Lacson on US bill seeking suspension of security aid to PH: ‘Not only our loss but theirs as well’

Robie de Guzman   •   September 24, 2020   •   179

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday expressed his belief that the proposal to suspend the security assistance provided by the United States to the Philippines “will not only be our loss but theirs as well.”

Lacson issued the statement after a bill seeking such move was introduced to US Congress.

While he recognized the authority of members of US Congress to file a legislative measure “under any circumstance,” the senator said that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism.

Lacson, who chairs the Philippine Senate committee on national defense, stressed that terrorism knows no borders and timing, and that the US lawmakers “know that for a fact.”

Pennsylvania Representative Susan Wild earlier pushed the proposed Philippine Human Rights Act before the US Congress which seeks to block security funding to the Philippines until the government has made “certain reforms to the military and police forces.”

“Across the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal regime is using the pretext of a so-called “Anti-Terrorism Law” to ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers, and political opponents… In response to these abuses, I introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act to block U.S. funding for police or military assistance to the Philippines outlining a series of basic criteria which would have to be met in order to resume such funding,” she said.

Lacson said that as part of the legislative process, the bill will have “to go through the mill of first reading and referral, committee hearings and floor debates.”

“If adopted and approved, the said bill — H.R. 8313 — will not only be our loss but theirs as well, considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders and timing. And they know that for a fact,” he added.

Lacson further said that in deliberating on the bill, US lawmakers may have to consider and resolve as a legal issue the existing Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Manila and Washington.

The VFA 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.

In February, the Philippines moved to terminate the accord but was later suspended for six months in June. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Lacson urges Cayetano to resume House plenary session to pass 2021 budget

Robie de Guzman   •   October 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday called on House leaders to resume plenary sessions and approve the proposed 2021 national budget this month to avoid having a re-enacted spending plan next year.

Lacson said the House of Representatives is supposed to transmit the General Appropriations Bill to the Senate between Oct. 12 to 14 but House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano suspended the sessions this week amid the chamber’s speakership row.

The senator said he has already reached out to Cayetano to suggest the resumption of sessions to pass the budget bill on third and final reading.

“I have just suggested to the Speaker if it’s possible for him to resume their session, which is merely suspended and not adjourned, before All Saints’ Day just to approve on third and final reading the House version of the budget measure and thereafter transmit the same to us,” Lacson said.

The budget proposal was approved on second reading prior to the suspension of sessions.

Cayetano insisted that the abrupt suspension would only delay the transmission of the budget bill to the Senate for a day which was disputed by senators.

“Between Oct. 12 and 14 when the Senate is originally scheduled to receive the transmittal of the General Appropriations Bill from the House of Representatives, and Nov. 17 when the Speaker said they will be able to transmit the same to us, is definitely not a one-day difference as claimed by Speaker Cayetano,” Lacson said.

“I also told him the senators, especially the finance committee vice chairpersons, need at least one week to study the House version and submit to the mother committee our reports. Another week will be needed for the finance committee to consolidate everything and file its committee report,” he added.

Lacson said that in doing so, the Senate will be able to start floor debates immediate when it resumes session on Nov. 16.

Under the law, the House must first approve on final reading the budget bill before the Senate can tackle the measure.

Congress needs to pass the bill and transmit it for the president’s signature before the current government spending expires on Dec. 31.

“That is the only way we can ensure the timely passage of the budget measure. We cannot afford an impasse involving the most important piece of legislation that Congress has to pass: the national budget,”

If no new appropriations plan will be passed, the government will be forced to operate on a re-enacted budget that does not provide for COVID-19 response projects.

Lacson believes Task Force PhilHealth found enough evidence to indict Duque

Aileen Cerrudo   •   October 5, 2020

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Task Force PhilHealth has found enough evidence to indict Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III.

In a statement, Lacson said Duque and former PhilHealth Senior Vice President Rodolfo del Rosario may still face charges amid the alleged mass corruption in the said agency.

The senator said they based it on inside information that Senate President Vicente Sotto III received from a trusted source.

“Ayoko pangunahan ang task force pero ito na-share ni Senate President na nai-share sa kaniya ng isang mapagkatiwalaang source niya sa task force na sinabi nila aabutin ng ebidensya si Secretary Duque, pati si Senior Vice President del Rosario, (I don’t want to preempt the task force but this is what the Senate President shared which he received from a trusted source in the task force. They said the evidence could drag Secretary Duque and Senior Vice President del Rosario into the case),” Lacson said.

Meanwhile, the Task Fore PhilHealth said it is prepared to discuss the evidence that the senators have as the investigation continues. Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said they will still look into the previous corruption issues in PhilHealth.

“Patuloy po itong gagawin at marami pa pong mga pangalan siguro ang mga lilitaw sa mga susunod na araw (We will continue this and there are still names that will surface in the coming days),” he said.

Guevarra said the DOJ they will still submit more complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman this week.

Department of Health (DOH) Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said Secretary Duque is prepared to face the allegations.

“Mas makikita natin talaga ang totoo kapag ginawa ito. Wala po tayong tinututulan diyan at tayo po ay makikipagtulungan (We would be able to clearly see the truth if we do [the investigation]. We are not stopping anyone and we are willing to cooperate). The Secretary of Health maintains his innocence on this,” she said.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed malversation and graft charges against former PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales and eight other PhilHealth officials due to alleged irregularities in the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM). AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Lacson, Sotto to Duterte: Don’t resign, just apply anti-graft laws to both friends, foes

Robie de Guzman   •   September 29, 2020

MANILA, Phillippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said that President Rodrigo Duterte should just implement the anti-graft laws to all violators instead of resigning if he wants to end corruption in the government.

READ: Duterte admits offering to resign over endless corruption in government

“Instead of resigning, the President only needs to be consistent in applying the anti-graft and corruption laws to both friends and foes,” Lacson said in a statement.

Lacson issued the statement after Duterte said he has offered to step down from office out of frustration over the rampant corruption in the country.

“Ewan ko kung sabihin ko ito sa inyo. I offered to resign as president. Pinatawag ko yung lahat, sabi ko, ‘Kasi nagsasawa na ako. In my years of government […] talagang wala na katapusan itong korupsyon. Mahirap talaga pigilin,” Duterte said during his public address late Monday night.

The president’s remarks follows on the heels of fresh allegations of irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Duterte earlier promised to fire officials over just “a whiff” of corruption.

“Strong words and warnings may work, but only when backed by political will and followed by concrete actions. There is no better way,” Lacson said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also said that it is the corrupt officials who should be resigning and not Duterte.

“Dapat ‘yung mga corrupt sa gobyerno makaisip noon, hindi siya. He was elected by the country, he cannot turn his back on the specified task by the Filipinos! I don’t think he means it,” Sotto said in a message to reporters.

As for Duterte’s offer to appear before a Congressional hearing to tackle corruption, Lacson said it may not be necessary.

“In fact, the Senate is already proposing in a bill to give him Bayanihan-like powers to address red tape in government,” he said.

Lacson was referring to Senate Bill 1844 which seeks to authorize the president to expedite the issuance of national and local permits and licenses in times of national emergency to address corruption and red tape in the government. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

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