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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 25, 2010 Major News Stories



DA 7 poised vs. dry spell

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) 7 has prepared measures to mitigate the effects of the El Niño, which has affected the first semester cropping.

Angel Enriquez, DA 7 regional technical director for operations and finance, said in a press statement that as early as December last year, they created a task force to carry out its five-point program to ensure sustained crop production and farmers' income in the face of probable El Niño crisis.

Program

This five-point program includes: 1) ensuring water availability in production areas through different irrigation technologies and cloud seeding; 2) making available farm inputs appropriate for prolonged dry and drought agro-climatic conditions; 3) and engaging in crop and animal insurance in vulnerable areas; 4) providing technologies technology/options to enhance farmers' coping and decision-making mechanisms during adverse conditions; and 5) creating a policy environment for effective and efficient implementation of the El Niño Mitigation Program at the regional and provincial level of possible vulnerable areas.

Enriquez said the task force that will implement the mitigation program has identified 23 "highly vulnerable" areas and 24 moderately vulnerable areas in the country.

Efforts

Through the GMA rice program, DA 7 established units of shallow tube wells and pump irrigation system open-source (Pisos), restoration and rehabilitation of existing irrigation systems and distribution of drought-resistant varieties such as PSB RC 68 intended for 125 hectares of affected rice areas.

DA, through the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) is also intensifying its efforts to promote the Water Saving Technology (Alternate wet and dry) in rice areas services by national and communal irrigation systems in Central Visayas, Enriquez said.

Production

In terms of corn production, Enriquez said the El Niño is expected to reduce area planted to corn by 2,671 hectares, which would result to an estimated production loss of 6,674 metric tons.

He added that some of the strategies designed to combat the effects of El Niño in the corn-producing areas include the distribution of 6,000 bags of seeds of drought-tolerant corn seed varieties; and encourage farmers to plant sweet potato and cassava as corn intercrop.

There will also be trainings of farmers on corn production and retooling of corn technicians; and distribution of 100,000 trichogramma cards for the control of corn borer.


Shellfish ban imposed in Eastern Samar bay due to red tide

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has banned the gathering, selling and eating of shellfish from Matarinao Bay in Eastern Samar after water and shellfish samples from the bay tested positive for red tide toxins.

'Turkish flour' carcinogenic?

MANILA, Philippines -- The Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) will conduct tests on Turkish flour, which are being used in baking bread such as pandesal.

DepEd chief set to integrate sex education in RP"s basic curriculum

Against strong opposition from the Catholic Church, the newly appointed Education Secretary will integrate sex education in the country"s basic education curriculum.

"I don't see anything wrong with it. In fact, we are already teaching it to school children in subjects such as Science and Araling Panlipunan," Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Mona Valisno told reporters on Wednesday.

"We will make it happen. We will continue with its implementation because we really need this. We will talk with the church and make them understand that it is a very important topic that our school children should learn," Valisno said.

She added that her department is coordinating with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) for the "soft" implementation of the campaign dubbed as "Power of You," which is aimed at teaching some 12,000 high school students sex-related diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Twenty-nine schools in the National Capital Region, Cebu, Zamboanga, Davao, Olongapo and Masbate have been targeted as the program's pilot areas. 

"Teaching sex education in school is still better than letting students learn the topic from any sources, such as the Internet," Valisno added.

She said that the sex education modules is designed to raise student awareness on the importance of abstinence and taking the right decision over consequences of sexual experience either by choice or due to pressure from peer group. 

Valisno said cases of sex-related diseases among the youth have hit alarming rate, stemming from lack of knowledge on the subject.

Based on the 2003 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey (YAFSS), some 28 percent of young adults thought that Acquired Immune Deficiency Virus (AIDS) was curable, while 73 percent thought they were immune to HIV. 

The survey also showed that the overall prevalence of sexual activity increased from 18 to 23 percent between 1994 and 2002. 

"It is only proper that children be taught the issue especially with the rising incidents of premarital sex among the youth and teenage pregnancy. The country's investment in education will only be put to waste if the population continued to grow at an outstanding rate," she said.

Former Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz had accused Valisno and Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Esperanza Cabral of establishing a "destructive farewell" for the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after the two officials openly expressed support for sex education among the youth.

