Justice chief says smuggled vaccines must have been hand-carried

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Thursday that the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) probe on smuggled coronavirus vaccines indicated that the vials did not go through Customs check and “might have been brought in, in convenient packages.” Mr. Guevarra explained that convenient packages refer to “luggage, carry-on bag, etc… maybe through a private flight too, but the NBI has not specified these.” Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana reported in Dec. 2020 that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines were smuggled into the country from China, before these were given authority for use and entry by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration. It was President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself who announced in one of his regular public briefings that members of his Presidential Security Group have been inoculated. In Feb. 2021, former special envoy to China and broadcaster Ramon T. Tulfo, Jr. also admitted to having received shots of the smuggled COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by China’s Sinopharm. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago 

Comelec partners with Impact Hub Manila to step up voter registration campaign

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has partnered with Impact Hub Manila, a network supporting startup ecosystems, for an online platform that will make voter registration easier. The online tool, launched Wednesday, will help voters register, reactivate their registration, or update their information for the national and local elections on May 9, 2022. Comelec has set a Sept. 30 deadline for the registration period. During the launch, Impact Hub Manila Chief Executive Officer Ces Rondario introduced Vote Pilipinas, Impact Hub’s non-profit and non-partisan project, which is now the official voter registration information campaign partner of Comelec. The project aims to increase the number of registered voters in the country by 10% to seven million from 61.8 million in 2019. The tool can be accessed at votepilipinas.com. Comelec offices nationwide are open for registration or reactivation from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Mondays to Thursdays. “If you want to make change happen, you have to show up; you have to be part of the process,” Comelec Spokesman James B. Jimenez said at the launching event. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

House OK’s rent subsidy bill on final reading

THE proposed housing rental subsidy for informal settler families passed final reading in the lower house. The House of Representatives on Thursday approved Bill 8736 or the proposed Rental Housing Subsidy Program Act. If enacted into law, the bill will provide a P3,500 monthly rent subsidy to informal sector families for temporary housing before they are transferred to a designated permanent resettlement area. Families may also avail of the subsidy if they can afford to partially pay for their own permanent home. The bill is among 18 proposed measures that aim to address the housing crisis in the country. — Gillian M. Cortez

Drilon files bill criminalizing red-tagging

A SENATOR on Wednesday filed a bill that will impose a punishment of 10-year imprisonment on government officials who commit red-tagging or linking groups or individuals to communist terrorist groups without legal evidence. Under the measure filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, government officials who commit red-tagging will also be  disqualified from holding public office. Red-tagging is the act of labeling, vilifying, branding, naming, accusing, harassing, persecuting, stereotyping, or caricaturing individuals, groups, or organizations as state enemies, left-leaning, subversives, communists, or terrorists as part of a counter-insurgency or anti-terrorism strategy or program by any state actor, according to the bill. Mr. Drilon said there are no available legal remedies for victims of red-tagging, forcing them to file “seemingly-appropriate-but-not-quite cases, like libel and grave threats.” The explanatory note of the bill reads, “The gravamenes of these offenses, however, are far from the essence of red-tagging. Libel, or grave threats, is not appropriate where a state agent vilifies a person as an enemy of the state thereby impinging on the rights of that individual.” Mr. Drilon added that the “continuing governmental public branding” threatens the life, liberty, and security of the victims, including lawyers. The passage of the bill “will reverse the ‘increasingly institutionalization and normalization of human rights violations’ and put a stop on the attacks against the members of the legal profession,” he said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Bill to enhance private security industry hurdles House plenary

THE House of Representatives on Thursday approved on final reading a measure that will enhance the private security industry. House Bill 8783, or the proposed Private Security Act, will repeal the 51-year old Republic Act No. 5487 or the The Private Security Agency Law. The proposed law underscores the requirements and limitations for those who can engage in the private security profession. It also provides that licenses in the security profession will be valid for five years. The measure also spells out that private security agencies must not be used as private armies nor provide services to any illegal enterprise. — Gillian M. Cortez

Immigration bureau launches digital feedback system vs corruption

THE Bureau of Immigration (BI) has launched a digital feedback system to speed up the reporting process on complaints and alleged corrupt practices by agency officials and workers. BI Chief Jaime H. Morente, in an e-mailed statement Thursday, said the “improved feedback mechanism is very timely in the wake of the corruption issues that hound the Bureau… It would allow the public to immediately report any malpractice that they encounter.” The agency has been hounded by controversies on the illegal entry of Chinese nationals and more recently, involvement in human trafficking. BI Committee on Good Governance chief Rey Arvin D. Sevilla said the system will initially be implemented at the BI head office in Intramuros, and at immigration sites within the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. “This would allow us to gain much needed immediate feedback from the public, as well as eliminate the use of pen and paper, which can contribute to the spread of COVID-19,” Mr. Sevilla said. The system allows the public to scan a QR code that links to the Bureau’s feedback form. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago