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I Love Jovito Salonga

Salonga resigns from Sigma Rho
By Tina Santos, Santiago Alcantara
Last updated 02:26am (Mla time) 09/15/2007
MANILA, Philippines – Ramon Magsaysay awardee and former Senate President Jovito Salonga has resigned as member of the Sigma Rho fraternity after some of its members were implicated in the fatal hazing of UP-Diliman student Cris Anthony Mendez.

“I hereby resign as a member of Sigma Rho, effectively immediately,” Salonga said.

In a statement sent to the Inquirer, Salonga, one of the most prominent Sigma Rhoans, said that he was resigning “because of recent events in which Sigma Rho has been involved.”

Other prominent members of Sigma Rho are former Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senators Edgardo Angara, Juan Ponce Enrile and Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico.

Salonga had earlier threatened to resign if it was determined that Sigma Rho members were involved in the death of Mendez.

“I joined Sigma Rho Fraternity, along with my classmate Pedro I. Yap (who later became Chief Justice) shortly after it was founded. At that time there was no hazing as a prerequisite to admission,” Salonga said.

Mendez, a 20-year-old graduating UP student, was rushed past midnight of Aug. 27 to the Veterans Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.

Quezon City police investigators found out that Mendez was a victim of hazing due to “bruises all over his body, particularly on the back of his arms and thighs.”

Further investigations proved that Mendez was being recruited into the Sigma Rho fraternity. No one from among its members has since come forward to admit responsibility for the killing.

The National Bureau of Investigation said it would no longer summon students of UP who could shed light on the investigation of the death of Mendez.

Instead, police officials and NBI agents would be the one to go to the university and get the statements of possible witnesses, said lawyer Romulo Asis, chief of the NBI Anti-Terrorism Division, which was tasked to handle the case.

Asis explained that the move was agreed upon during a meeting among the NBI, Quezon City Police and UP officials yesterday.

“UP officials were requesting if the students, particularly the possible witnesses to the case, could be interviewed at the university instead of inviting them over at the NBI, sort of giving them a “comfort zone.”

“Of course, we understand that they (UP officials) were just protecting the students, especially those who might receive threats as a result of their decision to come out in the open,” Asis said, adding that the meeting was part of the three institutions’ cooperative efforts.
Asis added that the UP administration would provide an office where student witnesses can be interviewed by authorities.

For the past two weeks, the NBI has been issuing subpoenas to several UP students and alleged members of the Sigma Rho fraternity who recruited Mendez into the fraternity.

However, not one of those subpoenaed has showed up at the bureau, Asis said. He claimed that some of them only sent letters “invoking their right to remain silent.”

Another NBI source added that the UP administration, which has launched its own probe of the case, wanted to be the first to file a case against those allegedly involved in the incident.

“They requested if they can be ahead in filing an administrative case,” the NBI source said. “I think the purpose is to come up with expulsion of the people involved.”


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Office of the Propagandist?

There are several indicators that we’re on the homestretch to election day. One of these is the increase, in quantity and audacity, of the black propaganda being hurled at us by other groups. Akbayan has long been on the receiving end of such propaganda so we’ve pretty much seen and heard it all. But some of what we’ve been hearing lately are proving to be quite interesting.

Take for instance, this text message forwarded to me by a friend. Let’s call her Nene:

“From 2004 to present, the 3 Akbayan congressmen authored a total of 49 bills or 16 bills each ave or 5 bills each per year. Walang naipasang batas! Nakakahiya!”

According to Nene, the text came from someone who currently works for Mike Defensor, a some-time assistant secretary at one of the offices under the Office of the President (OP) with the lofty ambition of occupying a top post in the Department of Agriculture post-May.

Compare this with the press statement of Babae Ka! Party-list, one of the dubious party-list groups that we have exposed as a Malacanang-backed front:

‘”Anim na taon na sila sa Kongreso. Nitong nakaraang tatlong taon ay tatlo pa ang kanilang kinatawan pero kahit isang batas ay walang naipasa ang grupong ito. Ngayon sila daldal ng daldal samantalang noong may sesyon ang Kongreso ay hindi sila nagpasa ng batas na magtatakda sa paglabas ng pangalan ng mga nominado,” Dagami said.

“Sa loob ng tatlong taon, yung isang kinatawan nila ay pitong panukalang batas lang ang nagawa. Yung isa naman ay labing-tatlo, at yung isa dalawampu’t siyam nga pero puro kinopya lang naman sa mga panukala ng ibang mambabatas,” Dagami added.’ (Full article)

Sounds familiar, no? Rosalinda “Sally” Dagami is Babae Ka’s Chair and First Nominee who has admitted to media that many members of Babae Ka are employees of the OEA (Office of External Affairs, under the OP). Whilst Dagami and Babae Ka continue to vehemently deny being backed by or receiving funding from Malacanang, the PCIJ has recently released a report on a confidential official OEA memorandum requesting GMA for funding for a campaign to install a “pro-administration party-list bloc” in Congress. Babae Ka, according to that report, is one of these groups.

Now, let’s go to a Letter to the Editor published in PDI on April 21 entitled Akbayan’s Zoo. Here are some juicy quotes:

‘Oh yes, the accreditation of new party-list groups has made Akbayan skeptical, bordering on being panicky. Its leaders are now going berserk for fear of losing precious votes and one or even two seats in the House of Representatives; thus, seeing their perks, in the form of multimillion-pesos in pork barrel, reduced.

These so-called leaders have a tendency to believe that they are the only people on earth who have the skills to organize and educate the people. Certainly they can organize, mobilize and even arouse the masses. However, instead of serving the welfare of the people, they function only to protect the interest of their organizations and ideology. That’s their secret plot.

Akbayan has turned the House of Representatives into a zoo. The “zookeeper” must do something about this.’

The letter sent via email was by one Leonardo Kirk Galanza. A quick Google search of that name will lead you to three sites. One is the online version of the above L2E; another is a webpage listing the officers of a certain fraternity where Mr. Galanza is identified as the National Adviser; and another links to an old, May 5, 2005 news item by on an unpaid overdue loan undertaken by the Baguio City Government. Mr. Galanza was quoted therein as he spoke in his capacity as “secretariat officer-in-charge” of no other than the Office of External Affairs.

Hmmm… My inner Sherlock smells something fishy! So, I send a text message to Nene: “By any chance, Ne, is the person texting you the anti-Akbayan propaganda named Leonardo Kirk Galanza?”

I’ll give you one guess what her reply is. Clue: It isn’t a “No.”

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. As for me, I only have one question for Mr. Galanza: By “the zookeeper,” who is it that you mean? Kasi kung si Gloria yun, I have to say, bagay sa kanya… 🙂

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Pharma and Karma

As with most of the progressive policy reform bills that we try to push in Congress, we did not expect that passing the Affordable Medicines Bill (House Bill 6035) would be easy. When deliberations on the bill actually began, we had mixed feelings about what was to come. On one hand, the bill was certified as urgent by GMA (for once she did something right), which meant that we could theoretically depend on the support of JDV and the majority bloc. It has also been passed on third reading by the Senate, which we hoped would somewhat strengthen the impetus for the Thirteenth Congress to add something important to its less-than-impressive list of laws made.

On the other hand, we heard through the grapevine that the lawyers of PHAP, the umbrella org of pharmaceutical companies operating in the Philippines (whom I personally think of as an evil bunch, subject maybe to a few exceptions), were directed “to spare no expense” in making sure that the bill would not see the light of the day.

This, of course, was far from surprising. For years, multinational pharmaceutical companies have dominated the sale and distribution of medicines in the country, and they could not be expected to give up their huge profit margins without a fight. Imagine, on the anti-hypertensive drug Norvasc alone, Pfizer earns more than a billion pesos a year. That’s right. Not millions, but BILLIONS. That’s on ONE drug alone, for ONE company, in ONE country.

Here are more facts to digest: The price of medicines in the Philippines is said to be second highest (if not the highest) in Asia. The difference in prices across the region is astounding. For instance, Ponstan, a popular pain reliever produced by drug giant Pfizer, costs around P21 in the Philippines but only P2.61 in India and P1.38 in Pakistan. A 10-mg tablet of Norvasc costs about P70 in the Philippines. In India, Pfizer sells the exact same product for only P9. Ventolin, a drug for persons suffering from asthma, sells for P315 here while Glaxo sells it for P123 in India and only P62 in Pakistan. Outrageous, noh?

Big bad pharma will say that the high price of medicines in the country is due to their investments for research and development. This is simply misleading. What pharma will not admit is that the costs for R&D are considered to be “sunk costs” which are not really factored in pricing. The fact of the matter is that MNCs price drugs according to market forces or “what the market can bear.” The problem here is that the only markets they consider when they formulate prices are the A & B markets! I guess they think that the A-B crowd are the only people who matter since they are the ones who can afford to buy medicines in the first place, in effect placing often life-saving medicines further beyond the reach of the ordinary Juan and Juana dela Cruz. (Makes me angry, really. I’d buy me some Norvasc, only I couldn’t afford it.) In a country like ours, where only a tiny fraction of the population has decent access to healthcare, this is simply unacceptable. Health should not be a matter of privilege. It should be a matter of right.

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