The latest news stories from the major news organizations in Cebu and Manila in the Philippines, the US and other countries.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December 24, 2009 Major News Stories

Cebu workers group refiles minimun wage hike petition

CEBU CITY - A workers group in Cebu took advantage of the season of giving to have their wages raised as they field anew a petition for a P128.60 across-the-board increase in daily wages.

Cebu Labor Coalition (CELAC) said they is hoping that members of the Regional Tripartite Wage and Productivity Board will decide in favor of the workers and approve their petition. But RTWPB members will be able take up the petition only next year.

The group first filed their petition last October but their petition was returned to them because of some technical problems like lack of signatures from the petitioners and computation attachments.

They filed their petition again Tuesday, a few days before Christmas.

Boboy Belarmino, CELAC spokesperson, said that they are hoping the RTWPB can take up their petition before the Christmas vacation. He said that the season for giving may have a good effect on the board's decision.

But Elias Cayanong, Department of Labor and Employment regional director and RTWPB chairman, said he has not yet seen the petition that was reportedly re-filed.

Palace vows release of state workers' bonus before Christmas

Government employees will receive their P7, 000 cash bonus Wednesday or at the latest, on Christmas Day, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

Senate OK's bill exempting senior citizens from VAT

The Senate has approved on second reading a bill seeking to exempt senior citizens from the 12-percent expanded value-added tax (VAT).

Consumer group urges NTC abolition

A consumer group has criticized the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for looking after the interest of the companies it regulates instead of the public it is supposed to serve.

TXTpower also called for a review of local telecommunications firms' franchises, saying these should be revoked if the companies are proven to be breaking the law in their implementation of the new per-pulse billing system.

"How the NTC has acted since issuing and attempting to implement its circular confirms the worst fears of consumers and members of Congress: That the NTC, the industry regulator, has apparently lost sight of its mandate and powers under law and allowed the telcos they are supposed to regulate to dictate telecom regulations in the country," TXTpower president Antonio Cruz said.

The group's calls come amid local mobile networks' defiance of an NTC memorandum ordering a switch to a new billing system that charges subscribers for every six-second pulse on a call. This will replace the prevailing per-minute charging that all companies use.

The new billing system was supposed to take effect last Dec. 16, but based on monitoring done by the NTC, none of the country's three mobile brands had complied.

While Smart Communications and Globe Telecom have offered a per-pulse billing option to subscribers with the use of prefixes, the NTC said this was not enough to comply with the order, which mandated that per-pulse billing be the default system.

No sanctions have been imposed on any of the companies.

"As of today, Smart, Globe and Sun remain recalcitrant and unapologetic for violating the NTC circular. The default charging for calls remain per-minute, not per-pulse," Cruz said.

He said one reason why companies have refused to implement the new billing system was because this would result in lower revenues for the Christmas season, when network traffic is expected to be at its heaviest.

Cruz said that although healthy competition among telecommunications companies was encouraged under law, particularly Republic Act No. 7925, this did not mean companies should be allowed to do whatever they want.

"The NTC admits through its action and inaction, that it is infected with a serious disease of Deregulation Complex. It always hides behind 'deregulation' to defend the telcos when consumers complain and when Congress raises the relevant questions," Cruz said.

Cruz said the NTC should either be replaced or be given more powers to regulate local companies and better protect consumer interests.

"A regulator must be the champion of the interests of the ... people, not of the telcos they are supposed to regulate," he added.

Old cities rap SC

THE League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) will likely question the latest Supreme Court (SC) decision that upheld the conversion of 16 towns into cities, including three in Cebu.

Supreme Court violates own rules in cityhood case

by By Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak
MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court violated its own rules when it reopened the 16 cityhood lawsand eventually reversed itself on the contentious case.

These localities were

  • Baybay in Leyte
  • Bayugan in Agusan del Sur
  • Batac in Ilocos Norte
  • Bogo, Naga and Carcar in Cebu
  • Borongan in Eastern Samar
  • Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte
  • Catbalogan in Samar
  • El Salvador in Misamis Oriental
  • Guihulngan in Negros Oriental
  • Tandag in Surigao del Sur
  • Lamitan in Basilan
  • Tayabas in Quezon
  • Tabuk in Kalinga
  • Mati in Davao Oriental

'Final and executory'

On Nov. 18, 2008, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-5,declared as unconstitutional the cityhood laws because they contain provisions that exempt the municipalities from the minimum income requirement of P100 million for them to become cities.

