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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April 7, 2010 Major News Stories

3 kids held hostage in Cebu (7:13 p.m.)

CEBU CITY -- Three children, whose ages are three, five, and 10, were held hostage Tuesday in Barangay Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City, the police said.

Initial investigation disclosed that the mother of the victims borrowed P30,000 from the suspect's sibling. The amount has not been paid until now, reaching it to P115,000.

Acting Lapu-Lapu City Police Director Mariano Natuel Jr. said in an interview with ABS-CBN TV Patrol Central Visayas that the suspect went to the victims' house to collect the payment.

The mother of the hostages, a certain Mimi, however, refused to pay the debt, "forcing the suspect to held captive the children and release them only after Mimi pays."

The hostage crisis took an hour and a half until the suspect surrendered and released the victims.

Natuel said they were able to negotiate with the suspect to peacefully surrender and release the children.

"We told the suspect that no charges will be filed against him if he will release the kids and surrender to the police," he said.

Natuel said they also asked the suspect to hand over the knife and rope that were used in the hostage taking.

The three victims are now under the care of the Lapu-Lapu police, while the mother and suspect, believed to have a relationship, are now in police custody for questioning.

CCPO launches manhunt vs. foreigner for 'taking' minors

THE Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) launched a manhunt against a foreigner accused of taking five minors inside a gray Starex van along Magallanes St., Barangay Ermita, Cebu City around 4 a.m. yesterday.

The girls, though, were dropped off at Plaza Independencia after one of them cried.

They were taken to the Carbon Police Station where they gave their statements.

Police already have the plate number of the van, but requested the media not to disclose it yet, pending the operation.

CCPO Director Patrocinio Comendador Jr. said they have coordinated with the Land Transportation Office to help trace the van's owner.

According to information gathered by Carbon Police Station Chief Renero Agustin, the girls were on Magallanes St. gathering leftover vegetables and spices in the area when the van arrived.

The foreigner, described as a Caucasian, reportedly called them and asked them to go with him.


The girls agreed and boarded the van, allegedly after the foreigner enticed them with P400 each.

While in transit, the girls were told they would work at his house in Iloilo.

The foreigner showed them a map and pointed out where he lives. One of the five girls, however, cried, prompting him to drop them off.

Before the girls got off the van, the foreigner allegedly touched the arms and legs of two of the girls.

The girls reportedly resisted, which irked the foreigner who allegedly pulled out something from his waistband. Thinking that it was a weapon, the girls quickly got off and ran. (JTG)

Sizzling hot at 36.1 degrees Celsius


Metro Manila's temperature surged to a sizzling 36.1 degrees Celsius Tuesday afternoon, state weather bureau Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.

PAGASA Science Garden in Quezon City recorded the highest temperature so far in Metro Manila at 36.1 degrees Celsius at 1:50 p.m. Tuesday.

The minimum temperature documented at 6 a.m. Tuesday was also a bit high at 29.0 degrees Celsius.

The new record surpassed the highest temperature this year that was recorded exactly a month ago on March 6 at 35.8 degrees Celsius.

Last Monday, the temperature in the metropolis ranged from 23.8 degrees Celsius to 35.3 degrees Celsius.

In 2009, the highest temperature reached 36.5 degrees Celsius that was recorded in May.

Due to the prevailing El Niño phenomenon, PAGASA expects that temperatures all over the country will reach as high as 37 degrees Celsius this month or May.

PAGASA also expects the temperature to peak at 35 to 36 degrees Celsius until the weekend.

In Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, temperature is forecast to reach 37 to 38 degrees Celsius in the next four days.

Based on the PAGASA's data, the hottest temperature in Philippine history is at 42.2 degrees Celsius, recorded in Tuguegarao, Cagayan on May 11, 1969.

The hottest day in Metro Manila was at 38.5 on May 14, 1987.

In other parts of the country, the PAGASA's 5 a.m. weather bulletin last Tuesday said, a wind convergence that is currently affecting Mindanao and Eastern Visayas will bring mostly cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country will have partly cloudy to at times cloudy skies except for some isolated rainshowers or thunderstorms mostly over the eastern section.

Light to moderate winds blowing from the east to southeast will prevail over Northern and Central Luzon and coming from the east and northeast over the rest of the country, while the coastal waters throughout the archipelago will be slight to moderate.

98 medicines still sold at discounted prices


The Department of Health (DoH) will continue with the implementation of the Government Mediated Access Price (GMAP) despite the request made by the Drugstores Association of the Philippines (DSAP) to suspend the second round of voluntary medicine price reductions that took effect last March 31.

Dr. Robert So, director of the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management (NCPAM), said there is no reason to take back the lowering of prices of 98 essential medicines as the price cuts were voluntarily made by the drug manufacturers themselves.

"Why will they ask that when the manufacturers themselves brought down the prices? This is a voluntary reduction from the manufacturer's end which means the drugs are sold to them at a lower price. The drugs are being sold to them at a much lower price as early as when the announcement was made or even way before that because some manufacturers brought down their prices as early as January."

Despite the GMAP, So said the earnings of drugstore owners are still protected by a profit margin "so they have no reason to say they are losing profit."

Last Monday, it was reported that DSAP asked for the suspension of the GMAP citing reimbursement problems with pharmaceutical firms.

Since drug price cuts were implemented last August, drug manufacturers were mandated to give rebates on unsold drugs that were bought at the old price.

So said the DoH has not received a formal request or complaint on drug price reimbursements. "There were only anecdotal requests," he said.

"But companies said they have paid P1 billion, at least, worth of rebates. An example is the Capitol Medical Center which said that they have no problem with rebates because drug manufacturers have already paid them the full amount."

The DoH announced last month the second round of GMAP reductions that covered 98 medicines.

These are drugs for dialysis, cancer, prostatic disorders, asthma, depression, hypertension, cholesterol, bladder disorders, psychosis, coagulant (blood clotting), eye medicines, hepatitis, antibiotics, pain relievers, dialysis solutions and medical devices.

The first round of drug price reductions was initiated in August last year that covered more than 100 medicines. The second round was implemented last March 31.

RA 9502 or the Universally Accessible cheaper and quality medicines act of 2008 includes the following penalties for violators: "Any person or entity who shall refuse to carry or sell drugs and medicines pursuant to the provisions of this Chapter shall be punished with a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P500,000, at the discretion of the court. For the succeeding offense, the penalties shall not be less than P500,000 but not more than P1 million, at the discretion of the court, and suspension or revocation of its license to operate (LTO), business or professional license, as the case may be."

Turkish flour not toxic, says DOH

MANILA, Philippines The Department of Health, citing initial test results from the Food and Drug Administration, said Tuesday that Turkish flour was not toxic and therefore fit for human consumption.

In a press statement, the DOH said, however, that despite these initial findings, the FDA will conduct more thorough tests on flour imported from Turkey.

Results of these tests will be released soon, the health department said.

DOH Sec. Esperanza Cabral, meanwhile, reassured the public that the agency was on top of the situation.

If and when it is proven that Turkish flour is indeed unsafe, they can expect us to take immediate decision and action, Cabral said.

According to the DOH, six flour samples from Central Visayas and the National Capital Region were collected from March 9-22. These underwent laboratory analysis on March 27.

Five of the flour samples were imported from Turkey while one was from a local source. Initial results [showed] that none of the samples had concentrations of ochratoxin A and aflatoxin above the allowable limits, the DOH disclosed.

News reports that substandard flour from Turkey that contain toxic substances are being dumped in the Philippines and used to make food products such as bread and noodles had prompted the DOH to conduct the tests.

'Sacrificial lambs'

MEMBERS of the Cebu Provincial Appraisal Committee (CPAC) are ready to face a probe but Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr. believes that the governor should take responsibility for the controversial Balili lot purchase.

Both Provincial Engineer Eulogio Pelayre and Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre have received the memorandum of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia directing the Committee on Discipline and Investigation (CDI) to investigate members of the CPAC.

Pelayre, Salubre and Provincial Assessor Anthony Sususco are members of CPAC that will undergo administrative investigation over the purchase.

Sanchez said the CPAC is being used as a "sacrificial lamb" by the governor, based on the recommendation of the Balili Review Committee, formed by Garcia at the height of the fiasco.

"I pity them. They are just made as sacrificial lambs," Sanchez told reporters.

Capitol spokesperson Rory Jon Sepulveda denied Sanchez's allegations, saying there are no sacrificial lambs in the investigation.

He said "there were some acts and omissions noted by the committee that need to be properly investigated."

Sanchez, who left the administration bloc after the fiasco, said Provincial Board (PB) Member Juan Bolo should be included in the probe because he believes the official had "a hand in it," referring to the purchase of the property where portions are underwater while others are covered with mangroves.

