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

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February 19, 2010 Major News Stories

Wage hike plea hit

THE Cebu furniture industry yesterday opposed the proposal for a P128 across-the-board wage increase in Central Visayas.

Oil lower on demand concerns, stronger dollar

Oil fell below $77 a barrel in Asian trade Thursday after recent sharp gains as demand concerns and a stronger dollar weighed on the market.

'With or without drought, power rate hike inevitable'

Provinces are expected to suffer from high power costs due to the impact of the long drought on hydroelectric plants.

But an official of an electric cooperative here said power rate hikes would increase in 2010 with or without the drought.

The National Power Corp. had privatized almost all of its generation plants in 2009 and would need to start recovering losses soon, said Gerardo Versoza, general manager of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco).

Power rate hikes seemed inevitable because the National Power Corp. has filed three petitions before the Energy Regulatory Commission for rate adjustments, Versoza told reporters on Wednesday.

Napocor asked for increases in its incremental currency exchange rate adjustment (ICERA) and its generation rate adjustment mechanism (GRAM) so it may recover outstanding dollar exchange losses.

Napocor used to transact in dollars when it began to buy electricity generated by independent power producers (IPP) in the 1990s.

But it sold the electricity at a loss because the firm billed consumers in pesos.

The cost of bunker fuel now being used by Napocor plants throughout the drought period may require further ICRA and GRAM adjustments in the future, Versoza said.

"It was Napocor which was keeping rates low. It used to own the hydros and the thermal plants. This was how [the government] could order rebates or power rate reductions [after the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 or Epira]," he said.

"But now that it owns only the expensive plants, which are fueled by imported bunker oil, nothing else would keep power rates cheap," he said.

He said EPIRA was designed to lower power rates through open market competition, and it had succeeded in part because the law allowed local power distributors to choose their own suppliers.

Beneco buys power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) and has a supply contract with the Sual (Pangasinan) coal-fired plant owned by the San Miguel Energy Corp. that earned the utility P170 million in savings in 2009.

Versoza said power utilities have also been permitted to invest in their own power generation projects to keep their power rates low.

But EPIRA has not been able to lead to affordable power rates because the electricity market "relies 100 percent" on plants which government has privatized.

"There are no new private plants," he said.

For Versoza and Dominador Liway, retail service manager of the Dagupan Electric Corp., a plan to build nuclear power plants is attractive.

A nuclear power plant could soften the blow of high power rates projected to last until 2015, Versoza said.

Liway said nuclear technology would allow the operating firm to cut power rates drastically.

Pangasinan is served by the private utility in Dagupan and three electric cooperatives.

The Pangasinan board on Monday endorsed a resolution inviting South Korean investors to build nuclear power plants in Pangasinan.

Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco, who asked the provincial government to invite the South Koreans, said the nuclear power plants could lower electricity cost in the province.

But Versoza said he was not endorsing the nuclear option yet "because there are very real concerns about the environmental impact of this technology."

Government may also need to develop a uniform system of valuating power generated by nuclear plants to enable their owners to sell to the administrators of the Luzon grid.

Mindanao power situation critical, says utility

The National Grid Corp. (NGCP) has placed Mindanao under "red alert" status as the power situation on the island continues to worsen.

Agri secretary told to help farmers displaced by drought

Malacañang advised Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap on Thursday to look for other means of livelihood for farmers affected by the El Niño-induced drought that was drying up ricefields.

Gov't allots P882M to help farmers battered by El Niño

The government is spending P882 million to help farmers and fishers affected by the prolonged drought brought by El Niño in 14 provinces in Luzon and the Visayas.

Council to ask DOTC to probe issuance of new taxi franchises

The City Council will ask the Department of Transportation and Communications to investigate the alleged illegal issuance of new franchises by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board 7.

February is National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has declared the month of February as the "National Down Syndrome Consciousness Month" pursuant to Proclamation No. 157 she signed on February 18, 2002.

Provincial police chief says no harassment in Bogo

There is reportedly no truth to reports that members of the City of Bogo Anti-Crime Task Force are harassing residents in the city, Provincial Police Director Sr. Supt. Erson Digal said yesterday.

3 police stations get new chiefs

Three police stations under the Cebu Provincial Police Office get new chiefs following the turnover ceremony at the provincial police headquarters yesterday.

