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

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April 19, 2010 Major News Stories

Forgoing royalties mulled

Malacañang is open to practical suggestions to reduce the country's power rates, including the possibility of giving up government royalties from Malampaya natural gas plant.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said the government may study the proposal of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to forego royalty taxes from indigenous energy sources, such as the Malampaya natural gas plant, to ease the burden of power consumers.

Olivar said Enrile's proposal was a ''constructive'' proposal to help resolve the country's power woes while other opposition groups merely launch criticisms against the government only to advance their political interests.

''Senate President Enrile has made a good suggestion that if the royalties collected by the government from Malampaya gas firm may be allocated instead in power generation expenses so it will not be passed on to consumers. That's a good suggestion, this is constructive so this may be discussed by concerned authorities like the DoE (Department of Energy) and the ERC,'' he said in his weekly media briefing aired over government radio.

Enrile, running for reelection in the May polls, earlier said the impact of the rate increases by power distributors like Meralco on consumers could be mitigated by the government reducing taxes and royalties receives from local and imported resources.

The senator said using royalties on indigenous sources of energy is a more efficient way to directly benefit the power consumers.

At present, the government relies on Malampaya proceeds to boost government revenues need to reduce its bloating budget deficit. Estimated government revenues from Malampaya natural gas project this year is around P9.632 billion.

''We hope there will be more constructive suggestions like this rather than just criticisms against the government,'' Olivar said of Enrile's proposal amid complaints from Meralco clients on their unexpected high power bills.

On another proposed review of the electric bills issued by Meralco, Olivar also said the government respects the independence of the ERC to deal with the matter.

''If they see cause to investigate Meralco to see basis that the increase in generating capacity cost was beyond justifiable, it's up to the ERC. They have the power to investigate. They are an independent body,'' he said.

''We will presume like anybody else that the ERC is doing its job in good faith to serve the public in terms of regulating the activities of all sectors concerned,'' he said.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay has also taken the cudgels for small power consumers and called on the ERC to review the Meralco computations of the April bills.

ERC earlier granted Lopez-owned power distributor the authority to impose price increases supposedly due to skyrocketing costs in the international spot market.

Olivar even defended the latest round of power rate increases imposed by Meralco amid a power deficit leading to brownouts in the company's jurisdiction.

He noted that power shortage is usually accompanied by higher prices due to unplanned capital expenses when power plants break down.

The power sector has to hold more repair and maintenance services of their power plants to accommodate high power demand during the summer months, he said. This meant additional expenses for power generating and distributing companies and more charges on electricity consumers. ''That's the law of supply and demand,'' Olivar said.

Olivar assured though the government would continue to look for long-term solutions to raise the country's power capacity and try to the rates reasonable.

Gov't presses on with power spot market's start in the Visayas

MANILA, Philippines - The current administration is pursuing its plan to start the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) in the Visayas before Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo steps down on June 30, the Energy chief said late last week.

SWS: Self-rated poverty at record low

MANILA, Philippines - The number of Filipino families who say they are poor has fallen to a level last seen 23 years ago as living standards in the country continue to drop, a survey by Social Weather Stations revealed Monday.

The SWS March 19-22 survey found 43% or an estimated 8.1 million families rating themselves as mahirap, matching the record low set in March 1987.

At the same time, 21.2% or some four million households said they experienced having nothing to eat in the last three months, down from December 2009's record of 24%.

"The reason why self-rated poverty is relatively low and at the same time hunger is relatively high is because living standards have dropped so low that many families do not rate themselves as poor even if they suffered from hunger recently," the SWS said. The results of the SWS survey were first showed to BusinessWorld.

Mild quake hits Tacloban City

TACLOBAN CITY - A brief 4.1-magnitude earthquake jolted the city at 8:27 a.m. on Sunday, but there were no reports of damage, a seismologist said.  Intensity 2 was felt in the city, and no aftershocks occurred.

OFW money transfers now exempt from stamp tax

MANILA, PhilippinesAs the amended Migrant Workers Act come into force, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) can now count on some P1.3 billion in extra savings with the abolition of the documentary stamp tax (DST) on all their remittances under the new law.

This was revealed by former Labor Undersecretary and now Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Susan "Toots" Ople in a news release over the weekend.

"The scrapping of the DST on remittances is timely, and should help the beneficiaries here of migrant Filipino workers recover some of the buying power lost due to the peso's recent surge against the dollar," Ople said.

The local currency closed Thursday at $1:P44.36, eight percent or P3.85 higher compared to $1:P48.21 a year ago.

The removal of the DST on all funds wired home by OFWs would help drive down money transfer charges, and put more cash in the pockets of those receiving remittances, Ople said.

She urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and the Department of Finance (DoF) to promptly issue the new law's implementing rules and regulations so that OFWs would immediately benefit from reduced remittance charges.

Local banks and non-bank money transfer agents such as The Western Union Co. and Moneygram International Inc. collect the DST before the funds sent home by OFWs are actually paid out to their beneficiaries here.

Based on the projected $19 billion worth of remittances from OFWs this year, the DoF said government would be giving up around P1.3 billion in revenues annually with the removal of the DST.

The new Migrant Workers Act, or Republic Act 10022, recently lapsed into law without President Macapagal-Arroyo's signature.

Section 22 of the new law provides that all funds sent home by OFWs shall be exempt from the DST. The OFWs beneficiary simply has to present a proof of entitlement from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Prior to the passage of RA 10022, all money transfers from abroad and payable in the Philippines, including those wired home by OFWs, were subject to the DST at a rate of P0.30 for every P200.

This means OFWs pay a DST of P33.27 for every $500 or P22,180 (at $1:P44.36) they send home. This is on top of foreign and local bank fees, plus the P0.50 to a dollar margin domestic banks are allowed when paying out remittances in pesos.

According to a previous study by the World Bank, OFWs spend up to $22 to send home $500, or as much as $14 to remit $200.

Fewer Pinoy nurses take NCLEX in Q1

MANILA, Philippines - The number of Filipino nurses taking up the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) fell by 28% in the first quarter of the year compared to a year ago, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) reported Sunday.

Do you want to study in Japan?

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MANILA, PhilippinesApplications are now open for 2011 Japanese government scholarships in various fields, the Japanese embassy said.

For undergraduates in social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences of five years of study, applicants need to be 17 to 21 years old, with 12 years of formal education (from Grade 1) and good academic standing.

For professional training in civil engineering, electrical engineering, electronics, wireless communication, business, nursery teacher training, nourishment, travel, music, dress making, design, photography, etc. of three years of study, same requirements as for undergraduate applicants.

For College of Technology in mechanical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, information, communication, and network engineering, materials engineering, architecture and civil engineering, maritime engineering, etc. of four years of study, applicants must be 17 to 21 years old and have 11 years of formal education (from Grade 1) and of good academic standing.

For research (as research student, masters, or doctoral course) in social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences with 1.5 to five years of study, applicants must under 35 years old, with 16 years of formal education (from Grade 1), a clear and feasible research proposal, and good academic standing

Under the research category, if grantee desires to proceed to a regular graduate course from a research student course, or to a doctoral course from a masters course or a professional graduate course, he/she may have the term of his/her scholarship extended upon successfully passing the examination by MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan) provided that he/she has outstanding academic achievement that meets certain criteria, the embassy said.

These scholarships are open to all Filipino citizens. Application forms are available at the JICC Library in Manila, the Consular Offices of Japan in Cebu City and Davao City, or may be downloaded from the embassy website.

Deadline for submission of requirements is on 28 May 2010, a Friday.

The selection process is composed of several stages: document screening, written exams, and interviews. Only selected applicants at each stage will be notified for further instructions.

Free scholarship consultations are also held at the library of the embassy of Japan every Friday at 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Interested individuals are requested to bring a valid ID so they can enter the embassy premises.

For more information, visit or call: Japan Information and Culture Center (JICC), Embassy of Japan, 2627 Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City 1300, Tel #: (02) 551-5710 local 2315 and 2317.

Consular Office of Japan in Cebu, 7/F Keppel Center, Samar Loop corner Cardinal Rosales Avenue, Cebu Business Park, 6000, Cebu City, Tel #: (032) 231-7321/22.

