Friday, May 23, 2008

Focusing on the National Budget

I am here at the Mactan International Airport about to board the flight back to Manila.
I am here for for court hearings, but it gave me a little respite from the hectic schedule I had in Manila.
Yesterday, before I left from Manila to Cebu, we had a presentation on the national budget to the Probe Team, a television production.
I am part of a new non-government entity that is studying the national budget.
It is called the Center for National Budget Legislation founded by Joseph Ranola.
He worked in Congress and for the last sisxteen years has focused his energies on studying the budget and trying to make ways to improve budget legislation in the country.
As a new organization, the center is concentrating on introducing itself to let the sectors know what it has been doing, in relation to budget legislation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

With Journeyman Arnel Pineda....

Last Thursday, it was a rare treat for us Ruby Josh and many fans of Arnel Pineda and Journey, at the jampacked Hard Rock Cafe.
Arnel Pineda was making his send off Hard Rock concert, before he begins his worldwide tour with Journey. They are going on a 69-venue world tour which includes the Philippines late this year.
It was a blast at the Hard Rock with Arnel singing his trademark cover songs, backed up by his erstwhile band, The Zoo.
He sang four Journey songs, Don't Stop Believing, Open Arms, Faithfully, and Separate Ways.
He also did other covers on hits like Rossana (Toto), Roxanne (Sting), a medley of Queen greats like Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions. He also did Stairway to Heaven, Without You, and many more.

I took videos of the gig which I will post later.
It was memorable, specially for my son Joshua who was extremely excited.
It was Josh's first time to attend a concert, and he felt estatic to watch it with Arnel Pineda.
Josh has become a huge fan of Journey and is very familiar with the hits of Journey in the nineteen-eighties, more than a decade prior to his birth.
Without casting disrespect on other talented singers, watching Arnel Pineda perform is like separating the grains from the chaff.
He not only has talent, but he has an X factor that providentially, became the missing piece of the Journey puzzle.
He electrifies the stage.
When he performs, it is always as if it is his last.
He gives it all like there is no tomorrow.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Trouble with the MVUC

