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Yorac is invaluable loss, leaves big shoes to be filled April 29, 2005

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The resignation of PCGG Chairperson Haydee Yorac is a disappointing development in our aspirations for good government. Yet she does deserve a break and a means to support her medical expenses. But the underlying issue is that government must find an equally suitable and competent replacement. For four years Yorac stood as a champion of public interest during her stint in PCGG. Definitely, frustration was a big part of this decision.

She steered the timely recovery of the US$683 million escrow account and lent her unwavering support for the passage of the house bill providing compensation to the victims of human rights violations under the dictator. She was very helpful in the ongoing efforts to recover the coco levy funds, resolutely chasing after the suspected plunderers who dipped their hands in the funds before the courts of the Sandiganbayan.

Whatever policy difference she may have had with Malacañang over the handling of government shares in San Miguel will have to be closely scrutinized, in the light of recent reports over controversies in the management of the Philippine Coconut Authority and the coco levy funds which we are also investigating through House Resolution 736

At a time of never-ending crises in governance, the worst that could happen for government is to lose respected figures like Yorac. We have high-ranking personalities being linked to jueteng, the plunder charges against Estrada are proceeding at a snail’s pace, etc. The few good men and women in public positions are becoming a rare and endangered species, like Gel Valbuena. Reform-oriented officials like Yorac are falling prey to choleric turn-overs and dismissals everywhere. We can’t afford to lose more and more good public servants like Yorac.

Yorac’s cooperation has been instrumental as well in our ongoing inquiry through House Resolution 593, into the spending of the recovered escrow account, which has purportedly gone into unscrupulous and inappropriate usage, including a private coconut mill in Quezon, ghost irrigation projects, etc.

Now more than ever we need someone beyond reproach and with a steadfast resolve to protect the interest of millions of farmers, Marcos victims and the general public. The PCGG is mandated with recovering all the money that were stolen from the public coffers and identify culpability of those cronies who benefited from such thievery. If government again fails to install a PCGG Chair who is as well-respected as and perhaps even more competent than Yorac, then the gains made during her four-year stint will surely be lost. And we cannot afford that.

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THE SECOND BETRAYAL OF COCONUT FARMERS: Cocofarmers to lose billions and a board seat from the non-exercise of rights in SMC April 29, 2005

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AKBAYAN Party-List Representative Loretta Ann Rosales today expressed grave concern over the pronouncement of the Arroyo government that it has decided not to subscribe to the 1 for 10 rights offer at San Miguel Corp. thereby allowing the dilution of the 27% coco levy stake in the food and beverage conglomerate.

“It’s unfortunate that this decision comes at a time when we are commemorating the anniversary of EDSA 1,” said Rosales, “because the sequestration of shares at SMC was a significant gesture of government protection in favor of the public’s interest in a company in which shares were bought using coconut levy funds,” she explained.

“While the government boasts of borrowing US 1.5bn in bonds for 25 years, it is amazing how it can not even find, and hardly exerted any effort to fund, P4.85bn for the rights issue if only to protect the interest of the millions of coconut farmers. Given that the rights are priced at a 5% discount, then the farmers stake stands to lose at least P2bn after the stock price adjusts ex-rights. Moreover, in the long term, the block would lose the intrinsic premium since the combined stake of government if maintained at 41% (together with SSS and GSIS) and sold would have allowed the buyer to control the company. That would be the bigger tragedy,” explained Rosales.

“What the farmers gained in the courts, they are losing in the corporate boardroom. The 27% will be reduced to 24, effectively losing 1 board seat. Interestingly, with 240m B shares, this is now the single block of shares not yet controlled by Kirin and that would be available to foreign investors”, Rosales added.

Rosales said that in its decision, government should be reminded that it is maintaining its presence in SMC to make sure that the interests of coconut farmers are protected in its boardroom.

“Backing out of the rights offer would have some political repercussions especially now that the wheels of justice seem to be turning in favor of the coconut farmers,” stressed Rosales, referring to a Supreme Court ruling declaring the coconut levy funds as public funds and the subsequent Sandiganbayan ruling last year awarding to government a 27% stake in San Miguel.

