Author Archives: Jan Marcel Ragaza

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A Review of Laws on Human Trafficking (Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015 | Written by
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5050241345_902bd2c3f7_zContinued from Part 1 

A structural problem

Legislators and migrant groups are now pushing for a review of the said law and an evaluation of the performance of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking considering that human trafficking remains to be a widespread problem. One particular concern is one raised by a recently-filed resolution calling for an inquiry into how many Filipinos, especially those seeking jobs overseas, end up as drug mules and what government is doing to help those who end up jailed, or worse, on death row abroad.

 

While the government boasts of its supposed breakthroughs in the fight against trafficking (having earned the recognition of being in the ranks of countries “making comparatively strong efforts with limited resource” in the campaign against human trafficking, according to the 2014 edition of the Global Slavery Index), human trafficking is still rampant and operating in record-high levels in the Philippines, Migrante said.

 

Government data show that the number of victims of human trafficking is conservatively pegged at 300,000 to 400,000. “Many of them migrate to work through legal and illegal means but are later coerced into exploitative conditions, drug trade or white slavery,” according to a Stop the Traffic report in 2013.

 

Based on the US state department’s Trafficking in Persons Report released on June 2014, the Philippines remains on Tier 2 classification. The US Department of State place each country into one of three tiers based on their government’s efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking as found in the Victim of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. Tier 2 Countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

 

It is likewise important to note the that Philippines is a signatory to various international statutes and instrumentalities including the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their families and the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, all of which compel our government to address the situation head on.

 

Furthermore, there are also very few convictions under R.A. 9208. During the last decade, the number of convictions under the said law is at a low 182. The government currently has 17anti-trafficking prosecutors in the Department of Justice and 72 prosecutors in regional Department of Justice offices.

 

But beyond legal reforms and convictions, there is a need to reassess and address the structural roots of human trafficking. The growing poverty, unemployment and landlessness in our country exponentially increase the vulnerability of women and children to sex and human trafficking. Because of their dire economic situation, many young women are forced into working as entertainers, or worse, being trafficked for sex slavery for their families to survive

 

“The labor export policy, the government program that systematically and aggressively peddles the cheap labor of our Filipino workers abroad, has become more entrenched and institutionalized, especially under the Aquino administration,” Migrante Partylist said.  “The government’s labor export policy is the worst form of state-sponsored human trafficking of our Filipino workers,” the group said.

human trafficking

Stop the Traffic: Addressing the problem of human trafficking

Tuesday, 12 May 2015 | Written by
human trafficking

 

human traffickingThe tragic, yet still undetermined fate of Mary Jane Veloso brought renewed national attention to the longstanding problem of human trafficking. Veloso was convicted of drug charges in Indonesia and was set to be executed; but a last-minute reprieve was granted by the Indonesian president after he was alerted by migrant groups about the peculiar character of Veloso’s case: that she was a victim of human trafficking.

 

A “country of Mary Janes” is how migrant groups describe the Philippines. The narrative of Mary Jane is only one among the many unfortunate tales of undocumented Filipino workers who were lured into working abroad and face the perils of uncharted territories just to escape the clutches of rural and urban poverty in the country.

 

Data from the government show that from 2010 to 2014, the number of OFWs leaving the country has skyrocket from 2,500 to 6,000 daily. But the greater problem lies in the increasing number of undocumented workers. In the US, for example, the Philippines has among the highest undocumented immigrant populations, according to a fact sheet issued by the White House.

 

RA 9208

At present, the law penalizing human trafficking is Republic Act No. 9208, as amended by R.A. No. 10364 which was enacted pursuant to the Philippines’ commitment to the United Nations Trafficking Protocol. While there were other relevant laws as to trafficking during that time, such as the Revised Penal Code, the Migrant Workers Act, the Mail-Order Bride Act, and the Philippine Passport Act, proponents of the law said these laws do not respond to the issue of recruiting, harboring or transporting persons resulting in prostitution, forced labor, slavery and slavery-like practices. These laws merely addressed one or some elements of trafficking independent of their results or consequence.

human trafficking

In order to constitute the crime of trafficking in persons, the following elements must be present:

  • The act of “recruitment, obtaining, hiring, providing, offering, transportation, transfer, maintaining, harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders;”
  • The means used include “by means of threat, or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person”
  • The purpose of trafficking includes “the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs.”

 

Defenses

Persons charged with the crime usually posit the argument that their victims were engaged in prostitution, that the latter were predisposed to having sex with customers for money and thus, they should be exonerated. However, the Supreme Court has said that this argument is irrelevant. The victim’s consent is rendered meaningless because of the coercive, abusive or deceptive means used by the perpetrators of human trafficking.

 

Usually, human traffickers are caught through entrapment operations conducted by policemen, in coordination with anti-trafficking groups such as the International Justice Mission. Thus, those accused usually argue that the police should first conduct a prior surveillance before the entrapment operation. It has been resolved, however, in several cases, that prior surveillance is not a condition for the validity of an entrapment operation, underscoring the value of flexibility in police operations. The only limitation is that the rights of the accused must not be violated in the process. This flexibility is even more important in trafficking cases, since the urgency of rescuing the victims require immediate action on the part of the law enforcers.

 

Anent this contention, a distinction between entrapment and instigation must first be had. Entrapment is when law officers employ ruses and schemes to ensure the apprehension of the criminal during the actual commission of the crime. In entrapment, the idea and the resolve to commit the crime comes from the criminal himself. In instigation, wherein the accused is induced to commit the crime, the law officer conceives the commission of the crime and suggests to the accused who adopts the idea and carries it into execution. Thus, it is important to determine whether the accused was predisposed to commit the offense as when he or she initiated the transaction.

