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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

January 1, 2010 Major News Stories



Flash floods, landslides may greet 2010 in Visayas, Mindanao

"Visayas and Northern Mindanao will have cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms becoming widespread rains over Visayas which may trigger flashfloods or landslides. The rest of the country will be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rainshowers or thunderstorms," it said in its 5 p.m. bulletin Thursday

With firecracker ban, Davao City records only one injury

While the Department of Health is busy tallying the number of firecracker explosion victims all over the country, Davao City has recorded only one firecracker-related injury since December 21.

DILG: More than 6,000 fire incidents reported in 2009

The Department of Interior and Local Government on Thursday reported more than 6,000 fire incidents that occurred from January to October this year, a majority of which were accidental.

DILG blamed for lack of fire trucks

Mayor Tomas Osmeña yesterday criticized the officials of the Department of the Interior and Local Government for not providing Cebu City with enough fire trucks.


Cop placed under camp restriction

The police officer who allegedly made the six minors drink liquor in exchange of P20 last Tuesday afternoon during the 11th birthday of his daughter was already placed under the camp restriction while investigation on the incident is going on.

Councilor tells parents of children who were made to drink liquor to sue policeman

THREE shots of gin sent a boy to the hospital and kept him there for New Year's Day.

SC backs dismissal of BIR official

The Supreme Court has affirmed the dismissal from active service of a Bureau of Internal Revenue official in Cebu City who was earlier ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman Visayas after he was arrested for receiving grease money to lower the capital gains tax for a parcel of land.

Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura who penned the decision for the SC's third division said BIR examiner Jimmy Napoles failed to comply with his task that as a government employee he must "at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice and lead a modest life."

Napoles was arrested by a team of NBI agents during an entrapment operation inside a fastfood store at the Raintree Mall along Gen. Maxilom Avenue on July 4, 2001 just after he received the P10,000 marked money dusted with ultra-violet powder from landowner Antonio Ruiz Jr.

Ruiz, who wanted to sell his 525-square-meter lot in barangay Quiot, Cebu City, had asked Napoles to assess his capital gains tax for his parcel of land that he sold.

When Napoles told Ruiz that his capital gains tax is at P4,325 per square meter, plus 10 percent per-square-meter rate increase since the property's last valuation in 1996, the landowner insisted that it should be only at P3,100 per square meter.

BIR employee suspended 4 months for dishonesty

The Office of the Ombudsman Visayas has ordered the suspension of a collection agent of the Bureau of Internal Revenue after she was found guilty of simple dishonesty.

Collection agent Carmelita Jusay stationed at the BIR office in San Remigio town, Cebu, was meted four months suspension without pay.

Jusay was found guilty of simply dishonesty after she failed to return part of the money she received from complainant Gloriosa Mendoza as payment of the capital gains tax and documentary stamp of the property assigned to her as payment of the complainant's loan.

Mendoza alleged that on October 8, 2002 Jusay received from her P21,000 as payment of the capital gains tax and documentary stamp but she was not issued an official receipt.

Jusay admitted having received the amount and not having issued receipt but justified that it was because the transaction was not yet completed. According to Jusay, she only issued a temporary receipt until the transaction is perfected.

Casino financier, bodyguard attacked in Lapu

A CASINO "financier" and her bodyguard fell in a hail of bullets yesterday afternoon while they were leaving a fast food outlet on M.L. Quezon, Barangay Pajo, Lapu-Lapu City.

'Makati of the South'

MANDAUE City Mayor Jonas Cortes bared some of his to-do list in 2010—to attract more investors, make the city the "Makati of the South" and use P36 million to develop the dumpsite.

Capitol asked to take over water system

WHILE the civil case is pending, the Capitol agreed to run and handle the collection of water fees of Barangay Tapilon, Daanbantayan.

This will take effect when 2010 starts.

Talisay told: run after tricycles without permits

BEFORE the Provincial Board (PB) closed its last session for 2009, it called on the Talisay City Government to do something about the 2,000 tricycles that have no permits.

Cardinal urges reconciliation, peace in 2010

FORGIVENESS and reconciliation highlighted Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal's message for the New Year, with the prelate saying he is ready to lead by example.

Guidelines for 2010 automated polls now out

Just before the year 2009 ended, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) came out with the general instructions (GI) for the country"s very first automated national elections in May 2010.

What will happen on election day?

According to the GI, the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) will meet at the polling place at six o'clock in the morning of May 10, 2010 to first ensure that all the election paraphernalia are ready.

They will then post a copy of the Posted Computerized Voters List (PCVL) at the door of the poll precinct. But before voting is conducted, the BEI chairman will show the public and the watchers present that the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine, package of official ballots, and book of voters are all duly sealed.

After showing the election materials, the BEIs will set up the PCOS machine. Upon installation, the poll machine will automatically print an initialization report showing that no votes have yet been cast nor counted.

Sitrep 1


What should a voter do?

Upon arriving at the precinct, a voter should look for his or her name at the PCVL near the door of the voting center to determine his or her precinct number and sequence number. The voter will be instructed to give these pieces of information to the BEIs together with other personal information.

After his or her identity is verified, the name of the voter will be read out loud to give chance for any contention. If uncontested, he or she will be given a ballot by the BEI chairman – only upon ensuring that the said voter has yet to cast his or her vote in another precinct.

The voter will be instructed to fill out his or her ballot using a secrecy folder and a marking pen provided by the Comelec. He or she must fill out the ballot by fully shading at least 50 percent of the oval beside the names of the candidates and party-list group of his or her choice.



In order to make voting easier, the poll body made a new ballot where the lists of candidates will be delineated by position using colored borders. - Comelec photo

(Click the documents for a larger view)
He or she must then approach the PCOS, insert his or her ballot in the poll machine's entry slot and wait until the ballot is dropped into the semi-transparent ballot box. If the ballot is rejected, the BEI will allow for another re-entry, but if rejected again, the voter will not be issued a replacement ballot.

After that, the voter is expected to return the secrecy folder and marking pen to the BEI chairman.

The BEI chairman will in turn apply indelible ink at the base and extend it to the cuticle of the right forefinger nail of the voter, who will then be instructed to affix his or her thumbmark in the space in the Election Day Computerized Voters List (EDCVL).

What happens after voting?

The GI says that after the voting, the BEI chairman will record the quantity of unused ballots, which will be torn in half lengthwise. One half will be given to the election officer for safekeeping while the other half will be placed in a compartment of the ballot box.

The BEIs will then close the voting by entering several codes into the poll machine, which will make the PCOS unit print eight copies of the election returns for national positions and another eight for local positions.

The BEI chairman will publicly announce the total number of votes received by each candidate, which will also be posted on a wall within the polling place. After 48 hours, he or she will take the list and keep it in his or her custody.

On the other hand, the PCOS unit will transmit the election reports using a transmission cable and a modem. If successful, the reports will be transmitted to other precincts, the Comelec mainframe, its other offices, and other stakeholders.

After transmission, the poll machine will print 22 more copies of the election returns, a copy of the audit log report, and a copy of the statistical report.

Where do the votes go?

The Comelec said that the eight initial copies of election returns will be sealed, placed in an envelope and sealed again. 

The poll body said that the election returns will be distributed to the city or municipal board of canvassers, Congress, Comelec, four accredited citizens' arm, dominant majority and minority parties, ballot box, 10 accredited national parties aside from the first two, two accredited major local parties, four national broadcast or print media entities, two local media outfits, and one to be posted on a wall within the polling place.

Upon termination of the counting of votes at the precinct level, the BEI shall place inside the ballot box the sealed envelopes containing the election returns, minutes, and half-torn and rejected ballots.

The ballot box will be locked with four locks, one of which is self-locking and is serially numbered. The keys to the three other padlocks, on the other hand, will be placed in separate envelopes that are to be sealed and signed by the BEIs.

Meanwhile, the PCOS will be turned over to the support technician in the voting center.

Earlier, the Comelec said each clustered precinct will have at least three BEIs. It said that they plan to tap about 245,000 teachers to serve as BEIs in next year's polls.

Poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM, on the other hand, said that they will be deploying about 48,000 technical support crew. It said that they will deploy one technician for every two precincts. 

The poll body said that there will be about 37,062 voting centers and 74,427 clustered precincts. Each clustered precinct will have one PCOS machine, each of which can supposedly accommodate up to 1,000 voters.


More poll machines to arrive—IT firm

More poll machines to be used in the presidential elections will continue to arrive every week in the country from January to February, an official from the company that would provide the equipment said, after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) received the first batch of 4,000 units.

Comelec gives tips on automated balloting

Shade the ovals completely. Keep your choices secret. These were the reminders of the Commission on Elections to voters who want to cast their "scannable" ballots in the 2010 automated elections.

Voters will not have to write down the names of their picks and their ballots will not be counted manually, prompting the Comelec to revise the manner of the voting and the duties of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) in the 2010 presidential, senatorial and local elections.

The Comelec, in its General Instructions for the 2010, said voters must completely fill out the oval space beside the names of their chosen candidates using the pens supplied by the poll body at the precincts.

Otherwise, the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines (PCOS) will not be able to read their markings.

Section 35 of the General Instructions read: "The voter shall, using a ballot secrecy folder and the marking pen provided by the Comelec, fill his ballot by fully shading the oval beside the names of the candidates and political party participating in the party list system of representation of his choice."

In the past elections, voters wrote the names of the candidates on a ballot paper containing blanks. After the precinct closes, the Boards of Election Inspectors then opened the ballot boxes and counted the votes.

This time around, the voter will have to feed his ballot in the entry slot of the PCOS machine after marking his choices.

The voter then has to wait for his ballot to drop inside the equipment, which has transparent panels in the storage box built under the scanner.

The BEI has to monitor that the machine reads and stores the ballot. After casting his vote, the voter must return the secrecy folder and the marking pen to the chairman of the BEI.

If the machine rejects the ballot, the voter can try scanning it again.

If the second attempt fails, the voter must turn over the rejected ballot to the BEI chairman, who will mark the ballot as 'rejected' and store it in an envelop.

Comelec chairman Jose Melo said voters should ensure not to mark or tear the ballot's security markings. The voting machine, he said, would not recognize their ballots.

"No replacement ballot shall be issued to a voter whose ballot is rejected by the PCOS," the Comelec said.

"Any party objecting to the rejection of the ballot shall reduce his objection in writing, which the board shall attach and not in the Minutes," it added.

Only after the ballot is accepted or formally rejected can the BEI chairman apply indelible ink on the voter's finger, a practice that was employed in past elections to prevent double voting.

The voter will also have to sign the voter's list before leaving the polling precinct.

Voters would not be allowed to bring cameras or cellphones inside the election area, the Comelec said.

As in the past elections, the BEIs will be composed of three public school teachers per precinct.

The Department of Education is tasked to submit to the Comelec the names of the teachers who are available for Election Day duties not later than Jan. 8.

The Comelec also noted that the BEI must have at least one information technology-capable person to man the PCOS machine.

The BEIs will receive an honorarium ranging from P1,000-P3,0000, according to the Comelec. Support staff will get P500 to P1,500.

The Comelec and the Department of Science and Technology are currently training a total of 500 IT workers to train and accredit the BEIs to handle the PCOS machines.

Marina: Snap-on lifejackets required on ships by Jan. 1

With the entry of the New Year, maritime authorities expect seagoing vessels to be equipped with new snap-on lifejackets to prevent, or at least minimize loss of lives in maritime disasters.


Liberalized shipping requires Charter Change -- Palace

Malacañang is in favor of liberalizing the shipping industry, hoping that the entry of more competitors would lead to improved services and, ultimately, safer voyages.

Retrieval of bodies from sunken ship begins Friday

A group of underwater experts is expected to arrive in Cavite Thursday night to begin the retrieval of dead bodies that were left trapped inside the sunken MV Catalyn B near Limbones island on Dec. 24.

Ship runs aground off Marinduque port

A roll-on-roll-off vessel (ro-ro) with about 150 passengers aboard ran aground minutes before it was to have reached the Buyabod port here early Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard said. No injuries were reported.

3M families benefited from gov't relief in 2009—DSWD

The government has shelled out over P1.4 billion in assistance to more than three million families who went through various kinds of calamities in 2009, including typhoons, landslides, armed conflicts, and even a plane crash, the Department of Social Welfare and Development said.

Filipino confesses to murder in Vienna—DFA

A Filipino has confessed to the murder of the stay-in housekeeper of the Lebanese Ambassador to Austria Ishaya El-Khoury, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs Esteban Conejos told INQUIRER.net in a phone interview.

Restive Mayon good for tourism, bad for farmers

Tens of thousands have lost their livelihoods because of Mayon's imminent eruption. But the tourism industry is booming.

Don't be swayed by pro-poor propaganda - CBCP

Voters, especially the poor, should beware of candidates who have been making promises of getting them out of poverty, only to forget about them after the campaign period, the leader of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said.

Somali pirates kidnap 18 Filipino seamen, DFA confirms

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Thursday the kidnapping of 18 Filipino seamen on board the Panamian-flagged bulk carrier Navios Apollon after it was seized by Somali pirates on December 28.

Teacher in China arrested for rape of 11 pupils

Police in central China have arrested a teacher for the alleged rape of 11 girls aged between nine and 14 at their school, police and state media said Thursday.

Pacquiao sues Mayweather for doping allegations

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – Pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao has sued Floyd Mayweather, Jr., his father, and some members of the American's camp ahead of their planned March 13 bout for alleging that he was taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Mystery crash left Tiger Woods with 'fat lip'—report

Golf superstar Tiger Woods had a "fat lip" but no other visible facial injuries when Florida Highway Patrol officers met him four days after a mysterious car crash outside his home, a local television station reported Wednesday.

Celestial rarity: 2 blue moons for RP in 2010

It's twice in a blue moon for the Philippines this year.

The year 2010 will be a rare lunar year for the Philippines as there will be two "blue moons" for 2010, an astronomer told the INQUIRER.

The full moon in the early morning of New Year's Day will also have a partial eclipse.

According to Frederick Gabriana, an instructor at the Rizal Technological University Department of Astronomy, the only one in the country, said we will have a blue moon in January, no full moon in February and another blue moon in March.

He explained that the blue moon for December will occur at around 7 p.m. of Dec. 31 universal time, previously known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). It will be visible in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America and Africa.

Since the Philippines is eight hours ahead of universal time, the blue moon for the Philippines will lapse into Jan. 1 at 3:12 a.m., Gabriana said. Hence, this full moon will not be considered a blue moon by Philippine standards.

However, Gabriana said we will have two full moons for the month of January, with the first coming in on Jan. 1 and another on Jan. 30, the latter being the "blue moon."

For February, there will be no full moon because the month will have 28 days. A full moon has a 29-day cycle.

But March will again have two full moons, the first on March 1 and the other, considered the blue moon, on March 30.

"Altogether, these events happening in the same year are very rare. This makes a rare lunar year in astronomical terms for the Philippines," said Gabriana.

A blue moon is defined as a second full moon to occur in a month, usually coming at the end of the month. However, the name has nothing to do with the color of the celestial body closest to the Earth.

A full moon is defined as the alignment of the sun, moon and earth in a straight line with the earth in between the two heavenly bodies.

The last time there were two full moons in a month (universal time) was in May 2007. A blue moon on New Year's Eve universal time is rarer and happens every 19 years. The last time this happened was in 1990. The next New Year's Eve blue moon is set to occur in 2028.

Usually, a blue moon in January would mean a double blue moon for 2010. Hence, double blue moons in universal time occur approximately every 19 years.

The last blue moon in the Philippines occurred in June 30, 2007.

In addition, the full moon on Jan. 1 will experience a partial eclipse, Gabriana said.

The partial lunar eclipse, he said, would cover only eight percent of the diameter of the moon. First contact, or the first time the shadow of the earth will touch the moon's surface, will occur at 2:51 a.m. on Jan. 1. The maximum point of the partial eclipse will occur on 3:22 a.m. and the last contact will be at 3:53 am.

The eclipse will not be visible to the Americas.

Psychic Jojo Acuin shares predictions for 2010

by by Boy Villasanta, abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - Year of the Tiger growls as it brings equal joy and sadness to people in and out of show business. According to psychic Jojo Acuin, there will be quite a number of good tidings and bad news in 2010.

Acuin declared that the Philippines will recover from the series of catastrophes - natural and man-made - that struck the nation these past months and years through extreme diligence and confidence of the people in God and themselves.

"Pero marami pa ring trahedyang magaganap sa 2010," states the noted Nostradamus of Asia.

Sea, air and land accidents will occur, he added.

Although he generalizes, Acuin clarified that these mishaps, like plane crash, boat sinking, cars colliding and smashing, can be avoided through safety precautions and ardent prayers.

"Wala sa akin ang kapalaran ng tao. Sinasabi ko lang ang aking nadarama at nakikita. Ang Panginoong Diyos pa rin ang higit na nakakaalam sa kapalaran natin," he sad.

The country's economy, he said, will be in a consistently "up and down" trend.

In the political arena, Acuin predicted a bloody 2010 national elections. "Magulo ang eleksyon at maraming mamamatay."

Meanwhile, in showbiz, the psychic predicted that Filipino filmmakers, like 2009 Cannes International Film Festival best director Brillante Mendoza, will win in international contests.

