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MANILA – To the chagrin of the opposition and critics, former First Lady and now congresswoman of Ilocos Norte Imelda Romualdez Marcos has escaped arrest and jail after the Sandiganbayan which had convicted her in seven graft cases and sentenced to several years in prison allowed her to post bail of P150,000.


The Sandiganbayan had sentenced the former first lady, now 89 years old, in each of her seven graft cases to six years and a month up to 11 years in prison, with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.


Mrs. Marcos was convicted for participating in the management of several Swiss foundations while she was a member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa and minister of the Ministry of Human Settlements from 1968 to 1986.


 Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo herself expressed her dismay at what she described as “mockery of the justice system” and the “measly” P150,000 bail set Mrs. Marcos’ temporary liberty.


 The Sandiganbayan’s fifth division granted the bail for the wife of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos after she was ordered arrested for snubbing her November 9 promulgation, during which she was convicted in seven graft cases.


“The P150,000 bail was too measly compared with the enormity of what was stolen. Secondly, those are just loose change to her,” Robredo said in interviews.


“I was a lawyer for the poor. Somehow, I can see that for a P10,000 bail, a client would even mortgage some of their properties or borrow money from others just to come up with that amount,” she added.


The vice president said Marcos’ alibi on the day of her conviction was “the biggest insult” to Filipinos.


“In fact, the biggest insult to us was when she partied on the day of her conviction. But she reasoned that she was sick. It’s a mockery of the justice system,” Robredo added, referring to the birthday party of daughter Ilocos Norte Governor Maria Imelda “Imee” Marcos, who is running for senator in the 2019 elections, in their San Juan City mansion which was attended also by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and others.


During the hearing of her “motion for leave of court to avail of post-conviction remedies,” Mrs. Marcos, who is running for governor of Ilocos Norte, claimed that had she known about the promulgation on November 9, she would have gone to the anti-graft court.


However, in the motion that she filed last Monday, she stated that her failure to attend was “solely because she was indisposed.” Her affidavit added that she was “suffering from multiple organ infirmities and was under strict orders to refrain from stressful conditions.”


All these ran contrary to her statement on November 9 that she was absent because it was her then lawyer, Robert Sison, who was “indisposed and confined at the Asian Hospital.”


On the very night of her conviction, she was seen in photos with other government officials in the birthday celebration of her daughter in San Juan.


The opposition and critics of the Marcoses were surprised that Mrs. Marcos returned to the House of Representatives and attended the sessions after posting bail, contradicting her statements that she was weak and sick. Before returning to the House, she was even photographed on a wheel chair.


The Sandiganbayan though has yet to decide whether Mrs. Marcos would be allowed to file a post-conviction bond for her graft charges.


The Sandiganbayan on Tuesday, Nov. 13, reportedly issued an arrest warrant against the former First Lady following her conviction for seven counts of graft last week.


But another report stated that the issuance of the arrest warrant was deferred following the filing of a motion to that effect by the Marcos lawyers, reportedly citing her age and condition.


The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division ordered the bail bonds to be posted by Marcos for the graft cases be forfeited due to her and her counsel’s “unjustified” absence during the promulgation of judgment on her cases.


“...The accused is given 30 days from today to explain why no judgment on the bonds should be issued. Let a warrant of arrest be issued against the accused,” the Sandiganbayan said in its order dated Nov. 9, 2018.


Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang later clarified conflicting reports stating that the 5th Division has not yet released an arrest warrant against  Marcos.


Cabotaje-Tang said the 5th Division decided to defer the release of the document after the camp of Mrs. Marcos filed a motion last Monday.


In the motion for leave of court to avail post-conviction remedies, Marcos asked for the deferment of the issuance of the warrant even though 5th Division Chairperson Rafael Lagos verbally ordered the release of the warrant last Friday when the verdict was handed down.


This developed as the anti-graft court is to rule next on the P200 billion civil suit filed by the Office of the Solicitor General against the Marcoses as the case was already submitted for decision at the 4th division of the Sandiganbayan.


 Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Mrs. Marcos, despite her age and health condition, should be arrested if a warrant is issued by the courts over her recent conviction for graft.


Earlier, Vice President Leni Robredo and other officials said Mrs. Marcos may still be arrested and detained as she was caught partying during her daughter Imee’s birthday with leaders like Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and others. 


Marcos may still be sent to prison even at 89 years old, according to Robredo and Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III.


Robredo said the former first lady is still physically fit to go to jail despite old age as she can still go to a party.

“Ito, kita naman natin, kita natin — iyong araw nga na lumabas iyong hatol, nasa diyaryo, nag-party pa.  Nag-party pa siya,” Robredo said in her radio program with Ely Saludar on RMN’s DZXL.


“Gustong sabihin, kung kaya pang mag-party, kaya pang lumagi sa kulungan,” she added.


Sotto said the issue on hand is simply whether if a warrant of arrest has been issued and not Marcos’ age or health.


“Whether it’s Mrs. Marcos or another person, whether it’s Senator (Antonio) Trillanes or whoever it is, the issue is, may warrant ba (is there a warrant)? ‘Yun ang importante doon, may warrant o wala (That is what is important here, if there’s a warrant or none),” he told reporters.


Kung may warrant, dapat arestuhin. Kung walang warrant, hintayin natin yung warrant. It’s as simple as that (If there’sa a warrant, she should be arrested. If none, then we have to wait for the warrant),” Sotto said.


Senator Francis Escudero, for his part, said Mrs. Marcos is disqualified from getting a presidential pardon since the Sandiganbayan’s decision that found her guilty of seven counts of graft is not yet final and executory.


Escudero, whose father was a fair-haired favorite Cabinet member of Mrs. Marcos, also said that appealing the conviction would also disqualify Marcos from pardon


Pimentel made the remark after PNP chief Director General Iscar Albayalde said the PNP had to consider the convict's age and health condition if a warrant for her arrest was issued.


"Even at an advanced age, a criminal can still be sent to prison," said Pimentel, a lawyer who topped the bar examinations in 1989.


"Ang exempted lang, mga bata," he added, in apparent reference to the country's juvenile justice laws.


Court records showed Mrs. Marcos and group have submitted their memorandum, the summary of their arguments, last July 31, 2018 while the OSG submitted its memorandum on May 8, 2018.


The P250 million civil case against the Marcoses was filed by the OSG in 1987 and was amended for the third time in 1990. In the amended complaint, the OSG had said the Marcoses illegally accumulated funds and other property estimated at P200 billion.


Aside from Mrs. Marcos, the defendants in the case filed in 1987 include  the late President Marcos; their children Maria Imelda or Imee, Irene and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.; in-laws Tomas Manotoc and Gregorio Araneta III; Nemesio Co, Yeung Chun Kam, Yeung Chun Ho, Yeung Chun Fan, Imelda Cojuangco, and the Estate of Ramon Cojuangco.


The OSG asked from the defendants more than P200 billion damages “to reimburse expenses for the recovery of the defendants’ ill-gotten wealth reasonably estimated at P250 million or in such amount as may be proven during the trial.”


PCGG is also seeking P50 billion in moral damages, P1 billion exemplary damages, attorneys’ fees, and “treble judicial costs.”

AFP, DILG eye new martial law extension in Mindanao

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(Photo from Sunstar)


ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Armed Forces of the Philippines  is considering recommending an extension of martial law in Mindanao to the President, following positive "gains" as campaigns against terrorism continue.


Earlier, the Department of Interior and Local Government with Secretary Eduardo Ano at the helm disclosed it was in favor of another martial law extension together with the Philippine National Police.


AFP Chief of Staff Carlito Galvez Jr. said the military will still await for the comprehensive report on martial rule before they recommend the extension.


"Majority want to extend martial law in whole of Mindanao that is why we are waiting for the comprehensive report before we do that (recommendation)," he said.


Galvez added that they will also await for the recommendation of Regional Peace and Order Councils regarding the martial law extension.


Last week, the RPOC in Zamboanga Peninsula passed the recommendation with Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabel Climaco-Salazar as its chairman.


