[27 Sep 2014 | Comments Off | 268 views]

As the House of Representatives passes the P2.6 trillion national budget on second reading, members of the Majority Coalition will go on holiday in the next weeks, assured that a budget laden with hidden pork, lump sums, and back alleys for realignment of funds has been secured.

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[22 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 104 views]

While the transfer of US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton to a detention facility in Camp Aguinaldo this morning is a “positive development” in the search for justice for slain Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude, a lawmaker insisted that Philippine authorities should still demand for full custody of the suspect.

At 8:45 a.m. today, Pemberton was transferred to Camp Aguinaldo via helicopter.

AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. announced in a press conference that Washington and Manila will have “joint custody” over Pemberton.

“Transferring Pemberton to a Philippine detention facility is the result of the mounting public pressure for the suspect’s custody. While it is indeed a positive development, Philippine authorities must still demand for full custody,” Ridon said.

The lawmaker explained that under the so-called joint custody, Philippine authorities may still need to consult Washington on “each and every move they will make with regard to Pemberton’s case.” “Besides, joint custody is not stated even in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Putting Pemberton in this grey area is akin to not granting custody over Pemberton to Philippine authorities at all,” Ridon said.

Having joint custody will still not help expedite the criminal investigation for the slay case, Ridon continued. “The Aquino administration must still demand for clear, unequivocal surrender of Pemberton’s custody to the Philippines,” he stressed.

The lawmaker, meanwhile, called on the AFP not give Pemberton “special treatment.” The lawmaker questioned why Pemberton is in a separate detention facility equipped with air conditioning.

“The AFP must not treat Pemberton like a VIP. After all, he’s not a distinguished visitor – he is the suspect in a heinous crime,” Ridon said.

The lawmaker maintained that the Pemberton case is enough justification for the abrogation of the VFA.

“The situation we find ourselves in – a situation in which we hold a suspect in a Philippine detention facility yet we cannot decide on his activities without first consulting the US – is a result of VFA’s lopsided provisions. For decades, the VFA has made a mockery of Philippine laws, and it’s time that we put a stop to all this,” Ridon concluded.

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[22 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 109 views]

The House Committee on Higher and Technical Education is set to deliberate on House Bill 1493 or the “Campus Press Freedom Act” today.

Filed by Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon in July 2013, HB 1493 seeks to repeal Republic Act 7079 or the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 (CJA) and replace it with a law that “genuinely upholds campus press freedom.”

Expected to attend the committee deliberation are editors of major campus publications in the country, along with officers of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the oldest and broadest intercollegiate alliance of student publications in the country.

Ridon explained that the CJA is flawed and being used to attack campus press freedom.

“Enacted to supposedly uphold and protect the freedom of the press at the campus level and to promote the development and growth of campus journalism, the CJA sadly contains serious flaws that resulted to even more campus press freedom violations that are even more clever and devious in form,” the youth solon explained.

Some of the weaknesses of RA 7079 include:

(1) It legalizes the non-mandatory collection of publication fee, which is considered as the lifeblood of most student publications. The law does not contain any provision that would mandate school administrations to collect student publication funds. Instead, it only enumerates the sources where the student publication funds may be taken.

(2) Section 7 of the law supposedly gives freedom and space for student journalists to write without fear of any threat of suspension or expulsion, the qualification made by the Supreme Court on the said provision by providing exemptions has rendered the security on tenure provision practically useless. One notable exemption is “material disruption of class work or involving substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others,” which is too broad that even a simple factual article may fall within its application.

(3) The law does not make it mandatory for all colleges and universities in the Philippines to establish student publications. Neither does the said law require that those student publications that remain closed until the present be re-opened for the benefit of students.

(4) The law does not contain a penalty clause, leaving erring administrations unscathed. School administrations are able to commit offense after offense yet suffer no retribution due to the absence of a penalty provision.

(5) The Department of Education, Culture and Sports Order No. 94, Series of 1992, the implementing rules and regulations of the law, contains simply guidelines on the implementation of its provisions with the additional rules on jurisdiction over cases that may arise from violations of the said law. As the implementing rules and regulations cannot lawfully narrow or restrict and expand, broaden, or enlarge the provisions of the law, DECS Order No. 1994 naturally carries the weaknesses of Campus Journalism Act of 1991.

