26 November 2015

President Aquino transfers regulation of Health Maintenance Organizations to insurance commission
President Benigno S. Aquino III has issued Executive Order No. 192 transferring the regulation and supervision over Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Insurance Commission (IC).

The President signed the Order last November 12.

Under the new law, the IC, in coordination with the Department of Budget and Management, is authorized to streamline and augment its human resource component to effectively and efficiently perform its functions and exercise its powers.

The authority of the IC over the HMOs include issuing rules and guidelines with respect to the establishment of HMO minimum capitalization, net worth, reserve funds and security deposit requirements, as well as the criteria for qualification and disqualification of directors, officers and marketing personnel, and the submission of reportorial and/or examination requirements, registration of contracts and plans, adjudication of claims, and other relevant matters, as necessary; approve, amend, renew, decline, suspend, or revoke any license, registration, or certificate of authority issued in favor of HMOs; fix, assess, collect and utilize fees and/or changes as it may find reasonable in the exercise of regulatory powers; and regulate, supervise and monitor the operations and management of HMOs to ensure compliance with the Order, existing laws, rules and regulations, and such other directives and circulars issued by the Insurance Commissioner.

Executive Order 192 also allows the IC to issue orders to prevent fraud and injury to the HMO plan holders and industry stakeholders; order examination of documents, papers, files, tax returns, books of accounts and other records, in whatever form, of any entity, person, or any HMO under investigation, including persons, entities and/or corporations with related interests; and impose sanctions and/or appropriate penalties pursuant to existing laws, rules and regulations.

All HMOs, whether investor-based, community-based or cooperative, are required to comply with the regulatory requirements of procuring a License to Operate from the IC. The IC shall honor previously issued “Clearance to Operate” by the DOH subject to modifications, revisions, adjustments and changes as may be provided in the implementing rules and regulations.

For efficient transition, the DOH and IC may enter into inter-agency agreements to ensure the full and appropriate transfer of all functions related to HMOs including, but not limited to, temporary detail of DOH personnel concerned to the IC.

An Oversight Committee composed of the Secretary of Finance as chairman, with the Secretary of Health and the Insurance Commissioner as members, will be created to ensure the effective transfer of the jurisdiction and regulation over HMOs to the IC. The committee shall exist until June 30, 2016. PND (jm)

President Aquino expands coverage of National Greening Program
President Benigno S. Aquino III has issued an executive order expanding the coverage of the government’s National Greening Program.

Under Executive Order (EO) No. 193, the Expanded National Greening Program will cover all the remaining unproductive, denuded and degraded forestlands and its period of implementation is extended from 2016 to 2028.

Signed by President Aquino last November 12, the Order encourages all sectors, particularly the private sector, to actively participate in the Expanded National Greening Program.

Executive Order 193 also tasked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to issue the appropriate rules and regulations within 60 days from the effectivity of the Order.

The EO stated that the funding for the implementation of the Expanded National Greening Program will be charged against the current appropriation of the DENR. Subsequent funding requirements will be incorporated in the annual budget proposal of the DENR through the General Appropriations Act.

In 2011, President Aquino issued EO No. 26 declaring the implementation of the National Greening Program as a government priority to reduce poverty, promote food security, environmental stability and biodiversity conservation, and enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In issuing EO 193, the President noted that in the Global Forest Resources Assessment for 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization ranked the Philippines as 5th worldwide in terms of greatest forest area gain from 2010 to 2015.

With the threat of climate change, forests and forestry remain as the carbon sink that could sustain the industrial development and economic growth of the country, the President added.

President Aquino further said there is still an estimated 7.1 million hectares of unproductive, denuded and degraded forestlands, which contribute to environment-related risks, such as soil erosion, landslides, and flooding.

He emphasized that to accelerate the rehabilitation and reforestation of these unproductive, denuded and degraded areas, the government should seek the participation and investment of the private sector, with a view towards enabling private companies to achieve carbon neutrality. PND (co)

Arbitral Tribunal told: China’s assertion of exclusive rights over West Philippine Sea has deprived Philippines of fishing rights
The Philippines discussed its deprivation of fishing and exploration rights, during the second day of hearings on its case against China at the Arbitral Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands on Wednesday.

“The thrust of the Philippines’ arguments today centered on the deprivation of the fishing and exploration rights due to China’s aggressive assertion of exclusive rights over areas covered by the Nine-Dash Line,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a bulletin issued from The Hague on Thursday.

According to Valte, Andrew Loewenstein stated that none of the three conditions to establish historic rights are present in China’s case, making its claim “hopeless and indefensible”.

The Palace official said Professor Philippe Sands argued that Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, Subi Reef, Mckennan Reef and Gaven Reef are all low tide elevations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and as such, are not entitled to its own territorial sea, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf.

Sands also presented to the Tribunal the construction activities on these features done by China, and asserted that these changes cannot be the basis of additional maritime entitlements, she said.

Valte further said that Lawrence Martin argued that based on the Mandarin, Spanish and English translations of Article 121, features that are classified as rocks cannot have maritime entitlements despite China’s construction.

“Martin also stressed that, under UNCLOS, for a feature to be considered an island, it must be capable of sustaining human habitation and economic life,” she further said.

During the afternoon session, Reichler returned to the floor to prove before the Tribunal that no civilian settlements were ever established on the features in the Spratlys and that there can only be one reason why this is the case, as the features themselves are not capable of sustaining human habitation, Valte said.

She said Professor Sands discussed China’s interference with the Philippines’ exercise of sovereign rights under the UNCLOS with respect to living and non-living resources in the exclusive economic zone.

Sands gave as examples several incidents involving service contracts given by the Department of Energy wherein the private companies were prevented from exploration. In addition, the fishing ban mandated by China’s Ministry of Agriculture covering even areas in the Philippines’ EEZ, was also discussed.

Martin presented various testimonies of Filipino fishermen to prove China’s interference in the traditional fishing activities of Filipino fishermen around the South China Sea, particularly in Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal. A map from 1784 was presented to prove that Bajo de Masinloc has always been part of the Philippines.

Loewenstein closed the afternoon session by presenting satellite images of various installations constructed by China on Mischief Reef, among others. A video simulation was also shown to the Tribunal to demonstrate how a cutter suction dredger destroys the seabed and transfers sand to a pre-selected area. The same machine was used by China in its construction activities.

Loewenstein argued further that by engaging in these activities, China has violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines with regard to living and non-living resources in its EEZ and continental shelf, Valte said.

As stated by Sands, China’s violations are “flagrant and persistent” and they continue today, Valte added.

The Philippine side will continue presenting its case on Thursday (November 26). PND (jm)

Palace welcomes third quarter growth in Gross Domestic Product
Malacañang on Thursday welcomed the latest National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) report that showed a 6 percent increase in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the third quarter of this year.

“We welcome the latest report of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) that the country’s Gross Domestic Product grew by six (6.0) percent for the third quarter of this year. Based on initial reports, the Philippines’ economic growth is the third fastest in Asia after China at 6.9 percent and Vietnam at 6.8 percent,” Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said in a statement.

“We affirm NEDA’s view that the country will attain its full-year GDP growth of 6.0 percent due to better economic prospects in the last quarter of the year,” he added.

The Palace official noted that the third quarter GDP growth was spurred by improved government spending, which grew significantly from 3.9 percent last quarter to 17.4 percent.

“This is in line with President Aquino’s directives to the Executive Branch to improve effectiveness in budget execution through the vigorous implementation of priority development programs,” Secretary Coloma said.

In the last quarter of the year, the government shall intensify efforts to address challenges posed by extrinsic factors, such as a predicted severe El Niño scenario through the last quarter and into the first half of 2016, and the slowing growth of the global economy, he further said.

“President Aquino is firmly committed to achieve inclusive growth through continuing investments in public infrastructure and human capital development anchored upon good governance,” Coloma added.

The NEDA report was also welcomed by Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Led by increased government consumption on the demand side, the 6 percent figure is higher than the growth rates posted during the previous two quarters—5.0 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively, as well as the 5.5 percent GDP recorded in the third quarter of 2014, he said.

The NEDA report notes that growth on the supply side was led by the services sector, which accelerated to 7.3 percent, he added.

“Within Asia, the Philippines continues to be a bright spot as the third fastest growing major emerging economy, after China and Vietnam,” Secretary Lacierda said in a statement.

“Developments such as this show clearly that good governance is indeed good economics, and that reforms pave the way toward a more business- and investment-friendly environment,” he said.

Lacierda said that under the Aquino administration, the Philippines has increasingly strengthened its position as an important business hub, gaining the trust and confidence of international observers.

“From being the Sick Man of Asia, the Philippines is now seen as a key emerging economy, brimming with opportunities for Filipinos and foreign investors alike,” he said.

“As always, the Aquino administration is committed to improving the lives of our citizens, and will remain focused on implementing reforms and programs that would bring about greater advancement for our country,” he added. PND (jm)

President Aquino to embark on a three-state European trip next week
President Benigno S. Aquino III will go on a three-state European trip from November 30 to December 5, visiting the cities of Paris in France, Rome in Italy, and Vatican City in the Holy See, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on Thursday.

The Chief Executive will be in the French capital to attend the leaders’ event of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as engage in some business meetings on the side.

In a press briefing held in Malacañang, DFA Assistant Secretary of European Affairs Maria Cleofe Natividad said President Aquino will deliver keynote remarks during the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which the Philippines chairs, at COP21.

“It will be a capstone opportunity for the President to highlight its climate change accomplishments and to support the crafting of a new climate change agreement that is effective and equitable and that, most especially, will help the climate vulnerable communities,” Natividad said of the President’s attendance to the event.

The foreign affairs official added that President Aquino would also meet with various businessmen of French, Irish, and Japanese companies to pursue further trade and investment partnerships, as well as discuss cooperations on health.

He will also witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Bases Conversion Development Authority and the French organization, Vivapolis, for the development of the Green City project in Clark, Pampanga.

In Rome, President Aquino will have an official meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the latter’s official residence, Natividad said, adding that he might also speak with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

The discussion between President Aquino and his Italian counterpart will revolve around strengthening Philippine-Italian bilateral relations, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic ties.

Other topics of conversation will be the Italian government’s participation in the Mindanao peace process through Italy’s assistance to the Agrarian Reform Community Development Support Program as well as the Philippines-Italy Debt for Development Swap Program.

Further improvement on bilateral trade and investments between Manila and Rome is also expected, as the President will witness the signing of an air services agreement, which is seen to benefit Filipino workers and investors coming from Italy.

Natividad said the traditional ‘Meeting with the Filipino Community’ also serves as one of the highlights during President Aquino’s visit to Rome. Currently, there are 171,000 Filipino workers in Italy.

“This will provide the President an opportunity to touch base with them and also to further promote their interests, as far as the Italian government is concerned,” the DFA official told reporters.

In Vatican City, President Aquino will have a private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis. Natividad said this is a reciprocal visit following the supreme pontiff’s trip to the Philippines last January.

“The Pope’s visit, as we are all very much witness to, has greatly contributed to the Filipino spiritual renewal, and the Pope’s visit has provided great comfort and hope to the many grieving Filipinos,” she said.

“So this is an opportunity for the President to thank the Pope, as well as also to discuss with His Holiness the construction and rehabilitation efforts in Tacloban, of which the Pope has shown much keen interest,” she added.

The President will also witness the unveiling and the blessing of a mosaic sculpture of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, and will have an opportunity to meet with the Filipino priests and religious at the Vatican, Natividad said.

It will be President Aquino’s first time to visit Rome and Vatican City as head of state. His trip to Paris, however, will be his second, following his visit to the French capital in September last year during an official tour of Europe.

Joining President Aquino’s official delegation next week will be Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje, and Health Secretary Janette Garin.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Linglingay Lacanlale will represent Secretary Albert del Rosario, who is currently at The Hague in the Netherlands, attending the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China over the West Philippine Sea issue. PND (hdc)

Government, MILF peace panels urge lawmakers to pass Bangsamoro draft law
The peace panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday renewed their call for the immediate passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

In an open letter to Congress, signed by Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiators of the government and the MILF respectively, the peace panels urged legislators “not to lose time”.

“Time is of the essence, and opportunity knocks only once. The passage of the law will pave the way for the decommissioning of thousands of weapons and combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It will enable the peaceful transition of an armed group into regular members of society, participating and competing in free and fair elections,” they stated in the letter.

“Let us allow the MILF to proceed to the third and last stage of their struggle: from pure armed struggle from 1972 to 1997; political struggle from 1997 to the passage and ratification of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL); to democratic struggle where their rights and aspirations are pursued solely through civilized and democratic means,” they added.

According to the peace panels, the Bangsamoro law will establish a more representative and responsive autonomous government, without the structural flaws found in the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“It will sustain the development initiatives that have flourished under the current ceasefire and the normalization programs provided for in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” the panels said.

They further noted that “a good legislation passed in this Congress will redound to the benefit of the next administration”.

In the open letter, the peace panels explained that the passage of the BBL would place the next president “in an immensely better position to continue the peace and development efforts that have been gradually put in place, without the difficulty of having to reinstate a stalled process”, and spare the next Congress “the burden of having to go through new rounds of committee hearings and plenary interpellations on a Bangsamoro law”, thus enabling lawmakers to focus on other important laws.

The panels also warned of the possible loss of “precious time that could have closed the door to extreme, violent movements that recruit followers by exploiting the alienation of segments of the population from government and society at large”.

The peace panels noted the letter of National Security Council Director-General Cesar Garcia, Jr., read before and submitted to House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee Chair, Representative Rufus Rodriguez, on October 20, 2014 on the draft BBL in the light of the recent spate of violence in Paris, Mali, Syria and other parts of the world.

According to Garcia, the passage of the BBL will settle “one of the more serious internal armed conflicts and essentially free up a significant component of the Armed Forces of the Philippines… to shift resources to focus on external concerns, principally the protection of our external territorial integrity and maritime domain which is now being threatened.”

The BBL can help curb the spread of extremism in Mindanao, Garcia said, pointing out that “the Bangsamoro government would be able to help moderate Islamic leaders to counter the ideology of radicalism being promoted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and steer the Muslim community away from ISIS influence”.

In their open letter, the peace panels claimed that “from this global lens, the Philippine peace process on the Bangsamoro has earned the support of the international community for providing a model whereby an Islamic movement can find redress of its grievances through a civilized and democratic process, within the country’s territorial integrity and constitutional framework”.

The panels called on House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon, as well as Representative Rodriguez and Senate Local Governments Committee Chair Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., “to see through the legislative process leading to the passage of the law”.

“We ask you, our legislators, to open your hearts and to give our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters this one good chance to enjoy the right to peace, and partake of meaningful reforms and development,” the letter concluded. PND (jm)

Malacañang tells public to study platforms of presidential candidates
The Palace on Thursday underscored the importance of studying the platforms of candidates in voting for next year’s presidential elections.

Reacting to the latest Pulse Asia survey showing Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte leading among the presidential candidates, Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said public opinion polls heighten public interest in the elections.

Duterte led the survey, conducted on November 11 and 12 in the National Capital Region, with 34 percent, followed by Senator Grace Poe with 26 percent, and Vice President Jejomar Binay with 22 percent.

Administration candidate Manuel Roxas II placed fourth with 11 percent, while Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was fifth with 7 percent.

“Public opinion polls, such as the latest Pulse Asia survey on presidential candidates among National Capital Region respondents, serve to heighten people’s interest in the electoral process,” Secretary Coloma said in a statement.

He encouraged the people to “broaden their participation by learning more about the platforms of candidates and assessing their records in public service”.

In the vice presidential race, Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero topped the survey with 32 percent, while Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. came in second with 24 percent.

Senator Alan Cayetano placed third with 20 percent, followed by Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo (10 percent), Senator Gringo Honasan (8 percent), and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV (4 percent).

