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

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 8, 2010 Major News Stories

Suspect in Ting ambush falls

THE police filed yesterday a murder complaint against the alleged gunman in the fatal shooting of businessman Manuel Ting in Barangay Tisa, Cebu City last June 22.

At least two witnesses and five policemen pointed to Ruel Velez of Barangay Bolinawan, Carcar City as the assailant.

With Velez's arrest, Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Chief Patrocinio Comendador Jr. and Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Lani-o Nerez said the police are "80-85 percent" done in solving the attack on Manuel Ting.

Two days after the hotelier was killed, Comendador said, the Task Force Ting under Supt. Pablo Labra II began searching for Velez, 44, a suspected drug pusher and alleged member of a gun-for-hire group based in Carcar City, Cebu.

With the help of two eyewitnesses, the police came up with a sketch of the suspected gunman. Shown a picture of Velez, four witnesses, including Manuel's son, also identified Velez as the triggerman.

The first operation was made in Velez's residence in Barangay Ocaña, Carcar but the police failed to catch him there.

Last June 30, Labra's team tried to arrest Velez, but the latter slipped out of Cebu and allegedly went to Ozamis City.


But when he heard about the manhunt, Velez contacted Comendador through the help of a middleman.

Comendador said he spoke with Velez over the phone and told the latter about allegations linking him to the murder of Manuel.

Velez denied any participation in the killing and agreed to return to Cebu City to clear his name.

Comendador said he informed Velez the latter can show up before the police, but if witnesses point to him as the gunman, the police will have to place him under arrest.

Velez and Labra's team met in a parking lot of a mall last Monday. During the meeting, the witnesses identified Velez as the one who shot and killed Manuel.

Based on that identification, the police arrested Velez.

The task force organized to focus on the case will continue gathering information and evidence to identify the mastermind.

No link

In the absence of concrete evidence, both officials said they cannot yet say if Larry Ting was involved in the killing of his uncle Manuel.

Larry was arrested last June 29 after his name was linked to the shooting that injured Manuel's younger brother, Nicolas Ting, last June 21 in Mandaue City. Nicolas was shot a day before Manuel.

Larry, who was tagged as the mastermind in the shooting but denied the allegation, is out on bail but faces a frustrated murder case.

"We will not stop. We will continue with the investigation," Nerez said.

The police brought Velez to the Palace of Justice for the inquest proceedings before Assistant City Prosecutor Alexander Acosta.

Velez signed a waiver for his continued detention, but will still have to submit a counter-affidavit and face a preliminary investigation.

He declined media interviews after he signed his waiver.


Velez's lawyer, Ferdie Riveral, said they will file the accused's counter-affidavit within 10 days.

In his affidavit, a trisikad driver said he was sitting along the road in front of a mall on F. Llamas St., Barangay Tisa when he saw a Mercedes Benz turning right in San Jose Village.

A man who wore a dark jacket and jeans suddenly appeared in front of the car and opened fire at the driver using a gun with a silencer, the witness said.

After shooting the victim, the gunman hurriedly walked to a waiting motorcycle and sped off toward the interior portion of Katipunan St., Cebu City.

The witness said he and a fellow driver went to the ambushed vehicle and saw the driver inside, bathed in his own blood.

Police investigators arrived shortly and identified the victim as Ting. "Still shaken from the incident that I witnessed, I decided to go home and just kept mum," the witness said. (The police requested that the witnesses' names be held, for their safety.)

Last June 23, the witness said a barangay tanod went to their house and asked if he saw the attack. They then went to the police station, where he narrated how the attack proceeded. He also identified the gunman from a picture the police had in their files.

Another witness corroborated the trisikad driver's account.

The second witness said he had just left a mall when he saw a man, who wore a dark jacket and jeans and held a black sling bag, standing near a bakery, "acting strangely."

The witness said he went inside an auto shop, only to be informed minutes later that somebody had been shot nearby.

The witness said the description of the suspect matched the man he saw standing near the bakeshop, before the shooting.

