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

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January 8, 2010 Major News Stories

RP has enough rice stocks despite El Niño - NFA

The Philippines has enough rice supply to last a few months despite the threat of prolonged drought brought by the El Niño weather pattern this year, the the National Food Authority (NFA) said on Thursday.

Carbon vendors ask city not to increase fees, tax

Carbon market vendors are asking the Cebu City government not to increase their business permit fees and business taxes this year as they are still experiencing the effects of the economic crisis.

LPGMA to roll back prices anew on Friday

After starting the New Year with a P1/kilo rollback, independent liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) dealers will implement a second P1/kilo rollback on Friday, bringing down LPG prices below P600 per 11-kg tank.

Villar, Recto hit govt failure to give full Xmas bonus

An opposition senator on Thursday urged the Arroyo administration to shoulder the balance of P3,000 - out of the P10,000 year-end "performance bonus" - that it owed to employees of agencies that had no internal savings.

DepEd eyes improvement of students' performance

The Department of Education (DepEd-7) will prioritize the improvement of the students' performance in the National Achievement Test this year to increase the quality of education among elementary and secondary schools in the region.

Arroyo signs condonation law for SSS premiums

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law Republic Act 9903 or the "Social Security Condonation Law of 2009" on Thursday to remove the penalties companies and institutions might have incurred for unremitted or delinquent premium contributions to the Social Security System (SSS).

Govt to implement unified ID system on March

The controversial unified identification system will be implemented this March following the signing of an agreement with all concerned government agencies.
Social Security Service (SSS) administrator Romulo Neri, who is spearheading the national ID system, made the announcement Thursday during the signing of Republic Act 9903, which condones penalties on un-remitted SSS premium contributions by employers.

"By March, we will be printing two million IDs. We expect to print 12 million IDs in five years," he said.

A Malacañang statement said representatives of the SSS, Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), and Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG) will sign the agreement.

Human rights advocates had voiced strong opposition to the national ID system, saying it can be used by the government to spy on citizens, particularly its critics and political opponents. Malacañang, on the other hand, said the system could be an effective tool against terrorism.

Neri said the ID system was first intended to be used for the automated elections on May, but they had to abandon the plan due to time constraints.

"Since the [Commission on Elections] has not completely finished its registration and other
concerns, then we strongly doubt we can push through with it. Besides,we do not want to make it appear that we are doing this for the election," he said.

The national ID system was proposed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in January 2007 during a command conference with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at Camp Aguinaldo.

In September 2008, the SSS spearheaded the project with a common reference number to be issued by the National Statistics Office (NSO) based on its database.

Filipino nurses in US seek end to visa retrogression

The Philippine Nurses Association of America assured Filipino nurses dreaming to work in the United States that talks are going on between nurse communities and senators in the US to include in their health care reform the end of visa retrogression.

This would hopefully open more doors for employment of Filipino nurses that would fill the 15 percent shortage in healthcare personnel in many parts of the US.

PNAA President Leo Felix Jurado, during the opening of the 7th PNAA International Conference in Cebu yesterday, admitted that there are no available visas for nurses who are planning to work in the US.

This as US implemented a Visa Retrogression where previously current dates on the quota bulletin go backwards and became unavailable.

As of December last year for applicants from the Philipines, visas shall be processed only through to August 2005.

Jurado said that they are constantly monitoring the development of the bill while clinging to their high hopes that US will soon adjust its bulletin to accommodate more nurses since the current retrogression also presents challenges to hospitals, nursing homes and health care employers who are confronted with worsening nursing shortage.

 Jurado said that the retirement of RNs compounded by the increasing demand for health care services continue to create a hole in health care services of US.

While the problem of retrogression affects interested foreign nurses, PNAA is providing alternative jobs for Filipino nurses, who are not yet employed here.

PNAA is also coordinating closely with nursing schools and other institutions to increase the quality of nursing education that would in turn increase their competency and job qualification.

PNAA has also initiated a Memorandum of Understanding, to hire more Filipino nurses, with other countries other than US such as Canada.

The Philippines, nevertheless, remain the number one source of foreign nurses in the US and there are an estimated 85,000 in different states.

PNA Visayas President Parolita Mission, on the other hand, said that around only 50 percent of nursing graduates in the Visayas are successfully employed in the industry.

The rest go to other professions, most in the Business Outsource Processing, which they also encourage while the country could not employ them yet.

Mission said that nursing is about giving health care which they can share in whatever field they are.

