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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 30, 2010 Major News Stories

NFA, deep in debt but with rice oversupply?

Lubog na raw sa utang ang National Food Authority o NFA na umaabot sa P177-bilyon! Pero  sobra-sobra naman ang nakaimbak nilang bigas -- ang ilan ay nabubulok lang, kundi man pinamumugaran lang ng mga insekto! At hindi lang 'yan, kanina natuklasan ng NFA na may nakaimbak pa silang 10,000 sako ng bigas na mula pa noong 2008! Balak na lang itong ibenta ng NFA ng palugi, o kaya'y ibigay sa mga nangangailangan. 

DOJ asked to probe rice importation

The newly appointed administrator of the National Food Authority, Lito Banayo, is asking the Department of Justice to investigate why the NFA authorized the Philippine International Trading Corp. to import P100 million more worth of rice this year.

Gov't urged to give away excess rice

MANILA, Philippines - Instead of storing it, why not just give it away? A farmers' group on Wednesday urged the Aquino administration to just distribute excess rice in National Food Authority's (NFA) warehouses to the more than 4 million Filipino families that went hungry at least once in the past quarter.

Group wants probe of GFIs perks

MANILA, Philippines - A group of government employees on Wednesday urged a review of salaries and benefits given to top officials of government financial institutions such as the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS).

In an interview, president Fernando Gaite of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) said top GSIS and SSS officials get bigger salaries and bonuses than officials from the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

"In the GSIS, the president and general manager get more than P500,000 a month. It doesn't have 1,2 or 10 vice-presidents. It has 48 vice-presidents. It only scratches the surface especially when it comes to the big expenditures of government," he said in an ABS-CBN "Umagang Kay Ganda" interview.

President Benigno Aquino III earlier revealed that MWSS employees are receiving more than P30,000 in monthly salary on top of additional benefits. The President also added that members of its Board of Trustees receive P2.5 million annually aside from car benefits, technical assistance, and loans.

MWSS OIC Macra Cruz admitted that top officials of the government agency are receiving excessive benefits. "Tama nga ang ating presidente na may kalabisan na natanggap namin na benepisyo," she said.

She added that while the salaries of MWSS officials are covered by the Salary Standardization Law, their benefits are usually approved by the Board of Trustees as provided for in the MWSS charter.

In 2009, MWSS was given P211.5 million budget for personal services costs, which ballooned from P160.1 million the previous year. Personal services costs include basic pay, salary and wages, mandatory benefits, and all other allowances.

In the same year, the payroll was only pegged at around P51.4 million, with roughly P4 million allotted for the monthly salary of employees. The remaining amount was earmarked for employee benefits and for the members of the Board of Trustees.

Cruz said employees' original benefits were carried over by the contract signed by the concessionaires. Privatized in 1997, MWSS was bought by 2 concessionaires: Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Co. Inc. But the administrative department remained with the government.

"Sa retirees, actually nagbayad na kami ng una sa kanila ng 15% noon pa. lipat ito sa 2 concessionaires pero bigay na kami ng isang bayad," Cruz said.

She explained that MWSS already paid 40% of its retirees and they only have a balance of P300 million to P400 million or 60% of the overall compensation.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to create an independent body that will look into the figures.

Gaite, meanwhile, said the government should amend the Salary Standardization Law to increase the salaries of government employees.

"That would cure partially the problem of low pay. Even President Aquino admits it's hard to recruit people for top government posts because the pay is so low," he said.

MWSS board members 'basically wrote their own checks'

"Token" bonuses worth a quarter of a million pesos were allegedly given to board members of a government water agency once their appointments ended.
This was claimed on Tuesday by an unnamed source at the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), a day after President Benigno Aquino III in his first-ever State of the Nation Address (SONA) criticized the agency's board members for receiving P2.5 million each year in benefits and emoluments.

"It can be said that they [MWSS board members] basically write their own checks," the MWSS source told reporters on Tuesday, which was confirmed by another GMANews.TV source. 

The term "token bonus" was used to refer to the going-away gift given to MWSS board members when their terms of office ended.

Besides the "token" bonus, the MWSS board members also receive additional allowances, according to MWSS sources privy to the perks board members gave themselves.

