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

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

August 4, 2010 Major News Stories

Tensions Escalate in Compostela: Two men shoot ex-mayor dead

The peace that had prevailed despite the tensions from the last elections in the town of Compostela may have been shattered the other night when one of its former mayors was gunned down along the highway.

The victim was identified as Joselito 'Cocoy' Valencia Reynes, 62 years old, who also served as a councilor for three terms prior to being the campaign manager of mayor-elect Joel Quiño in the May elections.

Although Quiño was earlier proclaimed winner by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), he has not been able to sit as mayor as this has been held due to a protest filed by defeated reelectionist candidate Ritchie Wagas.

In fact, Pedro Noval, regional director of the Department of Interior and Local Government-7, now sits as mayor of the town on an acting capacity until this stand off shall be resolved.

Reynes was with Quiño at the wake of one of their townmates before he was shot dead in barangay Estaca, which is about 25 kilometers north of Cebu City.

Reynes, who was shot while still inside his car, sustained wounds on his heart, left lung and left shoulder.

He was mayor of the town from 1980 to 1986.

After serving for three terms as councilor from 2001 to 2010, he managed Quiño's campaign and also served as the latter's spokesman amidst the tension brought about by the standoff.

Police investigators learned that Reynes and Quiño parted ways around 11 p.m. and while the mayor-elect went straight home, the former reportedly stopped his car, a red Hyundai Accent, near a store along the highway.

It was at this point when two men riding in tandem on a motorcycle came abreast and the back rider pulled out a gun then fired thrice even before Reynes could get out of his vehicle.

Town policemen led by SPO4 Florencio Balila rushed to scene and a passing ambulance was hailed to take the victim to the nearby Danao City General Hospital.

From there, he was brought to a hospital in Cebu City where he was declared dead on arrival.

Police recovered three empty 9 mm shells at the crime scene.

Sr. Supt. Erson Digal, Director of Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO), said that they are looking into the possibility that the killing may have been due to politics or a personal grudge.

The town's elected officials in the last election headed by Quiño were barred from sitting after the Comelec 2nd Division ordered the suspension of the proclamation pending resolution of the election protest of former mayor Wagas.

Quiño, when asked for comment said that the different angles must be considered.

Quiño said that he has also received information about threats to his life prior to the killing of Reynes. He added that some of his supporters also complained that their houses were strafed.

Quiño, however, called for calm to prevail despite the threats.

He said that it was Reynes, who served as his main man handling the protest of the camp of Wagas.

"Iya pa ko ana kanunay ingnan na ayaw kumpiyansa, ayaw'g lakaw kung ikaw ra usa. Sa sige niya ug tan-aw diri nako, wa na siya kabantay sa iyang kaugalingon," Quiño lamented.

He added, "Tagaan lang nila og pagtagad ang among lungsod kay miabot na ang akong gikahadlukan na naa na'y nabuhi na nakalas."

Chief Supt. Lani-O Nerez, Police Regional Office-7 Director, ordered Digal to detail at least two police security escorts to Quiño considering the threat to his life.

Digal has ordered the head of the Provincial Investigation and Detective Management Branch, Sr. Insp. Reuben Cuizon, to help the Compostela Police in the investigation and gather more witnesses.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group is also helping in the investigation, Digal said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nestor Sator of the PNP Crime Laboratory, who conducted the autopsy at St. Peter Memorial Chapels, said Reynes had fatal gunshot wounds on his heart, left lung.

Registration for barangay, SK polls starts Aug 4

MANILA, Philippines -  The registration of voters for the upcoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections will start on Wednesday.

AFP: Make ROTC mandatory again

MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (ROTC) is proposing to make the Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC) mandatory again for male college students.

Palace: No decision yet on excess NFA rice

MANILA, Philippines -  The Philippine government has yet to decide on what to do with tons of surplus rice that was imported by the previous administration.

Tungro virus hits Negros Oriental rice fields

MANILA, Philippines - The farmers of Negros Oriental are facing yet another problem in their rice fields.

The virus known as Tungro recently affected more than 50% of the rice fields in selected barangays in Negros Oriental. In a study conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Negros Oriental, Tanjay City proved to have the worst case scenario.

About 50 hectares of rice fields in Tanjay City are already infected.

Recto seeks power rates hike probed

A senator is seeking a congressional inquiry into the series of power rate hikes in the country allegedly due to, among other things, the inclusion of fat bonuses of PSALM executives.

Gov't won't take over PAL amid pilots' resignations -- Palace

Malacañang shot down overtures of a government takeover of the Philippine Airlines on Tuesday, saying it was confident a solution to the hasty departure of 25 pilots to competitors could still be found.

PAL claims operations are back to normal

MANILA, Philippines - Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) claimed on Tuesday afternoon that its operations have returned to "normal" despite an ongoing labor dispute between management and a number of resigned pilots.

PAL can't stop pilots from seeking greener pastures, says labor group

Philippine Airlines cannot stop its pilots from seeking better-paying jobs overseas and then force them to fly its planes, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said Tuesday.

No date yet for PAL attendants' planned strike

Flight attendants employed by Philippine Airlines (PAL) have yet to decide whether or not they would push through with their their planned strike, three years after their labor agreement with the country's flag carrier expired.

DOLE: Increase in daily wage will be at least P15

Department of Labor and Employment-7 regional director Elias Cayanong yesterday assured employees in the private sector that the increase of their daily salary will not be less than P15.

Government approves wage hikes in Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines -- The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) on Tuesday said that the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards have approved wage hikes for 3 regions in Mindanao.

Warning issued vs agencies recruiting underage HSWs

MANILA, Philippines – Civil and criminal charges will be filed against recruiters and placement agencies that hire minors to work as household service workers (HSW) abroad.

24 Pinoys seek help in US to prosecute RP recruiter

by By Balitang America Staff
MISSISSIPPI - Twenty-four Filipino workers in Mississippi are asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help prosecute the Filipino labor recruitment agency that brought them to the US.

Filipino workers' immigration lawyer Elaine Carr, said the DHS is now building a case of human trafficking against Z-Drive Agency, a recruitment company in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

The complainants are now in the Witness Protection Program. One of them, who did not want to be named, told Balitang America that Z-Drive Agency misled them about the type of work they would do in the US.

The worker also alleged that the recruiters refused to release their US visas and passports for 6 months until they paid P250,000 (about $50,000) in fees.

The worker told Balitang America that he and other workers were forced to accept any jobs they could take in the US to pay off heavy debts they incurred to pay the recruiter.

"Their families in the Philippines are now being harassed by lenders," Carr said.

Carr said her clients were promised work in Mississippi hotels, but were instead forced to work in farms and forests for about $4 an hour, below the state minimum wage.

As of posting time, ABS-CBN News still had not gotten a reply from Z-Drive Recruitment Agency. Balitang America

Vice guv revives issues behind CICC contract

VICE Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr. revived last Monday the issue of Capitol's alleged splitting of contracts for the construction of the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) in 2007.

Sanchez gave reporters a document, presenting phase 1 and phase 2 of the project that contained an identical contract amount of P59, 611,997.92. He said this violated Republic Act 9184 or the Procurement Law.

Since the Provincial Government only approved a budget of P100 million, Sanchez said the Capitol split the contract so it can be awarded to the contractor, WT Construction Inc., because it has exceeded the budget allowable.

WT Construction won the public bidding for phase one. The second phase was directly awarded to WT Construction since it is a "contiguous" project.

But Sanchez accused the Capitol of violating the law against the splitting of contracts.

"They just immediately divided the amount into two. It is impossible that the contract amount would be equal down to the last centavo," Sanchez said in an interview yesterday.

Sought for comment, Capitol consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda said the issue has long been settled.

"Bahaw naman kaayo na nga issue oy. Kung wan-a siya kasabot, pabasaha na siya ug balik (That is a very old issue. If he did not understand it, let him read again)," Sepulveda said.

"He (Sanchez), at some point, even defended the same issue," Sepulveda added.

He said Sanchez may only be fussing about the issue because he wants to be "relevant."

"Mubuhat nalang ug bisan unsa para ma-cover sa media," Sepulveda said.

He said the vice governor could go to the Commission on Audit because the project has long been audited.

At the time the issue first raised in 2007, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said they could not be accused of splitting a contract because no contract could be made yet for the CICC in the first place.

As for the awarding of the contract for phase 2 to WT, Garcia said a negotiated procurement was allowed under RA 9184.

She cited Section 48, which allows the alternative method if "subject contract is adjacent or contiguous, provided that the original contract is a result of a competitive bidding."

Garcia said work on substructure and superstructure is contiguous, and the original contract for WT was a result of a public bidding.

Bernaldez: Sans fine, motorcycle should not have been released

Cebu City legal officer Joseph Bernaldez yesterday said the motorcycle of the errand boy of former Capitol consultant Byron Garcia should not have been released without the corresponding payment of the fine.

Governor slams lingam, says massage will not be tolerated

Just two days after Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young said lingam massage is welcome in Cebu City, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia said the controversial massage will not have a space in the province.

Guv orders probe on loss of towel in resort

"NO wang-wang, no taking home of towels."

This should be the new motto of the Liberal Party, joked Provincial Board (PB) Member Arleigh Sitoy, who was accused of losing a towel in a resort in a northern town over the weekend.

Sitoy, a member of the opposition, was among those who attended the consultative meeting of all PB members organized by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.

In her press conference yesterday, Garcia said when the bill came, there was a charge for a towel from the room of Sitoy.

But Garcia said only Sitoy's staff members slept there.

In the same conference, Garcia said Sitoy's driver parked illegally at the entrance of the resort and was rude when reprimanded about it.

Garcia ordered an investigation on both "embarrassing" incidents.

Sitoy said he will submit his staff and his driver to the investigation.

"I will cooperate... I apologize to the governor because it happened inside my room, under the watch of my staff and under my command responsibility," said Sitoy on the lost towel.

Sitoy's legislative staff Julius Regner said he and three others slept in the room assigned to Sitoy because Sitoy went home Saturday night while his staff stayed to take down notes of the consultative meeting.

Regner said he and his colleagues will submit to the investigation by the Capitol committee on discipline and investigation and confirmed that a representative from the committee called Sitoy's office informing them of an investigation.

"The fact nga gikuha, pangawat man na (The fact that the towel was taken, that was theft)," said Garcia.

Regner said the towel could have been inadvertently taken home or left at the beach when the person went swimming.

"Proven or not, I apologize and I will pay for the towel with my personal money," said Sitoy.

But Sitoy defended his personal driver, saying he is not a rude person, but rather, a jittery person.

He will also have him investigated even if the driver is not a Capitol employee.

Garcia said the hotel staff informed her staff that Sitoy's vehicle was parked at the entrance of the hotel.

When the driver was told to park at the designated parking area, the driver allegedly berated the staff.

"I will not countenance that here," said Garcia.

At first, Garcia did not name Sitoy while addressing the alleged infractions of the staff, but later gave out the name to be fair to the other PB members.

The consultative meeting was aimed for the chief executive to present the administration's achievements in the last six years.

Only two PB members did not attend—PB Member Peter John Calderon, who is out of the country, and PB Member Bea Mercede Calderon, the Sangguniang Kabataan representative, who had a school activity.

Meanwhile, Garcia said she found it strange for Sitoy to oppose a resolution that gave her the authority to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Bfar).

She said the MOA is for the establishment of Enterprise Development Unit (EDU) in each local government unit and in compliance with a national policy laid out by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under Bfar.

"I could not understand why he kept on objecting. I was told that this dragged the session on and on and on until he mentioned he was apprehensive that this may run counter to a Cordova (ordinance)," she added.

Garcia said Cordova turned over the management of a protected area to a private group, where Sitoy's brother-in-law belongs.

"So now, I'm beginning to wonder why is he objecting to this?

Was it really for the general good or for a certain pecuniary interest as far as Cordova is concerned?" she added.

Sitoy said he was not opposed to the resolution but he only wanted to know the structure of EDU.

The former Cordova mayor also wanted to know the basis for establishing the EDU and the Integrated Coastal Resource Management Project (ICRMP).

He said the resolution, sponsored by PB Member Alex Binghay, has no attachment about the ICRMP.

"Is it wrong to ask?" he said.

He also denied he is protecting a brother-in-law.

But he admitted the wife of the Korean national, who manages the Nalusuan Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary in Cordova, is his half-sister.

Guard dog attacks girl at Capitol

A strange incident occurred at the Capitol grounds yesterday morning when the guard dog of the provincial government bit a four-year-old child who was running passed by the dog.

The child, Aira Marie Labitad, is the daughter of a fruit vendor who maintains a stall outside the Capitol.

Witnesses said the child was running with a friend towards one of the booths of the agri-fair at the Capitol grounds when the guard dog attacked her and bit her on the left side of her body. The guard dog reportedly was about to bite the second time, but its handler managed to stop the attack by holding the dog's mouth open.

The handler also sustained a wound on his hand.

