Solons deny Sen. Lacson’s allegation of ‘pork barrel’ in 2019 Nat’l budget

Marje Pelayo   •   December 6, 2018   •   2615

FILE PHOTO: Sen. Panfilo Lacson

QUEZON CITY, Philippines – The House Committee on Appropriations strongly denied that there had been billions of pesos worth of insertions for two congressmen’s pet projects in the proposed 2019 National Budget as accused by Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Specifically, Lacson mentioned a more than P2-billion additional fund intended for the second district of Pampanga.

Though Lacson did not name the involved lawmaker, he was clearly pointing at House Speaker Gloria Arroyo’s district in Pampanga.

But Acting Committee Chair Maria Carmen Zamora stressed that they only provided P1.9-billion, not P2.2-billion, to Arroyo.

“I don’t see any Congress person na may ganoon kalaking increase. I don’t agree na nabuhusan ng proyekto ang distrito ng Pampanga,” Zamora said.

But according to Makabayan bloc, budget insertions are common among lawmakers which they divide among their local officials. In fact, according to ACT Teachers Party list Rep. Antonio Tinio, insertions as such are more massive among the senators.

“Hindi lang sa Kongreso o House of Representatives nangyayari iyan. Sa Senate din ang mas malaki pa nga na mga insertions,” he alleged.

But Zamora maintained that the budget allocations to each of the congressmen all depends on the needs of their respective districts.

“We make sure the reason is equitable distribution based on the needs ng ating mga distrito,” she said. – Marje Pelayo (with reports from Grace Casin)

House suspends DOH budget hearing

Marje Pelayo   •   September 15, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The House Committee on Appropriations on Monday (September 14) suspended its deliberations on the proposed budget of the Department of Health (DOH). 

Lawmakers seemed unconvinced by how DOH will manage its budget, particularly on funding rural health facilities. 

“Without a plausible explanation, walang malinaw na pagpapaliwanag dito sa pondong ito, Madam Chair, I move to suspend the approval of the budget of the Department of Health,” Anak Kalusugan Partylist Rep. Mike Defensor which the House Committee approved.

Defensor questioned why the agency is only giving a small amount to primary health care facilities such as barangay health stations when these are supposedly the first to respond to community health concerns.

“Pumunta ka doon sa barangay na iyon hindi ka magagamot doon [When you go to barangay, you won’t be treated],” Defensor argued adding that the DOH should focus on these barangay health facilities. 

“Focus doon ang pondo. Pagandahin talaga. Kesa iyong ganitong tinapon lang nila [The funding should focus on that. Improve the facility rather than wasting (resources)],” he added.

Bulacan Representative Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, meanwhile, believes something is wrong with the project.

“Nangangamoy ito na korapsyon [It smells like corruption],” he said.

For this year, the DOH has allotted P8.38B for its Health Facilities Enhancement Program while it proposes P4.78B for the said program for 2021.

DOH Undersecretary Lilibeth David answered that it could probably be that those which received small allocations were projects that are close to completion and only need few procurements.

“Equiping muna. The second is completing ang structure. Kunwari 90%, 80%, 70% na lang ang kailangang i-complete kaya nag iiba-iba ang amounts [First is equipping. Second is completing the structure. So for example, 90% to go, then 80% to go, 70% before completion so the amount varies],” she explained.

In response to David, Nueva Ecija 2nd District Representative Micaela Violago argued otherwise as she sees barangay health units that are lacking in equipment.

“Marami akong barangay health unit na walang gamit kaya ginagawa na rin talagang bodega. Walang kama, wala lahat, walang weighing scale, wala. Kaya sayang yung naging pondo ng building para gawin lamang bodega ng barangay [I have seen a lot of barangay health units without equipment so the structures are eventually turned into storage facilities. No beds, no weighing scale, nothing. So the funds are just wasting in construction of edifices only to end up as storage houses for barangays],” she said. 

The DOH is proposing more than P203-B for the year 2021, an amount higher by P27-B as compared to the agency’s budget this year.

