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

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 30, 2010 Major News Stories

NBI files criminal complaint vs. bar-exams blast suspect

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed before the Department of Justice (DoJ) a criminal complaint for multiple frustrated and multiple attempted murders against Anthony Nepomuceno, the suspect in the September 26 bar-exams blast.

APO confident Nepomuceno to be exonerated in Bar blast

MANILA, Philippines - The Alpha Phi Omega or APO fraternity welcomed on Thursday the filing of charges by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against one of its members Anthony Leal Nepomuceno.

Decentralized bar exams eyed to avoid 'bomb-throwing' incidents

To avoid similar crowded situations that could tempt bomb throwers in the future, a lawmaker has proposed decentralizing the examinations for prospective lawyers.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, author of House Resolution 537, said the Supreme Court should now consider reforms on the conduct of the bar examinations, adding that "we've never had changes since 1907 and since 1913."

"During bar exams, less than 30,000 or 40,000 people are in one venue at the same time, it's really a recipe for some unscrupulous people and criminal elements to infiltrate and throw a bomb," Rodriguez said during a news forum in Quezon City.

He said the crowd grows beyond the 6,000 bar examinees, because most of the time they accompanied by families, friends, supporters, classmates and fraternity brothers and sisters.

He believed the number of examinees and supporters would increase in the coming years with the implementation of multiple-choice examination replacing the essay examination.

"If you have that kind of a situation, and we're again in a jampacked and overcrowded venue, again that will be very dangerous, so therefore my proposal is to conduct the bar examination simultaneously [in several cities]," Rodriguez said.

He said the examinations can be held in Metro Manila for Luzon examinees, in Cebu for Visayas, and in Cagayan de Oro for Mindanao.

The lawmaker said this will decongest the bar exams by reducing the number of people per venue, and will also be a cheaper option for bar examinees from distant parts of the country.

"For our constituents in Mindanao and Cagayan de Oro, it's very expensive for them to come to Manila for a review from April to September. That's a good six months, and you can just see the expense," he said.

He added: "Yung sinasabi na nagbebenta kalabaw, totoo yun before coming to Manila (What they say about selling carabaos before coming to Manila, that's true). These are sons of farmers, workers from Mindanao. They come to Manila, pay for their board and lodging here, and other expenses."

Rodriguez further said the Supreme Court can use modern information and communications technology in conducting the examinations.

"Instead of giving the examination papers and reading, we flash the questions on the big screen, in the center, front, on the sides, and so when you take the examination, you just look up and answer. That will be a paperless examination," he said.

He said by just pushing a button, the questions can be simultaneously seen in Cebu or in Cagayan de Oro. 

"And the printing is done in front of the students, [so] there will be transparency… These are the things that the SC should start thinking about if you don't want unruly chaotic situation in the bar exam [in] September next year," Rodriguez said.

Comelec: Nearly all barangay, SK poll winners already proclaimed

Almost all winners in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections held during the past three days have already been proclaimed, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Thursday.
Director Divina Blas-Perez of the Comelec's Elections and Barangay Affairs Department told GMANews.TV in a text message that as of 9 a.m. Thursday, 96.25 percent of all barangays in the country which held elections in the past three days have already elected new officials.

She added that aside from Isabela towns affected by super typhoon "Juan" last week and areas in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) where there are threats of election-related violence, "almost all" barangays have already concluded their polls 
despite the delays.

Grassroots polls in 2,460 of the 42,025 barangays in the country were postponed Monday, primarily due to the delay in the delivery of election materials. (See: Barangay, SK polls postponed in 1,732 villages)

Some 2,252 barangays elected grassroots officials on Tuesday, while about 160 others conducted polls on Wednesday, according to Comelec.

The Comelec created on Tuesday a fact-finding body to look into the causes of the delays in the deliveries of election paraphernalia in these areas, which resulted in the postponement of polls. (See: Comelec to probe poll delays in 2,460 barangays)

Based on Republic Act 9340, the three-year terms of the barangay and SK officials elected during Monday's polls will start at noon of November 30.


Blas-Perez explained that the remaining barangays which have not yet proclaimed winners in the polls might still be settling ties, especially in the positions of barangay and SK councilors.

"'Yung ibang areas, although na-proclaim na 'yung iba, sinesettle pa 'yung ibang ties, lalo na sa kagawad at SK na madalas nagkaka-tie," she said. (In other areas, although some have been proclaimed, others are locked in a tie especially for barangay council and SK posts, and these are still being settled.)

The poll official added that it is "not unusual" for ties to occur during grassroots polls, since there are only few voters at the barangay level.

