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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December 31, 2009 Major News Stories



Aging RORO ships belong to the scrapyard, says official

All of the Philippines' roll-on-roll-off (RORO) ships, about 200 of them, are about 30 years old and should have been replaced a long time ago or sent to the scrap yard, according to maritime officials.

The country's other types of ships are even older. Transportation Undersecretary Thompson Lantion said the average age of the country's inter-island passenger ships is 34 years, which is deemed too old for voyage in many countries.

"All of them are aging," Lantion said in an interview on Wednesday.

In other countries like Japan, ferries that have reached 10 years are deemed unsafe and are sold off. "In the Philippines, we buy these ships," he added.

Primo Rivera, deputy administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), said there are 142 RORO ferries under 500 gross tons, while there are 37 large RORO ships. Of the 179 ferries, 80 are cargo passenger ships, he said.

All of these ships are between 28 and 34 years old, Rivera said.

Lantion said ferry companies only repair their vessels to pass safety regulations, adding that some domestic shipping firms cannot afford new ships.

"We would like to see new ships," Lantion said.

The local shipping industry faces scrutiny anew after the recent sinking of two passenger ferries.

On Dec. 26, the M/V Baleno-9 sank near Verde Island, Batangas. Six people whose bodies have been found were confirmed killed, 72 were rescued while at least 54 others remain missing.

On Christmas Eve, the wooden-hulled M/V Catalyn B sank in the mouth of Manila Bay after it collided with a steel-hulled fishing boat. Four bodies were recovered on the day of the sinking and 24 were reported missing.

On Monday, a deep-sea diver saw at least 12 bodies inside the wreckage of the ferry. They have yet to be retrieved.

Rivera said the Baleno-9 was operating since 1984. Catalyn B, on the other hand, was more than 20 years old. The ships of both companies have been grounded pending investigation that will start next week.

Rivera said some of the country's ships should have been phased out already, but their owners have lobbied to Malacañang to extend their licenses. "Maybe the President also agreed with them," he said.

Lantion said the government has extended loans to local ferry firms to modernize their fleets. By next year, he said, seven new vessels will roll out of the Hanjin shipyard in Subic Bay, Zambales province for local voyages.

Officials of Marina and the Department of Transportation and Communication admitted that the domestic shipping industry is in need of an overhaul.

The President has already ordered an audit of all the passenger vessels in the wake of the recent accidents.

Lantion said public and private agencies have failed to implement major policies in regulating shippingcompanies, despite circulars and memoranda from the government.

"There are problems in management, vessel systems, and ticketing. The implementation is not being done," he said.

Because these systems are not in place, there are still problems in safety management and the accounting of passengers, which often leads to discrepancies in the manifests.

Some ferry personnel are also not formally trained and may be ignorant of some maritime rules, officials said.

Lantion said these policies would be reviewed too. As it turned out, the skippers of the Catalyn B and Baleno 9 were not certified ship masters.

Reacting To Marina Chief's Claim Operators assure safety of ROROs

CEBU, Philippines - All Roll-On/Roll-Off vessels operating in the country are safe and seaworthy.

This was the statement made by Christoper Pastrana, president of Philippine RORO Association Inc., contrary to the statement made by Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) administrator Elena Bautista in a recent Senate hearing that RORO vessels are not safe to travel in the open seas.

"Why blame the RORO vessels? RORO vessels are safe and has (sic) passed the standards set by MARINA," said Jose Emery Roble, president of Cebu-based Roble Shipping Inc.

A MARINA official, who refused to be named, said that the statement of Bautista is very sweeping and irresponsible.

The official further said that Bautista's statements are a direct affront to the shipping company owners.

"Ship owners are not stupid to invest in multi-million (sic) and they won't buy ships that will just sink in the middle of the sea," the official added.

Roble said that it is very unfair for shipowners, who are operating RORO vessels to hear such statements from the MARINA head.

"Our vessels passed according to the safety standards conducted by MARINA itself. Unya karon mu ingun siya nga dili safe," Roble said.

Pastrana added that their organization is composed of 35 shipping companies all over the country and has a total of over 500 RORO vessels being operated combined.

Majority of the shipping lines in Cebu use RORO vessels.

Roble further said that it was human factor that caused the sinking of a ship in Batangas last week and not because the ship is a RORO-type vessel.

"Our company alone has been operating our RORO vessels for 10 years unya karon na lang mu ingon ang MARINA nga di siya safe to travel."

Roble's company operates five RORO vessels plying the routes of Samar and Leyte.

Pastrana said that ship owners operating RORO vessels in the country were just being supportive of the flagship program of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the use of RORO vessels as a mode of inter-island travel in order to facilitate trade.

"This is a flagship program of President Arroyo. I hope she (Bautista) knows what she is talking about and she has a study to back-up her claims," the maritime official added.

Pastrana said RORO vessels undergo inspections by MARINA and they are observing maintenance standards and other policies imposed by the government.

Pastrana further said that there is however a need for the government to overhaul the maritime policies and standards in order to come up with a sustainable solutions for the maritime-related issues and concerns.

Officials blamed the sinking of M/V Baleno 9 off Batangas last Saturday night to the vessel not being designed to sail on open sea.

"It was built in Japan in 1992, for bay use (or for) inland waters," said Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, chief of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), in a Senate hearing on the recent sea tragedies.

This was also reiterated by Bautista who said that most of the RORO vessels in the country are for inland use.

"These are second-hand vessels from Japan and they are really designed for inland waters, but we classed them, and if they pass the class standards then they are allowed to sail. Pag hindi natin in-allow walang matitirang barko sa Pilipinas," Bautista said.

Teachers upset over ATM that went offline

CEBU, Philippines - A number of public school teachers in the province of Cebu have already withdrawn their Christmas bonus worth P7,000 from the Automated Teller Machine at the Development Bank of the Philippines.

However, teacher Remedios Artes of Oslob town expressed that it would have been convenient on her part to get the amount in the form of cheque again.

"Lisod kaayo. Nagsalig mi nga maka-withdraw na. Mas maayo pa nga ibalik na lang kadtong cheque nga paagi. Kami na bahala magpa-encash. Itandi ani nga wala ta kahibalo kon kanus-a mag-online," Artes said.

As for teacher Gina Tura of Tuburan town, she complained that, "since December 29 in the evening, nag-offline na ang ATM. Dili ra ba mi ka-withdraw sa laing machine kon ang main offline."

The amount was released finally by the Department of Budget and Management after processing the Special Allotment Release Order and the Notice of Cash Allocation for the grant of productivity enhancement incentive or bonus, this according to an official of the Department of Education.

An employee of the DBP, who refused to be named, assured the teachers that the ATM would go online at 5 p.m. yesterday.

Some of the employees provided bread to the other teachers who were part of the long queue.

Last December 9, Malacañang announced that government employees will be given a P10,000 bonus this year.

Of the amount, P7,000 will come from the national government while P3,000 will come from the savings of government agencies.

2 schools agree to settle tax obligations with city

CEBU, Philippines - Two private universities in Cebu City, which earlier claimed that they are not obliged to business pay taxes to the city, have agreed to peacefully settle the matter with the city government.

University of Cebu (UC) president Augusto Go said he and the officials of Cebu Institute of Technology (CIT) have agreed to pay in cash half of their business tax obligations to the city.

Go said the other half would be paid by granting scholarships to poor but deserving students in the city.

He said they are expected to sign next month a memorandum of agreements with Mayor Tomas Osmeña to amicably settle the issue.

Osmeña refused yet to comment on the issue because the terms and conditions of the proposed compromise agreements should be first approved by the City Council.

Osmeña had given a go signal to acting city treasurer Ofelia Oliva to initiate legal proceedings against schools and hospitals that did not pay business taxes to the city because of their claims that they are non-profit institutions.

City Hall records showed as of 2005, the University of Cebu has an unsettled business taxes of P87 million, Southwestern University, P33 million; Sacred Heart Hospital, P2 million; Cebu Velez General Hospital, P8 million; Cebu North General Hospital, P29 million; and Cebu Doctors' University Hospital, P37 million.

