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America first and the country will be great again. This in gist is what US President Donald Trump unveiled as his vision and mission for the nation during his inauguration in ceremonies in Washington. Millions of Americans, some 4.5 millions of them of Filino descent, were glued to their television sets as the new US leader made it clear that his administration espouses a new beginning for America, a new line of approach in dealing with domestic and global issues. “We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First —America First,” he stressed.

 

Mr. Trump moved on: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.” Driving his point, he made clear what he intends to do. “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation.”

 

For true-blue Americans, Mr. Trump’s promise understandably is most welcomed. But for the Filipinos who have made America their home, especially the thousands who are undocumented, it could be tinged with some fears about their future – is it the time to leave or be deported? The same for their relatives and the millions of Filipinos in the Philippines who are largely dependent on their US-based relatives and the US economy, particularly on their cash remittances and material contributions to the Philippines. Remittances alone from US consist of half of the total remittances of $29 billion from overseas Filipinos. Another sector fearful of the dawning of a new era is the business processing outsourcing or more popularly known as the call center business which is employing millions of Filipinos. Are the American businessmen into BPOs closing shops in line with the America First policy of the Trump government? If that happens, millions of Filipinos would lose their good-paying jobs and their dependents would be in peril also.

 

It is actually too early to predict what will be the impact of the Trump pronouncements on Filipinos in US and in the Philippines. We could only hope for the best for them like Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte himself echoed banking on his early contact with the US leader. Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, who joined the inaugural ceremonies in Washington, themselves said there was nothing to worry. In their own words “Wala po tayong dapat ikabahala, magiging maayos po ang relasyon natin, ang Pilipinas at Amerika. We have this long history of good relations, the United States being the big brother of the Philippines and with more than 3.5 million Filipinos who live in the US.”

 

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November 23, 2009 is a day that will forever live in infamy, not only for the Philippine media community, which lost 32 of its own in what is now acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press on record, but also the for the country’s body politic, for which the slaughter was the worst incident of electoral violence in the country’s recent history.

 

The massacre of 58 persons seven years ago on a hilltop in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao showcased everything that is wrong in the rotten system of governance and disposition of justice in this country, where clans of warlords, criminal kingpins and corrupt politicians wield virtual powers of life and death in what amount to fiefdoms, their thievery and corruption tolerated by the centers of power that have to court their favors to effectively rule over the archipelago.

 

It is a testament to how entrenched this system of governance remains that, in a country that never tires of proclaiming itself the freest and most democratic in this corner of the globe, seven years after the orgy of violence, justice remains elusive for the Ampatuan 58 as on the day gunmen commanded by a madman who would brook no challenge to the almost absolute rule he and his kin enjoyed over their poverty-stricken province mowed them down in a hail of fire and steel.

 

Not even the shock and revulsion with which the carnage was greeted not just here but around the world has served to prod government to ensure that this blot to the nation be erased by the swift administration of justice to the dead and to those they left behind.

 

If anything, the State, which by rights should have taken on the burden of seeing to the futures of the widows, widowers and orphans of Ampatuan – after all its agents were responsible for this most heinous of crimes – has abandoned most of them, particularly those of our colleagues who were their families’ breadwinners, to lives of misery and uncertainty, reduced to wondering where to get their sustenance from day to day.

 

One orphan, that of Gina dela Cruz, died of illness because the family could no longer afford the treatment that would have saved its life. And her mother, Nancy wasted away alone after being left with no other choice than to make the grandchildren she could no longer support wards of the state.

 

This heartlessness of the State, this unconcern for the plight of the people whose grief it is primarily responsible for, is also what feeds the impunity that has emboldened those who seek to silence those brash enough to seek to unveil their abuses. It is, of course, the same kind of impunity that has marked the murders of hundreds more of our compatriots whose only crime was to dare speak truth to oppressive power.

