Sen. Chiz Escudero: Arroyo liable for malversation of PCSO funds

Senator Chiz Escudero is urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take cognizance of the pieces of information revealed at the Senate inquiries into the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) fund mess.

Yesterday's second Senate hearing unearthed damaging information that implicated former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after former PCSO general manager Rosario Uriarte admitted that she was able to draw additional funds for intelligence operations of the agency, which were later found, at the course of the inquiry, to have been misappropriated and used for questionable or non-existent projects. Uriarte told the Senate panel that portions of the agency's intelligence fund were diverted to relief operations and "blood money" donations to Filipino workers facing death sentences in the Middle East.

All the disbursements, Uriarte admitted, were approved by Arroyo. Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said the DOJ should seriously look into Uriarte's testimonies considering that her statements were given under oath and now a matter of public record.

"I leave it with the DOJ to decide on the matter but I hope they will consider the merits and the weight of the testimonies. The PCSO has been used as a promoter of patronage politics by the past administration and as such it has become a source of injustice and inequality in the use and distribution of its charity fund," Escudero pointed out.

The Senator said under the Revised Penal Code both Arroyo and Uriarte may be liable for malversation of public funds.

"At the very least, they could be charged with malversation of public funds given that they used government money for a purpose, however noble, other than what the fund was intended for," the senator said.
He said "personal gain" was not shown nor proven during the hearing to make the liability plunder, the staggering amounts of the said intelligence funds exceeded P50 million notwithstanding.

Escudero said with these revelations, the PCSO charter must be revisited and made true to its purpose and mandate by amending certain provisions that have been abused in the past.

Gun ban in Iloilo illegal; Sen. Miriam Santiago

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, a constitutional expert, today expressed doubts over the legality of the imposed gun ban by Western Visayas Police Director Cipriano Querol Jr., in eight towns in Iloilo. The gun ban, which was approved by Philippine National Police Chief Raul Bacalzo, is being implemented in the towns of Ajuy, Sara, Estancia, Balasan, Carles, Concepcion, Batad, and San Dionisio.

The affected towns are all within the fifth congressional district of Iloilo. The stated reason for the ban was to allegedly curb loose firearms and the rise of criminality in those areas. However, the towns of Barotac Viejo, San Rafael, and Lemery, which are all within the same district, were excluded from the ban. Only members of the PNP, military, and other law enforcement agencies on official business and wearing the prescribed uniforms would be allowed to carry firearms in the eight towns.

Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor, however, said that the gun ban is wrong, reckless, and baseless. He said that there is no state of lawlessness or rampant criminality in the affected areas that would warrant a gun ban.
He expressed concern over those who need security outside their homes, including public officials with death threats and businessmen who are possible targets of robbery and kidnapping. News reports cited statistics from the Iloilo Provincial Police Office showing that the crime rate in the district went down by 40 percent from April to June of this year.

Sources alluded to political motivations behind the gun ban, noting that the towns affected by the gun ban are all within the fifth congressional district of Iloilo. The district is among the most contested areas in previous elections.

Santiago questioned why there was no investigation, public consultation, or inquiry prior to the gun ban to determine whether the ban was necessary, reasonable, or sound. The senator said that the PNP provincial director, the governor, and the mayors of the towns affected by the ban should have been consulted, considering that they are in the best position to know the peace and order situation in their areas.

The Senator filed today Senate Resolution No. 531 calling for a Senate inquiry on the legality of the gun ban in eight towns in Iloilo.

DepEd Guidelines on Class Suspension during Storm

The Department of Education has called on the public, especially parents, to use as a guide the existing policies on suspension on classes during bad weather conditions in order to keep children out of harm.

Based on to DepEd Order No. 28, series of 2005, classes in all public and private elementary and secondary schools are automatically suspended or cancelled without having to wait for announcement under the following circumstances:
  • When Signal No. 1 is raised by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), classes at the preschool level shall be automatically suspended in all public and private schools.
  • When Signal No. 2 is raised, classes at the preschool, elementary, and secondary levels shall be automatically suspended in all public and private schools.
  • When Signal No. 3 is raised, classes in all levels are automatically suspended.
In view of this, DepEd has requested PAG-ASA to reiterate these guidelines when issuing regular weather bulletins so that the public can be duly informed and be better prepared.

In the absence of storm signals, localized suspension is allowed by the DepEd. The decision may be made by the school principal, division superintendent, or local government executive.

Secretary Armin Luistro reiterated that the parents, the local executives, and the local DepEd officials are in the best position to decide if they will send their children to school when storm signals are announced by PAGASA in specific areas.

Existing policies allow local DepEd officials and local government executives to suspend classes at their level to avoid leaving children on the streets when heavy rains and strong winds hit certain areas.

“The final decision to let the child go to school or not is left with the parents. Local suspension and parental decision are allowed since parents and officials on the ground have a better idea about the situation in their areas,” explained Luistro.

DepEd has also furnished media outfits with the guidelines, which they can use to reiterate to the public during inclement weather.

No ban of OFWs in Saudi Arabia

The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs that there is no ban on workers who wish to return to their jobs in Saudi Arabia.

It also reiterated the recent announcement of the Saudi Ministry of Labor spokesperson Mr. Hattab al-Hanzi that the ban on the issuance of work visas for domestic workers from the Philippines effective July 2 applies only to new work visas. It does not cover the household service workers with valid work visas who are already in Saudi Arabia or whose iqamas (residence permits) are up for renewal or those going on vacation. They can continue to work with their present employers.

This matter was confirmed by Saudi Assistant Deputy Minister of Labor Hashim Rajeh in a recent informal meeting with Labor Attaché Albert Valenciano.

The Embassy also called attention to unconfirmed stories about some vacationing workers who reportedly encountered problems at the immigration counter at the international airport in Riyadh.

“Allegedly, the immigration officer at the airport stamped ‘exit only’ on the respective exit/re-entry visas of the workers. As a result of these stories, OFWs are now having second thoughts of going on vacation for fear that they may not be able to return to Saudi Arabia,” the Embassy said.

Earlier, Mohammad Al-Hussein, spokesman for the Passport Department (Jawasat) in Makkah province has openly denied this when he was interviewed by Saudi reporters.

“There is no absolute truth to it. If it is an exit/re-entry visa then it cannot be changed at the airports. The final exit is stamped only after a series of steps are taken by both the employee and the employer,” he said.
The series of steps being referred to are the issuance of a release letter or no objection certificate (NOC) from the employer stating that it is giving its consent to release the worker and to send him/ her home to his/her country of origin. The employee has to sign a final settlement in which he acknowledges that he has received all his monetary claims from the employer.

These documents are the basis for the issuance by the Jawasat of the final exit visa to the worker. Before the final exit visa is issued, Jawasat also checks whether the worker has any pending police case, traffic violation, or bank loan. It is also required that no vehicle should be registered in the worker’s name at the time of final departure.

The Embassy advises OFWs not to believe these stories easily. As a precaution, vacationing workers should be in contact with their employers just in case they will have similar problems at the airport in Riyadh or elsewhere in the Kingdom. They should report the matter to the Embassy so that it could take appropriate action.

The workers who are already in the Philippines on vacation can get in touch with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to document their case and bring the matter to the attention of the Saudi Embassy in Manila.

