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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 31, 2010 Major News Stories

Arroyo declares half-day work for gov't workers on Wednesday

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has approved a half-day work for government offices on Wednesday, March 31 to allow government personnel to prepare for Holy Week activities, Secretary Ricardo Saludo said in a text message Tuesday night.

Millers, importers await verdict on Turkish flour

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is conducting tests on the safety of imported Turkish flour and is expected to release its findings this week, according to flour industry leaders.

WHO ships H1N1 vaccines to Philippines

MANILA, Philippines -  The Department of Health (DOH) confirmed Tuesday that there is an incoming shipment of A (H1N1) vaccines to the Philippines, containing a total of 1.24 million doses.

Health Undersecretary Alex Padilla said the shipment is part of an estimated 9 million doses of swine flu vaccine to be delivered by the World Health Organization

"We have been promised by WHO that we will get doses for 10% of our population, which is 9 million. The first shipment of 1.24 million doses will arrive sometime in April. This will come at no cost to the Philippine government," he said in an ANC "Dateline Philippines" interview.

Padilla said the vaccines will be stored at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Alabang and different DOH warehouses before being distributed nationwide. He said the vaccines could be stored for about a year and a half.

"Health workers will be the first to be vaccinated but it will be available for everyone," he said.

He added that the shipment of vaccines is timely since it pre-empts flu season in the Philippines, which starts at the end of May or early June.

More than 3,800 tested positive with the H1N1 virus in the Philippines in 2009, but only 1 death was reported. 

Supreme Court authorizes 1,137 courts to handle small claim cases

by By Dennis Carcamo

A total of 1,137 first-level trial courts in the country, except Shari'a courts, have now been authorized by the Supreme Court to hear small claim cases.

Under the High Court's small claims project, it has empowered 82 metropolitan trial courts, 212 municipal trial courts in cities, 376 municipal trial courts, and 467 municipal circuit trial courts to handle money claims of P100,000 or less effective March 18 this year.

Dubbed the "People's Courts," the procedure for small claims case relaxes or dispenses with ordinary rules of civil procedure and evidence such as strict pleading requirements and formal discovery measures.

Disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively particularly because lawyers are not allowed during hearings. Most of all, these courts are tasked to decide cases only at the first hearing.

Previously, small claims were heard only by 44 designated first-level courts.

No sanctions in Balili report

NO PROVINCIAL official was sanctioned in the final report of the Cebu Provincial Board (PB) ad hoc committee that examined the P98-million purchase of the Balili property.

It did recommend guidelines for similar purchases, such as requiring a survey by the appraisal committee and inspecting and taking photographs of what the Capitol plans to buy.

It also said the Province can ask for the Balili property's purchase price to be reduced.

The PB admitted in the final report furnished to Sun.Star Cebu that "they can't close their eyes to the series of actions, actuations and active participation of PB Member Juan Bolo" in the transaction.

But the main purpose of the ad hoc committee hearing was for "curative legislation."

"No complaint was filed against him before this body. It was established though that PB Member Bolo was the one who broached the idea twice to Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia," the report added.

The report said Bolo's participation might raise some ethical questions worth investigating by the appropriate agency, but that the PB ad hoc committee has no jurisdiction to investigate provincial officials.

Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez called the Balili report prepared by Provincial Board (PB) Member Joven Mondigo Jr. a whitewashed account. He is not inclined to sign it.

"I still have my reservations because I saw that they're trying to save somebody involved," Sanchez said.

The vice governor still believes the contract should be rescinded.

"Gubaton ko man ni (I will fight this)," he said of the report.

Dated March 22, the 12-page report said there were aspects of the sale that may have been overlooked. It said the parties should have been more observant and diligent in their assigned tasks.

The Province bought the 24.7-hectare Balili property, located in Tinaan, Naga, for P98 million in 2008. The sale provoked questions when it was found out that 80,124 square meters are underwater, while 14,402 square meters are mangrove areas.

But based on their findings, the PB report said the "mere fact that a land is underwater does not automatically preclude its registration under the Torrens system." The PB members cited the Silot Bay case, where the Supreme Court (SC) upheld a title, even if the areas it covered were underwater and being used as fishponds.

The Balili property, the PB members said, "is covered by a Torrens title, which has been issued as early as 1977 or almost 33 years ago."

They said the Balili titles are valid and binding, even if some parts of the properties are underwater or have mangroves, unless a court order says these titles are defective or void.

