IBP partners with CHR to provide free legal aid to victims of rights violations

FREE LEGAL AID. The Commission on Human Rights and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines sign a memorandum of agreement to provide legal aid to victims. All photos by Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler 

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MANILA, Philippines – To help hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) will now assist victims through the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

On Friday, November 24, CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon and IBP President Abdiel Fajardo signed a memorandum of agreement which will enable IBP to provide free legal aid to underprivileged individuals who have suffered abuses – whether or not in relation to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. (READ: Human Rights Summit: Lawyers go all out vs war on drugs)


“As the national organization for lawyers, we must ensure that the marginalized and the powerless sectors of society have access to justice,” Fajardo explained, adding that it is the basic duty of an organization to “protect basic rights, the right to life.


The free legal aid will include court appearances, draft pleadings, and writing of letters in behalf of the client.

Gascon lauded the new partnership, adding that this will help the CHR which is facing setbacks due to limited resources.

Ito ay isang welcome development sa amin dahil makakabuo kami ng iba’t ibang partnerships with law groups sa pamumuno po ng IBP para tugunan ang iba’t ibang mga human rights violations whether this be in relation to the campaign of the government against drugs or in relation to other contexts,” he said on the sidelines of a Human Rights Summit organized by IBP and other law groups.

(This is a welcome development for us because we will be able to build different partnerships with law groups, led by the IBP, to respond to human rights violations whether this be in relation to the campaign against illegal drugs or in relation to other contexts.)


JUSTICE. iDEFEND calls for collective action to bring justice to victims of human rights violations.

JUSTICE. iDEFEND calls for collective action to bring justice to victims of human rights violations. 

Around 3,967 suspected drug personalities have been killed during police operations as of October 25, while the number of those killed by vigilantes has been hotly contested.

Latest data, however, shows that the CHR is currently handling a little over 1,000 cases of killings in relation to the drug war.

In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND), meanwhile, said the involvement of IBP with its current 60,000-membership now “sends forth a ripple of hope in these troubling and violent crimes besetting our country.” (READ: Lawyers do dirty groundwork to fight Duterte’s drug war)

“It gives us optimism that the human rights community is not alone in the fight against impunity and the guarantee of equality before the law,” Rosa Trajano of iDEFEND said. “You are not only needed in the legal front but in all aspects of human rights work.”

“We must swim against whatever tide takes us away from serving our people,” she added. 

The call comes as Duterte said he would bring back the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the drug war.

Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have warned that the return of the PNP can bring more "bloodshed and deaths". 

Some senators expressed concern over the PNP's return to the drug war and said they hoped they would learn from their past mistakes. (READ: CHR's Gascon reiterates concern over 'sense of impunity' in PH) – Rappler.com


Philippines slams 'cowardly' attack on Sinai mosque

FRIDAY PRAYERS. View of the Rawda mosque, roughly 40 kilometers west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, after a gun and bombing attack, on November 24, 2017. Photo by AFP 

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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines condemned the "cowardly" terrorist attack on a mosque in Egypt's North Sinai that killed at least 235 people and wounded 125 others.

Citing officials, the New York Times reported that this was "the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt's modern history."

"The Philippines strongly condemns this cowardly act perpetrated against our Muslim brothers and sisters in Egypt," Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement emailed past midnight Saturday, November 25.

"Attacks on any place of worship are totally unacceptable," Cayetano said.

He added, "We join the people and government of Egypt and the rest of the world in mourning the loss of many innocent lives in the tragedy."

A bomb explosion ripped through the Rawda mosque roughly 40 kilometers west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish before gunmen opened fire on the worshippers gathered for weekly Friday prayers.

Attacks on mosques 'rare'

The New York Times said: "The scale and ruthlessness of the assault, in an area racked by an Islamist insurgency, sent shock waves across the nation — not just for the number of deaths but also for the choice of target. Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the Islamic State has targeted Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims but avoided Muslim places of worship."

State media reported that Egypt's presidency declared 3 days of mourning following the attack.

The Philippine embassy in Cairo said in the statement that there are no Filipinos among the casualties, based on initial reports.

