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After several weeks of hearings, the House of Representatives Committee on Justice concluded on February 27 its proceedings on the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno. And before Congress goes into recess next month, the plenary will make a final decision on the committee’s recommendation on whether or not there is or are enough grounds to elevate the complaint before the Upper Chamber which will then, acting as the Senate Impeachment Tribunal, make an open trial of the case.


Judging from what had transpired at the House justice panel, it could be surmised that all odds seem to be against the Chief Justice now. The participation and testimony of at least nine Associate Justices, the Court Administrator and several officials and employees in the hearings, unprecedented in the annals of the High Court’s history, clearly indicated the unpopularity of the Chief Justice among his colleagues and a divided Supreme Court. That they testified on the alleged abuse of authority and misdeeds, true or not, put to doubt or bad light the Chief Justice and High Court itself. Add to the litany of 27 alleged offenses in the complaint reported tax evasion, failure to file complete Statement of Assets and Liabilities, non-declaration of complete earnings and properties and others.


A Supreme Court Chief Justice could only be impeached on the basis of those provided for the Constitution and those allegations other than those listed could not be used to oust the highest justice official of the land. While time and again, the Chief Justice and her lawyers vehemently denied the allegations against her although Mrs. Sereno abandoned her right to answer them before House committee and that her lawyers were barred under the rules to participate in the hearings, it may be good for the Chief Justice that the complaint against her be elevated in the Senate because here, she, assisted by her witnesses and lawyers, could be heared and given her day in court as she refutes each and every complaint, allegations, innuendoes and others. In the meantime, she has taken her leave to study her options in fighting her accusers just like what her predecessor, Chief Justice Renato Corona, did but to no avail. Young as she is, her supporters are certain she would be steadfast in her decision as resignation, she stressed, is never an option.      

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It used to be called the Benham Rise after its discoverer, Admiral Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham, an American. It is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 km east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela consisting of 24.4 million hectares dubbed as marine paradise as it lies under the migration path of important tuna species including the Pacific Bluefin tuna. Since 2012, the United Nations recognized the Benham Rise as part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone. In May 2017, owing to its importance, the area was designated as a world heritage site as President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 25 designating it as a “protected food supply exclusive zone” and renaming the region as Philippine Rise. Mining and oil exploration was also banned in the Benham Plateau as a protected area.
While it has not been noticed and unexplored for decades despite its size, Philippine Rise has become a center of controversy these days due to virtually virtual frantic efforts of China and several countries to do research in the vast region and presumably make plans to explore and make full use of its resources. Malacanang also was put to task for stating that Filipinos have no capability to do exploration in the region, unaware that many Filipino scientists and experts, including the government’s Department of Agriculture and its Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the University of the Philippines and the Philippine Navy, with support of the Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization. No less than Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol ventured into region and even touted photos of their big catch of tuna during their trip there.
Now, Malacanang has changed its tune. Philippine Rise is open to all Filipinos and nations to do scientific exploration and study in the region but made it clear that there will be stricter rules to follow. "Because we have sovereign rights over Benham Rise, since it was awarded to us as an extended continental shelf, we have the right to exclusively explore and even conduct scientific research in it,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who is an international lawyer, adding  that the exclusive rights include "consent" if foreigners would also want to conduct research. "Whether they are Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, Singaporeans, et cetera, if they comply, we will approve. If they do not comply, we will not approve," stressed Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Caytano. The explorers, however, must share the results of their studies to the Philippine government and appropriate agencies.
It’s high time the Philippine government start studying ways to take advantage of the rich fish population of the Philippine Rise and its other assets to boost the economic growth of the country and for the Philippines to rise with it, but rules should be clear to avoid the experience in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte again has fired another top official of government, this time over excessive travels using public funds. The latest to fall was Chairman Patricia Licuanan of the Commission on Higher Education and Maritime Industry Authority administrator Marcial Amaro III. The Chief Executive said he will continue his firing spree as he reiterated his commitment to cleanse the government of graft and corruption, which he said, is the key to achieving a more inclusive economic development. In the next few weeks, more officials, including generals and policemen, will be axed as he vowed to focus not just on national officials but also on erring local government officials.


