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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 22, 2010 Major News Stories



ExxonMobil finds possible oil, gas reserve off Tawi-Tawi

The ExxonMobil Corporation, the world's largest international oil and gas company, hit something in the deep waters of Tawi-tawi that could somehow ease the country's energy requirement.

Scott Spradlin, operations manager of ExxonMobil Exploration and Production of the Philippines, said in a press briefing here Thursday morning that they found hydrocarbon, which could either mean oil or gas, some 16,000 meters deep in the waters of Tawi-tawi.

"We are still drilling to find out what we have. We have found enough to be interested in the area and so we are proceeding with our second well, " Spradlin said.

The company has been drilling in Tawi-tawi for more than two years now. Its first drilling well is about 35 nautical miles from Mapun Island. Spradlin said the company has already spent about US$100 million in the first well.

But Spradlin said they could not provide conclusive data on the discovery. He also refused to say when the discovery was made.

"It's a long, slow process," he said.

Citing the Malampaya (Palawan) discovery, Spradlin said it would take eight to 10 years to determine and processing of hydrocarbon.

With the discovery, ExxonMobil sought a partnership with the Department of Energy to ensure the protection of its exploration in the area.

"This is a good discovery for the Philippines and with it, more people will be interested in the area," he said.

Maj. General Ben Dolorfino, the Western Mindanao Command chief, said the Department of Energy requested the defense department to provide security in the areas of exploration.

On Thursday morning, Dolorfino and Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, Naval Forces Western Mindanao commander, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the ExxonMobil to secure the exploration.

"ExxonMobil shall provide support in kind to the Navy and rice subsidy for vessels and personnel detailed in the security activity," Dolorfino said.

Pama said the Philippine Navy would provide one ship to help secure the exploration site.

"We are sharing an equitable burden here, we cannot really say exactly how much," Pama said when asked how much support it has been getting from ExxonMobil.

Philippines' jobless rate up slightly at 7.5% in 2009

The Philippines' jobless rate inched up to 7.5% in 2009 as the number of unemployed Filipinos climbed to 2.83 million, according to the National Statistics Office. The NSO did not give any reason for the increase, but job losses and reduced work hours were seen particularly in the exports sector, which was the hardest hit by the global crisis.

Kuwaiti high court: It"s death for Pinay OFW

Kuwait"s high court affirmed the death sentence on a Filipina housemaid who pleaded innocent to the charge of murdering her employer"s daughter, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The Kuwaiti Court of Cassation upheld this week the verdict on Jakatia Pawa, 34 years old and a native of Zamboanga Sibugay province, to die by hanging for killing the 22-year-old daughter of her employer, for whom she has worked for over five years.

Foreign Affairs undersecretary for migrant workers' affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said the Philippine government is working for the issuance of tanazul or forgiveness from the victim's family to save Pawa from the death penalty.

"After achieving this, Vice President Noli De Castro will go to Kuwait to hand over a written letter from President Arroyo to the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to ask for commutation of her sentence from death to life imprisonment," Conejos said in a press briefing. 

Conejos expressed hopes that Pawa will be spared the death penalty, as with the case of Filipina domestics Marilou Ranario and Mae Vecina. 

Vecina, a 30-year-old mother from North Cotabato, was sentenced to death for killing her employer's seven-year-old son in 2007, but was granted full pardon by the emir last year for good behavior. 

Also sentenced to death was Marilou Ranario, a 35-year-old mother from Surigao del Norte, for murdering her female employer, but her sentence was similarly commuted two years later.

Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya said he was dismayed with the court decision on Pawa, even as he noted that the court decision must be respected.

He maintained that Pawa is innocent and that there is no solid evidence to convict the OFW. Endaya said the knife which was used in the murder does not have Pawa's fingerprints, and there was no blood stain on her dress or body that could link her to the crime. 

Pawa pleaded not guilty to the charge in an earlier hearing, telling the court that one of the victim's family members might have committed the crime.

She revealed that family members had stronger motives to kill the victim because of an alleged illicit love affair with a male neighbor. 

Around 73,000 Filipinos are working in oil-rich Kuwait, including 60,000 women employed mostly as domestic helpers, earning less than US $200 on the average.

DFA warns vs email scam targeting Berlin-bound jobseekers

An "evolving" email scam is targeting prospective overseas Filipino workers heading for Berlin in Germany, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

DOLE regional director, 13 others face P1.3M suit over levied lots

A realty corporation whose properties were levied by the Department of Labor and Employment in relation to a labor case has filed a P1.3 million civil case for damages against DOLE-7 Regional Director Elias Cayanong.

VV Go Hope Realty, Incorporated claimed to be the owner of the three lots situated in barangay Santo Niño with a total market value of P7,372,000 that were levied on July 7, 2007 in favor of Diodora Cataquez, May Ann Hildred Larrazabal, George Soreno, Maria Brenda Centino, Rhea Completo, Ivy Mohametano, Ricardo Godinez, Samuel Torino, Africano Cuevas, Jr., Wilfredo Encontro, Teodora Caballes and Ireneo Manolong, who are also named defendants in the civil case.

Also named defendant of the damage suit is sheriff Rhett Casino. The petitioner is asking the court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order against the defendants, saying it would suffer irreparable damage if the order of levy gets implemented.

The petitioner alleged that the defendants levied its property after they were awarded P2,906,444.44 by the National Labor Relations Commission for having won in the labor case against Hope Pension House and Vicente and Victoria Go.

Despite knowing that the property is registered under the name of the petitioner and that the total market value is more than the amount awarded by the NLRC, the defendants allegedly proceeded to levy the property.

42 barangays in Cebu violate Solid Waste Management Act

Forty-two barangays from 34 local government units in Cebu remain non-compliant to the provisions of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001, the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.

The 42 barangays in Cebu are in the municipalities of Alcantara, Alegria, Aloguinsan, Argao, Asturias, Badian, Balamban, Bogo, Boljoon, Borbon, Carcar City, Carmen, Catmon, Daanbantayan, Danao City, Dumanjug, Lilo-an, Madridejos, Medellin, Minglanilla, Naga City, Oslob, Pilar, Pinamungahan, Samboan, San Fernando, San Francisco, San Remegio, Santa Fe, Santander, Tabogon, Tabuelan, Tuburan and Tudela.

In a memorandum issued by EMB Director Julian Amador, the local government units are now candidates of the "three-strike policy," or the LGU's that have been issued two notices for continued violation of the law.

Aside from the barangays in Cebu, 25 barangays in Bohol, 21 in Negros Oriental, and three in Siquijor are also considered candidates in the "three-strike policy."

The three-strike policy of the DENR and the National Solid Waste Management Commission was implemented to discipline LGUs that do not comply with Republic Act 9003.

Police say no word yet from Dumpit; assure cop's arrest

Even his colleagues in the police force appear to be having a difficult time locating controversial policeman Adonis Dumpit who is facing a standing warrant of arrest for the death of suspected robber Ronron Go.

GMA to check Cebu projects

PRESIDENT Arroyo will visit Cebu on Jan. 27 to check on the progress of the P2.4-billion Cebu North Coastal Road Project (CNCRP), said Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Victor A. Domingo.

Domingo, who inspected the project yesterday, said the project will be completed five months ahead of schedule. The Cansaga Bay Bridge, which is a component of CNCRP, is now about to be finished.

"President Arroyo wants to see for herself whether the project is really ahead of schedule. I congratulate the contractor, Frank Soriano, who used P500 million of his own money to fast-track the project. He will be reimbursed later," Domingo said.

Marie Mignon Nilla, of the DPWH 7 public information office, said Cansaga Bay Bridge is being built using pre-stressed concrete and steel girders with 640.30 meters, four lanes with median separators and approaches with a length of 610.35 meters. The two approaches of the bridge have lengths of 428.75 and 181.60 meters, respectively.

Domingo said the project was started on Dec. 10, 2008 and slated for completion in August 2010. The contractor, however, is working without breaks and as of Jan. 14, already recorded a 96.602 percent accomplishment against a schedule of 68.993 percent.

As of this month, the project is substantially completed. The only remaining tasks are the embankment blow topping, drainage, slope protection, electrical and asphalting works. Domingo said these will be definitely completed next month.

DPWH said in press statement that an additional P597.063 million is needed to complete the project. The amount was requested by DPWH from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Malacañang last June 2009 and September 2009, respectively.

The P200 million was received by DPWH last Jan. 12 and the P397.063 million balance will be released soon by DBM.

Meanwhile, Domingo said the subway section of the Cebu South Coastal Road Project, which passes beneath the historic Plaza Independencia, will be completed on March 5 and unveiled as a gift to Arroyo on her birthday on April 5.

The subway had an initial contract cost of P1.3 billion. It was started by Japanese firm Kajima Corporation in June 2006 and was supposed to be completed in June 2009.

The deadline, however, was revised to March 25, 2010 and the contract amount was adjusted to P1.7 billion because of problems encountered during the excavation, said engineer Nilo Pamaylaon, the project director.

Pres. Arroyo pays tribute to the late Cerge Remonde

The late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde gave his life for his country in his work as a journalist and as a public servant, President Arroyo said yesterday.

In her brief message after Remonde's remains were brought to the Malacañang Heroes' Hall, Mrs. Arroyo said the late Cabinet official's training as a hardened journalist contributed in shaping policies of her administration and helped her become a better leader.

She said Remonde passed away on Tuesday morning at the peak of his second career in government.

"He reached the peak of journalism, he reached the peak of public service as a Cabinet member. And so he deserved it all," a teary-eyed Mrs. Arroyo said.

"Cerge gave fully of himself for the sake of our country both in government for the last nine years and in media since he was 18 years old," she said.

She said Remonde gave her sound advice and was honest and frank with her.

"He was a very sensitive person. When he would be hurt, he would let me know about it and we will always make up," the President said.

"But he was also a person of very wise counsel. His questions even in Cabinet meetings in discussions and debates were questions that a journalist would ask," she said.

Remonde, she said, "always brought the journalist's perspective into our discussions and that made us the better for the decisions that we made."

Prior to the arrival of Remonde's remains to the Palace, the President had lunch with members of the Malacañang Press Corps that the late Cabinet official arranged before his death.

She related that Remonde was one of the Cabinet officials who strongly objected to the proposal of the military to declare martial law to quell the looming rebellion of the Ampatuan clan, whose patriarch and some of his sons were suspects in the massacre of 57 people.

Mrs. Arroyo said the recommendation came at the end of the briefing of security officials and took her by surprise and a debate in the Cabinet meeting ensued.

She said it was only when Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who also strongly opposed any move that may appear authoritarian, yielded to the recommendation that Remonde followed suit.

She said she vividly remembers Remonde, who was then a broadcaster from Cebu in the 1990s, frequently interviewing her over the phone in Cebuano when she was still a new senator.

"That exposure helped me because it made many people  in the Visayas and Mindanao realize that I spoke Cebuano and that culminated in my landslides in 1995, 1998 and in 2004 in the Visayan-speaking provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Also when she was still a senator, Remonde would also be consulted during caucuses of senators when measures that would involve media would be discussed, she said.

"I learned early then to take Cerge's opinion into account. And that was carried on not only in my work as senator but in my work as president with Cerge beside me. So I look at him that way in his various capacities in government," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"We mourn the loss of this faithful and talented media man and public servant. Many of you here I am sure remember him for his charm he always had a great sense of humor, his wit and his solicitude for individuals as well as for his ideals. His love for people as well as his principles," she said.

Remonde's remains were given honors by the Presidential Security Group at the foyer of the Palace.

Mrs. Arroyo met and escorted Remonde's wife, Marit Stinus, a Danish citizen.

Mrs. Remonde and Mrs. Arroyo were seen crying while viewing a nine-minute video tribute to the late official and journalist at the Palace.

The President later conferred the Order of Lakandula to Remonde. The posthumous award was received by Marit, who was given a plaque and a medal.

Jun Icban new Palace press secretary

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced past noon Thursday that Jun Icban of the Manila Bulletin is the new press secretary.

BENHUR IS STAYING PUT, BUT.: Tining prepares speech; to attend session Monday

Celestino 'Tining' Martinez III will deliver his privilege speech on Monday at the House of Representatives after he took his oath before House Speaker Prospero Nograles the other night.

"I will attend the session Monday and I will deliver my privilege speech. Siguro mga one hundred pages na," Martinez said in an interview with The Freeman.

But Cebu 4th District Rep. Benhur Salimbangon just laughed off such plans saying the legal battle is not yet over, even if the Supreme Court has denied his motion for reconsideration.

Martinez took his oath at Nograles's office and Salimbangon said that an oath taking of a congressman must be done at the Plenary Hall of Congress and any oathtaking done outside is nothing.

"Formality na lang nang sulod sa Kongreso. Ang importante naka-take oath na ko ni Speaker," Martinez said.

House Speaker Nograles said that oath must be in the plenary hall before the other congressmen.

"Only then can his name be entered in our rolls. And that's our House of the People rules of Congress," Nograles said in a text message sent to The Freeman.

When asked as to whether Martinez's taking oath at his office already meant that the latter is now the congressman of the 4th District, the House Speaker did not reply.

