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

Monday, September 6, 2010

September 7, 2010 Major News Stories

Outbreak a reminder for parents to keep children nourished: NNC

WITH the continued rise in dengue fever cases, especially among children, parents need to make sure their children receive proper nutrition, said a representative of the National Nutrition Council (NNC) 7.

Senator Marcos moves archiving of bills seeking to delay village, SK polls

Senator Ferdinand "Bong-Bong" Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate committee on local government, on Monday moved to archive all bills seeking to postpone the barangay (village-level) and Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council) elections next month.

Marcos said the decision of the House of Representatives to also archive all measures postponing the holding of the elections in October has "rendered all legislative actions on this proposal moot."

"In view of these developments and in the interest of good order, it is therefore, the decision of this representation as chairman of the committee on local government to archive Senate Bills 60 and 2377, and the proposed draft committee report, for record purposes," he said.

Marcos also included in the records to be archived a copy of his recommendation to President Benigno Aquino III to postpone the barangay and SK elections next month.

"May I respectfully emphasize Mr. President that this is without prejudice to the continuation of deliberations on the proposed reorganization of the Sangguniang Kabataan and also on the question of synchronization of Barangay and SK elections with national and local elections in 2013, all of which are to be conducted at the proper time," he further said.

Nationwide PhilHealth registration set on Oct. 2

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and the Department of Health have set October 2 as a registration day for all Filipinos who are not yet covered by the goverment's health insurance program.
The event, dubbed "PhilHealth Sabado, Magseguro, Magparehistro," aims to ensure that "all Filipinos gain access to financial protection for their hospitalization needs," a PhilHealth statement said.

The registration will be conducted in all the regional and service offices of PhilHealth, along with DOH Centers for Health Development and DOH-retained hospitals nationwide.

At present, there are about 20 million registered principal members of PhilHealth. Of this figure, 3.42 million are "individually paying members."

PhilHealth is a government-owned and controlled corporation that facilitates a national health insurance program. It sources its funds from national and local government units and the contribution of members and other individuals, groups, and sponsors.

"We would like to reach out to our fellowmen who are not yet members but who have the financial means to pay for their premium contributions," said PhilHealth President and CEO Dr. Rey Aquino. 

"We encourage those who are financially capable of paying for their premium contributions to register under our Individually Paying Program," he said.

The prospective registrants of the Individually Paying program are reminded to bring any valid ID card and P300 as a premium payment for one quarter. 

Those who will declare legal dependents must bring photocopies of the supporting documents such as birth certificates, marriage contracts, or senior citizen IDs.

Meanwhile, the indigent families listed under the National Household Targeting System of the Department of Social Welfare and Development will also be issued PhilHealth number cards, in venues to be identified by local government units.

The other options for PhilHealth membership are the Overseas Worker, Employed, Sponsored, and Lifetime programs.

Despite alleged anomalies: City to continue aid to barangays

Cebu City barangays will continue to get direct assistance from the city government for various infrastructure projects despite the alleged irregularities in some barangays projects in the South District.

CCMC billing officer denied TRO by court

The court denied the temporary restraining order sought by Maria Lourdes Archua, the billing officer of the Cebu City Medical Center, after she and her legal counsel failed to attend the hearing yesterday.

COA pushing MOA with lot owners of three jails

The Commission on Audit has instructed jail officials in Cebu to do their best to secure memorandums of agreement with the owners of the lots where the jails of Man-daue City, Lapu-Lapu City and Minglanilla town are constructed.

Allies defend rice purchase

FOUR members of the Cebu Provincial Board (PB) defended yesterday a plan to buy 10,000 sacks of rice as part of disaster preparedness.

This, after Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr., the PB's presiding officer, questioned a proposed resolution allowing Gov. Gwen Garcia to sign an agreement for the purchase.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Sanchez said he suspected the rice would be distributed to win support during the Oct. 25 barangay and youth elections.

PB Member Peter John Calderon, however, explained the resolution will only renew the agreement and that the PB has been approving similar resolutions, for disaster preparedness.

