American marine’s pardon could be for ‘broader national interest’  in COVID-19 vaccine, says President’s spokesperson

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON Harry L. Roque said the absolute pardon given to Joseph Scott Pemberton, a US marine convicted in 2015 for killing a Filipino sex worker, could be tied to the President’s intent to have the country prioritized when a coronavirus vaccine is developed by the United States. Speaking in mixed English and Filipino during Thursday’s briefing, Mr. Roque said in his “personal opinion,” the decision of President Rodrigo R. Duterte is due to a “broader national interest” amid the global pandemic. Mr. Roque, who previously served as legal counsel for the victim’s family, reiterated that he sees nothing wrong with Mr. Duterte’s decision. Meanwhile, Mr. Pemberton’s release is already being processed by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), the agency said on Thursday. “BuCor is now in coordination with the relevant agencies that are involved in the process,” it told reporters via Viber. The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Wednesday said it will deport Mr. Pemberton upon his release. A deportation order was issued in September 2015 in relation to the same incident, for which he was convicted for homicide and sentenced to six to 10 years in jail. Mr. Duterte pardoned him earlier this week after the victim’s family appealed a local court’s decision for his early release.

SC orders courts to hold bail hearings for 22 COVID vulnerable prisoners

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THE SUPREME Court directed trial courts to conduct bail hearings for 22 prisoners who sought release amid the coronavirus pandemic. The high court said the petitioners, considered vulnerable to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), were charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua and are not entitled to bail. In a statement, the SC public information office said the decision was rendered July 28, more than three months since the petition was filed in April. Their petition for bail should undergo hearings and receive evidence within trial courts. “Thus, the Supreme Court in treating the Petition as an application for bail or recognizance as well as Petitioners’ motions for other confinement arrangements, referred the same to the trial courts, where the respective criminal cases of the petitioners remain pending, and directed them to conduct the necessary proceedings and resolve the incidents immediately,” the information office said.  “The Supreme Court also considered the proceedings before it closed and terminated,” it added. The court noted that it is not the proper forum to tackle factual issues and that the proper venue are the trial courts. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Judiciary gets lawmakers’ support for additional P6.58B in 2021

THE JUDICIARY’S appeal for an additional P6.58 billion budget in 2021 received support from legislators during Thursday’s hearing at the House of Representatives. Supreme Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez, presenting before the House committee on appropriations, said this amount is about half of the P12.34 billion turned down by the Department of Budget from their P55.88 million proposal. The judicial system has a P43.54 billion allocation under proposed national budget for next year. “Out of P12.34 billion variance, we only want to request this morning before the House for an additional P6.58 billion instead of the P12.34 billion initially included in the NEP (National Expenditure Program),” he said in mixed English and Filipino. The judiciary’s budget covers the Supreme Court and its attached lower courts, Presidential Electoral Tribunal, Court of Appeals, anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, and the Court of Tax Appeals. Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez said he recognizes the comparatively small share that the judicial branch gets. “Our judiciary receives a small portion of our budget and a small percentage of our GDP (gross domestic product) compared to our Asian neighbors. We are always lagging behind because we fail to give the judiciary what it needs,” said Assistant Deputy Speaker and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France L. Castro. She said the variance in the proposed budget is “concerning” as courts need to have “new normal operations.” “A lower budget allocation for our judiciary system would mean a slower grind of justice,” she said. Deputy Minority leader and BayanMuna Party-list Representative Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, for his part, said court services must improve because these “serve as the last refuge of the people.” Mr. Marquez also noted that the proposed P43.54 billion cannot cover the salaries of the judges-at-large who will be appointed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte under Republic Act No. 11459, which took effect law last year. The law creates 100 positions for judges who will have “no permanent salas” and may be assigned by the Supreme Court as acting or assisting judges for Regional Trial Courts “as public interest may require.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

PhilHealth says missing OFW contributions ‘stolen’ by recruitment agencies

THE PHILIPPINE Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), which has been under scrutiny by legislators and a task force created by the President for alleged anomalies, again clarified that the missing contributions from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were never remitted by recruitment agencies. “(T)he stolen contributions went to the pockets of involved liaison officers (of recruitment agencies) and not to anyone in PhilHealth,” the state insurer said in a statement released on Thursday. The OFWs were allegedly given fake receipts by the liason officers, making them believe that their contributions in 2015 were transmitted to PhilHealth. The agency also said it coordinated with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in the same year and so far 16 cases against 16 recruitment agencies, including 11 liaison officers, have been endorsed for further investigation. Of the alleged P17.4 million missing funds, PhilHealth said it has verified and accounted for P1.2 million contributed by 531 workers.