First Pinay councilor in NZ wants more recognition for migrants

The first Filipina to be elected councilor in New Zealand has promised to push for policies geared toward cultural integration of migrants, including Filipinos.
"I would like more recognition for migrants and more migrants to actively be involved in the community," said Thelma Bell of Ashburton Ward on GMA News TV's "Investigative Documentaries" that aired on Thursday.
"It doesn't have to be Filipinos. It would be lovely to have another Filipino to come and join, but any migrants: Come and participate."
Bell had been a resident of Ashburton Ward for 23 years before she was elected councilor in 2016 on a platform of representing the migrant community and cultural diversity. Her advocacy is rooted in her own experiences of being a migrant.
Then a fresh graduate of BS Nutrition and Dietetics at the Western State University in Zamboanga City, Bell moved to New Zealand in 1987 and got married to her husband, Brian, in 1989.
As she adjusted to her new life, she decided to move on from being a stay-at-home mother to her two children to teach early childhood education or kindergarten at various schools.
She then decided to run for councilor as she believes Filipinos and migrants in general should be more visible in the community and inject new life into the local government.
Her children, Natasha and Liam, remain supportive of her career as is her husband, who Bell credited for his encouragement and support despite her position putting her on-call at all times.
"Brian has got the personality that gives you freedom to let you decide, to choose, which is really appreciated. I've done so many things because he would just [say], 'You can do it, it doesn't matter to me'," Bell said.
Bell is one of 12 Ashburton councilors under Mayor Donna Favel, who was impressed with the Filipina's standing in the local Filipino community.
"I was talking to a Filipino person yesterday who said that everyone was so proud of Ate Thelma and the way that she is representing the Filipino community at council," Favel said. — GMA News

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Sereno least trusted, approved gov’t official – Pulse Asia

LEAST TRUSTED. A Pulse Asia survey shows that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is the least trusted government official. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler 

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno got the highest disapproval and distrust rating in Pulse Asia’s latest survey on top government officials.

She got a disapproval rating of 26% and a distrust rating of 33% in the survey conducted from December 10-15, and December 17, 2017 – the same time when the House of Representatives was hearing the impeachment complaint against her.

 

The percentage of those ambivalent toward her performance and trustworthiness were, in fact, higher than those who either viewed these positively or negatively.

Sereno got the biggest distrust and disapproval ratings among the ABC class at 38% and 30%, respectively.

Most people in class E were undecided about their perception towards the top magistrate. (READ: Sereno impeachment: Summary of the Chief Justice's earnings, expenses

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte remains the most trusted top government official. He was followed by Vice President Leni Robredo and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III who "continue to enjoy majority approval and trust ratings at the national level.”

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez saw almost equal figures for those who approved of his performance and trusted him, and those who were undecided.

     
     

Government offices

Of the 3 key government institutions, the Senate had the highest approval rating, followed by the House of Representatives and the SC.

The 3 offices got the approval ratings of 55%, 50%, and 48%, respectively. The highest rating recorded was in Mindanao where the Senate got an approval rating of 60%. The House and the SC both got 57% in the southern area.

Among the institutions, the SC, too, had the highest disapproval rating at 15% and distrust rating at 16%.

Appreciation and trust in the institutions were almost at the same level across all socioeconomic classes. Among the ABC classes, however, the SC had the most disapproval and distrust.

A quarter of the sector did not approve of the SC’s performance while 26% said they did not trust the High Court.

Despite lawmakers' occasional maneuverings, more people across classes A to E approved and trusted the House more than the SC.

The survey, which covered 1,200 respondents aged 18 years old and above, had a margin of error of +/- 3% at the 95% confidence level. – Rappler.com

 
 
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'Pahalik': The less tiring path to a Nazareno prayer come true

HOLY KISS. Devotees reach for the foot of the dark-skinned Jesus and plant their prayer with a kiss. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler 

MANILA, Philippines – Touch, perhaps, is the most central experience in the Feast of the Black Nazarene.

Millions every year attempt touch the image of a dark-skinned Jesus Christ, brought from the Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church in downtown Manila. It is an exhausting pilgrimage, leaving authorities to care each year for devotees who faint because of the heat and the crowds.

 

But there's another way of reaching the image, as other believers have learned, a path that's less crowded, less exhausting, and far safer than joining the procession: the Pahalik.

It is a tradition that requires the devotees' patience, with some camping out for over 20 hours in Luneta Park to secure a spot in a line leading to the image.