Galvez, who is on command visits with Eastern Mindanao Command and Western Mindanao Command, said the series of command conference is to determine the accomplishment and effects of martial law in their respective area of responsibilities.

House okays P3.7 trillion nat'l gov't budget

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QUEZON CITY– The House of Representatives headed by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has approved the proposed P3.757-trillion national government budget for 2019.


The approval comes more than a month since the chamber approved the budget bill on second reading, after three weeks of debates on the floor.


The appropriations bill will then be forwarded to the Senate for deliberations and approval.


The budget bill reportedly included the P52 billion in alleged pork barrel funds the House earlier realigned from appropriations of the Department of Public Works and Highways.


With 196 affirmative votes, eight negative votes, and no abstention, the Lower House approved Bill 8169 or the 2019 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).


Earlier in the day, Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. assured that the 2019 national budget would be in line with the vision of President Rodrigo Duterte.


Andaya also dispelled allegations that the House version of the 2019 budget is "pork-filled", as he allayed fears of a reenacted budget for next year.


"Everything we are doing here is compliant with all the pertinent laws and the Supreme Court decision," he said.


House appropriations vice chairperson Maria Carmen Zamora, sponsor of the bill, said the P3.757-trillion budget is the first annual cash-based budget of the Philippine government anchored on the theme, “Building a Bright Future for the Philippines and its People”.


The theme is consistent with the Duterte administration’s goal of transforming the country into a middle-income society where everyone can make his or her life better through provision of infrastructure and human capital development.


She said the cash-based budgeting system promotes better planning and coordination among agencies, raises credibility of the government with its suppliers and contractors, supports the government's expansionary policy by addressing underspending, and modernizes the budgeting system.


Zamora said the P3.757 trillion cash-based budget is equivalent to 19.3 percent of gross domestic product, which is marginally higher compared to the 18.9 percent in 2018.


This is about P433 billion or 13 percent higher than the 2018 cash-based equivalent of P3.324 trillion.


Budget bills emanate from the House of Representatives, although the Senate also needs to pass its own version. Failure to pass the budget bill before yearend will mean the government will run on a reenacted budget.




MANILA – China’s President Xi Jinping travelled to Manila this week and embarked on a new campaign to claim the Philippines as a “strategic ally” veering away from the United States by offering billions of dollars in aid and loans to his “friend” President Rodrigo Duterte.


Xi made the two-day visit two years after Duterte declared he was reorienting his foreign policy away from the United States and towards China, despite decades of mistrust and bitter maritime disputes with Beijing.


Following a close-door meeting in Malacanang, Xi declared that he and Duterte agreed to elevate their relationship into a "strategic cooperation" as Beijing sought to counter decades-long American dominance in the Philippines.


As part of his campaign, the Chinese leader promised to import more Filipino products, provide another 50 government scholarship grants for Filipino students, and implement arrangements for Filipino teachers of the English language to work in China.


Xi also announced that China would donate 10,000 tons of rice to help communities devastated by Typhoon Ompong in September.


The two leaders discussed mutual concerns on defense, security, maritime cooperation, law enforcement, transnational crime, and strengthening the two countries’ partnership against drug trafficking. 


They also touched on cooperation in enhancing two-way tourism, agriculture, education, science and technology, and cultural exchanges.


During Xi's visit in Malacañang, China and the Philippines signed several pacts, including a memorandum of understanding for a cooperation on oil and gas development.


Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi exchanged signed copies of the memorandum of understanding on cooperation on oil and gas development.


Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi described the cooperation as a “solution [on] how we can enjoy resources in the area,” referring to the disputed South China Sea.


The oil and gas deal was one of 29 pacts involving trade and investment, banking and finance, infrastructure, agriculture, education, culture, and people-to-people exchanges that the Philippines and China signed during the 2-day state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.


Xi also invited Duterte to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation which China will host again in 2019.


Xi extended his invitation to Duterte as the two leaders witnessed the exchange of 29 agreements, including memorandum of understanding on Belt and Road Initiative cooperation after their expanded bilateral meeting at the Malacañang Palace.


