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Test kits from Singapore

SINGAPORE EMBASSY IN MANILA

SINGAPORE Ambassador to the Philippines Gerard Ho checks boxes containing COVID-19 test kits that arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on March 24, before turning these over on the same day to the Philippine government through Foreign Affairs Secretary Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. Singapore donated 3,000 test kits and one Polymerase Chain Reaction Machine.

Law gives Duterte emergency powers for 3 months

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte signed into law on Tuesday Republic Act No. 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which gives him emergency powers in managing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country. The law is valid for three months. During a late night briefing on Tuesday, Mr. Duterte said, “To the members of both houses of Congress who sponsored and voted for this measure, I express my sincerest gratitude to all of you for granting our most urgent requests. Finally, the Executive Department can move, decide and act freely for the best interest of the Filipino people during this health crisis.” Among the law’s provisions are the immediate testing of persons under investigation and monitoring of the disease, and mandating establishments to serve as quarantine sites or housing for frontliners such as health workers. The procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies will also be expedited and exempt from taxes and other fees. Families from low-income households will be provided subsidies and other assistance. — Gillian M. Cortez

Agri workers, fisherfolk, vets exempted from quarantine

AGRICULTURE workers and veterinarians have been included in the list of exemptions from the mandatory home quarantine imposed by the government in Luzon to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a ranking police official said Wednesday. Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, Philippine National Police (PNP) deputy chief for operations, said among those allowed to travel within the quarantine areas are farmers, fishermen and employees of agricultural supply stores and outlets. Mr. Eleazar, who heads the joint task force COVID-19 Shield, said the policy adjustment is to ensure steady food supply in Luzon. Aside from agricultural workers, veterinarians and employees of veterinary clinics have also been included. The agriculture industry group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have appealed for the inclusion of their sector as essential personnel under the current state of emergency. — Emmanuel Tupas/PHILSTAR and Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

PMA rejects automatic licensing of medical graduates

THE PHILIPPINE Medical Association (PMA) rejected the proposal to automatically issue licenses to medical graduates without taking the board exam to beef up manpower amid the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). PMA Vice President Benito P. Atienza, in a radio interview Wednesday, said medical students can still volunteer to help even without a license. The proposal came from Senator Francis N. Tolentino who, in a statement Monday, asked the Professional Regulation Commission to waive the licensure examination of new physicians, which has been postponed from its March 1 schedule with more than 1,500 graduates registered to take it. — Genshen L. Espedido



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Elon Musk Soars Past Warren Buffett on Billionaires Ranking

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(Bloomberg) — Elon Musk is now richer than Warren Buffett.The fortune of Tesla Inc.’s chief executive officer rose $6.1 billion on Friday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after the carmaker’s stock surged 11%. Musk is now the world’s seventh-richest person, also ahead of tech titans Larry Ellison and Sergey Brin.The 49-year-old owns about a fifth of Tesla’s outstanding stock, which comprises the bulk of his $70.5 billion fortune. His majority ownership of closely held SpaceX accounts for about $15 billion.Shares of the electric-car maker have risen 269% this year. The company’s booming valuation helped Musk land a $595 million payday, making him the highest-paid CEO in the U.S.Musk is the latest tech entrepreneur to rise above Buffett in the ranks of the world’s richest. Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft Corp. CEO, and Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Brin also have leapfrogged the Oracle of Omaha. And Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani surpassed Buffett this week.Mike Novogratz, the longtime money manager who now runs digital currency investor Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd., warned that valuations of technology companies are getting way too high and that small investors should get out of the market before it crashes.“We are in irrational exuberance — this is a bubble,” he said Friday in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The economy is grinding, slowing down, we’re lurching in and out of Covid, yet the tech market makes new highs every day. That’s a classic speculative bubble.”Surpassing Buffett may be especially sweet for Musk. In an interview in May, he told comedian Joe Rogan that he wasn’t “the biggest fan” of his fellow billionaire. “He’s trying to find out does Coke or Pepsi deserve more capital? I mean that’s kind of a boring job, if you ask me,” Musk said.Buffett has also criticized Musk, saying last year that although Musk was “a remarkable guy,” he had “room for improvement” in behaving like a CEO, singling out his tweeting habits.Buffett’s fortune dropped earlier this week when he donated $2.9 billion to charity. The 89-year-old has given away more than $37 billion of Berkshire Hathaway shares since 2006. The company’s stock performance has also underwhelmed recently.(Adds Musk comments on Buffett in eighth paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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The real problem with accounting firms: They don’t reward auditors that challenge clients

