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

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 5, 2010 Major News Stories

Arroyo to leadswitch-on rites

Cebu will be getting some relief from the power shortage that has been bugging the island province for the past several weeks as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will switch on in simple ceremonies today of the first of three units of the 246-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant of the Cebu Energy Development Corp. (CEDC) in Toledo City.

CEDC undertook the construction of 246-megawatt (3 units x 82 MW) clean coal-fired power plant with a total investment of P23 billion.

The plant utilizes state-of-the-art Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) boiler technology or clean coal technology, which will ensure that emission levels are well within the standards set by the Clean Air Act, thereby ensuring environmental protection.

With this, Cebu residents will get some relief from the energy crisis as this comes at a time when Cebu and other parts of the country are in the midst of a precarious power situation.

CEDC's coal-fired power plant is a joint venture of Global Business Power Corp. (GBPC), the power arm of the Metrobank group, Formosa Heavy Industries Corp., Aboitiz Power Corp., and Vivant Power Corp.

From Toledo City, Arroyo will proceed to the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) in Mandaue City since she is the keynote speaker in the graduation of 97 teachers, who underwent the Global Filipino Teachers program sponsored by telecommunication company Globe Telecom.

Before Arroyo will leave Cebu, she will drop by the Most Important Persons Lounge of Mactan Cebu International Airport to honor Gorres, who survived a head injury from his last fight in Las Vegas, USA.

Korean dies while fixing leak inside Naga coal plant

A Korean manager of a sub-contractor of Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) died after he got drowned when he and his four men dived into the water of the cooling pump inside the compound of the proposed coal-fired power plant in Naga City supposedly to fix the cemented leaking pipes last Wednesday afternoon.

The police identified the victim as Kim Dong Woon, 34, married and site manager of Con Clinic, which renders services for Doosan, a sub-contractor of Kepco.

Lauro Atillo, a security guard of Kepco personally informed the Naga Police Station about the drowning incident that happened inside their compound.

Police said that based on the initial information that they have gathered, at around 4:30 p.m., Kim and his four men dived into the water of the cooling pump of the power plant supposedly to fix a leakage. After 15 minutes, Kim's companions allegedly went up.

The victim's companion waited for him to surface for five minutes more but he failed to do so. This prompted the four to ask the senior manager of the plant to turn off the water pump.

Arroyo to declare power crisis in Mindanao on DoE proposal

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Thursday that she adopted Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes' recommendation to declare a power crisis in Mindanao which is beset by worsening supply shortage.

Reyes said that declaring a power crisis would allow the government to invoke Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and enable state-run National Power Corp. (Napocor) to buy or lease modular generation sets to augment the power supply in the island.

Villar sees sinister plot behind blackouts

The nearly simultaneous breakdowns and repairs of power plants that have led to blackouts throughout the country have baffled Nacionalista Party standard bearer Senator Manuel Villar who rued it might be part of forthcoming sinister events that could affect the elections.

Villar, however, was quick to point out that he had no evidence, yet, to back up his suspicions but nonetheless, urged the public to be vigilant.

No fish shortage during El Niño, BFAR assures

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on Thursday assured the public that there will be no shortage in fish products in the coming months, even as instances of fish kills continue to be reported from various aquaculture areas across the country.

New round of sugar import allocations out this month

The government will announce sugar import allocations under the second tranche within the month to satisfy the call of private traders to bring in more stocks to address the perceived tightness in supply.

Philippines may cancel sugar import plan

by Reuters
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines may put on hold or cancel a plan to import 134,000 tons of sugar as local prices stabilise with a drop in global prices, a senior government official said on Thursday.

El Niño exerting pressure on wage hike talks – labor exec

If the global economic crisis was the key factor in the wage talks in the past year, the El Niño phenomenon this time could make or break the negotiations for a salary increase, a senior official of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said.

Higher tuition in 15 schools

OUT of the 615 private elementary and secondary schools in Central Visayas, 30 have applied for a tuition increase for the 2010-2011 academic year that begins in June.

In applying for a tuition increase, schools have to submit a detailed schedule of the proposed tuition and other school fees. They also have to submit minutes of the consultations with students and parents, showing they agree to the increase.

Other requirements include a certification of allocation,as proof that 70 percent of the tuition increase implemented during the previous school year went to teachers' salaries and 20 percent to the improvement of school facilities.

Only 10 percent of the increase can be taken as the school's profit.