Both the child and the handler were brought to the Provincial Health Clinic for immediate treatment. Governor Gwendolyn Garcia said financial assistance will be extended upon recommendation of the Provincial Social Welfare Office that is monitoring the child's condition.

The provincial government has since acquired the services of guard dogs, but it was the first time yesterday that a K9 unit bit someone.

Statistics issued by the Animal Bite Treatment Center of the Cebu City Health Department early this year revealed that the number of persons bitten by dogs is increasing since 1999, but the casualties had dropped.

Last year alone, a total of 3,731 persons were bitten by dogs in different barangays of Cebu City although only one of them died of rabies.

In 1999, there were only 1,096 persons bitten mostly by stray dogs, but while there were fewer victims, five of them had died of rabies virus, said Dr. Susan Adlawan, head of the Animal Bite Treatment Center.

Records also show that in 2000, the number of reported dog bites had climbed to 1,796 with nine deaths. In 2001, the number of persons bitten by dogs rose to 1,955 with five deaths and increased to 2,058 with 10 deaths in 2002.

Adlawan said there were 2,030 dog bite victims in 2003 and the number climbed to 3,084 the following year. The number again rose to 3,088 in 2005, then to 3,469 in 2006, and then to 3,792 in 2007. She added there were 3,421 dog bites victims in 2008 and 3,731 last year.

Despite of the increasing number of dog bites victims the past decade, Adlawan proudly announced that the number of deaths due to rabies had went down. Only one casualty was recorded in 2003 and 2004, three the following year, two in 2006 and zero deaths in 2007 and 2008. 

Gwen's daughter now part of city beautification council

Governor Gwendolyn Garcia's daughter, Ma. Esperanza Christina Frasco, has volunteered to be part of the Cebu City's super beautification council that will rehabilitate Osmeña Boulevard and the rest of the city.

P221 million budget for Rama's first 100 days okayed

The Cebu City Council yesterday approved the P221 million supplemental budgets for Mayor Michael Rama's programs and projects within his first 100 days.

Cutie wants two more flyovers in the north

Another two flyovers in Cebu City north district were proposed for construction to reduce traffic congestion and ensure the uninterrupted flow of traffic.

In House Bill 820 and HB 851, Rep. Rachel Marguerite "Cutie" del Mar proposed a flyover be constructed at the junction of M.J. Cuenco Ave. and Gen. Maxilom Ave., and another at the junction of Gorordo Ave. and Archbishop Reyes Ave.

Kamputhaw sitio placed under state of calamity

The Cebu City Council has placed sitio Care, Barangay Kamputhaw under a state of calamity following the July 26 fire that left 67 families homeless.

Rama to protect Apas residents from eviction

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama promised assistance for the members of the Four Roses Neighborhood Association, Inc. in Sitio San Miguel, Barangay Apas who are facing eviction from the property they have been occupying for 50 years.

Teacher gets three years imprisonment

A public school teacher in Bogo City was sentenced by the Supreme Court to suffer three years imprisonment after she was found guilty of direct assault resulting to unintentional abortion of a co-teacher 29 years ago.

Lydia Gelig was only supposed to serve 30 days imprisonment after the Court of Appeals downgraded her earlier conviction for direct assault with unintentional abortion before the Regional Trial Court to only slight physical injuries.

Instead of the four years and two months conviction with the RTC the appellate court only sentenced her to 30 days imprisonment. But, Gelig was not satisfied with it, she would have wanted acquittal prompting her to elevate the case before the Supreme Court.

However instead of acquittal the high tribunal modified the appellate court's decision. The Supreme Court increased the penalty from 30 days to three years.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo promulgated last July 28, 2010, the high tribunal ruled the Court of Appeals erred in finding Gelig only guilty of slight physical injuries instead of direct assault with unintentional abortion.

The case stemmed from Gelig's attacking her co-teacher, Gemma Micarsos, in July 17, 1981 while the latter was attending to her class at the Nailon Elementary School.

Gelig barged into Micarsos' classroom, slapped the victim and pushed her on the ground causing miscarriage to the pregnant teacher.

Gelig was angry at her co-teacher for allegedly calling her son a "sissy."

Palace sees fair SC ruling on Truth Commission

MANILA, Philippines - Despite having been appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the magistrates of the Supreme Court will be fair in judging the legality of the Truth Commission, Malacañang said.

2nd impeachment rap against Ombudsman filed

MANILA, Philippines - Militant groups on Tuesday filed an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, the second received by the House of Representatives only a few days after the opening of its session.

8 more House committees filled up

Eight more committees in the House of Representatives were filled up, including the committee on constitutional amendments, which will be headed by a member of the Liberal Party.

Majority leader and Mandaluyong Representative Neptali Gonzales II read out the chairpersons and members of the eight committees in plenary Tuesday night.

Misamis Occidental Representative Loreto Ocampos, former chairman of the League of Provinces of the Philippines who jumped to LP from Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats late last year, will head the constitutional amendments committee.

The bills and resolutions filed before the chamber calling for amendments to the 1987 Constitution will fall into this committee.

Also getting committee chairmanship are Leyte Representative Sergio Apostol (banks and financial intermediaries), Cebu Representative Benhur Salimbangon (aquaculture), Sorsogon Representative Salvador Escudero (basic education), Coop-Natcco partylist Representative Jose Ping-Ay (cooperatives development), Iligan City Representative Vicente Belmonte (dangerous drugs), and, Laguna Representative Danilo Fernandez (ecology).

Earlier, the following lawmakers were designated heads of committees: Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr. (justice), An Waray partylist Representative Florencio "Bem" Noel (accounts), Batangas Representative Mark Llandro Mendoza (agriculture), and Negros Oriental Representative Henry Pryde Teves (agrarian reform).

The House has 59 regular committees and 11 special committees in the 14th Congress.

Poll tribunal clears review of vice-presidential race

THE PRESIDENTIAL Electoral Tribunal (PET) has cleared the counter-protest of Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay against former senator Manuel A. Roxas II, declaring it "sufficient in form and substance" a day after the case was filed with the tribunal.

Optimism at record high under Aquino: Pulse Asia

by By David Dizon,
MANILA, Philippines - Optimism among Filipinos is now at its highest level since the 1997 Asian financial crisis due to the ascendancy of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, a new survey by private pollster Pulse Asia revealed Tuesday.

The survey, which was conducted last July 1 to 11 or during the first few days of the Aquino administration, showed that 53% of Filipinos believe that their personal quality of life will change for the better by next year, compared to 32% optimism last March. On the other hand, pessimism dropped from 26% in March to 11% in July. Only 35% of Filipinos feel that there will be no change in their lives by next year.

"The highest optimism rate ever recorded was the month before the Asian financial crisis. Optimism now is actually higher than before the financial crisis," Pulse Asia chief research fellow Dr. Maria Ana Tabunda told

On the other hand, she said net pessimism hit its peak in July 2008 at the height of the rice and oil price crises.

Tabunda said the high optimism rate is directly related to the new administration, which has a record of honesty. "I think more people believe that there will be positive change in their lives because of the new president," she said.

The survey showed that optimism increased across all geographic areas and socioeconomic classes in July. The highest optimism rate was recorded among respondents from National Capital Region (66%) and among Class ABC respondents.

It showed that 56% of Filipinos believe that the country will be better off by next year, compared to 31% who said it will remain the same and 13% who said it will be worse.

Tabunda said another significant finding in the new survey is that Filipinos are becoming more hopeful for the country. She said 88% of Filipinos disagree with the statement that "this country (the Philippines) is hopeless" compared to 4% who agree.

In past Pulse Asia surveys, agreement that the Philippines is hopeless was as high as 18% in 2006 and 2007. "It just shows that Filipinos are becoming more hopeful because they have more reason to believe that the situation will get better instead of worsen," he said.

A total of 1,200 respondents participated in the survey.

Verzosa gets 3rd highest trust rating

Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa got the third highest trust rating among appointed national officials, results of a recent survey revealed.

Verzosa garnered a 67 percent approval rating in the July Ulat ng Bayan report of survey firm Pulse Asia on Presidential Trust Ratings, Presidential Appointments, and Expectations for the First Six Months
of the Aquino Administration.

Verzosa tied with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo for third place in the survey, which was conducted from July 1 to 11 among 1,200 respondents.

At first place is Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman with 72 percent, and at second place is Justice Secretary Leila de Lima at 69 percent. 
The survey was conducted using face-to-face interviews.

Other appointed national officials with high public approval ratings are:

AFP Chief of Staff General Ric David, 64 percent; DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, 62 percent; DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro, 58 percent; Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, 55 percent; and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, 50 percent. 
President Benigno Aquino III retained Verzosa as police chief upon the former's assumption to office.

Verzosa attributed the high ratings to the continuing process of transformation in the PNP organization.