To be continued.

Images: Human Trafficking by Chris Beckett and IOM from Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Walang puso? The labor woes of GMA 7 employees and talents

Saturday, 9 May 2015 | Written by
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GMA-7-logoAround 200 employees and talents of the regional offices of network giant GMA-7 are set to lose their jobs because of the network’s plan to streamline its operations, reports from local newspapers in the Visayas and Mindanao regions said.

 

According to Cebu Daily News, the mass retrenchments, which are to take effect on the last day of May, will affect workers from Cebu, Bacolod, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Naga and Ilocos regional offices of GMA-7.  The layoff will affect the network’s regional news departments.

 

In a statement, GMA 7 said it is “in the process of undertaking a strategic streamlining of programs and manpower in its provincial stations to ensure business competitiveness. This has resulted in reduction of manpower and targets more efficient operations.” GMA added: “Severance packages are offered by GMA to all affected personnel. GMA Network greatly appreciates the contributions rendered by our Kapuso in the regions and we wish them all the best as they seek new opportunities outside the network.”

 

GMA network head Felipe Gozon, in an Inquirer report, admitted that around 100 of its employees and talents in its regional officers were already laid off. “Yes, we cancelled our morning programs and downgraded some originating stations in the regions to satellite selling stations for efficiency.”

 

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called the mass retrenchments a callous move by GMA-7. “For a network that prides itself as ‘Kapuso,’ the GMA-7 management heartlessly laid off hundreds of employees without sufficient warning. In one swoop last Friday and Saturday, the management put in peril the future of the families of hundreds of its employees and talents many of whom have spent many years of their lives dedicated to the company and the public that they serve,” said Rupert Mangilit, NUJP Secretary General.

 

NUJP likewise claimed that GMA-7 is not on the brink of bankruptcy. “GMA-7 is not in the red. It is not bleeding. It reported a net income of P1.01 billion in 2014 and at least a billion pesos yearly in 2012 and 2013. Based on a compensation filing made by the network, its top five executives received a total of P141.716 million last year. The hundreds of regional employees who will lose their jobs, unfortunately, do not enjoy the same,” the NUJP statement said.

 

In a statement issued by GMA Network’s Corporate Communications, the network said the strategic streamlining program has no connection with the impending talks with business magnate Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corp., who has acquired shares in the Kapuso station. GMA said the strategic streamlining is “geared toward increasing ratings and revenues of all of its regional stations for more efficient operations.” It also said GMA is not closing down any regional station.

 

A pooled editorial by Altermidya, a network of alternative media organizations and practitioners, attributed the mass lay-offs to the profit-oriented nature of big media companies. “The mass retrenchment of reporters, desk editors, cameramen and other media workers by a giant media company such as GMA-7 once again demonstrates how big business regards the media as no more than just another money-making enterprise. GMA-7 chairman Felipe Gozon himself said that the layoffs are meant to increase ratings and revenues. For the dominant, corporate media, human capital is solely for exploitation for profit,” the editorial read.

 

Altermidya added: “In the past few years we have witnessed how big businessmen have bought more and more controlling shares in many of the country’s big media outfits or have established their own. This development has increased the number and intensity of attacks on the rights of many journalists and media workers. The right to form and join unions, the right to a fair salary, and the right to security of tenure, among others, have all been wantonly violated in the name of profit.”

 

The alliance likewise called on members of the press and the media to organize in order to improve their working conditions. “We encourage our colleagues not only in GMA-7 but also in other media organizations to organize themselves to fight for their survival and for the people’s right to relevant information. No appeal to the media moguls’ humanity or reason will work; only organization will. The time has come for the work force of every media organization to establish local unions towards forging a coalition that will eventually develop into an industry-wide national union. The history of the country’s labor movement shows us that collective action is our best weapon against oppression and exploitation.”

 

Under the Philippine Labor Code, employers are allowed to lay-off their employees for causes not attributable to the employee, otherwise known as “authorized causes”, which are anchored on management prerogative. These causes include:

 

(1) installation of labor-saving devices, which concerns the introduction of machinery or automation processes in the work system to improve productivity;

 

(2) redundancy, which happens when there is an overlap of the services rendered by employees than what is required in the business;

 

(3) retrenchment to prevent losses, which involves the preemptive cutting of costs in salaries and wages to avoid perceivable business losses;

 

(4) closure or cessation of business, which refers to the actual shutting down of a business; and

 

(5) the employee’s affliction of a disease, which must be one that is prejudicial to his health and his co-workers, and must be one that is not curable within 6 months even without proper medical treatment.

 

If the basis for termination is any of the first four, the employer is mandated to serve written notice to both the employee and the concerned Regional Office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) at least 30 days before the effectivity of the termination. The termination for an authorized cause must be attended with good faith.  There must also be a fair and reasonable criteria in the selection of employee termination.  In the appropriate cases, separation pay must be paid to the employee at the time of his dismissal from work.

 

Earlier, GMA-7 also came under fire for its talent system, which was perceived as a way to circumvent labor code provisions on the provision of employee benefits and regularization.

Convoy of Hope

Nepal Needs Help: Global Efforts To Help Earthquake Victims

Thursday, 7 May 2015 | Written by
Convoy of Hope
Convoy of Hope

Convoy of Hope

Last April 25, Nepal, the Land of the Great Himalayan Mountain Range, was struck by one of the most destructive earthquakes in history. More than 7,000 were killed and thousands more were injured by the Gorkha earthquake, paralyzing a country populated by more than 26 million people. The earthquake likewise triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 19, making it the deadliest day in the history of the planet’s highest mountain.

