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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 22, 2010 Major News Stories



Arroyo son seeks oil price freeze in drought-stricken areas

Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo will ask his mother, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to impose another price freeze on oil products to ease the plight of consumers in drought-stricken areas.

Arroyo said the price freeze would be patterned after EO 839 which was issued last November to counter oil companies that jacked up their prices in the middle of recovery and rehabilitation efforts in typhoon ravaged areas in Luzon.

Malacañang withdrew EO 839, however, when it resulted in market and price distortions that imperiled the oil imports of gasoline retailers.

Council to declare calamity

CEBU City Councilor Gerardo Carillo will propose in Wednesday's session to declare all mountain barangays as calamity areas.

This way, the City Government can make emergency purchases to address problems caused by El Niño.

Although the City Council has passed a resolution declaring a state of calamity preparedness in all mountain barangays, this allows the City to tap the calamity funds only with prior approval from the council.

"With a state of calamity, the City can use the calamity funds to make emergency purchases without seeking prior approval from the council. The different offices just need to account for their expenses," explained Carillo, also the action officer of the Cebu City Disaster Coordinating Council.

He said that the Department of Public Services (DPS) and the City Agriculture Office recommended that the upland areas be declared under a state of calamity. At least 28 barangays will be covered.

Mayor Tomas Osmeña agreed it's high time that's done.

"Daghan kaayong request, lain-lain lang ang problema (There are so many requests and so many different problems)," said the mayor. Relying on standard procedures in procuring supplies, he added, will cause more problems.

Among the expenses to be prioritized is the setting up of deep wells in areas where there is no water supply, purchase of hoses and deliveries of water to the mountain barangays.

Under a state of calamity preparedness, the DPS, City Agriculture Office and other offices that may have requests for purchases still need to seek the disaster council and the City Council's approval before any purchase is made.

City Agriculturist Joelito Baclayon said farmers have requested additional containers so they can store water for their daily needs.

He encouraged them to plant crops that can bear the dry spell, like potato, cassava, mongo and other root vegetables.

Baclayon said that farmers in the mountain barangays have felt the effects of El Niño since October last year.

Now, it's not just water for the plants that is in short supply, but also potable water.      

In a previous interview, Carillo said that if 20 percent of a barangay's farm produce has been damaged, a state of calamity can be automatically declared.

Baclayon estimated the damage has reached 50 percent, affecting vegetables, flowers, rice fields and dairy farms.

TUCP dares presidentiables to take stand on wage hike

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and its party-list arm challenged presidential candidates to take a stand and join the debate on the demand of workers for wage hikes.


Arroyo sacks DDB exec

Dangerous Drugs Board Undersecretary Paul Clarence Oaminal confirmed that he has been sacked by President Macapagal-Arroyo for still unknown reasons.

Oaminal was considered relieved of his duties two weeks earlier, or on March 5, and that his post was supposed to have been taken over by Rommel Garcia, who is the current secretary for administration of the DDB. (The backdating of the order was well before the ban on any appointment that President Macapagal-Arroyo can make, which took effect on March. 10.)

Spanish subject to make a comeback in RP schools

The Spanish subject is set to make a comeback in schools soon. Speaking at a news forum on Sunday, Jose Rodriguez, director of Instituto Cervantes, said the Spanish language would be included in the school curriculum of some selected public and private schools at the soonest possible time.

2 Talisaynons sue for part of SRP land

A COUPLE from Talisay City sued a public agency that implemented Cebu City's South Reclamation Project (SRP), saying the government took one of their lots without paying for it.

Alfero Bagano and his wife Marita filed the civil suit for recovery of possession of real property or payment of just compensation against the Metro Cebu Development Project Office (MCDP).

Through their lawyer, Girlie Young, they asked the court to order the MCDP to either return their property or pay them P222,000, based on the market value of P1,500 per square meter when the property was taken from them.

They also sued the Republic of the Philippines and the Department of Public Works and Highways.

The Baganos said they own two lots, Lot 783-B-16 (127 square meters) and 783-B-13 (148 sq.m.), which the SRP affected in 1998.

But when the government condemned and used their property as part of the SRP, the petitioners said, the 148-sq. m. parcel was left out of the expropriation proceedings before Cebu City's Regional Trial Court Branch 12.

