Senator Edgardo J. Angara has filed a libel suit against high-profile architect Felino Palafox Jr., who Angara said has been waging a "willful, wanton, reckless and malevolent campaign" to damage his reputation as a public servant.
Angara, in his suit filed on Monday (September 19) at the Pasay Regional Trial Court, also said that Palafox's habit and pattern of defaming others who does not do his bidding--and destroying the reputation of people just to serve his personal motives and agenda--should be stopped.
The case asks Palafox to pay at least P61 million in total damages, consisting of P40 million in moral damages, P15 million in exemplary damages, a minimum of P6 million in litigation expenses and the costs of suit.
The libel case attached a document purportedly sent by the Coalition Against Corruption (CAC) to President Aquino on July 7, 2011, marked "Private and Confidential."
The letter alleged that Angara pressured then Department of Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim to make Palafox Associates, the architectural firm of Palafox, a loser in the bidding for the Tourism Master Plan of the Philippines. The letter said Angara threatened Lim's confirmation as DOT secretary should Palafox win the bidding.
Based on a the purported letter, Lim "tweaked the scores" to make Palafox Associates a loser, then awarded the bidding to former DOT Secretary Narzalina Lim. The letter claimed that the two Lims were friends, and the friendship was known to local and international watchdog groups.
That letter, principally attacking Angara for allegedly getting kickbacks for contracts and from investors at the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO), also went on an accusation spree, accusing many mayors and other top government officials of various acts of corruption.
Angara said the letter purportedly from the Coalition came from Palafox himself and it was all "falsehoods and pure fabrications."
"The letter has the stink of Palafox's ruse all over it," said Angara.
Angara said that Palafox has been using his position as president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) to convince the other members of the CAC--of which MAP is a member--to sign the letter that accused Angara and many others of corruption.
They have refused. Current CAC head David Balangue has asked Palafox not to involve the MAP on matters that concern him personally.
Angara said that personal motive has been driving Palafox's efforts to malign and defame him.
The APECO, which was created by a law authored by Angara and based in his home province of Aurora, earlier fired Palafox Associates as master planner.
The dismissal of Palafox Associates came after the designs it prepared were evaluated then rejected by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), which found them unusable and flawed.
The designs, if followed, would have posed grave dangers to the operations of the seaport and the airport, said the two agencies.
Subsequently, the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) ruled that Palafox failed to deliver his contractual obligations to APECO and yet improperly collected P32 million for his sloppy services.
APECO dismissed the services of Palafox Associates after the evaluation, then asked for a refund of the fees Palafox had collected for the unusable design.
Since the dismissal of his firm from the APECO work, Palafox "takes every opportunity to defame Angara with actual malice and falsehoods," according to the case.
The case against Palafox cited cases of "similar wrongful and reckless acts of defamation" carried out by Palafox when his s architectural firm failed to win a public bidding.
After failing to win the bid for the preparation of the Subic Bay Freeport Comprehensive Master Plan Project, Palafox accused the bidding and awards committee of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) of trying to extort from Palafox Associates. The SBMA filed a libel charged against him.
Palafox earlier accused former Senator Richard Gordon of protectionism and corruption, for which he was forced to issue a public apology to Gordon.
In May 2011, the APECO asked the Board of Architecture and Board of Environmental Planning both under the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) to suspend the license of Palafox.
APECO has asked the two bodies to fast-track the hearing on the cases against Palafox.
The planned fare increase in the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) can be aborted if the two agencies will restructure their operational contracts, Senator Chiz Escudero said.
Escudero, who has been opposing the proposed train fare increase, said there are a lot of existing options that the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) can explore to address the huge subsidy it continuously shoulders for the rail transport systems.
"As I have always said, raising fares should be the last option especially at this time. Yes, we need to look for viable measures to address the deficits faced by the two agencies. It is a challenge, but the bigger challenge for now is to restructure the whole operations and contracts to create benefits for the riding public," Escudero pointed out.
