Give China ‘leeway’ to hire workers for funded projects: Palace

INSPECTION. Public Works Secretary Mark Villar (2nd from right) inspects the ongoing construction of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge Replacement Project on Tuesday (Oct. 20, 2020). Villar said the construction has shown significant progress despite the coronavirus pandemic. (DPWH photo)

MANILA – China should be given “some leeway” to hire workers for the construction of two bridge projects donated by the Chinese government to the Philippines, Malacañang said on Wednesday.

In an interview with CNN-Philippines, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made this appeal after some senators questioned the influx of Chinese workers hired for the construction of Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge and Binondo-Intramuros Bridge crossing the Pasig River.

“The proper perspective is, it’s an outright grant or donation to the Philippine government,” Roque said. “And because of that, I just appeal that we should give them some leeway, although, we would appreciate it of course, if the Chinese government should employ more Filipinos.”

In a Senate budget hearing, some lawmakers questioned the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) why 31 percent of the workers of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge Replacement Project are Chinese while 45 percent are also Chinese for Binondo-Intramuros Bridge project.

“Well, let me highlight that these bridges are 100 percent donations from the Chinese government. So, I think that should give us the proper perspective. It’s being given to us 100 percent, we don’t pay back anything for the building of these bridges and that is why we need to give them some flexibility in the personnel that they have hired,” Roque explained.

Roque, however, said the Philippines has the right to insist that Filipino workers should take highly technical positions if the government will pay the construction of the infrastructure projects.

“Had this been a project that we would pay for using taxpayers’ money, of course government would insist that aside from highly technical positions, that Philippine laborers should be employed,” he said.

According to the DPWH, the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge Replacement Project is expected to be completed by December 2020, while the completion of the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge in Manila is set for March 2021.

On Tuesday, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar inspected the ongoing Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge Replacement Project which, he said, saw significant progress despite a two-month work suspension due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Although temporarily-suspended for two months due to Covid-19, we are now seeing significant progress of this ongoing iconic bridge project,” Villar said during the inspection.

He said the 506-meter Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge Project is part of the Metro Manila Logistics Improvement Program to ease traffic along Edsa as it connects Makati City and Mandaluyong City,

Once completed, the bridge will have four lanes from the previous two lanes and will soon accommodate an average or 50,000 vehicles per day.

“This bridge is one of the many projects that are part of our master plan to decongest Edsa,” he said. (PNA)

Palace eyes new task force to probe DPWH corruption

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (File photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte may form a separate task force to investigate the alleged corruption inside the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) depending on the performance of the agency’s internal probe team.

“It’s not inconceivable that another task force of the DPWH may be formed by the President, in the same way that he formed one for the PhilHealth. But it really all depends on how this new task force will operate, if it is credible if it can hold individuals accountable for their acts,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

He stressed that Duterte remains steadfast in his commitment to cleanse government ranks within his term.

“We would prefer an independent body. But for now, let’s face it, in any organization we need to have mechanisms for internal accountability. Police has it, and I don’t see any reason why the DPWH shouldn’t have one, and that is why we are saying, it’s a step towards the right direction,” he said. “But this initial step is without prejudice to whatever the President may order in the near future.”

DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, through Department Order No. 101 dated Oct. 17, created the Task Force Against Graft and Corruption (TAG) that would look into the supposed corruption hounding the agency.

The TAG would investigate anomalies allegedly perpetrated by officials and/or employees of the DPWH, based on valid complaints.

Roque said Malacanang has “full faith and trust and confidence” in Villar and believes the latter has proven his skills in management.

“I think Secretary Villar has proven that he really is a management person and I believed he has the necessary resources and capability to make this task force work,” he said. (PNA)

Low pay no excuse to be corrupt: DOJ chief

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra (File photo)

MANILA – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday acknowledged that a review of the salary grades of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) workers is overdue but low pay should not serve as excuse to justify corruption.

Guevarra said salary grades at the BI have not been upgraded for decades.

“Low pay is not a valid reason to break the law, and those who smear the dignity of their public office will continue to be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” Guevarra told the reporters.

He said the BI modernization bill is one of the priority measures of the Duterte administration.

“We hope that Congress will finally give the attention long overdue to this agency,” Guevarra said.

Guevarra made the statement following reports of widespread bribery that allowed the entry of almost 28,000 young Chinese as “retirees” in the country.