Consular Office of Japan in Davao, Suite B305m, 3/F, Plaza de Luisa Complex, 140 Ramon Magsaysay Avenue, 8000 Davao City, Tel #: (082) 221-3100.

Other useful links about studying in Japan: the Study in Japan Comprehensive Guide websitethe Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology (Japan) websitethe University degree courses offered in English (Jasso) websitethe Student Exchange Support Program (Scholarship for Short-term Study in Japan) Jasso website, and the Japan Study Support

Davide urges Capitol: Cancel Kepco deal on dumping ash

GUBERNATORIAL candidate Hilario Davide III is urging the Capitol to cancel its memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco).

Davide: We will visit all corners of the province

The Liberal Party in Cebu province, headed by gubernatorial candidate Hilario "Jun-jun" Davide III, is confident to completely cover in their campaign the entire province before the May 10 elections.

Gibo prayer rally turns Capitol grounds green

The Cebu Provincial Capitol grounds were flooded with people wearing green last night as a prayer rally was held in support of the campaign of presidential aspirant Gilbert Teodoro.

Concert, visit staged to cheer up Gibo troops

VOLUNTEERS coping with the stress of a campaign entering its final three weeks were treated yesterday to a concert at the Capitol grounds.

6 other parlors to offer free burial service: City

THE Cebu City Government's free burial assistance program will continue despite the threat of four funeral homes in the city to suspend their burial services starting today, an official assured.

Ex-barangay captain falls for gun possession

A former barangay captain of Manipis, Talisay City was arrested after he yielded two unlicensed firearms early morning yesterday in his residence in the mountain barangay.

Leovildo Togonon, 65, who last sat as the barangay captain in 2007, was arrested by virtue of a search warrant after a shotgun, a .9mm pistol and several ammunitions were recovered from his possession.

Joint operatives from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-7 led by Chief Insp. Rene Kyamko, the Special Reaction Unit of the Cebu Provincial Police Office and the Regional Intelligence Division conducted the arrest 6 a.m. yesterday.

The teams went inside the house of the suspect to serve the warrant issued by Judge Soliver Peras of the Regional Trial Court Branch 10 and were able to recover the shotgun with 12 bullets and the .9mm pistol with 20 live ammunitions.

The suspect however accused the city's Vice-Mayor, Allan Bucao, as the one who is responsible for his arrest.

Town cracks down on 'cybersex'

THE Municipality of Santa Fe wants to regulate operations of Internet cafes as a way to monitor the possible existence of cybersex dens.

No shortage of manpower during polls, says Smartmatic

THERE WILL BE no shortage of technical support crew for the general automated elections in May, an official of poll technology provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (Smartmartic-TIM) said, denying a report by a multinational think tank that the company is experiencing manpower trouble.

Voter turnout at 5% a week after start of OAV

A week after the overseas absentee (OAV) voting started, only over 29,000 or almost 5 percent of the total number of overseas Filipino voters overseas have cast their votes.

Highest number of Pinoy voter turnout in HK recorded Sunday

Over 5,000 Filipino voters trooped to the voting center in Hong Kong on Sunday, the highest number of voter turnout so far ever since the overseas absentee voting (OAV) started last April 10.

Namfrel to hold parallel count using shared returns

The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) will use copies of election returns issued to political parties to conduct a parallel count of the May 10 results, according to its spokesperson Damaso Magbual.

Bishop asks voters not to lose 'soul' in May polls

Lingayen-Dagupan Arhcbishop Socrates Villegas has asked Filipinos not to compromise their "soul" and instead look beyond May 10, when the country elects its new officials – from the president down to town councilors.

Results of HARAPAN senatorial debate voting

MANILA, Philippines - ABS-CBN's Harapan: Mga Isyu ng Bayan debates among senatorial candidates used three parallel mechanisms to gauge audience reaction during the event.

Results of TEXT NG BAYAN SMS voting as of 12:47 a.m.

Adel Tamano - 18.6%
Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel - 16.88%
Neric Acosta - 10.24%
Satur Ocampo - 10.19%
Kata Inocencio - 9.13%
Silvestre Bello - 7.64%
Liza Maza - 6.12%
Kit Tatad - 6.5%
Jovito Palparan - 5.42%
Raul Lambino - 4.8%
JV Bautista - 3.58%
Jo Imbong - 0.07%

Bro. Eddie, Noynoy lead in HK polls: report

MANILA, Philippines - Bangon Pilipinas Party standard-bearer Bro. Eddie Villanueva and Liberal Party presidential bet Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III are leading the vote in the early results of the 2010 overseas absentee voting in Hong Kong, a newspaper for overseas Filipinos said.

An exit poll conducted by the Sun on the first Sunday of voting held last April 11 showed Villanueva ahead with 396 votes, or 36.1% of the total 2901 votes cast. Aquino has 392 votes or 35.7%. Running a distant 3rd is Manny Villar with 204 votes or 18.6%.

Other presidential candidates received only marginal support: Joseph Estrada of Pwersa ng Masa ng Pilipinas (PMP) had 34 votes; Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro of Lakas-Kampi-CMD (Lakas) with 26; Richard Gordon of Bagumbayan-VNP (B. Bayan) with 22; and Jamby Madrigal (Independent) with 2. Two other candidates, JC de los Reyes of Ang Kasangga Party (AKP) and Jesus Perlas (Independent), did not get a single vote.

In the vice presidential race, Aquino's running-mate, Mar Roxas, slightly edged out Bangon Pilipinas vice-presidential bet Perfecto Yasay Jr. Roxas received 326 votes, or 30.2%, while Yasay was just 1 vote down at 325, or 29.6%.  Third in the race was Villar's running mate, Loren Legarda, with 198 votes, or 18%.

US unofficially reached out to Aquino camp

MANILA, PhilippinesWith the surveys showing him leading in the presidential race, the camp of Liberal Party standard-bearer Senator Benigno Noynoy Aquino III has been contacted unofficially by United States government officials, Aquino said on Saturday.

Aquino said his party-mates have talked to some American officials, adding that he had also expressed some of my views to former US Ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenney before she left Manila.

There have been contacts, but I am not sure how official they are. Of course, we expressed some of our viewpoints to Ambassador Kenney before she left, Aquino said in a press conference.

They talked to people who are close to me so it was unofficial. I am not even sure if they have been tasked to do this, he added.

Aquino said the Americans asked for the meeting and he gave the go-signal to his party-mates to meet them.

They asked for my clearance saying There are these people. They are from this they want to talk to us. Can I talk to them? Aquino said.

I said `Why not? Lets talk to everybody, he added.

He said that these unofficial contacts between his camp the US officials were still preliminary and did not involve serious discussions.

This is getting to meet, getting to know, general viewpoints, Aquino said.

He said he has been wondering at the number of foreign journalists who have visited him.

He said the last time he saw some of them was during the coup attempts during the time of his mother Cory Aquinos presidency.

He said that after the Time Magazine reporter came to interview him, there were at least three other foreign journalists who visited.

I have this sensitivity when theres foreign media. After Time, there were three others. Some were veterans of (the 1986) Edsa (People Power Revolt), Aquino said.

When theyre many, what is it that they see that we dont? They were here during the coups. It seems that something big is going to happen now that theyre here, he added.

Group hits Noynoy for lack of platform for OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - After recently calling on candidates in the May 10 elections to stop mudslinging and focus on issues, a group of Filipino migrant workers has gone on an offensive, attacking the bid of Liberal Party standard bearer Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional director, said they foresee the intensification of exportation of cheap human labor under an Aquino presidency due to the absence of concrete platform for local job generation.

"He (Aquino) is observed to favor the neo-liberal economic policies of the Arroyo administration like most of the presidential candidates," Monterona said in a statement. \

Monterona said Aquino, who has been leading in the presidential surveys, has no platform for overseas Filipino workers and their dependents.

"He would continue the exportation of cheap Filipino human labor in exchange for billions of dollars (in) remittances brought by OFWs; he will not genuinely implement agrarian reform," Monterona added.

The group has openly supported and campaigned for Sen. Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party in the presidential race.

Villar, whose name has been dragged in the C-5 road extension project controversy, has become popular among OFWs in his repatriation of several Filipino migrant workers who needed assistance.

Lakas official in QC defects to Estrada camp

MANILA, Philippines The camp of administration standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro has lost another key official.