"Marami pang award ang matatanggap si Brillante," he said. "Pero marami ring mga kabataang direktor ang mananalo abroad."

Still, here are some of his predictions:

Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo will remain the most ideal young couple in local filmdom.

"Lalo pang tatatag ang pagsasama nina Judy Ann at Ryan. Maaaring magbuntis na si Judy Ann ngayong 2010. Sana ay mag-ingat siya sa kanyang katawan dahil hindi na siya bumabata," advised Acuin.

"Lalong sisikat si Judy Ann lalo na kapag si Ryan ang kanyang katambal sa mga show at pelikula niya. Pag hindi si Juday ang kanyang kapartner, so-so lang ang resulta pero malakas pa rin.

"Maraming nagmamahal kina Ryan at Judy Ann kaya naman wala sila dapat ikatakot na mawawala sila sa show biz. Sila ang itinuturing na modelo ng mga kabataan ngayon," Acuin beamed.

"Magkaka-girlfriend uli si John Lloyd Cruz nang mas matanda sa kanya pero mananatili siyang isa sa mga pinakamasipag at pinaka-dependable na aktor sa ating larangan.

"Kaya lang ay dapat din niyang ingatan ang kanyang puwesto dahil pag nagkamali siya ay baka masilat ang kanyang posisyon. Dapat din siyang mag-ingat sa mga aksidente.

"Magkakaroon ng extension ang pag-aartista ni Ruffa Gutierrez sa pamamagitan ng kanyang dalawang anak na babae. Mag-aartista na ang mga ito at maaaring gumawa ng commercial ang mag-iina kasama si Annabelle Rama.

"Ang love life ni Ruffa, mababago. Makakakilala siya ng isang lalaki na magugustuhan na ni Annabelle at mas magiging maligaya si Ruffa sa mga pagkakataong ito," elucidated Acuin.

World boxing champion and actor Manny Pacquiao, according to Acuin, should stop making movies.

"Kahit kailan ay hindi kikita ang mga pelikula ni Manny. Mas mabuti na mag-concentrate na lang siya sa boksing. Hindi siya tatanggapin ng tao bilang artista dahil hindi naman niya ito larangan," he cautioned.

Meanwhile, Superstar Nora Aunor will regain her place in Philippine cinema, he said.

"Makakabalik na talaga si Nora sa Pilipinas. Kailangan na talaga siyang makabalik para mapatunayan na siya pa rin ang superstar. Maraming magagandang projects na naghihintay sa kanya," he said.

On Aunor's rival, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos, Acuin stressed that her political career will soar high as she shines in politics.

"Tataas nang tataas ang posisyon ni Vilma sa pulitika," he exclaimed.

But a lot of movie and TV personalities who are gunning for elective posts will not make it.

"Pero kung magko-concentrate sila sa showbiz, mas marami pa silang paglilingkuran," he said.

Young actress Angel Locsin, Acuin pronounced, will have a more prosperous and stellar leadership among her contemporaries.

Veteran and versatile actress Lorna Tolentino's career, said Acuin, will occupy most of her time but, just the same, she'll be the most dependable single parent this side of showbiz.

Mirth and birth, predicted Acuin, still sum up showbiz when the happy mask glosses over the tragic scenes with a number of young females stars' early motherhood.

Death is inevitable, said Acuin, but he opted not to dwell on this sad note.

The top 10 news stories of 2009

2009 was the year of the unfamiliar, the unprecedented, the historic. The Philippines" icon of democracy passed away, a novel virus swept the world into a health-conscious frenzy, and a brutal massacre enraged the Filipinos so much that many did not seem to mind the declaration of the dreaded martial law for the first time since the 1986 ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Maguindanao massacre

In the annals of political violence in the Philippines, the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao is unparalleled in its ruthlessness. On a Monday morning, Buluan Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu sent his wife, accompanied by female clan members and lawyers, to file his certificate of candidacy in Shariff Aguak on his behalf. Around 30 local journalists covered the unprecedented gubernatorial bid, which did not sit well with the rival Ampatuan clan that has long lorded over the province and is notorious for running a large private army. On the road going to the Comelec office, at least 161 armed men intercepted the convoy and led the hapless civilians to a hillside, where they were brutally killed. Several witnesses have said Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. was at the massacre scene, firing at the victims and making sure they were dead. Andal Jr. and several members of the Ampatuan clan are facing multiple murder charges for the mass slaughter of 57 people in the worst election-related violence in the country.