The senator has been pushing the government to collect its share from non-rail revenues of the LRT and MRT. He said revenue sharing derived from the advertisements and lease operations of the MRT Development Corporation (MRTDevCo) and the LRTA should be realized between the government and the two agencies.
He said MRTDevCo has been collecting and receiving income from the ads and lease operations, but the Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC), which operates the MRT, failed to settle its outstanding debt to the government now running into billions of pesos.
Early this year, Escudero had asked the LRT and MRT administrators to submit to his office a full accounting of their revenue sharing from advertisements and lease operations. The two agencies have yet to comply.
"In other rails in the worlds, non-rail revenues are actually used to supplement the income of the railway system itself so it can subsidize lower rates to commuters," he explained.
The Senator said the government should get its rightful share from these non-rail revenues so that the country can implement what all rails in the world are doing: tap non-rail revenues to subsidize the fares.
As this develops, the senator cautioned the DOTC and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) against plans to sanction those who took part in the transport strike the other day because this might infringe on their right to free expression and organization.
"Such retaliatory action is punitive and reactionary especially given the fact that valid issues were raised by the protesters as shown by the creation by the DOTC of a task force to look into possible collusion and overpricing between and among oil companies," Escudero said.
Since yesterday the (LTFRB) has started drawing up a list of transport operators who took part in the strike.
LTFRB chairman Jaime Jacob said they are preparing to charge and penalize participants for violating their franchise.
A Case of Illegal Trading of Radio Frequencies
MR. PRESIDENT, DISTINGUISHED COLLEAGUES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I RISE TODAY ON A MATTER OF PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE PRIVILEGE.
I stand before you here today to call your attention and that of our regulatory agencies, particularly the National Telecommunications Commission, to the continued violation of the legislative franchise granted by Congress to a telecommunications company called ALTIMAX BROADCASTING INC. (Altimax).
Allow me to provide Your Honors with a brief factual backdrop.
Altimax was granted by the National Telecommunications Commission Provisional Authorities to install, operate and maintain a nationwide direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service and a multichannel multipoint distribution system (MMDS), both on December 29, 2000, valid until June 29, 2002. On March 18, 2003, said Provisional Authorities were extended for three (3) years up to June 29, 2005.
Republic Act No. 8607, the Act granting Altimax its franchise to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain radio and television broadcasting stations in the Philippines was approved on March 27, 1998.
R.A. No. 8607 provides for certain conditions for compliance and they are as follows:
- Commence operations within one year from the approval of its permit by the National Telecommunications Commission;
- Operate continuously for two years;
- Commence operations within three years from the effectivity of its franchise.
- Operate continuously for two years;
- Commence operations within three years from the effectivity of its franchise.
Note that under the law, ALL three of these conditions must be met, otherwise, the law clearly provides that Altimax's franchise is rendered revoked ipso facto, which, literally translated, means revoked "by the fact itself."
Ladies and gentlemen, to this very day, Altimax has not complied with any of these conditions. Not one. That is a fact.
In 2008, or ten (10) long years after the approval of Altimax's franchise, the NTC-NCR conducted an inspection of the facilities of Altimax and found that the facilities supposedly located in Sampaloc, Manila simply were non-existent.
But strangely, in its Orders dated 23 June 2009 and August 14, 2009, the National Telecommunications Commission even extended the Provisional Authorities of Altimax for its MMDS and DBS services, respectively, up to June 29, 2012. This is despite the clear, uncontroverted fact that Altimax has failed to roll out its MMDS and DBS services for over a decade and that the franchise of Altimax, by its very terms, had long been ipso facto revoked. How can the National Telecommunications Commission lawfully grant or extend the Provisional Authorities of an entity that legally has lost its Congressional franchise? Certainly the National Telecommunications Commission does not have the power to grant a new franchise to Altimax. Only Congress has that power.