"Can you purchase sacks of rice for a calamity that is still coming? Why can't we do that after the calamities will come?" Sanchez asked. He insisted it was the first time he learned the Province can acquire goods ahead of a calamity.

Member Wilfredo Caminero pointed out the Province is doing this so it can quickly provide for those people hit by a calamity.

"Patay na ang kabayo, mao pay pag abot sa kumpay (Should you wait until the horse is dead, before you give it hay)?" Caminero said.

PB Member Ribomapil Holganza Jr., president of the Association of Barangay Councils, said there have been no reports of any distribution of rice to the barangays.

He also cited the case of Bantayan, where, during calamities, it would be difficult for the province to immediately send food because of the distance.

Instead, the town can easily get the food assistance though an authorized outlet of the National Food Authority, where the grains can be stocked.

The vice governor and the lone opposition member in the PB, Arleigh Sitoy, suggested "earmarking" funds for the purchase, instead of immediately buying the rice.

The board finally reached a compromise after Member Agnes Magpale pointed out no rice will be released, unless the Province identifies where it will go and to whom.

"The sacks of rice can only be withdrawn when there is a calamity," Magpale explained.

In a 2003 circular, the Commission on Audit said the calamity funds may be used, not only to rehabilitate infrastructure, but also as medical or financial assistance.

"Disaster preparedness training and other activities" may also be charged to the fund, to be recorded under training expenses or other maintenance and operating expenses.

The Local Government Code requires all local governments to set aside five percent of their annual budget as their calamity funds.

Capitol defends reporters free lunch anew

Capitol once again defended the free lunch it offers to the members of the media covering the provincial government.

Capitol spokesman Rory Jon Sepulveda said that the pack lunch they are serving at the Capitol is not just for the media but for governor's guests and consultants as well. Sepulveda said it is unfair to insinuate that Capitol reporters have compromised their objective reportage because of the free lunch provided to them everyday.

Sepulveda explained that the reporters did not ask for it, it was provided byGovernor Gwendolyn Garcia because the media would often wait until 1:30 p.m. before they could be accommodated for press conference.

He added that the Capitol is not also spending so much for it because a pack lunch does not cost more than P100. The budget was taken from the representation allow-ance under the provincial administrator's office.

Sepulveda said the practice has been going on since the first term of Garcia in 2004 because the Commission on Audit did not find anything questionable about it.

Vice Governor Gregorio Sanchez, Jr. was blamed for making an issue out of it during the broadcasters' congress of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters sa Pilipinas last Sunday. Sanchez was one of the invited guests during the activity as part of the celebration of KBP month.

"Ug kon si Vice Governor Sanchez wa malipay niana iyaha na sad nang problema but to insinuate nga kamo bias in favor of the Governor tungod kay gipakaon mo og pack lunch kamo nay panubag ana kay mura'g nakaminus dyud siya ninyo," Sepulveda said.

Garcia also criticized Sanchez for being inconsistent about it. According to the Governor, Sanchez first made an issue out of it during her first term but when they were together in One Cebu Party during their second term the Vice Governor was already silent about it.

Now that Sanchez is back in the opposition he is again questioning the practice.

"But to drag you in and as Attorney Jong said, insinuate nga mapalit lang diay mo og pack lunch, is the ultimate insult on Cebu media," Garcia said.

She added that it was ironic that such an insult should be hurled as the Cebu media is about to celebrate the Press Freedom Week and during the broadcasters' month.

In fairness to Sanchez, however, it was not he who made an issue out of the free lunch for reporters at the Capitol. He was only made to comment about it when a re-porter brought up the issue before the plenary.

Sanchez said he could not recall of any budget item for the meals of the reporters covering the Capitol.

Histories of cities, towns in province in one 'manuscript'

In what Governor Gwendolyn Garcia described as a "legacy" of her administration, the history of the different towns and cities in Cebu Province will soon be made available to students in different elementary and high schools across the province.

Half of Philippines considers itself poor: survey

by Agence France-Presse
MANILA, Philippines - About half of the country's population considers themselves poor despite robust economic growth, a survey showed on Monday.

The independent study by the Social Weather Stations showed that at least 9.4 million families, about 50%, considered themselves to be poor, up from 43% or 8.1 million in March, a spokesman of the group said.

"We asked them to choose between two cards: poor or not poor. We did not ask them why they feel poor," said Leo Larosa, a researcher at polling firm said.

This came despite government figures showing that the Philippines recorded a 7.9% economic growth rate in the first half of 2010, its best half-year growth record in more than 20 years.

The figures were significantly higher than the government's latest poverty study in 2006 showing that 32.9% of the population or 27.6 million Filipinos were considered poor.

But an economic official said the two sets of data were not comparable as the survey showed people's perception while the government figures were based on income and cost of essential goods.

Those surveyed "are comparing their situations. It may be they feel poorer even if they have enough income," said government assistant economic planning director Myrna Asuncion.

President Benigno Aquino, who won a landslide election victory on May 10, has vowed to lift the country out of poverty by cracking down on corruption and building much-needed infrastructure.

But earlier this month, his government admitted that the country would fail to meet its UN development goal of cutting poverty levels in half by 2015.

The Social Weather Stations survey was conducted in June and questioned 1,200 people nationwide. It had a 3% margin of error.

Hostage negotiator: PNP has no hostage negotiating guide

The chief negotiator who handled the August 23 hostage crisis admitted on Monday that the Philippine National Police has yet to come up with a comprehensive manual for dealing with hostage-taking incidents. Superintendent Orlando Yebra of the Manila Police District said in 2007, he proposed the creation of a manual for handling hostage incidents but the PNP has yet to act on it.

Yebra: No need to subdue Mendoza in early hours of hostage crisis

(Updated 2:45 p.m.) - The chief negotiator during the August 23 hostage crisis said that during the early hours of the standoff, he did not see the need to subdue Rolando Mendoza who, at that time, was holding hostage 21 Hong Kong tourists and four Filipinos.

Cops didn't ask us about bus – tour agency exec

Sa ika-4 na araw ng pagdinig tungkol sa Quirino Grandstand Hostage Tragedy, nabuko ang marami pang pagkukulang ng mga pulis! Ayon sa travel agency ng mga turistang Hong Kong Chinese, nagduda pa umano noong una ang mga pulis nang isumbong sa mga ito ang nagaganap na pangho-hostage! Dagdag pa ng travel agency, hindi rin inusisa ng mga pulis kung anong klaseng bus ang kanilang susugurin!

Ex-MPD chief hiding something about hostage-taker?

MANILA, Philippines - What was supposed to be a very brief testimony of a policeman during the government's official fact-finding body on the August 23 Manila hostage drama turned out to be a puzzling one for the panel of investigators.

At the early stage of the hostage-taking situation at the Quirino Grandstand, Police Officer 2 Dennison Rivera Jr., a member of the Manila Police District's (MPD) legal division, was ordered to retrieve dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza's case file and have it photocopied.

The first order came at around 11 a.m., Rivera told the official Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) on Monday.

The order was to make 2 copies of the case file and physically deliver each of the photocopied documents to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of the Ombudsman.

Rivera said the order came from Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador, one of the 2 police negotiators. The order was based on the request of the hostage-taker as he wanted both offices to review his case.

Rivera said that immediately after receiving the order, he took a police car and looked for a photocopying center.

After finishing the first copy, he was already proceeding to the DOJ when he received an order through the MPD's Tactical Operations Center (TOC) to return with the case folder's copy to the command center, where members of the crisis management committee were staying.

At the command center, he was told to hand over the photocopied case file to the crisis management committee's ground commander, then MPD director, Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay.

Rivera said Magtibay wanted to check the case file first before it was actually delivered to the DOJ.

He said it was during the same time when Manila Vice-Mayor Isko Moreno told him that the case file should not be delivered to the DOJ since the case "emanated from the Ombudsman."

Rivera said that Moreno made the comment even as he was not personally aware that it was the hostage-taker's request to provide the DOJ and the Ombudsman his case file documents for review.

One hour past, Rivera said he was ordered again to proceed to the DOJ and deliver the photocopied case file.

He said that when he was already near the DOJ, he was again ordered through the TOC to return to the command center and abort the plan to proceed to the DOJ.

