Category Archives: corruption

Lawmakers asked to stop toll hikes

By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Manila Legarda

MANILA, Philippines – A group of affected rural producers on Saturday urged members of the Philippine parliament to act with dispatch and stop the looming hikes in toll fees, after the Philippine high tribunal declare the recent increases as legal and constitutional.

The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Saturday urged lawmakers from both houses of Congress to cross party lines, call a special session and pass a joint resolution to scrap if not indefinitely suspend the implementation of toll increase at the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx).In a press statement, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said Congress can exercise its legislative powers and remedies to spare millions of people in Southern Luzon and the National Capital Region from bearing the brunt of the 250 percent hike in SLEx toll fees.“President Benigno Simeon Aquino III will not stop the toll fee increase at SLEx because he wants to lure foreign investors to takeover SLEx that would promise lucrative business and sure super profits for foreign investments. So the ball is now Congress court to stop this highway robbery in broad daylight,” said Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader asked Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to lead the authorship and sponsorship of a joint Senate-House resolution that would indefinitely suspend the implementation of SLEx toll hike, which should be followed by a full-blown congressional inquiry on toll hike proposals that would include the Northern Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and South Metro Manila Skyway.

“The 250 percent increase in toll fees at SLEx is not only a case of highway robbery in broad daylight. This burdensome hike in toll fees is tantamount to economic sabotage,” added Hicap.

Following the Supreme Court ruling junking the petition against SLEx toll increase, South Luzon Tollways Corporation (SLTC) president Isaac David said the increase toll rates at SLEx will be implemented by next week or early November.David said the toll increase would enable STLC to pay its debts from creditors amounting to P 1 billion in the past two months. In a decision released Thursday last week, the Supreme Court declared as valid and constitutional the supplemental toll operation agreement (STOA) covering the Luzon Tollway Project between the government and SLEx, as well as the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) resolutions allowing rate increases.The SLTC had spent P 12 billion for the rehabilitation of SLEx which cover the rehabilitation of Alabang viaduct and the widening of highway. The company which is backed by Malaysia’s MTD Capital holds a 30-year concession to operate SLEx and it is allowed to collect toll to ensure that it gets a 17-percent return on investment every year.

Pamalakaya said the 250 percent increase in SLEx toll fees would further push trade cartels and buyers of agricultural and fishery products in Southern Luzon to cut farm gate prices of farmers and fisherfolk produce in the Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions. “The cartel will further cut prices of farm gate prices by as much as 50 percent. Because of toll hikes at SLEx, fish traders will further reduce the average of fish price of P 50 per kilo to P 30 or P 25 per kilo. To ensure fish cartels would have money for toll fees and still make profits, fish cartels on the other hand will jack up prices of fish products by another 10 to 20 percent at the expense of the fish buying and eating public. This is one of negative impacts of the 250 percent increase in SLEx toll hike,” said Pamalakaya. (With reports from Pepsi Laloma and Sarsi Pimentel)

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World Bank eyes RP as Asia’s begging capital

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bb. Tayuman Recto-Yap and Akihira Tatchu

MANILA, Philippines- The plan of the Brettonwoods institution to support the direct cash assistance fund to millions of impoverished Filipinos through an increased fresh loan to Manila government sparked protest from a Philippine group highly critical of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The leftist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Sunday assailed WB over its recent move to double its assistance in the country for 2011 so the national government could fund its conditional cash transfer (CCT) program to poor Filipinos. Impressed by the Philippine government’s initiatives on good governance, WB country director Bert Hofman last Friday said WB will increase the current overall assistance to the Philippines from $ 630 million to $ 1.3 B in total assistance to the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.Hofman said the aid increase was approved last week at the annual meeting of the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF)with the Philippines economic team.

In 2007, the WB approved a five year support to CCT with $ 400 million loan as funding support for 2008 as launched by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) then under President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo administration. This year, Congress passed the national budget for 2011, allotting P 21 B for CCT, an increase of P 9 billion compared to last year. The P 21 B for CCT elicited protest from 100 congressmen.

But Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said the increase in aid assistance merely suits the political agenda of WB-IMF to turn millions of Filipino poor into beggars and mendicants, transform them into passive political entities highly allergic or hostile to politics of change in the country.