According to Rosales, “since the rights issue appears to be going on already, the government should do everything within its powers to defend the farmers. Short of this, then there would be no other recourse but to perhaps ask the Supreme Court for a TRO to stop it since it is grossly disadvantageous to the interest of the coco farmers for whom the government seems to be doing a poor job in managing the coco levy funds.” #

Rosales decries new round of electricity rate increases; calls for review of EPIRA April 27, 2005

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The power industry is in a mess today, as can be exemplified by among other things, the continuous increases in electricity prices.

The implementation of EPIRA has been characterized first by skyrocketing NPC losses, and now by skyrocketing tariff. The passage of the EPIRA did not prevent NPC’s losses from growing. From a deficit of P8.2 billion in 2001, the NPC’s deficit surged to P21.7 billion in 2002, P66.6 billion in 2003, and an estimated P100 billion last year. (Manasan, 2003; Highlights of 99th LEDAC Meeting, 24 October 2004) Apart from the national government, the NPC is the biggest contributor to the country’s consolidated public sector deficit, and thus accounts considerably for what is presently regarded as a fiscal crisis.

We need to take remedial action to address the failure of the IPP review to substantively comply with the requirements of Section 68 of EPIRA which mandates a thorough review of all IPP contracts. It also says that in cases where contracts are found to have grossly disadvantageous provisions, a case may be filed through appropriate government agencies for culpable officials.

The IPP review found that among others, some IPP contracts are evidently more costly to the government, certain IPP contractors have exhibited high rates of return on investment and short payback period and there have been amendments and additions to several power purchase agreements and energy conversion agreements without passing through due process.

But instead of civil and criminal prosecution, what we had instead was renegotiated terms which yielded savings of US$ 1.036 billion in present value, or translating into only 10 centavos per kilowatt hour reduction up to 2011, hardly making any dent in electricity prices.

A 2002 World Bank survey of 50 firms shows 52 % are retreating, and only 3 firms continue to be interested in investing in power. While investment in electricity has increased in 2003, it is still far below the peak investment level in 1997. Within this context, one cannot expect to believe government’s pronouncements that the privatization scheme for the power sector is well on track and there is no reason to be worried.

I believe that the public interest will be better served if we exercise caution and early on make drastic adjustments in the privatization plan. Specifically, EPIRA should be amended to allow NPC to continue to operate as a generation company subject to the same safeguards against abuse of market power. This should give government a useful benchmark in financing, investment, and pricing to complement the market structure.

These are some of the issues and solutions that I urge the House of Representatives to urgently look into so that we can do out part as legislators to help resolve and address with finality the mess that is the power sector.

Dismissal of Gel Valbuena will open inquiry into usage of coco levy funds April 15, 2005

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It is incomprehensible to think that whistleblowers and crusaders against government excesses have only two things happen to them: for journalists like Marlene Esperat who exposes graft and corruption through the media, one is to get killed. For reform-oriented officials like Gel Valbuena, they are fired from office.

Today we will file a resolution seeking an investigation into the Agusan Reserve Area Development Project to shed light on the alleged MOU between the PCA and the United Coconut Planters Bank, the Coconut Industry Investment Fund and Cocofinance. The expose itself attending this MOU blocked the implementation of the said project for now, so it is not proper to say Valbuena should pay the price simply because the project is not yet under way.

It is true that the government should put in place a definite and comprehensive program in place for the benefit of the coco farmers, and the Gel Valbuena issue complicates this need as this sends a signal that vested interests are asserting themselves to get their hands into the coco levy funds.

Valbuena’s supposed blocking of a housing project in Mulanay Quezon is being clarified as a misunderstanding, with research work reaching our office citing PCA officials such as Deputy Administrator Danilo Cleto, Dennis Calub and PCA Region IV officer Ed de Luna saying that no such project under the PCA was in place during Administrator Coronocaion’s term. I am told that even Mulanay’s mayor himself doesn’t know about this supposed project. So we have to find out how exactly coco farmers perceive Valbuena’s term in PCA.

In the end, we are all interested in seeing a vibrant coconut industry back on its feet, with the coco levy funds at the center of that growth, being used for the benefit of the millions of coco farmers. The resulting mess from the proposed Agusan Reserve Area Development Project and the sacrifice made out of Valbuena will be the platform from which we will ascertain which government officials are truly out to protect either the coco farmers’ interests or only their own.