On May 21, 2009, the Court declared as "final and executory" the nullification of the said cityhood laws. The ruling was recorded in the entry of judgment, which means that the case is closed and the decision is ready for execution.

On June 2, 2009, the SC, in en banc resolution finally closed the case of the cityhood laws.

In a press statement issued June 10, the Court acknowledged the finality of the case. SC spokesman Midas Marquez said that the SC, in an en banc resolution, has "finally closed and terminated" the cases which declared the 16 cityhood laws as unconstitutional.

The statement said that the High Court held that "there can be no doubt of the intention of this Court to consider [these cases] finally closed and terminated." It also stressed that "basic is the rule in our judicial system that litigations must be terminated at some point."

This indicated that no further motions for reconsideration would be entertained by the Court.

Catastrophe in the making

Yet, the Court revived the 16 cityhood laws and reversed its decision. Voting 6-4, the tribunal on Monday reversed its ruling.

The 35-page ruling penned by Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. declared valid the cityhood laws and set aside the "final and executory" ruling it made several months earlier.

In a phone interview, Abalos implied that the SC committed an irregular act.

"We are saddened and shocked. That is illegal," Abalos told Newsbreak, adding that the case could be a bad precedent. "All other decisions could be opened."

Abalos stressed that once a ruling had been recorded in the entry of judgment, "It is like the death certificate of the case."

Justice Antonio Carpio, in his dissenting opinion, warned that the Court's somersault in decided cases "would wreak havoc on well-settled jurisprudence" that could unleash a "catastrophe."

"Such an unprecedented ruling would resurrect contentious political issues long ago settled," Carpio said, citing as example the case of the People's Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action, which gathered enough signatures in 1997 that could lift the constitutional limit on a president's term.

Motions for reconsideration

Abalos said that the recent ruling of the high tribunal raises question on judicial stability since the decision came after the Supreme Court have already declared that the case is closed.

The LCP has been protesting the conversion of unqualified cities, saying that they eat up portions of the Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA) for the existing cities. The IRA is the lifeblood of local government units.

Following the May 2009 final ruling of the SC, the Department of Budget and Management issued LBM No. 61, providing for the final allocation of the IRA of the existing cities for 2009.

After the first ruling nullifying the cityhood of the 16 LGUs, 2 motions for reconsideration (MR) were filed by the 16 affected LGUs, which called themselves the League of 16.

On March 31, 2009, the SC, by a vote of 7-5, denied the first MR for lack of merit. The High Tribunal also said that no further pleadings should be entertained.

On April 28, 2009, the Court, by a vote of 6-6, denied a second MR, again for lack of merit. The tribunal also said that no further pleadings should be entertained and that an entry of judgement shall be made in due course.

A tie in the voting does not reverse a case.

Define 'majority'

However, in reversing itself, the Supreme Court said that the deadlocked vote on April 28, 2009, "does not reflect the majority of the members."

"Webster defines 'majority' as 'a number greater than half of a total.' In plain language, this means 50% plus one," said Velasco, who penned the fresh decision.

Velasco also said that no violation of equal protection clause has been made by the cityhood laws.

"While the equal protection guarantee frowns upon the creation of a privileged class without justification, inherent in equality clause is the exhortation for the Legislature to pass laws promoting equality or reducing inequalities. The enactment of the cityhood laws was in real sense an attempt on the part of the Congress to address the inequality dealt the respondent LGUs" the decision reads.

Ironically, Velasco, the ponente of the new ruling, voted for the nullification of 16 cities in November last year.

Carpio, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said that the 6-6 tie vote did not overrule the Nov. 18, 2008, decision that voided the creation of the 16 cities.

"These prior majority actions of the Court en banc can only be overruled by a new majority vote, not a tie vote because a tie vote cannot over rule prior affirmative action," Carpio wrote.

"The tie in the voting does not leave the case undecided," he said, adding that the November 2008 decision and March 2009 resolution much stand "in view of the failure of the members of the Court en banc to muster the necessary vote for their reconsideration." (Newsbreak)

Comelec clears Kusug bets: papers 'sufficient, in order'

KUSUG'S aspirants will be included in the official list of candidates in the 2010 polls after the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

'Assassination plot' v. mayor's nephew foiled at party

TWO drunken members of an anti-crime group were arrested for bringing an unlicensed .22 magnum revolver at a Christmas party that Mayor Arturo Radaza and his group hosted for over 600 barangay workers inside the Lapu-Lapu City Cultural and Sports Complex last Tuesday.

