Opinion & Community

ALVAREZ-FLOIRENDO TIFF | Ombudsman OKs graft raps vs ‘banana king’

Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has found sufficient evidence to indict Davao del Norte Representative Antonio Floirendo for the graft complaint filed by his erstwhile buddy, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, over a deal between banana grower Tagum Development Corp. and the Bureau of Corrections.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved on September 18 the 11-page resolution of Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer II Voltaire Africa recommending that Floirendo be criminally charged before the Sandiganbayan for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“All in all, this Office finds that the complaint offered sufficient evidence showing that respondent probably committed a violation of Section 3 (h) of RA 3019 and thus there is probable cause to indict respondent for the offense,” Africa said in the resolution.

Alvarez and Floirendo, whose family-owned firm is the largest banana producer in the country and was the largest contributor to the campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte, had a falling out early this year, reportedly because of a spat between their respective partners.

Alvarez alleged Floirendo committed graft when Tadeco signed an amended agreement with Bucor on May 21m 2003 to use land within the Davao Penal Colony for a banana plantation. At the time, Floriendo was serving as representative of Davao del Norte and also directly owned 75,000 shares in Tadeco.

He also owned 537,950 shares of Anflo Management and Investment Corporation, the listed parent company of Tadeco, in which it also owns 4,730,000 shares with a subscription cost of P473 million.

Floirendo argued that, aside from being a public officer in 2003, the other elements of his alleged offense were not established as he did not have any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in the 2003 agreement between Bucor and Tadeco.

But the Ombudsman noted that there is no dispute that he was a public officer at the time yet had a direct and indirect financial interest in the contract through his ownership of shares in Tadeco and Anflocor, which would also likely violate Art. VI, Section 14, of the 1987 Constitution.

The provision bars members of Congress from directly or indirectly having financial interests in any contract with, or in any franchise or special privilege, granted by the government or any of its agencies, during thei term of office.

“A plain reading of the constitutional provision shows that respondent probably breached it,” the resolution said.

The Ombudsman also dismissed Floirendo’s claim that there was no conflict of interest because he was not involved in the negotiation of the 2003 Agreement and Congress had nothing to do with the deal.

“The argument is unavailing as he is charged under the second mode of Sec. 3(H) of RA 3019 in which mere prohibition by the Constitution or by law of financial interest in a contract suffices,” the resolution said.

 

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CPP hails opposition vs Duterte plan to ‘replicate’ Marcos; Luneta rally will be on Roxas Blvd

Activists converge on España Boulevard in Manila before marching to Mendiola and then to Luneta for anti-dictatorship rallies. (photo by Obet de Castro)

MANILA, Philippines — The Communist Party of the Philippines hailed the protest on Thursday, September 21, saying it showed “the determination of the Filipino people to oppose (President Rodrigo) Duterte’s plan to replicate his idol,” the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In Manila, the Movement Against Tyranny, which organized the rally at the Luneta, confirmed that the demonstration will no longer be inside the park itself but on the stretch of Roxas Boulevard from TM Kalaw to P. Burgos Avenue.

This was after they failed to secure the area in front of the Quirino grandstand where former Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño said will be the venue of a feeding program and medical mission by the Lions Club.

Despite the change of venue, Casiño said they expect the protest to be peaceful.

Aside from marking the 45th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of martial law over the country, Thursday’s protests are also meant to oppose what critics see as the increasingly brutal reign of Duterte, seen in a war on drugs that has claimed more than 13,000 lives since he assumed office, a counterinsurgency campaign marked by what human rights activists say are massive abuses, and the declaration of martial law over Mindanao.

“It’s all systems go,” Casiño said. “The stage is almost complete. May mga last minute changes lang saprogram kasi ang daming gustong sumali pa (There are last minute changes to the program because more people want to join), and we’re trying to accommodate everyone.”

MAT, an alliance of human rights, faith-based, and indigenous peoples’ groups, among others, said the rally is open to “people of all colors, all beliefs, and all ages who want a stop to the extrajudicial killings and other acts of tyranny of the Duterte regime.”

The Luneta program will start with the monologue “Sisa” and the song “Ugoy ng Duyan” to “represent the thousands of grieving mothers whose children have been killed in the government’s drug war and counterinsurgency operations.”

The program will end with the simultaneous ringing of bells at 8 p.m. nationwide (kampana ng konsyensiya) called by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Archbishop Socrates Villegas to awaken the conscience of a nation grown numb to the killings.

Marcos-era veterans like former Senator Rene Saguisag, former St. Scholastica’s College president Sr. Mary John Mananzan, and Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang spokesperson Bonifacio Ilagan are expected to deliver speeches. There would also be performances from artists like Bituin Escalante, Audie Gemora, the cast of PETA’s Game of Trolls, Buklod, spoken word artist Juan Miguel Severo, Pen Medina, Toym Imao, Joel Saracho, Mae Paner a.k.a. Juana Change, rapper BLKD, La Loba Negra, Chikoy Pura, the Dwight Gaston Band, and Tropical Depression.

“What better day to unite the Filipino people against threats of a fascist dictatorship by Rodrigo Duterte than today when 45 years ago Marcos imposed martial law and founded his dictatorship?” the CPP said in an editorial in its publication Ang Bayan, as it accused Duterte of wanting to “install himself as a fascist dictator and use absolute power to control the entire state machinery and resources for himself and his clique.”

The CPP leads forces, including the New People’s Army, who have been waging an armed struggle for close to half a century. Although the rebels had initially been optimistic after Duterte resumed formal peace talks with them, fighting has since resumed after negotiations bogged down.

“Duterte’s victims are now the most determined to hinder the vile fascist plot to put the entire country under martial law and intensify the campaigns of death and destruction,” the CPP said. “They are set to be joined by broad sections of Philippine society, by various political parties and groups, churches, communities and so on.”

At the same time, the CPP predicted that Thursday’s protest would “inspire more demonstrations in the coming weeks and months” as “Duterte’s hundreds of thousands of victims demand their grievances be heard.”

It called on them to hold “assemblies … from barangay halls to coliseums to indict Duterte and express their collective anger” against a president who “is in a frenzy to monopolize political power and silence all those opposing his programs and policies.”

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NASA's $3.9-B Cassini spacecraft makes death plunge into Saturn

FINAL IMAGE. (L-R) Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist and Julie Webster, spacecraft operations team manager hold a press conference over one of the final images from Cassini, an infrared image showing the spot where Cassini is believed to have entered Saturn's atmosphere, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, September 15, 2017. Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP 

TAMPA, USA – After 20 years in space, NASA's famed Cassini spacecraft made an intentional death plunge into Saturn on Friday, September 15, ending a storied mission that scientists say taught us nearly everything we know about Saturn today and transformed the way we think about life elsewhere in the solar system.

Cassini, an international project that cost $3.9 billion and included scientists from 27 nations, disintegrated as it dove into Saturn's atmosphere at a speed of 75,000 miles per hour (120,700 kilometers per hour).

 

Cassini's final contact with Earth came at 7:55 a.m. EDT (1155 GMT). Its descent into Saturn's atmosphere began 83 minutes earlier, some 870 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) from Earth.

"The spacecraft is gone," said Cassini program manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"Thanks, and farewell faithful explorer. But the legacy of Cassini has just begun," he told a press conference afterward.

"The effect Cassini has – and will have – on the future of planetary exploration will go on for decades."

Cassini's plunge into the ringed gas giant – the farthest planet visible from Earth with the naked eye – came after the spacecraft ran out of rocket fuel after a journey of some 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion kilometers).

Its well-planned demise was designed to prevent any damage to Saturn's ocean-bearing moons Titan and Enceladus, which scientists want to keep pristine for future exploration because they may contain some form of life.

"There are international treaties that require that we can't just leave a derelict spacecraft in orbit around a planet like Saturn, which has prebiotic moons," said Maize. "Prebiotic" refers to the conditions or ingredients that can occur before life emerges.

Three other spacecraft have flown by Saturn – Pioneer 11 in 1979, followed by Voyager 1 and 2 in the 1980s.

But none has studied Saturn in such detail as Cassini, named after the French-Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered in the 17th century that Saturn had several moons and a gap between its rings.

