Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Philippines Wants North Korea to Stop Rocket Launch

By Michaela del Callar

The Philippine government on Monday joined the international community in urging North Korea to abandon its second attempt to launch a rocket carrying a satellite between Dec. 12 and 22 and to abide by United Nations resolutions forbidding it from testing ballistic missile technology.

"We strongly urge North Korea not to proceed with its planned launch and abide by the UN Security Council Resolutions which call for the abandonment of its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner," Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing.

Manila has said it would continue to work with international partners to ensure peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.

The Philippines has been singled out along with Indonesia as among Southeast Asian countries where possible debris from the rocket may fall.

Defying a U.N. moratorium, North Korea, also known by its official name Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), proceeded with its first rocket launch on April, which was a failure.

In the face of worldwide criticisms and fears, the communist nation had defended its rocket launch, saying it was intended for peaceful purposes.

But the United States suspects it's a cover to test a nuclear missile that can reach its nearby military bases in Asia-Pacific, and its allies like South Korea and Japan, two countries in close proximity to the isolated communist nation.

Human Rights Consciousness Week

As the country celebrates Human Rights Consciousness Week from Dec. 4 to 10, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reaffirmed its commitment towards the promotion and protection of human rights during Monday's flag-raising ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo's canopy area.

Anchored with the theme "My Voice Counts in Ending Impunity: I work for human rights-based governance," Col. Arnulfo M. Burgos Jr., AFP spokesperson, said that this week's event enjoins all government agencies to observe Human Rights Consciousness Week through simple and appropriate activities.

During the week-long celebration, the AFP, through its Human Rights Office (HRO), will be conducting activities to heighten the soldiers' commitment and responsibilities as human rights advocates.

On Tuesday, around 50 soldiers will participate in the Bike Run and Fun Run which will start at the EDSA People Power Monument in White Plains, Quezon City.

On Dec. 6, senior officers holding key positions in the AFP will join the Commission on Human Rights led by Chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales in a roundtable discussion at the La Breza Hotel, Quezon City.

This will be followed by a top-level dialogue between the two parties.

On Dec. 9, the AFP will partake in the HR Music Fest at the Quezon Memorial Circle, with the GHQ Band and GHQ Choral performing together with other Filipino artists.

The AFPHRO will also attend the 2nd International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Summit on Dec. 11.

"The AFP remains firm and unyielding in its commitment as Human Rights advocate as we draw our strength from the desire and conviction that human rights must be adhered, respected and protected –- in order for our country to truly attain a lasting peace and sustainable development," AFPHRO head Brig. Gen. Domingo J. Tutaan Jr. said.

Recently, President and AFP Commander-in-Chief Benigno S. Aquino III signed a directive creating a nine-member inter-agency committee on human rights which include the AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa as member. This is in time for the celebration of the National Human Rights Consciousness Month amplifying the military's role on the advocacy towards Human Rights protection.

Juan Ponce Enrile's Stand on RH Bill

By Jelly F. Musico

Senator Panfilo Lacson and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile may have contrasting stand on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill but the former strongly believed that the controversial measure is not enough to oust Enrile.

"I have no question on his leadership. He handles well the Senate. Even Senate employees are happy with Senate President Enrile. So, one RH bill is not enough to remove a Senate President like Enrile," Lacson told the media.

Last Sunday, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago warned that Enrile's firm stand against RH bill could lead to a coup.

"I don't think it's reason enough to oust Senate President. I'm against his (Enrile's) stand on RH bill and Sin Tax bill but I would not vote for his ouster. I would support his leadership," Lacson said.

Lacson said anybody who would want to oust Enrile should show first their numbers.

"It's always a question of numbers. If they (are) 13, then remove but if none, then they better salivate instead. RH should not be the basis," Lacson said.

Enrile, meanwhile, remains unfazed by the frequent coup rumors, saying: "I'm at the disposal of my peers."

"As I've said, I have no torrens title over the position of Senate president but at anytime, one like me could lose a seat if your peers do not agree with you and they have the numbers to unseat you," the 88-year-old lawmaker said.

Enrile said that he never imagined that his peers who elected him president late in 2009 would continue to support him in all the issues in the Senate.

VFA Agreement and the Philippines

The House of Representatives Monday passed on third and final reading a joint resolution expanding the coverage of the Legislative Oversight Committee.

This means expansion to monitor and oversee the implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States to include defense and Status of Forces Agreements with other countries.

House Joint Resolution No. 37 not only expands the coverage of the Legislative Oversight Committee to cover the VFA agreement between the Philippines and the U.S. and also that with the government of Australia.

But this would also task the LOC to oversee and monitor future defense and Status of Forces Agreements with other countries concurred in by the Senate.

The VFA is essentially a framework to promote the common security interests of the Philippines and the United States and to strengthen the bilateral defense partnership under the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty concurred with by the Senate on May 27, 1999.