Former Minglanilla police chief Senior Insp. Leoncio Baliguat Jr. was sworn in as the new chief of Sta. Fe Police Station, while former San Fernando police chief Chief Insp. Jovito Canlapan was tasked to take over the post vacated by Baliguat. On the other hand, former Santa Fe police chief Senior Insp. Jaime Santillan will assume the position that was vacated by Canlapan.

Also affected by the re-assignment was Minglanilla Police Station deputy chief SPO4 Romeo Elacion who was transferred to Lilo-an Police Station.

Baliguat was transferred while facing administrative investigation for his alleged failure to supervise his men to man the traffic in their area while the convoy of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo passes by going to Argao for the wake of the late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde.

CPPO director Senior Supt. Erson Digal said that the transfer of the police chiefs was approved and supposed to take effect last February 16.

City to sue province over DA eviction

Lawyers of Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña are now contemplating what charges to file against the Cebu provincial government for the latter's alleged "unlawful" eviction of the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office from its location in a lot along M. Velez Street, Barangay Capitol Site, Cebu City.

Lito O sues ABS-CBN for not airing his ads

Senatorial candidate, former Cebu governor Emilio "Lito" Osmeña, has filed a complaint before the Commission on Elections Central Office against the management of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation for its alleged refusal to air his Cebuano political advertisements.

In his complaint filed before the legal department of the Comelec-Central Office, Osmeña said that the failure of ABS-CBN to air his political advertisement is a violation of his right to equal access to media time and space.

He was represented by lawyer Batas Mauricio in filing the complaint.

In yesterday's press conference, Osmeña's other lawyer Rory Jon Sepulveda said the refusal of ABS-CBN to air the political advertisement of his client is a form of discrimination.

 Sepulveda said that they hope Comelec Manila will look into the actions of ABS-CBN.

Osmeña said his rights to equal access to media time and space is recognized and protected by Republic Act No. 9006, otherwise known as the Fair Elections Act.

 According to Osmeña, his secretary inquired with ABS-CBN Cebu for the rates of TV airtime of political advertisements to be aired in ABS-CBN local station Channel 3 Cebu.

 He said that ABS-CBN Cebu faxed to his office the requested rates.

 The former governor said that with the rates identified, he wanted a 30-second campaign advertisement aired over ABS-CBN Cebu during the TV Patrol Central Visayas program from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., daily except Saturdays and Sundays.

 Osmeña explained that he sent one of his campaign aides, Alex Bolongaita, to the office of ABS-CBN Cebu to give them a CD containing a 30-second campaign advertisement in Cebuano and a check payment for a seven-day placement starting from February 10, 2010.

 An acknowledgement receipt dated February 10, 2010 stated that the check for P95,000 was received by Frank Adlawan of the network's Admin/Finance Department.

 But according to Osmeña, his political ad material was not aired on February 10, 2010.

 However, ABS-CBN Cebu called his staff and explained that his material in Cebuano language cannot be aired unless its Tagalog version is reviewed.

 Upon hearing this, Osmeña said he was shocked and dumbfounded as he found the requirement to be downright discriminatory against Cebuano-speaking Filipinos.

 Earlier, Osmeña's certificate of candidacy for senator was disapproved by the Comelec because he and 99 other aspiring senators lack the capability to wage a national campaign.

 But after Osmeña filed his motion for reconsideration, the Comelec reversed and allowed him to pursue his candidacy.

 Osmeña filed his COC as a candidate of Promdi, the party he formed to promote the development of the countryside when he ran for president in 1998.

The management of ABS-CBN Cebu refused to comment on the issue.

Officer-in-charge Leo Lastimosa, in the absence of area manager Tata Cinco-Sy, announced over TV Patrol Central Visayas that it is ABS-CBN Manila who can best comment on the issue as it is the accused.

ABS-CBN Manila has not issued any official statement yet as of yesterday.

Comelec urges celebrities to help in voters' education drive

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is urging celebrities and media personalities to help in educating Filipino voters on the automated polls.

Namfrel to go ahead with parallel count

The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections will still hold a parallel count of votes in the May 2010 elections, even without accreditation from the Commission on Elections, chairman Jose Cuisia Jr. said Thursday.