The PB members also said the Province can protect its interest by demanding a proportionate reduction of the price paid for the submerged land and those covered by mangroves.

In the report, the PB recommended, among others:

l that before the Capitol buys a property, the Provincial Appraisal Committee must conduct a survey accompanied by a licensed surveyor, inspect the property and meet before signing the final appraisal resolution;

l that the qualifications of the Technical Working Group under the Appraisal Committee be clearly established; and

l that the proper market value of the property be determined and the property in question photographed.

It also said the Office of the Provincial Attorney should be "solely, primarily and directly in charge" of the preparation and review of the legal documents and other supporting papers for the purchase.

Before a resolution can be approved authorizing the purchase of a property, officials should see certifications from the environment (as to the land classification, court
clearance) and a clearance from the Register of Deeds, showing no adverse claim, the report also said.

PB members, it added, should refrain from performing purely executive functions in the negotiations.

"Without reference to this particular case, the chair or any member of the committee on provincial and municipal properties should not act as agent/ broker of a property," the report said.

Sanchez was not convinced.

He explained that even if the contract price is decreased, "the question is, what are you going to do with the property?"

A property should be at least 50 hectares for it to become an economic zone, the vice governor said, but the Balili property is only 24.7 hectares.

"What are you going to do to the property that will benefit the people? Prove that the public will indeed benefit from it," continued Sanchez.

Party won't support local bets: One Cebu: Zona libre in Mandaue

It's 'zona libre' in Mandaue City.

This after the One Cebu Party headed by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia decided not to support candidates for mayor, vice mayor and councilors in Mandaue City.

Rory Jon Sepulveda, spokesman of One Cebu and member of the executive committee, said that Governor Garcia called a meeting after the party received the resignation letter of 6th District Rep. Nerissa Soon-Ruiz.

Ruiz resigned from One Cebu after she decided to throw her support to Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manny Villar.

One Cebu is supporting the presidential bid of Lakas-Kampi-CMD bet Gilberto 'Gibo' Teodoro.

 According to Sepulveda, the executive committee decided not to support local candidates in Mandaue City and make it a free zone.

As this developed, lawyer Gonzalo Malig-on, chief of staff of Ruiz, said in a statement that they respect the decision of the governor.

"We hope we can leave this behind us as we look forward to a full blast campaign after holy week," Malig-on said.

However, Sepulveda in an interview over radio station dyLA refused to comment when asked if they will throw their support instead to reelectionist Mayor Jonas Cortes.

Cortes has maintained a good relationship with Governor Garcia, but he is supporting the candidacy of Presidential bet Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III of the Liberal Party.

The party of Aquino is fielding former Cebu City Councilor Hilario Davide III for governor against Garcia.

Garcia attended functions in Mandaue City initiated by Mayor Cortes and also the provincial government program "Halad ni Lolo ug Lola".

According to Sepulveda, One Cebu Party had issued guidelines to all its members to support the party's candidate for president.

Governor Garcia, in a previous statement, said that any member of the party who refuses to follow the party decision would be allowed to leave the party.

Ruiz, earlier said that even if they bolted One Cebu Party, the Nagkahiusang Mandauehanon, commit to support Garcia and her running mate, Glenn Soco, a Mandauehanon.

Governor Garcia said that she is supporting Teodoro because she has a word of honor.

Garcia said that she and many other officials of Cebu are supporting Teodoro, because they believe in his ability to lead the nation.

Ruiz claimed that she realized that most of her leaders and allies are supporting a presidential candidate that has the interest for Mandaue City in his heart — Villar.

Ruiz said she believes that Villar is  the candidate that has the interest of Mandaue and will not turn his back on them considering their working relationship when the latter was still the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Prior to her declaration of support to Villar, Ruiz and her slate attended the proclamation rally at the Cebu International Convention Center last Saturday.

The proclamation rally of the candidates of the sixth district was graced by Teodoro.

Ruiz, however, failed to attend the blessing and inauguration of the headquarters of Sixth District Congressional aspirant Gabriel Luigi Quisumbing.

After the blessing and inauguration, Governor Garcia made the formal announcement of the vice presidential candidate and the senatorial slate supported by One Cebu Party.

Meanwhile, Sepulveda said the party will release guidelines next week for its members to follow in supporting candidates for vice president and senators.

Sepulveda issued the statement following reports that some mayors refuse to support Loren Legarda for vice president and some senatorial candidates.

Balamban Mayor Alex Binghay and now candidate for the provincial board to represent the 3rd District, in a radio interview, said that he is committed to support to Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, who is seeking the vice presidential post.

Binghay said he knows Binay personally unlike Legarda.

But Sepulveda said that with the guidelines, party members will be properly guided in their decisions.

Stop using gov't resources: LP to One Cebu

FORMER Cebu vice governor Democrito Barcenas yesterday urged Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to stop using Capitol resources in the campaign sorties of One Cebu, saying this is "illegal and immoral."

Guadalupe pleb to push through

The court has denied the application of a Barangay Labangon councilman for the writ of preliminary injunction against the Commission on Election to proceed with the plebiscite that will create a new barangay out of Guadalupe.

Georgia wants Carbon market moved to NRA

If elected, mayoralty candidate Georgia Osmeña plans to relocate the present Carbon Market in Barangay Ermita to one of the city-owned properties in the North Reclamation Area that it offered to swap with the province in the bungled land swap deal.

Police undergo briefing on automated elections

The task force commander of Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Election (HOPE) personally visited the headquarters of Police Regional Office (PRO-7) yesterday to check on the preparations of all security details in the upcoming May 10 elections.

City councilor pays P2 million in business taxes

Cebu City Councilor Rodrigo "Bebot" Abellanosa yesterday paid the city P2 million for the business taxes of his Asian College of Technology along Leon Kilat and P. del Rosario Streets to show to the public that he is a law-abiding citizen.

Aquino cites 'serious lapses' in poll preparations

(UPDATE) Despite his consistent lead in the surveys, Liberal Party standard-bearer Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and his partymates remain apprehensive about the conduct of the first automated elections in the country, citing "serious lapses or inadequacies" in preparations.

Liberals warn: Arroyo won't step down

by By Ces Oreña-Drilon, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will not step down from power. This was the warning made by Liberal Party (LP) leaders who said "the Comelec's inadequacies are part of a pattern to undermine democratic institutions to keep Gloria Arroyo in power beyond June 30."

FVR to Arroyo: Prove you're stepping down

MANILA, Philippines -  If you're really stepping down, put it in writing. Former President Fidel Ramos issued this challenge to President Arroyo Monday amid rumors that she is planning to remain in power as a holdover president if there is a failure of elections.

Detained ex-general Lim claims junta already exists

Detained senatorial candidate Danilo Lim claims the much-feared military takeover has been existing since President Arroyo assumed power in 2001. The Arroyo administration resembles a junta where there is a "total disregard for the basic functions of democracy," the former Army general says.

Ballot printing to continue on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday

There will be no Holy Week break for the printing of ballots that will be used in the first ever nationwide automated elections on May 10.

Comelec to transfer ballots to PhilPost warehouse

MANILA, Philippines -  The Commission on Elections has decided to postpone to Wednesday the transfer of some of the printed ballots to be used in the May 2010 automated elections.

Poll officials said the ballots were supposed to be transferred from the National Printing Office in Quezon City to the PhilPost warehouse in Manila for storage on Tuesday. At least 27 million special ballots for the automated elections have been printed as of March 30.

Several political parties, however, objected to the transfer since they were not given enough time to prepare for the move.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the poll body will continue to pack and prepare the ballots for eventual transfer to the PhilPost warehouse on Wednesday. He said political parties may accompany the ballots in transit until they are delivered.

He said the ballots will be scanned before departure from the NPO and then scanned again upon entry into PhilPost's Manila facility.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo earlier said he is confident that the poll body will beat the April 30 deadline to print all 50 million ballots needed for the May 10 automated elections. 

Comelec adviser alarmed by changes in ballot security marks

A member of the Commission on Elections' Advisory Council has raised an alarm over changes made on one of the security identifiers used in the ballots for the May 10 automated elections, saying it could compromise the integrity and complicate the conduct of the elections.

Ramon Casiple said Smartmatic TIM Corp., the automated elections provider, and the Comelec have turned off the ultraviolet (UV) ink reader on all 82,2000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines after the UV security marks on the ballots caused the machines to reject them.

"During the lab test performed last January, at least 20 percent of the ballots were not read by the PCOS machines," Casiple said.

The UV ink mark is one of the five security features called for by the contract. The other security features are the paper manufactured in Canada, bar code, Comelec security seal, and the unique precinct-based numbers.

To replace the built-in PCOS UV reader, Comelec and Smartmatic TIM will be buying portable UV ink readers for the BEI to use on election day to check the authenticity of the ballots, Casiple said.

"Before the BEI gives you the ballot, the BEI will shine the portable reader on it to show that there is the UV ink. What was supposed to be high-tech has become low-tech," Casiple explained.

The Comelec and Smartmatic TIM is expected to purchase about 76,000 handheld UV readers for each precinct.

Casiple said the adjustment could affect the conduct of the polls as the authenticity of the ballots will depend on the judgment of the teachers who are already burdened by other election duties. It could lead to chaos and confusion on Election Day, he said.

Casiple stressed that the ballots still have other security measures that would make it nearly impossible for anyone to make fake ballots.

However, "if you are looking for high-level security measure, that has been lowered already," he said.

The PCOS is programmed to find and read the UV markings on the same spot in the 50 million ballots that the electorate will use in the May 10 national and local elections, which, for the first time ever, will use computerized counting and canvassing from the precinct level and beyond.

Casiple said they were told by election officials that the machines could not read the UV ink marks if it overlaps with the ink for the names of the candidates on the ballot papers.

When the issue was revealed during the tests in January, Smartmatic TIM and the Comelec should have remedied the defects immediately, Casiple said.

They should have bought an ink that could withstand the other inks, adjusted the ink density or the sensitivity of the PCOS machines, he said.

Since there was no time to adjust the placement of the security marks on the ballots, buy a new kind of ink, or configure the machines, the Project Management Office has decided to do away with the built-in UV reader on the PCOS machines and resorted to hand-held UV readers instead.

"This is cheaper than configuring the machines, which is a big hassle," Casiple said.

"You cannot do anything anymore. There is no time," he said. Casiple said the advisory council was only notified of the development just this month, when millions of ballots were already printed.

Meanwhile, Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal downplayed the impact of the lack of UV reader in the PCOS machines. He noted that there were still other security features embedded in the ballots that would guard against tampering or copying.

"It's only the authentic ballots that will be accepted by the machines. There are other security features," Larrazabal said.

Comelec to manually delist 700,000 multiple registrants

The elections on May 10 may be automated, but the delisting of the more than 700,000 double or multiple registrants will be done manually, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Teodoro quits as Lakas party chair

Gilbert ``Gibo'' Teodoro has resigned as chairman of the Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats, but will remain as standard-bearer of the administration party.

In a letter sent to the national executive committee of the party, he said he wanted to do away with the rigorous tasks of attending to the needs of members and focus on his presidential campaign.

"Effective immediately I am resigning as chairman of our party so that I can focus all my efforts campaigning for the presidency of the country as the official candidate of Lakas-Kampi-CMD," he said in his letter.

"The party needs at this time a full time Chairman who will be able to respond on a 24/7 basis to the needs of our party candidates running for various elective posts this coming elections," he added.

Reggie Velasco, Lakas-Kampi-CMD deputy secretary general, said being an ordinary member would allow Teodoro to give more time to his campaign, rather than attend to party matters.

"We have 18,000 candidates and most of them want to have a meeting with him for their campaign requirements. It's a 24/7 thing, which he could no longer attend to," Velasco said in a phone interview.

Velasco said the national executive committee would meet to discuss Teodoro's replacement after Holy Week.

Teodoro has remained in fourth place in various presidential surveys, but his camp said they would bank on the support of their local candidates to deliver for him the win in the May elections.

Reelectionists dominate senatorial race in new SWS poll

Incumbent and former senators seeking re-elections in the May 10 polls once again dominated the latest pre-election survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS).

Sen. Ramon Bong Revilla still remained on top with 53 percent voting preference, followed closely by Senate Pro Tempore Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada with 52 percent, and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago with 44 percent. 

The survey, commissioned by BussinessWorld, was conducted from March 19 to 22 and had a +/2 percent error margin. 

Ranking fourth was another incumbent senator, Pilar Juliana "Pia" Cayetano, with 42 percent – a nine-point fall from the SWS conducted last February 24 to 28. 

Cayetano was followed by former Senate President Franklin Drilon with 36 percent, incumbent Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (35%), and former Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto III (33%). 

Former senator and Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Ralph Recto and Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. were at the eight and ninth place, getting 30 percent each. 

Reelectionist Sen. Manuel "Lito" Lapid ranked 10th with 26 percent, while former Senator Sergio Osmeña III ranked 11th with 25 percent. 