But if it's any consolation, Representative Annie Rose Susano, Lakas-Kampi-CMD chair for vote-rich Quezon City, did not join Senators Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III of the Liberal Party or Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party, the survey frontrunners.

Susano opted to back the candidacy of former president Joseph Estrada, who considered her defection an early birthday present.

"This is one of the best gifts I've ever received," said Estrada, who turns 73, on Monday.

Besides a victory in the presidential derby, Estrada wished for an "honest, orderly and genuine election."

Estrada's campaign manager, Ernesto Maceda, said two senatorial candidates from Lakas-Kampi had approached his camp and asked to join his slate. He did not name them but said they were from northern Luzon.

"They believe they have no chance of winning under Gibo," Maceda said in a press conference at Estrada's house in North Greenhills, San Juan.

Estrada declined to identify the two candidates, insisting he did not want to say anything that would "put them in a negative light."

"I'd rather keep quiet. Anyway, our slate is full," he told reporters.

But Estrada appeared excited at the idea of getting Teodoro as a member of his Cabinet in case he won. He said he would take him with "open arms."

"I think he will be good as a justice secretary," he said. "I admire him as a person, as a public official. He's a very principled man and very intelligent."

But he was apparently careful not to appear like he was trying to derail Teodoro's candidacy, especially in the wake of defections of Lakas-Kampi stalwarts.

"In fairness to him, I don't think he will withdraw. I think he will push through with his candidacy," he said.

Susano, who is running for mayor, promised to deliver at least 650,000 votes, representing nearly half of the city's 1.6 million registered voters.

Maceda said the projection would be more than enough to propel Estrada back to Malacaang. "Five hundred thousand votes will probably be our margin of victory so (Susano) will be the one to deliver it," he said.

Susano herded members of her slate to Estrada's residence, on Sunday, where they took turns in getting a photo-op with the ousted president.

Susano claimed she decided to back Estrada in response to a so-called clamor from her constituents. "The people decided, not me," she said.

But it appeared that Susano made the decision without formally resigning as an administration party chairman.

"Lakas knows everything that I'm doing...Whatever (my partymates') decision will be, so be it," she said.

Susano used to be with the camp of Estrada's Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino when she first ran for councilor.

Villar in Davao fails to see Nograles

Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar was back in this vote-rich southern city yesterday but brushed aside speculation that he was meeting with House Speaker Prospero Nograles, who recently threatened to bolt the administration Lakas-Kampi-CMD party.

100,000 turn out for Davao rally of Villar, Revillame

DAVAO CITY, Philippines -- Under a heavy downpour, more than a hundred thousand people gathered on a vast football field here to watch the concert rally of the Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manuel Villar with popular TV host Willie Revillame.

Senior Superintendent Rene Aspera, the Davao City policel chief, placed the crowd at 100,000 to 120,000.

The concert rally dubbed "Wowowillie meets Rockatropa" featured the NP senatorial slate, vice presidential bet and Senator Loren Legarda, Villar, his endorsers Revillame and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, as well as severa entertainers like Bugoy Drilon, Randy Santiago and April Boy Regino.

The audience went wild the moment Revillame appeared on stage.

They screamed and danced while holding their umbrellas under the heavy downpour.

AFP orders release of 10 Magdalo men

MANILA, Philippines - The chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Sunday ordered the release of 10 members of the mutinous Magdalo Group over a week after settling their case before the military's general court martial.  The 10, along with former Scout Ranger chief now senatorial candidate Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and at-large Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, were also originally charged with violation of AW 67 or mutiny, which was earlier dismissed by the court.  The 10 were sentenced to 8 months in prison by a military court last April 7 after pleading guilty to offenses filed against them in relation to the November 2007 siege of the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City.

LP warns of "Ampatuan cheating machine" in May polls

The junking of the multiple murder charges against two members of the powerful Ampatuan clan could be connected with the May 10 elections, the Liberal Party (LP) said on Sunday.

Mangudadatu denounces junking of raps vs 2 Ampatuans

COTABATO CITY, Philippines Buluan vice mayor Esmael Toto Mangudadatu, whose wife, sisters and several relatives were among the 57 people slaughtered in November 2009, denounced the governments decision to have two members of the influential Ampatuan clan dropped from the list of the accused.

Mangudadatu said they would file a motion for reconsideration on Monday and should that appeal fail, he would bring the matter to the Supreme Court.

Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra earlier announced plans to drop murder charges against suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin former acting Maguindanao vice governor Akmad Ampatuan.

Zaldy had claimed that he was in Manila on the day of the massacre while Akmad said he was on a medical mission.

But Mangudadatu disputed their claims.

We have a witness who claimed that Zaldy attended the planning a day before the massacre. Its correct he was not in the massacre but he (Zaldy) was in the planning, said the vice governor.

Lawyer Harry Roque also said Zaldys claim that he was in Manila on the day of the massacre was just an alibi.

But Sonny Avila, one of Zaldys lawyers, said it was not an ordinary alibi.

Avila said they got documents to prove that Zaldy was indeed not in Maguindanao when the massacre happened.

(We have a copy of an entry in the) Malacaang log-book, a certification by the Philippine Airlines affirming on his flight boarding pass on November 23, and a statement by then Presidential Adviser Gabby Claudio to the media, including the Inquirer that he was in Malacaang on November 23, he said.

Manuel Reblando, brother of victim and Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro Bong Reblando, said not being in the massacre site should not be used in clearing Zaldy and Akmad from the crime.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also expressed dismay over the dropping of the charges against the Ampatuans. 
In a statement, the NUJP dubbed the Agra order as a massacre of the principles that define us as a country and as a people justice, the rule of law basic rights, democracy.

Agra has hijacked the judicial process and subverted the very justice he should be upholding, it said.

Of the 57 massacre casualties, 32 are media practitioners based in various cities in southern Mindanao.

NUJP vice-chair Nonoy Espina said Agra should have left the decision to the courts, saying that by deciding to drop the murder raps against Zaldy and Akmad, the acting Justice Secretary preempted a prerogative of the court.

This action, he said, was unthinkable as Agra was supposedly sworn to uphold justice.

The NUJP said the Agra order confirmed suspicions that the Arroyo administration would do everything within its power to assure that members of the Ampatuan clan would not be held accountable for the crime.

But surely, this travesty is not Agras doing alone, for he could not have done this without the full knowledge and approval of his principal, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it said.

The Ampatuans are avid political supporters of Arroyo, delivering the crucial bloc of votes that won her the presidency during the allegedly rigged 2004 general elections.

The Agra order, the NUJP further noted, came after the charges have been formally filed in court.

Not after the judge has issued a commitment order against them, for which the two, along with other members of their clan and several of the 197 accused have been transferred to the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center, it said.

It is not for us to proclaim the innocence or guilt of either Ampatuans for the November 23 massacre But neither is it for Agra to do so, it added

Broadcaster Neptalie Batolenio, vice-chair of the local NUJP chapter in Ozamiz City, said the justice department would clear Andal Sr. next.

They may be doing it piecemeal in order not to attract so much controversy. This is a dangerous precedent, said Batolenio.

Zaldy, who was elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2008, was suspended from his office following the filing of murder charges against him in connection with the massacre.

Apart from criminal raps, the suspended governor is also facing administrative complaints relating to how he supposedly acted or failed to act before, during and after the massacre.

But House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong said the suspended governor would not be released yet because of the rebellion charges also filed against him.

And even if Zaldy would be released eventually, Satumanong said he could not reassume his post as ARMM governor because of a suspension order earlier issued by the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Massacre families to appeal dropped charges

MANILA, PhilippinesFamilies of those slain in the Philippines' worst political massacre vowed on Sunday to appeal a government decision to drop charges against two members of a Muslim clan blamed for the killings.

"We are going to oppose this order in court. We will file an appeal," Harry Roque, a private prosecutor representing some of the families, told AFP.

"They are angry, feel they were absolutely betrayed by the government, and believe there is a political compromise," he charged.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra on Saturday ordered murder charges be dropped against cousins Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan for the November massacre in strife-torn Maguindanao province.

He said both men presented alibis that showed they were not present at the time of the massacre in which 57 people, including many journalists, were executed at point-blank range by gunmen loyal to the Ampatuans.

