16 June 2016

President Aquino assesses military campaign against Abu Sayyaf
(JOLO, Sulu) President Benigno S. Aquino III visited Jolo, Sulu on Wednesday to assess the ongoing military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a few days after the bandits beheaded their Canadian hostage.

The President arrived at Camp Teodulfo Bautista at about noon and was immediately briefed by Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) officials on the military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

“Nandito ako ngayon para ma-review nga lahat ng operations na nangyayari puwera dun sa nire-report sa atin pagkatagal-tagal na,” the President said in an interview with the media.

“Gusto kong makapanayam dito ang ating mga ground commanders para makuha ang mas kumpletong larawan nang mga kaganapan dito. At ‘yun nga napagkasunduan ngayong hapon kung paano ire-refine, mula kaninang umaga, paano ire-refine ang ating operations para successfully nating ma-rescue lahat ng natitirang hostages.”

Aside from assessing the ongoing efforts in Sulu, which began several months ago, the President was also updated regarding the military operations in Central Mindanao, as well as in Basilan.

Asked to comment on the killing of the Canadian hostage, the second Canadian to be beheaded by the ASG since April, the President pointed out that the security concern in Sulu is complicated and difficult to address.

He said he has spoken with the respective prime ministers of Canada and Norway and discussed the hostage-taking issue.

According to President Aquino, he apologized to the Canadian prime minister for the death of the two Canadians.

He also expressed his gratitude to the Canadian government for sticking to the no-ransom policy, the same stance taken by the Philippine government.

Paying ransom would only encourage more people to join the Abu Sayyaf, the Chief Executive explained.

On the ongoing military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, he said he understands the difficulty of fighting the bandits, especially due to the help of local communities, the Abu Sayyaf’s mastery of the terrain, and Sulu’s thick forest cover.

The support of the local population has made it more difficult for the military to gain intelligence from the ground, he said.

And despite the huge bounty for the Abu Sayyaf leaders, until now no informant has come forward, he added.

Noting that he could not divulge the military’s plan to rescue the remaining hostages, the President made an assurance, saying, “We hope we are more focused and therefore increase the chances of resolving the situation successfully.”

Wesmincom officials said a total of seven hostages are still being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf — five locals and two foreigners.

The military on Monday confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf had beheaded Canadian Robert Hall after ransom demands were not met.

In late April, John Ridsdel, another Canadian, was killed by the Abu Sayyaf. His severed head was found in Sulu province.

The two Canadians, Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on September 21 last year from a resort on Samal Island. PND (as)

President Aquino vetoes bills on water districts’ tax condonation, salary adjustment for nurses
President Benigno S. Aquino III has vetoed a bill that seeks to condone unpaid taxes of local water districts, and another bill that seeks to increase the compensation of nurses that might have an impact on the country’s tax collection system and health care.

According to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr., the President has informed Congress, through the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, that he has vetoed House Bill No. 3675 / Senate Bill No. 2518, which seeks to remove conditions for the condonation of all unpaid income taxes of Local Water Districts (LWDs), specifically, proof of financial incapacity as determined by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and a program of internal reforms as submitted to Congress.

President Aquino said the bill will remove the laudable intent of Republic Act 10026, which is to grant tax reprieve only to LWDs that are financially incapable and committed to instituting fiscal reforms.

The President also said the bill “sends a message to errant taxpayers that delinquency is acceptable since amnesty or condonation may be given anyway, even without benefit of proper documentation”.

He added that the proposed bill is disadvantageous and can undermine the government’s strict tax collection efforts.

President Aquino also informed both houses of Congress that he vetoed House Bill No. 6411 / Senate Bill No. 2720, which seeks the enactment of a comprehensive nursing law.

In his message, President Aquino noted that the minimum base pay for entry-level nurses has already been increased through Executive Order No. 201, series of 2016, which raised their total guaranteed annual compensation from P228,924 to P344,074, apart from other benefits and allowances they receive, such as under the Magna Carta of Public Health.

The bill, which proposes to further increase the entry-level salary for nurses by four grades, will undermine the existing government salary structure and cause wage distortion, not only among medical and health care practitioners but also other professionals in the government service, the President said.

Granting such increase will place the salaries of nurses over and above their other similarly situated counterparts, such as optometrists and dentists, he said.

The President also said the proposed increase “seemingly disregards the financial capacity of most local government hospitals” and also affects the financial viability of private hospitals and non-government health institutions, and could lead to the downsizing of hospital personnel and consequent increase in health care costs. PND (as)

Philippines begins comprehensive energy policy review
The Climate Change Commission (CCC) on Thursday began its task of reviewing the government’s energy policy that is expected to reshape the country’s power development plans and replace coal with renewable sources of energy.

The commission, together with key government agencies, has six months or until the end of the year to conduct a national review and craft a framework development on energy, in accordance with Commission Resolution No.2016-001 it issued last month.

The CCC is under the Office of the President and is the lead policy-making body of the government mandated to coordinate, monitor and evaluate state programs and ensure mainstreaming of climate change in national, local, and sectoral development plans toward a climate-resilient and climate-smart Philippines.