The petitioners said they made several follow-ups about their property but the defendants' representatives simply promised to take up the matter soon.

The Baganos said the lot was never expropriated, so they were never paid, in violation of Republic Act 8974 and the Constitution. 

They cited Section 9, Article III of the Constitution, which states that "private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation."

"The malicious and unjustified refusal of the defendants to pay the just compensation of their properties…has caused (petitioners) to suffer mental anguish, sleepless nights and wounded feelings, thinking that this government must be worse than the communists, as it has the temerity to take private property without paying the owners," the petitioners said.

They also asked for P500,000 as moral damages, P50,000 as lawyer's fees, P100,000 as litigation fees and P2,500 as lawyer's appearance fee.


PNP opens Phase 1 of 2010 recruitment

The Police Regional Office-7 has opened Phase 1 of this year's Police Officers 1 Regular Recruitment Program.

Regional Police Director Lani-O Nerez said 720 slots are available this year for new recruits who will be made to take their oath on July 1. Additional applications would be accommodated should there be unfilled positions by that time.

The second batch of recruits is scheduled to take oath on October 1 while the third and last batch is set to take their oath on December 1.

Based on the requirements set by PNP, applicants must be Filipino citizen; of good moral character; and must pass the psychiatric/psychological, drug and physical tests to be administered by the PNP or by any government hospital accredited by the National Police Commission to determine the applicant's physical and mental health.

Applicants must also possess a formal baccalaureate degree from a recognized learning institution; must be NAPOLCOM eligible; and must not have been dishonorably discharged from military employment or dismissed for cause from any civilian position in government; and must not have been convicted, by final judgment, of an offense or crime involving moral turpitude.

They must be at least 5'4" tall (1.62 cm) for male and at least 5'2" (1.57 cm) for female and must be at least 21 years old and must not be 30 years old.

Furthermore, the appointee must have the appropriate eligibility acquired from any of the following examinations: Republic Act 1080 or Bar and Board Examinations; PNP Entrance Examination; RA 6506 or Licensed Criminologist; Presidential Decree No. 907 or Granting Civil Service Eligibility to college honor graduate and Civil Service Professional Exam.

Interested applicants must directly submit their complete application folders to the Regional Personnel and Human Resource Doctrine Development at PRO-7 in Camp Sergio Osmeña Sr., Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City for evaluation.

Applicants can also call (032) 255-0935 for queries.


Teachers threaten to boycott poll duties over voting issues

Militant teachers on Sunday threatened to boycott their election duties on May 10 if the government fails to work out a smooth system that will allow them to vote.

Over 30% of municipalities, cities deemed election hot spots

Over a third of the country's towns and cities are election hot spots, according to a report of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

As of February, 571 of the 1,634 towns and cities had seen some form of election-related violence, the PNP said in the report obtained by the Inquirer.

This early—three months before the May 10 elections—the figure had beaten the previous record set during the 2007 midterm elections of 307 election hot spots.

The report likewise noted the proliferation of private armies, now numbering 112, despite government efforts to neutralize them.

"There are now a total of 571 cities and municipalities listed as EWAs [election watch-list areas] representing 34.94 percent of the total nationwide," the police report said.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) recorded the most number of violent incidents—all its 118 towns and cities reported election-related violence, the PNP said.

"It is not surprising the ARMM has a number of violent incidents already at this point of the election period. To note, the region has routinely registered high rates of election violence in past elections," the report said.

Unlike in the past, the PNP this time included communist guerillas in its equation.

In the report, the PNP set two categories: Category 1 referring to areas that had seen election violence and Category 2 for towns with communist insurgents.

The PNP said it considered the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, a threat because it was using the election period "to consolidate and strengthen their ranks" and "to enrich their coffers" through the extortion of candidates.

Metro Manila came second to ARMM in percentage of election violence. Ten of its 17 cities, or 58.8 percent, reported Category 1 activities, while no communist or insurgent threats were noted.

At the same time, the PNP counted 112 private armed groups "believed to be operating in the country," with a total of 3,190 members, with the ARMM again leading the list.

"The ARMM, the region with the most serious problem of private armed groups, has 20 validated groups with 2,856 members," the report said.

50 soldiers violate gun ban

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - At least 50 soldiers have been arrested for violating a nationwide gun ban imposed by the Commission on Elections last January, a military official said Sunday.