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"This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it's also a new beginning,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth."

Eerie, surprising discoveries

Cassini launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1997, then spent 7 years in transit followed by 13 years orbiting Saturn.

In that time, it discovered 6 more moons around Saturn, 3-dimensional structures towering above Saturn's rings, and a giant storm that raged across the planet for nearly a year.

The 22 by 13 foot (6.7 by 4 meter) spacecraft is also credited with discovering icy geysers erupting from Enceladus, and eerie hydrocarbon lakes made of ethane and methane on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

In 2005, the Cassini orbiter released a lander called Huygens on Titan, marking the first and only such landing in the outer solar system, on a celestial body beyond the asteroid belt.

Huygens was a joint project of the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency and NASA.

Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, said saying farewell to the spaceship felt like "losing a friend."

"For 13 years we have been running a marathon of scientific discovery," she added.

Eight of the spacecraft's 12 scientific instruments were still capturing data in Cassini's last moments as it flew more deeply into Saturn than ever, before disintegrating like a meteor.

"Who knows how many PhD theses might be in just those final seconds of data?" Spilker asked.

Already, some 4,000 scientific papers have been based on data from the mission, said Mathew Owens, professor of space physics at the University of Reading, in England.

"No doubt scientists will be analyzing the information from its final, one-way trip into Saturn's atmosphere for years to come," Owens said.

Michael Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, described Cassini's fate as "not an end but really a beginning."

"The discoveries that Cassini has made over the past 13 years in orbit have rewritten the textbooks on Saturn, have discovered worlds that could be habitable and have guaranteed that we will return to that ringed world," he said.

NASA is currently considering proposals for the next mission to Saturn and expects to make an announcement about the finalists later this year, said NASA's planetary science division director Jim Green. – Rappler.com

CHED ‘strongly condemns’ death of Horacio Castillo III

AGAINST HAZING DEATHS. CHED chairperson faces the Senate finance committee on September 21. Screenshot from Senate Youtube account 

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) condemned the killing of University Santo Tomas (UST) freshman law student Horacio Castillo III due to alleged hazing by the Aegis Juris fraternity

CHED chairperson Patricia Licuanan made the statement when Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri asked for CHED's stand is on the controversial death during the agency's budget hearing at the Senate on Thursday, September 21. (READ: Senate to probe UST law student's death due to hazing)

 

Zubiri, a classmate of Castillo's father, Horacio Jr, delivered a privilege speech condemning the “brutal act” on Wednesday, September 20. (READ: Senate to probe UST law student's death due to hazing)

“First of all, let me just say that we condemn this act very strongly,” said Licuanan.

She then cited CHED Memorandum Order No 4, Series of 1995, which outlines preventive measures against violence and sanctions on fraternities and other student organizations.

Licuanan said CHED reiterates the memo’s provisions whenever a student dies due to hazing over the years. 

The memo imposes automatic expulsion on any fraternity member for:

  • starting or taking the offensive action that clearly provokes violence
  • carrying knives, sticks, pipes, guns, and other deadly weapons in schools
  • extortion 

Fraternity officers found guilty of provoking violence will be suspended for 60 days. The CHED order also imposes a one-year suspension on a fraternity found to be guilty, and a permanent ban after the next offense. 

“We have asked our regional office, the NCR (National Capital Region) regional office, to look into this very tragic event,” said Licuanan.

She added UST is yet to officially file a report to CHED, “but we should be expecting that soon.”

A good Samaritan supposedly found Castillo covered by a blanket on a pavement in Tondo, Manila, on September 17, and brought him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The good Samaritan – John Paul Solano – has been tagged as one of 3 suspects in the case. The Bureau of Immigration said one of the suspects had left the country. (READ: Facebook Messenger chat may give clues to Castillo's death– Rappler.com

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Suspension of barangay elections a done deal except for date of reset polls

President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council. (Presidential photo)

MANILA, Philippines — Only the date of the reset barangay elections has to be agreed on by the House of Representatives and the Senate after the latter chamber approved on third and final reading postponing the village polls originally scheduled next month.