The embassy is already monitoring the incident. It also reminded the 5,183 registered Filipinos in the country about previous advisories warning them from going to the Northern Sinai Region "because of the high risk of terrorist attacks."

"The incident in the Northern Sinai today must reinforce the resolve not only of the various governments but also the major faiths around the world to work together and fight these forces of terror," Cayetano added.

Trump: 'Horrible, cowardly' attack

Other world leaders denounced this attack on a mosque in North Sinai.

US President Donald Trump condemned on Twitter the "horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshippers." 

A furious Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledged to "respond with brutal force" to the attack.

"The army and police will avenge our martyrs and return security and stability with force in the coming short period," he added in a televised speech.

UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson condemned the "barbaric attack" in a post on Twitter, while his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed his condolences to the families of victims of the "despicable" bloodshed.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, head of the Arab League, which is based in Cairo, condemned the "terrifying crime which again shows that Islam is innocent of those who follow extremist terrorist ideology," his spokesman said in a statement. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com


Is it legal to name Sheriff Abas Comelec chair?

DUTERTE'S CHOICE. Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Sheriff Abas is set to become the first Comelec chairman from Mindanao. Photo courtesy of Comelec 


MANILA, Philippines – Legal questions hounded the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to nominate Sheriff Abas, a sitting poll commissioner, as Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair.

Can Duterte appoint Abas to another position in the Comelec? Doesn't the law prohibit reappointments in constitutional bodies like this?


Comelec spokesman James Jimenez on Friday, November 24, pointed reporters to the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that answers these questions. 



This is the case of Dennis Funa against former Commission on Audit (COA) chair Reynaldo Villar, for which the SC issued a ruling on April 24, 2012. 

The ruling applies to constitutional commissions – Comelec, COA, and the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

The SC said, "A commissioner who resigns after serving in the Commission for less than 7 years is eligible for an appointment to the position of Chairman for the unexpired portion of the term of the departing chairman."

It is unclear if Abas has already resigned as commissioner.

The High Court added in 2012, "Such appointment is not covered by the ban on reappointment, provided that the aggregate period of the length of service as commissioner and the unexpired period of the term of the predecessor will not exceed 7 years and provided further that the vacancy in the position of Chairman resulted from death, resignation, disability, or removal by impeachment."

Brillantes weighs in

In a phone interview with Rappler, former Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr said he sees no problem with the nomination of Abas as elections chief.

Brillantes, a sought-after election lawyer, also cited the case involving Funa and Villar.

"Puwede siyang i-promote from commissioner to chairman," said Brillantes, referring to Abas. (He can be promoted from commissioner to chairman.)

He said that in the case of Abas, being Comelec chairman is not a reappointment but "a new appointment." This means Abas needs to go through the Commission on Appointments (CA) again.

Brillantes said the case of Abas is creating issues only because nothing similar has happened in the past.

"Kaya nagkakaroon ng isyu sa Comelec, kasi hindi pa nangyayari sa Comelec eh. Maski kailan, kapag tiningnan mo ang history ng Comelec, wala pang commissioner na naging chairman," said Brillantes.

(This is creating issues in Comelec only because it has never happened in Comelec. Not once, if you look at the history of Comelec, has a commissioner become a chairman.)

His father, the late Sixto Brillantes Sr, was himself a Comelec commissioner who once wanted to chair the poll body. (READ: Brillantes: Comelec chair in his father's seat

Making history

In a separate text message on Friday, Jimenez confirmed that if Abas passes the CA, he will become the first Comelec commissioner to serve as chairman.

If confirmed, he will get to oversee the 2019 elections but not the scheduled 2022 presidential elections. He will also be in office for 4 years and 3 months, serving the unexpired portion of the term of resigned chairman Andres Bautista.

Abas will also become the first Comelec chair from Mindanao, the first Muslim, and, at the age of 38, the youngest elections chief in Philippine history. (READ: Sheriff Abas to break many firsts as Comelec chair)

At the same time, Abas' appointment means Duterte will get to appointmajority of Comelec members by early next year.