Saudi pardons initial 9 OFWs

An initial batch of nine Filipinos have been pardoned and released from jail under the royal decree issued on the occasion of the return of the Saudi Crown Prince, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh reported Thursday to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

No job orders for dog handlers in Dubai

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration on Thursday belied the report that Dubai needs some 10,000 dog handlers, as it has not received any official request for approval of job orders for such jobs.

Survivors in Venezuela ship fire to get benefits—DFA

The seven Filipino seafarers who survived the ship fire off Venezuela arrived Wednesday and were told that they would get all benefits due them, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Sick Filipino seaman flown out of Alaska

A 52-year-old Filipino who suffered a stroke on board a sea vessel in Alaska was successfully flown out from 250 miles southwest of Sitka about 6 a.m. Tuesday to a community hospital, it was learned Thursday.

Angelito Pelagio, the 2nd officer of Hoegh Transit, reportedly suffered a stroke after collapsing on watch and was vomiting and experiencing chest pains 400 miles southwest of Sitka, according to a report citing SeaWaves magazine.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew safely completed the medical evacuation after the captain of the 590-foot vessel requesting the medevac of Pelagio Monday evening.

Pelagio is reported to be in stable condition.

Ombud summons Cortes, DPWH, firm to meeting

THE Office of the Ombudsman-Visyas has called public works officials, a private contractor and Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes to a conference today to resolve the standoff over projects on R. Colina St.

Capitol rehires 49 casuals; 7 others required to explain

CAPITOL yesterday recommended the renewal of 49 of the 56 casual employees assigned to Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez.

The seven others were asked to explain whether they were indeed assigned to the farm and fishpond of Sanchez in Barangay San Juan, Tuburan, the vice governor's hometown.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia will decide on the casual and contractual workers in the middle of next week. If the employees will be rehired, they will likely be given only six-month contracts because Sanchez's term ends on June 30.

Capitol spokesman Rory Jon Sepulveda said that as a procedure, the Provincial Government gives all contractual and casual employees one-year contracts.

Sepulveda said he is wondering why Sanchez reacted to Gov. Garcia's memorandum advising employees not to report to work until their contracts are renewed when the vice governor knows the hiring and renewal process at the Capitol.

Sepulveda explained the distinction between casual and contractual workers. Casuals, he said, are those directly hired by Capitol, while contractual employees are those hired by Mandaue Integrated Manpower Supply (MIMS), the outsourcing manpower company hired by Capitol. MIMS is owned by the family of Glenn Soco, Garcia's
running mate.

Sanchez, meanwhile, laughed off rumors that a casual employee who resigned earlier was his girlfriend.


The employee was a singer whom Sanchez wanted to be part of the Capitol official band that he planned to form. The proposal was disapproved by Garcia.

Sanchez said he only met the employee at a gathering in the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC). The singer, he said, was assigned to one of the Provincial Board (PB) members and not to him.

"That's not worth answering. That's their way of countering their anomalies. Let them prove it," Sanchez told Sun.Star Cebu when asked to comment.


Sanchez said the 56 workers visited him in his office at 1 p.m. yesterday to express their intention to continue working for him. He said he appreciated their show of support.

"It was a spontaneous move of the employees," Sanchez said.

Sanchez denied assigning seven employees to his private company in Tuburan. He said he has a training center under the livelihood and entrepreneurial projects of his office.

He also denied owning a fishpond in Tuburan. He said he only has a two-hectare farm there, which is being used as a demonstration farm for the livelihood training they are regularly conducting.

The employees, he said, are giving skills and livelihood trainings to constituents of Cebu and its neighboring provinces, Bohol, Leyte and Negros.

He admitted, however, that the center, which can accommodate 100 participants, is located in his two-hectare farm in San Juan, Tuburan. Sanchez denied that all seven employees are working there. He said only five employees were assigned to the center to answer inquiries.

Sanchez said two of the seven employees, Lolita Yaun and Ranulfo Montebon, have been reporting to his office regularly. He urged the governor to check Capitol's biometrics attendance data.

He challenged the governor to verify details of his livelihood project in Tuburan from her own mother, retired judge Esperanza F. Garcia, because she was able to attend one of the seminars he conducted.

Members of cooperatives, he said, are among his frequent attendees.

Sanchez also said that he refused to assume as governor even if Garcia is in China for a business trip because he was not designated by the governor. He refused to sign the travel order of Provincial Administrator Eduardo Habin.

Sepulveda, however, said that based on the Local Government Code, Sanchez can only automatically assume as governor if Garcia will not be around beyond three days. He said that the governor left for China last Wednesday and will be back on Saturday.