Alfie Gabato, 43, a member of the International Guardian Brotherhood Association, and Valeriano Bacalso, 33, a member of the Citizens Police Auxiliary Group or Barangay Intelligence Network (BIN), were allegedly out to kill the mayor's nephew, Harry Radaza, who is running for the City Council.

Their affiliation to these groups led the Ra-daza camp to believe that they were sent by Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Lito Ruiz, who is running against Arturo for the seventh congressional seat.

Ruiz's reaction

But Ruiz, who is also reportedly organizing his own police auxiliary force and is a supreme godfather of the Guardian, described the alleged foiled plot as scripted by a bankrupt mind.

"It's too predictable. It seemed like a scene from a TV show. The mayor should come up with something that is believable," he said in Cebuano in a phone interview.

Gabato and Bacalso allegedly drew attention by talking harshly to people who got near them.

Bacalso also went to the presidential table where Arturo, his wife Paz and their slate for councilors were sitting.

Bacalso went up to Harry to ask the latter for food. The pack that Harry gave him contained only rice so he returned to ask for some meat, and as Harry handed some meat, a slice of it fell on the floor.


Bacalso leaned over to pick it up, and at the same time put his hand inside the black bag he was carrying.

As he and Gabato walked towards the exit door, security personnel, who was suspicious of their actions, frisked them. A scuffle took place until the security personnel allegedly seized the gun from Bacalso's bag.

Harry said Bacalso was two feet away from him and could have killed him.

Because of the incident, Arturo said, he will request the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for police security for his wife Paz, who is running for mayor, and Harry.

"We won't wait till one of us gets shot… or one of gets killed," he said in Cebuano, adding that the security policy during the barangay pulong-pulong will be reviewed for the safety of each Lakas-Kampi-CMD bet.


Arturo is running under the Nationalist People's Coalition banner. The group's campaign manager is Harry.

"I've become their target because of the vital role I play in the group," said Harry, without accusing anybody from the rival party as mastermind.

Two weeks ago, he said he received a death threat, through text message, urging him to be extra vigilant because he will be assassinated.

Bacalso and Gabato are detained at the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office.

They were charged with illegal possession of firearms, but lawyer Francisco Senerpida said his group will file a separate complaint for alarm and scandal against the two.

The mayor said there is no other person capable of sending people from the BIN and the Guardian, except Ruiz.

Premne brod denies police official made threats on BOC agents

THE Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 is initiating an administrative investigation against Supt. Mersan Premne, amid allegations he stopped customs officials from intercepting some smuggled cars.

The brother, who refused to give his name, said that Supt. Premne runs a "small" car business, and bought the units without knowing these were suspected of being smuggled.

"Igo ra man siya nipalit atong mga awtoha (He just bought those cars)," the brother said.

Meanwhile, the majority floor leader of the Mandaue City Council believes it was their resolution "exposing" Supt. Premne's alleged wrongdoing that caused the official's relief.

Mandaue City Police Director Orlando Ualat said the former deputy director's transfer to the PNP Training Service was ordered by higher officials, for reasons Ualat was not told.

Ualat believes it has something to do with Premne's conflict with some city councilors.

Authored by Majority Floor Leader Victor Biaño, the resolution in question asked PRO 7 Director Federico Terte to investigate Premne's alleged involvement in an "illegal" business.

In previous interviews, Premne described the allegations—that he protected illegal drug personalities and fuel smugglers—as baseless.

Premne has filed a libel case against Biaño, but Biaño said it was dismissed.

Palace declares unilateral Christmas truce with communists

Malacanang has declared a unilateral suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) with the New People's Army (NPA) for the Christmas season.

CPP also declares 5-day holiday truce vs govt, military

MANILA, Philippines - The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Wednesday announced its own 5-day holiday ceasefire after the government declared a suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) during the same period. 

Mayon shoots ash column, major eruption nears—Phivolcs

(UPDATE) Alert level 5 could be declared any time on Mayon Volcano but volcanologists are waiting for one important sign – a chocolate-colored mass of ash column shooting straight up into the air as high as 10-15 kilometers from the crater.

Arroyo goes straight to Albay after HK vacation

After being criticized for flying to Hong Kong while Mayon Volcano is threatening to erupt, President Arroyo went straight to Albay province upon arriving in the country Wednesday afternoon to visit thousands of families that have been evacuated there, a radio report said.

Arroyo wants forced evacuation at Mayon probed

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Wednesday ordered an investigation into whether the forced evacuation being enforced in danger zones around Mayon Volcano in Albay province violates the residents' rights.