The witness then went to the homicide section of the CCPO, where he identified the alleged gunman from a photo kept by investigators.

Nicolas records clues on murder attempt

TWO weeks after being ambushed, businessman Nicolas Ting felt well enough yesterday to record his statements on the attack, which could help police investigators and his lawyer.

He said he was saddened by the death of his older brother Manuel, particularly since they were trying to reconcile when they were ambushed less than 24 hours apart last June.

Nicolas told his lawyer, Gloria Dalawampu, that his nephew Larry Ting owed him about P23 million.

Larry was previously arrested on suspicion he planned the attack on Nicolas, but he is now out on bail and has denied any involvement. He said he would never hurt his uncle.

Nicolas also told his lawyer his car tire was punctured at least thrice in Cebu, apparently to make him an easy target.

(This is consistent with one arrested suspect's statement, that Nicolas had been placed under surveillance before the attack.)

His daughter in-law, Mandaue City Councilor Emmarie Ouano-Dizon, said yesterday the businessman is already out of the intensive care unit (ICU), but will probably have to undergo months of rehabilitation.

She said Nicolas, while recovering, cannot stand and walk on his own.

A gunman on a motorcycle pumped bullets into Nicolas, who was aboard his CRV, in Barangay Cabancalan, Mandaue City last June 21.

He suffered five gunshot wounds, one of which damaged a portion of his spinal cord.

The day after he was shot, his brother Manuel was gunned down in Barangay Tisa, Cebu City. Manuel did not make it alive.

A week later, police arrested four suspects in Nicolas's shooting: suspected middleman Edwin Juab, 28; motorcycle driver Jordan Miral, 30; the 16-year old alleged gunman; and Larry Ting.

They were charged with frustrated murder, including the 16-year-old who, social workers said, is capable of acting with discernment.

The three were detained, but Larry raised P200,000 as bail. He said he did not know the three others and was in no way involved in the attack on his uncle.

Dalawampu spent about an hour yesterday talking to Nicolas, an exchange they video-recorded. She said this will help her prepare documents to be used in a case against the suspects.

At one point, Dalawampu advised her client to rest for a while, but Nicolas wanted to keep going, until everything his lawyer needed to know was confirmed. 

'Back to normal'

A WEEK after tension rose due to the suspension of the proclamation of newly elected officials, the situation in Compostela went "back to normal" yesterday, a police official said.

Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) Director Erson Digal said supporters from both camps left the vicinity of the municipal hall, after mayor-elect Joel Quiño decided to leave his temporary office in the town's legislative building Tuesday night.

Digal said Rachelle Wagas, the sister of former mayor Ritchie Wagas, asked her brother's supporters to go home and remove the tents they put up outside the municipal hall.

Police teams deployed in the area, however, will not be pulled out until the possibility of tension breaking out again will become remote, Digal said.

He said he might order the troops to pull out by tomorrow if the situation in the town remains stable until today.

While the parties are waiting for the resolution of the poll protest filed by Wagas, who alleged there were irregularities in the May 10 elections, their supporters have been holding a vigil outside the municipal hall since last week.

Last Tuesday, one of Quiño's supporters was punched in the face amid the tension.

Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Lani-o Nerez reminded his men to exercise maximum tolerance in dealing with the supporters.

Digal earlier said he will just wait for Department of Interior and Local Government 7 Director Pedro Noval's written order on what to do with the tents used by the supporters. Noval is the acting town mayor.

Personnel from the CPPO assisted in the removal of the tents yesterday.

Noval met with the town's barangay chiefs to discuss the peace and order situation as well as preparations for the town's fiesta celebration.

Fifteen out of the 17 barangay chiefs attended the meeting and assured Noval of their support and to keep Compostela peaceful.

Noval will meet with the barangay chiefs again to discuss the fiesta.

In reaction to Quino's temporary defiance, Noval said he has brought the matter up with Commission on Elections Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, who issued the order to suspend the proclamation of Quiño, vice mayor-elect Nanette Dangoy and eight councilors.