Martinez said that a notice to vacate for Salimbangon to remove his things at the House of Representatives building was already signed by the Speaker.

Salimbangon denied this saying, "he is not a squatter" for him to vacate his office.

In a press statement, Salimbangon said that the oath taking that was in the picture by Martinez was not an oath taking for Congress as it was only for the latter not to join opposition if he (Martinez) wins.

"Let them wait for the truth to come out. Remember, God is with us. He will not allow evil to flourish. The fight is still on so please (our supporters) do not despair. We are going to win this battle. Let us not allow evil to flourish," the press statement added.

It can be recalled that the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal has declared Salimbangon as the winner in the congressional race during the 2007 elections.

But aggrieved with such ruling, Martinez filed a petition before the Supreme Court to set aside the ruling of HRET.

Last January 12, the Supreme Court en banc rendered a decision that Martinez won in the race against Salimbangon.

On January 14, Salimbangon filed a motion for reconsideration seeking for the reversal of the January 12 decision of the Supreme Court.

The Highest Tribunal however denied the motion for reconsideration of Salimbangon with finality the other day.

Sanchez fine-tunes speech vs. Gwen

Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez, Jr. said that the lack of quorum in the Cebu Provincial Board that twice foiled his scheduled privilege speech has helped him polish and research more issues against Governor Gwendolyn Garcia.

Sanchez said that when he first attempted to deliver his privilege speech two weeks ago it was only about seven to 10 minutes long. He improved it a little in last week's supposed scheduled but it did not push through for the same reason; lack of quorum.

According to Sanchez, now that he was given more time to prepare he was able to make it 15 to 20 minutes long. Sanchez assured that while his speech would be long, the audience, especially the members of the PB, will not fall asleep because of boredom.

He said his privilege speech is entitled: In Defense of an Institution. 

Sanchez said that among others he will discuss how Garcia allegedly trampled the rights of the legislative department.

Sanchez will also talk about "democracy and tyranny" in the Capitol. Among the issues he will discuss, aside from the alleged harassment that he and his office had suffered, is the imposition of the P5 terminal fee at the South Bus Terminal, the parking fee at the Capitol compound and giving offinancial assistance to other provinces without prior authority from the PB.

Sanchez said he has Supreme Court decisions to back him up that the power to appoint employees at the legislative department is with the vice governor. He explained that he only gave it up for Garcia when they were still in good terms but he is now taking it back.

Sanchez said there is more in his privilege speech that the media and the public should watch for.

Sanchez was originally scheduled to deliver it two weeks ago but the board did not reach a quorum. He scheduled it again last week but the lack of quorum again prevented him from delivering it. Sanchez hopes to finally deliver his speech on Monday.

BOPK campaigns for INC support, offers cemetery

BANDO Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) candidates will woo Iglesia ni Cristo followers in Cebu City today, offering them "good government" and cemetery space in Barangay Kalunasan.

Tomas leaves city again for quarterly check-up

CEBU City Mayor Tomas Osmeña will be on leave for 10 days starting tomorrow for his quarterly check-up in Texas and to visit some friends in San Francisco.

Lab testing of automated poll process starts

by By Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak
Simulated voting and transmission in 5 local governments to be conducted Wednesday The Commission on Elections (Comelec) begins today the series of "end-to-end" tests on the automated election system that will be used nationwide in the May presidential and local elections.

Teachers to get P4,300 for poll duties

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
P30-M fund set up for poll-related casualties MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Education (DepEd) on Thursday announced that public school teachers who serve as members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in May will get P4,300 each.

Comelec, DepEd set training, pay of teachers for polls

Saying that he was no longer having "nightmares" about the coming elections, Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Jose Melo signed on Thursday a deal for the training and compensation of 280,000 public school teachers who will man the polls in May 2010.

Melo said that the Comelec and the Department of Education would work closely together so that the training of teachers in March could go on smoothly, even with the busy graduation season.

Under the agreement, which Melo signed with Education Secretary Jesli Lapus at the DepEd central office, teachers would each get a total of P4,300 for their election services. 

"DepEd has many activities in March so that we will have to coordinate closely on how this will be done," Melo said.

He said the training was "delayed" because the Comelec wanted to be "sure" that the automated polls would push through. But with the automated machines expected to pass its laboratory tests, the poll body decided to proceed with the training in March.

Lapus said there was a "sigh of relief" among DepEd officials and teachers after the Comelec briefed them on the automated machines.

Teachers' organizations such as the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (Act), Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC), and the Action and Solidarity for the Empowerment of Teachers (Assert) were present at Thursday's signing. 

"There is a sigh of relief. Our level of confidence has gone up," Lapus said.

He said if before, DepEd officials were "in the dark" about the counting machines and the compensation of teachers, now " all of these are being answered."

"The training could last for just an hour. Operating a cell phone is more complicated. A high school graduate can operate it," Lapus said.

"There is no programming involved here. It is like an ATM machine. You just pin the security code. I guess what should be asked now is voters' education. That is more challenging," he added.

Under the agreement, those who will participate in the 2010 elections are expected to receive the following: members of the Board of Election Inspectors including the chair will get P3,000 each, plus P300 in transportation allowance.

Another P500 will be given for the inspection, verification, and sealing of book of voters plus another P500 for the inspection, verification, and sealing of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS).

Likewise, team leaders (school heads, principals and education supervisors who are not members of the BEI) who will supervise certain precincts will receive P3,000. 

Janitors and messengers who will be assigned in certain precincts during the elections will get P1,500 while members of board of canvassers in the municipal, city and provincial levels will get P5,000.

According to the Comelec-DepEd agreement, the Comelec will also set aside P30 million as part of the teacher compensation deal. This amount will be allotted for election-related death or injuries of DepEd employees in the performance of their duties. The heirs of the deceased official or employee shall be given the amount of P200,000.

Long ballot awaits voters in May

Target ng Comelec na umabot ng 1,000 ang makaboto sa bawat presinto. Pero may nagdududa kung kakayanin ito dahil sa sobrang haba ng balota.

Forum at CICC this afternoon: 6 presidentiables to face Cebuanos

The Cebuanos will get a first hand look at the presidential aspirants today in a forum dubbed as "Choices and Voices for 2010: An Encounter with the Presidentiables," at the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City.

SWS: Villar trims Aquino lead in one-on-one scenario

Even in a one-on-one scenario where only the two of them were the choices in a presidential race, Sen. Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino kept his edge over Sen. Manuel "Manny" Villar Jr. although by only 8 points, according to the latest Social Weather Stations survey conducted from Dec. 27 to 28 last year.

SWS's late December poll results were made public earlier this month, but the poll organization said "it is disclosing the pertinent results and technical details, for the benefit of the public," in a release sent to media Thursday evening.

