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(Photo from Manila Bulletin)


PASAY CITY — The Senate has unanimously ratified the Philippines' Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States, paving the way for improved market access for Philippine goods and services into Europe.


The FTA with the EFTA states -- the Switzerland Confederation, the Kingdom of Norway, the Republic of Iceland and the Principality of Liechtenstein -- covers trade in goods, services, investment, competition, the protection of intellectual property rights, government procurement, as well as trade and sustainable development.


Senator Loren Legarda, the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said the FTA ratification is part of the country's strategy to gain a stronger foothold in the European market.


"Considering that EFTA requires the same standards as the EU, this will allow PH exporters to Europe to gain from economies of scale through improved market access in both EU and EFTA," she said.


In the area of trade in goods, EFTA abolishes all customs duties on industrial products as of the entry into force of the Agreement, whereas the Philippines will gradually lower or abolish its duties on the vast majority of such products.


Legarda, who sponsored the PH-EFTA FTA in plenary, stressed that the agreement was negotiated only with the promotion of fair economic cooperation in mind -- one that will enable a business environment conducive for investments and provide opportunities for producers, consumers, and service suppliers alike.


All negotiating positions crafted were also consistent to and compliant with the Philippine laws, rules, and regulations.


"Opening markets through agreements such as this goes hand-in-hand with all the economic reforms and ease of doing business initiatives of the government to project a clear message that the Philippines is, more than ever, ready and 'open for business'," Legarda said. 

Warning out on another Marawi-like siege

Published in Latest News

(Photo from Manila Bulletin)


DAVAO CITY — A Mindanao State University (MSU) professor and leader of Save Sulu Movement has supported pronouncements by President Rodrigo Duterte and the Armed Forces of the Philippines on possible Marawi-like siege in major cities in Mindanao.


This as Prof. Octavio Dinampo warned of another siege as he confirmed information of an ongoing recruitment by the terrorist group left by slain Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.


At the same time, Dinampo called on Mindanaoans to continue to be vigilant against the plan of the terrorist group Abdullah Al Islamiah to launch another Marawi-like siege in major cities in Mindanao.


He identified the terrorists' targets as the cities of Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao, and General Santos.


Dinampo said Abdullah Al Islamiah has continued with its recruitment especially in six Sulu municipalities – Jolo, Patikul, Indanan, Maimbung, Parang, Kalilangan Caluang, where they are moving at nighttime when soldiers are sleeping. The areas are adjacent to each other which made it easier for the group members to move from one place to another.


He said there is a need for the military to take over these areas to keep the group’s movement under control.


He said the group now is led by Malaysian militant Amin Baku, the most senior terrorist leader and could be the emir after Hapilon.


“God forbids something is being cooked by this group,” he said.


Dinampo said the members of the group maybe few but, they are bringing a very dangerous idea and recruiting people who are mostly unschooled and gullible with the promise of money.


Also, he alleged that the group is backed up by the rich people mostly politicians. It is even more dangerous as leaders of the group are not afraid to die. They consider death as honourable, Dinampo said.


Dinampo warned to watch out in May when Muslims observe Ramadan.


He recalled that the Marawi siege was originally planned for May this year but it was moved ahead when authorities served the warrant of arrest to Hapilon.

But, now the group is targeting mainland Mindanao, Dinampo said based on his research and monitoring.


“We have information that the group behind this has recently met to discuss the possibility of moving on with the original plan. They reportedly met in December to talk about the original schedule in Marawi,” Dinampo further bared.


Dinampo urged people in Mindanao especially in major cities to continue to be vigilant.


The Save Sulu Movement is a civil society organization working to end hostility and terrorism in Mindanao. 


To fully neutralize terror threats, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now studying the recruitment patterns of the extremist militants.


Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin, AFP spokesperson, said this would greatly help the military in preventing and countering violent extremism from taking root in the country.


But he said that they are still to confirm reports that terror groups are now recruiting new members in an attempt to beef up their numbers from heavy losses in AFP-initiated offensives against them.


Earlier, the military official said that they were closely monitoring coastal waters and other areas under the Western Mindanao Command following reports that around 40 terrorists had managed to infiltrate the area.