 

Today, even as we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, we see a resurgence of threats and assaults on the independent Philippine press fueled by the open contempt and hostility of a leader who would brook absolutely no criticism of his person or his policies, not even if these have opened the floodgates to an orgy of bloodletting unprecedented in its savagery and its utter disregard for the rule of law and human rights.

 

Seven years after Ampatuan, we fear that the worst is yet to come and the seekers of truth will be faced with ever more danger from those who see our work as anathema to their pursuit of an order built not on compassion but brute force, not on the realities we all face but the distorted picture they would force us to accept. 

 

Yet even as we worry, so do we affirm that these are the best times to be journalists, to be the bearers of the knowledge and free thought that the centers of power would seek to suppress. It is in these times, as in the darkest days of the unlamented dictatorship, that the independent Philippine press is most needed by the people. We do not doubt that the Filipino journalist and the independent media community will prove themselves worthy of the calling. (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines)

 

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As we go to the press, we are hearing so many “positive” news being ranted by the media about China’s new dealings with the Philippines. For one, we heared that it will now lift all restrictions on all Philippine agricultural products like bananas and pineapples, more than half of whose consumption come from the Philippines. Then, Filipino fishermen will now be allowed to fish in the Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal, after China banned them for years as they engaged in massive reclamation and militarization in the entire South China Sea which it claims to be its own. Also, China promises to provide assistance and financing to projects worth billions of pesos like a bullet train from Subic and Clark to Manila and the railway system to Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Batangas and the revival of the Bicol Express. China also promises to finance an all-Mindanao railway network. There is even talks of a railway system that will connect Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao with a bullet train trip from Luzon to Mindanao making it in only three hours!

 

We could not readily comment on those promises and pledges because President Rodrigo Duterte, accompanied by his Cabinet members and some 500 Filipino-Chinese businessman for a four-day state visit, has yet to sign or witness the signing of contracts or agreements in Beijing. What is very clear at this point is that for years, China, boasting its giant army, grabbed Scarborough Shoal and other territories within the Philippine territory and its exclusive economic zone and readily reclaimed them, built airstrips and ports and military stations in the guise of civilian posts. This action deprived thousands of Filipino fishermen of their means of livelihood and was a clear threat to international navigation and flights above them. This prompted the Philippine government to raise the issue to the UN arbitral tribunal which backed the Philippines in a unanimous ruling but which China refused up to this writing to recognize and follow. Thus, the issue remains a concern and a flashpoint for an armed confrontation among the nations using South China Sea to transport people and goods.

 

Another concern is that in the current drugs war of President Duterte, it has become clear that the illegal drugs being peddled in the Philippines comes from China and the biggest drug lords are Chinese nationals. It could dawned to many that the drugs could be actually a weapon being used by China to “destroy” and conquer the Filipino nation, especially the youth, and the Chinese nationals into it may just be witting tools to that masquerade to destroy the Philippines for their own selfish plans.  

 

The pronouncement of China that it will open up for Philippine agricultural products is laudable. However, China should rein in its people for smuggling billions of pesos worth of its own agricultural products to the Philippines like onions, garlic, carrots and vegetables who deprive the Filipino farmers of their livelihood and opportunities for growth. This is not to mention the massive smuggling of Peking ducks into the Philippines despite of a ban due to the avian flu in that country.

 

Filipinos are hoping for the success of the trip of President Duterte to China. They are hoping, too, that there will be no sell-out on the country’s rightful claims to certain islands, reefs and shoals and waters in the West Philippine Sea and that China should do something drastic about illegal drugs and smuggling of agricultural goods to the Philippines. Filipinos are not hoping for surprises that will blight their hopes for a brighter future for them and their beloved nation.

 

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The Philippines finally can fully implement a new law honouring Filipinos who have scored a milestone by reaching 100 years. This as the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Centerians Act of 2016 (Republic Act No. 10868) was signed in ceremonies in Malacanang with no less than President Duterte witnessing the event. The signing of the IRR was made a few days before the observance of Elderly Filipino Week, which is annually held on Oct. 1 to 7. The National Respect for Centenarians Day is also held on the first Sunday of October.