It consists of at least two things: waiting in line with a prayer, then literally planting it through a kiss on or touch of the dark-skinned image of Jesus Christ.

"Itong gagawing Pahalik ay isang tradisyon at kultura ng mga hindi lamang ng mga Katoliko lalo't higit ng mga deboto ng Nazareno, na gusto nilang nahahawakan ang Diyos," Quiapo Church Vicar Douglas Badong told Rappler in an interview on January 8, when the image was opened for public visitation a day before the popular procession.

(This Pahalik is a tradition and part of a culture not only of Catholics and especially devotees of the Nazarene who want to touch the Lord.)

According to Badong, the image is always open for touching from visitors all year round, but January 8 is a special day as it directly precedes the day of the feast.

It is so special or "holy" in fact, that people fall in line longer than 24 hours before the image is made available to them to touch. Like the believers who struggle to climb the image on January 9, people who wait and get a touch or kiss have stories of miracles of their own.

Early comers

EARLY BIRD. Sagada is jubilant about leading the line at the Pahalik. Rappler screengrab
     

EARLY BIRD. Sagada is jubilant about leading the line at the Pahalik. Rappler screengrab 

Among the first in the thousands-long lines of devotees was Arnel Sagada, a believer from Trece Martires, Cavite. He came on January 7 at 4 am and had waited for 28 hours before he was able to kiss the wooden statue.

Sagada first went to the Pahalik 13 years ago, during one of the lowest points of his life. He lost his parents and his job in 2004 and had no one to turn to.

He found refuge within the cemented walls of Quiapo Church, devoted himself to the Black Nazarene, and quickly recovered from the crisis. Besides helping him stand again, the visit in 2005 brought him blessings up until the present.

"Mahigit 24 hours na, pero okay lang, hindi kami nagsisisi, hindi kami napapagod kasi nandyan din ang pagsuporta sa amin ng Poong Nazareno (I have been here for more than 24 hours, but it's okay, we do not regret anything because the Holy Nazarene has supported us)," he said.

Friends in faith

A few people ahead of Sagada were Richard Songalia and Tess San Agustin, friends whose bond was strengthened by their waiting in line to touch the image. They met in 2017.

"Meron kaming samahan sa Pahalik Nazareno (We have an organization for the Pahalik for the Nazarene)," said a proud San Agustin, pointing to people wearing maroon-colored shirts painted with the same design as hers.

San Agustin visited earlier, participating in the Pahalik ever since she was 7 years old. She was brought by her parents, who could not take her with them to the more chaotic procession, she said.

Now she has two kids of her own – the answer to her prayers from years of waiting to touch and kiss the image.

BEDECKED. Songalia wears necklaces and handkerchiefs dedicated to the Black Nazarene. Rappler screengrab
     

BEDECKED. Songalia wears necklaces and handkerchiefs dedicated to the Black Nazarene. Rappler screengrab 

Songalia, on the other hand, became a believer when a wish came true after he went home to Caloocan City after working abroad for 5 years.

"Nagstart po ako 1992, ang hiningi ko po ng awa, bigyan niya po ako ng lakas ng katawan, tibay ng pag-iisip, linisin niya ang aking puso para matuto ako na magmahal ng kapwa ko," he said.

(I started in 1992, I asked for strength in body and mind, and a clean heart to let me love my neighbors.)

About 26 years later, he waited for over 20 hours, and found acquaintances along the way.

Late yet hopeful

31-year-old Pasay resident Gio Elano was already late. He came at 7 am and stood at the end of the line of devotees slithering from the Quirino Grandstand to the giant Philippine flagpole along Roxas Boulevard.

"Late na nga ako eh. Dapat nga 5 am. Ganyan kasi, ganyan yung punta ko talaga. Galing ako ng work after shift, tapos 6 am diretso ako dito (I'm actually already late. I should've arrived at 5 am, my usual arrival time. It's because I came from work before I came here at 6 am)," he said, explaining that he works at a call center.

He started to line up for the Pahalik out of necessity, he said. He wanted to join a procession years before but was unable to hold on to the ropes that led to the image. There were simply too many people who competed for a grip.

"No'ng una, hindi ako naniniwala, pero tinry ko. Once, nag-wish ako so natupad siya and every year mostly thank you na lang (At first, I did not believe it, but I tried. Once, I wished and it came true and it's mostly thank yous after that)," he said.

Asked what his granted prayer was, Elano said he simply asked for a stable job and happiness for him and his siblings – prayers already answered.

With patience comes grace

ORGANIZER. Father Douglas Badong heads the volunteers for the Feast of the Black Nazarene 2018. Rappler screengrab
     

ORGANIZER. Father Douglas Badong heads the volunteers for the Feast of the Black Nazarene 2018. Rappler screengrab 

Given that the Pahalik requires less effort, it's easy to dismiss the tradition as a lesser version of joining the crawling march from Quiapo Church to the Quirino Grandstand.

Father Badong warned believers against thinking of their devotion this way.

"Isang grasya na ang matuto kang maghintay, nagtiis ka (It's already grace that you learned to wait, that you endured)," Badong said, pointing to devotees like Sagada, Songalia, San Agustin, and Elano who waited for hours and will continue to wait for hours in the name of their faith.

While the Pahalik is less tiring, the wait can get exhausting too. Some devotees back out of the wait mid-way out of impatience or exhaustion.

"So sa bawa't naghihintay, may kapalit na gantimpala (So each one who waits, receives something in return)," Badong added.

As done every year, the image of the Black Nazarene will be left open to the public until the early hours of January 9, when the tame Pahalik lines turn to a raging sea of people once the procession begins. – Rappler.com

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Authorities flag down smoke-belching, dilapidated vehicles

DILAPIDATED. The Inter-Agency Council on Traffic's Task Force Alamid conducts its Tanggal Usok, Tanggal Bulok campaign on January 8, 2018. Photo by Eloisa Lopez/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Authorities flagged down public utility vehicles (PUVs) and private cars in parts of Metro Manila on Monday, January 8, for the Tanggal Usok, Tanggal Bulok campaign of the Inter-Agency Council on Traffic (i-ACT).

The campaign, run by i-ACT's Task Force Alamid, aims to get rid of smoke-belching, dilapidated, and other "road-unworthy" vehicles, as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Among the vehicles flagged down on Monday were buses along EDSA and jeepneys along Agham Road in Quezon City, for smoke-belching, damaged wheels, unhinged screws, broken side mirrors, and rusty auto parts.

"Supposedly this 'road-unworthy' [bus] should already be impounded, but there's no order for that yet," Task Force Alamid officer Teddy Barandino said after flagging down a dilapidated Stella Mae bus.

"Hindi na siya worthy magdala ng buhay ng mga pasahero (It's not worthy to carry passengers). But we will follow the procedure na i-summon muna sila (which states they must be summoned first) to LTO where they will be tested," he added.

Once flagged down, the vehicles and their owners or drivers are given subpoenas to report to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) within 24 hours for tests on smoke emission and roadworthiness.

Only those who pass will be allowed back on the road, while those who fail will be impounded. Failure to appear before the LTO within 24 hours will also put the vehicle on Task Force Alamid's "hunted" list.

Rodjan Obdosantos, a driver whose jeepney has damaged wheels, was among the motorists flagged down along Agham Road. He explained that he does not own the jeepney, and was instructed to have it fixed on its number coding day.

Although bothered by the damage, Obdosantos said he must earn a living.

"Wala po kasi akong panggastos, kaya kailangan ko din bumiyahe (I don't have enough money, so I also have to continue working)," he added. (READ: 'Penalize owner, not driver, for smoke-belching vehicles')

The campaign is expected to run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in Mega Manila, which includes Metro Manila cities, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite.

Task Force Alamid includes enforcers from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Philippine National Police (PNP) Highway Patrol Group (HPG), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and local government units (LGUs).

The task force was initially formed in preparation for heavier traffic last Christmas season. – Rappler.com

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Sereno camp: We expect an ‘intensified’ smear campaign in 2018

IMPEACHMENT. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno braces for the resumption of the House impeachment hearings expected to expose the issues that several justices have against her. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – A week before the impeachment hearings resume at the House committee on justice, the camp of Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said they expect an "intensified" smear campaign against her.
“We expect her detractors to intensify their smear campaign against the Chief Justice to cover up for the fatally defective impeachment case. It is our position that if there is a strong case against the Chief Justice, it should have long been elevated to the Senate for trial,” Sereno’s spokesperson lawyer Jojo Lacanilao said in a statement on Monday, January 8.

