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Nationwide round-up (01/14/21)

Anti-graft court dismisses pork barrel case vs Honasan

THE Sandiganbayan has dismissed the graft charges against Department of Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II over the alleged anomalous use of pork barrel funds when he was senator. In a 52 page decision released on Thursday, the anti-graft court’s 2nd Division said evidence presented against Mr. Honasan and other respondents was weak. The senator filed a demurrer to evidence, or a motion to dismiss the case based on insufficient evidence. “The evidence of the prosecution failed to sufficiently establish the essential elements of the crime charged and to overcome the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused. Accordingly, the cases against the accused are hereby dismissed,” the Sandiganbayan said. Mr. Honasan was allegedly involved in the misuse of nearly P30 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also referred to as pork barrel, in 2012 when he was a senator. The PDAF for lawmakers was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013. — Gillian M. Cortez

Task force on corruption gets 144 complaints so far

THE Task Force Against Corruption formed last October by President Rodrigo R. Duterte has received 144 complaints as of Jan. 11, mostly involving alleged anomalies in public works projects in the provinces. Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said 60 of the complaints had been evaluated and they submitted a progress report to Mr. Duterte on Dec. 28. Mr. Guevarra said they are investigating the alleged corruption in the following: First District Engineering Office in Northern Samar; ghost deliveries of rice and fuel in Capalonga, Camariñes Norte; procurement of heavy equipment and illegal disbursement of funds in Cateel, Davao Oriental; and irregular bidding, bribery, and extortion at the Third District Engineering Office in Cagayan. The task force’s operations center is also evaluating complaints pertaining to the alleged anomalous construction of two bridges in the same location in General Santos City. Mr. Guevarra said they are not at the stage yet of recommending prosecution of those involved. “Fact-finding pa lang (still) and verification of the allegations in the complaints. Some of them may be politically motivated,” he told reporters via Viber. The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission also intends to turn over to the task force its probe on corruption in public works projects “where certain members of the House of Representatives were implicated, for further investigation and case build-up,” he said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Senators tell off congressman over ‘Con-Ass’ claim

ATTEMPTS to convene the constituent assembly (Con-Ass) in the House of Representatives to amend the 1987 Constitution ahead of Congress’ session resumptions set a “dangerous precedent,” a senator said on Thursday. AKO BICOL Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr., who chairs the House constitutional amendments committee, said that the panel is already sitting as a Con-Ass during Wednesday’s hearing on proposed charter amendments. “I suspect that Cong. Garbin is laying the basis to claim that the House alone, even without any senator participating, can propose amendments to the Constitution,” Senator Franklin M. Drilon said in a statement on Thursday. “Such claim is totally baseless, but a dangerous precedent.” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri on Wednesday said the House cannot convene the assembly, considering Congress is in recess. Sessions will resume on Monday after a month-long break. Mr. Drilon explained lawmakers may introduce amendments to the Constitution through Con-Ass, which may be convened through a resolution. “Absent that resolution of both Houses, the proceedings in the House Committee cannot assume the functions and powers of a constituent assembly,” he said. Separate resolutions converting the House and the Senate as a Con-Ass have been filed in Congress. Meanwhile, majority bloc and independent leaders at the House of Representatives on Thursday expressed support for the proposed economic changes in the Constitution. The supporting solons signed a manifesto backing resolutions that will add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the provision relating to foreign investor restrictions. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez

Senate committee endorses treaty vs nuclear weapons

THE Senate committee on foreign relations on Thursday moved to endorse the Philippines’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) for the Senate’s concurrence. The treaty, signed in Sept. 2017, prohibits the country’s participation in any nuclear activity, including developing, testing, producing, buying or using nuclear weapons. Should the Senate concur, the Philippines may be the 52nd or 53rd country to ratify the treaty. The treaty goes into force after ratification by at least 50 countries. “In these uncertain times… it is comforting to know that the TPNW is now a binding instrument that could protect the human race, other living things, more so our environment,” Senator Aquilino L. Pimentel III said in his opening statement during Thursday’s hearing. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is in the best interest of the Philippines to join states that ratified the treaty amid regional and international tensions involving nuclear weapon states. “The Philippines has much to gain from becoming a party to the TPNW, particularly provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Igor G. Bailen told the panel. Aside from the TPNW, the Philippines is also a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Measure to protect students’ mental health filed

A BILL that will protect the mental health of students during the period of remote learning amid a coronavirus pandemic has been filed in the House of Representatives. Bukidnon Rep. Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba, in a hearing by the House committee on basic education and culture on Thursday, sponsored House Bill 7961, which will give  “scholastic leniency” to primary and secondary level students affected by the crisis. The measure proposes that students this year be given an automatic passing mark for the academic year 2020-2021. “Because learning modes are in the new normal, our students are stressed and affected with the new normal context of learning so we propose to give them a passing mark for this one school year as long as the students have actively participated in the class activities… and complied with all the requirements and exercises,” she said. She added that students who fail to meet the minimum requirements be provided remedial sessions. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

JBC opens application for top Supreme Court post

THE Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) has opened the application for the Supreme Court’s top post, which will be vacated by Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta who will go on early retirement effective March 27. The JBC announced that the deadline for submissions is Feb. 15. The application process will be done online through the council’s website. Mr. Peralta replaced retired chief Lucas P. Bersamin on October 23, 2019. He was appointed to the high court by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as associate justice on Jan. 13, 2009. He is supposed to retire on March 27, 2022, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. The JBC is mandated to recommend to the President appointees to the judiciary. The five most senior justices are automatically nominated for the post. These are Associate Justices Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, Mario Victor F. Leonen, Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, Alexander G. Gesmundo, and Ramon Paul L. Hernando. The JBC also opened the application for deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao to replace Ombudsman Rodolfo M. Elman whose term will end on March 13. The deadline is on March 1. — Gillian M. Cortez

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