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VISIT RUNS COUNTER TO RODY, XI ‘CONCENSUS’
By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora
China expressed “grave concern” and “dissatisfaction” over recent visit of some Philippine government officials to Pag-asa island situated in Spratlys, a group of islands off coast Palawan being disputed by both states and other littoral countries.
In a transcript posted at the official website of Chinese Foreign Ministry, Spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday the landing of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of thePhilippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Eduardo Año to the disputed area “runs counter to the important consensus” reached between President Xi Jinping and President Duterte.
The Chinese official explained that the two leaders had agreed to properly deal with the South China Sea issue. The Philippines and China are set to hold a bilateral consultation mechanism in Beijing this May on the heels of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s landmark ruling last July 12 dismissing China’s nine-dash line claim covering practically the entire South China Sea.
Lu added that “China has lodged representations with the Philippine side.”
Lu cited Mr. Duterte’s state visit to China last year when the two sides have started a good communications flow on the proper management and resolution of the maritime issues.
“We hope that the Philippine side could cherish the hard-won sound momentum of development the bilateral relations are experiencing, faithfully follow the consensus reached between the two leadership, maintain general peace and stability in the South China Sea, and promote the sound and steady development of China-Philippine relations,” Lu said.
China’s nine-dash line boundary covers 90 percent of the South China Sea including Pag-asa island that the two top security officials visited.
Sought for confirmation, Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar told reporters that the Chinese side indeed “conveyed” their sentiments.
He did not disclose if the government responded to the communication, but he underscored that the country’s position and claims in the area remain solid.
“We have already stated our position that Pag-asa, and the larger Kalayaan Group, is a municipality of Palawan and that our visits there are part of the government mandate to ensure the safety, well being, livelihood and and personal security of our citizens there,” he said.
“We defer to the DND (Department of National Defense) and the Armed Forces on how best to fulfill their Constitutional mandates with respect to improving the safety, welfare, livelihood and personal security of Filipinos in the Palawan municipality of Kalayaan,” he added.
Last Friday, Lorenzana and Año, along with other military officials, visited Pagasa Island, supposedly to check on the condition of residents and the military contingent on the island. Lorenzana said the government has alloted P1.5 billion to upgrade facilities in the Philippine-controlled territory.
Lorenza described the trip to Pagasa Island as a “normal visit within our territory”. ”We believe and we know that this is our territory and I am just visiting to look at the conditions of our people here,” he said.
Pagasa Island was occupied by the Philippines in the late 1960s and is categorized as a fifth-class municipality of Palawan province.
China to probe skirmish
Lu added China will also look into reports that Filipino fishermen have been driven away allegedly by the Chinese Coast Guard from Union Bank in the South China Sea, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.
”I honestly do not know anything about what you said. You yourself mentioned that the vessels are unidentified, and all sides are in the process of verifying the situation. China also needs to check on that,” Lu said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and DND are still confirming media reports on the harassment of the Filipino fishermen.
Lu said China will continue to work with the Philippine side to “properly” resolve the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea maritime and territorial dispute under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte.
”Our position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and clear. We would go on working with the Philippine side to properly deal with relevant maritime issues and create favorable conditions for the sound and steady development of bilateral relations,” he said.
He reiterated that the bilateral relations between the Philippines and China have turned around and started to improve quickly “with all-around cooperation moving forward steadily”.
Mr. Duterte is scheduled to return to Beijing next month to participate in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
”Overall, both sides are able to build upon the consensus of the two leaders and manage maritime issues through negotiations and coordination,” Lu said.
Special group for island buildup
Lorenzana, meanwhile, said specialized construction and engineering troops from the Philippine Navy and Air Force will undertake the upgrading of various facilities on Pagasa.
He said the contingent will largely assist in the the building of facilities involving ship docking and unloading of cargoes.
“We must first construct the so-called beaching ramp because if that facility is not yet ready, then we cannot bring in LSTs (landing ship, tanks) to bring in building materiel due to lack of docking facilities. So the beaching ramp is the first priority. The Navy already has a plan to build that and use their Seabees (Naval Construction Brigade) in constructing and completing that project before July,” Lorenzana said.
Engineering battalions from the Air Force could be deployed if needed.
He said once the beaching ramp is completed, construction activities can continue even in the most adverse weather as building supplies and engineering equipment can be stockpiled safely and easily.
Construction projects eyed for Pagasa Island include the concreting of the 1.2-km. Rancudo Airstrip, development of ports, installation of additional solar panels and generator sets, desalination plants, new quarters for military personnel, the establishment of a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources marine research and shelter center, and an ice plant for storing fish caught by the islanders.
Former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was dropped as a respondent in the ill-gotten wealth case on alleged cronies of former President Ferdinand Marcos that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) charged him in 1987.
The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in a decision released Friday said it has affirmed a 2004 ruling dropping Enrile among the respondents in the PCGG’s civil case.
In a resolution promulgated on April 17, the court’s second division said it did not find merit in PCGG’s motion for reconsideration that questioned a December 20, 2004 ruling to drop Enrile on the case.
The court then said the PCGG failed to identify Enrile’s specific acts or omissions constituting his participation in the alleged illegal transactions and in the supposed accumulation of ill-gotten wealth.
“In this case, it is clear that plaintiff’s complaint did not contain substantial facts to demonstrate the participation of defendant Enrile with regard to the subject behest loan transactions... Moreover, the plaintiff still failed to include factual averments to demonstrate the participation ofdefendant Enrile in the acquisition of ill-gotten wealth,” the Sandiganbayan ruling penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi said. Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr. and Zaldy Trespesses concurred with the ruling.
It added instead of detailing Enrile’s specific role in alleged illegal transactions, the PCGG, in the original case information sheet filed in 1987, as well as in the amended information sheet filed in 1995, just went on broad allegations that the respondents conspired with each other to commit “misappropriation and theft of public funds, plunder of the nation’s wealth, extortion, blackmail, bribery, embezzlement and other act of corruption.”
“A statement of the individual acts of defendant Enrile could have provided sufficient basis to support the claims of the plaintiff and to aid the defendant in preparing his defense. This Court restates the findings in the assailed Resolution that the dropping of defendant Enrile from the complaint is justified,” the ruling read.
The PCGG case alleged the granting of behest loans and credit privileges to various corporations during the Martial Law regime and it came up with P603.343-million worth of loans and credit privileges extended by Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to Northern Cement Corporation despite supposed inadequate collaterals.
The PCGG said loans worth P70 million were also awarded by Philippine Tourism Authority in favor of Holiday Villages Philippines Inc. and Coral Island Resort and Development Corporation to finance a village resort project which never materialized.
The PCGG said the respondents also acquired the plant, machineries and facilities of Alpha Integrated Textile Mills Inc. in favor of Southern Textile Mills Inc. “under terms and conditions disadvantageous to DBP and the Filipino People.”
In its complaint the PCGG asked the Sandiganbayan to order the respondents to pay the government the total amount of behest loans and contracts awarded to the corporations.
The PCGG also asked the court to order the respondents to pay P12 billion in moral damages, P250 million in exemplary damages, as well as temperate damages and nominal damages “as may be determined by the court.”
The case against Enrile and other alleged cronies was part of the eight civil cases filed by the PCGG before the Sandiganbayan in 1987, seeking the return of ill-gotten wealth allegedly amassed by the Marcos family and their cronies during Martial Law.
JPE wanted PCGG probed instead
Enrile has earlier countered that the PCGG may have been involved in the pilfering of sequestered assets as he sought, as a Senator, an investigation of the reported P1.5 billion net operating losses incurred by the Coconut Industry Investment Fund Oil Mills Group (CIIF-OMG) from 2005 to 2007.
In filing Senate Resolution 389, Enrile said he wanted to find out what actions were taken by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to address the CIIF-OMG’s financial difficulties during the three-year period and to assure the continued preservation and conservation of sequestered assets.
Enrile said the probe also seeks to know why the P1.7 billion representing cash dividends on SMC shares that were paid to the 14 CIIF Holding Companies were caused to be transferred to the CIIF-OMG companies to allegedly cover for the accumulated losses and to settle certain maturing operations of the CIIF-OMG companies with various creditors.
Notwithstanding the fact that a turn-around was made following the appointment of a new leadership in the CIIF-OMG in 2009, leading to positive operating incomes of P82 million in 2009 and P171 million in 2010, Enrile said, an inquiry should be made to determine whether irregularities were committed in the transactions and operations of the CIIF-OMG that resulted in huge losses during the said 3-year period.
Enrile said he also wants to determine whether the PCGG had adopted timely and adequate remedial measures to address the problem considering that former PCGG Chairman Camilo Sabio was concurrently the chairman of all the CIIF-OMG companies and 14 CIIF Holding Companies as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the United Coconut Planters Bank during the period in question.
Enrile said it is “paramount that the government undertake the necessary steps to assure the continued preservation and conservation of the assets of the CIIF OMG companies and the 14 CIIF Holding Companies and prevent their dissipation for the benefit of the 3.3 million coconut farmers of the country.”
Presidential Decree No. 276 issued August 20, 1973 established the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund (CCSF) for the purpose of stabilizing the retail prices of coconut-based consumer products like cooking oil, laundry soap and filled milk which were steadily increasing at the time as a result of high prices of coconut oil in the world market. Later, the Coconut Industry Development Fund Levy (CIDF) was imposed to finance, among others, various coconut planting and replanting programs, coconut research and extension services programs, establishment of model plantations including the propagation of hybrids, and acquisition of coconut related industries and the operations of such industries. All these were supposed to benefit the coconut industry in general and coconut farmers in the country in particular.
A portion of the coco levy funds, or roughly P2.572 billion, was used to acquire certain companies engaged in the business of coconut oil milling and refining. These were Legaspi Oil Company Inc., San Pablo Manufacturing Corporation, Cagayan de Oro Oil Co. Inc., Southern Luzon Coconut Oil Mill Inc., Granexport Manufacturing Corp. and Iligan Coconut Industries, Inc., which formed a conglomerate now commonly referred to as the Coconut Industry Investment Fund Oil Mills Group.
Through loans obtained from the banking sector, the CIIF-OMG through 14 subsidiaries acquired P1.656 billion worth of common shares of stocks in San Miguel Corporation in 1983.
On suspicion that CIIG-OMG companies and its subsidiaries including the SMC shares formed part of the ill-gotten wealth of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos and certain individuals, the PCGG sequestered the CIIF-OMG Companies, the 14 CIIF Holding Companies and SMC shares in 1986. Consequently, the government instituted a suit before the Sandiganbayan asserting ownership over and title to the CIIF-OMG companies, the 14 CIIF Holding Companies and the SMC shares.
As a result of the sequestration, the government through PCGG wielded effective control of the CIIF-OMG companies, its subsidiaries and the SMC shares as it had caused from time to time the election of its nominees in the boards of directors of all the CIIF-OMG Companies and its subsidiaries, including the appointment of the group’s President/Chief Executive Officer.
Through the years, and because of its substantial exports of crude coconut oil and other bi-products, the CIIF-OMG generated respectable operating incomes that were always plowed back to the CIIF-OMG companies to fund working capital requirements, capital expenditures and coconut industry related developmental projects all for the benefit of the coconut industry and coconut farmers.
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