Noval said Provincial Election Supervisor Lionel Castillano is taking care of the delivery of his letter to Ferrer.

When asked about Quiño's plans to file a petition for certiorari against his appointment, Noval said "It is his right."

Cebu City, Ronda, Dalaguete record high malnutrition rates

WHILE Central Visayas recorded a lower malnutrition rate in 2009, Cebu City and two towns in the Province of Cebu are on the list of areas in the region with high incidence of malnutrition.

In the top five cities identified by the National Nutrition Council (NNC), Cebu City ranked fifth, with a malnutrition prevalence rate of 5.68 percent.

The Negros Oriental cities of Canlaon (11.34 percent), Bayawan (10.62 percent), Bais (10.2 percent) and Tanjay (6.42 percent) occupied the top four spots.

The towns of Ronda and Dalaguete in Cebu ranked second (18.12 percent) and eighth (16.30 percent), respectively, in the list of municipalities in the region with undernourished children.

The malnutrition rate in the whole region lowered to 7.49 percent last year, compared to the 8.28 percent in 2008.

Susan Orpilla, NNC 7 nutrition officer, said in yesterday's Kapihan sa PIA that one reason for Cebu City's inclusion in the list is the increasing migration of indigents in the city from other areas.

She said pre-school children are monitored in the "Operation Timbang" program, which weighs pupils for the NNC to get

information on the health of children.

In the case of Ronda and Dalaguete, Orpilla said the local governments need to prioritize nutrition in the municipal and barangay levels.

Orpilla lamented that some local government units, particularly in the barangay level, have failed to prioritize health programs.

But Orpilla said she could not blame local nutrition councils who have been working hard at improving their town's situation through health programs, such as feeding and providing micro-nutrient supplementation to children.

One of the challenges is some parents are too lazy or neglect the health of their children, she added. Poverty also contributes to the problem.

Orpilla advised the three local governments to address the malnutrition of their children through complementary feeding and breastfeeding for newborns.

She also advised the local governments to create more legislation that can ensure food security at the household level, such as putting up mini-vegetable gardens.

Tobacco firms get reprieve as court stops use of visual warnings

Hindi muna maipatutupad ang mas malakas na babala laban sa paninigarilyo. Pinigilan kasi ng isang korte ang plano ng Department of Health na maglagay ng mga larawan ng iba't ibang sakit na dulot ng sigarilyo sa mga pakete nito.

CHEd vows again to close non-performing nursing schools

Kamakailan ay ibinalita natin dito sa Bandila na higit 187,000 nursing graduates ang walang trabaho ngayon. Ngayon naman, nagbanta na ang Commission on Higher Education na ipasasara ang higit sa kalahati ng kabuaang bilang ng nursing schools sa bansa! Iyan ay kung hindi nila maayos ang kalidad ng pagtuturo!

DOH, Church agree on responsible parenthood, not on sex ed

Health and church officials may have finally found a compromise to the long-standing debate about the government's sex education program for elementary and high school students.

DSWD clarifies details of senior citizens' discounts

Nilinaw ng DSWD kaugnay ang ilang detalye sa pagpapatupad ng Expanded Senior Citizens' Act na nagbibigay ng mas malaking benepisyo sa mga lolo't lola. Hinikayat din ng DSWD ang publiko na isumbong ang mga sumusuway sa batas na ito.

No fund for indigent senior citizen subsidy, say DSWD head

The government still has to find the multi-billion peso budget to fund the monthly social pension for indigent senior citizens provided in the Expanded Senior Citizens' Law or Republic Act 9994, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman said Wednesday.

Bakers bringing back 'Pinoy' pandesal

MANILA, Philippines - Local bakers are bringing back to the market the 'Pinoy Pandesal,' a cheaper alternative to the regular pandesal in a bid to boost sagging sales.

Aquino stands by Davide, dismisses Erap claims

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on Wednesday stood by former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., a day after former President Joseph Estrada criticized the choice of the retired magistrate to head the Truth Commission.