Government prosecutors had initially charged that both men and other members of the Ampatuan clan conspired to carry out the murders.

The murders were allegedly intended to prevent a rival from running against clan member Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the post of provincial governor in the May 10 national elections.

"The decision dropping murder charges against them was so sly and done on a weekend when no one was looking," Roque said. "It is so brazen, and shows that justice will not be reached in this administration."

Roque said his clients would also ask the court handling the case to disqualify the present panel of state prosecutors and appoint new ones.

The Ampatuan clan had enjoyed close political ties with President Gloria Arroyo until she was forced to disown them amid international outrage in the aftermath of the bloodbath.

Arroyo's government had in the past used the clan's huge private army to help the government in its anti-insurgency drive, and to ensure that her candidates won in the south during previous elections, security analysts said.

In exchange, the government allegedly turned a blind eye to corruption and abuses in the local government, while the clan was building up its vast wealth.

In his 16-page resolution dropping the charges, Agra said public outrage should not be a reason "for a sweeping and senseless indictment".

"To be sure, if life is taken, justice demands that the wrong be redressed," he said.

"But this same justice that calls for retribution cannot be the same one that would convict the accused whose guilt cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt," he said.

GMA still wants justice for Maguindanao killings

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is bent on bringing the perpetrators of the gruesome massacre in Maguindanao to justice but will not interfere with how the justice system works, Malacañang said Sunday.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar also stressed the President had no hand in the dropping of charges against two members of the prominent Ampatuan political clan blamed for the killings.

''The people should refrain from hurling baseless and irresponsible speculations about the case that would damage the justice system and provoke the grieving families of the massacre victims,'' Olivar added.

''It is obscene to insinuate that the President would interfere (with justice) for any kind of political or personal reason in the legal proceedings of a heinous crime like the Maguindanao massacre. However we may feel about this decision by DOJ, let us confine any debate to questions of law and fact, and let us reject baseless and inflammatory speculations,'' he said.

''Campaign politics, no less the sensitivities of the victims' bereaved families, should not be raked up in this tragic affair,'' added Olivar.

The Malacanang spokesman reaffirmed government's resolve to pursue the perpetrators of the massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists, last November which was considered the worst political killing in the country.

''I don't see any reason that would reduce our hope and belief that justice will be given to the victims of this crime. This is an international incident and whole world is watching. If only for that reason, we can expect that we will strive to bring justice at the soonest possible time,'' he said.

The Department of Justice has cleared Zaldy Ampatuan, former Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and his uncle, Akmad Ampatuan, former Mayor of Mamasapano town for their alleged roles in the Maguindanao massacre for lack of evidence. The two former government executives however will reportedly remain in detention until a local court orders their release.

Olivar said the Justice Department has the authority to make such decision and other tactical moves related to the Maguindanao massacre case regardless of the sentiments of some groups.

Meanwhile, the decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop the multiple murder charges against Zaldy U. Ampatuan has drawn mixed reactions from various sectors and individuals.

Relatives and supporters of Ampatuan have rejoiced over the decision, praising DOJ Secretary Alberto Agra for his ''very fair decision'' that would finally allow the suspended ARMM governor to ''get reunited with them and restart normal life.''

But other sectors, notably the relatives of at least 58 slain victims in the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre, expressed dismay over the DOJ decision and hoped that ''true justice'' would prevail against ''all people culpable of the gruesome murders.''

In clearing Ampatuan and his brother-in-law, Akmad ''Tato'' Ampatuan, Secretary Agra said conspiracy was not established against the two. In his decision, Agra acted on a petition for review filed by the two Ampatuans.

''Existence of conspiracy was not proven and being relatives and having similar surnames does not mean there was conspiracy,'' Agra said.

Agra also said documentary evidence proved that Zaldy Ampatuan was not at the crime scene at the time of the massacre.

''There's no proof of conspiracy so it gave weight to Zaldy Ampatuan's alibi. I cleared Zaldy based on the evidence he presented, consisting of plane tickets and cell phone records that he was not in Maguindanao at the time of the massacre, and a witness who testified that he was not in Maguindanao at the time,'' Agra said.

Meanwhile, House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong said Zaldy Ampatuan may not be released as yet, because while the DoJ excluded him in its muder charge sheets before RTC Branch 77, the department also sought to retain its rebellion charges in a motion for reconsideration it filed before RTC Branch 78.

Meanwhile, familes of the massacre victims said that they worry about their safety. In a statement, Harry L. Roque, Jr., a lawyer of some of the families of the victims, said Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra's recent decision to exonerate Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan proves what they have suspected all this time.

''That we cannot expect justice for the victims under the Arroyo administration,'' Roque said.

He said the families of victims of the gruesome murders now have another real worry - their personal safety.

''Secretary Agra exonerated the two Ampatuans on the ground of an alibi. Alibi though is the weakest of all possible defenses. Presence is not indispensible where a crime was committed as part of a conspiracy where the act of one is the act of all,'' Roque said in a statement.

''Alibi cannot prevail against positive testimony of a witness that the Governor was part of the planning of the massacre. Surely, Secretary Agra could at least point to a stronger ground as basis for the dismissal of the multiple charges for murder against Gov. Ampatuan. While there maybe other grounds for the possible dismissal: perhaps, political; it is not on the basis of law and evidence,'' Roque said.

2 gubernatorial bets submit to police probe over blasts

ISABELA CITY, Basilan, Philippines Two gubernatorial candidates here showed up at the Criminal Investigation Detection Group (CIDG) to clear their names in connection with the April 13 bombings in the province that killed 14 people and injured more than a dozen others.

Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, the Naval Forces Western Mindanao commander, said Ungkaya Pukan town mayor Joel Maturan and Anak Mindanao Partylist Representative Mujiv Hataman visited the CIDG office on Friday to clear themselves.

Text messages have been circulating around the province, implicating the two in the April 13 bombings.

They were not arrested. They just learned that they were going to be summoned so they were invited to shed light on this after their names turned up (in the investigation), Pama said.

Maturan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he went to the CIDG to give my side.

He said text messages allegedly coming from Hatamans camp accused him of having masterminded the bombings.

Thats why I turned myself in to give my side and to clear out rumors. I will always make myself available to any investigation conducted, he said.

Hataman, on the other hand, said he went to the CIDG after learning that Maturan had been invited for questioning.

I also want to clear my name so I turned myself in, he said as he denied allegations that he was behind the circulation of text messages against Maturan.

Two suspects, who were arrested after the attacks, earlier pointed to Maturan and Hataman as being behind the bombings. 
But Senior Superintendent. Edwin Diocos, CIDG chief for Western Mindanao, said the suspects testimonies will remain hearsay until we get direct confirmation from people who knew about the plan.

We need people with established knowledge of what had happened so we can establish the case, Diocos said.

Indeed, the two suspects recanted their statements after they were brought to Zamboanga City.

Senior Supt. Antonio Mendoza, Basilan police chief, said the suspects issued statements, which were on video, implicating one of the two politicians.

I am wondering now why they have recanted their statement after they were brought to Zamboanga City, Mendoza said.

Mendoza would not say who among Maturan and Hataman was implicated in the suspects statements.

Chief Justice aspirants to face JBC interview Monday

MANILA, Philippines -- For the first time, incumbent justices of the Supreme Court seeking to be the next chief justice will be publicly interviewed by a body tasked to choose three names to nominate to the President.

Associate Justices Renato Corona, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Arturo Brion are expected to appear before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for the public interview on April 19 (Monday) and April 20 (Tuesday) in Baguio City, where the Supreme Court is holding its annual summer session.

Acting Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval, also a candidate for chief justice, is also expected to face the public interview.

The eight-man JBC headed by outgoing Chief Justice Reynato Puno summoned the six candidates to a public interview amid the controversy over President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision to appoint his successor even when the constitutional ban against midnight appointments already took effect last March 10.

The Supreme Court last month voted 9-1, with three abstentions and two saying the case was premature, declaring that the constitutional prohibition against midnight appointments did not extend to the Supreme Court and ordering the JBC to submit a shortlist of nominees to Ms Arroyo on or before May 17, upon Punos retirement.

Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, the most senior member of the bench, and Conchita Carpio-Morales last week flatly told the JBC that they would not attend the public interview as they insisted that the Constitution prohibited Ms Arroyo from making further appointments.

