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The month in review: June

June ushered the start of the rainy season, with Typhoon Domeng causing flash floods in Metro Manila and the northern part of the archipelago. CNN Philippines reported two dead and several sea traveling passengers stranded in the aftermath of the typhoon.

In the news, the first day of June came with a whiplash of banner stories on the effects of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law back-to-back with new twists in Philippines-China relations.

INFLATION, WAGE DEMANDS

The TRAIN law hit new heights of open censure from organized political blocs, almost six months after the economic managers of the Duterte administration lobbied for its passage into law on Dec. 19, 2017.

Various groups moved to stop the continued implementation of TRAIN, citing rising prices of basic commodities and spikes in the price of oil as its direct consequences.

Labor groups from left to right of the trade union spectrum pushed for across-the-board wage increases in daily minimum wage—from P320 for the conservative Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) to as much as P750 from the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

In Congress, Senators and Representatives took turns calling on the national government to curb the inflationary effects of TRAIN.

(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Opposition lawmakers led by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate lambasted the Duterte administration’s economic managers, saying they brazenly downplayed the harsh effects of TRAIN.

In the next three weeks, news accounts contained a tit-for-tat battle for public opinion on whether TRAIN was good or bad for the people.

Government officials took turns explaining TRAIN, with the Department of Finance (DOF) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) asserting that derailing TRAIN would have serious repercussions on the economy.

They added that TRAIN was necessary to raise revenues needed to finance the government’s “Build-build-build” projects.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello agreed that a wage hike was long needed but that the exact increase in wage still required deliberation.

But if the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is to be consulted, the amount will not be much since, according to a Manila Standard report, BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said the wage board can only grant P18-P20 increase in daily minimum wage—a far cry from the P320-P750 wage increase demanded by labor groups.

In the last week of June, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that no less than President Rodrigo Duterte stated “the economy is in the doldrums,” with economic stagnation most marked in the provinces where government projects are barely progressing.

No sooner had the President made this statement, than accounts to the contrary were reported in the print and broadcast media. Positive figures included a 6.8% growth in the economy for the first quarter of the year, the fastest in the region and increase in tax collection by as much as P567.1 billion.

Duterte likewise announced he was leaving the matter of amending the tax law to Congress. June came and went with Congress not amending TRAIN.

CONFISCATION OR BARTER

While the first day of June saw the Duterte administration’s economic managers on the defensive about TRAIN, the second day of June had Filipinos waking up to the news of a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) offensive against China.

The DFA filed a diplomatic protest with regard to China’s militarization of the disputed West Philippine Sea.

(Liu Rui/Xinhua via AP, File)

According to the Manila Times, the move came a day after eight senators urged the government to formally protest China’s construction activities and military installations.

Months before the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran stories that showed satellite images showing China’s militarization efforts in the West Philippine Sea.

The news carried the comment of United States Defense Secretary Jim Matthis, saying that China’s deployment of high-end weapons was meant to intimidate.

Reports added that the United States was considering intensified naval patrols in the South China Sea.

A new wave of protest ensued on the second week of June, when GMA7’s Reporter’s Notebook came out with exclusive video of Chinese coast guards taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in the waters of Scarborough Shoal.

The video streamed into social media and other news websites. It generated more stories of fishermen complaining about the uneven exchange forced upon them by Chinese coast guards who replaced their best catch with some noodles, cigarettes and water.

The government, through Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, called on China to stop its coast guards from taking the catch of Filipino fishermen.

Roque, however, refused to call the incident as a case of harassment, saying that it could well have been a barter of sorts.

GOOD, TURNING BAD

June started as a good month to talk peace for the oldest running insurgency in Asia. All indications pointed to a resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Duterte government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Jose Ma. Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and chief political consultant of the NDFP, told the media both parties have agreed to halt hostilities.

For his part, Duterte told the media that the talks may begin in July. Sison even announced to the media that the halt in hostilities could begin as early as June 14.

Chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III expressed confidence that the negotiators will be able to meet the 60-day deadline set by the President.

On June 10, five jailed leaders of the CPP were set free to join the peace negotiations. They included: Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and Randall Echanis, and Benito Tiamzon.

But on June 16, the good news turned bad.

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) leader Jose Maria Sison (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Sison came out with a statement that Duterte is ruining the peace talks by announcing a delay in its resumption. He added that both parties had earlier agreed to start the peace talks by May 28.

Duterte countered with an announcement that he wanted the talks to be held in the Philippines in July. He added he wanted Sison to come home to the Philippines.

As the rebels’ conduct passes expired on June 16, the government called on them to turn themseves in or be hunted down.

By June 22, the Duterte administration halted back-channel talks with the communist rebels, saying the postponement was meant to give way to what it called as a “three-month reveiw of all previous agreements.”

Sison told the media that the NPA is ready to oust Duterte. With the announcement came a flurry of media reports saying that the NDFP has closed its doors to peace talks with the Duterte administration.

TRUMP MEETS KIM JONG-UN

While peace talks between the government and communist rebels remain mired in uncertainty, two world leaders temporarily cast aside their differences for a historic summit.

United States President Donald Trump met with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un in Singapore last June 11, for what Trump called a “one-time shot at peace.”

Kim agreed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while Trump made a commitment to halt military exercises with Seoul.

Both leaders hailed the historic summit as “a breakthrough in relations” between Cold War foes.

SACKED, SUSPENDED, APPOINTED

Reports of government officials sacked, suspended, sued or appointed persisted through the whole month of June.

Duterte’s sacking of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) interim chief Celestina Ma. de la Serna made the news on June 5.

The Philippine Star reported that De la Serna was accused of having costly trips and accommodations while PhilHealth incurred billions in losses.

On June 7, Duterte appointed CPA-lawyer Benito Aquino as the country’s new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Aquino will stay on as SEC Commissioner until 2025.

Over at the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the President appointed Marlon Casquejo as commissioner of the Comelec, replacing Christian Robert Lim who retired last February.

June was likewise, a month of previously sacked officials re-appointed to new posts.

On June 7, the Inquirer reported the reappointments of Manuel L. Sera Jr. and Melissa Avanceña Aradanas. Both were fired last year from the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) for going on foreign junkets.

Sera was appointed as member of the governing board of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), while Aradanas was appointed as deputy secretary general of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).

Aradanas is a cousin of Honeylet Avanceña, the President’s partner.

By the third week of June, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered for the second time the suspension of four Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) commissioners.

In a report by the BusinessMirror, the four ERC commissioners—Alfredo S. Non, Gloria Victoria C. Yap-Taruc, Josefina Patricia M. Asirit and Geronimo D. Sta. Ana—were suspended for simple neglect of duty.

The commissioners were charged of tolerating Manila Electric Co.’s misuse of bill deposits by allowing its commingling with Meralco’s capital or operation cost.

By the last week of June, a graft case against Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores and 16 minucipal officials was filed with the Ombudsman by the Department of Environment and Natural Resource.

The charge was for alleged negligence in managing Boracay Island.

Over at the Supreme Court, the 20th of June dashed for good the hopes of Ma. Lourdes Sereno to remain as Chief Justice.

With a vote of 8 against 6, the SC retained its May 11 decision to oust Sereno via quo warranto and thus, denied her motion for reconsideration.

CASE PILE-UP

Meanwhile, the Office of the Ombudsman indicted in separate cases former President Benigno Aquino III and former Transportation secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

Aquino was accused of usurping legislative powers in connection with the approval of the controversial P72-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) implemented from 2011 to 2013.

Abaya, on the other hand, was charged together with 16 others with graft and corruption arising from alleged anomalies in the 2016 maintenance contract for the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3).

Former President Benigno Aquino III (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

This is the fourth charge leveled against Aquino this year.

From the first to second week of February, two charges were filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) against the former President and members of his Cabinet in connection with the Denvaxia dengue vaccine contoversy.

The first, a complaint lodged with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), charged that the P3.5 billion public funds used to procure Dengvaxia was released 45 days before the May 2016 national elections, allegedly in violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

The second complaint, entered with the Department of Justice, charged Aquino, former Budget Secretary Butch Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin, and executives of Zuellig and Sanofi Pasteur pharmaceutical companies with graft, malversation of public funds, causing undue injuries and violations of the procurement law.

Former Pres. Aquino is also facing graft and corruption and usurpation of authority charges in connection with the 2015 Mamasapano massacre, where 44 police commandos perished in a covert anti-terrorist operation.

DEPARTED

It was suicide for international celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

Spade, celebrated American fashion designer known for her stylish handbags, hanged herself on June 5.  Three days later,  on Jan. 8, American superstar chef, travel documentarian, and television star Anthony Bourdain also committed suicide by hanging.

On the second week of June, Roilo Golez, 71, former National Security Adviser, succumbed to a heart attack on July 11.

A week later, retired police general Romeo Maganto expired from an ailment on June 18.

STUPID

The most mind-boggling news for Catholics and Christians in the country occurred on June 26, when no less than President Duterte lambasted in a televised speech the basic teachings of the Catholic Church.

Duterte scoffed at the story of Adam and Eve and their being cast out of paradise after succumbing to the temptation of biting the apple offered by the snake.

President Rodrigo Duterte (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Calling God stupid, Duterte added that he could not accept the concept of original sin.

Immediately, Catholics from across the archipelago sounded their concern over the President’s statements, which under Catholic doctrine were considered blasphemous.

The President said he would not apologize for his statements and that he said these deliberately to “shake trees” and test the boundaries of free expression.

A day later, Duterte created a three-man committee to hold a dialogue with Catholic and other religious group leaders.

He designated Palace spokesperon Harry Roque, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella, and Pastor Boy Saycon to lead the dialogue with religious groups.

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