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Henry Sy leads PHL's richest list in Forbes mag

Published in Business

MAKATI CITY — Henry Sy Sr. of the SM malls, BDO Universal Bank and other businesses continues to be the Philippines’ richest man in 2017, the 10th year in a row.


This is shown in a report of Forbes Asia magazine which listed also the other wealthy Filipinos, including newcomers to the top 50 list. 

The 92-year-old property and banking tycoon increased his net worth  to $18 billion this year from $13.7 billion in 2016 due to good business under the Duterte administration.


Sy, who also operates malls in China, and his family are also into casino, hotels, condominiums and community development, supermarkets and lately plans to buy the well-known bakeshop and eatery Goldilocks. 

Sy, who started his fortune in a small store of shoes called Shoe Mart in the Quiapo district in Manila, holds a 54 percent stake in SM Investments. 

John Gokongwei Jr., 91, founder of JG Summit Corp., is the second richest Filipino in the Forbes listing with a net worth of $5.5 billion. This is $1.3 billion lower than his $6.8 billion net worth last year. 


Gokongwei controls Robinsons Malls, Cebu Pacific, Go Hotels. condominiums, a bank and other businesses.


Enrique Razon Jr., at No. 3, has a net worth of $4.3 billion, higher by $800 million than his last year’s wealth of $3.5 billion. The 57-year-old Spanish-Filipino tycoon is chairman of port operator International Container Terminal Services (ICTS) which has global investments. 

Forbes said in a statement an infrastructure push by the Philippine government has been particularly favorable for some construction and property development tycoons on the list. 

Based on the list, seven of the 10 biggest dollar gainers have sizable interests in construction and property development. 

These include construction tycoon David Consunji (No. 6, $3.68 billion), chairman of DMCI Holdings, and Ramon Ang (No. 10, $2.3 billion) of San Miguel, who nearly doubled his wealth due largely to a favorable initial public offering by his cement company, Eagle Cement. 

Megawide Construction cofounders Michael Cosiquien (No. 29, $385 million) and Edgar Saavedra (No. 31, $375 million) also saw their wealth rise by more than 45 percent, buoyed by a 30 percent uptick in the shares of the 20-year-old company, which handles construction of schools, Mactan-Cebu International Airport and the country’s first intermodal transportation hub. 

Others on the list did not fare as well, Forbes said, as half of the country’s top 50 tycoons saw their net worth fall. The benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange index was virtually flat over the past year and the peso slumped against the US dollar on a surge in imports, taking a toll on the wealth of the Philippines’ richest.  

Lucio Tan (No. 4, $4.2 billion), whose LT Group has interests in tobacco, spirits, banking and property development, saw his fortune shrink by $700 million from $4.9 billionlast year. 

While Edgar Sia II (No. 21, $820 million) enjoyed a surge in his net worth last year, his wealth fell by 32 percent this year as shares of his DoubleDragon Properties retreated. 

Net worth of Alfredo Yao (No. 25, $600 million) was down 26 percent as shares in his soft drink maker Macay Holdings dipped 21 percent on news of an impending raise in taxes on sugary drinks. 

Making his debut on the list is Eusebio Tanco (No. 45, $150 million). Shares of his key asset STI Education Systems Holdings soared 136 percent over the past year, due to an expanding demand for courses in fields such as information and communications technology, and business and management. 

There are two returnees to the list this year – Walter Brown (No. 43, $160 million) and Philip Ang (No. 50, $120 million) both returned to the list after a one-year hiatus.


In defense of Philippine sovereignty

Published in Perry Scope

Recently, Sandy Cay, a sandbar near Pag-Asa Island, a Philippine territory in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the Spratlys, became the center of contention between President Rodrigo Duterte and Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.  


In a statement released to the press, Carpio said Chinese Navy ships and other vessels have encroached in the Sandy Cay’s 12-nautical mile territorial waters. “In short, Sandy Cay is a Philippine land territory that is being seized, to put it mildly, or being invaded, to put it frankly, by China,” he said. 