After Carpio, Corona is the next most senior member of the court. By tradition the most senior justice is expected to succeed the chief justice.

Ironically back in 2005, Puno was among the 12 Supreme Court justices who rejected the plan of the JBC, then headed by outgoing chief justice Hilario Davide, to subject three incumbent justices to a public interview.

Puno, who was then the most senior justice, was among the three candidates being considered by the JBC. Davide was set to retire in December 2005.

Ms Arroyo's election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, in a statement, insisted that the JBC does not have to interview incumbent justices of the Supreme Court who are nominated for the position of Chief Justice.

He recalled that on Nov. 28, 2005 12 associate justices of the Supreme Court wrote a letter to Davide opposing the plan of JBC to call three nominated justices for public interview.

The JBC wanted to interview then Associate Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Artemio Panganiban and Puno, but the 12 justices said it is wrong for JBC to interview these sitting justices because the JBC is subordinate to the High Tribunal.

That would have been the first time that sitting justices nominated for the Chief Justice post would be interviewed by the JBC. Thus they added that since the adoption of the Constitution, the JBC has never interviewed nominees who were incumbent justices of the SC, hence there is no sound reason to depart from this established practice, Macalintal said.

In a joint comment submitted to the Supreme Court last week, the JBC said the high court should dismiss for being premature the petitions that would have the outgoing Ms Arroyo appoint Puno's successor after the May 10 elections.

The JBC said it has not yet decided whether it would submit to Ms Arroyo a shortlist of nominees for chief justice since Puno would retire on May 17.

The JBC also took strong exception to the statement in the Supreme Court decision written by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin raising doubt whether in an extreme case, a JBC list would be necessary at all for the President to appoint a Chief Justice if the appointee is an incumbent Supreme Court.

These statements are bereft of any constitutional and legal basis and impinge on the independence of the JBC in checking the power to appoint of the President, said the JBC which asked the high court to strike out the statement in order not to mislead the parties and the public.

The comment said that of the eight JBC members, only Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra did not join the comment.

Aside from Puno and Agra, other ex-officio members are Sen. Francis Escudero and Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor who chair the Senate and House committee on justice, respectively.

The four regular members who are appointed by Ms Arroyo are retired Supreme Court justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., University of Sto. Tomas law dean Amado Dimayuga for the academe, Integrated Bar of the Philippines representative Conrado Castro and retired Supreme Court justice Aurora Santiago Lagman for the private sector.

BSP Circular 268 opposed


Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' (BSP) memorandum Circular 268 threatens the job security of regular bank personnel, according to former Labor Undersecretary and Nacionalista Party senatorial bet Susan Ople.

For allowing banks to freely subcontract out in bulk jobs, the BSP will also be demolishing wholesale the source of livelihood of regular employees and their families, and reduce considerably the labor unions that protect the workers, she said.

Ople called Sunday on the Central Bank to immediately recall its memo, claiming that it is also widely opposed by labor unions across the country.

"There is merit to the grievance of bank labor unions that the circular abets unfair labor practices and union-busting, and threatens in a big way the job security of regular bank personnel," she said in a statement.

"This (memo) is basically labor-only subcontracting, where the contractor merely recruits, supplies or places workers to perform a job, work or service for the principal, in this case the bank," Ople stressed.

Ople noted that due to unchecked labor-only subcontracting, many regular jobs across all industries were lost.

More than 7, 000 regular jobs in the banking industry are also threatened by the BSP circular, she said.

On the other hand, she lamented those engaged by subcontractors but who also end up mistreated as mere temporary or part-time workers, and deprived of statutory wages and benefits, including mandatory social security and health insurance coverage.

Filipino teachers in US win case vs agency

CHICAGO - Some 200 Filipino teachers in Louisiana scored a legal victory Friday after the state"s labor department ordered their Philippines-based recruitment agency to pay about $1.8 million in illegally charged placement fees.

POEA stops Saudi firm from recruiting Filipinos

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has stopped a Saudi Arabian labor hiring firm from recruiting Filipinos after it failed to repatriate one of workers who had run away after complaining of contract violations.

In an order dated April 12, POEA administrator Jennifer Jardin-Manalili temporarily suspended the processing of all job orders for the Annasban Contracting Group and its mother agency Annasban Group until the repatriation of their former employee, Marissa Pajarillo-Andes.

Manalili said the POEA notified Annasban on March 29 to facilitate an exit visa and plane ticket for Andes within 10 days in accordance with the POEA rules and the implementing guidelines of Republic Act No. 8042 or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995.

The 10-day period, however, lapsed without compliance by Annasban, according to the administrator.

Andes, 31, a native of General Natividad, Nueva Ecija, is currently staying at the Bahay Kalinga refuge center of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

She was deployed to Saudi Arabia in October 2009 and was sent to the eastern city of Taif to work as a caregiver.

Andes said she was promised a salary of 750 Saudi riyals (about P8,800) and another 127 riyals (about P1,500) for food allowance, but she only got 650 riyals with 160 riyals further deducted for her placement fee, and no food allowance.

The OFW ran away from her workplace in January. More than 100 other Annasban-hired OFWs who experienced similar situation as Andes stopped working in the following weeks; some even staged a hunger strike to get the attention of Saudi and Philippine labor officials after Annasban refused to let them go.

Many were later repatriated but according to the OFW group Migrante International, 24 more Filipinos in three Annasban barracks remain after they stopped working to protest alleged labor malpractices.

In a statement, Migrante chair Garry Martinez, said "victims" of Annasban learned of the good news while they were in POEA to attend the first hearing of the cases they filed with the group's help against the company and its partner recruitment agencies.

At the same time, the families of the OFWs still being held by Annasban, also read the document while they were having a dialogue with POEA officials pleading for the immediate repatriation of 24 OFWs currently on work stoppage in protest of the business giant's alleged gross labor malpractice, he said.

"We're overjoyed with this good news. It's an inspiration for us to continue our fight so that the sufferings of our fellow workers in Annasban be put to end and its conniving recruitment agencies punished. Our fight for justice continues," said Helen Manlavia, one of the ex-employees of Annasban who was among the repatriated and one of the complainants in the case before the POEA.

"Now that this decision is out, we request and challenge the POEA and other agencies of the government to do all they can to repatriate my daughter and her colleagues.Their sufferings there are no joke. It is but right that those who caused my daughter and all OFWs these difficulties be punished," added Carolina Ventura, mother of Shiela Marie, an Annasban worker who remains in the city of Abha.

Martinez noted that Annasban can resume its hiring of workers once it complies with the repatriation of Andes.

"We welcome this favorable decision. We are further challenging them (POEA) to do their job by quickly deciding for the permanent ban of Annasban. We are warning Administrator Manalili that if the POEA does not move for the total ban, she will face the wrath of the OFWs and forever be known as the official who throws Filipino workers to the dogs," he said.

Chinese president Hu flies to Tibetan quake zone (AP)

JIEGU, China – Chinese President Hu Jintao cradled an injured Tibetan girl as she wept Sunday and promised speedy aid for the scores left homeless when a massive earthquake struck this remote, mountainous region, killing more than 1,700 people.

Hu cut short an official trip to South America to deal with the disaster in far west China's Qinghai province, where Tibetan resentment over Han Chinese rule has occasionally boiled over into violence.

The president's carefully scripted trip included visits with displaced families living in tents and rescue teams as they dug through debris. He also sat with injured survivors in a field hospital and promised the Communist Partyand the government was doing everything they could to help the quake victims. Most of the affected were Tibetan.

"I guarantee the party and the government will help you build a new home and make sure your children can return to school as soon as possible," Hu told a family living in a tent.

Footage on China Central Television also showed Hu grasping the hand of a monk as he pledged that every effort would be made to save anyone still trapped under the rubble. "As long as there is a ray of hope we will try 100 times harder to save lives," he said.

Earlier Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that a 68-year-old man was pulled from the rubble four days after the quake hit Wednesday morning. It said the man, Dawa, only suffered broken ribs and had been trapped in a space that allowed him to move around.

At a field hospital set up on the grounds of a sports stadium, Hu sat on the bed of a Tibetan middle school student identified by China Central Television as Zhuoma, and held her as she wept. Her right arm was bandaged and supported by a sling.

"Rest assured, you will have a full recovery," he told her. "Don't worry. I know you are a good girl. Be strong. You will have a bright future. Grandpa will be thinking of you."

Hu and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao have both cultivated grandfatherly images in a bid to portray the leadership as putting people first.

The death toll rose Sunday by a few hundred to 1,706 with 256 still missing, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the rescue headquarters in Jiegu. It said 12,128 were injured, including 1,424 in serious condition.

Most of the survivors who were not evacuated to hospitals elsewhere are now living in tents and have basic food and clean water, Zou Ming, head of disaster relief at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, told a news conference inBeijing.

Still, Zou said, getting aid to the region, which is a 12-hour drive from the provincial capital, remains a problem.

Hundreds of the dead have been cremated. In a hillside ceremony Saturday, Buddhist monks in face masks set ablaze piles of blanket-wrapped bodies in a mass cremation, as necessity forced them to break with the local tradition of "sky burials" — leaving corpses on a platform to be devoured by vultures.

Rescue workers were still searching for survivors and bodies in schools. The quake destroyed more than a third of the school buildings in Jiegu and rendered the rest dangerous, according to the Qinghai provincial government. It said 103 students were killed and 684 students and teachers were injured, and at least 38 others were still missing.

Shattered schools remain a sensitive issue in China, where a devastating 2008 quake killed thousands of students, and school buildings and code enforcement were found to be inferior. But the quake this past week flattened schools and other buildings alike.

The first makeshift school started classes Saturday, with 60 elementary and middle school students singing the national anthem, Xinhua said. More classes were expected to resume Sunday.

In town, residents who had camped outdoors amid the debris and lived for days on water and instant noodles eagerly stuffed vegetables into plastic bags as a woman sold eggs and cans of soft drinks on the sidewalk, one of the first vendors to receive goods from out of town.

Taiwan's Red Cross, meanwhile, sent a medical team with relief supplies and medicine, according to the government-owned Central News AgencyTaiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, and while Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory, ties have warmed during the past two years.

The exiled Dalai Lama said Saturday he'd like to visit the quake site, though he has not returned to China since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

"To fulfill the wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort," the Tibetan spiritual leader said. China hasn't commented but is unlikely to allow a visit after long accusing the Dalai Lama of fomenting separatism in Tibetan areas.

63,000 Europe flights cancelled since Thursday

About 63, 000 flights have been cancelled in Europe since Thursday because of a huge cloud of ash from a volcano erupting in Iceland, the European air traffic coordinating agency said.

Tearful pope says church will better protect young

VALLETTA, Malta - Pope Benedict XVI met Sunday with a group of clerical sex-abuse victims and told them with tears in his eyes that the Catholic Church would seek justice for pedophile priests and implement "effective measures" to protect young people from abuse, the Vatican and victims said.

Poland buries president as world leaders cancel

Around 150,000 grieving Poles thronged Krakow Sunday as President Lech Kaczynski and his wife were buried beside ancient kings, but Europe's air travel chaos kept many world leaders away.

Still undefeated

KENYAN Simon Losiaboi and Mary Grace delos Santos faced new challenges but still came out on top in the 2nd Annual Great Lapu-Lapu Run at the Liberty Shrine yesterday.

Pacquiao lacks defense, says Berto

MANILA, Philippines – Haitian-American Andre Berto, a willing challenger to 7-division world champion Manny Pacquiao, said the pound-for-pound king still needs improvement in the defense department.

Police: Boxer Valero suspected of killing wife

Former WBC lightweight champion Edwin Valero was detained on suspicion of killing his wife on yesterday, police said.

Alcano guns for Asian Games berth

MANILA, Philippines – Ronnie "Volcano" Alcano said he is eyeing a berth in the upcoming 16th Asian Games Cue Sports Competition scheduled from November 12 to 27 in Guangzhou, China.

Sta. Lucia whips Air21 in OT win

MANILA, Philippines - Import Anthony Johnson provided the fire for the Sta. Lucia Realtors to eke out a 106-98 win in overtime over Air21 in the KFC-PBA Fiesta Conference Sunday night at the Araneta Coliseum.

N.B.A. Roundup: Celtics Grind Out Win, Beating Heat at Its Own Game

from NYT > Pro Basketball by By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Trailing by 44-41 at halftime, the Celtics held the Heat to 32 points in the second half. Dwyane Wade, who was shadowed by the reserve guard Tony Allen, scored 26 points after averaging 33.7 in three regular-season games against Boston.

Allen also scored 14 points, a career playoff high; Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 16.

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday in Boston.

With 40 seconds left, a scuffle near the Miami bench resulted in two technical fouls against Garnett — an automatic ejection — and one each against Boston's Glen Davis and Miami's Udonis Haslem and Quentin Richardson.

Garnett faces a possible suspension and could miss Tuesday's game. He said he was concerned that Pierce, who had fallen in front of the Miami bench, had hurt his shoulder and wanted to clear space around him. Richardson approached and said something, and Garnett struck him on the left side of the face with his left elbow.

"I was just concerned about Paul," Garnett said. "You make your bed, you have to lay in it. I am smarter than that. I have to keep my composure in a situation like that."

Saturday's playoff game was the first since Game 6 of the 2008 N.B.A. finals for Garnett, who missed the playoffs last season because of a knee injury that required off-season surgery.

The Heat outrebounded the Celtics, 23-15, in the first half, and Boston missed 10 of its first 12 shots in the third quarter. But the Celtics closed the third with a 17-5 run and Miami, which allowed 94.2 points a game in the regular season — the second fewest in the league — was outscored by 21-10 in the fourth.

Trailing by 2 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Celtics tied the score at 68-68 on two free throws by Rajon Rondo, who had 10 points and 10 assists.

Davis's 3-point play moments later gave Boston the lead for good, 71-68.

HAWKS 102, BUCKS 92 Led by Joe Johnson's 22 points and receiving production from its key players, Atlanta blitzed Milwaukee early, survived a lackluster showing after halftime and held off the visiting Bucks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference series.

"We probably played as good in the first half as we've played all year," Hawks Coach Mike Woodson said. "We jumped them right away."

The Hawks had mismatches all over the court, taking advantage of an injury that took out Bucks center Andrew Bogut late in the season. The Hawks never trailed, building a 20-point lead in the first quarter and a 62-40 edge at halftime.

"The first half, we were a little shell-shocked," Bucks Coach Scott Skiles said. "In the second half, we competed harder. We settled down a little bit. In the second half, we played more like ourselves."

Brandon Jennings helped the Bucks make a game of it, scoring 34 points in his playoff debut. But Jennings, a rookie, did not have nearly enough help: only two other Milwaukee players scored in double figures.

Game 2 is Tuesday in Atlanta.

Milwaukee was making its first playoff appearance since 2006, and the Bucks' inexperience showed even as Jennings tried to take matters into his own hands. He took 25 shots, making 14, and accounted for more than a third of Milwaukee's points.

"Not having Andrew Bogut, I have to go back to playing the way I was at the beginning of the season," Jennings said. "I have to be more aggressive if we're going to have any chance to win."

It is going to be tough for one player to beat the Hawks, who have a balanced lineup and perhaps the best sixth man in the league, Jamal Crawford. Johnson scored 22 points, Mike Bibby added 19 and the other Atlanta starters also were in double figures. Crawford added 17 points in the first postseason appearance of his 10-year career. By comparison, only two other Milwaukee players scored in double figures.

NUGGETS 126, JAZZ 113 Carmelo Anthony scored 42 points, a playoff career high, and J. R. Smith's fourth-quarter flurry of 3-pointers helped Denver beat visiting Utah in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series.

Anthony scored 41 points against Dallas in the second round of the playoffs last season. He benefited from the absence of Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, who will be sidelined for two weeks after aggravating his strained left calf during a workout Thursday.

Deron Williams had 26 points and 11 assists, and Carlos Boozer added 18 points and 9 rebounds for Utah, but Jazz center Mehmet Okur was helped off the court after aggravating his left Achilles' tendon injury in the second quarter. He scored 7 points in 11 minutes. C. J. Miles scored 17 points but also missed some time after colliding with Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups in the second half.

Game 2 is Monday in Denver.

BYNUM HAS PAIN-FREE PRACTICE Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum practiced without pain, and Coach Phil Jackson said he hoped to have him in the starting lineup for Game 1 of the Lakers' first-round series against Oklahoma City on Sunday. Bynum missed the last 13 games of the regular season because of a strained right Achilles' tendon.

"I wish we were going already," said Bynum, who averaged 19.3 points in three games against the Thunder this season.

Cavaliers 96, Bulls 83: With Shaquille O'Neal Back, Cavaliers Strike First

from NYT > Pro Basketball by By JONATHAN ABRAMS

He observed as a (generously listed) 325-pound man disappeared right in front of him.

One second, Chicago's Noah, feet planted and elbow bent, held the CavaliersShaquille O'Neal in full view. Then, as fast as LeBron James can throw talc in the air — poof — O'Neal was gone.

Noah nearly toppled into the empty space as the victim of a vanishing spin move and dunk.

"It was a basic move," O'Neal said. "I just spin and go up strong. I've been doing it for years."

O'Neal is both aging and an anchor, and he entered Saturday's game having not played since Feb. 25, when he sprained his thumb. He returned for the playoffs and was surprisingly effective in the Cavaliers' 96-83 victoryagainst the Bulls in the opening game of their first-round series.

No one, including Coach Mike Brown, knew what to expect. So it was a relief to the Cavaliers and a boost to their championship hopes when O'Neal collected 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 24 minutes.

"He's been terrific working his tail off and getting ready for this," Brown said.

Brown went the final 23 games of the regular season without O'Neal, and he rested James in the final four, prompting a debate about the value of rest versus the danger of rust. James was steady but not spectacular, totaling 24 points, 5 assists and 4 blocked shots.

"This is what we all waited for," James said. "As much as we love the regular season, we love the postseason even more."

The game turned testy at times. Noah exchanged words with Anderson Varejao in the first quarter. James and Brad Miller were assessed technicals after they collided on a drive by James. And James and Luol Deng traded barbs at the halftime buzzer, when the Cavaliers led, 56-41.

"You have to see these guys four times at least," James said. "You're not going to like the guy in front of you. You're not going to like them, and they're not going to like us."

Saturday's game was one of the few in which the Cavaliers had their full complement of players. The depth of their frontcourt bothered and tired Noah and Miller, and the Bulls were outrebounded, 50-38. Antawn Jamison had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Varejao grabbed 15 rebounds.

The Cavaliers built a 22-point lead in the third quarter, but did not close out the Bulls until the final minutes.

After Chicago pulled to 88-79, James responded with consecutive layups and Mo Williams made a 3-pointer to put the game out of reach, 94-81, with 1 minute 53 seconds left.

After his third-quarter spin move on Noah, O'Neal practically skipped back up the court.

"That's the patented move," O'Neal said. "I've been doing it for years. That's the 'Diesel Truck With No Brakes.' You see when I get into that move, people get out of the way because they know I'm going and don't have brakes."

O'Neal calls himself a "special consultant" in the twilight of his career, helping James and the Cavaliers organization. While he was injured, he lost 20 pounds through diet and exercise.

James spoke of the timeliness of O'Neal's return: "It's been a while. We probably haven't had our full team all year, honestly."

That timing threatens to make the Bulls' postseason brief. They rallied to make the playoffs shortly after reports surfaced that Coach Vinny Del Negro and John Paxson, the team's executive vice president, got into a shoving match over the use of Noah, who is coming off an injury.

The burden on the Bulls — a No. 8 seed trying to topple a No. 1 — was heavy. Derrick Rose shot early and often and carried much of the team's load. His 28 shots accounted for 28 points, a number that may not be in the Bulls' favor.

"I always want Derrick to be aggressive," Del Negro said. "We need him to score the basketball the way we're set up right now."

They may need more than that, especially with O'Neal around. Noah might have nightmares about a disappearing O'Neal.

"He has to go to sleep at night and worry about what he's going to do with Shaq," Williams said.

Lapu-Lapu holds food fest today

by By Garry B. Lao

Hundreds of people will look forward to this year's food festival at the Liberty Shrine, formerly know as "Mactan Shrine," which will kick off tomorrow as part of the celebration's "Kadaugan sa Mactan."

6 presidential bets get unsolicited advice from Belo


Six presidential candidates Sunday got another spat of "unsolicited advice" to boost their chances of victory in the May 10 elections, this time it's neither from political adviser nor a counsellor from a religious group but from Dr. Victoria "Vicky" Belo – a famous cosmetic doctor.

As guest of "Salamat Dok" – a Sunday morning show hosted by Bernadette Sembrano aired on ABS-CBN channel, Belo came out with advices not anchored on health problems affecting the Filipinos but more on "beauty tips" to entice more voters on Election Day aside from their usual platform of governance.

"It is important that our President should always look good because people from other countries would see the Filipinos in them," Belo said. The 54-year-old head of the Belo Medical Group, known for providing the latest technology health and beauty to the country's top showbiz people, believes that "beauty rules" in the political circle, too.

Starting with Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Liberal Party standard bearer, Belo suggested that he does something for his thinning hair by availing of modern hair transplant process to attract more voters.

She suggested that Noynoy – a consistent topnotcher on poll surveys – should also undergo a Thermage procedure which involves skin laser to improve his loose facial skin that makes him look much older.

Former Joseph "Erap" Estrada of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) needs no hair transplant since he is blessed with thick hair. But Belo pointed out that Erap, a former movie actor who is seeking reelection, needs to do something with his bulging eye bags.

For her former "crush," Sen. Richard "Dick" Gordon of Bagumbayan, Vicky thinks Botox work on his forehead will do him wonders to look much better. Gordon must undergo liposuction on the cheeks and near the chin to make his face smaller.

Belo also said that Gordon must do something about his worsening lines in his forehead.

Former defense secretary Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro Jr., administration's "very attractive presidential bet," obviously needs hair transplant. But Belo suggested that a little improvement must be done on Gibo's drooping eyes and wide nose.

To counter his ageing skin, she said that Gibo can undergo Ultherapy system which will tighten his loosened skin for that younger look.

Considered the "only rose among the thorns," Belo wants Botox and liposuction work on the face of Ma. Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal to reduce its "squareness." "O di ba? girl na girl na siya (Doesn't she look more feminine now)," Vicky commented on the "after" computer enhanced photo of Jamby.

Sen. Manuel "Manny" Villar of the Nacionalista Party would look more handsome if he gets ride of the crow's feet lines on his face through Botox and Obagi to avert skin degeneration resulting from too much exposure from sun heat and stress.

Vilma Santos hopeful for LP victory on May 10


LIPA CITY, Batangas — Despite the fact that the Province of Batangas is being dominated by the allies of the administration, re-electionist Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto expressed optimism that she and the Liberal Party will come out victorious this coming May 10 elections.

"We're doing good; we are giving a good fight at this point in time. We are the opposition now, and I am looking forward for a new change, a better and positive change for our countrymen," Santos told newsmen during the recent press conference in Batangas attended by LP stalwarts led by its standard bearer Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

According to Santos a recent survey conducted in the province showed that the LP holds a substantial lead among the rival candidates.

"The gap is overwhelming, the survey was at the end of March, double digit number, (Nacionalista Party presidential bet) Manny Villar is second; while (LP vice presidential candidate Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas II) is a run away," Santos pointed out.

Santos said that in the gubernatorial race in the province, she is leading with a comfortable margin from her closest rival.

She said that in the last elections, out of the 1.2 millionvoting population in Batangas, the turnout of voters was about 80-85 percent.

"I had an advantage of more than 135,000 against my opponent here," she said.

Santos said she hopes to maintain her lead over all her rivals now that she has merged with the LP of Aquino.

"I am now with the opposition, it's not easy but we're getting good numbers and I am happy with that," Santos said.

"As long as your intentions are pure the people will support you and the people will believe in you," Santos stressed.

Likewise, Santos revealed that a political campaign advertisement will come out anytime next week wherein she will be endorsing the candidacy of Aquino.

Willie Nep guts presidentiables

MANILA, Philippines - Sa kakaibang miting de avance sa Music Museum, nagtagisan ng talento ang mga nagpapakilalang kandidato sa pagka-pangulo sa "Presidentiables Gut Talent" ni Willie Nepomuceno.

