FACT-CHECK: Did Senate bets tell the truth in #TheFilipinoVotes: Senatorial Forum Part 2?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 28) — Seven Senate hopefuls were grilled Sunday in CNN Philippines' #TheFilipinoVotes senatorial forum.

CNN Philippines' Reality Check Team listened to their positions on key issues from divorce to the death penalty, and tracked netizens' often passionate reactions on social media. 

The team identified four sets of issues that emerged from the senatorial forum and rated politicians' statements as true, partially true and misleading, or false.

1. Did they tell the truth about their legislative records?

The bets spoke of their legislative accomplishments having previously served as members of Congress. CNN Philippines' Reality Check Team fact-checked the opening statements of Neri Colmenares, Samira Gutoc, Harry Roque, Mar Roxas and Erin Tañada that listed bills they claim to have authored.

CLAIM: Neri Colmenares claimed that among his accomplishments were "pag-file ng mga bill laban sa mataas na presyo, mga bills na nagpapataas ng pensyon, mga bills na nagpapataas ng sweldo. May mga batas po akong naipasa katulad ng pagpataas ng pension-dalawang libo na dagdag sa SSS pension."

[Translation: filing bills to curb rise in prices of goods, bills to increase pension and salaries. I also passed salaries to hike pensions by two thousand.]

FACT: Colmenares served as a congressman during the 14th-16th Congress representing Bayan Muna party-list. He was the principal author of House Bill (HB) 5842, mandating a P2,000 across-the-board increase in Social Security System (SSS) monthly pensions in the 16th Congress. Though the bill was vetoed by then-President Benigno Aquino III, it was re-filed in the 17th Congress by Bayan Muna and approved by President Rodrigo Duterte in early 2017. The P1,000 increase took effect in 2017, while a second increase is expected by 2022.

Originally HB 5401, authored by Colmenares and Rep. Carlos Zarate, HB 333 was submitted to the 17th Congress to introduce progressive taxation by exempting low income families from income tax, and restructuring income brackets, including an adjustment to the top tax base. The proposal was eventually substituted by the mother bill HB 5636 and approved by Duterte on December 13, 2017 as Republic Act (RA) 10963 or the "Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN)" Law.

VERDICT: TRUE

CLAIM: Samira Gutoc claimed that she is "co-drafter" of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). Gutoc claimed she was a Ranao rescue team worker and a legislator in the Autonomous Region [in Muslim Mindanao] where we pushed for FOI (Freedom of Information) and Education Act.

"We also pushed, as a BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) commissioner, the rights of Christians and the rights of IPs (indigenous peoples) to live in harmony sa Bangsamoro population…" she said.

FACT: Gutoc was, indeed, a former member of the BTC tasked to draft the BOL. In mid-2017, she resigned from the committee due to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

During her brief stint as the sectoral representative for the women's sector of the 7th Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Regional Legislative Assembly, the following Muslim Mindanao Autonomy (MMA) acts were legislated: Reproductive Health Care Act (MMA Act  292), Strengthened Basic Education Act (MMA Act 303), and the Free Birth Registration Act (MMA Act 293). Gutoc claims to have pushed for the FOI Act, but the proposal failed to become a law.

Gutoc, however, did not specify her legislative achievements or contributions.

VERDICT: TRUE

CLAIM: In his opening statement, Harry Roque claimed, "I'm very proud of the fact that although I've served only 19 years in Congress. I passed many of the major legislations that was enacted by the 17th Congress."

"Panguna na po rito ang [First and foremost is the] Universal Health Care, ang libreng pagamot at libreng gamot [which provides free medicine and free medical check-up], which was House Bill 23, the very first bill that I filed on the very first day and hour of Congress," he added.

"Kasama na rin po diyan ang libreng irigasyon at kasama rin po diyan ang libreng tanghalian sa mga nagugutom na mga kabataan. Kasama rin po ako sa mga nagsulong sa libreng tuition para sa mga state universities and colleges at sa libreng wi-fi…," Roque also said.

[Translation: This also includes free irrigation and free lunch for those children who experience hunger. I also advocated free tuition in state universities and colleges and free wi-fi…]

FACT: Although Roque claims to have served Congress for 19 years, his tenure as a legislator as Kabayan Party-List Representative lasted only from June 2016 to November 2017. While he had an active record of authoring 135 bills during this period, it is unclear what he meant about his reference to "19 years in Congress."

Roque may have misspoken when he referred to his Universal Health Bill as HB 23, which is an act amending RA 9266 ("Architecture Act of 2004") filed before the 17th Congress. HB 225 is the "Universal Health Care Law", which Roque filed. The proposed measure safeguards the right of Filipinos to universal health care service and also contains provisions to set up a National Health Security Fund to be used for intended beneficiaries.

The bill was transmitted to the Senate on September 7, 2017 under HB 5784, and was subsequently agreed upon by the Conference Committee. A Senate version of the bill (Senate Bill 1896) was submitted to the Office of the President on January 23, which is currently pending the signature of the President.

Roque's claim that he revoked irrigation service fees is correct. He submitted HB 5580. Similar bills with the same purpose were consolidated and filed as HB 5670, with Roque as one of the principal authors. RA 10969 or the "Free Irrigation Service Act" was signed into law by Duterte on February 2, 2018.

The team also confirms Roque's statement that he fought for vulnerable peoples' right to adequate food and freedom from hunger. He filed HB 256 or the "Right to Adequate Food Framework Act." The bill was consolidated into HB 7193, which was approved by the House in mid-2018. The legislation has already been transmitted to the Senate pending further action.

Roque was also truthful about his achievement in guaranteeing free tuition. In May 2017, Roque filed HB 5581 or the "Free Higher Education for All Act," which was consolidated into HB 5633. Roque is credited as a principal author to the legislation, which was signed into law as RA 10931 or the "Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act." Students from 112 state universities and colleges, and 78 local universities and colleges nationwide enjoy free tuition and other fees.

VERDICT: TRUE, though it is unclear what he meant by "19 years in Congress."

CLAIM: Mar Roxas claimed, "Sinulong ho natin yung Cheaper Medicines Law na kung saan ang presyo ng gamot para sa Norvasc, sa mga gamot para sa diabetes, sa cancer, at iba pang maintenance medicine ay maipababa. 'Yan po ay naipasa. Dagdag pa doon ay tayo nagsulong ng batas para matanggal ang buwis sa mga minimum wage earners at sa mga OFWs (overseas Filipino workers)…"

[Translation: We pushed for the Cheaper Medicines Law where the price of medicines for the Norvasc, for diabetes, cancer and other maintenance medicines will be lowered. That was passed. We also pushed for a bill to remove taxes from minimum wage earners and OFWs.]

FACT: Roxas who was congressman (1993-2000) and senator (2004-2010) is indeed credited as a co-author and sponsor of Senate Bill (SB) 1658 or "An Act Providing for Cheaper Medicines and for Other Purposes."

However, Roxas' fellow lawmaker Loren Legarda, publicly criticized what she thought was Roxas' "vehement opposition" to automatic price regulation, thus, losing "the 'heart and soul' of the House version because it could have reduced the prices of more or less 1,600 medicines by at least 50 percent."

The bill was, nevertheless, approved by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and became RA 9502 or the "Universally Accessible Cheaper Medicines Act of 2008."

The law, indeed, grants the President authority to impose maximum retail prices for drugs and medicines in treating chronic illnesses and life-threatening conditions, which affirms Roxas' statement.

In March 2009, Roxas advanced this initiative by proposing SB 3128, which sought to augment RA 9502, which lowered the cost of healthcare and exempted some drugs and medicines from import tariffs and other duties. However, records show that the bill did not proceed further than the first reading and referral to the Committee on Ways and Means, and the Committee on Health and Demography.

Roxas did file legislation to protect minimum wage earners. He is referring to SB 103, which exempted government or private sector workers earning minimum wage in Salary Grades 1 to 3 from paying income tax. The proposal formed the basis for SB 2293 and later became RA 9504.

Roxas correctly took credit for attempting to protect wages of OFWs from additional taxes, but did not provide full context to this statement. In July 2008, Roxas submitted SB 2479, seeking to remove the Documentary Stamps Tax on OFW remittances. As stated in the proposal's explanatory note, "all money transfers from abroad are being subjected to a 0.15 percent DST Imposition." Though the bill was read on first reading, referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, and discussed in committee hearings, it did not proceed further.

VERDICT: TRUE

CLAIM: Erin Tañada claims, "Naging human rights lawyer (ako), pinaglingkuran po natin ang mga manggagawa at magsasaka at pumasok sa pulitika at pinatuloy po natin ang pakikinig sa ating mga mamamayan sa mga problemang kinakaharap nila. Nandiyan po yung usapin ng coconut levy. Nandiyan po ang usapin ng Universal Health Care. Nandiyan din po ang usapin ng Cheaper Medicines Bill."

[Translation:I became a human rights lawyer, and I served workers and farmers. I entered politics and we continued to listen to the voice of the people and their woes. These include the coconut levy, the issues surrounding Universal Health Care, and the Cheaper Medicines Bill.]

FACT: Tañada served as congressman from 2004 to 2013. He submitted a legislation on the coconut levy issue, HB 5070 or the "Coconut Farmers' Trust Fund of 2011," to the 15th Congress. With Tañada as the principal author, the measure sought to institute a trust fund to assist coconut farmers and the coconut industry by financing anti-poverty and livelihood programs - though the bill stopped with the Committee on Agriculture and Food.

On the issue of healthcare, Tañada co-authored HB 2174. The proposal sought to amend RA 7875 or the "National Health Insurance Act of 1995" to include an automatic coverage of all Filipino citizens to the National Health Insurance Program, among others. After the proposal's integration to the consolidated HB 6048, with Tañada as co-author, it was approved by former President Aquino, and enacted into law as RA 10606 or the "National Health Insurance Act of 2013."

Tañada also filed legislation to lower the price of medicines. He is listed as one of the co-authors of HB 2844, which later became RA 9502 or the "Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008" signed into law by former President Arroyo.

VERDICT: TRUE

2. Did Roque flip-flop on his positions on journalists' protection and human rights?

CLAIM: Senatorial hopeful Roque answered "no" when he was asked if media in the Philippines is under threat.

FACT: In June 2016, Roque filed HB 913 or the "Journalist Protection, Security, and Benefit Act," which aimed to give protection to journalists under threat.

He also filed and was granted by the Supreme Court a Writ of Amparo, a first of its kind, in 2008 for journalist Nilo Baculo Sr., but the Court of Appeals (CA) refused to give such writ that would promise protection.

But in 2014, Baculo was gunned down, and Roque then argued that the CA got blood on its hands for not approving the writ.

CNN Philippines' Reality Check Team found Roque's legislative history of supporting journalists inconsistent with his "no" to the question of media being currently under threat.

Freedom House's profile of the Philippines in 2018 raised alarm at how the country "remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, and the President's hostile rhetoric toward members of the media continued to exacerbate an already perilous situation in 2017."

The Human Rights Watch World Report 2018 also drew attention to journalist attacks and political harassment under the Duterte regime.

CLAIM: Answering the question on the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR), Roque claimed that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child "recommended that the minimum age should be 12."

FACT: The UN Committee's General Comment 10 (2007) report states, "Rule 4 of the Beijing Rules recommends that the beginning of MACR shall not be fixed at too low an age level, bearing in mind the facts of emotional, mental and intellectual maturity... It can be concluded that a minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 years is considered by the Committee not to be internationally acceptable. States parties are encouraged to increase their lower MACR to the age of 12 years as the absolute minimum age and to continue to increase it to a higher age level."

Thus, Roque's response to the MACR issue was misleading as it left out a crucial recommendation set out by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

VERDICT: PARTIALLY TRUE

3. Did senatorial bets truthfully justify their support for the national minimum wage law?

Senatorial bets Colmenares, Roque and Tanada expressed support for a national minimum wage for Filipino workers.

CLAIM: Colmenares explained that he finds unfair that the minimum wage of ₱537 in Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) is higher compared to the provinces where the prices of basic goods may even be more expensive.

"Mataas pa nga minsan ang (presyo ng) gasolina doon. The inflation rate in many regions is practically higher, if not the same, ng NCR. So bakit mas mataas ang sahod sa NCR, mababa ang sa probinsiya? Dapat po pantay-pantay, patas ang sahod sa national minimum wage law," said Colmenares.

[Translation: Gasoline prices are high there. The inflation rate in many regions is practically higher, if not the same, in NCR. So why is the salary higher in NCR, and lower in the regions? It should be equal salaries under the national minimum wage law.]

FACT: December 2018 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show that prices in Metro Manila tend to remain higher than the regions, particularly for commodity groups like food and non-alcoholic beverages, education services, health services, and recreation and culture. The same data show that NCR's overall inflation rate (4.8 percent) was higher than in CAR (3.4 percent), Central Luzon (4 percent), Eastern Visayas (4.4 percent), and Caraga (4.2 percent).

CLAIM: Tañada similarly made misleading statements that inflation of petroleum is the same across the regions.

FACT: December 2018 PSA data show that inflation for this product category (along with other utilities) was lower in 10 regions relative to NCR.

CLAIM: Roque said inflation rates should be equalized across the regions.

FACT: According to JC Punongbayan, an economic analyst, this is an impossible feat, one that cannot be achieved by a national minimum wage.

JC-tweet.jpg  

The three senatorial candidates struggled to provide solid economic evidence to justify a national minimum wage law.

VERDICT: PARTIALLY TRUE and MISLEADING

4. Did Colmenares ignore recently passed legislative protections for farmers?

Colmenares, in discussing how to lower rice prices, claimed: "Kulang ang suporta ng gobyerno sa agrikultura. Can you imagine a government, which imposes irrigation fees sa mga magsasaka niya? Kumpara sa Vietnam, kumpara sa Thailand, tayo lang ang nag-iimpose ng irrigation fee kaya mahal ang production cost."

[Translation:The government lacks support for agriculture. Can you imagine a government which imposes irrigation fees on farmers? Compared to Vietnam, compared to Thailand, we are the only country doing so; that's why our production cost is high.]

FACT: On Twitter, Prinz Magtulis, an economic analyst, was quick to weigh in, suggesting that Colmenares' claim on the imposition of irrigation fees to farmers is "partly untrue."

Prinz-tweet.jpg  

The fee in question refers to the irrigation service fee (ISF), which, according to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), is for "payment for the services rendered in the delivery of water" in order to fund the operation and maintenance of national systems. Government has been collecting irrigation fees as mandated by RA 3601 since the agency's creation in 1963.

However, in February 2017, the NIA Board of Directors released Memorandum Circular 13 series of 2017, which contained a set of guidelines on free irrigation service to farmers being served by the national irrigation system.

Through RA 10924 or the General Appropriations Act of 2017, a budget allotment of P2 billion as irrigation fee subsidy effectively suspended the ISF collection from farmers from the first cropping season of 2017 onward. In February 2018, Duterte signed into law RA 10969 or the Free Irrigation Service Act, thereby amending RA 3601, and fulfilling one of his campaign promises.

While it is true that the agricultural sector deserves further support from the government, Colmenares is only partially true in claiming that all farmers continue to be burdened by the collection of ISFs. In fact, under the newly signed law, farmers with landholdings of eight hectares and below are exempted from paying ISFs with all their penalties incurred from past due accounts written off under the new measure.

VERDICT: PARTIALLY TRUE

Acknowledgments

CNN Philippines' Reality Check Team aims to monitor politicians' promises and report on organized media manipulation by suspicious online actors. The team includes Jonathan Corpus Ong, Nicole Curato, Samuel Cabbuag and Rossine Fallorina, with active support by UP Diliman student volunteers Cariece Antonio, Ysabela Calderon, Samantha Gabronino, Isabela Maria Padilla and Camille Rose Pajarillo. They received additional reporting from JC Punongbayan and Cleve Arguelles. The Reality Check project is supported by Australian National University, the University of Canberra, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.