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Freedom to vote in the House?

The changing of the guards in the House of Representatives is always a fascinating study in flight and motion. But what the House Speaker in the 17th Congress has been doing is an intriguing, if not unsettling, study. It may have been done before, but not the way Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has done it: Removing the chairs of committees because they voted against the death penalty bill. House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, in a surprising move, declared the posts of these representatives vacant. The bill was passed on 3rd and final reading on Tuesday, March 7.

Removed from their posts were Representatives Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (Pampanga), Vilma Santos (Batangas), Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list), Emmi de Jesus (Gabriela party-list), Marian Michael Velarde Jr. (Buhay party-list), Antonio Tinio (ACT-Teachers party-list), Sitti Hataman (Amin party-list), Evelina Escudero (Sorsogon), Kaka Bag-ao (Dinagat Islands), John Christopher Belmonte (Quezon City), Emmeline Aglipay-Villar (DIWA party-list), and Henedina Abad (Batanes).

The representatives’ removal may have been a political move – to remove, I believe, voices of opposition to President Duterte’s policies. Where is freedom of thought, opinion, speech in the House? It seems, none, if Alvarez is the House leader.

A total of 217 lawmakers voted in favor of House Bill No. 4727, 54 against, and one abstained. The bill seeks to allow judges to punish perpetrators of certain drug-related crimes with either life imprisonment or death. The bill allows the execution to be done either through hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection.

Arroyo had the death penalty scrapped in 2006 while she was president. She explained her vote on the death penalty, saying that the issue touched the “core of each person’s fundamental view of human life.”

She said that she “believes that the issue required a vote based solely on conscience and the deepest of personal convictions.”

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She however, said that despite her removal she would continue to support President Rodrigo Duterte and Alvarez.

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ERRATUM. The second paragraph of my column last Thursday, read: “But not to worry. So far China, nor any other country, has challenged the Philippines’ claim of Benham Rise as its own.” It should have been, “But not to worry. So far, China, or any other country, has not challenged the Philippines’ claim of Benham Rise as its own.”

To pursue the subject, Buhay Representative Lito Atienza cites the economic importance of Benham Rise. To my and many observers’ thinking, the massive mineral deposits in Benham Rise could attract foreign investors to start claiming it as their own.

The House senior deputy minority leader, states in his press announcement, that Benham Rise “is of great economic value to future generations of Filipinos, based on the massive deposits of metal-bearing nodules found around the extinct volcano ridge.”

“The sea floor around Benham is covered with metal-rich chunks – manganese nodules that also contain nickel, copper, cobalt and other minerals,” Atienza, one-time Secretary of Environment and
 Natural Resources, said.

The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) previously explored Benham, and found exceptionally high concentrations of manganese nodules on the seabed, according to Atienza.

Atienza said he intends to file this week a bill proposing to establish a Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority.

Unlike the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea, no other state was claiming Benham at that time, so the Philippine government’s submission was approved by the UN in 2012, Atienza said.

With the approval of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Atienza said the Philippines now enjoys exclusive right to harvest mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of the Benham region.

Benham is located in the Philippine Sea, some 250 kilometers east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.



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Expect a beautiful forest reserve to rise and grow in Tarlac in a few years, thanks to the efforts of Earth Day Network Philippines Inc. (EDNPI), a 2000-strong multi-sectoral group of individuals, organizations, corporation, government agencies and local governments – all lovers of the environment.

In November last year, EDNPI launched the Clark Green City Forest Restoration Project under its TREES4Life: Tubong Pinoy Movement, an advocacy program for the conservation and preservation of the indigenous and endemic tree species of the Philippines. Months earlier, in July, EDNPI signed a MOA with the Bases and Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and Fern and Nature Society of the Philippines, to develop and manage the Clark Green City Green Forest Reserve, Ecotourism Park and Botanical Garden within a balanced, healthy and safe environment.

The project was launched in honor of the late Odette Alcantara, founding country coordinator of EDNP and the spirit behind the great synergy of the 2,000 strong network of mother earth defenders.

The project aims to develop a forest reserve, which will be sustainably managed as a watershed and biodiversity conservation area, to ensure the benefits of a healthy and safe environment for the future Clark Green City (CGC).

CGC is a flagship project of the Philippine government, which is envisioned to become a modern metropolis with a mix of residential, commercial, agro-industrial, institutional and information technology development as well as a community of residents, workers, and business establishments.

EDNP has been given the privilege to develop 500-hectares of BCDA into the forest reserve area. Its TREES 4Life: Tubong Pinoy Movement is one of its projects which has all officers and members of EDNP very excited.

Features of this project are the planting, nurturing and propagation of indigenous and endemic tree species; supporting national efforts on the conservation of threatened Philippine native plants and animals; encouraging the participation of local communities through different income-generating activities such as gathering of native seeds, propagation of seedlings, and planting and caring of trees, and developing of alternative livelihood activities for the forest-dependent communities such as charcoal briquetting, handicraft development and organic farming.

Board of trustees and officers of EDNP for 2016-2018 are: Odette Alcantara, founding country coordinator; Dr. Metodio Palaypay, chair; Isagani Serrano, president; lawyer Mimi Sison, vice president and Atty. Wigberto Tañada Jr., corporate secretary. Members are Edicio del Torre, Camelita Salvador, Anda Celdran, Voltaire Alferez, and Ryan Vita.

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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