"This only shows that the gains of the various transformation programs and initiatives that we have been doing in the PNP are already taking roots," Verzosa said.

DILG chief calls for status quo on police selection

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo on Tuesday urged the Philippine National Police to maintain the status quo and allow local chief executives to select police officials in their respective areas of jurisdiction, amid calls to amend the PNP Law.

SC OKs transfer of 'massacre cops' to Camp Crame

The Supreme Court has approved the transfer of several policemen implicated in the infamous Maguindanao massacre from a detention facility in Bicutan, Taguig, to the national police's main headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Aquino swears in 3 members of peace panel with MILF

President Aquino swore into office today three members of the government peace panel with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Marvic Leonen, dean of the University of the Philippines' College of Law, was named chairman of the government peace panel with the MILF. The other two members are Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Senen Bacani.

Ferrer is a political science professor at UP. She is also the lead convener of the citizens' network called Sulong CARHRIHL, which promotes observance of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law forged between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front.

Bacani, for his part, served as Agriculture Secretary during the presidency of late President Corazon Aquino. He is the chairman and president of La Frutera Inc., a banana export firm based in Maguindanao. La Frutera employs Muslim rebel returnees and helps promote peace and economic development in southern Philippines.

Controversies push DoJ to revamp BI

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice has recalled several immigration officials to the mother unit amid various controversies affecting the Bureau of Immigration.

DOJ moves to cancel Lacson's passport

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has started working for the cancellation of Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson's passport.

Filipina arrested for carrying illegal drugs at Bangkok airport

A Filipino woman was arrested sometime last weekend at the Bangkok International Airport for allegedly smuggling 4.16 kilos of cocaine into Thailand.

Reports reaching the Department of Foreign Affairs identified the suspected drug mule as Icoy Bethlehem Mamontong.

Lieutenant General Atitep Panjamanon, head of the Thai Narcotics Suppression Bureau, held a news conference on Monday in the Thai capital to announce the arrest of Mamontong.

The same reports also quoted the Bangkok-based The Nation newspaper as saying Mamontong was "arrested at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport upon arrival from Lima, Peru."

Mamontong, 32, was allegedly "hired for $4,000 to deliver the drugs to someone in Vietnam," the same publication also said.

As of this writing, the DFA has yet to comment on Mamontong's arrest.

The foreign office has been warning Filipino travelers against acting as drug mules in exchange for huge sums of money from illegal drug syndicates.

In February, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Administrative Order 279, which created the Anti-Drug Couriers Task Force to prevent Filipinos from being used as drug mules.

The body, co-chaired by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the DFA, is tasked to develop programs to prevent the recruitment of Filipinos as drug couriers and to closely coordinate for the apprehension and prosecution of drug trafficking syndicates operating in the country.

The task force also groups the Department of Labor and Employment, Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, National Bureau of Investigation, Manila International Airport Authority, and the Philippine Tourism Authority as members.

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. earlier said the government is taking proactive measures to address the issue.

Conejos reminded Filipino travelers to "be extra wary of accepting offers from individuals or groups to carry illegal drugs in their luggage when going abroad."

"We warn our countrymen not to accept packages which they suspect are illegal drugs. If they are caught carrying illegal drugs, they will face very dire consequences," he said.

Conejos noted that in the People's Republic of China, drug trafficking of illegal drugs is punishable by jail terms of at least 15 years, life imprisonment, or death.

On the other hand, the offense is punishable by death under the Shariah law in most Muslim countries.

A check with the DFA disclosed that nearly 200 Filipinos cited in drug-related cases in China.

At least six of them have been meted the death penalty without reprieve, 35 others face life imprisonment while 56 have been serving fixed jail terms.

DFA moves to help RP children facing deportation from Israel

The Department of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday it would be ready to repatriate or give the appropriate legal aid to Filipino children included in the list of 400 kids of undocumented migrant workers to be deported by the Israeli government.

Tambutso killing of dogs brutal, says welfare groups

MANILA, Philippines - Animal welfare groups are crying foul over an allegedly brutal, albeit legal, way of killing dogs in city pounds.

Fisheries Bureau: No more red tide in Bislig Bay

The Fisheries Bureau declared all shellfish and "alamang" harvested from Bislig Bay in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur free from red tide toxins.

$1: P45.330

$1: P45.330

Euro 1: P59.4109

Travel agencies: competitors can take over PAL routes

MANILA, Philippines - Travel agencies are urging other local airlines to pick up the slack in domestic air travel and service the routes affected by the impasse in the labor dispute between the management of Philippine Airlines and the 25 resigned pilots.