Lacanilao also responded to reports that 10 justices in total will testify "against" Sereno. Lacanilao said a testimony is not necessarily against Sereno. (READ: Sereno impeachment: Cracks in the Supreme Court)

“Given the possible nature of their testimonies, it is unfair to conclude that the justices who are invited to the coming hearings are testifying against the Chief Justice,” Lacanilao said.

After retired justice Arturo Brion and Associate Justices Francis Jardeleza, Noel Tijam and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Andres Reyes, and Samuel Martires will supposedly also testify.

Carpio has asked the justice committee for a specified list of topics should he testify.

Lacanilao said Carpio may testify on the allegation that Sereno manipulated the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) shortlist to exclude Jardeleza, then a solicitor general.

Lacanilao pointed out that it was Carpio’s issue with Jardeleza which led Sereno to invoke the unanimity rule in coming up with the JBC shortlist.

“Carpio’s main contention was that Jardeleza had seriously compromised the Philippine interests in deleting the country’s position that Itu Aba is not an island but a rock. If the arbitral tribunal did not rule on this, Itu Aba would be the basis for China to encroach on Philippine territory,” Lacanilao said.

When the hearings concluded for 2017 last December, committee chairman Reynaldo Umali said that the testimonies raise the question of whether Sereno is still fit to hold public office.

Lacanilao maintained that all the information threshed out so far do not constitute an impeachable offense.

Complainant Larry Gadon is confident he has accusations to unleash against Sereno.

"Sila na lang ang hindi nakakaalam na malapit na ma-impeach si CJ Sereno (They are the only ones who don't know that Sereno will soon be impeached and convicted) because of their denials and refusal to see and hear the truth," Gadon said. – Rappler.com

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Dela Rosa 'elated' by ranking in Senate race surveys

RUNNING? Dela Rosa's spokesperson says he will focus first on finishing his job in the PNP. File photo by Albert Cain/PPD

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa is "elated" that Filipinos find him trustworthy enough for the Senate.
PNP spokesperson Chief Superintendent Dionardo Carlos relayed Dela Rosa's response to the results of separate surveys conducted by independent pollsters on possible contenders for the Senate in 2019.

"The CPNP (Chief PNP) is elated with the trust of the people as reflected in the latest surveys," Carlos told Rappler in a text message.

Based on documents obtained by Rappler, the top cop placed 10th to 12th in the Laylo survey held in November 2017, and was part of the top 20 in a Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll on potential senatorial candidates for the 2019 elections.

Carlos noted, however, that 2019 was still far off. (READ: PNP to add new drug war rules before resuming Tokhang)

"The CPNP is focused on the job, especially that his service has been extended by the CIC (Commander-in-chief). He will do his best in leading the organization until he officially retires from the police service in April 2018," the PNP spokesperson said.

Months before the surveys were conducted, Dela Rosa had already expressed openness to run for senator in 2019. He had repeatedly joked about it and even pretending to be a senator in a press conference, while a few senators had publicly toyed with the idea of having him as a colleague.

Dela Rosa was originally due to retire on January 21, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56, but President Rodrigo Duterte extended his term by "two to 3 months" before appointing him as Bureau of Corrections chief.

The top cop had been under fire for the bloody PNP-led drug war, but his personal assessment was that he managed to restore public trust to the police. – Rappler.com

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Transport groups demand P6 per liter fuel discount

TRANSPORTATION. A jeep carrying goods and passengers speeds through one of the highways in Coron, Palawan in December 2013. File photo by Pat Nabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Transport groups are demanding a P6 per liter fuel discount for public utility vehicles (PUVs) due to the implementation of the tax reform law.

On Thursday, January 4, Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) pointed out that excise tax on petroleum products under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law would lead to more expensive fuel.

"Piston is against the TRAIN law which would lead to a higher increase in oil prices including diesel, which in turn would result in an additional hike because of the 12% value added tax (VAT)," Piston president George San Mateo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"We are demanding to President [Rodrigo] Duterte, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to give PUVs, especially jeepneys, a fuel discount of P6 per liter across the board nationwide," he added.

San Mateo also said commuters would likely be spared from a fare hike if PUVs are given the P6 per liter fuel discount.

TRAIN was implemented last Monday, January 1. (READ: EXPLAINER: What's inside the bicam-approved tax reform bill?)

But the DOE clarified that higher oil prices do not apply to existing or old stocks of petroleum products. The impact is expected to be felt mid-January.