For the second time also, he said Magtibay wanted to review the case file again.

He was then ordered to hand over the photocopied case file to Moreno, who volunteered to bring the documents to the Ombudsman.

Rivera said he did not receive further instructions to bring one more copy to the DOJ.

IIRC chairwoman, DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima, who was asked most of the questions for Rivera, wondered why Magtibay and the people at the command center had to screen the documents.

"Why would not they want those documents to be delivered to the DOJ without them first examining them? Are they supposed to censor anything there?" De Lima asked.

She also asked: "If they could send those documents to the Ombudsman, why could they not send it to the DOJ?"

Another member of the panel asked Rivera if Magtibay and Moreno had a conversation regarding the documents, and the policeman answered in the affirmative.

He, however, declined to divulge details of the conversation as he was trained to do.

"Your honor, what I have learned from my institution. Everything that I will hear, and everything that I will see,,. I'll just leave it there," Rivera said.

The panelists tried to dig in deeper, and Rivera answered that the conversation was indeed about the document.

He then answered, "Maybe," when asked if the conversation was about the reason why he had to return the documents to the command post instead of bringing them to the DOJ.

RP probe team leaves for HK to get hostage victims' statements

A team of probers from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) left for Hong Kong at 4:50 p.m. on Monday to get the statements of two of the survivors of the August 23 hostage-taking incident in Manila.

HK police to return 3 phones in hostage probe mix-up

The Hong Kong police will return the three mobile phones that the Manila authorities have mistakenly handed over along with the personal belongings of the victims of the August 23 hostage tragedy.

Ombudsman, deputy refuse to appear before probe body

MANILA, Philippines - Two of the highest ranking officials of the Office of the Ombudsman refused to appear before the Malacanang-created panel tasked to review the hostage fiasco last August 23.

Hostage-taker's brother also a suspended policeman

SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, the brother of hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza, has a pending case before the Office of the Ombudsman. Two days before the hostage crisis, the Ombudsman ordered his suspension in connection with an administrative case against him.

Palace vows 'heads will roll'

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III promised there will be officials who will lose their jobs in connection to the hostage fiasco exactly 2 weeks ago.

Robredo: PNoy's mea culpa won't save his alter egos

by By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo denied accusations President Benigno Aquino III took responsibility for the Manila hostage crisis to save his people from accountability over the mismanaged incident.

Solons grill Robredo during DILG budget hearing

Lawmakers on Monday turned the hearing on the budget of the Department of Interior of Local Government into a forum for grilling Secretary Jesse Robredo over his handling of the August 23 hostage-taking incident, chiding him for not taking responsibility and allowing President Benigno Aquino III to own up to the fiasco.

Proposed PNP budget to go to recruitment, more firearms

Almost 80 percent of the proposed budget of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for 2011 will go to the Philippine National Police (PNP), where budget allocation will be devoted to recruitment and purchase of more firearms and equipment.

HK: Ordinary Filipinos not to blame for hostage crisis

by Reuters
HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government on Monday showed support to Filipino migrant workers amid fears that the Manila hostage crisis, which killed eight of its citizens, might provoke violent revenge on the island.

Palace won't submit Robredo, 2 others for confirmation

The hostage crisis illuminated defects in the government's command structure. Among the revelations was that as head of the department that is supposed to supervise the national police, the respected former mayor Jesse Robredo was "out of the loop." He now looms as one of the Cabinet's sacrificial lambs. A report on the factions inside the Aquino administration.
A list of appointments made by President Benigno Aquino III since he assumed office on June 30 shows that Robredo and two other secretaries—Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz—were named only "acting" secretaries instead of being issued "ad interim" appointments for transmittal to the Commission on Appointments.

Robredo, 2 others only acting secretaries, Palace says

Malacañang on Monday confirmed that Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo and two other department heads were appointed only in an acting capacity, and therefore, will not be undergoing confirmation proceedings before the bicameral Commission on Appointments.

"Yes, they were acting secretaries," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a text message when asked to confirm a VERA Files report stating that Robredo, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz were only acting secretaries.