Read the relevant portion of the Funa vs Villar ruling below:

To sum up, the Court restates its ruling on Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D) of the Constitution, viz:

1. The appointment of members of any of the 3 constitutional commissions, after the expiration of the uneven terms of office of the first set of commissioners, shall always be for a fixed term of 7 years; an appointment for a lesser period is void and unconstitutional.

The appointing authority cannot validly shorten the full term of 7 years in case of the expiration of the term as this will result in the distortion of the rotational system prescribed by the Constitution.

2. Appointments to vacancies resulting from certain causes (death, resignation, disability, or impeachment) shall only be for the unexpired portion of the term of the predecessor, but such appointments cannot be less than the unexpired portion as this will likewise disrupt the staggering of terms laid down under Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D).

3. Members of the Commission, e.g. COA, Comelec, or CSC, who were appointed for a full term of 7 years and who served the entire period, are barred from reappointment to any position in the Commission. Corollarily, the first appointees in the Commission under the Constitution are also covered by the prohibition against reappointment.

4. A commissioner who resigns after serving in the Commission for less than 7 years is eligible for an appointment to the position of Chairman for the unexpired portion of the term of the departing chairman. Such appointment is not covered by the ban on reappointment, provided that the aggregate period of the length of service as commissioner and the unexpired period of the term of the predecessor will not exceed 7 years and provided further that the vacancy in the position of Chairman resulted from death, resignation, disability, or removal by impeachment. The Court clarifies that reappointment found in Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D) means a movement to one and the same office (Commissioner to Commissioner or Chairman to Chairman). On the other hand, an appointment involving a movement to a different position or office (Commissioner to Chairman) would constitute a new appointment and, hence, not, in the strict legal sense, a reappointment barred under the Constitution.

5. Any member of the Commission cannot be appointed or designated in a temporary or acting capacity.

– Rappler.com


PRRD wants investment restrictions eased

President Duterte has ordered the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to immediately work on measures to lift or ease the country’s foreign investment negative list.

In Memorandum Order No. 16 dated November 21, 2017, President Duterte identified eight investment areas that should be removed from the 11th Regular Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL).

These areas include labor recruitment, public services, rice and corn production, milling, processing, trading, teaching at higher education levels, retail and domestic market enterprises.

According to Duterte, their removal from the FINL aims “to raise the Philippines’ level of competitiveness and to foster higher economic growth in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.”

“Beyond through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership, the NEDA Board and its member agencies are hereby directed to take immediate steps to lift or ease existing restrictions on foreign participation in the following investment areas or activities,” the President’s order read.

The NEDA board members were also directed “to earnestly support, in a coordinated manner, such legislative efforts as may be necessary to eliminate or relax the aforesaid restrictions, including sensing legislations seeking to clarify the definition of public utilities.”

The President also sought the NEDA Board’s advice regarding the restrictions on foreign participation which may already be lifted or eased without need of legislation.

Foreign ownership

Sought for comment, Socioeconomic Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said yesterday the NEDA Board can soon begin working on the FINL and have it finished before the end of the year.

Pernia added that half of the investment areas identified by the President could be removed from the list without the approval of Congress.

Asked when they expect Congress to pass measures that would relax the restrictions, Pernia said “hopefully within the first quarter next year with the President’s push.”

Based on a technical working group (TWG) report obtained by reporters, areas where foreigners could eventually fully operate include financing and investment companies, as well as education. They may also practice some licensed professions in the Philippines.

Other areas identified in the TWG report are mass media, supplies to state-owned corporations and agencies as well as bath houses and massage clinics.

According to the report, the government can cite Republic Act No. 10881 as its basis in allowing foreign nationals to acquire full ownership of financing and investment companies in the Philippines.

Reciprocity system

The government is also looking at allowing foreign pharmacists and forestry to practice their profession in the country, as long as it is under a reciprocity system.

Along with this, the government may ease the restrictions on education by limiting the 40 percent foreign equity rule only to basic education. The TWG also recommended that high-level skills development be opened to foreign players.

On mass media, the government is considering the easing of foreign equity limitations imposed on marketing and advertising through the Internet.

Contracts for the supply of materials, goods and commodities to government-owned or controlled corporation, company, agency or municipal corporations are also being considered to be removed from the list, also on a reciprocity basis.