 

A government minister from Nepal warned that the death toll is expected to rise, as there are still villages not reached by government aid. One such village is Pauwathok, located 50 miles east of the capital, where villagers say not one government official or soldier has visited them since the massive quake struck more than two weeks ago. Entire villages were wiped out. Hundreds of people are still missing and unaccounted for.

 

The vastness of the tragedy caught the world’s attention and those with helping hands wasted no time to extend assistance to the Nepali people. However, relief operations are facing several hurdles, making aid still inaccessible.

 

According to BBC, two of the biggest problems on the front line of rescue and relief efforts were the lack of doctors and congestion at the Kathmandu airport. Reports state that relief supplies have been piling up at the airport and in warehouses, as Nepalese authorities insist that relief goods be subjected to standard customs inspections. Nepal’s only international airport has also stopped large relief planes from landing as the runway is being damaged by the weight of large aircrafts.

 

The United Nations has urged the Nepalese government to relax import restrictions that hamper the delivery of international humanitarian supplies to earthquake victims. UN’s humanitarian chief, Baroness Valerie Amos, reminded Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala that the latter had signed a 2007 agreement to allow simpler and faster customs clearance for relief aid in the event of a disaster. So far, the Nepalese government has only lifted import taxes on tarpaulins and tents.

 

Celebrities have also expressed their condolences to the families of the disaster victims and rallied their followers to hand the victims. Pop rock artist P!nk asked her followers to donate to UNICEF, while The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus supported Global Giving’s donation drive. Mandy Moore, tweeted: “Thoughts, prayers and love to all affected by the devastating and deadly #NepalEarthqake,” while TV host Ellen DeGeneres also sends her love through social media. Nick and Kevin Jonas of the Jonas Brothers asked their followers to donate to the Convoy of Hope. Before his much talked-about fight with Floyd Mayweather, Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao took time off from his training to make a video expressing his sympathy and support to earthquake victims.

 

Foreign governments are sending financial contributions. The United Kingdom donated £15m, making it the biggest donor so far. The UK aid package would include trauma medics and heavy lifting equipment to help move supplies at the airport, a 30-strong medical team, medical supplies, bandages, a generator and tents, airfield handling equipment to help with moving aid supplies off aircraft, and an agreement to fund humanitarian experts in water, health, and sanitation to help coordinate the relief effort. India, meanwhile, has 13 of its military helicopters scouring the most remote areas of the disaster zone.

 

Red Cross has set up a website wherein a list of people missing and people who have announced that they are alive can be found. Earthquake survivors can post in the website to declare that they are alive, while relatives and acquaintances looking for their loved ones can register names of missing persons.

 

UNICEF, meanwhile, focuses its relief efforts on helping children. “In every emergency, it is children who are most vulnerable. 40% of Nepal’s population are children, so please donate today, and help save children’s lives.” Interested donors may visit this webpage to donate.

 

Save the Children, which has worked in Nepal since 1976 and has extensive programs in the country, aims to reach its goal of raising $10 million, 10 percent of which will be used to help them prepare for the next emergency.

 

Volunteers from Doctors Without Borders are also on the ground, providing emergency assistance in response to the earthquake. As of this time, DWB’s current and projected activities in Nepal are fully funded, and DWBs cannot accept donations restricted only to its response to the Nepal earthquake. “For DWBs, the ability to respond quickly to emergencies is crucial to saving the most lives possible. Unrestricted funds allow us to mobilize resources immediately in responding to urgent crises,” it said.

 

World Vision, meanwhile, has mobilized emergency response staff and supplies, responding to meet the basic and urgent needs of around 100,000 people. Donations to World Vision can help through the following:

  • $20 can provide blankets to five earthquake survivors.
  • $30 can provide water containers to 10 people.
  • $51 can provide three aluminum cook sets to families affected by the earthquake.
  • $100 can provide five hygiene kits to families.
  • $204 can provide 12 plastic tarps for families displaced from their homes to use as emergency shelter.
  • $416 can provide a tent for a family whose home was destroyed or is no longer safe.

 

World Vision is also setting up six Child Friend Spaces to give children a safe place to play and recover.

 

humantrafficking

Escaping the clutches of illegal recruitment

Thursday, 30 April 2015 | Written by
humantrafficking

humantraffickingAfter Indonesian authorities granted the stay of execution to Mary Jane Veloso, the Overseas Filipina Worker convicted of drug trafficking under Indonesian penal laws, the focus is now on the investigation to be conducted by Philippine investigative bodies on Veloso’s alleged illegal recruiter Maria Kristina Sergio. Indonesian authorities admit that Sergio’s surrender to local police and the charges filed against her influenced their decision to spare Veloso’s life from the April 29 execution.

 

The issue of illegal recruitment was not tackled extensively during the proceedings before the Indonesian court. According to the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Veloso’s second appeal for a judicial review, which raises the defense that Veloso was a victim of illegal recruitment and human trafficking, was her best shot at escaping death sentence. The second appeal was dismissed on procedural grounds. Veloso claims that Sergio duped her into transporting the illegal drugs. Here are some legal precepts about illegal recruitment:

 

What is recruitment and placement?

 

Recruitment and placement, according to the Philippine Labor Code, means “any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring or procuring workers, and includes referrals, contract services, promising or advertising for employment, locally or abroad, whether for profit or not.” The Code further provides that “any person or entity which, in any manner, offers or promises for a fee, employment to two or more persons shall be deemed engaged in recruitment and placement.”

 

Is it still considered recruitment and placement even if only one prospective worker is involved?