Since the three were not given "ad interim" appointments, "they don't have to undergo confirmation" by the Commission on Appointments, Lacierda said in a phone interview with GMANews.TV.

Lacierda said he does not know why the three were appointed only acting secretaries, but said that "for [all] intents and purposes, they have the same powers as an ad interim appointed secretary."

The admission came amid the uproar over the government's handling of the August 23 hostage crisis that resulted in the deaths of eight tourists from Hong Kong. 

Lacierda said he does not know why the three were appointed as acting secretaries only. He added that Robredo, contrary to the VERA Files report, still enjoys President Benigno Aquino III's trust.

Robredo is a three-term mayor of Naga City and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service.

Paje, on the other hand, was reportedly named in an acting capacity because the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) portfolio would reportedly be given to losing senatorial candidate Nereus Acosta, who authored several environmental laws during his stint as Bukidnon congressman. 

Acosta, who ran under Aquino's Liberal Party in the May 10 elections, is covered by the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates. — Jam L. Sisante/KBK/RSJ, GMANews.TV 

"The ad interim appointees enjoy his (Aquino's) trust," a high-ranking Palace official said. "The acting appointees are under probation."

Robredo, three-term mayor of Naga City and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service, was appointed on July 9 and was among the last named to Aquino's Cabinet. 

Individuals close to the President and those who had helped in his presidential campaign told VERA Files that Robredo does not quite enjoy Aquino's trust, owing to differences that erupted during the campaign. 

The President, they said, was unhappy with the campaign schedules Robredo drew up, which were packed with appointments and events that he had difficulty following. 

And while Aquino has given his Cabinet appointees free rein to select their undersecretaries, Robredo had to settle for working with Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno, who was appointed on July 2, or one week ahead of the DILG secretary. 

Puno, a close friend of Aquino and fellow gun enthusiast, was assigned to handle the Aug. 23 incident and reported directly to the President. 

Robredo admitted he "was out of the loop" during the 12-hour crisis. 

Last Friday, 11 days after the hostage-taking incident, Aquino took responsibility for the debacle, admitting that when he offered the DILG position to Robredo, he told him "to address concerns such as coming up with a comprehensive plan on delivering social services to and relocating informal settlers in coordination with the local governments."

Aquino also said he told Robredo, "I will retain direct supervision over the PNP."

In his testimony before the Incident Investigation Review Committee that is probing the hostage-taking, Puno said he had "verbal instructions from the President to oversee the PNP" in addition to his duties to supervise Patrol 117, the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Public Safety College and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.

In his platform of government, Aquino had pledged to transform government service "from presidential appointees chosen mainly out of political accommodation to discerning selection based on integrity, competence and performance in serving the public good: a civil service based on merit and not political patronage."

Aquino supporters, however, are also among the first to admit that a number of more qualified, competent and experienced individuals recommended by the search committee for Cabinet positions were edged out because the President based his selection not only on trust and his "comfort level" but also on "utang na loob (debt of gratitude)." 

Clashes among the President's advisers have also surrounded the appointments. The two main competing groups are carryovers from the campaign. One is composed of Liberal Party stalwarts and the Hyatt 10, cabinet members of former President Arroyo who quit her government after the "Hello, Garci" expose. The group supported Manuel "Mar" Roxas II for vice president. They are also referred to as the "Balay" (which means "house" in the Visayan dialect) group because their meeting place was the Araneta-Roxas compound in Cubao.

The other group is made up mainly of Aquino relatives like his uncle, former Tarlac Rep. Jose Cojuangco, cousin and TV director Maria Montelibano, and friends who supported Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay as vice president. They are referred to as the "Samar" group because their headquarters was a house on Samar Avenue in Quezon City owned by real estate businessman Jose "Jerry" Acuzar, brother-in-law of Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa.

Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero, who was part of the Aquino campaign and endorsed Binay for vice president, has said Robredo would have a difficult time in the Commission of Appointments.

There is also the clash between the "pragmatists" and "purists" among Aquino's close advisers. The "purists" are those who think Aquino should make a clean break from his predecessor Arroyo and that he should rid his Cabinet of those identified with her government. The pragmatists are those willing to work with former Arroyo officials. 

