Thursday, 30 September 2010

PIA Dispatch - Thursday, September 30, 2010

Govt to extend EO to keep zero tariffs on wheat imports

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced today that the national government may extend the zero tariff and duties on wheat imports by another six months to cushion the impact of rising flour prices in preparation for the yuletide season.

In a press briefing this morning, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo said the technical committee on Tariff and Related Matters (TRM) is recommending to President Benigno S. Aquino III the extension of Executive Order 863, allowing the duty-free entry of wheat and flour in the country to stabilize prices of bread in the local market.

He said technical committee will now fast-track preparing the details of the executive order before it will be presented to the Cabinet “so that the EO can be issued between the period of October and November.”

Executive Order 863, issued on Feb. 19 this year, allowed the duty-free entry of wheat and flour in the Philippines to stabilize prices and supply. The EO has expired this month.

Domingo said extending the zero duty on milling wheat would help stabilize, if not bring down further, the prices of bread and other flour-based products in the local market. (PCOO)

RP to take part in Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Philippines, under the leadership of President Benigno S. Aquino III, aims to participate in the Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be able to forge bilateral trade agreements with the participating nations, including the United States.

Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, in a press briefing at Malacanang on Thursday, said forging a bilateral agreement with the United States, the Philippines leading trading partner, will be remote if the Philippines will not join the TPP, as the US recently made a policy of not entering into bilateral agreements.

“The only way we can have a trade agreement with the US right now is through the TPP so it makes a lot of sense for us to be with TPP. Otherwise, we will be left behind,” Domingo said.

Domingo, however, recognized the fact that the TPP agreement requires the government to work harder and strengthen its laws on human rights, child labor, environmental protection, property rights, among others. Besides, he said, joining the TPP is “by invitation.”

“We have to do a lot of work on our side,” he added, saying “laws are difficult to get but quite achievable, but constitutional amendments are difficult to get. We don’t even know when it could be done.”

He noted that the TPP is a long process, but what is important for now is that the Philippines has made known its intentions, and informal talks with the group have begun.

The TPP agreement is a multilateral free-trade agreement with an objective of creating a platform for promoting economic integration among nations in the Asia-Pacific region. The framework currently comprises eight countries---Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam and the US. (PCOO)

Palace keeps expenses low despite creation of 2 offices

Despite the creation of two offices—the Truth Commission and the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office—by President Benigno Aquino III, Malacañang will not be asking for additional budget for 2011 from Congress.

The Palace has even slashed its budget request for the next fiscal year by 4.3 percent to P4.075 billion from the previous administration’s P4.259 billion in line with the cost-cutting policy of President Aquino, Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. told the Senate budget hearing on Thursday.

It is the same budget that was approved by the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives last week.

To keep the expenses low, Ochoa explained, the Office of the President reduced the spending plan across the various services within Malacañang and abolished 10 attached offices. It has also realigned the money from the Palace intelligence funds and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission to cover the funding requirements of the two new offices.

Ochoa said next year’s appropriation for Maintenance, Operating and Other Expenses (MOOE), for example, has been reduced by P163.9 million, with professional services getting the biggest cut of P152.7 million. There is also a cutback in expenses for printing, advertising, travel and representation allowance.

“Addressing our growing deficit will require a team effort on the part of all government offices. We all have to use our resources wisely, and the President’s office is doing its share by cutting back on various expenses,” Ochoa said.

“We believe it is incumbent upon those of us in government to live within our resources. Almost all government instrumentalities are getting budget cuts, and if we do not learn to pinch pesos we will not be able to make a dent in our deficit,” he added.

The Truth Commission was created by the Chief Executive a few days after he assumed office on June 30 to look into the wrongdoings committed by the previous government. The Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, on the other hand, is in charge of crafting and disseminating the policies and programs of the government. (PCOO)

U.S. power company to expand business in RP, help reduce power cost

An additional 600-megawatt power generation capacity is coming in to help boost the power generators in the country and will eventually reduce power costs in the years ahead.

In a press briefing at the New Executive Building Wednesday morning, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras said that AES, one of the world’s power generating companies, will expand its power-generating plant in Masinloc, Zambales. The expansion project will add 600 megawatts of generation capacity to its existing thermal plant in the country.

Almendras explained that the project was part of the $2.4 billion in new investments President Aquino brought home from his week-long working visit to the United States last week.

He said three weeks before the US trip, a senior team of AES officials met with him to discuss the company’s immediate concerns regarding the expansion.

Part of their discussions was the power company’s experience in other developing countries particularly Chile and the South America. Almendras said these nations actually face the same problems that the Philippines has, which could be addressed through liberalization of the energy sector and encouragement of private sector investments.

The AES expansion project is expected to help lower power costs. Being an additional base load generation and coal-fired, which is one of the cheaper options for power sources, it will help stabilize cost structure in the energy sector.

Compared to diesel- and fuel-fired power plants, base load generation is a much cheaper source of power.

“Ang problem natin tuwing magkukulang tayo ng base load generation from the geothermals, the hydros and the coal-fired, we end up running our diesel-fired and bunker fuel-fired plants. When we do that, tumataas ang cost,” Almendras explained. “Kaya it is very important for us to have a base load generation,” he added.

In April 2008, AES expanded into the Philippines, completing the $930 million purchase and transfer of assets of the 660 MW (gross) Masinloc coal-fired thermal power plant in Luzon.

The acquisition was a key component of AES’s strategy to invest in areas where there is a significant need for new capacity. It also offered the company an excellent entry point into the growing Philippine economy through one of the lowest cost thermal plants in the system.