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Britain’s audit regulator, the Financial Reporting Council, put out new rules July 6 intended to boost auditors’ independence. The rules focus on how audit partners are paid—so that fees from consulting, which requires a certain degree of obsequiousness toward clients, do not overly slacken auditors’ skepticism toward those clients. 

These new rules are well-meaning. But they are not enough. Auditors could easily use the new rules to raise audit fees on their clients, but that does not mean they will be more challenging toward their clients. Indeed, it is easy to see how the audit firms comply with the letter of these new rules without honoring their intent. The very fact that the audit firms have come out broadly supportive of the new rules should give the regulators some pause as to whether they have been had. 

The new rules are seemingly catalyzed by the Wirecard accounting scandal. A DAX 30 company, and one of Europe’s embarrassingly few tech success stories, Wirecard has collapsed under what appears to be a simple cash fraud. The auditors apparently relied on third-party representations of their client’s cash balances. This is absurd. Even my landlord, who is not an auditor and who knows of my professorial role at Oxford, demands a higher standard of proof to verify my income. 

It is not that the auditors don’t know how to do their job—most audit partners I have met are hugely competent. It is because the culture in their own firms does not sufficiently reward challenge. To have gone back to Wirecard to chase after more evidence on cash balances would have been unpleasant for the auditors—it suggests to the client that the auditor does not trust them. And to be so aggressive with clients is anathema, even for partners in the firms. Not surprisingly, the juniors also learn how to sing in this choir. 

Bethany McLean is a hero among financial journalists. In 2001, the then 30-year-old Fortune magazine reporter authored a critical piece questioning one of the world’s most valuable and feared companies: Enron. Her article helped unravel the massive accounting fraud upon which Enron was built, and it helped bring down both the company and its auditor, Arthur Andersen, which was at the time one of the world’s most revered audit firms. 

The story of Bethany McLean’s chutzpah is legend in business school and journalism classrooms—the story of a David who brought down Goliath. I haven’t met a serious financial journalist who doesn’t yearn for a “hit” like McLean’s Enron piece. 

What are the McLean-like watercooler stories within audit firms? What are the hero narratives on which novice auditors are initiated and reared into the partnership? These narratives exist—every organization has culture-building stories, even if they are not the ones the CEO likes to tell—but within audit firms today these narratives have little to do with challenging clients’ management. 

Rather they are narratives about whistleblowers who get shunted out and troublemakers who get denied promotions. The junior auditors know what is best for them if they want to stay and draw partner-level salaries—and rocking the client’s boat is not advised.

The Wirecard fraud has again brought to public attention the invidious negligence of some auditors. The crisis in auditing is at the heart of the current crisis in capitalism—many people don’t trust capitalism because they see it as an inside job; auditors are supposed to safeguard against expropriation, but they are too often caught asleep at the wheel. 

What we need to see from the audit firms is a genuine commitment to getting their internal culture right—a culture of intense challenge and skepticism of clients’ management practices. Many clients will not like this; but that is precisely why we need auditors and why we made audits statutory. Until we know that audit rookies are being inducted with watercooler tales of how their firms’ most respected partners felled duplicitous CFOs through dogged investigation, no amount of new rules will matter. 

Karthik Ramanna is professor of business and public policy at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. 

