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

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

August 5, 2010 Major News Stories



'Domeng' now a tropical storm; Signal no. 2 in 5 areas

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - Tropical depression "Domeng" has merged with a low pressure area east of Batanaes and intensified into a tropical storm, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Wednesday afternoon.

Friday is special non-working holiday in Cebu

In celebration of the 441st Founding Anniversary of the province of Cebu, there will be no classes and work in the entire province on Friday.


DOLE eyes 2-tiered wage system

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is considering a new two-tiered wage system as it hopes to improve the labor situation in the country.
National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) executive director Ciriaco Lagunzad III said this after consulting with representatives of the concerned sectors.

Lagunzad said this will replace the current system of minimum wage setting and eliminate "negative unintended outcomes" of the present system.

He said the negative outcomes include risks to inflation and unemployment; increasing informality; distortion of pay structures; weakening of the incentive for collective bargaining; and discouraging pay-for-performance schemes.

The proposed system will have two tiers or levels, the first of which is a mandatory national wage or floor wage.

The floor wage will protect the incomes of the most vulnerable sectors from undue low wages, Lagunzad said.

A second tier is a "productivity-based" approach to determining wages above the floor wage, to encourage improvement in performance.

"This should remove the disincentive for collective bargaining and promote bipartite modes in determining wages and other terms and conditions of work," the DOLE said.

Under the current minimum wage setting system, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards (RTWPBs) adjust minimum wages based either on a wage petition filed or on its own (Motu Propio).

Before decisions are made, the RTWPBs conduct a series of multi-sectoral consultations and public hearings to determine the effect of a wage adjustment on all sectors.

The trends or patterns in key socio-economic indicators, needs of workers, and capacity of employers to grant wage increases are likewise among the factors being considered by the RTWPBs in deciding on wage increases.

Lagunzad said RTWPBs are tripartite, with majority of the employers' and workers' representatives coming from the Employers' Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, respectively, the two being the largest and most dominant sectoral organizations.

He said the seven wage orders issued so far by the RTWPBs this year were based on the petitions filed with concerned Regional Boards.

The amounts of wage increase across regions vary: P22 in NCR; P15 in Region 6; P13 in Region 10; P21 in Region 11; P10 in Caraga; and P12 in ARMM. The new minimum wage of P404 in NCR took effect on July 1, 2010.

DOE bares program to realize 'fair electricity rates'

Energy Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras assured the public on Wednesday that government would be pursuing reforms to ensure fair electricity rates in the country.

Almendras laid down his roadmap towards achieving a so-called "optimal energy pricing," which also meant reflecting the true costs of power.

He advised consumers to bear with high electricity prices for now but assured them that the Department of Energy would be employing strategies to bring down the impending universal charges for stranded debts and contract costs, but also the other components of an electricity bill including generation, transmission and distribution costs.

The new energy chief was quick to add that the government would not be meddling into the affairs of private companies, but the DOE would help the local industry correct inefficiencies to lower the cost of electricity. Big economic modeling questions would be considered as ways to further lower electricity prices, Almendras added.

For one, the DOE is targeting to create an independent Reliability Council that will ensure the compliance of the electric power industry participants with their obligations as utility companies.

According to Almendras, the DOE seeks to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of rules on anti-competitive behavior and unfair trade practices to ensure that the public will not fall prey to price cartels or high electricity prices.

The government has also vowed to strictly enforce rules of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market, to prevent price surges, as what had happened earlier in 2010. In April, power distributor Manila Electric Co. had blamed the high WESM prices when electricity bills had more than doubled.

Meanwhile, Almendras said that the government would develop a framework for the pricing of indigenous energy sources as well as provide capacity building for the pricing of indigenous energy sources.

The DOE further vowed to resolve taxation (value added taxes) on the power rates, including the impact of the local government code on the existing and future operations and projects of the power stakeholders.

The Aquino administration is also set to review and revisit all fuel supply contracts in the upstream sector (e.g. natural gas which is benchmarked with international prices of oil); power supply contracting/power purchasing practices of distribution utilities; the operation of distribution utilities and National Grid Corporation of the Philippines; the privatization program of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp.; the provisions of the law on lifeline rates, mandated rate reduction, loan condonation and the cross subsidy removal; and the National Power Corp.'s existing special rates to various customers.

In two days: Police to file charges versus Reynes killers

The Cebu Provincial Police Office is confident that it can file charges against those involved in the killing of former Compostela town Mayor Joselito Reynes within two days.