The Masinloc project is a particularly attractive investment because the existing facility has the infrastructure in place to allow AES to add an additional 600 MW of generation capacity.

As it has done through similar acquisitions in other parts of the world, the company expects to improve the overall efficiency and output of the existing plant, providing more reliable energy to the Philippine market.

Originally constructed in 1998, the plant uses coal from a variety of sources in the Pacific Rim. Through the project, AES operated the Philippines’ first privatized thermal plant. (PCOO)

Aquino hopes act will be passed by U.S. Congress soon

The Aquino Administration expressed hope that the Save Our Industries Act or SAVE Act introduced in the US Congress will be enacted into law before the October US mid-term elections.

Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, in a press briefing in Malacanang on Thursday, said the united effort of the Filipino-Americans whom President Benigno S. Aquino III rallied to lobby for the bill’s passage in the US Congress, could contribute to the passage of the bill, just like what they did for the Veterans Equity Law.

Domingo said the proposed measure stand to boost US textiles and Philippine garments and will create some 200,000 jobs in the Philippines.

For the government part, the Trade Secretary said he has sent Undersecretary Cristino Panilio to Washington D.C. to meet American senators and congressmen to push the measure before the October US mid-term elections.

The US textile and the Philippine apparel industry have been suffering from dwindling trade and loss of jobs caused by the massive entry of subsidized and inexpensive textile and apparel products from China, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and other producers, after the lifting of the US import quota regime on these products.

Domingo said the Save Act is a win-win formula as it will help both the troubled US textiles industry and Philippine garments manufacturers.

The SAVE Act would grant duty-free treatment to garments wholly assembled in the Philippines, provided that these are made from US-made fabrics, such as yarn and cotton. US yarns and fabrics will also be granted duty-free entry to the Philippines, as they are sold to the apparel manufacturers in the country.

The deal could be worth $500 million for American fabric manufacturers and the equivalent of P350 billion for Philippine apparel makers by the fifth year of implementation

The US market accounts for 80 percent of Philippine garment exports. The level of these exports declined from US$2.1 billion in 2006 to US$1 billion in 2009. Tariffs imposed on imported garments in the US range from 17 to 33 percent.

The US textile exports to the Philippines is expected to grow from US$13.5 million in 2009 to US$500 million in five years. (PCOO)

Gov’t eyes nuclear energy to address power shortage

The government will be conducting a study on the possible use of nuclear energy to address an impending power shortage in the country.

In a media briefing in Malacañang, Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said the Department of Energy (DOE) is now working for the approval of some P50-million budget for the study on nuclear technology.

“If that is approved, hopefully we can start that next year,” Almendras said.

Almendras said the Philippine study is in line with the commitment of member countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to implement activities on the peaceful and safe use of nuclear energy when he attended the 28th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting (AMEM) in Da Lat, Viet Nam last July.

“The study we want to do is non-military use of nuclear energy. This is really along the lines of something that we agreed to with the rest of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Da Lat where we agreed with all the ministers of energy that we would like to work together in preparing the safety standards for non-military nuclear use,” Almendras said.

Almendras said the ASEAN energy ministers will finalize the terms of reference for the base consultancy in the upcoming 29th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting in Brunei Darussalam to be scheduled about July or August next year.

“So the resources that we will get if our budget is approved will actually help us in working with the rest of the ASEAN in determining the parameters or guidelines in nuclear energy use,” Almendras said.

During the recent US trip of President Benigno S. Aquino III, Almendras said several groups have expressed interest in building a nuclear power plant, including the rehabilitation of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. But he told them the Philippines still has to review its national policy on the use of nuclear energy.

“There were interests to try to bring nuclear energy to the Philippines but I have to let them know that we have not yet resolved the question of whether we are going to be open to it or not,” Almendras said.

Earlier, the DOE called for the efficient use of energy, including the tapping of other renewable sources of energy, projecting that the country will likely experience a power shortage as early as 2015. (PCOO)

Malacañang conducting study to amend EPIRA law

The Department of Energy has created a Task Force to study what possible amendments could be done to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, otherwise known as the EPIRA law, to make the law more attuned to the “realities that we are presently in,” Energy Secretary Jose Almendras said today.

In a press conference in Malacañang this morning, Almendras said it was high time to affect changes to the law to entice more power companies to invest in the country.

He said that during President Benigno S. Aquino III’s recent trip to the United States, American power provider AES’s pledge to invest $1-billion in the country was based on the Philippine government’s commitment to work on amending the EPIRA law.

“You know very well that the EPIRA law does not allow the government to sign take-or-pay arrangements anymore or participate in an active guarantee structure for such things,” Almendras said, referring to a provision of said law that disallows the government to “guarantee” the economic viability of power consumers such as electric cooperatives.

“So I had to explain to them what the programs were that we in the energy family are thinking of in order to enhance the credit-worthiness as well as the strategic sustainability of the electric cooperatives, that eventually they have to sign contracts with power companies in order to guarantee that off-take arrangement,” he added.

An off-take arrangement is an agreement between a producer of a resource and a buyer of a resource to purchase/sell portions of the producer's future production.

An off-take agreement is normally negotiated prior to the construction of a facility such as a power plant in order to secure a market for the future output of the facility.

If lenders can see the company will have a purchaser of its production, it makes it easier to obtain financing to construct a facility.

Almendras said he had told AES of the government’s energy reform plan which included “discussing with them some of the amendments we will be proposing for the EPIRA.”

“We are nine years into the EPIRA implementation so it’s really about time that we do these changes,” Almendras said.

