Senate opens 2nd regular session of 18th Congress

Robie de Guzman   •   July 27, 2020   •   366

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, July 27 opened its second regular session of the 18th Congress ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address set to be delivered later in the afternoon.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III opened the session around 10 a.m. with 17 senators physically present at the session hall while six others participated through video conference.

“I open the second regular session of the 18th Congress of the Senate with a sense of urgency and a purpose. As long as we share the burden of the COVID pandemic with other countries of the world, we must continue to work towards saving lives and easing our common anxiety. This truth is unavoidable,” Sotto said in his speech.

“The Senate has promptly responded to the needs of our nation. Still, the Senate is ready to do more,” he added.

He also vowed that the Senate will continue to work on several priority measures in response to the crisis brought about by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

These measures include the strengthening of the country’s public transport system, digital landscape as it transitions to new normal, distance learning for students amid the public health crisis and initiatives to help distressed enterprises to recover from the economic fallout brought about by the pandemic.

In a separate statement, Sotto said the Senate is also expected to pass the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which was passed on second reading before the sine die adjournment last month.

The measure seeks to extend the powers granted to President Rodrigo Duterte under Republic Act No. 11469 to carry out national policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate is also expected to pass the repackaged Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE), formerly the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA), to help businesses, especially micro, small and medium enterprises badly hit by the pandemic, rebuild, recover and retain jobs for their employees.

Other priority measures the Senate President is pushing are the Medical Scholarship Act, Presidential Drug Enforcement Authority Act, Hybrid Election Act, Anti-False Content Act and the 14th Month Pay law. The Senate will also tackle the Expanded Solo Parents Act, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience, amendments to Public Service Act and the Agrarian or Agriculture Credit Cooperative Condonation Act, among others.

In previous years, senators would open their session at the Senate Building in Pasay in the morning before travelling to the Batasang Pambansa, the headquarters of the House of Representatives in Quezon City in the afternoon to attend the president’s SONA.

But due to the pandemic, only eight of the 24 senators will be physically witnessing this year’s SONA. These are Sotto, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Francis Tolentino, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Sherwin Gatchalian, Pia Cayetano, and Ramon Bong Revilla.

The Senate and House of Representatives will hold a joint session at 4 p.m. Monday at the Batasang Pambansa to hear the president’s address. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Duterte hits gov’t critics, vows to uphold human rights at UN

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte blasted the critics of his administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, criminality and terrorism, whom he said are using the human rights issue to discredit functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country and a popularly elected government.”

In a pre-recorded message aired at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Duterte highlighted the Philippines Anti-Terrorism Law which was passed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure drew criticisms, with several groups claiming this could be used to silence and prosecute political opponents.

“A number of interest groups have weaponized human rights; some well-meaning, others ill-intentioned,” Duterte said in his message.

This is the first time that Duterte participated in the gathering since he became president four years ago.

“They attempt to discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country and a popularly elected which in its last two years, still enjoy the same widespread approval and support,” he said.

“These detractors pass themselves off as human rights advocates while preying on the most vulnerable humans; even using children as soldiers or human shields in encounters. Even schools are not spared from their malevolence and anti-government propaganda. They hide their misdeeds under the blanket of human rights but the blood oozes through,” he added.

Duterte said his administration remains committed to protecting human rights and continue to take part in “ open dialogue and constructive engagement” with the United Nations.

“But these must be done in full respect of the principles of objectivity, non-interference, non-selectivity, and genuine dialogue. These are the fundamental bases for productive international cooperation on human rights,” he said. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Duterte calls for equal access to COVID-19 vaccine at UN assembly

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – In his first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Rodrigo Duterte emphasized that all countries, rich or poor, should have equal access to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine “as a matter of policy.”

In a pre-recorded video message to the UN convention that aired on Wednesday, Duterte stressed the necessity of coordinated international plans and efforts to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, which he called as the “biggest test the world and the United Nations faced since World War II.”

He also pointed out that ensuring universal access to COVID-19 technologies and products to combat COVID-19 would be “pivotal in the global pandemic recovery.”

“The world is in the race to find a safe and effective vaccine. When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy,” he said.

“The Philippines joins our partners in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the Non-Aligned Movement in raising our collective voice: the COVID-19 vaccine must be considered a global public good,” he added.

Duterte also welcomed the launch of UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund which is designed to aid low and middle-income countries to overcome the health and development crisis caused by the pandemic as well as support those severely affected by the economic and social disruption it caused.

“COVID-19 knows no border. It knows no nationality. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no age. It knows no creed,” he said.

“The Philippines values the role that the United Nations plays in its fight against the pandemic. As a middle-income country whose economic advances have been derailed by the pandemic, we welcome the launch of the UN COVID Response and Recovery Fund,” he added.

During his speech, Duterte also recognized the sacrifices of medical professionals and other workers who are on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic.

“We salute all frontliners who put their lives on the line even in countries not their own. So also do we honor and recognize the healthcare professionals who selflessly answered the call to combat the COVID-19 pandemic despite its virulence and unknown characteristics,” he said.

The viral respiratory disease has so far infected over 31 million people across the globe.

In the Philippines, the number of COVID-19 cases has reached 291,789 as of Tuesday. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Duterte invokes PH’s arbitral win against China in UN speech

Marje Pelayo   •   September 23, 2020

President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday (September 23) invoked the Philippines’ arbitral win against China over the disputed territories in the South China Sea.

The President raised the matter during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, his first since his election as president of the Republic of the Philippines. 

Before the heads of governments in the UN, President Duterte stressed that the Philippines reject any attempts to undermine the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that was declared in July 2016.

“The Philippines affirms that commitment in the South China Sea in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award. The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” he said.

“We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for — the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition. This – as it should – is the majesty of the law,” he added.

Reacting to his speech, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the President’s statement in the UN General Assembly should cast all doubts about his position in the territorial dispute with China.

In response to Lacson, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin clarified that President Duterte never was a ‘slave’ to China as critics commonly think.

Locsin stressed, it just so happened that the territorial dispute is something that the President inherited from the administrations before him.

The Philippines and China’s long-standing maritime dispute over territories in the West Philippine Sea has led to Manila filing a case in 2013 with the international arbitral tribunal challenging Beijing’s massive claims in the South China Sea.

The Arbitral court ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016 invalidating China’s self-imposed “nine-dash line’ — an undefined and vaguely located demarcation line that China uses to back its claims and reject the ruling.

Since his presidency, President Duterte has been criticized for not upholding the ruling as he most of the time insists that the Philippines cannot do anything to counter China given the latter’s military might and dominance.

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