DepEd to hold summer classes for pre-school kids

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Education (DepEd) announced Thursday that it will hold a six-week summer pre-school education program (SumPSE) in all schools nationwide starting next month.

The program, which will run from April 12 to May 21, will cater to prospective Grade 1 entrants without pre-school experience by June 2010. Each class will have 20 to 25 students.

Permanent pre-school teachers and Grade 1 teachers with Early Childhood education training will handle the summer pre-school classes, and will be paid an honorarium of P4,500.

"This SumPSE program is part of the expanded pre-school education to ensure that all Grade 1 entrants shall have the necessary preparations to make them ready for academic work," DepEd secretary Jesli Lapus said in a statement.

Citing studies, DepEd said attaining success in the first grade encourages school children to stay on and complete elementary education.

It added that the quality of children's pre-school experiences determine their performance in the higher years.

"DepEd recognizes this, thus the need to continuously expand and intensify the early childhood care and development coverage among pre-school children," Lapus said.

DepEd said its Bureau of Elementary Education has implemented its pre-school program since the 1970s, but as of 2008, only 919,800 (or 42%) pre-school children from public and private schools have been reached by the project.

This, the department said, has resulted in low readiness of Grade 1 children and a higher incidence of non-readers and dropouts.

With SumPSE, Lapus said DepEd is planning to raise the number of 5-year-old children with pre-school experience to 1.65 million (or 76% of the total) by year 2010.

"DepEd recognizes this, thus the need to continuously expand and intensify the early childhood care and development coverage among preschool children," Lapus stressed.

Tomas mulls midnight college

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said yesterday that he is studying the proposal of Councilor Rodrigo Abellanosa for the creation of a midnight college.

Osmeña said that this would be a two-year course that will focus more on training future call center agents.

There is no need to construct a new school building. However, the city will coordinate first with Commission on Higher Education as to where the classes will be held.

The local government will likewise give a subsidy to those qualified student who will avail of the midnight college classes.

This particularly will be given to those who were "almost" hired in call centers here in the city.

Cebuano to take helm at MARINA?

Is a Cebuano taking the helm at MARINA?

Cebu Ports Authority General Manager Angelo Verdan was reportedly appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the new administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority replacing Maria Elena Bautista, who will take her oath on Monday as the new chief of the Presidential Management Staff.

The president is expected to announce Verdan's appointment today during her visit here.

A source from among the shipping operators in Cebu, who earlier lobbied for Bautista's relief, said that Verdan will assume as the new MARINA administrator while Deputy General Manager Dennis Villamor will take his post in the CPA in an acting capacity.

Verdan refused to confirm the report saying he does not want to preempt the president.

16-year-old says two Pakistanis raped her

A 16-year-old helper in Carcar City yesterday filed twin rape complaints against her two Pakistani employers.

Assisted by the members of the Carcar police the victim filed the complaint before the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor's Office against Muhammad Nabi Gul Nabi and his cousin Ahmael Ullah.

Nabi, 31, and Ullah, 19, were arrested by the Carcar City police last Wednesday at 10 a.m. following the filing of the complaint by the victim and her mother.

The victim said she was hired by the suspects as helper in their rented apartment in Barangay Liburon, Carcar City, only last Monday. On her first night at the rented apartment the suspects allegedly took turns raping her.

According to the victim, she was already asleep at about 10 p.m. last March 1 when Ullah knocked on her door because he wanted to get something from her room. After opening the door she went back to bed but Ullah allegedly kissed her and said goodnight.

The victim said she slapped the suspect but the latter allegedly pulled down her shorts and started to undress her. She said she tried to resist but Ullah was too strong.

After Ullah allegedly raped her Nabi came and raped her also. She claimed the two also raped her the following night.

The victim said she did not complain because of fear until her mother came to visit her last Wednesday. The victim said she told her mother what had happened and she immediately brought her to the police station.

A hot pursuit operation was immediately conducted by the police that led to the arrest of the two suspects. An examination allegedly found that the victim was indeed sexually abused.

The suspects, assisted by lawyer Ferdinand Dungog, denied the accusations, saying he cannot understand what the police are up to because the victim is not interested in pursuing the case.

"There was no rape. I don't know what the police officers are up to," Dungog said.

He complained that until yesterday they were not shown a copy of the complaint and the blotter. Dungog also complained that he was not allowed to talk to his clients while in the police station.

The suspects signed a waiver of detention to avail of their rights to a preliminary investigation. The prosecutor's office has given them seven days to submit a counter-affidavit.