“These companies are actually looking for signals such as that: that we are willing to look at the laws, rules and structure that we have today and adjust it to the realities that we are presently in,” he added.

“There’s a group within the energy sector under my office that’s studying reforms to the EPIRA law,” Almendras said.

He stressed however that the government will not “rush” these amendments to ensure that the all bases are covered and that its “implementation is done well.”

“We’re not going to rush this. We’ve agreed with both houses of Congress that we will do a really good job of doing this, so we are not going to rush this. We’re going to do it quite slowly and make sure the implementation is done well,” Almendras said. (PCOO)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

PIA Dispatch - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Malacanang welcomes OECD move to strike off RP from gray list

Malacanang welcomed the move of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to strike off the Philippines from its list of tax havens.

“We are happy the Philippines is out of the gray list. It is a significant step in our fight against money laundering and tax evasion,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail de la Fuente-Valte said in a press briefing at Malacanang on Wednesday.

The OECD, in a statement, said the Philippines “moved up to the list of jurisdictions that have substantially implemented the internationally agreed tax standard."

The OECD statement further said the Philippines “overturned domestic legal restrictions that prevented its tax authorities from obtaining and exchanging certain types of information, such as bank information.”

The Philippines had been on the "gray list" of territories that had committed to internationally accepted tax standards but had not yet fully implemented them.

The OECD announcement came shortly after Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima signed Revenue Regulations (RR) 10-2010 that will be used to implement Republic Act (RA) 10021, or The Exchange of Information on Tax Matters Act.

RR 10-2010, which became a law in March this year, will still have to be published in a newspaper of general circulation before taking effect 15 days after.

The OECD statement noted that the Philippines has a network of more than 30 treaties that provide for exchange of information in tax matters. Until now, however, domestic legal restrictions prevented its tax authorities from obtaining and exchanging certain types of information ... The new law and regulations remove these restrictions, thus enabling many of the Philippines’ existing treaties to meet the international standard." (PCOO)

President Aquino visits La Salle blast victims

President Benigno S. Aquino III today visited the victims of the explosion that rocked the last day of the bar exams at La Salle Taft in Manila last Sunday.

The President talked to three of the 47 victims, most of whom are law students who joined the revelry outside the university.

First to be visited by the Chief Executive was Raissa Laurel, 23, second year law student of San Sebastian whose legs were amputated as a result of the blast.

Dr. Reynaldo Ang, an orthopedic surgeon from the Philippine General Hospital where the victim was confined, said Laurel’s legs were badly damaged by the blast.

“Mangled ang legs ng patient, the soft tissues were not very good, they are lost,” he said. “After a while the patient might need plastic surgery and prosthetics.”

Ang said, however, that Laurel is fast recovering, hinting that it might take a month for her to be discharged.

Raissa’s mother, Reggie, said her daughter, a member of a choir in their Christian church, was supposed to have a choral presentation at the PhilamLife Auditorium that fateful Sunday afternoon.

She said her daughter might have escaped injury had she left earlier for their choral presentation.

Also visited by the President at the Manila Doctors Hospital were Joana Ledda, 23, daughter of Sanggunian Bayan member and a Municipal Health Officer in Bauan, La Union and Camille Villasin, a sophomore student from San Beda and daughter of Philippine Association of Water Districts (PAWD) president Nestor Villasin.

Accompanying the President in the hospital visit were Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma and Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ramon Carandang. (PCOO)

Malacañang urges all Filipinos to join Philhealth

Malacañang urged all Filipinos today to join the government’s health insurance program by registering themselves and their qualified dependents with Philhealth on Saturday, October 2.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte issued the call during a press conference in Malacañang on Wednesday.

“I would like to remind everyone that October 2 is…going to be National Philhealth Day. We encourage everybody to go out if you have not yet registered at Philhealth, please go out on Saturday and do so,” Valte said.

The Department of Health has designated October 2 as “Philhealth Sabado” to allow non-members to become part of the government’s health insurance program to ensure themselves access to quality health services.

“PhilHealth Sabado is the start of a continuing advocacy program to increase Filipino’s awareness and knowledge on the importance of becoming a PhilHealth member,” the DoH said in a statement, adding that being a member “will ensure access to quality health services to the member and his/her dependents.”

“PhilHealth Sabado fullfills universal health insurance coverage within three years as promised in the first State of the Nation Address of President Benigno S. Aquino III,” the DOH statement said.

All interested applicants are invited to visit the Philhealth Registration Desk located in any of the following: Philhealth Regional and Service Offices, Department of Health Centers for Health Development and Hospitals, participating public schools and designated areas predetermined by local government units for registration instructions. (PCOO)

Palace lauds Comelec resolution granting exemptions to appointments ban

Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. on Wednesday lauded the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for granting Malacañang's request for an exemption on the appointment ban because of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls on October 25, saying this would allow President Benigno Aquino III to fill up critical government posts.

The government is prohibited from appointing or transferring officials and employees during the campaign period under a resolution issued by the poll body, but the Comelec en banc approved the request of Ochoa to grant exemptions for 143 key positions last Monday.

In a letter to Comelec sent September 24, Ochoa explained to the poll body that the appointments were being made “not for the purpose of influencing or affecting the results of the barangay elections” but to ensure the “proper functioning of the offices or agencies concerned.”

“The President arrived last Tuesday in good spirits, and this resolution was welcome news for him as he wants to continue naming individuals to posts that need to be filled as soon as possible,” the Executive Secretary said.

The exemptions cover 143 positions in government, such as non-career ambassadors, regional trial court judges, officials in line agencies and special bodies, and government-owned and -controlled corporations like the Manila Waterworks Sewerage System.