The survey showed that in a scenario where the electorate's choice was only between Aquino and Villar, 52 percent of respondents would choose Aquino over Villar, who received 44 percent. (See Table 1.)

SWS Dec2009 Table1
Table 1. SWS Special Survey, Dec. 27-28, 2009 

The special survey, commissioned by San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, a known Villar ally, asked the question, "Sa mga sumusunod na pangalan sa listahang ito, sino po ang malamang ninyong iboboto bilang PRESIDENTE ng Pilipinas, kung ang eleksyon ay gaganapin ngayon?" (Among the names found on this list, who will you probably vote for as PRESIDENT of the Philippines, if elections were held now?).

The same survey scenario, which included only Aquino and Villar as the two presidential choices, was also tested in the October 1-4 SWS survey last year. Commissioned by Avic Amarillo, Villar's media relations officer, this earlier survey showed two-thirds (65 percent) of the respondents were for Aquino while only less than one-third (28 percent) were for Villar. 

This indicates a 29-percent decrease in the gap between Liberal Party's Aquino and Nacionalista Party's Villar when the two similar surveys conducted in October 2009 and December 2009 are compared. 

Aquino tops 4 other scenarios

Four other scenarios, each of which does not include all the eight candidates, were also tested in the December 2009 survey, the SWS said in its January 21 media release.

The survey results show that Aquino topped in all of the other scenarios, but only with a 10-point edge over Villar, except for the scenario where former President Joseph Estrada was excluded. Where Estrada was not listed, Aquino enjoyed an 11-point lead over his closest rival. 

From a list showing only seven candidates without former President Joseph Estrada, 49 percent chose Aquino, while 38 percent were for Villar. Administration party candidate Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro clinched 6 percent, evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva got 2 percent, while Sen. Richard "Dick" Gordon and Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal received 1 percent each. Olongapo City councilor John Carlos "JC" de los Reyes trailed at 0.3 percent. (See Table 2.)

SWS Dec2009 Table2
Table 2. SWS Special Survey, Dec. 27-28, 2009


From a list of presidential candidates that excludes Teodoro, Aquino received 45 percent, a 10-point lead from Villar who got 35 percent. Estrada received 14 percent; Gordon and Villanueva at 2 percent each; Madrigal, 1 percent; and de los Reyes at 0.4 percent. (See Table 3.)


SWS Dec2009 Table3
Table 3. SWS Special Survey, Dec. 27-28, 2009 


For a scenario of a presidential race between Aquino, Villar and Teodoro only, 50 percent chose Aquino; 40 percent, Villar; and 7 percent were for Teodoro. (See Table 4.)

SWS Dec2009 Table4
Table 4. SWS Special Survey, Dec. 27-28, 2009 


Similarly, in a list that included only Aquino, Villar and Estrada, Aquino still topped the pack at 47 percent, Villar at 37 percent and Estrada at 14 percent.

SWS Dec2009 Table5
Table 5. SWS Special Survey, Dec. 27-28, 2009 


The survey used face-to-face interviews with 2,100 respondents, with an error margin of ±2.2 percent, according to SWS. The October 1-4, 2009 survey meanwhile involved only 1,200 adults, with an error margin of ±3 percent. 

Consistent topnotch, but edge is narrowing

Aquino has consistently topped poll surveys conducted by several institutions in the past months, but survey results point to the trend that Villar is inching his way up and narrowing Aquino's edge, despite the NP bet's being embroiled in recent Senate in-fighting over the controversial C5 road project.

The latest SWS survey, conducted on December 27-28, showed that in a generalized scenario where all presidential bets are listed, 46% of the respondents chose Aquino, while Roxas got 33%. [See: Villar inches close to Noynoy in latest SWS survey

Villar's rating in the late December survey is six percent higher than his rating in a survey conducted by the same outfit on December 5 to 10. Aquino's rating, however, slipped from 44 percent. [See: Noynoy tops another survey, 46% will vote for him]

While the ratings of both contenders remain virtually unchanged in various surveys, pollsters admit that Villar and even Estrada are gaining "significant" increases. [See:Noynoy still on top; Erap, Villar catching up – survey

Another survey showed Aquino to be preferred by 31 percent of the respondents, but Villar was similarly not far behind at 24 percent. [See: Noynoy leads, Villar not far behind in new survey

Political analyst Ramon Casiple earlier said that unless Aquino does something damaging to his political career, he is sure to win the 2010 presidential polls in light of his consistent lead over his opponents. [See: Consistent wide lead already a sign of victory - analyst]

If elected, Gibo to prioritize bridge between Cebu, Bohol

Administration presidential aspirant Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro said the construction of the bridge linking Cebu and Bohol provinces will be given immediate attention if he is elected into office.

No new taxes under Aquino admin

Even while facing a burgeoning budget deficit, presidential aspirant Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III vows to not impose new taxes or raise existing tax rates if he becomes the next President.

Aquino lays out pro-business agenda

There's no need to be cronies of the powers that be for your businesses to prosper under an Aquino administration.

Aquino is no pushover, say businessmen

Contrary to what many make him out to be, presidential aspirant Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III does not seem to be the meek and mild pushover type, according to some of the country's top business executives.

Bacani accepts ruling on Estrada's poll bid

A spiritual advisor of former president Joseph Estrada who also happens to be one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution accepted the Commission on Elections Second Division's ruling to allow the deposed president to run again in the May 10 elections.

Gibo, Noynoy will not contest Comelec decision on Erap case

Two presidential aspirants on Thursday welcomed the decision of the Commission on Election (Comelec) second division allowing the candidacy of former President Joseph Estrada, saying it would give the electorate more options.

Senate fails anew to take up C5 report vs Villar

Due to "lack of time," the Senate on Wednesday failed again to discuss the committee report sanctioning Senator Manuel Villar Jr. for allegedly allowing his private business interests to earn from the C5 road extension project.

Will 'ice cream diplomacy' work in Angara-Enrile rift?

Pinag-aayos ngayon ng ilang lider ng Senado sina Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile at Senador Edgardo Angara. Gamit ang "ice cream diplomacy", nais nilang palamigin si Enrile na mainit ang ulo kay Angara dahil sa suspetsang tinangka niyang magkudeta sa Senado.

Zubiri denies Angara involved in bid to oust Enrile

A reported attempt to oust Juan Ponce Enrile as Senate president and have him replaced by Senator Edgardo Angara was nothing but "intrigue" meant to "`drive a wedge" among majority bloc members and derail a proposed censure of Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Thursday.

Accreditation of nine 'pro-admin' party-list groups questioned

The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) on Thursday questioned the accreditation for the May 2010 election of at least nine party-list groups linked with the Arroyo administration.

