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

Monday, December 28, 2009

December 29, 2009 Major News Stories

Oil firms to raise pump prices Tuesday

(UPDATE) Major oil players Pilipinas Shell and Petron Corp. and independent oil firm Phoenix Petroleum Inc. announced on Monday that they would raise oil prices by as much as P1 per liter effective Tuesday morning.

At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Shell will increase the prices of gasoline by P1 per liter and diesel and kerosene by P0.50 per liter to "reflect the increase in international oil price products," said Shell vice president for communications Roberto Kanapi.

Phoenix and Petron will also implement the same price adjustments at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Sale only allowed at SRP: CH forms group vs. firecrackers

Mayor Tomas R. Osmeña yesterday created a task force composed of representatives from different government agencies and City Hall personnel to confiscate firecracker products that are being sold outside the South Road Properties (SRP) including those that are displayed in the department stores and malls.

P250T lost in Quiot fire

An estimated P250,000 was lost after a fire gutted a house past noon yesterday in Mountain View Village, barangay Quiot, Cebu City.

For Refusing To Pay Taxes: City to tag 'delinquent' schools and hospitals

Cebu City acting treasurer Ofelia Oliva will issue today certificates of delinquency to the management of some private hospitals and schools in the city for not paying their taxes because of their claims that they are non-profit institutions.

Groups start signing up for Sinulog

Barely three weeks before the 2010 Sinulog festival, three out-of-town contingents have confirmed to participate in the Grand Parade on January 17.

The early registrants include the Sinanduloy Cultural Troupe of Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, Pintaflores Festival of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental and Tribu Himag-ulaw of Placer, Masbate.

Sinanduloy Cultural Troupe, last year's winner in the Sinulog-based category, and Pintaflores Festival are competing in the Sinulog-based category while Tribu Himag-ulaw, a first time participant, will compete in the Free Interpretation category.

Pintaflores Festival will be choreographed by Victor Cuenco, the choreographer of Buyogan Festival of Leyte that won the grand prize in the FI category last year.

Sinulog Foundation Inc. Executive Director Ricky Ballesteros said other out-of-town groups have confirmed participation, but are yet to register officially. These include the contingents from Bais City, Jimalalud de Sinulog, and Sta. Catalina from the neighboring Negros island; Buyugan Festival of Abuyog, Leyte, Sangyaw Festival of Tacloban City, Dulag, Leyte, and Alikaraw Festival of Hilongos Leyte; and contingents from Cabadbaran City and Lanao Del Norte from Mindanao.

Ballesteros said next year's 30th year of Sinulog will retain the theme, "One Beat, One Dance, One Vision" because it's the "basic thing that the SFI and the City of Cebu envisions in the entire celebration."

Meanwhile, SFI registrar Dolores del Mar said there are, so far, nine official contingents for the Sinulog sa Dakbayan-Elementary category and eight contingents for the secondary category.

Enlisted for the elementary category are Lahug Elementarty School, Sawang Calero Elementary School, and Cebu City Central School while those joining the secondary category are Camp Lapu-Lapu National High School, Abellana National School, Ramon Duterte Memorial National High School, and Inayawan Night High School.

On the other hand, the elementary category of the Sinulog sa Lalawigan have six contingents, so far, including the Pajo Elementary School, Cogon Elementary School, and a delegation from Bogo City.

Seven contingents have enlisted for the secondary category, including the Silaw Culture and Arts of Carcar City, Pundok Laboganon and Arts of Mandaue City, and Department of Education, Naga Division, among others.

Based on SFI's budget proposal, a total of not less than P3.8M has been allocated for contingents of the Sinulog Grand Parade while P5.7M has been allocated for the Sinulog sa Kabataan.

The grand prize winners for the SB and FI categories will receive P500,000 each respectively while the Best in Costume will receive P100,000. Choreographers of the top five winning contingents have a budget allocation of P80,000 while a P100,000 subsidy will also be given to each contingent.

Meanwhile, the grand prize winner of Sinulog sa Kabataan will get P150,000 while the Best in Costume will receive P20,000. A total amount of P21,000 is intended for the choreographers of the winning contingents. On top of this, P50,000 will be given to each contingent as financial assistance.

Another P900,000 is allocated for the winners of other categories, including the best float, arch/décor, higante, puppeteer, best in musicality, short film festival, video documentary, and Sinulog Festival Queen.

Comelec reports low registration turnout despite extension

A Commission on Elections (Comelec) official said Monday the first three days of the extended voters' registration nationwide had a low turnout but expects higher number of registrants between Monday and Tuesday.

Comelec puts nuisance bets through New Year suspense

by by Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak
Those asking for reconsideration will know their fate 'within 10 days' MANILA, Philippines - Candidates for national positions who have been declared nuisance by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will have to wait until early next year to know whether the poll body will reconsider them for the 2010 elections.

Year ends with less than 10% of counting machines delivered

by By Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak
Comelec promises the rest of the PCOS will be in before the campaign starts in 2010 MANILA, Philippines—A total of 7,400 counting machines will be in the custody of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) by the end of the year, or less than 10% of the total machines that its supplier was originally expected to deliver in November.

Poll chief Jose Melo gave assurances, however, that the delivery of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) devices will be completed in the first week of February. That would be shortly before the start of the campaign period for national positions on February 9.
Melo told reporters Monday that 3,200 machines are expected to reach the country today, and 4,000 more will be delivered on Tuesday.
Machine manufacturer Smartmatic earlier delivered 200 PCOS machines for voters education and teachers' training purposes.
In all, 7,400 machines will be with the Comelec by yearend. The poll body's contract with Smartmatic provides for a total of 82,200 PCOS machines, to be delivered November 2009. 
However, there have been delays in the delivery, pushing the Comelec-set deadline to December, then to early February. Deliveries in installment was also scheduled.
The revised schedule set the delivery of 42,200 machines by yearend, a target that was further reduced to 30,000.
Even the delivery of 7,200 machines this month is delayed. They were supposed to be in on December 27, but bad weather prevented the shipment, Melo said.
After the latest batch of PCOS machines this year, Melo said the following deliveries are expected:

  • 9,000 on January 3.
  • 10,600 on January 10.
  • The rest, or 55,200, in the first week of February.

"By first week of February, 100% manufactured na," Melo said.
The poll chief said Smartmatic will not be penalized for delays in the partial delivery dates, but only if it fails to complete the total number of PCOS machine by the agreed upon date.
"'Pag di na-deliver yung talagang commitment for the whole contract, that's when you penalize. It's not per delivery," he said.
The 3,200 machines expected to reach the country today are set for inspection by the customs bureau on Wednesday. The 4,000 will be inspected January 4.

Pimentel wants poll execs in past election anomalies neutralized

An opposition senator on Monday urged the Commission on Elections to neutralize election officers who had been involved in rigging results in past polls.

PSA: Automated polls a disaster waiting to happen

MANILA, Philippines - The automated 2010 national elections is a potential disaster waiting to happen, with all the explosive ingredients in it, a political risk consultancy group said. 

In a report, the Asia-based Pacific Strategies and Assessment (PSA) expressed concern whether the country could pull off the ambitious nationwide automation, echoing fears of critics that "there are simply too many potential human, procedural and/or technical breakdowns that could lead to a major disruption or most drastically a complete failure of the May 2010 elections."

The PSA added: "This could result in a constitutional crisis of unprecedented proportions and major political instability that would drastically worsen the overall risk climate of the Philippines."

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is now rushing against time to implement the first-ever automated elections, with only around 4 months left before the May polls. From the start, the preparations had hit snags: from the bidding to the awarding of the contract to the delivery of the automated counting machines.

The hitches have been giving Comelec chair Jose Melo some sleepless nights.

The automation of the polls is pressed against the background of a highly anomalous presidential race in 2004 where President Arroyo allegedly cheated her rival Fernando Poe Jr. in the counting and canvassing of the votes.

Technology, process, people

The PSA looked into three areas of the Comelec preparation--technology, process, people--in assessing the outlook for the automation. It identified problematic issues in each of the three areas.

On technology, the PSA noted problems in machine production, delivery, and deployment, raising concerns whether the winning vendor, Smartmatic, is up to the task.

One alarm signal is the fact that Smartmatic suddenly shifted the manufacture of the machines from Taiwan to China, which deviated from the contract it signed with Comelec. The alibi given by Smartmatic was that the manufacturing office of its Taiwanese partner was devastated by a typhoon, which necessitated the transfer to China.

The Comelec, however, did not try to verify the veracity of Smartmatic's claims. sources say that the Taiwanese partner simply had no capability to produce 82,000 machines within months.

On the machine itself, the automation law mandates that the Comelec conducts systems verification prior to the elections. Yet, "to date, there is no evidence that Comelec or Smartmatic-TIM have subjected the physical components of the voting systems or the production models for independent review," the PSA said.

The testing of the machines was also conducted in controlled and air-conditioned settings, which do not reflect the actual scenario in local elections. "There has been little, if any, testing carried out in atmospheres that more realistically reflect the tropical and (humid) environment found in the majority of provinces."

Electronic tampering

What is probably the most explosive problem area in the automated elections is the possibility of the results being tampered with electronically. The PSA identified two vulnerable areas.

The first one is the fact that the software of the machine will be placed in a separate memory card, distinct from the unit itself. "Placing the software on an external memory disk or flash drive complicates the voting systems functionality and opens up opportunities for damage, tampering and alternation," the PSA pointed out.

The second is that the fact that private and public keys to the machine, which are needed in the transmission of the results, are under the control of Smartmatic.

"The digital signatures (of the Board of Election Inspectors) would be generated and assigned by Smartmatic and or groups authorized by it; not an independent or trusted authority. By possessing the private keys, Smartmatic and its associated parties can make changes to the precinct election results without detection," the PSA said.

Production, delivery

As for the project planning and management, doubts are being raised whether the contracted number of machines will be produced.

The Comelec has admitted that Smartmatic, with its local partner, Total Information Management, can only deliver 30,000 counting machines this December, out of the 42,000 it is supposed to. Smartmatic explained that the high cost of shipping and traffic during the Christmas season is the chokepoint in the delivery.

But the PSA argued that Smartmatic's excuse "is highly questionable." It stressed that "manufacturers traditionally ship holiday goods far in advance of Christmas. Additionally, by all accounts, there is a surplus of freighters and container shops waiting off the anchor points like Shanghai."

The deployment of the machines to different parts of the country is also a huge logistical nightmare, and apparently, Smartmatic, a Barbados-based company, miscalculated. The PSA said it has gathered reports that the vendor is having problems finding subcontractors to deliver the machines nationwide.

Manpower problems

As for manpower concerns, the PSA expressed doubt whether Smartmatic, or Comelec for that matter, could hire enough technology specialists to help operate the 82,200 machines.

Also being downplayed is the fact that public school teachers who will administer the elections have yet to undergo education and training in the operation of the machines. Comelec said the training will begin by January, but critics say the timetable is overly optimistic since no machines have arrived.

The first batch of around 3,000 machines will only arrive Dec. 30.

Perhaps, the incontrovertible evidence that the automation will likely be bungled is the government's sorry track record in implementing technology projects, PSA said.

It identified 11 technology projects, such as the Comelec's botched automated elections in 2004, and the land titling computerization, which are all considered failures.

Overall, the PSA said, a massive failure of elections is not a remote possibility, and this could push the country to a constitutional crisis. "The wild card in all this is how sitting President Arroyo will react to elections failure," the PSA said.