Lastly, the TWG has recommended to the Department of Health to classify sauna and steam bathhouses, massage clinics and other like activities under “wellness centers” to allow full foreign ownership.

The Philippines’ so-called “foreign investment negative list” lays out investment areas closed to foreign investment and areas where foreign ownership is limited. The list is periodically evaluated by the NEDA.

In 2015, business groups were dismayed after former President Benigno S. Aquino III kept the list of industries reserved for Filipinos under the 10th Regular Foreign Investment Negative List.


DOTr exec quits over MRT 3

Department of Transportation (DOTr) Undersecretary for Railways Cesar Chavez resigned on Thursday in the wake of problems plaguing the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT 3).

In his resignation letter addressed to President Duterte, Chavez – who had earlier promised that the government will solve MRT 3’s glitches “within three to six months” – cited sense of “delicadeza” which gave him “no choice but to resign.”

“I’m taking responsibility for all the breakdowns and glitches in the MRT system,” the former transportation official said in a press conference held at the MRT depot in Quezon City.

CALLING IT QUITS – Undersecretary Cesar Chavez, shown inspecting the site of the accident where an MRT rider lost an arm last November 14, cited delicadeza in submitting his irrevocable resignation Thursday. (Kevin Tristan Espiritu | Manila Bulletin)
CALLING IT QUITS – Undersecretary Cesar Chavez, shown inspecting the site of the accident where an MRT rider lost an arm last November 14, cited delicadeza in submitting his irrevocable resignation Thursday. (Kevin Tristan Espiritu | Manila Bulletin)

“The MRT operations have improved since we assumed office, were it not for the unfortunate incidents like decoupling of train coach and the severing of a right arm of a woman who figured in an accident,” he added.

His move should pave the way for the appointment of someone “better qualified to perform the duties and responsibilities” of the job.

Chavez is confident the President will select an official with a deep experience in the railways sector and can implement initiatives to improve the MRT system’s operations.

“I am honored and privileged to have been given the trust and confidence for the subject position and I hope that the problems plaguing the MRT 3 system be resolved properly and with dispatch. I shall continue to support your programs and visions for our country especially in the rail transport sector,” he said.

DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade said he had no inkling that Chavez wanted to quit and denied he was behind the move. “He has my full trust and confidence. I didn’t ask him to resign,” he stated.

Last November 6, DOTr terminated the entire maintenance contract of Busan Universal Railways, Inc. (BURI) for MRT 3.

Search for maintenance provider

To avoid disrupting services of the railway used by half a million commuters per day, an MRT 3 Maintenance Transition Team (MTT) temporarily took over the line’s maintenance works while the government is in the process of finding a new maintenance provider.

The Philippine National Railways (PNR) and the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) are also providing technical support and expertise for the MRT 3 system.

Tugade has created a new Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) for the MTT that is temporarily taking over the MRT operations after the maintenance contract with BURI was terminated. It will procure some critical rehabilitation services and spare parts, including, but not limited to, signaling system to cover parts and services; general overhaul of 38 light rail vehicles (LRVs), air-conditioned units for passenger riding comfort, and total rail replacement.

The DOTr also plans to acquire a technically and financially capable maintenance service provider within three to six months from the government takeover last November 6. The DOTr is looking into a maintenance service contract for 2-3 years from a highly reputable maintenance service provider with a proven track record.

DOTr likewise is aiming for a complete takeover of the whole system by the winning bidder pursuant to the “unsolicited proposal” by second half of next year.

It was recalled that last Nov. 13, one week after the government takeover of the maintenance services from BURI, the third car of a northbound MRT 3 train decoupled between Ayala Station and Buendia Station. The real cause has not yet been identified.

BURI blamed the continuing glitches of the railway to design flaws in the train system and other system components, the bad condition of the rails, and overloading.

Furthermore, “the nebulous suggestion of a supposed ‘sabotage’ is clearly a simple attempt of Usec. Chavez to evade answering the real issues regarding his team’s own failures in the takeover,” it said.

Service to worsen

Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate said the MRT 3 will only get worse with the resignation of Chavez, whom he praised for his willingness to consult with stakeholders in efforts to iron out problems pertaining to the rail systems.