He said during the hearings by the PB, "everything goes back to him (Bolo)."

"Well, all indications (show that) one member of the board had a hand on it. All the movements emanated from him. Look at the hearing, everything goes back to him and he was not part of the three to be investigated? Instead of three nganong 'di man upat?

(Why not four?)" Sanchez said.

Bolo had introduced to the governor the broker of the property.

Bolo's office also prepared the memorandum of agreement for the purchase and it was the venue during the releasing of the check as payment for the property.

Sun.Star tried but failed to contact Bolo for comment.

Pelayre is yet to receive the detailed recommendation of the executive panel formed to investigate the P98-million purchase in Tina-an, City of Naga, but he said he will answer the inquiry in the proper forum.

Salubre said he is still reading the committee report and would prefer to just comment during the CDI investigation.

When asked if he feels like he and the other two members of the committee were made as scapegoats, Salubre said, "No."

He implied that it is part of the hazards of the job, admitting that he has other cases before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.

Sususco was not in his office when Sun.Star Cebu tried to interview him.

CDI head Atty. Rodrigo Urbiztondo said he will ask Garcia to have Sususco replaced as a member of CDI, citing conflict of interest.

The CDI is composed of Urbiztondo, Provincial Administrator Eduardo Habin, Sususco and former Capitol consultant on security Byron Garcia, whose consultancy contract was not renewed by the governor. The CDI now only has two members.


Sanchez also believes Garcia should be investigated on the Balili lot purchase.

"The governor apologized. That's more or less an admission... It all boils down to command responsibility. She said 'I'm sorry, I take responsibility.' What does that mean?" the vice governor said.

He was referring to Garcia's apology in August last year where she also vowed to recover the amount paid for the portions that were underwater.

Capitol surveyed the 25-hectare property and learned that almost 9.5 hectares were underwater or covered with mangroves.

Along with the memorandum to investigate members of the PCAC was another memorandum to Provincial Attorney Marino Martinquilla to initiate judicial action for the reduction of the purchase price of the Balili property "commensurate to the amount paid by the Province of Cebu for the submerged and mangrove areas."

The PCAC's failure to point out in its appraisal report that parts of the property were underwater was mentioned.

A third memorandum directed Martinquilla to take "responsibility in the preparation, review and filing of any and all documents on the purchase of the Province of Cebu of real properties and in the payment thereof."

Garcia's memorandum also stated that the Provincial Attorney should "supervise the Office of the Provincial Treasurer in relation to the preparation of any and all documents relative to the payment, partial or full, to the proper party."

But Sanchez said the department heads will not be prosecuted and that the investigation on the appraisal committee will die a natural death because it will drag for months.

"The provincial attorney will investigate that so that will drag for months. After a few months, it will be forgotten," Sanchez said.

He also criticized the governor for not facing the issue.

"Lisud kaayong tubagon niya nang isyuha. The only way to save her, she has to pin (the blame on) somebody," he said. (JGA/RSA)

Former village chief claims Radaza not fit to campaign

A former village chief and "kumpare" of Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Arturo Radaza is calling for the mayor to resign from his post and to withdraw from the congressional race because of suspicions that he is not in the best of health.

"I am asking the mayor, who happens to be my kumpare, to resign as mayor and forego altogether his political ambition as candidate for the lone congressional seat of Lapu-Lapu City," Angel Rodriguez said in a prepared press statement. "Rodriguez said he is disturbed by the fact that Mayor Radaza has not spearheaded any form of campaign since the start last March of the official campaign period.

He suspects that Radaza cannot sustain a rigorous campaign because of failing health.

"There are persistent rumors that the incumbent Mayor Arturo Radaza is very sick," Rodriguez said, who once served as former barangay captain of Punta Engaño for 10 years and claims to be one of the few barangay leaders who supported the mayor when he first run in the city. "Rodriguez is supporting the candidacy of mayoralty bet and opposition Councilor Junard Chan and the congressional bid of Lito Ruiz. "The press conference, whichwas held at the Parkmall, was called by Rodriguez. Chan showed up but later left when the press conference was about to begin. "Although he has no medical proof that would substantiate his allegation that the mayor is sick, Rodriguez said "you can see him. He had lost weight when I saw him in Punta Engano." "Rodriguez said there were times in the past that the mayor would attend "pulong-pulong," or meetings, and join rallies.

"He proposed that the mayor relinquish his present post and not push through with his candidacy since it would be unfair to him and the people of Lapu-Lapu." "Because of his deteriorating physical health, he will just punish himself and may not be able to serve the city, thereby doing injustice to his constituents," Rodriguez said.

On the other hand, Mayor Radaza, in a press statement, challenged Chan and the rest of the opposition candidates to have their blood pressure taken all at the same time to find who really is physically fit.

Radaza said he met a vehicular accident in the early 90's, which gave him a limp. He said he used a wheelchair for a while.

"I am more convinced that the political opposition's only hope in winning this election is if something unfortunate such as the lie they are peddling against my health happens," Radaza said.

Radaza, however, challenged his opponents to campaign hard in order to win without wishing their opponents ill.

He even told his opponents not to enter in an election where their chances of getting votes are by default.

"I know they wish me to be very visible all the time so I'll be exposed to assassination. That is not a good formula for winning the race," Radaza said.

Comelec revamp to affect Sarno

Cebu City north district election officer Marchel Sarno is likely to be transferred to another assignment before the May 10 elections because of the minor reshuffling of local officers of the Commission on Elections which is scheduled to take effect within the week.

Although he has not yet receive a formal order from Manila, but Sarno said he got a hint of his impending transfer when his superior asked him if he would be comfortable to be transferred in Mandaue City.

"Before we will be reassigned man gud, there is a consultation. And usually, ang transfer-ran dili ra man kaayo na layo unless necessary or needed," Sarno said.

Sarno is still waiting for further notice because it is still possible that he will be transferred somewhere else.

Their policy states that any transfer should be done at least one month before the Election Day prompting him to believe that he is already leaving his office anytime this week. San Fernando election officer Rudy Gilos is likely to take his place.

"Dili siguro abogado ang ibutang diri because the Comelec has to delegate all lawyer elections officers to be chairmen of the Board of Canvassers in all areas," he said.

He said that his reassignment will also ease the tension made by some opposition candidates who are thinking that the fund provided by the city for the renovation of the Comelec office will influence their management.

Last Month, the city has granted P1 million for the renovation of their office including the purchase of furniture and fixtures chargeable against the P25-million Election Reserve Refund set aside by the city as assistance to the Comelec.

The members of the opposition are apprehensive that the city, especially Mayor Tomas Osmeña, will be asking favors in return of the assistance.

Sarno clarified that the reshuffling within the Comelec is a regular activity during election period. He cited the Comelec policy that requires election officers who have stayed for more than four years in their assignment will have to be reassigned to discourage close paternity.

Meanwhile, the Comelec has already started receiving paraphernalia for the coming elections. The Election Day Certified Voter's List (ECDVL) of the 237,321 qualified voters in the north district of Cebu City and 278,222 qualified voters in the south district have been delivered.

ECDVL is one of the means through which the Comelec can identify a qualified voter aside from the Voter's Registration Record and Postdate Certified Voter's List. A voter can vote in his or her precinct, if his or her name is on any of the three records.

Other paraphernalia like the ballot secrecy folder, marking pens, envelops, indelible ink and sample ballots are yet to be delivered, Sarno said. 

Comelec to use regular folders instead

MANILA, Philippines(UPDATE) Because the specially designed secrecy folders are so expensive, the Commission on Elections has decided to use regular ones instead to allow voters to shield their votes from prying eyes on May 10.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, Comelec Chair Jose Melo admitted a "lapse" in judgment when the poll agency awarded the nearly P700 million contract to OTC Paper Supply for the supply of 1.81 million secrecy folders.

On Monday, the Comelec en banc scrapped the contract, which had not been signed.

Melo said the poll body had relied too much on the recommendations of the bids and awards committee (BAC), which gave the contract to OTC Paper Supply even though the price was an extraordinary P380 per folder.

We admit that there was some sort of lapse in the part of the BAC and the Comelec en banc. We relied so much on the information from the people below, Melo explained. The good thing here is when we saw the error, we corrected it, he added.

We will just use ordinary folders, not the long one. It will hide the ballot as well, Melo said.

Although he has no official price on the regular folders, Melo said it would certainly be cheaper than the OTC folders.

He noted that the election laws did not require the Comelec to use secrecy folders on Election Day. The law only says that there must be secrecy.

Last month, the Comelec unveiled the secrecy folder, which was 28 inches long and 9.5 inches wide. Blue in color with an expandable spine, it almost matches the 25x8.5 inches machine-readable ballots and is made of polypropylene, a kind of plastic used in the manufacture of food containers, toothbrushes and surgical fabrics.

