Friday, September 30, 2011

My statement on Senate, House OK of ChaCha

Whatever was discussed during the summit does not bind the Senate in any way, and a separate act of the Senate is necessary if this is to become official. As it stands everything is unofficial and without any binding effect on any of the Senators. Even the creation of the Committee between both Houses needs Senate approval before it can bind the Senate.

There has been no Senate caucus to discuss this. There have been no Committee nor plenary debates held on the issue, and so I am wondering why it is being reported that Congress already has a position on the issue of Charter Change.

We take the inputs made during the legislative summit as inputs to help guide us should we see the need to discuss Charter Change in the plenary, but the individual Senators are not bound by what was discussed there. Until it is brought to the plenary, debated and approved, there is no official Senate position. The way it is made to appear by some quarter that ChaCha is a done deal is most unfortunate. It does not help their cause any as it preempts the rest of the Senators on the issue.

The proper procedure is for the inputs of the summit to be forwarded to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments for proper action. Creating a Committee between both Houses preempts the work of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments. We should not take legal shortcuts to fast track Charter Change debates because to do so will be harmful in the long run. Charter Change debates should be inclusive and not exclusive. I suggest those pushing for Charter Change to review the direction of effort: Don’t put the cart before the horse.

The action points agreed upon in the summit requires Senate sanction; otherwise it has no binding effect on the Senate.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Revive dying coconut industry, benefit from upsurge in Coco water demand

We welcome the news from President Benigno Aquino III’s U.S. trip regarding potential foreign investments in the Philippine coconut industry. The President disclosed on Friday that two U.S. companies, Pepsi Co. and Vita Coco, are looking to invest $15 million within the next four years, to meet the surging demand for coco water. The Philippines’ very own ‘buko’ juice is believed to be rich in electrolytes and minerals and could therefore be a healthier alternative to sports drinks.

These foreign investments will mean nothing if our coconut industry is dead. We called on the Department of Agriculture to allow five billion pesos from the irrigation budget to help save the coconut industry, because no less than the Philippine Coconut Authority had said that our coconut trees are dying.

The first order of business is to bring the coconut industry back to life.

We need to revive this dying industry, invest the necessary government funding to boost coconut production and ensure the income of our farmers, and develop a roadmap for the sustainability of coconut production.

Aside from the U.S., let’s also look at other markets for buko juice and other coconut products worldwide, especially now that demand is on an upswing again.

The bottomline for these efforts would be to lift coconut farmers out of poverty. While the Philippines is known for its coconut products, its coconut farmers earn only P30,000 a year.

How can anyone live or raise a family on just P30.000 a year, or just P2,500 a month? This is totally unacceptable and unjust. With these new investments should come a resurgence in the coconut industry and a better life for our coconut farmers. Government and the private sector should make sure that we don’t lose out on this opportunity.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quedancor loan from ACEF was diverted to fund retirement benefits of officials

Our sources relayed to us that P300M of the P1B loan was diverted to fund the retirement benefits of QUEDANCOR officials. The rest was used for the swine program where only three feed suppliers with no track record in the industry were accredited.

We earlier filed a resolution calling for an investigation on alleged irregularities in the utilization of ACEF funds that were meant to enhance our farmers and fisherfolk’s competitiveness.

Other questionable transactions were revealed regarding QUEDANCOR’s loan, including zero repayments from beneficiaries. Sources from QUEDANCOR also say that ghost deliveries of feeds were rampant.

We need to get to the bottom of this and send out the message that government will not tolerate these excesses. It is under the Aquino administration that we have this window of opportunity to end pervasive corruption in the bureaucracy. Napapanahon na para magkaron ng pag-asa ang ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda, pag-asa na mula ngayon e yung pondong nararapat mapunta sa kanila ay tunay na mapakinabangan nila. Huhubaran natin ng maskara ang mga walang kaluluwang mga tao na ito at inagaw mula sa ating mga naghihikahos na magsasaka ang pondong iilan lamang ang nakinabang.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Investigate misuse of ACEF

As Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Chairperson of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization, I am duty bound to dig deeper into allegations of misuse of the ACEF. Under the law, it is the COCAFM that is tasked to administer the fund. In recognition of this mandate, I as Chair of the COCAFM, during our first en banc session in January this year, immediately recommended the suspension of the program and called on its immediate review. The suspension was approved by the committee.

Since then, the COCAFM has revised the ACEF guidelines in order to prevent the irregularities of the past.

ACEF is meant to help farmers and fisherfolk and agricultural entrepreneurs become competitive. In a report submitted to us in January 2011, ACEF records show that it only has P1.8B fund balance remaining.