The ad hoc search committee was composed of Ochoa, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim, Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Internal Revenue Commissioner and Aquino classmate Kim Henares. 

Accounts on the role of sisters Ma. Elena "Ballsy" Aquino-Cruz and Aurora Corazon "Pinky" Aquino-Abellada in the search committee vary. While some said they were members of the committee, Ochoa said in an interview the President's two elder sisters merely gave suggestions but were not members of the committee.

The post of foreign secretary was at first committed to former trade secretary Juan Santos, a member of the "Hyatt 10."

Aquino, however, was forced to retract the offer to Santos after his sisters prevailed on him to retain Alberto Romulo mainly because of their families' friendship, despite allegations of incompetence by the career foreign service corps.

Romulo was the first among Arroyo's government officials to have openly said he would support and campaign for Aquino even though he held on to his post throughout Arroyo's incumbency. "But we owe Tito Bert a lot," a source present in the meeting quoted one of the sisters when Aquino informed the search committee of his decision to appoint Santos as foreign secretary. Santos was recently appointed chairman of the Social Security System. A Malacañang source said Aquino is keeping Romulo only in a "holdover" capacity for not more than one year. 

Another source also said Aquino was reluctant to sign Romulo's appointment papers but it was causing complications in foreign relations. Although Romulo took his oath of office in the first week of July, his appointment was signed only on Aug. 10. As a result, Romulo missed the 43rd meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi on July 20, as his lack of an official appointment prevented him from signing official international agreements for the Philippines.

Aquino's lack of rapport with Romulo has resulted in a disconnect between Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs with adverse consequences. These include the cancellation of Aquino's visits to Vietnam and Indonesia, scheduled for the second week of September, which the Philippines had initiated. 

The disconnect also resulted in Aquino's failure to receive the call of Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang at the height of the hostage crisis. 

A Malacañang official said an aide of Aquino received Tsang's call at about 5 p.m. of Aug. 23 through the Palace trunkline. Tsang called without prior notice, and since Aquino's aide did not know who Tsang was, a source said the aide referred the call to the DFA. 

A DFA official said the department waited for Tsang's call but it never came. No one from the DFA took the initiative of calling Tsang because Malacañang's instructions were "to wait" for Tsang's call.

Sources also cited the appointment of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, former president of De la Salle University, as another case of utang na loob. The La Salle brothers had offered their Greenhills campus as the venue for the wake of former president Corazon Aquino, who died August last year, when the Ateneo de Manila University and Sto. Domingo Church were unavailable. 

Luistro was appointed despite his lack of expertise in basic education, according to Aquino supporters, in the process shutting out former Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz who had helped craft Aquino's education agenda during the campaign. 

In many cases, Ochoa says, the last word on appointments rests with him and the President. The two enjoy a friendship that dates back to when their fathers were Liberal Party members in the 1960s. Ochoa's father was former mayor of Pulilan, Bulacan.

In 1998, Ochoa became Aquino's legal counsel when the latter was elected to the House of Representatives. Aquino's first choice was Eulalio "Galland" Diaz III, his classmate at the Ateneo, but Diaz was not available. 

Ochoa took pre-law studies at the University of Santo Tomas but enrolled at the Ateneo Law School where he had for classmates those who attended Ateneo undergrad with Aquino, including Diaz and now Sen. Teofisto "TG" Guingona Jr. 

Many of Aquino's classmates who went to the Ateneo Law School belong to Class of 1985 whose class valedictorian was Edward Serapio, who was once former President Joseph Estrada's lawyer and was jailed along with him on charges of plunder. Serapio was subsequently acquitted.

In fact, Aquino has fallen back on his classmates at the Ateneo in his search for appointees, leading critics to dub them as "Kaklase (Classmates) Incorporated." 

Among those who have been named to the Aquino government are Henares, Diaz as administrator of the Land Registration Authority, Rene Almendras as secretary of the Department of Energy, Cristino Naguiat as chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amor Amorado. 

