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Pacific Planholders deserve justice, government must rein in pre-need industry May 26, 2005

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Pacific Plan cannot renege on its contractual obligations at the expense of the education of thousands of children whose continued enrollment depends on Pacific Plans precisely paying for those plans.

What can be done at this point is for Pacific to engage its planholders in dialogue, as the proposed arrangement in which Pacific will pay off a portion of the payments due schools in which Pacific planholders’ children are enrolled seems unacceptable. This is not unexpected since this would present an undue burden on the planholders as consumers expecting nothing less than the faithful and efficient discharge of Pacific’s end of the bargain, so to speak.

It is Pacific’s obligation to find the resources to pay for those plans.

But in the medium term Pacific would be well advised to open up its books for scrutiny. Did the company exaggerate its actuarial reserve fund estimates? What corporate practices guided its investments in companies like the NAPOCOR which, as early as the 1990s had already shown signs of distress but which Pacific’s trustee bank still poured planholders’ money into? How exactly did Pacific relate with PBCom, its trustee bank, whose ownership has been shown as tightly entwined with the interests of the Yuchengcos of Pacific Plans?

The rehabilitation plan being offered up for litigation by Pacific should be appreciated in terms of whether it would in the end help the company’s planholders or merely rescue its owners from the incompetence of their own management style. SEC’s stance on the matter deserves support, but again, too little too late perhaps, had SEC stepped in earlier to stem this mess form even going down in the first place.

Certainly there is the part of government as regulator to be blamed for its lax oversight over Pacific’s financial status, and the pre-need industry’s over-all picture. Instances such as those involving CAP and Pacific cannot be allowed to happen again. There are other pre-need companies out there reportedly shoring up a tenuous image of stability but in truth are also in danger of collapse just like CAP and Pacific.

At a time when our educational system is already in crisis, we cannot afford to have a distressed pre-need industry to further compound our children and parent’s woes. Accountability must be exacted, and the interests of planholders and their children must take primary consideration in settling this issue at the soonest possible time.

Rep. ETTA Rosales
Akbayan

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Palparan is glaring example of gross negligence over human rights and continued threats against progressive organizations May 25, 2005

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Today I am bringing to the Commission on Appointments my manifestation of opposition to the pending confirmation of Jovito Palparan’s reappointment as Major General principally on the grounds that his command responsibility and personal culpability over an entire list of grave and horrible violations of human rights have not been sufficiently addressed.

Gen. Palparan’s reputation goes back a long way from his time as a Major serving in areas like Pampanga and Bataan up to his time as Commander of the 204th Infantry Brigade in Mindoro and even up to now that he is Commander of the 8th IB in Samar and Leyte.

Foremost among these was the abduction and summary execution of Eden Garcellanaand Eddie Gumanoy in Mindoro from last year in which the House Committee on Human Rights which I head had already pinpointed Palparan’s culpability as commanding officer of the military in the area and as head of Task Force Banahaw. We subsequently recommended his relief and immediate delivery to the proper authorities so that he can respond accordingly to the charges leveled against him over his role in these killings.

But to my surprise, here he is now before the CA and is about to be rewarded with another star in his rank despite his shady record. We have to remind the Commission and government in general that the military, its officers and personnel are under duty stemming from our commitments to international instruments such as the Geneva Conventions that in times of conflict, non-combatants are afforded rights to be free from intimidation, harassment and physical harm. Palparan, as commanding officer of various military units has been unable to stop.

And in fact, with all these documented cases which I elaborate upon in my manifestation, it would seem that wherever this Palparan goes, there is sure to be a long list of human rights violations following him.

Mr. Palparan’s record shows a lack of faithful adherence to the principles and tenets of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the performance of his duties as a soldier and as an officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that the high standards of this military organization require. I respectfully submit that this reflects a certain quality in Mr. Palparan as a soldier and as an officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that this Honorable Commission cannot ignore, and, on the contrary, should seriously examine and consider in passing upon his qualifications, character and fitness for reappointment to the grade of Major General.

I fear that with Palparan’s continued service and presence in our military ranks puts at risk the right of legal and above-ground progressive organizations to organize and mobilize against repressive government policies.