This investigation comes at a crucial time in our efforts to uplift the lives of our farmers and fisherfolk. We cannot by inaction allow those who mismanaged the funds to get away with it. To refuse to act and get to the bottom of it would send the signal that we aren’t serious in cleaning up the agriculture and fisheries bureaucracy by going after these scalawags.

Our farmers and fisherfolk belong to the most impoverished sector of society. They are most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Powerless and poor, they have been victimized by these abuses. We owe it to them to investigate this and take up the cudgels for them and hold those accountable for their acts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Keep the existing school calendar

Go slow on changing the school calendar. As former Chair of the Education Committee, this matter was brought to our attention in 2004. While the typhoon season causes a disruption of classess in June and July, data show that the strongest typhoons come in during September and October, the months wherein the change in start of the school calendar is being proposed.

Foremost to consider is the excessive heat during the months of April and May. Unlike typhoons which disrupt classes for a few days, the summer heat takes place daily for two months.

Our classrooms aren't air-conditioned and in many areas are overcrowded. Can our young students bear the heat on a daily basis for two months? Or will this not affect their physical and mental health?

Typhoons happen two or three times in a month, thereby disrupting classes for several days--but the summer heat is a daily ordeal. DepEd must weigh its options. Several days of class disruption due to typhoons or daily ordeals and suffering from the summer heat due to the dry season?

For this reason I oppose the moving or changing of the calendar until such time that a definitive study has been undertaken to determine the impact of excessive heat in the learning process of our students.

The DepEd should pilot-test the impact of summer heat on our students. Essential in the learning process is the need to provide a setting conducive to learning. Will the exposure to daily excessive heat for two months get in the way of this essential requirement? DepEd must pilot-test the proposal before making any final recommendations.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Unmask the masterminds behind the P7.5B bogus farm-market roads

We ask our committee to investigate the enormous amount released from the Department of Agriculture during 2010’s election period supposedly to be used in constructing farm to market roads. The amount of P7.5B was released, however, without a work program.

If found true that no farm-to-market road was constructed when this amount was released from January to June 2010, then those responsible for this anomaly must be held accountable and must explain themselves to those who toil their farms relentlessly yet remain below the poverty line.

We will file a resolution calling for an investigation into the anomaly, especially considering COA reports that funds to be used in constructing farm-to-market roads in Maguindanao were mostly spent for gas purchases from service stations owned by former President Arroyo’s known allies the Ampatuans.

This is plunder. Our people were deprived of the opportunity to improve their lives with the help of these much-needed roads. Tapos na ang panahon ng garapal na pagnanakaw. Panahon na para makamtan ng ating mga kababayan, partikular ang mga magsasaka, ang matagal na nilang hinihingi na hustisya. Kailangan nating matunton kung saan napunta ang napakalaking pondong ito at pagbayarin ang mga kasabwat sa anomalyang ito.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fill up unfilled judgeship positions

We urge the Supreme Court to prioritize the filling up of unfilled positions in the judiciary as court cases continue to pile in the country’s courts’ backlog.

As it stands one fourth of the positions of judges nationwide remain unfilled. This is totally unacceptable because it is one major cause of delays. Today the average case life is six years in the first level. Six years to dispose of a case is ridiculous. Wala pa ang apela dito. And we find out that 25 percent of the salas have no judges. Cases languishing in courts where there are no judges is lamentable.

In 2007, as chair of Justice Committee and Senate JBC rep and with the leadership of then Chief Justice Panganiban, we were able to reduce the vacancies to 16 percent. Instead of moving forward however, the subsequent Supreme Court leaders allowed the vacancy rate to balloon. Paatras at hindi pasulong ang ginawa ng hudikatura.

We will support the measure to have savings placed under the stewardship of the DBM unless the judiciary commits to correcting this anomalous situation and drastically reduce the number of unfilled positions. How do we expect the people to have faith in a justice system that allow for cases to drag on for six years or more? The system is obviously broken and is in need of urgent repairs. No wonder there is wanton disregard for the system. It isn’t working and there can be little or no respect for damaged goods.

Simple Joys

Our children really have simple joys. One morning my seven year old Miel and I woke up at about the same time and she asked me if she and I could brush our teeth together. I said yes and after brushing our teeth I started to shave and allowed her to 'pretend shave'. I placed shaving cream on her chin and cheeks and gave her a comb and pretended that it was a shaver and I helped her shave with her 'shaver'. After our 'shave', as we left the bathroom together, she chuckled and said to herself in a low voice 'that was so much fun'. Simple joys indeed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Buwagin ang mga sindikato sa likod ng mga batang hamog

We have received reports that these children are in fact used and supported by criminal syndicates that exploit minors. If true, then the PNP should go after the syndicates instead of simply pinning the blame on the minors and the Juvenile Justice Law.