Legacy owner transferred to police camp

MANILA, Philippines - Legacy scam mastermind Celso de los Angeles has been arrested by police on Tuesday.

De los Angeles arrested for Legacy financing scam

(UPDATE) Businessman Celso de los Angeles, who has been charged with several syndicated estafa suits for defrauding rural bank depositors billions of pesos in deposits, was arrested, booked and detained, on Tuesday afternoon at the Quezon City Police District.

BSP eyes more estafa cases vs. Legacy's de los Angeles

The BSP is building up more estafa cases against businessman Celso de los Angeles, the principal suspect in the Legacy insurance and pension scam, the central bank's legal counsel said Tuesday.

42 killed in Iraq attacks as Al-Qaeda plants flag

KUT—Twin car bombs in south Iraq killed 33 people on Tuesday while Al-Qaeda fighters hoisted their flag having shot dead five police in Baghdad, a day after the US vowed no delays to a major troop pullout.

Obama: Combat mission in Iraq to end this month

by Reuters
ATLANTA - President Barack Obama vowed on Monday to make good on his promise to end US combat operations in Iraq by the end of August, despite a dangerous political deadlock in Baghdad and a recent surge in militant violence.

Lebanese troops killed, Israeli soldiers wounded in clashes

by Agence France-Presse
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist were killed and am Israeli soldier severely wounded on Tuesday in clashes between Lebanese and Israeli troops along the tense border, a Lebanese security official told AFP.

Donaire opts not to fight other Pinoy champs

by By Dennis Gasgonia,
MANILA, Philippines – WBA interim super flyweight champion Nonito Donaire is not one who backs away from a fight. But if offered to fight other Pinoy champs, he said he'd rather not.

Donaire wants undercard slot in Pacquiao's next fight

Nonito "The Filipino Flash" Donaire Jr. is setting his sights on fighting in one of the undercard bouts of an event that will be headlined by Manny Pacquiao in late 2010.

Lopez now WBC's No. 1 contender in his division

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino boxer Silvester Lopez moved up the World Boxing Council (WBC) rankings following his smashing win last weekend over former world champion Wandee Singwancha of Thailand.

Washington, Santos share PBA Best Player honor

MANILA, Philippines – Jay Washington and Arwind Santos shared the Accel-PBA Press Corps Co-Players of the Week honor for their remarkable performances in bringing San Miguel back to the PBA Fiesta Conference Finals.

'Lola' wins Best Cinematography at Durban film fest

MANILA, Philippines - Lola, a film directed by Cannes Palm d'Or awardee Brillante Mendoza, received recognition anew, this time at the 31st Durban International Film Festival held in South Africa from July 22 to August 1, 2010.

Charice graces cover of 'Reader's Digest Asia'

MANILA, Philippines – International singing sensation Charice has graced the cover of Reader's Digest Asia's August 2010 issue.

Robin gets Kris's OK to woo Mariel

MANILA, Philippines - Action star and "Pilipinas Win na Win" host Robin Padilla expressed his happiness that his former sweetheart Kris Aquino gave him the go signal to express his special feelings for actress-host Mariel Rodriguez, who is also part of the newest hit noontime show.

Facebook leads to arrest of Ivan Padilla gang members

They Facebook-ed and Twitter-ed their way right into the hands of the authorities.

The popular social networking site Facebook provided vital clues to police investigators in their hunt for the members of the Ivan Padilla robbery and carjacking group, police said.

Superintendent Leo Francisco, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office Intelligence Unit, told reporters in Camp Crame Tuesday morning that the Facebook account of the first member they arrested, Ryan Francisco, led to the identification of other members, including leader Ivan Padilla. 

Suspect Francisco's account eventually led to the accounts of the other members in other sites like Twitter, where the suspects even brazenly laid out their plans in plain view but couched in words they only understand.

"The Facebook and Twitter account gave important information. These told us how they exchanged information and their planned targets. We also saw that they use military terms," Francisco explained. "We used the Facebook account. That gave us the break."

The police official said that in April, a Korean reported the robbery of his unit in the Lafayette condominium building in Makati City last April. Police managed to track down the victim's laptop and arrested Francisco. 

During police interrogation, suspect Francisco spilled the beans and identified the other members of the group, which Francisco said numbered around 12-15 mostly young persons. The suspect also allowed police investigators to use his accounts in social networking sites like Facebook to track down and monitor the other suspects.

