SolGen move to gag ABS-CBN won’t stop Senate from probing franchise issue —Drilon

Robie de Guzman   •   February 18, 2020   •   269

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon

MANILA, Philippines – Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said that the move by the Office of the Solicitor General asking the Supreme Court to gag the ABS-CBN Corporation will not stop the Senate from requiring persons to appear and testify during its hearing on the issue.

“The Supreme Court cannot prohibit persons to appear and testify before congressional inquiries in aid of legislation,” Drilon said in a statement.

“The petition cannot prevent the Senate from hearing the issues on ABS-CBN. The petition has no effect on the Senate,” he added.

Drilon issued the statement after Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the SC to stop ABS-CBN and other parties concerned from discussing the quo warranto petition which seeks to void the broadcasting network’s franchise over its alleged violations.

Calida’s move follows the decision of the Senate committee on public services to hear the issue on ABS-CBN’s application for the renewal of its franchise, and the filing of a Senate resolution which seeks to extend the validity of the company’s franchise until the end of 2022.

ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise is set to expire on March 30, 2020.

Drilon said that even if the Supreme Court issues a gag order, it will not cover the hearings in the Senate.

“Such gag order, if ordered, cannot serve as a prohibition for ABS-CBN to appear and testify before the Senate panel,” he said.

He also emphasized that the Constitution and various jurisprudence have many times upheld the power of the Senate to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation and to exercise its oversight power.

The senator cited Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which states that the Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure.

He also stressed that it is the duty of the witnesses and resource persons to cooperate with the Senate in its efforts to obtain the facts needed for intelligent legislative action.

Senators blast politicians taking advantage of COVID-19 crisis to campaign for 2022 polls

Robie de Guzman   •   April 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Minority senators on Friday lambasted politicians who are taking advantage of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis to advance their political agenda, hampering the speedy delivery of relief to millions of poor families.

In a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros criticized politicians who are exploiting the current public health situation to campaign for the 2022 elections, leaving millions of vulnerable and low-income Filipino families unassisted.

“It is not red tape. It is the 2022 political campaign that is hampering the immediate distribution of relief to millions of poor families,” the senators said.

The lawmakers issued the statement following complaints regarding the “sluggish” release of assistance by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other government agencies.

“It saddens us that there are people who could be so heartless and power hungry as to take advantage of this crisis to advance their political ambition,” the lawmakers said.

“To presidential wannabees, hands off, please. Go away,” they added.

The senators stressed that the distribution of disaster aid and the bureaucracy is politicized when political campaign gets in the way.

“Worse, national and local officials who have shown initiative and innovation in responding to COVID-19 crisis are politicized, criticized and crucified, which would only add to the suffering of our countrymen and women,” they said.

The lawmakers also called on private corporations and charity groups to be discerning and to not allow themselves to be used for obvious political propaganda, especially during these trying times.

They also called on the DSWD and other government agencies to just use their existing database instead of distributing social amelioration cards (SAC) in implementing the government’s emergency subsidy program for the COV-19 crisis as provided in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The SAC is a form being distributed at the barangay level to capture the family profile, which will be used as the basis in providing aid to the affected families.

“Let us spare our fellow Filipinos this unnecessary procedure. Our kababayans are getting hungry and desperate for help. They lost jobs. Give the aid ASAP,” they said.

Drilon blasts Pagcor for backing continued POGO operation in PH

Robie de Guzman   •   March 5, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Thursday blasted the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) for its position to push for the continued operation of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) despite the problems and gambling-related crimes brought about by its operation in the country.

During Thursday’s probe of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the alleged influx of “dirty money” in the country, Drilon expressed his dismay over PAGCOR’s position to keep offshore gaming operations open so as not to miss out on income opportunities.

“I am disappointed at the statement today of Pagcor, saying that we are in favor of POGOs continuing its operation because of the income earned. That is a shortsighted statement,” he said.

“The social problems that POGO has brought to our country is not worth the regulation fees you get from Pagcor. Let me tell that to your face,” he added.

Drilon said the country has seen increases in the number of crime incidents, prostitution cases, illegal workers and the amount of foreign cash allegedly connected to illegal activities since POGOs were allowed to operate in the Philippines.

Citing figures from the risk assessment conducted by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), the senator underscored the 63 casino-kidnapping related cases from 2017 to 2019, which victimized Chinese businessmen engaged in online gaming.

AMLC Executive-Director Mel Georgie Racela confirmed they monitored P14 billion worth of transactions that were related to suspicious POGO activities from January 2017 to October 2019. These include drug trafficking-related activities and swindling.

More or less 10 cases of POGO-related homicide cases were also reported by the Philippine National Police, as well as increase in the number of operations against prostitution dens involving foreign nationals which resulted in the arrest of suspects, mostly Chinese citizens.

When quizzed on how much POGO contributes to the Philippine economy, PAGCOR said it collects P7 to P8 billion from fees and licenses from offshore gaming firms.

Drilon said the fees generated by PAGCOR are less than one-third of one percent of the country’s economy.

“For P8 billion that you get from fees, you are saying that they should be here? That statement, I must say, is a stupid statement. Basta may pera na pumasok, all these evil things we tolerate,” Drilon said.

PAGCOR also admitted there are about 120 non-licensed POGOs illegally operating in the country. AMLC, on the other hand, reported that in 2019 alone, 200 internet-based POGOs illegally serviced online gaming operations.

“Is it worth all these problems that we face? The P8 billion income generated by PAGCOR from POGOs is nothing compared to the social problems brought about by POGOs,” Drilon said.

“All these things happened since POGOs came into our shores. What benefits are we talking about?” he added.

Drilon said that all these social problems that the country is facing today are enough basis to ban POGO operations in the country.

“It is a policy issue. To us, the policy should be to terminate these POGOs because of all these nefarious activities that we see today,” he reiterated.

Drilon renews call for POGO’s closure to stop flow of ‘dirty money’ into PH

Robie de Guzman   •   March 4, 2020

Senator Franklin Drilon

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday reiterated his call for the closure of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) to stop the flow of ‘dirty money’ into the country.

In a radio interview, Drilon expressed his dismay about the country being used as a “washing machine” by organized syndicates to launder their funds from abroad, which land in casinos and banks, despite the existing Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

He added that this has become possible because of the proliferation of POGOs in the country.

“Yung ating banking system, financial system in general, ay ginagawang washing machine kung saan yung maruruming pera na kung saan-saang panig ng mundo nanggaling ay dinadala dito bansa at ipapasok sa casino o bangko o kung saan man at paglabas ay malinis na,” Drilon said.

“Sa akin po, hindi ba nag-umpisa ito lahat ng magtayo ng POGOs sa ating bansa? To me, the solution is we stop overseas gaming in the country. It does not bring us any substantial benefit,” he added.

Drilon made the statement ahead of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearing on Thursday into the influx of foreign cash allegedly brought to the country mostly by Chinese nationals.

The senator earlier urged his colleagues to examine the issue carefully, and consider expressing the sentiment of the Senate that POGO operations should be stopped.

He also called on the Bureau of Customs and Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to implement tougher policies against dirty money.

Under Philippine laws, any person is required to declare any amount exceeding $10,000 or its equivalent to any other foreign currency being brought into or out of the country.

The Department of Finance has ordered the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to work with AMLC in probing alleged attempts by syndicates to bring in large sums of foreign currency into the country.

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