes, based on data from the early 2000s, and in all classes, there were people who moved downward due to their inability to cope with such shocks.

The World Bank also conducted research in Metro Manila slums to find out why people people living in extreme poverty cannot escape it.

“They reported difficulties in getting jobs, because they had arrived in the city from rural areas without any skills … They lived in poor-quality, makeshift housing or lacked housing altogether, and thus were exposed to crime, natural disasters, floods, dirt, and disease,” the report said.

They are “extremely vulnerable to shocks and have limited capacity to manage risk … (and) their lack of identity documents is a key barrier to escaping poverty. In the Philippines, those born to extreme poor families sometimes lack a birth certificate, which is needed to get a job, to receive government benefits, and to go to school, but the only way for them to get a birth certificate is to return to the town of their birth, which is not something that they can afford to do. Thus, they are stuck in the informal economy, often scavenging.”

In dealing with this, the World Bank recommended that “out-of-extreme-poverty” countries prioritize policies that “reflect the needs and aspirations of a diverse population, spanning those in moderate poverty, the vulnerable, and those who are economically secure.”

“Integrating existing social assistance programs to provide greater economic security is a key priority, with strengthening mobility a close second,” it said.

The report cited the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) as a targeted conditional cash transfer program that responds to the needs of poor families, particularly their children. It also noted that the Philippines is “one of the few large developing countries in the world with a complete, nationwide database of the poor that is used by a large number of social programs to target interventions,” referring to the Listahanan.

With data collected on about 11 million households from 2009 to 2010, 5.2 million households were identified as poor and were targeted for government assistance. The World Bank said the “remarkable instrument” has become the backbone of the country’s anti-poverty programs, such as the 4Ps, PhilHealth insurance, and social pension.

“It is also used by policymakers to plan disaster relief assistance, by civil society to monitor government effectiveness, and by academics. The Listahanan was updated in 2015 to cover 75 percent of the population (15.8 million households), and a new set of proxy means tested models was developed. Those revisions significantly reduced errors in mis-classifying poor and non-poor households.”

The World Bank enumerated the following recommendations, among others, to the region so that its citizens can face the challenges to inclusive growth:

Address gaps in access to jobs and services by reducing barriers to female labor force participation and simplifying or eliminating regulations for obtaining identity documents that are needed to access services or government programs.
Reduce regulatory barriers to rural-urban mobility, improve rural connectivity, and ease the process of formalization for micro and small enterprises.
Promote financial inclusion by expanding financial literacy and by improving information flows needed to assess credit-worthiness.
Improve targeting of cash transfer programs to population groups that remain over-represented among the extreme and moderate poor.
Strengthen social insurance by expanding the coverage of measures to help households insure against risks and by expanding the revenue base to sustain the system’s expansion.
Mobilize resources through progressive taxation by strengthening personal income taxation, including by broadening the tax base, reviewing marginal tax rates, and eliminating the preferential treatment of capital income; by establishing effective property taxes; and by enhancing tax administration.
Level the playing field by boosting competition and by tackling nepotism and corruption.
Promote efficient urbanization by supporting efficient land use in cities and by strengthening urban governance to improve service delivery and urban infrastructure, including by improving coordination between different levels of government and different jurisdictions.


Negros Occidental TESDA director wounded in ambush

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — The director of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in Negros Occidental was seriously wounded by still unidentified gunmen who ambushed him in Talisay City early Thursday evening, December 7.

Julius Jamero, 45, was shot seven times and is being treated at the Riverside Medical Center in Bacolod City.

Police said Jamero was driving his vehicle after leaving his office when he was shot along Trangka Street in Barangay Zone 12 by the gunmen, who had been lying in wait for him.

The motive for the attack has yet to be determined.

Jamero, a native of Butuan City, had served as TESDA director of Aklan province before being assigned to Negros Occidental.


PH claim of willingness to probe EJKs ‘false’ – HRW

Blood flows from the body of a man killed in a shootout with police in Manila. (Reuters file)
MANILA, Philippines — An international human rights watchdog dismissed as a “false claim” presidential spokesman Harry Roque’s assertion that the International Criminal Court should not investigate the deaths in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on because the government is willing and able to prosecute those responsible.

Param-Preet Singh, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, also reiterated the group’s call for an international investigation of the drug war deaths, led by the United Nations, to “help expose the extent of the abuses and possible targets of a criminal investigation, including possible crimes against humanity.”

Roque is attending the ICC’s annual diplomatic conference at the United Nations in New York where he was scheduled to speak and expected to underscore the principle of “complementarity,” which mandates that the international court can only exercise jurisdiction if the country’s courts are unwilling or unable to do so.

In April, Jude Sabio, lawyer of former policeman Edgar Matobato, who claims to have been a member of the “Davao Death Squad,” asked the ICC to probe Duterte for mass murder for the hundreds of deaths supposedly committed by the hit squad he allegedly created while mayor of Davao City as well as for the thousands of killings in the course of the war on drugs.

In October last year, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed concern about the killings and said her office was studying whether a preliminary examination could be opened.