 

Yes. According to the Supreme Court, any of the above-mentioned acts will constitute recruitment and placement even if only one prospective worker is involved. The proviso in Article 13(b) of the Labor Code merely lays down a rule of evidence that where a fee is collected in consideration of a promise or offer of employment to two or more prospective workers, the individual or entity dealing with them shall be deemed to be engaged in the act of recruitment and placement.

 

Who may engage in recruitment and placement?

According to the Rules Implementing the Labor Code, only public employment offices can engage in recruitment and placement of workers for local or overseas employment. However, the private sector is given the privilege to engage in recruitment and placement, but limited to employment agencies, recruitment entities, shipping or manning agents, and such other persons as may be authorized by the Secretary of Labor and Employment.

 

Dean Salvador Poquiz says the evil sought to be avoided by this rule is the commission of malpractices by fly-by-night or private recruiters against unsuspecting workers who intend to work locally or overseas.

 

What is illegal recruitment?

It is defined as “recruitment activities including the prohibited practices enumerated under Article 34 (of the Labor Code), undertaken by non-licensees or non-holders of authority.”

 

According to the SC, a person is guilty of illegal recruitment when he gives the impression that he has the power to send workers abroad for work such that the latter were convinced to part with their money in order to be so employed.

 

Who is a non-licensee or non-holder of authority?

It means any person, corporation or entity which has not been issued a valid license or authority to engage in recruitment and placement by the Secretary of Labor and Employment, or whose license or authority has been suspended, revoked or cancelled by the POEA or the Secretary of Labor.

 

Is money material to a prosecution of illegal recruitment?

No. The definition of recruitment and placement in the Labor Code includes the phrase “whether for profit or not.” Furthermore, the absence of receipt evidencing payment is not fatal to the prosecution’s case of illegal recruitment as long as it is established through credible evidence that the accused has involved himself in an act of illegal recruitment, the SC said.

 

What are the types of illegal recruitment?

  1. Simple or licensee- committed by a licensee or holder of authority against one or two persons only;
  2. Non-licensee- committed by a person neither a licensee or holder of authority;
  3. Syndicated- committed by a syndicate if carried out by a group of three or more persons in conspiracy or confederation with one another; and
  4. Large-scale or qualified- committed against three or more persons, individually or as a group.

 

What is the penalty for illegal recruitment?

Any person found guilty of illegal recruitment shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than six years and one day but not more than 12 years and a fine of not less than P200,000 nor more than P500,000.

 

If the illegal recruitment constitutes economic sabotage, the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than P500,000 nor more than P1M shall be imposed. The maximum penalty shall be imposed if the person illegally recruited is less than 18 years of age, or if committed by a non-licensee or non-holder of authority.

 

How is illegal recruitment related to drug trafficking?

According to the Phillipine Overseas Employment Administration, illegal recruiters and human traffickers have combined with drug traffickers, and would require their victims to carry or use packages or pieces of luggage not their own. Such victims end up becoming drug couriers or mules. The POEA said workers deployed through this scheme, if they are successful in not being detected carrying illegal drugs, would usually end up either stranded without work in a foreign country, or forced to accept low-paying household jobs or as farm hands in remote plantations or establishments used as fronts for prostitution.

 

POEA further stated that human traffickers as well as drug traffickers can also make their recruits become seasoned drug mules by directing them to repeatedly carry drugs for a considerable amount of money. The amount of money is used as bait for victims to commit the internationally-recognized crime of drug trafficking.

 

How do you avoid illegal recruitment?

 

The POEA issued the following advice:

 

  • Do not apply at recruitment agencies not licensed by POEA.
  • Do not deal with licensed agencies without job orders.
  • Do not deal with any person who is not an authorized representative of a licensed agency.
  • Do not transact business outside the registered address of the agency. If recruitment is conducted in the province, check if the agency has a provincial recruitment authority.
  • Do not pay more than the allowed placement fee. It should be equivalent to one month salary, exclusive of documentation and processing costs.
  • Do not pay any placement fee unless you have a valid employment contract and an official receipt.
  • Do not be enticed by ads or brochures requiring you to reply to a Post Office (P.O.) Box, and to enclose payment for processing of papers.
  • Do not deal with training centers and travel agencies, which promise overseas employment.
  • Do not accept a tourist visa.
  • Do not deal with fixers.

 

 

smbaguiotrees

Who killed Baguio’s pine trees?

Sunday, 22 February 2015 | Written by
smbaguiotrees

smbaguiotreesThe killing of Baguio’s sixty trees last month was nothing short of treacherous. It happened when the nation was busy attending to the Pope, who was then visiting the Philippines. Forty other trees had earlier been cut in 2012 to pave the way for the expansion of the much-criticized SM Baguio.

The tragedy is that the massacre happened with judicial leave. Last December 2014, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court dismissing two environmental cases filed against SM, the mastermind behind the controversial expansion project, and local city officials who sanctioned the same.

Legal issues

The main issue as deliberated upon by the RTC was whether the cutting and earthballing of the 182 pine trees would cause irreparable damage and detrimental effects to Baguio and the environment.  Plaintiffs therein presented as its key witness Dr. Michael Benwayan, who testified that: (a) the removal of the 182 trees will be destructive to the environment and the ecosystem as trees provide potential help to the environmental, in terms of being a carbon sink; (b) the removal of the trees will result in the loss of the potential increase in ground water level and the potential contribution of the trees in oxygen production; (c) earth-balling the trees will be worse than cutting them, it will not only kill the trees but it will also cause topsoil erosion, which will result in water run-off and flooding.

The RTC, however, did not give much weight on such testimony since the same was supposedly not based on Benwayan’s personal knowledge but on mere predictions. The lower court said his testimony “appears to be mere conclusions of fact devoid of any scientific basis or proper attribution and consequently failed to prove, by the quantum of evidence required, that the cutting and earthballing of the 182 trees at Luneta Hill will cause detrimental effects.”

