03 July 2015

International Monetary Fund’s transparency evaluation report reinforces administration’s reform agenda, says official
A recent evaluation report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had validated the Aquino administration’s transparency agenda as having helped launch reforms in the country, a Palace official has said.The IMF recently gave the Philippines a favorable score on fiscal transparency. In its June 2015 report, the IMF cited the Philippines’ public financial management reform strategy as having helped initiate reforms.

The country’s fiscal reporting was recognized by the IMF as being timely, frequent, and relatively comprehensive, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a statement issued on Friday.

“These findings serve to validate the Aquino administration’s transparency agenda,” she said.

“Initiatives such as the DBM’s (Department of Budget and Management) Budget ng Bayan website and the government’s open data portal—which currently hosts 1,237 data files—help to advance openness in the country by allowing citizens to access documents, such as the nation’s yearly budget, among many others.”

Valte said the administration remains committed to further improving its efforts by engaging in productive dialogue with other groups and advocates.

She also mentioned this year’s series of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings hosted by the Department of Finance (DOF) that advance such transparency initiative.

The DOF held the APEC Workshop on Fiscal Management through Transparency and Reforms last June 9 to 10 in Bagac, Bataan.

The APEC event in Bataan brought together delegates, transparency advocates, and representatives from finance ministries for a series of discussions on fiscal innovation.

Among the topics discussed during the sessions were open governance and transparency reforms, as well as tax transparency and other forms of international cooperation.

“Through partnerships like this and the continued exchange of ideas, we hope to contribute toward the advancement of transparency reform, both in the Philippines and beyond,” Valte said. PND (as)

President Aquino orders intensified search, rescue efforts in Ormoc sea mishap
President Benigno S. Aquino III has instructed government agencies to intensify the search and rescue operations after a sea vessel capsized near Ormoc City in Leyte province on Thursday, killing at least 39 people.

In a press briefing in Malacañang on Friday, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President was updated on the situation on Thursday and his initial concern was to rescue those passengers who might still be alive at sea.

“The President immediately latched on to the fact that there were still a number of people missing and he said, ‘Do whatever we can to send support to be able to augment the search and rescue,'” Valte told reporters.

The President also ordered an investigation, even as search and rescue operations are ongoing, she said.

Investigators must be sent to the site to get eyewitness accounts, all the documents and clearances relative to the vessel, as well as the passenger manifest, Valte quoted the president as saying.

“Nag-utos po ng isang masinsinang pagtingin ang Pangulo doon sa insidente. Gusto po ng Pangulo na una, maging mabilis ang imbestigasyon, so nag-constitute po agad ang Philippine Coast Guard ng maritime casualty investigation team,” she said.

The Coast Guard is working with the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) to get to the bottom of the situation and the President wants the results of the investigation to be objective, she added.

With regards to assistance for the victims and their families, Valte said the Department of Social Welfare and Development normally provides them counseling.

“The local government is also usually on hand to give assistance to the families and siyempre, ang unang-una po dapat ay ‘yung kumpanya na may-ari ng bangka,” she said.

On Friday, the Coast Guard said at least three more bodies have been recovered, raising the death toll to 39 with 14 others missing.

At least 134 people from the M/B Kim Nirvana were rescued by fishing boats and Coast Guard personnel, or swam to safety on Thursday, the Coast Guard said. PND (as)

President Aquino wants case against China to be presented well at international tribunal
President Benigno S. Aquino III has instructed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr., who will soon leave for The Netherlands, to make sure that the arbitration case lodged by the country against China at the international tribunal, is presented well.

In a press briefing on Friday, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said a high-level delegation from the Philippines will soon leave for The Hague, as the tribunal decides whether it has jurisdiction over the case filed by the Philippines.

“Ang alam ko po na binilin lang ng Pangulo, at least to the Executive Secretary, ay siguraduhing mai-pe-present ang ating kaso,” Valte said about the President’s instruction.

“This is not yet a hearing on the merits. This is a hearing that will deal with the issue whether the tribunal has jurisdiction over the complaint or not.”

The Philippines is sending a delegation composed of people from different branches of government to show the government’s seriousness in pushing its arbitration case, Valte said.

