President Aquino yesterday confirmed the appointment of a new Philippine ambassador who will be taking over from Ambassador Sonia Brady, who had to resign owing to her having suffered a stroke several months back.
In a media interview, Aquino said that he has appointed Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio as the new envoy to China.
Aquino told Palace reporters that Basilio, a senior official of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was recommended by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario who had described the DFA Undersecretary as well versed on the issues surrounding the border row at the West Philippine Sea.
“Given that she’s already the senior undersecretary, it somehow gives China a message that we have long wanted them to realize — we are serious in trying to achieve an understanding with them,” Aquino said.
Asked for the compelling reasons that made him appoint Basilio, Aquino cited two things: vast experience gained in her 42 years in foreign service and Del Rosario’s letter highly recommending her to the position.
“I chose Basilio because of her wealth of experience and also, she is highly recommended by Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario,” the President said.
Aquino made the announcement of Basilio’s appointment even before the appointment papers have been signed. He claimed the appointment papers of Basilio are still being prepared by the office of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
The Philippines and China have been on a longtime maritime territorial dispute over the South China Sea (referred to by the Philippine government as the West Philippine Sea) but tension started building up only in April this year at the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag) when Philippine government sea vessels were blocked by Chinese ships while trying to apprehend Chinese fishermen who were caught poaching at the Panatag. Since then, a continuing stand-off ensued with the Philippine at the receiving end from China’s economic sanctions that saw a significant dip of tourist arrivals and revenue losses from the refusal of the Chinese government to allow entry of Philippine exports to China.
Basilio, who was tapped in February last year by Del Rosario to call the shots for the DFA while he’s on leave, formed part of the Philippine government’s diplomatic team talking with Chinese officials at the early stage of the brewing tension off the Panatag.
The new RP ambassador graduated from the University of the Philippines where she obtained her degree on Bachelor of Arts and Masters in Political Science.
She was the Philippine ambassador to Sweden from 1997 to 2003 and permanent representative to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in Geneva from 2007 to 2010. Basilio served as Assistant Secretary for Asia and Pacific affairs from 1995 to 1997 and undersecretary for policy during the Arroyo administration (2006-2007) and continued in this capacity under the Aquino government.
Sunday, 25 November 2012 00:00 Published in Headlines
High-end Samsung Galaxy smartphones paid for by conditional cash transfer (CCT) program funds? No conflict with the so-called straight and right path of Noynoy, according to Malacañang, saying the phones were used to monitor the poorest of the poor families who are beneficiaries of the CCT or conversely the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilpino Program (4Ps).
What should have been funds designed exclusively as direct assistance to the poor is being used to purchase high-end mobile phones and Malacanang doesn’t seem to mind it. Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the mobile phone purchases by the implementing government agencies, or mainly the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), are part of its administrative component for monitoring purposes.
On radio, Lacierda defended the DSWD which implements the program from a Commission on Audit (CoA) findings on the misuse of CCT funds, which in the 2012 budget reached a record P39 billion, saying he sees nothing illegal in using government funds allotted to
directly help the poor Filpino families to buy the expensive mobile phone units.
Part of the CoA findings on the CCT funds stated the need for a better way to assure the effectiveness of the CCT program in addressing poverty.
Among those questioned by CoA in its audit of the CCT funds was the necessity of purchasing 30 units of Galaxy smartphones costing a total of P342,400 and P428,750 worth of planners for 2011 delivered in May of that year.
Seeing no violation in the mobile phone purchases, Lacierda said that part of the CCT budget is the administrative component which he said is designed to monitor how the funds are disbursed.
“Part of the budget for the Conditional Cash Transfer is an administrative component which makes sure that it has the wherewithal to monitor the CCT, and in fact, that is what they have as what they call the operational fund… So we need a staff also to monitor that, and that’s part of it,” he said.
Lacierda claimed that the purchase of mobile phones has already been discussed at the Senate budget hearing, adding that the issue should not be magnified as it is normal for the government to see to it that funds are spent where it is meant. In the case of CCT, he added, the implementing agency just want to make sure the the CCT funds lands on the genuine poor family beneficiaries.
“It has already been discussed at the budget hearing with (Senator) Frank Drilon. It has been resolved. So this is a CoA report; this is a—after all these issues. But at the Senate deliberations on the CCT, Sen. Frank Drilon raised the issues on fund, specifically the administrative fund or that of the operational fund: why how come it is this much? And Secretary Dinky Soliman said, we can lower that. In fact, they lowered it already based on the discussions with Senator Frank Drilon. So that has been resolved already. That’s part of the operational fund” Lacierda further said.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has earlier been hinted to miss its target number of family-beneficiaries under government’s Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) even as the Commission on Audit (CoA) revealed that the beneficiaries of the program dropped in 2011 compared to 2010.
In a Consolidated Audit Report on Official Development Assistance Projects for the year 2011, the CoA said that the amount that has been given out by the DSWD also decreased.
The CoA report also disclosed that the DSWD had incurred a whooping P3.77-billion in unaccounted disbursements from the CCT funds; deficient supervision over the registration of qualified households; questionable and extravagant purchases using program funds.
CoA reported that total disbursements for 2011 reached P14,486,750,011.28 but only 10,716,588,449.28 was “properly documented and verified.
The CoA also revealed that in several instances, persons engaged by the DSWD to conduct “family development sessions” failed to help families comply with CCT program requirements.
They recommended that sanctions be imposed on these persons called Municipal links (MLs) and City links (CLs) even as the CoA urged the DSWD to submit explanations about the drop in the number of beneficiaries and the fluctuation in the number of households registered in the program.
State auditors also questioned the use of P2.75 million worth of what the DSWD called “advocacy materials” that were neither “responsive nor supportive” of program objectives.
It recommended that DSWD “demand from the LBP (Land Bank of the Philippines) immediate submission of documents that will support liquidation reports” as it warned that lack of documentary support for fund releases are “affecting the reliability of ending balances” of various CCT accounts.
CoA also stressed the need for a better means to gauge the effectiveness of the CCT program in addressing poverty.
Implementing officials were also told to justify the necessity of purchasing 30 units of Galaxy smartphones costing P342,400 and P428,750 worth of 2011 planners that were only delivered in May 2011.
President Aquino had resisted calls anew for him to quit smoking in line with a supposed government campaign to limit the use of tobacco and liquor through higher excise taxes on the so-called sin products and despite the country’s top medical body publicly appealing for him to lead by example and kick the habit.
The Philippine Medical Association called on Aquino to give up after noticing his frequent coughing, spokesman Edwin Lacierda told government radio.
But Lacierda said that Aquino’s cough, which was first noticed during official visits to Australia and New Zealand late last month, was not related to his smoking but in fact caused by an allergy to pollen.
“Right now, this is one thing that takes away his stress. So let us let the President see how best to cope. He knows what is important,” Lacierda said.
Aquino, 52, cancelled a meeting with visiting International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde due to ill health on Nov. 16, his office said.
He flew to a regional summit in Cambodia the following day while suffering from the flu, Lacierda said.
Lacierda added the stiff requirement of being a President likewise prevents him from taking enough rest.
“At a certain point he would want to quit (smoking) but smoking keeps his stress level down. Let’s leave the President the prerogative on whether to quit smoking or how he intends to kick the habit. He knows only too well what his job requires,” Lacierda said.
He however said that they are thanking the PMA for their concern.
“We’d like to say thank you for the PMA concern... it would be taken under consideration,” he added.
PMA vice president Leo Olarte asked Aquino to stop smoking, especially after an incident that saw the President skip on an important function after falling ill.
Lacierda said Aquino’s persistent coughs at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia was due to influenza.
On the President’s late sleeping habits, Lacierda blamed the job of being a President as significantly behind it.
“This president does not sleep eight hours a day unfortunately, because of demands of the office,” he said, adding Aquino even answers text messages at 2 am.
Aside from the PMA, Lacierda also said the President received a similar advise from Health Secretary Enrique Ona.
The calls were also meant for Aquino to lead by example in promoting the sin tax bill as a health measure.
Senator Edgardo Angara had said the bill should boost the country’s capability to conduct research and development (R&D) for health care services.
”The sin tax measure is a health measure as much as it is a revenue measure. We must state that in no uncertain terms,” Angara, vice chairman of the Senate committee on health and demography, said.
Angara inserted a provision in the bill that would allot budget from the P40 billion to be generated from the excise tax on cigarettes and alcohol products for research and development, including production of drugs from indigenous sources.
“If we are to improve our healthcare services, some of the incremental funds should be channeled into the science and R&D that helps us improve the delivery of our healthcare services,” he said.
He also emphasized that enough funds should be set aside for the Department of Health (DoH) and other government agencies to gather, compile, analyze, publish and disseminate health data in a sustainable manner.
“One of the key problems our healthcare system faces is a lack of information. By creating a comprehensive and constantly updated health database for the country, we lay the groundwork for more scientific decision-making, better formal planning and also more effective training programs for our health professionals, especially those that are assigned to rural posts,” the veteran lawmaker said.
Angara, chairman of the Congressional Commission on Science and Technology (Comste), said the government must be able to keep track of the state of health of every Filipino, even those in isolated areas, if it wants to expand healthcare coverage.
“With a task as massive as ensuring universal healthcare, we should make sure that the necessary data is collected, studied and shared properly. Our government must be able to dive deep into the science of health and healthcare delivery,” he said.
Comste earlier identified the establishment of a nationwide digital medical records database as a priority project, to enable doctors, nurses and other health professionals to conduct remote medical consultations via information and communications technology (ICT).
Sen. Franklin Drilon, sponsor of the measure in the Senate, said the sin tax bill is expected to be passed into law before Congress takes its Christmas break on Dec. 21. With AFP
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