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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 28, 2010 Major News Stories

BIR commissioner insists Shell liable for back taxes

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) insists Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. is liable for P7.34 billion in back taxes, amid criticisms of the bureau's flip-flopping stand on the issue.

NFA to buy more unhusked rice from farmers

The National Food Authority (NFA) will buy 2.1 million 50-kilogram sacks of palay or unhusked rice from local farmers starting February until April to help farmers.

DA orders release of sugar supplies, hoping to curb price surge

The Philippines" Department of Agriculture (DA) ordered the release of 150,000 kilos of sugar, hoping that the supply increase would curb the sweetener"s recent price surge.

NTC asked to defer hearings on per-pulse scheme

Smart Communications, Inc. has asked regulators to defer hearings on the new per-pulse charging system for mobile calls in deference to a pending case at the Court of Appeals.

E-VAT exemptions for senior citizens approved by Congress

Magandang balita po sa mga lolo at mga lola. Pirma na lang ni Pangulong Arroyo ang kulang at maipapatupad na ang batas na ipinasa ng Senado at Kamara na nagbibigay ng exemption sa Valued Added Tax sa mga senior citizen.

HIV cases soar among Filipino yuppies, call center workers

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine General Hospital on Wednesday said the number of Filipinos infected with HIV rose dramatically in the past 10 months and now includes young urban professionals such as call center agents.

Doctors at the PGH Infectious Disease Treatment Complex said the number of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) cases in the hospital rose to 100 in the past 10 months.

Records from the Department of Health showed that the number of HIV cases rose to 709 last year, compared to 528 in 2008.

Dr. Edsel Savana of the PGH Infectious Disease Treatment Complex said 80 HIV cases were recorded for November alone.

"The spread of AIDS in the country is already an epidemic. We should be on the lookout because AIDS spreads fast," he said.

Savana said most of those who contract HIV are sex workers, gays and drug addicts.

Dr. Katerina Leyritana, however, said hospitals have also recorded HIV cases among young urban professionals such as call center agents.

She said majority of the recent HIV cases tend to be younger, mostly from ages 15-29, who are well educated.

Some of those infected said they got the illness after engaging in casual or group sex, which they discovered through social networking sites on the Internet.

"There are a lot of sites right now that can organize orgies quickly. A lot of young people believe in casual sex," she said.

If current trends hold, the health department said HIV patients in the country could balloon to 20,000 cases by 2020.

The PGH said it will conduct a massive information drive to warn people about the possible dangers of unsafe sex.

Lawmaker seeks to claim House seat even with just 3 sessions left

The Philippine Congress only has three session days left before it adjourns for the election campaign period. But Celestino Martinez III has yet to claim his seat as Cebu"s fourth district representative.

Capitol may face suit over DA lot

The Regional Agriculture and Fisheries Council of the Department of Agriculture have threatened to file a class suit against the Cebu Provincial Government to stop the latter from evicting them from the Capitol-owned property along M. Velez Street in Cebu City.

On top of the class suit, RAFC has signed up a manifesto on the matter expressing their opposition to the decision of the province to recover the lot.

RAFC oversight committee chairman Jorge Alcordo said that they are preparing the suit to stop the provincial government from shooing them out of the lot that they have been occupying for 50 years.

According to him, they have laboratory facilities in the compound that any disruption of their operational research studies and production will have an immediate negative impact on the agro-business enterprise and on the livestock production, and even the human health.

Alcordo said that four DA laboratories will be affected and these are the biologic vaccine laboratory, the regional diagnostic laboratory, the bird flu laboratory and the regional feed analysis laboratory. If these laboratories are temporarily transferred, he added this would mean that their operation will have to be halted temporarily for a year because they will have to install everything again.

Lahug wants 3 outposts of Luz tanods removed

Barangay officials of Lahug are demanding for the immediate removal of three barangay tanod outposts that barangay Luz has constructed within the disputed territory of the two barangays.

But Luz officials headed by barangay captain Nida Cabrera just ignored the demand that was to be complied with within 24 hours made by Lahug barangay captain Mary Ann de los Santos even if the latter threatened to sue them.

Clarificatory hearing held on libel case vs. Cardinal

A closed door clarificatory hearing on the libel case filed by a former monk against Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal was held yesterday at the Provincial Prosecutor's Office.

Minglanilla cops probed for delay of convoy

Provincial Police Director Erson Digal has ordered an investigation into the alleged failure of the Minglanilla police to help facilitate the passage of the convoy of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last Sunday.

The presidential convoy was heading to Argao town for the burial of the late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde.

However, the convoy reportedly got caught in traffic when it reached Minglanilla, which is four towns away from Argao.