This developed as a police general who was allegedly involved in the botched National Broadband Network deal with Chinese firm ZTE Corporation was bared as one of the founders of the Alliance for Rural Agrarian Reconstruction (ARARO), a party-list group claiming to represent the farmers.

At the Serye forum in Quezon City, ARARO executive officer Elmer Cainday identified retired police general Quirino dela Torre as one of the founders of the group.

In 2008, Dela Torre, was mentioned by Senate witness Dante Madriaga, as a member of the group that actively pushed for the allegedly overpriced NBN deal, under aloan agreement with China and got cashadvances from ZTE Corp.

Cainday said it was "unfortunate" that Dela Torre's name was dragged into the scandal.

It was also during the watch of Dela Torre, as police commander of Central Luzon region, when the Hacienda Luisita massacre happened, which left scores of protesters dead.

But Cainday said it was during Dela Torre's experience in Hacienda Luisita when he got to know how miserable the situation of farm workers was in the country.

Asked if Dela Torre is a farmer, Cainday said the police general hailed from a family of farm workers.

It was not known yet if Dela Torre will be among the top five nominees of ARARO that will get the chance to sit in the House of Representatives if the group gets sufficient number of votes in the May polls.

The ARARO has been accredited by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to join the election.

In a separate statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the nine party-list groups allied with the administration could be just the "tip of the iceberg." He said there could be more groups accredited by the Comelec with links to the Arroyo administration.

Bayan based its findings on a list drafted by poll watchdog Kontra Daya in 2007 and on a 2006 memorandum from the Office on External Affairs in Malacañang which identified administration party-list groups to be supported

It identified the party-list groups as follows:

1. Agbiag Timpuyo Ilokano (AGBIAG) – previously cited in OEA memo

2. Ahon Pinoy (AHON) – previous nominee was Dante "Klink" Ang II, son of Dante Ang who chaired the Commission on Filipinos Overseas

3. Akbay Pinoy OFW-National (APOI) – previous nominees included former Arroyo DILG officials

4. Aangat Ating Kabuhayan Filipinas (ANAK)- previous nominee included an official of PNP-NCRPO

5. Babae para sa Kaunalaran (Babae Ka) – previously cited in OEA memo

6. Bigkis Pinoy Movement (BIGKIS) – identified with PAGCOR chair Efraim Genuino

7. Byaheng Pinoy Labor Association (Byaheng Pinoy) – previous nominee was brother of former COMELEC chair Abalos

8. Kalahi Sectoral Party (KALAHI)- previously cited in OEA memo

9. League of Youth for Peace Advancement (LYPAD)- previously cited in OEA memo

"Four of the party-list groups: Agbiag, Babae Ka, Kalahi and LYPAD, were previously cited in a memo from the Office of External Affairs in October 16, 2006," Reyes said.

"They were then considered the four main party-list groups to be supported by the administration in the 2007 polls and were supposed to receive Palace funding according to the OEA memo," he said. "Receiving official funding from the government should already be a basis for disqualification."

But while getting accreditation was a breeze for these groups, the Comelec made joining the May polls difficult for legitimate groups such as Ang Ladlad, Migrante, ACT and Courage.

Bayan also questioned the accreditation of Bigkis Pinoy Movement (BIGKIS) identified with PAGCOR chair Efraim Genuino. The group's previous nominees include PAGCOR officials Edward King and Ramon Agoncillo, consultants Mario Cornista (2001), Ismael Tabo (2004), and Tomas Toledo (2007) and Sheryl Genuino-See, the daughter of PAGCOR chair Genuino. The group has failed to get elected to Congress the past three elections.

"Is the Comelec giving special treatment and consideration for party-list groups identified with the administration?" Reyes said.

"The party-list system is supposed to be for the marginalized or underrepresented. However, over the past years, through the efforts of Arroyo and the COMELEC, the party-list system has been undermined and corrupted to favor the incumbent in Malacañang," Reyes added.

Bayan said that various poll watchdogs will closely monitor the party-list groups and will seek the disclosure of nominees by the Comelec.

Why is Pagcor-linked party-list group still in the running?

by By Lilita Balane, Newsbreak
Bigkis failed to obtain 2% of the votes in not just 2 but 3 consecutive elections MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has included in its list of party-list participants this year a group that should have been disqualified for failing to win in the past 2 elections.

Rebels ambush police team in Masbate

Heavily armed men ambushed on Wednesday night the police team sent to investigate the killing of a village chief in Esperanza town in Masbate, an Army official said Thursday.

Farmers protest at Edsa Shrine

Protesting farmers Thursday afternoon partially breached a barricade set up by the Mandaluyong police to prevent a rally from being staged at the Edsa Shrine.

Congress may pass freedom of information bill before break

Congress might pass the Freedom of Information bill before it goes on long break again next month, a lawmaker said Thursday.

Ma throws self, 2 daughters into Pasig River

Homicide investigators have filed a parricide charge before the city prosecutor's office against the 40-year-old scavenger, who allegedly threw herself and her two young daughters into the Pasig River in Manila.

Manila Police District homicide section head Chief Inspector Erwin Margarejo said Thursday it would be up to the court to determine if insanity had driven Mimi Avila, of Gasangan, Baseco Compound, in Port Area, to jump off the Del Pan Bridge in Binondo with her daughters.

The body of Jocelyn, 5, was fished out at around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, of the Pasig River near Gate 54 Area C, of the Parola Compound in Tondo, while her 8-year-old sibling Juvilyn remains missing.

Avila survived the jump after she was rescued by boatman Nancito Moreno who saw her flailing in the water.

She was later taken into custody by operatives of the homicide section after she was seen throwing one of her daughters from the bridge into the water before leaping into the Pasig River with the younger girl.

"We will only be filing one count of parricide since only one body was recovered. The other daughter has not been found yet," Margarejo explained.

Senior Police Officer 2 Dennis Paul Javier, case investigator, revealed that the incident happened at around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Before the incident, Mimi had told her live-in partner Alexander Avila that she and her daughters were going to the Divisoria market to buy rice. However, the three were seen atop the Del Pan Bridge, where witness Emily Gabiola saw Mimi throwing Juvilyn into the water before jumping in with Jocelyn.

When asked why she jumped and took her daughters with her, Mimi told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Para matapos na ang problema ng taong bayan (To end our countrymen's problem)."

"My daughters wanted for us to leave but we had nowhere else to go. We were being treated as criminals," she explained.

"They (daughters) are gone. If it hurts you, it hurts me more because they are my own flesh and blood … It is so hard," Mimi said, clutching at her chest.