Government critics have warned that Arroyo could exploit chaotic elections to perpetuate herself in power. Although she has promised to step down as President when her term ends in June 30, 2010, many doubt whether they have seen the last of her.

SuperLotto jackpot seen to reach P100M

The jackpot for the 6/49 SuperLotto draw is expected to breach the P100-million mark in time for Tuesday night's draw, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office said on Monday.

45 still missing; 73 survive in Mindoro ferry sinking

(UPDATE) Forty five passengers of the roll-on, roll-off vessel MV Baleno 9, which sank off Isla Verde, near Calapan City in Oriental Mindoro on Saturday night, remained missing as of 5 p.m. Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard reported.

Coast guard axes Calapan Port detachment head

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) detachment commander in Calapan port was relieved Monday, two days after the roll-on, roll-of (Ro-ro) vessel MV Baleno 9 capsized off Isla Verde near Calapan City in Oriental Mindoro, an official said Monday.

Arroyo urged to enact Coast Guard law

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon urged President Macapagal-Arroyo to immediately sign into law the Coast Guard Law of 2009, saying the latest sea tragedies could have been prevented if the ferries' departure had been properly cleared by authorities.

Biazon said Congress approved the law, which he authored, early this month.

Biazon said the law clearly ``delineated the responsibilities between the Coast Guard and Marina (the Maritime Industry Authority),'' the two agencies guarding and regulating the maritime activities in the country.

He said the Coast Guard law particularly gave the Philippine Coast Guard, not Marina, the authority to clear or hold departing ships in ports.

Interviewed by phone, Biazon said the tragedy that befell the sinking of MV Baleno 9 off Batangas waters last Sunday morning was apparently no different from that which befell two other ships --the MV Princess of Stars, which sank off Romblon waters in June 2008 and Superferry 9, which sank off Zamboanga City waters last September.

In all three sea accidents, Biazon said the cause of the ship's listing and eventual capsizing had to do with the improper ``lashing'' of motor vehicles on board the ship.

On Sunday, Sen. Richard Gordon said the sinking of MV Baleno 9, which claimed six lives and left at least 23 others missing, could be due to improperly fastened motor vehicles on board.

"The trip was supposed to be only for two hours but an hour and a half into the trip, the motor vehicles were still not tied securely," Gordon had told dzBB on Sunday.

Gordon, who went to the Batangas City port to assist survivors in his capacity as chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, quoted the first mate of the ship as telling him that the vessel had been sailing from the Calapan port for an hour but the crew had not yet finished "lashing" the vehicles.

The 199-ton vessel, which had a maximum passenger capacity of 284, carried nine motor vehicles at the time of the sinking. The vehicles included a 10-wheel truck, a six-wheel truck, four cargo jeeps and a car.

On Monday, Biazon said the improper lashing of motor vehicles on board also became the problem in the case of the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars and Superferry 9. He said he had raised this question during a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on maritime accidents in the country in November.

But he said under the newly approved Coast Guard law, which Ms Arroyo had yet to sign as of Monday, the Coast Guard would be given the task to board departing ships, conduct the necessary inspections and then clear or hold them for departure.

Authorities would have to check whether there is overloading of passengers and cargoes; whether there is a sufficient number of life-saving equipment, such as lifeboats, on board and whether they are in working order; and whether motor vehicles are properly lashed in the cargo hold, according to Biazon.

He said the responsibility of making these inspections has been ``gray area between the Coast Guard and Marina.''

Biazon said Marina was supposed to do these tasks but Biazon said the agency ``did not have sufficient units and people'' to conduct inspections of ships sailing off to sea.

That's why he said the question to be asked in the sinking of MV Baleno 9 was who cleared the departure of the ship.

The senator vowed to look into these questions during the hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee on Tuesday.

Biazon expressed hope President Arroyo would be able to sign the law which the Senate and the House approved as of Dec. 9.

Palace hits Senate on maritime safety bill

Malacañang scolded lawmakers on Monday for allegedly sitting on a key piece legislation intended to avoid the overlapping of functions by different maritime authorities and minimize sea tragedies in the process.

Gary Olivar, deputy presidential spokesperson, also told shipping operators to shape up, saying that ensuring the safety and quality of their services should be the "initiative of the industry."

The Palace was wondering why Congress had not passed the proposed Philippine Maritime Act of 2009, which would consolidate jurisdiction over the shipping industry into a National Maritime Authority.

"For a bill to be in slumber for two years is a long time," Olivar said in Filipino in a media briefing.

"If it is really something that deserves to be endorsed as urgent, congressmen should have seen this long ago and passed the bill. So if this bill has merits and if it has been sitting around that long, then this is really something that I think the legislature ought to look into."

In a text message, Elena Bautista, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), called on senators in particular to "fast-track the passage of this bill."

Bautista said the Senate counterpart bill was still pending with the committee of Sen. Francis Escudero, which supposedly conducted only one hearing on the matter.

"The lower house is ready for plenary (session) already. Senate is a bit slow," she said in the text message sent to Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella, chair of the House committee on transportation who forwarded it to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Olivar said the Palace was in favor of deregulating the shipping industry, arguing that the entry of more players would lead to better services.

"Obviously, if you open up the industry to more investors, to more players, and as a result of that, competition increases and because of competition in particular, the existing players of the industry, their services (will improve) in order to keep up with the new entrants," he said.

"It will certainly be a welcome effect of deregulation."

Olivar made it clear that industry players had the "primary responsibility over the safety and quality of their services."

"The initiative of the industry would have to come from the participants themselves in terms of rationalizing their particular structure," he said.

Olivar added: "We are hopeful for a heightened sense of responsibility in the behavior of the industry players. You know, there have been too many incidents like this (already). Safety is always a paramount (concern).

Senate sets Tuesday probe into recent sea tragedies

The Senate is set to conduct Tuesday an inquiry into the two latest sea accidents that occurred during the holiday season, which claimed the lives of at least nine people with 40 others still missing.

Foreign tourists ignore Mayon warnings

The Joint Task Force Mayon, composed of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police, sounded an alarm on the possible breach of the zero-casualty goal of Albay province because of reports of foreigners ignoring the danger warnings on Mayon volcano.

Troops clash with suspected NPA rebels--military

Government troops clashed with suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Manay town, Davao Oriental on Monday morning, days after the communist insurgents commemorated their 41st anniversary.

PNP: More than 41,000 in 'most wanted' list arrested

The Philippine National Police has arrested 41,858 most wanted persons in various operations launched for the entire year of 2009, Director General Jesus Verzosa said on Monday.

300 cops to secure Maguindanao massacre trial

(UPDATE) Some 300 policemen will be securing the national police camp at Camp Crame, Quezon City during the high-profile trial on the Maguindanao massacre that has been set on January 5, 2010, a police spokesman said on Monday.

Ampatuans, cops submit count counter-affidavits

Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan and two other members of their clan have answered the multiple murder charges filed against then in connection with the Maguindanao massacre.

4 Ampatuan scions respond to massacre complaint

(UPDATE) The two governors in the Ampatuan family and three other members of their clan beat the deadline, on Monday, to answer the allegations of multiple murder against them in connection with the Maguindanao massacre.

DOJ has till Feb. 2 to decide on Maguindanao massacre charges

Binigyan ng hanggang Pebrero 2 ang Department of Justice para desisyunan kung may sapat na ebidensya para kasuhan ang halos 200 taong isinasangkot sa Maguindanao massacre.

Armed Ampatuan followers sighted in Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato

AMPATUAN, Maguindanao, Philippines  – Police and troops sighted yesterday armed Ampatuan partisans in the hinterlands of Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and in Cotabato City. 

Bootleg DVDs of Maguindanao massacre on sale

Bootleg digital video disc (DVD) copies of the "Maguindanao Massacre 11/23/09," are now being sold underground in many parts of Mindanao, according to those who have seen the "film."

