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

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August 18, 2010 Major News Stories

Bread prices to go up next week

Tataas ang presyo ng tinapay kabilang na ang loaf bread at pandesal sa susunod na linggo! Ito ay dahil sa ipapasa na ng mga negosyante ang dagdag-presyo sa harina na pinalala pa ng patuloy na pagtaas sa presyo ng asukal at mantika.

DILG puts SK abolition proposal on hold

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of the Interior and Local Government on Tuesday said it will put on hold for now its proposal to Malacañang to abolish the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK).

This, after DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo met with youth groups opposed to the proposal.

Robredo gave militant group Akbayan Youth until Wednesday to submit its suggestions, which will be incorporated into a joint proposal to the Palace.

The DILG has proposed to replace the SK with a single youth representative in the barangay council because the SK was purportedly politicized and inefficient.

However, this raised concerns that scrapping the SK would deprive the youth of their right to participate in nation-building.

In a statement, Akbayan Youth said the DILG secretary and youth representatives agreed on increasing the age bracket of youth participants from 15-17 to 15-25. 
Also agreed during the consultation was the creation of a Youth Consultative Body or Youth Development Council, which will be composed of local youth organizations in the barangay.  This body will act as the youth development arm of the barangays.

These agreements are included in House Bill no. 468 or the SK Reform and Empowerment Bill filed Akbayan party-list representative Arlene Bag-ao and Walden Bello last July 1.

Among the salient points in that Akbayan proposed law was the widening of the age range from 15-17 to 15-25 years old, institutionalizing of an accountability mechanism through regular Katipunan ng Kabataan or Barangay Youth Development Council meeting; strengthening of SK leaders and its youth constituency and the introduction of an anti-dynasty clause.

Vice Governors league protests Gwen's "meddling"

The Vice Governors League of the Philippines is set to pass a resolution manifesting indignation over, and protest against, the encroachment of the Cebu provincial government's executive department on the duties and responsibilities of the legislative department.

More Apas residents facing eviction

Close to 200 residents of sitio Baca, Barangay Apas, who are presently facing eviction have asked the Cebu City government to intercede on their behalf.

Palace stands pat vs 'vanity billboards'

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang on Tuesday is standing by its directive of prohibiting officials from placing their names and images in government project billboards.

Ateneo prof to join Truth Commission

by By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - A law professor from the Ateneo Human Rights Center has agreed to join a Truth Commission tasked to investigate corruption scandals linked to former President and now Pampanga congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Atty. Carlos Medina's inclusion brings to 3 the identified members of the proposed 5-man commission.

President Benigno Aquino III earlier appointed former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. to head the commission, while retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Romeo Callejo has also agreed to join the investigative body.

Jinggoy rejects Davide as Truth Commission chief

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is opposing the appointment of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. as head of the Truth Commission. 

Senate wants GOCC execs to explain fat paychecks

(Updated 7:23 pm) Executives of government-owned and -controlled corporations who received fat paychecks must face the Senate committee on finance and explain their excessive bonuses, allowances, and take home pays.

Pichay under fire for fat paycheck

MANILA, Philippines – Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) chairman Prospero Pichay Jr. has been accused of receiving a fat paycheck, along with other executives of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs). 
He is reportedly earning around P450,000 a month as head of LWUA and as director of its subsidiary, LWUA Consult.

Budget chief opposes salary cap for GOCC execs

MANILA, Philippines - Budget Secretary Florencio Abad is opposing proposals to cap compensation for executives of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), as well as government financial institutions (GFIs).

In a hearing of the Senate committee on finance on Tuesday, its chairman, Sen. Franklin Drilon, recommended the creation of appropriate legislative measures to rationalize and standardize to reasonable level the compensation package of officials and board directors of GOCCs and GFIs.

Drilon said this will be done to promote public trust, and protect much-needed government funds.

Government firms spent P700M in entertainment chits, says Recto

It must have been worth the "wining and dining" for some executives of government corporations after paying close to P700 million in entertainment bills alone.

Senator Ralph Recto said that in 2008 entertainment expenses of government owned and controlled corporations reached P682 million, with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas listed as the biggest spender at P391 million.

Recto said the central bank's "representation and entertainment expense" was 14 times bigger than what the government's biggest agency, the Department of Education, incurred in 2008 and four times bigger than what many offices in the Office of the President spent for dinners, receptions, cocktails and meetings.

In 2008, Recto said the OP spent P108 million for "representation and entertainment" while the Department of Foreign Affairs spent P120 million for the same purposes.

"In all, the national government coughed up P1.4 billion in representation allowance for its mid-level and top echelon officials," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Next to the BSP in the roll of big spenders, Recto said, was the worker-funded Social Security System with P64.9 million, Home Development Mutual Fund with P48.6 million, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority with P22.6 million, Government Service Insurance System with P16.8 million, and Philippine Postal Savings Bank with P14.6 million.