Angara seeks election of new Senate head to avoid "vacuum"

The Senate would have to elect when sessions resume on May 31 a new leader whose term is not expiring on June 30 to ensure somebody will be in charge in case elections fail on May 10, Senator Edgardo J. Angara said on Sunday. "It"s an imperative for the survival of the republic," Angara, an administration ally, said of the election of a new Senate president.

Better to have a chief justice to handle electoral protests

In the face of the fall-out from the Supreme Court's most controversial decision yet, the high court's spokesman claimed the country would have a "bigger problem" should President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo choose not to appoint a new chief justice before the end of her term.

Lawmaker starts move to impeach 9 SC justices

Nueva Ecija Representative Eduardo Nonato Joson said on Sunday said he would start a signature campaign in Congress to impeach the nine Supreme Court justices who voted to allow President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to name the next Chief Justice despite an election season ban on appointments.

No plots to keep Arroyo in power beyond June 30

Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales assured the nation on Sunday that he would not give illegal orders to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to keep President Macapagal-Arroyo in power.

Arroyo definitely out of Palace after June 30

What will it take for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to convince her detractors that she will vacate Malacañang after June 30 this year?

Malacañang declared in no uncertain terms on Sunday that Mrs. Arroyo had no plans of extending her term beyond what was prescribed in the Constitution, saying her detractors were just creating their own "ghosts."

"Malacañang assures the public that (the President) will definitely step down on June 30, 2010," Charito Planas, deputy presidential spokesperson, said in a statement.

"The tours she has been making around the country are her last-minute rounds to check that all her finished projects are being maintained and will be maintained, all on-going projects are being continued and the unfinished ones to be assumed and continued by whoever will win in the coming polls."

Planas added: "Yes, there will be elections on May 10, 2010."

The Palace has been bombarded with speculations that Mrs. Arroyo is bent on staying in power, allegedly by sabotaging the first-ever automated elections with what is said to be a manufactured power crisis.

Mrs. Arroyo is also under fire over the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing her to appoint the next chief justice, despite the constitutional ban on "midnight appointments."

Gary Olivar, another deputy presidential spokesperson, said the political opposition was "creating its own specter, its own bogeyman and ghosts in order to "scare our people about the so-called election failure in spite of the fact that this has never happened."

"Let us dismiss these calls that simply intend to scare us," he said in his weekly media forum aired over Radyo ng Bayan. "It's a cheap way to gain campaign mileage. It's not a very respectable way to score points in the campaign."

Prospero Pichay, presidential political adviser, said Mrs. Arroyo's detractors should not "read too much" into possible scenarios related to the country's first-ever nationwide automated elections.

"The fact that the President is running for Congress means that there will be elections," he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Pichay said Malacañang had "full trust and confidence" in the Commission on Elections, despite fears that the automated elections might fail.

Planas said: "The government, through the Comelec, is up on its toes to address each problem, erase doubts and fears and assure the people of smooth, honest, orderly and credible elections this coming May 2010."

Olivar said the Palace was not fazed by plans of civil society groups and the political opposition to stage a massive rally against the high court ruling allowing the President to name the next chief justice during the election period.

"Our people are much more mature than that after all the 'Edsas' we have been through," he said.

Romulo Macalintal, Mrs. Arroyo's election lawyer, defended the Supreme Court from criticisms that it bowed to the wishes of Malacañang.

Macalintal said that the opinion of two former delegates to the 1987 Constitutional Commission going against President Macapagal-Arroyo's prerogative to name the next chief justice should not be construed as the absolute basis to say that the Supreme Court was wrong in allowing Mrs. Arroyo to name Chief Justice Reynato Puno's successor upon his retirement on May 17.

"There are also former delegates to the same Concom who opined that the President is authorized to make the said appointments," he said.

"The fact that even the framers of the Constitution have different and opposing views on this issue and recollection of what transpired during their debates, made it more imperative to have the issue decided and interpreted by the SC," Macalintal said.

The Constitution says that the President is barred from making appointments 60 days before the next presidential elections and until the end of the presidential term, except to posts in the executive department which could not function without a head.

The Supreme Court, voting 9-1 with two justices saying the issue was premature to be ruled upon, said the constitutional ban on midnight appointments did not apply to the post of the Supreme Court justice.


