Duterte orders probe on corruption claims vs Cabinet officials

Robie de Guzman   •   March 26, 2019   •   1733

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte presides over the 34th Cabinet Meeting at the Malacañan Palace on February 6, 2019. ALFRED FRIAS/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has asked the Office of the Ombudsman to probe the current and former members of his Cabinet, especially those who are accused of corruption.

Duterte’s move follows a complaint filed against Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Director Sandra Cam last week urging the Ombudsman to investigate Cam’s alleged undeclared wealth and properties.

The complaint against Cam came two weeks after Alexander Balutan resigned as PCSO general manager due to corruption allegations.

The President said he himself would file the charges against his Cabinet officials if they are found to have committed illegal acts.

“Unya tinuod pud (Totoo naman). Naa gyuy corruption (na may corruption talaga). And these are all — ako mismo nag-ingon sa Ombudsman, (ako mismo ang nagsabi sa Ombudsman) “Imbestigahan na unya file the charges.” (Imbestigahan and file charges) Sa tanang Cabinet members na akong ma-filean nako’g kaso (sa lahat ng cabinet members na aking masampahan ng kaso),” Duterte said on Sunday night in Cagayan de Oro City where he campaigned for the senatorial candidates of PDP-Laban.

(It’s true, there’s corruption. And these are all — I have told the Ombudsman “Investigate and file charges against my Cabinet members.” I will file the cases myself.)

Duterte made the statement after opposition Senator Leila de Lima urged him to fire Cam for allegedly amassing P500 million in unexplained wealth in 2017 and 2018.

Cam, who was appointed to the PCSO in 2017, is facing raps for supposedly concealing her ownership of a resort and a convention center and parcels of land in Masbate province.

A certain Lino Espinosa Lim Jr. filed the complaint before the Ombudsman last March 21.

The detained lawmaker also called on the President to order an investigation into the accusation against Cam, who she said was involved in pushing prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison to testify in the congressional probe into the drug trading charges against her.

But according to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Malacañang will leave it the Ombudsman to delve into the issue and would not duplicate the investigation.

“Somebody has already filed a case in the Ombudsman so that’s the Ombudsman’s call now. Since it’s already with the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman has the power to suspend, I think we will let it do the process,” Panelo said.

Cam, for her part, confirmed in a radio interview on Monday that she was one of the owners of the mentioned properties but belied claims they were worth P500 million.

She explained she did not declare the property in her 2018 financial disclosure because it was not operational at the time. Cam assured to declare it in her 2019 disclosure. – Robie de Guzman (with details from Rosalie Coz)

Economic, infra clusters to hold pre-2020 SONA forum this week

Robie de Guzman   •   July 6, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte government’s economic development and infrastructure Cabinet clusters are set to present the administration’s plans for recovery and resilience in the face of the coronavirus-induced headwinds this year at the first pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum to be held this week.

The Department of Finance (DOF) said that the forum titled, “Regaining Momentum, Accelerating Recovery in a Post COVID-19 World,” will be held virtually on July 8.

Hosted by the Presidential Communications Operations Office and Office of the Cabinet Secretary, the forum will be streamed live on the Facebook pages of the Radio Television Malacañang, and other government agencies.

Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino II said this year’s pre-SONA forum will be different as the audience will be “purely virtual,” due to limitations on mass gathering amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do hope that our citizens will be able to tune in as the country’s top decision makers discuss our path to a quick and strong recovery from this crisis,” he said.

In the forum, the DOF said that top economic and infrastructure officials are also expected to report on the state of the Philippine economy, as well as the government’s ongoing efforts to leverage on its strong fundamentals in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar will present performance updates and priority plans, respectively, on the economic and infrastructure fronts.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua will speak on the Philippine Economic Recovery Program.

“The audience can expect Secretary Dominguez to delve deeper into the challenges we’re facing right now, the accomplishments in the previous year that we can build on, and the legislative proposals that the economic team submitted for Congress to consider,” Lambino said.

Meanwhile, updates on the monetary, external, and financial sectors will be discussed by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno.

Pre-SONA forums are held annually to discuss in greater detail the achievements of the government in the previous year and the priorities of the Cabinet cluster heads in the run-up to the President’s SONA on July 27.

Several senators laud signing of Anti-Terror Act despite oppositions

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators have lauded President Rodrigo Duterte for signing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 despite oppositions coming from different sectors.

“Much credit goes to PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte). With all the pressure coming from different directions against the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, at the end of the day, it is his strong political will that mattered the most,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement Friday.

“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the president,” he added.

Lacson, one of the principal authors and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, vowed that he would “exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also expressed elation over the enactment of the controversial bill.

“I am glad that the president has sifted through the rubble and saw the importance of the law!” he said in a message to reporters.

Senator Francis Tolentino also called the signing of the law as “very timely” and “historic” as the nation needed the measure.

“It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand [in hand] with economic rejuvenation post COVID-19,” he added.

The new law repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 and penalizes those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.

The measure allows suspected terrorists to be detained for up to 24 days without warrant. It also authorizes the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets and accounts of individuals or groups tagged as terrorists.

Before it was enacted, the bill was met with widespread opposition from different groups who raised concern over its provisions that could be abused by authorities, stifle dissent and spur human rights violations.

But Sotto said the law has enough safeguards to prevent enforcers from abusing their authority.

“It’s full of safeguards but strong against terrorists. Unlike the old law, it was subject to abuse by the terrorists,” Sotto said.

Lacson has repeatedly defended the measure, saying it has enough protection to ensure the rights of those detained.

Duterte signs Anti-Terrorism bill into law

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the proposed Anti-Terrorism bill, Malacañang said Friday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed that the president signed the measure on Friday, July 3.

The Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 and penalizes those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.

Under the measure, anyone who threatens to commit terrorism, propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism shall mete out a penalty of 12 years of imprisonment.

It also seeks to provide law enforcers the much-needed tools to protect the people from terrorism threat and, at the same time, safeguard the rights of those accused of the crime.

The measure was signed into law despite intense opposition from several sectors questioning its provisions, particularly the period of detention for suspected terrorists without judicial warrant, saying this may be abused by the authorities.

Roque said the piece of legislation underwent thorough study before it was enacted by the president.

“As we have said, the President, together with his legal team, took time to study this piece of legislation weighing the concerns of different stakeholders,” he said.

“The signing of the aforesaid law demonstrates our serious commitment to stamp out terrorism, which has long plagued the country and has caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people,” he added.

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