In a barangay in Siargao Island in Surigao City, for example, election officers settled a tie between two candidates for barangay chair through a toss coin. (See: Coin toss settles Siargao barangay chair race)

Section 240 of the Omnibus Election Code provides for the drawing of lots in case two or more candidates are tied with the highest number of votes, with the luck-favored candidate to be proclaimed winner.

The Comelec is still in the process of determining the voters' turnout during the recently concluded grassroots polls, according to Blas-Perez.

Each barangay has the authority, through its Barangay Boards of Canvassers, to proclaim the winners once the canvassing of votes is completed. 

Since no pre-proclamation protests are allowed, no major source of delays in proclamation are expected once the votes are counted, except for settling tied votes and a recent Comelec decision ordering election officers not to proclaim fourth-termer barangay officials because they are deemed disqualified from running for reelection.

Comelec starts releasing teachers' honoraria

The Commission on Elections has assured that the teachers' honoraria will be completely released on Tuesday.

Comelec provincial supervisor Lionel Marco Castillano said they have already started releasing the honorarium of teachers who served in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

As of yesterday there were already 38 municipal election officers who have claimed the teachers' honoraria for their respective town. According to Castillano, the teachers who served during the elections can claim their honorarium from the election officer of their town.

It is the election officers that determine who served in the last elections.

"The election officers should prepare payroll of the teachers during election para mahibawan if nitunga ba ang teacher or wala unya atong ipa explain sa election officer nganung wa katunga ang teacher," Castillano explained. 

Each teacher is entitled P2,000 for the two-day poll duty.

Meanwhile, Castillano said they will release next week the list of the winning candidates for the barangay and the SK in the province. The poll body is also expected to give the official voters' turnout.

He is however expecting a lower turnout this year compared to the 2007 elections because of the delays in the arrival of the election paraphernalia. Castillano said that the normal turnout for barangay and SK elections is 80-percent but because of the problems in the delivery of the poll materials, he said the 70-percent turnout is already high.

Pimentel fears cover-up in Comelec probe

by By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - A former senator fears there might be a cover-up in the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) investigation on problems that hounded the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections on October 25, since it is investigating its own personnel.

Pimentel wants Comelec powers amended

A former lawmaker and staunch critic of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday said the powers of the poll body should be amended so that it would be more transparent in its investigations and also to avoid "cover-ups."

Palace mum on Comelec chairman's retirement

MANILA, Philippines - A Malacañang spokesman on Thursday refused to coment on reports that Commission on Elections Chairman Jose Armando Melo is opting for early retirement.

DOLE: Two-tiered wage system is gaining support

The Department of Labor and Employment on Thursday said the two-tiered wage system proposed by the government is gaining support from various sectors in the labor force.
"While there are pros and cons to the planned shift to a two-tiered wage system, all concerned sectors are supporting the new system," National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) executive director Ciriaco Lagunzad said.

Employers, workers, and government sectors are now in the process of carefully studying the proposed wage system, he said.

The NWPC had earlier proposed a two-tiered wage system involving a basic wage hike and an added hike based on productivity.

"The [DOLE] has consulted with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other countries on the planned shift to a two-tiered wage system," DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said.

She said the department is seeking ILO's assistance in doing policy research on the proposed wage system.

DOLE is also asking the ILO to assist labor experts in Singapore who can discuss industry-based minimum wage systems with Filipino laborers and employers, Baldoz added.

Singapore is one of the successful countries that implemented a two-tiered wage system, with industry standards as the first tier and productivity-based bonus the second tier, she pointed out.

"The first tier is a mandatory national wage — or a floor wage — which will protect the incomes of the most vulnerable sectors from undue low wages. The second tier above the national floor is productivity-based," Lagunzad explained.

"This seeks to encourage improved work performance, remove the disincentive for collective bargaining, and promote bipartite modes in determining wages, and other terms and conditions of work," he said.

At present, the minimum daily wage in Metro Manila is P404.

Baldoz said that a two-tiered wage policy reform can be initiated within the present system of wage-fixing under Republic Act 6727 or the Wage Rationalization Act.

Under the law, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board may set the minimum wage rate along industry lines in the region and promote productivity improvement on all levels.

"We are conducting consultative meetings with different labor and employer groups to facilitate policy formulation on the development of compensation strategies based on workers and enterprise performance and productivity," Baldoz said.

She has encouraged leaders and representatives of organized labor groups, local firms and employers, concerned non-government agencies, and other interested parties to attend and participate in the hearings on wage hike petitions.