The Comelec has said that similar exemptions were granted to Malacañang and other offices in the past so as not to disrupt government operations and public service.

Specifically, the poll body eased the prohibitions set in Section 261 (g, h and x) of the Omnibus Election Code and Comelec Resolution No. 9040 on the appointment of new employees, whether temporary or casual; creation of any new position; transfer or detail any officer or employee, including public school teachers; and suspension of elective officials, without the prior approval of the Comelec.

Under Comelec Resolution No. 9040, no appointments shall be made from September 25 to October 25, and transfer or detail of employees from September 25 to November 10, 2010. (PCOO)

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

PIA Dispatch - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aquino back from a successful U.S. trip

President Benigno S. Aquino III arrived early Tuesday morning from his successful week-long trip to the United States which, he said, had garnered for the country $2.4-billion in new investments.

In his arrival speech at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Centennial Terminal II, the Chief Executive said officials of top firms from the US, Malaysia and Singapore had expressed their intentions of expanding relations between our countries by pouring more of their respective investments here.

The President noted that company officials wanted to expand their scope of operations in the country due to the renewed vigor and confidence of the Philippines under his administration.

“In the last week during our visit to the United States, we were able to send our message across: the Philippines is open for business,” the President said after deplaning from his commercial flight from San Francisco, USA at around 4 a.m.

“Sa pakikipag-usap natin sa mga pinuno ng pamahalaan ng Singapore at Malaysia, nagkaunawaan kami sa posibilidad para sa pagpapalawak ng ugnayan pang-komersyo (In our meetings with the governments of Singapore and Malaysia, we reached an agreement to improve our relations in the field of commerce),” he added.

“Maganda ang mga naging usapin namin at ito ay magiging mabuting simulain sa pagpapalakas at pagpapalawak ng ugnayan ng kanilang ekonomiya at ng ekonomiya ng Pilipinas (Our dialogues mark the beginning of the strengthening and expanding of our economies),” President Aquino said.

President Aquino also said that officials of top US companies Coca-Cola, Pfizer, AES, Hewlett-Packard, JP Morgan Chase, Sutherland Global Services, Inc., Century Properties, General Electric, Headstrong Corporation, SPI Global and Affinity Express have also expressed their desire to open and expand their operations in the country covering a “wide range of sectors such as power generation and consumer products, business and knowledge process outsourcing, healthcare and garments and leather goods.”

“We were able to secure a commitment of at least 43,615 new jobs in the next three years including some 4,500 in construction related jobs and because of the multiplier effect, we estimate some 200,000 more jobs to benefit our countrymen,” he added.

“AES, a global power company, will expand the capacity of the Masinloc power plant by up to 660 megawatts with a project cost of $1-billion,” the President stressed.

“Coca-Cola will invest another billion dollars in their upgrading and replacement of equipment and creation of new products and processes…while the other companies are investing another $400-million,” he said.

According to the President, his visit to the United States “enabled us to generate $2.4-billion in new investments.”

“Furthermore, we received an additional $434-million in the form of a grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation to expand the coverage of existing social programs that have been performing outstandingly,” he said.

“Masasabi natin na ang mga pag-uusap na naganap ay hindi lamang pakitang tao. Malawak at detalyado ang mga nagging usapin natin at nararamdaman ng mga dayuhan ang bagong sigla at kumpiyansa na nararamdaman din ng napakaraming Pilipino,” the President said.

He called on all Filipinos, especially those who continue to criticize his government to put aside their rantings and join him and his government’s advocacy to lift the lives of the citizenry through hard work and perseverance.

“Hinihikayat ko ang mga kapwa nating Pilipinong panay pa rin ang batikos, maki-isa sana kayo sa ating pagsisikap,” the President concluded. (PCOO)

Ochoa: Palace legal review of IIRC findings done

Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa said on Tuesday that the Palace legal team has completed its review of the recommendations of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC), but has yet to discuss it with President Benigno Aquino III.

“As far as we are concerned, we’re done but we have yet to present the report to the President and depending on the reaction of the President, we will have a discussion,” Ochoa told reporters in an interview at the Ninoy International Airport terminal 2 while waiting for the arrival of the Chief Executive from the United States.

Ochoa and Eduardo de Mesa, chief presidential legal counsel, had been tasked by President Benigno Aquino III before he left last week for a weeklong working visit to the U.S. to study the IIRC recommendations, which identified government officials and private individuals who could face sanctions in connection with the August 23 hostage-taking incident.

It will be recalled that Ochoa said that the review of the IIRC recommendations was meant to help President Aquino understand the legal nuances of the report so he can arrive at “legally sound decisions.”

The Executive Secretary, however, left to President Aquino the decision to disclose the contents of the report prepared by Malacanang lawyers, saying “Let’s not discuss the details because we might preempt the President.”

Ochoa said the Palace legal team’s inputs contained “factual scenario as culled from the IIRC report.”

According to Ochoa, there is no schedule yet for a discussion with President Aquino, who arrived at 3 a.m. Tuesday, but Palace lawyers are ready to make recommendations if asked to do so.

“We are prepared for whatever question the President might ask,” Ochoa said. “We are also prepared to make our recommendations in the event that it is asked.” (PCOO)

Hostage review team ready to submit report

The legal team tasked by President Benigno S. Aquino III to review the recommendations of the Incident Investigation Review Committee (IIRC) on the Aug. 23 hostage tragedy is now ready to submit its own evaluation of the report.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the legal team, composed of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (CPLC) Eduardo De Mesa, is also ready to make its own recommendation to the President.