The passing of Tita Cory

August was the month the country turned yellow. After more than a year of battling colon cancer, former President Corazon Aquino passed away on August 1. Her death saw the outpouring of support from Filipinos, who turned out in droves to pay their last respects to the woman who championed democracy after the two-decade tyrannical rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Her wake drew high-profile figures from the international community, who were inspired by the woman in the yellow dress. The transfer of her casket from a school stadium in Quezon City to the Manila Cathedral – a route that traversed major points in Metro Manila – took five hours. Her funeral cortege lasted more than eight hours as hundreds of thousands of supporters converged on rain-soaked streets, chanting "Cory, Cory!" and showering confetti on her flag-draped casket. Mrs. Aquino's funeral is considered the public's biggest sendoff since her husband Ninoy was laid to rest in August 1983.

Ondoy and Pepeng

Tropical storm Ondoy (Ketsana) dumped more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours, triggering the worst flooding to hit the Philippine capital and neighboring provinces in more than 40 years. Barely had the country recovered when typhoon Pepeng (Parma) pummeled northern Luzon a week later. The twin calamites left a trail of destruction – hundreds were killed, millions were displaced, and an estimated $4.4 billion worth of damage was reported. But the extent of devastation became more evident from images of flood-inundated and mud-covered homes, people wading in knee- to chest-deep floods, and throngs of people desperately scrambling for food. Despite the grim situation – four subsequent storms hit the country within the next month – the disasters saw the heroism of Filipinos and sparked the spirit of volunteerism in many places. 

A(H1N1) flu

As it was new and unfamiliar, "swine flu" became one of the most feared diseases in 2009 despite its relatively mild nature. On June 11, the World Health Organization declared aswine flu pandemic — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years — as infections rose in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and other places. Countries all over theworld scrambled to detect cases of Influenza A(H1N1) infection, and the Philippines was no exception. When the first Asian fatality turned out to be a 49-year-old Filipina who had a pre-existing heart disease, stores ran out of face masks and rubbing alcohol as the public went panic buying to protect themselves from A(H1N1) infection. The virus did not die down, but the panic over its spread eventually ceased as public knowledge about the disease increased.

Election fever

A month after Mrs. Aquino succumbed to colon cancer, Liberal Party president Senator Mar Roxas announced that he was dropping his presidential ambitions to give way to her only son Senator Noynoy Aquino, who was asked by several groups to follow his mother's footsteps. Noynoy eventually heeded the clamor, joining other presidential aspirants such as Senator Manuel Villar Jr. and former president Joseph Estrada, who will again run for president despite legal questions. Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero announced that he would not be running for any post at all, despite his relatively high survey ratings early on. The political landscape became more interesting when President Arroyo finally ended speculation over her political plans and declared that she will seek a House seat for Pampanga's second district once she steps down in 2010.

Martial law in Maguindanao

Filipinos swore "never again to martial law" when they ousted Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and many have since trooped to the streets over the slightest hint of possible authoritarian rule. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Arroyo's declaration of martial law in Maguindanaofollowing the November 23 massacre in the province was not met with massive protests, although several political personalities slammed Proclamation No. 1959 as an unnecessary show of force. The declaration prompted the two chambers of Congress to convene into a joint session, the first in history, to decide whether they would revoke the edict. However, the Senate and the House of Representatives never got to vote on the matter, as Mrs.Arroyo lifted martial law eight days after the proclamation.

Con-ass

On June 2, majority of the members of the House of Representatives did what previous Congresses have failed to do: it approved a charter change measure, House Resolution 1109, which called on Congress to convene into a constituent assembly that would amend the 1987 Constitution. Many Filipinos are averse to the idea of amending the Constitution under the Arroyo administration, the bad memories from the Marcos era still fresh in their minds. Critic slammed Mrs. Arroyo's manipulation of the lower house, which "railroaded" the resolution's approval by cutting short the interpellation of opposition lawmakers, andvarious sectors joined huge protests condemning the move. HR 1109 has been gathering dust in the House, as the Senate has not acted on it.

Lavish dinners

Mrs. Arroyo's July 30 meeting with US President Barack Obama was overshadowed bynews of her lavish dinners with her entourage. The dinner at the posh Le Cirque restaurant in New York reportedly cost $20,000 (P960,000), considered by many as an obscene amount considering that the world was still reeling from the global financial crisis. Public outrage was further fueled when news leaked out that Mrs. Arroyo's entourage had a$15,000 dinner at Bobby Van's Steakhouse in Washington DC. Two lawmakers, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, allegedly paid for the New York and Washington dinners, respectively. Nevertheless, Mrs. Arroyo received severe criticism for the dinners, as they were reported at a time when the Philippines was mourning the death of former president Corazon Aquino, who was known for her modest lifestyle.