Other Atenean lawyers in Aquino's government are presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Juan Andres Bautista as chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, Pio Lorenzo Batino as defense undersecretary, Michael Frederick Musngi as deputy executive secretary, and Francis Tolentino as chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority. A number of them were part of the group called Pinoy Lawyers that served as the legal arm of the Aquino campaign in the elections last May. 

Ochoa said he and Aquino act like they are still members of a barkada and are often the only two officials at Malacañang's Premier Guesthouse. "Ang lungkot sa Premier Guesthouse. Kami lang dalawa ni Noynoy (It's lonely at the Premier Guesthouse; it's just the two of us)."

The barkada-style relationship prevails to this day, and Ochoa said he often forgets he is dealing with the President. During a meeting with the World Bank, Ochoa said, he answered Aquino with a "Sige, pare." 

"Then I corrected myself. 'Mr. President,'" he said.

This relationship and his position as executive secretary, often considered the "little president," have practically given him a monopoly on the President's attention. When Aquino didn't like the names recommended by the search committee to head the Department of Science and Technology, he turned to Ochoa for help. 

"He (Aquino) said he didn't know anyone on the list. So I offered to consult my brother-in-law," Ochoa recalled, referring to Mario Montejo, a mechanical engineer. 

But Ochoa said the President instead replied, "Bakit hindi siya (Why not him)?" 

Ochoa also said he recommended Enrique Ona as health secretary after hearing about his work at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. "I know him only by reputation," he said. Critics have objected to Ona's appointment because of his promotion of the sale of organs for transplant. 

Ona and Romulo are said to be among five individuals recommended by the Iglesia Ni Cristo, a two-million-strong church group whose support the LP reportedly courted during the campaign. The INC also recommended the appointments of Paje and National Bureau of Investigation chief Magtanggol Gatdula. 

Paje, however, was named in an acting capacity as the DENR portfolio would reportedly be given to former Bukidnon congressman Nereus Acosta, the President's fellow Liberal Party member, who lost in the senatorial race. Acosta is covered by the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates.

Ochoa acknowledges that "everyone tries to influence" the President in the appointments. In cases when his advisers clash, the executive secretary said he and Aquino end up having the last say. 

But he also said, "At the end of the day, it's PNoy who decides. It's the personal choice of the President. It's his personal judgment."—Ellen Tordesillas, Luz Rimban, Yvonne Chua and Avigail Olarte 

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. Vera is Latin for "true." )

Robredo: Acting secretary designation 'least of my concerns'

MANILA, Philippines - Interior and Local Government chief Jesse Robredo is not bothered by Malacañang's move to designate him as acting secretary of his department amid criticisms regarding the August 23 hostage crisis that left 8 Hong Kong tourists dead.

Aquino to visit US September 20-26

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino is set to visit the United States later this month, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) formally announced on Monday.

State may abolish some losing GOCCs

MANILA, Philippines - Goverment owned and controlled corporations (GOCCS) are bracing for a major shakeup as the state plans to abolish some of these agencies.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said on Monday that some of the 14 GOCCs being monitored by the goverment, may have to be folded up.

The abolishment of losing and redundant GOCCs is part of the government's overall strategy to trim the bureacracy and stop the bleeding of its coffers through huge subsidies to these agencies.

Abad and Senator Franklin Drilon, chairman of the Senate committe on finance, said that with the planned reorganization of the GOCCs, the government will have to set the parameters or standards that will be the basis for closing some of the agencies.

Drilon's committee is conducting a probe on the fat pay checks of GOCC top officials and employees, and other excesses of these offices.

Abad explained that the scrapping  of these agencies can be done through an executive action.

He added that laws may have to be created to impose greater control by the government of the surviving GOCC entities, which currently have their own charters.

Drilon ageed with Abad that GOCCs cannot continue functioning as "independent republics" where they are not covered by the salary standardization law, especially since these funds comprise public funds.

Abad had earlier proposed to cap the excessive pay checks of GOCC executives.

In Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that not all GOCCs are as abusive as the Metropolitan waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Lacierda was reacting to reports that government subsidy for GOCCs will continue to increase in 2011.

In a recent Senate hearing, MWSS officer-in-charge Macra Cruz said that the agency's board directors received at least 25 kinds of bonuses totaling P5.4 million in 2009 and P3.5 million in 2008.

