Lacson hits move to scrap VFA that exposes PH to security threats

Robie de Guzman   •   February 13, 2020   •   454

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday expressed his belief that the Philippines is now exposed naked to threats after being stripped of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

In a statement, Lacson said the country will no doubt survive without the military pact given the resilience of the Filipino people and its soldiers.

“We know how to improvise and we can adapt to crises the way we did many times before,” he said.

However, he pointed out that without the US assistance from now on, the Philippines will continue to be exposed to terrorists and other threats to national security.

“[I]n the meantime, we remain exposed to terrorist threats, both domestic and foreign, not to mention the continuing security threat in the West Philippine Sea posed by China, and even the need for timely humanitarian response and assistance that the US is capable of deploying during disasters, natural or man-made,” he said.

He also said that the abrogation of the country’s military pact also affects the maintenance and repairs of military hardware, mostly air assets provided by the US under the AFP modernization program.

The VFA between Washington and Manila came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

The deal may be terminated by either of the two countries by writing to the other party signifying their intent to end the agreement. Its expiration will come 180 days from the date of notification.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday shrugged off the Philippines’ scrapping of the VFA, saying it would “save a lot of money.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier said it is now eyeing to sign similar defense treaties and increase engagement for joint exercises with other countries as a replacement for the terminated agreement with the US.

But Lacson pointed out that establishing a similar military pact would take a long time.

“Exploring other options like inking similar defense treaties with other nations as posited by the AFP Chief of Staff is fine but the reality is, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“It will take a series of back-and-forth negotiations in pursuit of the concerned parties’ self and national interests before going through lengthy deliberations for ratification by the Senate,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

“While admittedly, the VFA is not perfect for the Philippines as far as equitability is concerned, the timing and reasons for its abrogation are way off the mark,” Lacson said.

“The thing is, it is not the smartest move of the President to expose ourselves naked first before looking for other options for cover,” he added.

Roque to ask Duterte on possibility of voluntarily disclosing SALN

Robie de Guzman   •   October 29, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday said he will ask President Rodrigo Duterte if he is willing to voluntarily release his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) following the strict rules imposed by the Ombudsman on the access to the wealth declaration of officials.

Roque said the president’s office is just following the guidelines issued by the Ombudsman.

“Mag-uusap po kami ng ating president at para matapos na po itong issue na ito, ay tatanungin ko po baka naman po magbigay ng permiso ang president para isapubliko ang kaniyang SALN,” he said.

The Ombudsman recently issued a memorandum circular restricting access to the SALN of public officials.

The circular states that a copy of a public official’s SALN may only be released if the requestor is an authorized representative of the declarant or the person who filed the document; if there is a court order in relation to a pending case, and if the request is made by the Ombudsman’s field investigation units.

Prior to the issuance of the circular, Roque said Duterte had released his SALN yearly.

“Wala pong itinatago ang ating president, bago po maglabas ng ganitong guidelines ang Ombdusman, taon-taon naman po inilalabas ng president ang kaniyang SALN,” he said.

The question of whether Duterte will voluntarily publicize his own net worth resurfaced after the 2019 SALN of 24 senators were released by the Senate on Thursday. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)



Proposed order for price cap on COVID-19 tests awaiting Duterte decision – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   October 29, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A proposed executive order that will impose a price cap on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests is now awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte, Malacañang said Thursday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Department of Health’s (DOH) Technical Working Group (TWG) submitted the proposal after completing its review on the recommended price cap.

Roque refused to divulge the recommended price ceiling on coronavirus testing in private hospitals and laboratories but he expressed optimism that the president will approve the proposal.

“Hintayin po muna natin ang desisyon ng president. Why is that? Kasi yung iba naman, napakataas ng sinisingil, alam naman natin, pwedeng mas mura yang testing na yan,” he said in a televised briefing.

Roque said the proposal seeks to make COVID-19 testing affordable and could help boost the government’s contact tracing and mass testing efforts.

“Para mas maging affordable ang testing sa ating mga kababayan ng sa gayong paraan ay mas maraming matetesting,” he said.

The DOH earlier recommended the placing of a price ceiling after observing differences in the COVID-19 testing cost in various laboratories and hospitals in the country. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Guevarra on order to probe corruption in entire gov’t: ‘Toughest task from Duterte’

Robie de Guzman   •   October 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said that the order for him to conduct a government-wide probe of corruption is his “toughest” assignment ever received from President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a taped speech aired on Tuesday morning, Duterte directed the DOJ to expand the role of its task force, which probed the alleged anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), to cover the entire government.

He also authorized the DOJ to decide on which allegation to investigate taking into consideration the gravity thereof and their impact on the delivery of government service.

The chief executive also granted DOJ the power to create as many panels as necessary and direct other government agencies to be part of such committees.

Duterte said his directive will remain in effect until the end of his term on June 30, 2022 unless sooner lifted or revoked.

“Apart from my usual responsibilities as SOJ, this new assignment is the toughest I have ever received from the President,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

“I will need all the support and cooperation of the entire government machinery to achieve this singular objective of substantially reducing corruption in government,” he added.

Considering the scope of the task, Guevarra said he will first determine the overall strategy and the order of priorities as well as the setting up of the expanded anti-corruption task force.

“Tentatively, I am thinking of creating several strike forces that will simultaneously attack various corruption-prone agencies,” he said.

Guevarra also said that he intends to immediately focus on the organizational set-up and mechanism that will carry out the president’s directive.

The Justice Secretary added that it would also help if government workers and other people would come forward to provide the task force with the necessary information to uncover corrupt activities and identify perpetrators.

“The new and expanded anti-corruption task force will take it from there,” he said.

The DOJ already leads an inter-agency task force, formed in August, that probed alleged corruption in the PhilHealth which resulted in the filing of complaints against several officials, including former PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Dante Amento)

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