Prosecution wants Ecleo on the witness stand

If the prosecution will be granted its wish, newly assumed Dinagat Island Rep. Ruben Ecleo will soon be sitting on the witness stand for a rebuttal in the parricide case filed against him for the death of his wife, Alona, who was strangled in January 2002.

Nurse refuses settlement with Joavan

The registered nurse who has accused Joavan Fernandez of pointing a gun at him during a conflict over traffic last June 4 has still refused to settle the case with the controversial son of Talisay City Mayor Socrates Fernandez.

Registration for barangay, SK elections start

Even if the scheduled October 25 barangay elections remain uncertain because of various petitions to have it postponed, the Commission on Elections yesterday started the registration for the said political exercise.

Meca-Gullas tandem wins: One Cebu dominates PCL elections

It was a landslide victory for One Cebu Party as it yesterday clinched all the positions in the Philippine Councilors League.

Yapha wary of multicab offer from Tomas

Former Pinamungajan mayor Jeffrey Yapha, who now sits as the town's vice mayor, said they will first study closely the reported offer of Cebu City South District Rep. Tomas Yapha to give them a multicab.

Rama asks P.Noy: Keep Malacañang sa Sugbo

The Cebu City government is asking President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to keep the Malacañang sa Sugbo or convert it into a museum if he is not interested to use it instead of returning it to the Bureau of Customs.

Pending relocation: Rama asks court to allow Apas folk to stay longer

No less than Mayor Michael Rama is asking the court not to demolish the houses of those occupying controversial Lot 937 in Barangay Apas until such time that the city finds a relocation site for the residents.

Education secretary pushes for additional years in school

Department of Education Secretary Armin Luistro is pushing for the "enhancement" of basic education program by extending it 12 years instead of the usual 10 years.

Planes 'too old': DepEd chief says

DEPARTMENT of Education (DepEd) Sec. Armin Luistro said yesterday he was surprised to learn the department owns three planes that are over 40 years old.

NGOs: Organic farming key to food security

Various farmers' associations and non-government organizations that are members of the Cebu Coalition for Food Security (CCFS) want to meet the new agriculture secretary to ask support in the implementation of organic farming in the province.

'Captain Ball' directed 2004 election cheating, says Navy officer

A "very influential person" called the shots in the military operation to rig the 2004 presidential election, according to a senior military official who divulged this week details of the alleged cheating in his former area of responsibility.

Rear Adm. Feliciano Angue, currently chief of the Armed Forces' National Capital Region Command, said this influential person, whom he refused to identify and referred to only as "Captain Ball," personally directed the cheating operations and even threatened him when he refused to cooperate.

"Captain ball" is another term for the captain of a basketball team.

"For now I don't want to talk about personalities. When I testify (before the Truth Commission) I will reveal who this person is," Angue said in Filipino when interviewed by reporters inside his NCRCom office on Wednesday.

But he gave a hint when pressed.

"When you are the captain ball, you are the head of the team. Take it from there. When he gives an order, he will be followed. That's how powerful he was," he said.

"He said, 'If you do not do as I say, then look for the farthest place where you will be banished.' After the elections there was a threat of physical elimination," Angue continued, still speaking in a mixture of English and Filipino.

"He was a very influential person," he said, adding: "He personally went around to talk to people. He went to see me. He came to see me to give me a dressing down."

Angue was the overall commander in Tawi-Tawi during the 2004 election as head of the Naval Task Force 62.

He recalled how, before the elections, two local candidates in Tawi-Tawi told him that "Captain Ball" had told them to back out because he had the military, police and the Commission on Elections in control.

Angue said that shortly before the elections, this same "Captain Ball" gave the order that soldiers should serve as members of the board of election inspectors instead of public school teachers. He said there was also an order to distribute the ballots and other election paraphernalia ahead of the elections.

Angue said he refused to follow these illegal orders.

He claimed that additional ballots were flown to Tawi-Tawi on board two airplanes even though there was no need for more ballots. He said he documented the destruction of these excess ballots after the close of the polling precincts to show that these were unnecessary.

Angue said he disclosed the identity of this person along with the details of the cheating operations in Tawi-Tawi to the fact-finding body headed by his superior, then Navy commander Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga.

Despite his disclosure the Mayuga board cleared four top generals—Hermogenes Esperon, Roy Kyamko, Gabriel Habacon and Francisco Gudani—and the entire military of involvement in the "Hello Garci" election cheating scandal that nearly caused the downfall of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005.