Digal said it was Regional Police Director Lani-O Nerez, who was in the convoy, who personally informed him of the situation.

Supt. Eduardo Ylaya Saavedra, the one assigned to supervise security on the day of the burial, also told Digal that he only saw one policeman stationed along the convoy route in Minglanilla.

This reportedly prompted Saavedra to go to the Minglanilla police station and told five policemen to help man the convoy route.

"Bisa'g gi-ingnan na nga pa- manun na sa dan, wala man gihapon nilihok ang mga police sa Minglanilla," Digal said.

Digal said he received information that Inspector Leoncio Baliguat Jr., the chief of the Minglanilla police, was not around at that time reportedly because his wife was about to give birth that day. But Digal said the reason is unacceptable.

"Dili justifiable iya reason nga nagbati iya asawa," Digal said

Digal said he will request for the Commission on Elections to have Baliguat transferred to another police station while investigation is ongoing.

"Giklaro jud na sa conference last week nga i-clear jud ang road if moagi na si President Arroyo kay for security lang pud niya ba kay presidenti baya na siya," Digal said.

"Serious neglect of duty jud na ang kaso ana niya kay presidente gud na," he added.

2 police units face inquiry for missing parts of machines

TWO operating units of the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CCPO) face an investigation, following reports the video carrera machines they have confiscated were cannibalized.

Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Lani-o Nerez instructed acting CPPO Chief Erson Digal to place the Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB) and the Provincial Anti-illegal Drug Special Operation Task Group (Paidsotg) under investigation.

Digal, in an interview, said the information that reached Nerez was that the central processing units (CPU) were sold after these were taken from the coin-operated illegal gambling machines.

Group launches program to save RP education

Education Nation, a coalition of captains of industry and other concerned citizens, launched Wednesday a blueprint for reform to save the Philippine education system from collapse.

The coalition presented its 10-Point Education Reform Agenda and offered it to presidential candidates in an effort to make education the No. 1 issue in the May elections.

"We at Education Nation are saying `Enough!' We cannot simply sit back and watch our education system further deteriorate in the hands of a government that has shown little concern for the plight of millions of Filipino children," Ramon del Rosario Jr., chairman of the Philippine Business for Education (PBED), said at the launch, held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City.

"With this agenda, we are offering our presidential candidates and their respective teams—all the way down to the mayors—a list of 10 things they can achieve for education over the next three to six years," he said.

Del Rosario said the "10 doable things" could "make a world of difference for learning and achieving in this country."

The PBED, a major pillar of Education Nation, includes such business heavyweights as Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala (Ayala Corp.), Oscar Lopez (First Philippine Holdings Corp.), Manuel V. Pangilinan (Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.), Washington Sycip (The SGV Group), Lance Gokongwei (JG Summit Holdings), Tony Tan Caktiong (Jollibee Food Corp.) and Marixi R. Prieto (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Del Rosario said that with Wednesday's launch, "we serve notice to our candidates that we—parents, teachers, students, business leaders, administrators, civil society representatives and other education stakeholders—shall vote for education come May 2010 and beyond."

"In unveiling these 10 points, we wish to give fair warning that there should be no more excuses. Our country deserves quality education for all. We demand it. We will watch over it. We shall fight for it," he said, adding that education should not only be "a priority" but "the priority."

The "10 doable things" envisioned to reform Philippine education are:

• Increasing the education budget to 4 percent of the gross national product to put it at par with other countries.

• Enhancing basic education by adding two more years to it.

• Promoting academic excellence by developing globally benchmarked standards of excellence.

• Developing community ownership of schools.

• Ensuring universal access to education.

• Strengthening higher education.

• Empowering teachers.

• Building transparency and accountability.

• Supporting private education.

• Maximizing alternative learning.

PBED president Chito Salazar said Education Nation wanted to make education the No. 1 issue and not merely "one of my top 10" because "we also think it is the main route out of poverty."

He said the 10-point agenda would be presented during a congress of educators next month, and later to vice presidential and senatorial candidates.

"Our objective is to make the entire nation and the education system genuinely functional in order to give everyone the opportunity to better their lives," Salazar said.

Del Rosario noted that according to the United Nations' 2010 Education For All Global Monitoring Report, Philippine education indicators were below "what might be expected for a country at its income level," and that there was "a real danger that the country will fail to achieve universal primary education by 2015."

The report also said the Philippines was "a particularly striking example of underperformance" worldwide when it came to education reforms.

AIM president Edilberto de Jesus, a former education secretary, said that "in terms of perception," Philippine education has "gone down very many steps" in Southeast Asia.

"After a period when they were sending their students here to get higher education degrees, now our degrees are kind of discounted. It hurts our overseas Filipino workers because [overseas employers] see the degrees from the Philippines and [OFWs] do not get the compensation levels that are given to graduates of other countries," De Jesus said.