Fired Capitol workers to work even sans pay

Some of the 57 contractual and casual employees under the Office of the Vice Governor claimed they will continue to work even if they are not paid salaries after their contracts were not renewed by the governor.

About 30 of them met with Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr. in his office yesterday and assured him of their continued services even if they don't get paid.

When asked how they will sustain that needs of their respective families, the employees said that "God will provide".

Sanchez said he was deeply touched by the support given to him by the employees and promised to do everything within his means to provide financial assistance to these employees.

"I am willing to give my life total tiguwang na bitaw ko," Sanchez told his staff.

Sanchez said that aside from the contractual and casual employees his nine consultants whose contracts were likewise terminated promised to continue serving without getting compensated.

One of the consultants told The FREEMAN that their service to the people "transcends politics." He added that service to the people is paramount.

Sanchez yesterday showed a Supreme Court decision that upheld his authority to appoint the employees under the legislative department. In the case of Atienza versus Villarosa in Mindoro Oriental the SC held that "while the governor has authority to appoint officials and employees whose salaries are paid out of the provincial funds, this does not extend to the officials and employees of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan because such authority is lodged with the vice governor."

Sanchez said he is supposed to be the appointing authority of these 57 casuals and contractual employees under his office. While Governor Gwendolyn Garcia did not renew the contracts of the employees under his office, Sanchez yesterday signed all the contracts of the employees of the Provincial Board members regardless of whether or not they are his partymates.

Sanchez said most of the contracts he signed were that of the staff of the PB members under the One Cebu Party. Sanchez said he intends to deliver a privilege speech on Monday to defense of the independence of the legislative department which he said has been trampled upon by governor.

Capitol spokesman Rory Jon Sepulveda however said the contracts of the casual and contractual employees are still subject to verification. There were reports that some of these employees are working in private farms.

Sanchez admitted that at least four of these casual and contractual employees are assigned in the field for his livelihood program. He said these employees conduct training. In fact, Sanchez said, among those who attended the trainings facilitated by these employees are provincial agriculturist Necias Vicoy and the governor's mother, retired judge Esperanza Garcia.

Provincial attorney Marino Martinquilla already issued a memorandum yesterday directing seven of the 57 employees under the vice governor to explain why they were seen in private farms in Tuburan and Tabuelan during office hours.

Capitol also accused Sanchez of making a drama of the issue to get sympathy from the public.

According to Sepulveda, of the 57 casual and contractual employees under the Office of the Vice Governor, one of them resigned last December.

He added that of the 56 casual and contractual employees, only seven are subject to further review because of the reports that they were always seen in Tuburan town.

Sepulveda said the seven employees were the subject of the reports received by Capitol that they were always seen at the fish pond and farmlands owned by Sanchez.

Sepulveda said the cease and desist order for casual and contractual employees whose contracts expired at the end of the year is a normal occurrence every start of the year.

Sepulveda said Sanchez should justify why he needs these casual employees so that their contract should be renewed especially now that the possibility of being delegated executive functions is very remote considering the fallout that happened between him and Garcia.

Abelgas willing to run CCMC

Cebu City Medical Center emergency ward chief Edgar Abelgas went to Cebu City Hall yesterday to personally inform Mayor Tomas Osmeña that he is willing to manage the city hospital and do his best to improve CCMC's performance if he is given the chance.

Mary Ann to ask Gwen to allow use of UP lot

BARANGAY Lahug officials will help Sitio San Jose residents keep their power and water supply and will also meet with Cebu Gov. Garcia.

LTO tries to drum up support for RFID tags

THE Land Transportation Office (LTO) is urging the public to support the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices as one way to stop the illegal use of vehicles and extortion by traffic enforcers.

MCIAA: No special treatment for Yellow cabs

Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority general manager Danilo Augusto Francia told the Cebu City officials that it is not true that the airport authority lets only the yellow airport taxis pick-up arriving passengers at the airport and also explained that they have no plan to compete with the business of taxi operators.

Traffic re-routing on start of Sinulog

Vehicular traffic in Cebu City will be re-routed today during the launch of 2010 Sinulog Festivities this afternoon.

The major street affected will be the Osmeña Boulevard, as the opening parade, which will start at 3pm, will begin at the Basilica del Sto. Niño towards the Fuente Osmeña circle and down back to Osmeña Boulevard towards the Cebu City Sports Center.

Parade participants will enter the gate of the sports complex along Osmeña Boulevard located between the Cebu City Central School and Abellana National High School.

Passenger jeeps coming from Capitol and Lahug passing Osmeña Boulevard towards Fuente Oval shall turn right to B. Rodriguez Street, turn left to V. Rama Avenue, turn left to N. Bacalso Avenue, turn right to Panganiban Street, and proceed to their destination.

