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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 27, 2010 Major News Stories

Transport groups cool to scrapping of oil import tariffs

MANILA, Philippines- Transport groups are not warming up to  the government 's plan to scrap oil import tariffs, saying the expanded value added tax or EVAT should be eliminated as well, along with a bigger rollback in oil prices.

DTI freezes prices to 2009 levels

THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) recently issued a list of suggested retail prices (SRP) of school supplies, to ease the financial burden of parents and students in the new school year.

Tuition to rise in 95 schools

ABOUT eight percent of all elementary, secondary and pre-elementary private schools in Central Visayas will be allowed to increase fees in the new school year.

Groups warns schools on using leaded paint in Brigada Eskwela

MANILA, PhilippinesThe anti-toxics group EcoWaste Coalition advised participants of a nationwide campaign to spruce up classrooms for the school opening not to use paint and other materials containing lead, which could be dangerous to schoolchildren.

In a statement on Wednesday, the group said volunteers in the yearly Brigada Eskwela program should be cautious of possible exposure from lead in paint, chips and dust during the school clean up activities.

The EcoWaste Coalition said the Department of Education and its Brigada Eskwela collaborators from the private and public sectors should keep school premises safe from lead pollution.

The improper scraping, sanding or burning of leaded paint can expose the Brigada Eskwela volunteers and the students themselves to toxic pollutants, said Manny Calonzo of the EcoWaste Coalition.

Repainting schools with leaded paint can, in time, pose hazards to children's health from chipping or flaking surfaces, he added.

Calonzo added that the makeover of schools should be done with non-toxic materials so schoolchildren could benefit from a clean, healthy and safe environment.

Citing information from the US Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), the group warned that lead exposure can lead to delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems among children.

The coalition also said that the UN-backed Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead in Paints had already warned about childrens vulnerability to the neuro-toxic effects of lead because the chemical could be absorbed by their still developing bodies. Even relatively low levels of exposure to lead can cause serious and irreversible neurological damage.

Children have a tendency to explore their surroundings and put their fingers and objects into their mouths, making them prone to toxic exposure, according to Calonzo.

He said leaded paint in good condition should be left undisturbed and should not be sanded or burned off.

For schools that are planning to repaint classrooms and other school facilities, we recommend the use of water-based plastic paints, which generally have low lead contents, he said.

In 2009, the EcoWaste Coaltion participated in a global testing of decorative paint used for households. The study found that 40 percent of the 25 samples from Philippines contained lead concentrations way beyond the US threshold of 90 parts per million (ppm). One sample, Calonzo said, registered a staggering lead level of 189,163.5 ppm.

In a green survey conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace prior to the May 10 polls, President-apparent Sen. Benigno Noynoy Aquino III and six other presidentiables expressed support for the elimination of lead in paint to promote the health and safety of Filipino children.

Benhur asks fiscal to inhibit; police ready to be witnesses

REPRESENTATIVE-elect Benhur Salimbangon wants Cebu Provincial Prosecutor Jane Petralba to inhibit from handling the criminal complaints his camp earlier filed against his political rivals, the Martinezes, over a standoff last May 10 in Barangay Polambato, Bogo City.

Cabahug fills last seat in Mandaue Council

SIXTEEN days after the election, opposition candidate Editha Cabahug finally obtained the last available seat in the Mandaue City Council, to the relief of her supporters and family.

Enrile: Actual canvassing could start Friday

Congressmen sitting as National Board of Canvassers may start the actual canvassing of votes for president and vice president on Friday, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said Wednesday night.

Enrile said the 18-man panel would continue grilling officials from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic, the service provider in the May 10 automated elections, when session resumes 1 p.m. Thursday.

We might finish with the preliminary questions by Thursday and then start with the actual canvassing on Friday," he said.

Enrile had earlier said that they intend to finish the canvassing on or before June 15.

Wednesdays session lasted for five hours during which lawmakers grilled Comelec and Smartmatic officials regarding the authenticity and reliability of the certificate of canvass for the two highest positions in the land.

Enrile said they would continue questioning Comelec and Smartmatic officials so that they could arrive at a proper conclusion before starting with the actual canvassing.

By and large I think we cannot make any conclusion yet, we will have to continue with the hearings and then we will make a judgment," he said.

He said Thursdays inquiry would likely center on determining whether the machines used in the recently concluded elections could be pre-programmed.

During Wednesdays hearing, lawmakers questioned Comelec and Smartmatic officials regarding the two separate sets of certificates of canvass for president and vice president.

Under the procedures on manual elections, there is only one certificate of canvass for president and vice president.

Comelec executive director Jose Teolentino said there is only one document for the certificates of canvass but it has two sets.

"When we generate certificates of canvass for president and vice president, we generate it as one document, but the appearance is two different documents because one is for the president and the other is for the vice president," he told the body.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal explained that the local board of canvassers prints the COC only once but they have the option to print out COC just for president and vice president. "When you click print, (the election machine) prints COC at one time. They have, if they decide, option to print just for president or vice president," he said.

In short, it is one document with two parts, for president and vice president," he said.

Smartmatic exec admits glitch in some PCOS machines

MANILA, Philippines – Smartmatic president Cesar Flores admitted that there has been an error encrypted in the program of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that churned out a bloated number of registered voters.

During the grilling at the joint House session, Flores told Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that the machines have multiplied the number of registered voters five times.

"It was my personnel," Flores told Enrile, referring to the mistake committed by his company's programmers. 

The encrypted number has churned out more than 250 million registered voters instead of only more than 51 million. 

But Flores said they have already corrected the error. 

Tech provider bares, regrets computer error

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 2) An official from the technology provider of the first automated elections in the country has apologized for the erroneous number of registered voters reflected during the initialization process of the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) server to be used in the tally of votes for president and vice president.

I apologize for the error that is presented in the server, Smartmatic president for Asia-Pacific Cesar Flores told the joint congressional canvassing committee on Wednesday.

But Flores assured the body that the error would not have an impact on the individual CoCs [certificates of canvass].

He said this was evident during the senatorial and partylist canvassing.

Earlier in the day, lawmakers quizzed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for having two sets of certificates of canvass (CoC) for president and vice president as the congressional canvassing committee reconvened to settle questions on the authenticity of the CoCs before starting its count.

Maguindanao Representative Didagen Dilangalen said that in the canvassing of votes in 2004, there was only one set of CoCs and one signature of the board of election inspector.

I ask this because the consequences would be gargantuan. In the matter of the vice president, the difference between the highest and the second highest is very small, he said.

Speculations have been raised that there could be a delay in the canvass of votes for vice president, as only about 800,000 votes separate Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay and Senator Manuel Roxas II.

Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said that the CoC per area came only from one file but printed in several pages. For example, he said the CoC for La Union province was classified only as one document but has 36 pages.

Comelec chairman Jose Melo said that per province, for example, there was a separate CoC for every position.

Majority Leader Arthur Defensor asked whether if this meant that Congress could also canvass the CoCs separately.

Speaker Prospero Nograles said it was up to the canvassing committee to decide how to canvass the votes.

The canvassing committee convened at 2:44 p.m.

All seven commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), officials of its automation partner, Smartmatic Inc., and independent information technology experts were present in the session.

Questions were also raised on the absence of digital signatures of the board of election inspectors on the election returns. Smartmatic, however, explained that digital signatures were built-in in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the elections.

Congress will canvass a total of 278 CoCs.

Congress created panels from the Senate and the House of Representatives composed of nine members each to canvass the votes.

The Senate panel is composed Senate President Juan Ponce-Ernile, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Cayetano, Aquilino Pimentel, Gregorio Honasan, Edgardo Angara, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Joker Arroyo.

The House panel is composed of Speaker Prospero Nograles as chairman, majority leader Arthur Defensor, minority leader Ronaldo Zamora, senior deputy majority leader Neptali Gonzales II, senior deputy minority leader Roilo Golez, Representatives Crispin Remulla (Cavite), Didagen Dilangalen (Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City), and Matias Defensor (Quezon City), and Michael John Duavit (Rizal).

Canvassing rules could lead to no-proclamation, lawmaker warns

MANILA, Philippines – The canvassing rules that Congress approved yesterday could potentially prevent the proclamation of the new president and vice president on or before June 30, a lawmaker claimed today.

"The rules are designed to facilitate the canvass, but they could actually lead to a prolonged tabulation and a no-proclamation," Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman told The STAR.

Lagman's fears stemmed from the decision that came out of yesterday's joint session to reject his proposed amendment to the canvassing guidelines. The Albay congressman's proposal would have mandated the joint canvassing committee to base its tally solely on the electronically generated provincial and city certificates of canvass (COCs).

These are the summaries of votes for president and vice president, which the provincial and city boards of canvassers (BOCs) were ordered by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to send to a computer or server installed at the House of Representatives.

Separately, pursuant to the Constitution, the Comelec directed the BOCs to deliver to the office of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile manually accomplished, signed and thumb-marked COCs sealed in ballot boxes.

Enrile reported to the joint session that as of 12 p.m. yesterday, or 15 days after the May 10 elections, 54 COCs have yet to be received by his office from the BOCs.

 The approved rules mandate the joint tabulation committee to compare the two versions of the COCs and to defer the tallying of those that show discrepancies in the number of votes, and whose "due execution and authenticity" is questioned by committee members or candidates' lawyers.

To resolve discrepancies and questions on the certificates, the committee is empowered to examine the compact flash or memory cards of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, and to open a "pre-determined" number of ballot boxes, read the ballots and count the votes.

Lagman said he wanted these rules deleted as "they are not in accord with the law on the automation of the recent elections, which provides that the electronically generated COCs are the official documents to be used in the canvassing."

"Besides, they will unnecessarily delay the canvassing and Congress may not be able to proclaim the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates on time," he said. 

Morato reveals plot to rig polls in favor of Gibo

MANILA, Philippines – Former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chairman Manuel Morato claimed that several fraud operators offered to rig the presidential elections to favor administration bet Gilberto Teodoro.

Morato made the revelation this morning at the hearing of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms.

The former PCSO official, who testified as a witness presented by human rights lawyer Homobono Adaza, said the fraud operators offered their services for P1 billion.

Earlier, the committee debated on whether or not to allow Morato to testify in the hearing or in an executive session. 

Comelec taps NBI to probe 'Hello Nico' recording

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate an alleged recording of a phone conversation between a Comelec commissioner and a Cabinet member on cheating in the recent elections.

Whistleblower tags Melo in alleged Comelec scam

Idinawit na rin ng isang whistleblower sa Comelec scam ang kanyang amo na si Comelec Chairman Jose Melo. Handa rin si Atty. Melchor Magdamo na tumestigo sakaling may magsampa ng kasong impeachment laban kay Melo sa 15th Congress. 

Comelec asks Ombudsman to probe botched ballot folder deal

MANILA, Philippines – An official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) disclosed that the poll body has made a request to the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct an investigation on the scrapped ballot secrecy folder deal.

"(Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo wrote to the Ombudsman to have the matter investigated. It will be like a parallel investigation with the Comelec Law Department,"  Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said.

The Comelec Law Department, headed by Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, conducted a probe on the overpriced ballot secrecy folders amounting to P700 million after whistleblowers Atty. Arwin Serrano and Atty. Melchor Magdamo exposed the anomalous transaction back in April.

"The investigation will focus on the incident based on the allegations made by Atty. Magdamo and Atty. Serrano but it is up to the Ombudsman on how they want to conduct their investigation, whether they want to include the people who made the allegations," Larrazabal added. 

Palace urges House body to wrap up probe on poll fraud

MANILA, Philippines Malacaang wants a committee at the House of Representatives to wrap up its investigation into alleged anomalies in the countrys first-ever nationwide automated elections last May 10, saying it is time to move forward.

Palace officials are concerned that the hearings being conducted by the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms chaired by Makati Representative Teodoro Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. could overlap with the joint congressional canvass for the presidential and vice presidential votes.

We hope we could put an end to this investigation so we can move on, Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza told reporters in Filipino, on Wednesday.

The elections are over and many candidates have already been proclaimed. We hope for a final decision so we could move on and move forward, he said.

Mendoza challenged the masked whistleblower dubbed as koala bear to once and for all unmask himself and present concrete evidence to back his claim of massive cheating in the elections.

The masked man should come out in the open so well know who he is and what evidence he has, the official said.

The whistleblower appeared in a video first shown in a media forum last May 18, claiming he had been involved in vote-shaving and vote-padding activities during the elections.

The same video was subsequently shown during a hearing of the Locsin committee in Batasan. But as of Wednesday, the masked man had not come out to present evidence.

Mendoza acknowledged that government intelligence agencies were monitoring the koala whistleblower. I think part of the monitoring is the identification, but so far, theres still no report submitted to us, he said.

Locsin was quoted as saying that Malacaang was behind the expos to sow confusion, create a crisis and delay the proclamation of the next president and vice president. But he later clarified that he never directly linked former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to the video.

Ermita said he only got a copy of the video from Manila Times columnist Buddy Cunanan.

Asked to categorically assure the public that the Palace had nothing to do with the revelation and would not want to have any delay in the proclamation, Mendoza said: Of course.

Election bets required to report on campaign expenses by June 9

MANILA, PhilippinesThe Commission on Elections has reminded all the candidates in the May 10 national elections to submit a statement of their campaign donations and expenses to the poll body in two weeks.

The Comelec said candidates must file a record of their expenses as well as a list of their donors to the poll body not later than June 9. Those failing to comply with the law on the reporting of campaign expenses and donors would not be allowed to assume office, the Comelec said.

Under the rules, the names of contributors and the amount they gave to the candidate or to the party must be disclosed.

No person shall make any contribution in any name except his own. No candidate or treasurer of any political party shall receive a contribution or enter or record the same in any name other than that of the person by whom it was actually made, the Comelec rules state.

Contributions from campaign donors include cash, loans, services, and facilities made for the purpose of influencing the result of the elections.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue will also be looking into the appropriate taxes on campaign revenues and expenditures.

Pera't Pulitika (Money and Politics), a non-government organization monitoring campaign expenses, said it has made its own estimates of campaign spending and would release their findings on Thursday.

The NGOs executive director, Roberto Cadiz, said the May 10 election was the most expensive yet.

He said he did not expect the statements of donations and expenses of candidates and political parties to reflect the true amount of money that was spent for the polls.

He said preliminary findings gleaned from the television advertisement rates and estimates of the field expenses showed that "billions of pesos" were spent in the last election.

Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party, for instance, spent an estimated P1.2 billion for television commercials even before the campaign began, Cadiz claimed.

Vice presidential candidates such as Senator Manuel Roxas III and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, also poured serious cash into their campaigns, he added.

The candidates this year are very rich, Cadiz said.

Without any law to limit the amount of contributions that a donor could give and require an accounting of all donations even before the campaign period, the official amount submitted would be less than the actual amount spent for promoting the politicians, Cadiz said.

Cadiz also claimed that candidates "usually pool the donations under one name to protect some contributors who do not want to be known."

Arroyo offers Aquino camp Palace tour

MANILA, PhilippinesPresident Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is open to giving her presumptive successor, Senator Benigno Aquino III, a tour of Malacaang to ease the transition to a new administration.

A Malacaang tour for Aquino, similar to the White House one that outgoing President George Bush gave the then President-elect Senator Barack Obama in 2008, was included in the preparations for the handover, said Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza.

We're open to that. As a matter of fact that's part of the preparations that we're doing, Mendoza said.

The transition team for the handover would be willing, not only to brief Aquino on the workings of the bureaucracy, but would be willing and ready to walk them through anywhere they want in the Palace, he added.

Bush had warmly welcomed Obama to the White House after his election and the two sat down for a chat, after which Bush gave Obama a personal tour of the building.

After the unofficial count showed Aquino leading the presidential race by a wide margin, Arroyo set up a transition cooperation team to coordinate with Aquino's team for a seamless transition on June 30.

However, this has been overshadowed by Aquino's stubborn objection to Arroyo's appointment of Chief Justice Justice Renato Corona, and his oft-voiced threats to run after thieves in the Arroyo administration upon his assumption to office.

But the recriminations have not stopped Aquino from sending his own team to meet with Mendoza, the overall chair of the administration's transition team, for an informal talk about procedures.

According to Mendoza, he suggested that the two teams work together in one building during the transition so they could develop closer coordination and cooperation.

But until the two teams meet formally, it would be premature to discuss a possible meeting between Aquino and the outgoing President, he said.

A draft of the transition blueprint was presented to Arroyo at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday at the Angeles University in Angeles City, Pampanga, which she approved in principle.

The document contains a description of the functions of all agencies, an inventory of available assets and resources, and vacant positions, according to the Presidential Management Staff.

Part of the blueprint basically is the situation of the government that will be inherited by the next administration. But for now we're withholding the details in deference to the other camp's transition team, said PMS chief Elena Bautista-Horn.

According to PMS chief Elena Bautista-Horn, the next administration will have to fill up at least 1,185 vacant positions, including 134 co-terminus posts held by Cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, and officials in government owned and controlled corporations, and in Office of the President-attached agencies.

Filling up these vacancies will be a challenge for the next administration, she said.

She said her team has not listed down the number of fixed appointments not co-terminous with Arroyo.

Once Congress proclaims Aquino as the countrys 15th President, Arroyo's team will be ready to meet with him or his representatives.

Our greatest hope is that there should be an easy proclamation. As a matter of fact, we are already prepared for the turnover, Mendoza said.

Disqualification case filed against leading party list group

A disqualification case has been filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) against leading party-list group Ako Bicol Political Party for allegedly failing to represent a marginalized sector.

The groups disqualification was sought because Ako Bicol is supposedly a "front of wealthy tycoons preying on the regionalistic sentiments" of poor and marginalized Bicolanos, petitioners said in an 18-page motion filed on Wednesday.

Petitioners include Marites Corteza-Lopez, Mae Ann Michelle Villagomez, Michael Malano, Ferdinand Gaite, and Alexander Remollino.

Corteza-Lopez, Villagomez, Malano, Gaite, and Remollino claim to be "advocates" of clean elections. Corteza-Lopez and Villagomez also claim to be Bicolanos.

Gaite is also the president of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage), which is a member organization of poll watchdog Kontra Daya.

"If the marginalized and the underrepresented poor will be represented in Congress by the overrepresented rich, would it not add more to their underrepresentation rather than alleviate it?" they said in their petition.

Ako Bicol was created by the "extremely wealthy" family of Elizaldy and Christopher Co, owners of Sunwest Group of Companies, Tektone Corporation, Lo-Tone Corporation, and Hi-Tone Corporation, the petitioners said.

Elizaldy is the chairman of the Ako Bicol Political Party while Christopher is its first nominee.

They added that Rodel Batocabe, the group's second nominee, is the corporate officer of the Embarcadero, a lifestyle hub, commercial, and entertainment center in Legazpi City, Albay.

Its fourth nominee, Ronaldo Ang, is also reportedly the vice president for legal of Sunwest Group of Companies.

"It must be protested to high heavens the fact that Ako Bicol... is feigning to be representing the marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Allowing (the party) to exist as a party under the party-list sytem representation indeed allows the party-list system to be sullied, desecrated, debased, and prostituted by those who are neither marginalized nor underrepresented," said the petitioners.

GMANews.TV tried contacting representatives from Ako Bicol but was unsuccessful.

According to the last tally of party-list votes released by the Comelec, the leading party-list organizations are Ako Bicol with 1,522,986 votes; the Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippies with 1,292,182 votes; and the Buhay Hayaan Yumabong Party-list with 1,249,555 votes.

Under the party list law, those who received at least two percent of the total votes cast for the party-list system shall be entitled to one congressional seat each while those who received more than two percent of the votes shall be entitled to additional seats in proportion to their total number of votes.

However, each party-list organization shall not be awarded more than three seats in Congress.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides that 20 percent of the seats in Congress be allotted for the sectoral representatives. 

Special elections in 3 areas moved to June 3

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced today that the special elections will be moved to June 3 to give more time to officials to meet its requirements.

Special elections will be conducted in Region 12 (Sarangani), Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Lanao del Sur (Poblacion, Sultan Domalondong, Lumba Bayabao, Masiu, Tubaran, Lumbaca-Unayan, Marogong, Bayang, Bucalao, Al Barka, Danapah, Kailih, Bato-Bato and Apil-Apil) and Basilan. 

The provincial board of canvassers in Lanao Del Sur issued a memorandum seeking to  reset the special elections because eight municipalities were added to the initial list of areas that declared failure of elections. 

The results from the said municipalities will affect the elections not only in the provincial level — congressman, vice governor and sangguniang panlalawigan — but also in the municipal level.

Other reasons cited include reported missing ballots, refusal of some election inspectors to carry out their duty, the need for more training and certification, and the review of all Comelec personnel in the municipal level as election officers and chairman of the board of canvassers. 

The said postponement is also to give ample time to officials to hear the report of failure of elections on the eight other municipalities — Buadiposo, Buntong, Kapai, Marantao, Calanogas, Ganassi, Lumbatan, Pagayawan and Tugaya — in Lanao Del Sur.

Filipino voters show 'maturity' by electing pro-RH bets

by By Lilita Balane and Maki Somosot,
MANILA, Philippines - Results of the national and local elections, where most advocates of the reproductive health (RH) bill won, indicate "maturity" on the part of Filipino voters, health advocates said Wednesday.

Advocates hopeful of RH Bill OK in next Congress

MANILA, Philippines--As advocates vowed to revive the Reproductive Health (RH) bill in the 15th Congress, the arena is expected to shift on the majority of its members whose position remains unknown on the issue.

Of the 286 members of the House of Representatives, only about 65 have clear position supporting the bill, including 13 who are first termers, according to Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLDPC) in a forum Wednesday in Quezon City.

The position of majority of the first termers, or 84 percent, remains unknown, he said.

But advocates including Akbayan partylist Representative Risa Hontiveros and Iloilo Representative Janette Garin see glimmer of hope that the controversial measure would finally hurdle Congress with incoming president Benigno Noynoy Aquino III and with either Albay Representative Edcel Lagman or Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte as Speaker, who are all supportive of the bill.