Cabral figured in a verbal clash with some Catholic bishops, who criticized her department's giving away of free condoms during Valentine's Day as part of DOH's efforts at informing the public about the rising HIV-AIDS cases in the country.

The DOH is also pushing for a P400-million program for the purchase of condoms.

Ombud begins probe on BOC lawyer

THE Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas has started its fact-finding investigation on a customs official earlier accused of living a lifestyle way above what his rank and salary can sustain.

Assistant Ombudsman Virginia Santiago, in an interview with reporters, said they have written the necessary agencies as part of their lifestyle check on Atty. Rico Rey Francis "Koko" Holganza.

Santiago said they do not have to verify the identity of the person who raised the allegations, Hans Ernest Tan Aparice III, because the anti-graft office's powers allow it to investigate even without complainants.

Council okays another P10 million for dumpsite

The City Council has appropriated another P10 million of the city's calamity fund to rent heavy equipment and to shoulder other expenses for programs aimed at preventing fire at the Inayawan Sanitary Landfill.

Villar holds out for One Cebu

SEN. Manuel Villar and Kugi Uswag Sugbo (Kusug) candidates made official yesterday their alliance for the May elections, but the presidential bet kept mum on what transpired during a closed-door meeting with local administration allies.

The Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer confirmed meeting some Cebu congressmen at the Marco Polo Hotel yesterday noon, but did not reveal their names and what the meeting was about.

With two days left before the start of the local campaign period, Villar said he remains hopeful he can get more local leaders to join the NP.

Among those he hopes to have an alliance with is One Cebu, he said.

"These are all continuing discussions, with all the governors in the Philippines…We are looking for alliances in the country, including Cebu," he said after his press conference at the Marco Polo Hotel.

But in a meeting last night with mayors and vice mayors, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said One Cebu will honor its commitment to support Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential candidate Gilberto Teodoro Jr.

"I hope that you are with me here, mayors and vice mayors," she said, "because if you are not, it's best that we part ways now." She mentioned "palabra de honor" (word of honor) at least eight times in a 20-minute speech.

"In this season of shifting political alliances, they say there's no such thing as word of honor," the governor said. "But I beg to disagree." She said she would rather risk losing all of the mayors' support, than lose her self-respect.

Villar confirmed meeting some congressmen and mayors from Cebu, including Rep. Benhur Salimbangon, but declined to say whether they have reached an agreement.

"Was he here?" asked Rep. Pablo Garcia (Cebu Province, 2nd district) when reporters met him at the Marco Polo Hotel yesterday.

Winston paid

Reporters were tipped that the deputy speaker and four other provincial congressmen met with Villar: Eduardo Gullas of the first district, Pablo John Garcia of the third district, Salimbangon and Nerissa Soon-Ruiz of the sixth district.

Except for Ruiz, who is running for mayor of Mandaue City in the May 10 elections, all the other congressmen were endorsed by One Cebu, which is committed to administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro.

Pablo John Garcia, when asked to confirm if a meeting took place, said in a text message, "As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing to confirm."

Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) President Winston Garcia also walked out of the hotel more than 30 minutes after his father Pablo left. He denied attending a meeting with Villar.

Former Cebu City mayor Alvin Garcia, Kusug's candidate for mayor, said his cousins have no participation in Kusug's alliance with the NP.

He also confirmed Winston paid the bill for the lunch and launching of the Kusug-NP alliance in the hotel, which around 150 supporters attended.

Budget

Villar repeatedly said he will not make any agreement for financial support with Kusug, and that NP can only help Kusug through the party's organization.

"We will now be working very closely with NP. As of now, we have no support from NP. Definitely they will have to have a budget for Cebu City, and hopefully whatever that budget is will be given to us. I don't know how much, but I would think that maybe on election day, you probably need at least P15 million and before election, that could be a few millions more," Alvin said.

Like Villar, he declined to say what transpired during the closed-door meeting with officials from the province, saying he is only authorized to talk about Kusug, a separate entity from One Cebu.

Alvin said that while he would have wanted the Garcia clan to support only one presidential candidate, it may "already be too late and maybe they have decided for Gibo (Teodoro)."