"We need to involve more people because the problems are systemic problems. What we are seeing is that we really need an education president because when push comes to shove, you have to have at the very top somebody who is ready to call the shots and enforce the principles needed if we are to reform education," he said.

Former Education undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz, now with the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, said the claim in the Arroyo administration's "legacy" ads that the quality of Philippine education has improved could not be easily confirmed.

For example, he said, while there may be "one textbook for every student" according to purchase figures since 2001, "chances are we have not distributed these so that [we can say] the textbooks are in the hands of the students."

"So, if you want to measure whether or not there is a legacy, you really want to measure outputs. Do we have more kids [graduating from school]? The answer is probably not," Luz said.

Lapus frowns on comparison of RP educ to that of Africa

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus refuted the reports that the country is lagging behind in terms of quality in education and participation rate among students in schools that are essential requirements in achieving the Education for All (EFA) goal of the global education environment.

"Sa gender equality, lagpas na tayo; there are more girls than boys in schools now. Because in some of the countries in Asia like Pakistan where ang mga babae walang "k" (stands for 'karapatan' or right), o di dapat mag-aral. So sa gender equality complied tayo dyan," Lapus said.

"Then yung participation rate, nag-improve tayo d'yan nang 85 percent," Lapus added.

In terms of early education, Lapus said that this will be one of his top priorities along with introduction of technology in education especially in teaching. "Early childhood, 'yan and tinutulak natin; close (to) one million na yung ating kindergarten, one million students of course that is fifty percent and we are increasing it," Lapus said.

The early childhood care means that as early as five years old, children will be enrolled in kindergartenand shall enter grade one until such that the school can determine the student's readiness to enter higher level of education.

"Kailangan magkaroon ng malawak na kindergarten sa public school because even 'yung international groupings, isang criticism nila sa Pilipinas is there could be social injustice," Lapus said.

By this, he meant that in other countries, the wealthy children have two to three years of kindergarten before they go to grade one while majority of Filipinos in public schools go straight to grade one.

Comelec sets second field test of poll machines

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will hold a second field testing of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines on Friday, an official said Wednesday.

First poll machine field test gets mixed results

by By REYNALDO SANTOS JR., Newsbreak
Next dry run on January 29 open to the public MANILA, Philippines--The first field test of the automated election process got mixed results Wednesday, as most target areas transmitted mock vote results to the central server by lunch time, while data from Mindanao had not been received by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as of early evening.

Poll machine fails test after Comelec uses defective SIM card

A poll machine failed a test on Wednesday after it used a defective subscriber identification module (SIM) card, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.

Firm reports successful field testing of poll machines

An official from the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) technology partner Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) announced Wednesday the successful field testing of the automation system to be used for the May elections in selected sites nationwide.

Smartmatic-TIM spokesman Gene Gregorio said the field tests were conducted between 7a.m. to 12 noon Wednesday, in 10 polling precincts and nine canvassing centers in Benguet, Cebu, South Cotabato, Pateros, Taguig and Naga City.

Gregorio highlighted that the field testing proved that voting results from the polling precincts can be transmitted successfully to multilevel canvassing centers using a combination of public telecommunication networks and mobile satellite technologies in just two minutes.

"While we are still awaiting all results to come in, majority of the reports that we have received from the field state that the end-to-end testing of the automation system has been successful, particularly the electronic transmission of the election returns or the votes from the polling precinct to the municipal, provincial and national canvassing centers," Gregorio told

The electronic transmission stage is crucial because it will be the determining factor in holding automated polls, since it eliminates the need for board of election inspectors to physically transport the counted ballots from the voting centers to the board of canvassers for tallying in the municipal, provincial and national levels.

Under the new system, results for the national positions are expected to be out in 48 hours, instead of the usual one or two months.

The spokesman also said it is impossible to hack the poll machines or change the results to be transmitted within the two minutes owing to several security layers.

Aside from the transmission, personnel from Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM also tested the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and canvassing hardware, including the basic configuration of the automation software to be used for running the hardware units, said Gregorio.

The official added that the final version of the automation software would be installed in the 82,200 PCOS machines after international software certification agency Systest Labs releases its full report on source code review by early February and certifies it as functional and operational for use in automating the May national and local elections.

Based on the full report of the field testing, the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM will "introduce improvements on the system as deemed fit," added Gregorio.

During the joint congressional hearing on the automation preparations Wednesday, Comelec chairman Jose Melo said they will hold a second field testing to allay fears on automation even if the law only prescribes that a second field test should be done if the first one fails.

