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

Sunday, April 4, 2010

April 5, 2010 Major News Stories

High temperatures to stay until middle of May – PAGASA

High temperatures will continue until around the middle of May due to the easterly waves and the El Niño weather disturbance, which has spawned drought in many parts of the country, according to the weather bureau.

Drugstores told: Follow Cheaper Medicines law

MANILA, Philippines - Marso a-trenta'y uno nang ipatupad ang ikalawang bugso ng pagbabawas ng kalahati sa presyo ng 97 gamot. Kabilang dito ang mga gamot para sa blood pressure, cholesterol, antibiotics, anti-cancer at renal dialysis fluid. Babala ng Department of Health, dapat sumunod sa batas ang mga botika at ospital.

Shooting wounds 2, as others celebrate Christ's resurrection

EASTER celebrations in southern Cebu continued without major incidents, although a shooting occurred not far from where the "Sugat" took place in Mingla-nilla town yesterday dawn.

Two men were wounded when a still unidentified person, believed to be drunk, shot them while they were walking near the Minglanilla Public Market.

Except for a shooting that injured three people, including a pregnant woman, the Holy Week observance in Mandaue City was also peaceful, said Senior Supt. Noel Gillamac.

Gillamac, Mandaue City Police Office chief, said there were no major incidents that marred the celebration of Lent.

In the first case, PO1 Rodolfo Quilala of the Minglanilla Police Station said the "Sugat" did not end until about 5 a.m. The shooting took place at 4:30 a.m.

The market is located in an interior road of Barangay Poblacion 1. The main highway separates it from the town plaza and the church grounds, where the Sugat was being held.

Mark Lester Ragasajo and Joxan Ricabuenas, both 20 and from Sitio Mansueto, Barangay Bulacao, Talisay City, were walking along the road with the crowd when they bumped into a man who they suspect was under the influence of liquor.

Without warning, the man allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired at them.

Ragasajo was wounded in the right jaw while Ricabuenas suffered a gunshot wound in the stomach and a slight graze wound in one of his right fingers.

Both were taken to the Cebu South General Hospital in the City of Naga.

Police tried to pursue the attacker but he eluded them. Quilala said an investigation will determine if there were other motives involved in the attack.

Aside from the shooting, Cebu Provincial Police Chief Erson Digal said they received no reports of snatching or pickpocketing during the event.

He also gave a similar assessment of the activity held in the City of Naga.

As of yesterday, Digal said Sta. Fe was very quiet and the island's visitors had begun leaving the island.

"The entire Cebu Province was generally peaceful during the observance of the Lenten season," Digal said.

In Mandaue, Gillamac said the city police force did not receive any complaints about snatchings, pickpocketing and other petty crimes from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday.

The shooting, he said, happened past 6 p.m. last Friday in Sitio Uriel, Barangay Banilad.

Victims Jhonny Carangan, 53, single; Aldin Tomicwa, 36, single; and Richel Barrera, 20, were injured during the incident. Barrera is pregnant.

Carangan suffered a minor wound in his right toe; Tomicwa had a lacerated wound in the head; Barrera was wounded in the right leg.

The suspect, who reportedly works as a bodyguard, fled after the shooting.

According to initial investigation by the Casunti-ngan Police Station, the suspect, Carangan and other companions were playing card games when a commotion ensued.

The suspect reportedly shot Carangan in the foot.

The slug, however, ricocheted. Its splinters hit Barrera and Tomicwa.

Operatives from the Special Weapons and Tactics responded to the alarm, but failed to arrest the suspect, who fled after the shooting. Sun.Star Cebu is withholding his name because his involvement in the incident has yet to be confirmed. (JTG)

Catholics asked to 'Proclaim the mystery of Faith'

1 person liked this - leo lastimosa

CEBU CITY — His Eminence, Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, in his Easter message Sunday, called on all believers "to proclaim the mystery of faith as Christ has died, risen and will come again."

As the Church celebrated the most triumphant of feasts in the Roman Catholic faith, the Cebu prelate wished the faithful "a risen life, a day-to-day living that is hopeful, reconciled and at peace with God and with one another."

Cardinal Vidal appealed to all Catholics, "to each and everyone of us to be intent on things above, rather than on things on earth."

By "things above," Vidal said he meant "truth, justice, love and freedom that makes peace."

Moreover, the Cebu Cardinal urged all to be reminded that "things above are humility and patience in reconciliation, conviction and courage that gives hope in time of trouble."

Meanwhile, during the Siete Palabras (Seven Last Words) rites last Good Friday, Vidal called on every believer to become the "living witness of God."

In summing up last Good Friday's reflections, he asked Catholics to account for how the Lord Jesus Christ's presence in their lives have contributed to their lives' transformation.

In the same Siete Palabras reflections, the prelate brought to fore such important concerns certain to impact on the lives of all Filipinos, including the elections on May 10, the state of the environment, the importance of the Filipino's cultural heritage and the dangers of "economics without ethics."

Comelec officers to trade places soon

ONE of two election officers in Cebu City will probably be affected by a reshuffling the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will order among its field officers starting this week.

Comelec Cebu Provincial Election Supervisor Lionel Marco Castillano admitted he recommended the transfer of one of the city's election officers.

He assured the move will not jeopardize the city's elections and that the reshuffling is in line with their preparations for May 10.

The Comelec needs lawyers in the province to preside over the canvassing in the new cities of Naga, Carcar and Bogo, he explained. Those with relatives running for office in their jurisdiction may also be transferred.

Castillano refused to say whose transfer he recommended.

"Paabuton lang nato kay tingali ug apil pud ko nga mabalhin (Let's just wait for the official ruling. I might even be among those transferred)," Castillano said.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo earlier disclosed that among those to be reshuffled are personnel who have stayed in an area for more than four years.

Both lawyers Edwin Cadungog and Marchel Sarno have served in Cebu City for more than four years now.

Sarno is the city election officer for the north district, while Cadungog is the election officer for the south.

Interviewed separately, Sarno said he will be the one affected by the reshuffling and that he was already consulted about a temporary transfer to another city in the province.

"Kahibawo na man ko nga lakip ko sa maapektahan, giingnan na man ko, magpaabot na lang ko sa order kon aprubahan to ang recommendation (I was informed I would be affected, so I'm just waiting for the order, if the recommendation is approved)," Sarno said.

Sarno is confident, though, that he will be recalled and reassigned back in Cebu City when the election period ends.

As a good soldier, he said, he must obey orders from the Comelec's higher offices.

Cadungog, for his part, clarified the reshuffling of election officers is only for canvassing purposes and will not derail ongoing preparations for the first automated elections in the country.

He expects, though, to remain in his current position since Sarno was the one who chaired the board in the 2007 election.

"Under Comelec policy, one should not serve in successive elections in the same place. The transfer is supposed to be after every four years, but that's difficult to enforce because our appointments are permanent," said Cadungog.

"So, lahugay lang (So, we may be reshuffled)," he added.

Castillano added that election officers, supervisors and even regional directors cannot refuse reasignment.

He is also willing to vacate his post if the Comelec en banc will recommend his transfer to another province in the region.

He would not reveal the affected election officers, but said it is a regular process and will have no adverse effects on the May 10 elections.

Castillano also said the Cebu City canvassing will need only one election officer.

The creation of new cities in 2007, including Bogo, Carcar and Naga in Cebu, raised the need for more lawyers in the Comelec.

A city needs a lawyer for an election officer.

"I can't comment on my recommendation because I have not received the approval yet. But in every election, there is reshuffling," said Castillano.

He submitted his recommendation last January.

He heard the reshuffling could take effect this week.

"Even I could be affected," said Castillano. It will be the Comelec en banc that will handle the reshuffling of provincial election supervisors and regional directors.

Castillano's recommendation was limited to the election officers. (ETB/JGA)

Former chief justice Davide starts campaigning for son

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. is in Cebu to start campaigning for his son today. He will start his campaign with a press conference at the Ma-yi Restaurant at City Sports Club.

Together with his wife Virginia, Davide arrived in Manila on Good Friday from New York where he was assigned as Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations.

He resigned from the post on April 2 purposely so he could campaign for his son.