The Mayuga Report, including the testimonies given by several military officers, was kept confidential during the Arroyo administration.

On Monday, Angue started to disclose details of the alleged cheating operations in Tawi-Tawi. He said he did not allow his men to be used to rig the election results so he was relieved from his post after the elections.

On Tuesday he disclosed that he turned down a bribe offer involving "millions of pesos" and the post of his choice in the days leading to the 2004 elections.

Angue , who holds a two-star rank, is set to be replaced as NCRCom commander although he has not been told of his new assignment.

He is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1978 which included former military chief of staff Delfin Bangit and had Arroyo as an honorary member.

Angue said he broke his silence now to impress on the younger officers the "correct values" when faced with tempting offers to take political sides.

"The Armed Forces should be apolitical. Why don't we investigate those who took sides with either the winning or the losing candidates? They should be investigated because we should be neutral. Why are those who remained apolitical the ones being punished?" he said.


Bill to criminalize naming of govt projects filed

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Francis Escudero filed a bill seeking to criminalize the naming of government projects and infrastructure after public officials or any other person.

Miriam gets last Senate chairmanship, patches up with JPE

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - After a seeming word war over the distribution of Senate committee chairmanships, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago finally got the chairmanship of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments after threshing out her differences with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. 

Senate won't interfere in Lacson case—Enrile

Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile has assured that the Senate will not interfere in government's move to cancel the passport of Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, who has been in hiding after he was charged for the killings of a publicist and his driver in 2001.

Dacer family to ask DFA to cancel Lacson's passport

(Updated 5 p.m.) The lawyer for the family of slain publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer is expected to request the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday to revoke the passport of fugitive Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Aquino gets first paycheck of P63,002

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has just received his first paycheck -- P63, 002.17 after taxes (about  $1,392) -- for the month of July.

PNoy to spend first salary as president on bills

President Benigno Aquino III has received his first salary as chief executive of the country. In a text message to GMA News, Aquino said he will use the money to pay his utility bills.
Malacañang on Wednesday distributed to the media a photo showing a beaming Aquino holding a paycheck amounting to P63,002.17. The check was dated July 30, 2010.

In a text message to GMA News, Aquino said he will use the money to pay his utility bills.

"Presidential" paycheck: A beaming Benigno Aquino III receives his first salary as president of the Republic of the Philippines. Jay Morales

Aquino's monthly salary is pegged at P95,000 after his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, signed Executive Order No. 900 increasing the basic pay in all government salary grades, including the president's.

With deductions, Aquino—a 50-year-old bachelor—only received a little over P63,000, which is higher by 65 percent than Arroyo's salary before she signed EO No. 900 days before she stepped out of office.

The president's salary is equivalent to Salary Grade 33 (SG 33), the salary grade exclusively assigned to the highest position in the Philippine government as per Republic Act 6758 or the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989.

Corruption was Gloria's biggest mistake: survey

by By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - One out of every 4 Filipinos believes that corruption during former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's rule was her biggest shortcoming after 9 years in power, a new Pulse Asia survey revealed Wednesday.

Aquino revokes Arroyo 'midnight' appointments

(UPDATE) President Benigno Aquino III has issued Executive Order No. 2, revoking the "midnight appointments" former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made on or after March 10, Malacañang has announced.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo De Mesa, however, said that President Aquino has come to recognize the appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

De Mesa said Malacañang found 977 instances wherein the previous administration violated the constitutional ban on appointments two months before the presidential elections and 90 days before the end of Mrs. Arroyo's term last June 30.

"The sheer number of these appointments gives basis to the opinion or to the belief that they were made for the purpose of depriving the next president of the prerogative of making these appointments," De Mesa said in a news briefing in Malacañang Wednesday.

"They were made contrary to principle that within the presidential election period an outgoing administration must act only as a caretaker administration duty bound to prepare for the orderly transfer of authority to the successor," he added.

Quoting the Supreme Court decision in the case of Aytona versus Castillo, De Mesa said the outgoing administration during the election period has been "enjoined from performing acts that would embarrass or obstruct the policies of the successor or negate the successor's executive prerogative to exercise his appointing power."

The names of the appointees that would be affected by the executive order were not immediately available but Malacañang said the highest ranked officials would be those at the level of undersecretaries.

According to the executive order, the appointments that would be revoked would be those made on or after March 11, those made before March 11 but that would take effect after that date, and appointments and promotions made during the period of 45 days prior to the May 10 elections in violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

On a "whereas clause" that effectively exempted Corona from being covered by the executive order, De Mesa was asked if President Aquino was recognizing the validity of Corona's appointment as Chief Justice.

"That should be obvious by now," De Mesa said.

"The President has acknowledged Chief Justice Corona as Chief Justice," he added.


'No appointments beyond prohibitive period'—Arroyo exec

The camp of Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stood pat on Wednesday that there were no midnight appointments during her administration.

Elena Bautista-Horn, Arroyo's spokesperson, also said that the newly-signed Executive Order No. 2 of President Benigno Aquino III revoking all purported midnight appointments may have gone overboard when it gave an interpretation to a provision in the Constitution on appointments.

"Wala po kaming appointments na ginawa beyond the prohibited period kasi lahat po yan dumaan sa PMS [We did not make any appointments beyond the prohibited period because all appointments passed through the PMS]" said Horn, who was Presidential Management Staff chief during the latter part of the Arroyo administration.
Horn was asked to react to EO No. 2 issued by Malacanang that revoked, recalled and withdrew Arroyo's appointments made on or after this March 10, but recognized the validity of Chief Justice Renato Corona's appointment.

Such appointments are banned under the Constitution and the Omnibus Election Code.

Bautista stood firm that Arroyo's appointments during her last few months in office were all done before March 10, the prohibited period for appointing officials in office. But she said that some officials may have assumed office only after March 10.

"If you read the body of the EO, they made further interpretation that the appointment was completed only after acceptance, it's their interpretation of the Constitution," Horn said.

She continued, "The only body that can interpret the Constitution is the Supreme Court . . . so this is one question that can be raised, if the [ban] on appointment [by the outgoing President] covers the period of acceptance of the person being appointed to a position."

Article VII, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution states that: "Two months immediately before the next Presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety."

Arroyo had come under fire for designating appointees, reportedly numbering to about 200, in various positions just days before the March 10 ban on appointments.

Arroyo can't be held liable for 11th hour appointments

Former president and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could not be held liable for allegedly making nearly a thousand 'midnight appointments' before she stepped down in office last June 30, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile said on Wednesday.

"Walang liability . Presidente din 'yon e (She has no liability. She was the President). Akala siguro niya (Maybe she thought) that she has the power. It's a debatable issue," Enrile told reporters.

But Enrile said Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III as incumbent president has the power to revoke the appointments, which he did by issuing Executive Order No. 2.

He said Aquino could revoke the so-called midnight appointments even if the appointees have fixed term of office.

Such is part of Aquino's prerogative as president, Enrile said. "He's the appointing power. He can revoke, reappoint , retain and dismiss people," he said, adding that the action is valid "even if there's a (fixed) term if in his opinion there's a violation of the prohibition…"

Aquino's ally, Senator Serge Osmeña III, could not say if the former leader could be held liable for making the appointments , saying he would just leave it to the court to decide on the matter.

But Osmeña commended Aquino's move, pointing out that the vast majority of the appointees are either "corrupt or incompetent."

"Good move on the part of (Aquino). Desirable to test the spirit of law," he said in a text message.

"Moreover, the vast majority of appointees are either corrupt or incompetent, and politically motivated. It was a shameless behavior on the part of (Arroyo). But what else is new," said Osmeña.

Another administration ally, Senator Franklin Drilon, defended Aquino's move, pointing out a previous Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the appointments made by then president Carlos P. Garcia before the prohibition period.

"In this particular case wherein nearly a thousand appointments were made in the first week of March just before the deadline, it was clear that the appointments were not motivated by public service or public interest. It was motivated by the desire to beat the deadline and give a semblance of validity," said Drilon.

Arroyo prefers to watch from the sidelines, says spokesperson

Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will continue to watch from the sidelines even if critics continue to hurl tirades at her in the House of Representatives, her spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said Wednesday.

PIA overshot budget to glorify Arroyo

The Philippine Information Agency received funds from the Office of the President that bloated its budget in 2009 to trumpet the achievements of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a Commission on Audit report said.

The COA said the amount made available to the PIA, which was 55 percent more than the government information arm's budget, was in violation of the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and the manual for national government agencies.

The report said the PIA received from the Department of Budget and Management a notice of cash allocations amounting to P344.789 million, even though only P222.488 million was appropriated for it under the national budget.