Since the arrival of machines on December, Comelec has been conducting laboratory tests for the machines, wherein they subject the poll machines to different stress factors like high temperature and humidity to simulate the unique environment of the polling precincts where the machines will be deployed on Election Day.

So far, Comelec commissioner and steering committee head for automation Gregorio Larrazabal said "the laboratory tests are successful."

Aside from the laboratory testing and at least two field tests, Comelec will also hold a mock elections in selected sites nationwide and a test for electronic transmission of voting results in key sites using a public telecommunications network or mobile satellite units.

The final testing and sealing of the machines are scheduled three days before election day, said Larrazabal.

Comelec to pick 100 voters for mock elections

ONLY 100 of the 521,000 voters in Cebu City will be able to participate in the mock elections scheduled next week, which is part of the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) efforts to test the reliability of its automated poll system.

The 100 voters will be pre-selected at random.

They will be notified three to four days before the mock election in Barangay Bulacao, an urban village in the south district, and Barangay Mabini, a mountain barangay in the north district, on Feb. 6, a Saturday.

The two polling places—Bulacao Elementary School and Mabini Elementary School—will get 50 voters each or a total of 100 voters, which represent .019 percent of the city's total voting population.

Lawyer Marchel Sarno, election officer for the north district, said that while only the 100 voters will use and test the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, candidates in the May 10 elections and other voters are welcome to observe the proceedings.

"According to the guidelines, we are to select at random only 50 voters in the pre-selected precinct to participate in the mock elections. But we will welcome and we encourage other voters and the candidates to observe the process so they can also see how fair and transparent the election is," Sarno said.

The city's poll offices will welcome any feedback from the voters and candidates, he said.

Comelec conducted yesterday the field testing and is set to hold the mock elections in eight polling places in the cities of Cebu, Taguig, Baguio and Davao.

As stated in Comelec's operation plan, the activities are meant "to test and determine the functional capabilities and systems reliability in actual conditions and environment as on election day, the PCOS and the canvassing and consolidation system (CCS), in recording and reading the votes, printing of election returns, electronic transmission of results from polling places to the municipal, city, provincial, national canvassing and consolidation centers."

Next week, Comelec Cebu City's voter education activities will go full swing, after the Cebu City Council approved yesterday the P25-million Election Reserve Fund.

Sarno said the availability of the funds will allow them to immediately start their information drive and voter education program in all 80 barangays, which they will conduct down to the sitio level.


The funds will pay for expenses in connection with the May 10 polls, including office supplies and equipment for the poll precincts, honoraria of all personnel and volunteer teachers who will serve in the elections, and transportation expenses.

Expenses for the voter education campaign will also be charged to the fund.

As of Oct. 31, 2009, the city had a total of 517,798 registered voters. Some 3,217 more registered when the Comelec extended the registration from Dec. 21 to 30.

City councilors will also conduct their separate briefing on the poll automation with the barangay officials, as agreed on by the council yesterday afternoon.

The council approved a resolution charging P160,000 to the City's Pagcor funds for "a brief educational seminar" on the automated election system for all barangay officials.

The seminar will run from February to April and will be spearheaded by the council's committee on laws, public accountability and good government.

Manual count possible in 30 percent of precincts

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is bracing for the possibility of holding manual vote-counting in 30 percent of polling precincts nationwide even as officials expect poll machines to be delivered on time and pass field tests.

Comelec officials made this disclosure on Wednesday, despite swearing by the reliability of its automated poll machines, many of which have yet to be delivered and tested. 

At the same time, poll officials assured the public that it does not actually foresee the manual counting to occur. 

The 30 percent rate is "only a conservative estimate," Comelec commissioner Armando Velasco said during a hearing of the House oversight committee on poll automation. 

The estimate is the result of the poll body's "very high degree of preparation," Comelec law department head Ferdinand Rafanan added. 

"It was arbitrary. It was only to raise our level of preparedness," Rafanan told reporters after the hearing.

He said he has reason to believe that the poll body will not have to resort to manual counting at all.

Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) – which won the contract to supply precinct count optical scanner (PCOS) machines to the Comelec – said that it has only experienced 1.5 percent failure in its machines, citing its experience in elections in other countries. 

The Comelec purchased more than 82,000 PCOS machines from Smartmatic-TIM. 

As of January 15, the Comelec has pegged the number of clustered precincts at 76,340. 

The nearly 6,000 extra machines are more than enough in case 1.5 percent of the machines in clustered precincts will suffer breakdowns, Rafanan said. 

But some lawmakers said the contingency rate raises doubts on the reliability of machines that will be used to count and transmit votes in the May elections.

ParaƱaque City Rep. Roilo Golez said 30 percent "was not acceptable from a systems point of view." 

For Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas, only around 5 percent could be "justified." 

