House minority leader seeks NTC abolition

HOUSE of Representatives Minority Leader Bienvenido M. Abante, Jr. filed House Bill 6701 on Wednesday seeking the abolition of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for its alleged “defiance” to Congress over the franchise of broadcast firm ABS-CBN Corp.

“Contrary to its previous pronouncements, the NTC issued a Cease and Desist Order directing ABS-CBN to cease operations immediately. This brazen act of NTC is an open defiance and an insult to Congress. The NTC should be abolished and its functions and powers be transferred to the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) where it can be better exercised and hopefully be more responsive to the needs of our changing times,” said Mr. Abante, who represents Manila’s 6th District, in the bill’s explanatory note.

The bill proposes to transfer all of NTC’s assets, contracts, and documents, including existing appropriations, to the DICT.

The DICT secretary will also be authorized to enter into sales through public bidding, negotiated sale, lease or any other form of divestment or transmission of rights over assets of the NTC. Proceeds of the sales will be remitted to the Bureau of Treasury.

NTC officials and employees who choose to leave government service will be given a severance package in addition to the separation and retirement benefits which they are entitled to, with the funds to be sourced from the proceeds of the sale of NTC assets.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo V. Cabarios did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

ABS-CBN, whose congressional franchise expired on May 4, stopped its broadcast operations on Tuesday night in compliance with the NTC order.

Meanwhile, 13 senators on Thursday asked the NTC to reconsider the cease and desist order issued against ABS-CBN.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel on Thursday said a resolution is being finalized asking NTC to fulfill its commitment to grant a provisional authority to allow continued operation of the network pending franchise approval.

Ms. Baraquel cited NTC’s earlier statement made before a Senate hearing.

She added the Senate could also consider citing the NTC in contempt, just as the House committee on legislative franchises had warned.

“Sa House, sinabi niya (they said that’s) contemptible ‘yan. That could be a similar stand taken by us in the Senate.”

The resolution was signed by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, and Senators Francis N. Pangilinan, Juan Edgardo M. Angara, Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva, Ma. Lourdes Nancy S. Binay, Manuel M. Lapid, Sherwin T. Gatchalian, Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, Leila M. de Lima and Pia S. Cayetano.

Solicitor General Jose C. Calida filed a quo warranto petition in February on the network’s existing franchise, citing among others the violation of ownership requirement.

This prompted the Senate public services committee to conduct an inquiry, in which the media network was cleared of the alleged violations.

The chamber later passed a resolution allowing the NTC to authorize ABS-CBN’s continued operation.

The bill extending the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. and its unit ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. for another 25 years is pending at the committee level. — Genshen L. Espedido and Charmaine A. Tadalan

Mall-wide sale banned under eased quarantine rules

SHOPPING malls are prohibited from holding bargain sale and other marketing events under the government’s general community quarantine (GCQ) policy to avoid the convergence of people in these enclosed areas given the continued threat of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) transmissions.

Wala muna po tayong sales at saka mga marketing events na magdadahilan para magdagsaan ang tao (We will not have sales and marketing events that will draw crowds),” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said on Thursday.

The ban is part of the GCQ guidelines for malls and shopping areas released by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The GCQ generally allows the resumption of public transportation and reopening of more businesses and government offices.

Other measures that shopping malls must implement include strict social distancing and the deployment of dedicated personnel who will monitor normally dense areas such as escalators and where people need to line-up.

Foot traffic within the mall must also be limited to a maximum of one person for every two square meters. — Gillian M. Cortez

Save the Children calls attention to plight of young population amid outbreak

SAVE the Children Philippines called on the government and local health authorities not to overlook the needs of the young population amid the health crisis, noting that 424 children in the country have been infected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), nine of whom have died.

“No child should die from preventable causes,” said Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Alberto T. Muyot.

The local office of the international organization said other existing health-related concerns such as malnutrition makes Filipino children more vulnerable to the virus.

“Children who die from COVID-19 may have been suffering from acute malnutrition or wasting caused by hunger with complications such as pneumonia and dehydration due to diarrhea,” Mr. Muyot said.

Amado Pawaran, health and nutrition advisor of the organization, said proper nutrition is key to prevent malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency. This will also boost the immune system, which serves as protection against illnesses.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the enhanced community quarantine did not only create a situation that posed challenges to the nutrition programs for severely malnourished children as operations of health centers have been disrupted, worse, it has resulted to the inability of families to meet their basic food requirements due to income losses,” he said.

The highest confirmed COVID-19 cases among children is in the 15-19 years old bracket with 154 cases. This is followed by children below four years old, according to Department of Health data, including the nine reported deaths. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

US grants additional $5.9M fund for PHL COVID-19 fight

THE United States government on Thursday said it will provide another P298 million ($5.9 million) to the Philippines in aid of its efforts to address the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

On top of this, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will also partner with 18 hard-hit local government units for a more effective crisis management and response plan.

“This latest assistance builds on our long-standing relationships with local government units across the Philippines, and represents our continued commitment to our Filipino friends, partners, and allies in this time of crisis,” American Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said in a statement on Thursday.

The US government earlier provided a $9.3 million funding, or around P472 million, which brings its total COVID-19 response assistance to $15.2 million, or over 768 million.

The additional grant will also be used in establishing public hand-washing facilities, and providing food supplies to local communities. It may also be used in support of local businesses affected by the lockdown.

“To assist with small and micro-enterprise recovery, USAID will facilitate access to credit and provide grants and skills training to heavily affected sectors and communities,” the embassy said.

The new tranche of financial assistance includes $875,000, or P44 million, from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This amount will be used to acquire additional medical supplies and expanding hospital capacity, among others. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

P3.5M worth of overpriced instant noodles seized from online seller

THE government seized more than P3.5 million worth of overpriced instant noodles being sold online by a seller based in Las Piñas City.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) conducted the operation on April 30, arresting two people and recovering more than 6,000 boxes of Lucky Me noodle brand.

The instant noodles, classified as basic goods, were sold online for P9.50 each, above the government’s standard retail price set at P7.75.

DTI, in a press statement on Thursday, said the seized goods “are in the custody” of the SM Group of Companies’ Legal Department assistant vice president “who undertakes to fully cooperate” in the ongoing investigation.

DTI further clarified that “SM and the aforementioned Executive are not involved in the online resale of overpriced items of certain individuals.”

The DTI, along with the Agriculture and Health departments, released a joint memorandum on March 18 imposing a price freeze on basic necessities and prime commodities following the declaration of a state of public health emergency due to the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak.

Violators may face up to P2 million in fines or up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

“The utmost protection to the rights, welfare, and safety of consumers is very crucial, especially at this time,” DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said. — Jenina P. Ibañez

Media task force, NBI to probe slay of Dumaguete broadcaster


JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said he has instructed the Presidential Task Force on Media Security to probe the killing of a radio broadcaster in Dumaguete City, while the National Bureau of Investigation will assist or conduct a parallel investigation if necessary.

“We let the NBI step in whenever the PNP (Philippine National Police) faces a blank wall or when there is reasonable basis to believe that other law enforcers may be involved,” he told reporters in a mobile-phone message.

According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, local broadcaster Rex Cornelio Pepino was gunned down May 5 “as he headed home with his wife after hosting his regular program.”

“It is alarming that Cornelio was the third journalist — all broadcasters — murdered (in the city) in as many years,” NUJP said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the authorities to conduct “a swift and transparent investigation” on the killing of Mr. Pepino.

CPJ ranks the Philippines fifth in the Impunity Index in 2019, a report on killings of journalists and where perpetrators were unpunished. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas