Senators expect intense debate on death penalty bill

Marje Pelayo   •   July 3, 2019   •   1161

FILE PHOTO: Death chamber

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Christopher ‘Bong’ Go has filed the proposed death penalty as his first order of business in the Senate.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said, there is a chance for the bill to prosper in the Senate if the provisions cover only high level drug trafficking.

“If confined to high level drug trafficking, it stands a better chance,” Sotto said.

However, Sotto is uncertain if he will be able to convince his colleagues if the proposed penalty would cover the crime of plunder as Go proposed.

There should be a compelling reason to reinstate the death penalty without violating the Constitution.

“Okay sa akin pero I doubt kung ma-convince namin (ang) iba (It’s okay with me but I doubt if I could convince my colleagues) to support more heinous crimes,” he said.

“Remember, the only way is to present a compelling reason in order to reimpose the death penalty. Otherwise it will violate the Constitution,” he added.

Plunder can only be filed against a government official who has amassed public funds worth P50 million and more.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri believes the bill will face intense debate among the senators.

“We have members of the minority for example the Senate minority leader, Senator Franklin Drilon they committed going against this,” he said.

“It will be a good and healthy discussion and we will make sure that it is calendared for plenary debates and eventually we have to put it on a vote,” he added.

Though a member of the minority bloc, Zubiri stands against the death penalty bill. – with reports from Nel Maribojoc

Senators mourn the passing of ex-DENR Sec. Gina Lopez

Robie de Guzman   •   August 19, 2019

Gina Lopez

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Monday mourned the passing of former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez.

In a statement, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said he is deeply saddened by the passing of Lopez, whom he called a “fearless advocate and a tireless philanthropist,” who dedicated “most her life for the betterment of her fellow Filipinos.”

Go added that Lopez’s “exceptional” dedication to protecting the environment has “no equal today.”

“I had the honor of working with her when she was the environment secretary of the Duterte Administration. As a former colleague in the government, I know how passionate, dedicated and humble she was as a public servant and as an Earth warrior,” he said in a statement.

“Ma’am Gina, taos-pusong pasasalamat po sa inyong hindi napapantayang serbisyo sa kapwa Pilipino. Isa kang katangi-tanging modelo ng tunay na pagmamalasakit sa kapwa tao. May your legacy continue for generations to come,” he added.

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel also expressed condolences and sympathies to the family and friends of the late DENR chief. He described Lopez as “a famous philanthropist and staunch children’s rights advocate.”

“I am saddened by the demise of such a great public servant and environmentalist as Gina Lopez. She will truly be remembered for her advocacies and contributions in the service of Filipinos,” Pimentel said.

“As the Filipinos mourn the untimely death of former Secretary Lopez, we also pray that her legacy lives on in every person and community her good heart has touched,” Pimentel added.

READ: Former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez dies at 65

Lopez passed away on Monday. She succumbed to multiple organ failure after battling brain cancer.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri recalled Lopez’s many efforts to preserve the environment and helping the aggrieved sectors of society especially poor children.

“Being the chief of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission is just one of the many tasks she carried out well as part of our government. She brought her environmental activism into every Filipino home in her travels around our beautiful archipelago,” he said in a statement.

Zubiri also expressed admiration for Lopez’s causes and for her grace and sublime courage with which she faced the pains of her sickness.

“She walked her talk, be it in defense of helpless children or displaced communities, or in nursing back to life polluted waters or ravaged forests,” he said.

“While in government, her habit of speaking the inconvenient truth to power was actually a strength, and not a character flaw in a bureaucracy straitjacketed by niceties. Though her stint was cut short, Gina was a great ‘secretary of defense of our natural resources’,” he added.

Senator Francis Pangilinan also said many will remember the late environmentalist as “a woman of courage” and a “firebrand,” who pushed for her environmental and child protection advocacies without fear and hesitation.

“She was all that. In or out of government, her life was about tireless creativity for all our collective future, through our children and our environment,” he added.

Senator Sonny Angara likewise paid tribute to Lopez, describing her as a “one-person green warrior” who took her “selfless” fight for environment protection to “where it matters.”

“She spent a lifetime pouring her considerable talents in bringing to the mainstream the powerless and the voiceless who exist forgotten in the margins of society. She fought for children who were incapable of seeking justice and care for themselves and eloquently spoke for the people in the communities whose voices have been crushed by exploitation,” Angara said.

“She was a one-person green warrior who took the fight to where it matters – in boardrooms, chatrooms, government offices, and in her favorite office – out in the open, under a forest canopy or underwater, where she was in her element with people she loved in a country she never gave up hope on,” he added.

Angara also stated that Lopez’s passing has “left us a bucket list to comply with and follow.”

Senator Grace Poe, meanwhile, thanked Lopez for her efforts to protect the environment.

“Sec. Gina Lopez came in our midst and taught us love for mankind and the environment, our common home. Thank you for touching our lives in your impassioned way,” Poe said in a statement.

Bong Go wants law penalizing prank callers

Robie de Guzman   •   August 7, 2019

Senator Christopher Bong Go. PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has filed a bill seeking to penalize prank callers using emergency hotlines.

Under Senate Bill No. 400 or the Anti-Prank Callers Act of 2019, Go defined a prank call as “a mischievous or malicious telephone call made to trick or fool someone with the intention to annoy, abuse, threaten, harass, or solicit any comment,” or a call intending to make false alarm of an emergency, knowing the report or information to be false.

Go said emergency hotlines should not be misused and abused as these are being used to improve public safety and to facilitate a prompt deployment of emergency hotlines.

The senator noted that President Rodrigo Duterte earlier issued Executive Order No. 56 to institutionalize the Emergency 911 Hotline as the nationwide emergency hotline number for people needing assistance in emergency situations.

Upon the activation of emergency hotline nationwide in 2018, the dispatcher had received 2,475 calls that day, but only 75 of the calls were legitimate and about 300 were prank calls.

“By its very nature and purpose, calls accommodated by the emergency 911 should only be for legitimate and immediate emergency concerns. There is no room for mischievous or malicious calls as the time spent in answering these prank calls may spell the difference in saving the life of someone in dire need of help,” Go said in a statement.

The bill proposes the imposition of fine and imprisonment for those who make mischievous and malicious calls to emergency hotlines.

For the first offense, violators shall be penalized with an imprisonment of one day to 30 days and a fine of P5,000.

For the second offense, violators shall be penalized with an imprisonment of one month and one day to six months and a fine of P10,000.

For the third and succeeding offenses, any violator would face six months and one day to six years imprisonment and a fine of P20,000.

Go’s bill also stated that “all acts and decrees, executive orders implementing rules and regulations or parts thereof, inconsistent with the provisions of this act are hereby repealed, amended or modified accordingly.”

According to the lawmaker, the prohibition against prank calls is actually not new.

Under Presidential Decree No. 1727 issued in 1980, dissemination of false information “or the willful making of any threat concerning bombs, explosives or any similar device” has been declared unlawful.

The decree also stated that making prank calls in the wake of recent bombings, arsons, and other terroristic acts committed by radicals and other lawless elements in the country is illegal.

The offense carries imprisonment of not more than five (5) years, or a fine of not more than forty thousand pesos (₱40,000.00) or both at the discretion of the court having jurisdiction over the offense herein defined and penalized.

Bong Go open to probing corruption issues at PCSO, Philhealth

Robie de Guzman   •   July 30, 2019

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said he is open to conducting an inquiry into the alleged corruption issues in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth).

Go, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, said the interest of the Filipino people should be put above everything else and those who committed corruption should be held accountable.

The neophyte lawmaker made the statement after Senator Panfilo Lacson, in his privilege speech on Monday, claimed that Health Secretary Francisco Duque was involved in a case of “conflict of interest.”

Lacson said the drug company Doctors Pharmaceuticals Inc., which was owned by Duque’s family, got two contracts from the Department of Health in 2016 and 2017.

Lacson also earlier claimed that Duque’s family owned the building leased by Philhealth.

Go said he has no reasons for now to pre-judge Health Secretary Duque despite the allegations made by Lacson.

“As chairman ng Committee on Health, I’m willing to investigate kung talagang mayroong katotohanan na mayroong conflict of interest, subalit I still trust Secretary Duque, until it’s proven sufficiently na mayroon talagang ebidensiya against him,” he said.

Go, a long-time special assistant of President Rodrigo Duterte, also maintained that he is willing to set aside friendship as what the chief executive always advises him to do.

“Managot ang dapat managot kahit na magkasama tayo sa gobyerno at magkaibigan tayo. Kung ano lang po ang tama. ‘Yan po ang pinagbibilin parati sa akin ni Pangulo noon. Do what is right,” he stressed.

In the same statement, the first-time lawmaker also assured the public the operations and services offered by Malasakit Centers are not affected by Duterte’s order to shut down PCSO gaming outlets due to allegations of “massive corruption.”

He said there are enough funds allotted for the services offered by Malasakit Centers.

“Sa ngayon budgeted naman po ‘yung operations ng pagpapagamot for this year,” he said. “Marami naman pong tumutulong sa Malasakit Center tulad ng PhilHealth, DOH, at DSWD. Sa ngayon po ay hindi pa po siya apektado.”

Malasakit Centers are a one-stop shop established in 38 government hospitals all over the country where patients can seek financial assistance from various government agencies.

The senator noted that the current collections of PCSO will be used next year.

“Naka-budget na po ‘yung pondo ng PCSO for this year. ‘Yung mga kinokolekta for this year, ito po ‘yung bina-budget po for the next year,” he said.

While gaming outlets have been closed, the lawmaker said the PCSO remains open for medical financial assistance.

“Bukas naman po. Wala naman pong nagsasara at hindi po magsasara ang PCSO (para) sa mga tulong medical,” Go said.

However, he cannot say for sure when the normal operations of PCSO will resume because the president wants the problem to be solved first.

Go also said the Duterte encouraged him to look into corruption issues, not only with PCSO or DOH but with other government agencies.

“Sabi niya, kung kailangan mong imbestigahan at kailangan mong silipin at may makita kang korapsyon sa kahit saang government agencies, lahat silipin mo. Magsalita ka sa Senado,” he said.

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