Under the tax reform law, diesel, which is not taxed at present, will be imposed P2.50 per liter tax in 2018, P4.50 in 2019, and P6 in 2020.

Gasoline, from the current tax of P4.35 per liter, would be imposed a levy of P7 per liter in 2018, P9 in 2019, and P10 in 2020.

In the coming days, Piston and the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition plan to hold protests to seek the suspension of the TRAIN implementation. – Rappler.com

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BIR files tax evasion complaints vs Mark Taguba, Kenneth Dong

TAX EVADERS?. Customs broker and middleman Mark Taguba (right) and Kenneth Dong (left) face tax evasion charges based on their testimonies in the Senate hearing into the P6.4-billion shabu shipment.

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on Thursday, January 4, filed tax evasion complaints against customs fixer Mark Taguba and businessman Kenneth Dong, personalities implicated in the P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China last year.

BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay said in a press conference on Thursday that the complaints were filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ).

He said Taguba, the whistleblower in the shabu shipment incident, faces an P850-million tax evasion case which the BIR calculated from Taguba's own testimonies in the Senate probe into the multibillion-peso smuggled shabu.

“As a consequence of his acts and omissions, respondent Taguba evaded the payment of taxes for taxable year 2016 in the aggregate amount of P850,574,228.77, inclusive of surcharges and interests," the BIR said in a statement.

Of the amount, P660,758,572.33 represents the income tax Taguba allegedly owed the govenrment, while the P189,815,656.44 is for valued added tax.

During the congressional hearings, Taguba admitted that he brokered shipments for his clients and pulled strings at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for smoother transactions. Taguba mentioned dealing with a so-called "Davao Group," said to be influential within the BOC.

The BIR’s computation was based on Taguba’’s testimony that he charges between P170,000 to P190,000 per container van, and a trucking fee of P10,000 per container van.

“Based on the congressional inquiries and data obtained from the BOC, a total of 7,458 and 7,694 container vans were brought in by Taguba’s consignees for 2016 and 2017, respectively. For 2016 alone, Taguba earned P1,267,860,000.00 (at PhP170,000.00 per container van),” the BIR said.

The Senate blue ribbon committee report on the shabu shipment probe had tagged Taguba as the "central" figure in the corruption chain in the BOC, but cleared Customs officials who failed to keep the illegal drugs shipment from entering the port of Manila.

P11.4-M tax evasion case vs Kenneth Dong

The BIR filed an P11.4-million tax evasion complaint against Dong, based on his testimonies at the Senate hearing on the income he earned, and other documents collated by the BIR.

Dong is described as a middleman in the drug shipment issue. He is supposedly the point man of Richard Tan or Richard Chen, chairman and general manager of Philippine Hongfei Logistics Group of Companies Incorporated, the supposed importer of the shabu shipment.

Aside from his income from acting as middleman the BIR said Dong “had received compensation income in the years 2013 and 2015 from Asuki Weighing System, Inc amounting to P19,650.00 and P148,122.00, respectively."

According to the BIR, Dong did not file any Income Tax Return, Value Added Tax Return, or Percentage Tax Return from 2003 to 2017.

The BIR also said it uncovered documents that would show that Dong “gave P3 million in 2013 and P8 million in 2016 to support the election campaign of two lawmakers.”

Dong had been portrayed as a close friend of Paolo Duterte, based on their photos posted on Dong's social media account, but Dong later clarified that they were just "acquaintances."

Paolo Duterte and presidential son-in-law Manases Carpio, the husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, had been linked to the Davao Group but both denied the allegation. The Senate panel chaired by Senator Richard Grodon had cleared both in the shabu-smuggling incident.

The DOJ had earlier filed a drug importation case against Taguba, Dong, and other personalities before a Valenzuela court, but dismissed the cases against Customs officials, including former commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, who were included in a list of alleged corrupt officials in the BOC.

Faeldon resigned as customs chief but was later appointed as a deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense. – Rappler.com

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Junjun Binay asks court to drop charges in Makati parking cases

MAKATI PARKING. Former Makati mayor Junjun Binay files a motion to quash to seek the dismissal of his malversation and graft charges over the allegedly overpriced Makati City parking building.

MANILA, Philippines – Former Makati city mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr filed a motion to quash before the 3rd Division of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, asking for a dismissal of his malversation and graft cases that stemmed from the allegedly overpriced Makati Parking Building.