 

Under the new law, it will now be mandatory for the national government to grant all 100-year-old Filipinos, whether living in the country or abroad, P100,000 as a birthday gift and a letter of felicitation from the President. The centenarians will also receive an additional cash gift and a plaque of recognition from their respective local government units. Actually, many LGUs like Makati City have been giving cash gifts to its centenarians in the past. Aside from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Health (DOH) and Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) will also aid in carrying out the Centenarian Law.

 

The new law is expected to benefit some 3,000 centenarians who are in the country. The same will also boost the morale of thousands of seniors to make lives healthy and meaningful to be able to reach the milestone of 100 years. Already, thousands of seniors are receiving discounts on food and important purchases, fares for air, water and land transportation, free admission in cinemas, free parking and many other benefits. There are moves to also exempt them from value added taxes on their purchases and transactions.

 

The Centenarians Act of 2016 is in keeping with Article XV of the 1987 Constitution which states: "The family has the duty to take care of its elderly members but the State may also do so through just programs of social security." We laud the members of Congress for coming out with the new law honouring and supporting our elders. Perhaps, our leaders could also make mandatory the tradition of Filipinos kissing and saying “Mano po” to our elders to whom we owe our lives as many of the youth today has forgotten this golden tradition.  

 

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U.S. President Barack Obama has cancelled what could have been his first bilateral talks with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the sideline of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos due what was considered as personal attack on the US leader by the maverick Filipino president. Malacanang later apologized for Mr. Duterte’s acidic rhetorics even as it thanked Mr. Obama for supporting the Philippines in the tug of war with China over the West Philippine Sea and stressing that the US-Philippines alliance was strong as ever.

 

Former Philippine Ambassador to Washington Albert del Rosario and several leaders put Mr. Duterte to task for what they said as careless statements that resulted to the cancellation of the talks and thus the opportunities to voice out concerns on the sea disputes with China, campaign against drugs and terrorism, and the strengthening of military and defense relationship as well as trade and commerce, among others.

 

Others, however, understood where Mr. Duterte is coming from. The Philippine leader is barely three months in office and has yet to polish his speech and acts to be more diplomatic in the eyes of the world. Others believed that Duterte’s statements were totally blown out of proportion by the local and international media. In the United States, an independent group dissected an accurate transcript of President Duterte’s Q&A with Reuters correspondent Jerome Morales and explained what Duterte said point by point. Fil-Am writer Nizza Gueco, admittedly not a Duterte fan, for one said that the President was concerned more about the implications of soured US-Philippine relations. The statements clearly indicates that the President addressed the particular reporter who asked an offensive and out-of-line question despite Mr. Duterte’s plea that questions be limited to his ASEAN and working trips overseas, according to the group.

 

Foul or not, for sure, there will be another forum for Mr. Obama and Mr. Duterte to clear things up. Filipino reporters covering the event in Laos claim that the two may yet hold an informal talk when the American leader meets the leaders of ASEAN in a dialogue. This was confirmed by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes who said the US leader will have an opportunity to interact with Mr. Duterte as with all leaders. So goodluck to Mr. Obama, Mr. Duterte, the ASEAN leaders and other delegates to various summits taking place in Laos.

 

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With a new government in place, big businessmen are in a frenzy to corner contracts to reclaim close to 1,000 hectares in Manila Bay fronting the cities of Manila, Pasay City and Paranaque City.

 

The trouble with projects is that they will be destroying the waters and coastal lines which form part of the public domain and yet they all aim at pleasing the needs of the private sector for business expansions with the government, owner of the all the supposed to be reclaimed areas, in the lowest priority of the equation.

 

This brings to the fore the first Manila Bay reclamation project undertaken during the administration of then President Ferdinand Marcos which had the government as the main beneficiary. Thus, from the reclaimed area rose the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex which includes the Folk Art Theater, the Coconut Palace, the Film Center and the Philippine International Convention Center which the government and the people have been using for local and foreign guests since 1969 are still using going into its 50th year by 2017.