Like the House version, the measure the Senate approved late Wednesday, September 20, is minus the provision allowing President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint officers-in-charge, meaning incumbent officials will remain as holdovers until the next elections, which the Senate wants set for October 2018.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who attended a meeting of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) late Wednesday, said Duterte, agreed with letting incumbent officials remain in their posts.

“The President informed us that he agrees with our position that the incumbent barangay officials will hold over as such because he is not really keen in appointing people into elective positions,” Fariñas said.

Duterte, who claims most village officials are involved in the drug trade, sought the postponement of the village polls this year to prevent the influence of drug money, and said he wanted to choose officers-in-charge to replace the incumbents.

Fariñas said the House will decide on Monday whether or not to adopt the date proposed by the Senate, noting that “the Senate has substantially adopted the version of the House except for some minor changes.”

“If the House adopts the Senate version, no bicameral conference committee will be needed and we will submit on Tuesday the enrolled bill for approval of the President,” he explained.

The Commission on Elections will continue preparing for elections this October until the law is enacted.

Election commissioner Rowena Guanzon said at least half the number of ballots needed for the village polls — 25,141,728 of 59 million needed — have been printed.

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HINDI NA P1K | Watch: House restores budgets of CHR, ERC, NCIP

The House of Representatives members assembled at the plenary session hall. Photograph: Philstar

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 8:13 a.m.) Days after reducing to P1,000 each the budget of three agencies, the House of Representatives on Wednesday announced that it had restored the allocations for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP).

In a press release, House Appropriations Committee Chair and Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said his panel “has been given the green light to endorse the restoration of the budget of” the three offices.

Nograles said the “breakthrough was achieved” after CHR Chairman Jose Luis “Chto” Gascon, ERC Commissioner Geronimo Sta. Ana and NCIP Chair Leonor Oralde-Quintayo sought his and House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas’s help “to act as bridge between them and Speaker (Pantaleon) Alvarez.”

Nograles said that during the meeting, Gascon agreed that the CHR should extend its investigations beyond human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by state agents to also include other groups who victimize members of the police, the military, and even civilians.

“The Speaker basically told Chairman Gascon that we are not the enemy. The Duterte government is not the enemy. We are one with the CHR in the fight against all forms of human rights violation but they must start looking also at the violations committed by criminals and insurgents,” Nograles said.

As for the ERC and the NCIP, Nograles said Alvarez and Fariñas secured the agencies’ assurance that they would start taking all the necessary steps to fight graft and corruption and to carry out the full mandate of their office.

“The dialogue was very frank but cordial. In the end, the Speaker was magnanimous in his decision and gave the green light to restoring their budget,” Nograles said.

“With this development…the restoration of the budget for the CHR, the ERC and the NCIP would already be incorporated in the final version of the General Appropriations Bill for third reading approval by the House of Representatives in plenary,” he added.

The slash in the CHR budget drew criticisms from various groups, even as the Senate vowed to restore it. Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin on Wednesday said the “will of the people” made the House change its mind.

“Using the budget as a political weapon against those critical of the administration or to demand submission by heads of agencies to Congress will create gridlocks and will not work for the interest of the people,” he said.

“Given the negative backlash on the leadership of the House and with the Senate restoring the CHR budget to what was originally proposed, they have to backtrack and restore the CHR’s budget due to a strong public clamor,” Villarin added.

Reacting to the restoration of the CHR budget, the Liberal Party called it “the people’s win … a win for human rights, for collective action, and for truth and reason” and noted that “we celebrate this victory” on Thursday, September 21, “the 45th year of the declaration of martial law.”

“This is how democracy works. This is People Power, millennial version in the age of social media. This is our, the people’s, victory,” it said in a statement.

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BI says suspect in UST hazing death has left country – reports

File photo of UST law student Horacio Tomas Castillo III from his Facebook account

MANILA, Philippines — One of the suspects in the hazing death of University of Sto. Tomas law student Horacio Castillo III left the country on Tuesday, September 19, news reports said.

The reports quoted the Bureau of Immigration as saying a Ralph Caballes Trangia boarded Eva Flight BR262 for Taipei, which left around 1:53 a.m. Tuesday.