Duterte, who has invariably dismissed criticism of his war on drugs, has threatened to pull out of both the ICC and the United Nations.

Singh acknowledged that “Roque is correct that under the ICC’s statute, the court may only step in only when national authorities are unable or unwilling to do so.”

However, she said “his assertion that the Philippine government has been willing and able to investigate those deaths has simply not been true.”

“The government has made no genuine efforts to seek accountability for drug war abuses,” the HRW official said. “There have been no successful prosecutions or convictions of police implicated in summary killings despite compelling evidence of such abuses.”

Since Duterte became president, some tallies of the deaths attributed to his war on drugs estimate more than 13,000 killed and counting, either in police operations or vigilante-style execution.

Not only has “Duterte has publicly vowed to pardon, reinstate, and promote officers convicted of extrajudicial killings,” Singh noted, he and his supporters “have systematically vilified, harassed, and sought to intimidate institutions and individuals — including UN officials — who have sought accountability for the killings.”

Recently, Duterte threatened to “slap” UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard while Roque warned her not to visit the Philippines uninvited.

Singh called the government’s claims of preparedness to prosecute offenders “grotesquely deceptive in the face of this grim reality.”


3 slain in shootings in Pangasinan, Batangas and Laguna

Scrap materials buyer Zaldy Bucaloy, 43, a resident of Barangay Angatel, Urbiztondo, Pangasinan, was driving a tricycle in Barangay Pasibi West when he was shot by unidentified men. File
MANILA, Philippines — Three persons were shot dead in Pangasinan, Batangas and Laguna on Wednesday.

Scrap materials buyer Zaldy Bucaloy, 43, a resident of Barangay Angatel, Urbiztondo, Pangasinan, was driving a tricycle in Barangay Pasibi West when he was shot by unidentified men.
The body of a man which bore gunshot wounds was found in a grassy area along the road in Barangay San Jose, Lipa, Batangas.

Albert Aguila was found dead in Barangay Parian, Calamba, Laguna.

Police have yet to determine the motives for the killings.


Speed limit set on EDSA, 4 major roads

The speed limit, however, applies only to public utility vehicles (PUVs) and trucks plying the roads’ two outermost or “yellow” lanes, according to Jojo Garcia, assistant general manager for planning of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). File
MANILA, Philippines — The Metro Manila Council (MMC) has approved a speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour for EDSA, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon Avenue, C5 Road and Roxas Boulevard, an official said yesterday.

The speed limit, however, applies only to public utility vehicles (PUVs) and trucks plying the roads’ two outermost or “yellow” lanes, according to Jojo Garcia, assistant general manager for planning of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
The MMC approved the speed limit on Tuesday.

Garcia said the decision elicited laughter from the mayors, who said there are daily traffic gridlocks on these five roads, but they noted that during the wee hours, some PUV drivers speed through Commonwealth Avenue and EDSA.

The speed limit will be enforced after the publication of the MMC’s resolution.

MMDA Chairman Danny Lim said the mayors wanted to ensure the safety of commuters and avoid road crashes following the success of the “yellow lane” scheme.

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The Philippine National Police’s Highway Patrol Group said that there were 2,144 persons who died in road crashes in 2016 –106 percent higher than the 1,040 deaths in 2015.

The number of road crashes in the Philippines also increased by 31 percent from the 24,656 in 2015 to 32,269 in 2016.

The announcement on the speed limit came a day after the MMDA said it will test a new scheme wherein it would designate EDSA’s innermost lane as a high-occupancy vehicle or carpool lane and limit “driver-only” vehicles to the two lanes beside the yellow lanes.

The dry run will start on Monday and last one week.

The new scheme seeks to reduce the number of private vehicles by about 30 percent by encouraging carpooling. – Romina Cabrera


Wildfire destroys mobile homes in California retirement park

This aerial view from video provided by KABC-TV shows flames from a wildfire bearing down on homes on Faria Beach just outside Ventura, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. It appeared that firefighters were able to stop the flames before they overran the area. KABC-TV via AP
SAN DIEGO — A brush fire driven by gusty winds that have plagued Southern California all week exploded rapidly Thursday and destroyed dozens of trailer homes in a retirement community north of San Diego.

The fire expanded to 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) in a matter of hours and tore through the tightly packed Rancho Monserate Country Club community in the small city of Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards and horse ranches. At least two people were hospitalized with burns.
The destructive blaze broke out as firefighters were trying to corral major wildfires around the Los Angeles area and 130 miles (209 kilometers) north near Ventura, where a massive fire threatened Ojai, a scenic mountain town dubbed "Shangri-La" and known for its boutique hotels and New Age spiritual retreats.

Like other fires that have broken out this week, Fallbrook has a history of destructive blazes. Ten years ago, as fall fires raced across Southern California, a blaze in Fallbrook injured five people, destroyed 206 homes and burned 14 square miles (36 square kilometers).

Thursday's fire prompted closure of state Highway 76 in both directions and evacuations in an area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. Evacuation centers were set up in schools and casinos.

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