Ivler's gun matches slugs found in Ebarle crime scene—NBI

The .45-cal. pistol recovered from road rage suspect Jason Ivler during Monday's raid on his house in Quezon City was the same gun used in the killing of Renato Victor Ebarle Jr., son of a Malacañang official and namesake, an investigation official said.


Ivler's ma asks US embassy to take custody of son

The mother of road rage murder suspect Jason Ivler said the US embassy should take custody of her son, just like what it did for erstwhile rape suspect Daniel Smith, because just like Smith, Ivler "fought for his country."

Ivler stepdad not covered by diplomatic immunity—DFA

Stephen Pollard, the stepfather of road rage suspect Jason Ivler, is not covered by diplomatic immunity and may be charged in courts when necessary, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday.

Raid on Ampatuan in-law's office in Davao yields firearms

Several unlicensed firearms, including high-powered rifles, were seized during a raid on the office of a security agency owned by an in-law of the Ampatuan clan in Davao City early Thursday.

68 Filipinos seek repatriation from Haiti

Sixty-eight Filipinos in Haiti are now asking the Philippines to repatriate them after another powerful earthquake struck the impoverished Carribean nation Wednesday, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

4th Filipino found dead in Haiti

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – The body of the last missing Filipino peacekeeper in Haiti has been found, the Philippine military said on Thursday, bringing the total Philippine fatalities in the devastating earthquake that hit the country last week to 4.

Bodies of 3 Pinoy peacekeepers to be brought to Dominican Republic

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – The remains of the 3 Filipino peacekeepers recovered from the rubbles of a collapsed hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti will be brought to the Dominican Republic.

Haiti's mass graves swell; doctors fear more death

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Workers are carving out mass graves on a hillside north of Haiti's capital, using earth-movers to bury 10,000 earthquake victims in a single day while relief workers warn the death toll could increase.

RP general heads peacekeeping forces in Golan Heights

A Filipino three-star general will assume command of the 1,050-strong United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the Golan Heights next month following the approval of his appointment by the UN Security Council, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

Major General Natalio Ecarma III was formally appointed on Monday by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as the new force commander and head of mission for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights.

Ecarma's appointment was endorsed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arrroyo and submitted to the UN headquarters in New York by Ambassador Hilario Davide Jr., Philippine permanent representative to the UN.

Firefighter injures 10 colleagues in Rome rampage

ROME--A firefighter armed with a knife went on a rampage at a barracks in Rome early Thursday, injuring nine colleagues and sparking a panic attack in another, authorities said.

It"s Clottey first, Floyd later for Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao is not giving up hope for a megafight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. sometime in the future but for now, his eyes are firmly trained on the tough Joshua Clottey, who"s out to take away his WBO welterweight title on Mar. 13 at the Cowboys Stadium.

Clottey gracious yet dangerous, says Pacquiao

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – Seven-division champion Manny Pacquiao is all praises for his "The Event" opponent, Joshua Clottey, as he cited the Ghanaian's character and boxing skills in his latest column.

Viloria won't overlook Colombian foe

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - Brian Viloria will defend his International Boxing Federation (IBF) light flyweight title against Carlos Tamara of Colombia in "Collision Course" at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City on Saturday.

Kristie Kenney torn between Sam Milby, Piolo Pascual

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - Outgoing US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney is torn between Sam Milby and Piolo Pascual. In an interview with ABS-CBN's morning show "Umagang Kay Ganda," Kenney admitted that she is a big fan of both Pascual and Milby because they are "charming" and "friendly."

Kris Aquino enrolls son Josh in wellness program

by by Julie Bonifacio, ABS-CBN.com
MANILA, Philippines - Nagbigay ng reaksyon ang Queen of All Media na si Kris Aquino sa pahayag ni Phillip Salvador sa pagkikita nila ng anak nila niyang si Joshua. Diretsahang inamin ni Aquino na hindi sila nakakapag-usap ni Salvador.

ABS-CBN president one of mag's 'People of the Year'

ABS-CBN President Charo Santos-Concio, isa sa kinilalang People of the Year ng People Asia magazine.

Conan O'Brien leaves NBC in $45-M deal: reports

LOS ANGELES, California, United States - Conan O'Brien will leave NBC in a 45-million-dollar deal, it was reported Thursday, ending an ugly public feud surrounding the fate of US television's long-running "The Tonight Show."

Transcript of Noynoy Aquino's speech at the Makati Business Club

Below is the keynote speech delivered by Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III during the January 21, 2010 general membership meeting of the Makati Business Club.Aquino spoke to a full house at the Manila Peninsula's Rigodon Ballroom.

Officers and members of the Makati Business Club, Your Excellencies of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen, my friends and countrymen. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to address you.

I trust your asking me first is not based on alphabetical order, or based on age, but perhaps, based on who you think will most likely win the coming election.

As managers, you recognize that one of the necessary skills of an effective manager is time management. Is it possible that you have invited me to determine if there is still a necessity to spend time with the others? Baka naman inuna niyo ako upang malaman kung sapat na ako at hindi na kailangang pansinin yung iba?

I think we are all aware of the problems facing our country. We share the same statistics. We probably even share the same conclusions about the need for better governance. To rehash all of these problems at this forum would be a waste of your time.

But what we have now is an opportunity for you to get to know me, to find out the advocacies that I champion, the perspective and philosophies I bring to the equation and some of my proposed solutions to give an insight into my inner persona.

Levity aside, the political exercise that we will engage in this May is a crucial one. It will be, as it is for every fledgling democracy, a test of the strength of our political institutions.

The peaceful transition of power has become a symbol of political maturity across the world, with many still failing to achieve the credibility that is the cornerstone of a genuine political mandate.

With the electoral scandals that have stalled our democratic progress as of late, it is not a test that we can afford to fail.

Accountable government

We have an administration whose mandate is clouded in doubt and overshadowed by allegations of fraud because it refused every opportunity to clear the air and be held to account. Its choices have limited its decision-making to seeking ways to ensure day-to-day political survival and self-interest.

We must now become a government committed to accountability; a government that works with the people in achieving long-term change.

We must make the shift from bare economic survival to robust economic growth. We must make the change from treading water to keep afloat, to reaching that promised shore where we can all stand tall as healthy, happy, educated and responsible fellow citizens.

But why does transformation seem like such an impossible dream? Isa sa mga tema ng ating kalaban, yung "ang pagbabago, madaling sabihin yan pero mahirap gawin," is probably echoed by a lot of Filipinos.

The oft-repeated question is, why can't we advance? Why can't we progress? What is it in us that limits or prohibits our growth as a people and as a country?

Lacking experience?

