By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 13:34:00 03/31/2010
MANILA, Philippines—Do penance for the environment on Holy Week, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Tuesday.
In a statement, Environment Secretary Horacio Ramos said the country’s estimated 81 million Catholics should observe a “green” Holy Week and “ponder on the agony of the country’s environment as the nation grapples with the effects of El Niño and the aftermath of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.”
Ramos said Catholics are in a “unique position to offer thoughtful solutions to the natural resource and environmental problems and issues in the world today and embarking on simple acts of everyday sacrifices, especially this Holy Week.”
“Because Holy Week holds a central place in the life of majority of Filipinos, these calamities become auspicious in that we could reflect on the agony of our water bodies, skies and forests that are facing almost certain demise, to the greater agony of poor Filipinos, unless the collective will is forged to save and resurrect our physical home in this corner of Planet Earth,” Ramos said.
Things we can do
“Doables” on the environment chief’s lists include: Collection and segregation of waste, especially by park- and beach-goers; prevention of grass and forest fires through monitoring of campfires and proper disposal of cigarette butts; participation in environmental cleanup activities, be it on a beach front, roadside, estero, or public park; religious application of water and energy-saving tips at home, in the office or on vacation; conscientious use and maintenance of motor vehicles; respect for wildlife and their habitats; vigilance against violators of environmental laws by reporting smoke-belching vehicles, polluting firms and illegal logging activities; and for candidates running in the May elections, to spare trees from their campaign materials.
Ramos said an ailing environment “ails the plight of the poor even more. Those who are better off in life [should] take to heart the duties of Christian stewardship over the nation’s environment and natural resources.”
The World Bank reported that total losses due to the two typhoons that struck last year amounted to P50.3 billion, affecting mostly informal or labor workers with some 480,000 of them added to the country’s poverty rolls.
The waste watchdog EcoWaste Coalition urged Holy Week travelers to “think outside the bottle” and give up bottled water on their trips.
Water bottle blues
“We expect increased consumer demand for bottled beverages like water as people hit the road or frolic on the beach under the broiling April sun,” said Chin Chin Gutierrez of Alaga Lahat and EcoWaste Coalition.
“The ever increasing production and consumption of bottled water bring myriad environmental and health problems that consumers are hardly informed about, including the release of greenhouse gases from the whole life cycle of bottled water, the potential leaching of chemicals from plastic bottles, microbial contamination due to poor regulation, and marine litter,” she said.
Instead of single-use water bottles, the group urged travelers to use reusable water jugs, stainless steel, or lined aluminum containers filled with clean tap water or, if necessary, with boiled, filtered, or purified water to cut on greenhouse gases and trash.
According to Ocean Conservancy’s “Marine Debris Index” released in 2008, the Philippines registered the highest number of littered beverage plastic bottles in Southeast Asia.
“To turn the tide against bottled water, Filipino consumers further need to assert their right to drink healthy and safe water straight from the tap and insist that bottled water is no sustainable solution to our thirst for water,” EcoWaste Coalition said.
By ERICKSON BECO
March 30, 2010, 5:20pm
The problem of corruption has overshadowed many of the country’s other concerns, according to the results of the recently concluded survey by Manila Bulletin (MB) Online.
With 61 percent (8,342 votes) of web visitors voting for it, corruption emerged as the top priority that Filipinos want the would-be Philippine President to tackle first once elected to the post after the May 10, 2010 automated polls.
The survey, which asked netizens “what specific problem would you want the next Philippine president to address first?” garnered a total of 13,717 votes, as of 3 p.m. of March 30, 2010.
The other choices were, based on the number of votes accumulated)
- Unemployment, 23 percent (3,103 votes);
- Education, 7 percent (1,030 votes);
- Hunger, 5 percent (659 votes);
- Budget allocation, 3 percent (359 votes), and;
- National defense, 2 percent (245 votes).
The pressing need to address the problem on corruption has been underscored by actions of social sectors in the country today.