Based on the Commission on Audit report, Recto said the six accounted for 81 percent of total representation in the government corporate sector.

Despite this, the senator withheld his judgment whether the amount paid for what he described as "power lunches and dinners" was well-spent or not.

"My charitable view is that perhaps the nourishment they got from these meetings kept our economy afloat, mitigated recession and stimulated the economy," he said.

But Recto recognized that the case of the big spenders was the exception, not the rule.

He said most of the 79 government firms audited by the COA for their representation and entertainment expenses were quite frugal when it came to networking expenses.

"Livelihood Corp spent P49,000, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies was parsimonious with a bill of P99,000 for one year, and Cebu Ports Authority was thrift having spent P2,000 only," said the senator.

"Overall, the GOCCs were judicious in so far as this aspect of expenditure is concerned," Recto said.

9 agencies told to withhold salaries of execs with unliquidated advances

No liquidation, no salary. Saying this was part of efforts to bring about a more efficient government, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Tuesday asked nine agencies to withhold the salaries of their personnel who had failed to liquidate cash advances collectively amounting to nearly P2.4 billion.

These agencies are the Department of Education, Commission on Elections, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Bureau of Immigration, Department of National Defense, Bureau of Customs, Philippine Ports Authority, and the National Police Commission.

Gutierrez also said that those who fail to liquidate their cash advances could be slapped with criminal cases of violation of the auditing code, malversation of public funds and failure to render accounts.

These personnel could also face administrative liabilities for gross neglect of duty and dishonesty.

Of the nine agencies, the DepEd had the highest amount of unliquidated funds, at P1.614 billion. It was followed by the Comelec, with P406.029 million, the PNP, with P313.272 million, the BJMP with P18.205 million and the BI with 9.886 million.

Next on the list were the DND, with P6.329 million in unliquidated funds, the BOC with P392,655, the PPA with P368,487 and the Napolcom with P226,889.

These agencies are the initial batch of offices that the Ombudsman had scrutinized. The Office of the Ombudsman is in the process of checking the financial documents of other offices.

A statement from the Office of the Ombudsman said Gutierrez informed the agencies of her advice in a letter she sent to its heads of offices. This was done pursuant to the Ombdusman's mandate to determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, and fraud and corruption, and to observe high standards of ethics and efficiency.

The Ombudsman also pointed out that a Commission on Audit circular requires the liquidation, within specific time frames, of cash advances relating to salaries, petty and field operating expenses, official travel, and intelligence and confidential funds for the national and corporate sectors.

Another COA circular also states that for projects that last for more than a month, there should be a monthly progress liquidation report submitted.

The withholding of salaries of those who fail to liquidate their advances is also supported by another COA issuance.

Comelec withholds salaries of officials with unliquidated advances

Commission on Elections chair Jose Melo on Tuesday said the poll body had withheld the salaries and benefits of its officials, including regional directors, who have unliquidated cash advances.

Arroyo, 4 others face plunder raps over Iloilo land sale

Yet another criminal complaint was filed against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, this time a plunder case with four others for the allegedly anomalous sale of the old Iloilo airport property in 2007.

SC: No TRO needed yet vs Aquino's three EOs

The Supreme Court saw no pressing need to restrain the implementation of President Benigno Aquino III's first three executive orders, whose legality are being challenged by aggrieved parties.

Biazon bares 'rumblings' in military

MANILA, Philippines - Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon on Tuesday revealed that there are "rumblings" again in the military over the promotions and appointments in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Angue 'demotion' could cause AFP instability - lawmakers

Two lawmakers on Tuesday warned against the possible instability in the Armed Forces due to the alleged 'demotion' of Rear Admiral Feliciano Angue.

'Name names,' David dares disgruntled officer

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Ricardo David on Tuesday dared a disgruntled officer to identify those in the military who have allegedly engaged in politics during the last general elections in May.

Navy chopper crashes near Zamboanga

MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine Navy Bolkov helicopter PNH411 crashed in the sea between Great Santa Cruz and Little Santa Cruz islands near Zamboanga City around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The ill-fated chopper, on a routine flight mission, was carrying two pilots, a crew member and two Navy passengers on board. 

Those who were rescued were — PO2 Rodolfo Pataueg, PO2 Noel Ridad, and PO2 Abdon Martinez, who are now safe at Camp Navarro General Hospital. 

Meanwhile, Navy personnel, including divers, are conducting an intensive search for the pilots. The identities of the pilots have not yet been revealed as of posting time.

Mancao alleges bribe try by Lacson emissaries

In an interview, Mancao said the offers allegedly came from common friends. He said he turned down the bribes and refused to back out of the case against Lacson.

Special DOJ team eyed to look into killings during Arroyo admin

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday said she may form a group of prosecutors that will zero in on the extrajudicial killings that occurred during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration.

