BuCor officials in ‘GCTA for sale’ controversy still under Senate custody

Marje Pelayo   •   October 4, 2019   •   217

Joint Senate committee hearing led by the committee on justice and human rights chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon on the Good Conduct Time Allowance controversy and the so-called “ninja cops” on Thursday, October 3. PRIB/JOSEPH VIDAL

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) awaits the recommendation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on whether or not to accept under witness protection program (WPP) two of the Bureau of Correction (BuCor) officials involved in the Good Conduct Time Allowance controversy or the ‘GCTA for sale.’

The controversy placed the two BuCor officials, Senior Inspector Maria Belinda ‘Mabel’ Bansil and Officer 3 Veronica ‘Boday’ Buño, in hot water after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) revealed the result of its forensic examination on Buño’s cellular phone.

The two were accused of offering ‘GCTA for sale’ to relatives of inmates in exchange for their early release from jail.

Blue Ribbon Committee Chair Richard Gordon offered Bansil and Buño to subject themselves under WPP but Buño insisted that she didn’t have any personal knowledge about the controversy.

“Wala po talaga akong personal knowledge (I have no personal knowledge),” Buño said.

“Pero iyong mga information po ay napi-feed naman po kahit buong Bureau of Corrections ay alam (But all information was fed and known to the entire Bureau of Corrections),” she added.

The Senate wants to delve deeper into the matter particularly to confirm the alleged deleted exchange of text messages between Bansil and Buño which mentioned names of other BuCor officials including Faeldon and some amount related to the GCTA.

Unless the two disclose their knowledge about the alleged ‘GCTA for sale,’ they will remain under the custody of the Senate after the body cited them in contempt.

Gordon gave Bansil and Buño two to three days to speak on what they know about the matter.

Only then will the Senate hold an executive session to discuss whether or not they will recommend the two to be placed under WPP.

If they agree, they will be entitled to government protection and benefits under Republic Act 6981, otherwise known as ‘The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act.”

According to the provision of the Law, a person under WPP is entitled to the following:

1. Security protection and escort services;

2. Immunity from criminal prosecution and not to be subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for any transaction, matter or thing concerning his compelled testimony or books, documents or writings produced;

3. A secured housing facility;

4. Assistance in obtaining a means of livelihood;

5. Reasonable traveling expenses and subsistence allowance while acting as a witness;

6. Free medical treatment, hospitalization, and medicine for any injury or illness incurred or suffered while acting as a witness;

7. Burial benefits of not less than Ten Thousand pesos (P10,000.00) if the witness is killed because of his participation in the Program;

8. Free education from primary to college level for the minor or dependent children of a witness who dies or is permanently incapacitated; and,

9. Non-removal or demotion in work because of absences due to his being a witness and payment of full salary or wage while acting as a witness.

These benefits are way more than what the Senate can provide which is limited only to security details and free meals.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said they have not received any sign from the camps of Bansil and Buñoon whether they will accept the government’s offer of protection. – MNP (with reports from Nel Maribojoc)

Senate OKs Malasakit Center bill on final reading

Robie de Guzman   •   November 11, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to institutionalize the establishment of Malasakit Centers in hospitals run by the Department of Health (DOH) across the country.

The Senate Bill No. 1076 or the Malasakit Center Act of 2019 was approved with 18 affirmative and zero negative votes.

The measure seeks the establishment of one-stop-shop centers for medical and financial assistance provided by the DOH, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office in all 73 DOH-run hospitals nationwide.

“We are a step closer towards making quality health care more accessible and affordable for all Filipinos, especially the indigent and poor patients in need of medical assistance from the government,” Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the author and sponsor of the bill, said in a speech after the bill was passed.

Citing a 2017 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Go said that out-of-pocket payment accounted for 55 percent of health expenditures despite benefits provided by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

“To clarify, we are not providing additional funds for assistance, we are merely establishing a one-stop-shop for medical and financial assistance,” he further stated, adding that there are currently 50 Malasakit Centers nationwide serving 160,000 patients.

Under the bill, hospitals run by local government units (LGUs) and other public hospitals may also establish their own Malasakit Centers provided that they guarantee the availability of funds for the operation of their centers including its maintenance, personnel, staff training, among others.

Patients who would be admitted to LGU and other public hospitals but are eligible for medical and financial assistance could also seek assistance from the Malasakit Centers.

Among the functions of the Malasakit Centers would be to provide patients with a referral to the health care provider networks as well as information on membership, coverage and benefits packages in the National Health Insurance Program.

The bill hurdled the Senate after it adopted amendments introduced by Senators Risa Hontiveros and Franklin Drilon.

Hontiveros said that Malasakit Centers should provide “critical information on healthy behaviors and conduct health promotion activities in the hospital” as well as “further enhance the health promotion function of the center.”

Drilon, meanwhile, said the measure should not limit the “access to or availability of medical and financial assistance only to indigent and financially incapacitated patients referred through Malasakit Centers.”

