Executive, legislative branches working out extension of President’s emergency powers

THE PRESIDENTIAL Palace on Monday said the executive department is collaborating with legislators for the passage of a law that will extend the President’s emergency powers for response measures on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. The existing law, known as the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, will expire on Wednesday, June 24. Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, in a briefing, said they are still “ironing” out details of the bill before Congress holds special sessions to pass the extension. The two branches of government are also addressing the administration’s proposed economic stimulus package that will help both workers and businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. “Nakikipag-ugnayan po ang ating Department of Finance at ang economic team natin sa parehong kapulungan ng Kongreso para po plantsahin iyong isang stimulus package at saka iyong renewal ng emergency powers (The Department of Finance and the economic team are working together with both chambers of Congress to iron out details of the stimulus package and renewal of the President’s emergency powers),” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez

Gov’t rushes to bring home remains of 282 OFWs

THE DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is expediting the arrangement of cargo flights to bring home the remains of 282 Filipinos in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, including 50 who died from the coronavirus, after the Philippine government was given a 72-hour deadline. “How fast were going to do that? We need a flight to get there. We’re getting a cargo flight even as we speak,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said in an interview over ANC on Monday. Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III on Sunday said the Saudi Arabian government has given only 72 hours to bring home the deceased Filipinos. Mr. Locsin said Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdullah Al Bussairy had assured him the remains will not be cremated ahead of the flight. “There was a fear going around that they will dispose the bodies, and he said ‘No, we don’t do that. We’re a Muslim country. We don’t cremate. The bodies are all intact and we are ready to help you bring them home,’” he said. Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Martin R. Meñez said the repatriation of remains may take weeks. “Repatriation of remains from KSA is not a simple process (sometimes taking weeks or months in regular circumstances),” he told reporters over phone message Monday. He noted also that some of the deaths may be due to natural causes, but were not repatriated due to the pandemic. “With a Filipino community of over 800,000, there is a large probability that many of the 282 died of natural causes (or perhaps even some victims of crime) but could not be repatriated because of the COVID situation.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan

DTI investigating PWD card abuse

THE DEPARTMENT of Trade and Industry (DTI) is investigating the reported abuse of identification cards for persons with disability (PWD), who are entitled to discounts and other benefits under Philippine law. “Abuse of privilege in any law ruins the spirit behind it. Such discount is solely meant for actual persons with disability. DTI, through the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB), is currently investigating the matter,” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in a press release on Sunday. The issue first circulated on social media with an alleged influential family having all its members as PWD cardholders while restaurant owners have also complained about fraudulent use of the special ID. Persons with psychosocial, learning, visual, orthopedic, and hearing disabilities as well as mental and chronic illnesses may avail of the card, based on Republic Act No. 10754. Holders may use the card for discounts and exemptions from value added tax for certain products and services, including those offered at restaurants, hotels, recreational centers, as well as for medical services and medicine purchases. Mr. Lopez said individuals should not abuse the use of the cards, especially while restaurants try to keep their businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Trade Undersecretary for Consumer Protection Group Ruth B. Castelo said the DTI will file the appropriate charges against those proven to have used fake PWD cards. Related complaints may be reported to the National Council on Disability Affairs, National Bureau of Investigation, or Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission. — Jenina P. Ibañez

PhilHealth boss says ‘inefficiencies’ inevitable in a ‘large corporation’


THE HEAD of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) defended the agency saying “inefficiencies” are expected for a “large corporation” following reports of a P154 billion loss amid continued corruption allegations against its officials. “We are a large corporation. Everyday, we process about 50,000 claims and in 16 regional offices, 120 branches…. some of them manually… sa laki ng (given the large) volume of transactions, may inefficiencies ‘yan (there will be inefficiencies),” PhilHealth President Ricardo G. Morales said in a briefing on Monday. PhilHealth is a government-owned and controlled corporation attached to the Department of Health. Mr. Morales also said has been no P154 billion loss as confirmed by the Commission on Audit. “They could not find, could not substantiate this P154 billion loss in the financial statements submitted by PhilHealth from 2013 to 2017,” he said. Mr. Morales also took exception to corruption allegations, noting that accusations of anomalous activities in PhilHealth have existed even before he assumed the agency’s top post last year. — Gillian M. Cortez

Judges’ group denounce ‘abusive attacks, criticisms’

THE PHILIPPINE Judges Association (PJA) condemned the “abusive attacks and criticisms” against courts, judges, and the judiciary as a whole following a Manila court’s ruling convicting Rappler Chief Executive Officer Maria A. Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. for cyber-libel. “The Philippine Judges Association is saddened by how the judiciary is being dragged and vilified just because a decision was rendered in a manner not acceptable to the parties therein,” the group said in a statement signed by its president, Judge Felix P. Reyes. “The attacks on the judiciary are so vicious that they may lead to the public losing faith and respect in our judicial system,” it added. PJA reminded the public that courts “settle controversies on the basis of facts and law,” adding that when a party loses a case, it can avail of legal remedies provided by the law. “This kind of system makes people rely upon our courts with substantial certainty; it encourages the resolution of disputes in courtrooms rather than on streets,” PJA said. “Abusive criticisms and unfounded innuendoes hurled against courts and judges erode the public’s trust and confidence on the very situation tasked to protect the people’s rights.” — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Foreign chief says DoJ still assessing damage cost for 22 fishermen hit by Chinese vessel

THE DEPARTMENT of Justice has yet to determine the compensation that will be demanded for the 22 Filipino fishermen in the June 9 sinking of their boat after colliding with a Chinese vessel, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said. “They got justice. China acknowledged Chinese fishing company’s fault. Question is collecting damages yet to be determined,” Mr. Locsin said in a social media post Monday. “I trust only SOJ (Secretary of Justice Menardo I.) Guevarra to tell me how much, how paid and if we must file a case in Chinese court for the enforcement of NOT even a legal judgment.” The incident left 22 Filipino fishermen abandoned at sea until they were rescued by Vietnamese crewmen. The incident also prompted both states to conduct an investigation, which later found the Chinese company liable. Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, for his part, has given directives to the concerned provincial unit to assess the cost of the damage even as he noted the DoJ was not tasked to determine the amount. “I don’t remember that the DoJ was tasked before to determine the amount of compensatory or other civil damages, but since Secretary Locsin mentioned it, we’ll be very happy to help,” Mr. Guevarra told reporters over phone message Monday. “Through Undersecretary Adrian Sugay, I have already given instructions to the provincial prosecutor’s office nearest the place of residence of the fishermen concerned to gather the necessary information.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan

DoST launches poultry livelihood program

THE DEPARTMENT of Science and Technology (DoST) has launched a program that provides additional livelihood for communities affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. In a statement on Monday, the DoST’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) said it will implement its “Manok at Itlog sa Pamayanan” initiative that focuses on raising duck, native chicken, and commercial broilers and layers. The project will be implemented in the regions of Central Luzon, CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon), Western Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao Region, and SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City). The project coincides with an ongoing DoST-funded program where duck farmers are given access to a new duck breed called ItikPINAS, which also provides avenues for duck egg production and marketing. To help ensure market access, duck eggs produced from DoST projects are distributed to COVID-19 affected communities and frontliners in selected areas. Meanwhile, the DoST-PCAARRD said that when quarantine restrictions are lifted, the project of duck eggs and day-old ducklings distribution will shift to distribution of day-old ducklings to communities. “Qualified farmers or at least 10 families per region will be selected from the six implementing regions of the project and will be given ducklings to start or augment their duck raising and egg production business,” the agency said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave