Sen. Chiz Escudero said the pursuit of money and police ineptness combined to end the life of a teacher who braved traveling on the high seas just to impart knowledge to her students.
“The kidnappers of Noemi Mandi completely disregarded her fragile health; they were more concerned with getting a ransom for her release,” he added.
Mandi died last week while in captivity due to complications from a recent medical operation.
She and fellow teachers Jocelyn Enriquez and Jocelyn Inion were kidnapped by suspected members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front off the island barangay of Bangkaw-Bangkaw, Naga town in Zamboanga Sibugay while on the way home last March 13.
The three, who were teachers at Bangkaw-Bangkaw Elementary School, were then brought to a coastal village in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan where they have been held ever since.
Their kidnappers are demanding P10 million for their safe release.
“I condemn this treacherous act and the continued inability of the PNP and the AFP to protect innocent civilians, particularly teachers,” Escudero stressed.
He noted that it was only last Jan. 23 when three other teachers, Rafael Mayonado, Janette de los Reyes and Freires Quizon, were also kidnapped while traveling by boat to Sacol Island off Zamboanga City.
“None of these teachers have been released and they together with their families continue to suffer by the day. The authorities must act now to prevent further kidnappings and deaths,” Escudero said.
CHIZ: HIGHER TRAFFIC FINES WON’T REDUCE ROAD ACCIDENTS
Opposition senator Chiz Escudero said road discipline will not improve even if the DOTC increases fines on drivers for violating traffic rules and regulations.
“I believe the best deterrent to preventing vehicular accidents is ensuring the certainty of punishment to ill-disciplined drivers rather than imposing higher penalties,” he added.
For instance, instead of waiting for drivers to commit violations and fining them for it, he said the authorities should institute steps to prevent them from even contemplating violating traffic laws in the first place.
“One way to do this is to increase visibility at all times, especially at night when the possibility of an accident is greater,” Escudero said.
He also suggested the use of cameras at areas where traffic is heavier to monitor actual violations by drivers.
He questioned the actual cause of the increase in the number of road accidents as mentioned by the DOTC.
“I drive daily on Manila’s roads, and the condition of many is really bad. It is also a fact that many streets and highways are poorly lit, and this makes driving quite difficult.”
Some accidents are caused by vehicles breaking down. “The authorities must see to it that every vehicle is road-worthy,” he added.
He noted that public transport drivers have complained about the habit of some traffic authorities to lurk in the shadows and wait for drivers to commit violations before pouncing on them.
“These unscrupulous traffic enforcers are only after making a fast buck,” he said.
Traffic signs should also be more visible and drivers must be required to attend seminars on road safety upon renewal of their licenses, or if they are found to have been responsible for accidents.
“Why do we have to pick on the lowly driver who is simply trying to earn a decent living? We do not need to burden him any further. This kind of knee-jerk reaction by the DOTC serves no purpose.”
CHIZ CALLS FOR TAX BREAKS FOR PRE-NEED PLANHOLDERS
Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday called on the government to include taxbreaks for the thousands of pre-need planholders victimized by thecollapse of firms like Legacy, Pacific Plans, Platinum, and theCollege Assurance Plan in its stimulus package.
“If you want to give them immediate relief, just like the displacedworkers and the poor, this is probably the best way to do it,” theopposition senator said.
“This is going to be a much-needed boost for these families who willonce more face the spectre of paying tuition and other rising feesthis coming school year,” Escudero said.
The opposition senator cited the move of the US Internal RevenueService to allow victims of Bernard Madoff’s investment scam to claimtax deductions in time for the filing of income tax returns on April15.
He said that IRS plan would benefit 13,000 investors in the Ponzischeme that cost them about US$50 billion dollars. It was unveiledlast week by US IRS chief Douglas Shulman during his testimony beforethe Senate Finance Committee, Escudero added.
In our case, Escudero said, a planholder only needs to present thepre-need policy and the tuition receipts for the last school year tothe Bureau of Internal Revenue to qualify for tax relief.
“The government’s failure, particularly the SEC’s incompetence andalleged collusion with the pre-need firms, only makes it morally rightto give these families a break at least this year or until the timewhen they are paid what is due them,” he said.
Escudero said there is still time for the administration to work outdetails of the tax break before the income tax filing season ends onApril 15.
There are about 14,000 affected planholders who have lost at least 330million pesos in investments with the bankrupt Legacy Group. On theother hand, about 34,000 planholders have claims against theYuchengco-owned Pacific Plans, which was sold recently to another firmput up by investor Noel Onate for P250 million pesos.
The SEC has said that about 100,000 pre-need beneficiaries, includingthose serviced by the College Assurance Plans, could have stoppedschooling since the crisis in the pre-need industry began in 2004.
According to estimates by the Parents Enabling Parents (PEP)Coalition, the claims of over a million pre-need planholders couldamount to billions of pesos.
“The government can either give full or partial relief. But bothoptions are better than no relief at all,” said Escudero.
“I am sure that our finance managers can find a way to make up for therevenues that may be lost because of this tax relief. One thing theycan do is plug the loopholes in the collection process,” he added.
He also said that planned tax relief will complement other measuresintended to cushion various sectors from the impact on the country bythe global economic recession, like the proposed P6-B unemploymentinsurance fund for displaced workers as well as the reported promiseof SEC chair Fe Barin to provide P150 million pesos to 20,000 pre-needplanholders before June.
He said the idea of providing for unemployment insurance is worthlooking into but the government must make sure that the “plan will notjeopardize the financial and actuarial health of the Social SecuritySystem (SSS).”