Meanwhile, the Senate, voting 17-1, ratified the RP-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement on July 24, 2012.

Sin Tax Bill Violates General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)?

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago asked on Monday the Senate panel on bicameral conference committee to require the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to comment on her opinion that a Sin Tax bill provision will violate General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Santiago made this appeal to the Senate panel members composed of Senators Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, Sergio Osmena III, Ralph Recto, Ferdinand 'Bong-bong' Marcos Jr., Pia Cayetano and Senate minority leader Alan Peter Cayetano.

"I humbly but strongly recommend that our Senate panel should require the secretary of DTI to appear before the panel and explain whether my humble opinion, based on DTI experience with the WTO, should be a valid concern of the bicam," Santiago said in her privilege speech.

Santiago was particularly alarmed by the "local content requirement" or LCR that is included in the recently-passed Sin Tax bill.

"I particularly refer to the Senate version, Sec. 145, on Cigars and Cigarettes, stating: "Of the total volume of cigarettes sold in the country, any manufacturer and/or seller of tobacco products must source at least fifteen (15) percent of its Virginia leaf raw materials locally," she said.

She recommended to the Senate panel that the local content requirement or LCR should be reviewed first before the bicam meeting on Wednesday.

"In my humble opinion, the Philippines might be brought before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, on the ground that it violates GATT 1994 Article 3, which deals with the topic of National Treatment on Internal Taxation and Regulation," Santiago explained.

Santiago said Article 3 provides in paragraphs 1 and 5, as follows:

"1. The contracting parties recognize that internal taxes and other internal charges, and laws, regulations and requirements affecting the internal sale, offering for sale, purchase, transportation, distribution or use of products, and internal quantitative regulations requiring the mixture, processing or use of products in specific amounts or proportions, should not be applied to imported or domestic products so as to afford protection to domestic production."

"5. No contracting party shall establish or maintain any internal quantitative regulation relating to the mixture, processing or use of products in specified amounts or proportions which requires, directly or indirectly, that any specified amount or proportion of any product which is the subject of the regulation must be supplied from domestic sources. Moreover, no contracting party shall like likewise apply internal quantitative regulations in a manner contrary to the principles set forth in paragraph 1."

National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) Braces for Storm Pablo

Power transmission operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) said Monday it is prepared to face the brunt of Typhoon 'Pablo', which is expected to bring strong winds and rains all over the country.

In a statement, the NGCP said it has implemented the necessary preparations and precautions to minimize the impact of Typhoon Pablo on NGCP operations and facilities.

Among the preparations include ensuring the reliability of communications equipment, availability of hardware materials and supplies necessary for the repair of damages to facilities, and the positioning of line crews in strategic areas to facilitate immediate restoration work.

"NGCP's Integrated Disaster Action Plan (IDAP) prescribes these and other procedures to ensure the readiness of all power transmission facilities which are expected to be affected by the passage of the typhoon," the statement read.

Meanwhile, NGCP's Overall Disaster Command Center has been tasked to monitor all power restoration activities, reports and updates from the Regional Command Centers in North Luzon, South Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, whichever is directly affected by the weather disturbance.

Activated to full technical capacity last August, the Overall Disaster Command Center operates 24 hours a day. It is located in Quezon City.

The NGCP will also closely coordinate and communicate with the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), other government offices, local and national media agencies.

Philippine Reproductive Health (RH) Bill Faces Congress Voting

By Cielito M. Reganit

Lawmakers at the House of Representatives on Monday finally started considering individual amendments to the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill but only after several delays that pushed the formal deliberations on the controversial bill past 6 p.m.

Monday's session began with palpable anticipation as 210 lawmakers came in attendance in what was expected to be a "showdown" on the contentious bill.

Pro-RH legislators, led by its main proponent, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, are pushing for the bill's passage before December 22 when sessions go on recess whereas the bill's detractors have vowed to either block its passage or to insert "killer provisions."

But before considerations on the substitute version of House Bill 4244 could even begin, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez gave a lengthy privilege speech questioning China's move to board and expel ships from the West Philippine Sea.

When the RH Bill was finally opened to deliberations, Palawan Rep. Dennis Socrates stood on a personal and collective privilege questioning the acceptance of the measure's substitute version.

This was followed by another lengthy delay when lawmakers on both camps deliberated on whether to allow Socrates to extend his speech which eventually led to nominal voting that wasted another hour.

When deliberations finally started, Cebu Representative Pablo Garcia and Rodriguez suggested line by line amendments on initial sections of the proposed measure.

Among the amendments Garcia proposed for Section 2 of the substitute bill was to insert a constitutional provision wherein the State shall protect the mother and the unborn, to delete the term "universal" on reproductive health being a universal human right, and to replace "all persons" with "married persons" in terms of the beneficiaries of the RH Bill.

Lagman allowed the insertion of the constitutional provision, but initially rejected the deletion of the word "universal" saying it should stay as the Philippines is a signatory on several international conventions recognizing reproductive health as a universal human right.