“Corruption is an old, old problem in our culture, and not just institutions, which extends to our political and civic lives,” said Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar, in reaction to the results of an earlier survey, conducted by the Hong Kong-based consultancy firm Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), ranking the Philippines as the fourth most corrupt nation in Southeast Asia.
Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) chairperson Constancia de Guzman said perceptions about corruption in the country are highlighted due to the political bickering during the election period.
De Guzman, in a radio interview, said candidates have thrown corruption charges against their opponents in an attempt to destroy their chances in the polls.
“Those who engage in mudslinging do not realize that while the act might help them gain more votes in May, it is giving the country a bad reputation internationally,” she said.
Meanwhile, web users are invited to actively participate in the new poll question to be posted at the MB Online homepage with the question: “Who will you vote as president in next month’s national elections?”
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:31:00 04/22/2009
BAGUIO CITY—The Supreme Court has shot down for the second time a constitutional challenge against the law that deregulated the oil industry in 1997.
In an April 2 en banc decision that was released to reporters during the court’s summer sessions here this week, the high court dismissed a second petition from Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia Jr. challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 8479, or the Oil Deregulation Act of 1998.
As it did a previous petition that Garcia submitted in 1999, the high court said that the issue of whether or not there should be deregulation of the oil industry was political and outside its jurisdiction.
It said that the issue that Garcia raised a second time—the propriety of immediately and fully deregulating the oil industry—was not something for the court to resolve as it revolved around the “soundness or wisdom of the timing and manner of deregulation” that Congress wanted to implement through RA 8479.
Not a job for SC
“Quite clearly, the issue is not for us to resolve. We cannot rule on when and to what extent deregulation should take place without passing [judgment] upon the wisdom of the policy of deregulation that Congress has decided upon,” the high court said.
It also noted that Garcia’s including a proposal to shift to “a system of partial deregulation,” revealed the “political, hence non-justiciable nature of his petition.”
“That the law failed in its objectives because its adoption spawned the evils petitioner Garcia alludes to does not warrant its nullification,” said the decision penned by Associate Justice Arturo Brion.
Garcia, a former congressman for Bataan, first asked the high court to nullify the Oil Deregulation Law in 1999.
At the time the court ruled: “We are not concerned with whether or not there should be deregulation. This is outside our jurisdiction. The judgment on the issue is a settled matter and only Congress can reverse it.”
In the latest ruling, the high court reminded Garcia that it was a 1997 Supreme Court decision which convinced Congress to correct the infirmities of the Downstream Oil Deregulation Act of 1996, or RA 8180, through RA 8479.
“We struck down [the Downstream Oil Deregulation Act of 1996] as invalid because… contrary to its intent, RA 8180’s provisions on tariff differential, inventory requirements and predatory pricing inhibited fair competition, encouraged monopolistic power, and interfered with the free interaction of market forces,” the high court said.
“Congress responded to our decision… by enacting on Feb. 10, 1998 a new oil deregulation law,” which Garcia has questioned twice before the high court.
Garcia’s second petition focuses on the impact of Section 19 of RA 8479, which prescribed the duration for lifting the price restrictions that protect the local downstream oil industry. Elmer Kristian Dauigoy and Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
Updated March 01, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON – The US State Department, in its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, described substantial drug problems facing Asia, including the Philippines, Cambodia, and Myanmar, while progress was seen in Laos and Vietnam.
The State Department called the scope of the drug problem in the Philippines “immense,” despite law enforcement efforts to disrupt major drug organizations.
Still, the report said, the government had some success enforcing counter-narcotics laws.
In the report, the United States also said that drug runners have increasingly looked to move their products through Cambodia because of Thai and Chinese crackdowns.
The report noticed “a significant and growing illegal drug problem” in Cambodia. It praised the country for destroying seized drugs and stiffening penalties for drug use and trafficking but said corruption hampers government efforts.