The latest Pulse Asia survey was conducted on 300 respondents, who were made to choose from a list of candidates for president and vice president, if the elections were held today. PND (jm)

Philippines bats for Paris agreement, braces for tough negotiations during COP21
An official of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) has expressed optimism that this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France would yield different results than the 15th conference in Copenhagen, Denmark back in 2009.

“For me, I think, definitely there will be a Paris agreement. The French government will really push that there should be a Paris agreement,” Assistant Secretary Joyceline Goco, deputy executive director of the CCC, said during a press conference in Malacañang on Thursday.

Goco’s positivity stemmed from the way the French government organized this year’s 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), holding the leaders’ event on the very first day, a far cry from how it was during Denmark’s COP15.

She was however quick to add that obtaining a Paris agreement would not be that easy, as the finance aspect of the negotiation remains contentious among the parties concerned.

“My expectation is we will have very long nights and very long days. Baka wala ngang tulugan na ito because of several contact groups’ meetings, negotiations, and even up to the ministerial level,” Goco said.

Language was also an issue that has to be negotiated, she noted, as terminologies in the draft text required some ‘leveling off’ for it to be consistent with the varying interpretations of the parties involved.

“Currently, ‘yung draft negotiating text or draft agreement is full of brackets. Ibig sabihin, brackets and languages that will have to be negotiated during the Conference of Parties, so hindi magiging madali talaga ang negosasyon sa Paris,” Goco said.

“Pero may ginawa rin kasi ‘yung United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat. They go through the negotiating text. Tiningnan nila ano ba rito ang may similar definition, alin dito ang mga pwedeng i-cluster na nagkakasama-sama, so that hopefully would facilitate the discussion,” she added.

President Benigno S. Aquino III will be among 147 world leaders expected to participate in the COP21, which will be held in Le Bourget in the suburb of Paris, beginning November 30 until December 11.

The annual conference aims for heads of state to come up with a legally binding and universal agreement to effectively address the challenges of climate change by dividing responsibilities between developed nations and the vulnerable ones.

The Philippines committed a 70 percent emission reduction by 2030, as part of its intended nationally determined contribution to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change with provisions coming from the developed countries on finance, capacity building, and technology transfer.

As world leaders are only given three minutes to speak during the forum, President Aquino will be highlighting “what the Philippines had done, also what do we want in the Paris agreement, as well as what we would like to do further”, Goco said.

The relevance of climate change on human rights, especially that of women and children, and indigenous peoples living in poor communities would be taken into consideration as well, according to the CCC official.

Goco placed emphasis on the need to protect women and children, as they are the ones left mostly at home whenever disasters strike.

Many countries share this position in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, she said. PND (hdc)

French government assures world leaders’ security during COP21, says Foreign Affairs Department
The French government has assured the safety and security of President Benigno S. Aquino III and members of the Philippine delegation who will be traveling to Paris next week for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday.

Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad of the Office of European Affairs issued the statement amid terror threats and heightened security in France and other European countries following the November 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

“To ensure the security and safety of the Philippine delegation and primarily the President, we have been closely in touch with the French Embassy, and we have been informed that it is all systems go, as far as the hosting of the COP21, and all security measures have been taken very carefully and seriously by the French government to ensure the safety of all the participants to the high-level event,” she said during a press briefing in Malacañang.

Natividad answered in the negative when asked whether the recent unfortunate events in the French capital have ever made President Aquino think twice about participating in this year’s climate change summit.

“I think, not at all, not for the President. The President did not waver in spite of this horrific event. The President is even more determined to go to Paris to attend the COP21 as a show of solidarity and support for the French government,” she said.

As far as the DFA knows, none of the other world leaders who were invited and have indicated their participation beforehand also backed out from attending the event, she added.

President Aquino will be in Paris for at least a day and a half, November 30 and the morning of December 1, to deliver a keynote speech on COP 21 and engage in business meetings on the side.

He will then undertake a state and reciprocal visits to Rome, Italy and Vatican City in the Holy See in the days that follow, where he will meet with His Holiness Pope Francis. PND (hdc)