There is already probable cause to hold Binay and his father, former vice president Jejomar Binay Sr. They are scheduled for arraignment on January 12, not considering any readjustments that may arise due to the new pleading.

In the motion filed on Wednesday, January 3, the younger Binay said his approval of payments to the architecture and design firms in Makati City’s ‘world-class’ parking building was not an unlawful act.

“All he did was pay the obligation already incurred by the City of Makati under a contract that was entered into even before he became Mayor, which was valid and subsisting during his term,” Binay Jr’s motion said. (READ: INVESTIGATIVE: 'World-class' prices for Binay's parking building)

Binay Jr said that by approving the release of payments to the firm, he was only fulfilling his obligation to a private contractor.

“Had he not honored the payment of a valid and subsisting obligation, he would have exposed Makati City to liability for damages,” the motion said.

'Institutionalized bid-rigging'

It was Junjun’s father, the former vice president, who entered into the contracts in 2007 when he was the mayor of Makati City.

But Binay Jr said there can be no conspiracy alleged in this case due to the lack of "showing of both knowledge and intentional participation in the supposed criminal acts."

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation in 2015 said that the P2.28 billion worth parking building was overpriced by over a billion. The Senate called it ‘institutionalized bid-rigging.’

It involves construction firm Hilmarc’s which, according to records, has Makati City as its regular client. From 199 to 2004 alone, Hilmarc’s won Makati’s projects worth P2 billion.

Rappler’s investigation into records show the bidding for the parking building was won by Hilmarc’s by close margins.

Procurement experts say that close bidding suggests a possible simulated bidding, where the favored bidder taps other firms to bid for the project.

The favored bidder arranges everything to create the illusion of a competitive bidding. Once the favored bidder wins, they get their conspirators as subcontractors.

The two Binay men have also been indicted for graft and falsification of documents over the allegedly overpriced P1.3 billion Makati Science High School. A plunder complaint into the overpricing issue is still being threshed out in the Ombudsman level. – Rappler.com

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Duterte fires MARINA administrator for foreign 'junkets'

ONE WHIFF. President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the 20th Cabinet Meeting at the Malacañang Palace on December 5, 2017. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte has fired Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) administrator Marcial Quirico Amaro III for frequent travels abroad, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque announced on Thursday, January 4.

During a press conference in Davao City, Roque said Duterte had decided to "terminate the services" of Amaro for "excessive" trips abroad.

Amaro was the subject of a complaint supposedly sent by the Alliance of MARINA Employees to the Office of the President.

The group accused Amaro of going on 11 foreign junkets in 2017, making him an "absentee administrator." But Roque said Department of Transportation documents showed Amaro went on 18 trips last year and 6 trips in 2016, for a total of 24 trips.

"The point of the President is we have to be selective in the trips we have to undertake. Definitely, 24 trips is excessive," said Duterte's spokesman.

Of the 24 trips Amaro made, one was not an official trip while 3 were sponsored by another body. Thus, of these travels, 21 were paid for using government funds.

Roque also said Amaro received an "honorarium" from "almost all" of these visits.

Roque was supposed to have announced Duterte's decision to fire Amaro on Wednesday, January 3, during a Malacañang press briefing.

But on Wednesday morning, he said he had received instructions from the President to defer the announcement.

Roque was told Duterte was still reviewing MARINA's legislative charter.

Presidential Decree No 474, which created MARINA, states that the President "may remove the Administrator or Deputy Administrators from office for cause upon recommendation of the Board."

Roque earlier said Duterte wanted Amaro's sacking to be made public as early as January 1 but the spokesman had asked the President to postpone the announcement to January 3 so the official could enjoy their New Year holiday.

In fulfillment of his "one whiff, you're out" policy, Duterte has axed several other high-ranking government officials, inclusing Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, National Irrigation Administration chief Peter Laviña, Budget Undersecretary Gertrudo De Leon, Dangerous Drugs Board chief Dionisio Santiago, and Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor chairman Terry Ridon and all of its commissioners.

Just last month, Duterte asked Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) president Elba Cruz to vacate her post as her term already expired in June 2017.

DAP employees accused Cruz of unauthorized organizational restructuring of the DAP, violations of Civil Service Commission (CSC) rules, continuous threats of mass termination against employees, and frequent foreign travels.

Roque had also said Duterte intends to fire several police officers. This comes over a month after he ordered the return of the Philippine National Police to his controversial drug war. – Rappler.com

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