The elder Davide's presence is seen to boost his son's campaign, as he reportedly intends to visit his former clients in different towns in the province. He also formed his own campaign team, which means he and his son will be campaigning separately to cover more ground. 

The initial plan is for the older Davide to spend the week by attending various gatherings organized by the Liberal Party in Mandaue City headed by Mayor Jonas Cortes. Aside from attending the LP gatherings, Davide will also host an early morning program over Bantay Radyo replacing Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez.

Meanwhile, the wife of Davide III, Jobella, will also campaign separately with her own team, as well as their children Patricia Janelli, Dana Giannina and Niña Francesca.

In an earlier interview with The FREEMAN, Davide III said his father could have opted to just take a leave of absence, but the latter still chose to resign out of delicadeza.

Davide Jr. held various positions in government since 1959 just after he obtained his Law degree from the University of the Philippines. He first served as private secretary to the vice-governor then to the governor of the Province of Cebu.

Among the important positions he has held was being assemblyman for Cebu in the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978. He also became one of martial law's staunch critics and shortly after the overthrow of the Marcos regime through the "People Power" revolt in February 1986, then President Corazon Aquino convened the Constitutional Commission (CONCOM) of 1986 and appointed Davide Jr. one of the 50 Commissioners.

On February 1988, Aquino appointed Davide Jr. as Chairman of the Commission on Elections during which he sponsored the Comelec's rules of procedure.

Ten years later, former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada appointed Davide Jr. as the 20th Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court. He would later become the presiding judge in the impeachment trial against Estrada. 

Boholanos eager for next Aumentado mega projects - Bohol Standard

THE Boholanos have given a two-thumbs up rating to the next set of mega projects Gov. Erico Aumentado is mulling for the province.

The high rating came through this year's Bohol Poll – the yearly survey conducted by the Holy Name University (HNU) Research Center using expertise acquired in 1997 from the Social Weather Stations (SWS) through the Governance and Local Democracy (Gold) Project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAid).

Today, HNU prides itself to be the only independent polling body outside of Metro Manila that conducts annual polling.

HNU ran the 2010 Bohol Poll from February 13 to March 8. Wanting to know the Boholanos' pulse on his mega projects also, Aumentado asked HNU to include rider questions covering the seaweeds industry, the Bohol-Cebu Multi-Access Friendship Bridge (BCMAFB), the Bohol Circumferential Road Improvement Project (BCRIP) Phase 3, upgrading of the Malinao Dam to double its water storage capacity and the Transco-Bohol Backbone Transmission Project, as well as the preference of Second District residents for congressman.

A total of 400 respondents distributed in urban and rural areas across Bohol, or 100 per congressional district and another 100 for Tagbilaran City were asked if they agreed to the project proposals.


The province's ideal peace and order condition – tranquil and conducive to investments – compared to other Eucheuma cottonii-rich provinces like Tawi-tawi and even Davao have led the Koreans to choose Bohol for their investment.

Ambassador Choi Joong-Kyung was visibly impressed when Aumentado mustered good attendance given very short notice for the signing at the Bohol Tropics Resort in July last year of a memorandum of understanding with Dr. Gyung-Soo Kim, chief executive officer of Biolsystems Co,, Ltd. with address at the West Tower, Yeoksam-Dong, Kangnan-Gu, Seoul, Korea.

Aumentado had called on the ambassador at the latter's embassy office in Makati City for an entirely different matter. Choi admitted that on hearing the governor talk on his vision and aspirations for Bohol, he "found" his man – the perfect person and local chief executive to help Dr. Kim realize and implement big-time his discovery: extracting bio-ethanol for gasoline additive from seaweeds "for a cleaner, greener and fresher atmosphere."

Kim and his Korean partners intend to mass produce cottonii, extract bio-ethanol from it, use the waste for biomass power generation and the residue for organic fertilizer – or investments to the tune of P7.5 billion – to be located in the Special Industrial Economic Zone in Talibon town that spells livelihood and job generation for the Boholanos.

On top of it and to ensure sustainability of the project, the Korean government, through Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding, will also put up an algae bio-ethanol research center costing US$2.9 million within the zone.

Of the Boholanos polled, 74 percent agreed while six percent disagreed, giving the project a +68 percent net rating.

Super bridge

Having been to Korea for several times already, Aumentado knows that it has the technology already to build long bridges or overpasses far more impressive than what Metro Manila can offer. In much the same way that he brought to realization the bringing of geothermal power from Leyte to Bohol via submarine cable a few years back, he is again mulling a bridge to connect Bohol and Cebu.

Aside from transporting people and goods, the governor said cables to bring Cebu's excess power to Bohol, pipes to bring excess water from Bohol to Cebu and fiber optics cables can be installed astride the bridge, making the propositions reasonably priced than using submarine cables or pipelines.

To this, 77 percent of the Boholanos polled agreed while seven percent disagreed, giving it a net acceptance rating of +70.

In Bohol, the bridge's anchor will be Getafe, the town next to Talibon, both in the Second District, and Cordova in Cebu. The proposal got an 83 percent agreement in the district, with only two percent disagreement, or a net acceptance rating of +81 percent.

The bridge will also be a major highway for the transport of bio-ethanol to Cebu and onwards to other parts of the country and abroad. The Korean government has pledged US$3 million to finance the project feasibility study.


The first two phases of the BCRIP have been completed, but the "real" coastal road around the Anda Peninsula to Ubay and around Panglao Island – the "two ears" of the "head" that is mainland Bohol – as well as the Tagbilaran Bypass and the Baclayon Diversion Road have yet to be concrete paved. Apparently, the governor left these for last as these are "out-of-the-way" routes of the mainland, although equally important.

The Anda Peninsula also boasts of a long beachline of fine powdery white sand. It runs from Guindulman town and onwards to Anda, Cogtong, Candijay, Mabini and then to Ubay.

On the other hand, the Tagbilaran Bypass and Baclayon Diversion Road anticipate the heavier traffic and are meant to decongest the province's southwest side for when the Panglao Bohol International Airport becomes operational.

His self-imposed "first act" as come-backing congressman of the Second District is to file a bill converting these provincial roads into national roads in order to qualify for ODA funding after the incumbent Bohol solons failed to do so in the past nine years.

Of the Boholanos polled, 87 percent agreed while two percent disagreed, giving the project a +85 percent acceptance rating.

Malinao Dam

The Malinao Dam is a component of the Bohol Irrigation Project Stage 1. It has a water storage capacity of five million cubic meters. A study conducted by the Korea Water Resources Corp (K-water) funded with a US$1 million grant from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) showed that raising the dam height by two meters will already double its storage capacity, irrigating 2,700 hectares more of rice land in its service area in the towns of Dagohoy, San Miguel, Trinidad and Bien Unido.

Funding will come from South Korean ODA wherein the loan will be payable in 30 years with annual interest of only one percent.

Aumentado says this spells food security and will help sustain Bohol's rice self-sufficiency that the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics pegged at 113 percent already in 2008.

Of the Boholanos polled, 70 percent agreed to the project while 11 percent disagreed, giving it a +59 net agreement rating.

Transmission project

The Transmission Company (Transco) of the Philippines, now the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) is now upgrading the Bohol "backbone line" from the Ubay substation to the receiving end in Corella town – from 69 kilovolts to 136 kV. This involves installation of high tension steel towers along the line to increase the distance of the cable from the ground. Aumentado said this means less brownouts due to falling branches – and more reliable and efficient power.

On the Boholanos polled, 83 percent agreed while four percent disagreed, giving the project a +79 percent acceptance rating.

Congressional choice

Aumentado turned out to be the Second District residents' choice for congressman, citing good track record in public service as basis. The governor said he has always used the Bohol Poll results as guide in his governance.

When an overwhelming 55 percent chose him over his closest rival, Trinidad Mayor Judith Cajes who eked out only 15 percent, Aumentado appealed to her and to other candidates to also present their platforms of governance and their accomplishments to the people, so that they can make informed decisions based on track record, instead of harping on personal issues.

He appealed to voters and candidates alike to stand by the ideals of the Coordinating Council for Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections (CC HOPE) co-chaired by Provincial Director Rustica Mascarinas of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and Provincial Election Supervisor Eliseo Labaria of the Comission on Elections.

"We need a credible election on May 10 to restore the image of the country and ensure the stability of our democratic institutions," Aumentado said in response to personal attacks that incumbent Rep. Roberto Cajes, husband of his rival, harped against him through the airlanes.

He said he stands on his record of performance as a public official since his past stints as provincial board member, vice governor, congressman, and now, governor.

In his 1998-2001 term as congressman had served as deputy speaker of the House. In his second term as governor, he was entrusted the leadership of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) and League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP).

Moreover, all the politically-motivated cases filed against him have been resolved following his election to office in 2001, 2004, 2007 and all the cases filed by his political opponents and critics were all dismissed by the Ombudsman as the records at the anti-graft court would show.

The ideal solon is one who has enough experience to prove his/her knack in legislation and can effectively defend the bills he/she files before the House.

He/She must also have the experience in implementing projects to ensure that funds will be available to undertake them, and establish a network of connections with different government departments to facilitate implementation of development projects.

Aumentado also stressed that an effective congressman must have established strong connection with foreign funders under the ODA that provides concessional loans or grants to multi-billion-peso projects – the way he convinced the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) to finance BCRIP 1 and 2, BHIP 1 and 2, and the Leyte-Bohol Interconnection Project 1 and 2 which now benefit the Boholanos, tourists and visitors.

Through these projects, Bohol is now regarded as a model of peace and development nationwide after catering to the reduction of poverty incidence that eventually crushed insurgency.

Comelec says UV markings on ballots displaced

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has admitted an error in the ultraviolet (UV) markings printed on ballots for the May 10 polls, but denied a report that the wrong UV ink was used in the printing of the ballots for the May 10 elections.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the UV markings printed on the ballots was a bit displaced because of the high-speed printing process.

He said the UV marking overlapped with the other printed characters in the ballot, thus making the markings unreadable by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

This was confirmed by Ramon Casiple, chairman of the Consortium on Electoral Reform, and a member of the Comelec Advisory Council.

The printing problem concerning the UV markings has forced the Comelec to forego the use of the PCOS' UV mark-reading function.

The Comelec said members of the board of election inspectors (BEI) will instead use UV lamps to make sure that the ballots are genuine.

Larrazabal assured that the ballots carry several security features other than the UV markings, such as precinct-specific bar codes.

Casiple, however, said the use of UV lamps means more work for the teachers. He added that this could also be easily forgotten as the use of UV lamp was not included in the list of General Instructions.

He added that security bar codes can be copied. Ballots with copied bar codes can easily pass through the PCOS machines with de-activated UV mark-reading functions, he said.

Larrazabal earlier would not confirm or deny that the UV ink supplied by Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) was wrong and refused to divulge the explanation given by the joint venture.

"There's a number of things and let's wait for the en banc. For me, what is important is there is still a way to authenticate the UV ink. The ballot itself is authenticated by the PCOS machines," he said.

Asked why the Comelec opted to use portable UV reader instead of replacing the UV ink, Larrazabal said that would have set a bad precedent.

"If you do that, people will come up with so many excuses to invalidate this ballot and that ballot. Right now, we are working on a timeline to ensure that we have ballots on Election Day," he said.

Probe sought on "wrong" ink for UV markings on ballots

Senatorial aspirant Jose de Venecia III on Sunday called on the House of Representatives and the Senate to look into the reported use of wrong ink for ultraviolet security markings printed on ballots for the May 10 polls.

Pimentel: Comelec bought ballot folders for P380 each

Election officials had bought nearly two million ballot secrecy folders for the May 10 elections at an overpriced rate of P380 each, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. alleged on Sunday. Under Comelec Resolution 8786, there should be 22 folders per clustered precinct. This means the poll body must shell out P638 million for 1.68 million folders for the 76,340 clustered precincts in the upcoming elections.

Comelec sets up 'express lanes' for voting prisoners

It's not only the elderly, the pregnant and the infirm who will be using "express lanes" at the polling places come Election Day.

Teodoro: No truth to withdrawing from race

MANILA, Philippines(UPDATE) Administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro on Sunday quashed rumors he is withdrawing from the presidential race and took a swipe at his rival camps for spreading such talks "to satiate their salivation and hunger for power through the presidency."

Teodoro reiterated he would continue his bid for Malacanang under the Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats party.

Teodoro made the reaction when asked to confirm reports that he would issue a major statement Monday denouncing the alleged "VillArroyo" teamup of Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Senator Manuel Villar and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

"Rumors have been circulating that I will allegedly call for a press conference on Monday to announce my withdrawal from the presidential race," he said through lawyer Mike Toledo, his campaign spokesman.

"Such rumors are originating from sectors who will cast aside all notions of decency to satiate their salivation and hunger for power through the Presidency," he added in a text message.

"Unfortunately such is commonplace in Philippine politics, which reinforces my determination to make a stand, to continue the fight. I will settle for no less than victory, our people deserve no less," Teodoro said.

A text message circulated on Black Saturday urged recipients to pray that Teodoro "will have his 'Road to Damascus' moment - that he will finally see the light that Villar is the Arroyos' real bet, and that he will have enough courage and self-respect to denounce the Villaroyo unholy alliance in the open."

The 'Road to Damascus' moment refers to someone's great and sudden change of beliefs, similar to the conversion of Saint Paul to Christianity while heading to Damascus to persecute Christians.

On Easter Sunday, another text message circulated to the effect that Teodoro was set to announce on Monday "to make a major announcement."

"Not true. It's black propaganda," Teodoro's PR consultant, Dante Ang, said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Talks heightened anew about problems in the administration camp after Teodoro quit his post Tuesday as national chairman. This was followed by the resignations of Sarangani Governor Miguel Dominguez and Francis Manglapus as president and secretary general, respectively.

Teodoro said he resigned to focus on campaigning.

But reports have said that the resignations have something to do with funding problems and with the alleged discreet support of the President and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo for Villar.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD officials denied this.

Prospero Pichay, presidential political adviser and a stalwart of the party said the reported defections and insufficient funds troubling the ruling Lakas-Kampi CMD may ultimately be traced to the persistently low ratings of Teodoro.

With less than 40 days to go before the May 10 elections, the former defense secretary remains in the bottom rung of surveys of presidential candidates, a reality that may be prompting party members to switch alliances.

Thats true. The rating is really a big thing for local candidates, he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview.

But Pichay denied that there was an exodus of members purportedly because candidates, both in the national and local elections, were not getting enough funds from the party.

He said only Luis Chavit Singson, deputy national security adviser, and Bukidnon Governor Jose Ma. Zubiri had moved to the camp of Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party.

Lakas remains strong, he said. These are just speculations. No ones defecting.

Malacaang also denied that First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo was supporting Villar, not Teodoro.

Its understandable how these kinds of rumors might be instigated by people in the opposition or whoever it is who has anything to gain from sowing dissension and intrigues within the ranks of the administration party, Gary Olivar, deputy presidential spokesperson, told Radyo ng Bayan.

We trust that the people will see through this very transparent attempt at rumor-mongering and will not give credibility to these kinds of speculations. 

Teodoro's low rating blamed for defections from Lakas

The reported defections and insufficient funds troubling the ruling Lakas-Kampi CMD may ultimately be traced to the persistently low ratings of administration standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro, a party official said on Sunday.

El Shaddai leader not yet endorsing presidential bet

The top candidates came a courting, but there was no sweet answer yet from influential TV evangelist Bro. Mike Velarde of El Shaddai.

Aquino, Villar, Estrada court votes of influential El Shaddai

MANILA, Philippines -- The top three contenders for the presidency in the May 10 elections on Sunday courted the votes of members of the religious sect El Shaddai led by its influential leader, Bro. Mike Velarde, at their Easter Day celebration in Paranaque City.

But Sen. Benigno Noynoy Aquino III of the Liberal Party, Sen. Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party, and former President Joseph Estrada all declined to say whether or not they received the endorsement of Velarde, said to have command over three to four million members of his flock worldwide.

Among the three, Villar appeared to be the most confident that he would get Velarde's endorsement but it was Estrada who got the most cheers and loudest applause from the sect members gathered for the overnight vigil at Velarde's Am-Vel City in Paranaque.
That's why we are sure that the surveys will change, Estrada told reporters in Filipino after making a humorous 15-minute extemporaneous speech before the crowd that had them laughing and cheering Erap! Erap![Estrada's nickname].

In separate interviews, Aquino and Villar said they would leave it up to Velarde and the El Shaddai leadership to make the announcement on who they would endorse for president in the May elections.

Villar admitted that he felt that Velarde had practically endorsed his candidacy in an El Shaddai gathering in Hong Kong two months ago.

But I still want the announcement to come from them, Villar said.

Aquino said that he and Velarde did not talk about a political endorsement after the Easter Mass but instead discussed matters such as the poll automation.

I don't want to speculate [on Velarde's endorsement]. I am just happy that I was welcomed here and we were able to share points of views, Aquino said.

Aquino attended the two-hour Easter Vigil mass with his sisters, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, Pinky Aquino-Abellada, and Kris Aquino-Yap, as well as his running mate Sen. Manuel Mar Roxas II.

There were 300, 000 to 400, 000 people during the rally, according to Paraaque chief of police, Supt. Alfredo Valdez.

First Gentleman is stable, can now walk-- hospital

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) After 11 days of confinement at the St. Lukes Medical Center in Taguig City, the President's husband Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo can now walk, a sign that he is in a stable condition, according to hospital officials.

"He started to move around more today compared to the past few days so we are seeing a very good progress," Dr. Gary Lopez, a cardiologist of St Lukes Medical Center-Global City, said at a press briefing on Sunday night.

His attending physician also said Arroyo always read newspapers and stayed "up to date."

The doctors reiterated that the re-dissection (new tear in the wall of aorta) that occurred in his aorta, the artery branching to the heart, has been in a stable state.

"We have to reiterate this because this is a life-threatening condition. We want to assure everybody that in this particular problem, he is already stable," Dr. Juliet Gopez- Cervantes, attending physician of Arroyo.

St. Lukes doctors were reacting to rumors that Arroyo was on life support.

"There is no truth to reports that his health is deteriorating," Gopez-Cervantes said.

She said that there were no signs and symptoms of deteriorating health.

"We are now managing his chronic low back pain while continuing with aggressive, progressive physical rehab," she said.

The rehabilitation aimed to ease Arroyo's chronic low back pain that he has had for the last few years, Gopez-Cervantes said.

Arroyo was transferred from the Intensive Coronary Care Unit to a regular room last Tuesday.

As of Sunday, visitors were limited to the First Family to avoid stressing President Macapagal-Arroyos husband and allow him to concentrate on his rehabilitation, Gopez-Cervantes said.

"Overall we are happy with the clinical progress of the first gentleman," she said adding that Mr. Arroyo may be discharged from the hospital anytime this week.
Arroyo was rushed to the hospital two weeks ago after complaining of back pains, which the doctors later attributed to a tear in his aorta, the heart's main artery.

From the intensive coronary care unit, Arroyo has been transferred to a regular room, a sign of his improving health condition.

Arroyo's birthday wish is May polls success

Aside from her husband's quick recovery, President Macapagal-Arroyo's wish for her birthday on Monday is to have a successful election in May.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will celebrate her last birthday as president on Monday in Pampanga where she is running for a congressional seat in the countrys first ever nationwide automated elections on May 10.

It will be President Arroyos first public appearance since the hospitalization of his husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, late last month.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar on Sunday said the President would hear a Thanksgiving Mass in her hometown in Lubao in the morning and then have a merienda(snack) at the churchyard with her town mates.

Olivar said the trip to Lubao would show that President Arroyo, who will turn 63, would be resuming her public engagements, which she put on hold after Mr. Arroyo was rushed to the St. Lukes Medical Center in Taguig City last March 25 due to severe back pains.

Makikita po natin sa pagkaka-iskedyul ng misang ito sa kanyang hometown na mukhang patuloy na rin po na gumagaling ang kondisyon ng ating First Gentleman kung kaya nagkakaroon ngayon po ng pagkakataon ang Pangulo na minsan po ay lumayu-layo na po mula sa kanyang piling," Olivar said.

(The visit to Lubao also shows that the condition of the First Gentleman is getting better. President Arroyo can now afford to engage in some of her public engagements.)

Olivar said that as of Sunday, the First Gentleman remains in stable condition.

The Malacañang official said President Arroyo will also push through with her trips to Vietnam and the United States this month. She is scheduled to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) Summit from April 8 to 9 in Hanoi in Vietnam, and the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in the United States in April 12 to13.

Olivar however said that the schedule could be changed at the last minute depending on the condition of Mr. Arroyo. All of the Presidents travel plans remain subject, at this point, to the condition of the First Gentleman."

Militants, meanwhile, are set to give President Arroyo a noisy sendoff" to show their disgust for her alleged lust for power."

Dubbed as Birthday ni Gloria, Babay-Day ng Masa," the metro-wide noise barrage would be held in Novaliches Bayan, Litex, Commonwealth Luzon, Kalentong, Plaza Hernandez, Marikina Sports Complex and in Trabajo Market.

In an article on its Web site, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) invited politicians, candidates, and the general public to participate in the activity.

All groups, alliances and coalitions of different political stripes are invited to join the peoples protest greeting for Arroyo on Monday. We enjoin everyone to cast electoral alignments aside and wish for Arroyos last birthday in the Palace," KMU chairman Elmer Labog said.

He said the public could participate by honking horns, blowing whistles and making other kinds of noise meant to remind President Arroyo to step down on June 30.

Swiss national kidnapped in Zamboanga

MANILA, Philippines (Update 1) - Unidentified assailants kidnapped a Swiss national in Zamboanga City on Easter Sunday, a military official said.

Pinay nabbed for cocaine smuggling

A Filipina was arrested in Thailand for bringing into the country 3.2 kilograms of cocaine, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said.

With this, PDEA Director General Dionisio Santiago reminded Filipinos travelling abroad against becoming couriers of illegal drugs following the latest arrest of a ''drug mule''.

Santiago identified the arrested Filipina as Maria Elenita Rivera, 40, who is currently detained by Thailand authorities.

The PDEA chief said that Rivera was arrested last March 22 after arriving at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

Rivera, who came from Lima, Peru, was found in possession of 3.2 kilos of cocaine by Thai authorities.

Santiago expressed deep concern over the increasing number of Filipinos, who are wittingly or unwittingly enticed by West African Drug Syndicates (WADS) members to become drug couriers following this latest arrest.

This is in spite of the repeatedly issued Travel Advisories since last year for all Filipino travelers not to accommodate any requests to carry baggage from strangers because these may contain dangerous drugs, he said.

The PDEA chief again reminded travelers to personally inspect the contents before agreeing to bring any baggage by request.

Santiago stressed that those caught transporting illegal drugs in another country can be meted the death penalty even if they did not know they were carrying such dangerous substances.

However, for those who willfully allowed themselves to be utilized as drug couriers despite repeated warnings through travel advisories by PDEA and other government agencies, Santiago warned that the agency will recommend that the Philippine government not to intervene in their cases.

In the meantime, the PDEA is working on a possible agreement with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as part of efforts to educate overseas Filipino workers on the issue of drug mules through the inclusion of a dangerous drugs awareness lecture in the Pre-Departure and Pre-Employment Orientation Seminars.

Afternoon swim turns deadly for Negros boy

BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental Philippines -- A 12-year-old boy from Murcia town in Negros Occidental drowned while taking a bath at the Puncian River in Barangay (Village) Sta. Rosa of the town on Saturday afternoon.

Chief Inspector Jefferson Descallar, acting public information officer of the Negros Occidental police, said the fatality, Kenneth Demapula, a resident of Purok Panlawigan in Barangay Lopez Jaena, drowned while swimming at the river at past 2 p.m.

Demapula was rushed to the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital in Bacolod City but attending doctors said he was already dead when he was brought to the hospital, Descallar said.

Man 'kills' girlfriend then calls her neighbor for 'help'

MANILA, Philippines -- The killing of a 37-year-old waitress was discovered Sunday morning after her boyfriend, who may have killed her, placed a concerned phone call asking a neighbor to check on her, the police said.

When found by neighbors, Edelia De Vega, a waitress at a KTV bar, of 2580 Luna Street, Gagalangin in Tondo was lying lifeless on her bed with a pillow over her face, and blood oozing from a punctured wound in the nape.

Manila Police District (MPD) homicide section have fanned out to hunt for De Vegas alleged lover, Ariel Ty, of Bacoor, Cavite, who fled after the killing and even padlocked the house.

PO3 Jonathan Bautista of the Manila Police District (MPD) homicide section revealed that the killing could have happened between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Sunday, inside De Vegas house.

Bautista pointed out that the killing would not have been discovered if Ty had not called up De Vegas 25-year-old-neighbor MaryAnn Castro.

Castro told investigators that she found it odd when Ty told her over the phone, Could you check on her? I may have seriously hurt her, then hung up.

The case investigator said that Castro and other neighbors immediately went over to De Vegas home and through an open window, saw her lying on the bed with a pillow over her face. They sought the help of village watchmen to force open the door which had been padlocked and discovered that the waitress was already dead.

Castro recalled that Ty only dropped by for visits at De Vegas house and each time, the couple would fight. Hearing them arguing was nothing new to the victims neighbors, witnesses said.

Based on information gathered from De Vegas neighbors, Bautista theorized that jealousy could have driven Ty to kill his girlfriend.

Homicide investigators are conducting follow-up operations for the suspects arrest.

JBC meets today on chief justice selection

MANILA, Philippines - After getting the go-signal from the Supreme Court, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) is set to continue today the nomination process for the position of chief justice in a meeting in Baguio City.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, ex-officio member of the JBC, said the collegial body would follow the order of the High Court to proceed with the screening of the six remaining candidates and prepare the shortlist of nominees to be submitted to President Arroyo.

Agra said they would ask Senior Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio–Morales to reconsider their positions.

The two justices accepted the nomination but said they would reject an appointment from President Arroyo because it would violate the constitutional ban on midnight appointments during the election period.

Agra said the two justices must reconsider their position in the light of the SC ruling allowing Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice.

"If they keep their condition, I think they should not be included in the shortlist that will be submitted to the President," Agra said.

Delisting the two would leave the other four nominees in the shortlist – Senior Associate Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de

Castro, and Sandiganbayan Senior Justice Edilberto Sandoval.

The law requires at least three names in the shortlist to be submitted before the President.

Agra said another issue the JBC would resolve today is whether it would set public interviews to the candidates.

Agra noted each member of the judiciary who are candidates for the position of chief justice is traditionally exempted from the required public interviews for candidates.

All six contenders have already been interviewed by the JBC anyway before they were appointed to their respective posts in the judiciary, he explained.

Agra said the JBC would also decide on the allegations against some aspirants.

Agra said the panel could possibly decide to immediately start the selection process for the vacancy for the position of associate justice in the SC that would be left vacant by the appointment of the next chief magistrate upon the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno on May 17.

Agra stressed the JBC would proceed in the nomination process since the position of chief justice is not covered by the constitutional ban on midnight appointments.

Agra added the JBC has not set a timeline for the deliberation, but gave assurance they will submit the shortlist on or before May 17.

Chief Justice Puno will preside over the JBC meeting as the body's ex-officio chairman. Puno earlier inhibited from the deliberations since the process involves the appointment of his successor.

Apart from Puno and Agra, other members of the JBC include Sen. Francis Escudero, Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor Jr., retired SC justice Regino Hermosisima Jr., University of Santo Tomas Dean Emeritus Amado Dimayuga, Justice Aurora Santiago-Lagman and lawyer J. Conrado Castro representing the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

The JBC earlier decided to await the ruling on the petitions before the SC on whether the President is allowed under the Constitution to appoint the next chief justice notwithstanding the ban on appointments during the election period.

By a vote of 9-1-3, the high court ruled the ban on appointments under Article VII Section 15 of the Constitution does not apply to positions in the SC.

In its comment, the JBC said it would submit to whatever ruling the SC would render on the case.

"Since the Honorable Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the Constitution, the JBC will be guided by its decision," the JBC said.

 'Judicial indiscretion'

A senior lawmaker said the nine justices of the SC who allowed President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice committed a "judicial indiscretion."

Nueva Ecija Rep. Edno Joson said the 1987 Constitution does not have any ambiguity on this matter, reiterating the election ban two months prior to the May 10 polls until the end of Mrs. Arroyo's term on June 30.

"I call it judicial indiscretion or grave abuse of discretion, which amounts to culpable violation of the Constitution, making them liable for impeachment," Joson warned.

He said the March 17 ruling can also be considered another act of "judicial legislation," like the SC decision that forced the House of Representatives to accommodate 32 more party-list representatives without budget allocations, which Joson claimed had modified an established party-list formula.

"They (SC) cannot change or modify constitutional commission's intent and allude unto themselves sovereign powers. They cannot also be partisan or political in their decisions, otherwise, the essence of justice which is independence and integrity will be lost," Joson stressed. 

Joson claimed "only a miracle" can reverse the SC decision.

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo earlier warned the SC ruling is tantamount to amending the 1987 Constitution.

Marcelo said the high court virtually altered the Constitution when it decided to rule in favor of Mrs. Arroyo in allowing her to appoint the next chief justice amid the constitutional ban.

"It is a very clear violation of the 1987 Constitution because of the absolute prohibition," Marcelo said.

In a related development, more groups of lawyers submitted last minute appeals on the decision just before the Lenten break.

In two separate motions for reconsideration, the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) and chapters of the IBP in Southern Luzon and Eastern Visayas both argued that the High Court committed an error in directing the JBC to submit the shortlist of nominees.

The PBA argued the JBC, in submitting the shortlist, in effect allowed the President to "execute a culpable violation of the Constitution and the commission of an election offense" considering that "the constitutional ban on appointments is already in effect."

Marcelo led a group of petitioners alleging the SC "violated the basic precepts of understanding and applying the Constitution." –With Delon Porcalla - By Edu Punay (Philstar News Service,

Courts make litigation on small money disputes easy

MANILA, Philippines -- The next time you can't come to a settlement in a money dispute involving amounts P100,000 or less, try the courts.

The Supreme Court has liberalized the court rules on so-called small claims cases so that ordinary Filipinos can afford to legally settle money disputes involving amounts not more than P100, 000.

Since March 18, all 1,137 first-level courts (except Shari'a courts) nationwide have been authorized to hear small claims cases.

First-level courts refer to the countrys 82 metropolitan trial courts, 212 municipal trial courts in the cities, 376 municipal trial courts and 467 municipal circuit trial courts in the towns.

The high court decided to expand the number of small claims courts following the success of 44 pilot courts in helping middle-class Filipinos solve their money disputes through an inexpensive, informal and simple legal procedure.

In the past, first-level courts were only allowed to handle money disputes involving amounts not more than P35, 000, as any amount higher than that were filed in regional trial courts where the litigation process usually took many years.

In 2008, the Supreme Court came up with new rules and procedures for small claims courts to address the backlog of civil cases in the lower courts where people have to wait for years to get a court decision.

Under the rules, small claims courts will hear cases where the disputed amount is under P100, 000 and involves matters of contract, simple negligence, failure to repay loans and other minor complaints.

Cases that require complicated evidentiary findings such as fraud, eviction and malpractice are excluded.

To make the process affordable and expeditious, lawyers are not allowed in small claims hearings.

Clerks of court are tasked to explain the rules to interested litigants and to occasionally help them out in filling up the statement of claim and response forms.

Process servers and sheriffs may also provide information about the rules to the parties when they serve summons and notice of hearing.

To make sure that disputes are resolved quickly, judges are asked to decide cases during the first hearing if the parties fail to reach a settlement.

Court Administrator Midas Marquez explained that the procedures for small claims cases would dispense with ordinary rules of civil procedure and evidence such as strict pleading requirements and formal discovery measures.

Sandigan's Norberto Geraldez passes away at 60

Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Norberto Geraldez passed away Sunday morning due to a lingering illness. He was 60 years old.

Geraldez served as head magistrate of the anti-graft court for less than a month as he was appointed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo only last March 10, replacing Justice Maria Cristina Cortez-Estrada who retired last Nov. 30 upon reaching 70.

Malacañang immediately extended its condolences to the family of Geraldez as it assured that a worthy successor would be named soon.

We extend our condolences to the family of the late presiding Justice Geraldez and we assure our people that a worthy successor will be appointed as soon as possible," said deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar.

Before his appointment as presiding justice, Geraldez was chairman of the Sandiganbayan First Division. He obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree at the San Beda College in 1977 and worked for a commercial bank before he joined government service as special prosecutor for the Office of the Ombudsman in July 1980.

After 10 years as government prosecutor, Geraldez was appointed regional trial court judge in Calamba, Laguna and conducted trial on several big cases including the rebellion charges against former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Nur Misuari.

He is the son of retired CA justice Ambrosio Geraldez and lawyer Herminia Yatco. He is married to Atty. Regina Padilla Geraldez with whom he had four children namely Norberto Jr., Agustin, Patricia and Nicanor.

RP power 3rd most costly in Asia

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines -- Electricity sold in the Philippines ranks as Asia's third most expensive commodity, thanks to the decisions made by all presidents since 1986, according to an industry expert here.

To remedy the situation, Rowaldo del Mundo, a University of the Philippines engineering professor consulting for the International Finance Corp., has asked rural electric cooperatives (RECs) to compete with industry giants.

By doing this, Del Mundo said electric cooperatives in the provinces would bring the cost of electricity, a task that former presidents Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, and incumbent President Macapagal-Arroyo have failed to do.

Speaking to employees of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) last week, Del Mundo said expensive electricity has pulled down industry sales from negative 1 percent to negative 3 percent each year since 2005. "This illustrates how difficult it has been for government to attract industrial investors," he said.

Some of the blame belonged to the four presidents, who each responded poorly to the power crisis, he said.

Every time an administration encountered nationwide blackouts, the government embarked on the construction of new power plants that caused supply to escalate beyond the demand, Del Mundo said. (But due to laws that guaranteed power generation firms returns on their investments, whether the electricity was being bought or not, power rates remained high.)

Each new government program to build a power plant added to the expenses passed on to consumers to explain the high power rates, he said.

But with the help of IFC, 22 of Mindanao's 33 RECs have calculated how much electricity they would need in the future to keep the cost of power plant construction there at manageable rates, he said.

The Association of Mindanao Rural Electric Cooperatives (Amrec), he said, was ready to build community power plants to help control power rates.

Del Mundo has been advocating the Amrec initiative among power distributors in Luzon and the Visayas. He said the key to reducing high power rates would be to get community-based power industry players to compete against big corporations, which have started to buy up power plants.

Del Mundo said he was referring to the Lopez Group of Companies and the Cebu-based Aboitiz Group of Companies, which have bought most of the plants that used to be administered by the National Power Corp. (Napocor).

He said high power rates already made the local power industry profitable, which has drawn the interest of various firms.

But only the participation of non-profit players like RECs can ensure that power rates would not increase further under a fully liberalized power industry.

The privatization of Napocor assets is mandated by the 2001 Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira or Republic Act 9136), which broke up the Napocor monopoly into distinct power transmission, distribution, supply and generation sectors to help rationalize the rate of electricity.

But based on how Epira was enforced, Del Mundo said both government and private companies pocketed the savings gained from a more efficient system, instead of translating them into lower power rates.

ExxonMobil's third exploratory drilling seen to start by May - Business Mirror

THE oil prospects in the South Sulu Sea will be put to the test in two months' time with the likely drilling of a third exploratory well by ExxonMobil and Production Philippines BV in its contract area in offshore South Sulu Sea.

Energy Undersecretary Ramon Oca told reporters that the drilling rig of Exxon is set to return to the country by April or May this year at the latest.

"The West Aquarius will return by April at the earliest, but most probably May," Oca said.

He added that Exxon is currently processing the data for the first two wells it earlier drilled, namely, Dabakan 1 and Banduria 1.

"It takes months to process that [data] for Service Contract  [SC] 56," Oca said.

ExxonMobil is the contractor of SC 56 while the other consortium members are Mitra Energy Ltd. and BHP Billiton International Exploration Pty. Ltd. At 25 percent each.

SC 56 covers an area of 8,200 square kilometers and is located about 900 km southwest of Manila and 200 km northwest of Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi province.

Oca said the third well is expected to cost around $100 million, which is almost the same cost incurred for each of the two wells.

ExxonMobil will drill the third well to continue its appraisal of the reserves of the Sandakan Basin, he added.

Oca earlier said the first two wells had shown favorable results, which were positive for hydrocarbons, particularly gas.

He said the drilling for the third well will depend on the target depth, which could take one to three months. "If it's shallow, it could take less than a month. But it really depends on the target depth. The target depth is 5 kilometers from sea level," he added.

Oca said the first two wells were drilled at around the same target depth.

Drilling operations of the Dabakan 1 (first well) started on October 11, 2009, and was completed in December wherein ExxonMobil encountered gas. The Banduria 1 (second well) commenced drilling operations in January and was completed late February.

"The two exploration wells have given us very useful data, which will now be analyzed by ExxonMobil. Additional studies are being conducted to evaluate the potential of the two wells and further appraisal plans," former energy secretary Angelo Reyes said.

ExxonMobil officials refused to give the reserves of SC 56, but the Department of Energy  estimates the said contract area to contain about 750 million barrels of oil that can supply the domestic market for a period of seven years.   P. Isla

Protesters paralyze Bangkok's commercial center

Thousands of anti-government protesters, defying a government order, occupied the commercial heart of Thailand's capital for a second day Sunday, vowing to hang on until new elections are called.

3 back-to-back explosions rock central Baghdad (AP)

BAGHDAD – Suicide attackers detonated three car bombs near foreign embassies in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than 100, authorities said.

The attack deepened fears that insurgents will seize on the political turmoil after last month's parliamentary elections to sow further instability.

The blasts went off within minutes of each other — one near the Iranian embassy, and two others in an area that houses several foreign embassies, including the Egyptian and German embassies, said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the city's operations command center.

Afghan leader meets US commander amid tensions (AP)

KABUL – Afghan President Hamid Karzai joined the commander of U.S. forces in a meeting with tribal leaders Sunday in the volatile south, amid tensions over Karzai's recent scathing accusations of foreign interference in last year's elections.

Karzai and Gen. Stanley McChrystal flew together to the southern city of Kandahar, deep in the heartland of the Taliban insurgency, and were to meet with scores of tribal elders as part of efforts to build political support ahead of an expected U.S. and NATO push into the area.

Most of the 30,000 new troops promised by President Barack Obama will be headed to Kandahar city and the surrounding province.

Security was extremely tight as Karzai and McChrystal flew into the city center in a U.S. military helicopter for the tribal conference, known as a shura, at the governor's compound.

Also present at the meetings was the president's younger brother, a key source of support in the south, despite having been publicly accused of being a major drug lord — part of the corruption and cronyism that undermines support for the government and drives Afghans to the Taliban. He denies any involvement in drugs.

After eight years in power, the central government's writ counts for little outside the capital of Kabul, especially in the south from which the Taliban emerged as a political and military force in the 1990s. While part of that is fed by tribal rivalries, much anger is also directed at Kabul for the failure to bring security and basic services such as electricity and running water.

Pope urges 'moral conversion' in Easter message

VATICAN CITY (UPDATE) Pope Benedict XVI urged mankind to undergo a "spiritual and moral conversion" during his traditional Easter Sunday message as pedophile priest scandals rock the Roman Catholic Church.

"Humanity needs... a spiritual and moral conversion," the 82-year-old pope said. "It needs... to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences."

The urging came as the Roman Catholic Church is buffeted by pedophile priest scandals, which cast a pall over Easter Sunday and heightened anticipation of the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" message.

As Christians celebrated the day when Christ is believed to have been resurrected, the pope was under pressure to speak out on the scourge.

But Easter mass kicked off with an unusual greeting from the dean of the College of Cardinals, who told the pope: "The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment."

Cardinal Angelo Sodano was reprising the same phrase the pope used a week ago when he urged Christians "not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions".

In Paris meanwhile, the archbishop of the city and head of the Catholic Church in France, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, said there was a "smear campaign aimed at the pope".

"And yet it was Cardinal Ratzinger who, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, encouraged bishops to take action against pedophilia by systematically informing Rome of such cases," he told Le Parisien newspaper.

However, the top bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the Church's role in covering up for predator priests in their Easter homilies.

Belgium's Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, said the Church had mismanaged the crisis "with a guilty silence".

German Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, for his part, said: "Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church's dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides."

Small Coterie Advises Pope, but Decisions His Own

Pope Benedict XVI has surrounded himself with a small group of men he feels he can trust, but he acts very much on his own. That isolation and shunning of advice have frequently created problems and are increasingly under scrutiny as the clerical sex scandal inches closer to him.

Early on in his 5-year-old papacy, Benedict provoked a furious reaction from Muslims when he linked the Prophet Muhammad to violence in a speech Vatican officials said he wrote himself.

Then he enraged Jews for the "unforeseen mishap" of being unaware that a bishop whose excommunication he lifted was a Holocaust-denier. The pope similarly is unlikely to have known that his personal preacher, during a solemn Good Friday sermon, would compare the uproar over the church's sex abuse scandal to persecution of Jews.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi — who has frequently had to put out these fires — said Saturday that such a comparison was not the line of the Vatican, the Catholic Church or even the intent of the preacher himself, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa.

That the Vatican has had a communications problem during Benedict's papacy is fairly well-established. Amid a swirling scandal at the pope's feet, Lombardi recently said he hadn't spoken to the pontiff about his letter to Irish Catholics, and that his information on Benedict's views on it was second hand.

While part of the problem is Benedict's reserved personality, perhaps more to blame is a culture of secrecy at the Vatican, rooted in church history for centuries, and its tendency to shun being held accountable to the secular world.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who has testified in U.S. court cases about Vatican secrecy and sex abuse, has written about the medieval-era canonical concept of the "privilege of the forum" — whereby clerics accused of crimes were tried by church courts, not civil courts.

"Although this privilege is anachronistic in contemporary society, the attitude or mentality, which holds clerics accountable only to the institutional church authorities is still active," he wrote in a recent article.

US boxing writers to honor Pacquiao

The Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) will hold its 85th awards banquet at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan in New York with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao as the group's major awardee.

Pacquiao will be receiving his record-tying third BWAA award on June 4 with key members of his entourage as well as Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum in attendance in the venue dubbed as "The Grand Dame of Madison Avenue."

Pacquiao has won the award in 2006, 2008 and 2009, joining the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard and Evander Holyfield as the other three-time recipients of the coveted award.

Another top awardee will be Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, who will receive his fourth top trainer title.

The BWAA affair will come on the eve of a significant fight that takes place at Yankee Stadium where comebacking Miguel Cotto, who will be fighting at super-welterweight, faces Yuri Foreman.

Though Arum has rattled off three prominent names – Antonio Margarito, Juan Manuel Marquez and Floyd Mayweather – as Pacquiao's possible foes late this year, many would believe that the winner in the Cotto-Foreman rumble will be next for the Filipino.

Winning an unprecedented eighth world title is also on Pacquiao's horizon.

The BWAA award is one of several that Pacquiao has received in his storied career.

Standing out from among them is The Ring magazine's Fighter of the Decade (2000s).

After campaigning for Nationalist Party's presidential candidate Manny Villar for several days, Pacquiao starts his own bid for the lone congressional seat in Sarangani Province against a member of a well-entrenched political clan.

Hopkins avenges 17-year-old loss to Jones

LAS VEGAS Bernard Hopkins settled an old score Saturday by winning a 12-round unanimous decision over Roy Jones Jr. 17 years after their first fight.

Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KOs) won on all three judges scorecards 117-110, 117-110, 118-109 in a light heavyweight fight that turned nasty at times.

Hopkins went to the canvas three times in the fight, including once in round 10 from a seemingly low blow.

The fight had to be stopped briefly in the 11th so the ring doctor could inspect a cut on Jones' head that came from an unintentional head butt. The fighters had to be separated by security at the end of the sixth round after they refused to stop throwing punches.

The two fought on May 22, 1993, in Washington's RFK Stadium for the vacant International Boxing Federation middleweight championship.

Jones, who says he fought then with an injured right hand, won a unanimous decision that gave little indication of the superb careers each fighter would go on to build.

Ginebra defeats Coca-Cola, 98-91

MANILA, Philippines - Barangay Ginebra snapped Coca-Cola's three-game winning streak with a 98-91 victory Sunday night in the KC-Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Fiesta Conference at the Araneta Coliseum.

N.B.A. Roundup: Thunder Tops Mavericks to Clinch Playoff Spot

from NYT > Pro Basketball by By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

"It's a great feeling, but I've been impressed with our guys' work ethic all year long and I know that's not going to change," Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said.

Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison each had 17 points to help the Thunder end a nine-game losing streak in Dallas, dating to when the franchise was based in Seattle. Oklahoma City (47-28) has more than doubled its 23 victories from 2008-9.

Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points and 13 rebounds for Dallas.

The Thunder expanded an 8-point halftime lead to 13 in the third quarter, and took a 94-85 edge into the final quarter.

Oklahoma City was ahead by 19 early in the fourth quarter before a 17-2 run by Dallas — capped by two free throws from Nowitzki with 2 minutes 40 seconds left — pulled the Mavericks to 110-106.

J. J. Barea made one of two free throws with 52.7 seconds remaining to get Dallas to 113-109, but a 3-pointer by Eric Maynor from the left wing with 28.9 seconds left took the air out of the Mavericks' run.

"I was open for the shot and the shot clock was going down and I was able to knock it down," said Maynor, who had 14 points. "Teammates trust in each other, that's how it works."

BUCKS 107, SUNS 98 Brandon Jennings scored 23 points as host Milwaukee ended Phoenix's 10-game winning streak. The Bucks' Andrew Bogut, the club's leading scorer and rebounder, sustained an ugly elbow injury in the second quarter and was taken to a hospital for tests. Bogut hung on the rim after dunking, then crashed to the floor, awkwardly twisting his arm.

NETS 115, HORNETS 87 The rookie Terrence Williams had 14 points and a career-high 14 assists as the host Nets posted their biggest win of the season. Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 17 points, and Kris Humphries added 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets (11-65), who shot a season-high 58.2 percent.

The Nets, who have won four of six, had eight players score in double figures. The Nets never trailed after Brook Lopez (12 points) converted a 3-point play with 4:30 left in the first quarter.

RAPTORS 128, 76ERS 123 Visiting Toronto blew a 17-point third-quarter lead and trailed in overtime before Chris Bosh made several key plays.

The victory kept the Raptors in control of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They have a one-and-a-half game lead on the Chicago Bulls, who beat the seventh-place Charlotte Bobcats. Bosh finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. His bank shot with 30 seconds left put Toronto ahead by 3.

BULLS 96, BOBCATS 88 Derrick Rose scored 26 points and Kirk Hinrich added 24 for host Chicago. Trailing by 6 in the fourth after building a 13-point lead in the first half, the Bulls went on a 16-3 run and pulled out their sixth win in eight games.

HEAT 97, TIMBERWOLVES 84 Dwyane Wade scored 39 points as visiting Miami won its eighth straight. Wade, who has scored at least 30 points in four of his last five games, fueled runs at the end of each half. Minnesota is 2-23 since Feb. 6.

HAWKS 91, PISTONS 85 Jamal Crawford scored 29 points and Al Horford added 20 points and 14 rebounds as Atlanta won its 10th straight at home. Joe Johnson, the Hawks' leading scorer, missed the game because of a sprained right thumb.

NUGGETS 98, CLIPPERS 90 Carmelo Anthony scored 24 points as host Denver overcame a 21-point deficit and improved to 50-27, its third consecutive 50-win season. Los Angeles has lost seven in a row in Denver.

Plane with Heat players makes emergency landing

CHICAGO A plane carrying Miami Heat basketball players made an emergency landing early Sunday in Chicago after a mechanic on board became ill, team spokesman Tim Donovan said.

The plane safely landed early Sunday at O'Hare International Airport after the man went into a diabetic coma. The teams' trainers treated the man while the plane was in the air and he was taken to a hospital after the landing.  "He's OK now," Donovan said.

Heat guard Dwayne Wade wrote on Twitter about the surprise landing.

"Hey everyone pray for our pilot," Wade wrote. "... He went into a Coma. God bless this man and his family."

Donovan said the man was in the cockpit when he became ill.

After the stop in Chicago, the team returned to Miami. The Heat beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-84 on Saturday night in Minneapolis. - AP

American comedian calls Paquiao 'idiot,' 'illiterate'

The best boxer in the planet today has just received a low blow from an Italian-American radio host, 
former Loveline host Adam Carolla,
 who described Manny Pacquiao as an "idiot" and an "illiterate."

Foreign columnist pokes fun at RP aviation after EU ban

A humor columnist has poked fun at the Philippine aviation industry by implying that Filipino aviation officials are not serious in their job. The write-up, penned by Ceylonese journalist Nury Vittachi, came out a week after the European Union imposed an operating ban on Philippine air carriers. The ban took effect April 1.

The latest blow came from a humor article by Nury Vittachi, which came out on the April edition of Reader's Digest. The implied that Philippine aviation officials are not serious in their job.

According to Wikipedia, Vittachi is a Ceylonese journalist and author based in Hong Kong. His columns are published daily, weekly in a variety of newspapers in Asia as well as on his Web site. He is best known for the comedy-crime novel series The Feng Shui Detective, which published in many languages around the world.

The portion of the Reader's Digest column of Nury Vittachi poking fun at Philippine aviation industry. GMANews.TV
In his Reader's Digest article titled "I'd rather be chained," Vittachi told of an "enterprising captain" aboard an early morning flight over the Philippines who randomly pressed an unmarked button on the flight deck.

When security forces ordered the pilot to dump 50,000 kilos of fuel and land at a remote airstrip, everything was supposedly forgiven when the pilot explained there was no hijacking.

"(The) pilot explained that there were no hijackers – he had just pressed a button randomly. No doubt everyone had a laugh and went back to work," Vittachi's article read.

Vittachi also said that when the pilot's action supposedly triggered a silent alarm to the nearest Philippine airport, "control tower staff snapped into action, dropping their adobo breakfasts."

His article even poked fun at the name of Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) deputy chief for security Angel Atutubo. "Only in the Philippines can tough guys bristling with guns have names like 'Angel,' 'Innocent' and 'Baby,'" he said.

Vittachi's article came out only a week after the European Union imposed an operating banon Philippine air carriers that took effect April 1.

The EU ban followed an audit of the Philippines carried out by the International Civil Aviation Organization in October 2009, after Philippine regulatory authorities could not verify that these airlines comply with international safety standards.

As a result of the ban, the United Kingdom has advised its nationals to avoid flying Philippine carriers in visiting the Philippines. 

Flag-carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has said that its inclusion among carriers blocked from flying into the EU member countries was "unfortunate." It assured that the airline complies with international civil aviation safety standards.

Cesar Montano finally opens up about son's death

from by
MANILA, Philippines – Actor Cesar Montano, who is running for governor of Bohol, has denied that he is using the death of his son to boost his chances in May elections.


LOS ANGELES The gods of Mount Olympus are the new rulers of

the weekend box office.

The ancient Greek action remake "Clash of the Titans" has debuted at No. 1 with $61.4 million. Adding Thursday night preview screenings, the movie has totaled $64.1 million.

Opening at No. 2 with $30.2 million was the sequel "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too?"

The previous weekend's top movie, the animated adventure "How to Train Your Dragon," ran a close third with $29.2 million, raising its 10-day total to $92.3 million.

Miley Cyrus' teen drama "The Last Song" premiered at No. 4 with $16.2 million. It has taken in $25.6 million since opening Wednesday. - AP


News and Gossips

Posted April 3, 2010 @ 10:10 pm/ET

A source close to Sandra Bullock's disgraced husband, Jesse James, tells Star that the West Coast Chopper hunk has left rehab after only one week, and is laying low at a male friend's house.

The source claims Jesse quietly checked out of Arizona's Sierra Tucson Treatment Center within the last couple of days. His exit coincides with a moving van being spotted outside the L.A.-area home he shares with Sandra on April 2.

"All of Jesse's pals have been talking about it," says the source. Though a rep stated that James had "realized that this time was crucial to help himself, help his family and help save his marriage" when he entered the facility on March 26, the source adds: "It seems Jesse just isn't that serious about rehab after all."

Dubai jails British pair for kissing

from The Guardian World News by Adam Gabbatt

Two Britons were jailed in Dubai today after losing their appeal against a conviction for kissing in a restaurant.

Ayman Najafi, 24, and Charlotte Lewis, 25, were arrested in November and accused of kissing, touching each other intimately and consuming alcohol. The pair – who are not a couple – insist they merely kissed each other on the cheek as a greeting.

In March they were sentenced to a month in jail followed by deportation, after a 38-year-old mother complained that her child had seen the pair being intimate. She said she was offended by their behaviour at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, where she was dining with her daughter.

Najafi and Lewis were bailed pending the outcome of today's hearing, where their appeal was rejected. Najafi, who has lived in Dubai for 18 months, and Lewis were also fined 1,000 dirhams (£178) for illegal consumption of alcohol.

After their conviction, a lawyer for the pair said there had been no inappropriate kissing and the pair were just friends. "There was no lip kissing. It was just a normal greeting that is not considered offensive," Khalaf al-Hosani told the AFP news agency, adding that the complainant's testimony was contradictory.

The Foreign Office said it was aware of the case and would offer consular assistance if required.

In 2008, a British couple narrowly escaped jail in Dubai after being found guilty of engaging in drunken sexual activity out of wedlock and in public. This year, a British couple who shared a Dubai hotel room produced a marriage certificate to escape trial for having sex out of wedlock.

World's tallest tower in Dubai reopens

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates The observation deck of the world's tallest skyscraper reopened Sunday in Dubai, two months after an elevator malfunction that left visitors trapped more than 120 stories above the ground forced it to close.

Dozens of tourists were lining up Sunday for tickets to take an elevator to the 124th floor of the half-mile-high Burj Khalifa, where the tower's observation deck is located.

The deck was shut in February after an elevator packed with visitors got stuck between floors for 45 minutes before rescuers dropped a ladder into the shaft so those inside could crawl out. Two months later, it's still unclear what caused the elevator to fail.

The accident proved a major embarrassment for Dubai, whose rulers hoped the Burj Khalifa, which officially opened in January, would be a major tourist draw and buoy the Gulf city-state as it struggles to revive its image as a cutting-edge Arab metropolis amid nagging questions about its financial health.

At 2,717 feet (828 meters), the tapering, silvery tower ranks as not only the world's highest skyscraper, but also the tallest freestanding structure in the world.

Its developer, Emaar Properties has not officially announced the observation deck's reopening. The firm handling Emaar's public relations did not immediately respond to calls from The AP.

The Burj Khalifa tower rises more than 160 stories, though the exact number of floors is not known. The observation deck is mostly enclosed, but it includes an outdoor terrace bordered by guard rails and is located about two-thirds of the way up.

Two elevators, with up to 15 people each, whisk people up to the observation deck daily, running every half hour from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Most visitors who paid the 100 dirhams ($27) for a 3-minute ride to the deck, which boasts a view of Dubai's glimmering skyline, the sprawling desert and the emirate's Gulf shore, either didn't know about February's elevator malfunction or did not mind the ride's bumpy start.

"We feel fortunate to have gone up," said Sheetal Gulati, a tourist from the U.K. who's on a three-day trip to Dubai. "The view is very nice and worth seeing."

Emaar, the state-linked company that owns the tower, had little to say about February's accident. The company said nothing about an elevator malfunction at the time of the accident and did not provide details of any repairs or maintenance work on the elevators before the viewing deck reopened Sunday.

Burj Khalifa was designed by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which has a long track record engineering some of the world's tallest buildings, including Chicago's Willis Tower, the tallest in the U.S. formerly known as the Sears Tower.

The observation deck was the only part of the tower that opened in January. Work continues on the rest of the building's interior and the first tenants are supposed to move in soon. - AP

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