All of you are aware that most of the contenders have had years, possibly even decades, of preparation for this electoral exercise. I had no such ambitions to run in the 2010 elections but I responded to the people's clamor. I am but the face of what we believe is the overwhelming demand of our people to repudiate everything wrong in the current administration.

Given that I only announced my decision to seek the presidency on September 9, and I only came to that decision the day before, I have not had material time comparable to our opponents.

What is perplexing is that viewing the same problems, and having access to the same data for the most part, we believe the solutions have been there all along, and necessitate only clear political will to execute.

But most of our opponents seem to indicate the contrary opinion that there is very little that we can do to change the situation. One has to wonder: did they overstudy the problem, or are they committed to preserving the status quo?

If the leader is not convinced that change is not only necessary, but extremely possible, how does he lead us to the promised land? What is it that we want to change?

We want to repair the damage that has been wrought on our democratic institutions by those who have sought to manipulate them for their own selfish ends. We want to improve the situation of our people, who have suffered years of neglect because of a self-absorbed leadership obsessed with political survival.

They are poor. Many of them are homeless. Each year, we add some 2.5 million mouths to feed to our already hungry population. Of these new additions, one third were the result of unplanned pregnancies.

From patronage to development

We have a growing underclass that statistics tell us have given up looking for work. A permanent underclass that includes the five million of our countrymen that are illiterate, which means their opportunities in life will always be limited to living hand-to-mouth.

We want to give our young the opportunity and means to improve their lot in life. It can only begin if our children and their parents are assured that money spent on education is money well spent. Unfortunately, students are at the mercy of our decrepit education system that allows double shifting, erroneous textbooks and substandard nursing schools to exist. No less than DepEd officials admitted that students in Grade 1 take three subjects in one class period.

We have a procurement program so heedless of the need for excellence that it doesn't care if it produces a textbook series riddled with 500 factual errors. For every hundred kids that start grade school with the hope of achieving their dreams, only 14 will graduate from college and possess a tangible means to materially improve their lives.

To my mind, the crucial, lacking element in all these is a government committed to a transformation: from a society overwhelmingly poor to one overwhelmingly middle class. In every developed, progressive, prosperous democracy, it is the middle class that is the biggest class.

Government, for one, has failed to make the conceptual leap from patronage to development. Efforts at feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing basic care to the sick, and offering a quality education aren't only the people's rights; they are the essential tools for individual self-improvement.

In 1998, when I first campaigned for office, one lady bluntly told me that regardless of who is elected, things would remain the same for her. What did she mean? That she was poor to begin with; that she would remain poor, and in fact, she would be lucky if she didn't end up poorer, after the candidates leave office.

This brings up the question at the forefront of the minds of our countrymen still undecided on whom to vote for, and pursued by my critics. If this is a time that calls for national transformation, am I qualified to be that transformative leader? Having answered the call of duty, can I ask you or anyone to entrust me with your vote, on faith alone? Never having sought the presidency, I preferred to do my duty and not seek the limelight.

Lacking in experience?

Now that I have been thrust in the limelight, it is only fair to answer the question: before you tell us what we can do, what have you done? I have always believed that the job of an effective legislator goes beyond merely proposing laws, for what are laws but written agreements entered into by members of society on how to harmonize their mutual relations?

In fact, I do not believe that we suffer from the problem of too few laws. One of my proposed measures was the re-codification of laws, in response to an appeal from the legal community to put some order into our laws, their amendments and those that have been repealed, because even our lawyers are at times confused.

Consider the recent controversy over who gets to appoint the next Chief Justice. We maintain that there are no ifs and buts in Article 7 Section 15 of the Constitution where it states that the current President cannot appoint anybody within 2 months prior to a presidential election up to the end of her term. An exemption exists, but it applies only for positions in the Executive Department. Yet you have two retired justices arguing exactly the opposite. How can former justices of the Supreme Court be so seemingly confused, when the fact is that the provision regarding presidential appointments is stated clearly in the law?

Our problem is the lack of political will to faithfully implement the many world-class laws that our legislature has passed. A preference for ambiguity even when times call for clarity, leads to artificial controversies. Insecure or overly ambitious leaders need to create a climate of doubt, because it's in the grey areas that its ambitions thrive.

It is in addressing this problem that I focused on the fiscalizing aspect of a legislator's job – on Congress' oversight and investigative functions. Consider intelligence funds. In the proposed 2010 budget, a total of P1.4 billion was allocated to confidential and intelligence funds.

Woodrow Wilson once wrote that oversight is always preferable to investigation, which is like putting out a fire instead of preventing one. We proposed that if the Executive wants orderly transactions, at least a few members of Congress should be privy to all of the details to determine if they were spent properly.

However, this proposal was dismissed out of hand without even a single hearing for the reason that they undermined the Executive's privileges. And yes, the investigations were a vital part of my functions, too. I don't think anyone will begrudge me my efforts in this regard.

From Hello Garci and the impeachments, to NBN-ZTE and the fertilizer scam, I did my duty at the forefront of these issues. The original design of the NBN-ZTE project required a BOT agreement between government and the supplier, not a government loan. But during the NBN-ZTE hearings, we learned that the project was entered into through a government loan despite instructions to the contrary from no less than the President herself.

The cost of the intended government loan was P40 billion, (in which P16 billion was for the backbone and P24 billion was for the CyberEd project.) Jun Lozada belied this when he cited P5 billion as the actual cost of the entire project. Ito yung sinasabi niyang kalakaran ng gobyerno, kung saan sa sobrang laki ng patong, bubukol na. SCTEx took around 8 years to construct before it finally opened.

Projects of this scale normally require 2 years to complete. Furthermore, when SCTEx finally became operational, it was found that the central hub, which was Clark, did not have an exit, excluding Clark from the Subic-Clark-Tarlac expressway itself.

How can one justify these kinds of delays where opportunities are lost, costs have escalated and the people's burdens, instead of being reduced, end up being compounded?

My active role in these congressional hearings has put me at odds with the administration. In 2005, it cost me my post as Deputy Speaker. It continues to put me at odds with the coalition of self-interest that currently holds power. It puts me at odds with other candidates for the presidency.

To lead transformation, you cannot be part of the problem. As I said when I accepted the people's draft, the job of chief executive is about the efficient allocation of resources. If you have hogged those resources for yourself, if you have lied, cheated, and stolen to gain power, how can you be trusted to lead the transformation our country needs?

Going back on the issue of appointing a Chief Justice prior to the forthcoming elections, if we are to transform the country, it begins with doing what we can, now, to limit the damage and give our people a fighting chance to rebuild our damaged institutions.