Trangia, who authorities have identified as an officer of the Aegis Juris fraternity, is one of three persons the Manila Police District are looking to arrest over Castillo’s death.

The others are his father Antonio, in whose name the vehicle that took Castillo to the Chinese General Hospital is registered, and John Paul Solano, another fraternity member who police said “misled” them by claiming to have found the freshman law student on a street in Balut, Tondo Sunday morning.

The younger Trangia and Solano are also among 16 Aegis Juris members included in an Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order issued by the Justice department.

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Trillanes to Pinoys: Duterte has been fooling you and I hope you’re already aware now

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV/REUTERS FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is hoping that Filipinos have now become enlightened that the presidential candidate they picked in last year’s polls has been fooling them since the 2016 campaign period. 

Talagang pahiyang pahiya, bistadong bistado, huling huli sa pagsisinungaling at paggawa ng kwento. Ngayon, sana maliwanangan na ang mga kababayan natin. No’ng panahon palang ng kampanya niloloko na kayo. Hanggang ngayon niloloko eh. Nasasa inyo ‘yan kung patuloy na nagpapaloko pa rin kayo,” Trillanes said on Wednesday, Sept. 20. 

[He was really shamed, he was caught lying and inventing a story. Now, I hope that our fellow Filipinos will already be enlightened. You were already being fooled even during the campaign period. Even up to now. It’s up to you if you want to be fooled continuously.] 

The senator issued the statement a day after proving that he had no secret bank accounts in Singapore. Also on Tuesday, during a television interview, Duterte admitted that he “invented” at least one bank account number that he had attributed to Trillanes.

Isolated case, unorthodox style

Meanwhile, Malacañang defended Duterte on Wednesday. 

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the President’s admission that he had invented one of the bank account numbers was an “isolated case.” 

“(H)e intentionally did that. But of course, first and foremost, he comes out in the open. He does not hide it, rightly so, in other words, he’s quite transparent about his actions,” said Abella. 

Abella reminded the public that every politician has his own style of handling issues and that Duterte’s method was unconventional. 

May kanya-kanya pong style. As we very well know, the President is quite unorthodox, and rather out of the box when he deals…Unorthodox as it may seem, on the whole, apparently, the impact of his actions tend to be economically viable,” he said.

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Protest rallies call for end to tyranny

Militant activists gather at the foot of Mendiola bridge in Manila Tuesday night, September 19, 2017 as KADAMAY kicked of its camp out protest against the entirety of what they call Duterte’s War on the Poor. INQUIRER PHOTO / GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE
“Remember the 21st of September,” the militant coalition Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) says as Filipinos march across the country on Thursday to mark the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and make known that they oppose the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Mr. Duterte has declared Thursday National Day of Protest to allow the people to express their frustration at the “excesses and shortcomings of the government.”
He has allowed protests to be held without permits, but ordered police to maintain order.The Armed Forces of the Philippines issued a statement late on Wednesday saying it was “duty-bound to protect” the “inherent right of the people to peaceful assembly.”
‘End Tyranny’
The “End Tyranny” rally at Rizal Park called by MAT is among several protests across the country on Thursday and the first massive movement opposing Mr. Duterte, who is unused to dissent after ruling Davao City as mayor with an iron fist for 22 years.
Mr. Duterte has placed Mindanao under martial law to break a terrorist siege of Marawi City and he has repeatedly threatened to put the entire country under military rule if opposition to his signature program, stamping out narcotics, turns violent.
Police have reported killing more than 3,800 people since Mr. Duterte launched his war on drugs after taking office in June last year, and unknown assailants have killed thousands more, sparking global concern over violation of human rights in the Philippines and warnings to Philippine officials about a possible crime against humanity.
At first, Filipinos supported Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs, but in recent weeks, teenagers have been the victims of police killings, causing widespread public anger.
Families of the campaign’s victims will be among the marchers on Thursday and police are watching two spots in Manila where the protesters and Mr. Duterte’s supporters are gathering.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Director Oscar Albayalde, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), said up to 10,000 protesters from various groups were expected to turn up at Rizal Park in Manila for the “End Tyranny” rally.

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