Villar arrived at Marco Polo at noon, accompanied by Gullas, Minglanilla Mayor Eduardo Selma, Naga City Mayor Valdemar Chiong and businessman Ricardo Reluya, husband of San Fernando Mayor Lakambini Reluya.

Shirt

They went straight to one of the rooms of the hotel where they held a closed-door meeting.

At 12:30 p.m., Talisay City Mayor Socrates Fernandez left the room to answer a call on his mobile phone. Also seen entering the meeting's venue were Dumanjug Mayor Cesar Baricuatro, Lapu-Lapu City mayoral candidate Junard Chan, Cebu City south congressional candidate Jonathan Guardo and Cebu City north congressional candidate Mary Ann delos Santos.

Interviewed at One Cebu's meeting last night, Ruiz said she was at the penthouse earlier in the day, meeting with former Mandaue City mayor Thadeo ouano.

Salimbangon said he was at the hotel to meet with doctors who are in town for the Operation Smile medical mission.

As to rumors about an impending shift in One Cebu's loyalty, Pablo said: "Look at my shirt." He wore a One Cebu shirt.

Asked about Winston, Pablo John said that while he, his father Pablo and sister Gwendolyn have chosen to support Teodoro, Winston is free to make his own decision. However, the last time they talked, the congressman said that the GSIS president did not want to get involved in politics.

Tomas accuses Garcias of supporting Gibo, Villar to get more campaign funds

THE decision of the Garcias to support two presidential candidates is a "wonderful financial arrangement," Mayor Tomas Osmeña said yesterday.

The mayor was reacting to reports that former mayor Alvin Garcia and Government Service Insurance System President Winston Garcia are supporting the presidential bid of Nacionalista Party's Manny Villar.

Of the two however, only Alvin has confirmed his support for Villar.

Rep. Pablo John and Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia have said they are supporting administration bet Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro Jr.

"The issue has always been there. It's always I love you how much. Gwen will get from one, Winston gets from the other. It's a wonderful financial arrangement," Osmeña said in a news conference yesterday.

As bets from opposition party Kugi Uswag Sugbu (Kusug) yesterday signed an agreement for an alliance with the camp of Villar, Osmeña said it was for a monetary arrangement.

Asked on what he thinks of the possibility of Gwendolyn abandoning Teodoro for Villar, Osmeña said he expects the governor to leave the candidate who does not have the funds.

"Kung wa'y kwarta si Gibo, goodbye. Kung naa'y kwarta, pabilin siya didto. Simple kaayo na (If Gibo doesn't have funds, she will leave him)," the mayor told reporters yesterday.

However, Gwendolyn, in a meeting with One Cebu members last night, reiterated her support for Teodoro's candidacy.

Meanwhile, Osmeña criticized the answers of Alvin and former senator John Henry "Sonny" Osmeña in a mayoralty candidates' forum held Tuesday and organized by nongovernment organization Kaabag sa Sugbo.

Alvin and former Sonny had said they will have to adopt a participatory governance if elected into office.

Alvin said that a good mayor should not monopolize the handling of the city while Sonny said he will allow the public to participate in the decision-making process.

Osmeña, when sought for comment, said he is delighted that they are suddenly concerned about consultation.

"Just ask Alvin Garcia, when you demolished the Ramos Market, was there a consultation? When you ask Sonny Osmeña, when he removed 10 percent of the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) from all the local government and all the barangays, was there a consultation?" he said.

"Why all of a sudden he's (Sonny) so worried about consultation? … I'm so delighted that all of a sudden he is a changed man. Or has he changed?" the mayor added.

In the same forum, both Alvin and Sonny said they will be looking at how the South Road Properties (SRP) is being "mismanaged," resulting in the city's huge debts.

Sonny also criticized Osmeña's decision to give out earnings from the sale of SRP lots as cash aid and assistance to different sectors instead of paying for the city's loans.

But the mayor said all the two do is talk.

As for criticisms on the doleouts, Osmeña said if either of the two will become mayor, it will mean the cancellation of assistance to the different sectors.

"No more help for the PWDs (person with disabilities). No more help for the senior citizens because they do not believe in it. No more help for our graduating students. You make Alvin mayor? You make Kusug take over? Well, you people in 93-1, goodbye," Osmeña said.

Lakas may expel members supporting other bets—Teodoro

Lakas-Kampi standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said party members who back other presidential aspirants run the risk of enduring strict disciplinary actions or outright expulsion.

Ultraviolet lamps will be used to check ballots" authenticity

(Updated 8:48 PM) Ultraviolet (UV) lamps will be used on election day to check whether ballots are true and genuine. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) made this announcement on Wednesday, saying it will use manual means to verify ballots, after it reportedly decided to turn off one of the functions of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

The machines are originally expected not just to count and check the votes as marked on the ballots, but also to verify genuine ballots and reject counterfeit ones.

The commission was prompted to use UV lamps to verify authenticity of ballots after their UV markings have moved out of alignment, Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said. 

As a result, the PCOS machines may find it difficult to read the ballots' UV markings, he added. 

UV markings are security features used as a safeguard against fraud. A similar technology is used by banks to detect counterfeit paper money.

"Baka hindi mabasa. Mas mabuti na i-manual check (It might not be read. It's better to manually check it)," he said.

UV markings in the ballots — which are printed by the National Printing Office (NPO) — are out of alignment by one to two millimeters, Larrazabal said. 

"It happens talaga na sa UV marking parang nagagalaw (It happens that UV markings move out of alignment when printed)," he said. 

The commissioner added that there are other security features that would prove the authenticity of the ballot. 

Besides the type of paper used for the ballots, other security features also include using the Comelec's own UV ink, a bar code, Comelec markings, and the unique precinct-based numbers on the ballot, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said.

However, the Liberal Party (LP) expressed doubts about these features. 

"Bakit pinatay yung scanner sa (Why did they turn off the scanner of the) machine, we have strong reservations about it," said LP campaign manager Florencio "Butch" Abad in a press conference held in Intramuros, Manila.

He also said that the people might become disoriented with this additional voting step. 

"If you look at the process, you can more or less imagine the confusion and the chaos," he said.

Poll watchdog insists on electronic safeguard

A private election watchdog body raised an alarm Wednesday on what it feared was the removal of the so-called digital signature—one of the safeguards in the automated transmission of the results of next May's general elections.

But the Commission on Elections doused the fears, saying the digital signature would remain present in the process.

Alfredo Pascual, convener of the Automated Elections System (AES) Watch, said he became concerned after the Comelec released its revised general instructions to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) earlier this month.

The instructions, contained in Resolution 8786, directed the teachers to press "No" when asked by the counting machine, or the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines, if they would like to digitally sign the transmission files with a BEI signature key. The counting machines electronically transmit the results of the voting in a precinct to the canvassing centers.

The digital signature is used to verify which machine the results came from.

"This raises big questions in the minds of groups like us and the public in general. We'd like Comelec to be true to what is required in the law, that election results transmitted electronically should be digitally signed because this is a key safeguard feature of the AES," Pascual said.

According to him, he was concerned that if the BEI would not be required to enter the digital signature, then other sources would also be able to send data to the servers where election results are stored.

But Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the instructions did not mean that there would be no digital signatures in the transmission of the votes.

Jimenez said the instructions simply removed one step in the transmission process in order to minimize human intervention and further protect the results of the vote.

According to Jimenez, the digital signature of the machine is already encoded in the device. The digital signature of the BEI would also be entered in the machine before the voting.

"From the start, the digital signature is already in the machine.... Since it is there, the minute the machine stops counting, it starts printing, it starts transmitting. The teacher does not need to enter the process," he said.

"That minimizes the possibility of the results being tampered with," he added.

He said the digital signatures would be read by the machines receiving the voting results because they are already in the signal that was transmitted.

Jimenez also said that since the transmission of the results would be continuous, there would be no opportunity for anybody to encode new data into the machines. It was also physically impossible for anyone to enter new data into the machine, he said.


LP doubts Comelec preparedness for automated polls

The Liberal Party (LP) on Wednesday said it doubts whether the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is really prepared to conduct the country's very first nationwide automated polls in May, even after LP officials met with the poll body to discuss their concerns.

Probe 38 "admin-backed" party-lists, Comelec urged

(Updated 8:13 p.m.) The Kabataan party-list group on Wednesday trooped to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Manila to ask for an investigation and a review of the accreditation of 38 party-list organizations supposedly being supported by the Arroyo administration.