GSIS president replacement soon - Aquino

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III said Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) President and General Manager Winston Garcia will soon be replaced.

Noynoy wants holiday law changed

If President Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino III would have his way, the Philippine Independence Day would be celebrated on June 12 and on no other day.

Rama appoints lawyer as traffic czar

Mayor Michael Rama appointed a lawyer to head the soon to be created Cebu City Transportation Office that will serve as the city's traffic enforcement arm.

Lawyer Rafael Christopher Yap, son of Regional Trial Court Judge Marilyn Yap in Mandaue City, was chosen by Rama because of his experience in the traffic body being a member of the City Traffic Operations Management Board.

Yap, whose family is friend to Rama, is one of the city legal officers and has been sitting in the CITOM board as representative of the city legal office.

Rama to City Hall employees: "Customer satisfaction" a must

Mayor Michael Rama ended his week-long meeting with over 5,000 City Hall employees yesterday with a direct instruction to give the public "quick quality service without jeopardizing transparency of the government transactions."

Aquino allies start marking turfs in Congress

Sa pagbubukas ng ika-15 Kongreso, ang mga kaalyado na ni Pangulong Noynoy Aquino na dating minorya ang magiging bagong mayorya. Kaya ngayon pa lang, pinaghahati-hatian na ang iba't ibang komite sa Kamara.

New House majority shares committee chairmanships

MANILA, Philippines - With the Speakership of Quezon City 4th District Rep. Feliciano Belmonte nearly a done deal, the new majority of the House of Representatives is now distributing the chairmanships of 57 standing committees to senior members of different political parties.

Pangilinan gets 10 votes in Senate presidency race

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada said Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan has already secured 10 votes for the Senate presidency.

Aquino not keen on cutting pork barrel

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III is not keen on an ally's proposal to cut the legislators' priority development assistance fund (PDAF) or "pork barrel" by half, saying that if used correctly this can be an "equalizing fund distribution system."

Group: Arroyo allies sneaking back to power via LP

Allies of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are sneaking back to power through President Bengino Aquino's Liberal Party (LP), a poll watchdog group warned Tuesday night.

Faeldon surrenders to the military

Fugitive Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon on Wednesday afternoon voluntarily surrendered to the military after more than two years of hiding.

Faeldon reportedly surrendered to Philippine Marine Corps Commandant, Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig.

The Marine officer's legal counsel, Atty. Trixie Angeles, confirmed Faeldon is now with the Marines, adding that "this has been his intention all along."

Faeldon was among junior military officers who led the July 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, which peacefully ended after a one-day standoff.

However, he escaped from military custody on December 4, 2005 after attending a court hearing in connection with the Oakwood Mutiny case.

In January 27, 2006, Faeldon was recaptured by elements of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Malabon in the company of military prosecutor, Capt. Candelaria Rivas.

But on November 29, 2007, Faeldon escaped anew at the height of the Manila Peninsula Hotel siege which followed their walkout from the Makati Regional Trial Court.

Faeldon is facing charges before military and civilian courts.

Military officials refuse to give further details about Faeldon's surrender but said they will hold a press conference on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Faeldon's legal counsel emphasized her client was not arrested but instead, he voluntarily "returned to the Marines."

She added it was part of Faeldon's commitment that he will return and allow himself to be under the jurisdiction of a duly elected President.

"But this has not been planned ever since. This is not an accident so it's neither arrest nor surrender. He returned (to the Marines)," she further stated.

Faeldon says ready now to face consequences

ABS-CBN senior correspondent Ces Drilon was able to talk to Captain Nicanor Faeldon, a day after his surrender. She joins us from the headquarters of the Philippine Marine Corps in Fort Bonifacio.

Now, Honasan tells Lacson to face the music

MANILA, Philippines - After telling him once to learn the "art of disguise," Sen. Gregorio Honasan is calling on a fellow senator and classmate accused of murder to surrender himself to authorities for his own good.

