[27 Sep 2014 | Comments Off | 295 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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[30 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 97 views]

Blacklisting of Hilmarc’s in government projects sought

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon, the lawmaker that first raised the issue of overpricing in the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC), again raised questions on the bidding for the second phase of the multimillion project.

Ridon said that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Region VI may again be rigging the public bidding in favor of Hilmarc’s Construction Corporation (HCC), which is currently undertaking Phase 1 of the project.

DPWH Regional Director Edilberto Tayao earlier disclosed that the public bidding for the P200-million contract for the ICC Phase 2 last October 20 has failed, following the last-minute pull out of HCC and the disqualification of winning bidder WERR Corp. International.

Tayao explained that HCC pulled out as it cannot accomplish the project given the contract cost.

“The failure of bidding for phase two of the ICC is very suspicious. It is very similar to what transpired in bidding for Phase 1 of the project, in which HCC did not participate, but was able to clinch the project through negotiated procurement after the public biddings failed,” Ridon said.

The legislator said that DPWH may again be “maneuvering” to let HCC bag the project.

“By now, their modus operandi is already apparent. It will not be surprising if in the end, HCC will still clinch the contract for ICC Phase 2 – at the price HCC wants,” Ridon explained.

Ridon has earlier raised in House Resolution No. 1466 that the P700-million ICC, a pet project of Senate President Drilon, might be overpriced.

The ICC has been partly funded by Drilon’s Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program.

Just yesterday, former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada charged Drilon, Tayao and several other officials involved in the construction of the ICC with plunder, malversation of public funds, dishonesty and grave misconduct, and violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(g) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Practices Act, in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Blacklist Hilmarc’s

Meanwhile, Ridon announced that he will file formal blacklisting proceedings against HCC in the DPWH this November.

“The public cannot be put to ease knowing that a construction company involved in several anomalous public infrastructure projects continue to clinch public projects. Blacklisting Hilmarc’s will at least ensure the public that this particular company will no longer engage in projects paid by their taxes,” Ridon said.

Aside from the ICC, HCC is also the contractor behind the controversial Makati Parking Building and several other big-ticket government infrastructure projects.

Congress to summon Tayao

Ridon also said that he intends to summon DPWH Regional Director Tayao in the upcoming hearing for House Resolution No. 1466.

“The House leadership has assured me that the investigation sought by HR 1466 will push through. And we want Tayao, among other officials, to be present in that hearing, as it is apparent that he knows a lot about the ICC construction and possibly the anomalies surrounding it,” Ridon explained.

The lawmaker said that he received information that Tayao “acts like a modern-day shogun” in Western Visayas, as the regional director is in charge of all public infrastructure projects in the said region.

“Even Mr. Mejorada himself revealed that Director Tayao once charged him close to P100,000 for copies of documents on public projects in Region VI – documents that should in the first place be publicly available. It appears that Tayao is the main wingman in the controversial overpricing operations in that part of the country. It is thus essential that he be summoned to Congress,” Ridon explained.

Singson reminded of plenary obligations

Meanwhile, the lawmaker also reminded DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson that his department has yet to submit to Congress documents related to HCC’s transactions with the government.

“During the plenary hearing for the 2015 national budget, we required DPWH to submit said documents, and all other pertinent information on HCC’s engagements with the government. But until now, we have yet to receive even a single file,” Ridon said.

“Is Secretary Singson hiding something from Congress? Why is he not submitting the documents required by no less than the House plenary? May we remind the secretary that it is his obligation to see to it that such documents will indeed be provided to Congress,” he added.Slide1

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[30 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 82 views]

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said that Senate President Franklin Drilon must conclusively explain to the Office of the Ombudsman his alleged involvement in the overpriced Iloilo Convention Center (ICC), in light of the plunder raps filed against the senator and several other government officials.

“For so long, the Senate President has been acting like he’s above the law. Yet this time, he cannot play god. He should categorically answer the plunder raps filed against him with regard to the construction of the ICC,” Ridon said.