Passenger jeeps from the Carbon area shall turn left to F. Gonzales Street, turn left to Magallanes Street, turn right to Borromeo Street, turn left to Sanciangko St., right turn to Panganiban Street, turn left to N. Bacalso Avenue, turn right to V. Rama Avenue, and to their point of origin.

Jeepneys coming from sitio Banawa in barangay Guadalupe shall pass V. Rama Avenue, turn right to Katipunan Street, turn left to A. Lopez Street, go straight towards Tres de Abril Street, turn right to Carlock Street, turn left to Tupas Street, go straight towards Magallanes Street, and proceed to the Carbon area. From the Carbon area, jeepneys shall turn left to F. Gonzales Street, turn left to Magallanes Street, turn right to Borromeo Street, turn left to Sanciangko Street, turn right to Panganiban Street, turn left to N. Bacalso Avenue, turn right to V. Rama Avenue, and to their point of origin.

Jeepneys coming from Lahug that pass through Gen. Maxilom Avenue can still proceed to F. Ramos Street but will have to turn right to Junquera Street, turn left to Colon Street, turn left to D. Jakosalem Street, and towards their point of origin.

Passenger jeepneys following Route No. 14D from Ayala shall proceed to N. Escario Street, turn left to Juana Osmeña Street, turn right to General Maxilom Avenue, turn left to F. Ramos Street leading towards Junquera Street, turn left to Colon Street, turn right to Mabini Street, turn right to V. Gullas Street, turn right to Legaspi Street, go straight to Pelaez Street, turn right to P. Del Rosario Street, turn left to D. Jakosalem Street, turn left to Echavez Extension, turn right to F. Ramos Street, turn right to Raintree Mall, proceed to Juana Osmeña Street, and to their point of origin.

Passenger jeepneys coming from Talamban that through Junquera Street/F. Ramos St., shall turn left to Sikatuna Street, go straight to Mabini Street, turn right to V. Gullas Street, turn right to Legaspi Street, turn right to Colon Street, turn left to D. Jakosalem Street, and to their point of origin.

Meanwhile, jeepneys plying the Talamban that pass through Sikatuna Street shall turn right to Colon Street, turn right to D. Jakosalem Street, and to their point of origin.

Passenger jeepneys coming from Basak, Pardo, and Labangon passing P. Del Rosario Street shall turn right to Leon Kilat Street, turn right to Magallanes Street and then back to their point of origin.

Passenger jeepneys coming from Inayawan; Basak, Pardo and Labangon passing Colon Street shall turn right to Leon Kilat Street, turn right to Magallanes Street and back to their point of origin.

Passenger jeepneys coming from the south passing Colon Street for SM, White Gold and North Bus Terminal shall turn right to Panganiban Street, turn left to Magallanes Street, turn right to Plaridel Street, turn left to Loincoln Street, turn left to F. Gonzales Street towards M.C. Briones Street, turn left to M.J. Cuenco Avenue, turn right to V. Sotto Street, turn left to Serging Osmeña Boulevard and proceed to SM, White Gold and North Bus Terminal.

From SM, White Gold and North Bus Terminal, jeepneys shall turn left towards Gen. Maxilom Avenue, turn right to Juana Osmeña Street, turn left to J. Llorente Street, turn left to C. Rodriguez St., turn right to B. Rodriguez Street, turn left to V. Rama Avenue, turn right to N. Bacalso Avenue, and back to their points of origin.

Jeepneys coming from Urgello and USC Girls High shall proceed to Leon Kilat Street, turn left to Colon Street, turn right to P. Lopez Street, turn left to Magallanes Street, turn right to Manalili Street, turn left to J. Levson Street towards M.C. Briones Street, turn left to M.J. Cuenco Avenue, turn right to Palma Street, turn left to Arellano Boulevard and to their destinations.

Vehicles coming from the ports, SM, and North Bus Terminal shall proceed to M.J. Cuenco Avenue, turn right to Magallanes Street towards Borromeo Street, turn right to Leon Kilat Street and to their points of origin.

Passenger jeepneys coming from Mandaue and Mabolo passing Gen. Maxilom Ave., shall turn left to F. Ramos St., right turn to Junquera St., left turn to Colon St., right turn to Mabini St., left turn to Urdaneta St., left turn to Lapulapu St., right turn to Jereza St., left turn to M.J. Cuenco Avbe., then to their point of origin.

Those coming from Mabolo passing V. Gullas Street shall turn right to Legaspi Street, turn right to Colon Street, turn left to Mabini Street, turn right to Zulueta Street, turn left to M.J. Cuenco Avenue and to their points of origin.

Passenger jeepneys from Mandaue City passing V. Gullas Street shall turn right to D. Jakosalem Street, turn right to Colon Street, turn left to Mabini Street, turn right to E. Aboitiz Street (Lopez Jaena St.), turn left to M.J. Cuenco Avenue and to their points of origin.

Motorists, drivers and other road users are advised to follow the traffic signs installed on the re-routing areas.

Rama mulls taking COA circular to SC

Vice Mayor Michael Rama is considering the possibility of raising to the Supreme Court the controversial Commission on Audit circular that is keeping the city government from giving financial assistance to the Sinulog Foundation, Inc.

COA postpones to Jan. 12 meeting to tackle request of City on Sinulog Foundation

CEBU City Hall did not get the exemption it was expecting from the Commission on Audit (COA).

But even without the exemption, Vice Mayor Michael Rama said all Sinulog festivities and the Jan. 17 grand parade will push through because the festival is not dependent on COA.

He told reporters yesterday that they have already found a way to fund the cash prizes without extending financial aid to Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI). This way, he doesn't have to resign as chairman of the foundation, Rama said.

The City Treasurer's Office is now preparing documents for the cash advance of the P10 million needed for the cash prizes for the parade winners and the P2.5 million for the expenses for the grand parade finale.


City Hall will disburse the funds directly to winning contingents.

"The whole Sinulog 2010 will proceed with or without the COA policy. It's not a deterrent in staging the Sinulog, it can never be postponed just because of COA," said Rama.

COA still has not exempted the City and the SFI from COA Circular 2007-0001.

The circular prohibits any local government unit (LGU) 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.

If COA does not cancel the circular, Rama said they may end up challenging it before the Supreme Court (SC).

Not a solution

He reiterated that his resignation will not solve the problem the City Government and other LGUs face because of the COA memorandum circular.

In his news conference, he said that his resignation will not make any difference because SFI president Renato Osmeña is also not willing to resign because for them, what needs to be done is for COA to revoke the policy.

He said that his refusal to resign does not mean he wants to hang on to the post of SFI chairman and over-all chairman of the Sinulog 2010.

"That's not my intention. I'm only standing by what I believe, that COA should rethink its policy because it doesn't give any advantage to LGUs... Will it even stand scrutiny at the Supreme Court (SC)?... I just don't see the wisdom. But let's give COA a chance to see the wisdom I presented to them," said Rama.

COA issued the circular to protect public funds from abuse by NGOs that get financial assistance from LGUs.

Rama said that if the agency will not change its policy, they might take some actions, including raising the matter to the SC.

According to Juliette Donido of the COA Secretariat, the commissioners canceled the Commission Proper meeting and rescheduled it to Jan. 12, just five days before the Sinulog grand parade.

The City Government's appeal for exemption was supposed to be tackled yesterday. Commissioners have not decided on it yet, she said.

Lumad Basakanon still lacks funds for performance

Barely nine days before the much-anticipated Sinulog Grand Parade, the Lumad Basakanon of barangay San Nicolas still awaits the release of the funds that would cover their expenses.

The group's choreographer, Norman Navarro, said they are yet to meet with the officials of barangay San Nicolas within the week for the release of P700,000 for the contingent.

Still, the group is not losing hope because M. Lhuillier and the Asian College of Technology have reportedly pledged financial support to the group. Lumad Basakanon is competing under the Free Interpretation Category on December 17.

Navarro admitted they have not fully planned their expenses, considering that the major bulk of themoney they would spend would come from the barangay.

In an interview with The Freeman, San Nicolas barangay captain George Rama said the request for funds is still pending at City Hall. He said he is confident that the budget will be approved next week.

Gullas Museum to be unveiled

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano will lead a ribbon cutting ceremony to formally unveil the Don Vicente ug Inday Pining Gullas Museum this January 12.

Sec. Durano will be joined by top musical Cebuano artists Pilita Corrales, Dulce and Raki Vega. 

The museum is one of the projects of The Freeman chairman Dr. Jose R. "Dodong" Gullas under his Tipiganan sa mga Kanta ug Kinaiyang Sugbuanon Foundation. 

Gullas is the youngest child of the late Don Vicente and Inday Pining Gullas, esteemed educators and patrons of Cebuano culture and the arts, who founded the University of the Visayas.

