23 March 2015

Palace extends condolences to family of former Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew
Malacañang has extended its condolences to the family of former Singaporean prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who died early Monday at the age of 91.

“As the Singaporean people mourn the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the Filipino people join them in honoring a statesman who can justifiably be called the Founding Father of the Republic of Singapore,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a statement issued on Monday.

“The President, in joining the Filipino people in expressing the solidarity of the Philippines with Singapore at this time of mourning, extends his personal condolences to Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong,” she added.

“Prime Minister Lee has always extended every official and personal courtesy to the President in his visits to Singapore and their official interactions in the ASEAN community.”

Valte said that as prime minister and senior minister, Lee demonstrated an unswerving devotion to his country, turning it into a state that would be an exemplar of efficient, modern, and honest governance.

The development of Singapore has earned it the respect of nations and peoples, including the tens of thousands of Filipinos who work and visit the country, she said.

Because of Lee’s initiatives to transform the small city-state into a modern and prosperous nation, Valte said Singaporeans can look back in the past with deep pride and a sense of accomplishment.

Lee, Singapore’s founding father, died at the Singapore General Hospital, where he had been admitted for severe pneumonia since February 5. Lee would have turned 92 this September.

He left behind his sons, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 63, and Lee Hsien Yang, 57; daughter Dr. Lee Wei Ling, 60; daughters-in-law Ho Ching, 61, and Lee Suet-Fern, 56; seven grandchildren and two siblings. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, died in 2010 at the age of 89.

Lee is widely regarded as the man most instrumental in shaping Singapore. He and his People’s Action Party colleagues pushed for self-government in the 1950s, worked to merge with Malaysia in the early 1960s, and strived to secure the country’s survival after independence on August 9,1965.

He led a pioneer generation of Singaporeans to overcome a series of daunting challenges that confronted his country from rehousing squatters in affordable public housing, rebuilding the economy after the sudden pull-out of British forces and the oil shocks of the 1970s, and a major economic recession in the mid-1980s.

Lee served as Singapore’s prime minister for 31 years, from 1959 to 1990. At the age of 67, he chose to hand over the premiership to Goh Chok Tong, and took on the role of senior minister, serving as guide and mentor in the Cabinet.

When Prime Minister Lee took charge in 2004, the elder Lee became Minister Mentor, spending time thinking about the long-term challenges facing Singapore. PND (as)

President Aquino attends P13.1-billion Southern Luzon Expressway extension project briefing
President Benigno S. Aquino III on Monday attended the briefing of the P13.1-billion Southern Luzon Expressway-Toll Road 4 (SLEX-TR4) extension project in Tiaong, Quezon Province.

The President was welcomed by Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Congressman Vicente Alcala of Quezon Province’s Second District, Tiaong Mayor Ramon Preza, Toll Regulatory Board Executive Director Edmund Reyes, San Miguel Corporation (SMC) Chief Operating Officer and South Luzon Tollway Corporation (SLTC) Chairman Ramon Ang, and Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Shadik Wahono.

“Layunin nga po ng proyektong ito na pabilisin ang transportasyon at magbunsod ng kaunlaran hindi lamang sa Kamaynilaan kundi maging sa mga karatig nitong bayan,” President Aquino said in his speech.

The SLEX-TR4 is a 58-kilometer project that would link Sto. Tomas, Batangas all the way to Lucena, Quezon.

The four-lane project, which is mandated under Presidential Decree Nos. 1112 and 1894, is expected to cut the travel time between the two provinces to just one hour from the usual four hours.

“Patunay po ang pagtitipong ito sa kompiyansa ng pribadong sektor na magsulong ng inisyatiba tungo sa malawakang pag-unlad. Sa pangunguna ng South Luzon Tollway Corporation, at sa pangangasiwa ng Department of Transportation and Communications – Toll Regulatory Board, isusulong natin ang proyektong SLEX-TR4 na malaki ang pakinabang ng ating mga kababayan, “ the President added.

Local government officials have welcomed and expressed support for the project that is expected to boost trade, commerce and tourism in Regions 4 and 5.

The SLEX-TR4 is the latest project in SMC’s infrastructure portfolio, which already includes the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway, the elevated Skyway system and the Skyway Stage 3 project, the NAIA Expressway project, the existing SLEX, and the recently upgraded and expanded Southern Tagalog Arterial Road or STAR Tollway.

The SLEX-TR4 project is divided into five sections: Sto. Tomas, Batangas to Makban, Laguna (10.58 km); Makban to San Pablo, Laguna (12.2 km); San Pablo, Laguna to Tiaong, Quezon (8.1 km); Tiaong to Candelaria, Quezon (14.4 km); and Candelaria to Lucena City (12.31 km).

The SLTC said it is eyeing mid-2017 for the completion of the first section from Sto. Tomas to Makban, and 2019 for the completion of the entire project. PND (jm)

Philippine Coconut Authority to create multi-sectoral advisory council to tackle coco levy assets
The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) will set up a multi-sectoral advisory council that will make recommendations on the implementation of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s two executive orders regarding the planned privatization of coco levy assets, the Palace said on Monday.

Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said he got a statement from Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan, who said that the PCA will respond to the farmers’ concerns.

It has been reported that several coconut farmer organizations are questioning President Aquino’s recent executive orders, saying that the orders do not conform to what had been discussed during previous consultations and that they have questions on the planned privatization of coco levy assets.

“On the issue of consultations, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is now drafting a resolution on the creation of a multi-sectoral stakeholders consultative and advisory council, which shall provide inputs and recommendations in the implementation of the executive orders. This shall be approved by the PCA board in its April meeting,” Coloma said, quoting Secretary Pangilinan.

Last week, President Aquino issued Executive Orders 179 and 180 concerning the inventory and privatization of coco levy assets. The President’s executive orders also set guidelines for the reconveyance and use of coco levy assets. PND (as)

Public could push for divorce in Congress if there is huge support for it, says Palace
The Cabinet has not tackled divorce in its discussions but the people could push legislation on the issue if there is a clamor for it, a Palace official has said.

“Ang mga mamamayan ay may kapangyarihang ipaabot sa kanilang mga kinatawan sa Kongreso ang kanilang mga saloobin hinggil sa usapin ng divorce. Hindi pa tinatalakay sa Gabinete ang isyung ito,” Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said on Monday.Secretary Coloma was responding to a question regarding the results of a recent survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), which revealed that three out of five Filipinos, or 60 percent, want divorce to be legalized for “irreconcilably separated” couples.

The survey showed that 60 percent of 1,800 respondents agree that “married couples who have already separated and cannot reconcile anymore should be allowed to divorce so that they can get legally married again”, while 29 percent disagreed and 11 percent were undecided on the issue.

The survey was conducted from November 27 to December 1 last year.

Some 16 percent of the respondents have live-in partners, 63 percent are married, and 21 percent are single.

The SWS survey also showed that more men and women favor the proposition, with 62 percent of male respondents (from 52 percent in March 2011) and 57 percent of female respondents (from 49 percent in March 2011) agreeing with it.

The number of those who agree with the legalization of divorce also rose in all areas, with 67 percent of adult respondents from Metro Manila, 62 percent from Luzon, 55 percent from Visayas, and 55 percent from Mindanao all throwing their support for divorce. PND (as)

Indonesian leader’s statement on China’s claims to South China Sea consistent with Philippines’ position
The Palace on Monday said Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s statement that “one of China’s main claims to the majority of the South China Sea has no legal basis in international law” is consistent with the Philippines’ position on the issue.

“This is consistent with the Philippine position that the so-called nine-dash line theory underpinning China’s claims contradicts the principles of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), for which reason we have filed a petition in the UN arbitral tribunal,” Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said.

Secretary Coloma was commenting on President Widodo’s statement, which was made during an interview with a Japanese newspaper as the Indonesian leader embarks on a visit to Japan and China.

“Moreover, the Philippines, Indonesia and the other ASEAN member countries have recognized the need to flesh out a code of conduct for all countries with maritime entitlement claims so that these may be resolved diplomatically and peacefully,” Coloma added.

On March 30, 2014, the Philippines filed a memorial at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) against China.

Also laying claim to parts of the South China Sea are Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. PND (ag)

Palace welcomes American think tank’s positive ratings on ‘Labor Freedom’
The Palace on Monday welcomed the positive ratings the country received from a United States-based think tank regarding “Labor Freedom”.

“We note the results of the 2015 Economic Freedom Index indicating an improvement in the country’s ‘Labor Freedom’ score, which jumped by 8.5 points to 58.2 points—the highest in the last 10 years—as measured by the Heritage Foundation,” Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said.

Secretary Coloma said that Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz attributed this improved performance to the partnership of labor, business and government in enhancing the labor market.

In its website, the Heritage Foundation noted that “in general, the greater degree of labor freedom, the lower the rate of employment in an economy”.

“This is borne out by the 2015 Labor Force Survey, which showed that the employment, underemployment, and unemployment situation in the country has improved,” Coloma added.

According to the Index’s website, the Heritage Foundation is considered as Washington’s number one think tank. The Index of Economic Freedom is an annual guide published by The Wall Street Journal and the foundation.

The website defined economic freedom as the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property, and labor freedom as a quantitative measure that looks into various aspects of the legal and regulatory framework of a country’s labor market.

Coloma further assured that the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III will continue to improve the labor conditions in the country.

“The government will continue to pursue reforms that promote economic freedom and productivity as a strategy for achieving inclusive growth,” he said. PND (ag)