These allowances include a discretionary fund worth P60,000 a month received by the MWSS Chairman, the source added. 

Meanwhile, P50,000 each is allegedly received every month by the vice-chairman and other board members. 

The water agency has a nine-member board of trustees.

A separate representational and transportation allowance (RATA) is also supposedly given to board members. 

Some P37,400 is reportedly given to the Chairman, P33,000 to the vice-chairman, and P28,000 to the board members. 

During every board meeting, which is supposed to be held twice a month, each board member receives P14,000 as a per diem allowance, the source said, corroborating President Aquino's assertions in his SONA speech. 

"Attending [MWSS] board of trustees and board committee meetings, and you get fourteen thousand pesos. This totals ninety eight thousand pesos a month. They also get an annual grocery incentive of eighty thousand pesos," Aquino said in the English translation of his SONA speech delivered on Monday. 

The source added that board meetings are sometimes held twice a day, thus entitling them to receive P28,000 in one day. 

Meanwhile, during committee meetings, each board member is also entitled to a P5,000 per diem, the source said. 

It was not immediately clear which set of the MWSS Board approved which emoluments, since board resolutions are under lock and key and are very difficult to access, according to the source.

The excessive bonuses and perks reportedly began during the Arroyo administration, as Aquino's SONA expose implied.

Individuals appointed to the MWSS Board, a body which formulates water policies for Metro Manila, enjoy a five-year term. 

However, since 2007, those nominated to the board held only temporary appointments, which can be withdrawn immediately, the GMANews.TV source said. 

"Appointments to the board have been temporary so that if a member refuses to follow instructions of the 'higher-ups,' or refuses to get along, his appointment can be terminated," the GMANews.TV source said. 

At the same time, the source defended the benefits received by MWSS workers, saying that these same benefits were received by other government-owned and controlled corporations. 

However, the source was unable to identify which among the GOCCs were able to give these kinds of benefits.

Text messages requesting clarification regarding the matter were sent to Macra Cruz, MWSS Officer-In-Charge, former MWSS Chairman Diosdado Allado, and former Justice Secretary Alberto Agra who once served as an MWSS board member.

They have yet to reply, as of posting time.

Similarly, no replies have been received by GMANews.TV so far when it asked current MWSS board members Santiago Gabionza, Albert Balingit, and Ferdinand Mahusay to comment on the accusations via text message.

The current MWSS board members are listed as follows:
  • Ferdinand Mahusay 
  • Raul Ragandang
  • Virgilio Angelo 
  • Santiago Gabionza 
  • Albert Balingit 
  • Aurora Arnaez
  • Oscar Garcia

There are two vacancies. No one has been named as replacement for the position vacated by DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson, who quit the MWSS Board Chairmanship owing to conflict of interest allegations. 

No one has also been named head of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), which serves as the lawyer for government corporations. The OGCC has a seat in the MWSS Board since the MWSS is a government-owned or controlled corporation.

Singson cancels 19 'midnight deals'

Citing the Aquino administration's policy of transparency and accountability to the people, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson has ordered the cancellation of 19 "midnight deals" entered into by the Department of Public Works and Highways a few days before the end of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's term.

The contracts, worth over P934 million, were supposed to be funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, according to Singson. The projects involved mostly repair of roads and bridges damaged by the tropical storms Ondoy and Pepeng.

"They were signed just a few days before July 1. 'Di man lang ipinagpaliban (They would not even defer it)," Singson told the Inquirer.

Nothing illegal in budget releases under Arroyo: DBM

MANILA, Philippines - There was nothing illegal in budget releases made during the administration of former president Gloria Arroyo, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said.

Robredo to tap private sector, NGOs for DILG projects

Heeding President Benigno Aquino III's call for more public-private partnerships, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said on Wednesday that he will give priority to tapping the help of the private sector and non-government organizations for his department's projects.

Aquino Cabinet to appoint individual spokespersons

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has instructed all Cabinet secretaries to appoint individual spokespersons for each department to allow them to answer questions from the media.

