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‘Free speech sanctuary’ Senate sets more corruption probes

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
âFree speech sanctuaryâ Senate sets more corruption probes
In his address to his colleagues at the opening of the third regular session, Sotto said he and his colleagues are committed to “support all efforts to keep our population COVID-resistant,” as well as assist families and industries, including overseas Filipino workers, while passing legislation on disaster preparedness and the protection of the environment.
STAR / Boy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate will still pursue in earnest investigations into alleged corruption in government agencies while strengthening its role as a “sanctuary of freedom and justice” and passing measures to alleviate the hardship of Filipinos suffering from the effects of the pandemic, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

In his address to his colleagues at the opening of the third regular session, Sotto said he and his colleagues are committed to “support all efforts to keep our population COVID-resistant,” as well as assist families and industries, including overseas Filipino workers, while passing legislation on disaster preparedness and the protection of the environment.

“Since freedom and justice have their sanctuary here and free speech is our weapon of choice, the Senate has always been known and expected to provide the forum to debate on public issues and promote the public welfare,” Sotto said.

“We will continuously seek to expose corruption in public service and direct the searchlight of one of our committees towards the dark corners of our bureaucracy where corruption and injustice thrive unnoticed,” he said.

In an interview with reporters, Sotto said there were issues raised regarding the budgets of the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), among others.

“Those departments with allegations of corruption and then those with problems with underspending. Maybe that needs to be reviewed,” said Sotto when asked about departments the Senate intends to scrutinize.

“We will also unceasingly address the usual concerns of the common man for food, shelter, education and medical help,” he said in his message to his colleagues.

The third and final session of Congress will be shorter compared to the previous sessions, given the start of the 90-day electoral campaign period in February and a brief break in October for the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections.

He said the Senate still has a lot to do to alleviate the suffering of Filipinos despite having passed various measures to address the pandemic and prepare the country for a post-pandemic recovery.

He said as long as feasible, the chamber will allocate more funds to fight COVID-19.

“These funds come from taxes. So, in line with our oversight authority, the Senate will continue to look into the objectives, processes and means of using these funds,” Sotto said.

He said post-COVID scenarios will affect industries from health to education, manufacturing, retail, entertainment and lifestyle.

“Your Senate needs to anticipate the evolving economic landscape in order to ready our countrymen to adapt to the needs of a new world. In these changing times, we need to shed our old skin to grow new ones in order to survive – not only individually, but more importantly, as a nation,” Sotto said.

Meanwhile, opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said increase in hunger rate due to rising food prices highlighted the failure of the Duterte administration.

Pangilinan said that in 2015, regular milled rice was P34 a kilo, while pork was about P190 a kilo and chicken P120. As of June 2021, price per kilo of regular milled rice averages P38, pork P330 and chicken P160.

He said the administration’s strong dependence on imports is largely to blame for the surging food prices.

“Increases in food prices also caused hunger to double among Filipino families,” he said.

Citing government data, Pangilinan said that in 2016, the hunger rate was around 10.6 percent affecting about 2.4 million Filipino families. Over the last five years, it slowly inched up and then ballooned in 2020 to 20.9 percent affecting about 5.2 million Filipino families.

“Food is very basic. If it’s not available or not enough, people can’t work well or get good education for lack of energy and nutrients,” he said.

He likened the Duterte administration to a ship in distress during a storm. He said the administration has less than a year to right itself and pursue its goals.

“They need to catch up because they have a lot of shortcomings, especially with the outbreak of COVID-19 which has resulted in hunger, loss of jobs and the government not properly spending funds or worse, getting involved in corruption like in PhilHealth. So it needs a lot of catching up,” he said in Filipino. – Cecille Suerte Felipe

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