The museum, which will be located inside the old Freeman building in cor. Jakosalem and V. Gullas Sts., is hoped to become a major attraction in this known historical district, designed to propagate Cebuano's cache of beautiful music and traditions, as well as honor composers and musical artists, some of whom have memorabilia displayed at the museum.

These include the piano that the late Ben Zubiri used to create the timeless love song "Matud Nila," the guitar of Minggoy Lopez, composer of "Rosas Pandan" and "Kamingaw sa Payag", and original score sheets of several Cebuano classics.

Another interesting feature inside the museum are the listening stations wherein you can hear samples of old Cebuano songs, both familiar and long forgotten tunes. Commissioned artworks depicting unique Cebuano culture will also be in display at the museum. 

While the museum is sure to evoke nostalgia and renewed interest of especially of Cebu's musical past, Gullas said that the main intention of this museum is truly to educate the younger generations of Cebuanos and foster increased appreciation in homegrown treasures.

DOTC orders safety review of shipping lines

The Department of Transportation and Communications has ordered a sweeping review of the safety standards of local shipping companies to prevent a repeat of several sea mishaps that occurred over the holidays.

M/V Baleno 9 survivor: Crew had beer, food during ill-fated trip

MANILA, Philippines - A survivor of the ill-fated M/V Baleno 9  said on Thursday he saw beer and food being prepared by the boat's crew, indicating a planned drinking session during the trip.

No Charter change, tax bills without RH bill

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Albay Representative Edcel Lagman on Thursday vowed to rally supporters of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill in the House of Representatives to block deliberation and voting on tax measures and the proposed constitutional convention if the chamber would not tackle the RH bill in the last nine days of session.

AFP 'last resort' in securing election candidates – Comelec

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will use, as a "last resort," the Armed Forces of the Philippines in securing candidates in the national elections in May, Comelec chairman Jose Melo said on Thursday.

NP to form 'rainbow army' vs poll fraud

The Nacionalista Party (NP) is raising a "rainbow army" of at least one million volunteers to defend the sanctity of the ballot and ensure clean and honest elections this May, a party official said on Thursday.

SC pressed on TRO vs Luisita land distribution

A militant lawmaker is urging the Supreme Court (SC) to lift the three-year old temporary restraining order (TRO) against the distribution of the 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita property of the Cojuangco-Aquino family in Tarlac.

Akbayan: Special provision in 2010 budget may weaken next President

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's allies in congress have inserted a provision in the 2010 budget that might weaken the next president"s control of public funds, civic groups said Thursday, amid reports that she is eyeing the House speakership.
Akbayan party-list and the Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD) said the anti-impoundment provision inserted in the bicameral version of the P1.541-trillion national budget for 2010 effectively prevents the next president from withholding funds, such as pork barrel, that have been allocated by Congress. 

While Akbayan and IPD said they were not against the essence of the provision, they said its timing was "highly suspicious," considering that Mrs. Arroyo is seeking a congressional seat for Pampanga's second district.

"Even as Gloria has the power to line veto, it would not be in her interest to veto this anti-impoundment provision especially that she would now be a beneficiary of pork barrel funds as a result of her bid to become a congressional representative," said Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello. 

"This is really part of the strategy to, in fact, retain power on the part of GMA and to deny power to a coming president," Bello said, noting reports that Mrs. Arroyo is aiming to become House Speaker and eventually prime minister if the push for Charter change succeeds.

Special provision in the GAA

According to Bello, the special provision, inserted during the bicameral conference committee on the 2010 budget late last year, says that "the President shall release all budgetary allocations" contained in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) except in two instances:

  • When the President asks Congress to impound or permanently withhold the release of a particular appropriations item, and Congress does not act on it within 45 days, unless during the same period, the Congress denies or rejects the proposal by a simple majority vote; and

  • When the President temporarily defers the release of a particular appropriations item upon a prior written notice to Congress, which deferment shall continue unless Congress stops or rejects the deferment through a simple majority vote.

IPD executive director Jude Esguerra questioned the timing of the insertion, pointing out that it would create a "qualitatively different" system than what is being implemented under Mrs. Arroyo's presidency.

Akbayan legal counsel Ibarra Gutierrez pointed out that Bello and fellow Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros themselves had filed an anti-impoundment bill last February and are supporting the reduction of the President's powers over the release of funds such as pork barrel. 

But the insertion of an anti-impoundment provision in the General Appropriations Act was legally unsound and short-sighted, he said.

'GAA should only contain budget items'

Based on the Constitution, Gutierrez said, only items about budgetary allocations should be contained in the General Appropriations Act, which means that Congress cannot amend laws through the GAA. 