Batuhan seeks opinion on MCIAA honoraria

Undersecretary Aristotle Batuhan, who will be assuming the chairmanship of the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority and Cebu Ports Authority and Cebu Ports Authority, will seek for a legal opinion from the Office of Government Corporate Counsel whether it is legal to grant honoraria or per diems to the government representatives to the board.

Batuhan, who was appointed as Undersecretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) for legal services, administration and comptrollership, has been tasked to chair the MCIAA and CPA Board of Directors.

According to Batuhan those government representatives to the Board of Directors of MCIAA and CPA should not be given per diems or honoraria because it can be considered already as double compensation, which is prohibited by law.

Batuhan said he will start to preside the separate meetings with the MCIAA and CPA boards tomorrow afternoon, but Batuhan said he will not collect allowances yet from these two government entities until after he can have the legal opinion of the OGCC.

"I will also make sure that the instructions of President Aquino and DOTC Secretary Jose de Jesus will be strictly followed at the MCIAA and CPA," Batuhan said.

He was referring to President Aquino's State of the Nation's Address (SONA) questioning and criticizing the granting of huge honoraria by some Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations.

Batuhan, a Cebuano lawyer, said that the government officials who are sitting as members of the Board of Directors of any GOCC are not entitled to honoraria, per diems, and fat bonuses.

Once Batuhan will preside over the meetings of the MCIAA and CPA, he will discuss the matter with its members. "We already heard the thrust of President Aquino and why we should further aggravate the country's fiscal crisis?"

Although Batuhan said he will not interfere with the activities of the MCIAA during the previous administration, but he said the detail of then Tourism regional director Patria Auroa Roa with the MCIAA was highly questionable. 

Batuhan said when he reviewed the law he learned that only those Department Secretaries, the Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries are allowed to sit as members of the boards, but Roa has been an alternate member of the MCIAA for the past 15 years.

The Ombudsman-Visayas is still investigating the legality of the MCIAA Board's move of granting Roa a severance pay of P500,000 because the Commission on Audit (COA) said she is not entitled to such benefit.

But MCIAA general manager Danilo Augusto Francia insisted that the law allowed the members of the Board to receive honoraria and other benefits.

DepEd secretary lets city draft program for school buildings

Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young yesterday announced that Department of Education Secretary Armin Luistro has agreed to let the city government prepare the program of works and estimates of school buildings that will be constructed here.

Mike wants study, Tom says it's nice: City is interested in buying planes

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama is being cautious while Cebu City South District Rep. Tomas R. Osmeña is very interested that the city would buy three defective light planes worth P4.6 million offered by the Department of Education.

Gwen's brother elected as mayors' league prexy

Dumanjug Mayor Nelson Garcia, brother of Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, was elected unopposed as new president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines-Cebu Chapter.

SWS: 3 out of 4 Pinoys satisfied with May polls

MANILA, Philippines - Having ascertained who their leaders were in just a matter of days, 3 out of 4 Filipinos gave their kudos to the conduct of the elections in May.

LP senators bullying to get choice posts - Revilla

MANILA, Philippines - A member of the Lakas-Kampi Christian Muslim Democrats on Wednesday accused Liberal Party senators of lording it over fellow senators in the scramble for chairmanships of various Senate committees.

Feisty Miriam takes indefinite leave due to fatigue

MANILA, Philippines – The usually feisty Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has taken an indefinite leave due to health reasons.

SC urged to nullify Comelec decision on Mikey

MANILA, Philippines - The Bayan Muna party-list has asked the Supreme Court to hold in contempt Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials who allowed Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo to sit as party-list representative.

Minority bloc offered House ethics panel chairmanship

MANILA, Philippines - Quezon City Rep. and current House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte is breaking tradition by offering the chairmanship of the House of Representatives ethics committee to members of the minority.

House leaves solon's fate to courts over drug case

The House of Representatives will leave it up to the courts to decide on the fate of one of its members, Ilocos Sur Representative Ronald Singson, who is currently detained in Hong Kong after he was arrested for illegal possession of drugs, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Wednesday.

Singson entered HK using regular passport, DFA clarifies

Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson entered Hong Kong, where he is currently detained on alleged possession of illegal drugs, using only a regular passport and not an official or diplomatic passport contrary to earlier reports, the Department of Foreign Affairs clarified Wednesday.