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House rejects ABS-CBN plea to extend franchise

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Philippine lawmakers on Friday rejected the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp. — a broadcast network critical of President Rodrigo R. Duterte — in what critics see as a grievous assault on press freedom.

Voting 70 to 11, the House of Representatives committee on legislative franchises denied the 25-year extension plea, saying the media giant was “undeserving” of the privilege.

“Not since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos shut down ABS-CBN and other media outlets in 1972 has a single government act caused so much damage to media freedom,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in an e-mailed statement.

“This move solidifies the tyranny of President Rodrigo Duterte who accused ABS-CBN of slights against him and politically targeted it for refusing to toe the government’s line and criticizing his so-called ‘war on drugs,’” he added.

Mr. Robertson said the House vote was “an astounding display of obsequious behavior by congressional representatives, kowtowing to Duterte by agreeing to seriously limit media freedom in the Philippines.”
“This is a black day for media freedom in a country previously regarded as a bastion of press freedom and democracy in the region,” he added.

The tough-talking Mr. Duterte had on numerous occasions unleashed a stream of profanity against dissenting journalists whom he accused of bias and unfair reporting. Journalists have also been targeted by Mr. Duterte’s Facebook supporters — known bloggers with huge followings and who have fiercely defended him and his policies.

Mr. Duterte has slammed media outlets such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN and Rappler for criticizing his government, particularly his war on drugs that has killed thousands of suspected pushers.

‘DEEPLY HURT’

ABS-CBN President and Chief Executive Officer Carlo Katigbak said they were “deeply hurt” by the House decision.”We have been rendering service that is meaningful and valuable to the Filipino public,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission.”

The House vote puts in jeopardy the jobs of more than 11,000 workers of the media network, which claims to reach more than 80 million Filipinos here and overseas.

“I am deeply saddened by this episode in the history of our nation,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said in a statement. “It is reminiscent of the dark pages in the history of Philippine press in 1972.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the palace was neutral about the franchise issue.”Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee,” he said in a statement.

Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano urged the public to “understand why the decision had to be so.”

A technical working group composed of Cebu Rep. Pablo John F. Garcia, Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus D. Romualdo and Marikina Stella Luz A. Quimbo endorsed the rejection of the franchise application in a report. Ms. Quimbo dissented.

Quezon City Rep. Franz E. Alvarez, who heads the committee, said ABS-CBN Corp. had 24 hours to appeal the House decision.

Critics have said the issue of ABS-CBN’s franchise has become both personal and political. Mr. Duterte had openly harbored a grudge against the broadcaster.

In 2017, he accused ABS-CBN of swindling after it refused to run political ads he had paid for during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Duterte had also criticized the broadcaster for airing news stories about his alleged secret bank accounts. He said he would block the renewal of the company’s franchise if he had his way.

“I will not let it pass,” he said in 2018. “Your franchise will end. You know why? Because you are thieves.”
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility on Feb. 11 called the case against the network a “dangerous attempt to control and silence free press.”

RAPPLER

A Philippine trial court last month convicted Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of news website Rappler, Inc. and former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. guilty for violating a law against cyber-libel.

Critics also viewed the verdict as a major setback for democratic rights in the country. Judge Rainelda H. Estacio-Montesa sentenced the two to six months to six years in prison.

The Justice department in February last year indicted Ms. Ressa, a former CNN investigative reporter, for cyber-libel based on a complaint by a businessman over an article published in 2012, months before the cyber-crime law was passed. The journalist has said the allegations were unfounded.

A month later, she got arrested again for allegedly violating the ban on foreign ownership in media.

Local and international media watchdogs and human rights groups have condemned her arrest. New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Mr. Duterte’s government “to cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler.”

Rappler, which Mr. Duterte has called a “fake news outlet,” is also appealing last year’s order by the Securities and Exchange Commission to close its operations for violating foreign-equity restrictions in mass media. Ms. Ressa is also facing tax evasion cases.

The presidential palace said Mr. Duterte did not have a hand in the court ruling. — Patricia S. Gajitos



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