Kidnappings: ICRC, Fr. Sinnott, and teacher Canizares

In the afternoon of January 15, three International Committee of the Red Cross volunteers went to the Sulu provincial jail in Patikul town to inspect a water sanitation project. Mary Jean Lacaba, Andreas Notter, and Eugenio Vagni were intercepted by armed men from the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group near the provincial capitol in Jolo. The bandits released Lacaba on April 2 while Notter escaped on April 18. Vagni was released on July 12. In October, MILF rebels kidnapped Irish priest Michael Sinnott in Lanao del Norte. The missionary was released a month later, on the day US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrived in the Philippines for a short visit. But public school principal Gabriel Canizareswas not as lucky as the other kidnap victims. On November 9, Canizares' severed head was found at a gas station in Sulu. 

Suicide of Ted Failon's wife

"Papa, I'm so sorry. Gustung-gusto ko ang magsabi sa iyo ng totoo pero hindi ko po alam kung paano uumpisahan. Sobrang takut na takot ako…Sana po mapatawad mo ako, papa." This was Trinidad Etong's note to her husband, broadcaster Ted Failon (Teodoro Etong), the night before she shot herself. On April 15, Failon found Etong slumped in their bathroom with a gunshot wound. He took her to the hospital but she died a day later. Her death was wrapped with controversy after police found the bathroom cleaned up – raising suspicions that her death was not a case of suicide. Failon's house maids – who werecharged with obstruction of justice for supposedly tampering with evidence – said they had to scrub the bathroom floor so that the couple's youngest daughter would not see her mother's blood. After a month-long inquiry, the NBI concluded that Etong committed suicide over financial woes.

Whatever happened to Joc-joc, Mike Arroyo, and Daniel Smith?

Political and moral scandals hounded the country's top officials, not the least President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in 2009. Many of the controversies remain unresolved however, despite congressional investigations and resolutions from various government agencies.

CORRUPTION

World Bank road mess

In January, the World Bank announced the blacklisting of three Filipino firms after discovering that they had rigged $33 million worth of bids for road projects. In a Senate inquiry, Sen. Panfilo Lacson accused First Gentleman Mike Arroyo of close ties with Eduardo de Luna, owner of blacklisted firm EC de Luna Construction Corp. Lacson furnished the media with copies of a World Bank report containing testimonies from contractors that they supposedly had to bribe Mr. Arroyo, a former senator, and officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) before they could get road projects. A witness told WB probers that De Luna was backed by the First Gentleman, who denied the accusation. Senator Miriam Santiago's economic affairs committee has yet to release a report on the probe, while 17 DPWH officials are still under investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman for possible connivance with contractors who are barred from World Bank-funded infrastructure projects. 

Jocjoc Bolante and the fertilizer scam

Last February 23, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee recommended the filing of chargesagainst nine people including former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante, who allegedly diverted P728 million intended for fertilizers for poor farmers into Mrs. Arroyo's campaign kitty in the 2004 elections. Reputed to be close to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Bolante has denied any anomaly in the fertilizer fund program. And instead of hiding from public view, he filed his certificate of candidacy for the gubernatorial post in Capiz, running against incumbent Governor Victor Tanco Sr.

ZTE-NBN probe

Last September, the Ombudsman recommended the filing of graft charges against former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos and incumbent Social Security System president Romulo Neri over the $329.4-million ZTE national broadband network mess. However, the investigating panel dropped President Arroyo from the charge sheet due to presidential immunity from legal suits, and also her husband Jose Miguel due to lack of probable cause. Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and ZTE-NBN star witness Jun Lozada immediately filed a motion for reconsideration seeking Mr. Arroyo's inclusion in the charge sheet, but the Ombudsman has yet to act on the petition, Hontiveros said on December 28. In a report released in November, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee said Mr. Arroyo should be charged for his alleged involvement in the anomalous project.