Marcos money for Agrarian Reform and HR victims under threat of depletion April 14, 2005

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AKBAYAN, acting on reports that a significant portion of the recovered Marcos money had been spent for undertakings other those for which it was intended, filed House Resolution 343 to look into the disbursement of the said money that was transferred from the PNB into the National Treasury and the DBM which subsequently released portions of the money to DAR.

The DAR contends that P8.8 billion had actually been spent for land acquisition and for high impact interventions for program beneficiaries development. Of P5 billion spent for LAD, P3 billion was spent for surveys, beneficiaries’ identification, production of EPs and CLOAs. Unfortunately, from the hearing of the Oversight Committee today, April 13, it appears that there is no available breakdown of the said amount, particularly the amount of P2B, which would be left after deducting expenses of P90 millionfor an estimated 3,352 hectares acquired under CARP.

Secondly, the anomalous implementation of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani hybrid rice program falls outside of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council mandate of a 70:30 distribution scheme between LAD and program beneficiaries development. The GMA rice program comes under attack because there have been reports of failure to deliver seeds and delays in the release of funds even with a DBM SARO specifically citing a PARC Resolution dated April 27, 2004 stating the purpose of the program, which is strictly confined to seed acquisition? Which contractor won the bidding for the seeds? Why the unexplained bidding process? Where is the masterlist of project beneficiaries, if any?

Third, the oversight committee hearing under Rep. Danilo Suarez shows just how important it is now for the House of Representatives to immediately discuss and pass the Marcos Human Rights Violations Victims compensation bill, as the inclusion of all recovered Marcos money into the Treasury’s general fund opens up the possibility of an accounting figure in which the Marcos money would appear to be present only in paper, but in reality would be under a non-existing account. As long as the Marcos money stays in a general fund, it would be easy for the government to use these funds, further delaying the government’s responsibility to provide for the compensation of the Marcos victims, especially the 9,539 victims who won a class action suit in Hawaii who should be prioritized.

Rep. Etta Rosales
AKBAYAN

Questionable figures question the unquestionable: pressure on PCA Chief puts coco farmers’ interests at risk April 13, 2005

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Philippine Coconut Authority Chief Gel Valbuena is not one to be pushed around. She has a lot of ideas that deserve further consideration, and in her rejection of a proposed P8.4 billion project in PCA property in Agusan del Sur, the interests of millions of coconut farmers are protected against a dubious proposal which will draw from the levy exacted from them in the first place.

Instead of pressuring Valbuena, why not ask the DA to explain its mad pursuit of a multi-billion project that in the words of Valbuena “will be concentrated in a single town”? This proposed project would not even make coconut farmers stakeholders even as its implementation will be sourced from the coco levy. The thinly-veiled implication of Sec. Yap’s statements indicate more than just displeasure that under Valbuena’s watch, the PCA thumbed down the Agusan del Sur project which he himself is reportedly vouching for.

In her words, Valbuena wants transparency and participation. For such intentions, one cannot understand why there is so much heat coming Valbuena’s way, even all the way from Malacañang.

The League of Provinces of the Philippines, under Bohol Governor Eric Aumentado correctly saw through the impetuosity of the proposal. Why channel such a huge amount into one area when there are a dozen coconut-producing provinces in the country, which could certainly make better use of such an amount? The NAPC Farmers’ Council is itself standing resolutely behind Valbuena, as is the PCA structure and other stakeholders. Taking her out would deny the government a chance to truly effect reforms in the coconut industry and protect the coco farmers’ interests.

Albuena, it seems is only after the judicious use of the coco levy funds. Especially since her revelation comes at a time when we are yet raising issues on the questionable disbursement of the Marcos money allocated for agrarian reform. The GMA Rice Program, similar in some respects to features of the proposed Agusan del Sur project has been questioned for some concerns: Why have there been reports of failure to deliver seeds and delays of the release of funds even with a DBM SARO specifically citing a PARC Resolution dated April 27, 2004 stating the purpose of the program, which is strictly confined to seed acquisition? Which contractor won the bidding for the seeds? Why the unexplained bidding process? Perhaps Sec. Yap should also explain this, as the DA issued the guidelines for the project implementation.