The additional funding led to a 41-percent spike in advertising expenses, from P76.129 million in 2008 to P107.420 million in 2009, which went mostly to ads for Arroyo's achievements.

"Notwithstanding that the excess funds received from DBM were funds of OP [Office of the President], the funds received still exceeded the programmed expenditures of PIA under the [GAA]," the COA said.

"This has also increased the advertising expenses by P31,290,881.05 or 41 percent from P76,129,893.17 in 2008 to P107,420,774.22 in 2009," it said.

The PIA ads included placements in newspapers early this year. The ads dwelled on the administration's gains in the economy, social development, infrastructure, law and order, job generation, agriculture, energy, environment and digital infrastructure.

The print ads, titled, "Ganito Tayo Noon, Ganito Tayo Ngayon," came under fire because it carried the initials and campaign color of administration standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro.

Of the P107 million in advertising expenses, 99 percent was charged to the funds received from the Office of the President for Special Projects, the COA said.

"Examination of some of the Saros [special allotment release orders] disclosed that the source of [the] fund is coached in general term with the word FY 2009 GAA, RA 9524 for the purpose of information campaign of the President's achievements from FY 2001 to FY 2009," the COA said.

The COA said the PIA should only use the money allocated for it under the budget.

"We recommended and management agreed to spend funds only those authorized in the GAA intended for operations and to return excess releases to DBM," it said.

The COA also found that PIA's advertising placements worth P48.6 million, which covered 38 transactions, were not supported by complete documents.

"Thus, the existence, validity and legality of the transactions could not be readily determined," it said.

The COA said the PIA's practice was to pay a broadcasting company or a broadsheet in advance. While the transaction was pending, the delivery of supporting documents such as billing invoice and proof of publication was held in abeyance.

After the completion of the advertising placements, the broadcast company or broadsheet was supposed to deliver the supporting documents to the PIA. However, the documents for the 38 transactions were not delivered, according to the COA.

It also said that cash advances (P40.385 million) to officers and employees were unliquidated as of December 31, 2009 in violation of the rules. But as of January 31 this year, P5.27 million in cash advances had been liquidated and recorded.


Legacy founder to challenge transfer to Camp Karingal

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - The camp of Legacy owner Celso de los Angeles is studying the possibility of filing charges against those behind his transfer to Camp Karingal.

Public warned vs text scam using Binay's name

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – The public is urged to ignore text messages which claim that a recipient had won huge amount of money from a raffle sponsored by the Office of the Vice President (OVP).

Taiwanese gets life sentence for running shabu lab

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - A local court has sentenced Taiwanese Li Yong Le to life imprisonment for running a shabu laboratory in Alubijid, Misamis Oriental in 2004.

16 Pinoy crew of oil tanker safe

by By Mayen Jaymalin

Sixteen Filipino seafarers who survived a pirate attack at the Strait of Hormuz are now safe and on their way home, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported today.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in United Arab Emirates (UAE) is providing necessary assistance for the Filipino crewmen of oil tanker MT STAR.

Baldoz noted that MT STAR exploded last July 28 following a pirate attack while the oil tanker was crusing the Strait of Hormuz.

Philippine Airlines says pilot trouble will hit bottom line

by Agence France-Presse
MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Airlines may post a loss in its current fiscal year because of pilot trouble that led to flight cancellations, its listed parent said Wednesday.

PAL pilot cites redundancy, lower pay for resignation

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines - A resigned pilot of Philippine Airlines (PAL) revealed on Wednesday that he and several of his colleagues quit their jobs after the country's flag carrier declared them redundant and decided to transfer them to its low-cost unit, with lower salary and zero benefits.

DOTC chief: Some PAL pilots could go back to work

Transportation Secretary Jose "Ping" de Jesus on Wednesday said some pilots of flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) who abruptly resigned could return to work once their differences with the management are ironed out.

Pakistan president attacked over Europe trip after floods

by by Katherine Haddon, Agence France-Presse
LONDON, United Kingdom - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in Britain Wednesday amid rows over London's claim that Islamabad promoted the "export of terror" and his failure to return home after devasting floods.

Iran says Ahmadinejad motorcade hit by cracker not grenade

by Agence France-Presse
TEHRAN, Iran - A conservative website reported Wednesday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's motorcade came under grenade attack in western Iran, but an official said a firecracker caused the blast.