Instead, it gave credence to respondents’ witnesses, who, while admitting that there will indeed be a reduction in the trees’ beneficial contribution to the environment, if removed, qualified that it is not substantial and that the removal of the trees will not in fact create any irreparable injury to the environment. Respondents claimed that no hazardous effect on the health of the people of Baguio will happen if the subject trees are taken out of the particular area. They said the removal will be compensated by a green building that will be constructed; the 2,000 trees already planted in the nearby Busol Watershed and some 30,000 more trees that will be planted within the next three years.

As to the issuance of required permits from local city and environmental officials, which were assailed by the plaintiffs as invalid, the courts found nothing irregular about said issuance and argued that there is a presumption of regularity in the performance of such functions and such presumption was not overturned by the plaintiffs.

Condemnation

Various groups and residents of Baguio expressed dismay and condemnation over the massacre of the Baguio trees. An editorial published by the Baguio Chronicle described the reaction of Baguio residents in this wise: “Baguio residents were predictably shocked, even if we indeed saw it coming in our nightmares. Wasn’t it just a night ago when the whole world saw the Sy Family at their own Mall of Asia while Pope Francis was officiating a mass there? Wasn’t it here when he said, “Don’t lose the capacity to dream”? So why are we waking up to a nightmare?”

The Tongtongan ti Umili – Cordillera Peoples Alliance (TTU-CPA) criticized the CA favoring SM City Baguio’s expansion project.  TTU-CPA pointed out that the issue at hand is not simply about what is legal. “We need to go back to the principal issue in this case. Who will truly benefit from the project? This is, first and foremost, a project for profit and not for the welfare of the Baguio citizens — a clear manifestation of corporate greed,” the group said. The group also stated that the expansion of the giant mall is detrimental not only to the environment but to local businesses and indigenous products as well.

Environmental groups and activists launched various protest actions to condemn the cutting of the trees. An inter-faith walk called Jericho 2015 was held last February 3, 2015 denouncing the uprooting of the trees. The event was attended by filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik. The “The Baguio We Want” people’s summit last February 25, discussed environmental issues plaguing the city. The summit will issue a unity statement. A group has also launched a campaign urging Filipinos to boycott all SM malls dubbed “Wala Ako Sa SM Sa Linggo.” The campaign was initiated by Boycott SM Baguio.

Meanwhile, a video posted on the Facebook group BOYCOTT SM Baguio by netizen Jonathan Carino, who said: “Earth works for the expansion of SM City Baguio on-going. Our pleas for a halt to the over-development of Baguio fell on deaf ears. I guess corporate greed is insatiable. Excavation permit and building permit were approved by local officials. At what price? “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot…”

snowfall-15980_1280

Tales of a bone-chilling snowstorm

Tuesday, 17 February 2015 | Written by
snowfall-15980_1280

snow-245285_1280George R.R. Martin perfectly described the longest winter in Westeros as the the “night that seemed to last for a generation.” It was a winter that lasted for years. Such an occurrence would, of course, never happen in real life. But the people of the northeastern part of the United States are currently experiencing a taste of what it felt like for the Westerosi during the Long Night. This season of snowstorms in northeastern US has become the longest winter in many decades, and it has shown no signs of stopping.

 

As of February 13, 2015, three major storms have hit the New England this season, leaving six feet or more of snow in many areas. New Englanders, however, are bracing for another one after the National Weather Service of the US issued a blizzard warning anew.

 

Reports state that massive snow piles have clogged the streets. Roof infrastructures have collapsed due to the amount of snow. “Snow days” have been declared in many schools ahead of the impending school vacation period. Many families have decided to move to warmer destinations. Several roads have also been rerouted. Rail, bus and ferry services have been suspended, causing a series of disruptions for the area’s public transit network. Motorists have been advised to stay off roads. Authorities have even contemplated of issuing a travel ban. A parking ban is Boston is now in effect.

 

According to a report by Al Jazeera, the current storm originated as a fast moving depression over central Canada known as the “Alberta Clipper”, a storm system during the winter months which originates from the Canadian Province of Alberta. The storm heads across New Jersey and then northeastwards into the Atlantic, bringing forth a strong northeasterly wind and blizzard conditions.

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What is a snowstorm?

WeatherExplained.com explains that snow storms or winter storms are “generated as are many of the thunderstorms of summer, from disturbances along the boundary between cold polar and warm tropical air masses—the fronts where air masses of different temperatures and densities wage their perpetual war of instability and equilibrium.” These disturbances may lead to intense low-pressure systems, churning over tens of thousands of square miles in a great counter-clockwise sweep.

There are three key factors in order for these disturbances to become winter storms: (1) cold air (below-freezing temperatures facilitate the production of snow and ice); (2) moisture (which forms clouds and precipitation); and lift (which raises the moist air to form clouds, precipitation, and fronts). The weather almanac website further explains that because they form over water, these storms are difficult to forecast, and occasionally surprise the Atlantic region with paralyzing snows.

Since 1936, snowstorms have caused, directly and indirectly, about 200 deaths a year. Of such deaths, usually 70% are attributed to snowstorm-related automobile and other accidents; about 25% are caused by overexertion, exhaustion, and consequent fatal heart attack resulting from shoveling snow, pushing cars, and other snow-related physical labor. The remaining number, about 5 percent, are deaths due to home fires, carbon monoxide poisoning in stalled cars, electrocution from downed wires, and building collapse.