According to CEGP, several student publications were suddenly closed after the passage of the said law, including three major student publications in the country, namely, The Quezonian of the Manuel L. Quezon University, Ang Pamantasan of the Pamantasan ng Maynila, The White and Blue of the St.Louis University, The Pedon of Mindanao state University – Marawi, EARIST Technozette of the Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology, The Dawn of the University of the East, Monthly Quest of the Quezon City Polytechnic University, and the La Sallian of De La Salle University Manila.

Based on the cases documented by the CEGP since 1992, student publications nationwide faced systematic assaults including the following:

(1) harassment of student writers and editors;

(2) meddling with editorial policies;

(3) actual censorship of editorial content;

(4) withholding of publication funds;

(5) non-collection of publication fee;

(6) padlocking of the publication office;

(7) closure of the student publication;

(8) suspension and expulsion of student editors and writers;

(9) filing of libel charges against student journalists

Important provisions of HB 1493 include the compulsory establishment or reestablishment of student publications in all school levels, autonomy of the school paper’s editorial board from any form of administrative intervention with regard to the handling of funds, content of articles the editorial board chooses to publish, and the selection of publication staff and members.

Section 7 of HB 1493 also states that “funding for the student publication shall be sourced primarily from student publication fees collected by the school administration. It shall be mandatory for the school administration to collect student publication/subscription fees during the enrollment period.”

HB 1493 was first filed in the 15th Congress by then Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino.

“The campus press has an invaluable contribution in the restoration and preservation of free speech and expression inside and outside our nation’s campuses. I therefore urge my fellow legislators to immediately pass this bill into law,” Ridon ended.

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[22 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 81 views]

With US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton – the primary suspect in the brutal killing of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude – snubbing the preliminary probe set by the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday, a lawmaker echoed the question that has been running around the nation’s collective mind: where is Pemberton?

“Is Mr. Pemberton still in the country? His non-appearance in yesterday’s preliminary investigation serves only to heighten the speculation that he has already been whisked off the country, together with the four key US marine witnesses,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said Wednesday.

“At present, the Filipino nation only has the word of the US Embassy that Private Pemberton is still in the country. With no warrant of arrest yet, Pemberton’s stay in the country and his participation in the criminal investigation is solely based on the mere voluntary cooperation of the US military,” Ridon noted.

The youth solon added that the current situation has arisen due to the Philippine government’s failure to secure Pemberton’s custody at the first instance.

“The issue of custody stalled the criminal process and left the PNP no choice but go through direct filing,” Ridon said.

“During inquest proceedings, the PNP is duty-bound to produce the suspect in their custody. But because of Pentagon’s insistence on Pemberton’s custody, Philippine authorities were left with no choice but to pursue a direct filing in the fiscal’s office,” the legislator explained.

“The implication of having to go through direct filing is that it provides the opportunity for Pentagon to whisk Pemberton away from the country, given that technically, no charges has been filed and no warrant of arrest has been issued at this point,” Ridon said.

Apart from provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement on jurisdiction and custody, Ridon warned that the US military may also invoke a provision under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to coddle Pemberon.

Ridon pointed to Article XI of EDCA which states, “The parties agree to resolve any dispute arising under this Agreement exclusively through consultation between the Parties.  Disputes and other matters subject to consultation under this Agreement shall not be referred to any national or international court, tribunal, or other similar body, or to any third party for settlement, unless otherwise agreed by the Parties.”

“As the aforementioned provision is overly broad, Pentagon can argue that Laude’s case can be considered a dispute arising under EDCA and as such must be resolved through bilateral consultations. We have raised this fear way back in April, and now it’s not far from happening,” Ridon said.

“Right now, what we’re demanding is for the US military to show proof that Pemberton is still in USS Peleliu, as they claim. Corollary to that, Pentagon should immediately waive custody of the accused marine to Philippine authorities to expedite the criminal proceedings,” Ridon stressed.

“Even before the scheduled October 27 preliminary probe, wherein Pemberton’s presence has been ordered directly by the city prosecutor, Pentagon should already provide proof of the serviceman’s presence in the country. The Filipino people has been left in the dark on the suspect’s whereabouts for far too long. The Aquino administration itself should already compel Washington to show Pemberton,” the legislator said.

