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

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 6, 2010 Major News Stories

DOE sees 70-centavo drop in gas pump prices next week

Fuel prices are expected to drop by roughly 70 centavos a liter next week, due to an executive order which reduced tariff of petroleum products to zero from the current 3 percent.

Cold snap pushes oil above $ 80 a barrel

NEW YORK- Oil prices opened the new year with a bang on Monday, as cold weather boosted expectations of higher energy demand in the northern hemisphere winter.

Cement supplies 'hoarded'; DTI threatens price controls

Iniipit ang stock ng mga semento! Ito ang hinala ng cement manufacturer kaya tumataas ang presyo. Nagbabala naman ang DTI na muling maglalagay ng price control.

Teachers still await additional bonus

They might as well call it their Valentine's Day bonus. A week into the new year, many public school teachers are still waiting to get their full P10,000 Christmas bonus for 2009, a nationwide teachers organization said Tuesday.

Antonio Tinio, president of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, said that teachers were still hopeful that they could get their bonus.

"There was a time that it was given on February 14 so it became a Valentine's Day bonus," Tinio said in an interview.

Tinio said that the majority of public schoolteachers have received the P7,000 portion of the Christmas bonus that the Department ofEducation promised. As of Tuesday, DepEd said that "almost half" of all its 16 regional offices had reported that P7,0000 bonus had "been fully released to teachers."

However, Tinio said the extra P3,000—to be sourced from DepEd savings—has only been released to an "over-small" number of school divisions because of budgetary constraints.

"We're still waiting for the balance of P3,000. There were only a few school divisions and high schools—those that had savings—that were able to give their teachers the P3,000," he added.

Tinio explained that DepEd was having a hard time coming up with the additional P3,000 because this was going to be sourced from its savings.

These savings mostly come from unfilled positions but the Department of Budget and Management has refused to release the funds for these unfilled positions this year, Tinio said.

"The DBM now has a policy that allocations for unfilled positions should not be released. The budget deficit is growing so they're trying to put up some countermeasures. So, the (DepEd) savings have fallen short ," he added.

Tinio said that if government were really serious about helping its public teachers, it should provide a separate allocation for their bonus and not just rely on DepEd savings.

"Other agencies like the Department of Agriculture are able to do this so we're still lobbying to get our full bonus," Tinio said. 

Meanwhile, the DepEd also said its Calabarzon regional office was making appropriate arrangements to immediately replace P4.9 million in "cash gifts" for teachers that were forcibly taken by robbers in Rizal on December 29. 

DepEd Region IV-A Director Paraluman Giron said the regional office was "doing its best" to replace the amount from available funds.

"We have generated funds to replace the P4.9 million productivity enhancement incentive (PEI) of Rodriguez 1 and 2 of the Division of Rizal," Giron said in a statement.

Wage hike petition still in limbo

The Cebu Labor Coalition is hoping that the Regional Tripartite Wage and Productivity Board will soon tackle their wage hike petition.

CLC earlier filed for a P128.60 across-the-board wage hike for Region 7 citing among other reasons the increase in the prices of basic commodities, fuel prices and even the impending fare hike.

Planning your holidays? There are 11 long weekends in 2010

One long weekend has just passed, but this early, Pinoys who are planning their holidays can mark at least 10 more long weekends on their calendars this year.
Most of the regular and special non-working holidays fall on the months of April, August, November, and December.

According to Proclamation No. 1841 signed by President Gloria Arroyo on July 21, 2009, the regular holidays and special holidays (indicated in parentheses) for 2010 are the following:

January 1, Friday - New Year's Day

February 22, Monday nearest February 25 - EDSA Revolution Anniversary (special holiday for schools)

April 1 - Maundy Thursday

April 2 - Good Friday

April 9, Friday - Araw ng Kagitingan

May 1, Saturday - Labor Day

June 14, Monday nearest June 12 - Independence Day

August 23, Monday nearest August 21 - Ninoy Aquino Day (special non-working day)

August 30, last Monday of August - National Heroes Day

November 1, Monday - All Saints' Day (special non-working day)

November 29, Monday nearest November 30 - Bonifacio Day

December 24, Friday (special non-working day)

December 25, Saturday - Christmas Day

December 27, Monday nearest December 30 - Rizal Day

December 31, Friday - Last Day of the Year (special non-working day)

Many of the long weekends were made possible by Republic Act 9492, which allows non-religious holidays to be moved to the nearest Monday. 

"This will also serve to strengthen family relationships by providing a longer week-end and renewing ties for a longer period of time, as well as promote domestic tourism," according to Proclamation 1841.

The law stipulates the observance of the Eid'l Adha or the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice as a regional holiday in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Palace said.

Meanwhile, the proclamation declaring a national holiday for the observance of Eid'l Fitr, the festival which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, shall be issued after the approximate date of the Islamic holiday has been determined in accordance with the Islamic calendar (Hijra). The Office on Muslim Affairs is responsible for informing Malacañang about the exact date of the holiday.

10-year-old girl is first 2010 dengue casualty

A 10-year-old girl from barangay Basak-Pardo became the first dengue fatality in Cebu City for this year after she died last Sunday.

Durinda Macasocol, assistant head of the city epidemiology statistics and surveillance unit, said they are still conducting an investigation into the death of Dianne Nina Monterde.

"Mahimo man god nga nakuha sa bata ang dengue didto sa ubang dapit kay gikan man kini nga mibisita sa usa ka lungsod sa southern Cebu, apan dinhi g'yod siya namatay," Macasocol said.

The girl's parents brought the child to the Cebu City Medical Center after she started experiencing severe fever, but the child died hours later.

Macasocol will submit her report about the latest casualty of dengue to the Cebu City Council during its regular session this afternoon.

Cop accused of luring kids into drinking liquor charged

Police yesterday filed a case for child abuse against their fellow policeman who reportedly enticed children to drink liquor in exchange for P20 last week which resulted to the hospitalization of the six of them.

10 cell phones reported stolen daily in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines -- Cases of cellular phone theft in the Philippines went up in 2009, based on figures released by the National Telecommunications Commission.

Fire destroys 2 stores

A FIRE destroyed two hardware stores on Hernan Cortes Ave., Barangay Subangdaku, Mandaue City last night.

Swat stops project

MANDAUE City Mayor Jonas Cortes yesterday ordered contractors implementing Rep. Nerissa Soon-Ruiz's project to stop their work or face arrest.

This, after the backhoe of the contractor of Ruiz's project crushed yesterday a newly asphalted road, a project of Cortes, to give way to Ruiz's road concreting project on J. Colina St. in Barangay Ibabao-Estancia.

The mayor, who will be putting up a drainage and road concreting project on J. Colina St., rushed to the site together with city officials and the police, including a team from the Special Weapons and Tactics.

He then ordered Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Construction Section Engineer Renault Ricardo and DPWH Project Engineer Nelson Cabizas to stop their ground-breaking activity or face arrest.

The mayor and his men also ordered heavy equipment operator Felix Visitation of HES Real Constructor in Cebu City to turn off the engine.

Ruiz, in a press statement, accused the mayor of project terrorism, "to undermine what I am doing for the city."

In yesterday's incident, one of the field officers was allegedly reeking with liquor said the mayor's adviser Atty. Francisco Amit but they decided not to have him arrested as he and the others followed the mayor's order.

Cortes said the crushing of the 50-meter long J. Colina St. is destruction of government property and a waste of public funds.

Amit said even the DPWH district engineer is liable for violating Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Sec. 3a of the said act states as a violation the "persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority or an offense in connection with the official duties of the latter, or allowing himself to be persuaded, induced, or influenced to commit such violation or offense".

City Administrator Briccio Boholst said Ruiz is liable of violating the said section as a "principal by induction."

Cortes also criticized Ruiz for her failure to coordinate with City Hall in the implementation of her projects.

But Ruiz, who will be running against Cortes in the May elections, said her office sent a letter to the mayor regarding the J. Colina St. project but the mayor did not send any reply.

"It has been the practice of my office, since the start of the mayor's term, to inform him every time DBM (Department of Budget and Management) releases fund allocation of what project will be undertaken so that duplication is avoided and that the city's financial resources can be put in good use," she said.

Cortes's special project consultant Edmund Sanchez said "informing" and "coordinating" are two very different things.

But Ruiz "strongly denounced" Cortes's act of terrorism or the use of brute force in stopping a National Government project that could benefit Mandauehanons.

The J. Colina road project is funded through Ruiz's priority development assistance fund.

Ruiz said the mayor's drainage project will complement her project.

"The mayor has no visible project in Mandaue and he wants to undermine what I am doing for the city," Ruiz stated.

To show how Ruiz's failure to coordinate has resulted in the wastage of government funds, Cortes showed to reporters another project of the congresswoman in Barangay Tingub, some eight kilometers away from J. Colina St., wherein the concreting project traversed a lot owned by Perla Lumapas, a private owner.

Perla's son Stephen, who built a house on top of the concrete road, told Sun.Star Cebu that a 50-square-meter portion of the lot was affected.

The project was implemented by San Narciso Builders on Jan. 12, 2009 and was completed on Feb. 26, 2009.

Ruiz's chief of staff, Gonzalo Malig-on, said the issue on the Tingub property was already resolved and it was the DPWH's fault, not the congress-woman's.

Still, the congresswoman is liable of graft, said Amit, adding that they are now preparing complaints.

He said the spending of people's money on a privately-owned lot in Tingub has already been committed.

Both officials had been trading barbs since the mayor assumed office in 2007 and this is the first time Cortes will formalize his complaint against Ruiz.

Panel formed to review CICC report

The Office of the Ombudsman in Manila has created a five-man panel to review the final evaluation report of the fact-finding team in the Visayas that looked into the alleged anomaly in the construction of the controversial Cebu International Convention Center and that of the own dissenting resolution made by Deputy Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol.

