Duterte not endorsing anyone for House Speaker; lets congressmen decide

Marje Pelayo   •   June 26, 2019   •   945

President Rodrigo Duterte. | ACE MORANDANTE/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – The race for the next speaker of the House of Representatives (HOR) gets more intense less than a month before the 18th Congress formally opens.

Government allies have been waiting for President Rodrigo Duterte to make a decision on who he thinks the next speaker should be who could help him push his administration’s legislative agenda.

During the oath taking ceremony at Malacañang on Tuesday (June 25), President Duterte asked newly elected congressmen to give him until June 28 to make a decision.

However, the President seems to prefer not to endorse anyone for the speakership post.

In his speech, President Duterte said he asked House Speaker Gloria Arroyo to choose her own successor.

The conversation, he said, happened during the Hugpong ng Pagbabago’s thanksgiving party.

The President said he asked Arroyo to spare him the burden of having to choose among his friends who were vying for the post.

“Sabi ko, ikaw na ang mamili ng speaker, (I told [Arroyo] to choose a speaker for me),” the President said.

“Tinawag ko si Cayetano, Alvarez, si Velasco, si Bebot na hindi naman lumapit. ‘Mamili ka na, ma’am,’ sabi ko, ‘hindi ako nagbobolahan.'”

(I called Cayetano, Alvarez, Velasco and Bebot. I told her, “You choose, ma’am. I am not joking.”)

“‘I will ask a favor from you [Arroyo]. Huwag mo na akong bigyan ng sakit ng loob (Don’t make it hard for me) because they are all my friends. I do not want to hurt anybody lalo na iyan. Ikaw na lang, tutal ikaw ang pinaka-senior dito, (I’ll let you do it, after all, you are the most senior here),” he added.

President Duterte did say that the incumbent Speaker refused to choose the next House leader for him.

He then told the congressmen to pick their leader themselves and make their decision.

“You have to decide. You can do it by party (or) affiliation. You can take out of Hugpong for the meantime because it’s just a foisted political party for the purpose of election,” the President said.

“Huwag na lang akong isali ninyo, (Just spare me),” he concluded.

Senate committee approves bill giving Duterte authority to defer SSS hike

Aileen Cerrudo   •   January 26, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises on Tuesday (January 26) approved a Senate bill that will grant President Rodrigo Duterte the authority to defer or suspend the Social Security System (SSS) contribution rate hike.

Under Senate Bill 1970, the Chief Executive can suspend the implementation of the SSS contribution hike during a national emergency or state of calamity for six months.

While the SSS administration acknowledges the bill, it reiterated the need to implement the contribution hike this year.

SSS President and CEO Andrea Ignacio said delaying the implementation might have a negative effect on the government’s financial situation.

“Delaying this implementation of any reform will worsen an already dire financial institution. The new contribution schedule in the SSS Charter is a long overdue reform. SSS has increased its pension benefit 25 times while it adjusted contribution rate only 8 times to date,” he said.

He added that SSS would not have enough budget to pay their pensioners for the next 30 to 40 years. However, Ignacio said they will not force unemployed individuals to pay.

“We acknowledge that the contribution hike will add a little burden to our employers and workers but, at the same time, the fact is we are asking for this hike only to those who are able to do so. The employers who are operating and the workers that still have their jobs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva and committee chairperson Senator Richard Gordon said the contribution hike will further burden the citizens, especially during the pandemic.

Iyong may trabaho at may negosyo, sa halip na hindi na natin sila i-burden out, bibigyan pa natin sila ng additional burden na isipin (Those with jobs and business, instead of easing their burden, we are giving them an additional burden they have to think about), Villanueva said.

Lalala ang situation, baka ang mangyari masyadong hirap na. Talagang dapat tingnan natin kung anong gagawin natin to alleviate their pain (The situation might worsen. We should look for ways on how to alleviate their pain),” said Gordon.

Under Republic Act 11199 or the Social Security Act of 2018 the contribution hike for this year will increase by 13% and 15% by 2025. -AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Velasco files bills granting president power to suspend PhilHealth, SSS rate hikes

Robie de Guzman   •   January 7, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Thursday said he has filed two separate bills seeking to grant the president the power to suspend the scheduled increases in the contribution rates of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the Social Security System (SSS) in times of national emergencies.