Carpio was referring to information that Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano disclosed from his sources in the military stating that China has deployed two frigates, one Coast Guard vessel, and two large fishing vessels, with their maritime militia, within three miles of Pag-Asa Island.


Carpio said President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano have the constitutional duty to defend and protect Philippine territory. “The very least that they could do now is to vigorously protest this invasion of Philippine territory by China,” Carpio said. “If both are courageous, they should send a Philippine Navy ship to guard Sandy Cay and if the Chinese Navy ships attack the Philippine Navy vessel, they should invoke the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).”  MDT is a 1951 treaty that binds the two countries to come to the aid of each other if attacked.

“If Sandy Cay becomes Chinese territory, it will reduce by a third or more Pag-asa’s territorial sea, depending on how large a reclaimed area China will create out of Sandy Cay,” Carpio said.  “It will also prevent the Philippines from extending the territorial sea of Pag-asa to include Subi (Zamora) Reef.”  


National security

But National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. – a retired four-star general – defended his boss, saying: “China has not seized sandbars in Pag-Asa Atoll. There should be no alarm on that, as long as they don’t occupy any of the sandbars. There are many Chinese as well as Vietnamese fishing boats in and near Pag-Asa Island.”  That’s very strange because of his military background and key role in the “national security” of the country, he should be the first to come to the defense of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Instead, he capitulated.

And to add insult to an injury, Foreign Secretary Cayetano defended China’s incursion – nay, invasion – of Sandy Cay.  He reportedly said, “The presence of [Chinese] ships alone does not mean anything. … There [are] reasons for certain presence of certain vessels, but the situation in the area is very stable. There is no situation there that is a cause of lowering mutual trust between all of the claimants at this point in time.”  Which makes one wonder: where did he get his training or experience in foreign affairs and diplomacy?  From what is understood, his appointment as Foreign Secretary was his reward  -- “consuelo de bobo’ – for his blind loyalty to Duterte when he ran and lost as Duterte’s vice presidential running mate in the 2016 elections.  But rewarding him for his unquestioned loyalty is one thing; but putting him in charge of the country’s diplomatic relations with the rest of the world is, to put it mildly, irresponsible.


But it was the commander-in-chief himself who surrendered control of Sandy Cay to the Chinese.  “China assured me [Duterte] that they will not build anything there. I called the Ambassador [when I read the news]. He said, ‘We will assure you that we are not building anything there.’ Why would they risk invading a sandbar and get into a quarrel with us? [What will they get out of it?]  But didn’t the Chinese promise that they will not militarize the artificial islands they built around seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago – on Philippine territory?  

But the most ridiculous – and downright stupid – reaction came from no less than Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Joel Garcia who said, “As what the Secretary of Foreign Affairs [Cayetano] mentioned earlier, if it does not affect our sovereignty, specifically the areas where we have sovereign rights, I don’t think the Chinese vessels are violating international law.” I can’t believe that the top honcho of the Coast Guard who is in charge of defending the country’s territory has no idea what “sovereignty” and “sovereign rights” mean.   


Silence is deafening


With all this hullabaloo going on, the ultimate guardians of the country’s territory, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (a retired three-star general) and AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año (a four-star general) are uncharacteristically quiet.  Why the quietude?  Which makes one wonder: are they under a gag order? 


Indeed, their silence is deafening except for the AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, who has the unenviable “PR” job of justifying the unjustifiable.  In response to a reporter’s question at a Malacañang press conference, he said: “We will work to clarify all of these things [at] the bilateral consultative mechanism,” which is the regular dialogue between the Philippines and China, covering various issues, including territorial disputes.  My reaction? Hahaha… 


But I really feel sorry for Padilla, who is paid to do a “snow job.”  But if he does well in defending the indefensible, he just might earn his second star and move up the food chain.  But at whose expense?


Indeed, the military is virtually grounded, with no apparent contingency plan to defend Philippine territory.  With no warships and an air force that consists of a few trainer fighter planes, the country is at the mercy of China.  Duterte admits it and China knows it.  All Duterte can do was curse, “Putang ina! Na-leche na naman tayo ng Tsina!”  [Son of a whore!  China screwed us again!] 