But the victim's mother yesterday told the reporters that she is not interested in pursuing the case because she does not want a hassle. According to her, they do not have money for their fare in going to Cebu City to attend the trial of the case.

Comelec junks petition to disqualify Sogod bet

The Second Division of the Commission on Elections has dismissed for lack of merit the petition filed by a mayoralty candidate of Sogod town asking the disqualification of re-electionist Mayor Lissa Marie Durano claiming that she is not a resident of the town.

Comelec trains 240,000 teachers for automated poll duties

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has started to train around 250,000 public school teachers who will act as board of election inspectors (BEIs) in the country's first national automated polls in May.

Technology firm in automated polls trains 50,000 staff

The automation partner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has started hiring and training about 50,000 technicians and technical personnel for the May elections.

Smartmatic-Total Information Management spokesman Gene Gregorio the firm was hiring and training 42,000 technicians and 2,000 supervisors for precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines situated in voting centers nationwide and 4,000 technicians for the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) in municipal, city, provincial, regional and national canvassing levels.

The technicians will assist the Board of Election Inspectors and Board of Canvassers, mostly teachers, in the conduct of the polls on May 10 as stipulated in the P7.1 billion automation agreement with Comelec.

"Overall, we are hiring 48,000 technicians to ensure operations of the PCOS and CCS machines in 76,000 polling centers. Each technician would handle the PCOS units in two clustered precincts situated in one polling place or school. Then we have to hire another 700 agents for our contact solutions office," said Gregorio.

"Deploying PCOS technicians and supervisors is a standard procedure for Smartmatic in its previous automation contracts to ensure reliability of the operations," the official added.

He said they would hire another 700 call center agents to man the 24/7 contact operations center it was setting up for the May 10 polls. The office will be operational from the eve of election day until all winners are proclaimed, he said.

The 700 call center agents will guide the field technicians for PCOS and CCS to troubleshoot when, for example, the machine won't print an election return (ER) due to lack of ink or won't transmit the ER due to lack of network coverage. In the last scenario, contact solutions agents would arrange for PCOS units to be delivered to the polling precinct.

In case of lack of cellular network coverage, Smartmatic-TIM agreed with Comelec to provide 5,500 mobile satellite units or BGAN terminals and 650 units of VSATs, a satellite terminal which is less portable than the first, said Gregorio.

"We already have 5,000 units of BGAN and we are renting 500 more plus 650 VSATs to allow transmission of ERs to Comelec servers for areas without network signals," said Gregorio.

On February 27, the remaining 13,500 machines arrived in the country and were turned over to Comelec March 1 for stress, accuracy and security testing at its Laguna warehouse.

This week, Comelec has also started the training of some of the 400,000 teachers who will sit as BEIs on election day. About 500 Comelec personnel were trained by Smartmatic-TIM on the new functions of the BEI, including the operation of the PCOS machines and basic troubleshooting solutions.

PCOS is a technology that scans, captures ballot images and counts the shaded ovals opposite the printed names of the candidates in the ballots for the automated generation and transmission of Election Returns from polling precincts to servers. The CCS is the automated canvassing system that will generate the consolidated votes for a candidate from municipal or city up to national levels.

Comelec expects 50 million registered voters to cast their ballots on May 10.

Ballot printing still on track despite machine glitch

One of the machines being used for the printing of the ballots for the May 10 elections has bogged down, the consortium that will automate the elections admitted on Thursday.

Comelec eyes regulating campaign cash donations

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) wants campaign cash donations regulated in light of reports that some candidates are getting financial support from drug lords.

Teodoro cuts spending on political ads, but not Villar

(UPDATE) Presidential candidate and Senator Manuel Villar continues to be the biggest spender of political advertisements at the start of the campaign period last month, already spending some P120 million, according to an advocacy group, citing figures from a media research firm.

In data by AGB Nielsen Media Research from February 9, the start of the official campaign period, until March 2, Villar remained number one among the top five candidates in the presidential race, shelling out P120, 411,093 for 195 minutes of airtime, according to Libertas in its forum Pera't Pulitika (Money and Politics) Thursday.

Former president Joseph Estrada is second with P88 million for 128.50 minutes, followed by Senator Benigno Aquino III with P87 million for 180 minutes. Senator Richard Gordon is at fourth with P67.3 million for 144 minutes, and in fifth place is administration standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro with P60,480 for 1.5 minutes of airtime, the research firm was quoted as saying.