Namfrel can re-apply for accreditation --Comelec

by By Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak
MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday said the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) can re-apply to be accredited as citizen's arm in the May elections.

Comelec sets April 15 deadline for media accreditation

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) urged local and foreign media and observers to start applying for accreditation for the May 10 national polls and have until April 15 to do so, an official said.

No Cabinet post for Teodoro if he loses presidential race

(UPDATE 2) Administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro said Thursday that he would not accept a Cabinet position if he would lose the presidential race.

Businessmen 'very impressed' with Teodoro

Businessmen said they were "very impressed" with administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro, but pointed out that his ties to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has remained a liability to his presidential bid.

Loren accuses Mar of dishonesty over cheaper medicines law

Iloilo City - Nacionalista Party vice presidential bet Senator Loren Legarda on Thursday accused rival Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas II of intellectual dishonesty for allegedly claiming authorship of the cheaper medicines law when he weakened it.

Legarda told hundreds of NP supporters during the mini-rally held at Barutac Nuevo Gym that the true author of the law that cut medicine prices was then Rep Rolex Suplico and was sponsored by Rep. Ferjenel Biron, chair of the House committee on Health.

"That is intellectual dishonesty," she said. 

Suplico, now Iloilo vice governor, and Biron are both seeking reelection under the NP.

"Merong nagpanggap na syang author ng cheaper medicines ni Cong. Rolex, kinuha yung titulo at tinanggal yung laman at ginawang pro-multi national at hindi maka-mahirap. This law is really anti-poor. It is pro-multinational it is anti-poor. Pinatay ni Mar yung batas," Legarda said in a separate press conference held at Hotel de Rio where the NP ticket stayed.

(Someone is claiming authorship of the cheaper medicines law of Congressman Rolex but he merely took the title and eliminated the contents to favor multi-nationals and not to benefit the poor. Mar killed this law.)

In the same press conference, Biron said the cheaper medicines law originated from the House of Representatives and pushed by Suplico during his first term in the 13th Congress.

"I think we have to settle the remarks straight. We pushed this and the heart and soul of this cheaper medicines law is the price regulation commission na inayawan ni Senator Mar Roxas," he said. 

He added: "In fact during the 13th Congress, in a forum na dinidiscuss ito, he's really against the price regulation. When we filed it again in the 14th Congress inayawan ni Sen. Mar to the last day of the discussion in the bicameral conference committee. 

(During the 13th Congress, when this matter was being discussed in a forum, he was really against price regulation. When we filed it again in the 14th Congress, Senator Mar Roxas opposed this until the last day of the discussion in the bicameral conference committee.)

"So it is so ironical that now he is claiming that he is the one responsible for bringing down price of medicines when in fact sya ang pumatay nito na batas na ito because what he was pursuing was amendment to the intellectual property code not the price regulation," Biron said.

(It is ironic that he is claiming responsibility for bringing down medicine prices when in fact he himself killed the law because because what he was pursuing was amendment to the intellectual property code not the price regulation.)

Suplico and Biron claimed that the senator watered down the law by removing the provision mandating pricing mechanisms and making it more favorable to drug companies.

"It's a weak law. In fact, when it was passed we made a statement that this law is a weak law, that it will not benefit the majority of the Filipinos. But at least we have something because everyone is aspiring in the last 50 years to reduce price of medicines. So hinarangan, you know, ngayon ang humarang he's the one laying claim as the author of the law. Dahil kay Mar Roxas naging bakla ang batas," Suplico said.

(The person who claims authorship of the law is the same one who has emasculated it.)

He said Roxas pushed for the deletion of the provision that would have required setting up a drug price regulation board which will govern the pricing of the medicines. 

For his part, Roxas said that criticism leveled against him only shows that its "desperation time." 

"Cheaper medicine has been something I've fought for over ten years," Roxas said in a text message to GMANews.TV. 

"The pharmaceutical companies have filed cases and have thrown black propaganda against me because of this," he added. 

He began his efforts as a congressman by filing legislation exempting medicines and raw materials from taxes in order to bring down their cost, the same text message said. 

As Trade Secretary under former president Joseph Estrada, Roxas said he brought in the first parallel importation of drugs. 

When he became President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Trade Secretary, Roxas said he negotiated world trade agreements exempting medicines from intellectual property restrictions. 