Running over four hours, the DVD showed the actual retrieval of the bodies from the massacre site at Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

It showed the blood-soaked, bullet-riddled and mutilated bodies of the Ampatuan massacre victims. Most of the footage had graphic images of body parts protruding from the earth.

The origin of the Maguindanao Massacre DVD is not known but a DVD vendor in Koronadal City said he got his stocks from a supplier in General Santos City.

The INQUIRER secured a copy of the film, sold at P120, from a vendor who requested that he be not named, saying he feared for his life.

"Please don't tell anyone that you got it from me…I only gave you this because I trust that you will not tell that it came from me. It's scary," the vendor said, referring to the movie. "Nakakatakot…sobrang nakakatakot. At nakakadiri (It's really scary and it's gross)," he said.

The vendor indicated he was also scared of the Ampatuan family, whose key members have been charged in connection with the massacre and were the erstwhile allies of Malacañang.

The material contained the first two days of the retrieval operations conducted by the authorities after the November 23 abduction and grisly murder of at least 57 civilians, 31 of them journalists and the rest close relatives and supporters of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, a Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate running against the Ampatuans in the 2010 elections.

It is not clear whether the content of the DVD was from the documentation done by the team that conducted the retrieval operations.

The DVD opened with the convoy of the retrieval operations team that traveled to the dumping site in Barangay (village) Salman. Immediately after, the amateur camera captured the yellow backhoe excavator that had the marking "Under the Administration of Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr."

For more than four hours, the camera focused on the excavation of the victims. First to be exhumed was a woman, believed to be one of the lawyers of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, who wore a brown-striped blouse.

A man was later overhead as saying: "Sino ito? Si attorney? Sige…kunin na ang lahat kasi lahat tayo ay kapamilya na dito eh."

After the first body was recovered, a man was also overheard as saying: "May ara pa (Are there still more)?"

"May ara pa gid. Marami yan sila dyan…(There would surely be more. There are a lot of them buried there)," another man answered.

When the body of a woman, wearing a green blouse and yellow pair of pants, was exhumed, a voice was heard saying: "Ka-daming tama…"

And judging from the looks of the victim, the same man suspected that she may have been sexually abused.

There were at least eight men who were exhuming the bodies, using shovels and their bare hands alternately. The film showed the lousy and slipshod retrieval of bodies and evidence, done by non-experts. It was only in the latter part of the first day and the second day that police experts got to work in the retrieval operations.

When shovels and bare hands proved to be slowing down the retrieval, the authorities later decided to use the backhoe to dig the grave where the victims were dumped. It was then that more and more bodies were found, including that of Mangudadatu town Vice Mayor Eden Mangudadatu, sister of Esmael.

Eden was immediately identified by the men involved in the diggings. A mobile phone was also recovered and a man was overheard as saying that "gitago nya sa loob ng sapatos. (she hid it inside her shoe)."

The Day 2 of the DVD opened with the diggings now aided mainly by the backhoe. It was on the second day that the retrieval operations teams dug up the vehicles, which were also dumped into the grave in an apparent effort to hide evidence.

And when more bodies were recovered, a male voice said: "Buti pa yong manok na panabong kahit na kargado sa gamot, kapag di na tumutuka ang kalaban, din na papaluin…" (Fighting cocks are treated better.)

In Koronadal City, a Maranao vendor said he has run out of copies of the DVD.

He said they have been selling it for P120 per copy, and even bragged about the clarity of the DVD he sold as the material was taken by members of the Scene of the Crime Operatives of the Philippines National Police.

"I'm expecting my order to arrive anytime tomorrow. The one you're holding is a clear copy because members of SOCO filmed it," he said in Filipino.

Janice Cabasag, 29, a resident here, told the Inquirer that she managed to procure a clear copy from a vendor for only P70.

Cabasag said the DVD contained footage of the actual retrieval of the bodies in the village of Salman.