In a separate interview, Secretary Ochoa declined to discuss the content of the review particularly on the administrative and criminal charges to be filed against 10 personalities and three media networks.

“Let's not discuss it yet because we might preempt the President,'' said Ochoa.

The Executive Secretary said included in their report is the “factual scenario” of the incident.

“We're prepared for whatever questions we anticipate the President might be asking about the report,'' Ochoa said.

Ochoa said that the review of the IIRC recommendations was meant to help President Aquino understand the legal nuances of the report so he can arrive at “legally sound decisions”.

Before leaving for a seven-day official business trip to the United States, the President directed his legal team last week to study the IIRC’s recommendations which identified some government officials and private individuals who could face sanctions in connection with the bloody incident. (PCOO)

Palace cries foul over jueteng allegations

Malacanang today said it is unfair for anyone to declare that jueteng allegedly flourished during the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

In a media interview, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Aquino administration has been in office for barely three months and has demonstrated its resolve to stamp out the illegal numbers game.

“Ilang araw pa lang kami sa administrasyon, napaka-unfair naman na ang paglago diumano ng jueteng ay dahil sa aming administrasyon,” Lacierda said.

“There can be several factors: Number one, are we sure that nagkaroon talaga ng resurgence? These are facts that need to be verified,” Lacierda said.

At present, Lacierda said the administration is monitoring the ongoing congressional probe on jueteng allegations.

During the last congressional hearing, witness Sandra Cam said some directors and officials of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), who remnants of the past administration, allegedly received imported and expensive cars from jueteng operators disguised as small town lottery franchisers.

Lacierda added Malacanang is willing to provide security to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who also made her own expose against alleged jueteng operators.

“I understand that the Senate has its own security. And I am very well aware that if the good senator will ask for security, the Senate president will provide one for them. And if they request us to do so, we will be happy to provide as well,” Lacierda said. (PCOO)

Aquino open to dialogue with bishops – Lacierda

President Benigno S. Aquino III is more than willing to sit down with the Catholic clergy if they want to hear his position on the controversial Reproductive Health Bill being pushed in Congress.

“If they (bishops) want to have a dialogue with the President we are open to that. This was what we have been waiting for since the (presidential election) campaign,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in an interview.

Lacierda said sitting down with the church leaders is the best way for the President to explain his responsible parenthood position on family planning.

In his meeting with Filipino expatriates in San Francisco during his US visit, the President explained that the obligation of the government on family planning is to inform everybody of their responsibilities, and provide assistance to a particular method they want to employ for their family.

On the US grant of a $434 billion (P19 billion) financial assistance to the Philippines, Lacierda assured the Catholic leadership that the money will be spent wisely particularly on the administration’s anti-poverty program such as the Kalahi CIDSS, and strengthening the anti-corruption effort of the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Lacierda issued the assurance in response to the allegation of Fr. Melvin Castro, executive director of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, that the President is “selling out the Filipino soul” in exchange for the US grant.

He stressed that such statement is unfair and below the belt because the grant has been approved by the US government and released only to President Aquino after he met the guidelines set by the United Nations Millennium development goals. (PCOO)

COMELEC allows Aquino to make select appointments

The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has granted the request of President Benigno S. Aquino III to make new appointments for selected posts within the election period covering the October 25 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls.

“We applied for exemption for several appointments…only specific appointments,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing at Malacanang today.

Lacierda said the request was based on the fact that the barangay election is a non-partisan exercise.

The President reportedly has yet to fill up over a thousand vacant posts.

In a resolution, the Comelec has announced that appointing an officer of any government office, including government-owned and-controlled corporations, whether permanent or casual, is illegal.

The prohibition covers the hiring of any new employee as well as transferring of posts, creating new positions, suspending any elected official and granting salary increases for the period Sept. 25 to Nov. 10.

The Comelec said it shall only grant exemptions unless “it is satisfied that the position to be filled is essential to the proper functioning of the office or agency concerned.”

Violation of the resolution shall be an election offense, which carries a penalty of one to six years’ imprisonment as well as removal of the right to vote and be voted to public office. (PCOO)

Monday, 27 September 2010

PIA Dispatch - Monday, September 27, 2010

Aquino exhorts Fil-Ams for continued support

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III urged the Filipino-Americans to keep the fire of hope burning for the country’s continued progress as he shared with them the development programs being implemented by his administration.

In a speech delivered at the Philippine Development Forum Gala on Saturday night (Sunday in Manila) in San Francisco, the Chief Executive called on the Filipinos living in the US for their continued support for their country and fellowmen saying that the Philippines is once again on the righteous path towards progress and development.

The President said that since he assumed the presidency in less than three months, his administration was “serious” at changing and transforming the Philippines for the better. 

He added that now that he is at the helm as the country’s chief executive the Filipino people can count on a government that will not let them down, living up to the promises undertaken.

“This is a government that owes its existence to trust, that trust is sacred and it will deliver,” the President said. “We got elected basically by trust. Trust that we would make a difference. Trust that we could change the system. Trust that the Filipino people deserved better,” he added.

President Aquino also told the Filipino-Americans about the positive developments in the Philippines notably the convincing growth in the stock market. He said that his administration managed to get Cabinet Secretaries who willingly accepted their positions in government despite receiving a pittance of their previous salaries. 

They have already delivered results to the people, he said.

One of them is Secretary Rogelio Singson of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) which normally rates the highest in terms of agencies perceived most corrupt. 

According to the President, the DPWH under Singson has already saved about 2 and a half billion pesos for an item called slope protection. He stressed that this was made possible through the development of a technology called Cocoquire which replaces concrete in slope protection. The 2.5 billion pesos saved was used in ensuring the delivery of education and health to the people.