Among the five candidates, it was Teodoro who considerably cut down on his spending on political ads based on data also from AGB Nielsen, which ranked him second behind Villar, spending P407 million during the pre-campaign months from Nov. 1, 2009 to Jan. 31, 2010. Villar spent P1 billion during the same period.

Libertas lawyer Roberto Cadiz said that the amount of ad spending was based on the published rate cards of the media outfits being monitored. But with the discounts, the amount of ads could be half the value of the published rate cards, he added.

The television ads of Villar, Teodoro, Aquino III, Estrada and Gordon were monitored from various networks.

Asked why he thought Teodoro spent almost zero for TV ads in the first weeks of the campaign, Cadiz surmised that the Lakas-Kampi standard-bearer was playing on the safe side of the law.

"He is a lawyer; he knows the campaign limit spending, so he just wants to comply…so he'll not be charged with any offense. But we don't know what his campaign strategy is," Cadiz said.

Cadiz said other candidates were managing the use of airtime so as not to exceed the limit set by law.

Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Practices Act allows each candidate a maximum airtime of only 120 minutes for TV ads, computed per station, during the campaign period.

In terms of expenditures, the Commission on Election allows a presidential candidate to spend only a maximum of P10 for every registered voter for the election campaign, or a total of P500 million based on the poll body's estimate of 50 million registered voters.

In a separate interview, Teodoro's spokesman, lawyer Mike Toledo told the public to watch out for their candidate's ads in the coming days. He said Teodoro personally approves the storyboard of the ads because he wanted to show something that he really believed in.

"It's just a matter of maximizing resources to ensure they are effectively used and to ensure that all our ads that would come out will haven that much punch power on the audience," he said.

Toledo refused to disclose details about Teodoro's upcoming ads, but said one of them would be like a covenant to the people.

Asked if the lack of ads was negatively affecting Teodoro's chances, Toledo said their campaign did not solely rely on TV ads but on sorties, which would give the former defense secretary a chance to mingle with the people.

Asked again if the party lacked resources that led to their almost zero ads, he said, "Definitely not. We have a lot of supporters. There is sufficient logistical fund."

Comelec dashes Acosta's presidential dream

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday threw out the presidential bid of Vetallano Acosta for lack of qualifications, leaving only nine contenders in the May 10 race.

Villar on alleged Arroyo links: 'I'm more opposition'

"I'm not just talkative. But I'm more an opposition than them."

Angara denies being Villar's emissary in bribe try

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Edgardo Angara denied Thursday that he approached Sen. Richard Gordon to withdraw from the presidential race in exchange for cash and a possible Cabinet position under a Villar presidency.

No Speaker Arroyo in Estrada presidency

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Former president Joseph Estrada assured the public Thursday that outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has no chance of becoming Speaker should she win in the May congressional race in Pampanga.

All is well between Teodoro-Manzano tandem

All is well now between the tandem of Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats candidates Gilbert Teodoro and Edu Manzano.

Teodoro and Manzano will appear Friday in the morning TV show Unang Hirit, where the former was scheduled as guest.

The sources said Teodoro asked Manzano to make a public appearance with him to dispel speculations they are splitting.

Earlier, Manzano's campaign manager, Reli German, griped about the lack of resources from the party. He said this was the reason the actor does not have campaign advertisements yet.

2 senatorial bets bolt parties, join Bro. Eddie

The Bangon Pilipinas party has beefed up its senatorial slate for the May 10 elections with the addition of two more candidates: singer Imelda Papin (from Kilusang Bagong Lipunan or KBL) and Zosimo Paredes (from Ang Kapatiran).

Gen. Lim barred from attending poll forum

Detained senatorial aspirant Brigadier General Danilo Lim was no show at a forum Thursday at the University of the Philippines where he was an invited guest speaker after the Philippine National Police barred a temporary pass granted by the local court.

1st in RP: 23,000 inmates to vote in May polls

For the first time in Philippine history, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said more than 23,000 Filipino inmates will be allowed to vote in the coming May 10 automated elections.

Cam: DPWH exec asked slain 'jueteng' whistleblower for 'commissions'

"Jueteng" (illegal numbers game) whistle-blower Sandra Cam is standing pat on her belief that a planned exposé on the multimillion-peso public works anomalies had something to do with the recent killing of fellow "jueteng" whistle-blower Wilfredo "Boy" Mayor in Pasay City on Sunday morning.