In a statement, Velasco said his twin measures propose to amend Republic Act (RA) 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act, and RA 11199 or the Social Security Act of 2018, which provide for gradual increases in monthly premium contributions in PhilHealth and SSS, respectively.

The bills authorize the president to suspend the implementation of the scheduled increases in premium rates in times of national emergencies “when public interest so requires.”

But this should be in consultation with the secretaries of health and finance departments as chairpersons of PhilHealth and SSS, respectively.

The measures were filed after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the suspension of the premium rate increase.

Velasco said RA 11223 was enacted in 2018 to ensure that all Filipinos are guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services, and protected against financial risk.

He said the intent of the law is clear and cannot be overemphasized—Filipinos need and deserve a comprehensive set of health services that are cost-effective, of high quality, and responsive.

The House speaker, however, stressed that the current situation is extraordinary and that Congress must respond accordingly as he called for the swift approval of the bills aimed at alleviating the financial burden faced by many Filipino workers amid the crisis.

“While we recognize that the [PhilHealth] only aims to implement the provisions of RA 11223, imposing a higher premium rate to our kababayans under our current conditions will definitely enforce a new round of financial burden to its members,” Velasco said in the explanatory note of House Bill 8316.

“Suspending the imposition of the new PhilHealth premium rates will provide a much-needed relief from the negative effects of the pandemic and will assure Filipinos that the government is sensitive to their sentiments,” he said.

In filing HB 8317, Velasco said the temporary suspension of the hike in SSS contributions will help the workforce achieve faster recovery from the impact of the pandemic.

“We are witnesses to the negative impact of this COVID-19 outbreak. Under this pretext, the sovereign government must be given the prerogative to bend the rules of the social security law in favor of the greater good,” Velasco said.

He likewise said that increasing the rate of contributions of SSS members will “strikingly undermine the recovery effort of everyone suffering from job losses, wage reduction, business closures, and health-related issues.”

Lawmakers deny links to DPWH corruption

Aileen Cerrudo   •   December 29, 2020

The eight current and former lawmakers named by President Rodrigo Duterte to have been involved in the corruption in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) have denied the said allegation.

Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Sato, in a statement, said her inclusion in the list is to out malign her credibility especially with the upcoming elections.

“The report made by Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner Greco Belgica which impinges on my credentials as a public servant is clearly calculated to sow intrigues and disruption in the local politics of Occidental Mindoro,” she said.

Sato said Belgica is a known ally of her possible opponent in the 2022 elections.

Former Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr. said he is currently not facing any investigations involving corruption.

Baguilat reiterated that he will not go through the lengths of promoting Cordillera products had he been accepting kickbacks from the DPWH projects.

Misamis Occidental Representative Henry Oaminal also released a statement welcoming the investigations to be conducted on the issue to prove his innocence.

Bataan Representative Geraldine Roman also expressed her willingness to cooperate in any investigation to clear her name.

“I am open to any investigation to establish the truth on this matter and I am sure that my honor will be vindicated. My conscience is clear,” she said in a statement.

Quezon City 5th District Representative Alfred Vargas, meanwhile, has insisted that his 12 years in public service has been unblemished.

“I am ready to submit myself to an investigation by the proper authority. Mere allegations are not proof,” he said.

Quezon Province Representative Angelina Helen Tan, meanwhile, challenge the PACC to visit the project in Gumaca and not base their allegations on anonymous tips and reports.

Northern Samar Representative Paul Daza said there might be former DPWH contractors who might have put his name on the list especially after his office exposed alleged anomalies in the department’s projects.

“Records and history will show that it was my office who exposed former elected officials and contractors for abandoning projects. Because of my call for an investigation, I believe no less than six (6) of them have already been blacklisted by the DPWH recently,” he said.

ACT-CIS Partylist Representative Eric Yap reiterated he was not involved in any DPWH bidding in Benguet. He is also willing to resign if proven guilty of the allegations against him.

Once the session resumes at the House of Representatives, Yap said he will file a motion to investigate Belgica regarding alleged anomalies in the Duty-Free Philippines. -AAC (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

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