The President also explained to the Filipino-Americans the purpose of his official US business trip was due to the Millennium Corporations grant of 430 million dollars which will be used to support the government’s fight against poverty and to help in improving the performance of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) among others.

“I think from a cost benefit analysis, spending P25 million and having 430 million dollars pumped into our economy is a very good deal, do you agree?” asked the President.

On top of the grant is the creation of thousands of jobs for the Filipinos as a result of foreign investments in the country, he said adding that one of them is the establishment of a new 600-megawatt power plant for Luzon.

During the event, the President lauded the people behind the launching of the Philippine Development Foundation, an Ayala-USA Foundation which, he said, promotes to uplift the standard of living of the Filipino people. 

He noted the efforts of these people who have persevered to give the Filipinos a brighter future.

With these at hand, President Aquino appealed to his fellowmen to continue tracking on the straight and righteous path towards the realization of the dreams for the nation.

“Ngayon po ay tunay na pwede na muling mangarap, kailangan po na ipagpatuloy natin ang pagtutulungan para marating natin ang tamang paroroonan,” the President said. (jcl/9:33 a.m.) 

DENR official dismisses report pointing him as cause of project’s delay as malicious

 A top official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) denied reports that he caused the delay in the implementation of the Laguna Lake dredging project, saying the accusations were “malicious, ridiculous and not supported by facts.”

DENR Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio, along with DENR Assistant Secretary Michelle Go, was named in various newspaper reports as having “suggested” to the winning company Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDZ) to “share” the supply contract for the Laguna Lake dredging project with competitor Jan de Nul (JDN), also a Belgian company.

According to Ignacio, there is no document that would show he ever suggested “sharing” the supply contract.  In fact, he said, “it was never contemplated nor even discussed in the DENR.”

Ignacio also stressed that the letter of JDN to the DENR questioning the “direct contracting” mode undertaken by the department, and proposing a more effective alternative proposal for the project, was dated June 1, 2010, and not July 1, 2010 as published.  Nonetheless, according to him, JDN or any other party has not submitted any “unsolicited proposal” to the DENR on the project.

Ignacio also dismissed insinuations that the department, through him and Go, suspended the project to give way to JDN’s complaint despite the approval of BDZ’s supply contract by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), and the Department of Finance (DOF).

On the contrary, said Ignacio, the NEDA, BSP and DOF did never approve BDZ’s supply contract.  Ignacio stressed, “What NEDA approved was the project feasibility study submitted by DENR for the Laguna Lake Rehabilitation on Oct. 27, 2009.  What BSP approved was the conditions in the Loan Agreement between DOF and Fortis Bank of Belgium prior to the signing of the Loan Agreement on April 30, 2010.  The DOF did not issue any approval to the supply contract.”

He also said that the suspension of the project was directed by then DENR Secretary Horacio Ramos in a memorandum that also directed him (Ignacio) to conduct “due diligence” on the project and hold in abeyance the implementation of the amended Contract Agreement for the project.

Ignacio further said that it is on said directive of “due diligence” that letters were sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) to seek their opinions to ensure that all laws, government rules and regulations were followed relative to the supply contract.  “The JDN and other parties that have written the DENR regarding the project has nothing to do with the decision of the DENR to seek the opinion of GPPB and initial decision to seek first the opinion of DOJ,” Ignacio said.

According to Ignacio, the DENR received the DOJ opinion on June 9, 2010, while that of GPPB on June 11, 2010.  However, when the DENR received a copy of a letter from the Belgian Ambassador citing that the Belgian Government has not granted any support or concessional funding or loan for the project and the JDN accusations, this prompted then Sec. Ramos to seek again the DOJ’s opinion, and “not for reversal of the previous DOJ opinion.”

“It should be noted that the DOJ, in its response dated June 23, 2010, reiterated its first opinion that the supply contract is legal,” Ignacio stressed.

DENR partners with LGUs, NGOs for smoke belcher-free EDSA

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has partnered with other government agencies, local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila and non-government organizations (NGOs) to rid EDSA of smoke-belching vehicles.

In a simple ceremony held last week at the DENR office in Quezon City, DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Metro Manila Development Authority Gen. Manager Robert Nacianceno; Renato Pineda, Jr. of the Partnership for Clean Air; representatives of the local governments of Quezon City, Makati City and San Juan City;  and Earth Day Network Philippines President Elisea Gozun, which also marked the launching of the campaign to transform the metropolis’ main circumferential road a “Ligtas Hangin” Zone.

“This program is a concrete action in response to Pres. Aquino’s directive to clean the air in Metro Manila,” said Paje. “We are very pleased that the private sector, specifically the NGOs and civil society, has committed to partner with the government in this because we need to redouble our efforts to realize our goal of reducing air pollution in the metropolis by 30%.”

The “Ligtas-Hangin” program seeks to reduce the amount of air pollution along EDSA through a coordinated enforcement effort among all involved partners to apprehend smoke belchers along EDSA and provision of assistance to motor vehicle owners and drivers to enable them comply with the government’s vehicle emission standards.

Paje also expressed appreciation for LGUs with existing ordinances against smoke belchers. He said that while the campaign against smoke belching vehicles by LGUs has netted millions of pesos from fines and penalties, he stressed that the objective of the campaign is not to generate income but to instill discipline in people to comply with the Clean Air Act. “More violators caught mean more contributors to air pollution,” he said.

He also said that the programs for clean air and water are DENR’s most pro-poor programs. “We want to level the field for many of our poor who breathe in the dirty air emitted by vehicle owners and drivers, many of whom belong to the upper crust of society,” he stated.