These include mid-year bonus, year-end performance, clothing allowance, GOCC incentive, privatization bonus, efficiency bonus, scholarship, educational and Christmas package, among others.

Lacierda said that while there a number of GOCCs that are languishing, some of them are performing well.

In a related development, Lacierda said the government is not reducing the budget for health and education in 2011. He did not say however, if the pork barrel for the Office of the President is still included in next year's budget, aside from the intelligence fund.

NBN-ZTE: Arroyo called to testify vs Neri

MANILA, Philippines - Former President and current Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and husband Jose Miguel will be summoned by the Sandiganbayan to testify against former National Economic and Development Authoirty (NEDA) director-general Romulo Neri.

De Castro explains actions regarding Globe Asiatique's deals with housing fund

(UPDATE) After defending Globe Asiatique Holdings Corp. over its handling of housing loans with the Pag-IBIG fund in a radio interview on Monday, former vice president Noli de Castro admitted that he ordered an investigation into the real estate firm's allegedly questionable loans before he stepped down from office.

Judiciary gets zero for capital outlay for new courtrooms

As the national government refused to allocate funds for the judiciary capital outlay, courtrooms would continue to be housed atop public markets and police stations, the Supreme Court administrator said Monday.

Cotabato City blasts extortion, not linked to Abu Sayyaf deaths—police

Police said on Monday the three explosions that rocked Cotabato City and an adjacent town over the weekend and early Monday had nothing to do with the deaths of a ranking Abu Sayyaf leader in Sulu and two suspected Abu Sayyaf members.

Jumdail's death to cripple Abu Sayyaf -- military official

The death of Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Gafur Jumdail has a crippling effect on the bandit group in Sulu, according to a ranking military official.

AFP to show soldiers' 'human side' on TV program

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will come up with a television program that will highlight the human side of soldiers, its spokesman said on Monday.

$1: P44.355

$1: P44.355 (P44.69)

Euro 1: P57.7220

Consumers to pay part of P932B debts of energy sector—DoE chief

The country's energy sector has incurred a whopping P932 billion in debts and liabilities and consumers would have to shoulder part of the burden of paying of the debts, Energy Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras said on Monday.

Aquino appoints Ledesma as new PSALM chief

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III has appointed an investment banker, Emmanuel Ledesma Jr. as head of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM).

Emergency extended in quake-hit New Zealand city

CHRISTCHURCH—New Zealand extended a state of emergency in earthquake-hit Christchurch Monday as the army enforced a no-go zone amid reports of looting in the rubble-strewn heart of the city.

Police say suicide attack in NW Pakistan kills 17

A suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically vital town in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 17 police and civilians in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes, police said.

Frenchman tried for raping 10 Thai kids

PARIS - A 61-year-old Frenchman appeared in a Paris court Monday charged with raping or sexually assaulting ten Thai girls aged between six and 11.

Pacquiao back in RP for training, Congress

MANILA, Philippines – Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao revealed that he told "Tijuana Tornado" Antonio Margarito of Mexico to train hard for their November 13 fight.

Censure Mayweather for racist rants—Fil-Am group

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) has strongly condemned boxing star Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s "blatantly racist and homophobic attacks" against Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao in a YouTube interview.

'Bata', 'Django' to bring winning ways anew in World Cup of Pool

Francisco 'Django' Bustamante, the other half of the Philippines' most successful combo in the World Cup of Pool, believes luck plays an important factor for all the teams competing in this prestigious tournament.

Charice seen in latest 'Glee' promo video

MANILA, Philippines – International singing sensation Charice is seen for the first time in the recently released promo video for popular American television series "Glee."

Gerald Anderson reacts to Kim's 'suicide attempt'

MANILA, Philippines – Popular love team Gerald Anderson and Kim Chiu had a "special relationship" but there was never a commitment between them.

Colombian is world's shortest man at 27 inches

BOGOTA, Colombia - Edward Nino Hernandez is in many ways a typical 24-year-old Colombian male. He loves to dance reggaeton, dreams of owning a car - preferably a Mercedes- and wants to see the world.

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