And to show his seriousness to his campaign, the President created recently and just this week appointed the officials of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) led by lawyer and Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) chairman Dante Lazaro Jimenez as chairman with no anti-corruption activists Rickson Chiong, Greco Antonious Beda Banta Belgica and Gregorio Luis Contacto III as commissioners. The President has assured the public anew that corruption and political oppression would no longer thrive in the country and disrupt the growth of the economy. “I have fired so many government employees… Talagang ‘yung sabi kong ayaw ko ng corruption, ayaw ko ng corruption,” President Duterte stressed.


The  word corruption is derived from the Latin word corrumpere, which can mean to bribe or to destroy. Indeed, corruption destroys society by diverting resources that could help the poor or other sectors of society. We salute President Duterte for his determination to cleanse the government firing even his Cabinet officials and close friends who are his appointees. We wish him success in the campaign as we call on every Filipino to help as the drive cannot succeed without their full support.


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Time really flies especially those who have been active and busy for whatever purpose in life, business, livelihood, entertainment, sports and health or personal matters. In a couple of days, we will watch as 2017 comes to a close and stand by with  great expectation about the New Year and what it brings to us, our nations, our Mother Earth and great Universe many of whose traits and ways we humans cannot still fathom and comprehend.


For our Mother Land, the Philippines, the year closes with good strides in all aspects of life -- jobs, reforms, governance, agriculture and many others -- but temporarily dampened by two successive weather disturbances during the Christmas holidays – typhoons Urduja and Vinta – which dumped unexpected volume of rain triggering massive floods and landslides that destroyed lives, crops, properties and infrastructures running to billions of pesos in the Visayas and Mindanao. Typhoon Vinta alone caused the death of 240 people with scores missing in many areas in Mindanao, including Davao City, the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte. EvenPope Francis offered prayers for the victims of Typhoon Vinta in his weekly blessing at the St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. "Merciful Lord, take in the souls of the dead and comfort those who are suffering as a result of this calamity. Let's pray for these people," the Pontiff prayed. If for any consolation, the destructions wrought by the typhoons on crops did not massively dent the gains in the country’s agricultural production as Luzon, the Philippines’ rice granary, was spared by the typhoons as farmers started to plant rice.


The country closes the year as Mr. Duterte’s popularity soars in the wake of reforms in government, fight against corruption, the intensified drugs campaign, more infrastructures in the planning board and the availability of more jobs and business opportunities, among others. US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim, taking note of the gains in the country, expressed though that the Philippines could do more owing to its people’s great potentials and that the United States, which hosts 4.5 million Filipinos and still increasing, was willing to partner with the country in many ways. At the same time, the envoy encouraged Filipino businessmen to explore more opportunities in the US.


Happy New Year to one and all. The management and staff of the Philippines Today fervently anticipate with joy and hopes for better life for all of us the coming of 2018 as we leave 2017 behind.


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Time really flies fast. It’s eight years since the powerful Ampatuan clan and their henchmen were charged for the gruesome murder of 58 people, 38 of whom were journalists and media workers, in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao and the trial of the case has not been completed and, as such, no conviction has been made for the perpetrators of the massacre which the world has described as the worst mass killing of journalists.


One of those killed was Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, a former Associated Press reporter who was a Manila Bulletin correspondent at the time of his death. Reblando was a colleague of our Philippines Today editor in chief who was then also a senior editor of Manila Bulletin who had served as president of the National Press Club of the Philippines. Ironically, Reblando and other journalists had accompanied our editor in chief in meetings with Filipino journalists in the United States and in the renewal of the NPC’s reciprocity agreement with the National Press Club of the United States in Washington DC as they took pride in the press freedom that they enjoy in the Philippines. Reblando’s family received threats after the charges were filed against the leaders and members of the Ampatuan clan and some 150 others.


As the world and media groups continue to monitor the Ampatuan massacre trial, President Rodrigo Duterte personally attended to the case as he summoned surviving relatives of the victims as well as officials to a dialogue in Malacanang where the Chief Executive provided support and promised the end of the trial soon during his administration. The President, at the same time, instructed officials to ensure that justice is met for the massacre victims. The President’s action came as even relatives of the victims have died waiting for justice for their loved ones. Indeed, only a presidential directive and a tough action by President Duterte could speed up the case as indicated by the relatives of the victims, one of whom is the current governor of Maguindanao,  Ismael Mangudadatu, whose wife and several relatives were among those massacred. Otherwise, another eight years may pass and the world will still be crying for justice.