“His (Chavez) irrevocable resignation shows that the commuting public will expect, not an improvement, but an even worse MRT service,” the Makabayan lawmaker said.

“Usec. Chavez is one of the more open public officials under the DOTr and often invites groups and people’s organizations to check or consult on how to deal with the rail problems in the country,” Zarate noted.

While he called Chavez’s exit unfortunate, Zarate claimed that it wasn’t surprising “considering the powerful economic and political interests that he stepped into while addressing the rotten and derailed MRT 3 rail system.”

“The MRT/LRT problem is now emblematic of the grave and utter failure of the government’s onerous privatization program and abandonment of its primary role and control of our public mass transportation system,” the militant solon said.

Find solution

Senators called on Malacañang to immediately find a solution to the pressing problems hounding MRT 3.

Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said she finds Chavez’s decision to resign from the DOTr as an unfortunate development and hoped the Palace would find another person who is able and willing to take up the cudgels he left behind.

“I respect Usec. Cesar Chavez for tendering his resignation in the light of the MRT problems. I admire his sense of delicadeza although I doubt that that is the only reason that prompted him to resign. He seemed to be one of the DOTr officials who was determined to fully address all the issues plaguing the MRT,” Poe said in a statement.

“However, it is time to evaluate the actions and the leadership of the DOTr as a whole in connection with how issues hounding the MRT have been addressed. These issues should be properly and expeditiously resolved despite Usec. Chavez’s resignation and especially considering the commuting horrors our people have to go through every day,” she said.

Poe recalled Chavez was instrumental in unearthing the persons involved in anomalies that caused these issues, a matter supported by Sen. Joel Villanueva.

“We have high respect for Usec. Cesar Chavez. He has been at the frontline uncovering anomalies in the MRT. His sudden resignation surprised us,” Villanueva said.

Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said he is unhappy with Chavez’s decision to quit, considering he is one of the more passionate DOTr officials, especially on railway projects.

Ejercito said the appointment of a new officer in charge means he needs time to know the problems and eventual solutions.

“So, I expect more delays and problems to arise in the coming days as whoever the new officer-in-charge needs time to be acquainted and to know the problems,” he said.

“Problem is, we do not really have rail or tech experts who can take over and is equipped with the knowledge already. Panibagong kapaan na naman ito,” he lamented.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian echoed Ejercito’s observation: “The resignation of Usec Chavez is a big loss considering that he had been upfront and straightforward with the problems that surround the department.”

“DOTr urgently needs a good communicator to explain to us, the public, about their plans and solutions to improve the traffic situation of the country,” Gatchalian said.

Sen. Nancy Binay urged Secretary Tugade to immediately step in and appoint Chavez’ replacement since the MRT 3 serves hundreds of thousands of commuters in Metro Manila every day.

“The MRT is a vital component of Metro Manila’s transportation network and we owe the commuting public an uninterrupted service to them,” Binay said in a statement.

Chavez had the guts to find ways and solutions to the problems besetting the MRT 3 despite the odds and challenges, she added. (With reports from Ellson A. Quismorio, Hannah L. Torregoza, and PNA)


8 years on, justice still sought for ‘Maguindanao Massacre’

Eight years after the infamous November 2009 Maguindanao massacre, rights groups expressed their relentless support to the families of the victims as they renewed their calls to the government to dismantle all private armies and paramilitary groups.

“We share the plight of the families of the Ampatuan massacre victims for justice, and demand for speedy trial and ultimately, conviction of those involved in one of the worst attacks against journalists and civilians in recent history,” said Evangeline Hernandez, chairperson of Hustisya.

Three students from Lanao region view the concrete shrine bearing the names of 58 people, among them media workers, slain in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre. (Ali G. Macabalang / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)
Three students from Lanao region view the concrete shrine bearing the names of 58 people, among them media workers, slain in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre.

For her part, Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said they are also hopeful that the more than 100 individuals charged with 58 counts of murder in the said incident will be convicted soon.

She added that those that allowed the widespread presence and proliferation of “private armies” should also be prosecuted and made accountable.