Erap's bday wish: clean polls, less cigarettes

Former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada on Sunday said he has nothing else to wish for in his 73rd birthday on Monday, except for the country to have clean and honest elections on May 10. But if there's one thing the presidential aspirant would give himself, it is to reduce his tobacco intake.

Madrigal's ads get TV airtime

MANILA, PhilippinesWith less than a month before the May 10 elections, Senator Maria Ana Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal's infomercials have finally gotten television airtime.

Earlier, the senator claimed that fellow presidential bets Senators Manuel "Manny" Villar and Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III have cornered during the past two months by

On Saturday, ABS-CBN started airing Madrigal's 30-second TV ads on primetime.

The same infomercials will also be aired shortly by GMA-7.

Madrigal's French husband Eric Dudoignon Valade calls her TV ads "one of Jamby's aces" in her presidential bid.

The senator, who has no running mate and a senatorial slate, said "it's about time to tell the people who still don't know my advocacy that aside from the two leading candidates (Aquino and Villar), there is someone else who could be an alternative."

And unlike Manny Villar's infomercials, my TV ads do not exploit children. There are also no showbiz stars and no singing and dancing. They also show that I'm a candidate running a different campaign, one without 'hakot (paid supporters).' They're principle- and issue-based," Madrigal told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Madrigal said her infomercials were "so different that Villar will have to put out 20 commercials to match the impact of one of my commercials."

"So maybe 1:20 yung ratio ng mga commercials namin," she said. "Panalo si Villar kung paramihan ng TV ads, pero kulelat siya kung quality ang pag-uusapan."

Madrigal noted her TV ads were "part of my walking my talk."

"I promised the Filipino people when I declared that I would be a presidential candidate who would run out of principle and not out of political ambition," she said.

According to Madrigal, her infomercials "would also be a good chance for voters to finally see completely what my platform is after having run my campaign for two months."

"During the past two months, I did not compete with Villar for airtime because he has bought all the airtime you can't even barely get anything...So if it's only a matter of airtime, the richest person will always be our president. But I think God loves us enough not to make that a reality," she said.

Valade, who described himself as "Jamby's No. 1 fan," said they "believe in quality, not in quantity of TV ads."

"I believe strongly that even without using popular actors and actresses, Jamby's ads can influence more people. If using showbiz people would be the case, the likes of Mike Defensor, Chavit Singson, and Pichay would be senators today. But they are not."

Valade observed "so many famous people are endorsing every Tom, Dick, and Harry today. I think it's an insult to the Filipino intelligence."

Ranulph West, a Madrigal family friend, said the senator's TV ads "may not have catchy music but they provide information about issues or about a state that people are in and they need help."

"They provide voters with an informed choice," West also said.

Fritzi Lim, Madrigal's secretary, said "despite the absence of Kapamilya and Kapuso stars, Senator Jamby's infomercials uplift Filipino values."

Di lang pa-pogi (Not only puff) points like Villar and Noynoy's ads," Lim pointed out.

She thinks "this is the perfect time to air Senator Jamby's infomercials...Ngayon kami babanat (We will hit this time)."

Both West and Lim believe that Filipino voters could see through showbiz folk endorsing poll bets and relate to Madrigal's ads.

Madrigal was the first to criticize Villar's "numerous and frequent infomercials and jingles and their use of children and actors and actresses."

The Nacionalista Party standard-bearer's ads play up his alleged ordeal as a poor boy from the slums who made good with jingles containing lyrics like "Nakaligo ka na ba sa dagat ng basura (Have you taken a bath in a sea of garbage)."

Aquino's TV ads, on the other hand, feature more than a dozen ABS-CBN and GMA-7 artists led by Kris Aquino, the senator's famous sister, Ai Ai de las Alas, Dingdong Dantes, Marian Rivera, and Ogie Alcasid.

Madrigal will air at least four infomercials.

No more showbiz career for Baby James, says mom

MANILA, Philippines – There will be no more showbiz career for toddler James "Baby James" Yap Jr., at least for now.

Film, TV director facing drinking problem?

MANILA, Philippines – The director of "Kimmy Dora" has belied rumors that she entered a rehabilitation facility purportedly to treat her drinking problem.  Joyce Bernal cleared that she is not an alcoholic.

Lara Quigaman denies wedding in Canada

by by Napoleon Quintos,
MANILA, Philippines – Fresh from her Canadian vacation, Precious Lara Quigaman has faced some members of the media to dispel rumors that she and her boyfriend, actor-model Marco Alcaraz, got married abroad.

Monday: sunny, Max Temp: 32°C (90°F), Min Temp: 25°C (77°F)

Max Temp: 32°C (90°F), Min Temp: 25°C (77°F), Wind Direction: ENE, Wind Speed: 9mph, Visibility: good, Pressure: 1011mb, Humidity: 58%, Sunrise: 05:31PHT, Sunset: 17:55PHT

22-year-old sex scandal hounds RP-ordained American priest

A conviction over a sex abuse scandal more than 20 years ago continues to hound an American Catholic priest who was ordained in and continues to serve in the Philippines.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines reported that Bohol-based Fr. Joseph Skelton Jr. still could not shake off the bad publicity stemming from his conviction in 1988.

"Under the circumstances all is not so well ... I don't know how to explain it," he said in an article posted on the CBCP news site Sunday.

Skelton was ordained in the Philippines, with Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak ordaining him without knowing about his conviction. Tumulak, who was Tagbilaran bishop from 1992 to 2005, is now serving as military bishop.

The American priest is the priest-in-charge of the Sacred Music ministry of the Diocese of Tagbilaran and also serves as associate pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Calape town of Bohol, under the Diocese of Tagbilaran.

Skelton's conviction for sexual misconduct came in 1988, while he was still a seminarian in Detroit, Michigan. The CBCP said he would be transferred to another assignment within the diocese next month.

Tumulak said he met Skelton when Skelton was still a seminarian under the spiritual care and guidance of the late Bishop Felix Sanchez Zafra, Tagbilaran's third bishop at the time.

He said he did not know about Skelton's conviction then, adding Zafra introduced him as a seminarian wanting to become a priest and a former member of a religious congregation.

"Had I known of his conviction I would not have ordained him," Tumulak said, adding they at the Diocese of Tagbilaran had observed the prescribed canonical requirements prior to Skelton's ordination.

A happy and contented priest

After his ordination to the priesthood, Tumulak observed the newly-ordained Skelton as "happy, contented and very particular in celebrating the liturgy meaningfully and well."

On the other hand, Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso, an expert on Canon Law, said he found nothing wrong with Skelton's ordination to the priesthood. "He was convicted before he became a priest and he has served his penalty of being under probation for three years," he said.

He added that cases have prescriptive periods and Skelton's case was a "misdemeanor."

Medroso said he learned of Fr. Skelton's past only when a Manila-based newspaper published a story about it in November 2009.

Another Canon Law expert, retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, said the bishop has two options in cases where the seminarian conceals the crime and was revealed after his ordination.

"The bishop can either impose on the priest the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state or ask the priest concerned to seek dispensation from the clerical state," Cruz said.

He added cases like these are sent to Rome for the final decision.

For his part, CBCP President Nereo Odchimar said clerical sexual abuse of minors is subject to special instructions "de gravioribus delictis" (on more grievous crimes) under the competence of the Congregation of the Clergy in Vatican City.

Civil suit

According to the Web site, Skelton resigned from a seminary in Michigan after pleading guilty to abusing a 15-year-old boy in a seminary room. In a separate civil suit in 2008, a man claimed Skelton, then a seminary student, abused him when he was 14.

At the time, the youth was staying in the rectory's attic to avoid long commute. The case was settled for $125,000, the Web site said.


In the Philippines, Skelton's reassignment stemmed more from his difficulties in delivering homilies in the far-flung villages, according to San Vincent Ferrer parish priest Fr. Aurelio Luzon Jr. "He's having difficulty with his homilies in Cebuano though he can
understand and talk a little in the native tongue," he said.

Dadoy Canton, parish secretary of St. Vincent Ferrer parish in Calape, Bohol since 1993, described Skelton as "mabait (kind)."

He said Skelton was assigned in Calape since June 2009 and treats the people around him well. He said he did not know about the Skelton's record until its publication in the newspapers.

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