"I expanded the parallel importation program to what is now Botica ng Bayan/Barangay," he said in the same text message. 

"When I became a senator in 2004, I began the leg work on this and it finally passed onto law in June 2008," he said. "Since then I have consistently fought for its strict implementation, even fighting President Arroyo for giving consideration to pharmaceutical companies and allowing them to do voluntary reduction vs. mandatory."

Manzano: Call centers pull students away from higher learning

Lakas-Kampi vice presidential candidate Edu Manzano has expressed concern that the call center industry is pulling young people away from higher learning or professional disciplines needed in building a strong country.

Erap admits lack of campaign donations

MANILA, Philippines - Former president Joseph Estrada admitted Thursday that he is one of the lowest spenders among the current crop of presidential candidates because of lack of contributions to his campaign.

Pimentel on Arroyo reconciliation offer: 'Admit first you erred'

While he was open to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's reconciliation offer, Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. believed she should still admit her mistakes and apologize to the people before she steps down from office.

Mikey Arroyo eyes party-list seat in House

Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo revealed on Thursday that he has been considering getting a fresh term in Congress via the party-list route.

With his mother, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, filing her certificate of candidacy for his seat of the second district of Pampanga in the House of Representatives, Congressman Arroyo joked he has been "eased" out of a reelection bid.

But the congressman said "more than five party-list groups" have offered him a slot as their nominee.

"There are certain party-lists who are trying to offer me a nomination so we'll see," Congressman Arroyo said, adding he would decide by mid-March.

"Right now, the better alternative seems to be spending time with my kids, and working on my golf handicap," he added.

Mikey, the first son of President Arroyo, jested about being "eased" out during a House energy committee hearing. His mother's candidacy has been widely criticized in Metro Manila, the seat of power.

"I'm the incumbent congressman there (in Pampanga's second district)…I was eased out…It's my last term," said Mikey, who is just on his second term.

The joke elicited laughter from everyone present during the hearing on the energy crisis in Mindanao. 

Mikey made the quip after Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez asked Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) chair Zenaida Ducut if she was running for Congress. Ducut was the three-term congresswoman representing Mikey's district before he took over in 2004. 

"I'm not sir because I have my fixed term in the ERC. My term will expire in 2015," Ducut answered Golez.

"I thought you were going to run against…" Golez replied before he was drowned out by laughter as those present realized what his question was leading to. It was then that Mikey made his quip.

"It's a joke," Mikey later told reporters in an ambush interview, adding that he might even become a nominee of party-list group.

While Mikey studies his options, his mother's congressional allies continue to clamor that she contest the post of House Speaker in the next Congress. 

Deputy Speaker Simeon A. Datumanong (Lone District, Maguindanao) said Lakas-KAMPI-CMD was the biggest political party and most of its candidates for Congress would most likely win.

"It will not be difficult for PGMA who will be congresswoman in the 15th Congress to become the Speaker," Datumanong said.

Deputy Speaker Eric D. Singson (2nd District, Ilocos Sur) also saw a "big possibility" of President Macapagal-Arroyo becoming Speaker if Lakas-KAMPI-CMD stayed as the majority party in Congress.

Rep. Lorna C. Silverio (3rd District, Bulacan) said majority of those running for Congress belonged to Lakas-KAMPI and tshe saw "no reason why majority would not choose PGMA as Speaker."

"She is an efficient and hardworking leader. The legislative work is not new to her for she was a former Senator," Silverio said, adding that Ms. Arroyo would make history if chosen the first woman Speaker.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano earlier said that Lakas-Kampi was going to field Ms. Arroyo as its bet for House Speaker in the next Congress.

Meanwhile, Mikey welcomed reports that Gina de Venecia, wife of former Speaker and erstwhile Arroyo ally Jose de Venecia Jr., had said that she had reconciled with Ms. Arroyo. 

"We have gone through much. If you notice, I never say anything bad about her family because I want to reconcile," he said.

First Gentleman escapes serious injury in car accident

First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was slightly hurt in a vehicular accident en route to the Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong City Wednesday morning, his lawyer said Thursday night.

Massacre victims' kin fear suspect was allowed to escape

Relatives of some of the victims of the Nov. 23 Maguindanao massacre say they are beginning to doubt that justice will ever be served.