The easiest thing to do is blame the law or the minors and in the process let these syndicates go scot-free. Is this their agenda? Absolve the criminal syndicates? If they eliminate these syndicates then there will be no minors involved in criminal activities run by syndicates.

Kasabwat ba ng ilang elemento ng PNP ang mga sindikato kaya ayaw nilang buwagin ang mga ito? May ‘cashunduan’ ba sa pagitan ng PNP at mga sindikato? Ayaw ko naman isipin na ang kaya lang ng PNP ay ‘yung mga bata o menor de edad.

Kung sino pa ang pinakadehado at inaabuso, ‘yun din ang pinag-iinitan ng PNP, ganun ba? Huwag naman sana ganun.

These minors are victims of exploitation and abuse by criminal syndicates and for the PNP to pin the blame on these minors and the law is to victimize these children all over again.

Buwagin ang mga sindikato at lalaho na ang mga batang hamog na pakawala ng mga sindikatong ito.

Give Juvenile Justice law a chance

We oppose the proposal to amend the Juvenile Justice law and bring the age of criminal liability back to nine years old. With all due respect to its proponent, reverting to the age of nine is a huge leap backwards in the campaign to uphold and defend the rights of children. In addition, the proposal ignores our country’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Philippines is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, which, in Article 40 stipulates that “States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child's respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child's age and the desirability of promoting the child's reintegration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society.

The law crafted in 2006 was based on research studies by child rights and child psychology experts. Can the same be said of the same proposal now being brought forth? I want to hear the explanation of the proponents, and am ready to debate the matter in plenary.

We reiterate our previous position that the problem is not the law but the failure of government to fund it and implement it. It has been hailed as a landmark piece of legislation that was for four years unfunded by the Arroyo administration.

When President Aquino took over in 2010 the council tasked to oversee its full implementation nationwide had no office of its own. It only had five employees and had no appointed executive director. The previous administration refused to fund the law despite repeated appeals by this representation in no less than three LEDAC meetings chaired by no less than former President Arroyo. She ignored our pleas.

No law can hope to be effectively implemented if it is not funded. With only five employees, no executive director, and no office of its own it had no chance of succeeding. It was only when PNoy took over that the intended amount of funds for the law was finally released.

We should give the law a chance to be implemented before we even go around to amending it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Critics of JJ Law are barking up the wrong tree

Those frustrated by the proliferation of crimes committed by so-called ‘hamog boys’ are barking up the wrong tree in blaming RA 9344, or Juvenile Justice Law.

We don’t understand the argument that RA 9344 is to blame for all these crimes. Unang-una, hindi naman dapat pakawalan ang mga batang ito pag nahuli. Kailangan pa rin nilang managot sa kanilang ginawa. Ang RA 9344 ay isang hiwalay na justice system na isinagawa para sa mga kabataang delingkwente. Maliwanag iyan. At di rin natin maintindihan ang argumentong nahihirapan ang mga pulis makakuha ng mga impormasyon mula sa mga kabataan para matumpok ang mga sindikato sa likod ng mga krimeng ito dahil sa RA 9344. Hindi naman siguro ganun ka-inutil ang ating kapulisan na kung hindi makuha ang impormasyon sa kabataan e titigil na sa pagpursigi sa kaso.

While I can sympathize with the victims, there is fundamental lack in the implementation of laws in the country, and that is where the focus ought to be.

Meron tayong mga batas na nagsasaad halimbawa na bawal pakalat-kalat ang mga aso at dapat nakatali ang mga ito para maiwasan ang rabies. Pero nakikita natin pakalat-kalat pa rin ang mga ito. Mali ba ang batas? Mali din ba ang batas na nagsasaad na bawal ang mga pedicab sa malalaking lansangan gayong nagkalat pa rin ang mga ito doon? Palagay ko ang dapat tutukan ng ating pamahalaan ay ang tamang pagpapatupad ng batas bago pa man magpanukala ng anupamang mga pagbabago gayong wala pa naman tayong basehan kung epektibo ba ito o hindi.

Problem is not the law, but understanding and implementation

The main problem with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act is the fact that even its key stakeholders do not understand the law, and therefore are not able to implement it properly. The essence of the law is to ensure the accountability of youth offenders, not to let them get away scot-free.

Nowhere in the law does it state that we should simply let youth offenders go, regardless of their age. Nowhere in the law does it state that children in conflict with the law are ‘exempt’ of any kind of justice. Ang sinasabi sa batas ay hindi natin dapat husgahan at ikulong ang mga batang nagkakasala sa parehong paraan na hinuhusgahan at kinukulong ang mga mas matanda.