An investigation is underway to check irregularities in the negotiated bidding for the folders, Melo said.

Comelec admits judgment lapse on okay of ballot secrecy folders


It was a lapse in judgment.

This was the admission made by Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo regarding the issue involving the reported "overpricing" in ballot secrecy folders.

"We admit there is some sort of lapse on the part of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) and Comelec en banc. We relied so much on the information of the people below," Melo told reporters in an interview.

"But the good thing here is that when we saw the error we corrected it," he said.

Last March 8, Comelec's BAC recommended the awarding of the P690 million contract for the supply and delivery of the 1,815,000 pieces of ballot secrecy folders to the OTC Paper Supply company.

The Comelec on Monday recalled the awarding of the contract after it had found some irregularities in the deal.

This, after Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. revealed that the poll body bought nearly two million ballot secrecy folders at an overpriced rate of P380 each.

Meanwhile, Melo did not want to speculate if the lapse was intentional, saying the matter is now being investigated already by the poll body's Law Department.

"Let's leave it to the investigators," he said.

The poll chief then told media that Comelec had made the decision to scrap the project and instead purchase an ordinary long folder for the May 10 polls.

"We'll just replace it with an ordinary folder. I decided this earlier. It doesn't necessarily have to be as long as the ballot," said Melo.

"Anyway, the law didn't say that there must be a folder. It only says that there must be secrecy," he added.

Melo wants ballots to stay at NPO

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo on Tuesday said he wants that the printed ballots be kept at the National Printing Office (NPO) in Quezon City, even if the poll body has to pay for the space.

Comelec way behind in preparations for elections, say watchdog groups

MANILA, PhilippinesWith a month to go before Election Day, there are signs showing that the Commission on Elections is way behind in its preparations and the shortcuts it has taken have eroded the confidence of civil society that credible elections will take place on May 10, according to at least two watchdog groups.

Bantay ng Bayan, an umbrella group composed of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines and the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), voiced its apprehensions at the weak links in the election preparations.

Namfrel has served as the Comelec's citizens' arm in the past elections, a role that it will not play on May 10. The Comelec gave the role to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

Bantay ng Bayan noted that the voters list has about three million multiple registrants and said the security markings on the ballot and the indelible ink, which prevents voters from voting more than once, are weak.

The groups also urged the Comelec to implement a random manual audit before the proclamation of winners, saying it was the last best safeguard it could implement against electoral fraud.

Namfrel officials said random checks on the computerized voters list in various parts of the country showed many errors that could be used by poll operatives to manipulate the results of the elections.

Namfrel chairman Jose Cuisia, in a press conference on Saturday, said the poll watchdog was concerned about the disablement or delay of certain safeguard provisions that would ensure credible results.

Asked if Namfrel and its allied organizations do not believe that the results of the elections will be credible, Cuisia and other officials said they have not yet reached that threshold.

We are not among those who are saying we fear there is failure of elections. We are hopeful that these problems are resolved, he said.

David Balangue, another Namfrel executive said, There are indications but we need to be extremely vigilant.

Cuisia cited the wrong ultraviolet ink that the Comelec and its electronic election provider, Smartmatic TIM Corp., have chosen for one of its security marks as one of the alarming developments in the poll preparations.

Because the Precinct Count Optical Scan machine was unable to read the UV ink and rejects the ballots, Smartmatic TIM has decided to turn off the machines' built-in UV reader and use portable UV lamps to verify the ballots instead.

The portable lights were not included in the original budget of the project and their use now adds an extra step in a new process which the BEIs [Board of Election Inspectors] are only beginning to learn, Cuisia said.

The Namfrel official also voiced apprehension over the removal of digital signatures and the lack of transparency on the source code review. They also urged the poll body to allow public review of the automated election system's back-up process, which will be used in case of software failure.

According to Namfrel officials, these security measures were provided for in the law to ensure that there are no suspicious programs in the voting machines that could undermine the elections.

Namfrel secretary-general Eric Alvia also warned the poll body against multiple voters in the national registry. He noted that Bantay Bayan random inspections of voters lists from various parts of the country showed errors like multiple identical names and deceased persons on the rolls.

There was also a questionable number of centenarian voters in some towns. Mandaluyong, for instance, has 187 voters who are at least 100 years old, the Namfrel official said.

Cuisia said the Comelec should post the certified voters lists in prominent places to allow voters ample time to check their precincts under the clustered precinct scheme.

Voters' list padded by 3 million, Namfrel claims

The official list of voters for the May 2010 elections might actually be padded by over three million, according to poll watchdog National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), citing census figures.

Namfrel to tap 150,000 observers for May polls

MANILA, Philippines To prevent poll fraud in May, election watchdog National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) said Tuesday that they would recruit 150,000 volunteers to observe the conduct of the automated polls.

Jose Cuisia Jr., Namfrel national chairman said the watchdogs provincial chairmen would be the one to recruit observers in their respective areas.

At present, we have 54 provincial chairmen, who will organize observation and ground roots watchdog groups in their own areas. We need 26 more provincial chairman and we hope by this week we fill that, said Cuisia,

Namfrel will be deploying at least two observers to each polling precinct, he added.

Cuisia said that some of the provincial chairmen moved to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the accredited citizens' arm for the May 2010 elections.

Comelec denied Namfrel's petition for accreditation this year after PPCRV's accreditation was approved since November last year.

Guillermo Luz, Namfrel Council member said that this would be done to help prevent cheating on election day.

Cheating takes place where there are no volunteers or observers. So if we all tell people where there are no volunteers they would go there to cheat. Our observers have a checklist of activities to do such as guidelines to check that the machines arrive on time and it contains no stored voting data, Luz said.

We will perform poll watchdog duties although we cannot enter the polling precincts. We will have observers outside the polling precincts and even roving volunteers to check the conduct of elections are orderly on Election Day, and to make sure that the machines to be used do not contain tampered automation software and does not contain voting data to create fraud and benefit a few parties, said Damaso Magbual, Namfrel membership committee chairman.

Cuisia also stressed that the Comelec should conduct the random manual audit of the machines before proclamation of the results to determine if the machines are accurate in counting and transmitting the codes.

He added a genuine indelible ink is also needed to prevent flying voters to vote in more than one polling place.

Luz also urged voters and the media to check machines delivered on the polling precinct and to be used on Election Day has the same hash code or digital fingerprint produced by international certification Systest Labs of the automation software specific only to a polling precinct.

We believe Comelec is doing its best to prepare for the polls but we believe these areas need to be addressed and to make sure that the voting results reflect the will of the people and we have a legitimate government, said Magbual.

If the polls are not accepted by the people, it would be a real problem, said Cuisia.

Do manual audit now, Comelec urged

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should decide immediately on the implementation of the random manual audit as mandated in the poll automation law, according to a Liberal Party senatorial candidate.

LP senatorial bet Alexander Lacson said the poll body must conduct the random manual audit since Republic Act 9639, or the Automated Election System Law of 2009, mandates its implementation in at least one clustered polling precinct per congressional district.

"Comelec definitely has to increase the number of those polling precincts that would undergo a random manual audit for reasons of transparency. Given the problems hounding the automation process, such as the recently-disclosed displaced UV markings on the printed ballots, the random manual audit system assumes significance and importance in validating the poll automated process," Lacson added. 

At present, the Comelec has yet to rule whether to proceed with the manual random audit.

Lacson said the poll body should also have considered coming out with an electronic audit system, which could start with the voters' list and the total numbers of votes in a given political constituency.

"Conceptually, an electronic audit can address any prima facie evidence of electoral fraud like having more votes than the total number of ballots cast or the counting of spoiled ballots to favor certain candidates," Lacson said.

Noynoy maintains lead in Pulse survey


Pulse Asia's pre-election survey results released Tuesday showed Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III still leading other presidentiables.

The nationwide survey conducted last March 21 to 28 among 3,000 respondents showed that Aquino scored 37 percent, while his closest rival, Nacionalista Party (NP) presidential bet Sen. Manny Villar, got 25 percent.

The current voter preference of Aquino remains unchanged as compared to the survey result last February where he scored 36 percent.

Using a duplicate ballot, respondents were asked to indicate their preference on the ballot based on the instructions written in it.

The survey question was, "If elections were held today, who will you vote for as President of the Philippines?"

Former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) is the only other candidate with double-digit support, at 18 percent, but is also unchanged  compared to the previous survey.

The other candidates are former Defense Secretary Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro Jr. (Lakas-Kampi-CMD), 7 percent; Sen. Richard Gordon (Bagumbayan), 2 percent; and evangelist Bro. Eduardo Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas), 2 percent.

Compared to the February pre-election survey, the voter preferences for all the candidates are unchanged given the survey-to-survey margin of error.

Independent candidate environment activist Jesus Nicanor Perlas scored 0.3 percent, followed by Olongapo City Councilor JC de los Reyes (Ang Kapatiran), 0.2 percent, and Sen. Jamby Madrigal (Independent), 0.1 percent.

Nine percent of the survey respondents refused or remained undecided.

The results also showed that Aquino enjoys a slight to significant lead over the second running contender in almost all areas and socio-economic classes, ranging from a low of 7 percent in the Balance of Luzon, where Aquino's preference is at 33 percent against Villar's 26 percent, to a high of 32 percent for the upper socio-economic classes ABC (upper to middle classes), where Sen. Aquino's voting support is at at 49 percent against 17 percent for Villar.

In the vice presidential race, LP bet Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II continues to dominate with 43 percent. Following him is Sen. Loren Legarda (Nationalist People's Coalition), 23 percent.

Legarda is closely followed by Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay (PDP-LABAN), 19 percent.

Other candidates are former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando (Bagumbayan), 3 percent; actor Edu Manzano (Lakas-Kampi-CMD), 2 percent; former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chief Perfecto Yasay (Bangon Pilipinas), 1 percent; broadcast journalist Jay Sonza (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan), 0.5 percent; and lawyer Dominador Chipeco Jr. (Ang Kapatiran), 0.1 percent.

Villar saddened by Pulse Asia survey

LAOAG CITY, PhilippinesSenator Manuel Manny Villar admitted Tuesday that he was saddened by the continuous drop of his ratings in presidential surveys, owing to the black propaganda being waged by his rivals.

But Villar said he is confident his ratings would bounce back in future surveys.

"Hindi kami nabahahala dyan, nakakalungkot din siyempre noong una. Nabalitaan namin yan last week pa pero yung later surveys ang magpapakita na medyo dumidikit na kami (sa ratings) kaya happy na rin tayo (We are not worried with that. Of course we were saddened at first. We heard about the results last week but the later surveys will show that we are closing in with the ratings that's why we are also happy)," he said in a joint press conference here.

"Hindi naman perfect ang kampanya pero tinatanggap ko yan at nagsisilbing hamon sa amin yan (The campaign is not perfect, we accept it and that challenges us)," he said.

"Yung mga black propaganda na hindi naman totoo, masyado kaming naging mabait dun at hindi kami sumasagot (We became so kind to the black propaganda being thrown at us and we don't answer them)," Villar added.

Asked if he would now fight back with his rivals, Villar said he would just explain more the issues. But Villar lamented that he and his party's explanation on issues did not land on front pages of newspapers unlike his rivals.

And while he claimed he would not throw stones at his opponents, Villar gave Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, his closest rival in the presidential race, a taste on how he would fight back.

Villar taunted Aquino when asked for comment on the Supreme Court's decision against the latter's petition, questioning the legality of the creation of an additional district in Camarines Sur.

"Yun yata ang kaisa-isang bill ni Noynoy, nasupla pa (That probably was Noynoys only bill, but was denied by SC)," he said.

Villar was apparently kinder when sought to comment on former president Joseph Estrada's good ranking in the surveys: "Mahirap nang mag comment. Isa-isa lang ang kalaban. Mahirap nang dumami," he said.

Villar: My failure to answer allegations caused drop in surveys

BANGUI, Ilocos Norte - Nacionalista Party standard bearer Senator Manuel Villar Jr. on Tuesday admitted that his failure to answer the allegations hurled against him affected his performance in recent surveys about the electorate"s presidential preferences.

41 governors show up for Gibo


At least 41 provincial governors belonging to the League of Provinces Tuesday showed up during a "loyalty check" initiated by Albay Governor Joey Salceda to reaffirm their support for the presidential bid of former Defense secretary and now Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro Jr. amid pressing problems now hounding the ruling party.

The 41 governors were among the 51 provincial chief executives who signed a manifesto of support for Teodoro last month.

Salceda said that they have to check the status of other governors who were absent, adding they might have valid reasons for not being able to appear during the meeting.

"In this kind of (political) climate, physical presence is already very important," Salceda pointed out.

In an interview, Salceda said he initiated the "Govs for Gibo" meeting in order to have a positive start following the recent developments that affected their ranks, particularly the sudden resignation of Teodoro as party chairman.

Salceda said the recent attacks on the ruling party, specifically on the issues of "GloriAquino" and "VillArroyo", was already triggering confusion among many of the country's provincial governors.

"These are vicious attacks to our party," Salceda said.

Salceda described the administration party as "being placed under political resuscitation".

The reported lack of funding for the administration bets was also among the pressing issues now rocking the ruling party.

But Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial candidates Silvestre "Bebot" Bello III and Mayor Ramon Guico quick to deny any funding problem in the party.

Both senatorial bets termed as "a malicious canard" a report alleging that newly-appointed party chair Rep. Amelita Villarosa was blaming the party's senatorial campaign manager, Prospero Pichay, for a current shortage in funding for their campaigns. Joining them in Pichay's defense were award-winning broadcaster Rey Langit and constitutional lawyer Raul Lambino, who likewise deplored the malicious news story regarding the party finances.

Bello and Guico said Pichay had been transparent regarding the amount of funding given by the party for six-man senate slate's expenses.

"We are expressing our common and unequivocal faith in Butch Pichay. He has not held back on the funding allocated for our campaign by the party, and he has even gone to the extent of advancing his own funds just to ensure that our campaigns continue chugging along until the party can bring in the second tranche for the home-stretch," said Lambino.

Among those present during the caucus held at the Magellan Room of Discovery Suites in Pasig City were governors Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu and Migs Dominguez of Saranggani. Basilan Rep. Jam Akbar phoned Salceda last Monday night that she cannot attend the meeting but reaffirmed her support to Gibo.

Villarosa and party secretary-general Ray Roquero also showed up during the closed-door meeting. Lambino also dropped by the meeting.

Salceda pointed out that the meeting was also designed for the party leaders to re-strategize their political moves to ensure the victory of their candidates from the national level down to the local bets.

The Albay governor admitted that their group was surprised on the sudden resignation of Gibo as party chairman even to the point that some of them were disheartened over the former Defense secretary's decision which, they claimed, was done without prior consultation.

After the meeting, the provincial governors signed a manifesto re-affirming their support for the candidacy of Teodoro.

"We remained steadfast in our conviction that Gibo Teodoro is the most deserving among all the presidential candidates to lead the nation in the next six years. We have not wavered in our support and we resolve even more to work for his victory," the manifesto said.

In October 2009, the same group signed a manifesto, urging the Lakas-Kampi-CMD to choose Teodoro as its official candidate for the presidential race on May 10.

Lakas vows 'intensified campaigning' for Teodoro

MANILA, Philippines The administration party Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) will rely heavily on its members to do an intensified campaigning for its standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro, rather than on paid television and radio advertisements.

This was the consensus reached Tuesday among members of the national executive committee of the party who gathered in a show of unity and manifested anew their support for Teodoro and his slate.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo showed up at the meeting and ordered officers to see to it that everything is moving smoothly.

The party has been hounded recently by defections, resignations of top officials and alleged funding woes.

Occidental Mindoro Representative Amelita Villarosa, the new party chairman, said things were okay within the party.

We are asked to see to it that everything is moving on smoothly, we are asked to address the concerns of everybody and to do something about it and when the President says, we just have to do it, Villarosa told reporters after the meeting when asked for the message of the President.

She said the members of the executive committee were morally buoyed by Arroyos presence in the meeting.

Teodoro, however, was not present as he was in a sortie in Camarines Sur.

The party issued a resolution affirming its commitment to intensify its nationwide campaign to give him victory in the May national elections.

We have moved the past few days in a new direction giving a fierce new impetus to the presidential campaign and naming a party leadership to take over as a way of reaffirming party unity behind Teodoro and intensifying our efforts to get him the decisive votes in 70 percent of our provinces, cities and municipalities across the nation.

We declare today onwards that we shall hold the ranks of the party for Teodoro and resist by all means possible, wherever and whenever they occur, efforts by rival parties to undermine our presidential campaign through all means fair or foul, the resolution said.

When asked to explain the intensified campaign, Villarosa said it meant mobilizing local officials in provinces and cities down to the barangay (village) level to campaign for Teodoro and his team.

Diin pa, para lalong masiguro na panalo ang aming kandidato, didiinan ang kampanya sa lahat ng sitio, lahat ng barangay, lahat ng bayan, lahat ng probinsya, all over the Philippines [We should intensify our campaign to ensure the victory of our candidate. We need to intensify our campaign in all sub-villages, villages, cities, provinces, all over the Philippines], Villarosa said.

The strategy of tapping local officials will prove more effective than spending millions for television and radio advertisements, which has limited reach, Villarosa said.

In the provinces, not every household has television, they also depend on us for information. What is important to them is that their needs are addressed by whoever is leading the province and we see to it that services from the provinces are delivered to the people, she said.

To ensure that local executives will stick to the party, Villarosa assured them that their needs would be addressed.

They are funded, if some are complaining, may be they are waiting for additional [funds], but we are okay, we are funded, she said.

Villarosa said that releases of funds were programmed.

We have a schedule for everything, everything will be attended to, we will fix all concerns, theres no problem, she said.

As the executive committee members are meeting in Linden Suites in Ortigas, Pasig City, Lakas-Kampi governors are also gathered at the nearby Discovery Suites.

Arroyo also dropped by the meeting of the governors in the afternoon.

Former Agusan del Sur Governor Adolph Edward Eddie Bong Plaza, who attended the meeting, later showed up at the Lakas-Kampi meeting and read a manifesto of support for Teodoro.

We commit to work hard for overwhelming electoral majorities for Gibo Teodoro in our jurisdictions, the manifesto said.

In an interview, Albay Governor Joey Salceda, who organized the governors gathering, said they were aiming to deliver at least 14 million votes for Teodoro.

Plaza also announced that the 34 governors who attended have organized themselves into the National Caucus of Governors to support Teodoro. Plaza said a total of 50 governors were supporting Teodoro.

The governors are also members of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, but not all its members belong to Lakas-Kampi. Its chairman, Camarines Sur Governor Luis Ray Villafuerte, is supporting Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party.

The National Caucus of Governors also elected Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia as president, Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez as vice president, Salceda as secretary general, and Plaza as finance officer.

Plaza called on the local officials to show their palabra de honor (word of honor) in supporting the party and Teodoro.

JDV: Arroyo to blame on Lakas 'collapse'

JDV: Arroyo to blame on Lakas 'collapse' Isinisisi ni Lakas founder at dating House Speaker Jose de Venecia kay Pangulong Arroyo ang problema sa kawalan ng pondo at umano'y pagkakawatak-watak ng Lakas Kampi CMD. Hinimok din niya si Lakas presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro na iwanan na ang partido dahil wala naman siyang nakukuhang suporta mula dito. Nagpa-Patrol, Henry Omaga-Diaz. 

Villanueva signs pact with MILF

MANILA, Philippines – Bangon Pilipas Party presidential candidate Eduardo Villanueva has recently signed a covenant with the people of Mindanao, vowing to pursue the establishment of a federal form of government in the region.

The signing of the covenant, which also guarantee economic justice and pursuit of the peace talks, was witnessed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front spokesman Eid Kabalu.

"In the long term, Bangon Pilpinas commits to call for a Constitutional Convention to submit, propose and support the adoption of the federal form of government as a final and permanent solution to the pursuit of peace and progress in Mindanao," the covenant said. 

Once a Constitutional Convention affirms a federal form of government in Mindanao, the draft Constitution will be submitted to a national plebiscite for ratification.

Although Bangon Pilipinas said it recognizes the need for a federal form of government in Mindanao, the region "will always be a part of the Philippine Republic."

Estrada camp accuses Villar of being a copycat

MANILA, Philippines – A spokesman of the camp former president Joseph Estrada scored the alleged rip-off of a political advertisement by Nacionalista Party presidential bet Sen. Manny Villar by copying another campaign ad of Argentinean presidential hopeful Ricardo Hipolito Lopez Murphy.

"The concept, visual cues and even the execution are identical.There is no other way to describe Sen. Villar's but a cheap rip-off of the original," Pwersa ng Masang spokesman and lawyer Ralph Calinisan said. 

The glaring similarities between Murphy and Villar's ads were first noticed by users of the social networking sites YouTube and Facebook.

The ad features numerous phrases read sequentially, but when subsequently read in reverse, the phrases convey a different meaning. The viewer's attention is guided by a bar that highlights the current phrase being read. 

Murphy's ad won the "Silver Lion" in the 2006 Cannes Lion Contest of 2006. Ironically, Murphy lost his 2007 presidential bid, a fate he previously suffered in 2003 when he first ran for president and landed in third place. 

"Infringed ads produce replicated results; they are signs of things to come. Sen. Villar will come in third in the May 2010 national elections," Calinisan said. 

He added that this is not the first time Villar has copied the ideas of others, making it appear that these were his original ideas in order to boost his candidacy.

"He (Villar) even chose orange as his official campaign color, obviously mimicking President Joseph Estrada who has been using orange as his official campaign color for more than 20 years," Calinisan said.

Comelec urged to investigate 40 party-lists

Multi-sectoral poll watchdog Kontra Daya has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to investigate nominees of 40 party-lists which supposedly do not represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

No proof yet that Mikey is a valid party-list nominee

Presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Mikey Macapagal-Arroyo may be disqualified from being a nominee of Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP) as documents proving that he belongs to the party-list group have not yet been submitted to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Aquino will make a vindictive president – Mikey Arroyo

MANILA, PhilippinesFor Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Mikey Arroyo, vindictiveness would be the hallmark of a Benigno Noynoy Aquino III presidency.

In a text message to reporters, the elder son of President Macapagal-Arroyo said: Since he [Aquino] is trekking on the politics of hatred, I am inclined to believe that if he wins, he would not only go after his perceived opponents based on his definition of good and evil, but he may well move to have the Bible and dictionary rewritten to suit his personality and interests.

Aquino is the standard-bearer of the Liberal Party while Arroyo, of the administration Lakas-Kampi-CMD, has given way to his mother so she could run for his House of Representatives seat representing the second district of Pampanga.

The young Arroyo is the nominee of the party-list group Ang Galing Pinoy, which professes to represent security guards.

Instead of turning the campaign into a fight between good and evil and quarreling with those opposed to him, Arroyo said, Aquino should squarely address the issues of the non-distribution of Hacienda Luisita to its tenant-farmers and the construction of an interchange on the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway in the sugar estate which supposedly greatly benefited his family financially.

Aquino has said that one of his first acts as president would be to create a commission that would investigate all the corruption issues against President Arroyo and the First Family.

The young Arroyo also told Aquino to leave his father, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Mike Arroyo, out of the politicking.

Please be sensitive enough and leave my ailing father alone. Just let him recover in peace. He is not the issue here. My father is not in any way involved in the Lakas-Kampi-CMD campaign, Arroyo said.

The First Gentleman remains in hospital after suffering a new tear in his aorta two weeks ago. His condition then was described as critical but his doctors have said he may leave the hospital soon.

Arroyo said it was preposterous of Aquino to continue to glorify the rumor that the First Gentleman was behind the switch in support by the politically powerful Garcia family of Cebu from Lakas-Kampi standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro to the Nacionalista Partys presidential candidate Manny Villar, even after Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia and her family have denied the rumor.

Its a classic divide-and-rule tactic, but Im very sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Aquino. Your sinister plot has not only failed but has backfired because it has only further solidified and consolidated the party. It has only made our local leaders more vigorous and aggressive in their support for our very own candidate en route to victory, Arroyo said.

Arroyo has choice to appoint Sandiganbayan justice—SC

MANILA, PhilippinesIt is up to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo if she will appoint the replacement of Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Norberto Geraldez, Supreme Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said.

Geraldez died last week of cancer.

Marquez said it will depend upon Malacanangs own interpretation of the Supreme Courts March 17 decision if an appointment will be made replacing Geraldez.

In its March 17 ruling, of the nine justices who voted in favor of the Presidents authority to appoint the next chief justice, five ruled that exception from the appointment ban extends to the entire Judiciary while four justices said that only Justices of the Supreme Court is not included in the ban.

Marquez said, in case Arroyo appoints a new Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice, the high court will only act on it if a question will be raised to them through a proper petition.

Bets slam GMA plan on new Sandiganbayan chief

MANILA, Philippines - Presidential candidates assailed yesterday the plan of President Arroyo to appoint a new Sandiganbayan presiding justice to replace Justice Norberto Geraldez who died of pancreatic cancer on Easter Sunday.

Justice Edilberto Sandoval, the most senior magistrate of the anti-graft court, takes over as acting presiding justice under the Sandiganbayan's internal rules.

Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III said the President's plan again demonstrated her disregard for the law, given the ban on midnight appointments.

"As usual, she is showing her impunity. If allowed, then she will just continue (making appointments despite the ban)," Aquino said.

He said it is dangerous to allow Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the chief of the anti-graft court because of the possible graft charges that could be filed against her and her relatives after the end of her term in June.

"That will be a vital function. (But she doesn't mind) conflict of interest," Aquino said before the start of his political rally in Baclaran, Parañaque City.

Nacionalista Party (NP) presidential bet Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. appealed to the President to let her successor appoint the next Sandiganbayan presiding justice.

"I urge the President not to appoint the next (Sandiganbayan) chief. President Arroyo should leave it to the next president. Be it in the Supreme Court or (the Sandiganbayan), the issue should be left to the next president," Villar said after campaigning in Ilocos Norte and La Union yesterday.

Bagumbayan party presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon said Mrs. Arroyo will be "tempting the fates" and will be violating the Constitution if she decides to push through with her plan to appoint the replacement of the late Geraldez.

"Well, there is a vacancy. She will have to test the fates again. The Supreme Court has said it only applies to the chief justice. So technically she cannot appoint. But the Sandiganbayan can have a temporary chief. It doesn't look right, the constitutional prohibition applies," Gordon added.

Aquino said the Supreme Court (SC), through its spokesman Midas Marquez, had clarified that the High Tribunal's decision would only cover the chief justice of the SC.

Under the Constitution, the President is barred from appointing officials 60 days before the elections – or beginning March 10 – and until the end of her term on June 30.

Marquez earlier said that the recent ruling by the SC that allowed Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice does not cover appointments in other posts in the judiciary.

But Malacañang officials said it is possible for the President to appoint a new Sandiganbayan presiding justice. Palace officials said the election ban only covers appointments to the executive branch and not the judiciary.

"But after that (SC) decision came out, she made appointments left and right," Aquino said.

Aquino said Mrs. Arroyo clearly violated the letter and spirit of the law banning midnight appointments.

He said the President was acting contrary to her own father's interpretation of the ban on midnight appointments.

Former President Diosdado Macapagal, father of Mrs. Arroyo, revoked the midnight appointments made by his predecessor, former President Carlos Garcia.

Gordon spent the day yesterday campaigning and holding public consultations in Pasig City, Taytay and Cainta in Rizal. In Taytay, Gordon paid a visit to businessman Julio Cruz, founder of the Club Manila East resort who pledged his support.

Gordon said Mrs. Arroyo is rushing to make new appointments to the judiciary to apparently give protection to her and her family from possible graft charges that might be filed after she steps down as president.

"What is more disturbing is the sudden upstart in appointments. This is part of a game plan. This is for total protection," he said. 

Sandiganbayan justices not covered by SC ruling

The LP yesterday maintained that President Arroyo could not appoint the replacement of the late Geraldez.

Former senator Franklin Drilon invoked the election ban on appointments as provided for in the 1987 Constitution.

Even if she uses as justification the March 17 ruling of the Supreme Court allowing her to appoint the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno when he retires on May 17, the President could not apply the SC order to the Sandiganbayan, since it covers only the chief justice.

"That SC decision, which is not yet final, only exempts appointments made to the Office of the Chief Justice," said Drilon, referring to the ruling where the justices voted 9-2-1 with three abstentions, upholding Mrs. Arroyo's power to appoint the chief magistrate of the SC.

"This means that other appointments to both the executive and the judiciary – such as that to the position of Sandiganbayan presiding justice – are covered by the prohibition and therefore illegal," he pointed out.

Drilon, who is running for senator under LP, said Geraldez's sudden death would pose "another significant legal question" and the legal community will again be watching how the JBC would react to legal maneuvers by Malacañang to let Mrs. Arroyo choose the next Sandiganbayan presiding justice.

The appointment of Geraldez's replacement will definitely fall under the prohibited period for midnight appointments under the 1987 Constitution, Drilon said, invoking Article VII Section 15 of the Constitution, which mandates that:

"Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety."

Drilon said pursuant to the provisions, the President is precluded from appointing officials in the executive and the judiciary two months prior to the May 10 elections, which is from March 10 up until the end of her term on June 30.

He stressed the "irrationality" of allowing Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next presiding justice of the anti-graft court who will enjoy a fixed term in office until the age of 70.

"The presiding justice of the Sandiganbayan will try the graft cases that are expected to be filed against Mrs. Arroyo and key officials of her administration," he said.

"Aside from the clear constitutional ban against midnight appointments, the naming of the next Sandiganbayan justice should be free from any residual influence of the outgoing president," Drilon pointed out.

Re-electionist Sen. Pia Cayetano, who is running under the NP, said the President may again be serving her own interests if she insists on replacing Geraldez, who died barely a month after heading the court under which administration foes want her tried for corruption after her presidency.

"Mrs. Arroyo's plan to appoint the next Sandiganbayan presiding justice reeks of self-serving intentions. Her actions are callous, deplorable and must be rejected by the people. Insisting on her midnight appointments to various executive and judicial positions already constitutes a shameless violation of the Constitution," said Cayetano.

Lawyer Edwin Lacierda, spokesperson of LP presidential bet Aquino, said Arroyo is apparently preparing for her protection and survival after her term ends.

He said the SC decision allowing Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice was not yet final and executory and would not cover lower tribunals or executive positions.

Lacierda said it was possible for the President to be presuming that her appointed officials in the judiciary would not rule against her in case corruption charges were filed against her.

"This is really to insulate herself after she leaves the presidency," Lacierda said.

Drilon said the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) should not submit to Malacañang a list of nominees for the replacement of Geraldez since the ban was still in effect despite the SC's March 17 ruling.

Acting Sandiganbayan chief set to assume post

Justice Edilberto Sandoval, the most senior magistrate of the Sandiganbayan, is now the acting presiding justice of the anti-graft court following the death of Geraldez.

Sandoval, who will retire on June 20, 2011, was also designated acting presiding justice from December 2009 to early March 2010.

Sources told The STAR that based on the Sandiganbayan's internal rules, Sandoval automatically becomes temporary head of the court when a vacancy occurs due to retirement or even death of the presiding justice until a permanent appointment is made.

Sandoval chairs the Sandiganbayan Second Division and has been in and out as acting presiding justice since 2004, now holding the position for the fifth time.

He was among those who applied for the position of presiding justice at the JBC following the retirement of Associate Justice Cristina Estrada in November 2009.

Officials of the Sandiganbayan refused to comment on whether the President should appoint a permanent presiding justice despite the constitutional ban as she winds up her term.

They, however, admit that Geraldez's death will affect the operations of the anti-graft court, especially the First Division which the late justice chaired, because the division already lacks one associate justice as a permanent member.

Officials of both the Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Ombudsman have expressed their condolences to the family of Geraldez, whom they referred to as a valuable partner in the justice system. 

Attacks in Ampatuan town meant to displace voters—police

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao Suspected members of disbanded civilian volunteer organizations on Monday night fired four more rifle grenades toward the poblacion of Ampatuan town, police here said.

Senior Superintendent Alex Lineses, Maguindanao police chief, said the attacks could be part of some political aspirants to disenfranchise voters in the coming May elections.

"The armed group is sowing terror so the people will evacuate and displace the voters," Lineses said.

At least a dozen families have fled to safer ground or moved to other towns to avoid being hit by shrapnel during sporadic explosions of rifle grenades and mortars.

"It was a to-whom-it-may-concern type of rifle grenade attacks," Lineses said.

Monday night's attack came a day after six rifle grenades were fired from an unknown site and landed in residential areas and vacant lots in Ampatuan town center.

"We recovered shrapnel and fragments of about four M-203 rifle grenades in the area," he said, adding that suspected CVOs disbanded by the government following the Ampatuan massacre last year were sighted roaming around in the town's outskirts.

"They are now our primary suspects but we are not discounting the possibility of involvement of some politicians to disrupt the coming elections," he said.

On Monday night, a rifle grenade landed near the detachment of 46th Infantry Battalion and another landed near the advance command post of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit in Poblacion Ampatuan.

Two more grenades fired from eastern side of the poblacion landed near Phoenix Gas Station.

No one was hurt in the blasts that occurred at about 11:30 p.m. Monday.

On Sunday night, six rifle grenades were fired from the outskirts of Ampatuan town and landed near residential houses and the Ampatuan Elementary School.

No one was injured in Sunday night's blast but it sent dozens of families fleeing to nearby towns of Shariff Aguak and Datu Abdullah Sangki.

Lineses has appealed to Ampatuan residents residing on the outskirts of the poblacion to report to police authorities any suspicious looking individuals.

"We cannot do it alone, we need the peoples support in preventing similar attacks in the future," Lineses said.

Additional Army forces were deployed around the Ampatuan periphery to thwart similar attempts in the future.

400 soldiers out to locate kidnapped Swiss national

At least 400 soldiers have been deployed to locate the whereabouts of kidnapped Swiss-Filipino businessman Carl Rieth (not Charlie Reich as earlier reported) in southern Philippines.

Public school teachers off to US tilt

Ten public school teachers will represent the Philippines in the prestigious International Reading Association (IRA) this month after winning a presentation slot for its "Mentoring the Mentors," an international model for effective English teaching.