Entering the top 12 for the first time was Nacionalista Party spokesperson and former Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla, who got 24 percent – a 10-point jump from the SWS survey last month. He ranked 18th to 20th in past SWS senatorial surveys.

Both Marcos and Remulla are scions of powerful political families.

There are 66 candidates running for senator in the May 10 elections.

Bayan Muna wants Arroyo son, group disqualified from race

The Bayan Muna party-list has accused the Ang Galing Pinoy party-list of Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo, the President's son, of plagiarizing its constitution, and asked the Commission on Elections to disqualify him and his group from the elections in May.

Arroyo cannot appoint judges, CA justices—SC

Contrary to Malacanang's pronouncement, the Supreme Court said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cannot appoint members of the judiciary other than the justices from the Supreme Court.

Dropping of rebellion case signals whitewash of Ampatuan cases—victims' kin

Families of the Nov. 23 massacre victims have expressed fears that "unseen powerful hands" are working to whitewash all cases related to the slaughter, following the dismissal of the rebellion charges against members of the Ampatuan clan.

Military may appeal dismissal of Maguindanao rebellion raps

The military on Tuesday said it may appeal the decision of the Quezon City court dismissing the rebellion charges against members of the Ampatuan clan implicated in the Maguindanao massacre.

Ship with Filipino crewmen hijacked

The Department of Foreign Affairs reported on Tuesday that the MV Iceberg 1 with a crew of 24, including an undetermined number of Filipinos, was hijacked Monday near the Gulf of Aden.

EU bans Sudan, Philippine airlines

by Reuters
BRUSSELS - The European Union eased its ban on airlines from Angola on Tuesday and vowed to block carriers from Sudan and the Philippines from starting flights to the 27-country bloc.

The European Commission, which manages the blacklist, said TAAG Angola Airlines had improved and could bring specific aircraft into the whole EU under strict conditions.

But other Angolan airlines remain banned until the national authorities beef up their oversight.

"We cannot accept that airlines fly into the EU if they do not fully comply with international safety standards," European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said in a statement.

The Commission said it had imposed an operating ban on all Sudanese carriers, because the national authority continually failed to meet international safety standards, and it was closely monitoring those from Egypt.

The Commission acknowledged efforts made by Philippine authorities and airlines to improve standards, but said it would ban them from the EU as a precaution.

North Korea's Air Koryo, been banned since 2006, is allowed to resume flights with its two safest aircraft.

Iran Air faces restrictions after European experts found evidence of "serious incidents and accidents suffered by the carrier."

Suu Kyi's party to boycott Myanmar vote

YANGON, Burma—Myanmar's opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday said it would boycott polls expected later this year, after the country's military rulers introduced a controversial new election law.

Obama wants 'positive' ties with China -- White House

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is determined "to further develop a positive relationship with China," the White House said late Monday after Obama received credentials from Beijing's new envoy to Washington.

Pacquiao retains P4P title despite 'boring' win over Clottey

MANILA, Philippines – Seven-division boxing champion Manny Pacquiao maintained his status as Ring Magazine's pound-for-pound title despite the negative reaction of some fight fans to his title defense against Ghana's Joshua Clottey.

'Pacquiao won't use lawsuit to bargain for Mayweather'

MANILA, Philippines – Manny Pacquiao's adviser belied reports saying that the pound-for-pound king will use his defamation lawsuit against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. to negotiate for the botched blockbuster fight.

Viloria returns to action in June

MANILA, Philippines – Former 2-time world champion Brian Viloria will return to ring action in Manila against a still unnamed opponent this coming June.

New Bb Pilipinas-Universe vows to give best

MANILA, Philippines – This year's Binibining Pilipinas-Universe Helen Nicolette Henson on Tuesday said she was saddened that Maria Venus Raj has been stripped of her crown and title due to her questionable birth records.

Lady Gaga the new Michael Jackson?

by Bang Showbiz
Lady Gaga has been compared to Michael Jackson by her music producer. Rodney Jerkins, who worked with Gaga on her latest song "Telephone" - which was estimated to received over one billion views on the Internet - said she reminds him of Michael Jackson, whom he worked with on the "Thriller" singers 2001 album "Invincible."

PAGASA: Cloudy Holy Week looms

Cloudy skies with isolated rainshowers loom during the Holy Week, especially from Maundy Thursday up to Black Saturday, state weather forecasters said Tuesday.

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