Lawmakers, including Pacquiao, ready to undergo drug test

Lawmakers, including Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, on Wednesday expressed willingness to undergo drug test following the arrest and detention of Ilocos Norte Rep. Ronald Singson in Hong Kong over drug charges.

House body to act promptly on impeach rap vs Ombudsman

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Wednesday assured that the impeachment complaint filed against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez would be acted promptly by the committee on justice in the House of Representatives.

JBC shortlists 6 candidates for SC vacancy

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III will choose his first pick for Supreme Court justice from 6 names to be submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council.

Court of Appeals Associate Justice Japar Dimaampao got 6 votes from the council that suggests names to the judiciary.

Former University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Raul Pangalangan and Court of Appeals Associate Justice Noel Tijam got 5 votes each.

Court of Appeals Associate Justice Hakim Abdulwahid, Commission on Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento and Asian Institute of Management Policy Center Executive Director Ma. Lourdes Sereno got 4 votes each.

Mutiny suspect freed

(UPDATE 3) An ex-colonel in the Philippine Marines who is on trial over a failed coup against then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was released from detention on Wednesday after more than four years in military custody.

Querubin hopeful of military reforms under Aquino

by By Ira Pedrasa,
MANILA, Philippines - Having survived a 4-year incarceration, former Marine Col. Ariel Querubin is hopeful that reforms in the military will finally take place under the leadership of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

Judge refuses to scrap arrest warrant vs Lacson

The warrant of arrest against fugitive Senator Panfilo Lacson still stands after a Manila court denied for lack of merit his motion to recall the warrant issued against him.

CPP stands pat vs ceasefire before talks

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) stood pat Wednesday on its position against a ceasefire before resuming peace talks with the government.

Andal Jr., Maguindanao massacre suspects arraigned

Andal Ampatuan Jr. and 20 others, who are accused of taking part in the November 23, 2009 massacre, were arraigned in a hearing in Camp Bagong Diwa Wednesday. 57 people, mostly journalists, lawyers and members of the Mangudadatu clan, were killed in broad daylight last year.

Cop wants to turn state witness in massacre case

MANILA, Philippines - The former police chief of Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao province on Wednesday indicated his willingness to turn state witness in the Maguindanao massacre case.

Peso higher against US dollar as optimism remains

The peso climbed further Wednesday as the market sustained optimism on the Philippines and other emerging markets.

$1: P45.900

$1: P45.900 (from P45.97)

Euro 1: P59.7230

BIR likely missed July collection goal

by Reuters
MANILA, Philippines - The country's  main tax agency Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) may fall short of its collection target for July, the head of the agency said on Wednesday.

PAL flight attendants threaten to go on strike

MANILA, Philippines - Flight attendants of flag carrier Philippine Airlines may go on strike over management's discriminatory policies, which include a lower compulsory retirement age for attendants and stewards.

Six dead, over 300 hurt in China pipeline blast

At least six people died and more than 300 others were injured in an explosion when a chemical pipeline ignited in eastern China on Wednesday, state media reported.

No survivors from Pakistan plane crash—minister

(UPDATE 6) All 152 on board a Pakistani passenger jet died Wednesday when the Airbus 321 crashed in the hills of Islamabad while trying to land on a flight from Karachi, a cabinet minister said.

Pinoys in Iraq fear repatriation, unemployment in RP

by By Arlene Burgos,
MANILA, Philippines - Facing the prospect of repatriation within two months as the US scales down its military operations in Iraq, Filipinos employed by American companies in US bases in Iraq have called on the Philippine government to lift a 5-year employment and travel ban.

Rep. Singson filed anti-drug bill, says staff

Nakunan ng ABS-CBN News ang maximum security facility sa Hong Kong kung saan nakapiit si Ilocos Sur congressman Ronald Singson. Ikinagulat naman ng staff ni Singson ang pagkakasangkot niya sa drug trafficking. May ipinanukala pa kasi ang kongresista laban sa droga!

Pacquiao to use political clout for Olympic goals

by By Manny Mogato, Reuters
MANILA, Philippines - Seven-weight world champion Manny Pacquiao made a vow to improve life in his poor southern hometown and to help the Philippines win a first Olympic gold medal in his maiden speech as a lawmaker in Congress.