He pointed out that the anti-impoundment provision in effect revises provisions of the Administrative Code of 1987 that empower the Executive branch to authorize the suspension or complete withholding of certain funds. 

"The problem with a GAA enactment of an anti-impoundment provision is it's only good for a year," added Gutierrez. "What we want is a more long-term kind of institutional reform."

'Partisan sound and fury'

But Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a stalwart of Mrs. Arroyo's Lakas-Kampi-CMD, dismissed protests over the insertion of the anti-impoundment provision as "partisan sound and fury."

"This is clearly constitutional as it seeks to fully implement the Congressional authority over the purse. What Congress appropriates must not be derogated by the Executive's unrestricted authority to impound budgetary allocations," said Lagman, senior vice chairman of the House Appropriations committee.

"This is not intended for the benefit of a solitary prospective Member of the House of Representatives but this provision would benefit Congress as an institution and assures the release of budgetary allocations not otherwise directly vetoed by the President," added Lagman. 

Lagman also pointed out that the insertion of the provision was "a bipartisan initiative" endorsed by 138 representatives, including many members of the minority bloc, and was concurred in by the Senate panel in the bicameral conference committee hearing last December. 

The House leader likewise said the anti-impoundment provision was not meant to protect the pork barrel, which, with an allocation of P10.861 billion, is only "a small portion" of the P1.541-trillion national budget. 

House Speaker Prospero Nograles had earlier said the 2010 General Appropriations Bill would be sent to Mrs. Arroyo for signing on January 7 or 8. If Mrs. Arroyo does not sign it immediately, it will lapse into law 30 days after Malacañang receives it.

PNP, AFP validating over 100 private armies

Authorities are verifying the existence of over 100 private armies in the country, as they vowed anew to eradicate all partisan armed groups before the national elections in May.

Looting blamed for Maguindanao state of emergency

Looting in the provincial capitol in Maguindanao could be one reason why the government would maintain the state of emergency in the province, Malacañang said Thursday.

Gunmen burn 7 houses in Maguindanao town

Unidentified armed who said they were looking for supporters of the Ampatuan clan burned down seven houses in a village in Maguindanao's Datu Hofer municipality, police authorities said Thursday.

Women jailed at NBI: We don't want Ampatuan Jr. here

Women detainees at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) are worried about their safety with Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. sharing detention facilities with them, lawyer Harry Roque said Thursday.

Town councilor in Maguindanao shot dead

MANILA, Philippines - A municipal councilor of Datu Piang in Maguindanao province was shot dead Thursday morning.  The victim was identified as Junreal Kamaong, 37 years old and a resident of Barangay Poblacion in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town also in Maguindanao.

Broadcast journalist in Ilocos Sur shot - police

MANILA, Philippines -- A radio station journalist was shot Thursday evening in Ilocos Sur province by unidentified assailants, a police report said.

The initial police report identified the victim as Eugene Paet of dwRS Commando Radio in Vigan City.

A report by the Philippine National Police-Region I said the shooting took place in Barangay Bulag Centro in Bantay town in Ilocos Sur at around 7:30 p.m.

The victim is reportedly in critical condition.

Witness welcomes murder raps vs senator

The camp of former Senior Superintendent Cezar Mancao welcomed the filing of double murder charges by the Department of Justice against Senator Panfilo Lacson, saying the move was a form of "vindication" for the police official.

Lacson seeks dismissal of murder case

(UPDATE) A counter motion has been filed by the camp of Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson asking the court to dismiss "for lack of probable cause" the double murder charges filed against him by the Department of Justice.

Former GMA poll lawyer is new solicitor general

MANILA, Philppines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has appointed Alberto Agra as Solicitor General, replacing Secretary Agnes Devanadera who is now with the justice department.

SC: DPWH wrong to destroy Mountain Province church

The Supreme Court has ruled that two Mountain Province courts were right to reprimand the Department of Public Works and Highways for destroying an Anglican church in 2006 to build a public gymnasium that was financed by the province's then representative.

Airline firm apologizes to couple over treatment of special child

Cebu Pacific Airlines has apologized to a couple who is set to file a lawsuit against it and one of its pursers over the treatment of the couple's special child.

Geothermal firm signs $300-M supply contracts in Leyte

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MANILA, Philippines - Envent Holding Philippines Inc., an Iceland-backed geothermal firm, has signed more than $300 million worth of long-term supply contracts in Leyte province.

Vietnam invites Obama to join ASEAN meet

HANOI (AP) – Vietnam has invited President Barack Obama to visit the Southeast Asian country later this year for a regional summit.