Taxi operator ordered to pay ex-mechanic's wage, bonus

CEBU, Philippines - The Supreme Court has upheld the decisions of the National Labor Relations Commission and the Court of Appeals against a taxi operator, Hilario Ramirez, who was ordered to pay the salary differential and 13th month of his mechanic.

The third division of the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for review filed by Ramirez assailing the appellate court's resolution on July 13, 2007 that dismissed his petition for certiorari against the fourth division of the NLRC in Cebu City because of technicality.

Ramirez, who was ordered by the NLRC on September 29, 2006 to pay Mario Valcueba his salarydifferential and 13th month in the total amount of P45,825.98, filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals to assail the order of the labor tribunal.

However, the appellate court dismissed outright his petition and his subsequent motion for reconsideration because of his failure to properly verify and to state the material dates in violation of Section 3, Rule 46 of the Rules of Court.

Ramirez sought the high tribunal to review the resolutions of the Court of Appeals and that of the NLRC citing alleged grave abuse of discretion. But the Supreme Court upheld both the decisions of the CA and the NLRC.

Kids 'forced' to drink gin

FOR a prize of P20 each, six children were allegedly each made to drink a glass of gin by a police intelligence officer during his daughter's birthday party in Unit V, Oprra, Kalunasan, Cebu City laAs a result, the children, aged 5 to 12, were taken by their parents to the Cebu City Medical Medical after complaining of difficulty in breathing and nausea.

Senior Insp. Mario Monilar, Guadalupe Police Station commander, told Sun.Star Cebu that one of the children, a nine-year-old boy, even passed out.

Monilar said P03 Noel Monares, who is presently assigned at the Regional Intelligence Unit (RIU) 7, will be charged with violation of Republic Act 7610 or the Anti-Child Abuse Law.

On the other hand, social workers will be checking on the boys' psychological health.

Department of Social Welfare and Development 7 information officer Jaybee Carillo is urging the National Police Commission to conduct a swift investigation against Monares.

"(Monares) is being a bad influence to children…We will wait until they are sober, then we will interview them over what happened," said Carillo.

Monares, through RIU 7 Chief Glenn Mayam, denied the allegation.

Mayam told Sun.Star Cebu in a separate interview that his office is conducting an administrative investigation against Monares.

Mayam said he recalled the New Year's break of Monares and ordered him to stay at the RIU 7 headquarters to face the investigation.

Monares confided to Mayam that he was not aware the children took some liquor during the party.

On the allegation that he gave the boys P20 each after drinking the liquor, Monares claimed that the other children lined up and asked for money from him after seeing that his godson, who attended the party, received P20 from him.

Monares said he is ready to face the charges to be filed against him by the parents.

Police initiated the investigation after Virginia Gabucan and Victoria Doria, mothers of two children, went to the police station to report the incident.

Monilar learned from the parents that Monares invited the children, all boys, past 3 p.m. to attend his daughter's birthday party.

When the children arrived home past 5 p.m, the parents noticed that their children reeked of liquor and were "drunk."

The children told the parents that each of them was made to drink a glass of gin. They were then given P20 after drinking the liquor.

This prompted the parents to bring their children to the city hospital for examination.

As of yesterday, four of the six children have been discharged from the hospital. Two others are still under observation.

Dr. Edgar Abelgas, the children's attending physician, said in a TV Patrol Cebu report that some of the children vomited yellowish fluids which smelled of liquor.

Monilar said he sent a police team led by SPO2 Edward Deligero to Monares' house last Tuesday night to talk to him about the allegation.

Monares' wife, however, told Deligero's team that her husband left the house on board a taxicab.

Monares' wife also refused to comment on the allegation and declined to give her name, Monilar said.

Because of this, Monilar said he requested Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Director Patrocinio Comendador Jr. to ask RIU 7 Chief Mayam to convince Monares to come out and cooperate in the investigation.

At present, Monilar said, the women's desk of Guadalupe Police Station led by PO1 Janelle Junco is gathering statements from the children and the parents to be used as part of the evidence in the filing of charges against Monares.

Series of tests for poll counting machines starts

by By Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak
Teachers to be trained in using PCOS devices in March The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has ordered the printing of 6,500 sample ballots to be used "for stress testing" the counting machines that have just been delivered by its supplier.