Government has no business rewarding such a character with a recognition he does not deserve, and a promotion that seems stained with the blood of innocent civilians exercising their legitimate right to air grievances and seek redress from government.

Rep. ETTA Rosales
Akbayan

House Committee on Human Rights to tackle activists killings on Tuesday May 24, 2005

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The recent murder of Bayan Muna Coordinator Eddie Dimaano in Pamplona, Camarines Sur provides yet another glaring example of just how dangerous it has become to be critical of government. Not only are journalists being silenced, threatened and killed, so are activists working for legal and above-ground organizations engaged in legitimate advocacy and protest actions.

Government must quickly move to arrest these acts of violence. In the context of government’s mad pursuit for the enactment of an anti-terror bill, it becomes appalling to think that no measures are being taken to bring the perpetrators to justice. Given reports that most suspects in the slaying of activists are military or police personnel one is hard pressed to think how government could be silent on state terrorism while it pushes for an anti-terror bill so loosely and vaguely crafted so as to be open to abuse.

It is for this reason that the House Committee on Human Rights will launch an immediate investigation into the killing of Leftist activists on Tuesday, May 24 at the House of Representatives. Military and police officers will be summoned along with other relevant government agencies such as the Commission on Human Rights to ascertain just exactly what can be done to protect the legitimate right of an individual to associate and organize with progressive organizations.

We will also ask the Executive what it has done so far to stop these killings. It is disturbing to note that even as the killings and harassments continue, some officers, like Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan continue to make their way up the military ranks. Palparan, head of the 8th IB in Samar and Leyte is still yet to answer for his culpability in the spate of killings that happened in Mindoro during his watch in that province. In his recent posting his role has also been questioned in the harassment of legal, leftist activists and organizations, including AKBAYAN members and partners.

Malacañang cannot afford to keep a blind eye to the death of activists like Eddie Dimaano. It must realize that the Philippines is signatory to some 29 international instruments on human rights and the International Humanitarian Law that compels states parties to provide protection to non-combatants in situations of internal armed conflict between government forces and rebel groups. Dimaaano is reportedly the eighth member this year of Bayan Muna and the 54th casualty of the organization and its allied parties gunned down since its engagement in electoral politics. This alarming situation reflects the blatant violation of the tenets of international justice and humanitarian law reminiscent only of the days of dictatorship and martial rule.

Rep. ETTA Rosales
Akbayan
Chair, Committee on Human Rights

Coco levy funds must be audited to ensure transparent use for coconut farmers’ benefit May 19, 2005

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The public character of the coco levy funds has been established in a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, affirming that the funds were collected in the exercise of the government’s police and taxing powers. The Sandiganbayan should therefore expedite the resolution of coco levy related cases pending before it through a summary judgment, instead of the piecemeal resolutions it is handing out.

Parallel to such efforts however, we must ascertain just how the agencies at the forefront of managing the coco levy funds are doing their jobs. Because just like the Marcos money in government’s hands now, fears have been expressed that the coco levy is also being allocated for purposes that are less than noble.

To resolve questions regarding the use and allocation of the funds, an audit should be put in place. The last time that an audit report was made available on the coco levy funds was back in 1986, which showed that the total coco levy collection had reached P9.7 billion. Today the levy has reached more than P100 billion from all the interests and the dividends earned form its investments.

Yet no single agency of government appears to be in charge of administration over these funds. It is precisely because of this that we have issues involving the coco levy funds, including the proposed P8.4 billion Agusan del Sur project which is still being pushed despite so many questions being raised about its validity. Secondly, we have officials of the CIIF who are yet to be held accountable for the dispensation of their functions given that they are enjoying privileges that are excessive while coconut farmers continue to languish in poverty with the coco levy cases still up in the air.

This becomes even more important after yesterday’s hearing of the House Committees on Agriculture and Good Government where House Resolution 736 was deliberated to look into the management and utilization of the coco levy funds. It also became apparent from this hearing that there is an urgent need to see to it that the coco levy cases pending before the Sandiganbayan are resolved at the soonest time because this is the first important step needed in assuring that the public character of the funds can be asserted once and for all, so that the road can be paved for its actual utilization for the benefit of coco farmers.