Honasan: I hope Aquino has forgiven me

MANILA, Philippines - Without naming names, President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III spoke about forgiving people who have wronged him personally in his inaugural speech. This caught the attention of Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who hopes he's one of those the President is talking about.

Chinese rescued from Abu Sayyaf brought to Manila

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 2) The Chinese national rescued from the clutches of the bandit group Abu Sayyaf after being captive for almost two years arrived in Manila Wednesday morning for medical tests and further debriefing, and possibly further detention for overstaying in the country.

Senior Supt. Elmer Escosia, Sulu provincial director, accompanied Xi Li Wu, also known as Peter Go, from a Philippine Airlines flight from Zamboanga City. Their flight touched down at the NAIA terminal 2 past 9 a.m.

Escosia gave the victims custody to Chinese consul Wang Xiao Bo who received their compatriot at the airport. Police earlier said Wu had been recorded as an overstaying alien at the time he was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf. However, on Wednesday, local authorities said it turned out his abduction made him violate the limits of his stay.

When he entered the country in December 2008, Xi was issued a tourist visa, but this was only valid for 21 days, the official said, adding that the Chinese embassy would be meeting with immigration officials to sort the issue out.

It is nice to see [Xi] in good health and he was brought to safety, Wang told reporters at a press briefing.

Troops from the Sulu provincial police office encountered a group of bandits holding the victim on Monday night, Escosia said. Authorities traded shots with the armed men who were caught off guard by the attack.

[Xi] ran away from his captors during the encounter thats why he was not hurt, the official said. After we secured the victim, we also slowly withdrew from our position because it was very dark and we could not see where the fire was coming from.

The victim, speaking through Wang who translated his reply, begged off from sharing his ordeal, saying it was a nightmare and I dont want to recall it.

Asked if he would return to the Philippines despite his kidnapping, Xi replied he intended to go back to China to rest and collect his thoughts.

I need some rest and to have a feeling of comfort and safety first before coming back, he said.
Escosia said the bandits moved the victim often to avoid detection, but Xi was taken care by a couple whom the official said the authorities were trying to locate.

No combat operations for US soldiers in RP, says envoy

MANILA, PhilippinesThe US ambassador to the Philippines has denied anew that American soldiers who are in the Philippines for training exercises are not engaged in any combat operations.

Speaking at the Manila Overseas Press Clubs Diplomatic Night in Makati City Tuesday, Thomas sought to dispel fears that the US was in fact orchestrating the Philippine military's war against terror.

Let me say, for the record, that the temporarily deployed components of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines do not, repeat not, engage in combat, he said. They offer information, training, technical and medical support to the very brave AFP soldiers who are on the front lines.

Thomas said the security cooperation between the two countries was vital not just in counter-terrorism but also in improving the life of the two nations. He also lauded the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police for having taken an increasingly effective posture against terrorists.

The Philippines has been a gracious host to joint training exercises that allow both our militaries to practice skills to ensure we are effective partners whether working on a UN peacekeeping mission or responding to a natural disaster in Manila, in New Orleans, or in Haiti, he said.

Thomas also said the granting of rewards for the capture and neutralization of terrorists in the Philippines has been very effective.

We use all means at our disposal to try to apprehend those who would deny us freedom, those who would deny us education, those who would deny us rights. And I think that's only fair we're here to partner with the Filipino people in that, he said.

On the Visiting Forces Agreement, Thomas said this was one partnership that saves lives and that this agreement makes this cooperation possible in an atmosphere of absolute respect for Philippine sovereignty.

Asked during the open forum if the US was open to reviewing the VFA, Thomas said : I think that's not for us to decide; it's for the Philippines to decide.

He said the embassy welcomed peaceful demonstrations against the VFA but would not support violent demonstrations.

Romulo debates with media over ambassadors' appointments

Kakautos pa lang ni Pangulong Noynoy Aquino na mag-seminar ang mga miyembro ng kanyang Gabinete para sa tamang pakikitungo sa media, nagkainitan kanina sina DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo at ilang mga taga media! Kinuwestiyon kasi ng media ang basehan ng DFA sa paghingi ng 3-month term extension ng mga ambassador.