“The two sides will seek greater complementarity between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Philippines’ development strategy move forward cooperation around the three pillars of security, development, and people-to-people ties and then make our cooperation more comprehensive and balanced,” Xi said.


“Just now, the President and I had a friendly, in-depth and a productive meeting. We charted the future course of China-Philippines relations, and drew an ambitious blueprint for its development. The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive, strategic cooperation,” Xi said in a joint press conference with Duterte.


“This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development.”


The United States is the only country with which the Philippines has a treaty alliance, but Duterte has sought to pivot to China since assuming office amid Beijing’s rise in the region.


Duterte’s rapprochement with China has eased Manila’s tension with Beijing amid unresolved disputes over the South China Sea, but critics say the Filipino leader has compromised the country’s sovereignty with his policy.


A Social Weather Stations survey released late on Monday showed 84 percent of Filipinos felt it was wrong not to oppose China’s militarization of its man-made islands, and 86 percent believed it was right to strengthen the Philippine military, especially the navy.


The poll of 1,200 people conducted in late September also showed trust in the United States remained “very good”, but China was considered “poor”.


Farmers and other groups held a protest rally outside China’s embassy in Makati City while Presidents Xi and Duterte were meeting in Malacanang.


Philippine Twitter and Facebook feeds were also flooded with Winnie the Pooh memes in a winking expression of anti-China sentiment stirred by President Xi's state visit to Manila.


The self-described "bear of very little brain" has been used in the past on social media to poke fun at portly Xi, a joke that has drawn crackdowns from Beijing's censors.


Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo shrugged off the survey, saying Duterte’s strategy was to avoid a potential “inferno” of conflict while reaping the rewards of improved business.


“They are not aware of the real geopolitics in the region. The president is a very cautious diplomat,” Panelo declared in a television interview.


“Rather than provoke, he’d rather talk with them and get some trade relations that will benefit this country.”


China will reap better the benefits from its closer ties with the Philippines, according to a maritime affairs and law of sea expert.


"Overall, long-term parang ang mas makakalamang dito ang China dahil para sa kanila napakahalagang breakthrough ang Pilipinas, na ma-engganyo ang Pilipinas na medyo lumayo-layo sa U.S. at ma-place siya closer sa kanyang influence," said University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Director Jay Batongbacal.


Earlier, US Vice President Mike Pence warned the Philippines and other countrries about China's supposed "debt diplomacy."


The Philippine President has said he would never surrender the country’s claims to the sea and would bring up at the appropriate time Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing.


Xi said while the Philippines and China “have a lot of common interests in the South China Sea,” the two countries would continue to manage contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation.


Duterte, for his part, hailed the “positive momentum” in Philippines-China relations and the “deepening trust and confidence [between] our governments.”


The Filipino leader also highlighted the need for “mutual respect, sincerity, and adherence to sovereign equality” in nurturing the ties between the two countries.


“I will continue to work closely with President Xi to deepen the relationship between our great countries so we may together secure a peaceful and prosperous future for both our peoples and for the entire region,” Duterte said.


China is claiming nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, conflicting with partial claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. 


It has ignored a July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed panel that invalidated its assertion of sovereignty over the waters in response to a Philippine plea. 


Xi underscored the need for China and the Philippines to become “good neighbors,” saying this “serves the fundamental interests of both nations, and it meets the shared aspiration of all in the region.” 


In several of his speeches, Xi said friendship is "the only right choice" for China and the Philippines.


“Recognizing the wisdom in the saying, all creatures may grow together without harming other, all roads may run parallel without interfering with one another,” he said.


“Both sides agree that there is no one-size-fits-all development model, and that every country has a right to choose its own path.”


Xi also said China and the Philippines face similar developmental challenges which make the two “natural partners with a common destiny.”


“As our two countries forge ahead as win-win partners, China will continue to do its modest best to help and support the Philippines,” he said.


“Our support will come in many forms, from lending a hand to your counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism struggle, to helping to repair roads and bridges in Marawi and build new infrastructure there,” Xi said, in reference to the war-ravaged Islamic city. 


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