Donaire: From bullied kid to top-notch boxer

MANILA, Philippines – It has been a long climb to the top for Filipino-American boxing world champion Nonito Donaire Jr., who admitted that he underwent self-doubt and insecurity while growing up.

SMB a win away from finals

MANILA, Philippines – Defending champions San Miguel Beermen (SMB) are now just a win away from making another trip to the finals of the PBA Fiesta Conference.

On Wednesday, the Beermen wore down the B-Meg Derby Ace Llamados, 83-75, in Game 4 at the Cuneta Astrodome.

With the win, the Beermen took a 3-1 lead in the semifinals series, and pushed the Llamados to the brink of defeat.

Daniels sparks Texters' rout of Aces with possible replacement watching

Shawn Daniels scored a team-high 13 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and outplayed counterpart Diamon Simpson in an 83-62 Tropang Texters blowout win of the Aces on Wednesday to level their best-of-seven affair at 2-2.

Wesley So loses bid for Swiss chess crown

MANILA, Philippines – Grandmaster (GM) Wesley So lost his bid for the top placing in the 43rd Biel International Chess Festival Young Grandmasters tournament after yielding to his Dutch opponent during their 8th round match in Biel, Switzerland on Tuesday.

POC to pick RP's lineup for Asian Games

The Philippine Sports Commission is leaving it all to the Philippine Olympic Committee to decide who goes to the Asian Games in November based on its P30 million budget for the Nov. 12-27 competition in Guangzhou, China.

Rockets' Yao says might retire if foot does not heal

by Reuters
BEIJING – China's Yao Ming says he might end his basketball career next year if the injury to his left foot does not heal properly by the end of the NBA season, state media reported on Tuesday.

Imelda Marcos,daughter Irene to attend anniversary events

FORMER first lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos and her daughter Irene Marcos-Araneta are expected to grace the Cebu Provincial Government's 441st founding anniversary celebration next month.

Aquino most likely to move into Bahay Pangarap soon

President Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino III will most likely move into his new official home, the Bahay Pangarap, inside the Presidential Security Group (PSG) Park compound in Manila this weekend.

Obama calls armless Filipino pilot an inspiration

US President Barack Obama met with armless Filipino pilot Jessica Cox at the white house and called her an inspiration for breaking barriers and giving hope to the differently abled.

Fil-Am named USAID director for RP

by By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau
New USAID director for RP is a Maryknoll grad WASHINGTON DC - A Filipina American who made good in the United States, is going back to the Philippines to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID) efforts to help the country.  

News of Gloria Steele's appointment as USAID mission director for the Philippines have been circulating in the Fil-Am community in Washington DC days before her formal installation last July 20.

Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa was elated by the announcement of her appointment.

Kris Aquino is not pregnant - Boy Abunda

Sa gitna ng hiwalayang Kris Aquino at James Yap, pumutok ang nakakagulat na balitang buntis umano si Kris! Ang sagot ng kaibigan niyang si Boy Abunda.

Fundraising event held for Dick Israel

MANILA, Philippines – Celebrities held a fundraising event for veteran actor Dick Israel, who suffered a stroke last month that left half of his body paralyzed and affected his speech.

Are Robin and Mariel engaged?

Pilipinas, Win na Win! 'Yan na ang pinal na titulo ng programang papalit sa Wowowee! Ang isa sa bagong hosts ng programa na si Robin Padilla, sinagot naman ang isyung engaged na sila ng co-host niyang si Mariel Rodriguez.

Venus Raj gets tips from Pacman

Nangunguna ang pambato ng Pilipinas sa Miss Universe na si Venus Raj sa online ratings ng fans worldwide! Kumukuha naman ng inspirasyon si Raj, hindi sa dating beauty titlist kundi sa boxing champ na si Congressman Manny Pacquiao.  

Indian woman fined for seeking divorce on impotence grounds

by Agence France-Presse
NEW DELHI – An Indian court has slapped a hefty fine on a woman who cited her husband's sexual impotence as grounds for divorce, a report said Tuesday.


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