Palace chides opposition for raising "no-el bogeyman"

Government officials on Sunday blamed the opposition for the "no-election" scare gripping several sectors of the society, insisting that such a scenario is "statistically impossible" on May 10 when the country have its first ever nationwide automated elections.

Arroyo can be sued for treason over military junta

Liberal Party bet Senator Benigno ``Noynoy'' Aquino III said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should be the last person to think of ceding control of the government to a military junta because of her constitutional duty to uphold civilian supremacy.

Generals oppose military takeover if polls fail

MANILA, Philippines - High ranking military officers are against the Armed Forces taking power in the event of a failure in the country's first every automated polls in May.

Members of the Association of Generals and Flag Officers said they themselves would block any attempt to transfer power to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The reaction came a day after Palace Deputy Spokeswoman Charito Planas raised the possibility of a military junta if no new president is declared by June.

Planas said the junta will fill the power vaccum left by the President, Vice-President and House Speaker whose terms end simultaneously.

Several national candidates, meanwhile, had different reactions to reports of a possible military takeover in case elections fail this May.

Lakas-Kampi CMD vice-presidential candidate Edu Manzano said reports of a possible military junta could be part of conspiracy theories meant to undermine the upcoming electoral exercise.

Former Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is running for senator this May, said the people "will go out in the streets once the military junta is enforced should the elections fail."

For his part, senatorial candidate Brig. Gen. Danny Lim said Malacañang is preconditioning the people's mind to a possible failure of elections. "Who will orchestrate the taking over of a military junta? Your guess is as good as mine," he said.

Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said he too will not support a military takeover. He said members of the AFP are more preoccupied with ensuring peaceful elections in May.

Gonzales said the Arroyo administration is looking forward to transfer power to the new administration as scheduled. "Our term ends in June 30. We are looking forward to a smooth transition of power on that day," he said.

He said the worst thing that can happen is that the elections would not be automated in 20% to 30% of the precincts because of problems with transmission.

He said the military will be ready to render assistance in the event there is incomplete automation of the elections. "The Armed Forces will be there to assist the Commission on Elections to keep the election orderly and clean in areas where there will be problem in proceeding with automated voting."

Last week, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said Armed Forces chief Gen. Delfin Bangit and his classmates at the Philippine Military Academy class 1978 could back a plan by President Arroyo to stay in power in case of election failure.

Bangit is described by some quarters as a loyal follower of the President, who remains hounded by allegations that she rigged the results of the 2004 elections. Bangit's class has adopted the President as an honorary member.

The prominent members of the class are Army chief Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena, Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, Intelligence Service of the AFP chief Maj. Gen. Romeo Prestoza and National Capital Region Command chief Rear Admiral Feliciano Angue.

Gonzales said it was presumptuous to assume that the military establishment will be used to keep the President in power.

"Let's not talk about failure of election. Comelec does not see any possibility of such occurrence, and we believe Comelec in that. Government is not preparing for any failure of election because it will not happen. There is no need to do so," he said.


Binay adviser wounded in an ambush

(UPDATE) A close adviser of Makati Mayor and vice presidential candidate Jejomar Binay was wounded in an ambush in Cainta town on his way home from a golf game before noon Sunday.

Legarda's chopper makes emergency landing in Quezon

The helicopter carrying opposition vice presidential candidate Senator Loren Legarda and her staff was forced to make an emergency landing on an open field in Sariaya, Quezon Sunday afternoon due to bad weather.

Legarda: I'd rather travel by land than chopper

(UPDATE) Still visibly shaken a couple of hours after the emergency landing of her helicopter on an open field in Sariaya past noontime Sunday, opposition vice presidential candidate Senator Loren Legarda vowed not to ride a helicopter if she could avoid doing so.

'Villarroyo signals everywhere' -- LP

The Liberal Party said more Lakas-Kampi bets are now throwing support for Senator Manuel Villar Jr., a proof that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been secretly supporting his candidacy.

Comelec to bare partylist nominees on Mar. 27

The legal chief of the Commission on Elections vowed to release on March 27 the nominees of all party-list groups taking part in the May elections.

MILF denies backing fatwa vs Estrada, Drilon, Roxas

The Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF) denied supporting a fatwa or edict issued by an Islamic cleric in Lanao Del Sur against at least three national candidates.

MILF leader might have died in Basilan clash - police

A commander of a rogue unit of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is believed to have been killed in an encounter with government soldiers in the southern Philippine province of Basilan last Saturday, police said on Sunday.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen kill 2 Filipino militiamen

Government troops chased down a group of Abu Sayyaf militants who killed two government militiamen in the southern Philippines, seriously wounding a leading militant blamed for deadly attacks and kidnappings, officials said on Sunday.

Philippines hunts Indonesian training militants

Indonesian officials have asked Philippine authorities to track down an Indonesian fugitive wanted in connection with several beheadings who is now helping to train militants in an insurgency-wracked Philippine region, security officials said on Sunday.

Gasoline boy foils bomb try on gas station

A gasoline pump boy foiled a bombing attempt on a Phoenix gas station on the national Highway in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province at 11:20 a.m. Sunday.

200 Filipinos in Saudi jails freed—DFA

Some 200 Filipinos who were imprisoned for petty offenses in Saudi Arabia have been pardoned and repatriated to the Philippines since December last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a news release.

Australia says sorry for Filipina's mistaken arrest

Australian authorities have apologized for mistakenly arresting a Filipina for alleged drug smuggling in Melbourne, it was learned.

Indian nabbed for Pinay's death in Singapore

Singapore police have arrested a 34-year-old Indian man in connection with the murder of 30-year-old Filipina tourist Roselyn Reyes Pascua, it was learned.

American pedophile nabbed in Butuan

MANILA, Philippines - An American national was arrested in Butuan City last week for allegedly sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl.  Joint elements of Butuan City Police Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, City Social Welfare and Development and Libertad Barangay Officials arrested Albert Hansen, 51, in Unit 3, Gabriel Village in Barangay Libertad last Wednesday.

Boncodin laid to rest in Heritage Park

Former budget secretary Emilia Boncodin was buried at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City on Sunday morning, with some 300 relatives and friends bidding farewell to the former Cabinet official highly esteemed for her simplicity and integrity in public service.

Arroyo breaks tradition, to attend Army anniversary

After skipping for the first time the graduation rites of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) last week, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will attend on Monday the 113th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army, which is a break from military tradition.

Unlike the PNPA graduation rites, which is traditionally presided by the President, the Army anniversary is usually presided by the incumbent secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND).

The Army is currently headed by Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, President Arroyo's mistah(classmate) in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class of 1978, where she is an adopted member. Also a class member is newly installed Armed Forces chief Gen. Delfin Bangit.

"Maybe she had a lighter schedule tomorrow [Monday]," Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres said on Sunday when asked on why President Arroyo would attend the event when she had skipped the PNPA rites last Friday due to a prior appointment.

Among the military activities that traditionally require the President's presence are the turnover ceremony for the Armed Forces chief, the celebration of the Armed Forces anniversary, and the PMA graduation.

Nothing sinister

Torres said he was not aware of the last time a President acted as guest speaker for an Army anniversary. He, however, said "there is nothing sinister" about the invitation for President Arroyo to attend the Army event that will be held in Fort Bonifacio.

"She was invited, that doesn't mean anything. This may be the last [Army] anniversary that she would be attending as the President, that's all," Torres said, adding that the public "should not put malice" to the invitation.

Mapagu, in an interview last Friday, said President Arroyo was invited to attend the anniversary when Bangit was still the Army chief. Bangit took over as Armed Forces commander last March 10 while Mapagu assumed as top Army leader two days later.

Bangit, who is expected to be present in the Army event, is described by some quarters as an Arroyo loyalist. He had served as the commander of the Presidential Security Group during the early years of the Arroyo government.

Disgruntled PMAers?

As this developed, a statement came out Sunday saying that members of the PMA class '77 are disappointed with the appointment of PMA class '78 members to key positions in the military, bypassing class '77 members who it said are "equally competent."

"Many qualified officers were sidelined and bypassed. Infighting will not be avoided. This has been a problem among officers, especially those who have no connections," the statement quoted an unnamed class '77 member as saying.

"Class members feel that something big is about to happen in the next few weeks or months so they just have to be prepared," the statement further read.

The statement, however, bore no signature from any class '77 members, prompting Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos to describe it as "black propaganda" meant to "polarize" the military.

