Philippines, Japan ink 50-B yen standby loan deal for post-disaster efforts

Robie de Guzman   •   September 16, 2020   •   188

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and Japan signed an agreement for a 50 billion yen (around P23.3 billion) standby loan which aims to quickly disburse funding support for the government’s response to national calamities or health emergency, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

In a statement, the DOF said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Chief Representative Eigo Azukizawa signed the deal Tuesday on the second phase of the post-disaster standby loan (PDSL).

Under this agreement, the DOF said the disbursement of the standby loan to the Philippines will be triggered by either of the following circumstances: the declaration of a state of calamity; or the declaration of a state of public health emergency.

In the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic or any other public health emergencies, the imposition of an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or its equivalent in the National Capital Region (NCR) or in any other highly urbanized area in the country will also trigger the disbursement of the loan, it added.

“The ongoing pandemic underscores the need to further improve our policy and institutional framework for disaster risk reduction and management. It likewise emphasizes the need to build our financial resilience against disasters and similar emergencies,” Dominguez said during the ceremonial signing of the loan deal at the DOF office in Manila.

The loan will be available for quick disbursement in tranches within three years once it is declared effective. It may be extended for an additional three-year period for up to four times.

The financing package under PDSL carries a fixed interest rate of 0.01 percent with a maturity of 40 years, inclusive of a 10-year grace period.

Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda welcomed the agreement, saying that “as a calamity prone country like the Philippines, Japan fully understands the value of safeguarding lives, infrastructure and livelihood.”

The signing of this loan accord comes after a separate 50-billion yen loan inked by both countries in July for the COVID-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support Loan, which aims to assist the Philippine government’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease and aid Filipinos most affected by the pandemic.

Bureau of Customs steps up drive vs rice smuggling

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is ramping up its campaign against rice smuggling even amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic by conducting raids on warehouses suspected of storing illegally imported grains following reports from concerned citizens, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the DOF said that Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero has assured Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that rice stocks imported by private traders during the pandemic would still be subject to “post-modification and post audit.”

This system will ensure that undervalued shipments are properly assessed and subsequently paid with the correct amount of duties and taxes.

Guerrero also said he had informed the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) that because rice is considered a “critical” commodity, traders were allowed to avail of the Provisional Goods Declaration in processing their shipments at this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The FFF earlier questioned the BOC’s assessment and valuation system on the entry of rice imports.

“The BOC has found the valuation of several rice shipments with provisional goods declaration to be quite low compared to the prevailing market prices,” Guerrero said in his report to Dominguez.

“But those are subject to post-modification and post-audit. And in the meantime, we are still conducting the post-modification, verifying the payments of rice because some of them are clearly undervalued. So we will catch up in the post modification and post-audit,” he added.

Under Customs Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 07-2020, if the Customs district/sub-port collector accepts a provisional goods declaration, the duty and tax treatment of the goods under provisional declaration will not be different from that of goods with complete declaration.

For the release of shipments under tentative assessment, the importer will be required to post the required security, whether in the form of surety bond or cash bond.

Guerrero said the customs bureau has also responded to reports by concerned citizens regarding warehouses suspected of storing smuggled rice stocks by immediately issuing letters of authority to enable BOC officers to inspect such warehouses and seize goods without the requisite importation permits.

“We actually raided them and we found out that many of these warehouses were operating legally and their stocks are covered by proper documents,” Guerrero said.

POEA assures support for seafarers affected by pandemic

Robie de Guzman   •   September 22, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has assured continued assistance to seafarers affected by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In Resolution No. 13, series of 2020, the POEA emphasized the provision of assistance and benefits to seafarers stranded ashore or are facing problems in their deployment or repatriation due to pandemic-related reasons.

Under the resolution, a seafarer who already signed an employment contract but cannot be deployed from the point of hire due to the pandemic shall be provided with accommodation and food to be shouldered by their principal or employer, unless provided by the government.

The assistance will be provided until the seafarer is deployed or returned home or until contract cancellation.

A seafarer who was deployed but becomes stranded during his transit shall be paid basic pay, accommodation, food, and medical benefits at the principal or employer’s cost until the seafarer reaches the vessel.

The resolution also directs principals or employers to provide the same assistance and benefits to seafarers who already signed a contract and deployed but unable to join the ship and is repatriated back home, as well as other seafarers who cannot be repatriated due to the pandemic.

Seafarers who completed his period of contractual service onboard, and who is ashore but cannot be repatriated shall also be provided with basic pay, accommodation, food, and medical benefits.

The principal/employers of the seafarer shall also provide all the cost on the accommodation and food of the seafarer during his quarantine period, unless otherwise provided by the government.

“Meanwhile, the principal/employers will be allowed to recover any associated cost on the said provision of assistance and benefits in accordance with the employment contract or the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” the POEA said.

CHED orders Isabela Colleges to explain conduct of face-to-face classes during pandemic

Robie de Guzman   •   September 16, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has issued a show-cause order to Isabela Colleges for holding face-to-face classes amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

CHED chairperson Prospero De Vera III said the college has been ordered to stop its in-person meetings as this clearly violates the guidelines being implemented by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

The order was issued following a report that a student tested positive for COVID-19 and that he attended an on-campus orientation in August for its post-Baccalaureate students.

De Vera said city health officials were tracing up to 45 contacts of the said student.

Isabela Colleges was given ten days to explain why no sanctions should be imposed on its officials for their failure to comply with CHED advisories and the IATF guidelines. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Dante Amento)

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