The same is true with the nationalist and leftist groups, who are akin to the “three mystic monkeys” – “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.” An example of which was when a U.S. Navy drone, believed to be used for reconnaissance, was recovered in waters off Masbate in central Philippines in January 2013.  It didn’t take too long for Filipino protesters to gather near the U.S. Embassy in Manila to denounce the U.S. government for violating the country’s sovereignty.


In contrast, the Philippine government’s silence on the Chinese invasion of Sandy Cay demonstrates its lack of resolve to protect Philippine territory from foreign invasion.  Duterte’s reason for not confronting Chinese incursion into Philippine territory is that he saw no reason for the Philippines to go to war with China over a disputed sandbar in the West Philippine Sea. 


“Why should I defend a sandbar and kill Filipinos because of a sandbar? China assured me that they would not build anything there,” Duterte said during a press briefing in Malacañang. Well, it’s just a sandbar; however, China can build a militarized artificial island like it did with seven reefs and shoals a few years ago.


But didn’t he realize that Philippine-U.S. MDT covers attack on Philippine warships wherever they may be, including international waters?  It is for this reason that China couldn’t attack or expel the BRP Sierra Madre – an old dilapidated World War II-vintage U.S. LST vessel, which was deliberately grounded at the Ayungin Shoal in the Spratlys to serve as the Philippine Marines’ outpost to assert Philippine sovereignty over the region.    


In my article, “What price sovereignty?” (January 20, 2014), I wrote: “Would the Philippines disallow American military presence needed to protect the sovereignty that we hold so dearly? But without U.S. presence, our sovereignty would be exposed to Chinese imperialistic advances. It’s a dilemma that the Philippines has to grapple with. Simply put, the Philippines cannot have it both ways. Sometimes you got to give a little to gain strategic advantage.”


Isn’t it time that we assert sovereignty over what is rightfully ours?


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Secretary of Injustice

Published in On Distant Shore

VITALIANO Aguirre II first hit the headlines in 2012 when, as one of the private prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, he covered his ears while the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was scolding prosecutors for withdrawing the remaining articles of impeachment on the 26th day of the trial.


“You’ve been misleading the court! I’m very concerned that prosecution has been in bad faith all along. You’ve been saying to media, ‘Panalo na kami.’ Kami ang magdedesisyon niyan, hindi kayo. Ang yayabang niyo! Mga gago naman! (You are being conceited! Stupid!)” the feisty Santiago said in her speech.


After Sen. Jinggoy Estrada informed the body of Aguirre’s “disrespectful” act, then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile called for a recess, but Santiago continued to chastise Aguirre, who was later cited for contempt by the Senate, acting as an impeachment court.


Actually, Aguirre had not shied away from controversy even before that episode. The San Beda law class valedictorian was the lawyer for his classmate and fraternity brother, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, when then Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima was investigating the alleged Davao Death Squad.


Aguirre also represented retired police officer Bienvenido Laud, also known as “Tatay Laud,” whom he defended up to the Supreme Court to try to block authorities from searching his quarry in Davao City, said to have been a burial ground of those supposedly killed by the DDS.


In 2009, De Lima, armed with a search warrant issued by a Manila judge, led a team that dug the quarry in search of evidence to claims by a self-confessed killer that he and six others were instructed by “Tatay Laud” to bring bodies of their victims to three caves in the quarry site. They were stopped by Aguirre, who argued before the Supreme Court that the search warrant was invalid as it was issued by a judge in Manila, who, he said, had no territorial jurisdiction. The digging had already yielded some leg bones, skull parts and some license plates.


The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the search warrant was valid after five years, in 2014, but no search was conducted again.


In 2016, after Duterte was proclaimed president-elect, Aguirre was among the first appointees to his Cabinet. In just the second month of his presidency, Duterte started the persecution of De Lima, alleging that De Lima had been having an affair with her driver, Ronnie Dayan, who Duterte also alleged functioned as De Lima’s collector for drug protection money when she was the Justice secretary.