“The Aquino administration must not also interfered and pressure the Ombudsman to bury the case in labyrinthine bureaucratic processes. We challenge the Ombudsman to act on this case speedily, even if Drilon and the two other cabinet officials charged with plunder are close to the president,” the lawmaker said.

When asked if the charges filed by columnist and former Iloilo provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada will hold water, Ridon answered in the affirmative.

“Given that Mejorada was able to work with the Iloilo provincial government and has ties with Senator Drilon, I believe he is capable to provide pertinent information on this controversy,” Ridon said.

On Wednesday, October 29, Mejorada filed plunder charges against Drilon, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority Administrator Mark Lapid, Public Works and Highways Undersecretaries Jaime Pacanan and Romeo Momo, DPWH Regional Director Edilberto Tayao, Marilyn Cruz of DPWH Region VI, William Coscolluela of W.V. Coscolluela and Associates, and Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. Company President Efren Canlas.

The charges include plunder, malversation of public funds, dishonesty and grave misconduct, and violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(g) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Practices Act, in connection with the P700-million ICC.

Ridon was the first to raise the possibility of overpricing in the ICC, when he filed House Resolution No. 1466 last month.

In the said resolution, Ridon raised the possibility that the P700-million ICC, a pet project of Senate President Drilon, might be overpriced. The ICC has been partly funded by Drilon’s Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program.

HR 1466 also seeks to investigate possible cases of corruption and overpricing involving other government infrastructure projects contracted with Hilmarc’s.Slide1

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[30 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 63 views]

Noting that most funeral and burial services in the country are “beyond the means” of many Filipinos, a lawmaker has asked Congress on Thursday to review existing rules and regulations governing the funeral industry.

In House Resolution No. 1629, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon called on the House Committee on Health and Committee on Social Services to “review existing laws and regulations on funeral and burial services, towards providing the public with accessible and quality funeral and burial services, especially for the indigent section of the population.”

“Death has a significant place in the cultural fabric of our nation. However, perhaps due partly to the weak regulation of this industry, funeral and burial services have become generally unaffordable for most Filipinos. Worse, there are many reports of substandard services that rub salt into the wound,” Ridon explained.

The legislator cited several examples of “abusive practices” in the funeral industry that need to be investigated, including a reported practice in Zamboanga City, where funeral operators claim dead bodies from local hospitals and embalm them without consent from the families of the deceased. Thereafter, they will compel the family to pay a certain amount to “buy back” the bodies of their loved ones.

“In many cases, families are also forced to extend the wake of their loved ones for more than a week to buy time and get more ‘abuloy’ or contributions from people who pay their respects to the deceased. The practice of holding illegal gambling activities during wakes has also become the norm to help the family pay for funeral and burial services,” Ridon said in HR 1629.

The lawmaker lamented what he described as “weak regulation” of the funeral industry.

“In the Philippines, we have the Department of Health’s (DOH) Implementing Rules and Regulations on the Disposal of Dead Persons that prescribes proper procedures and requirements for burial, and requirements for crematorial and funeral establishments. There is also an existing ‘Implementing Rules and Regulations to Govern the Processing of Applications for Locational Clearance of Funeral Establishments’ prescribed by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. However, the implementation of these regulations have not been reviewed in recent years, even as problems besieging the funeral and burial industry continue to abound,” Ridon explained.

The lawmaker said that there is a need for new legislation that will “protect the rights of the people to accessible and quality funeral and burial services for their families and loved ones.”

“This legislation should protect them from abusive profiteering tactics by private funeral contractors and must be enacted and enforced in the furtherance of existing rules and regulations governing funeral and burial services,” Ridon explained.

“Congress can draw from the experience of other nations that strictly regulate the funeral industry. The United States, for example, has the ‘Funeral Industry Practices Rule,’ which requires funeral providers to disclose to consumers itemized lists of funeral goods and services along with price and descriptions. In other countries, meanwhile, there are separate regulatory authorities that oversee the funeral industry,” he added.

“Through enacting regulatory legislation on funeral and burial services, the people can be protected from excessive prices for services and unfair practices in the funeral industry,” Ridon concluded.