Education Secretary Mona Valisno said that the selected elementary and high school teachers from DepEd will be sent to Chicago, Illinois in the United States to represent the country's model on English teaching during the 55th IRA Annual Convention which will run from April 25 to 28.

"This is another source of pride for us — that our best practices have gained notice in other parts the world," said Valisno. Still according to her, the delegation — which will be headed by DepEd Undersecretary Vilma Labrador — is composed of five elementary, five secondary and four consultants from the National English Proficiency Program (NEPP).

Earlier, the Philippines has been chosen as presenter at the IRA Convention owing to the successful implementation of its "Mentoring the Mentors: The Philippine DepEd Model to Enhance Teaching and Learning" which has sufficiently shown effectiveness through increased English literacy in pilot areas.

"The success of the mentoring program is attributed to its comprehensive one-on-one training of teachers so that they can train other teachers who can become excellent teachers of more non-native English speaking Filipino pupils," Valisno said. (Ina Hernando-Malipot)

FDA to scrutinize 'burning' skin whitener

Susuriin ng Food and Drug Administration ang isang produktong pampaputi matapos magreklamo ang dalawang babae sa umano'y masamang naging epekto sa kanilang kutis ng produkto!

Noynoy hits proposed hike in VAT

MANILA, Philippines – Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III slammed the proposal of Finance Secretary Margarito Teves to increase the value added tax from 12 to 15 percent, saying it would only be an added burden to the public.

Aquino said that instead of increasing the VAT, the government should be implementing effective and efficient tax collection measures. 

"This is the easy way out. We can collect more taxes at the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenues) and higher duties at Customs if we become more serious in curbing and punishing tax evasion and smuggling," Aquino said in a statement.

He cited that in 2009, money from the national budget that went to graft and corruption was estimated at P280 billion. 

"We will not shift the burden of improving revenue collection to the Filipino people. This government dug up this debt hole we're in; an Aquino administration will try its best to dig us out of it by addressing the main reason we have not been able to collect taxes properly: corruption," Aquino said.

$1: P44.930

$1: P44.930

Euro 1: P60.7270

Peso soars to P44.92:$1 - BusinessWorld Online

THE PESO breached into the P44-to-the-dollar territory yesterday to post a 20-month high as remittances from Filipinos abroad picked up and foreign investors snapped up local stocks.

The local currency ended yesterday's trading at P44.92 to the dollar, nine centavos stronger than on Monday. 

Yesterday's finish was its highest since August 13, 2008, when it settled at P44.72 to the dollar.

The peso opened at P45 to the dollar, also its intraday low. It managed to hit an intraday peak of P44.82 to the dollar.

"Psychologically, the peso broke into the P44 level yesterday due to strong dollar inflows from Filipinos working abroad," said Jonathan L. Ravelas, chief market strategist at the Banco de Oro Unibank, Inc.

"Normally, April is the start of strong dollar inflows from Filipinos working abroad," he added, referring to the seasonal remittance flows to fund tuition at the start of a new school year.

Mr. Ravelas also noted strong foreign buying in the equity market, which helped the peso appreciate.

Foreign investors actively participated in yesterday's session, with net foreign buying amounting to P654.2 million.

The Philippine Stock Exchange index rose to 3,253.48 yesterday, gaining 2.09% or 66.71 points from Monday.

"So far there was no reason for the peso to weaken. We are now looking at P44.80 as the new support level of peso," Mr. Ravelas said.

Monetary authorities were believed to have stepped in to influence the exchange rate, a trader from a local bank said.

"Almost every day, the BSP [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas] intervenes in the trading in order to slow down the peso's appreciation and sustain the export sector's recovery," a trader said, adding that profit-taking was likely in the "coming days, which would result in a slight correction."

Volume of transacted dollars rose by nearly a third to $1.03 billion from $796.3 million on Monday. -- Daniel Anne B. Nepomuceno

Filipino doctor dies while fleeing rebels in Congo

MANILA, PhilippinesA Filipino doctor working with a United Nations contractor died on Easter Sunday while he and his colleagues were evacuating to safer ground after the town and airport in Mbandaka, Congo, where they were based were attacked by rebels, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.

Citing a report from the Philippine embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, DFA spokesman Eduardo Malaya said in an interview that the doctor, Jay Basilio-Bool, suffered cardiac arrest while fleeing.

According to charges daffaires Donna Celeste Feliciano-Gatmaytan, the incident was reported by his employer, the PAE Group, through its representative, Willem Ackerman.

The PAE Group is a contractor providing airport support services to the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His family has been informed of his death.

Four other Filipinos from the same company were reported. They are Juanito Sape, Noel Lee, Laborce Hilario, and Rolando Tullao.

The DFA said the PAE was making arrangements for the repatriation of Dr. Bools remains. A representative from the company has also been designated to accompany his remains back to the Philippines.

According to recent news reports, government and UN forces have retaken the airport, which is now open to traffic.

Other casualties included three members of the UN missiona peacekeeper from Ghana, a South African pilot and a civilian employee. Four Congolese soldiers and two police officers were also reported killed in the fighting.

RP checks nearly 1M Pinoys in quake-hit areas

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine embassy officials are now looking into the condition of close to a million Filipinos who may have been affected by the powerful earthquake that shook Mexico and Los Angeles on Sunday.

50 killed in Rio de Janeiro flooding

RIO DE JANEIROFlooding from torrential rains has claimed at least 50 lives in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state, leaving streets submerged and prompting authorities Tuesday to raise an alarm over potentially deadly mudslides.

Eduardo Paes, mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, where about half of the fatalities occurred, urged residents to remain indoors and not to venture into the downtown area, where streets were impassable because of the water.

"All the major streets of the city are closed because of the floods," Paes said in a statement.

"Each and every person who attempts to enter them will be at enormous risk," he warned.

In addition to Tuesday's dire warnings, local authorities closed schools here to help keep residents off the streets.

In some parts of Rio, abandoned cars were partially submerged, while others were stalled on local roads with motorists still stranded inside.

Flooding also wreaked havoc with air traffic, causing serious airport delays while in some areas of the hilly metropolitan area of some 16 million people floodwaters unleashed mudslides -- a recurring scourge, especially in Rio's impoverished hillside favelas, or shantytowns.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticized decades of administrative malfeasance which allowed shoddy home construction in high-risk zones of the city's shantytowns.

The Brazilian leader was to visit the city on Tuesday for ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a new health center and a separate child care facility serving underprivileged residents of the city's slums.

But those events were canceled because of the rains, which made it nearly impossible to travel from one part of the city to another.

Officials for too long, Lula said, have allowed substandard construction, even on Rio's landslide-prone hills and vowed that his government would work to improve the quality of construction in these areas.

Until the waters subside however, he said, there was little that could be done.

"All we can do is pray to God to hold back the rains a little, so that Rio can return to normal, and so that we can set about fixing the things in the city that need fixing," the Brazilian leader told local radio.

The rains started during Monday's evening rush hour, catching workers heading home for the day off-guard.

The heavy rains in Rio followed equally heavy deluges in Sao Paulo earlier this year after the wettest summer in the region in more than six decades, officials said.

Those killer rainstorms across Sao Paulo state claimed dozens of lives.

Inmet, the national weather service, said the El Nio phenomenon -- which warms surface waters in the Pacific Ocean and is linked to rainfall across the region -- was to blame for those earlier floods.

Mining a necessary way of life, West Virginians say

MONTCOAL, West Virginia (Reuters) - Coal mining is an inescapable way of life in West Virginia, where an explosion killed at least 25 miners, but the industry carries its share of risks, and death.


Economic dependence on mining creates strong ties to the coal industry tinged with bitterness over tragedies that can occur, residents said Tuesday as rescuers prepared to drill deep into the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, where the fate of four miners remained unknown.

At least 25 miners were dead in Monday's explosion at the mine owned by Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia, operating in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.

"What happens if the mine goes away? This place dies," said Jerry Bearfield, who operates an auto repair and inspection station in Whitesville, about five miles/8 km from Montcoal.

Bearfield's son, a 25-year-old miner named Jonathan Clemons, insisted he would return to his grueling job at Upper Big Branch Mine despite pleas from his parents not to go back.

"It could have been him," said his mother, who cried as she spoke. She did not want to give her name.

Concern over mining dangers is outweighed by workers' needs for jobs, said James Scott, a local restaurant manager.

"They'd have an accident today and be back there tomorrow, eager to get the paycheck," he said.

Coal miners can make more than $70,000 annually, or roughly twice the average household income in West Virginia, which is among the poorest U.S. states.


West Virginia leads the nation in underground coal production, according to the state's Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. Its underground mines produced 97 million tons of coal in 2008 and of that, 38 million tons came from so-called longwall mining, the method used at Upper Big Branch to tear coal from a lengthy face, it said.