US: Attack on CIA won't stop anti-terror hunt

WASHINGTON - The deaths of seven CIA employees in Afghanistan probably will not be the last. The US isn't pulling back on covert operations to hunt terrorists there and in Pakistan and will go on taking chances on human tipsters to help.

China tainted milk problem kept secret for months

BEIJING - Chinese authorities kept concerns about the safety of a Shanghai dairy's products secret for nearly a year before announcing last week that the company had been shut for manufacturing contaminated milk, an official said Thursday.

Pacquiao-Mayweather bout will not push through

Wala ring kinahinatnan ang ilang liggong negosasyon para sa laban nina Manny Pacquiao at Floyd Mayweasther Jr. Dahil dito hindi na matutuloy ang laban dahil sa hindi sila magkasundo sa paraan ng drug test.

Pacquiao to pursue lawsuit vs Mayweather

MANILA, Philippines – Fight fans are disappointed that the super fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been called off. But Pacquiao himself is disappointed, too.

Pacman eyes Foreman for possible showdown

With the planned superfight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. already declared off, the camp of Manny Pacquiao is now considering New York-based Israeli junior middleweight champ Yuri Foreman as the Pacman"s next opponent.

Bata, Django spearhead Asia vs Europe

MANILA, Philippines – Reigning World Cup champs Efren "Bata" Reyes and Francisco "Django" Bustamante will represent Asia in the much awaited Asia vs Europe Men's 9-Ball Team Challenge on January 15 at the Sutra Hall, Rizqun International Hotel in Brunei.

NBA suspends Wizards' Gilbert Arenas indefinitely

Gilbert Arenas was suspended without pay Wednesday by NBA commissioner David Stern, who determined the player's behavior made him "not currently fit to take the court."

Chito Miranda wooing Angel Locsin?

MANILA, Philippines - Actress Angel Locsin shot down speculations that "Parokya ni Edgar" front man Chito Miranda is wooing her. In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Locsin stressed that she and Miranda are just good friends.

Angel Locsin, Anne Curtis loveless no more?

Sila na nga ba ulit? 'Yan ang tanong na ipinupukol ngayon sa magkaibigang sina Anne Curtis at Angel Locsin na umano'y sinusuyo muli ng kani-kanilang ex na sina Sam Milby at Luis Manzano. Kung loveless nga sila noong Pasko, tiyak na bang magkakaroon sila ng ka-Valentine sa Pebrero?

Rico Blanco slams Gibo Teodoro over 'Posible' song

MANILA, Philippines – Singer-songwriter Rico Blanco has blasted Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard bearer Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro for using his composition, Rivermaya's "Posible," in one of his political advertisements, claiming that it was done without permission.

Mystery lotto winner donates P1.5-M to ABS-CBN Foundation

MANILA, Philippines - The sole winner of the P111 million jackpot prize from the last draw of 2009 has donated P1.5 million to the ABS-CBN Foundation, the group said Thursday.

Mayon activity up anew; alert level 3 remains

Mayon Volcano"s activity has intensified anew in the last 24 hours, but state volcanologists maintained on Thursday that alert level "3" stays.

Cold weather may end sooner, says PAGASA

Enjoy the cool weather while it lasts. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said Thursday that the cold weather might end earlier than usual.

Actually, according to Nathaniel Cruz, deputy administrator for operations and services, we are already experiencing warmer than usual weather even in January, supposedly the coldest part of the year.

Because of this, the cold season might end sooner than expected. "Let's enjoy the cold season while it lasts," he told the Inquirer.

Cruz explained that they have been noticing "breaks" in the northeast monsoon, the cold air from Siberia that blows into the country from November to February.

"The breaks in the northeast monsoon allows the warm easterly winds to come in," he said.

The "easterlies" are the winds from the warm Pacific Ocean near the equator that warms as it travels to the country.

"The easterlies are just there always poised to come into the country at every opportunity. When there is a break in the northeast monsoon, that is the chance of the easterlies to come in," Cruz explained.

As a result, "the cool weather we are having now is not as cool as last year."

They are also looking at the early end of the cold weather because of the El Niño phenomenon. Cruz said that instead of the usual end of the cold season at around the second week of February, the cold weather might end earlier than that.

For January, the agency predicts "near normal to slightly warmer surface air temperatures" in Luzon. Warmer than normal temperatures are also expected in most areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Cruz said current temperatures could range from a minimum of 21 to 22 degrees Celsius to a maximum of 31 to 32 degrees Celsius.

Come March and April, Cruz said they expect maximum temperatures to soar to a searing 35 degrees Celsius.

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