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[29 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 106 views]

“We denounce in the strongest sense the House majority’s blatant railroading of the 2015 national budget, which contains midnight insertions also known as ‘errata sheets’ that only favor the Aquino administration and his cohorts.”

This is the statement of Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon after the House voted in favor of approving on third and final reading House Bill No. 4968 or the 2015 General Appropriations Bill.

“As what we heard from the proceedings this afternoon, the rules of the House itself were set aside to fast-track the passage of a bill that is essentially a collection of whims and fancy of the president.

“Ask each and every member of Congress if they have seen the final version of House Bill No. 4968 and they will tell you no — except maybe Rep. Ungab and the House leadership. How can the Majority be this subservient to the president that it allowed the passage of a bill brimming with amendments that were not debated upon in the House plenary? Railroading a grossly amended national budget defeats the purpose of conducting marathon budget hearings,” Ridon commented.

“What we witnessed tonight is a manifestation of Aquino’s budget dictatorship. Tonight, Congress just wrote the president a blank check that will be financed by the Filipino people. This is enraging, this is beyond any logic, this is a betrayal of the public’s trust” Ridon added.

The legislator feared that with a budget that essentially “legalized” the “savings scheme” of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the Liberal Party and allies of the president will be able to divert public funds to their election war chest. “This budget will undoubtedly authorize other corruption-ridden transactions in the run-up for the presidential elections,” Ridon said.

The Makabayan bloc, including Ridon, voted no to the passage of HB 4968.

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[29 Oct 2014 | No Comment | 152 views]

The seven-member Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives filed a resolution on Wednesday that seeks for a congressional inquiry on “on reported cases of hate crimes committed partly or wholly on the basis of prejudice over a person’s age, race, religion, sexuality, gender preference, ethnicity, nationality, disability, political belief or affiliation with the end view of crafting a landmark legislation against said hate crimes.”

Following a series of consultations with several sectoral organizations and stakeholders, the Makabayan solons filed House Resolution No. 1625 for Congress to perform its “constitutional obligation to work towards the achievement of genuine equality and ultimate protection of fundamental rights of all persons” against hate-motivated crimes.

The Makabayan bloc is composed of Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon, Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, and Gabriela Reps. Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus.

Protection for vulnerable sectors

The seven lawmakers said that the resolution will pave the way in the crafting of a law that will protect vulnerable sectors from hate crimes or “criminal offenses done based on actual or perceived prejudice over an individual’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, or ethnicity.”

“The death of transgender Filipina Jennifer Laude allegedly in the hands of a US Marine, has reignited the campaign to junk the Visiting Forces Agreement and likewise spurred public demand for the legislation of an anti-hate crime law,” the Makabayan solons said in HR 1625.

“Recent deaths of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community points to the urgency of an anti-hate crime legislation. In the past, members of vulnerable groups do not only feel discrimination in employment and social services, but also fall victim to crimes motivated by hate over their protective characteristic. It is timely and of utmost necessity that the State, through Congress, enact and enforce anti-hate crime laws for the protection of vulnerable sectors and to determine criminal liabilities of offenders,” they explained.

Participatory approach

Rep. Ridon, the lead author of HR 1625, explained that there is a need for “active engagement and participation” of sectors that will be covered by the envisioned anti-hate crime bill.

“That’s why we are starting the process with a resolution in aid of legislation. We don’t want to jump off the boat and go file a bill without providing maximum room for participation of organizations of the LGBT community, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and other sectors covered by the envisioned legislation,” Ridon explained in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon together with LGBT organization Kapederasyon.

HR 1625 traces the history of anti-hate crime legislation in the world, and aims to come up with a committee report that will serve as basis for drafting the Anti-Hate Crime Law.

“In HR 1625, we identified key issues that need to be covered by the Anti-Hate Crime Bill. This includes criminal-penalty-enhancement provisions, provisions that require administrative agencies to collect hate crime statistics, and of course provisions on education and welfare protection of vulnerable sectors,” Ridon explained.