Thursday, July 14, 2011

Multipurpose ID system available by end-July

MANILA, Philippines - The Social Security System (SSS) will launch a unified multipurpose identification system by the end of the month.

The new ID can also be used for Government Service Insurance System, Philhealth and Pag-ibig purposes.

SSS president Emilio de Quiros was quick to clarify that the new ID is not a national ID as only members of the four government agencies are covered. He said other agencies like LTO or NBI may eventually be included in the unified ID.

He said those who will be given the new ID are new applicants and those who have earlier applied but were not yet issued SSS IDs. Those with existing IDs need not yet apply for the unified ID as the current one will still work. If a member wants to get the new ID even if he or she has the current one, a payment of P300 will be required.

The new card, a sample of which was shown to ABS-CBN, contains a microchip and magnetic strip. These security features will enable SSS in the future to use the card for the disbursement of loans or benefits of members, serving as some sort of an ATM for members.

SSS is spending P260 per card for 29 million members of the pension fund. Some 600,000 cards will be initially released for those who had earlier applied and around 120,000 for recent applicants.

New members have welcomed the new ID, but one member who has been trying to claim her ID for nearly 2 years now said the process of releasing the new ID must be hastened. According to her, while the new ID is remarkable, it will be worthless if not released on time.

Customs files raps vs own senior staff

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs (BOC) filed on Thursday criminal charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against two of its senior officials for allegedly fraudulently approving the refund of duties and value added taxes (VAT) and the issuance of Tax Credit Certificates in favor of an oil importing company that "defrauded government some P99-million."

In a news conference, Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez bared that lawyers Reynalo Nicolas, former Deputy Commissioner for Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group, and Elvira Cruz, former officer-in-charge and now collector of the Sub-Port of Mariveles are charged for enabling petroleum products importer Cross Country to secure millions in refund of duties and taxes.

"Nicolas and Cruz are accused of usurpation of authority for acting favorably on false claims that enabled petroleum products importer Cross Country to secure a P99.4-million refund of duties and taxes it paid on its oil shipments covered by import entry number C-100-09, C-101-09 and C-102-09," Alvarez said.

Said shipments cover the period September 2009 to September 2010.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SUV registered under Butuan bishop's name

MANILA, Philippines - A 2009 silver Mitsubishi Montero Sport parked at the bishop's palace in Butuan has been spotted by an ABS-CBN News team.

Based on the records of the Land Transportation Office, the vehicle was purchased in September 2009 and was registered under the name of Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos.

The purchase was sealed 2 months after the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) released P1.7 million that was deposited in BPI Butuan.

Lawyer Alim Pangandaman, director of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) in the Caraga region, said his office verified the information.

However, pro-life groups and other lay leaders said there is nothing illegal about the PCSO donating luxury vehicles to bishops, even if these are registered under their names.

Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the donations are made "in the service of the church."

A group is now collecting more than P8 million to be donated to the CBCP.

The amount is the cost of the 7 vehicles purchased through PCSO funds. They are leaving it up to the CBCP whether to use the money to pay the PCSO or buy replacement vehicles.

PCSO chairperson Margie Juico, meanwhile, cleared the bishops of any wrongdoing.

At a mass tuesday at the PCSO, Juico said there was no malice in the bishops' request.

She also praised the CBCP for apologizing to the public.

Juico said they consider the church as a partner in public service.

For Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, meanwhile, there is no excuse for the the actions of his colleagues.

"Kulang kasi sa delikadeza, sorry to say, mali ang mga kapatid kong mga obispo," he said. "Ang tubig pag may kaunting dumi, marumi pa rin."

Cruz considers the controversy a blessing in disguise, which agents of the church like him can reflect on.

The cbcp is leaving it up to the bishops concerned whether to return the vehicles.

Their decisions may be known during the continuation of the Senate hearing into the PCSO fund mess on Wednesday.

Massacre victims’ kin seek audience with PNoy

MANILA, Philippines - The families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre is requesting an audience with President Benigno Aquino III amid rumors he is talking to the camp of suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan regarding the latter’s offer to become state witness.

In a letter, the families said, “the greatest fear of the heirs of the victims, as well as state witnesses, whose families were subjected to death and threats are very much afraid of what the government is allegedly doing to grant [him] request as state witness.”

The families, through a letter request from lawyer Nena Santos, said the granting of Ampatuan’s supposed request “will destroy the massacre cases as we have already started the trial of 89 accused, including Andal Jr. and Andal Sr.”

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, lawyer Redemberto Villanueva clarified his client has no intentions of being discharged as a state witness to the notorious case, but is only seeking security via the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP).

However, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Ampatuan's statement is "insufficient right now," but it is still being studied and assessed in connection with the evidence he can offer.

The kin of the victims raised their contentions following news that Ampatuan has turned his back against his family. They questioned Ampatuan’s motives.

“Please allow us, including the private prosecutors who worked since day one to explain and express our dissent in accepting Zaldy as state witness,” the families said.