Torture video incurs citizens' ire

MANILA, Philippines – The TV Patrol exclusive video shown Tuesday of a robbery suspect being tortured by an alleged police officer whipped a storm of condemnation in the Internet.

The video showed a naked man in a fetal position on the floor of an alleged police precinct, his genitals supposedly bound with a rope.

Another man wearing a white shirt and shorts is then seen whipping the victim's face and torso with a rope while heaping curses on him. "Dito bawal ang snatcher ha," the man said.

The man is also seen ordering the victim to remove his hands from his genitals while pulling the rope, making the victim cry out in pain.

The video also shows a police officer seemingly using his cell phone to text someone.

Judge sets start of Maguindanao massacre trial on Sept. 1

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes terminated a series of pre-trial hearings on Tuesday and set for Sept. 1.

Prosecution wants Arroyo to stand as 'hostile witness' in Ampatuan trial

A lawyer representing some of the victims in the November 23 Maguindanao massacre on Tuesday asked the local court handling the multiple murder case to summon former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in an effort to prove her link to the Ampatuan clan, some of whose members are on trial for the killings.

Charter change necessary to achieve peace -- MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continues to view Charter change as an important part of the Philippine government's effort to reach a peace settlement with the Moro rebel group.

Palace throws cold water on Charter change talk

(UPDATE) Charter change isn't a priority, according to Malacañang in reaction to statements by a top government negotiator that the Aquino government has become open to constitutional amendments to accommodate rebel demands for an expanded autonomy.

UNFPA official bats for contraception

MANILA, Philippines – Rather than have women resort to unsafe abortions, the government should promote contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies, a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) official said Tuesday.
Suneeta Mukherjee, UNFPA representative to the Philippines, said women should have information and access to family planning. 

Local court nixes stay order on cigarette graphic warning

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) has obtained its first victory in five legal battles in the implementation of an order requiring graphic warnings on cigarette packs.

DepEd hopes to breed young RP scientists

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Education (DepEd) has launched this year's Science and Technology Fair in an effort to raise a new breed of scientists from high schools all over the country.

$1: P45.170

$1: P45.170 (P45.40)

Euro 1: P58.3079

Lawmaker: PSALM should withdraw power rate hike petitions

A neophyte lawmaker on Tuesday said that the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. should withdraw its petitions to increase power rates by P1.4525 per kilowatt hour until it can explain what happened to the money from the privatization National Power Corp.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said that the privatization of 91.8 percent of Napocor assets generated $10.6 billion.

Of the amount, $3.39 billion was realized from the sale of 25 generating plants, $44.5 million from assets turned over to independent power producers, $7.3 million from decommissioned power plants, $3.95 billion from the concession of National Transmission Corp. or TransCo, and $3.229 billion from the transfer of Napocor-IPP contracts to an independent power producer administrator.

From May 2009 to April 2010, PSALM obtained $2.8 billion in new loans but paid only $1.3 billion of Napocor's $5.3-billion debt after the national government absorbed about $4 billion of Napocor's obligations, Evardone said.

"If PSALM generated $10.6 billion from privatization and $2.8 billion [from] new loans or a total of $13.4 billion and prepaid only $1.3 billion of Napocor's debts, where did the $12.1 billion go," he said.

"Had PSALM used all the proceeds of the privatization, the Napocor debts could have been wiped out already hence there would be no more increases in electricity rates through the universal charge to pay the stranded debts and stranded contract costs contained in the petitions with the Energy Regulatory Commission," he said.

PSALM had filed four petitions before the ERC to recover P22 billion in stranded contract cost of seven independent power producers or IPPs in Luzon, P470.8 billion in stranded debts, P26.6 billion in stranded contract cost for seven IPPs, and P54.8 billion in stranded debts.

If approved, the rates would increase by P1.4525 per kWh.

The Philippines charges the third, if not the second, most expensive electricity rates in the world, according to Evardone.

"Since PSALM has not yet explained where the proceeds of the privatization went, it would be to the best interest of the Filipino consumers if these petitions are withdrawn first. Obviously, this would be a heavy burden on the part of the people," he said.

The lawmaker earlier filed House Resolution 106 ordering the House energy committee to investigate the financial condition and funding of PSALM and NPC, the status and schedule of payments of Napocor's stranded debts and contract costs.

Naga power complex auction delayed

MANILA, Philippines - Bidding for the Naga power plant complex's contracted capacity has been postponed.

"Yes, (this is due) to bidders' request," Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said.

The auction of the Naga independent power producer administrator (IPPA) contract was set for Wednesday, August 18. Almendras said there is "no new schedule yet" for the bidding.

Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) vice president for electricity trading Conrad Tolentino said interested parties have requested more time to study the new terms of the bidding. PSALM is the government agency tasked to manage the privatization of state power assets.