 

Sad to state but the second and third reclamations undertaken under the aegis of the Philippine Reclamation Authority, a national government agency in charge of such projects, with the Pasay City and Paranaque City governments, are sprinkled with expensive malls, expensive hotels and condominium buildings, private offices buildings and casinos, among others, all controlled by greedy private businesses.

 

It’s good that some leaders like Sen. Cynthia Villar has come forward to oppose the reclamation of 26,000 hectares of Manila Bay as proposed by PRA and called on the big businesses to reconsider their action given the adverse effects the reclamation would bring to the communities like floods and the livelihood of more than 300,000 fishermen as well as ecology. “Instead of reclaiming Manila Bay, we should all support its restoration and rehabilitation and avoid massive flooding, which experts say could go up to eight meters in Paranaque, Las Pinas and Cavite,” she added.

 

Paging President Rodrigo Duterte. Let’s protect the environment and not destroy it for the present and the future Filipinos. To businessmen, moderate your greed.

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For the first time in many months of years, newspapers in the Philippines had one common banner headline after a United Nations tribunal upheld the Philippines position over the West Philippine Sea, the South China Sea and the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). At the same time, thePermanent Court of Arbitration under the aegis of UN dashed China’s nine-dash line and claims over the vast international waters where trillions of dollars worth of cargoes pass each year.

 

In its own words, the international tribunal stated: "The  Tribunal  concluded that  there  was  no  legal  basis  for  China  to claim  historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’," referring to a demarcation line on a 1947 map of the sea, which is rich in energy, mineral and fishing resources. "[A]s between the Philippines and China, China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention."

 

The tribunal added: “Having found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, the Tribunal found that it could—without delimiting a boundary—declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.” Also, it said: “Having found that certain areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, (b) constructing artificial islands and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone,” it added.

 

Moreover, the Tribunal held that Chinese law enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels. The Tribunal also sided with the claims of environmental groups that China’s large-scale land reclamation to construct artificial islands on top of disputed maritime features was causing “severe harm to the coral reef environment, ” pointing out that China “violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species.”

 

The Tribunal thus clearly stated that China has violated Philippine sovereign rights. Despite China’s insistence that the ruling was not binding on the country, it is but proper that China accept and respect the unprecedented ruling and stop its massive reclamation and buildup of military facilities in the region, stop preventing Filipinos, Vietnamese and Taiwanese from fishing in the waters in the contested areas and support mineral and geological resources studies in the region. Cannot China co-exist without sowing fear in the region? Let’s have peaceful co-existence and enjoy natural resources and not ignite a flashpoint for military confrontation and war where we will all be losers. China, the world is watching you.

 

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It is very disturbing that while Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is yet to assume as the next President of the Philippines, there are reports stating that several millions of pesos have been raised by drug lords as a bounty or reward for those who could eliminate him and his would-be Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Chief Supt. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa. As of the latest report, from P 5 million, the bounty was raised to P10 million, then P50 million and, now, an unprecedent amount, P1 billion.

 

According to reports, the bounty was offered by several drug lords, the heads of syndicates involved in the manufacture and trade of illegal drugs, after President-elect Duterte offered reward for those who will be able to stop the drug lords and their tentacles, dead or alive. Informed sources said at least 20 drug lords operating within the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa City raised P50 million each for the bounty for Duterte and dela Rosa’s head. The report identified one Peter Co as the drug lord inside the Bilibid who collected P50 million from 20 drugs for the bounty.

 

Of course, the report could be officially confirmed even as President-elect Duterte shrugged off the report. He added that such reports cannot deter him from going after the drug lords and syndicates which have been victimizing and killing the youth. He reaffirmed his plan to work out for the re-imposition of the death penalty especially on drug lords. “Hindi na nila ako kailangan takutin dahil matagal nang naubos ang takot ko. Wala na akong takot na naiwan. Ang naiwan nalang sa akin, tapang,” Mr. Duterte even said.