MORATORIUM ON EXECUTIONS SHOULD BE MADE PERMANENT BY ABOLISHING DEATH PENALTY ALTOGETHER May 18, 2005

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The granting of reprieve to 21 Death Row convicts scheduled for execution is a commendable decision, and in this regard the Executive made the right decision. But while the temporary relief from lethal injection gained by these convicts is to be welcomed, what is much better is for the de facto moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty to be formalized while Congress deliberates on the bills seeking for its abolition.

In this regard, what would be best is for the President to certify as urgent House Bill No. 1320 that I, together with the two other Akbayan representatives, Reps. Mario Aguja and Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, filed in July 2004 for the abolition of the death penalty. There are a number of other similar bills pending in Congress. A similar bill was approved by the Committees on Human Rights and Revision of Laws in the 12th Congress.

Abolition of the death penalty promotes restorative justice and gives the offender the opportunity to reform and to be able to contribute to the good of society. The death penalty is the worst form of human rights violation as it violates the very freedom of life, in its finality and irreversibility. It deprives an offender of this opportunity to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. A possible miscarriage of justice becomes irrevocable.

Abolition of the death penalty would also put the Philippines in line with the other 120 countries that have taken the progressive course of abolishing the death penalty in their jurisdictions and adopting the more humane path of restorative justice.

Journalists need all support they can get from government, but not through guns May 12, 2005

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One death is enough. To have five journalists in the first five months of the year alone die violently because precisely of the work they do is absolutely unacceptable.

These killings, of which the cold-blooded murder of Aurora journalist Philip Agustin of the Starline Times Recorder is only the latest, are unforgivable in a country in which freedom of the press is a constitutionally guaranteed right. From a rights perspective, the killing of journalists constitute a patent violation of the right to information, and an attack not just on the individual, but against society and the rule of law.

But before proposals to arm journalists gain headway even as some supposed progressive party-list groups would suggest, I vehemently object to such a proposal. To do this is to give a nod to the culture of violence that perpetuates these killings. We cannot allow for more bloodshed. Giving journalists guns puts them at even greater risk. What we need are speedy resolutions, quick and reliable apprehensions and assured incarcerations of those behind these killings. We need to teach local warlords and their goons and hired killers that to kill journalists assures them of jail time.

Akbayan has filed House Resolution 702 last April 6, which directs the House Committee on Human Rights, which I head to look into these killings. Upon referral, we will schedule this hearing within the month.

But more importantly, government must demonstrate a sincere resolve to seek out and punish those who believe their position and power allows them to get away with the murder of journalists everywhere.

The Committee to Protect Journalists say that 8 journalists were killed in the country in 2004 alone, making the Philippines second only to war-torn Iraq in terms of numbers of journalists being killed because of the work they do.

Dismantle billboards along roads and highways May 12, 2005

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The cardinal rule of driving is ‘keep your eyes on the road’. So what are billboards along highways there for? I would like to get the side of the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines (OAAP) and the MMDA on this because I am particularly worried that the presence of these gigantic advertisements on our roads poses a safety risk to drivers, commuters and the general public.

Immediately, I am thinking that we should start with the billboards with sexy content, or those containing material that advertise liquor, cigarettes and other vices. I am also calling for the dismantling of billboards featuring scantily clad women and men because on so many levels these types of advertisements are objectionable. Not only do they promote a commercialist notion of fashion and beauty, they are branding sex as a commodity and associating sex with particular products and this is culturally horrible. On a more basic level they are cheap and distracting, and this is where my concern over road safety comes in.

There is a greater need to engage the advertising industry in constructive dialogue to find ways by which we can address this issue. But for now I insist that initially, these sexy and/or sexist billboards be brought down immediately. The rest we will act upon after consultation with stakeholders.

I am seriously considering filing a bill expressly prohibiting putting up billboards along roads, highways and other major thoroughfares. We will also inquire with the MMDA regarding what figures we have over road accidents to find a correlation with these advertisements, and we will also find out whether the MMDA has received feedback from motorists regarding such advertisements. We should not wait for accidents to happen before we take action on this. Such billboards are already increasing in numbers and having too many of them on our streets, even along MRT posts, may be creating a danger for our motorists.