A few months later, De Lima was detained on drug-related charges for allegedly using her position as Secretary of Justice to acquire money from drug pushers inside the National Bilibid Prison to make their drug business operational even though they are imprisoned.


In all these cases against De Lima, Aguirre was in the forefront of her public persecution and prosecution, which was obviously in retaliation for her vociferous opposition of Duterte’s brutal drug war and for her past investigation of the Davao Death Squad.


Shortly after De Lima’s incarceration in February, Aguirre proved he was also an effective rabble-rouser when he spoke in a pro-Duterte rally and asked boastfully who the crowd wanted to be arrested next, to which the Duterte trolls shouted “Trillanes!” When questioned by senators on his highly partisan act, he said it was just a joke.


After revealing him as a jester cum justice secretary, Aguirre earned another title as the “Fake News King” after he stated that Vice President Leni Robredo stayed in the home of Fil-Am community leader Loida Nicolas-Lewis, who has been erroneously tagged by Duterte and Aguirre as the leader of a plot to oust the President. This was denied by both Robredo and Lewis.


In February after the abduction and killing of South Korean Jee Ick Joo allegedly by rogue policemen, Aguirre blamed the Korean Mafia, which, he said, has extended its reach to the Philippines. This claim was never proven nor followed up.


Later, he again proved he was worthy of the title “Fake News King” when he told reporters that the wife of one of the inmates who testified against De Lima was ambushed. Of course, it was not true, with no less than the Philippine National Police denying there was such an ambush.


At the height of the Marawi siege on June 7, Aguirre suggested that Senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes IV, and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano might be involved in the planning of the siege. Showing a picture of the three and Rolando Llamas, former political adviser of former President Noynoy Aquino, meeting with the heads of the prominent Lucman and Alonto families allegedly on May 2, the justice secretary said the Maute attack could be part of a destabilization plot against Duterte because, he said, two weeks after the alleged meeting, the siege started.


It turned out that the picture was from the Facebook wall of Zamboanga del Sur Vice Governor Ace Cerilles and was taken on Sept. 4, 2015 at the Iloilo International Airport. At the same time, Aquino, Trillanes and Alejano proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were not in Marawi on May 2 and were, in fact, in the capital attending congressional session.


Aguirre never apologized for the grievous error, saying he made it clear to the media that it was just a raw intelligence report, but the reporters protested and presented video recording of the press conference.


Trillanes commented: “The incompetence of Aguirre is only matched by his stupidity. I would advise him to avoid getting his intel from Facebook conspiracy theorists.”


Like a troll, Aguirre has blindly defended Duterte’s deadly drug war. After the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa by policemen serving a search warrant in the wee hours of the morning inside the mayor’s cell, Aguirre submitted a resolution downgrading from murder to homicide the charges against the policemen and Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos.


Sen. Franklin Drilon, the Senate minority leader and a former justice secretary, called the DOJ resolution an “insult to the Senate” and a “big blow to [the] justice system in the country.” The Senate had recommended the filing of murder charges against Marcos and the other policemen in the Espinosa killing.


And then last week, amid widespread public outrage over the killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos, Aguirre sought to downplay the anger by describing Kian’s death as “blown out of proportion” and “isolated.”


Despite medical examiners’ findings that Kian was kneeling and bent on the ground when shot at the back of the head and in the back, testimonies by eye witnesses, and footage from the barangay CCTV, Aguirre insisted that the witnesses who gave statements on what they saw during the alleged police operations that night had been polluted, or brainwashed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, who has courageously taken the cudgels for Kian’s family.


Aguirre’s repeated relaying of fake news and obvious partisan views got the attention of a group of young leaders that calls itself Millennials Against Dictators (MAD) who filed a formal complaint with the Ombudsman for Aguirre’s alleged violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. They called for the removal of Aguirre for spreading fake information while acting in his capacity as a Cabinet official.


"Respondent grossly neglected his duties and has made a mockery of the justice system where perceived foes are publicly persecuted rather than properly investigated and prosecuted," it said.