For her part, Gozun affirmed Paje’s statement, saying that the program is the private sector’s contribution to the first 100 days of Pres. Aquino’s administration. “We have learned from past campaigns against smoke belching, and we believe that this time, we will be able to reduce the number of gross polluters, or those who are obviously smoke belchers, along EDSA,” she said. “Also, we want to focus on preventive, not curative, measures against the rising incidence of children with respiratory disorders.”

According to the DENR, government vehicles, including those of politicians and those with diplomatic plates are not exempt from the anti-smoke belching campaign. On the other hand, ambulances, fire trucks and armored cards are. Further, school buses are exempt in the mornings or when ferrying students to school, but may be apprehended any time for the remainder of the day.

Penalties will be based on provisions under Republic Act 8749, also known as the Clean Air Act. These include pollution seminars, fines from P2,000 to P30,000, as well as suspension of motor vehicle registration, or cancellation of license of the technician, depending on the gravity and frequency of violation.

The “Ligtas-Hangin” campaign also involves the Department of Transportation and Communications through its Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and Land Transportation Office; the cities of Pasig, Mandaluyong, Caloocan and Pasay; the Philippine Climate Change Imperative; the Coalition of Clean Air Advocates; and the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities Center.

Under the MOU, the implementation of the campaign has four components: air quality monitoring; coordinated anti-smoke belching operations; program monitoring and advocacy; and compliance assistance. The MOU likewise outlines the responsibilities of lead partners in the different sub-activities.

PIA Dispatch - Saturday, September 25, 2010

Aquino pushes for deeper US-ASEAN partnership

President Benigno S. Aquino III expressed hope that the United States and the 10 member nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will work together to promote a deeper and more harmonious US-ASEAN partnership, and continue stability and peace in the ASEAN region.

In his statement at the 2nd ASEAN-US Leaders’ Meeting held Friday (Saturday in Manila) at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, the President, who discussed the future direction of the ASEAN-US partnership, noted that the common desire of the US and the ASEAN to intensify their partnership comes at a particularly crucial time, thus it is imperative for the leaders to turn the ASEAN from a regular gathering of leaders into a fully multilateral organization and implement the ASEAN Charter.

“The task of our generation—the first generation of leaders to be born as independent citizens of our respective nations—is to turn this Charter into a more binding commitment to our mutual economic and political interests,” the President said.

The President noted that the ASEAN Charter, which provides the guiding principle for ASEAN’s engaging with the US, was adopted in 2008 and since then the ASEAN has been conscious in pursuing initiatives to build the ASEAN community along three pillars: political-security; economic; and socio-cultural.

The President also recognized the US as the Philippines’ staunchest partner in security cooperation in the region, and this will remain so throughout the course of his administration.

He also thanked the US government for participating in joint counter-terrorism efforts in Mindanao; for its support in developing Philippine defense capabilities through assistance and training programs; and for its assistance in times of natural disasters.

“There are many more opportunities for us and the United States to work together on initiatives such as human rights cooperation, science and technology, biodiversity conservation, and disaster management to build a cohesive socio-cultural community," the President said.

Aquino also recognized the United States’ commitment to reinvigorating its relationship with the ASEAN region and individual nations, at a time of ever-increasing complexity in global affairs.

“We, in turn, welcome this reinvigoration as it leads to timely clarity, allowing all of us to fully engage with each other. This can only lead to the fulfillment of our dreams for our peoples, which in the simplest possible terms is a better, more dignified life," he said.

The President also noted US’s support for the strengthening of the ASEAN regional architecture; the US interest in joining the East Asia Summit and its participation in the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

The Chief Executive also expressed optimism the nautical highway proposed for the ASEAN will be developed to ensure the connectivity among the member nations.

“Forging public-private partnerships to address development issues is a key priority of my administration and I believe these partnerships will make the connectivity initiative in ASEAN a reality, the firm ground of ASEAN’s community-building goals,” the President said, stressing that much can be done through cooperation and consultation.

He also noted that the US is a major trading partner of ASEAN, and the association in turn has been one of the fastest growing export markets and host of US investments.

“I am confident that the ASEAN-US Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement will lead to an economically viable and strong ASEAN which in turn will lead to economic growth, job creation, and improved welfare of our peoples," he said.

On the other hand, he said the ASEAN expects the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity crafted by a group of visionaries to be ready for the ASEAN Summit next month.

Aquino also said the US and ASEAN must connect east and west through genuine cooperation, and can begin by sending a message to the world that ASEAN is a force for good.

“We have it in our hands to connect East and West, not in the ways that caused so much misunderstanding in the past, but rather, on the basis of what we can all hold in common today: a world in which our peoples and ourselves, have been born free citizens, and therefore, can engage in genuine cooperation. Let us begin by sending a message to the world: ASEAN is a force –for good, for peace, and for the continued prosperity of our respective peoples," the President said.

The President also brought up the territorial row over the Spratly Islands, where the Philippines is one of the claimants, as one of the issues that must be addressed through peaceful means.

“Today the issue that occupies a growing concern is the competing territorial claims within the South China Sea, including our own Kalayaan Islands. Such competing claims can serve as flashpoints for conflict as they did in the 1990s," he said.

The Spratly Islands is a group of small islands believed rich in natural resources, and contested by countries in the area, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and China.

Aquino said his administration remains committed to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and strongly supports the drafting of a formal code for the South China Sea in which claimants vow to adhere to diplomatic processes to resolve territorial disputes.