At least three dead in knife attack on China school

BEIJING, China - A man wielding a huge knife killed at least three children in a kindergarten in eastern China, state media said Wednesday, in the latest in a wave of deadly school attacks that have alarmed the nation.

'Margarito ready for war against Pacquiao'

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – Antonio Margarito's trainer guaranteed that the Mexican will be an improved fighter when he faces off with Manny Pacquiao on November 13.

Arum: Pacquiao-Mayweather possible with Don King

by abs-cbnNEWS.com
MANILA, Philippines – Bob Arum expressed optimism that the Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather, Jr. fight could finally happen if the unbeaten American will choose Don King as his new promoter.

Alaska forges Finals showdown vs San Miguel

MANILA, Philippines – The Alaska Aces won the remaining ticket to the PBA Fiesta Cup by beating the Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters, 90-81, in Game 7 of their semifinals clash at the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday.

AP source: Shaq, Celtics negotiating deal

The Boston Celtics are making progress on a deal that would bring Shaquille O'Neal to the defending Eastern Conference champions, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press.

SWS: Livelihood, jobs top issues the public wants PNoy to address

Livelihood programs, jobs, and prices of basic goods top the list of issues Filipinos want President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to immediately address, according to a survey by pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS).
SWS, which released the results of its June 25-28 survey Wednesday night, said 43 percent pushed for livelihood programs, 33 percent sought jobs, and 32 percent wanted Aquino to address prices of basic commodities.

Following the top three answers were: Helping farmers and agricultural programs (25 percent), lower prices of medicines and health programs (25 percent), eradicating graft and corruption in government (25 percent), promoting affordable houses and housing programs (21 percent), develop the economy (18 percent), build classrooms and other educational programs (16 percent), and women's rights (10 percent).

Scoring below 10 percent were: Fighting crimes (9 percent), ensuring food security in the country (6 percent), restoring peace in Mindanao (5 percent), programs for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) (4 percent), giving hope to people like me (4 percent), building and maintaining public works (3 percent), enacting laws (2 percent), changing the constitution (2 percent), cellular phone calls and text rates (1 percent), and helping athletes and other sports programs (1 percent).

The survey asked, "Sa inyong palagay, alin sa mga sumusunod na isyu ang dapat pagtuunan ng pansin ng susunod na presidente ng Pilipinas? Maaari po kayong pumili ng hanggang tatlong isyu (In your opinion, which of the following issues should the next president of the Philippines focus on? You may choose up to three issues)."

Respondents were provided with a list of 20 issues to choose from.

Livelihood programs

SWS said giving livelihood programs was the top priority issue in Mindanao (46 percent), the Visayas (45 percent), and Balance Luzon (45 percent).

In Mindanao, the next most important issues were Helping farmers and agricultural programs (37 percent) and prices of basic commodities (28 percent).

In the Visayas, the second most important issue was prices of basic commodities (34 percent), followed by lower prices of medicines and health programs (33 percent) and eradicating graft and corruption in government (33 percent).

"The national sentiment was more or less reflected in Balance Luzon, with providing jobs (40 percent) and prices of basic commodities (34 percent) also the two next most important issues," SWS said.

On the other hand, in Metro Manila, the top priority was providing jobs (39 percent), followed by promoting affordable houses and housing programs (34 percent) and eradicating graft and corruption in government (33 percent).

By class, giving livelihood programs was the top priority issue for class E (46 percent) and class D (42 percent), followed by providing jobs (34 percent for class E, 32 percent for class D) and prices of basic commodities (33 percent for class D, 29 percent for class D).

Prices of basic commodities was the top priority in class ABC (40 percent), followed by eradicating graft and corruption in government (38 percent) and giving livelihood programs (37 percent).

For all age groups, Giving livelihood programs was the top priority. It was also the top priority for those with anything less than a college degree. On the other hand, for college graduates, Eradicating graft and corruption in government was the top priority.

The survey was conducted from June 25-28, using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults in Metro Manila, the Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Sampling error margins of ±3% for national percentages, ±6% for area percentages applied to the survey.

A new President in Manila: Aquino comes out swinging

I spent last week in the Philippines meeting President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino's new team and key leaders in business, policy, and civil society. President Aquino has come out of his corner swinging—mostly at his predecessor, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Among the many challenges the new president will face, the greatest will be striking a balance between prosecution and promotion.