This is the same justice secretary who said that Duterte cannot be charged with crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court because, according to him, criminals are not part of humanity.


He has been called a joker, the Fake News King, a rabble-rouser, and a fiesta barker. But based on the damage he has done as head of the Department of Justice, we can call him the Secretary of Injustice.


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Published in Headline

Says war on drugs, corruption to continue; terrorists, communists, miners are warned



(Photo from PCOO)


QUEZON CITY – President Rodrigo Duterte, buoyed by his phenomenal approval ratings despite controversies over alleged extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs, addressed both chambers of Congress and the nation on Monday, July 24, and impressed upon the continuation of the campaign against drugs with even greater determination than before.


At the same time, Duterte, in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) described by many as “fiery” and lasted for two hours, warned the terrorists in Marawi City and nearby areas, the rebels from the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA), the corrupt officials and employees in government and irresponsible miners.


Duterte was widely acclaimed in his SONA despite failing to avoid the "dirty words." Duterte even met rallyists who are critics of his administration outside the Batasan complex after his speech and also met members of the press afterwards.


Duterte vowed to press on with the fight against illegal drugs, calling it “the root cause of so much evil and so much suffering” in the country.


Illegal drugs “weakens the social fabric” and hinders business, the President stressed.


Duterte promised the fight against illegal drugs “will be unremitting as it will be unrelenting,” adding that the fight will continue “until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease.”


His ultimatum: “they have to stop, or the alternative is either jail or hell.”


He vowed to “make sure, very sure, that they will not have the luxury of enjoying the fruits of their greed or madness.” He said he will not lose the fight against illegal drugs, as to lose would spell “the destruction of the Filipino.”


He told critics of the fight against illegal drugs, including foreign governments and UN agencies concerned over the body count and collateral damage, that their “efforts are better spent” if they use the influence and moral ascendancy of their positions and organizations in educating people about the evils of illegal drugs, “instead of blaming the authorities for every killing that bloodies this country.”


Nonetheless, he stressed, “don’t get me wrong. I value human life, just as I value life,” but lamented

“I ask you to join me in this fight against illegal drugs and criminality,” he addressed the members of Congress. “Look beyond your biases, your political agenda. The search for change is within us.”


He underscored his determination to fight the scourge of drugs and criminality: “We will not be cowed. We will not be overwhelmed. This is where our resilience perseverance and determination are tested. We can and will overcome, together, toward a common goal.”


The quest for peace drove the spirit of his speech: “It is not the peace of the dead but the peace of the living that we seek.”


He mentioned the “red insurgency”, “the Moslem issue for centuries”, where so much lives have been lost. “Peace eludes us,” he noted. “Sometimes I am tempted to think the peace will not come in our lifetime. But it will not be for lack of trying.”


“The battle of Marawi has dealt a terrible blow to our quest for peace. I declared martial law in Mindanao because I believed that was the fastest way to defeat the Maute rebellion at the least cost of lives, and to prevent them from spreading hate across the island.”


He declared his “unwavering support” to the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the police forces. “To those on the ground in the battlefields, I have your backs. I hold myself, me and me alone, responsible. The people of Marawi need help. If we cannot provide for the poor and the needy, we will not be able to keep from harm the rich. Our armed forces and the police are the silent heroes. Never fear. Do your duty. I stand behind you.”


Duterte said he has ordered the dismissal of ranking officials, including a former Cabinet member, pointing out that this should serve as a warning to corrupt members of the government service.


“Let the dismissal of several high-ranking officials whom I myself appointed serve as a warning to all that I will never back down on my commitment to cleanse this government,” Duterte said.


Duterte, at the same time, said he will raise the government’s budget for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) assistance from P400 million to P1 billion as he cited the overseas Filipinos’ contribution to the country’s economy.


“To ensure that their rights protected, I ordered the increase of our assistance for the OFW from P400 million to more than P1 billion,” Duterte said.


Duterte warned that the campaign in Marawi City against foreign-inspired terrorists will be pursued until the last terrorist is killed.