"The individual or individuals who is or are behind this black propaganda has only nothing but bad intentions not only for the military organization but also for the country as well. It is very obvious that its intention is to polarize the military," he said in a separate interview.

Dry spell hitting rural banks

MANILA, Philippines - Rural banks will seek relief from the central bank for possible losses from loans extended to farmers, who have been hit hard by the El Niño-induced dry spell.

Giant earthworms ruin Banaue rice terraces

by by Artemio Dumlao, The Philippine Star
BANAUE, Ifugao , Philippines  – Giant earthworms burrowing deep into the famous Banaue Rice Terraces have worsened the already devastating effect of the El Niño phenomenon on the endangered cultural heritage site.

Lawmaker wants cockfighting part of RP heritage

Cockfighting may soon be officially part of the country"s national cultural heritage, if a proposed measure in the House of Representatives is passed.

Rep. Rodolfo Plaza urged the National Commission for Culture and Arts and the National Historical Institute to declare cockfighting as part of the "intangible Philippine cultural heritage."

"Intangible cultural heritage includes practices, representations expressions and skills, as well as the objects, instruments and artifacts that communities, groups and individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage," Plaza said in an article posted Sunday on the House of Representatives Web site.

He noted cockfighting is a popular, traditional and customary form of recreation and entertainment among Filipinos. He said this can be seen especially during holidays, fiestas, fairs and other events.

Even Presidential Decree No. 449, or the Cockfighting Law, recognizes that cockfighting is a vehicle for the preservation and perpetuation of native Filipino heritage that enhances national identity, he said.

"Cockfighting should neither be exploited as an object of commercialism or business enterprise nor made a tool of uncontrolled gambling," the lawmaker stressed.

This is the reason why cockfighting must be "recognized and institutionalized as part of the national cultural heritage and must be promoted, protected and enhanced," Plaza said.

In August last year, a group of cockfighting aficionados called the Alyansa ng Sabungero (Alliance of Cockfighters) filed a petition for accreditation before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to be allowed to run in the May 10 elections as a party-list group.

In its petition, the group claimed that their purpose in seeking representation in Congress is to help poor workers in the cockfighting business.

The Comelec, however, rejected the petition.

Fil-Ams join anti-war protest in Washington DC

by by Rodney J. Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau
WASHINGTON D.C., United States - Filipino Americans from as far away as New York joined a large anti-war protest in front of the White House on Saturday, marking the 7th anniversary of America's Iraq invasion. Filipino American activists called for the immediate pull-out of American forces in the Philippines.

2 Thai blasts after huge anti-govt parade—police

BANGKOK, Thailand—Two small explosions hit Bangkok and a nearby province a few hours after tens of thousands of anti-government protesters held a peaceful parade through the capital, police said Sunday.

UN chief visits Gaza, urging end to Israeli blockade

(UPDATE) UN chief Ban Ki-moon crossed into the Gaza Strip on Sunday, expressing solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians and urging an end to an Israeli blockade of the Hamas-run territory.

Iraq electoral commission rejects call for vote recount

BAGHDAD – Iraq's electoral commission rejected a call by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for a manual recount of votes cast in the country's March 7 polls, commission chief Faraj al-Haidari told AFP on Sunday.

Papal letter fails to calm anger over Irish child abuses

DUBLIN - Pope Benedict XVI"s unprecedented letter to Ireland apologizing for chronic child abuse within the Catholic Church has failed to calm the anger of many victims, who accused the Vatican of ducking its own responsibility in promoting a worldwide culture of cover-up.

Swiss Catholic Church investigating 10 abuse cases

by Reuters
ZURICH – The Swiss Catholic Church is investigating around 10 allegations of abuse by clergy, including some acts committed since 2001, making Switzerland the latest country to be hit by a wave of scandal sweeping Europe.

Huge sandstorm covers Beijing, turns sky orange

Tons of sand turned Beijing's sky orange as the strongest sandstorm this year hit northern China, a gritty reminder that the country's expanding deserts have led to a sharp increase in the storms.


New-look Barako Coffee stuns Sta. Lucia

Barako Coffee made sure everybody took notice right on opening day of the KFC-PBA Fiesta Cup, pulling the rug from under Sta. Lucia, 97-93, behind the 39-point effort of import Sammy Monroe.