5th accused dies

Coinciding with the eighth anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, another accused in the case died yesterday morning due to heart failure.

Information from a staff member of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, said the accused SPO1 Eduardo Ong of the 1508th Provincial Mobile Group (PMG) of the PNP in Maguindanao died at the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital.

The report said Ong was rushed to the said hospital Wednesday night due to difficulty in breathing, but expired the following morning due to congestive heart failure.

Ong, 59, was the fifth accused to die while in detention.

Read more: Another suspect in Maguindanao massacre dies

Justice nears

Meanwhile, Malacañang said the conclusion of the long and winding trial on the Maguindanao Massacre is now drawing near.

Communications Undersecretary Joel Egco, head of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), said that at the speed the trial is moving on, the case may be resolved within the term of President Duterte.

“After a long and tedious search for justice, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. We expect justice to be completely solved for the victims and families of this most gruesome crime,” he said during the Thursday palace press briefing.

Egco the most welcomed developments in the trial, so far, is the prosecution’s termination of the presentations of 190 witnesses, while 63 have been presented by the defense so far. The massacre left 58 persons dead, including 32 members of the media. (With a report from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos)


It’s official: Pres. Duterte signs proclamation terminating peace talks with Reds

President Rodrigo Duterte signed yesterday Proclamation No. 360 that terminates the government’s peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP).

This file photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows guerrillas of the New People's Army (NPA) in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range. (AFP PHOTO / Noel CELIS / MANILA BULLETIN)
This file photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows guerrillas of the New People’s Army (NPA) in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range.

According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Duterte signed the said proclamation Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Duterte said he will order the arrest of non-armed legal fronts for conspiracy to commit terrorism under the Human Security Act (HSA).

Earlier, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) announced that the formal talks have been officially cancelled following the President’s pronouncement that the CPP-NPA-NDF will now be considered as terrorists and criminals.

The Chief Executive also ordered the cancellation of all peace talks and meetings with the NDF-CPP-NPA.

Roque reiterated that the government has exerted all efforts to pursue the peace negotiations but said that the communist rebels failed to reciprocate the government’s initiatives.

“While we agreed to resume peace talks with the aforementioned group and exerted our best efforts to accelerate the signing and implementation of the final peace agreement, the NDF-CPP-NPA has engaged in acts of violence and hostilities,” Roque said in a statement late Thursday night.

“We find it unfortunate that their members have failed to show their sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and meaningful peaceful negotiations,” he added.

“The President, as we all know, has always wanted to leave a legacy of peace under his administration. He has, in fact, walked the extra mile for peace,” he continued.

Roque said Duterte, despite terminating the talks, is still hoping for peace to come even if not within his term, leaving it to God’s will.

“Rest assured that he will continuously pray that we may all find the peace that we seek for our beloved country in the fullness of God’s time,” Roque said.

The OPAPP is expected to issue the formal notice of the cancellation of the peace talks.

On Saturday, Duterte said he is no longer inclined to resume the peace talks with the Reds, especially after their “intentional” ambush in Talakad, Bukidnon on November 10 which left a four-month-old baby dead.

“No, I am not anymore inclined to [pursue the peace talks with them]. Ayaw kong makipag-usap sa kanila. ‘Di lang, nagpapahinga lang mga sundalo ko (I don’t want to talk to them. My soldiers are just resting). But we will also go on an offensive,” he said.


DOJ junks drug raps vs Faeldon, 11 BOC officials

Former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon/PHILSTAR PHOTO BY EDD GUMBAN

MANILA – The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday dismissed the criminal charges filed against former Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and 11 other BOC officials in connection with the PHP6.4 billion shabu shipment seized in Valenzuela City last May 26.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the DOJ panel headed by Assistant State Prosecutor Aristotle Reyes dismissed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s (PDEA) complaint for conspiracy to import illegal drugs and protecting or coddling of drug traffickers under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act), negligence and tolerance under Article 208 of the Revised Penal Code, and corrupt practices of public officers under Section 3 of R.A. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) for lack of probable cause.

According to Aguirre, the DOJ cited PDEA’s “failure to state with clarity the acts or omission supposedly committed by the above-named BOC respondents that would constitute violation of the offense charged” as basis in clearing Faeldon of the charges.