Sen. Angara supports PPP that improve healtcare system

Senator Edgardo J. Angara expressed his support for a public-private partnership (PPP) that utilizes information and communications technology (ICT) to improve healthcare systems in some parts of the country that would otherwise be virtually inaccessible.
Angara, chair of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology, lauded the pilot program between Smart Communications, Inc. and the Department of Health (DOH) entitled Secured Health Information Network and Exchange (SHINE).
The SHINE program aims to create an electronic database of patients' medical histories and share it among rural health units and some government hospitals in Iloilo City.
SHINE boosts the efficiency of healthcare delivery by cutting down the time spent in time consuming and repetitive documentation of patient data. The system will also aid in recording consultations, filling up and sending of referral acknowledgement and feedback forms, searching for health care specialists or facilities, setting of appointments as well as the sending of short messaging system (SMS) notification and reminders to patients.
"Public-private collaborations like this can help make universal healthcare in the Philippines a reality. We have high hopes that programs such as this succeed," said Angara.
Under the program, health workers in the field will be able to access patient data through mobile phones equipped with the SHINE system.
Orlando Vea, chief wireless advisor of Smart shared, "SHINE will lessen the workloads of health professionals because the patient's records are recorded in computers. It also makes the referral of patients faster and more efficient."
Smart will provide SHINE-enabled computers and mobile phones to 13 rural health units, 10 health centers, five district hospital and two tertiary hospitals.
"Such a program, if successful, must be replicated across the country. Government has to be bolder and engage stakeholders--public and private--to boost telehealth in the country," said Angara.
Angara, author of the Philhealth Act, took note that the Congressional Commission on Science & Technology and Engineering (COMSTE) identified telehealth as a top national priority for 2011.
He added that a similar telehealth system is being pioneered by the provincial government of Aurora, his home province, with the help of the National Telehealth Center at UP Manila.

July is National Blood Donor's Month, blood is most precious gift

As the country observes National Blood Donor’s Month this July, the Department of Health (DOH) encourages the public to donate blood regularly to save the lives of those who need it during critical times.
“We need to maintain a safe, quality, and accessible blood supply,” said Health Secretary Enrique Ona, “and to do that more people are needed to donate blood.”

July has been designated National Blood Donor’s Month pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 1021 in 1997. This year’s theme, “More Blood. More Life” emphasizes the need for more people all over the country to become lifesavers by voluntarily donating blood regularly.

“Giving blood is giving the most precious gift to another person: the gift that will extend the life of the sick while at the same time, re-invigorate the giver. We do not lose blood when we give because as we donate blood, we re-fill our bodies with new and fresher blood,” Ona said.

This year’s observance will be held in Antipolo City, where Rizal Governor Casimiro Ynares and Antipolo City Mayor Danilo Leyble expressed their full support to the Program. The highlight of the activity is the Human Blood Formation (the first in the Asia-Pacific region) wherein the local chief executives and other stakeholders will line up in formation of the shape of a blood droplet, signifying partnership with local government units to bring closer to the people the meaning and importance of voluntary blood donation.

Led by the DOH, this year’s observance is supported by the World Health Organization, the Department of Education, the Philippine Red Cross, the Philippine Blood Coordinating Council, local government units, the local Blood Councils, the Blood Galloners Club, the Philippine Association of National Advertisers, the Philippine Obsetrical & Gynecological Society Foundation, the Voluntary Blood Donors Association, various hospitals, academe, and other stakeholders.

Philippines and China respect Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea

Joint Statement of the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China
[Released on July 8, 2011]
Upon the invitation of the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario of the Republic of the Philippines paid an official visit to the People’s Republic of China on July 7-9, 2011. During his visit, Secretary del Rosario met with Vice President Xi Jinping and had talks with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

The two sides gave positive assessment of the progress made over the past 36 years since China and the Philippines established diplomatic relations including the broad range of state-to-state cooperation involving the different branches of government and various sectors of society. They agreed that maintaining healthy and stable development of bilateral ties serves the fundamental interests of the two countries and meets the common aspiration of the two peoples.

They reviewed the progress of the implementation of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) for Strategic Cooperation signed on October 29, 2009. The two countries will maintain close political cooperation including high-level visits and defense and security cooperation.

Both sides discussed forthcoming state visit to China of His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and work together to make it a full success. Both Ministers are committed to focus on advancing practical cooperation for the benefit of both countries and people.

In the economic and trade arena, both sides agreed to continue to enhance trade and investments. They also agreed to pursue cooperation in science and technology, agriculture and fisheries, food safety, human health, infrastructure and transportation. Moreover, they discussed China’s possible participation in Philippine Public-Private Partnership projects.

They furthermore agreed to enhance cultural and people-to-people exchanges including twinning or sister-city arrangements, tourism, education, and media cooperation. They noted the need for an increased collaboration in the fight against transnational crimes including drug and human trafficking and the protection of nationals.
Both Ministers exchanged views on the maritime disputes and agreed not to let the maritime disputes affect the broader picture of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. The two sides reaffirmed their commitments to respect and abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and the ASEAN member countries in 2002.

Both Ministers agreed to further strengthen the bonds and friendship and cooperation between the two countries and to fully implement the Joint Action Plan.

DILG report on Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte out this week

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo today said the report on the results of the fact-finding investigation on Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s assault on a court sheriff last week will submitted to the President within the week.

“Hopefully within the week, we can forward our report to the President with our corresponding recommendations,” he said.

Robredo said the Department’s team of lawyers went back to Davao City last Thursday to interview and get the statements of other witnesses in order to come up with a more comprehensive report on Duterte’s possible liability for punching a court sheriff.

Last July 1, television cameras caught Davao City mayor as she hit sheriff Abe Andres four times in the face after the latter allegedly refused to grant the mayor’s request for a two-hour stay on a demolition taking place in Davao City.

The DILG Secretary also said that the Office of the President and the DILG have yet to receive a formal complaint or administrative charge from Andres or from any concerned party against the mayor.

“While there was a protest action in front of the DILG regional office and we have also heard of several complaints, still, up to this time, nobody has come forward to lodge formal charges against Mayor Duterte,” said Robredo.

The Interior and Local Government Secretary also pointed out the Department cannot file the charges against the mayor because it cannot act as complainant and investigator at the same time.

“It would be contrary to proper procedures if the complaint will come from our end, because our role is to investigate and submit the necessary recommendations to the President,” he said.

Exit-only visas at Saudi Airports not true, said Valte

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte:
On rumors of changes to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia exit visa system
[Released on July 11, 2011

There are chain e-mails going around that give some people the impression that the authorities of Saudi Arabia, in pursuit of Nitaqat or nationalization, have taken to marking the visas of foreign workers “exit only,” when previously, the visas were “exit-re-entry” visas. Saudi authorities have themselves denied that exit-re-entry visas have been switched to exit-only visas at airports. They clarified that Saudi authorities are revising their rules to apply a six-year rule for foreign workers in companies that fail to meet nationalization targets. The revised rules, however, will not affect final exit regulations as they exist.

For workers who are still under contract, an exit-re-entry visa is provided, no longer the sticker, but in paper form as records are now maintained electronically. Departing workers who have exit-re-entry visas are familiar with the procedure: they show the paper with their visa, it is checked, and the passport receives a rectangular “Exit” stamp; upon returning from vacation, the worker’s passport then receives an oval “Entry” stamp.

For those to be given a final exit visa, the regulations are clear: no employee can file for an exit unless their contract has concluded, if extended sickness benefits haven’t been given, as well as unpaid salaries and allowances. A clearance must be signed both by the worker and the employer. And these must be submitted to the Saudi Ministry of Labor for approval. The approval process requires electronic fingerprinting of the worker, and a background check to see if there are pending police or bank or credit card liabilities. Then it will be forwarded to the Jawasat for stamping as a final exit visa.

It is irresponsible to be alarmist at this point in time. As the Nitaqat rules are further clarified, the most significant development will be that the Iqama, or official identity card depicting an individual as a resident of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will become a basis for determining exit visas and not just the date of the end of contracts.

We understand that what the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will apply is that the date for termination will either be the end of contract or the expiration date of the Iqama, whichever comes first. However, some companies may extend the contracts of their workers up to the date of the expiration of the Iqama, if that comes later.

This underscores what Labor Secretary Baldoz has been reassured by her Saudi counterpart: that Filipinos are a valued and welcome labor force in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and that there will be no wholesale disruptions of the labor market or mass expulsions or cancellations of contracts.