The largest chunk amounting to P127-B will go to the Office of the Health Secretary while 35% of the budget amounting to P71-B will go to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for its implementation of the Universal Health Care Law. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Senate OKs proposed new anti-terror bill on second reading

Robie de Guzman   •   February 20, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Wednesday approved on second reading a bill that seeks to strengthen the country’s fight against terrorism.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who authored and sponsored the bill, said Senate Bill 1083 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 seeks to provide “a clear, concise, balanced and rational anti-terrorism law that adheres to regional and international standards.”

The bill includes a new section on foreign terrorist fighters to cover Filipino nationals who commit terrorist offenses abroad.

“With (Senate Bill 1083), we can be sure that whether the terroristic act is committed here or abroad, the perpetrator shall be within the arms of the law once he or she comes to our country,” said Lacson, who chairs the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security.

He also said that the new anti-terror bill seeks to repeal the existing Human Security Act of 2007, which “did virtually nothing to deter participation in the plotting of terroristic acts.”

The measure also introduces provisions penalizing those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation, and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.

“As a responsible member of the community of nations, we are duty-bound to improve our laws to ensure that we can implement UN Security Council Resolutions, meet international standards, and fulfill state obligations with the United Nations,” Lacson said.

The measure proposes the establishment of Philippine jurisdiction over Filipino nationals who may join and fight with terrorist organizations outside the Philippines.

It would also ensure that foreign terrorists do not use the country as a transit point, a safe haven to plan and train new recruits for terrorist attacks in other countries.

“We send a strong message to them: You are not welcome here. If you dare set foot in our country, you will be dealt with the full power of our laws,” Lacson said, adding that the penalty of life imprisonment without the benefit of parole will be meted out to them.

The bill also removed the provision on payment of P500,000 damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.

But the number of days a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest is 14 calendar days, extendable by 10 days.

Despite being a tougher anti-terror law, Lacson assured the measure has enough safeguards against possible abuses by arresting officers and that amendments were crafted to ensure that the rights and wellbeing of the accused individuals or suspected terrorists inside jail facilities are protected.

The bill also introduced a new provision, designating certain Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) as Anti-Terror Courts, to ensure the speedy disposition of cases.

The use of videoconferencing for the accused and witnesses to remotely appear and testify will also be allowed under the measure.

The bill also provides for the police or the military to conduct 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, which may be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days, provided that they secure a judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals (CA).

Any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years, the senator said.

To allay concerns of possible excesses by the authorities, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) shall be notified in case of detention of a suspected terrorist.

The measure also mandates the CHR to give the highest priority to the investigation and prosecution of violations of civil and political rights of persons and shall have the concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute public officials, law enforcers and other persons who may have violated the civil and political rights of suspects and detained persons.

PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty now reduced to mere paper treaty after VFA termination – Lacson

Robie de Guzman   •   February 11, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States “will now be reduced to a mere paper treaty” with the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Senator Panfilo Lacson said Tuesday.

“Like it or not, bad or good, nothing much can be done now but do a 180-day countdown upon receipt of the notice by Washington,” Lacson said in a statement.

“What is certain is that the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty will now be reduced to a mere paper treaty as far as the US is concerned,” he added.

Lacson made the statement after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) signed and sent a notice formally scrapping the VFA to the United States.

The MDT was signed by Washington and Manila in 1951 where both parties agreed to support each other in case of an armed attack.

The VFA, on the other hand, 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.

The deal may be terminated by either of the two countries by writing to the other party signifying their intent to end the agreement. Its expiration will come 180 days from the date of notification.

“Having said that, there’s no more intelligence information sharing in our fight against domestic and foreign terrorist acts, no more US military aid and financing that accounts for a good 52% of what they extend to the whole Asia-Pacific region,” Lacson said.

“That may not include other intangible economic benefits and security from external threats in the West Philippine Sea, as well as humanitarian aid in times of disasters, epidemics and other crises,” he added.

Lacson and other senators earlier filed a resolution asking President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider his plan to scrap the VFA while the Senate reviews it.

Duterte in January threatened to terminate the deal following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.

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