"The people behind these 38 party-lists are all Arroyo allies. Some of them are party-lists included in the 2007 Office of External Affiars (OEA) memo while others are being fielded by cabinet members and known allies of the Arroyo administration," said Kabataan spokesman Mark Louie Aquino, the group's second nominee in the May polls.

Aquino said the following party-list groups were identified as "pro-administration" in a 2006 memorandum released by the Malacanang OEA: 

1.) BABAE KA
2.) LYPAD
3.) KALAHI
4.) AGBIAG
5.) ABONO
6.) KASANGGA
7.) AGING PINOY

Controversial nominees

Abono Party-list will be fielding Jacky Lomibao, wife of former national police chief Arturo Lomibao, as one of its nominees, while Ang Galing Pinoy listed presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo as their first nominee. 

Ang Galing Pinoy listed as its second nominee Dennis Pineda, son of former provincial board member Lilia Pineda, a known ally of the Arroyo administration who has a pending electoral protest against incumbent Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio for the 2007 gubernatorial race.

For its third nominee, it listed Bacolor Mayor Romeo "Buddy" Dungca, one of the 17 mayors who broke away from the Lapids who ruled Pampanga in the past and moved to the President's then Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) in 2006.

The Party-list System Act (Republic Act 7941) defines the party-list system as "a mechanism of proportional representation" in the election of representatives to the Lower House. 

Palace defends

Malacañang, meanwhile, defended the nomination of Rep. Arroyo, saying it is allowed under the Constitution.

At a press briefing, presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo noted that the Arroyo family is not the only political family in the country "with multiple people in the legislature."

"Let us not focus on one family. We have brother and sister in the Senate [referring to Sens. Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano], we had mother and son in the Senate [ex-Senator Loi and current Sen. Jinggoy Estrada], and we have a sitting senator whose son is running for the Senate [Rodolfo and Rufino Biazon]," he said.

"If we are going to go into this, let us just not focus on one family. Let us look at all of them and ask each one of them what message they are sending. It is rather unfair to single out one family," Saludo added.

Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr., for his part, said it is "a natural thing for a family with exceptional individuals to try to be in office through elections."

Dubious associations

Aside from these groups, Aquino enumerated other party-list organizations with supposed "dubious associations" with the Arroyo government. Included in them are:

8.) 1-UTAK
9.) 1GANAP/GUARDIAN
10.) 1ST KABAGIS
11.) A IPRA
12.) A TEACHER
13.) ABAKADA
14.) ADAM
15.) AHON
16.) Ang Galing Pinoy
17.) AKSA
18.) ALIF
19.) ANAD
20.) ANAK
21.) APEC
22.) APO
23.) ARARO
24.) ARC
25.) APOI
26.) Aangat Tayo
27.) AVE
28.) BANAT
29.) BANTAY
30.) BIDA
31.) BIGKIS PONOY
32.) BIYAHENG PINOY
33.) BUTIL
34.) COOP-NATCO
35.) KAKUSA
36.) TUCP
37.) Veterans Freedom Party
38.) YACAP

Aquino said that several administration allies are being eyed as nominees of these party-lists, namely Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes (1-UTAK), Director of Labor and Employment Information and Publication Service Nicon Fameronag (AHON), former Muslim Affairs Executive Director Acmad Tumawis (ALIF), Interior and Local Government Undersecrtary Melchor Rosales (APOI), Philippine International Trading Corp Usec. Teddie Elson Rivera (Aangat Tayo), and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) Chair Ephraim Genuino (BIDA or BIGKIS PINOY).

Former Cong. Salacnib Baterina has been formally nominated by APO.

The Kabataan spokesman said that other "pro-administration" party-lists include A IPRA, APEC, AVE, BIYAHENG PINOY, BUTIL, COOP-NATCO, TUCP, and Veterans Freedom Party.

He added that some party-lists also have links to the military, namely BANTAY, ANAD, ARARO, 1GANAP/GUARDIAN, 1st KABAGIS, AKSA, ANAK, and YACAP.

Because of this, Aquino said that the 38 party-list groups are violating a Supreme Court ruling that disqualified Mamamayang Ayaw sa Droga (MAD) in 2001. In its decision on that case, the court said that a party-list organization "must not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government."

It said that a party-list organization must be organized by a marginalized or underrepresented group of citizens independent of the government.