Consolacion quarry permits suspended

Permits issued for quarrying and or disposal of limestone covering some areas of Consolacion town have been ordered indefinitely suspended by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia following reports of illegal quarrying operations.

No renewal for services of 9 Capitol consultants

The contract of the nine consultants at the office of Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez, Jr. assigned to conduct a study on the Trans-Axial Highway project will no longer be renewed this year.

Provincial administrator Eduardo Habin, in his letter to Sanchez, a copy of which was furnished to The FREEMAN, said that the contracts for services with the Province of at least nine consultants assigned to the Office of the Vice Governor expired last December 31, 2009.

Habin said that a review of the functions, duties and responsibilities of the said consultants shows that, except for the consultant on legislative matters, unless duly delegated by the governor, the same "does not fall within the ambit of the duties and functions of the Office of the Vice Governor."

As such, Habin said that the contracts for services of the consultants on livelihood resource acquisition and implementation, on data programming and software development, on trade and investment promotions, on livelihood administration, the legal consultant; as well as the consultants on organic farming system, on community interests and development, on inter-local government review, and on infrastructure could no longer be renewed for this year.

The trans-axial highway project is expected to cost an estimated P46.3 billion.

Provincial Board legal aid fund withheld

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia ordered to withhold the release of half of the Legislative Assistance Fund for members of the Provincial Board and the office of Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr. for this year because of the upcoming May 10, 2010 elections.

Garcia said at least three PB members are serving their last term and it would be unfair for the new elected members of the PB to assume office but have no available funds for their Legislative Assistance Fund.

It was learned that each member of the PB received in advance P2.3 million while the Office of the Vice Governor received P11 million.

The governor said that members of the PB agreed with her when she proposed to hold its release and release it after the May 10 local and national elections.

The PB members use the said amount as financial assistance to their respective constituents directly to the barangay level.

Fire destroys 2 stores

A FIRE destroyed two hardware stores on Hernan Cortes Ave., Barangay Subangdaku, Mandaue City last night.

Cities' league appeals SC ruling upholding 16 new cities

The League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) convened on Tuesday in Manila and filed their appeal on a decision by the Supreme Court upholding the legislated cityhood of 16 municipalities in the country.

Rama won't resign as head of Sinulog Foundation Inc.

Vice Mayor Michael Rama said he will not resign as chairman of the Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI), because he does not think this is the solution to the problem posed on the release of funds from the city government.

No need for Rama, Nato to leave Sinulog Foundation

AS City Hall found a way to release aid to the Sinulog Foundation Inc.

Cebu City Vice Mayor Mike Rama said there are other ways of addressing the problem, one of which is for the City to disburse the funds directly to the winning contingents, instead of coursing it through the foundation.

The procedure on how the Cebu City Government can release its P12.5 million in financial assistance to the SFI without violating auditing rules has been threshed out yesterday.

The amount, said SFI executive director Ricky Ballesteros, will be given through cash advance, and those who will do so have already been identified.

He, Rama and City Treasurer Ofelia Oliva met yesterday afternoon to come up with the procedure as a contingency measure because the COA has not exempted yet the SFI from COA Circular 2007-0001.

The circular prohibits any local government unit from giving aid to any NGO whose incorporator, director, organizer or officer is related to any local official involved in the approval or release of government funds.

But Rama also pointed out that it is not only him who has to resign but also SFI president Renato Osmeña.

"Why should I resign when COA has not made a decision yet? And if I am the only one who will resign, that will not solve anything. The solution is not resignation but for COA to recognize that the Sinulog Foundation should not be punished," he said.

Last Monday, Mayor Tomas Osmeña said the only way the City can give the financial assistance to SFI is if Rama resigns from the foundation.

Rama will fly to Manila on Thursday for the COA en banc's meeting, where they are scheduled to deliberate on the City Government's request for exemption from the COA circular.

"Until COA makes a decision, no one should be pressured to resign, otherwise mura tag nahadlok sa COA," he continued.

City Administrator Francisco Fernandez and Councilor Jose Daluz III, chairman of the City Council committee on budget and finance, said they don't see any problem releasing the cash prizes as cash advances if COA refuses to grant the request.

"I would not advice that they resign. If COA says that we can't give the money to the foundation, then we'll find a way. Cebu City can be a co-host and co-organizer and we can disburse the funds directly, wala na'y problema," said Fernandez.

He said they would just assign a disbursing officer and prepare the vouchers in time for the awarding ceremony on Jan. 18.

Meanwhile, Cebu City Police Office Director Patrocinio Comendador said all security needs for the Sinulog Grand Parade and preliminary activities are in place.

With 150 additional personnel, Comendador said their first activity will be for Thursday dawn's Walk for Mary.

With around 1,000 police officers, he said they will keep 20 percent of the force in the stations while 80 percent will be deployed to secure the procession and the grand parade.

He also said a relieving system is in place so they can maintain the number of security forces at night, especially during street parties that will be held after the grand parade.

"We are ready to roll," Comendador told reporters.

He said they based their plans on their existing forces but will treat additional forces from other police units as "a bonus."

A final conference will be held at the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 on Friday to brief other units of their roles on the big day.

Comendador believes other units will be made to conduct checkpoints in the outskirts of Cebu City to arrest persons planning to pull off petty crimes during the parade.

After the parade, Comendador said they have a patrol car tailing the last performer to clear the streets of revelers right after the last performance.

He noted that in the past, the streets remained crowded because of outdoor parties that police teams that had to respond for calls for assistance could not pass.

Comendador said they need to keep the streets cleared for emergencies.

However, he assured they will not stop crowds from staying in the sidewalks.

Hotels ready for Sinulog

HOTELS and pension houses in Cebu City are expected to report occupancy rates from 95 to 100 percent during the Sinulog celebration, said an official from the industry association.

Police ready for Sinulog Festival

Cebu City Police Office director Patrocinio Comendador said all is set for the upcoming Sinulog Festival with the deployment of least 1,000 policemen during the Grand Parade.

UP lot residents seek audience with Tommy

Cebu City administrator Francisco "Bimbo" Fernandez said the city has not yet decided to revoke the deed of donation it entered into with the University of the Philippines donating five hectares of the South Road Properties (SRP) if the school will pursue the eviction of the occupants on one of its lots in Lahug.

Mindanao robbery group eyed in Carmen robbery

The Provincial Intelligence Branch of the Cebu Provincial Police Office is now looking at the possible involvement of a Mindanao-based robbery group in the robbing of a gasoline station operations manager in barangay Dawis, Carmen town.

No option on new ballot for substitution of candidates

The Commission on Elections is still stumped by what to do about the substitution of candidates in the upcoming automated elections. Voters cannot write names on the multiple-choice ballots. This looms as a potential crisis if former president Joseph Estrada, who is running again, is disqualified and must designate a substitute.
Under manual elections, voters would be able to write in the name of his substitute. However, there is no substitution law that can be applied in automated elections since voters cannot write on the ballots, but can only shade circles next to candidates' names. 

"How can that (written names) be read by the machine?" Melo said. 

The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the May elections are only programmed to recognize the shading of the ovals placed beside the pre-printed names on a specific ballot.

Melo said they had thought of printing extra ovals wherein numbers will be placed next to it and will be used to correspond for a specific substitute candidate, but he said this might confuse some voters.

"That's a prescription for confusion, di pwede siguro yan (maybe that should not be done)," he said. 

As of now, he said they are more inclined to just count the votes of the replaced candidate for the substitute.

Other problems

Among the other problems Melo cited are the numerous appeals that were filed by de-listed party-list groups and disqualified candidates, many of whom went to the Supreme Court after the Comelec denied their motions for reconsideration.

"Nakaka-bother din (In a way we are bothered by it)," Melo said.

Melo said that although he understands the predicament of these candidates, they should respect the decisions of the poll body. 

Melo had earlier expressed concern that poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM would not be able to deliver all 82,200 PCOS machines before the February 28 deadline. He was, however, relieved after the consortium delivered the first two batches last week.

A total 9,600 PCOS units are also expected to arrive late Monday.

In addition, several teachers' organizations have scored the Comelec for the "late" training of public school teachers who will serve as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) in the 2010 polls. Melo said this is for their own good, so that whatever they learn during the training in March will still be "fresh" in their memories come May.

Bail unlikely due to strong evidence—Ampatuan rival

(UPDATE 2) Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu on Tuesday expressed confidence that the court would not grant bail to Andal Ampatuan Jr., main suspect in the killing of his wife, sisters, supporters, and 31 journalists last November 23 in Maguindanao.

Andal Jr. can't speak Filipino? Video shows otherwise

MANILA, Philippines - The lawyer of Maguindanao massacre prime suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr., claimed during the first hearing on his multiple murder cases on Tuesday that his client could not speak or understand Filipino and English.

Ampatuan's first court date 'almost perfect' -- PNP

Security enforcement during Tuesday's trial of Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the Maguindanao massacre went on "splendidly" and was "almost perfect," the spokesman of the Philippine National Police, said.

Tight security marks start of Ampatuan trial

Journalists were frisked; their personal effects examined; and their cell phones, cameras and food taken away before they were allowed to enter the social hall where the initial hearing of Andal Ampatuan Jr.'s multiple murder trial was held on Tuesday.

From house to court, cops guard lady judge in Ampatuan case

She has continued to refuse being provided with security. But the lady judge hearing the case against the prime suspect in the massacre believed to be the worst election-related violence in Philippine history has no choice. Night and day, authorities will ensure the safety of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes at least until she renders judgment on the multiple murder charges slapped against Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

More praises heaped on lady judge in Ampatuan trial

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, the Quezon City lady judge who reaped praises for taking on the controversial Maguindanao massacre case, got the nod of another gutsy lady for the former's handling of the trial of massacre suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr. in Camp Crame on Tuesday.

Slain journalists' kin seek Ampatuan transfer to QC jail

(UPDATE) Relatives of journalists killed in Maguindanao last November asked the court on Tuesday to transfer Andal Ampatuan Jr. to the Quezon City jail.

Metro police lack facilities to hold Ampatuan followers

The Metro Manila police command said Tuesday it could not take custody of the Ampatuans and up to 500 of their followers who have been linked to the Maguindanao massacre because it lacked detention space, security personnel and surveillance cameras.

Military denies reports soldiers looted Ampatuan safe

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Tuesday denied reports that their troops took money worth millions of pesos from the safe in one of the homes of the Ampatuan clan following the Nov. 23, 2009, massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao.

3 GenSan cops transferred over treatment of Ampatuans

Three members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Central Mindanao (Cidg-12) have been relieved from their posts and sent elsewhere following reports that they gave VIP treatment to detained members of the powerful Ampatuan clan.

Ampatuan jailguards sacked over 'special treatment'

Sinibak sa pwesto ang mga jailguard na nagbabantay sa mga Ampatuan. Yan ay kasunod ng mga akusasyong binibigyan ng special treatment ang pamilya. Kaya naman, pinapasok ang ABS-CBN News sa selda para makita kung paano ang pag-trato sa mga suspek. 

Senators urged to donate P100K to massacre victims

Re-electionist Senator Lito Lapid wants his colleagues to donate a chunk of their respective Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) - or commonly referred to as pork barrel - to the families of the victims of the Nov. 23 massacre in Maguindanao province.

Gordon to probe killing of SBMA enforcers by cop

Sen. Richard "Dick" Gordon said on Tuesday he would initiate a Senate inquiry on the killing of two Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) law enforcers at the Subic Bay Freeport on Monday afternoon allegedly by a bodyguard of Buluan, Maguindanao vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu.

MILF denies hand in attacks on Ampatuan mansions

Insisting it had nothing to gain from the act, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Tuesday denied any hand in the alleged attacks on the mansions of the Ampatuan clan in Mindanao Sunday night.

Maguindanaoans flee on rumors of MILF attacks

Some residents of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, have started fleeing anew following Sunday night's grenade attack on the mansion of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

AFP general in massacre case is now Army's vice chief

The military official who refused to provide security to the ill-fated convoy in the Maguindanao massacre case has been promoted.
Maj. Gen. Alfredo Cayton, formerly the chief of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, on Monday assumed the position of Army vice commander following the recommendation of the Armed Forces' Board of Generals.

Cayton - along with Col. Medardo Geslani, commander of the Army's 601st Brigade - wererelieved in the wake of the Nov. 23 massacre of at least 57 people, most of them women and journalists, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

A military investigation cleared Cayton and Geslani of any liability. The two said they rejected the request for security because of the limited number of available soldiers.

"He [Cayton] was already cleared. There was an inquiry, but they [Cayton and Geslani] were cleared," said Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos, the Army spokesman. Geslani, however, is still on floating status.

The massacre, considered as the worst case of political violence in the country, was blamed on the powerful Ampatuan clan. The prime suspect in the case, Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., pleaded not guilty during the arraignment on his multiple murder case Tuesday morning.

Among the victims of the massacre were the wife and sisters of Buluan vice mayor Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu, a member of the Ampatuans' rival political clan. Mangudadatu is set to challenge an Ampatuan scion in the Maguindanao gubernatorial race on May.

Another reason given by the Armed Forces in clearing Cayton and Geslani was that protecting politicians is not part of their mandate.

Cayton is due to retire on February 14 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56. Burgos justified the appointment even Cayton has less than two months left in the service, saying he can still accomplish much during that time.

"He can still do so much. If you are assigned to a specific position, you have to make do with that and work," he said. 

Cayton replaced Army Support Command chief Maj. Gen. Joshue Gaverza, who had served as the acting Army vice commander, in a concurrent capacity, after the retirement of Maj. Gen. Jerry Jalandoni last Nov. 25.

CA justice who acquitted Daniel Smith heads govt body vs private armies

The woman magistrate who penned the 2009 Court of Appeals ruling that acquitted US serviceman Lance Corporal Daniel Smith of raping a Filipina in Subic, was appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as head of an independent commission tasked to dismantle private armies nationwide.
Associate justice Monina Arevalo Zenarosa took her oath as chairperson of the commission before Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita on Tuesday, together with panel members Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas president Herman Basbaño; retired Brig. Gen. Jaime Echevarria of the Association of Generals and Flag Officers; retired police deputy director Virtus Gil; and Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.

The two other members of the commission, Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Mahmod Mala Adilao of the Bishop Ulama Conference, were not present during Zenarosa's oath-taking. 

In April 2009, Zenarosa of the CA's Special Eleventh Division, reversed and set aside the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court on December 4, 2006. The Makati-RTC's decision made Smith the first-ever American military personnel convicted of committing crime on Philippine soil. 

Concurring with the CA decision were two other female magistrates, Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal.

Several politicians and activist groups criticized the CA ruling, casting doubt on the Philippine government's ability to uphold its own laws and protect its citizens.

But Zenarosa defended the decision. "Our decision speaks for itself. We're proud of it. [It was] based on the law, the facts, and our conscience. We cannot add anything more," she said in her interview with GMA News last year. 

Zenarosa who joined the CA in 2004, was conferred the 2009 Huwarang Ina award for the law and judiciary category given annually by the National Mother's Day and Father's Day Council and the Ideal Parents and Family Foundation. She is an alumna of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Law and the Far Eastern University Institute of Laws where she earned her Masters of Laws degree. 

Zenarosa was a judge of the RTC of Angeles City and later became presiding judge of Branch 76 of the Quezon City RTC. 

She initially served as Quezon City assistant prosecutor for 15 years before serving as RTC judge for 14 years. Zenarosa had likewise worked as election registrar in Mercedes, Camarines Norte before becoming a technical assistant at the Abaca Development Board. She was also project officer for legal affairs of the government's Task Force on Human Settlements.

In an ambush interview after her oath-taking, Zenarosa said the commission would meet on Thursday at the Presidential Guest House where the panel would be expected to set its agenda for the four-month deadline to dismantle private armies. 

Basbaño said that while "skepticism" over the capability of the commission to dismantle private armies within four months "is normal," the panel should still do its job rather than "not do... anything about the problem." 

"The four-month (deadline) given to us (and the) 40-year existence of private armies, (could be a) mismatch… But don't underestimate the resolve of the commission to confront this problem," he said.

Mrs. Arroyo created the commission through Administrative Order No. 275 issued last December 8, two weeks after the Nov. 23 massacre of at least 57 people, including 30 mediamen in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. 

The crime, allegedly perpetrated by militiamen of the powerful Ampatuan clan, is believed to be the worst election-related violence in Philippine history. 

The administration has vowed to dismantle all private armies mostly controlled by politicians before the May 2010 polls. There are at least 132 armed groups connected to political clans in the country, most of them in Mindanao, according to Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales. 

The Defense chief said these private armed groups – composed of more or less 10,000 men - could be used by candidates to intimidate their opponents in the May polls. He did not identify the politicians who are maintaining these armed groups.

New SC justice named

President Macapagal-Arroyo has appointed Court of Appeals Associate Justice Jose Mendoza to the Supreme Court, high court deputy administrator Jose Midas Marquez said on Tuesday.
With the appointment of Justice Jose Mendoza, only Chief Justice Reynato Puno remains the non-Arroyo appointee in the SC. Puno was appointed in 1993 by then President Fidel Ramos.

Mendoza, the last appointee to the SC before President Arroyo bows out of office in June 2010, replaces retired Associate Justice Minita Chico Nazario, who hung her robes in December 2009. 
Who is Justice Jose Mendoza?
Source: SC Public Information Office
Newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Jose Mendoza, a Batangas native, earned his law degree from the San Beda College of Law and passed the Bar examinations in 1971. 

He was in private practice before serving as the Court of Appeals' Research Attorney in 1977. He was also a Confidential Attorney of the Supreme Court in 1985. 

In 1985, he was appointed Presiding Judge of the Sta. Cruz, Laguna Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 26 and was named Executive Judge of the same RTC in 1992. 

From 1994 to 2003, he served as Presiding Judge and, later, as Executive Judge of the RTC of Quezon City. In July 2003, he was appointed to the Court of Appeals as an Associate Justice.

Among the high profile cases Mendoza handled in the appellate court was the reversal of a lower court's ruling on the controversial Best World (BW) Resources case

In April 2009, Mendoza ordered the reinstatement of criminal charges against eight people, including Filipino-Chinese businessman Dante Tan, a crony of former President Joseph Estrada. 

Tan, who is reportedly hiding in Australia, is allegedly responsible for insider trading and manipulation of BW Resources' stocks. The1999 scandal is perceived to be the worst to hit the Philippine stock market. 

With the appointment of Mendoza, the 15 members of the high court are now as follows:


  • Reynato Puno (appointed by former President Ramos in 1993, named by Mrs. Arroyo as Chief Justice in December 2006)


  • Antonio Carpio (appointed in October 2001, to retire in October 2019 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70)

  • Renato Corona (appointed in April 2002, to retire in October 2018) 

  • Conchita Carpio Morales (appointed in September 2002, to retire in June 2011) 

  • Presbitero Velasco (appointed in March 2006, to retire in August 2018) 

  • Antonio Nachura (appointed in January 2007, to retire in June 2011) 

  • Teresita Leonardo de Castro (appointed in December 2007, to retire in October 2018) 

  • Arturo Brion (appointed in March 2008, to retire in December 2016) 

  • Diosdado Peralta (appointed in January 2009, to retire in March 2022)

  • Lucas Bersamin (appointed in April 2009, to retire in October 2019) 

  • Mariano del Castillo (appointed in July 2009, to retire in July 2019) 

  • Roberto Abad (appointed in August 2009, to retire in May 2014) 

  • Martin Villarama (appointed in November 2009, to retire in April 2016) 

  • Jose Perez (appointed in December 2009, retirement date unavailable)

  • Jose Mendoza (appointed in January 2010, retirement date unavailable)

Watchdog groups like the Supreme Court Appointments Watch and the Bantay Korte Suprema had earlier voiced concern that President Arroyo would appoint her allies to help her retain some degree of legal immunity and evade prosecution after she steps down from office. 