Signs indicate no term extension for Ibrado

All signs indicate there will be no term extension for outgoing Armed Forces Chief General Victor Ibrado as preparations for the turnover rites of the military command are in full swing, a spokesman said Thursday.

Military: Revenge bombings in RP capital foiled

Three captured Islamic militants had been planning to launch bomb attacks in the Philippine capital in revenge for the killing of one of their commanders last month, the military said Thursday.

Suspect in Sarangani attack bolts jail–police

A suspected member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who was also a suspect in the attack in Maasim, Sarangani last August 2008 that killed two civilians, escaped from his detention cell before dawn Thursday, a police spokesman said.

Murder complaint vs Mangudadatu dropped, lawyer says

The Davao City prosecutor's office on Thursday junked the murder complaint filed against Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu in connection with the killing of his suspected assassin last February 11.

MILF rebels look to new Philippine administration

by Agence France-Presse
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Moro separatists holding peace talks with the Philippine government Thursday said they would continue to pursue a landmark peace deal with the country's new administration.

SC junks graft raps vs Davide, Martinez

The Supreme Court threw out the criminal complaint filed against two retired Supreme Court justices over a land row ruling that favored the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

In a 15-page per curiam (anonymous) decision, the high court said the graft case against former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. and retired associate justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez failed to prove they "acted with partiality, bad faith or negligence."

In November 2003 resolution, the Supreme Court favored the UP'S claim over a 78-hectare property along Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. Private claimants Jorge Chin and Renato Mallari were contesting UP's ownership claim.

They filed corruption charges against Davide and Martinez after they concurred with the resolution penned by then justice and now Chief Justice Reynato Puno, which reversed an earlier final decision of the court declaring Chin and Mallari as the real owners of the property.

The counsel for the complainants said the action of the two magistrates constituted corrupt practices by causing undue injury to Mallari and Chin, and giving undue advantage or preference and unwarranted benefits to UP, which has since leased the property to Ayala Land.

The high court said a mere disagreement with the magistrate's own conclusion does not justify a criminal charge.

Arroyo to sign bill for prosecutors' better benefits

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is expected to sign into law a measure that will increase the benefits of the country's prosecutors to ensure more efficient prosecution service and attract more lawyers to enter government, Speaker Prospero Nograles said Thursday.

Atlas unit completes 4th copper shipment to China

MANILA, Philippines - Publicly listed Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp. said its subsidiary has completed its fourth shipment of copper concentrates from the Toledo mine in Cebu City.

Investigators on way after waves kill cruise passengers

MADRID, Spain -- Investigators were en route Thursday, and dead and injured were being evacuated, a day after 26-foot waves crashed into a cruise ship and killed two people off northeast Spain, officials said.

Around 50 ships stuck in Baltic Sea ice—maritime authorities

STOCKHOLM—Around 50 ships, including large ferries reportedly carrying thousands, were stuck in the ice in the Baltic Sea Thursday and many were not likely to be freed for hours, Swedish maritime authorities said.

China now 2nd largest industrial manufacturer—UN

China has overtaken Japan as the world's second largest industrial manufacturer, after the United States, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido) said Wednesday.

Pacquiao shoots for fireworks against Clottey

LOS ANGELES – Manny Pacquiao doesn't know if his March 13 welterweight world title clash with Joshua Clottey in Dallas will be his last, but if it is, he'd like to go out with a bang.

Pacquiao downplays 'leg injury'

MANILA, Philippines – Seven-division champ Manny Pacquiao has denied he sustained a serious leg injury while preparing for his welterweight title defense against Ghana's Joshua Clottey.

Mosley already tired of Mayweather's pre-fight antics

by Reuters
WASHINGTON – Shane Mosley is already tired of Floyd Mayweather's pre-fight antics and will knock him out when the two meet in May, the boxer said Wednesday.

Bata, Django face tough competition in Japan Open

MANILA, Philippines – Pool masters Efren "Bata" Reyes and Francisco "Django" Bustamante are expecting a rough sailing in the upcoming 23rd Japan Open where they will be meeting a tough line of competitors.

Maja Salvador denies 'wild' moment

MANILA, Philippines - Actress Maja Salvador has not gone "wild." Salvador vehemently denied reports that she and a young man, purportedly a friend of Roxanne Guinoo's fiance, had locked themselves up inside a car for some private time together.

Gaby de la Merced enjoys new-found acting career

by by Dennis Gasgonia,
MANILA, Philippines -- Formula 3 racecar driver and former Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) housemate Gaby de la Merced is enjoying her new found fame as one of the stars of daily teleserye "Kung Tayo'y Magkakalayo."