The church will always remain an opposition to the bill, but Hontiveros said they are hopeful Aquino and the new Speaker can stand up against the bishops and pave the way for the enactment of the measure into law.

The hope is realistic that we can expect support from the executive, she added.

In the Senate, PLCDP identified 15 senators who will back up the bill.

San Pacsual said his group will do a political mapping of the new members of the House to know their stand on reproductive health and other development issues. It would be among these new members of Congress where advocacy work is needed to secure a safe number of votes to pass the bill.

Pending in Congress for about a decade now, RH bill reached the period of debate in the lower chamber but was sidelined due to pressures from the Catholic Church. It proposes to promote both artificial and natural means of family planning as part of moves to curb the ballooning population and to promote maternal and child health.

Dr. Ernesto Pernia of the University of the Philippines School of Economic and trustee of the The Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc., underscored the need for the country to have a population management policy.

He said family planning should not be left solely in the hands of the couple, but that government intervention is needed, especially on the supply side.

Im not happy with the statement that it should be left to the couples choice. On the demand side, its okay, leave it to the couples, but the problem is if theres no supply in terms of contraceptives and other commodities to practice family planning, wala rin mangyayari [nothing will happen], he said.

Asked if he sees President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as an incoming member of the House, to be a problem for RH advocates, considering the Presidents catholic background, he said, Her opposition to the bill was to gain support of the bishops. Now that she does not need the support of the bishops, I dont think she will put roadblocks to the RH bill. I also suspect that having been a student of economics, her knowledge and conviction about population is correct but she is not showing it precisely because of the opportunism thing.

Abalos, Neri charged


The Office of the Ombudsman filed Wednesday graft charges against former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos and former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director general Romulo Neri in connection with the NBN-ZTE scandal.

However, the criminal complaints against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo; Pangasinan Rep. Jose De Venecia Jr. and his son, Joey de Venecia III; Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) Secretary Leandro Mendoza; DoTC assistant secretaries Lorenzo Formoso and Elmer Soneja; and ZTE Corp. officials Yu Yong, George Zhu Ying, Fan Yan, and Hou Weigui were all dismissed for lack of probable cause.

The charges against Abalos and Neri were filed before the Sandiganbayan after the anti-graft body junked the motions for reconsideration filed by the two respondents.

In a 17-page joint order, Ombudsman Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro approved the filing of criminal information for violation of the anti-graft law and Revised Penal Code against Abalos and Neri.

It was Casimiro who issued the order as Ombudsman Merceditas Navarro Gutierrez had inhibited herself from the case.

Casimiro affirmed the findings of the Ombudsman panel headed by Deputy Ombudsman for the Military Emilio Gonzales.

The panel said it found probable cause to charge Abalos and Neri as the latter failed to present sufficient evidence to warrant the reversal of their earlier ruling in August, 2009, ordering the filing of graft charges against them.

"Respondents Abalos and Nari have failed to convince the undersigned panel that its findings should be reversed," the panel's resolution states.

Aside from the criminal case, Neri was suspended for a period of six months without pay for an administrative offense and his appeal was denied for lack of merit.

The Ombudsman ruled that Abalos directly demonstrated his pecuniary interest in the business transaction between the government and that of ZTE Corporation.

"Fully knowing that the stamp of approval of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) was needed to put an official imprimatur on the project, he actively brokered conferences between the ZTE, NEDA director general, and Amsterdam Holdings," the resolution pointed out.

Abalos was also indicted on a separate case for corruption of public officials for allegedly offering Neri a P200-million bribe.

The panel gave weight to Neri's testimony before the Senate that Abalos offered a bribe to him.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was earlier dropped from the charge sheet by the Office of the Ombudsman due to her constitutional immunity from suite during her tenure.

P10-million set for June 12 celebration


President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has allocated P10 million to fund the logistics and other requirements for the "extra special" celebration of Independence Day on June 12 when she is expected to report to the public about her accomplishments during her nine-year leadership since she assumed office in 2001.

National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) Executive Director Ludovico Badoy said the fund allocation was approved by the President during the Cabinet meeting in Angeles City, Pampanga, last on Tuesday.

The government is preparing 10 floats for the civic-military parade.

Badoy explained that the government reverted to its Independence Day parade celebration after two years to showcase the President's legacy programs.

The Independence Day celebration is chaired by Ambeth Ocampo, president of the NHCP, formerly the National Historic Institute (NHI).The secretaries of Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Tourism (DoT) and Department of National Defense will serve as vice-chairmen.

Ms. Arroyo will be a guest of honor in the Rizal Park flag- raising at 8 a.m. which will be done simultaneously nationwide.

Badoy said since June 12, a Saturday, will be the President's last Independence Day celebration as her term ends June 30, she will take the opportunity to directly report to the public her successful stance in achieving her 10-point "Beat the Odds" agenda just like what she did when she was delivering her State-of-the- Nation Address (SoNA) before the Congress.

"To me, it is extra- special because she will be rendering her last report to the nation. I feel that the President will have to take advantage of the Independence Day to deliver her report, just like the SoNA," he said. "She will directly report to the people, not before Congress.

Outbound NAIA passenger caught with P12M

MANILA, PhilippinesA Hong Kong-bound passenger was arrested at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport early Wednesday for allegedly trying to sneak out of the country some P12 million in cash.

The suspect, identified only as Ansari Manalsug Tago, was arrested by operatives of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Naia Airport Police Department at around 4 a.m. while he was about to board Cebu Pacific flight 5J-108.

A statement from the Manila International Airport, which operates the NAIA complex, said the cash was found inside Tagos handcarry luggage.

The interception was a joint effort by the MIAA intelligence section, APD and CIDG after weeks of surveillance operations, the MIAA said.

The suspects nationality or address was not specified by the MIAA. He has been taken into custody by the CIDG.

Meanwhile, MIAA general manager Melvin Matibag said he has ordered the investigation of some airport personnel to determine their links to the case.

Initial reports revealed the passenger was able to reach boarding gate with cash left undetected. The names of those involved in the operations and those for investigation shall be withheld for the meantime till the facts of the case are firmed up, the MIAA said.

According to Circular No. 98 series of 1995 ( issued by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, no person may bring with him into or out of the country Philippine currency in an amount exceeding P10,000 without authorization by the BSP.

A passenger must declare the amount of currency he is carrying at the BSP or Bureau of Customs counters in the airport. The general rule is that foreigners visiting the Philippines are not allowed to bring more than the amount of currency they brought in.

Cuba to receive Pinoy applicants for medical scholarship

The Philippine Embassy in Havana has announced that the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) will award one medical scholarship to a Filipino student for the school year 2010-2011.
To qualify, the applicant must be a high school graduate, with outstanding academic background, and must possess a valid passport, according to a release posted on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
All qualified applicants may apply for the scholarship at the Cuban Embassy in Manila or at the Foreign Service Institute of the DFA.
Applicants need to submit a letter of application, current transcript of records (if college undergraduate), high school transcript of records (if a new high school graduate), letters of recommendation and resum.
The successful applicant will receive free tuition, free board and lodging, free textbooks (in Spanish) and a monthly stipend of approximately 200 Cuban pesos (about P10,000) from the Cuban government.
Airfare to and from Cuba will be shouldered by the student.
The successful applicant must arrive in Cuba by August 23-30, as the school year there is set to start early September.
Established in 1999, the ELAM has been described as the largest medical school in the world by enrollment, with approximately 12,000 students from more than 30 countries.
All the students enrolled there are international students, mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean. Its main campus is located 3.5 kilometers west of Havana.

Peso goes up P46.7 against US dollar over Greece's debt assurances

MANILA, PhilippinesThe peso rose Wednesday as investors finally manifested calmness following statements from Greece that the country would not default on its debts.

The local currency strengthened back to the 46:$1 level to close at 46.7 against the US dollar. This was up from the previous days close of 47.1.

Intraday high was recorded at 46.7, while intraday low stood at 47.08. Volume of trade was recorded at $873 million, down from $1.6 billion previously.

Traders said assurances by Greece that it would pay soon and would not restructure its estimated 8.5 billion euros in debts that matured this month helped bring back optimism of the market.

Developing Asian countries like the Philippines are likewise affected by sentiments on counterpart countries in Europe. Analysts explained that investors normally have the same credit sentiment for developing nations in general.

The increase in the peso mirrored the appreciation of other Asian currencies, including the Taiwanese dollar and Korean won. 
Investors have had a generally positive sentiment on Asian economies because they have been expected to lead 2010s global growth, traders said.

Appreciation of the peso earlier in the year would not have been disrupted if not for the Euro zone debt factor, they added.

Philippines' quick gains from saintly Aquino image

MANILA, Philippines - Congress has yet to begin the official canvassing of votes before formally proclaiming the country's next president and vice-president, but Albay Governor and Presidential economic adviser Jose "Joey" Salceda says, by virtue of the positive image associated with the Aquino name, presumptive President-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and his government is already blessed and off to a good start.

Government debt servicing rises 14% to P365 billion in first 4 months


The Philippine government's debt servicing in first four-months of the year grew 14 percent to P365.1 billion from P320.2 billion in the same period last year, according to the Bureau of Treasury.

Data from the bureau showed the bulk of the debt service consisted of principal payments amounting to P240.55 billion, a 25 percent rise from P198.02 billion, while interest payments up by 2 percent year-on-year to P124.55 billion from P122.14 billion.

Of the P240.55 billion principal payments, P156.12 billion was paid to domestic creditors, while P84.44 billion was paid to foreign creditors.

About P68.04 billion of the total P124.55 billion interest payments during the period, meanwhile was paid to domestic creditors and the remaining P56.5 billion was paid to offshore creditors.

Debt servicing refers to payments of both interest and principal. The debt service burden excludes actual outflows such as rescheduling or refinancing of existing debt and conversion of debt to equity.

In April, the government's debt service declined by 11 percent to P25.77 billion from P28.64 billion in the same period last year.

Last year, debt-service payments inched up by 2 percent to P622.3 billion from P612.7 billion in the  previous year.

Meanwhile, government's borrowings in April increased 16 percent from the same period last year due to the sale of $500 million fixed-rate multi-currency retail treasury bonds (RTBs).

Total exports in March 2010 also rose by 43.8 percent to $4.18 billion from $2.90 billion. The balance of trade in goods in March 2010 recorded a deficit of $362.00 million, lower than last year's recorded deficit of $363.00 million.

On a month-on-month basis, total imports in March 2010 grew by 16.4 percent from $3.904 billion recorded in February 2010.

Imports of electronic products in March 2010 amounted to $1.5 billion, up by 35.4 percent over last year's figure of $1.11 billion.

On a monthly basis, imports of electronics grew by 5.0 percent from $1.43 billion recorded in February 2010. Among the major groups of electronic products, semiconductors having the biggest share of 25.2 percent, climbed by 38.7 percent to $1.14 billion from $823.67 million.

Imports of mineral fuels in March 2010 ranked second with 16.8 percent share and posted a positive growth of 63.4 percent to $762.96 million over the previous year's level of $466.90 million.