If you are a vehicle owner, then MVUC should be your concern.
MVUC stands for Motor Vehicle User’s Charge.
It is a monetary ‘charge’ by the government upon vehicle owners.
It is a regularly collected on an annual basis.
As a vehicle owner, you will find this motor vehicle user’s charge in the LTO official receipt or the “O.R.” as it is commonly called.
The basic question we are asking on this issue of the M.V.U.C. is: Where does this M.V.U.C. that vehicle owners pay every year to the government go?
First: Why there is there a charge on vehicle use?
The government wants to ensure the adequate maintenance of the country’s roads.
To provide funding for this purpose, the government enacted this revenue measure in 2001, Republic Act No. 8794 entitled “An act imposing a motor vehicle user’s charge on owners of all types of motor vehicles”
The rationale is that since vehicle owners are primarily the ones who use the roads in our country, then they must help provide funding to maintain these roads.
Second How much is the MVUC collection of the government?
The M.V.U.C. is the third largest source of revenue for the government, next only to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Bureau of Customs (BoC).
Since the enactment of RA 8794 in 2001, the government has collected P42-billion, based on the L.T.O. Report on M.V.U.C. collections for 2007
Yearly, the government collects more than P7-billion from the M.V.U.C.
Where do these collections go?R.A. 8794 mandates that collections from M.V.U.C. must be placed in four special trust accounts.
Eighty percent (80%) of the annual collections are deposited in a special account called Special Support Fund.
Five percent (5%) of the annual collections are deposited in another special account called Special Local Road Fund
Seven and one half percent (7.5%) of the annual collections are deposited in another special account called Special Road Safety Fund
Seven and one half percent (7.5%) of the annual collections are deposited in another special account called Special Vehicle Pollution Control Fund.
Two departments control the M.V.U.C. Funds. These are the Department of Public Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)
The bulk of the M.V.U.C. collections is controlled by the DPWH consisting of 92.5% of the collections.
The trust accounts in the Special Support Fund (80%), Special Local Road Fund (5%) and Special Road Safety Fund is under the DPWH (7.5%).
The mandate of the M.V.U.C.
The M.V.U.C. collections of P7.7-billion a year is in addition to the annual budget of the DPWH for road maintenance.
Thus, in the national budget, there is already a specific appropriation for road maintenance.
The M.V.U.C. is supposed to be on top of the appropriations for road maintenance by the DPWH.
The M.V.U.C. cannot be found in the general appropriations act.
Unfortunately, you cannot find any provision of the M.V.U.C. collections and its appropriations in the general appropriation act.
This despite a specific constitutional mandate that no money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.
Since the enactment of the R.A. 8794, the M.V.U.C. only appeared in the GAA once, in 2003.
The question now is, how will the people, the vehicle owners, through their representatives Congress be able to know how the money is spent if this is not found in the GAA?
How can our legislators scrutinize the M.V.U.C. expenditures during budget deliberations, when it is not submitted by the executive department in their proposed general appropriations bill?
The Executive Department Report: Only P4.6-billion of M.V.U.C. collections left
What is very alarming is the report by the Executive Department that as of December 31 2006, only P4.6.-billion of the M.V.U.C. collections are left
Based on figures from the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (B.E.S.F.), as of December 31, 2006, the total collections of M.V.U.C. should have already amounted to P34.4 billion pesos.
If, as of December 31, 2006, only P4.6-billion of M.V.U.C. collections are left, where did the money go?
How was it spent?
There is no breakdown of the expenditures of these funds
Congress doesn’t know because it was never submitted to it (except in 2003) for scrutiny during budget deliberations.
Gargantuan budget for road maintenance in DPWH
The DPWH receives a gargantuan budget for road maintenance every year.
Under the GAA of 2007, the DPWH received a total lump-sum appropriation of P6-billion for road maintenance.
To compare, the entire budget of the Department of Tourism for 2007 was only P1.5-billion; Department of Energy was only P350-million; DBM budget was only P699-million
Lump sum appropriations in itself are constitutionally questionable.
However in the 2007 GAA (national budget) P2-billion (lump sum) was appropriated for “routine maintenance of national roads & bridges (See Item A.III.a.1.d. 2007 GAA or page 657 of the Official Gazette March 16, 2008).
There was no breakdown as to how these lump-sum appropriation was to be spent.
Another P4-billion (lump sum) was appropriated for “preventive maintenance of national roads and bridges” (See A.III.a.1.e of 2007 GAA or page 657 of the Official Gazette March 16, 2008 )
There was no breakdown as to how these lump-sum appropriation was to be spent.
The P6-billion budget in the DPWH for road maintenance does not yet include the P7.7-billion annual collections from the M.V.U.C.
If this is added, then the total budget for road maintenance supposedly should amount to more than P13-billion YEARLY.
The question is: Why are the country’s roads still in a state of perpetual deterioration?
If P13-billion is spent YEARLY for road maintenance, then the country should already have the best roads.
The COA findings provide answers
The findings of the Commission on Audit give a clue as to how the M.V.U.C. collections were mis-spent.
In the 2005 COA Report, it was found out that the M.V.U.C. funds were spent for expenses not related to road maintenance such as:
Employee benefits (P145-million)
CNA Incentive Bonus (1.9 billion )
Employee benefits were mis-recorded as “repairs and maintenance-Roads”
Prior years expenses were also erroneously recorded as current expenditures in 2004, thus overstating the account by over P161-million (source: Item No. 7 2004 COA report)
The C.O.A. also found out that expenses totaling P57-million were spent which was not related to road maintenance and anti-pollution programs (source: Item No. 12 2005 COA Report)
Thus with this presentation, what we can see clearly is an urgent need for people involvement in monitoring how taxpayer’s money are spent.
We see that the people are groping in the dark as to where the money they give to the government goes.
There is clearly a need for greater transparency in the budget process.
We must question the expenditures of every single centavo that we pay the government.
We must participate.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fermin versus Court of Appeals GR 157643