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[21 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 95 views]

US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton’s non-appearance in the preliminary investigation on the killing of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude this afternoon highlights the Aquino administration’s botched handling of the slay case and foreshadows how the US will be able to control the criminal proceedings in favor of its accused serviceman, a lawmaker said Tuesday.

“Pemberton’s no-show feat in today’s preliminary investigation at the Olongapo Prosecutor’s Office only goes to show that the Aquino administration has basically failed to exhaust everything in its power to compel Washington to produce the suspect. As president, Aquino could have used his executive powers to order Pemberton’s appearance, but he and his administration preferred to use the watch-and-wait tactic,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said.

The lawmaker lauded Olongapo Prosecutor Emmie Delos Santos for ordering Pemberton to personally appear in the next scheduled preliminary probe set on October 27. “Good thing we have a city prosecutor who has guts to order Pemberton’s personal appearance. She exhibited the resolve that the whole executive department failed to display,” Ridon said.

“At present, Pemberton’s stay in the country and his participation in the criminal investigation is solely based on the mere voluntary cooperation of the US military. All this is due to the fact that the Philippine government failed to demand for Pemberton’s custody at the first instance,” Ridon said.

The lawmaker compared the current situation to the case of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith back in 2005. “Back then, Philippine authorities were able to briefly incarcerate Smith at the Makati City Hall. But this time, the government is exhibiting an abhorring level of powerlessness. For goodness’ sake, the government can’t even compel the suspect to appear before prosecutors!” Ridon exclaimed.

The militant lawmaker, who is seeking a parallel congressional probe of the case in the House of Representatives, explained that Aquino’s exhibition of powerlessness in this controversial case will embolden Washington to take “more aggressive steps” in favor of its accused serviceman.

“We will not be surprised if US authorities will try and save Pemberton from criminal prosecution in the coming days, especially as the Aquino government is exhibiting a reprehensible level of powerlessness and even apathy towards the case. Pemberton’s no-show in today’s investigation foreshadows a grim conclusion for this particular case,” Ridon warned.

Earlier, Ridon explained that Washington’s insistence over Pemberton’s custody hampered the inquest proceedings for the case. “During inquest proceedings, the PNP is duty-bound to produce the suspect in their custody. But because of Pentagon’s insistence on Pemberton’s custody, Philippine authorities were left with no choice but to pursue a direct filing in the fiscal’s office,” Ridon explained.

“If the Aquino administration continue showing weakness in this case, it will be more difficult for the Laude family and the Filipino people to attain justice. It is truly deplorable that our government cannot show some muscle at a time when it’s most needed,” Ridon ended.

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[21 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 86 views]

The worsening situation of Philippine farmers is probably one of the biggest failures of the Aquino administration, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said Tuesday as farmers’ groups launch nationwide protests in observance of the Peasant Month this October.

Various peasant organizations led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas launched simultaneous protests in various parts of the country today to denounce the Aquino administration’s anti-peasant policies which led to further destitution to millions of Filipino families relying on agriculture for their livelihood.

In Manila, farmer groups along with various peoples’ organizations marched to Mendiola to protest against Aquino’s move to revive the failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and the ongoing attempt to amend the Constitution to allow foreign ownership of lands.

“The youth sector stands in solidarity with the plight of farmers and agricultural workers in the country. It is truly deplorable that the hands that toil to bring food to our plates continue to be one of the most neglected sectors of Philippine society,” Ridon said.

“During Aquino’s stint as president, the plight of our poor farmers intensified. Apart from the main issue of landlessness, issues including artificial shortages in agricultural produce, the painstakingly slow government response to the cocolisap epidemic, the intensified importation of agricultural produce that has crippled the local agricultural industry, and the corruption-ridden projects intended for farmers all contributed to the deterioration of the already decrepit agriculture sector and the worsening condition of farmers throughout the country,” Ridon explained.

Inside Congress, the lawmaker vowed to block all charter change efforts and the passage of House Bill No. 4296, which seeks to extend the implementation of some aspects of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

“The youth is one with farmers in calling for the passage of a genuine agrarian reform bill. Inside Congress and out in the streets, the youth will support and integrate with the peasant sector to push not for mere reforms, but for genuine social change that will uplift and give premium to the situation of farmers and the agriculture sector,” Ridon concluded.