“Further, the evidence adduced by the PDEA in support of the charges were insufficient to establish probable case. Thus, the Panel is constrained to take into consideration the defense raised by the respondents,” read the resolution.

Aside from Faeldon, also cleared from raps were then BOC Director Milo Maestrecampo, Director Neil Estrella, Intelligence Officer Joel Pinawin, Intelligence Officer Oliver Valiente, Atty. Jeleena Magsuci, Atty. Philip Maronilla, Alexandra Y. Ventura, Randolph O. Cabansag, Dennis J. Maniego, Dennis Cabildo and John Edillor.

The DOJ panel likewise dismissed PDEA’s complaint for violation of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) regulation under Sec, 32 of RA 9165 against the agents and investigators of the National Bureau of Investigation-Anti Organized and Transnational Crime Division (NBI-AOTCD), namely: Atty. Dennis Siyhian, Atty. Marie Catherine Nolasco, SI Marfil B. Baso, SI Joselito C. Guilen, SI Darwin Francisco and SI Edgardo C. Kawada.

The panel found that under the circumstances attendant to the case, and pursuant to relevant DDB Regulations and jurisprudence, the NBI-AOTCD is justified to retain custody of the 500 kilograms of shabu which they seized, examined and investigated.

PDEA’s complaint against the corporate officers of Hong Fei Logistics was also dismissed for failure of the PDEA to show that these corporate officers knowingly consented to or actively participated in the importation of the subject shipment.

Also, the case against Emily Anoche Dee for maintaining a drug den is likewise dismissed. The Panel finds lack of knowledge on the part of Emily that her property being rented will be used as a transshipment point of the subject drugs.

Regarding the case against Fidel Anoche Dee filed by the NBI-AOTCD, the same was also dismissed in view of the existence of an earlier case filed against him by the PDEA before the Regional Trial Court of Valenzuela City.

Pursuant to Department Order No. 004 Series of January 4, 2017, the dismissal of the cases against the BOC personnel, the NBI-AOTCD agents and investigators, the corporate officers of Hong Fei Logistics and against Emily Anoche Dee and Fidel Anoche Dee shall be subject to automatic review by the Secretary of Justice.


Senate tackles TRAIN, okays higher P250K ceiling for income tax exemption

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara. INTERAKSYON FILE

MANILA – Starting 2018, workers with a take-home pay of less than P250,000 annually will be exempted from payment of income tax. This, after Senate ways and means committee chief Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara accepted an amendment raising the exemption ceiling from P150,000 to P250,000.

The amendment was proposed by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto as senators resumed plenary deliberations Wednesday on the House-approved version of the Duterte administration’s tax reform package.

As a result of the amendment approved Wednesday, the tax relief will be given in one blow, no longer on staggered basis as first outlined in Angara’s proposal as the main sponsor of the Senate version of what’s billed the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN).

The higher exemption ceiling for income tax will also cover professionals and the self employed, and the informal economy, so that even sari sari store owners or traders in merchant hubs like Divisoria can enjoy it.

Angara said the amendment will substantially boost the take home pay of workers starting next year, if it is enacted.

Right now, the exemption from income tax only applies to the minimum wage earner. The current setup is so regressive that many compensation income workers would rather decline salary hikes as these could only result in bloating the taxable income but have no impact on take-home pay.

Progressive rates

Workers earning P250,000 and above annually will be paying different rates, calibrated as income rise, but lawmakers said the new brackets are still more progressive than the existing tiers.

For example, those earning over P250,000 but not more than P400,000 will pay tax of 20% of the excess over P250,000.

Revenue goals on target: Angara

In a statement issued just before the plenary deliberations began, Angara said the Senate version of TRAIN has met the revenue goal of the government after the ways and means committee chairman introduced his amendments to Senate bill 1592.

Based on the estimates by the Department of Finance (DOF), SB 1592, taking into consideration the proposed amendments, would yield P159.5 billion in revenue—a hundred billion more than the previous revenue estimate of P59.9 billion.