BuCor restores visitation privileges for Bilibid inmates

Aileen Cerrudo   •   October 30, 2019

Members of the Police Special Action Force frisk inmates following a peace accord event to stop violence amongst gangs inside the New ‘Bilibid’ Prison’s maximum security compound in Muntinlupa city, south of Manila, Philippines, 27 December 2018. EPA-EFE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has restored visitation privileges at New Bilibid Prison on Wednesday (October 30), almost a month after it was suspended.

BuCor already posted the schedule for each quadrant. They also said there will be no visitation allowed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

“Visitors will be subjected to the usual body frisking, strip searching if necessary and inspection of all bags and belongings prior to entry to any corrections facilities,” according to BuCor.

Visitation privileges were temporarily suspended on October 9 due to ‘safety reasons’ when BuCor demolished the kubol or shanties illegally built inside the Bilibid.—AAC

Senators, colleagues pay tribute to Nene Pimentel

Robie de Guzman   •   October 23, 2019

Senate President Vicente Tito Sotto III, presents Senate Resolution 17, expressing the Senate’s sympathy and condolences to Mrs. Bing Pimentel, wife of former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr., during the necrological service Wednesday. With them are Sen. Pia Cayetano, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senator Koko Pimentel, his wife Kathryna, and sister Gwen Pimentel.  (SENATE PRIB/CESAR TOMAMBO)

MANILA, Philippines – Former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. was honored by friends and colleagues at the Senate during a necrological service held on Wednesday.

In separate eulogies, they remembered Pimentel as a humble and patient mentor, who took time to enlighten the Senate staff on various issues; a principled statesman, and a firm democratic fighter.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that with Pimentel’s life, he realized that one can enter and leave politics with integrity intact.

“Puwede naman palang pumasok sa politika at mamaalam nang marangal pa rin. Paalam po,” Sotto said in his eulogy after he presented Senate Resolution No. 17 to the Pimentel family, expressing the chamber’s sympathy and condolence on the death of the former lawmaker.

He also said that Pimentel served as his mentor and was always accommodating whenever his counsel was needed.

Sotto also attributed Pimentel’s “familiarity in servicing his colleagues in the Senate to the experience of working with a number of models and icons in public service where he was a top mentor.”

“His humility, simplicity in style and decorum make us all proud that we were his friends. He will be greatly missed. He had been a leading light of this Chamber, not only in good times but also during trials and darkest moments,” Sotto said.

“On behalf of the Philippine Senate, the Sotto family and the Filipino people, may I extend to the bereaved family of Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. our heartfelt condolences. May you be comforted that Nene is dearly loved by one and all in this nation,” he added.

Senator Pia Cayetano also considered Pimentel as a father figure and a mentor.

“Tito Nene did grand things, there is no doubt of that. But for me and those who knew him well, we remember him for the small things. For what is greatness without kindness? Without humility and compassion? Traits I saw in my mentor and seatmate. Beyond the brilliant legislator and defender of democracy that he was, I got to know a kind and gentle person,” Cayetano said in her eulogy.

Former Sen. Orlando Mercado also considered Pimentel as his mentor and remembered that he was the first to call for a total log ban. He said he learned the importance of humility from Pimentel and admired him for his sense of justice, especially for the disadvantaged.

Former Senator Jose Lina, Jr. said that more than his grief for losing a father, a teacher and a friend comes the realization that the country has lost “a great Filipino and statesman who championed freedom, human rights and the pursuit of excellence in local governance.”

Former Senator Rene Saguisag recalled his time with Pimentel when they both fought for democracy and a better government, while former Senator Heherson Alvarez said that Pimentel will remain in the country’s history as an indomitable comrade in the struggle against dictatorship.

“Nene Pimentel was a happy warrior. He lived long enough to nurture our civil liberties that he fought for and which he had been jailed. He will remain in our history as an indomitable comrade in the struggle against the dictatorship and a champion of good local governance,” Alvarez said.

Former Senator Nikki Coseteng said Pimentel embodied the values of a nationalist and a warrior, adding that she was proud to have known him.

Senator Koko Pimentel III, who was visibly moved by the stories about his father, thanked colleagues, friends, and the Filipino people for their outpouring love for the elder Pimentel.

“Thank you for helping him achieve his vision and goals as a legislator. Because of your support, he has left landmark legacies such as the Local Government Code and the Cooperative Code of the Philippines, among others,” Koko said in his response to the eulogies.

“Public service was his passion, working on landmark legacies fulfilled him and made him happy. Thank you for working with him to realize his dream of a fairer, democratic and productive Philippines,” he added.

Pimentel passed away on Oct. 20 after battling with lymphoma. He was 85 years old.

After the necrological service at the Senate, his remains will be brought to his hometown in Cagayan de Oro City for public viewing until Oct. 25.

Details of the interment will be announced later by the family. – RRD (with details from Asher Cadapan Jr.)

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