At least 16 measures pushed by Duterte could pass Senate – Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   July 23, 2019   •   748

MANILA, Philippines – At least 16 measures pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address (Monday)could be passed in the upper chamber of Congress, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Tuesday.

Sotto said that majority of the proposals that Duterte mentioned in his speech could easily hurdle the Senate. These include the implementation of Magna Carta for Barangays, the National Academy for Sports for High School, the establishment of Department of Disaster Resilience, Department of Overseas Filipino Workers and Water Resources, Salary Standardization Law for Teachers and other government personnel, the Coco Levy Bill, the National Land Use Act, Mandatory ROTC Bill for Grades 11 & 12, the postponement of Sangguniang Kabataan and Barangay Elections, the Expansion of Malasakit Center, Fire Protection Modernization Bill and Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers & Plunder.

“Marami doon sa mga binanggit niya kakayanin talaga namin. As a matter of fact, nakikita ko, at least 16 sa mga sinabi niya malaki ang pag-asang mapasa lahat,” Sotto said in a radio interview.

The Senate President further said that although he supports Duterte’s call for the creation of new departments, he said it would be better to pass a law right-sizing the government to streamline government systems and services.

“Ayusin muna natin yung right-sizing. Kasi kung hindi tayo magra-right-sizing, blinow-up lang natin yung bureaucracy lalo. So, kung magra-right-sizing tayo, mababawasan yung mga departamento, na mga iba-t-ibang napakaraming departamento ng gobyerno ng maraming empleyado,” Sotto said.

(Let’s first work on rightsizing the government. Because if we don’t rightsize first, we will just blow up bureaucracy more. If we right-size, we would reduce the number of redundant departments, various agencies with too many employees.)

Among the measures mentioned in Duterte’s SONA, Sotto said the reimposition of death penalty for drug traffickers and plunder would face the strong opposition and lengthy debates.

“Tinitingnan ko yung listahan, pinakikinggan ko kahapon, puro talagang kayang-kaya at talagang dapat. Kailangang-kailangan. Yung lang reimposition ng death penalty siguro ang mahaba ang debate,” he said.

(I will look into the list. When I was listening to the speech yesterday, the bills he mentioned could easily pass in the Senate. The reimposition of death penalty may go through lengthy discussions.)

“If its confined to high level (drug) trafficking it stands a good chance to be as quicker or it can be passed in the Senate ngayon because of the mention of plunder, hindi maganda sa amin sa mga senador at sa mga congressman na hindi pumayag na hindi isama, kailangang isama, otherwise takot kami sa plunder,” he added.

(Senators and congressmen won’t look good if we exclude plunder. We need to include it, otherwise it would seem we are afraid of plunder.)

Former special assistant to the president and now Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, for his part, believes that passing heavier penalty for plunder would deter government officials from engaging in corrupt practices.  

“Kung pumasa ito, maaaring ikatakot ng mga magnanakaw sa gobyerno,” Go said.

(If this gets approved, it may deter corrupt government officials from committing plunder.)

For Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, the hardest among the challenges laid out by Duterte in his SONA is the liberation of six million Filipinos from poverty.

“This is the Six Million Challenge that confronts us all. It is the overarching Priority No. 1. It is the most demanding because it means 2 million of our countrymen must graduate from dehumanizing existence every year, if the objective is to uplift them within the next three years,” he said in a statement.

Recto added that even if the government would succeed in the Six-Million Challenge, there will still be about 15 million poor waiting to be liberated at the end of 2022.

“If there is one goal that should energize us, and consume our every waking hour, this is the one. This is a tall order that calls for a combination of solutions and the cooperation of all,” he said.

Senator Joel Villanueva, on the other hand, said he is inclined to look into Duterte’s proposal to include teachers in the next salary standardization law.

“Teachers play a critical role in shaping the hearts and minds of our youth. We need to make their efforts more rewarding so that they are kept motivated to fulfill their duties,” he said in a statement.

Villanueva also vowed to work with the President in his goal to provide comfortable lives for Filipinos at the end of his term.

Senator Sonny Angara, meanwhile, lauded Duterte for his speech that focused on matters of progress, peace and prosperity.

Angara added that he will not belabor the president for omitting other issues as it is impossible to cram all of the country’s problems in one speech.

“Hindi naman isang linggong pabasa ang SONA. What is important is that he talked about the things many of our people want to hear from him. It is a well-curated address,” he said in a statement.

He also said that after Duterte’s annual report to the nation, lawmakers and concerned agencies should “react with deeds.”

“It should be back to work for all of us,” he said.

Drilon, Sotto question basis for possible release of ex-Mayor Sanchez

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (L) and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon (R)

MANILA, Philippines – The possible early release from jail of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for rape and murder of two students in the 1990s, has sparked outrage among the public including several senators.