But that is not all, Mr. President. This anomalous situation continues and in fact, has grown worse!
Apart from scoffing at the conditions for the validity of its Congressional franchise, Altimax has unilaterally leased its assigned frequencies to third parties for purposes other than those specified in its franchise. According to Altimax' audited financial statements for 2009 and 2010, it entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with a company called INNOVE COMMUNICATIONS, INC. (Innove) wherein Altimax earned between 70 and 90 Million Pesos for the years 2009 and 2010, respectively. By this illegal arrangement, Innove has already deployed over 95 transmitters nationwide for the provision of WIMAX services to Innove customers. This arrangement is a flagrant violation of the conditions of the franchise of Altimax, which specifically prohibits the assignment or lease of its rights and privileges acquired under the said franchise.
Ladies and gentlemen, by leasing its bandwidth to Innove, Altimax has arrogated unto itself the very authority vested upon the Congress of the Philippines. Binastos po ng Altimax ang buong proseso. Binastos po tayong lahat ng Altimax. Tayong lahat at ang bawat Pilipino.
By entering into an illegal arrangement with Altimax, Innove has circumvented the procedure established by the National Telecommunications Commission for the application and grant of additional radio frequencies. Furthermore, Innove has been able to use the Altimax frequencies even if such frequencies were supposedly granted to provide MMDS service - and that excludes WIMAX service.
What is worse is that Altimax, which has clearly failed to perform its franchise obligations, has been allowed to derive substantial revenues SOLELY from the illegal lease of its allocated bandwidth to Innove. It is apparent that from the beginning, Altimax never intended to carry out the purported services for which its franchise was granted by Congress. But Altimax goes about its business to this day for purposes that are clearly contrary to law. Wala na pong ibang pinagkakitaan ang Altimax maliban sa panlolokong ito. This ladies and gentlemen, is nothing but an absolute affront to this august body, to Congress and to the consuming public. Deep in your heart of hearts, each of us present here today must find it difficult to disagree.
My fellow members of the Senate, given these simple facts, the following glaring question are now before us:
1. How can we overlook the terms of the franchise of Altimax as public utility and ignore the ipso facto revocationthereof after having spent the last decade doing nothing but engaging in illegal transactions for purely private gain?
2. How can we overlook the terms of the franchise of Altimax and consider as valid its MOA with Innove, thereby countenancing these illegal transactions worth over 160 Million Pesos?
3. How can we overlook the fact that Altimax, a company which never even started to roll out its own operations, has already earned millions of pesos by essentially subletting the privileges granted through its franchise to Innove?
All of these happened and continue to subsist right under our very noses.
It behooves us, therefore, to look at the fundamental law of the land for guidance as to how to proceed in the face of this controversial and anomalous condition.
Article XII Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution states that franchises are granted under the condition that it shall be subject to amendment, alteration or repeal by the Congress when the common good so requires. No less than that constitutional mandate to protect the common good requires us today to carefully review and examine the franchise of Altimax and its compliance, or shall I say NON-COMPLIANCE with its terms. We not only have the power to do so; we are in fact compelled by our positive duty as member of this august Chamber.
Allow me to further direct your kind attention to Section 22 of the same Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, which states that acts which circumvent or negate any of the provisions of this Article shall be considered inimical to the national interest and subject to criminal and civil actions, as may be provided by law.
The fundamental law of our land and our duty as legislators call on us to act accordingly today to correct this anomaly, lest we form part of the problem. We are all witness to an outright mockery of the laws which granted the franchises of Altimax and Innove. Must we all stand here blind before these facts that have been undeniably brought forth before us? Are we, the very representatives whom our people look to for guidance, to be held complicit by omission with these corporations as they arrogantly trample upon the clear letter of the law?
The franchise of Altimax itself states that the radio spectrum is a finite resource that is a part of the national patrimony and the use thereof is a privilege conferred upon the grantee by the State and may be withdrawn anytime, after due process. It is time for us now as legislators to go beyond the formulation of policy and delve into the proper implementation of the law according to the powers and duties expressly vested upon us by the Constitution.