 

Whether the drug lords are serious or not, President Duterte and incoming PNP chief De La Rosa should all the necessary security measurers to ensure that the drugs will not succeed in their vicious plans. The country must intensify the crackdown on drugs and drug syndicates which have also become the driving force for the youth and other people to commit crimes. Every citizen of the land must contribute his/her share towards the success of this endeavour.

 

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Amidst the death of five persons for using prohibited drugs during the SM MOA concert organized by Closeup, the arrest of a policeman in his Manila house fit for a general with illegal drugs and millions of pesos in his vault and the seizure of P1 billion worth of chemicals for 'shabu" during a raid in a house in a subdivision in Angeles City, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte announced that he has set aside P5 million as "bounty" for drug traffickers, "dead or alive," to be able to get rid of the drug menace and protect the youth at the shortest possible time.

 

During the campaign, Mr. Duterte has repeatedly said that he detests illegal drugs and even announced that he would punish any member of his family who is found to be into the use and trade of the illicit drugs. His announcement in Davao City after meeting his would-be Cabinet members was one step to fulfil his promise to get rid of the country of drugs and crimes, many of which are drugs induced. He clarified that the bounty he is offering actually will be P50,000 for ordinary drug traffickers and P1 million to P2 million if it is a drug lord who is busted and arrested. The bounty, he explained, is actually now available as it will come from excess contributions for his campaign.

 

Mr. Duterte, at the same time, called on his incoming heads of the Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation to enforce his order and even personally kill the drug lords and traffickers under circumstances that it is allowed under the law. He also revealed plans to tap even the military in the crackdown on crimes and drugs, especially when rogue policemen are involved. And Mr. Duterte left a message to drug dealers: "Do not destroy my country because I will kill you. Do not destroy the youth of the land, our children, because I will kill you."

 

Mr. Duterte won by landslide during the last election presumably due to his vow to get rid of criminals and stop crimes and illegal drugs which seemingly had gone out of control during the Aquino administration. The people’s mandate should now be translated into support by the citizens themselves to the crackdown on crimes and drugs. With the help of citizens, the campaign will surely succeed. But without it, success maybe difficult.   

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At least 15 more candidates and supporters were killed on the eve of the May 9 election and on the day of election itself, raising to almost 40 those killed and much more wounded in the just concluded heated national and local elections. But just the same, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police (PNP) described the political exercise as one of the most peaceful and orderly elections in the country in many years. And this nation’s leaders and citizens seem to agree, despite pockets of violence, especially in remote areas.

 

And the election also appeared on record as one of the most transparent with quick counting of results by the citizens’ arm of the Commission on Elections. In fact, a day and at the most two days after the election, many local candidates – governors, mayors, vice mayors, councillors and congressmen have been proclaimed and the results of the presidential election known. Except for the official canvassing of votes by the National Board of Canvassers, the Senate and the House of Representatives combined acting as such, the country’s next president and vice president plus the 12 councillors are known by the public. In that unofficial counting, maverick Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte appeared headed in a landslide victory with close to 16 million already and over 6 million votes plurality over his closest rival, former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II. President Aquino has in fact even congratulated Duterte as Senator Grace Poe and Roxas conceded defeat. In the race for the second top most position, Sen.  Ma. Leonor Robredo is winning over Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. but the result is too close that a winner has not been projected.

 

As the country awaits with great anticipation the next President and leaders, it is time for the country to now heal the wounds created by the campaign. Mr. Duterte himself pitched for the political healing, saying “let’s all unite and be friends again.” Yes, indeed, because the most important is that the country can resolve problems and issues confronting it in order for the country to move forward and progress. Meanwhile, let us join hands as responsible citizens with Mr.  Duterte and his team for the good of our country. For without support and unity, failure will loom in the horizon and we will all be the losers.

 

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