He said the supposed PHP40 billion earned from illegal protection scheme was “extrapolated” on the basis of the testimony of certain witnesses.

“Bribery and corruption (such as the ‘pastillas’ scheme), by their very nature, are often done clandestinely and without any paper trail, so estimates as to their magnitude remain in the realm of mere possibilities,” Guevarra said.

Guevarra said a fair indicator of such magnitude of bribery, “though not necessarily conclusive, is the lifestyle being led by people suspected of these wrongdoings, in relation to their regular compensation as government employees.”

Guevarra said it should be the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) which has jurisdiction over the visas of would be retirees and that the BI has no say in granting the same. (PNA)

PH Covid-19 recoveries climb to 311,506

MANILA – The total number of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) recoveries nationwide has reached 311,506 with 911 new recovered cases reported on Wednesday.

In its latest case bulletin, the Department of Health (DOH) also reported 1,509 new confirmed cases, pushing the overall tally of active cases to 43,990.

Of the active cases, about 83 percent are mild, 11.6 percent are asymptomatic, 2 percent are severe, and 3.4 percent are in critical condition.

The majority of the newly announced cases are from Rizal with 83, Cavite with 82, the City of Manila with 66, Baguio City with 65, and Iloilo City with 57 infections.

The DOH added that there are 60 deaths logged Wednesday, which brought the death toll to 6,747.

Of the 60 deaths, 45 or 75 percent occurred in October, seven or 12 percent in September, and eight or 13 percent in August.

“Some 41 duplicates were removed from the total case count and 31 of these were recovered cases and three were deaths. Moreover, 16 cases previously tagged as recovered were reclassified as deaths after final validation,” the DOH said.

As of Tuesday, the 114 licensed reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) laboratories and 33 licensed GeneXpert laboratories have conducted a total of 4,187,385 tests nationwide.

DOH said it has 21,500 total bed capacity dedicated to Covid-19 patients.

Occupied are around 47 percent of 1,900 intensive care unit beds; 42 percent of 13,600 isolation beds; and 37 percent of 6,000 ward beds.

It added that around 24 percent of 2,200 ventilators are in use. (PNA)

Ordeal of a Pinay victim of modern slavery in UK

Amnesty International activists wearing T-shirts reading ‘end modern slavery’ protest against human trafficking in Athens, Greece

By Tracy Cabrera

Not all Filipinos who work abroad find greener pastures—some end up exploited as they are vulnerable to abuse because the Philippines is a third world country and those countries who often employ are rich and powerful.

Except for the fact that our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are earning green bucks and remitting dollars, the truth is that little is known about how they really fare while working in other countries like those in the Middle East and Europe and even in Australia, North America and some parts of Asia like Singapore, Taiwan and Japan.

And seldom do we hear about abuses in European countries and North America. Most often the bad news comes from the Arab states and not from the United States, Canada or England. But not so in the case of a Filipina mother who was trafficked into the United Kingdom after being ‘imprisoned’ by her British employers.

After her escape from what we can call as modern-day slavery, Leslie (not her real name), 32, narrated her unforgettable experience, describing how she worked “what felt like 24 hours a day” and with “little to no pay” while receiving “left­overs” for dinner when she was employed by a family in Dubai as a domestic worker.

Leslie had left home with a plan to send back money to support three children in the province.

But not so the minute she set foot in her employer’s house. She said: “Cameras were everywhere watching me and all the doors and windows would be locked. There was just no escape.”

After a year she was taken to the UK with her employers, who held her passport. “In the morning, I tried to escape but I couldn’t open the door as it was locked,” she said. “But in the afternoon they asked me to take out the bins and I didn’t know how to open the door, so I asked them to show me.

“The next day I woke up early and remembered what they taught me, unlocked the door and ran.”

Leslie slept in a park for almost a week, begging people for help. She received help from a fellow Filipino who took her in for several months, before she moved to a safe house for people who had been ­trafficked.

Her case worker then referred her to the organization known as BEAM, which raised money to pay for the job training of disadvantaged people, and she is now retraining as a beautician.

According to its website, Beam gives homeless people a career, pride and true independence.

Leslie’s case is just one of many, Last year, 10,627 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the government’s National Referral Mechanism. The number represents a 52 percent increase from 2018.

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