Laos has made “tremendous progress” in reducing opium cultivation, but the report said the country’s momentum is “stalling, and gains remain precarious.”
Vietnam was said to have continued making progress in fighting drugs, improving its pursuit of drug runners and its cooperation among state agencies and with the United Nations.
The report said that in 2007, rising opium values pushed poppy cultivation into new regions of military-run Myanmar. The State
Department did not receive 2008 UN statistics on Myanmar in time for the annual report.
The US on Friday also praised Beijing for its efforts to fight drug smugglers, but said China remains a major transit point for international drug markets.
While Beijing recognizes drugs as a major threat to its security and economy, “corruption in far-flung drug-producing and drug transit regions of China limits what dedicated enforcement officials can accomplish,” the report said.
North Korean drug activity, the report said, “appears to be down sharply. There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years.”
But the State Department said not enough evidence exists to determine if state-sponsored trafficking has stopped.
The State Department has previously raised suspicions that Pyongyang derived money from drug production and trafficking.
‘RP Constitution violated’
The new State Department 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) also said that the forced assignment of 18 previously convicted but pardoned military officers to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to replace many experienced law enforcement officers not only lowered the agency’s morale but apparently violated the Philippine Constitution, just as it would in the US which forbids the use of military personnel in law enforcement capacities.
The controversial case of three suspected wealthy drug pushers called the “Alabang Boys” was included in the State Department’s report on the drug situation in the country.
The report highlighted the lack of investigatory discipline that has impeded the PDEA’s effectiveness.
It also cited the premature arrest of suspects that has led to numerous case dismissals due to lack of sufficient evidence for prosecution and the slow judicial process to prosecute drug dealers.
In 2008, the report said three clandestine shabu laboratory operators arrested in 2004 were sentenced to life imprisonment.
“The slow judicial process not only demoralizes law enforcement personnel but also enables drug dealers to continue their drug business between court dates,” the report said.
In addition to employing the pardoned mutineers, the report said the PDEA has replaced many experienced law enforcement officers at the regional director and service director level with active duty military officers, with the ranks of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel.
“This apparently violates the Philippine Constitution just as it would in the US (Article 16 Section 5 Paragraph 4 of the Philippine Constitution mirrors the US Posse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1385, forbidding the use of military personnel in law enforcement capacities), despite claims that the officers’ orders were endorsed by the Office of the President and so are exempt from constitutional concerns,” the report said.
“The military officers are often forceful leaders, but have no training in civilian law enforcement or court procedures. Cases produced by their offices/teams are frequently dismissed by the PDOJ for lack of evidence and violations of defendants’ rights, leaving the arresting officers potentially liable for civil suit, PDOJ/judicial chastisement, etc.,” it added.
For the loss of the cases, the report said PDEA leaders often blame prosecutors rather than improve internal procedures.
“The PDEA Director General’s public feud with the Secretary of Justice over one of these cases, known in the Philippine media as the ‘Alabang Boys’ case, has quickly infected relations between PDEA and DOJ nationwide; PDEA agents bringing cases to DOJ are now treated with suspicion and contempt by prosecutors and court staff,” the report said.
“This severely harms the morale of young PDEA agents who have been trained to do cases the right way, but whose military supervisors frequently don’t give them time or resources to do so,” it added.
The report also said the continued use of untrained military officers in the role of law enforcement supervisors will adversely affect the ability of the PDEA to enforce drug laws, lending support to the argument for making the PNP and NBI drug task forces permanent and relatively autonomous from PDEA.
The report said enforcement remains a high priority for the administration of President Arroyo with the PDEA as the lead counter-narcotics agency.
The US State Department said counter-narcotics and anti-crime programs also complement the war on terrorism, both directly and indirectly, by promoting modernization of and supporting operations by foreign criminal justice systems and law enforcement agencies charged with the counter-terrorism mission. – AP, Pia Lee-Brago
By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
First Posted 17:17:00 03/05/2009
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers opposed to the revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) said Thursday they had succeeded in inserting a “killer amendment” they predict will block the rehabilitation and reopening of the facility anytime soon.