First of all, the law provides for a separate justice system for children and youth, with the belief that our youth should not be condemned to lives of criminality by throwing them into the same jail as hardened criminals. The Juvenile Justice Law works under a system of reformative justice, putting in place a system and a program for rehabilitating our youth in conflict with the law. While minors, as a general rule, will not be held to account for their acts under our criminal justice system, these children in conflict with the law are to be held to account for their acts under the Juvenile Justice system.

Youth offenders cannot get away scot-free. Under the law, even minors may be held liable, and if they are above fifteen (15) years old, and they may be prosecuted and held liable criminally as an adult.

It is against the law to release a child without going through the proper diversion program—moreso if the offender is a repeat offender. Also, involuntary confinement is a remedy available, especially for minors involved in serious offenses (assuming that, the first time around, the intruder was still a minor), and releasing a child involved in a serious offense is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Law.

Dalawa ang naging malaki nating balakid sa pagsasatupad ng batas: una, ngayong taon lang na ito nilabas ang pondo para sa pagpapatupad ng batas na dapat noong 2006 pa ibinigay ng administrasyong Arroyo. Hindi nabigyan ng training ang ating mga law enforcers. Sunod, marami sa mga dapat na nakakaintindi sa batas ang hindi pa rin nakakaintindi sa batas. Sinasabi nilang pinakakawalan natin ang mga batang maysala, e hindi naman iyon ang nakasaad sa batas.

There are some bright spots in the law’s implementation, when LGUs take the lead in ensuring proper implementation of the law and provide support for intervention programs. In Marikina City, Wensley was arrested for theft and was made to undergo an intervention program under the DSWD. Years later, he has been reformed and reintegrated into society and now works as a gasoline station attendant. In 2007, Richard was an alleged gun for hire and was arrested for violating the Omnibus Election Code. He was placed in a foundation for seven months and was placed under the care of a foster family. While undergoing the program, he finished two vocational courses and went on to be employed by a construction company in Laguna.

The charges against Richard were eventually dismissed due to lack of merit. He is only one of the many youth in conflict with the law who have been given a new lease on life, thanks to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.

Before we consider repealing or suspending the law, let’s give it a chance—now that the Aquino administration has released funding for its implementation. And, before anything else, let’s make sure that all stakeholders read and understand the law so we can help in its effective implementation.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fire Judge Mislang

Even a freshman law student would know that out of courtesy to the Supreme Court, Judge Rolando Mislang should not have issued the order of injunction considering the fact that he was still being asked by no less than the SC to explain why he issued a temporary restraining order.

This is open defiance by a lower court judge of the highest court of the land. The Supreme Court should act swiftly in disciplining the ranks of the judiciary of corrupt and incompetent magistrates, and it should start with Judge Mislang.

The injunction is a slap on the face of the Supreme Court. It is unbelievable, and clearly a grave abuse of discretion. He should be fired.

Fast-track delineation of waters in the Philippines

We urge the Department of Agriculture to create an inter-agency task force that will be responsible for the fast-tracking of the delineation of municipal waters in the country.

We have data that proves delineation doubles the income of our fisherfolk and yet, only 57 municipal waters out of the total 920 have been delineated. At this rate, only 4 coastal municipalities are delineated every year. That is unacceptable. The DA needs to fast-track this process to help increase the income of our fisher folk the soonest possible time.

Allot additional budget for the Coconut Industry

We are looking at the feasibility of the Department of Agriculture’s capacity to spend the total amount budgeted for irrigation in 2012. It may be prudent for the DA to allot, say P5B, to help the coconut industry—which according to the Philippine Coconut Authority is in danger as coconut trees in the country are dying.

We are also pleased that the DA’s banner programs for 2012 are aimed at upping the income of our farmers, which as it stands today at P17, 000 annually is totally unacceptable. In this light, we urge the DA to be systematic in implementing irrigation repairs for us to determine realistically if the P27B is going to be exhausted in a year’s time. Otherwise, it may be best to divert it to other high-value crops and other programs that will increase the income of our farmers.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No one is above the law

We support the decision of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to file criminal charges against Mike Arroyo et al in connection with the sale of second hand choppers to the PNP.

The evidence unearthed in the Senate hearings are damning. Both testimonial and documentary evidence lead to the doorsteps of Mike Arroyo as the true owner of the choppers. Mr. Arroyo et al should prepare well for his defense. The filing of charges should serve as a stern warning to all who dare to disregard the rule of law. No one is above the law, not even the husband of a former President.

And when the time comes, neither is a former President.