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On October 9, Malacanang released President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) No. 44, approving Land Bank of the Philippines’ (LBP) acquisition of Philippine Postal Savings Bank (PPSB) and authorizing the PPSB conversion into Overseas Filipino Bank (OFB). The aim of this OFB is to efficiently deliver microfinance and micro-insurance products and services for overseas Filipinos who contribute to the country’s foreign exchange income, currency stability, employment, and overall economic growth through their remittances totalling $29 billion.


At first glance, the order is laudable, coming as it is as a fulfilment of one of the campaign promises of Mr. Duterte for the OFWs who came out solid behind him in the 2016 elections and the promise under the order for OFWs to be represented in the board that will manage the bank. A closer look at the President Duterte’s order, however, would show that the bank is obviously bias to OFWs, thus leaving out the bigger number of workers in the country, those based in the Philippines both in government and the private sector who also contribute to the nation’s economy through their taxes, among others.


What is more saddening is that Mr. Duterte’s order effectively destroyed the Postal Bank which is a historic institution which has been part of the country’s postal system that dates back to the era when the Philippines was a Spanish colony. And this is a big rebuff to the United Nations (UN) which oversees the operations of the postal systems throughout the world, postal banks included, through its highly respected agency called Universal Postal Union (UPU). Obviously, Mr. Duterte and his men are in a huff to impress the OFWs and fulfil a campaign promise rather than protect and strengthen a UN-supervised Philippine postal system and postal banking network, forgetting that the postal bank is among the biggest institutions in Japan and other countries. It will best for the country for Mr. Duterte, the leadership of the Philippine Postal Corporation which owns the Philippine Postal Bank, the Land Bank of the Philippines and Congress to review its order. Do they know that they create an OFW bank without destroying the PPSB by simply converting the PPSB as OFW Bank and increasing its capital to meet the OFWs’ needs? This way, the OFW Bank-Postal Bank could still retain its connections and benefits therefrom with all the postal systems of the world. Don’t be deceived by your eager-beaver aides, Mr. President.

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After five months of fighting, President Rodrigo Duterte finally declared Marawi City liberated from the terrorists following the death of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Southeast Asia’s most notorious Islamic State-linked terrorist leader and the so-called “emir” of the IS in the region, and Maute group leader Omar Maute, in a dawn clash.


Over 1,000 perished, 162 of them soldiers and policemen and 37 civilians, during the fighting which also displaced over 200,000 residents. Moreover, many buildings, commercial and residential, were pulverized while some schools, hospitals and mosques were damaged in the incessant bombings that followed the siege by terrorists starting on May 23 while the President was in a state visit in Russia.


While remnants of the terrorists have remained cornered in the city, the Duterte declaration signals a start of a massive clearing up by the military, the local government, business and religious sectors and the citizens in the battle zone and the city. This will then pave the way for a massive repair and rehabilitation which by experts estimate could run into hundreds of billions of pesos and will take at least three to five years to complete. Already, the government has set aside at least P8 billion for the short term and permanent work.


With the cooperation of everybody, including the international community, Marawi City, the center of Islamic faith in the country, will surely rise from the rubbles of the war. But what is more important is that the attack will not be repeated and that all sectors should unite to ensure that the city and its people will no longer suffer.

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by Belinda Olivares Cunanan


When I was entering the UP’s Liberal Arts College decades ago, the university was rocked by the death by hazing of a scion of a prominent family, as well as by wars between the Upsilon and Sigma Rho fraternities. That was my first exposure to the terrible reality of hazing.  Congress was up in arms and efforts were made to prevent its recurrence.


Since that time, however, and up to now, the evil of hazing, conducted in utmost secrecy under the iron-clad oath of “Omerta,”  has reared its ugly head from time to time---such as what happened to freshman Horacio “Atio” Tomas Castillo III of the UST Law fraternity, the “Aegis Juris” who died from violent hazing, and who had dreamt of being a lawyer. Unfortunately, however, the uproar and the national breast-beating subsides---until another victim dies.  