“The WB-IMF supports the CCT program because it sees it as a socio-political instrument that would convert this nation of over 90 million starving Filipinos into a Republic of mendicants and beggars rather than into a progressive nation with critical thinking and struggling people fighting for land, jobs, rights and justice.The increase in assistance with the purpose of supporting the CCT program is mainly a counter-insurgency program in form and in substance,” Hicap explained.

“The WB-IMF backed CCT program is also counter-productive in the sense that it does not create jobs and does not transform people into productive citizens but helpless folks begging for alms,” the Pamalakaya leader added.

The WB country director said the initiatives of the Aquino administration for poverty alleviation were doing well for target beneficiaries and that transparency under the new government made them more comfortable to provide additional assistance to Aquino government.

“It is business as usual for IMF-WB. It will lure the Aquino administration enter into another cycle of debt trap and national death bed due to debt. Behind the triple platinum debt offer of this US-led financial monster is the cruel intention of IMF-WB to get involved in Jurassic public-private partnership (PPPs) economic escapade of the Aquino administration,” said Pamalakaya.

The militant group also slammed the Philippine officials who signed the deal with IMF-WB during a meeting in Washington D.C. Pamalakaya said Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Budget and management SecretaryFlorencio Abad and Socio-Economic planning secretary Cayetano Paderanga Jr. should be condemned to the highest order for what the group called a millennium sell out of the national economy.

“These officials of Noynoy Aquino committed one of the major blunders in the 21st century when they offered the Philippines at the altar of IMF-WB millennium exploitation.They should be remembered in history as modern-day traitors along with President Aquino for undertaking this sell out of national patrimony and grand scam denationalization and privatization of national economy,” said Pamalakaya.

According to Pamalakaya, the IMF-WB aside from raking super profits from interest on loans, would also take part in highly profitable business in the country including but not limited to the expansion of Light Railway Transit system, the improvement of sewerage system of Maynilad and Manila Water.

The militant group said IMF-WB also wants to facilitate PPPs in tourism, food supply chain, construction of airports and other road networks, mass transport, national highways, water, power and other utilities.

Pamalakaya said the P 18.7 B Laguna Lake Dredging Project in Laguna de Bay was one of the PPPs approved by the Arroyo government prior to the May 2010 elections.The group said the project is between the Philippine government and the Fortis Bank of Belgium, which is a private commercial bank based in Brussels. It said around 400,000 lake families or roughly 2 million people in Laguna Lake will be displaced by the Laguna Lake dredging project #

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Manila anti-casino group sought divine intervention

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Handog Malaya Vera and Victoria Sunshine Malubarry

MANILA, Philippines- A militant alliance of small fishermen opposed to the planned construction of a Las Vegas like casino in the western portion of Manila Bay in Paranaque City on Saturday asked the influential Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to join forces with them to stop the 557 million US dollar casino-resort project in the Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Entertainment City.

In a press statement, the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) appealed to the 117 archbishops and bishops of the CBCP to coalesce with the fisherfolk and other affected people in Manila Bay in the fight of what it called the Las Vegas-nization of the country.

“We ask our archbishops and bishops to join the Manila Bay coastal people in their legit and just struggle against those evil forces who want to make this country the gambling capital of Asia to the detriment of coastal people and the bay environment,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said his group is planning to seek a dialogue with the bishops and archbishops of the CBCP anytime next week to discuss the devastating impact of the project to small fisherfolk and urban poor and its destructive effect to the already fragile Manila Bay environment.

“We will move heaven and earth to put up a strong opposition against this largest gambling project clinched during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and passed on to the new administration of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III,” added Hicap.

In a statement yesterday, Bloombury Investments Holdings Inc. which was acquired by port operatorEnrique Razon Jr. said it had broken ground for the construction of Solaire, an integrated resort complex that includes a five-star, 500-room hotel on a 165,000-square-meter land.

According to Bloombury, aside from catapulting the Philippines into becoming a key player in the tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries, the project will make Filipinos proud for having a world class leisure hub that will showcase the best that the country can offer. It said the entertainment city will rival leisure hubs in the region such as those in Macau, Malaysia and Singapore.

The project marks Razon’s first venture into the lucrative gaming industry. Razon owns Manila-based global port giant International Container Terminal Services Inc. The Bloombury complex is expected to open by the third quarter of 2012. Total investment in the long term is expected to reach $ 1 billion.

Project proponents said aside from attracting local and foreign visitors, the complex is expected to generate some 2,500 jobs and boost the country’s ancillary service sectors.

“This is ridiculous, very, very ridiculous. Please allow us to inform the bishops that the Supreme Court ruling is clear——-Malacanang should rehabilitate Manila Bay and should not transform the bay into a gambling capital of Asia is contrary to the high court decision,” said Hicap in reference to the Dec. 2008 Supreme Court decision mandating the national government and concerned government agencies to restore Manila Bay back to its historic and proud past.

“The bishops are politically and morally obliged to confront this gambling project of the ruling Mafia in Malacanang. That is one their callings as far as the Christian faith and the people’s collective interest are concerned,” the Pamalakaya official added.

The other companies granted licenses were Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc., the partnership between the Andrew L. Tan-led Alliance Global, Inc. and casino-resort operator Genting Hong Kong Ltd., SM Investments Corp. and Universal Entertainment Corp. (formerly Azure Corp.), which makes gaming machines and is a co-investor in the Wynn chain of casino hotels in Las Vegas and Macau.

“The issue of Manila Bay casino project is not only about cronyism and the despicable partnership between Arroyo and his cherished client-Mr. Razon and now Razon as de facto supporter and crony of Aquino. At stake here is the marine environment, the livelihood of 3 million people in Manila Bay and the national interest of 92 million Filipinos. Sad to say, President Arroyo sacrificed these stakes to make more money and make his crony the happiest and the luckiest guy on earth.

Pagcor president and chief operating officer Rafael Butch Francisco announced on Monday the construction at the Bay Shore Entertainment City was expected to start in the latter part of the year. Sources said the Razon’s entry into the Pagcor project came after his exit from the power transmission business. Last month, Henry Sy Jr.’s OneTaipan Holdings, Inc. bought Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. from Razon’s group for $350 million.

Pagcor said the construction is expected to start in the third quarter at an estimated cost of $400 million for the first phase. According to the state-run gambling corporation, the complex will include two five-star luxury hotel towers of over 1,000 rooms within a world-class entertainment and convention facility.

The Pamalakaya fisherfolk alliance said the construction of Manila Bay casino similar to first-ratecasinos in Las Vegas and Macau will trigger the displacement of 3 million coastal people in Metro Manila and Cavite who are still dependent to fishing as principal source of livelihood, and any move to transform or convert Manila Bay for other purposes like the $15-billion casino project will have a killing impact on the livelihood of small fishermen, aside from the fact that they would be demolished from their communities, once construction of support structures and establishments begins.

“The irrevocable desire of President Aquino and Mr. Razon to convert Manila Bay into an international gateway for big time gambling addicts both international and domestic is not only blasphemous, but also detestable and highly revolting. This government is sacrificing the future ofManila Bay fishers at the altar of corporate interest and gambling addiction of the international and domestic elites,” the Pamalakaya said.

The militant group said the construction of Manila Bay casino will also trigger reclamation of other coastal shores along Manila Bay that will result to eviction of fishing communities and coastal villagers along the bay.

Pamalakaya recalled from 1992 to 1995, the demolitions of coastal shanties became an everyday ordeal in Pasay Reclamation area. Houses were uprooted on almost day-to-day basis. Small and big time bribery to divide the communities were conducted to facilitate the demolition of homes as if the words and orders of Malacañang were the words of God in this country.

The setting up of casino and resorts, including SM’s Mall of Asia was all in the master plan of the government known as Manila Bay Master Development Plan that officially started during the time of President Ramos and projected to end between 2020 and 2025.

Pamalakaya said 3,500 small fisherfolk and their families in Pasay Reclamation Area, and another 3,000 coastal and urban poor families along the coastal shores of Parañaque were evicted by the government of former President Ramos to pave way for the construction of the proposed casino that would make the Philippines the Las Vegas of Asia.#

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Aquino told: Submit own corruption case to “truth body”

Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bombshell Moran and Trinity Biglang Awa

MANILA, Philippines- Staunch critics of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III on Saturday challenged the 50-year old bachelor president to allow the newly established Truth Commission to investigate not only corruption cases involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies, but also his own turf in connection with the controversial Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTex) road scandal.

In a press statement, the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the national goverment paid P 170 million for the construction of the interchange in Hacienda Luisita, and there was no closure about the previous expose on this highly irregular deal between the Arroyo government and the Cojuangco-Aquino who agreed on the deal.

“Why not include the SCTex road scandal in the list of high crimes of corruption that happened during the Macapagal-Arroyo administration? If this truth body is after truth, justice and accountability, then it should include the SCTex right of way scandal in the investigation. If President Aquino and former President Arroyo are accountable for flagship cases of corruption that happened from 2001 to 2009, then by all means, subject the two to the Truth Commission and have their grand day for condemnation before the Filipino public,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The Truth Commission created through Aquino’s Executive Order No.1 was established to investigate ex-President Arroyo and her allies accountable for irregularities under her watch, including the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal.

President Aquino signed yesterday Executive Order No. 1 will “investigate reports of graft and corruption of such scale and magnitude that shock and offend the moral and ethical sensibilities of the people.”

The “independent collegial body” chaired by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. will have four more commissioners. It has until Dec. 31, 2012, to complete its work, with formal hearings most likely to begin next year, according Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

De Lima said the hearings would be open to the public but that closed-door sessions would be conducted for “matters of national security or public safety,” including the safety of witnesses.

Justice secretary De Lima said EO No. 1 was crafted in such a way that it would be “broad enough” to include cases such as Arroyo’s purported manipulation of the 2004 presidential election.

In seeking closure to controversies that occurred from 2001 to 2009, President Aquino armed the truth commission with the power to subpoena respondents and documents.

The commission is empowered to “collect, receive, review and evaluate evidence related to or regarding the cases of large-scale corruption which it has chosen to investigate, and to this end, require any agency, official or employee of the executive branch, including government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), to produce documents, books, records, and other papers.”

The EO empowers the commission to “obtain information and documents from the Senate and the House of Representatives’ records of investigations conducted by committees,” as well as those from the “courts, including the Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Court Administrator,” in connection with corruption cases filed before them.

The commission can also “call upon any government investigative or prosecutorial agency such as the DOJ or any of the agencies under it, and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, for such assistance and cooperation as it may require in the discharge of its functions and duties.”

“If that is the case of this EO, then it can also summon the President or any members of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to explain and bare all about the P 170 million SCTex scandal and how the family continues to control Luisita despite legal, political and moral basis for them to surrender their unlawful and immoral claim of the 6,453 hectare sugar estate,” said Pamalakaya’s Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader the Cojuangco-Aquino family received P 170 million but regular government procedure mandates the landowner should give the property to the government at zero cost.

Hicap said the government does not ordinarily pay private landowners for right-of-way properties in government projects because the private landowner presumably benefits from the construction of a national road.

The Pamalakaya official also noted that the Toll Regulatory Board, which processes applications for interchanges in major road projects, does not normally pay for the construction of interchanges in private lands.

“Because of the SCTex hocus pocus, the value of Hacienda Luisita per square meter increased from P 8 to P 1,000 per square meter. The SCTex scandal deserves another round of scrutiny and the Truth Commission can look into this issue, aside from those high crimes of corruption perpetrated by the ruling Arroyo clique in Malacanang from 2001 to 2009,” Pamalakaya said.

The cost of the interchange built inside the Hacienda Luisita complex was shouldered by the government and funded through a loan from the Japan Bank and International Corp. It is a flagship project of President Gloria Arroyo.

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA)-SCTEx project engineering chief retired general Eduardo Lena had explained that the government paid for the construction of the interchange because it was part of the original plan for SCTEx.

The hearing failed to directly link Senator Aquino to the allegedly irregular transaction. The BCDA had negotiated with Senator Aquino’s uncle, Pedro Cojuangco.#

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Criminal charges pressed against Manila officials behind rice scam

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Gegemon Babon and Roy Morilla

MANILA, Philippines- The peasant activist group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the multisectoral alliance Bantay Bigas, the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid ng Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) and the leftwing fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Friday urged National Food Authority (NFA) chief administrator Lito Banayo to file criminal and other appropriate charges against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former agriculture secretary and now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap in connection with the over importation of rice which occurred in 2004 and 2007.

Peasant leaders Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general of KMP, Bantay Bigas convener and Amihan peasant women federation secretary general Lita Mariano, Kasama-TK secretary general Axel Pinpin and Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap led 100 farmers and supporters’ rally outside the NFA outlet in Visayas Avenue in Quezon City asking the NFA chief to charge Arroyo and Secretary Yap before the regular court.

Marbella said aside from Reps. Arroyo and Yap, the charge sheet should include former officials of the Department of Agriculture and NFA who played key roles in the over importation of rice in 2004 and 2007 which cost Filipino taxpayers some 171.6 billion pesos.

In 2004, the Philippine government imported 900,000 metric tons of rice, while the country at that time only lacked 117,000 metric tons to fit the demand of the population, while in 2007, the government only needed 589,000 metric tons to fill the gap in rice supply, but DA and NFA pursued the importation of 1.827 million metric tons or about 1.2 million metric tons more of the required volume to augment the shortage in rice supply.

The rural based groups said aside from bringing the perpetrators of over importation of rice in exchange for fat or juicy commissions, the NFA and the DA should impose a six-year moratorium on the importation of rice and instead pursue measures that would increase domestic rice production, stop land use conversions of rice lands and assure irrigation for more than 3 million hectares of lands devoted to rice production.

They said, instead of reducing rice lands, the government should promote and increase rice lands devoted to rice and food production.

Procurement capacity

For her part, Mariano of Bantay Bigas and Amihan peasant women group urged Aquino government to increase the buying capacity of NFA to 25 percent of the total domestic produced palay by local rice farmers to stabilize rice prices and ensure good dividends for rice farmers.

Mariano lamented that while NFA is mandated by law to buy 10 percent of the locally produced palay from farmers, the authority only managed to buy one percent, and the rest of the funds of the NFA are allocated for unbridled importation of rice.

She said the NFA should increase not only its buying capacity, but also the price of palay per kilo. At present, Bantay Bigas wants the NFA to procure palay at P 15 per kilo, instead of spending taxpayers money to rice importation at the expense of Filipino farmers and consumers.

The groups said rotten and contaminated rice should not be distributed to poor Filipinos, saying the poor do not deserved rotten and unsafe rice for consumption. The groups said it would be grossly insulting and highly revolting to feed the poor with unsafe and health risk rotten rice.

Which is which?

But the groups asserted the unused and undistributed stocks of rice in government warehouses which are sound and still safe to eat should be distributed for free to communities affected by typhoon, including calamity stricken areas hit by Ondoy and Pepeng, and the El Nino and La Nina affected areas.

“In print media, Banayo of NFA said he will strongly consider the demand of farmers to have these hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice distributed for free to poor Filipinos. But in TV and radio, the NFA chief said the authority will not give free rice to hungry families and multiple conditions shall be met to have these sacks of rice distributed either through food for work program or other measures,” noted Hicap of Pamalakaya.

” Which is which? Are Banayo and his puppet master in Malacanang taking us to another roller coaster ride?” added Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary Proceso Alcala should step into the picture and stop the NFA from talking non-sense , adding that the agriculture department has the last way on what to do with the over imported rice.

“Alcala should tell Banayo to shape up or leave NFA. The demand is as easy as ABC. Make an inventory and proceed with the free distribution of these sacks of rice for free at the immediate, ahead of the next harvest season this coming October. Is that difficult? Mr. Banayo and his benefactor in Malacanang are making things difficult and complicated for the Filipino public.,” said Pamalakaya.

Earlier, the KMP, Pamalakaya and other rural based groups demanded Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to conduct joint or separate congressional inquiry on the over importation of rice in 2004 and 2007.

The groups said in aid of legislation, the rice inquiry will be able to draft policies to stop the government from anarchic importation of rice which are hinged on the liberalization policy and on the agenda of corrupt officials for juicy and fat commissions sourced from over importation and over pricing of rice imports. (With reports from Bombshell Moran and Lollipop de los Reyes)

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Probe rice scandal RP Congress urged

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bb. Joyce Cabral in Manila and Gegemon Babon and Sugar Hicap in Tarlac City

MANILA, Philippines-Four of the biggest rural-based organizations in the country– the activist peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the peasant women federation Amihan, the agricultural worker group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday urged Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to pursue a joint or separate congressional inquiry on the alleged over importation of rice in 2004 and 2007.

“In aid of legislation, the people of rural Philippines hereby order Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to undertake a joint or separate congressional inquiry on rice importation that cost the Filipino people of P 171.6 billion in taxpayers money,” said KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos and Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The two activist leaders suggested the “rice inquiry” to open the books of the National Food Authority (NFA), including inventory, records of transactions and financial records of the food authority from 2004 up to June 2010.

Ramos and Hicap, who spoke in behalf of their peers in Amihan women peasant federation and UMA agricultural labor group said all the officials of the Department of Agriculture and the NFA from 2004 up to June 2010 shall be subpoenaed by the rice inquiry task force to be put up jointly and separately by Congress.

KMP and Pamalakaya said those who should be made answerable for the anarchic importation of rice in 2004 and 2007 referring to the 900,000 metric tons of rice imported as against the 117,000 metric tons needed to fill up the gap in supply in 2004, and the 1.827 million metric tons imported by the Philippine government compared to he 589,000 metric tons needed to fill up the gap in rice supply.

“If that is the case, then former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her then agriculture secretary now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap should take the center stage of the rice inquiry that should be called by Congress at the soonest possible time, maybe next week,” the groups said.

KMP and Pamalakaya also suggested that while Congress is investigating the rice scam jointly or separately, Reps. Arroyo and Yap shall be suspended from performing their jobs as legislators of their respective districts until the investigation is done and concrete legislative and legal actions have been made to address the over importation of rice and the corruption issues which surround the anarchic buying of rice from sources abroad.

The groups said Congress can make proposals out of the results of the rice inquiry like forwarding corruption cases or legislative complaints before the House Ethics Committee which could decide on the expulsion of Arroyo and Yap from Congress.

“The case People of the Philippines vs. Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Rep. Arthur Yap must be pursued at all cost. We are talking here of 171.6 billion pesos drawn against the people’s hard earned taxes. The NFA can’t even buy 10 percent of the farmers’ produce in the nine-year rule of Arroyo, but billions of pesos of people’s money were spent for unwarranted importation,” added Pamalakaya and KMP.

Earlier. Danilo Bonabon, NFA director in Central Visayas, Wednesday said that around 2 million bags of rice were arriving in Cebu City until the end of August for Central and Eastern Visayas and the cities of Pagadian and Dipolog. He said this shipment would be on top of the 2.6 million bags of imported rice stored in different warehouses in Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor and Negros Oriental.

Lito Banayo, newly appointed NFA chief, yesterday said he was asking the Department of Justice to investigate why the NFA under Arroyo had authorized the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PTIC) to import 20,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam in spite of the surplus. #

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Manila lawmakers tasked to review water crisis

By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Bb. Joyce Cabral

MANILA, Philippines- The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) put to task lawmakers from both Houses of Congress to conduct a joint or separate congressional inquiry on current water crisis affecting 12 million residents in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

In a press statement, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap and vice chairperson Salvador France the full-blown investigation of the water problem that immediately affected 1.2 million residents in 177 barangays in Metro Manila should be in the first order of business of the 15th Congress under the Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III administration.

“If President Aquino is afraid to grill the Lopezes of Maynilad Water Services Inc. and the Ayalas of Manila Water Co. on respective culpabilities to the consuming public because they are Aquino’s political benefactors, Congress as separate and co-equal branch of the government should pursue the real score in aid of legislation,” Hicap and France said in their joint statement.

Cross party lines

The Pamalakaya leaders added: “Senators and congressmen should cross party lines and rise above the occasion and pursue this warranted investigation on the roots of water crisis and the evils of privatization of water service”.

Pamalakaya suggested to lawmakers to invite owners, officials and operators of the state owned Manila Water Sewerage System (MWSS) and the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) and water concessionaires Maynila and Manila Water. “Congress is lawfully, politically and morally obliged to send the policy of privatization and contracts to these water concessionaires in the hot seat of public investigation and public opinion. Let us all call a spade a spade,” the fisherfolk group said.