Menwhile, a key leader of the Islamic State-linked Maute terror group which took part in the five-month long siege of Marawi City was presented by police officials to the media Monday after he was arrested in Divisoria by elements of the Manila Police Department working with military intelligence officers over the weekend.


Spouses Abdul Nasser and Raisalam Lomondot, both from Lanao del Sur were arrested along C. M. Recto Ave. in Divisoria, Manila on Saturday while in possession of a grenade and a handgun.


"We are able to send a message to the Maute that you can run but you cannot hide. The long arm of the law will catch up with you," Philippine National Police Director General Ronaldo dela Rosa said of the development during a press briefing.


Published in Headline

Criminal charges also filed against ex-Cabinet members Abad, Garin



NEW CHARGES VS AQUINO, ET AL. Lawyers Manuelito Luna, Nasser Maromsalid and Eligio Mallari hold a criminal complaint against former President Benigno S Aquino III, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin and other officials before filing it with the Department of Justice. The complaint stemmed from the purchase of P3.5 billion Dengvaxia vaccine.


MANILA – A fresh criminal charges of multiple homicide and injuries aside from other criminal complaints have been filed against former President Aquino, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin and 17 others in connection with the controversial P3.65 billion purchase and use of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia which has been suspected to have resulted in some deaths among 800,000 children innoculated in a mass immunization drive.

The Vanguard of the Philippines, Inc. (VCPI) and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed through their lawyers the criminal complaint before the Department of Justice (DoJ). 


Aquino, Abad and Garin had maintained that the purchase of the vaccines was above board.


Earlier, the anti-crime group filed a complaint against Aquino and the other officials for violating the 2016 election ban on government projects when they implemented the Dengvaxia program.


They also filed administrative complaints against incumbent Health officials, alleging they committed gross negligence and grave misconduct in the implementation of the vaccination program.


New Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III suspended the vaccination program last year after Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia, admitted that the medicine might cause more severe symptoms on people who have not contracted dengue.


Sanofi Pasteur paid about P1.6 billion to the government, but saying that the vaccine is effective, it refused to reimburse the full P3.5 billion.


In the complaint, the groups stated: “Since correlation between vaccine (Dengvaxia) and deaths had been established prima facie, respondents Aquino III, Abad, Garin “and the other respondents (concerned DoH officials, past and present) should stand trial for criminal negligence under Article 365 of the RPC (Revised Penal Code). The respondents should be charged with multiple homicide and physical injuries through criminal negligence.”


The VACC represented by lawyer Manuelito Luna; VCPI through its president, lawyer Eligio Mallari; and lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic personally filed the complaint which accused the Aquino and the other individuals for violation Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 which prohibits a public officer from giving a private party unwarranted benefits in the discharge of his administrative or judicial functions; Section 65(3) of Republic Act N0. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA); and Article 220 (technical malversation) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); and Article 365 (criminal negligence) of the RPC.

Dr. Franciso Cruz, who earlier testified in the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the controversy, also joined the VACC and VPCI as a co-complainant.

Aside from Aquino, Abad and Garin, also named respondents were Health Undersecretaries Dr. Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; Assistant Secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago; Department of Health (DOH) Financial Management Service director Laureano Cruz; DoH directors Dr. Joyce Ducusin, Dr. May Wynn Belo, Dr. Leonila Gorgolon, Dr. Rio Magpantay, Dr. Ariel Valencia and Dr. Julius Lecciones; retired DoH Undersecretaries Dr. Nemesio Gako, Dr. Vicente Belizario, Jr., Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go; and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros who served as Garin’s head executive assistant.

Also named as respondents in the complaint were the officials and employees of pharmaceutical company Zuellig Pasteur, which supplied the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine and Sanofi Pasteur, which manufactured the vaccine. The complaint listed the chronology of events that showed the complicity of those accused in the criminal charges alleged against them:

  • On December 2, 2015 – Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino went to Paris for a Convention on Climate Change and met with Sanofi;
  • December 22, 2015 – the FDA approved the Dengvaxia vaccine which is Rx-based. (The product cannot be used in mass vaccination which may expose children to adverse effects.);
  • January 17, 2016 – In the first FEC meeting, Dr. Hilton Lam defended the economic study of the dengue immunization program;
  • January 21, 2016 – Dr. Julius Lecciones, Executive Director of PCMC, signed the purchase request for 2 million doses despite the absence of this drug in the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF) that qualifies a drug to be used and supported by huge government funds – (Usually, it will take 1 year or 1-1/2 year years to include a drug in the PNDF;
  •  January 25, 2016 – Former Usec. Kenneth Hartigan-Go made a pronouncement as quoted, that, “Political decision to allot budget from the government was ready made and you rule here that it is based on technical aspect. You need to follow this”;
  • January 27, 2016 – In the second meeting of the FEC, Drs. Cleotilde How, Cecilia Maramba-Lazarte, Cecilia Jimeno and the other members of the Council questioned the cost effectiveness study of Dr. Hilto Lam;
  • February 1, 2016 – the FEC approved the exemption of Dengvaxia as mentioned by Dr. Antonio Dan, but was not accomplished;
  • February 3, 2016 – the FEC consulted everybody who are ready to launch the Program;
  • March 9, 2016 – Dr. Lecciones signed the purchase order for 3 million doses;
  • March 27, 2016 – Health advocates led by Dr. Dans and many scientists have gone to former Secretary Garin to alert the public on the public safety and the ADE phenomenon;
  • March 31, 2016 – a WHO representative expressed his support for the DOH program;
  • April 4, 2016 – the DOH commenced the dengue vaccination program to Grade 4 pupils in NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon;
  • April 12 to 14, 2016 – the guidelines for the Dengvaxia vaccine was sent out;
  • April 25, 2016 – The first death was recorded;
  • May 9, 2016 – The program was hastened due to the scheduled National and Local Elections on the same date; and
  • July 21, 2016 – Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial invited nine (9) persons to become expert panel including Dr. Anthony Leachon. The expert panel decided to stop the immunization program immediately. But, only the 491,811 pupils who have been immunized for the first dose can continue with the second and third doses. 

Fast-tracked deal

The VPCI and VACC claimed that procurement of the Dengvaxia was “irrefutably” fast tracked and may have violated the government procurement law.

A total of 830,000 children and 30,000 more, including members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), received doses of the Dengvaxia vaccine, the complaint stated.

“Clearly, the deaths and dengue shock or adverse events noted following (the) inoculation of Dengvaxia are correlated or linked. The causal relationship between (the) vaccine and deaths, dengue shock or adverse events, under the circumstances, could hardly be ignored,” the complaint added.

Moreover, the complainants pointed out that the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine was approved by Aquino and Abad even if the program had no allocation in the 2016 national budget.

“They should be held to account for the natural and probable consequences of their acts… Irrefutably, some deaths and dengue shocks are linked to Dengvaxia,” the complaint read.

“Doubtless, the respondents had violated (the antigraft law) by causing undue injury to any party, including the government. For which, they should (be) held to account,” the group argued.

“Undeniably, (they) had caused the procurement of millions of doses of the Dengvaxia vaccine… even if the same has no appropriation cover and does not belong to the same allotment class… In the process, they used innocent children as ‘guinea pigs,’” they added.

“Clearly, the deaths and dengue shock or adverse events noted following (the) inoculation of Dengvaxia are correlated or linked. The causal relationship between (the) vaccine and deaths, dengue shock or adverse events, under the circumstances, could hardly be ignored,” it added.

The groups  said they filed the complaint based on the testimonies of the resources persons invited to shed light on the issue by the House committee on health and the Senate committee on accountability of public officers and investigation (blue ribbon) jointly with other concerned committees which substantiated their claim that the respondents were “directly and proximately” responsible for the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.

“Not all respondents here are in Salary Grade 27 and up. There are respondents here, a number of respondents, are in (Salary) Grade 26 and below. So the one with jurisdiction there would be the DoJ. The DoJ has concurrent jurisdiction with the Office of the Ombudsman. It is not an exclusive authority of the Ombudsman but it is shared in so far as their investigative and prosecutorial powers are concerned. This is our rationale,” Luna said when asked why they filed the complaint before the DoJ instead of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Sought for a comment, Garin said that she is ready to face any charges.

“I welcome the case. We are ready to face any of the charges because my conscience is clear. It’s better to transfer the venue of the debate in court and stop the hysteria being generated by misleading questions and conclusions. Public health has been threatened and our people do not deserve this. The proper forum can delineate facts, scrutinize experts and allow the truth to prevail,” Garin said.