In her rocky nine-year presidency, President Arroyo survived several controversies, allegations of corruption, and impeachment complaints. 

Malacañang had repeatedly brushed aside these speculations and vowed that President Arroyo's appointees are independent, noting that appointees to the SC are picked from the shortlist submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the constitutionally-created body to screen and vet nominees to judicial positions.

House won't give up on Charter-change

Two senators called on the House of Representatives on Tuesday to accept the reality that any move to tinker with the Constitution would be unpopular to an electorate eager to cast its vote in fresh elections on May 10.

Maza urges Comelec to junk disqualification case

Senatorial aspirant Representative Liza Maza of the Gabriela Women's Party on Monday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to junk the disqualification case filed against her by a former rebel saying that the petition is "baseless."

Group pushing Ocampo's disqualification says its members are former rebels

The complainants in the disqualification case of militant senatorial candidates have belied claims made by Representative Satur Ocampo that they are working for the Arroyo administration, saying that they are former members of the Communist Party of the Philippines – National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF).

Security forces still on alert despite Mayon's silence

Though the Mayon volcano has quieted down, security forces remained on alert and intensified efforts to keep people off the seven-kilometer danger zone, a spokesman from the Philippine Army said Tuesday.

RP better crime solver than US, Japan?

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Police records show that in 2009, the Philippines had a higher crime solution rate compared to other countries like United States and Japan.

In the previous year, the country reported a 88.37-percent crime solution efficiency, which was higher than that of US (32.11 percent) and Japan (31.70 percent).

But the Philippine National Police said this was not an accurate picture of the crime trend in the country.

Director for Investigation and Detection Management Raul Bacalzo said that some crimes in the country were not reported.

For index crimes (or heinous crimes), only some nine percent were reported, while for non-index crimes, only 15 percent were reported in 2009.

Several of the incidents were left filed in police blotters and failed to be included in the main crime database of the PNP.

Because of this, the PNP has introduced a new method of crime recording that would seek to correct the "dysfunctions" in police procedures involving crime recording.

Known as the Uniform Crime Periodic Report (Ucper), the new program aims to give a more accurate picture of the crime trends in the country and to make it at par with international standards.

Under the old crime reporting system, known as the Police Regional Office Periodic Report (Proper), crimes reported and noted in police blotters are automatically included in the database of the PNP.

"The police blotter shall be the sole source and basis of crime data, statistics, and report for purposes of uniformity. There is no discretion on the part of the investigator to report only what they deem to be worth reporting," Bacalzo said.

He added that under Proper, some police investigators and even police chiefs "under report" crimes in a bid to "show that his area of responsibility was that peaceful and the crime incidents were manageable."

With Ucper, the definition of index crimes has been modified to include murder, homicide, physical injuries, rape, robbery, theft, car theft, cattle rustling, parricide, and infanticide, Bacalzo said.

Because of this change in the crime reporting process, Bacalzo said the PNP expects the crime trend for 2009 to increase mainly because of the addition of unreported cases.

Bacalzo added that crime solution efficiency of the country was expected to decrease because only cases where a suspect has been arrested and charged would be considered solved.

"This is done to institute necessary measures with the aim of coming up with an accurate system of reporting crime incidents and conducting thorough analysis of the crime situation," Bacalzo said.

Design for P500 bill with Aquino couple out soon

MANILA, Philippines - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is set to print the redesigned banknotes and coins within the year after getting the approval of President Arroyo.

BIR expects to have fallen short of 2009 target by P55-B

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), which collects the bulk of state tax revenues, said it exceeded its P60-billion goal for December, but may still have incurred a full-year shortfall of around P55 billion in 2009.

Peso hits 16-month high

MANILA, Philippines - The climbed to P45.85 against the dollar during the session, its highest level in 16 months, before settling at P45.92.

Death toll rises to 155 in Russian disco fire

MOSCOW--A disco fire in the Russian town of Perm has claimed its 155th victim, emergency services said Tuesday, cited by Russian agencies.

Jordanian double-agent killed 7 CIA officers in suicide blast

by By Barbara Starr, CNN
WASHINGTON DC, United States -- The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian military officer last week in Afghanistan was a Jordanian double-agent, a former U.S. intelligence official told CNN Monday.

US skeptical on Myanmar elections

WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday voiced doubts on whether Myanmar's upcoming elections would be credible and urged the military regime to engage the opposition and ethnic minorities.