"Looking at those images of death, I can feel the pain of the families who lost their loved ones. Those who did it are demonic," she said.

Mario Alasin, who maintains a small restaurant here, also told the Inquirer that his staff bought a copy, but he had refrained from seeing the footage.

In Parang town in Maguindanao, Norma Cantal, admitted she bought the same copy at the public market.

When asked about the sale of the DVD, Corazon Cabillio, wife of slain journalist Jimmy, said she has heard about the DVD but has not seen a copy. Cabillio said she was interested in getting a copy.

Atienza quits Cabinet to run as Manila mayor

Environment secretary Jose "Lito" Atienza Jr. on Monday announced his resignation from the Cabinet, saying he wanted to focus on his mayoral bid and promising—if he wins—to rebuild his projects his rival, incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim, had torn down, including the baywalk along Manila Bay.

1st batch of Pinoy repatriates arrive home from Lebanon

Over 40 Filipinos from Lebanon arrived Monday in time to celebrate the New Year at least in their homeland if not in their hometowns, following their repatriation by the government.

BIR inspectors to look at firms' inventory this week

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is deploying field personnel this week to warehouses to check and monitor corporate taxpayers' year-end inventory.

Al-Qaeda claims failed attack on US-bound plane

SANAA-- Al-Qaeda claimed the failed December 25 bombing of a US-bound aircraft in a statement posted on an Islamist website on Monday, US monitoring organizations said.

25 killed in Shiite Muslims' procession

KARACHI – A suicide bomber on Monday struck Pakistan's largest procession of Shiite Muslims on the holiest day in their calendar, killing 25 people and wounding dozens more, defying a major security clampdown.

Pope attacker likely not to face charges: report

ROME-- The woman who launched a Christmas Eve attack on Pope Benedict XVI will likely not face charges because of her mental state, Italian news agency ANSA said Monday, citing Vatican sources.

Putin launches new Russia oil route to Asia

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin launched Russia's long-awaited Siberian oil export route Monday, hailing a "truly serious event" giving energy-hungry Asia a new supply source from the world's largest crude exporter.

Mine explosions kill 17 in China, 6 more trapped

(Updated 8:04 p.m.) BEIJING - A coal mine explosion has killed 12 people in northern China, while five other miners were killed and six trapped in an accident in the southwest of the country, state media reported Monday.

10 dead in massive China road pile-up—media

At least ten people were killed and 19 injured when more than 100 vehicles rammed into each other early Monday in a massive chain reaction pile-up on a foggy, icy road in east China, state media said.

China discovers tomb of ancient legendary ruler

Chinese archaeologists believe they have found a nearly 1,800-year-old tomb belonging to the legendary ruler Cao Cao, who was known as a cruel tyrant but also a cunning military strategist and poet.

Arum makes final offer or Pacquiao fights Malignaggi

MANILA, Philippines – Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has made a "final offer" to the camp of Floyd Mayweather Jr. aimed at settling the blood test issue that threatens to cancel the American's much-awaited fight with Manny Pacquiao.

Arum, who represents Pacquiao, offered to have the drug testing decided by Nevada State Athletic Commission officials.

"We'll go along with what the Nevada commission decides," Arum said. "We want this fight to go forward."

Under Arum's terms, Pacquiao will allow three blood tests. This test, however, can not be done within 30 days of the fight, unless the commission decided otherwise.

If Mayweather's camp won't let the Nevada State Athletic Commission have the last say on the blood tests, Arum said he will sign a deal for Pacquiao to face Paulie Malignaggi on March 13.

Posadas, Taylo capture gold medals in bowling

MANILA, Philippines -- Lara Posadas and Renz Taylo hurdle their respective rivals in the opening Singles event to capture the first gold medals of the 17th Philippine Bowling Congress (PBC) National Youth Tenpin Bowling Championships Tuesday at the Bowling Inn in Taft Avenue, Manila.