Aquino has a dual agenda. In his gut, he wants to change the culture of impunity that has crept into the Philippine government and install accountability. In his head, he has a strong commitment to generate new growth to create jobs, build infrastructure, and provide public goods like education and public health to the citizens of his country.

The question is whether the capable technocrats he has selected for key cabinet posts do both jobs at once, sequence these tasks, or leave the quest for truth and justice to the Philippine courts and the new Truth Commission.

I believe the answer is that this will be determined as the government goes along. Early indications are that the core members of Aquino's team are likely to be empowered to do both tasks.

Yesterday in Manila, the new energy secretary, Jose Rene Almendras, revealed to the media one of the alleged "midnight deals" of former president Arroyo, specifically the issuing of an Executive Order (EO 701) that apparently mandated the partially privatized, and now partially Chinese owned, power transmission company of the Philippines (TRANSCO) to purchase assets from a Korean company even though TRANSCO's current role is to be selling, not acquiring, assets as part of its privatization schedule. The deal, worth over $21 million, apparently happened after the May 10 presidential elections.

At the same time, Almendras is tasked with finding new power sector investment to head off a pending electric power crisis that could cause blackouts in the Philippines within a year if significant new generation capacity is not added immediately. High stakes multitasking to say the least.

Although confidence in Aquino stands at 85 percent, a level unheard of since serious polling began in that country, he has strived to downplay expectations. Like his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, Aquino has focused on explaining that he's inherited significant problems—in the case of the Philippines, a government devastated by capricious spending, a culture of impunity, endemic corruption, and a massive deficit. In his state of the nation address (SONA) last week, he emphasized that only 6 percent of the budget he's inherited is unallocated, and he focused on the serious deficiencies and troubling evidence of corruption found as his team has opened the files left by the Arroyo government.

It is clear that core members of the Aquino team include Cesar Purisima, the finance secretary; Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa, his executive secretary and legal adviser; and Florencio "Butch" Abad, the budget secretary. These are men the president trusts implicitly, who share his passion for reform, and are therefore empowered as virtual super-secretaries in the new Philippine government.

Purisima is well positioned to both promote and prosecute. Earlier in his career, he was the young CEO of the country's top audit firm, SGV. He has worked for many years in the private sector and knows how to speak the language of assets and liabilities. He also knows how to follow the money in Manila. As Arroyo's former finance and then trade secretary—he defected with the "Hyatt 10" cabinet secretaries who fled Arroyo after accusations of vote fraud and corruption in the 2004 national elections—Purisima knows Arroyo, her family, compromised officials, and rotten contracts better than most. If he allows himself, he could become the bloodhound of a righteous Aquino camp.

Secretary Purisima will lead an advance mission to make arrangements for President Aquino's first trip to the United States next week (August 7–14) along with Secretary of Trade and Investment Greg Domingo. They will be establishing channels with their counterparts in the U.S. government and reaching out to Congress, think tanks, and the U.S. business sector. President Aquino will come to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and for the second U.S.-ASEAN summit to be hosted by President Obama either in Washington, D.C., or New York City.

In terms of new business, Purisima and Domingo are the point men on soliciting new public-private partnerships. This is a model that was emphasized by Aquino in his SONA in an effort to leverage private-sector funds—because the government does not have substantial funds available—to energize the economy. They are looking for new investment and partners in the following key sectors: infrastructure; tourism; business process outsourcing; electronics manufacturing; mining; and agriculture.

On the policy front, the economic team also says it wants alignment with the United States and to establish new momentum on trade by joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. However, it was clear that this policy option had not yet been tested politically in Manila, and it remains to be seen whether and when the Aquino team feel comfortable expending the political capital required to proactively seek membership in the negotiations.

President Aquino clearly has his own views on issues and, having been elected, has surprised analysts who questioned his tenacity and drive. His language in the SONA was simple and direct by design. He was addressing the Philippine people instead of policymakers and legislators. His policy thrusts are likely to have a similar populist bent—focusing on job creation, poverty alleviation, education, and civil society. Important issues to be sure, but there is also a nationalistic subtext that is worth noting. Benchmark issues to monitor include Aquino's views on important security issues such as the U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement and modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The new man in Malacañang is off to a strong start. He is committed to a good fight but has few dollars in his pockets. With a solid team and determination, expectations are high despite his best efforts to downplay them. The test of his term may end up being whether he can balance his obsessive passion for reform with the urgent need for economic growth.

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Ernest Z. Bower is a senior adviser and director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Commentaries are produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).


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