Sanchez was sentenced in 1995 to seven terms of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years of imprisonment) over the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her companion Allan Gomez.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier said Sanchez might soon walk free due to a 2013 law that increased good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and a Supreme court ruling last June applying this law retroactively.

The application of good conduct time allowance, which reduces the years and days spent in jail has been stated in the Philippine Revised Penal Code.

But under the Republic Act 10592 signed by then President Benigno S. Aquino III in May 2013, the periods that may be credited for good conduct to inmates was expanded.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was the country’s justice secretary during Sanchez’s conviction, said he was shocked and saddened by the news and questioned the applicability of the new GCTA rule to Sanchez.

READ: Drilon seeks Senate probe on reduced sentence of convicted rapist ex-Mayor Sanchez

Drilon cited the allegations of possession of illegal drugs against Sanchez in 2006 when a prison guard found a packet of shabu and marijuana in his jail cell. In 2010, he was again caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu.

Five years after, authorities seized an air conditioning unit and a television set from his cell.

“Ang balita ay involved siya sa drug trade sa Muntinlupa. Paano naman siya nagkaroon ng allowance for conduct of good behavior? Ang balita pa natin ay mayroon siyang aircon sa kaniyang kulungan. Paano naman naging good conduct ito?” Drilon said.

“Is Mayor Sanchez really qualified under RA 10592? This is a question of fact, so it is best for the Department of Justice to put on hold its decision until these issues are resolved,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III echoed Drilon’s sentiments.

“Possession of illegal drugs is good behavior?” he asked.

Both senators warned the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Pardon and Parole to carefully compute sentence reduction of Sanchez and the thousands of other inmates who may be eligible for early release under the new rule.

“Kapag sila ay hindi nag-comply sa law o nagkaroon ng maling computation they can be subject to one year imprisonment, P100,000 fine and perpetual disqualification from office pati sa mga nagko-compute ng mali aba ay mananagot pa sila,” Sotto said.

“Kung talagang ipipilit nila, I would assist the Sarmenta family to bring the case before the regular courts. Iku-question natin ang exercise of the discretion to release Antonio Sanchez,” Drilon said.

The two senators have filed separate resolutions calling on their colleagues to probe into the sentence reduction of Sanchez, and amend the provision of the Republic Act 10592 to exclude from the granting of pardon and parole those who were found guilty of committing heinous crimes.

“Basta’t classified na heinous crimes hindi dapat mag-qualify, dapat reclusion perpetua ka tutal ayaw nyo ng death penalty sige reclusion perpetua ka. You die in your cell,” Sotto said. (RRD with details from Grace Casin)

Sotto says SOGIE bill no chance of getting Senate nod if…

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019

28-year-old transgender woman Gretchen Diaz at the Senate hearing deliberating the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill. Calls for the passage of the bill sparked anew following a viral video showing Diaz being barred from using the women’s restroom at a shopping mall in the Philippines. (Prib photo: Joseph Vidal/20 August 2019)

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality bill has no chance of passing in the Senate.

In a message to reporters, Sotto said the Senate could pass an anti-discrimination bill but not one that is focused only on members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community.

“Anti-discrimination on persons pwede. Pero focused on gays, which the SOGIE bill is, and religious and academic freedom impeded plus smuggling of same sex marriage? No chance!” he said on Wednesday.

Sotto clarified his statement on Thursday, saying the bill has no chance of getting Senate’s nod if it violates certain freedom, including women’s rights.

“It has no chance of passing in the Senate, ‘IF’ it transgresses on academic freedom, religious freedom, and women’s rights,” he said in a statement.

The SOGIE bill, filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, seeks to criminalize discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

She earlier urged her colleagues to immediately pass the measure following the incident where a transgender woman was barred from using a female comfort room at a mall in Quezon City.

Hontiveros refiled the bill in the 18th Congress after the previous Congress failed to approve the measure.

Duterte to insist arbitral ruling to China: ‘Whether you like it or not’

Marje Pelayo   •   August 22, 2019

(L-R) President Rodrigo Duterte, Pag-asa Island and Chinese President Xi Jinping

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte maintained that he will raise the arbitral ruling that favors the Philippines in the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea when he visits China next week.

Duterte is scheduled to fly to China for a working visit from August 28 to September 3.

He will meet Chinese president Xi Jinping and talk about the Hague ruling, the code of conduct, as well as the proposed joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

“So whether you like it or not, would it make you happy or not, angry or otherwise. Sorry, but we have to talk the arbitral ruling, then what we get, if there is a start of the exploration and extraction of whatever there is in the bowels of the earth,” the President said during the inauguration of the 7.5 megawatt peak solar power project in the municipality of Odiongan, Tablas Island in Romblon on Wednesday (August 21).

“The proposal of 60-40 in our favor, would be a good start. I hope it would graduate to something like towards how do we solve the arbitral ruling peacefully,” he added.

The event was the President’s first public engagement after being out of the public eye for more than a week. – MNP (with details from Rosalie Coz)

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