Pamalakaya said Congress should also expand its full-blown investigation by reviewing proposals such as the Laiban Dam project and the suggestion opening the water reserves of the 94,000 Laguna Lake to Maynilad and Manila Water despite the two companies’ dismal performance in providing the water needs of the people under a privatized water utility and service system. Dismissing the LLDA suggestion as mindboggling, incorrigible and all-out environmental plunder and destruction.

Pamalakaya said Congress should also go deeper on the plan to allow Maynilad and Manila Water to source additional water from the lake. LLDA’s Manda suggested to source water from Laguna Lake to mitigate the impact of water crisis in Metro Manila should the water level at the Angat dam remain at low level.

Obsession

The LLDA official said the Lopez owned Maynilad Water Services Incorporated has water treatment facilities which could be used to convert freshwater into potable water for Metro Manila consumption. Manda said they have conducted water sampling to determine the lake’s potential as a water source.

“Maynilad’s mouth watering attitude towards Laguna Lake has been there for more than a decades or even decades. This obsession in the name of monopoly profits has been in Maynilad’s corporate mindset since the all out deregulation, privatization and liberalization policy was implemented in the time former President Fidel v. Ramos,” asserted Hicap.

“The LLDA general manager has no option but to back off from the LLDA-Maynilad deal and rescind whatever written or verbal agreement the lake authority had entered into with the Lopez owned water utility,” added Hicap. Pamalakaya said the proposal of Maynilad is to abstract 300 million liters per day (MLD) from Laguna Lake is extremely dangerous to the lake environment. Hicap said the proposal will entail the closure of Napindan Hydraulic control system, preventing the entry of salt water of Manila Bay. He said fish species in Laguna Lake requires the mixing of salt and fresh water to spawn and survive.

“We strongly urge Manda and the LLDA authorities to refrain from further privatizing and converting the lake for the purpose of Jurassic model of development, super profiteering and fat returns of commissions and kickbacks. The LLDA is hereby prevented by national interest from entering into a contract that constitutes sell-out and all-out destruction of people’s livelihood and environment,” said Pamalakaya.

Death certificate

The Pamalakaya said the Maynilad plan is like a death certificate to Laguna Lake killing not only the livelihood of more than 500,000 people engage in fish capture and fish culture activities. He said it will also endanger the fish supply and the fish need of millions of people in the National Capital Region, Laguna and Rizal provinces. Citing the study conducted by the Netherlands government for the LLDA, it said Laguna De Bay, being the largest lake in the Philippines and strategically located in the heart of Calabarzon region, is the most viable source of water for Metro Manila’s west zone.

Maynilad, which is authorized water concessionaire of the Manila Water Sewerage System (MWSS) for the western part of Metro Manila, said the proposed plan if approved will enable the Lopez water utility firm to supply water to the remaining 29 percent covered by its agreement with MWSS in the West Zone area. At present, Maynilad renders water supply to about 703,519 customers, or only 71 percent of its total concession area. The rest of the west zone does not have enough water supply — mainly comprising the areas of Muntinlupa, Parañaque, and Las Piñas.

The LLDA said if it gives the go signal Maynilad will take over operations of the existing water treatment plant in Putatan, Muntinlupa, which currently extracts 180,000 cubic meters per month of lake water and then supplies it to the Ayala Alabang subdivision for the residents’ domestic use. Maynilad will gradually implement the 300-million-liters-per-day extraction of water from the Lake.

The first 100 million liters per day will be made available to the west zone of Metro Manila in 2010 and then water extraction will be increased to 200 million liters in 2011, and then 300 million liters per day by 2014. Maynilad has admitted that 53% of water allocated to the west zone was lost mainly due to leakages. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson also said that the critical low water level in Angat Dam was attributed to lack of rain and Napocor’s fault on excessive water releases.

According to Water for the People Network reducing water loss or non-revenue water of both concessionaires to single digit percentage will mean additional 900 mld (million liters per day) of water supply to National Capital Region.

The WPN said the multipurpose reservoir of Angat Dam, which provides for 97 percent of the domestic water supply of Metro Manila, gets its water from the Angat Watershed Reservation.

The Angat Watershed Reservation has a total area of 62,309 hectares in two sub-catchments areas. The effective drainage area of the Reservation is 56,800 hectares. This watershed, if properly managed, could provide adequate water to the Angat Dam all year round.

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