Rafanan said he would bring the lawmakers' concerns before the Comelec en banc for review. 

But the official maintained that it was better to be highly prepared against any problem that might occur in May. 

"I hope they're not saying we should prepare less," Rafanan said. 

The preparations for the May 10 elections have been marred by significant delays. 

Last November, the poll body said election preparations were behind by a month from the original timeline. [See: Poll preparations behind by a month - Comelec]

Smartmatic-TIM had then promised to initially deliver 42,200 PCOS units by the end of November, but the scheduled delivery was moved to December. 

At the end of last year, only 7,200 units were delivered due to costly shipping and traffic problems during the holiday season, according to the Comelec. [See: Costlier shipping delayed poll machine delivery - Comelec]

Comelec chair Jose Melo said Smartmatic-TIM has since committed to deliver about 9,600 machines weekly. 

He also assured the public that all the 82,200 PCOS machines needed for the May polls would be delivered by February. 

Congress looking into delays in poll machines delivery

Congress is now looking into possible violations in the P7.2 billion poll automation contract after several adjustments have been made in the delivery schedules of machines to be used in the first ever national automated elections.

Senator Fancis "Chiz" Escudero said the changes made on the delivery date of the machines have exceeded the maximum 30-day adjustment period specified in the contract between the Commission and Elections and technology provider Smartmatic inc.

"They say there's no delay but that's because they keep on changing the delivery date. It is indicated in the contract that they can't adjust for more than 30 days from the original contract date," Escudero told reporters after a hearing by the joint congressional oversight committee on automated election system on Wednesday. 

"The lawyers are looking into the first date set and they would like to know if they have exceeded the 30 day maximum adjustment period considering they are already delayed for almost three months," said Escudero, co-chairman of the committee. 

If there were indeed violations committed in the contract, the senator said, the committee would point this out to the Comelec or file necessary actions in court. 

In cases of delay, the poll automation contract provides that a portion of the total amount, specifically one tenth of one percent, or about P7 million , will be deducted for each day of delay from the amount due Smartmatic. 

"My problem, Atty. Tolentino, is that in the contract , although you can move deadlines, you can't move the deadline beyond 30 days from what was originally stated in the contract but some of the adjustments made exceed already 30 days," he said. 

The senator was referring to Jose Tolentino, executive director of the Comelec. 

But Tolentino attributed the changes in the delivery of machines to the delay in the awarding of the contract to Smartmatic. 

The contract should have been awarded in May 2009 but because of some delays in the release of money for the poll automation project, it was only awarded to Smartmatic two months after. 

There was another delay of about 51 days, Tolentino said, when a case was filed against the poll automation system. 

"That's the reason why the Comelec pursuant to the provision of the contract had to make adjustments," he told the committee. 

"The Comelec allows the parties to make changes because not all delivery schedules indicated in the contract , not al the problems had been foreseen by all the parties. So the parties may now amend them but they have to make sure the last deadline like for example in the delivery of the PCOS (precinct count optical scan), which is February 28, should still be met," he pointed out. 

Based on the last date of delivery, Tolentino said, "Everything is still on time." 

As of Wednesday, Comelec chairman Jose Melo reported to the committee that more than 50, 000 of the 82,000 machines had been either delivered or ready for shipment to the country. 

"We have the 28,900 in the warehouse in Cabuyao and 12,000 are awaiting release by the Bureau of Customs and 8,000 are in transit. 7, 200 are awaiting shipment in Shanghai so 26,000 are awaiting advise whether they are already finished and ready to be shipped,' Melo told the committee.

Senate, House approve bills allowing early elections

(Update 3- 10:57 PM) Both houses of the Philippine Congress have taken steps toward enacting laws that would allow certain sectors and residents of certain areas to vote in advance. On Wednesday, the Philippine Senate approved Senate Bill 3570 on second reading, which, if enacted, would make members of the media, detainees, and uniformed jail personnel eligible for early elections.

Enrile calls for one day ceasefire to pass priority bills

Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile called for a "one day ceasefire" on the C-5 road project controversy to buckle down to work and tackle pending priority legislation, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Wednesday.

Teodoro abandons reproductive health bill

Gilbert Teodoro offered no apologies on Wednesday for abandoning the reproductive health bill, and even proposed granting conditional cash transfers to poor couples employing the so-called natural methods of birth control.

Edu Manzano won't bow out of VP race

MANILA, Philippines – Don't count him out just yet. Administration bet Edu Manzano has reiterated that he is not bowing out of the vice presidential (VP) race amid speculations that he might back out due to insufficient campaign funds.

Gov't spending billions on advertising, says Recto

The way the Arroyo administration is spending taxpayer money on advertising could give heavy ad spenders such as the multinational companies Unilever and Nestle a run for their money.

Arroyo's former socioeconomic planning secretary, Ralph Recto, claimed that the government spent P2 billion in the last two years for state ads, mostly infomercials of Cabinet men running in this year's elections.

Recto said that based on a Commission on Audit report, the national government forked out P912 million for advertising in print, radio and TV in 2008 or nearly double the previous year's level.

While the COA has yet to complete its 2009 report, Rectosaid, "one preliminary appraisal I have read showed that government may have spent P1.14 billion for ads last year, which could bring the two-year total (2008 and 2009) to P2 billion."

MalacaƱang has budgeted P818 million in ad spending for this year which Recto said it would surpass considering the approaching elections and the massive ads rolled out at the start of this year as President Arroyo joined in the act with numerous ads extolling her accomplishments.

Recto pointed out that the national government's ad spending does not include the expenses incurred by state companies like Pagcor and PCSO and local governments.

"Ad expenses surged in the year when government was supposed to observe austerity," Recto said.

As early as 2004, President Arroyo, through Administrative Order 102, ordered the suspension of "paid media advertisements, except those required in the issuance of agency guidelines, rules and regulations, the conduct of public bidding, and the dissemination of important public announcements."

Curiously, Recto said that the bidding invitations made by the the Department of Public Works and Highways, the biggest media buyer for state notices, added up to only P11 million in 2008.

Recto said ads were important tools for government especially in investment and tourism promotion and health and travel advisories but there should be limits on frivolous ads such as infomercials of their agencies.

Next President should appoint SC chief—senior justice

The next President should appoint Chief Justice Reynato Puno's successor when he retires on May 17, the most senior associate justice of the Supreme Court has said.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio told the Judicial and Bar Council that he was interested in being considered for nomination to Chief Justice but only if the JBC would submit its nominees to the next President.

"I hereby manifest my interest to be nominated for the position, on the understanding that my nomination will be submitted to the next President of the Philippines in view of the ban on presidential appointments starting 11 March 2010 until 30 June 2010," Carpio said.

While not automatic, the most senior justice usually and traditionally gets appointed Chief Justice.

Carpio is the second justice to manifest his willingness to be considered for nomination with the understanding that the JBC would submit its list of at least three nominees to Ms Arroyo's successor.

The first to so manifest was Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales. Morales is the third most senior justice on the tribunal.

Arroyo's allies believe that the constitutional prohibition on presidential appointments doesn't cover appointments to the post of Chief Justice.

There have been calls for the JBC to withhold its list of nominees from which the President may choose Puno's successor to prevent Ms Arroyo from making the appointment.

Puno's retirement would leave the Supreme Court entirely made up of Ms Arroyo's appointees.

By policy and tradition, the JBC considers the five most senior justices for inclusion on the list of nominees to the post of Chief Justice.

The five most senior justices now are Carpio, whom Ms Arroyo appointed on Oct. 22, 2001; Associate Justice Renato Corona, April 9, 2002; Morales, Aug. 26, 2002; Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, March 31, 2006; and Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Feb. 7, 2007.

Velasco and Nachura have both written the JBC to decline being considered by the council for nomination.

There is still no report on whether Corona has written the JBC to inform its members of his intention.

Marquez appointed court administrator

The Supreme Court en banc has appointed lawyer Jose Midas Marquez, the Supreme Court spokesperson, as the country's court administrator.

Ampatuan ranch raid yields arms cache

Authorities seized several high-powered firearms purportedly owned by the Ampatuans during a raid in Maguindanao early Wednesday morning, police said.

15 cops tagged in massacre still in police custody — PNP

Fifteen cops implicated in the November 23 massacre of 57 people in Maguiindanao, remain in the custody of the Philippine National Police regional office here while over 800 relieved personnel are getting new assignments in other Mindanao regions.

Andal Ampatuan Jr. carried out massacre, says witness

Andal Ampatuan Jr. carried out the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao province last November 23, ordering the victims to lie face down and checking their faces one by one before they were brought to a nearby hill and shot to death. His black pick-up was at the scene of the bloodbath, with two women forced to enter the vehicle at one point before the killings, a witness said.

Ampatuan clan 'violent,' Arroyo execs warned rival

(UPDATE 6) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's officials had repeatedly warned Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu against challenging the political bid of the Ampatuans because they were a "violent people," the local executive himself told the court Wednesday.

Ampatuan camp files gag order vs. Devanadera, 3 others

The camp of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. has filed a gag order to prohibit Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera and three other lawyers from giving comments to the media about the ongoing murder trial.