Zaldy tags Arroyos to poll fraud for Zubiri

Mike Arroyo's lawyer denies allegations

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan is also cutting his ties to his boss, former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

After linking his brother and father to the Maguindanao massacre, Ampatuan said Arroyo and her husband Mike were responsible for the poll fraud in Maguindanao in 2007 that allowed now Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri to snatch the last Senate post.

He said he is willing to testify and put closure to the case.

In an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN’s Anthony Taberna inside his prison cell, Ampatuan said, “grabeng dagdag-bawas ang nangyari sa Maguindanao…Ang alam ko lang umabot sa puntong nagkaroon ng palitan ng official ballots na pati nga ako, na taga-Maguindanao during that time, nabigla (There was widespread cheating then. Even I was shocked).”

He said the plan, spearheaded by the then First Gentleman, kicked off months before the mid-term elections, or in January 2007.

He said the plan also involved his father, Andal Sr., who acted as the Arroyo’s errand boy.

Zubiri win

“Nung time na yun, nasa Century ako sabi ko, ‘Saan kayo galing?’ Sabi niya ‘Galing kami sa Makati’ kasi pinatawag sila ni First Gentleman Arroyo,” he claimed.

He said Arroyo's instruction was to ensure that then seeking Senate re-electionists Benigno Aquino III, Panfilo Lacson and Alan Peter Cayetano got “zero” votes.

He said the president’s husband justified it as such: “Hindi pwede manalo si PNoy, dahil naging presidente ang nanay, sikat na pamilya, baka may pag-asang maging presidente. Naging presidente nga. Si Senator Lacson, dahil masyadong maingay, dapat patahimikin. Tapos si Senator Cayetano, tinulungan ang tatay maging senador, tinulungan ang kapatid, tapos nung nagpapatulong si GMA, bale-wala (Aquino is not supposed to win because he is popular and may become president. Lacson could not win because he is too critical of the government. Cayetano could not win because he did not help GMA).”

The votes were eventually padded in favor of Zubiri. The latter’s win there spawned an election protest from Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who refuses to let go of the issue until now.

Ampatuan said his father had received money during the meeting with the former First Gentleman.

The deceit did not end there, he said. The then president also sent additional money to cover up any loopholes in the plan.

Ermita’s call

Ampatuan claimed then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita had to call him several times even in the wee hours of the morning.

“Ang sabi niya, Zaldy. Sabi ko, ‘Ano yun sir?’ Ang sabi niya, ‘dapat masagot nating mabuti yang problema na yan.’ Sabi ko, ‘Sir, paano ko sagutin? Tinuruan pa niya ko ng ganyan-ganyan. Ang sabi ko, ‘Sige. tapos noong ano, sabi niya dpat maayos yan’ (Ermita told me to fix all loopholes. He taught me how).”

Ermita said it was an instruction from the higher-ups.

Ampatuan said he hopes his testimony could still help in the resolution of the case even if it has long passed.

Nonetheless, he said the government could further its case if it gets hold of then Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol, who is now believed to be in hiding.

FG Arroyo denies claim

For his part, the former First Gentleman denied giving the former Maguindanao governor money to ensure the 2007 election victory of Zubiri.

"Former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo is appalled at the accusation, attributed to former [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, that he met with, and gave money to, Andal Ampatuan, Sr/ for the purpose of manipulating the 2007 elections in favor of Sen. Miguel Zubiri. Mr. Arroyo reiterates that he has never interfered in any election. He has certainly never spent money to illegally alter election results for or against any candidate," Arroyo's lawyer, Ruy Rondain, said.

"He therefore categorically denies that he gave Andal [Ampatuan] Sr. any amount of money for that purpose," he added.

Rondain said Zaldy Ampatuan had said he was not present at the alleged meeting between Andal Sr. and Arroyo.

"[ARMM] Gov. Zaldy could therefore not know what transpired, if the meeting took place at all," he said.

He also noted that Mr. Arroyo was in the hospital for a dissecting aortic aneurysm during the 2007 election period, and was in convalescence for months after the election.

The former First Gentleman's lawyer said Zaldy's accusation is highly suspect since he only came out 4 years after the election.

"Accusations that come 4 years too late, from one who suddenly grows a conscience, strain public credulity," Rondain said.

Zubiri airs side

In a separate interview with radio dzMM, Zubiri said he did not sanction nor have any knowledge of Ampatuan’s allegations.

“If there was indeed cheating, I did not sanction it…The culprits should be captured for electoral sabotage,” he said.

In fact, Zubiri said the votes from Maguindanao do not have any bearing on the election protest before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) anymore. He himself filed an election protest on the 2007 elections.

He said he also lost votes then, specifically in Metro Manila. The results of their findings will be revealed tomorrow or any day within the week.

“It’s also my right to reveal that I too was cheated,” he said.

Zubiri said this is precisely why he pushed for the automation of the polls to finally minimize fraudulent activities, which usually happens in manual systems.