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1 soldier slain, 3 civilians wounded by IEDs in Maguindanao

Army soldiers patrol in a forest in Maguindanao. (photo by Dennis Arcon, InterAksyon)
COTABATO CITY Philippines — A soldier was killed and three civilians, including a child, were wounded in separate bombings in the towns of Datu Hoffer and Datu Unsay, Maguindanao on Tuesday, authorities said.

The civilians, including a 10-year old child, were hurt in the first blast, which happened around 6 a.m. on the Decalungan Bridge in Datu Hoffer.

Private First Class Ian Celeste of the 57th Infantry Battalion, on the other hand, was involved in a clearing operation on the highway in Barangay Maitumaig in Datu Unsay when the second improvised explosive device was detonated past 8 a.m., killing him instantly.

Colonel Gerry Besana, spokesman of the Army’s Task Force Central, said military detachments have also been constantly harassed by gunmen of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who are believed to be behind the IED blasts as well.

The municipal peace and order councils of the two towns and of Datu Saudi convened a joint meeting with the military and police following the blasts.

On Wednesday, Governor Esmael Mangudadatu is scheduled to preside over a provincial peace and order council meeting to discuss the continued bombings and violence that earlier prompted a state of calamity to be declared in Datu Unsay.

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Martin Diño appointed DILG undersecretary

MANILA, Philippines – Three months after he said he had been offered the post, former Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority chairman Martin Diño was finally officially appointed as interior undersecretary, Malacañang announced on Tuesday, January 9.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed Diño's appointment papers on Monday, January 8.

 

In September 2017, Diño said Special Assistant to the President Bong Go and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told him of Duterte’s plan to appoint him to the Department of the Interior and Local Government as "Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs." the time, however, then Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella denied the appointment.

Duterte appointed Diño to the DILG after he designated its former officer-in-charge, Catalino Cuy, as Dangerous Drugs Board chairman; and Undersecretary Eduardo Año as the new OIC.

The President plans to name Año as DILG chief after one-year ban on appointing military chiefs to secretary-level positions, or after October 26, 2018.

Diño faced controversy in his previous post in the SBMA where he locked horns with other officials. Diño later filed a complaint before the office of the Ombudsman against 13 SBMA officials for alleged malversation, grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, and grave abuse of authority over unaccounted assets.

Diño clashed with SBMA administrator Wilma Eisma, a supposed protege of Senator Richard Gordon. Eisma had accused Diño of encroaching on her functions.

Duterte appointed Eisma as chairman and administrator in September, after he issued an executive order fusing the two functions.

Diño's last-minute filing of candidacy for president during the 2016 elections had allowed Duterte to substitute him and thus join the presidential race. – Rappler.com

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SolGen Calida: CA decision ordering release of ex-Palawan governor Joel Reyes stinks

Solicitor General Jose Calida on Tuesday bared plans of asking the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse the Court of Appeals (CA) decision ordering the release of former Palawan governor Joel Reyes who was accused of murdering broadcaster and environmentalist Gerry Ortega.

“As the People’s Tribune, I cannot sustain the Court of Appeals as they are clearly in the wrong,” Calida said. “We are ready and raring to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court. There will be no miscarriage of justice under my watch."

Calida said the CA decision, which was made public over the weekend, "stinks."

"As to where the stench came from, we will investigate it,” he said.

Voting 3 to 2 on January 4, the CA Former Eleventh Division voided the warrant of arrest issued by the Puerto Princesa City Regional Trial Court Branch 52 against Reyes, citing lack of sufficient evidence for a finding of probable cause for the former governor's indictment.

The CA also ordered the local court to discontinue the trial against the former governor.

However, Calida said the presence or absence of the elements of the crime is evidentiary in nature and is a matter of defense that may be passed upon after a full-blown trial on the merits.

According to Calida, a trial could yield more evidence favorable to either side after interrogations of the witnesses either on direct examination or on cross-examination.

“What is important is that there is some rational basis for going ahead with judicial inquiry into the case. In this case, from the perspective of a reasonably discreet and prudent man, there is sufficient ground to order the arrest of Joel Reyes,” Calida said.

In voting for Reyes' release, the CA said there was no evidence against the former governor aside from the testimony of Rodolfo Edrad alias Bumar.

The appellate court, however, found Edrad's testimony riddled with inconsistencies, thus it cannot be "validly used as evidence against Reyes."

Calida said the issues on credibility of a witness and admissibility of evidence are matters to be scrutinized "in great detail" during trial proper.

“An exhaustive debate on the credibility of a witness is not within the province of the determination of probable cause," he said.

Malacañang earlier deplored the ruling by the appellate court with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, a former lawyer of the Ortega family in the case, calling it a "very sad development" for the freedom of the press in the country.

Ortega was slain on January 24, 2011 while shopping in a used clothes store in Puerto Princesa.

He was allegedly silenced for his radio commentaries about the Reyes' supposed misuse of the share of the provincial government in the proceeds from the operation of the Malampaya natural gas plant off Palawan. —KG, GMA News

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Tax amnesty pushed

A massive tax amnesty is being pushed for legislation this year to raise P26 billion in revenues for the government and augment the P969.2 billion to be generated from the first tax reform package in the next five years, the Department of Finance said.
“We can’t really say how many will avail [themselves of tax amnesty]. What we did was look at past amnesties and how much they collected. In 2008, P13 billion was collected. Using the same estimate, we may collect P26 billion,” Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said, citing that the gross domestic product (GDP) had doubled in the past 10 years.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III earlier said that under its comprehensive tax reform program, the government was planning an amnesty for taxpayers with deficiencies in payments of property taxes, estate taxes, regular taxes such as income taxes and value-added tax (VAT) as well as an amnesty on pending tax cases in court.

Dominguez also said the DOF was looking at settlements through the payment of a minimum of 40-percent basic tax as amnesty tax.
According to Dominguez, the amnesty program would be legislated “to clear up all tax cases.”
Dominguez told reporters last month that the general tax amnesty program would be part of package “1B,” which would also involve estate tax amnesty and higher motor vehicle user’s charge among other tax administration measures such as lifting bank secrecy in criminal cases and automatic exchange of information.
Chua said the plan to legislate a final amnesty would be “absolute” in the sense that availment would clear all tax dockets in the Bureaus of Internal Revenue and of Customs as well as in the courts.
It would, however, exclude criminal cases, Chua said.
Once legislated, there would no longer be any tax amnesty for the next 25 years, according to Chua.
The DOF had plans to impose a higher amount for delayed amnesty payments while also planning to allow compromise for cases pending at the Court of Tax Appeals that have assessments, while those without assessments would have to pay a 5-percent tax on net worth.
Dominguez said that Congress already committed to pass package 1B in the first quarter of 2018 as these measures were only removed by legislators from the original first tax reform package proposed by the DOF.

Dominguez said on Monday that “package 1B was crucial to keep the 3-percent-of-GDP deficit target” for 2018.
Last Dec. 19, President Duterte signed into law package 1A of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act under Republic Act No. 10963, which, beginning Jan. 1 this year, slashed and restructured personal income tax rates that stayed the same for two decades and jacked up or slapped new taxes on the consumption of oil, cigarettes, sugary drinks and vehicles.
Based on the DOF’s estimates, packages 1A and 1B will generate a total of P969.2 billion in revenues, of which P786.4 billion will come from RA 10963 and P182.7 billion from package 1B.
Taking into account the five items vetoed by the President from RA 10963, package 1A is expected to raise P89.9 billion in net revenues this year—P63.3 billion from tax policy measures on top of P26.6 billion from legislated tax administration measures.
Once package 1B is passed, it will add another P38.9 billion in revenues this year, bringing the total net revenue of the first tax reform package as a whole to P128.8 billion.
This year, the government stands to lose P146.6 billion in foregone revenues from the lower personal income tax rates as well as donors’ and estate taxes, which will be offset by higher taxes on various goods to be shouldered by consumers.
In 2019, packages 1A and 1B will result in a revenue gain of P175.1 billion; P221.7 billion in 2020; P224.3 billion in 2021, and P219.2 billion in 2022.
“The tax reform can fund the following over the next five years: 629,120 public school classrooms; or 2,685,101 public school teachers; or 60,483 rural health units; or 484,326 barangay health stations; or 1,324 provincial hospitals; or 35,745 kilometers of paved roads; or 786,400 kilometers of temporary bridge upgrades; or 2,665,763 hectares of irrigated land,” Dominguez said.
Part of the proceeds of the TRAIN law will also fund the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.
Under “Build, Build, Build,” the government plans to roll out 75 flagship, game-changing projects, with about half targeted to be finished within President Duterte’s term, alongside spending a total of up to P9 trillion on hard and modern infrastructure until 2022 to usher in “the golden age of infrastructure.”

 

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Duterte suspends logging operations in Zamboanga Peninsula

LOGGING IN MINDANAO. President Duterte is shown a video of a deforested area in a Zamboanga mountain range. Photo from Manny Piñol Facebook

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to suspend two logging concessions in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

He gave the order to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu during the 21st Cabinet meeting on Monday, January 8, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.

"The President also ordered several logging concessions in Zamboanga Peninsula to be suspended," Roque said in a news briefing on Tuesday, January 9.

He said Duterte made the decision after he was told of concerns of indigenous peoples displaced by the logging activities. He was also shown a 5-minute video presentation showing flashfloods in a deforested area.

"He also observed that it is widespread logging that is responsible for the flashfloods that Mindanao experienced only this month of December with two typhoons," said Roque, referring to storms Vinta and Urduja.

Following the President’s order, the DENR said on Tuesday that it stopped the operations of two big companies for alleged violation of their Industrial Forest Management Agreements (IFMAs).

DENR Region director Felix Mirasol Jr. confirmed that the DENR had suspended the operations of the Dacon Group of Companies (DGC), which is operating in the province through the Sodaco Agricultural Company, Incorporated, and the Sirawai Plywood and Lumber Corporation in Sibuco town.

Cimatu said that DENR investigators will conduct “an exhaustive probe…to see if there have been violations in their permits.”

He said he created a 12-member team composed of local DENR officers from the forestry, mines and environment bureaus to conduct the investigation.

Under their IFMA terms, SPLC and Sodaco “are allowed to establish industrial tree plantations which they can harvest, but are not allowed to cut residual trees unless authorized by the Office of the DENR Secretary under very strict conditions such as for site development and plantation establishment,” the DENR said.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Agiculture Secretary Manny Piñol said "am angry President Rody Duterte tonight directed Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to immediately issue a closure order on the logging operations of the Sodaco Agricultural Corporation in the Zamboanga Peninsula."

Sodaco, formerly known as the South Davao Development Company, Incorporated, is supposedly owned by the Consunji family.

Piñol quoted the President as saying, "Roy, ipasara mo 'yan. Hindi naman maghihirap 'yan si Consunji kasi oligarch na 'yan (Roy, close it down. Consunji won't suffer because they he is an oligarch)."

Duterte gave his suspension order verbally after he was shown a video of a deforested part of a mountain in Zamboanga during the meeting.

Piñol visited Sibuco town, which was affected by flashfloods during Typhoon Vinta, on January 4.

The agricultural chief said got a 60,000-hectare concession from the DENR as part of its Integrated Social Forestry program in 2006.

Since then, he alleged, Sodaco had been felling trees "on the pretext of clearing the area for an oil palm plantation." – Rappler.com

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Police name suspects in Pasay hotel robbery

The images of the suspects in the Mabuhay Manor robbery (Gary de Leon, News5)

MANILA, Philippines — Police have released the identities of four men they believe pulled off last week’s armed robbery at the Mabuhay Manor Hotel in Pasay City.

The suspects were identified through footage captured by the hotel’s closed circuit television cameras during the January 2 holdup and photos picked out by witnesses from the rogue’s gallery of the Pasay City police.

Authorities also released photos of the four — Daniel Constantino, James Carl Palomo, Brent Michael Bravo and Norman Deyta — all of whom have previous records for robbery and murder.

The manhunt continues for the suspects, who seized P53,000 in cash and some P1.5 million worth of valuables from guests after they failed to force the duty manager of show them and open the hotel vault.

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Activists, lawmakers question yearlong martial law extension before SC

(left to right) NUPL chairman Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., ACT Rep. France Castro, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio and lawyers Minverva Lopez and Kathy Panguban after filing the petition questioning the yearlong of extension of martial law in Mindanao at the Supreme Court. (Bayan photo)
MANILA, Philippines — Activists, including lawmakers, human rights lawyers and lumad and peasant leaders, petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday, January 8, for a temporary restraining order and an “inclusive and thorough judicial query” into the yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao.

The petition, filed with the assistance of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, claimed the extension of martial law “is actually more a threat against dissenters and activists than armed rebels” aside from lacking “the factual basis required by the Constitution.”

It accused the executive and legislative branches of government of an “unholy alliance to summon (the) specter” of martial law by “peddling imagined fears of the persistence of enemies the government had claimed to have already vanquished, whimsically shifting the discourse on a decades-old armed struggle rooted in prevailing poverty and social inequality towards a nebulous narrative of ‘terrorism’,” none of which, it said, “serves as basis for the extension of martial law.”

Whatever the reason for the extension, it said, whether “fear, fancy, or plain and simple malevolence, its effects on people’s rights, lives and liberties are all too real,” thus the need to petition the high court as part of “every Filipino’s sworn duty to guard against and oppose any attempt, any threat and any transgression to our vital freedoms and democracy. “

The petitioners are lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat, Compostela Farmers’ Association chairman Noli Villanueva, Rius Valle of the Save Our Schools Network, NUPL chairman Neri Colmenares, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chairperson Carol Araullo, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., Karapatan secretary general Cristina E. Palabay, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, Gabriela Women’s Party Representatives Emi De Jesus and Arlene Brosas, Anakpawis Representative Ariel B. Casilao, Act Teachers’ Representatives Antonio Tinio And France Castro, and Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Jane I. Elago.

Respondents are President Rodrigo Duterte, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, and Philippine National Police Director General Ronaldo Dela Rosa.

Duterte first declared martial law in Mindanao for 60 days, as provided by the Constitution, on May 23 last year after fighting broke out between government forces and extremist gunmen in Marawi City.

When this period lapsed, he asked for and got Congress’ concurrence to extend it until the end of 2017.

However, despite declaring Marawi “liberated” in late October, Duterte, ostensibly on the recommendation of the military and police, again sought and got Congress’ approval for another yearlong extension, this time citing not only the continuing threat from extremists who survived the fighting in Marawi and were supposedly seeking new recruits and plotting more attacks, bu also the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Abu Sayyaf and communist rebels.

Before this, Duterte had terminated peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the communists.

The petition before the Supreme Court invoked “the power of judicial review to determine the sufficiency of the factual basis for the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus (or any extension thereof) under the aforesaid constitutional provision which states that:

Article VII EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT

Section 18. xxx.

xxx.

The Supreme Court may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing.”

The petition said extending martial even after declaring the fighting in Marawi over “is a violation of the Constitution, which only allows the imposition of martial law when there is actual rebellion and when the operations of civilian government are substantially impaired that public safety should be preserved.”