So far, 3 firms have signified keen interest to manage the contracted capacity of the Naga plant. These were Salcon Power Corp., SM Energy Corp. and Pacifica Inc.

The Naga facility consists of the 39-megawatt Cebu Diesel Power Plant 1, and the Cebu 1 and Cebu 2 coal-fired power plants, with total installed capacity of 110 MW.

Sale of the Naga IPPA contract is vital in reaching the 70% privatization threshold that will enable open access in the power industry.

PSALM is the agency mandated by the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 to privatize at least 70% of National Power Corp.'s power plants and its contracts with third-party power producers.

PAL, flight attendants fail to resolve labor row

MANILA, Philippines - The management of Philippine Airlines and the PAL Flight Attendants and Stewards Association (FASAP) failed to break the deadlock with both sides unwilling to change their stance.

DOF not keen on Ramon Ang's $10-B offer for PAGCOR

MANILA, Philippines - The government is not satisfied with the $10-billion offer of businessman and San Miguel Corp. Vice-Chairman Ramon S. Ang for Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

Gov't plans $2.5-B foreign debt issues in 2011

by Reuters
MANILA, Philippines - The country  is planning gross borrowing of P772.9 billion  ($17.1 billion) in 2011, up 2.4%  from this year, National Treasurer Roberto Tan said on Tuesday, with the government planning to increase spending.

36 killed, hundreds injured in new China flooding

(Updated 10:35 a.m.) BEIJING - At least 36 people have died and 23 others are missing in fresh flooding from torrential rains in China's Gansu province, the latest in a string of natural disasters to strike China.

59 die in suicide attack on Iraq army recruitment center

BAGHDAD—A suicide bomber blew himself up at a crowded army recruitment center in Baghdad killing 59 people Tuesday, officials said, as violence coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan raged across Iraq.

Afghan archaeologists find Buddhist site as war rages

by By Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters
KABUL, Afghanistan - Archaeologists in Afghanistan, where Taliban Islamists are fighting the Western-backed government, have uncovered Buddhist-era remains in an area south of Kabul, an official said on Tuesday.

Kris earned P300M during 5-yr marriage to Yap: source

MANILA, Philippines – The separation of estranged couple Kris Aquino and James Yap is expected to heat up further once both parties take up the issue of division of their multi-million marital assets or property.

Krista, hubby mull grand Manila wedding

MANILA, Philippines – Newlyweds Krista Ranillo and Jefferson Nino Lim are planning to hold a grand wedding ceremony in the Philippines next year.

House team leaving for Hong Kong for Singson hearing

A team from the House of Representatives is set to fly to Hong Kong Wednesday to observe court proceedings in the drug trafficking case of Ilocos Sur Representative Ronald Singson.

DNA shows Fischer was not Filipino girl's father—lawyer

REYKJAVIK—DNA tests on the body of chess legend Bobby Fischer show he is not the father of a nine-year-old Filipino girl at the center of a row over his estate, a lawyer for a rival claimant said Tuesday.

Screen star Michael Douglas in fight with throat cancer

LOS ANGELES—Oscar-winning US actor Michael Douglas, 65, is fighting throat cancer and will undergo chemotherapy, People magazine reported Monday.

John Lennon's letter to UK singer arrives 34 years late

LONDON, United Kingdom—A British folk singer who expressed fears that success and wealth could ruin his songwriting revealed Monday how John Lennon sent him a letter of reassurance—but it did not reach him for 34 years.

Steve Tilston was just 21 in 1971 when the megastar read an interview he had done with a magazine called ZigZag.

Lennon penned a hand-written letter to the aspiring singer just months after the Beatles split up in 1970, telling him not to worry about becoming wealthy because it would not change what he felt inside.

The correspondence was signed by Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono.

He sent the letter to Tilston and the reporter who interviewed him at the magazine's offices, but for some reason it never reached the musician.

The first time he saw it was in 2005 when an American collector contacted him to verify whether the letter—estimated to be worth 7,000 pounds (11,000 dollars, 8,500 euros)—was genuine.

It was 25 years after Lennon had been shot dead.

"It was so frustrating because Lennon even included his home phone number on the top of the letter," said the 60-year-old. "I know it's silly but I wanted to ring him up across the ages."

Tilston added he "felt rather angry to start with to think that someone had just sold the letter rather than passing it on to me, but you have to let these things go."

Lennon wrote to Tilston: "Being rich doesn't change your experience in the way you think.
"The only difference, basically, is that you don't have to worry about money—food—roof etc.

"But all other experiences—emotions—relationships—are the same as anybodies, I know, I've been rich and poor, so has Yoko (rich—poor—rich) so whadya think of that.

"Love John and Yoko."

Despite not receiving Lennon's reassuring words, Tilston still went on to record more than 20 albums and will mark his 40-year career with a special concert next month.

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