Imports of cereals surged by 68.9 percent from its previous year level of $254.04 million. Transport equipment, contributing 5.2 percent to the total import bill, was the country's fourth top import for the month with payments placed at $237.53 million from last year's $162.07 million, up by 46.6 percent.

Industrial machinery and equipment recorded $202.30 million worth of imports, higher by 57.4 percent from its year ago level of $128.50 million.

Tan-Torres, meanwhile, said the tax bureau will seek P6.5 billion of unpaid value-added taxes from toll road operators dating from 2007.

The BIR projects P1.3 billion a year of VAT from toll road operators.

For five consecutive months since December 2009, the BIR has able to attain its tax collection target.
In April alone, tax collection reached P87.1 billion, beating its goal by P900 million due to efficiency in tax collection and economic recovery.

April is traditionally the biggest tax collection month for the BIR because the deadline for annual taxes falls on that month.

But as early as now, the BIR is not confident that it will the P440.2 billion revenue target for the second-semester of the year due to several tax-eroding measures that Congress had passed.

Tan-Torres anticipated that revenue impact of Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) law, Personal Equity Retirement Account (PERA) law, and the measure exempting senior citizens from paying consumption tax will be realized in the second-half.

Tan-Torres is now hoping that the country's economic expansion this year can compensate for the revenue losses from these three tax-eroding measures.

Total gross financing last month went up by P4.9 billion to P36.6 billion from P31.7 billion in the same month in 2009, which means less loan repayments has been made by the national government for the month.

The government borrowed more domestically at P35.3 billion from P26.6 billion in the same period last year, which is mainly composed of multi-currency retail treasury bonds at P22.3 billion and P12.9  billion T-bonds.

Total external financing during the month, meanwhile, amounted to P2.7 billion from P5 billion last year.

Floyd or not, Pacman to retire after Nov. 13 bout

Manny Pacquiao wants to be remembered plainly as "Manny Pacquiao" when he retires after his November 13 bout this year.

The seven world division champion has signified his intentions of hanging up his gloves whether or not he faces the undefeated and thrash-talking Floyd Mayweather Jr. in November.

"I dont want to retire as a washed-up boxer. At the back of my mind, I've already contemplated on retirement as early as last year," said Pacquiao. "I dont want to retire from the sport at a time when I'm feeling pains on my body."

Expect popular ring announcer Michael Buffer to add "The Fighting Congressman from the Philippines" to Pacquiaos growing list of monikers in his ring return this year after the People's Champ won a Congressional seat in the lone legislative district of Sarangani, his wife Jinkee's home province.

And Pacquiao could very well be the new "Lord of the Political Ring" in Sarangani as he became the only professional boxer ever elected into public office after the Filipino boxing icon knocked out the Chiongbian political clan.

But nothing is certain yet for the boxing bout every fight fan wants to see since Top Rank's Bob Arum is still negotiating with Richard Schaefer, his counterpart at Golden Boy Promotions.

Negotiations are now on going for the biggest fight ever since Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraizer went at it at the start of their epic trilogy in boxing almost four decades ago.

"I haven't talked yet to Bob. He's the one negotiating with Mayweather's camp," said Pacquiao. "But I'm sure he's doing everything to make the fight to happen. Everyone wants to see this fight."

According to Pacquiao, the blood test won't be an issue anymore as both camps have already agreed on the terms but there are still other details needed to be ironed out like the fight purse but the pound-for-pound boxer declined to give specifics.

Before giving the go signal for Arum to negotiate with the Mayweathers, Pacquiao needed to overcome one hurdle. Convince his mother, Dionisia, who said that she wants Pacquiao to retire or she'll gatecrash her son's match if he doesn't stop fighting.

Surprisingly, Dionisia, whose popularity grew with her champion son, allowed Pacquiao to climb the ring for the last time announcing it during her 61st birthday celebration on May 15.

Perhaps, "Mommy D." knows best that there's no better fight available left for his son than to mix it up with Mayweather Jr., whose mouth is as fast as his fist when he demolished "Sugar" Shane Mosley recently.

"My mom doesn't want me to fight anymore. But I convinced her, to give me one last fight. (After that) I'm already thinking about retirement," said Pacquiao, who said that he wants his last fight to take place either at the Dallas Cowboy Stadium again or at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

No news on Floyd — Arum


Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum clarified Tuesday that there's no official word yet from Floyd Mayweather's camp whether the US fighter is willing to soften his stand on the touchy issue of random drug-testing and purse-split.

"Haven't heard a word," Arum said as quoted by the website The Sweet Science while he was checking out the training of Yuri Foreman, who battles Miguel Cotto on Juner 5 at Yankee Stadium.

There were reports the other day that Mayweather wants to get the chunkier piece of the pie when he collides with Filipino sporting icon Manny Pacquiao.

Though Mayweather hasn't responded directly to the 14-day cutoff period , he has made it known to key Pacquiao people that he is not inclined to a 50-50- revenue split.

Still, Arum has made it clear that Mayweather's people have been properly informed about the 14-day window and that the ball is now in their court.

Pacquiao and Mayweather are being eyed to figure in a super showdown at welterweight for November 13 either in Las Vegas or Dallas.

The outcome of the Cotto-Foreman fight could play a pivotal role in the on-going negotiations since the winner might be considered to face Pacquiao should a Mayweather bout doesn't take place.

If Pacquiao fights Cotto or Foreman, it would be at 154 lbs, meaning the Filipino will be gunning for an unheard of eighth world title.

'Miller Time' sparks Kings' triumph over streaking Beermen

Obama tips Lakers for second straight title

LOS ANGELES-- President Barack Obama is tipping the Los Angeles Lakers to win a second straight NBA title this season.