Voters have final say

While admitting that the poll body does not have clear guidelines on the nomination of party-list nominees, Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said it is now up to the voters to decide who will be elected into the House of Representatives.

"Let the people decide. Filipinos are smart. Let the people be the judge. They cannot go wrong when the people are the ones who judge," Melo told reporters in an interview.

He acknowledged that some nominees, including third-term congressman, are using the party-list system to bend the electoral system. 

"That's another way of circumventing the constitional provision against a three-termer... It's part of the game," he said.

Mikey hits back: 4 Arroyos can't make Speaker

Denies plot to extend mom in power MANILA, Philippines - Presidential son Pampanga 2nd District Representative Juan Miguel 'Mikey' Macapagal-Arroyo on Wednesday denied an alleged plot by her mother to extend her grip on power. In an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News, Rep. Arroyo categorically denied the accusation, saying only critics have made the accusation.

Serge Osmeña takes leave from Noynoy campaign

by By Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak
MANILA, Philippines - Less than 2 months before Election Day, former Senator Sergio Osmeña III is again leaving the helm of the Liberal Party (LP) campaign, this time to concentrate on his own senatorial bid.

Sacked defense exec calls for probe of two officials

Former Undersecretary of Defense Ariston delos Reyes said Wednesday his termination from office was "water under the bridge" but higher authorities must pursue an investigation based on his complaints against two defense officials.

He had earlier recommended that the defense department investigate a former assistant secretary for alleged illegal possession of ammunition and the other official, for supposedly approving a memo of the National Defense College of the Philippines that allowed his son to study using government money.

Ex-Sandigan justice is Arroyo's new chief legal counsel

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has appointed retired Sandiganbayan justice Raoul Victorino as her new chief presidential legal counsel replacing Natividad Dizon, whom she appointed chairperson of the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Writer's death threat claim 'funny', says SC exec

A spokesman of the Supreme Court found "ridiculous" Newsbreak editor Marites Vitug's claim that she has received death threats over her newly released book about the high court.

Heavy equipment torched by NPA rebels in Agusan Sur—military

Alleged members of the New People's Army (NPA) burned several heavy equipment owned by a construction company building a road project in Sta. Josefa, Agusan del Sur, the military said Wednesday.

Peso closes at 45.55 against the dollar

The peso moved sideways Wednesday, closing only 4 centavos weaker than the previous day's finish.

Gradual appreciation of peso against the dollar seen

British banking giant HSBC sees the peso sustaining a gradual appreciation against the US dollar through next year, citing stumbling blocks to a solid US macroeconomic recovery that could keep the greenback weak against Asian currencies for quite sometime.

DFA targets 30-minute passport processing

The Department of Foreign Affairs is working to cut down passport processing time to 30 minutes, as it formally inaugurated on Monday the new building of the Office of Consular Affairs on Macapagal Avenue in Pasay City.

Thai police charge Philippines woman over cocaine haul

Thai police said Wednesday they had arrested a Filipina at Bangkok's main airport for trafficking cocaine worth 247,000 dollars.
Rivera Maria Elenita, 40, was detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport late Monday after she arrived from Lima, Peru on an Emirates airline flight, according to a statement from the Narcotics Suppression Police.

Officers acting on a tip-off found 3.2 kilograms (7.0 pounds) of cocaine in two plastic bags, hidden in special compartments of her luggage.

Elenita told police she had been hired by a Western African drug gang in Bangkok to smuggle the cocaine for Thai clients, they said.

"She said she was paid some 1,000 dollars and would get more money when she delivered the drugs to a gang member," the police added.

The street value of the confiscated cocaine was estimated at 8.0 million baht (247,000 dollars).

Drugs trafficking officially carries the death penalty in Thailand although executions are rare.

OFWs used as drug couriers from Iran to Asian countries

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday warned overseas Filipino workers against unscrupulous individuals who ask or "contract" them to carry items or baggage from Iran to another city in Asia in exchange for money or leisure trips.

Bermuda cargo ship with Filipino seaman hijacked

A Bermuda-flagged cargo ship with a Filipino among its crew members was hijacked Tuesday by pirates 120 miles off the coast of Oman, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported on Wednesday.  DFA said that MV Talca, with 23 Sri Lankans seafarers, one Filipino and one Syrian, was hijacked even with the presence of around 35 warships from the European Union Naval Force, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United States and other nations in the seas.

Chile quake, tsunami damage put at nearly 30 billion dollars

SANTIAGO, Chile - The massive earthquake that struck central Chile last month, triggering a local tsunami, caused nearly 30 billion dollars in damage, the finance ministry said Wednesday.

Irish bishop resigns, apologizes to abuse victims

DUBLIN - Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation Wednesday of Bishop John Magee, a former papal aide who stands accused of endangering children by failing to follow the Irish church's own rules on reporting suspected pedophile priests to police.

Roach: Pacquiao can fight 3 more years

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – Although coach Freddie Roach earlier said he wanted his prized ward Manny Pacquiao to retire at the top of his game, he believes the Filipino champ can still fight for 3 years.

'Fight Mayweather, then retire'

by by Abac Cordero, The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines - Now is not the right time for Manny Pacquiao to retire. "He must fight Mayweather first," said the boxer's adviser Wakee Salud after Pacquiao, at 31 still at his prime, announced the other day that he's seriously thinking of retirement.

Pacquiao-Clottey bout gets 700,000 PPV buys

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – The one-sided fight between 7-division world champion Manny Pacquiao and Ghanaian Joshua Clottey, which drew almost 51,000 people to the Cowboys Stadium in Texas, got a total of 700,000 pay-per-view (PPV) buys.

BJMP hires Byron as jails consultant

BYRON Garcia may be out of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) management, but he may have a new home soon in the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

Garcia said he and the BJMP will sign on Friday a memorandum of agreement on institutionalizing music therapy in jail facilities all over the country. Garcia will be a BJMP consultant.

"We are too busy looking for creative ways to punish an offender instead of restoring him to become the human being that he is. We have to look at prisons beyond the cycle of crime and punishment and certainly look inside underlying social, cultural and scriptural implications of rehabilitation. As it is, those creative ways of punishing offenders that have led to restrictive and punitive conditions in jails have also bred demons out of prisoners," Garcia said in a press statement.

His consultancy at the Capitol is yet to be renewed.

Garcia and 12 former inmates will leave for Manila today. The 12 will be doing their first out-of-town performance at the Manila City Jail.

No court order or approval from Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is needed because they are no longer in jail.

The former Capitol consultant said the former dancing inmates will showcase four to five dances from Michael Jackson's "This is It" film. They will also perform in the noontime show Eat Bulaga on Saturday.

Institutionalizing dance in jail facilities will be a pilot project in three facilities—the Manila City Jail, Makati City Jail and Quezon City Jail.

The agreement will be signed on Friday at the Manila City Jail.

"No matter how jails are called, prisons by any name are still hell. It is a location in the map that governments would like to hide but cannot conceal," said Garcia.

"Those who are in penology and rehabilitation are missing out the essence of compassion, redemption and restoration in jail management," said Garcia.

Millions have watched the CPDRC dancing inmates worldwide through the video sharing website YouTube. Their most popular performance was Michael Jackson's Thriller.

This prompted Jackson choreographer Travis Payne to travel to Cebu and perform with the inmates last January.

It was also the last time the inmates danced as Gov. Garcia directed all CPDRC programs to be coursed through her as the official jailer.


Nora Aunor wins at 2010 Green Planet Movie Awards

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – Superstar Nora Aunor has been named one of the 10 best Asian actresses of the decade at the 2010 Green Planet Movie Awards in Los Angeles, California.

Last Supper is growing by Biblical proportions

by Agence France-Presse
PARIS – A pair of US academics have analysed 52 of the most famous paintings of the Last Supper painted between 1000 and 2000 -- and discovered that, over that period, the portions of food placed before Jesus and his disciples grew astonishingly.

Telcos sign disaster preparedness deal with PAGASA

Globe, Smart and Digitel have signed a deal with weather bureau PAGASA and the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) for disaster preparedness. The agreement will allow the telecom firms to cooperate in developing programs that will help PAGASA and PDRF protect citizens from natural calamities using technological advances and information dissemination. One of the first projects lined up for the alliance is the co-location of rain gauges at cell sites of mobile operators to help forecast floods.

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