Here is the digest I made of the recent libel conviction handed down by the Supreme Court in Fermin versus Court of Appeals (March 28, 2008):
If the utterances are false, malicious or unrelated to a public officer's performance of his duties or irrelevant to matters of public interest involving public figures, the same may give rise to criminal and civil liability
Fermin versus CA
On complaint of spouses Annabelle Rama Gutierrez and Eduardo (Eddie) Gutierrez, two (2) criminal informations for libel were filed against Cristinelli Salazar Fermin and Bogs C. Tugas before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City. Fermin was charged being the publisher of “Gossip Tabloid” while Tugas was editor-in-chief.
The Informations quoted the portion of the article complained against which was published on June 14, 1995, which read:
Fermin raised the defense of press freedom. She admitted to having a close association with congressman Roilo Golez and Paranaque Mayor Joey Marquez, and that she used her skills as writer to campaign for them during the 1995 elections where Eddie Gutierrez, was also a candidate for congress running against Golez.
Fermin also argued that to sustain a conviction for libel it is mandatory that the publisher knowingly participated in or consented to the preparation and publication of the libelous article.
1. Whether or not Fermin can validly raise trhe defense of press freedom.
2. Whether or not as publisher she is liable for libel.
1. Fermin cannot validly raise the defense of press freedom.
If the utterances are false, malicious or unrelated to a public officer's performance of his duties or irrelevant to matters of public interest involving public figures, the same may give rise to criminal and civil liability. While complainants are considered public figures for being personalities in the entertainment business, media people, including gossip and intrigue writers and commentators such as Fermin, do not have the unbridled license to malign their honor and dignity by indiscriminately airing fabricated and malicious comments, whether in broadcast media or in print, about their personal lives.
Neither can petitioner take refuge in the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press. Although a wide latitude is given to critical utterances made against public officials in the performance of their official duties, or against public figures on matters of public interest, such criticism does not automatically fall within the ambit of constitutionally protected speech.
2. Fermin, as publisher is guilty of libel, whether or not she had actual knowledge and participation, having furnished the means of carrying on the publication of the article purportedly prepared by the members of the Gossip Reportorial Team, who were employees under her control and supervision. It is worthy to note that Fermin was not only the "publisher", as shown by the editorial box of Gossip Tabloid, but also its "president" and "chairperson" as she herself admitted on the witness stand. She also testified that she handled the business aspect of the publication, and assigns editors to take charge of everything. Obviously, Fermin had full control over the publication of articles in the said tabloid. Her excuse of lack of knowledge, consent, or participation in the release of the libelous article fails to persuade TEAcCD
Instead of the penalty of imprisonment of 3 months 11 days to one year 8 months and 21 days, the Supreme removed the penalty of imprisonment (pursuant to Administrative Circular No. 08-2008) and imposed a fine of P6,000 each. But the Supreme Court slapped Fermin with moral damages of P500,000 each private complainant.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Cristy Fermin ruling

The Supreme Court handed down a libel decision affirming the conviction of showbusiness t.v. talk show host Cristinelli Salazar Fermin (Tita Cristy).
The decision is quite significant for purposes of our discussion on the develoments of libel law in the country.
The decision was promulgated last March 28, 2008.
First, the Supreme Court invoked its Administrative Circular No. 08-2008 to the effect that preference is to impose a fine, instead of sending convicts to jail.
Originally, the trial court imposed a penalty of imprisonment against Cristy Fermin.
On this score, Cristy Fermin, and perhaps media practioners should welcome this judicial benevolence.
It affirms our long advocacy that nobody should be jailed for libel.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court imposed a hefty fine against Cristy Fermin, P500,000 each to the complainants Anabelle Rama and husband Eddie Gutierez for the anguish they suffered.
That's one million pesos. A lot of money.
But more importantly, what I find significant about the decision against Fermin is the pronouncment by the Supreme Court that one cannot utter false malicious statements, even against public officials or public figures (like Rama and Gutierez), if these utterances are unrelated to the performance of official functions or irrelevant to matters of public interest.
Here is that quote from the Supreme Court decision: "If the utterances are false, malicious or unrelated to a public officer's performance of his duties or irrelevant to matters of public interest involving public figures, the same may give rise to criminal and civil liability."
I think this is very well in consonance with the American rulings in New York Times versus Sullivan and related cases of Curtis versus Butts/Associated Press versus Walker.
Simply put, media people can criticize public officials and public figures.
But for such criticisms to remain within the ambit of press freedom protections,
they must be related to the perofrmance of their duties (if public officials) and relevant to matters of public interest (in case of public figures).
Here, while undeniably Eddie Gutierez and Anabelle Rama were public figures, criticims about their being sellers of high-priced kalderos in the U.S., or their being fugitives in the U.S.(which by the way, were proven to be false) are not covered by press freedom protections.
Bottom line is, press freedom, while free, must still be exercised with utmost responsibility.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Superdelegates should decide