The committee on appropriations approved a proposal by Albay Representative Edcel Lagman to allocate P100 million to undertake a feasibility study on the nuclear plant’s rehabilitation that the lawmaker predicted would “validate structural defects, safety risks and ecological hazards of the BNPP, which led to its mothballing in 1986.”
Akbayan party-list Representative Risa Hontiveros said the approval of the amendment “practically killed” House Bill 4631, authored by Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco, which seeks the immediate rehabilitation and operation of the 620-megawatt nuclear plant.
”Whatever the result of the feasibility study is, it will require a new bill. The nuke plant is not yet dead, but we have put it once again in the freezer. We will kill it in due time,” she said.
In Cojuangco’s bill, the P100 million would have been used to validate, in a two-stage process, whether the BNPP could still operate.
But Lagman’s approved proposal would use the money “for the conduct and completion of a validation or feasibility study to determine the viability of rehabilitating, commissioning and commercially operating the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) as a nuclear facility, taking into consideration technical, safety, economic, financial and ecological concerns, and using as references previous feasibility studies conducted before and after the BNPP was mothballed in 1986.”
The Albay solon and Parañaque Representative Roil Golez had insisted that a feasibility study, and not just a validation process, was needed for the BNPP.
The appropriations committee, chaired by Quirino Representative Junie Cua, approved Lagman’s proposal and incorporated this in the “appropriation language” of HB 4631.
The P100 million is to be sourced from the Department of Energy and augmented by the National Power Corporation.
Cojuangco’s bill also seeks a $1-billion budget for the BNPP’s revival, to be sourced from the 10-centavo per kilowatt hour surcharge on total electric power generated collected from consumers, and from international or domestic loans.
After the hearing, Cojuangco found himself in a heated exchange of words with Nicanor Perlas, a technical consultant to a study commissioned in the 1990s by a Senate ad hoc committee and the Presidential Commission on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant.
The $9.5-million study, which was conducted by 50 nuclear experts, found 40,000 defects in the plant.
But Cojuangco called the results of the study “lies.”
Perlas, who was standing with journalists interviewing Cojuangco, objected and asked that he be allowed to explain.
“Ini-interview ako rito, eh bigla kang sumisingit [I am being interviewed here, and you just cut in],” the lawmaker berated Perlas.
Perlas said he had to defend himself because Cojuangco had called him a liar.
The committee hearing was marked by debates early on, with Bataan Representative Albert Garcia saying the local government is vigorously opposed the nuclear plant’s revival.
Garcia said a provincial board resolution had been passed “signifying strong opposition to the immediate reopening, commissioning and commercial operation” of the plant. So had the Bataan mayors’ league, he said.
Golez said the opposition of the local community should be considered because “social engineering might be difficult if the local government is opposed to this.”
“They will make it very difficult to implement the project…No amount of vote[s] in this committee can surmount this local problem,” he said. ”I’d like to resolve this prejudicial problem.”
But Cua said the “matter of legislation should be left to legislators.”
Last week, Lagman, Hontiveros and Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tañada III submitted a bill seeking to require the National Power Corporation to “conduct and complete a technical, economic, environmental, and financial feasibility study comparing technology options for electricity generation and appropriating funds thereof…”
The proposed study would not look at the viability of nuclear power but treat it as a possible source of energy.
It was envisioned as an alternative to Cojuangco’s bill.
A “PACK of wolves” is the apt description, and the crimes of plunder and other criminal acts the proper charges, against those involved in the infamous P728 million fertilizer fund scam.
These are the findings arrived at by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee at the conclusion of its investigation of the infamous case early this week.
That the Senate committee chose the phrase “pack of wolves” to describe the alleged perpetrators of the scam only meant how deeply its members were convinced of the reprehensible guilt of the accused.
Wolves are notoriously known to be ruthless predators that would ravish others’ lives to satisfy their own greed.