“In seeking an open, inclusive, thorough judicial determination of the sufficiency of the factual basis for such extension or suspension,” the petitioners asked:

“What is the cogent basis for extending Martial Law for a full year, way longer than the original declaration and first extension when fighting in Marawi was still ongoing?
“Is it not strange that the second extension is set for a period that is much longer than the period when fighting was still ongoing, there being no fighting in Marawi now?
“What are the parameters for setting the time frame? What would be the parameters for the possible earlier lifting of Martial Law?
“How will the AFP gauge their success?
“Or is this arbitrary or subjective and left entirely to the absolute discretion beyond the pale of legislative query or judicial review?
“Is Martial Law intended to quell a rebellion or is it just intended to restore public order and make government function again?
“If there are no parameters, then Martial Law can exist until there are rebels in Mindanao, even if such rebels do not pose a threat to public safety. These are nagging questions begging for satisfactory constitutional and factual answers.”

They asked the Supreme Court to “to correctly check and balance excesses of governmental authority of the governors with the more fundamental and rights and liberties of the governed.”

“The government is functioning in Davao City and the entire country, so why replace it with martial rule?” Colmenares asked in a statement from the NUPL ahead of the petition’s filing.

“Justifying martial law on grounds such as the rehabilitation of Marawi, or to ‘completely’ eradicate the rebels are not grounds under the Constitution,” he added. “Allowing these dangerously vague grounds will pave the way for President Rodrigo Duterte’s imposition of martial law in the entire county since he can claim that there are rebels even in Metro Manila. We will have a ‘24/7 convenience store martial law’ that is imposed at all hours every day of the week in the entire country. This cannot be allowed.”

As for using the fight against the New People’s Army as one of the bases for the extension, NUPL secretary general Ephraim Cortez noted: “The military does not need martial law to shoot and arrest armed groups such as the NPA. The real targets here are ordinary activists and dissenters who are critical of President Duterte’s human rights record and anti-people policies such as people’s organizations, the church, media and independent government bodies.”

He predicted that “the massive human rights violations in Mindanao will be extended with the extension of martial law.”

The NUPL also said the government’s failure “to explain what specific martial law powers it really needs against the armed groups is because their real agenda is nationwide martial law against critics.”

“This martial law is nothing more than to give President Duterte broad powers to attack those who disagree with him,” the human rights lawyers said. As they called on “members of the legal profession and the Filipino people to oppose martial law and a return to dark days of the Marcos dictatorship.”

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Speaker’s ‘slow Senate’ quip earns rebuke from Ping but pits Koko vs Drilon

Senator Panfilo Lacson, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senator Franklin Drilon. (file photos from InterAksyon and PhilStar)
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Panfilo Lacson lashed at Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for what he described as an “assault” that “is at the very least uncalled for and smacks of unparliamentary conduct.”

Lacson was hitting back at Alvarez for calling the Senate “mabagal na kapulungan” or the “slow chamber,” referring to its supposed failure to act on measures approved by the House of Representatives, such as the bill restoring the death penalty, which is opposed by several senators.

Ironically, Alvarez’s remarks also pitted Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III against the minority leader, Senator Franklin Drilon, who had urged him to “rise above partisan political interest to defend the Senate regardless of his political affiliation.”

“I have already defended the Senate by responding to what the Speaker has said,” Pimentel said in a message. “Why does he (Drilon) want me to continue (the) word war with the Speaker??? He (Drilon) belongs to (the) LP (Liberal Party) while the speaker and I belong to PDP (Laban). Hence, why should I do that?

Pimentel is president of the pro-administration PDP-Laban, Alvarez its secretary general. President Rodrigo Duterte is the party chairman.

Reacting earlier to Alvarez’s criticism, Pimentel reminded the Speaker that the Senate was not subordinate to the House and vice versa.

“A measure before it becomes law must pass both chambers. That is the basic principle. We have to respect the decision of each chamber,” he said.

In his reply to Alvarez, Lacson said: “The Senate works differently from the House in that we think and act more independently as individual members.”

“Nobody, not the Senate president and even the president of the Republic can dictate on us,” he stressed.

Alvarez, however, stood pat on his assertion, saying he and Lacson “are both entitled to our own opinions.”

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