“It clearly shows the support of government for the case across the board. It is not only the executive, it is the legislative, it is also the judiciary. It is a country effort,” she said, adding that a lot of the members of the delegation have something to contribute to the discussions.

Valte noted the importance of the upcoming proceeding.

“If in any case, if the tribunal does not have jurisdiction (over the case), then it ends there. So, even if it may just be a jurisdictional issue, every step of the way, every forward step that we take is important for us,” she explained.

The Palace official also addressed some apprehensions about the difficulty of enforcing the tribunal’s ruling, should the Philippines win the case.

“That is a concern that has been raised by many but we will cross the bridge when we get there. Ang importante, kapag may desisyon na po tayong hawak, we have something more to move on,” she said.

The high-level delegation bound for The Hague includes Senate President Frank Drilon, House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Tony Carpio, former Solicitor General and current Supreme Court Justice Francis Jardeleza, and Solicitor General Florin Hilbay.

Aside from Executive Secretary Ochoa, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will also join the delegation, Valte said.

The Netherlands-based UN court is scheduled to conduct a hearing on July 7 to 13 on the case filed by the Philippines against China in 2013, protesting the latter’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. PND (as)

Palace official refutes China’s rhetoric on sea row
China’s recent statement against the case filed by the Philippines in the international arbitral tribunal shows its weak position in the South China Sea dispute, a Palace official has said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, during a press conference on Thursday, called the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China “an obvious political provocation under the cloak of law”.

She said China has made it “pretty clear” that it is “not accepting nor participating in the South China Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.”

“Well, for one, that is a statement that is expected from a party who does not wish to come to the tribunal to defend its case because essentially, if you stand on the merits of your case, then you should be able to defend it in any venue,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said during a press briefing in Malacañang on Friday.

“For the Philippines, we believe that the filing of the case before the arbitral tribunal is in line with our commitment to resolve the dispute peacefully and to use a rules-based approach for the filing and the resolution of the dispute.”

The Philippines is sending a high-level delegation to the arbitral tribunal based in The Hague in The Netherlands, as the tribunal decides on July 7 to 13 whether it has jurisdiction over the case filed by the country against China, questioning the latter’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

The Philippine delegation will be composed of officials from the executive branch of government, legislature, judiciary, and the government’s legal counsel. PND (as)

President Aquino issues EO 185 modifying tariff rates on environmental goods
President Benigno S. Aquino III has issued Executive Order 185, modifying tariff rates on certain imported products, particularly environmental goods, as part of the country’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

The order, signed by the President last June 26, says that articles listed in Annex A of EO 185 as classified under Section 104 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines, as amended, shall be subject to the most-favored nations (MFN) rate duty.

The rates of import duty on tariff headings and subheadings, which are not enumerated, shall remain in force and effect.

Once the EO takes effect, all articles listed in the Annex and are entered into or withdrawn from warehouses in the Philippines for consumption shall be levied the MFN rates of duty as prescribed.

The products listed in Annex A include super heaters, soot removers, gas converters, and industrial or laboratory furnaces and ovens, including incinerators.

Centrifuges, including centrifugal dryers, filtering or purifying machinery and apparatus for liquid or gases are also included.

Leaders of APEC member economies previously agreed to address issues on climate change, and review the progress of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Agenda negotiations on the liberalization of trade environmental goods and services.

They also made a commitment to take concrete steps to achieve past ambitions to realize green growth, consistent with their WTO obligations.

Under the 2012 Vladivostok Declaration, the leaders endorsed the APEC List of Environmental Goods enumerating 54 environmental goods that directly contribute to green growth and sustainable development objectives.

They committed to reduce applied rates to 5 percent or less on those environmental goods by the end of 2015, taking into account “economies’ economic circumstances, without prejudice to their position in the WTO.”

On May 19 this year, the National Economic and Development Authority Board recommended the reduction of the MFN rates of duty on certain tariff lines under the APEC List of Environmental Goods by 2015.

The country’s customs code empowers the President to increase, reduce or remove existing rates of duty, as well as modify the tariff nomenclature. PND (as)