Pacquiao fans launch petition vs. Mayweather

MANILA, Philippines -- Supporters of 7-time world champ Manny Pacquiao launched an online petition urging US communications giant AT&T and other sponsors to cut endorsement relationships with Floyd Mayweather Jr. for engaging the Filipino in a smear campaign.

Filipina is World's No. 10 female cue artist

MANILA, Philippines – Filipina cue artist Rubilen "Bingkay" Amit is ranked number 10 among the world best female cue artist based on the latest World Pool Billiard Association rankings.

Delivery man claims P111-M lotto jackpot

A 37-year-old delivery man has claimed the P111-million jackpot to the 6/49 Super Lotto on Monday afternoon, making himself the country's first lotto winner of more than P100 million for 2010.

All set for Black Nazarene procession

Drawing millions of devotees every year, the Black Nazarene procession this Saturday would not only be a venue of faith but also of social responsibility.

Jim Paredes' daughter participates in Maguidanao massacre trial

MANILA, Philippines – It was her 1st official illustration job, but it was not what she imagined. "Well here we go, 1st official illustration 'job.' Not what I imagined. Pencils don't fail me now," tweeted Ala Paredes, former VJ and commercial model daughter of APO Hiking Society's Jim Paredes.

PBB Update: Big Utol a big headache for housemates, viewers

Malaking sakit ng ulo sa PBB housemates si Big Utol! Pa'no ba naman, bukod sa naiibang trip na takutin ang housemates, dobleng hirap rin ang kanyang ipinataw na weekly task! Kaya ang hirit ng ilan, Big Brother bumalik ka na!

Yao Ming to become a father

BEIJING – The wife of NBA center Yao Ming is expecting their first child, sending netizens into a frenzy of hope for a new generation to lead China's basketball team in the future.

5 new planets discovered

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WASHINGTON – NASA's Kepler space telescope has discovered five new planets beyond the solar system, the US space agency said Monday, just 10 months after Kepler launched into space to find Earth-like planets.

The discovery of the five exoplanets "contributes to our understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve from the gas and dust disks that give rise to both the stars and their planets," NASA's William Borucki, principal science investigator for the Kepler mission, said in a statement.

But all five exoplanets are "too hot for life as we know it," NASA said.

The newly discovered planets are known as "hot Jupiters" because of their large masses and extreme temperatures, which range from 2,200 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,204 - 1649 degrees Celsius) -- hotter than molten lava.

Their orbits last between three and five days, meaning they follow paths close to their stars, which are hotter and larger than the Earth's sun, NASA said.

The smallest of the newly discovered planets is roughly the size of Neptune, the fourth largest planet in Earth's solar system, and the biggest is around the size of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

One of the planets, which have been given the unimaginative names of Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b, is similar in many ways to Neptune, although its irradiation level is much higher.

Another planet is one of the least dense ever discovered, and along with the other three, confirms the existence of planets with densities substantially lower than those predicted for gas giant planets.

The five exoplanets were among discoveries made by the Kepler space telescope in the first six weeks after it became operational in May last year.

Borucki presented the early discoveries and other findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington Monday.

Kepler looks for the signatures of planets by measuring dips in a star's brightness, which are caused by planets crossing in front of them and periodically blocking out part of the starlight.

The size of the planet can be derived from the size of the dip in brightness while the temperature can be estimated from the characteristics of the star it orbits and the planet's orbital period.

Kepler is NASA's first mission in search of Earth-like planets orbiting suns similar to ours.

It launched in March last year, equipped with the largest camera ever sent into space –a 95-megapixel array of charge-coupled devices – and is expected to continue sending information back to Earth until at least November 2012.

It is searching for planets as small as Earth, including those orbiting stars in a warm, habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface of the planet.

"The Kepler observations will tell us whether there are many stars with planets that could harbor life or whether we might be alone in our galaxy," said Borucki.

Because planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars only pass in front of their star about once a year, and three transits are required before a "discovery" can be confirmed, finding an Earth-size planet is expected to take at least three years, NASA said.

Jon Morse, head of the astrophysics division at NASA headquarters in Washington, said scientists had expected that Kepler would find massive planets in short orbits before it found smaller, earth-like planets.

But, he added, it was "only a matter of time before more Kepler observations lead to smaller planets with longer period orbits, coming closer and closer to the discovery of the first Earth-analog."

Kepler has already pleasantly surprised scientists by sending back images of a "hot Jupiter" 1,000 light years (around 5.9 quadrillion miles, 9.5 quadrillion kilometers) from Earth that it took when it was still in calibration mode, just 10 days after it launched.

Longest solar eclipse to be seen January 15

The Philippines will see a partial solar eclipse on January 15 with the moon covering around half of the sun in some areas of the country, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said on Tuesday.

Meteor showers expected this January

Fans of meteor showers might still be able to catch the annual Quandrantid meteor shower which is active this year from January 1 to 7.

Pablo Picasso  - "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."

1 comment:

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