Snowstorms are named and recalled by the date of their occurrence. The current snowstorm in the US is called the Valentine’s Day storm of 2014. Other notable snow storms include the Ash Wednesday storm of March 1962 and the St. Patrick’s Day snowstorm of 2015. Weather channels, however, use names like Linus, Nemo or Neptune, the Pressofatlanticcity.com reports.

According to Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boston’s snow winter could point to weather patterns affected by global warming.

“The environment in which all storms form is now different than it was just 30 or 40 years ago because of global warming,” he said, warning that in the future, due to climate change, snowfalls will increase because the atmosphere can hold 4% more moisture for every 1-degree increase in temperature. 

Snowstorm preparedness

Snowstorms may not occur in the Philippines, but for those with relatives in the United States or those planning to go to snowstorm-affected areas, here are some tips by the American Red Cross on how to prepare for a winter storm:

  • Winter-proof your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Insulate homes by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
  • If you’re going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

A supply kit is also a must-have. It may contain the following items:

  • Water—at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day
  • Food—at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
  • Multi-purpose tools
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and important medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home
  • Sand, rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery
  • Warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, boots and extra blankets and warm clothing for all household members
  • Ample alternate heating methods such as fireplaces or wood- or coal-burning stoves 

Things to do during a winterstorm

During the winterstorm, here are some tips to remain safe:

  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information on snow storms and blizzards from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice or other obstacles.
  • Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.
  • Avoid driving when conditions include sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow or dense fog. If travel is necessary, keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle.
  • Before tackling strenuous tasks in cold temperatures, consider your physical condition, the weather factors and the nature of the task.
  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Stay indoors, if possible.
  • Help people who require special assistance such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.
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10 Outdated Crimes in the Philippines

Thursday, 12 February 2015 | Written by
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3005084472_ec4c39cdf1_zThe Revised Penal Code (RPC), the body of laws providing for most crimes for which a person may be deprived of his life (although at present, the Death Sentence Law is suspended), liberty and property, is one of the antiquated laws Filipinos still have to deal with today. The RPC was enacted in 1930, which makes it older than the Constitution itself and other codes such as the Civil Code and the Family Code.

As expected, there are numerous provisions in the RPC which do not seem to be in agreement or are contrary to political, economic and societal realities of the modern day era. The archaic law, thus, is now being revised. A Criminal Code Committee was set up to study, assess, and consolidate a simple, updated and modern criminal law.

Here are some of the RPC provisions which need serious revision or if not be totally scrapped under the proposed Code:

  1. A prostitute is a criminal

Women, who, for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, could be imprisoned from one to 30 days or be punished by a fine not exceeding 200 pesos.

  1. Stealing coconuts is dealt with more severely than stealing other objects

Any person who, with intent to gain, but without violence against or intimidation of persons nor force upon things, shall take the coconuts of another without the latter’s consent makes the crime a qualified theft. This means that the penalty to be imposed becomes higher by two degrees (Translation: longer jail time).

  1. Speaking against the government can send you to prison

Any person who shall utter “seditious” words or speeches, or write supposedly libelous articles against the government could send one to prison for a period of six months and one day to six years.

  1. Libel is still a criminal offense

Libel is defined under the RPC as the public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical (ex. Corporations) person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Uttering libelous statements can send you to jail for a period depending on the means through which you communicated the supposedly libelous statement.

  1. Challenging a person to a duel makes you a criminal offender

Any person who shall challenge another, or incite another to give or accept a challenge to a duel, or shall scoff at or decry another publicly for having refused to accept a challenge to fight a duel makes him criminally liable and may be imprisoned from six months and one day to six years.

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  1. Remarrying within 301 days after the death of your husband is illegal

Widows who shall marry within 301 days from the death of her husband, or before having delivered if she shall have been pregnant at the time of his death, shall be punished by imprisonment from one month and one day to six months plus a fine. The same penalties are also imposed upon any woman whose marriage shall have been annulled or dissolved, if she shall marry before her delivery or before the expiration of the period of 301 days after the legal separation.

  1. To annoy is to commit a crime

The RPC provides for a crime called Unjust Vexation. Specifically, the provision states that: “Any other coercions or unjust vexations shall be punished by arresto menor or a fine ranging from 5 pesos to 200 pesos, or both.” The provision refers to grave coercions (which means preventing through violence another from doing something not prohibited by law or compelling him to do something against his will, right or wrong) and light coercions (which means seizing anything through violence anything belonging to his debtor for the purpose of applying the same to the payment of the debt). The provision, thus suffers from congenital defects since the law does not specify the particular acts or omissions punished.

  1. Making scandalous noises can send you to prison

Under the RPC, the following persons are to be penalized by imprisonment from one day to one month or a fine: (1) Any person who within any town or public place, shall discharge any firearm, rocket, firecracker, or other explosives calculated to cause alarm or danger; (2) Any person who shall instigate or take an active part in any charivari or other disorderly meeting offensive to another or prejudicial to public tranquility; (3) Any person who, while wandering about at night or while engaged in any other nocturnal amusements, shall disturb the public peace; or (4) Any person who, while intoxicated or otherwise, shall cause any disturbance or scandal in public places.

  1. Smoking pot is still illegal

This one’s highly debatable, but many foreign jurisdictions have legalized the use of marijuana mainly for medicinal purposes. Under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, the penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from 500 thousand to 10 million shall be imposed upon any person who shall possess 10 grams or more of marijuana resin or marijuana resin oil or 500 grams or more of marijuana. A lighter penalty is imposed if the quantity involved is lesser than the said amount.