Mga billboards sa highway, dapat tanggalin
May 11, 2005

Ang pangunahing alituntunin sa pagmamaneho ay dapat siguruhing nakatuon ang atensyon ng nagmamaneho sa daan. Kaya’t nakapagtatakang napakaraming billboards ang nagsusulputan sa mg akalsada. Bakit sila nandoon?

Mapanganib ang ganitong sitwasyon dahil nakakabaling ng atensyon ang mga billboards na ito, kaya’t maaaaring tumaas ang insidente ng mga aksidente sa ating mga kalye at mga highway. Lalo na yaong mga billboards na naglalarawan ng mga halos hubad na babae at lalaki.

Kakausapin ko ang MMDA at ang Outdoor Advertisers Association of the Philippines (OAAP) ukol sabagay na ito at sana ay maintindihan din nila na kailangang pangalagaan natin ang seguridad ng mga nagmamaneho, kanilang mga pasahero at ng publiko. Hindi sapat na sabihing porke’t wala pang nagaganap na aksidente ay hindi na tayo gagawa ng mga hakbang tungkol dito dahil maski sa ibang bansa ay hindi pinapayagan ang ganitong mga advertisements.

Pinagiisipan ko ang maghain ng panukalang batas upang I-regulate ang ganitong mga billboards. Ngunit simulan na natin agad sa mga billboards na pa-sexy at may mga kababaihan at lalaking halos nakahubad na.

Kkaausapin din natin ang industriya sa advertising upang hingin din ang tulong nila upang mas epektibong mapagsabihan ang kanilang mga kasapi sa pagpapalabas ng ganitong mga advertisements.

Cheap imported cars putting workers out of jobs May 10, 2005

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The House of Representatives needs to look into the influx of cheap imported cars into the country. What is most worrying is how these vehicles have affected the job security of thousands of workers who depend on the industry for a living.

The automotive industry employs about a hundred thousand people, the overwhelming majority of them involved in making parts and components (40,000) and another significant portion working in assembly and distribution (16,000).

But from sales at a high of 162,056 units in 1996 prior to the Asian financial crisis, domestic vehicle sales have plummeted to 88,074 in 2004, a reduction of about 50%.

And yet, records from the LTO on new vehicle registrations show that almost 270,000 units were registered with it last year, even though only 88,000 units were sold by Philippine car manufacturers. What then is the reason for the discrepancy of 181,000 units? Most of these units consist of cheap second-hand imported cars, a lot of which are smuggled into the country. In other words, it is so easy to acquire such vehicles within freeports and to bring them into use within the country.

But what is the other side of the story?

A few years back, a consumer who purchased a converted van figured in an accident when he lost control of the vehicle and rammed into an oncoming truck when he was negotiating a turn in the road. It turned out that the joint of the steering wheel and the steering shaft were incompetently converted, and the steering wheel did not turn properly at that crucial moment when it should have.

Moreover, the law provides that only vehicles meeting substantial requirements in compliance with emission standards in their countries of origin shall be imported into the country. Are these second-hand vehicles compliant with emission standards? Does the government have the capability to ensure that such vehicles are indeed compliant with emission standards?

I propose that the House of Representatives look into the matter carefully before the continued influx of these used car imports kill the local automotive industry and put thousands of workers out of jobs. Already we have a combined 7,470 workers retrenched as of this year. That represents about 10% of the total employment in the automobile assembly and distributing sector. We are yet to ascertain how the importation of these cars are affecting the car parts manufacturing sector and how much job loss is accruing there.

But now, there is an imperative for government to quickly respond to the issue and see to it that the problem of cheap imported cars – smuggled or not – is decisively addressed.

Rep. ETTA Rosales
Akbayan

Death from cosmetic procedure calls for regulatory control May 9, 2005

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It is saddening to be informed of the death of Ms. Gleceria Tan after undergoing an enhancement procedure. We have reason to believe that similar botched operations may have gone on in the past, even if they did not result in deaths. But we must look into the cosmetic surgery business and find ways to ensure that those who go through these types of procedures are well aware of the risks they face.

We are interested to know what regulations cover cosmetic procedures, and who is in charge of overseeing the operations of these beauty clinics. It is a multimillion-peso industry, some of its practitioners are well known and the trade is endorsed by celebrities. But as the death of Ms. Gleceria Tan shows, there is another side to this issue.