Legacy mess 

The plan-holders and depositors of the collapsed Legacy Group are crying, "Where did our money go?" Businessman Celso de los Angeles Jr. allegedly used company funds for yacht repairs, talent fees for artists during birthday parties, medicine and electricity bills, salaries of household help, lavish gifts to friends, opulent mansions, travel expenses, and a campaign kitty for his electoral bid. In a Senate inquiry about the financial mess in the pre-need industry, the mayor of Sto. Domingo town in Albay repeatedly denied havingorchestrated fraudulent schemes that led to Legacy's collapse. Now ailing with cancer, de los Angeles is facing multiple charges from perjury to syndicated estafa for allegedly siphoning off hundreds of millions from Legacy funds.

RAPE 

Acquittal of Daniel Smith 

It wasn't rape. What happened between Lance Corporal Daniel Smith and Suzette Nicolas(aka Nicole) in November 2005 was just a "spontaneous, unplanned romantic episode," according to the Court of Appeals' ruling penned by three female justices. Less than 24 hours after the appellate court handed down its verdict in April, Smith returned to the US. The CA's ruling came weeks after Nicolas fired her lawyer, executed an affidavit expressing her doubts that she was raped, and left for the US with her new American lover. The US Embassy said Smith is no longer part of the Marines, while Nicole's mother said her daughter wanted a new lease on life in the homeland of the man she had accused of raping her. 

Freedom for Jalosjos

He was sentenced to two life terms for raping an 11-year-old girl in 1996, but former Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos walked out of prison a free man last March 19after staying in jail for only 13 years. The wealthy former politician immediately announced plans of becoming the political adviser of his brother, Dapitan Mayor Dominador Jalosjos. and putting up a P2-billion theme park called "Gloria's Fantasyland" in the city. He has filed for absolute pardon which, if granted, is supposed to restore a convicted person's rights to vote and be elected into public office.

MURDER

Dacer-Corbito double murder case

Veteran publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito were brutally murdered nine years ago, but until now, no one has been jailed for the crime. Even though two key men who were linked to the killings have been extradited to the country after many years in hiding in the US, no one has been prosecuted and the masterminds have not been unmasked. In his controversial affidavit, former police officer Cezar Mancao II said then-PNP chief and now Sen. Panfilo Lacson ordered the killings, which allegedly had former President Joseph Estrada's approval. Mancao was a ranking official at the now defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force headed by Lacson. Members of the PAOCTF allegedly carried out the twin killings on Nov. 24, 2000. This year, the Manila Regional Trial Court reopened the Dacer-Corbito double murder case. Lacson and Estrada, who have repeatedly denied involvement in the killings, have not shown up in court to answer the allegations. 

Ruby Rose Barrameda murder case

The disposal of a body believed to be that of Ruby Rose Barrameda, the sister of former actress and beauty queen Rochelle Barrameda, was straight out of a Mafia movie: it was found inside a cemented steel case submerged off the Navotas Fish Port last June 10, more than two years after Ruby Rose went missing in March 2007. The story took an even more riveting turn when police investigation pointed to members of her estranged husband's family as the possible perpetrators of the heinous crime. Murder charges against her father-in-law Manuel Jimenez Jr., his brother Lope, and four other alleged accomplices have been filed before the Navotas Regional Trial Court, which has yet to resolve the controversial case.

DRUGS 

Alabang Boys

In 2008, three young scions of wealthy families were nabbed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for allegedly possessing and selling high-end drugs. Their case became headline material after the agency accused Justice Department prosecutors of receiving P50 million in bribes to dismiss the case of suspects Richard Brodett, Jorge Joseph, and Joseph Tecson – tagged as the Alabang Boys. President Arroyo, who declared herself as the anti-drug czar at the height of the controversy, overturned the DOJ resolution after convening an independent panel investigation and ordered the filing of cases against the three suspects. Tecson is detained at the Quezon City Jail and is facing charges at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. Joseph and Brodett are confined at the police headquarters in Parañaque while their case is being heard at the Muntinlupa RTC.

CULTURE

National Artists controversy 

Does Carlo J. Caparas, the man behind "The Untold Story: Vizconde Massacre 2 - God Have Mercy on Us" and similar movies deserve to be named National Artist? Absolutely not, if several artist groups would have their way. National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera and other cultural stalwarts, who filed the petition questioning the choice of Caparas and other National Artist nominees without due process, are pleased with theSupreme Court's status quo order blocking the conferment of the awards last August but are concerned that the case has not progressed. "The Supreme Court … said after 10 days there will be oral discussion," Lumbera said. "They have not moved in order to bring that discussion."



Samuel Goldwyn  - "I'm willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong."

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