“The bigger picture shows us the distressing spectacle of veritable wolf packs preying with impunity on government projects, having access to colossal sums of public money, using power and influence without compunction, and perverting public office into an opportunity for abuse and gain,” part of the committee report said.
What is immediately noticeable in the committee’s harsh words and harsher still decision recommending the filing of plunder and other criminal charges against the personalities it found involved in the case was the total silence, if not the lack of criticisms, over such severe and exacting verdict.
But that may be expected because of the national shame and disgruntlement that such scandal caused the nation.
On the contrary, it could have been met with widespread skepticism and possibly violent street protests if the Senate committee, even just a little, toned down the tenor of its indignation on its findings.
The senators themselves, including some opposition leaders, were reported satisfied with the Blue Ribbon investigation, wishing only that the Arroyo government, in particular the Ombudsman, would act decisively on the committee’s recommendations.
Some of them also favored the committee’s report holding President Arroyo responsible for Bolante’s acts and those of the Agriculture Department officials involved in the fertilizer case, an issue which some House leaders dispute, however.
House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong in a statement has said “the acts of those responsible for the diversion of fertilizer funds are not attributable to the President.”
But just the same, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, insists that “the President must explain.”
Even so, Congressman Antonio Cuenco of Cebu, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, has expressed disappointment over the Blue Ribbon Committee’s decision to link President Arroyo to the scam, however indirectly, despite the total absence of evidence.
Senator Rodolfo Biazon for his part said he was satisfied “that all the people involved in the scam were now being held accountable.”
Now the proverbial ball is on the Ombudsman’s court.
With the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendation, the hope is that the Ombudsman would act speedily on it. While it may be true that the fertilizer scam is only one of the few thousand cases now pending in the Office of the Ombudsman, it is now up to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to device means to accommodate it for early resolution.
By HERN P. ZENAROSA
The Philippines will increase foreign and local borrowings to finance a higher budget deficit this year, Finance officials said yesterday.
The Development Budget Coordination Committee now expects a higher budget deficit of P160 billion, or 2 percent of the gross domestic product, from a revised forecast of P102 billion, to prepare for the full impact of the global financial crisis this year.
Slowing economic growth is crimping tax collection and the government is spending more to counter faltering exports.
Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said government might favor increasing its local-currency bond sales to fund the bigger budget shortfall.
“We will determine how many percent of the additional deficit will be sourced locally, and how many percent will be sourced from foreign sources,” Teves said in an interview yesterday in Phuket, Thailand. “More could be sourced locally.”
The final deficit target will be subjected to a “last- minute” review before it is released on Feb. 25, Teves said. The shortfall will “definitely be more than 1.2 percent,” he said.
The Philippines already raised its projected borrowings this year by 16.5 percent to P509.9 billion from P437.1 billion after revising the budget deficit ceiling to P102 billion, or 1.2 percent of GDP, from an initial target of P40 billion, or 0.5 percent of GDP.
The government had planned to secure about 76 percent of the total borrowings from domestic sources through the issuance of treasury bills and bonds and 24 percent from foreign commercial sources and multilateral lending agencies.
National Treasurer Roberto Tan yesterday confirmed to reporters that the government would adjust its borrowing program amid a much higher budget deficit.
He said the Philippines would raise its official development assistance loans to $1.75 billion this year from the programmed $1.1 billion.
Tan said the government was now negotiating with Japan International Cooperation Agency for a program loan ranging from $250 million to $300 million to co-finance the social protection program of the World Bank.
He added that the Philippines also hoped to finally draw $350 million worth of ODA loans mainly from World Bank and Asian Development Bank this year.
“We expect more program loans this year. We are getting additional loans against the program,” Tan said.
He said the Philippines was also not ruling out the possibility of tapping the international bond market again this year after raising $1.5 billion from the sale of 10-year US-dollar denominated benchmark bonds early January.
By Lawrence Agcaoili