By Deedee M. Siytangco
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. –Helen Keller
My favorite windy city, Tagaytay, was the perfect place to be at on New Year’s Eve.
The traffic flow was smooth, no Carmageddon unlike Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And on New Year’s Eve, until midnight and beyond, not a single “paputok” or firecracker broke the silence of the windy hills. The cold winds blew, and the moon was almost full through the trees in my backyard.
In the past years since we built our second home on the ridge, we would have a free fireworks show from our garden from around the lake. Thankfully the winds blew away the smoke after a few minutes. This year, aside from one or two fireworks popping, it was peace and quiet under the moonlit night. You see the mayor, Agnes Tolentino, asked the barangay chairmen to go around and ask the residents to sign a pledge not to have their kids (or themselves) use the forbidden firecrackers. This seemed to work and we had peace and quiet in our barangay except for our chairman’s karaoke. Oh, well, this was also the situation in our barangay in Manila. Karaoke to death on the sidewalk bars that have sprouted all over in Paco.
Yes, there ought to be a law.
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Last Christmas Eve, we gathered in Bella Vista to remember our father, Amado R. Munson and my husband Sonny by celebrating with the orphans and nuns of the Mother Teresa Spinelli’s House of Treasures. This has been a tradition with the nuns and wards and our family and this year, we are thankful for Atty. Starr Weigand, our niece, daughter of my younger sister Paz, and my second son David for taking charge of the celebration. Starr was assisted by her partner, Atty Pierre Martin Reyes and her brother GB together with his wife Rizza and their kids.
I took a back seat as I was still recuperating from an illness, but I happily watched the festive lunch with food sent in by my “balae” Cora Barte, by Paz’s family, the Jollibee yum burgers from friends in Jollibee and from my own kitchen in Bella Vista. The two young lawyers brought with them a generous amount of diapers for the babies and toddlers, loot bags for everyone and walkers and nebulizers for the babies and the children. All the orphans went home happy, loaded with loot bags and Sister Yolly very grateful for the supplies and nebulizers for the kids.
Days later, my daughter’s friend Alou Santos came with her friend Malou, with dozens of cans of milk and other supplies for the wards. Christmas is indeed for loving and sharing!
To all Black Nazarene devotees, “Happy Fiesta” and may the processions be peaceful and orderly!
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The good news for the New Year as far as House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is concerned is the result of the latest Social Weather Stations survey. Conducted recently, the survey showed his net satisfaction rating improving from “neutral” to “moderate” at +14 (38 percent satisfied and 23 percent dissatisfied). It was up by six points from his rating of +8 in September.
The improvement in Alvarez’s overall net satisfaction rating is due to the increase of 16 points in Mindanao, nine points in the Visayas, six points in Metro Manila, and one point in Balance Luzon. But the SWS survey also found that 30 percent of the respondents were undecided. What this indicates, from where we sit, is that the public is starting to warm up to the unconventional way the House conducts its business under Alvarez’s leadership and that what it has been doing for the people is slowly being appreciated for what it is—for the greater good, not for a chosen few.
With Alvarez at the helm, the First Regular Session of the 17th Congress performed well, passing a total of 428 bills and resolutions. These include 30 bills that were signed into law. Among these are those providing free tuition in state universities and colleges and state-run technical-vocational institutions, which will benefit students from poor and disadvantaged families, expanding the coverage of free emergency health care services for indigent patients; free internet access in public places to keep the citizenry better informed about government programs and services; and the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) which frees 99 percent of the working population from paying income taxes starting this January.
House Members filed a total of 8,528 bills since the 17th Congress opened in July 2016. Of these, 6,911 are House Bills while 1,617 are House Resolutions. Moreover, the different House committees managed to finish their hearings on various measures and issues, and submitted a total of 552 committee reports. And, take note, the House has already processed a total of 2,100 measures from July 2016 to December 2017, or an average of 14 measures per day.
The various House committees have also been very active in conducting hearings in aid of legislation. Among the probes were the irregular utilization by the provincial government of Ilocos Norte of its share in the tobacco excise tax amounting to R66.450 million to purchase vehicles, medicine, and fertilizer without public bidding instead of using the money to benefit farmers. Another investigation centered on shabu smuggling at the Bureau of Customs, which led to the top-to-bottom overhaul of the institution, with the misfits booted out and others were charged in court. The BOC is now one of the top revenue generating arms of the government.
The House will continue deliberations on the impeachment complaint against chief justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno this January to determine whether there is probable cause to send it to the Senate for trial. On this issue and some other issues like “no-el” and extension of terms, I disagree with Alvarez but then again I understand he has to dance to the beat of the higher authority’s music?
Under his leadership, the House took an active part in the bicameral meetings on the extension of martial law in Mindanao, which gave the president and the military the legal framework to run after ISIS-linked terrorists in Mindanao. Such fast move of the House will also prevent the spread of ISIS in the country, it is claimed. The recent extension will hopefully give the government the power to fast-track rehabilitation, which Mindanaoans desperately need.
Speaker Alvarez also chaired the successful 38th Meeting of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), which tackled various regional issues requiring legislative support and action.
Many of the Speaker’s colleagues attest to the new kind of leadership, which has shaken the House for the better. No more quorum problems, no more “Filipino time,” no more “under-the-table” deals just to pass a bill, no more absences, no days off when work calls for it. That’s the House right now.
To representative Reynaldo Umali, chair of the committee on justice, “Speaker Alvarez is a leader who bases his decision on what is right and necessary.” Proof of this is that the budget for infrastructure of opposition congressmen amounting to billions was re-allotted for free tuition in state colleges and universities and the salaries and perks of the military and the police, Umali said. This has generated cries of “foul” from opposition congressmen and women affected but the Speaker shrugs these off. From Edcel Lagman alone on his last year’s budget of R2.9B combined with Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo’s R3.2B, the House was able to allocate around R6B for free tuition in state colleges and universities and the increase in pay and perks of our uniformed personnel who are in the forefront of the fight against terrorism.
For Negros Occidental representative Albee Benitez, “Alvarez is the only Speaker who effectively disciplined House members,” referring to the no-tardiness and no-travel during session days as some of the major improvements instituted in the House.
Alvarez is grateful for the support he gets from his colleagues but he remains focused on meeting the many challenges ahead.
For one, he is batting for the passage of the real Bangsamoro Basic Law, which seeks to create an autonomous region for the Moros in Mindanao within the framework of the Constitution. He is convinced that the passage of the BBL would pave the way to lasting peace and accelerated development in Mindanao.
Alvarez is also in the forefront of the proposed shift from the current unitary to a federal system of government that President Duterte has endorsed. The shift to federalism is expected to give the various regions more leeway in using their resources for economic development. This isn’t popular with everyone but this doesn’t bother Alvarez.
Despite vociferous criticisms, the Speaker is also pushing a bill that would allow the legal dissolution of marriage. “Married persons can agree to separate,” he said. He has also signified his intention to file a measure recognizing civil unions.
With plenty of work to be done in the months ahead, Alvarez isn’t about to slow down and rest on his accomplishments—and hopes that all the hard work they are doing in Congress would benefit the Filipino people first and foremost.