Francisco also said it was only a matter of time before they would have all the members of the group. "We have accounted for six but we count 10 to 15 members. They are lying low but we have the address and profiles of these persons."

Padilla was killed in what has been reported as a shootout with police in Makati Monday morning. His group has been tagged in the theft of vehicles belonging to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Roberto Romulo and the father of actor Derek Ramsay.

Francisco said the Ivan Padilla Group was responsible for at least four robberies in swanky addresses, two in the Lafayette building, one in Dasmariñas Village and another in Forbes, both in Makati.

NCRPO spokesman Supt. Rommel Miranda also told the INQUIRER they are hunting down three pretty female members of the group. 

Miranda said the females are key to the operation of the group. Prowling bars and upscale parties in the metropolis in sexy and alluring clothes, the females, all curvaceous mestizas, befriend their prospective victims, usually moneyed males. "They really dress up sexy and they look very sexy."

Once they befriend their victims, Miranda said the suspects use them to gain the trust of the victims and eventually, access to victim's residence, usually expensive condominium units in Makati. "They use girls to get acquainted with victims. Once they have access to the victim's residences and their vehicles, once the victims are vulnerable or when there's no one home, that's when the group strikes." The females also scout the vehicles of their victims, usually luxury cars and expensive SUVs, and inform the other group members of their potential targets. 

Miranda also said that the Twitter account of one the girls even confirmed to police that they were involved in a heist of a house somewhere in McKinley Road in Makati recently.

Francisco also profiled Padilla as a product of a broken family with a mother detained in a correctional facility and with a father residing in the Bicol Region. Growing up with his grandmother, Padilla became a heavy user of drugs. The drug use was what brought his gang members together on their road to a life of crime, with Padilla starting off on his own road to perdition when he was only 17 years old.

"They started as a barkada (gang) and drugs was their common denominator. Because of their drug habit, they wanted the easy money. They had some businesses but these didn't click. That's when they thought of the easy money," Francisco said.

He also said Padilla partied with former members of the so-called "Alabang Boys," another notorious crime group involved in illegal drugs and composed of young men of affluent backgrounds.

Francisco also said they are checking if Padilla's group is the same as the so-called "Bundol Gang," whose modus operandi of the gang is to wait for arriving travelers at airports, tail them and eventually waylay the victim's vehicle in a secluded area and divest them of their valuables.

House bill seeks add'l benefits, privileges for centenarians

A bill has been filed in the House of Representatives seeking additional benefits and privileges for Filipinos who will reach the age of 100.
"While we laud the youth as the hope of the future, let us commend and acknowledge centenarians as the fulfillment of the present," said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, author of House Bill 834 or the proposed "Centenarians Act of 2010."

In filing the bill, Lagman also wants the 25th of September every year declared as National Respect for Centenarians Day.

Based on the latest data of the National Statistics office, the country has 2,105 centenarians. The average life expectancy in the country is 71.6 years.

"We all aspire to live healthy, and consequently, long and productive lives. Living to be a centenarian, or three decades more than the average, is certainly a distinction worthy of emulation and public recognition," said Lagman.

Under the proposed measure, every Filipino residing in the Philippines or abroad who will celebrate his or her 100th birthday, shall be honored with a letter of felicitation from no less than the President of the Philippines congratulating the celebrant for his or her longevity

The birthday celebrator shall also be receiving a "centenarian's gift" in the amount of P100,000.000 chargeable against the contingent fund.

Also, as part of the annual Family Week celebration from September 19–28, all Filipinos who have turned 100 years old in the current fiscal year shall be awarded a plaque of recognition and a cash incentive by their respective city or municipal governments during the National Respect for Centenarians Day

This will be in addition to the presidential recognition and the cash gift of P100,000.00.

The bill also stated that Filipinos who reached their 100th birthday prior to the effectivity of the law shall be honored on the celebration of the First National Respect for Centenarians Day, or 120 days after the effectivity of the law, whichever comes earlier, in appropriate ceremonies which shall be observed as a national event. 

In the same event, posthumous plaques of recognition in honor of the deceased centenarians shall be presented to the nearest surviving relative of each centenarian or his/her representative.

All centenarians shall be entitled to the grant of 50 percent senior citizen discount and exemption from the Value Added Tax (VAT), if applicable, on the sale of the goods and services from all establishments.


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