Comelec urged to drum up interest in extended registration

A youth group that has noticed the Commission on Elections' lack of enthusiasm for the extended voters' registration urged the poll body to step up its campaign to persuade young people to take advantage of the extra list-up days made possible by a Supreme Court ruling.

Get rid of mañana habit, Comelec tells voters

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is urging the public to take advantage of the extended voter registration and register as early as possible.

Palace backs early ARMM polls

Malacañang is backing the Commission on Elections' resolution to hold voting in the violence-wracked Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao ahead of the May 2010 national elections.

Early ARMM elections depends on Senate—Nograles

Speaker Prospero Nograles was non-committal on the passage of a bill that would allow early election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Early elections in ARMM possible even without Congress nod—Pimentel

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) may decide on its own, even without Congress approval, to hold an early election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a senator said on Wednesday.

Suspended officials still covered by three-term limit

Elected public officials who have been placed under preventive suspension cannot claim interrupted terms to be able to circumvent the three-term limit, according to a Supreme Court ruling.

SWS: Satisfaction with VP de Castro, Enrile dips

MANILA, Philippines - Public satisfaction with Vice-President Noli de Castro and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile dipped slightly, according to the latest Social Weather Stations survey released Wednesday.

The Third Quarter 2009 Social Weather Survey, conducted from September 18-21, 2009, found 58% satisfied and 26% dissatisfied with de Castro's performance for a net satisfaction rating of +32. SWS said the new rating is 12 points down from the good +44 in June 2009, but similar to the good +36 in February 2009.

Public satisfaction with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also took a dip in the last survey. Enrile had a net satisfaction rating of moderate +14, 9 points down from the moderate +23 in the previous quarter.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno had a net satisfaction of +2, which is 2 points lower than the  +4 net satisfaction he got in June.

The net satisfaction rating of Speaker Nograles remained poor at –20 now, from –22 in February and –15 in June. His net satisfaction rating has been poor since SWS began surveying it on March 2008.

Satisfaction ratings of top gov't institutions

The September 2009 survey found 54% satisfied and 24% dissatisfied with the performance of the Senate, or a good net +30, unchanged from +30 in June 2009.

There were 41% satisfied and 30% dissatisfied with the House of Representatives, for a moderate net satisfaction rating of +10, similar to the moderate +12 in the previous quarter after improving from a neutral +2 in February 2009.

The survey found 43% satisfied and 29% dissatisfied with the performance of the Supreme Court, or a moderate +14, similar to +17 in the previous quarter.

It found 33% satisfied and 38% dissatisfied with the Cabinet as a whole, or a neutral –5, similar to +3 in the previous quarter. The net satisfaction rating of the Cabinet has been consistently neutral since August 2005, except in March 2006 and March 2008 when it was at net –10.

PDEA takes custody of cocaine bricks recovered by Samar fishermen

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency took custody of some 26 cocaine bricks that were recovered by fishermen off the coast of Eastern Samar on Tuesday, Director General Dionisio Santiago said on Wednesday.

Arroyo names AFP chief's brother as acting National Security Adviser

Among a recent flurry of appointments, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has promoted National Security Council director general Milo Ibrado as acting National Security Adviser, replacing Norberto Gonzales who was earlier appointed as acting secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND).

'Tough lady prosecutor' to handle Ampatuan massacre case

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) is assigning a "tough lady prosecutor" to handle the multiple murder cases filed against 190 people, including members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, a top Malacañang official announced Wednesday.

Gov't eyes Army camps for detention of massacre suspects

The government is considering different detention facilities, including military camps, for the Ampatuan clan members and hundreds of other suspects in the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 persons in Maguindanao.

Don't be unkind to Ampatuan's lawyer, senator urges media

Sen. Aquilino ``Nene'' Pimentel Jr. on Wednesday urged the media "not to be unkind" to lawyers of the powerful clan in Maguindanao implicated in the November 23 killing of more than 50 people in the province.

2 lawyers in massacre honored by colleagues

Colleagues of the two lawyers slain in the Nov. 23 massacre in Maguindanao massacre have refused to let their deaths be in vain, and are using the tragedy to fire up their fight against impunity and injustice.

Acting governor names new ARMM execs

Acting Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Ansarudin Adiong on Wednesday installed new officials, in what was described as part of the major revamp of the regional government.

American pleads guilty to sex with Filipino minors

A 64-year-old American national has pleaded guilty before a Florida court to engaging in sex tourism and having sex with minors in the Philippines, according to the US Department of Justice.

Another Filipino sailor's body found off Damascus

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday identified another dead Filipino seaman among the seven missing crew members of the Panamian cargo ship Dany F II that sank off the coast Tripoli, Lebanon, early this week.

Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said in a press briefing that the remains of Manuel Calaor was found in Lattaka, a town 375 kilometers off Damascus.

Somalia assures RP of 53 seamen's rescue

Visiting Somali Deputy Prime Minister Abdulrahman Aden Ibrahim Ibbi assured the Philippine government on Wednesday that Somalia would help rescue the remaining 53 Filipino seafarers still in the hands of the pirates, and address piracy off its coast.

Osama bin Laden's wife and six children in Iran

Six of Osama bin Laden's children and one of his wives, missing since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, are under house arrest in Iran, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper said Wednesday, quoting a family member.

Passenger plane crashes in Jamaica injuring 40

(UPDATE 2) Forty passengers were injured when an American Airlines jet overran the runway and broke apart late Tuesday at Kingston's international airport, local authorities told Jamaican media.

Close to 200 crocodiles captured in Australia

SYDNEY- Almost 200 predatory saltwater crocodiles have been removed from waterways around Australia's northern city of Darwin this year for the safety of residents, an official said Wednesday.

Mayweather blasts Pacquiao for refusing blood tests

MANILA, Philippines – The "almost finalized" negotiations for the super fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. hit a snag because of an alleged disagreement on the type of drug testing that should be done.

Boxing buzz: Mayweather dumps Pacquiao

A close aide of seven-division world champion Manny Pacquiao said that the camp of Floyd Mayweather Jr. had allegedly pulled out of their scheduled March 13 mega-fight.

Arum starts considering Plan B for Pacquiao

With the issue on blood-testing becoming a mess and both sides not budging, promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank is already considering a "Plan B" for Filipino ring icon Manny Pacquiao"s next fight, minus Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Roach: Mayweather's just scared

Arum says fight is off MANILA, Philippines -- Hall-of-Fame boxing trainer Freddie Roach said Floyd Mayweather Jr. is merely looking for a way out of the planned fight with Manny Pacquiao by dictating the type of drug testing to be used.

Donaire headlines 'Pinoy Power 3'

MANILA, Philippines – Four of the best Filipino boxers of the decade are set to see action in the ring next year, just 6 months after the highly successful "Pinoy Power 2" in Las Vegas, Nevada.

TNT rides on Alapag's heroics, blanks Sta. Lucia

MANILA, Philippines -- Talk 'N Text banked on Jimmy Alapag's heroics in the end game to silence a pesky Sta. Lucia Realty, 117-112, and move closer to the second spot in the KFC-PBA Philippine Cup Wednesday night at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Corteza, Oryan top national billiards tilt

MANILA, Philippines – Lee Van "The Slayer" Corteza and Zemonette Oryan emerged victorious in the Billiards and Snooker Congress of the Philippines 4th National Pool Championship.

PBB fan dies of heart attack while watching show

by by Tina Ganzon, ABS-CBN Southern Tagalog
Batangas City, Philippines - A 21-year- old girl died of a heart attack while watching Friday's episode of Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) Double Up, which featured a young actor dating a housemate.

Liezl Martinez finally confirms breast cancer rumor

MANILA, Philippines – Actress Liezl Martinez has finally confirmed reports that she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer 2 years ago. The Martinezes have been mum on her condition ever since speculations about her illness surfaced.

Miriam gets high-tech handgun as Xmas gift

Don't mess with Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. She got a powerful handgun as a Christmas gift from her husband.

The feisty senator revealed her deadly Christmas gift Wednesday, a day after she disclosed she is getting death threats. She said her husband Narciso Jr., a presidential adviser, gifted her with a "HK" or Heckler & Koch handgun.

"Binigayan ako ng asawa ko ng mas mabigat na baril. It's an HK (My husband gave me a powerful firearm. It's an HK)," Santiago said in an interview on dzXL radio.

Santiago's husband was appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as presidential adviser on revenue enhancement.

Heckler & Koch is a German defense firm that makes small firearms such as the MP5 submachine gun, G3 automatic rifle and the G36 assault rifle.

It also makes the MP7 personal defense weapon, USP series of handguns and the high-precision PSG1 sniper rifle.

Angelina Jolie believes in free love

by Bang Showbiz
Angelina Jolie doesn't believe fidelity is essential in a relationship. The Hollywood actress - who raises six children with her long-term partner Brad Pitt - believes open romances can work just as well as monogamous relationships, if both partners agree to it.

Mike Ditka  - "If God had wanted man to play soccer, he wouldn't have given us arms."

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