Jason Ivler, Marlene Aguilar face more charges

Hindi pa tapos ang kalbaryo ni Jason Ivler! May dalawang bagong kasong haharapin si Ivler, nang manlaban sa mga tauhan ng NBI nang aarestuhin sa kanilang bahay noong Enero 18! At bukod kay Ivler, hindi rin ligtas ang kanyang inang si Marlene na itinuturing na kasabwat sa kaso!

Cojuangco back in hospital due to heart problem

MANILA, Philippines - Business tycoon and political figure Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr. has been hospitalized again, sparking rumors that he is gravely ill.

This was the third time that Cojuangco was brought to hospital since undergoing a heart procedure in November last year.

But his attending physician, Dr. Nick Cruz, made it clear that the condition of the 74-year-old chair of San Miguel Corp. is already getting better.

"His heart is okay. There were just complications that's why he's been in and out of the hospital," Cruz said.

Earlier, speculations that Cojuangco was having serious health problems surfaced because of his recent absence from the political and business limelight.

Cojuangco's son, Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco, dismissed the speculations, saying his father still had a full work schedule.

A crony of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Cojuangco is known as the country's top political kingmaker.

He is chairman emeritus of the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), the party he founded in 1992 that served as his vehicle to further his aspirations in the presidential election that year.

Cojuangco's nephews, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, are vying for the country's top public position this year.

230 pass physical and occupational therapist licensure exams

A total of 212 examinees passed the physical therapists licensure examination, while 18 hopefuls passed the occupational therapist board exam held last January 24 to 25.

150,000 fishing workers may lose jobs with fishing ban

About 150,000 workers, who depend on the tuna industry in General Santos City, would end up jobless because of the two-year ban on tuna fishing in Western and Central Pacific ocean, a fishing magnate in Mindanao said.

2 Filipinas saved from Saudi death row to return Thursday

Two Filipino domestic helpers who were saved from the death sentence in Saudi Arabia through the intercession of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are expected to arrive in Manila on Thursday night, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Idan Tejano and Marjanna Sakilan will arrive from Riyadh, accompanied by Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Antonio P. Villamor.

Tejano and Sakilan, who hail from Batangas and Jolo, respectively, were both charged with homicide and robbery for the death of Tejano's pregnant lady employer on May 21, 2001.

200 Filipinos in Jeddah fail to make it home

More than 200 runaway Filipino women and children risk being left behind in Saudi Arabia, with repatriation efforts going at a snail's pace. Over 150 women and at least 40 children, the youngest of whom is a month-old baby, were stranded in Jeddah for still unknown reasons.

More Filipinas working illegally as maids in Iran—DFA

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday warned Filipinos against applying as domestic helpers in Iran as the Islamic country has not been accepting foreign household service workers and has not announced any plan to do so.

Unemployment woes not over, says ILO

The International Labor Organization has warned the Philippines that the worst is not over in the employment front. Although the government claims it has reduced the unemployment rate through emergency employment measures, it does not mean that the worst has passed.

In the Philippines, the unemployment rate rose slightly to 7.5 percent in 2009. To cushion the effects of the crisis on the employment sector, the government set aside billions of pesos for infrasture projects that would contractually employ about 500,000 workers.

The number of workers in vulnerable employment in the South-East Asia Pacific region is estimated to have increased by up to 5 million since 2008, when the crisis was felt all over the world, according to ILO.

The regional unemployment rate rose by 5.6 percent in 2009, and is expected to remain steady in 2010, according to the ILO. The global unemployment rate rose to 6.6 percent in 2009, an increase of 0.9 percentage points over 2007.

Pacquiao expects close fight vs Clottey

MANILA, Philippines – It will be tough and it will be close. WBO welterweight champ Manny Pacquiao said he expects his March 13 date with challenger Joshua Clottey to turn out just like the Ghanaian boxer's match against Miguel Cotto.

De La Hoya not giving up on Mayweather-Pacquiao bout

by Agence France-Presse
LOS ANGELES - Boxing promoter Oscar De La Hoya says despite a bitter ongoing feud outside of the ring, he hasn't given up trying to convince Filipino Manny Pacquiao to fight his client Floyd Mayweather.

'Kid Terrible' dedicates fight to Z Gorres

MANILA, Philippines - For Filipino challenger Ciso "Kid Terrible" Morales, his upcoming bout against WBO bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel is more than just a fight for the title.

Parica tops US event, enters One Pocket Hall of Fame

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino pool legend Jose "Amang" Parica turned back American Brown Sy to rule the 60-year-old above Seniors One-Pocket Mini Event of the 12th Annual Derby City Classic.