Voting machines start arriving for 2010 elections

The Philippines remains on track to hold its first-ever automated elections next year, the Commission on Elections said days after 7,200 voting machines arrived from China in two separate shipments. However, 75,000 more machines need to be delivered. Comelec Chair Jose Melo said the first shipments boosted the poll body's confidence.

'Poll machines may be delivered ahead of schedule'

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - A Commission on Elections (Comelec) official on Wednesday predicted that the 82,000 counting machines may be delivered way ahead of schedule as he doused fears that the counting machines will not be delivered on time, delaying the May 2010 automated elections.

Aquino belies rumors of ill health

He's not sick, not even tired, just very busy. Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has shrugged off speculation that the rigors of preparing for next year's election campaign have taken a toll on his health.

Press Secretary blames himself for President's unpopularity

The Philippines" Press Secretary blamed himself for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo"s poor ratings in a latest survey.
"Maybe, I have failed as press secretary for ten months now to do my job of effectively communicating the achievements of our very hardworking president," Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said in a statement released to reporters.

Local bet wounded in Surigao Norte attack—police

A candidate in upcoming Philippine elections was shot and wounded, police said Wednesday, in yet another targeted attack on a politician in the volatile Southeast Asian nation.

NP condemns attacks on bets

The Nacionalista Party strongly condemned on Wednesday the assassination attempt on another partymate, claiming politics was behind the two incidents.

Arroyo urged to order dismantling of private armies

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was urged on Wednesday to immediately order the dismantling of private armies by political warlords in various parts of the country to prevent terrorism, violence, disorder, and cheating in the upcoming elections.

More guns found in Maguindanao gym

Yet another arms cache was recovered in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Tuesday night by government troopers scouring the area for the weapons used in the mass murder of 57 people last Nov. 23, police said Wednesday.

Ampatuans' patriarch files arbitrary detention charges vs military

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - Former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. has filed charges of arbitrary detention against senior military officials in the Southern Mindanao region.

Murder charges politically motivated, says Ampatuan son

Sajid Islam Ampatuan claims the multiple murder charges against him and his family in connection with the Maguindanao massacre are politically motivated to dislodge their clan from power in the province.

Palace: Let evidence decide Ampatuans' fate

Malacañang shrugged off on Wednesday the Ampatuans' denial of charges linking them to the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 persons in Maguindanao, saying the case will be decided on the basis of the evidence.

'ARMM gov in the Palace during massacre'

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - A Malacañang official confirmed Wednesday that suspended Autonomous Reregion in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan was attending a Lakas-Kampi-CMD meeting at the Palace while more than 50 people are being massacred in Maguindanao province last November 23.

Cops wary over continued security for massacre suspects

The National Capital Region Police Office is not keen on keeping members of a powerful family tagged in a massacre in Maguindanao under its custody in Taguig City, an official said Wednesday.

Priest, bishop support state of emergency in Maguindanao

Armed men hiding from the law in Maguindanao have resorted to stealing farm animals, striking fear in the hearts of villagers and forcing them to flee their homes, a parish priest said on Wednesday.

2 soldiers killed in clash with alleged MILF in Basilan

Two soldiers died in an encounter with alleged members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Basilan province Tuesday night, a police official said on Wednesday.

2 Basilan jail breakers surrender to Marines

Two of the prisoners who escaped from the Basilan provincial jail on Dec. 13 surrendered to the Marines on Wednesday.

Mayon spews one ash column but no sign of let-up—Phivolcs

Only one ash explosion occurred in Mayon Volcano on Tuesday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in a 24-hour bulletin that was issued Wednesday.

Thrill-seeking tourists flock to Mayon

Thousands of tourists are flocking to the Philippines' restive Mayon volcano with many even risking their lives to get close to the spectacular flowing lava, authorities said Wednesday.

Filipina housekeeper found dead in Vienna identified

The Department of Foreign Affairs has identified the Filipina housekeeper who was found dead Tuesday (Vienna time) in the house of the Lebanese ambassador to Austria.
Romalyn L. Basalo, 30, bore stab wounds when she was found December 29, said lawyer Eduardo J. Malaya, DFA spokesman, quoting a report from the Philippine embassy in Vienna.