Duterte also defended his decision to put the entire Mindanao under martial law as the terror crisis in the Islamic city of Marawi continues to rage.


“The battle of Marawi has dealt a terrible blow to our quest for peace,” Duterte said.


“Alien ideology… has been injected to the local setting.”


Duterte said he declared martial law in Mindanao “because I believe that that was the fastest way to quell rebellion at the least cost of lives and properties.”


Meeting reporters after his speech, the President said he would build a military over the next two years that could fight on all fronts by recruiting 35,000-40,000 new soldiers, and buying planes and drones to tackle communist and Islamist rebels.


Duterte said security threats had increased in the Philippines and the military needed more troops and more modern equipment to meet those challenges.


"Today's demand necessitates an army that is strong," he told reporters. "I will build an armed forces that can fight all fronts everywhere."


He said he was prepared to "wait it out" before retaking Marawi City from Islamic State-inspired rebels holed up there for two months, because protecting civilians and hostages in the conflict zone was of paramount importance.


In his SONA, Duterte tagged the country’s communist rebels as enemies of the state who deserve to be bullied, in yet another signal of frayed ties between the President and the Left.


“I used to be friends with the NDF [National Democratic Front of the Philippines],” Duterte said in his State of the Nation Address.


“Times have changed because God placed me here. Bully daw ako. T*******o pala kayo, talagang bully ako. P****g i*a. Talagang bully ako especially to the enemies of the state,” the President said.


Talks between government and the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front have collapsed to the spate of attacks of New People’s Army rebels against government troops.


The President particularly cited the NPAs’ attack on the Presidential Security Group in Arakan, North Cotabato. Later, a chief of police and five of his men were killed in another NPA ambush in Negros Oriental.


“Pati ang pulis ko, araw-araw niyong ina-ambush… Pati ako papatayin. Convoy ko kasi iyon eh... Sabagay, malayo ako doon. Pero convoy ko 'yun. Ginamitan 'yun ng machine gun, kaya lang armorized,” he said.


He reiterated his earlier decision to halt peace negotiations with the communists. 


"Kayong mga Left, I will not talk to you. Why should I?" Duterte stressed.


Ending the decades-old communist insurgency has been a top priority for Duterte, but talks have been on and off under the feisty leader, who has accused the communists of being two-faced amid continued armed attacks against state forces.


The President has also lambasted the rebels for collecting “revolutionary taxes” from businesses and ordinary people.


Duterte warned mining companies that he would tax them "to death" unless they restore the "virginity" of exploited areas.


Duterte said he would use revenue from mining taxes to help host communities that were left "in agony."


"You have to come up with a substitute, either spend to restore the virginity of the source or I will tax you to death," Duterte said in his annual address to Congress.


Duterte said former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez showed mining communities a "clear picture of what was happening horrendously" in mining areas.


He also offered a "salute" to ABS-CBN anchor Ted Failon whose program, Failon Ngayon, showed the ill effects of mining on the environment in a recent episode.


“I am holding all mining companies and its officials responsible for the full and quick clean up restoration rehabilitation of all areas damaged by mining activities and extension of all necessary support to the communities that have suffered mining's disastrous effects to the health among others," he said.


The President told mining firms to stop destroying watersheds, forests and aquatic resources.


"The protection of the environment must be made a priority ahead of mining and all other activities that adversely affect one way or another and this policy is non-negotiable," he said.


Mining companies should also declare their correct income and pay all taxes, the President said.


President Duterte reiterated his support for the re-imposition of death penalty in the Philippines.


"It is time for us to fulfill our mandate to protect our people. Tapos na 'yan. For so long we have to act decisively on this contentious issue. Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it's also about retribution," he said.


He also explained that the essence of the country's penal code is retribution.


"Our criminal system uses the revised penal code. That is a law given to us by the Spaniards; the original revised penal code, though it was translated into English. And those two books, the definition of crimes and the penalties and everything, and the thrust of that revised penal code, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of retribution. That is why you have penalty," Duterte said.


According to Duterte, instilling fear in criminals is the only way to stop them.


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