"I've got to go with the Lakers again," Obama said in an interview with US cable television channel TNT, a regular NBA broadcaster.

Obama cited Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant as well as Pau Gasol, comparing Spain's Gasol favorably to Orlando's Dwight Howard.

"I think Gasol may be the best big man in the league right now," Obama said. "He's different from Dwight Howard, but he's (got) unbelievable footwork, speed, savvy, he's playing magnificently.

"Kobe is the fiercest competitor in the league and they've got what I continue to believe is the best coach in the NBA right now in Phil Jackson, so they're going to be formidable."

The interview was conducted by broadcaster Marv Albert at the White House basketball court and was shown on Tuesday during and after TNT's coverage of the Western Conference finals.

Phoenix defeated the Lakers in game four on Tuesday to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

Obama said that if he was NBA commissioner for a day his biggest concern would be ticket prices.

"You know, you hate to think that the only person that can go to a game is somebody who's got a corporate account," Obama said. "And that's something that I'd love all professional sports, that's not just NBA, but all professional sports to be thinking about that a little more."

Obama said he still managed to watch a few NBA games on television, just as he manages to make use of the court at the White House.

"Well, these days I probably play once every two to three weeks, not as often as Id like," he said.

"But during, say, the health care debate, when things are just going crazy over on Capitol Hill, a lot of times Ill just come out here and shoot or Ill play a game of HORSE and it takes an edge off things."

Obama said he welcomed the idea of sports figures - and organizations - being involved in political issues, and he praised the Suns for their public protest of Arizona's controversial new immigration law.

"I think that just because somebody's a sports figure or you've got a sports team doesn't mean that you're not part of the community and you're not part of our democracy.

"I think it's terrific that the Suns, who obviously feel very strongly about their community, recognize that a big part of their community felt threatened by this new law," said Obama, who has criticized the measure which allows the detention of people suspected of being in the country illegally.

Charice on 'Glee' just rumors, says US manager

MANILA, PhilippinesJust rumors.

Thats how Charice Pempengcos US handler reacted to reports the international singing sensation was joining a future season of the award-winning American musical comedy-drama TV series Glee.

"Despite reports in the press and on the Internet, I want to officially confirm that Charice is not scheduled to appear on the US TV show Glee, said Marc Johnston.

These are just rumors," Johnston said.

Charices Philippine manager Grace Mendoza earlier told Inquirer Entertainment that Pempengco was joining the show, which won the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series Musical or Comedy.

"Yes, it's true, Charice will soon join Glee, Mendoza said. "And not just as a guest, but as part of the cast in a new season."

Pempengco also denied this in her official Twitter account.

"I just want to let you all know, that it's not true that I'm going to be on Glee," she said, adding, "How I wish! Haha."

Noranians plan to revive 'Piso Para Kay Nora' fund drive

by by Boy Villasanta,
MANILA, Philippnes - Overwhelmingly, the fans of Superstar Nora Aunor are sad, if not in the state of shock, when they learned that their idol has lost her voice, the phenomenal vehicle which catapulted her to stardom.

DepEd to jejemons: Drop jejespeak if you want a job

MANILA, Philippines - Education Secretary Mona Valisno warned jejemons to observe the proper spelling and refrain from using jejenese, the "language" of jejemons, in texting. She said the DepEd's anti-jejespeak policy will help jejemons land a good job in the future.

Labor department launches search for Filipino with toughest job

MANILA, PhilippinesWho has the tougher joba manager or a messenger? A Makati girl or a palengke boy? A jeepney driver or an accounts driver?

The Department of Labor and Employment on Wednesday launched a contest to find out which Filipino has the toughest job.

A newly opened website,, will be accepting nominations up to August 21 from people who believe they have the toughest job or who know someone they believe has the toughest job.

Boxing champion and incoming Sarangani Congressman Manny Pacquiao will personally award the winner with a trophy and cash prize as part of the government-private sector undertaking to honor the Filipino laborer.

Pacquiao, who was still recovering from an ailment, was unable to grace the launching of the contest at noon Wednesday at the DOLE main building in Intramuros, Manila. He is the endorser of a pain-reliever brand whose manufacturer United Laboratories Inc. initiated the contest.

A participant must register at the website, upload a picture and explain why he or his nominee has the toughest job. The DOLE, through the Bureau of Working Conditions and the Occupation Safety and Health Center, will screen the nominees, come out with a short list, from which the winner would be voted upon online.

Any Filipino of legal age and with a legitimate job may be nominated. The contest is also open to Filipinos abroad.

The search for the toughest jobs in the Philippines is a groundbreaking initiative that seeks to honor Filipino men and women who face the challenges for their day-to-day jobs with pride, resiliency and most of all toughness, said Sheila Roo, Alaxan brand representative.

Roo said no job is too small or too easy because how one carries it outwhether he rises above the pain and the challengeis what determines whether a job is tough or so-so

Really, pain is a badge of honor. Its one sigh that youve exerted enough effort and commitment to do your job well, she added.

Labor Undersecretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, who attended the launching, said the contest was in line with the governments campaign for decent work.

We promote respect and dignity in whatever work you do, she said.

Some labor group leaders who attended the launching said they thought public school teachers, combat soldiers, mediamen and miners could vie for the title of having the toughest jobs.

A check on the website showed early nominations, such as those of Florentino Balingit, a dancing traffic enforcer in Cavite; John Calvo, the first to fly an Airbus A380 under the Emirates Airlines; Lerma Terrana, police community relations official, and Primitivo Calvo, a taxicab driver who returned the money left by passenger.

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