80 runaway OFWs from Kuwait, Jordan to return on Jan. 1

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – The New Year will be a happy one for the families of 80 Filipino overseas workers after immigration authorities in Kuwait and Jordan have allowed their repatriation.

Myanmar frees 14 Filipino fishers, 116 others

YANGON--Military-ruled Myanmar has released 130 foreign fishermen who were jailed last month following their arrest for illegal fishing, a prison official told Agence France-Presse Tuesday.

Nograles opposes new taxes

by by Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak
MANILA, Philippines - House Speaker Prospero Nograles shot down calls for the passage of new taxes as a response to the country's swelling budget deficit.

CICT wants rules on digital TV out by May

The Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) is rushing to come out with the guidelines to govern the rollout of digital television in the country before the current administration ends its term.

Bombs kill 18 in Iraq's central Anbar province

Staggered explosions in central Iraq killed 18 people Wednesday and injured the governor of Anbar province, Iraqi officials said.


76 journalists killed in 2009: watchdog

by Agence France-Presse
PARIS – The number of journalists killed because of their work rose to 76 this year from 60 in 2008, the media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday.

Pacquiao undergoes dope test

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines -- Seven-time world champion Manny Pacquiao has submitted himself to a urine test on Wednesday pursuant to Nevada State Athletic Commission's (NSAC) recent order for a test within 48-hours.

Report: Pacquiao's blood tested 24 days prior to Hatton fight

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino champ Manny Pacquiao may have underwent blood testing before his fight against Briton Ricky Hatton but it was done 24 days before the fight, according to boxing Website report.

A report by BoxingScene.com's Rick Reeno said that according to a document copy outlining Pacquiao's blood test for his May 2 fight with Hatton, the test was taken by Dr. Richard Gluckman and sent to Quest Diagnostics on April 8, 2009.

This is 24 days before the fight with Hatton, contrary to claims made by the camp of Floyd Mayweather Jr. that the test was done 14 days before the May 2 fight.

The Mayweather camp used a footage of HBO reality show "Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7" to counter Pacquiao's claim that giving blood near the fight affects his performance inside the ring.

The negotiation for a blockbuster Pacquiao-Mayweather fight has went into a deadlock when Mayweather's camp demanded Olympic-style drug testing, insinuating that the Filipino might have been using performance enhancement drugs.

Pacquiao has opposed Mayweather's demand for random blood testing within 30 days of the fight, instead agreeing to take 3 blood tests: the first during the week of the kickoff news conference in early January, the second random test to be conducted no later than 30 days before the fight, and a final test after the fight.

The Mayweather camp, however, claimed that blood testing never weakened Pacquiao, using the 24/7 footage as "proof".

This has led to Top Rank promoter Bon Arum saying he might ask the Filipino boxing superstar to "tighten" the window for a blood test.

Arum said he will only do this once they establish the actual date of the test.

"I will transmit it [word of Pacquiao's '24/7' test] to Manny once [HBO Sports president] Ross Greenburg establishes the actual date of the test in '24/7' and [the Mayweather camp] makes a proposal based on what Ross has come up with," Arum told ESPN.com.

"If that happens, I am sure I can convince Manny [to tighten the testing window]," he added.


Pacquiao calls Floyd's bluff, takes doping test

Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao was quick to comply with the urine test ordered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) after undergoing the procedure Wednesday in General Santos City before World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited doctor Alex Pineda.

Charice is ANC's 'Newsmaker of 2009'

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – International singing sensation Charice has been named ANC's "Newsmaker of 2009." 

Tiger Woods scandal cost shareholders up to $12 billion

by Reuters
MIAMI – The sex scandal that engulfed Tiger Woods may have cost shareholders of companies endorsed by the world's No. 1 golfer up to $12 billion in losses, according to a study by two economics professors from the University of California, Davis.

Gibson film plan provokes protest outside Mexico prison

XALAPA – Hundreds of relatives of prisoners in a Mexican jail have protested the expected transfer of inmates to make way for a film shoot with US-Australian actor and director Mel Gibson next year.



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