Manila ready to welcome Manny Pacquiao

Isang linggo matapos ang matagumpay na pagdepensa sa kanyang WBO welterweight crown laban kay Joshua Clottey sa Texas, USA, uuwi na bukas si Manny Pacquiao. Habang inihahanda na ang mainit na pagsalubong, may paalala naman ang Comelec sa mga kandidato na nagbabalak sumali sa motorcade ni Pacquiao.

Dominant Klitschko knocks out challenger Chambers

by Agence France-Presse
DUESSELDORF, Germany – World heavyweight champion Vladimir Klitschko defended his WBO and IBF titles on Saturday with a 12th-round knockout of challenger Eddie Chambers from the United States.

Another triple victory for 'Lola'

(UPDATE 2) After winning three awards in the 11th Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, Brillante Mendoza's "Lola" won three more awards in the 24th Fribourg International Film Festival held in Switzerland Saturday night.

Cannes-winning director goes for emotion in 'Lola'

Independent film director Brillante Mendoza says he hopes his new movie about two grandmothers will resonate with a broader audience than his dark Cannes-winning crime thriller "Kinatay."

His best director win at the Cannes Film Festival last year earned him fame and a cash prize from the Philippine president, but Mendoza's works are still only shown outside of the commercial film circuit in his home country at informal screenings at schools and universities. His new project, "Lola," is no different, but the independent filmmaker hopes it will touch more people.

"'Lola' is more emotional, so it's more audience-friendly compared to 'Kinatay,'" Mendoza told reporters Sunday on the sidelines of the 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival, where 'Lola' is a contender for the 4th Asian Film Awards.

"I think audiences will feel more toward the two grandmothers," he said.

Inspired by real-life stories, "Lola" - Tagalog for "grandmother" - follows grandparents whose grandchildren are on opposite sides of one crime - a mobile phone robbery-turned-murder. One tries to raise money to bail the perpetrator; the other seeks funds to bury the victim.


Lakas-Kampi funds coming in trickles, says Revilla

"Pautay-utay." In trickles, that is. That was how administration senatorial candidate Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. described the flow of funds to the campaign kitty of the once formidable Lakas-Kampi-CMD and its national candidates.

Andal Sr: My big problem is my arthritis

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Andal Ampatuan Sr., patriarch of a powerful Muslim clan blamed for the grisly massacre of more than 50 people in Maguindanao last year, appears to be slowly adapting to his detention inside a military camp in southern Philippines.

Direk Wenn all praises for Toni Gonzaga

by by Napoleon Quintos, ABS-CBN.com
MANILA, Philippines – Director Wenn Deramas expressed his excitement about working with Toni Gonzaga again after the latter was tapped to replace Angel Locsin in the upcoming fantaserye "Kokey at Ako."

ABS-CBN summer station ID launched in Boracay

Star-studded ang paglulunsad ng summer station ID ng kapamilya network sa paboritong destinasyon ngayong tag-init -- ang isla ng Boracay. Mas sumaya pa dahil doon rin idinaos ang summer special ng paboritong Sunday noontime show na ASAP XV.

2 dolphins die

Philippine Coast Guard personnel and civilian volunteers have been on close watch over a pod of dolphins which appeared to have been stranded in the shallow waters of Baquid Bay in Coron, even as two dolphins were reported to have died as of Sunday, local authorities said.

"Alice" still reigns at box office with $34.5M

LOS ANGELES - Alice remains the queen of the box office. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" took in $34.5 million to remain the No. 1 movie for a third-straight weekend.

House of Aboitiz: Basques who helped build the Philippines

by by Cecil Morella, Agence France-Presse
CEBU, Philippines - Their unique language has long since withered and died across the Philippines, but the smarts of the Basque people who created chunks of the modern world live on in the house of Aboitiz.

Founded by an immigrant Basque rope fibre trader late in the 19th century in the waning years of Spanish colonial rule, Aboitiz and Co. today remains a major player in the economy of the Southeast Asian nation.

Run from the country's shipping capital of Cebu, it sells electricity to millions of Filipinos and ferries them across the vast archipelago, while offering banking, construction and a host of other services.

"Definitely for the central and southern Philippines, they are the face of the old rich," said Eileen Mangubat, publisher of leading local newspaper Cebu Daily News.