It is precisely because of the highly irregular GMA rice program that crusading journalists like Marlene Esperat, whose murder we are also investigating in House Resolution 702, because she exposed wrongdoings related to the GMA rice program.

So Malacañang is well advised to get off Valbuena’s back and let her do her job. I strongly suggest Malacañang listen to the LPP and consider their position on the matter before pursuing the Agusan del Sur project. There are heads that deserve to roll in the continuing neglect of the agriculture sector, but it definitely should not be Valbuena’s.

Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales
AKBAYAN

Dispersal violates freedom of assembly and redress, bill on freedom of assembly will be filed in Congress April 9, 2005

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The violent dispersal attending the legitimate and peaceful exercise of assembly and redress of yesterday’s activists at the Inter-Parliamentary Union is a condemnable act against the rights of the people to bring their grievances before the lawmakers and policy makers attending the said conference.

To remedy the situation, AKBAYAN is in the process of filing a house bill that will address the preposterous “no permit, no rally” policy of the police when it comes to public assemblies and rallies.

Under the said bill, it shall be the duty of the local chief executive to issue a permit, which will be considered granted if not acted upon within five days from receipt. Since a permit is primarily a ministerial duty, this bill takes away the prerogative to deny permits, except in cases where there is a clear and convincing evidence of threats to public order and safety.

Under this bill, it will be clearly stated that the only role of the police will be to coordinate the flow of traffic and to make sure pedestrians are not inconvenienced. The police will be disallowed to interfere in the conduct of rallies, unless the organizers themselves are unable to police their own ranks.

This bill strengthens the people’s rights to expression and assembly by putting the burden of responsibility for disallowing an assembly on the police and the local government unit instead of the organizers. This bill overhauls Batas Pambansa 880 which has been time and again misused by the police to interpret that the lack of a permit justifies a violent dispersal of a rally.

Hopefully this policy initiative will help define the proper responsibilities among different groups – police, rallyists and the local government, to help ensure the unhampered exercise of a constitutionally guaranteed right. A government doing its job has nothing to fear from protestors in the street. Maximum tolerance should therefore always prevail, especially at a time when we have foreign guests in the country.

Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales
AKBAYAN

RP Legislators join efforts to step up pressure on Myanmar junta April 3, 2005

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Lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives are joining international efforts to pressure the military junta governing Myanmar to relax its grip on power and allow for the restoration of democracy in that country.

At the launching of the Philippine Caucus of Legislators on Myanmar, key leaders of Congress banded together and resolved to press for two advocacy items. One is the immediate and unconditional release of freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi and, two, the recall of Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006 in the absence of democratic reforms, which was a condition for its acceptance into the regional grouping.

AKBAYAN Party-List Rep. Etta Rosales, who was one of the convenors for the meeting said it was important for lawmakers to step in and bring the matter of Myanmar to the attention of government “since the SPDC continues to hold Nobel laureate Suu Kyi under house arrest, to harass Burmese ethnic minorities and to commit human rights violations up to today.”

Rosales said the group was opposing Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN next year, saying, “This would serve the military junta a platform from which it could legitimize its hold on power while the Burmese people continue to suffer from the continued violation of their rights to association, movement, expression and beliefs.”

The Philippine Caucus is the local expression of the ASEAN inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar (AIPCM), which is conducting the campaign at the regional level. Similar caucuses have been established in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Vice-Chairman of the AIPCM, delivered the welcome remarks, reiterating his stance that the Philippines should take the lead role in urging ASEAN to reconsider its position on Myanmar.

Former President Corazon Aquino also sent her solidarity message, expressing her disappointment “not only over the continued incarceration of freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners by the ruling military junta, but over the continued atrocities and the general climate of repression and impunity in that country,” she said in a prepared speech.

Congressmen from the Liberal Party also lent their support for the gathering, vowing they would support the Burmese cause, according to Rep. Neric Acosta.

The Philippine Caucus on Myanmar set its meeting in time for the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting, as the group, together with the AIPCM will also push for the IPU’s adoption of a resolution taking on the group’s positions on Burma.