The Philippine Embassy and Consulates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are prepared to render assistance to our fellow citizens, particularly undocumented workers. We urge our fellow citizens to undertake the proper documentation of their identity and work; and for our fellow citizens to be discriminating about so-called information spread by excitable, even malicious, and irresponsible individuals or groups.

Manny Pacquiao new endorser of DSWD Poverty reduction program

World boxing champion and Sarangani Congressman Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao gave his nod on the proposed “Face of Convergence,” an initiative which identified him as the person who will help strengthen the three core poverty reduction programs of the Philippine government led by the DSWD.

In a consultative meeting with regional directors of different government agencies called by Congressman Pacquiao, assistant regional director Gemma Rivera (center) of DSWD-Field Office XII stated Pacquiao’s influential role in transforming the lives and the hope that he radiates to poor families.

ARD Rivera pointed out that Congressman Pacquiao symbolizes the Filipino’s struggle to rise above poverty which the three core poverty reduction programs seek to achieve. The programs include the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS) and the Sustainable Livelihood.

The office of Congressman Pacquiao and the DSWD will soon forge an agreement for the  partnership.

“Exit only” on passports not related to Saudization

Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz yesterday belied the claim in the media of Migrante that Saudi authorities are starting to stamp “exit only” on passports of vacationing OFWs because of Saudization.

Citing the official report of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Riyadh, the labor and employment chief said the reported stamping of “exit only” on passports it is not possible because Saudi exit/reentry visas issued by the Passport Department or Jawasat cannot be changed in Saudi airports by immigration authorities.
“Labor Attache Albert Valenciano said the report is false. He has checked with immigration officers who had denied the report and who had said that “if it is an exit/re-entry visa then it cannot be changed at the airports,” Baldoz said.

In his report, Labatt Valenciano said the Migrante story is similar to an e-mail thread about Indian workers which has been earlier circulated in the Indian expatriate community and picked up by the media.
Valenciano scored Migrante for tying up its story with the negative effects of the Saudization policy and urged the organization to be more responsible by producing the passport pages of the OFWs onto which the alleged “exit only” visa had been stamped.

Baldoz urged OFWs to stay calm amid this latest “alarmist” reporting, even as she encouraged them to register once they arrive from Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday, Baldoz directed the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO), and all DOLE regional offices to activate and make available registries in their offices to capture the names and circumstances of all overseas Filipino workers who may come home as a result of the new Saudization policy.

“The OWWA has already a registry of OFWs started during the Libyan crisis, so it can easily activate one for returning workers from Saudi Arabia,” she said.

She also gave instructions to the concerned DOLE offices to immediately brief returning OFWs on available alternative jobs, local and overseas, should these OFWs still chose to go on the route of wage employment, and about livelihood and entrepreneurial undertakings for self-employment, if that is their choice.

“Our OFWs from Saudi Arabia can visit the 17 regional offices of the OWWA to register,” she said.
On the Migrante story, Labatt Valenciano reported that final exit in Saudi Arabia is stamped only after a series of steps both taken by the employee and employer.

The steps, according to the POLO official, involve the issuance of a release letter or no objection certificate (NOC) from the employer stating that it is giving its consent to release the worker and to send him home to his mother country. The worker, then, has to sign a final settlement in which the worker acknowledges that he has received all his monetary claims from his employer.

“These documents are the basis for the issuance by the Jawasat of the worker’s final exit visa. But before the issuance, the Jawasat also checks whether the worker has any pending police case, traffic violation, or bank loan, and that he has no vehicle registered in his name,” Valenciano said.

Valenciano added that the changing of the visa status at the airport is impossible because computer monitors at Saudi airports are incapable of editing visa status.

“Any change in the visa status is done at the Jawasat which issue visas.” Valenciano clarified that exit/re-entry visa being used in Saudi Arabia today is electronically-generated and printed on bond paper, not the sticker type pasted on a passport page. He said the “exit visa” that Migrante might be referring to is the triangular stamp of the immigration officer normally imprinted on the passports of all airline passengers leaving the Kingdom.