“I believe this is consistent with [US] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pronouncements on the South China Sea made just in July of this year, supporting collaborative diplomatic processes. As a peace-loving country, the Philippines supports any efforts to deal with potential irritants in the most peaceful way possible," he said.

The Philippines is the current Country Coordinator of ASEAN-US relations. (PCOO)

Aquino sees China as an ally in peace and development

Much like the United States, President Benigno S. Aquino III said the Philippines sees China as an ally in peace and development rather than of conflict.

Thus, the President responded during the interview by members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, considered the most influential foreign policy think-tank in the US, in New York on Thursday afternoon (early morning Friday in Manila).

The President was asked on the rise of China and its current relations with the Philippines and other member countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

At present, the President said Greater China, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, is already almost at par in terms of trade with the US, which still ranks as the Philippines’ largest export market and second largest supplier.

While the US takes no sides on the dispute in the South China Sea, the President said its security alliance and development partnership with the Philippines remains a steady anchor in the American engagement towards the Asia-Pacific.

“We can count on the treaties that we have signed with your government for a very long time and that I think all goes well for maintaining cordial relations with each other,” the President said.

The Philippines and China, together with Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, are laying claim to the international boundaries, rich fishing grounds, and possible oil deposits in the Spratly Islands, a group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls and islands in the South China Sea.

The President said it is in the best interest of the region to transform the disputed area into a zone of peace, friendship and cooperation through sustained consultation and dialogue in accordance with international law.

The President added that conflict in the area would not benefit anyone.

“We are subscribing to the theory that if there is prosperity for everybody, it will be everybody’s interest to actually continue the status quo rather than have flashpoints that will lead to belligerency and possible altercations that we have no hope of winning,” the President said. (PCOO)

Aquino calls for greater international cooperation

In the face of climate change, pandemics, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, transnational organized crimes and the challenges posed by increasingly interconnected economies, President Benigno S. Aquino III called on the members of the United Nations General Assembly (U.N.G.A.) to “further strengthen international cooperation.”

Speaking at the 65th UNGA in New York City on Friday evening (Saturday morning in Manila), the President said the UN was founded on the belief that in collective security comes from collective action. “It is when nations reach across their borders that immense problems of our age begin to be manageable,” he said.

In the same vein, Aquino said, global progress means equitable progress which is based on the “quest for universal human dignity that should not be defined by geographical, racial or cultural boundaries not should it be set back by our desires to move our own nations forward.”

He then spoke of the evident vulnerability and inequality in the global effort to address climate change. “Those who stand to lose much, if not everything, from the effects of man-induced climatic conditions are those who did little to cause it,” the President said.

The President highlighted the importance of “ensuring, as a matter of justice, that countries, particularly the vulnerable, are assisted in their adaptation and disaster-risk reduction efforts and are provided the necessary resources to build climate-resilient communities.”

“We do not need flood and famine to remind ourselves that there is much more that must be given, because there are so many more that deserve the hope of a better life,” President Aquino said.

The most immediate focus of cooperation, he said, is to collectively ensure that the eight Millennium Development Goals will be achieved in the remaining five years. “This is a daunting task and we are all aware that national resolve has to be complemented by bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation,” the President added.

He then said his administration is committed to “channel the gains from public private partnerships into social service like those in health, education and poverty alleviation.”

He said the Philippines remains committed to “G77 and other efforts towards enhancing South-South cooperation and articulating and promoting our collective economic interests.”

The President said “for so many times in our history, my people have shown that, united, nothing is impossible. We called it People Power.”

“It is my earnest hope and in the greatest interest of humanity that we harness the energies of dialogue, solidarity and communal responsibility so that a global People Power toward equitable progress may be achieved,” he said. (PCOO)

UN Secretary-General welcomes President Aquino’s commitment to RP continued active role in promoting global peace and security

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked President Benigno S. Aquino III for the Philippines’ continued active role in the promotion of global peace and security.

Meeting for the first time in New York Friday afternoon (Saturday morning in Manila) at the 65th United Nations General Assembly, President Aquino and Secretary-General Ban discussed the country’s leading role in the areas of peacekeeping and nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

President Aquino told Secretary-General Ban that the Philippines remains ready to support the UN peacekeeping operations.

The Philippines is the third largest troop contributing country to the UN peacekeeping force in Southeast Asia and 23rd worldwide.

The Philippine President also expressed the country’s commitment to continue playing a vital role in building on the success of the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Philippines led the successful 2010 Review Conference last May under the presidency of Ambassador Libran N. Cabactulan, the Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

President Aquino and Secretary-General Ban also discussed the Philippines’ progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs are a set of eight time-bound, concrete and specific targets aimed at significantly reducing, if not decisively eradicating poverty by 2015.

With only five years left until the deadline to achieve the MDGs, Secretary-General Ban called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on September 20 to 22 to accelerate progress towards the MDGs.

The 4th MDG Progress Report indicated that the Philippines is likely to meet the goals on food poverty; gender equality in education; child mortality; malaria morbidity; detection and treatment success and cure rates of tuberculosis cases; and access to sanitary toilet facilities.

During the meeting, President Aquino stressed the Philippine Government’s commitment to redouble its efforts on particular targets such as income poverty; nutrition; dietary energy requirement; access to safe drinking water; participation, cohort survival and completion rates in elementary education; maternal mortality; access to reproductive health services; and prevalence of HIV and AIDS.

“There is much the Philippines has to do to meet the MDGs. Sustained economic growth will only partially address the issues the country faces. The Philippine Government is committed to eliminate, if not reduce, corruption and improve transparency to ensure government funds are spent on what’s necessary,” the President said. (PCOO)