PBA: Rain or Shine nabs last quarterfinal ticket

MANILA, Philippines -- Rain or Shine Elasto Painters clinched the last quarterfinal seat with another 99-84 upset win over Coca-Cola Tigers Wednesday night in their knockout wildcard stage battle in the KFC-PBA Philippine Cup at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

Federer downs Davydenko for 23rd straight Slam semi

(UPDATE) Roger Federer had some anxious moments before seeing off in-form Russian Nikolay Davydenko to claim his 23rd consecutive Grand Slam semi-final spot at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Kris Aquino, James Yap watch 'Paano Na Kaya?' together

MANILA, Philippines – Kris Aquino and James Yap attended the star-studded premiere night of Star Cinema's "Paano Na Kaya?" at SM Megamall Tuesday. It was believed to be their first public appearance together ever since their much talked about rift. Aquino and Yap brought along their 2-year-old son, James Yap Jr.

Korina accepts apology for 'insertion' joke

MANILA - Korina Sanchez accepted the apology of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. over a sex joke he cracked against Sanchez's husband, Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II.

Angelica surprises press with dress; Judai says no to love scenes

Ginulat ni Angelica Panganiban ang press sa kanyang revealing outfit sa presscon ng teleserye niyang Rubi. May hamon din sya kay Jinkee Pacquiao na  nalilink sa boyfriend nyang si Derek Ramsay. At Judy Ann Santos, hindi na gagawa ng love scene o kissing scene para sa anak. 

'Avatar' soars to new world box office record

Science-fiction epic "Avatar" has set a new global box office record, taking $1.85 billion and sinking "Titanic" to become the biggest earning film of all time, figures showed Tuesday.

Study says dinosaur tail feathers were reddish

WASHINGTON - Scientists have for the first time confirmed color in a dinosaur. It is reddish-orange. The first solid proof of pigmentation has been spotted in the fossilized tail feathers of a smallish meat-eating dinosaur found in China and named Sinosauropteryx.

Cold weather to last until end of February

Filipinos will continue enjoying the cold weather up to the end of February, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said on Wednesday.

But PAGASA forecaster Elvie Enriquez said Filipinos should expect the weather to gradually heat up as summer sets in this March.

PAGASA traced the cold weather to the Northeast monsoon. "We expect the cold weather to stay throughout February but in March, the weather will heat up as summer comes in."

In its 5 a.m. bulletin on Wednesday, PAGASA said Northern Luzon and Visayas would experience mostly cloudy skies with scattered light rains, while Mindanao will have mostly cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms.

The rest of Luzon will be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rainshowers, it added.

Moderate to strong winds blowing from the northeast will prevail throughout the archipelago and coastal waters will be moderate to rough.

PAGASA also said strong wind would likely affect the seaboards of Luzon, Visayas and Eastern Mindanao.

Key facts about Philippine elections

MANILA, Philippines - More than 50 million Philippine voters will choose a president, vice president, nearly 300 lawmakers in the two-chamber Congress, and more than 17,500 local government officials in the first nationwide automated polls on May 10.

Here are key facts about the elections:

* A total of 50,086,054 registered voters as of January 2010 are eligible to vote at 80,000 clustered polling precincts in 80 provinces across the archipelago. Each precinct has an average of 1,000 voters. The country has a population of about 92 million, with nearly a third classified as poor.

* Voters will elect a president, vice president, 12 senators, 230 representatives and 57 party-list positions in the lower house of Congress, 80 governors, 80 vice governors, 766 members of provincial legislative boards, 137 city mayors, 137 vice mayors, 1,524 city councillors, 1,497 municipal mayors, 1,497 vice mayors and 11,980 municipal legislative positions.

* Voters will use a special pen to shade blank dots beside the names of the candidates instead of writing down candidates' names as before. An ordinary ballot would include an average 600 names of candidates for local and national positions.

* Ballots with erasures and extra markings will not be accepted by the counting machines. The election agency is not printing extra ballots for voters who make mistakes in casting their votes.

* The counting machines will automatically generate a tally of votes, which will be transmitted to servers at municipal, provincial and national election offices. Printed copies of the returns will be shared with the two major political parties, and an election watchdog headed by a church-based group will do a parallel quick count.

* The election returns from polling precincts, transmitted electronically, will be canvassed by a board at the municipal, city, provincial and national levels. Results are expected within 2 hours at the local levels and 36 hours at the national level.

* At the end of canvassing, the winners at the provincial, legislative, district, city and municipal elections will be proclaimed.

* The Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Manila will proclaim winners in the senatorial and party list election. A joint session of Congress will announce winners in the presidential and vice presidential elections. Comelec estimates the election period will end on June 9.

* Elections are usually marred by vote-buying, cheating, threats and intimidation by political groups. In previous elections, authorities have received hundreds of complaints about discrepancies in the list of voters, such as missing names and the illegal transfer of voters to other polling precincts.

-- For more data, see the Commission on Elections website (

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