Abad said that he still not seen the complaint but if the issues relate to procurement and proper observance of accounting and budgetary rules, he is “confident that insofar as the role played by the DBM, everything was above board and according to rules and laws.”

SC upholds Mindanao martial law extension

Published in Latest News

(Photo from PCOO)


MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the four consolidated petitions seeking to halt the full-year extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao.


SC spokesman Theodore Te announced the directive was issued following Feb. 6 regular en banc session of the magistrates.


Voting 10-5, the SC dismissed the four petitions filed by congressmen led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman et al; another group led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, et al; former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales; and a group led by Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the Constitution seeking to declare the martial law extension in Mindanao as unconstitutional.


“The Court finds sufficient factual basis for the issuance of Resolution of Both Houses No. 4 and declares it as constitutional. Accordingly, the consolidated Petitions are hereby dismissed,” Te said during the press briefing.


The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam while nine other magistrates concurred, namely Associate Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, Mariano C. Del Castillo, Estela M. Perlas Bernabe, Samuel R. Martires, Andres B. Reyes Jr., and Alexander G. Gesmundo.


Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa dissented from the ruling.


The Court pointed out that Congress had discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate its own rules.


"Each House of Congress has full discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate its own rules; the exercise of this power is generally exempt from judicial supervision and interference," read the summary of the SC ruling penned by Tijam.


It also rejected the argument of petitioners that the extension should have only been limited to 60 days, saying the Constitution did not fix a period of duration for such extension and was also actually silent as to how many times the Congress could extend martial law declaration by the President.


Even the alleged undue haste in granting the request for extension, according to the Court, cannot be a ground to nullify the extension.


However, the SC noted that it can only intervene when there is a clear showing of such arbitrary and improvident use of the power such as would constitute a “denial of due process.”


The Court explained that it can only step in once there is clear showing of arbitrary and improvident use of such power by Congress under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, which it said is lacking in this case.


It also rejected the argument of petitioners that the extension should have only been limited to 60 days, saying the Constitution did not fix a period of duration for such extension and is also actually silent as to how many times the Congress could extend martial law declaration by the President.


The SC also found basis to the arguments of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) that the extension is necessary for public safety.


The SC likewise ruled that the factual bases for the martial law declaration remain in Mindanao, citing the facts submitted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines during oral arguments last month.


"The rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists. Public safety requires the extension, as shown by facts presented by the AFP," it explained.


As to the fear of the petitions that the extension would result to widespread violation of the constitutional rights of the people in Mindanao, the Court noted that the Constitution had provided safeguards against abuses.


Victims of human rights abuses, according to the SC, also have legal remedies such as the writs of amparo and habeas data and may seek refuge under the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


“Petitioners failed to satisfy the requisites for the issuance of an injunction. The claims of violation of human rights are speculative and lack nexus between the exercise of martial law powers and their apprehension of such violations,” the Court ruled.


The SC received the first petition filed on Dec. 27, 2018, by the minority bloc from Congress led by Lagman together with Representatives Tomasito Villarin, Edgar Erice, Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr., Gary Alejano and Emmanuel Billones.


The second petition filed on Jan. 8, 2018 by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and party-list congressmen Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna), Emmie De Jesus (Gabriela), Arlene Brosas (Gabriela), Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis), Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers), and Sarah Elago (Kabataan).


The third petiton was filed by former Human Rights Commission head Loretta Ann “Etta” Rosales while the fourth petition was filed by a group led by former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod.


All petitions stated that the extension, which was approved by Congress in a joint 240-27 vote last December, lacked sufficient factual basis as Marawi City was already liberated and key leaders of the rebellion were reported dead.


Last January 17, the high court ended the two-day oral arguments on the four consolidated petitions against the martial law extension in Mindanao.


On Dec. 13, 2017, a total of 240 members of Congress voted to approve to extend martial law in Mindanao, while only 27 voted against it. The approved extension would take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2018 until Dec. 31, 2018.


In December last year, the high court upheld with finality the constitutionality of Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.


The SC’s 82-page landmark decision, penned by Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, said that the 1987 Constitution granted Duterte the prerogative to put any part of the country under martial rule.

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