James Yap, son to campaign for Aquino soon

Coming soon: James Yap and son in the "Noynoy for President" roadshow.

LP campaign manager Butch Abad said that Kris, Yap, and Baby James would be part of one of the four groups that are campaigning for Noynoy. 

Abad said the first group is composed of Noynoy and his runningmate, Sen. Mar Roxas, while the second is the party's senatorial slate. The third is composed of Noynoy's relatives and friends, while the fourth includes Abad and other former Cabinet officials supportive of Noynoy's candidacy.

"The sisters...will be giving testimonials, they know Noynoy very well, his capacity to be a leader and to be president," said Abad, referring to Ma. Elena "Ballsy" Cruz, Pinky Abellada, Viel Dee, and Kris.

"Right now the schedule of the surrogates, including Kris and James, I suppose, is being plotted out by [former Social Welfare Secretary] Dinky Soliman and her group," he added.

Abad said he does not know what arrangements Kris has made with her home network ABS-CBN regarding her campaigning for her brother.

Singapore sticks to ban on chewing gum

Singapore on Thursday stuck to its 18-year ban on the import and sale of chewing gum, which has become an international symbol of the city-state's image as a strict society.

Israel aborts raid after soldier posts details on Facebook

by Agence France-Presse
JERUSALEM – Israel's military and one of its soldiers are no longer "friends" after the gunner posted details of an impending West Bank raid on his Facebook page, leading to the mission being aborted, the army and media reports said on Wednesday.

6.4 quake strikes western Pacific—USGS

VANUATU—A strong 6.4 magnitude quake struck near Vanuatu in the western Pacific Thursday, with an epicenter 213 kilometers (132 miles) from Santo (Luganville), the US Geological Survey said.

6.4-magnitude quake strikes southern Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan—A 6.4 magnitude quake struck southern Taiwan on Thursday, with an epicenter 35 kilometers (22 miles) deep, the United States Geological Survey said. No tsunami warning was immediately issued.

96 injured in southern Taiwan quake

TAIPEI—A powerful earthquake and more than a dozen aftershocks jolted southern Taiwan on Thursday, injuring 96 people, toppling farm houses and derailing a carriage on a high-speed train.

No Filipinos hurt in Taiwan quake—MECO

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There are no reports of casualties among some 75,000 Filipinos in Taiwan after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake there Thursday morning, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office said.

3 earthquakes hit RP

(UPDATE) Three moderate tremors struck the country – in Mindanao, Bicol and northern Luzon – on Thursday hours after a strong earthquake hit Taiwan and two days after another strong earthquake occurred in the Cagayan area.

Summer's here: Temperature highs in April or early May

It's time to pull out your bikinis and trunks and hit the beach.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced Thursday that the dry season, or summer, has officially started

In a statement, the agency said the northeast monsoon (Amihan) has terminated or stopped blowing into the country.

"The continued eastward migration of the high pressure area over mainland Asia and the development of low pressure systems in the Indian sub-continent indicate the termination of the northeast monsoon (Amihan) season in the Philippines," the agency said.

It added the termination of the northeast monsoon also signaled the coming of the easterly winds, or the warmer but humid winds from the Pacific Ocean that blow from the east into the country.

"The dry season or summer has officially started. Brace for warmer and humid weather," said PAGASA Deputy Administrator for Administration and Operations Nathaniel Cruz.

With the onset of summer, Cruz said temperatures all over the country would increase and have been seen to reach highs in April or early May.

On the other hand, Cruz said they were expecting rain showers over the Bicol Region and the eastern sections of Visayas and Mindanao.

"Even if you have El Niño, it doesn't mean you will have no rain. It's just that the amount, frequency and intensity will not be the same," Cruz said.

He added that the easterly wind would bring some moisture. When this moisture hits mountains, they will rise and form clouds and rains.

Evaporation of water due to intense heat will also be a factor in rain showers.

PAGASA also said easterlies might last for about three months with the onset of the southwest monsoon (Habagat) or wet season to start in the month of June.

On Wednesday, Metro Manila had its hottest day of 2010 with the mercury reaching 35.5 degrees Celsius. Temperatures on Thursday were in the same range at 34.1 degrees Celsius.

PAGASA earlier said the extreme heat might be the result of the El Niño phenomenon, or the abnormal warming of sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean that causes extreme weather conditions like droughts.

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