3-month extension for political envoys is legal - Romulo

Amid questions on the legality of the three-month extension given by President Benigno Aquino III for non-career ambassadors, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) maintained Wednesday that the practice has legal basis and was typical in previous administrations.

Aquino names military man as ambassador

MANILA, PhilippinesPresident Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on Wednesday named Lieutenant General Nestor Ochoa as an ambassador to an Asian country.

Ochoa was an acting chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, when General Delfin Bangit bowed out of service even before Aquino assumed the presidency last June 30.

"General Nestor Ochoa will be an ambassador I believe in an Asian country," Aquino said in a press conference in Malacaang.

And since there is a law which states that 51 percent of the appointments should be career diplomats, Aquino promised that he would try to reduce the number of political appointees.

"I understand out of all of the ambassadors, we already have 25 for political appointees So we will not exceed that number, we will probably, it would be less than that number," he said.

Aquino revealed that Colonel Magtanggol Gatdula is a candidate for either the National Bureau of Investigation or the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

"We have yet to finish the evaluation of his credentials, accomplishments," said the President.

Comelec commissioner, Legarda nominated to SC seats

Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento and prominent family lawyer Katrina Legarda have been nominated to the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona as the court's top magistrate.

CJ Corona vows prompt resolution of Hacienda Luisita case

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona vowed to hasten the resolution of a case involving the inclusion of the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita in the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Cito Lorenzo: I'm ready to testify on fertilizer fund scam

Sa unang pagkakataon mula nang siya'y bumalik sa bansa, eksklusibong humarap sa ABS-CBN News si dating agriculture secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo. Si Lorenzo ay isa sa mga isinasangkot at pinakakasuhan sa P728-million fertilizer fund scam. Inamin ni Lorenzo na may banta sa kanyang buhay, pero tiniyak niya na handa siyang tumestigo sa tamang panahon.

Aquino, Lorenzo meet in private party

Nakakuha ng video at litrato ang ABS-CBN News sa party na dinaluhan nina Pangulong Aquino, Vice President Binay at ilang Noy-Bi supporters. Kumpirmadong naroon din sa party ang kontrobersyal na si dating agriculture secretary Cito Lorenzo.

Source in Arroyo poll scandal may turn witness, says Aquino

Hello Garci' report submitted, for referral to Truth CommissionA VITAL source of information in the alleged election fraud involving former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may be granted state witness status, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III said yesterday.

Ombudsman loses 9 out of 10 cases in first trim

MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the Ombudsman lost  nearly 9 out of every 10 cases it filed before the Sandiganbayan for the first four months of 2010, according to statistics released by the anti-graft court.

Palace: No plans to legalize jueteng

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has no plans to legalize jueteng, an illegal numbers game that is allegedly racking up billions of pesos in earnings for gambling syndicates.

Peping visits Palace; no gov't post offered

MANILA, Philippines - Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. on Wednesday confirmed that he had a meeting with Jose "Peping" Cojuangco Jr., uncle of President Benigno Aquino, in Malacañang but not about an offer to join government.

Group to P-Noy: Address high passport renewal rates

MANILA, Philippines – A migrant workers' rights group has lauded President Aquino for directing the Department of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies to be responsive to overseas Filipino workers' needs and welfare.

But Migrante-Middle East called on Mr. Aquino to stop the prevailing exorbitant fees in the renewal and replacement of passports and provide social and welfare services to OFWs and their dependents.

"The DFA has implemented the e-passport and had issued a new schedule of fees in various post abroad that are higher than the previous fees; the increases are unjustified and only additional burden to many low-income earning OFWs amid price increases of commodities and services," said John Monterona, the group's regional director.

Monterona cited that processing the application and issuance of e-passport is now 240 Saudi riyals, up from the previous 200 riyals, while replacement of a lost e-passport costs SR 600.