MMFF winners announced

Following are the winners of the Metro Manila Film Festival:

• Most gender sensitive award: Mano Po 6

• Best cinematography: Lee Briones Meily, Ilygb

• Orignal theme song: Tanging Ikaw Lamang, by Ogie Alcasid

• Make up artist: Noel Flores, Shake

• Visual effects: Jay Santiago, Panday

• Best sound recording: Albert Michael Idioma, Ang Darling Kong Aswang

• Musical score: Von de Guzman, Mano Po 6

• Film editor: Manet Dayrit, Efren Jarlego, Ilygb

• Production designer: Richard Somes, Panday

A good new year awaits Rosanna Roces

MANILA, Philippines - A good new year awaits actress Rosanna Roces as she is slated to shoot her newest film, "Presa," in 2010.  "Presa" tells the stories of female offenders at The Correctional Institution for Women.

Charice delivers 'jaw-dropping' performance on 'Singapore Idol'

MANILA, Philippines – Charice has delivered a "jaw-dropping" performance on "Singapore Idol" that earned her another standing ovation from hundreds of crowd present at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

American Idol's Ryan Seacrest heeds Charice's appeal

by by Reyma Buan-Deveza,
MANILA, Philippines – "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest is supporting Charice's attempt to win Paypal's "Regift the Fruitcake" for Operation Smile.

Goma sees rival's hand in disqualification case

Actor Richard Gomez is seeing politics behind the disqualification case filed against him and is blaming his rival in the congressional race in Ormoc, Leyte for it.

"2012" sets box office record in China

HONG KONG - A publicist says the Hollywood disaster movie "2012" has become China's best-selling movie in history.

Visayans, Mindanaoans less hopeful for 2010 - survey

by by Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak
Number of Muslims entering the new year with fear increases MANILA, Philippines - Almost 9 of 10 Filipinos feel hopeful rather than fearful with the coming of the new year, but the level of hopefulness declined slightly compared to the last 3 years, a recent survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed.

Try your luck in 2010 with charms and colors

MANILA, Philippines – What are the lucky colors for the year 2010 or the year of the metal tiger?

According to a feng shui consultant, they are blue and light yellow. Blue symbolizes water while light yellow symbolizes peace.

"Ang 2010 chart natin kulang sa tubig, kelangan natin maglaay ng tubig para nourishment… lalakas productivity and money purposes," said Johnson Chua, a feng shui adviser.

Moreover, there are lucky colors for the Chinese animal zodiac signs. Blue is the lucky color for those born on the year of the rat, rabbit, dragon, snake and rooster.

White or light yellow, meantime, is said to bring luck to those born on the year of the ox, tiger, sheep and monkey.

Violet is the lucky color for those born on the year of the dog and pig while red and violet are the colors for those born on the year of the horse.

As early as now, figurines of metal or golden tigers are displayed in Binondo, Manila, such as the tiger with gourd (for good health) and tiger with Chinese cabbage and golden coins (for more money to come in).

"Maraming pera pasok kaso, pero kelangan ingat sa mga investment," said feng shui practitioner Jean Chua. "Year of the tiger kasi pag once na marami ka na-invest, mahihirapan ibalik."

Serving 5 round fruits on the dinner table during New Year's Eve will also bring luck for the whole year.

Signs of the times

But besides the lucky charms and lucky colors, feng shui consultant and counseling astrologer Paloma believes that people should look at the signs of the times wherein there have already been precursors to election-related violence.

"Marami nagsusuot ng purple. Purple means deep spiritual energy… Saan ba galing 'yon? Sa trying times o traumatic events," noted Paloma.

"May precursor na sa Maguindanao ng matter of execution… nag-fa-file pa lang ng candidacy," she added, pertaining to the November 23 Maguindanao massacre which claimed 57 lives.

Meanwhile, one of the predictions is that there will be disasters not only in the Philippines but in several other countries.

Despite the difference in the predictions of the geomancers, they are all relaying a message on change and preparation for any disaster.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach  - "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day."

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