However, when Garcia suggested that nominal voting be conducted on his proposed amendment, Lagman relented and allowed for its deletion to save time.

But when Garcia again invoked another round of nominal voting when his amendment limiting the RH Bill only to married couples was rejected, Lagman was adamant.

Lagman used his right to explain his "no" vote to lash out at anti-RH lawmakers and urged them not to abuse nominal voting as part of their strategy to hinder the measure's developments on the floor.

Philippine Navy Gets Ready for Typhoon Pablo

With typhoon 'Pablo' threatening most of Mindanao and the Visayas, the Philippine Navy (PN) on Monday activated its "Navy Battle Staff" to closely monitor the effects of the weather disturbance and deploy available naval units to areas needing support.

Col. Omar Tonsay, PN spokesperson, said the "Navy Battle Staff" is headed by Navy vice commander Rear Admiral Edgar Abogado and chief-of-naval staff Commodore Jesus Millan.

The "Navy Battle Staff" is now doing its duty at PN headquarters in Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

Tonsay said that the formation would use to monitor areas needing PN support and assistance.

Earlier, the PN announced that all of its available naval units were placed on alert in anticipation of possible disaster response missions that may be triggered by typhoon "Pablo", including its disaster response task units (DRTUs).

Naval units in alert include Naval Forces Southern Luzon, which is based in Legazpi City, Albay and has two DRTUs and five ships in its roster -- the BRP Apollo Tiano (PG-851), BRP Gen. Antonio Luna (PG-141), BRP Simeon Castro, BRP Hilario Ruiz (PG-378), and DF-338;

Naval Forces Northern Luzon, which is based in San Fernando City, La Union with two DRTUs and three ships -- DF-317, BRP Manuel Gomez (PG-388), and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15);

Naval Forces West, which is headquartered in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, with three DRTUs and 11 vessels in commission, namely BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37), BRP Emilio Jacinto (PS-35), BRP Rizal (PS-74), BRP Ismael Lumibao (PG-383), BRP Juan Magluyan (PG-392), BRP Federico Martir (PG-385), BRP Filipino Flojo (PG-386), DF-342, BA-484, BRP Mangyan (AS-71), and BRP Benguet (LT-507);

Naval Forces Central, based in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, which will deploy five DRTUs and eight ships -- BRP Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo (PG-140); BRP Abraham Campo (PG-396), BRP Jose Andrada (PG-370); BRP Carlos Albert (PG-375), DF-352, DF-353, DF-354, and DF-339;

Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, which is located in Panacan, Davao City and will deploy two DRTUs and 10 ships -- BRP Miguel Malvar (PS-19), BRP Iloilo (PS-32), BRP Salvador Abcede (PG-114), BU-471, BRP Enrique Jurado (PG-371), BRP Felix Apolinario (PG-395), DF-350, AT-291, BRP Teotimo Figuracion (PG-389), and DF-322.

Philippine Party-list Groups Must Be Banned by Comelec

Binhi party-list group on Monday filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to nullify the ruling of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) disqualifying them from participating in the May 13, 2013 mid-term elections.

In their petition filed through their legal counsel Charita Agdon, Binhi said that the Comelec's ruling is "whimsical and abusive" when its accreditation has been cancelled despite compliance with the requirement set under the law.

The Comelec issued the resolution disqualifying Binhi as a party-list group on Nov. 28, 2012.

In their petition, Binhi also asked the SC to stop the implementation of the Comelec's Nov. 28, 2012 resolution and allow them to participate in next year's elections.

Binhi said that Comelec acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion.

It cited a resolution dated Nov. 19, 2009 where the Comelec granted the accreditation and registration of the group as a sectoral party duly representing the peasants, farmers and farm tillers, which are sectors covered under Section 5 of Republic Act No. 7941, otherwise known as the "Party-list System Act."

"It is a manifest abuse of discretion on the part of the respondent Comelec to cancel the registration based on the pretext that the Petitioner is not among the marginalized and underrepresented and in doing so removing any chance on the part of these small farmers to be part of the legislative body so they can have a chance in promoting their interests in law making," the petitioner said.

"The respondent commission whimsically and capriciously cancelled the registration of the petitioner with a very shallow and very unacceptable reason that it is not among the marginalized and underrepresented while a clear reading of the law and jurisprudence concerned would readily reveal that there is no reason to consider the petitioner as not being part of those marginalized and underrepresented," it added.

Binhi said that the Comelec abused its discretion when it declared the party- list as not marginalized despite the absence of any motion questioning its accreditation and registration.

"The said Resolution (Nov. 19, 2009) has become final and executory, in fact the petitioner herein was allowed to participate in the 2010 elections. No other pleadings were filed before the Respondent or before any other courts questioning the findings in the said Resolution suffice it to say that the same attained finality already as early as 2009," it said.