“We were able to meet the revenue target using the more comprehensive and accurate data that the DOF has provided the committee after the filing of the committee report,” said Angara.

The revenue boost was significantly sourced from the amendments to the provisions on the expansion of the value-added tax (VAT) base. From the repeal of certain VAT special laws alone, the estimated revenue gain is raised from P14 billion to P45.5 billion.

Another major source of revenue is the doubling of the prevailing documentary stamp tax rates which will approximately yield P40 billion.

Documentary stamp tax is a tax on documents, instruments, loan agreements and papers evidencing the acceptance, assignment, sale or transfer of an obligation, right or property incident thereto.

These include stamp tax on bank checks which will be doubled from P1.50 to P3; on original issue of shares of stock, P1 to P2; sales or transfer of shares of stock, P0.75 to P1.50; certificates of profits or interest in property or accumulations, P0.50 to P1.

Such amendment was first brought up by Recto during the period of interpellations.

“The stamp tax rates are already due for updating since such rates were set two decades ago just like our income tax rates. This increase in stamp tax rates will also improve the progressivity of the tax reform package, as this will mostly affect the rich who have the ability to pay additional taxes,” Angara said.

Angara explained that the ways and means committee sought to come up with a version of the TRAIN bill that would raise the take-home pay of Filipino workers by providing tax relief to 99% of individual income taxpayers and, at the same time, meet the revenue target so as not to impair the government’s capability to finance its programs and projects.

The Senate version likewise provided more specific earmarking provisions so that revenues will be allocated to programs that will directly benefit the poor. These include the funding of the free college law, unconditional cash transfer for the bottom 50% poorest households, free medicines for poor families and feeding programs in areas with high incidence of hunger, infrastructure programs to address congestion and improve mass transport, among others.


Returning war on drugs to PNP will mean more bloodshed – HRW

Policemen inspect the body of a man, with tape wrapped around his head and feet, who police said was a victim of a drug-related vigilante execution in Manila. (photo by Ezra Acayan, Reuters)

MANILA, Philippines — Returning the government’s war on drugs to the Philippine National Police, as President Rodrigo Duterte has suggested, would mean more of the bloodshed that has already claimed thousands of lives since he assumed office last year, a human rights watchdog warned.

Last month, Duterte handed the campaign against narcotics to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to appease “bleeding hearts” and the media, an apparent reference to the growing anger over the deaths blamed on the drug war, which some tallies place at more than 13,000 and counting.

It was the second time Duterte, who had promised a “bloody” war on drugs when he ran for president, had ordered the PNP to step aside. He first did so in January following revelations policemen were responsible for the kidnapping and murder of a Korean businessman, only to call in the PNP once more about a month later following what he said was a resurgence of drug activity.

On Wednesday, addressing troops at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, he again signaled a change of heart, saying the police were indispensable to his “all-out war” against drug syndicate.

“But as of now, just to parry, I placed it under PDEA. But whether I like it or not, I have to return that power to the police because surely, it will increase the activity of the shabu (crystal meth),” he said. 

Reacting to Duterte’s statement, Phelim Kine, Asia division deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said this “was not wholly unexpected,” citing PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa’s reaction after the war on drugs was given to PDEA: “Drug pushers are saying hallelujah.”

HRW has long been critical of Duterte, accusing him of creating the so-called “Davao Death Squad” when he was mayor of the Mindanao city to execute suspected criminals, and of replicating this on a nationwide scale through his war on drugs.

Kine also said Duterte may “have been emboldened by (the) unwillingness of either U.S. President Donald Trump or fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders to publicly challenge the drug war slaughter during the ASEAN 2017 Summit, which the Philippines hosted earlier this month.”

Before hosting the regional summit, Duterte had warned visiting world leaders, including Trump, against discussing human rights or the war on drugs with him.

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ignored the warning and said he had brought up the matter with a “receptive” Duterte.


An angry Duterte blasted Trudeau for what he called “a personal and official insult.”


Kine said Dutrte’s “apparent desire to resume the murderous drug war underscores the need for a United Nations-led international investigation into the killings.”

“Until that happens, the number of victims denied justice and accountability will likely only continue to grow,” Kine added/

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