The violations that I have asked you all to examine with me here today are so crystal clear and unequivocal that there is no room for any interpretation other than the fact that Altimax has no valid Congressional franchise and as such should not have been granted extended Provisional Authorities by the National Telecommunications Commission, and all those who are responsible for such blatant circumvention of the laws should be immediately held accountable.
The National Telecommunications Commission must immediately act to recall the radio frequencies illegally held by Altimax and to immediately stop the illegal leasing of Altimax's allocated radio frequencies to Innove. This, the National Telecommunications Commission should do unless we allow it to continue to be a party to these irregularities.
May I end by humbly proposing that this matter be referred to the proper committee for purposes, not only of investigating in aid of legislation, but more importantly, in the exercise of our oversight functions and our duty to see to it that the laws we pass are implemented faithfully and that any violation thereof are dealt with in accordance with the laws of the land.
THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT.
Senator Antonio "Sonny" F. Trillanes IV called out on Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila De Lima to explain her apparent selective application of the law and her VIP treatment to former First Gentleman Miguel Arroyo.
Trillanes' demand comes on the heels of media reports that Arroyo has left the country for Munich, Germany, the other day purportedly for medical reasons.
"Secretary De Lima must explain why she has decided not to place former FG Mike Arroyo in the Bureau of Immigration's watch list despite of the plunder charge filed by the CIDG against him, in the same manner she has placed others with similar charges in the watch list. This is clearly contrary to the position she took in earlier cases, like the case of former PAGCOR Chairman Efraim Genuino and his children, who were all placed in the watch list on the basis of plunder charges filed against them," Trillanes said.
"Two or three weeks ago, Sec. De Lima said in a press conference that she is studying the possibility of placing FG in the watch list. As usual, it was all just a press release. Now the horse walked out of the barn because she left the barn door wide open," Trillanes pointed out.
"By not placing former FG Arroyo in the watch list, she is allowing him to flaunt the law and leave the country unchallenged despite of the serious charges against him," Trillanes also said.
"She should explain and take responsibility in case he does not return anymore to face the charges against him," Trillanes added.
Trillanes earlier demanded for the resignation of Sec. De Lima because of the supposed failure of the latter to pursue the numerous cases filed against former President and now Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo despite of the fact that she has been in office for more than fourteen (14) months.
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Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan , formerly a chairperson of the Senate Committee on Education, shares a dissenting view on a proposal to change the school calendar, now under review by the Department of Education.
"Go slow on changing the school calendar," he says. "As former Chair of the Education Committee, this matter was brought to our attention in 2004. While the typhoon season causes a disruption of classes in June and July, data show that the strongest typhoons come in during September and October--the months wherein the change in start of the school calendar is being proposed."
"Foremost to consider is the excessive heat during the months of April and May. Unlike typhoons which disrupt classes for a few days, the summer heat takes place daily for two months."
"Our classrooms aren't air-conditioned and in many cases are overcrowded. Can our young students bear the heat on a daily basis for two months? Or will this not affect their physical and mental health?"
Pangilinan points out further: "Typhoons happen two or three times in a month, thereby disrupting classes for several days--but the summer heat is a daily ordeal. DepEd must weigh its options: Several days of class disruption due to typhoons, or daily ordeals and suffering from the summer heat due to the dry season?"
"For this reason I oppose the moving or changing of the calendar until such time that a definitive study has been undertaken to determine the impact of excessive heat in the learning process of our students."
Should the DOE be bent on pursuing the proposal, Pangilinan puts forward a recommendation: "The DepEd should pilot-test the impact of summer heat on our students. Essential in the learning process is the need to provide a setting conducive to learning. Will the exposure to daily excessive heat for two months get in the way of this essential requirement? DepEd must pilot-test the proposal before making any final recommendation."