10. Inducing a child to be a circus performer is exploitation

This act constitutes exploitation of minors. The provision is absurd in that the concept of child exploitation can be committed only by the following persons: (1)  Any person who shall cause any boy or girl under sixteen years of age to perform any dangerous feat of balancing, physical strength, or contortion, (2) Any person who, being an acrobat, gymnast, rope-walker, diver, wild-animal tamer or circus manager or engaged in a similar calling, shall employ in exhibitions of these kinds children under sixteen years of age who are not his children or descendants, (3) Any persons engaged in any of the callings enumerated in the next paragraph preceding who shall employ any descendant of his under twelve years of age in such dangerous exhibitions, or (4) Any ascendant, guardian, teacher or person entrusted in any capacity with the care of a child under sixteen years of age, who shall deliver such child gratuitously to any person following any of the callings enumerated in number two.

Images: Jail by Richard Parker and Manila City Jail by John Tewell from Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

 

bangsamoro people

Prospects of just and lasting peace under the Bangsamoro political entity

Tuesday, 24 June 2014 | Written by
bangsamoro people

bangsamoro mapSpoilers of peace. For Malacanang and those caught in the euphoria of the recently concluded peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a person or group, secessionist or not, who, at the very least raised an eyebrow over the result of the peace process is already a botcher, a pessimist, a spoiler of prospective peace.

Earlier this year, the annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro were signed, signaling the culmination of the peace negotiations between the government and the armed Moro rebels. The FAB outlines the structure and powers of the Bangsamoro political entity which would replace the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The Bangsamoro Basic Law that would formalize the creation of the new political entity is also under way, with the government assuring that the said law will be enacted by yearend.

For ordinary Filipinos, especially those in Mindanao, an initiative towards peace is certainly most welcome. The decades-long Moro struggle has claimed a lot of lives and kept the economy of Muslim Mindanao backward. The ARMM is not only known as a domain of bloodshed and violence, it is also the most impoverished. Between the status quo and a peace proposal wrapped in gold, a people distressed by armed conflict and poverty would quickly choose the latter without batting an eyelash, even if a bold agreement such as FAB merits major inquiry, if not criticism.

bangsamoro people

On the part of the Aquino administration, it would be quick to defend the peace agreement signed with the MILF, and dismiss criticisms against the same for after all, it has a lot to lose or gain, depending on the outcome of the creation of the Bangsamoro.

Even if Muslim Mindanao has yet to feel the tangible and concrete results of many years of peace talks and the eventual creation of the Bangsamoro region, the Aquino administration is already claiming the agreements signed with the former Muslim rebels as one of the current government’s greatest achievements. Should the Bangsamoro succeed, it would be another feather in Aquino’s cap, assuming it is one already decorated, and surely, he would want to be cited in history books as the President who brought genuine peace to Mindanao.

The result of the peace process could also either spell doom or salvation for the future of Aquino and his allies’ stronghold over the southern part of the country. In a way, in light of the criticisms hurled at the Bangsamoro agreements as maintaining the control of the local elites over the region, Aquino and his colleagues at the Liberal Party could either win or lose a major political player and a strong mass base in Mindanao, depending again, on whether the government would be sincere in its commitments and refrain from further diluting the substance of the agreements as they pass through the scrutiny of the Aquino-influenced legislature.

These are just some gains contemplated by the Aquino government, and it has shown persistence in pushing for the Bangsamoro even at the risk of being accused with tinkering with the Constitution and laws, even courting criticism from conservatives who have been supportive of the present administration.

Indeed, legal issues on the validity of the creation of the Bangsamoro region abound. Legal pundits have raised the issue that the executive agreements with the MILF diminish the powers of the central government, as the reserved powers of the government would have to be distinguished from the exclusive powers from the Bangsamoro political entity, thereby violating the supremacy of the constitution. The provision in the 1987 Constitution as regards the ARMM will also have to be violated should the Bangsamoro be created without the need of a constitutional amendment, which is the current position of those who brokered the peace deal. The exclusive jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro political entity over the natural resources is also being questioned since the supreme law provides that these shall belong to the Philippine state.

But amidst the fanfare and beyond the legal issues, the FAB, the BBL and any other agreement entered into by the government to pursue peace should not be treated as a bitter pill to swallow. It should be scrutinized whether it really deviates from past agreements that the government made with the Moro liberation armies, agreements that did not free the Moro population from poverty and prejudice.

Columnist and activist Carol Araullo observes that MILF appears to be looking only to achieve a broader autonomy to that given to the MNLF through the ARMM. The existing five province autonomous region is to be replaced by a more powerful, better-funded and potentially larger region but the same is already the aim of Republic Act 9054 passed during the Arroyo presidency. The said law, she notes, only further entrenched powerful political clans in the region such as the Ampatuans, while poverty and underdevelopment even persisted and worsened.

Meanwhile, according to the Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA), the Bangsamoro political entity being envisioned by the government falls short of providing a framework and program for comprehensive socio-economic and political reforms that can address the root causes of the Bangsamoro problem. At best, the MCPA said, the CAB narrowly improves on what the MNLF had gained “While the CAB concedes an expanded territory and increased share of revenues from taxes and income from the exploitation of natural resources to the “Bangsamoro” (compared to the current ARMM), this promises the Moro people a palliative economic arrangement wherein only the ruling elite in Moro society will get the lion’s share while excluding the poor, exploited and oppressed Moro masses,” the group said.

According to MCPA, the peace deal pushes the “Bangsamoro” under the same flawed socio-economic program of the central government, a foreign investments- impoverished Moro people. While Moro peasants continue to suffer landlessness, poverty and backwardness, the peace deal is ushering in the unhampered entry of foreign multinational companies to plunder (“invest in”) the vast untapped natural resources of Muslim Mindanao, dependent economy that dangles only the possibility of benefits “trickling down” to, MCPA said.