Police investigations reveal that Horacio Castillo died from a heart attack after severe beatings with thick wooden paddles on his body. At the funeral mass at the Santuario de San Antonio Church yesterday, the mass presider,  Fr. Winston Cabading, stressed that “A brotherhood that seeks to harm does not come from God, but from the devil.”  Calling on the young victim’s man’s parents and friends,  he begged them “not to be buried in darkness when we are filled with anger and hatred.” Fr. Cabading admitted, however, that to the question of the meaning of young “Atio” Castillo’s death, “There is no easy answer.”




When I was a literature student at the UP long ago, we studied a short story titled, “The Use of Force” by American author William Carlos Williams, which narrated in first-person how a doctor, treating a young  child of suspected diphtheria, sought to get some specimen from its mouth. When the child resisted, the struggle became rather ugly, with the doctor this time inserting a spoon into its mouth with more force than seemed needed and still the child refused to cooperate.  At that point, author Williams, himself a doctor, clearly portrayed how the doctor in the story (was it Williams himself?) transformed “from cool professional to animalistic assailant.”


In seeking to make sense of the various hazing episodes that resulted in unintended deaths, should we theorize that there is perhaps this same element, whereby, even among friends, there is transformation from being friends to being “animalistic assailants” who lose control of themselves.


This could be the case especially if the hazing rituals are conducted under the influence of liquor and very likely even drugs in isolated places like a remote beach resort---plus very little supervision from the frat's elders and the school.




Consider all the accidents from hazing:


* State-run military academies such as the elite Philippine Military  Academy in Baguio, the Philippine Marine Academy and the Philippine National Police Academy all had their past share of hazing victims. At PMA, plebe Monico de Guzman was believed to have died from “beat attack” upon seeking entrance in the boot camp. The premiere military academy continued with hazing in secrecy.


* In some secular schools, hazing continued to take place as well, and what focused national attention in February 1995 was the death of a neophyte of the Aquila Legis Fraternity at the Ateneo Law School named Lenny Villa. His mother carried a brave campaign against hazing from then on.  


* It should be noted, however, that brutal hazing occurs too in the Ivy League schools in the US. I read an account by a student of Dartmouth University who spoke not of physical brutality, but of being sadistically forced to imbibe excrement of all sorts during hazing.




The rash of deadly violence due to hazing prodded Congress to react in the '90s.  Following the huge uproar over the death of law student Lenny Villa in initiation rites, Sen. Joey Lina, then chair of the Senate Committee on Youth and Sports,  authored R.A. 8049, “An Act Regulating Hazing and other forms of initiation rites in Fraternities, Sororities and other organizations, and providing penalties thereof.”  Prior to the passage of R.A. 8049 what was operative on student organizations was the Revised Penal Code.


 As former Sen.Lina  recounted to Cecile Alvarez and myself during our dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw” last Sunday, hazing is absolutely forbidden under Sec. 2 of RA 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law.  In fact, MERE PRESENCE at such forbidden rituals is enough to implicate a person as an accomplice to the crime. Punishment includes life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua;  reclusion temporal (17-20 years) and the lightest, 4 years and one day imprisonment for mere presence at such ritual.


The Supreme Court upheld circumstantial evidence as stiff in its landmark decision in Dungo vs. People of the Philippines 2015, raising  punishment to nine years.




Obviously, however, the current law punishing hazing is still deemed very weak, as physical violations continue to exist. There is now a clamor to enforce more safeguards in fraternity initiations, to ensure that physical violence is not resorted to, and elements of the community, the police, the fiscal’s office and the courts are enjoined to attend and monitor fraternity activities closely. Cecile Alvarez and I opined that officials of the school where the fraternity members are enrolled have to be present at initiation rites.


Morerover, I proposed more creative ways to undertake initiation rites such as for example, making neophytes dress like garbage collectors and actually sweep trash in the Luneta or by Manila Bay, or have them garbed in beggar’s clothes and actually beg by Quiapo Church, the begging proceeds to be donated for soup kitchens.