A century after the end of Spanish colonial rule, the story of the enduring Aboitiz empire offers a rich glimpse into the Philippines' economic heritage.

Many wealthy Filipinos of Spanish ancestry got their big start from huge land grants given as reward for services to the crown, later forming the ruling class when the Philippines gained independence after World War II.

However, the Aboitizes built their wealth through enterprise.

Hemp trader Paulino Aboitiz started the business in the late 19th century.

He had the same hunger for work and taste for risk-taking as the Basque farmer-sailors who crewed for colleague Andres de Urdaneta as he circled the world to set up Spain's first colonial government in the islands in 1565.

Paulino Aboitiz's descendants shepherded the company through two wars and, at one stretch during the 1920s, a close brush with bankruptcy.

The business evolved from one that focused on sugar and vegetable oil milling in the early part of the 20th century to one that is now extremely diverse.

One important move was investing heavily in the energy sector when the government started giving up its power monopoly a decade ago.

Today, the Aboitiz family stands alongside the Zobel de Ayalas, who run Ayala Corp., the country's biggest conglomerate, as clearly the two most prominent Filipino clans of Basque lineage in Philippine business.

The company has 31,000 staff and two previous former chief executives, Jon Ramon Aboitiz and Enrique Aboitiz, remain on Forbes magazine's list of the 40 richest Filipinos.

The Aboitiz business went public in 1994 with the listing of their holding firm Aboitiz Equity Ventures, which is now capitalised at 1.63 billion dollars.

In a rare one-one-one interview from the company's modest headquarters in an unfashionable district of Cebu, current chief executive Erramon Aboitiz said the company's success could be partly attributed to its Basque history.

"The Basques are very industrious and they are very hardworking," said US-educated Aboitiz, 52, a quiet, deliberately spoken man whose office walls are lined with prints of some of the earliest known maps of the world.

"In fact, if you even go to Spain... a lot of industries are actually in the Basque areas."

However Aboitiz, only the group's sixth chief executive, admitted he can no longer speak Basque.

"The people that spoke probably a little bit were the generation of my grandfather," he said.

And he emphasised the company's success was mostly due to the family's willingness to modernise and adapt.

"We do believe in traditions and looking at how things were done in the past, but we also think about how things should be in the future and don't fear making that change when we feel it's required," he said.

"Flexibility is probably one of the more important ingredients in business."

Ricardo Lacson, a senior Aboitiz executive, said his employers' success did not stem from their Basque heritage but rather their embrace of modern management methods, in which people are rewarded on merit.

"Just because you are an Aboitiz does not automatically mean you will get that privilege," said Lacson, a vice president for Visayan Electric Co., the country's largest power distributor outside Manila.

"They are very fair. They have this desire for new and better ways of doing things."

Nevertheless, Erramon Aboitiz said the company would remain firmly under family control.

"We are a family consortium of cousins," he said.

Aboitiz said he was part of the fourth generation of the Aboitiz family that was entrusted with honing the skills of those among the fifth, who were now rising through the ranks.

The challenge for a family-run business was staying cohesive so that it could move swiftly to take advantage of new opportunities, according to Aboitiz.

"It's very important that we all understand what we are trying to do and to stand by it. That's the understanding that we all have," he said.

And as the country suffers its worst power shortage in nearly 20 years, the Aboitiz group, with more than half of its turnover coming from the power sector, is among the best placed for the opportunities presented by the crisis.

"What we have today are businesses that we think are good businesses where we have a good market position. We think that they can be profitable in the long term," he said.


Excerpts of pope's letter to Irish on sex abuse

(AP) --Here are some excerpts of the letter Pope Benedict XVI issued Saturday to the Irish faithful concerning the clerical abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church in Ireland.

___

To the victims: "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope."

___

To the abusers: "You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonor upon your confreres. ... I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. ... At the same time, God's justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy."

___

To the bishops: "It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence."

___

Excerpt from the pope's prayer for the church in Ireland, which concludes his letter:

"May our sorrow and our tears,

our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,

and our firm purpose of amendment

bear an abundant harvest of grace

for the deepening of the faith

in our families, parishes, schools and communities,

for the spiritual progress of Irish society,

and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace

within the whole human family."

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