I am not that familiar with the system of choosing the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.
The two main Democratic candidates for president Brack Obama and Hillary Clinton are locked-in battle for the nomination.
Obama, however is leading in the delegate count as well as the popular vote.
Although her chances at snatching the nomaintaion are getting slimmer by the day, Hillary remains stubborn and won't quit the nomination race.
As of last report, right after the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, Barack Obama needs only 184 delegates to clinch the nomination.
I wonder if it would be possible for the superdelegates to just band to gether and get that 184 count and declare, even unofficially or informally,their support for Barack Obama.
Not so much for my preference for Obama, but more to let the Democrats have a candidate already.
From the way it looks, the longer it takes to choose the Democratic candidate for president, the more divisive it becomes for the Democratic party, and the more it adversely affects its timetable in competing for the general election against the Republican presidential candidate John Mc Cain.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Panglao beachfronts for sale

I was recently in Bohol with my friend Voltaire. We killed some idle time go around viewing the remaining beachfront lots for sale in the island of Panglao. Panglao is now the subject of speculation buying, considing an international airport that is going to be constructed right at the hear of the tourist island. The airport is already a go, with President Arroyo leading the ground breaking rites on May 8. The President said she wants the airport finished by 2010, before her term ends. Prices of lots in Panglao are expected to skyrocket with the beginning of the contruction of the airport. Now is a good time to buy prized lots in Panglao island, speculators say, that is, if you have the money One of the lots we saw was a 4.2 hectare lot with a long strip of beachfront. It is for sale for P65,000,000.00 or around US$1,550,000.00.
Another Panglao lot we saw was a fourteen hectare lot with a long strip of white sand beach front which is being sold at a total sum of P560,000,000 or US$13,333,000. The lot could be divided into two portions and sold at seven hectares each.

Defend Press Freedom

Yesterday was the global celebration of World Press Freedom Day.
There is a need to actively defend press freedom.
Press freedom is not just for the press.
Press freedom is freedom for everyone.
If there is press freedom, the free flow of information is assured, and the people will be kept inform of the political developments in society.
If press freedom is suppressed, then the free flow of information is cut off.
There are many still who prefer to suppress press freedom.
Suppressing press freedoms means depriving the people obtaining vital information that is needed to maintain order in society.
If there is no order in society, it would adversely affect the people's welfare.
That is why everyone has a stake in the upholding the right to a free press.
Press freedom is a fundamental right.
It is always press freedom that is suppressed first by a regime that seeks to intill repression.
When President Marcos declared martial law, one of the very first freedoms he tok away from the people was press freedom.
He closed down all newspapers, and broadcast facilities nationwide.
He jailed the newsmen.
As a result, people were kept in the dark, depriving them of their right to know the truth.
The people were instead fed with government propaganda, even if this did not reflect the truth about what was happening.
As a result, the Philippines sank to the dark ages, and was easily overtaken by its neighbors in southeast asia like Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand.
In the meantime, the rulers looted the national coffers, leaving the millions of Filipinos poor and hungry.
We do not want to go back to this dark period of untruths and repression.
Therefore, it is important that press freedom must always be upheld.
Defend it while it exists.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tanglad a remedy vs. high blood pressure also?