Army man tagged in ambush of Maguindanao exec

(UPDATE 2) Police have filed murder charges against a member of the Philippine Army and several others over the death of a village chief in Maguindanao province last Wednesday, the city police chief said on Thursday.

3 killed in Maguindanao explosion

(UPDATE) Three persons were killed when a grenade exploded in a remote farming village in Maguindanao while President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was visiting the province Wednesday, the provincial police chief said Thursday.

IMT to be redeployed in Mindanao next month

A 60-man international peacekeeping team will return to Mindanao next month to monitor the ceasefire agreement between government troops and Moro separatist rebels, the government chief negotiator said on Thursday.

MILF: Peace pact should bind next government

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is willing to conclude a peace pact during the remaining period of the Arroyo administration as long as this binds the Philippine government to "a package of obligations" that it has to perform regardless of whoever succeeds her as president.

Suspect in 2001 kidnapping of 3 Americans arrested

Navy intelligence operatives have arrested a suspected member of the Abu Sayyaf believed to be among those involved in the kidnapping of Americans Gracia and Martin Burnham and Guillermo Subero from a Palawan resort in 2001.

DOH chief scores Church for blocking AIDS prevention effort

The Catholic Church should share the blame for the government"s failure to stem the rising number of Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS) infections in the country.

More single Pinays, says NSO

Mas dumami ang mga Pinay na single! Dumami rin ang nagli-live-in at naghihiwalay! Base 'yan sa latest survey ng National Statistics Office. Magba-Bandila si Apples Jalandoni. Bandila, Huwebes, Pebrero 18, 2010  

US warship rescues stranded Filipino fishermen

Two Filipino fishermen stranded along waters off Mindanao were rescued by a United States military warship.

New president has to brace for P41-B impact tax relief measures: Teves

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves on Thursday blamed tax relief measures for the P298.5 billion record deficit in 2009. He said the implementation of the REIT Law, PERA Law, the VAT Exemption for Senior Citizens, among others, would surely handicap the next administration to the tune of over P41 billion.

Soldiers launch coup against Niger president—sources

NIAMEY—Soldiers opened fire Thursday in the Niger capital -- where explosions and long bursts of gunfire resounded across the city -- in what a top French official said was a coup attempt against President Mamadou Tandja.

Bomb kills 29 in Pakistan as US envoy visits

A bomb blast at a mosque in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt killed 29 people including some militants Thursday, underscoring the relentless security threat here even as Pakistani-US cooperation against extremism appears on the upswing.

Roach: Opening rounds hard for Pacquiao, Clottey

MANILA, Philippines – Although boxing coach Freddie Roach is confident that Manny Pacquiao will demolish Joshua Clottey, he sees a very hard fight for both boxers.

Donaire arriving in Manila on Friday

MANILA, Philippines -- World super flyweight interim champ Nonito Donaire Jr. is set to arrive in Manila on Friday after successfully defending his title against Mexican Manuel "Chango" Vargas in Las Vegas.

Gary Valenciano to take a break from showbiz

MANILA, Philippines – For the first time in his 27-year career, Mr. Pure Energy Gary Valenciano is taking a one-month break from work. "This coming May kasi I'm going to go on leave… siguro naman I can take that break. It's only for one month then I will come back and continue again," Valenciano said.

April Boy Regino is back, plans to do a duet with Pacquiao

MANILA, Philippines – After a long hiatus, singer April Boy Regino is set to make a comeback. In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Regino, who is now based in the United States, announced that he and pound-for-pound king Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao are set to record a duet together.

New mansion for Mommy Dionisia, from Manny

Binasbasan na ang "dream house" ni Mommy Dionisia na iniregalo sa kanya ni boxing champ Manny Pacquiao.

Kristine Hermosa, Oyo Boy Sotto to tie the knot in US?

MANILA, Philippines - Diether Ocampo and Angel Locsin are happy for rumored sweethearts Kristine Hermosa and Oyo Boy Sotto, who are purportedly planning to tie the knot in the United States, "SNN: Showbiz News Ngayon" reported.

Made in RP solar car costs P5-M

MANILA, Philippines - The dry spell caused by the El Niño phenomenon may have threatened the Philippines' water and power supply, but it has certainly powered "SIKAT," the country's second solar car.

Jonathan Swift  - "May you live every day of your life."

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