“For the Bangsamoro people, peace is not only the absence of war and conflict. Peace is when the Bangsamoro people have truly benefited from the implementation of a comprehensive social and economic reform that addresses the root cause of the Bangsamoro problem,” the Katribu Partylist said. Unfortunately, those things are not in the CAB peace deal, Katribu said.

globesmartsun

Mobile subscribers deserve a refund for excessive SMS rates

Sunday, 15 June 2014 | Written by
globesmartsun

globesmartsun

The mobile phone is arguably one of the most important possessions of every Filipino in this day and age. This is largely due to the observation that ‘texting’ or the short messaging system (SMS) feature of mobile phones has become one of the primary means of communication for the average Filipino, who uses it to communicate with his loved ones, co-workers, and just about anybody he wants to stay connected with.

Many ascribe the texting phenomena to SMS being purportedly one of the cheapest modes of communication as every text message is charged only P1 by the network providers. But are the current rates of sending SMS really reasonable and cheap?

Apparently not. For the longest time, the country’s largest telecommunication networks have been erroneously charging millions of Filipino mobile users for text messages and have been reaping millions of unjustified profits on a daily basis.

In 2011, the National Telecommunications Commission, the government agency tasked with regulating telecommunications operators in the country, directing network providers to cut their SMS rates by 20 centavos, or from P1 to P0.80.

The NTC said this was warranted by the fact that telcos have for so long wrongfully pegged the SMS interconnection rate, or the cost they incur in sending a text message to another network provider, at P0.35. The NTC said this should be reduced to only P0.15.

Expectedly, the companies who benefited from the boom in the telecommunications industry during the past decade (due mainly to the massive use of SMS by Filipinos) disagreed with the said order, as this would mean a slash in their profits. The largest network providers, Globe, and Smart and Digitel, moved to declare the said NTC order null and void, filing a motion for reconsideration before the agency in 2012. Since then, the telcos have not been complying with the said NTC order, allowing them to charge millions of cellphone users excessive rates.

Globe is owned by the Ayala Corporation, while Smart and Digitel are subsidiaries of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company. PLDT controls about 70 percent of the cellular market, while the remainder is held by Globe. As of March 2014, there are 25.9 million Smart Subscribers, 25.9 million Talk ‘n Text users, and 15.1 million Sun users. Globe subscribers, meanwhile, reached 38.1 million as of last year.

Sadly, it was only after almost two years or last May 2014 that the NTC issued its final word on the matter. It dismissed the motions filed by the telcos, reiterating their 2011 order to cut SMS rates, and ordered the telcos to reimburse their subscribers an estimated P7 billion in excess charge for the past two years.

In arriving at the said refund amount, the NTC said that about 10% or 200 million of the 2 billion text messages sent by subscribers of Smart, Sun and Globe are charged the regular rate of P1 per text. Twenty percent or 40 million of these 200 million text messages are “off-net” or sent from one network to another. Thus, the companies would have to refund P0.20 per text message or P8 million per day since the NTC issued the 2011 memorandum, or a total of 880 days. The NTC ordered the refund because the savings to be incurred from the reduced charges must be passed on to the subscribers and not add to the telcos’ coffers.

Apart from the refund, the telcos are ordered to pay a daily fine of P200 starting December 1, 2011, or the effectivity date of the 2011 NTC order. Progressive party-list organization Bayan Muna asserted that PLDT and Globe should pay a “legal interest” of at least P438 million to the subscribers on top of the refund. Bayan Muna said the fine must be imposed in order to teach the telcos a lesson not to unjustly overcharge subscrbers to increase their already super-profits.

But can the millions of Globe, Smart, Talk ‘N Text and Sun subscribers expect a refund anytime soon?

Unfortunately, according to the NTC, subscribers would have to wait much longer before any money would be returned as the telcos have already brought the matter . Globe and Smart have filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals, and should they still get an unfavorable judgment from the appellate court, the matter would be raised to the Supreme Court.

According to Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, however, the NTC can already enforce the decision because it has become final and executory and the court has not issued a temporary restraining order. The NTC, however, is of the legal opinion that the filing of the appeal itself was enough to halt the implementation of the order.

Most likely, the contentious legal issue that would be deliberated upon by the court is whether the NTC could dictate the price of text messaging, which according to law and current government policy, is a deregulated service.

The telcos have argued before that in accordance with the Public Telecommunication Act of 1995, the power of the NTC to fix rates is only residual in nature and may be exercised only when “stiff competition becomes detrimental to companies, or when a monopoly or cartel that muffles the competition is in place and when tarrifs are so distorted and having an adverse effect on the public. The law clearly abides by the highly-criticized deregulation policy of the government, which, some economists have blamed for the high prices of basic services.

It bears emphasizing however, that the same law directs the NTC to “provide the most extensive access to basic telecommunications services available at affordable rates to the public.”

Meanwhile, TxtPower and Computer Professionals Union have created a refund tracker to inform phone users of the current financial obligations of mobile operators. The refund trackers show per second charges on the refund amount and shows the equivalent load credits that telcos should return, if all of the 2013 subscribers are refunded.

Congress should also look into various legislations proposed before the House of Representatives seeking to strengthen and broaden the NTC’s regulatory powers. An example is House Bill 4380 filed by Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon. According to the youth solon, “Even as existing executive orders and regulations empower the NTC to regulate mobile service rates, the said commission still needs essential legislation to further empower it to impose sanctions against telecommunications companies that do not adhere to the commission’s regulations.”

“Telecommunications companies have for so long acted like all-powerful bullies that disregard the NTC, to the grave disadvantage of consumers. It’s time for Congress to grip the reins tighter and ensure that essential mobile phone services become affordable for every Filipino,” Ridon said.

 

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