Some 50,000 miners work in U.S. underground coal mines, roughly a third in West Virginia, according to 2008 statistics, the most recent available, by the National Mining Association.

Three of the dead at Upper Big Branch Mine came from one family, authorities said. Several generations of families often work in the mines, and the community bonds grow tight.

Residents of West Virginia "revere our coal miners ... who put their lives on the line every single day to go into tight quarters and dirty conditions -- all to provide for their families and keep the power on for millions of Americans," Senator Jay Rockfeller said in a statement.

"We sometimes feel coal mining is misunderstood, or even disrespected by others across the country," he added.

Massey said its accident rate fell to a company all-time low in 2009 and said its safety record last year was stronger than the industry average for the sixth consecutive year.

But Upper Big Branch Mine has had three fatalities since 1998 and has a worse-than-average injury rate over the last 10 years, according to federal records.

Waiting near the mine, Michelle McKenney, the daughter of Benny Willingham, who was among those killed, said Massey had not contacted her family, and she was angry.

"No one from Massey has called my mother or any of us children or his mother. He still has a mother that is home grieving," she said.

"We don't know where my dad's body is at."


West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said Massey's practice was to contact family members by telephone, which he criticized. "That's not good enough. You need to have personal contact," he said.

The local economy is so heavily reliant on mining, that taxes paid by the coal industry and utility companies that make electricity using West Virginia coal account for some two-thirds of the business taxes paid in West Virginia, the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training said.

The coal industry pays approximately $70 million in property taxes annually, it said.

With the region struggling financially, the loss of the mine, even temporarily, would be devastating, Bearfield said.

"When I grew up here, there were bowling alleys, a theater, you didn't need to leave town to see a movie and have a good time," he said, pointing out the boarded up business fronts along the town's main street.

(Reporting by Joe Rauch and Ellen Wulfhorst; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Mark Egan and Doina Chiacu)

35 killed as six bombs rock Baghdad

BAGHDADSix bombs rocked Baghdad killing at least 35 people Tuesday, the second time the capital has come under attack in three days, fuelling fears insurgents are making a return due to a political impasse.

The explosions destroyed residential buildings in mostly Shiite neighborhoods, with Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta saying four of the bombs detonated inside the buildings.

"Six bomb attacks in several neighborhoods of Baghdad occurred, and seven buildings collapsed," an interior ministry official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official added that 35 people were killed and 140 wounded, but several victims are thought to be trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Ambulance sirens were heard across the city as emergency service workers rushed to the scenes of the blasts, and a large plume of smoke rose from near a destroyed building in the neighborhood of Allawi, central Baghdad.

The building housed several apartments with shopfronts on its ground floor, and heavy machinery was being used to lift large pieces of rubble in a bid to find those buried under the collapsed structure.

Dozens of passersby gathered at the site of the blast, close to a secondary school, to sort through the rubble in a bid to rescue survivors as military helicopters flew overhead.

"I was picking up bricks and sand to find victims, and just when I succeeded to remove the rubble, the man I saw died," said a 25-year-old man who gave his name only as Mustafa.

"His wife came to me to see if I had seen him, and I told her he died."

A 30-something woman was at the scene screaming, "Mother, mother, answer me!" in the hopes that her mother, trapped underneath the collapsed building, would respond.

An army officer in Allawi said that three days ago, two unidentified men approached the owner of the destroyed building wanting to rent one of the unused shopfronts for a falafel restaurant.

"Yesterday, they brought lots of equipment, and today there has been an explosion in that shop," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We have sent someone to find the owner."

Along with the Allawi blast, which destroyed two buildings, two bombs struck Shurta Rabiyah, west Baghdad, while at least one detonated in Chikouk, which houses a camp for internally-displaced persons in the north of the capital.

Bombs also hit Shuala, north Baghdad, and Al-Amil in the south.

The latest explosions came after three suicide vehicle bombings minutes apart targeting regional and European embassies killed 30 people and wounded more than 200 on Sunday.

The Iranian and Egyptian embassies were both hit by car bombs, while another vehicle packed with explosives exploded at an intersection near the German, Spanish and Syrian missions.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who said Sunday's attacks bore the signature of Al-Qaeda, attributed those bombings to groups who wanted to derail the formation of a new government.

"This is a political attack, aimed at derailing the process, sending a message that the terrorists are still in business," Zebari told AFP on Sunday.

"Because of the vacuum of forming the next government, they wanted to send that message."

Sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance finished with 89 seats in the 325-member parliament after March 7 parliamentary elections, two fewer than ex-premier Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc.

Allawi, however, has accused Iran of seeking to prevent him becoming prime minister again by inviting all major parties except his secular bloc to Tehran.

Security officials had warned that protracted coalition building could give insurgents an opportunity to further destabilize the country.

In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday condemned the "terrorist attacks."

Syria "stands alongside the brotherly people of Iraq and completely backs the return of security and stability to all of Iraq's territory," the official Syrian news agency quoted Assad as saying.

The latest violence follows an attack Saturday south of Baghdad blamed on Al-Qaeda in which security officials said 25 villagers linked to an anti-Qaeda militia were rounded up and shot execution-style by men in army uniforms.

Although the frequency of attacks by insurgents has dropped significantly since peaking in 2006 and 2007, figures released on Thursday showed 367 Iraqis were killed in violence last month -- the highest number this year.

RP cue masters off to good start in World 8-Ball

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino cue masters Ronato Alcano, Dennis Orcollo and Lee Vann Corteza hurdled their respective opponents in the opening round of the Etisalat World 8-Ball Pool Championship 2010 being held at the Fujairah Tennis Club in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates late Monday.

PBA defers decision on Arboleda appeal

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has deferred until the end of April its decision on the appeal of Air 21 guard Wynne Arboleda to lift his suspension.

Pippen, Malone headline 2010 Hall of Fame class

by Agence France-Presse
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – Former National Basketball Association stars Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone highlight the 2010 class for the American basketball hall of fame.

Pacquiao forgives US comedian

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao has already forgiven American comedian Adam Carolla for insulting him and fellow Filipinos in a podcast.

Kris Aquino defends Bimby's 'Villar' reference


Baby James Yap's "sumpong" strikes big time on national TV: He shouted "Villar!" during one of the sorties of his uncle Noynoy Aquino.

Queen of All Media Kris Aquino defended her son's unexpected reference to Noynoy's closest rival at the polls, Manny Villar, by saying via Twitter on April 5, "Nag naughty sya kasi 10th event namin that day- pagod na."

Footage from "TV Patrol World" aired that day showed Kris on stage with her youngest son in front of thousands of Bacolod residents.

"Hello… Villar!" Baby James greeted the crowd.

"Hi…" the crowd responded.

To which Baby James shouted "Villar!" which sent the crowd roaring in laughter and a dumbfounded Kris turning him away from the stage.

The TV host and actress said she has apologized to her presidential aspirant brother and elder sisters after the incident.

"Nag sorry ako to Noy & my sisters right away & they told me siempre he's 2 yrs old- terrible 2s. Moral of the story- we let him be 2 while guiding him to be a good boy," her second tweet read.

Her two-year old son with cager James Yap whom they fondly call "Bimby" seems to enjoy his own spotlight these days. Aside from public appearances in Noynoy's sorties, he is cast as Kris' son on the Kapamilya primetime soap, "Kung Tayo'y Magkakalayo."

After the show, though, he will have to set aside showbiz for studies, Kris added.

"Mom (late President and democracy icon Cory Aquino) always told me to let Bimby have a normal childhood, so after his KTM stint [ay] focus on preschool na sya."

Aquino promises to dance if he wins

Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno ``Noynoy'' Aquino III vowed to dance like South African leader Nelson Mandela if he succeeds in seeing President Macapagal-Arroyo leave after nearly a decade in office.

Mariel Rodriguez excited to host PBB Teen Clash

by by Napoleon Quintos,
MANILA, Philippines - Mariel Rodriguez is excited to return to hosting "Pinoy Big Brother Teen Clash 2010" along with Toni Gonzaga and Bianca Gonzales.

Does Manny Pacquiao own a hotel in Boracay?

by by Rachelle Siazon,
MANILA, Philippines - During the Holy Week break, rumors about Manny Pacquiao owning a posh hotel on Boracay Island, known as the West Cove Resort, have resurfaced.

'Psycho' Angelina Jolie

by Bang Showbiz
1 person liked this - leo lastimosa
Angelina Jolie's former bodyguard claims she's "totally psycho." The man - who would only be identified as Bill - worked for the Oscar-winning actress at the start of her relationship with Brad Pitt and insists she's nothing like her do-gooder image.

Wednesday: 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: 11mph, Visibility: good, Pressure: 1013mb, Humidity: 59%, Sunrise: 05:37PHT, Sunset: 17:54PHT

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