The Constitution imposes a blanket prohibition with few exceptions concerning midnight appointments. A candidate cannot ask for the people's mandate, pledging to improve the situation tomorrow, if he becomes complicit in worsening the situation today. Hindi naman mahirap gawin ang tama. Alam naman ng lahat yan eh. Wala namang magic, wala namang sikreto. Pero bakit pilit pa ring ginagawa ang mali?

'No need to be a crony'

There is a widespread perception that success in the business milieu can almost be directly correlated to your closeness to the powers-that-be. Because of this, some players in the industry are forced to focus their activities on maintaining relationships in order to retain the favors that they receive in exchange for cultivating that relationship.

This has fostered the wrong kind of competitiveness. While it may work, locally, for now, it has not enabled these players to become competitive in the world market, where the rules of the game do not take special relationships into consideration. We will encourage free and fair competition in a level playing field.

One not need be a crony in order to succeed in the field of business. More importantly, government will not compete with business. Nor will government use its regulatory powers to extort, intimidate and harass.

We will transform our systems to foster service to the public instead of making citizens jump through hoops. We will streamline the approval process, not only for setting up new businesses but also in the regular day-to-day transactions with government, such as the payment of taxes. We will do this on a national as well as the local level.

Lower tax rates for all

In 2010, our next President will inherit a continually bloating deficit. As of November 2009, the deficit of the national government already reached P272.5 billion, or 4.1% of GDP.

In addressing the looming fiscal crisis, good governance and the drive against corruption are critical components in our strategy.

We will refrain from imposing new taxes or increasing tax rates.

I strongly believe that we can collect more taxes at the BIR and higher duties at Customs if we become more serious in curbing and punishing tax evasion and smuggling.

The BIR's collection dropped by 5.5%, while that of Customs declined by 16.6%. This is the first time in recent history that absolute revenues have actually declined. Our initial focus then will be to capture a good part of the revenue leaks caused by smuggling and evasion. In this effort, we will not be starting from zero. Be assured that those smugglers and evaders are not faceless and unknown entities.

The ideas to improve tax administration and to control smuggling have been there for some time and some programs have been initiated in the past. One of these successful programs was the RATE or Run After Tax Evaders. In fact, some of the people at the Department of Finance and the BIR who have tried to implement reforms before are with us now, and together with reform-minded career executives, we intend to put their commitment and talents to good use under my administration.

My vision is to transform our country into one where we have lower tax rates enjoyed by all, rather than have some enjoy absolute tax exemptions while we burden the rest of the economy with very high tax rates.

I believe that markets are better than government in spotting where the growth opportunities are, and, with universal low tax rates, we will encourage entrepreneurs and enterprises to invest and create jobs in any industry.

We will, therefore, pursue the rationalization of fiscal incentives early in my administration. There is a lot of room for our revenue base to grow.

Our tax effort has gone down from 17% at its peak to a worrisome 13% today. If we can only bring this back even to just the 15% level, that will translate to P150 billion in additional revenues, which would make a significant dent in cutting our deficit.

My budget team estimates that for 2009 alone, around P280 billion of our national budget was lost to corruption. If we take the years 2002 to 2009 the total estimates exceed one trillion.

Estimates vary, but everyone agrees that the numbers are huge. If we agree that change is necessary, how can a Presidential aspirant, whose own financial and political ethics are questionable, be effective in leading transformation as the head of the bureaucracy? How can a leader, who is benefiting from the status quo, be able to restore a civic sense and pride in our citizenry? The leader, who has used public office for private gain, will always be the most committed enemy of change.

Better infrastructure

Rich or poor alike, we have a tangible experience of the sorry state of public infrastructure at present: traffic, which eats up time, which as the saying goes, is money. Railways are built at bloated cost; urban transport is constructed, but not enough trains are on track.

Our people are the first to experience the effect of something that works and conversely, something that is badly done because bad intentions handicapped the project from the start. It is time that our infrastructure agencies and LGUs transform into cooperative ventures with the private sector by bringing forth an agreed public infrastructure program, based on a cohesive plan that optimizes the value of the entire network.

In our conversations with members of the private sector, there has been a lot of positive feedback about possibly working with government on this endeavor. To transform infrastructure projects from sources of waste and scandal into examples of cooperation and efficiency, we will set objective criteria for different types of projects and develop a scorecard that will assess various projects against benchmarks transparent to the public.

Initially we want our infrastructure program to transform from being the means to enrich a few, to being labor-intensive and biased for employment as a means to pump-prime the economy.

Agriculture

When I read about countries that have invested in their agriculture sectors and succeeded, it always pains me to find that these countries - Vietnam and Thailand, to name just a couple - had started by sending their experts to be educated in the Philippines.

It seems that we cannot implement among ourselves the lessons we successfully imparted to experts from elsewhere. This will have to change. We must be able to harness our homegrown talent in order to further our local industries.

When we change administrations, there must be a complete review of all the programs in the Department of Agriculture. We can do a lot for our farmers given the present budget of the Department if we eliminate the leaks and focus on the efficient use of resources. For example, we must stop eating up millions in mere administrative costs as in the case of NABCOR, which charged our government P60 million because it served as a useless conduit to regional offices.

We will also support efforts such as supply chain management that minimizes losses, creates jobs, consults with stakeholders, and capitalizes on our competitive advantage.

Our core belief is that the current approach to governance and power must change. That is why our terms of reference always begin with the present government, what it has done, and how different our institutions and our nation must be six years from June 30, 2010.

Unity and faith

In a small-scale operation it is easy for everyone involved to visualize that entity as the combination of their collective efforts. As opposed to, say, when you are a bigger firm, and there is the management side and there is the labor side. In Tagalog, it's even more dramatic. Kayo at kami, sa halip na tayo.

We must find a unity that transcends the divisions of today, based on a shared commitment to transforming our country into one that works: One where traffic flows well, garbage is collected efficiently, crimes are solved, justice is served, and our kids are educated properly.

It works in the sense that you do not have to flee the country to move up in the world, improve your lot in life, and rise to the highest level your personal merits can achieve. We are a nation of sacrifice, of diligence, dedication and, idealism, because we are a people imbued with compassion even when we have officials who lie, cheat, and steal.

Our faith teaches us that we are our brother's keeper. Our logic should tell us that in taking care of others, their growth equals our own.

In the movie "Invictus," Nelson Mandela says, "In order to rebuild our nation, we must exceed our own expectations." It requires us to insist, always, that we are not a nation of crooks, of thieves, of murderers who get off scot-free and where justice is won by the highest bidder.

In May, you will be asked to make a choice. Will you choose transformation and change or will you choose to uphold the status quo? We have already made our choice. Ours is a journey towards transformation. I ask you today to join us in this journey now.

Thank you.

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