"In fact, SR200 is already an overcharging, it is equivalent to P2,400," he added.

He said the fee increase is a burden to an OFW earning between P10,000 and P12,000 a month.

81 Filipino seafarers with Somali rebels

The number of Filipino seafarers seized by Somali pirates has now climbed to 81 following the hijacking of a chemical tanker with 18 Filipino seafarers onboard, which the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) confirmed on Tuesday.

"The DFA received a flash report from the Philippine Embassy in Nairobi (Kenya) that the 13,000-deadweight chemical tanker MT Motivator, which is under Marshall Islands flag, was hijacked in the southern Red Sea Sunday morning. Eighteen Filipino crew members are onboard," DFA spokesman J. Eduardo Malaya said.

Marshall Islands-flagged chemical tanker MT Motivator was hijacked early Sunday off Northern Bab-Al-Mandeb, the strait between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

The chemical tanker, with a deadweight of 13,065 tons, was loaded with lubricating oil when it was hijacked by Somali pirates.

"The DFA is coordinating with the ship's principals and the naval authorities in the region on measures to ensure the safety and security of the seafarers," Malaya assured.

There are now 81 Filipino seafarers onboard six vessels currently being held captive by Somali pirates: 19 from MV Eleni P, which was hijacked on May 12; 21 onboard MV Voc Daisy, captured on April 21; about 19 Filipinos onboard MV Samho Dream, captured on April 4; one Filipino onboard MV Iceberg I hijacked on March 30; three Filipinos onboard Taiwanese fishing vessel FV Tai Yuan 227, which was captured on May 6; and 18 onboard MT Motivator captured on July 4.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Filipino seafarers comprise 30 percent of the world's 1.5 million seafarers.

During the first nine months of 2009, Filipino seafarers remitted around $2.5 billion to their families in the Philippines. The United Nations (UN) International Maritime Organization (IMO) has dedicated this year to the world's seafarers for their "exceptional role and contribution" in the maritime industry.

It will be recalled that the number of Filipinos seized by Somali pirates had already gone down to one-digit figures after the successive release in late 2009 and early 2010, said to be the lowest in recent years. However, it started to increase in April after 19 Filipinos onboard South Korea's Samho Dream had been captured on April 4; 21 Filipino seafarers onboard Voc Daisy had been seized on April 21; 19 onboard MV Eleni P. on May 12; and 18 Filipinos onboard MT Motivator this month.

$1: P46.555

$1: P46.555

Euro 1: P58.7092

US reps coming to discuss $400-M grant, says US envoy

Representatives of the Millennium Challenge Corp. will be in the country "very soon" for talks with key officials of the Aquino administration on grant amounting to $400 million over five years, according to United States Ambassador Harry Thomas.

National Treasurer keeps his post

MANILA, Philippines --  National Treasurer Roberto Tan will retain his position as the government's debt manager in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, the finance secretary said on Wednesday.

New BOC chief vows to increase collections, do lifestyle checks on execs

(UPDATE) The Bureau of Customs, perceived to be the country's most corrupt government agency and beyond redemption at that, "needs a major transformation," according to newly installed BOC Commissioner Angelito A. Alvarez.

Bayan, fishers' group ask Aquino to scrap value added tax

The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance) on Wednesday urged President Benigno Aquino III to scrap the value added taxes slapped on electricity and petroleum, amid rising power rates.

Obama hopes for direct Mideast peace talks by September

WASHINGTON DC, United States - US President Barack Obama said he hoped for direct Middle East peace talks to start before the end of September, as he and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied reports of a rift.

NATO airstrike accidentally kills 5 Afghan troops (AP)

KABUL, Afghanistan – NATO mistakenly killed five of its Afghan army allies in an airstrike Wednesday while they were attacking insurgents in the country's east, officials said.

Three American soldiers were also reported killed Wednesday in a roadside bombing in the south.