I have earlier posed a question on whether a ban on such procedures, including liposuction would be appropriate until such time government could ascertain what regulations are in place to protect consumers. The Department of Health responded to my inquiry and I was told that in their discussion with the Philippine Medical Association, the necessity of legislation was brought up. And in the meantime that the specifics of this legislation is being discussed, I am calling now for a moratorium on such procedures and I will call on an inquiry on this subject, to find out what controls should be in place. With this I hope the unfortunate loss of lives will be prevented.

Mga operasyon sa pagpapaganda, dapat kontrolin

Nakakalungkot isiping sa pagnanais makatulong sa pamilya, namatay si Bb. Gleceria Tan dahil lamang sa di maayos na operasyon sa pagpapaganda ng katawan. Naniniwala akong may mga ganitong sitwasyon nang nakalagpas lamang sa atensyon ng publiko, kaya’t kailangang tignan ng maigi ang industriya ng cosmetic surgery, upang maipaabot din sa publiko na ang ganitong klase ng mga operasyon ay di lamang mahal, kundi delikado pa.

Ano’ng mga regulasyon ang sumasakop sa cosmetic surgery at mga doktor na nagsasagawa nito? Paano natin mapu-protektahan ang mga tumatangkilik ng ganitong serbisyo? Milyon-milyong piso ang kinikita ng industriya at ito ay popular, dahil madaming artista din ang nageendorso ng ganitong mga serbisyo. Kaya kailangan lamang na siguruhing protektado ang mga pasyente.

Dati na akong nagtanong kung dapat bang i-ban ang ganitong mga klase ng procedure, at sabi ng Department of Health sa akin, nakikita din nila ang pangangailangan upang magpasa ng panukalang batas na maglalagay ng sapat na regulasyon sa industriyana ito. Ngunit habang inihahanda pa lamang ang panukalang batas na ito, mananawagan ako ng moratorium sa ganitong mga procedure at magpapatawag ng imbestigasyon upang mapag-usapan din ang isyu kasama ng mga ahensya ng gubyerno at mga duktor mula sa industriya. Sana, sa ganitong paraan maiwasan na antin ang mga susunod pang Gleceria.

Terror bill, aksaya lamang ng panahon May 5, 2005

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Di dapat pagaksayahan ng oras ng House of Representatives ang anti-terrorism bill na nakahain sa mga committee on Justice and Foreign Affairs. Di na dapat ang pagrebisa o ang pagtanggal ng anumang probisyon ang pagtuunan ng pansin lalo na’t sa panukalang batas na ito ay tila nakahanda na ang legal na batayan para sa tumitinding pasismo ng ilang ahente ng gubyerno lalo na sa mga pulis at militar.

Hindi isang batas sa terorismo ang kailangan kundi ang mahigpit at mahusay na implemetasyon ng mga kasalukuyang batas tulad ng Revised Penal Code upang mahusay na malabanan ang ibang mas importanteng problema gaya ng kriminalidad, bawal na gamot, jueteng, pagpuslit ng mga angkat, problema sa mga warlords at mga vigilante, pamamaslang sa mga dyornalista, harassment sa mga Muslim, pamamaslang ng mga aktibista, at ang pangkalahatang pagbagsak ng kaayusan at seguridad.

Ngunit ang kasalukuyang bersyon ng anti-terror bill ay nanghihimasok lamang sa pribadong buhay ng mga mamamayan, at naglalagay sa panganib sa madaming karapatan ng mga tao, tulad ng pamamahayag, pagsapi sa mga organisasyon, at malayang paglalakbay at paggalaw. Paano naman kaya maipapatupad ng wasto ng mga pulis at militar ang batas na ito gayung napatunayan na naman na madaming beses na silang pumalpak laban sa mga banta ng terorismo?

Ang dapat pagtuunan natin ng pansin ay ang mas konkretong hinaing ng mga mamamayan: pagkain sa bawat lamesa, trabahong di lamang kontraktwalat por piyesa, mahusay na paglaban sa korupsyon upang maitawid ang mga rekurso ng gubyerno patungo sa edukasyon at kalusugan, atbp. Sa naghihirap nating bansa, di na natin kailangan ng isang batas na magpapalawak lamang ng takot.