Any initiation ritual except violence which kills. 


(Belinda Olivares-Cunanan is a veteran journalist with 25 years of experience writing a political column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She is a Rotary Club of Manila Hall of Fame awardee for journalism. She has also received the Distinguished Alumna Award from her elementary and high school alma mater, the College of the Holy Spirit, and the Alumni Association Professional Award for Journalism from the University of the Philippines (UP).}

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California is an undisputed national and global leader in protecting our environment and championing policy that will ensure the sustainability of our natural resources for generations to come. And especially after facing multiple dry years in a row, it’s clear this sort of foresight and proactive approach is desperately needed when it comes to water issues as well.


Unfortunately, however, some legislators want to take California in the opposite direction by blocking the development of a safe, reliable new water supply – and, in doing so, block jobs and economic growth, including for the Filipino community. Assembly Bill 1000, by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, is a “gut and amend” bill that circumvents the normal legislative process in an attempt to stop a carefully studied water project that has earned the approval of multiple state and local agencies and shown to be safe for the environment.


The Cadiz Water Project will access underutilized water from the Mojave Desert that is currently evaporating into the air to provide a reliable water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people every year. Filipino families, businesses and communities need affordable and reliable water; a safe water supply is critical for the long-term sustainability of our state and has a significant role to play in creating socio-economic opportunity and progress.


Unlike the false claims perpetrated by the supporters of AB 1000 – many of them coastal interests and Sacramento politicians whose communities rely on imported water and won’t feel the pain of the lost jobs and water caused by the bill – the Cadiz Water Project does not pose a threat to the environment. The project has withstood all of California’s robust environmental reviews, and mechanisms are built into the project to allow the County of San Bernardino to halt project operations if it unexpectedly poses harm or if groundwater levels fall below a certain point.


Equally importantthe project is expected to create thousands of skilled jobs – including for veterans and for unions – and generate nearly $1 billion in economic activity. A project that’s safe for the environment, creates good-paying jobs and put more money into local coffers? It’s a clear win-win-win – and the fact that some special interests want to derail the project reveals only ugly political games.


Beyond threatening the jobs and water that would come from the Cadiz Water Project, AB 1000 is also just bad policy. By adding additional layers of bureaucratic review on top of those already provided for by California’s environmental laws, the policy behind AB 1000 would make it even harder for the state to move forward on projects that serve the Filipino community, like school and hospital construction, affordable housing development or even bridge and roadway investments. We already have a robust – and often confusing and complicated – environmental review process; why make it even harder for these important projects by allowing politicians and political appointees to quash them at the very last minute?


We cannot allow politics to drive policy decisions that would negatively affect our state for generations to come. For these reasons, we urge the Legislature to reject AB 1000.

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There is a shadowy group allegedly composed of soldiers and policemen calling for the ouster of President Rodrigo Duterte.


The group calls itself the "Patriotic and Democractic Movement" (PADEM) and claims that the Chief Executive committed "gross crimes in betrayal of public trusts and in violation of national sovereignty and democractic rights of the the Filipino people."


The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police immediately categorically denied the recent statement issued by the group that pretends to be representative of the men and women of the AFP and the PNP and came out in support of the Chief Executive.


 AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that the entire AFP supports the constitutionally mandated government and unequivocally supports the President who is also the Commander-in-Chief.


"The accusations and issues cited by the group are unfounded and uncalled for. Such issues are clearly politically motivated and a matter that the AFP does not and will not subscribe to," Padilla stressed, adding that current developments and issues that the group wishes to take advantage of are now being addressed by the Department of Justice and parties to a possible crime are now under detention.


"Let us respect these processes and not allow ourselves to be used by individuals or groups with vested interests. We appeal for sobriety, reason and patience as we await the results of these processes," the AFP spokesperson added.


As the constitutionally mandated protectors of the people, the AFP should stand by the law abiding citizens whenever necessary and should not countenance forces who undermine the stability and security of the country and those who wish to destabilize the nation thru unconstitutional means. Whatever their grievances, the group and the public in general should respect the apolitical stance of the military and help bring unity and healing instead of fomenting divisiveness and collapse.

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