US, Russia plan spy prisoner swap—lawyer

MOSCOW—Russia and the United States are planning a dramatic Cold War-style prisoner exchange that would free members of the alleged Kremlin spy ring for a Russian detainee, a lawyer claimed Wednesday.

'Trainer's case could affect Pacquiao-Mayweather fight sked'

MANILA, Philippines – The schedule of the anticipated fight between "Fighter of the Decade" Manny Pacquiao and former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. might be affected by a legal case involving Floyd's uncle and trainer Roger Mayweather, if it does push through at all.

Viloria faces Mexico's Omar Soto Saturday

Comfortable with the extra pounds, Brian Viloria will pour everything he's got against Mexican Omar Soto when they tangle in the headliner of the Boxing at the Bay fourth edition Saturday night at the Ynares Sports Center in Pasig City.

Orcollo, Alcano eye better stints in Guinness 9-Ball

MANILA, Philippines – Following their stints in the World 9-Ball championship, Filipino billiards superstars Dennis "Robocop" Orcollo and Ronnie "Volcano" Alcano will head to Jakarta, Indonesia for the 2010 Guinness World Series 9-ball Championship.

Heroic Solomon leads Rain or Shine to quarters

MANILA, Philippines – With Solomon Mercado's heroics, Rain or Shine clinched the last ticket to the quarterfinals by scoring a hard fought 98-93 victory over Coca-Cola in the 2010 PBA Fiesta Conference knockout match at the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday.

PBA plans to go back to 3-conference format

Is the Philippine Basketball Association ready to go back to its three-conference format? PBA deputy commissioner Chito Salud wants to give it a try in a bid to lure the fans back to the coliseum.

Bosh, Wade to join forces in Miami

MIAMI -Chris Bosh wants to contend for a championship. Dwyane Wade wants some star-powered help.

Spain beat Germany 1-0, face Netherlands in World Cup final

DURBAN—Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the semifinals, and will face the Netherlands in the World Cup final.

Aquino late for Mass

President Aquino was at least one hour behind schedule when he showed up at the Manila Cathedral at 10:05 a.m. in the middle of the homily being delivered by Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales.

Aquino-Corona handshake sets tone for unity mass

Chief Justice Renato Corona was thrilled to hear President Benigno Aquino III publicly acknowledge him as chief justice for the first time.

Aquino backs Binay's request for official residence

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III is supporting Vice President Jejomar Binay's request to have an official residence, saying it was just reasonable.

PNoy prefers weekly presscon over ambush interviews

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III is willing to conduct a weekly press conference, but only if reporters will cease with their ambush interviews.

Lea Salonga admits going through strict diet for 'Cats'

MANILA, Philippines - Lea Salonga talked about her musical "Cats," which will be staged at the CCP's Tanghalan Nicanor Aberlardo from July 24 to August 15.

KC Concepcion denies visiting Piolo on 'Noah' set

MANILA, Philippines - Actress-host KC Concepcion has categorically denied reports that she would visit heartthrob Piolo Pascual, her former leading man, in Subic where the actor is shooting scenes for his upcoming teleserye "Noah."

14-year-old elopes with Facebook friend

Sikat na sikat ngayon sa mga kabataan ang mga social networking sites na tulad ng Facebook. Pero para sa ina ng isang dalagitang Filipino-British, naging problema ito! Nakipagtanan kasi ang kanyang 14-anyos na anak sa isang lalaki na nakilala lang sa Facebook!

George Michael arrested after car crash

LONDON – British singer George Michael has been arrested after his car hit a building on a road in north London at the weekend, police said on Tuesday.

Lindsay Lohan discreetly gives judge 'the finger' in court

LOS ANGELES—She sobbed and pleaded in court not to be thrown in jail, but troubled Hollywood starlet Lindsay Lohan had another, far less plaintive message for the judge, written on the fingernail of her middle finger.

Solar plane sets out on historic flight

An experimental solar-powered aircraft took off from a Swiss airbase here shortly after daybreak on Wednesday in a historic bid to fly around the clock and prove the value of solar energy.

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