Not long ago I wrote about the madicinal values Tanglad (lemon grass) as a cure for cancer.
I recall that this view became prevalent in Israel.
I was intrigued because in the Philppines, Tanglad is merely used when roasting pigs.
It is that grass placed insde the lechon, so it would have that pleasurable aroma, preparatory for accumulating cholesterol.
I am not an avid lechon eater, but for me, the best part is that chewy, meaty portion found in the lowest part of the lechon's tummy. Unfortunately, tt is there that all the bad elements settle, the salt, the pig oil, the rekados, msg, etc... That is why that portion is so irresistably tasty.
Anyway,someone just emailed me to say that Tanglad is an anti-dote for high blood pressure.
Here is the email:

..I started drinking lemon grass a year ago now and I believed it helps. My blood pressure became so normal everyday. when I was on vacation in the Philippines, you won't believed it I guit taking my medicine like high blood pressure etc. You can get lots of lemon grass at Stater Bros.stores. 8 glasses a day will help you.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day will be commemorated on May 3.
We pay tribute to courageous journalists who continue to fight for the freedom to speak.
We pay tribute to Alex Adonis, who has been languishing in jail, because he pursued the freedoms that j we cherish.
Below is a press release on the commemoration of world press freedom day from the National Union of Journalists in the Phliippines

Adonis, other journalists challenge Philippine libel laws before UN

DAVAO CITY — Backing up the case of jailed Davao broadcaster Alexander Adonis, journalist groups questioned the country's libel laws before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, saying that jailing a journalist for libel is a violation of the country's treaty obligation to promote freedom of expression.
Adonis, former anchorman of Bombo radio-Davao jailed for libel, filed the communication addressed to the UN High Commission on Human Rights, challenging the legality of the criminal libel laws in the Philippines, arguing that criminal libel violates treaty obligations to promote freedom of expression.
"We're filing the case, not only in the name of Adonis but also in the name of all media people in the Philippines and in the name of press freedom in the whole world," said Lawyer Harry Roque, Adonis' legal counsel and the chair of the lawyer's advocacy group Center for International Law (CenterLaw), which assisted in the filing of the motion.
Aside from Adonis, the signatory of the complaint included the press freedom group Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines (NUJP).
Represented by his brother Colly Adonis, the Davao broadcaster filed the electronic motion to the UN at 11:35 a.m. Friday, only hours after he attended a pre-trial hearing of another libel suit filed against him by Davao TV personality Jeanette Lomanta Leuterio in relation to the same Burlesque King scandal that earned him his conviction.
Adonis has already spent over a year inside the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) prison after a Davao court convicted him of four and a half years for libel early last year.
The libel case was filed by Davao first district Congressman Prospero Nograles after Adonis ran a series of commentaries dubbed as the "Burlesque King," where according to Court proceedings, Adonis identified Nograles as the man running naked in a Manila hotel after he was caught by his paramour's husband inside a hotel room.
The UN case was the first to be filed in Asia, questioning the country's libel laws as inconsistent to its treaty obligations to uphold press freedom under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Roque, however, clarified that the filing of the case in the UN was only taken as the last resort, after Congress failed to pass the law to decriminalized libel.
"Considering that the present Speaker of the House is the same man that filed the case that convicted Adonis, we need to explore other options and tap all available international remedies," Roque said.
He also filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 17 a motion to reopen the case filed by Nograles against Adonis to invoke a Supreme Court circular calling on all judges to impose fines rather than mete out jail terms to newsmen convicted for libel.
Earlier, Adonis showed up at the Regional Trial Court Branch 14 to face charges on a second libel complaint filed by the woman allegedly caught in bed with Nograles.
Handcuffed and wearing a blue inmates uniform, a gaunt Adonis sat side by side with suspects of cell phone snatching and killings, listening as the court deliberated on his case.
Roque had sought dismissal of Lomanta's complaint on the basis of the Supreme Court ruling discouraging the lower courts from imposing jail terms for libel.
He argued that Adonis's imprisonment "defeats" the country's Constitutionally-enshrined rights to freedom of expression and that there is no reason for the state to continue prosecuting Adonis because he has already been serving time in jail.
But state prosecutor Victoriano M. Bello Jr. inhibited himself from giving a decision, effectively moving the case to another pre-trial on May 26.
The revival of Lomanta's complaint came at the time when Adonis could have qualified to seek parole, having spent his six-month minimum term in jail. Lomanta's case cited the same circumstances that convicted Adonis. Its arraignment came six years after the case was filed. (Germelina Lacorte/Cheryll Fiel/