A comprehensive review of the government’s energy policy involves a whole-of-nation approach to achieve a low-carbon development pathway and national goals and targets for climate change mitigation and adaptation, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.

Vice chair of the CCC, Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman, said the policy review is vital to fulfilling the country’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“With time running out to address climate change and prevent the worst effects of rising temperatures, countries must act fast and more decisively to cut down their respective greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to keep global temperature rise to below 1.5°C,” Secretary de Guzman said at the launch of the National Energy Policy Review held at the Kalayaan Hall of Malacañang Palace.

“One sure way to defuse the ‘ticking time bomb’ of global warming is to shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy (RE), which is the main thrust of the most recent resolution issued by the Climate Change Commission and signed by no less than the President,” he added.

The CCC resolution calls for the development of a clear policy on coal-fired power plants, which are the biggest source of man-made carbon emissions, accounting for about 35 percent of global GHG emissions.

Aside from the CCC, other agencies called to participate in the energy policy review are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Energy, and the National Economic and Development Authority.

De Guzman said the CCC strongly believes that “transitioning away from coal is a cost-effective path to a low-carbon economy for the Philippines”.

To ensure the success of the undertaking, the commission will facilitate at least three meetings of the CCC Advisory Board, serving as Steering Committee; three sub-national business summits; 10 roundtable discussions; and 10 technical working group meetings throughout the six months of the policy review process, he said.

He said the CCC and other key government agencies aim to come up with concrete measures that will “lay the ground toward clearer procedures away from coal and on the faster way to enhance RE”, such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric energy.

“Our worthy task will allow us to fulfill our responsibilities, as public servants, to serve and protect our people from this global threat, and will inspire us, as human beings, with greater capability to sustain humanity,” he added.

De Guzman said that while the Philippines is not a major emitter of GHG, it cannot allow its economy to grow with the ways that triggers the climate crisis, which affects the country and other vulnerable nations.

“Let us send a message to the world that if a small country like ours could make a big difference, what more can be achieved with economic superpowers doing their share to ensure a low-emission and climate-resilient future,” he pointed out.

“We cannot let humanity live in a world fraught with dangers to life and well-being,” he said.

The CCC official said that bending further the global warming curve to below 1.5°C is a moral imperative as it means saving the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people, upholding the human rights of the poor and the vulnerable, and ensuring the integrity of our ecosystems.

“Through a whole-of-nation approach for our energy policy review, I am confident that government agencies will work together to harmonize policies and regulations in accordance with the low carbon development pathway,” de Guzman said.

“Rest assured that the CCC, with its leadership mandate, will ensure that efforts of government agencies on RE development are integrated and coherent, and that the country remains on track and on time in meeting its targets.” PND (ka)

President Aquino praises young engineers for helping build the country
President Benigno S. Aquino III on Thursday encouraged young engineers who have undergone the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) training program not to lose focus on what they are doing so they could help their countrymen.

The President told graduates of the DPWH’s Cadet Engineering Program (CEP) in Malacañang Palace that it is heartwarming to see the youth take an active role in nation building.

“The point I am really just trying to raise is: It’s really heartwarming to see the youth really taking an active role in building this country and putting their talents to the use of our countrymen,” he said in his speech.

“Dito iyong ipinapakita ninyong pagdamay sa napakarami nating mga kababayan na sigurado naman akong nakatulong na kayo sa pagpapaganda ng buhay nila, e talagang nakakapuno ng puso ko nga na maganda ang patutunguhan ng bansa natin.”

The President said he is glad that today’s youth are shaping the future of the country, building from what the administration has begun.

“So, I’d like to encourage you, ‘ang life will have ups and downs. Importante huwag tayong mawalan ng focus — Bakit ba natin ginagawa ang ginagawa natin?” he said, adding that everyone should become a “man for others”.

He expressed hope that the young professionals would not lose vision, pointing out that even if they do not immediately reap the benefits of their efforts, their hard work will not go unrewarded.

Presented during the event were the graduates of the second batch of the CEP and candidates for graduation belonging to the third batch of the CEP.

Implemented in 2013, the CEP is part of the DPWH’s anti-corruption program and investment in human resources development, held in partnership with the First Pacific Leadership Academy. The program aims to set new entry standards for civil engineers in the bureaucracy.

A total of 125 young civil engineers were recruited based on their academic backgrounds and performance through interviews and examinations from a pool of applicants nationwide.

Out of 125 cadets, 46 came from the National Capital Region and the remaining 79 came from other parts of the country. About 70 percent of the cadets graduated from state colleges and universities, among them the University of the Philippines, Mindanao State University, Central Mindanao State University, and Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Two batches composed of 81 cadets have completed the program, with the third batch of 44 cadets set to graduate on June 28.

The 26-day program, which consists of six weeks of foundation course and 20 weeks of on-the-job-training, covers technical knowledge, strategic thinking, leadership, public service, and values and professional ethics.

The DPWH also started last year the Young Engineers Recruitment Program, hiring 1,400 registered civil engineers nationwide, aged 30 years and below, and offering them a competitive salary that starts at P30,417.

The program aims to encourage top civil engineering graduates to get employed and start their careers at the DPWH instead of working overseas.

These young civil engineers were deployed to different provinces in the country. PND (as)