"We are encouraging them to present their position on the wage hike petitions," she said, expecting the implementing rules and regulations on the system would be available before the year is out.

52 lawmakers back Rep. Osmeña's "Happy 8" proposal

As of the latest count 52 congressmen have co-authored the proposed "Happy 8" bill of Cebu City South District Rep. Tomas Osmeña filed at the House of Representatives, the congressman told The FREEMAN.

Osmeña recently filed House Bill 3152 or "An Act Declaring Dec. 25 to Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 as Special Non-Working Holidays."

"The bill that I filed is very simple. It's called the 'Happy 8.' You know, I'm smart. My bill is only one page. I don't want to spend a lot of time on it. I just want to make something that will make people happy," Osmeña said.

Osmeña put it in the standpoint of a congressman when all constituents working in Manila or in the big cities can come home for the holidays to be with their family and friends.

It does not also require one peso of the congressman's pork barrel.

"All those other bills to help people require an appropriation of billions. My bill? Nothing. So don't think I'm going to get money from somebody," Osmeña said adding that these people who are going back to their hometowns are bringing with them their salaries and Christmas bonuses.

Osmeña said if his bill becomes law, the transportation system and the small and medium enterprises will benefit because the people will spend their money on the SMEs in their hometowns instead of on the big establishment in the big cities.

"All those bigshots in NEDA trying to figure out how to help the SMEs, just sign this bill and you'll be helping the SMEs in your district," he said.

Osmeña said he just copied a similar bill in the United States where holidays are long weekends. He also said if people know ahead of time that there will be a long weekend they go out of town.

"In the US, the impact on countryside development and tourism is tremendous," he said.

Osmeña cited that during Holy Week when there is nobody in Manila and even in Cebu City, people go to Bantayan Island or other places in the countryside.

Osmeña further cited that in the US people go to different places every time there is a long weekend.

"So instead of paying every time there's a holiday, why don't we just build a beach house in Moalboal or Badian. That's where the economy is helped. You also have to hire people to maintain the place. So it has a very profound effect," Osmeña added.

The proposal does not sit well with the business sector.

"Not good for the business sector since it will incur additional cost on products, low productivity and etc." said Samuel Chioson, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Other additional costs include holiday pay and others, Chioson added.

Tom: Ship owners must keep their hands off CPA

Cebu City South Rep. Tomas Osmeña said he is worried with how the Cebu Port Authority is being run with the shippers being allowed to have a say on who should be the general manager.

Osmeña said that he is against ship owners "having something to say" as to who will be CPA's general manager, likening it to letting inmates decided who should be the jail warden.

"I'm against that. It's just having the BBRC inmates choose their own warden. The job of the GM is to police the area," he said.

CPA General Manager Vicente Suazo Jr. said that although he is representing the shipping industry to the CPA Board, he knows for a fact that ship owners do not like him.

Last October 17, President Benigno Aquino III appointed the new port commissioners and retained Suazo. Aside from Suazo, the new port commissioners are Benjamin Akol, Arturo Barrit, Joselito Pedaria, Carlos Co, and Dennis Villamor.

All of the new port commissioners have not yet received their official appointment as of yesterday.

Suazo is the current CPA general manager while Akol is currently the president of Philippine Cargo and Stevedoring Operators. Suazo and Akol will be representing the ship owners and the shipping operators.

Barrit, a labor leader from the Associated Labor Union-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and Pedaria, the legal counsel of ALU-TUCP, will represent the cargo handling and stevedoring sector.

Co, former president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, owner of the Cebu Oversea Hardware and president of Golden Great Value Properties Inc. together with Villamor, currently the CPA deputy general manager, will represent the business sector.

The Cebu Port Commission is composed of a chairman, the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication while the six commissioners shall represent the shipping operators, owners, the cargo handling sector and the business sector.

The commission's vice chairman shall be elected from among the six commissioners and shall be designated concurrently as the CPA general manager.

Osmeña added that Suazo is being pushed down by ship owners because the latter is strict but the congressman said all the more Suazo should stay as general manager.

"The port authority needs somebody who is strict. What's important is the say of the people and they are not even represented in the board. In the case of Suazo, he's being pushed down because they said he's strict. But I said the more you should be there," Osmeña added.

The new set of port commissioners has yet to elect among themselves who will be the port's next general manager. 

LTFRB-7 chief asks DOTC to take over probe on franchises

Saying he is disappointed by the lack of support from higher offices, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board-7 Regional Director Benjamin Go announced he is turning over more than 2,000 cases of questionable certificates of public convenience to the Department of Transportation and Communication.

"Gikapoy na ko kay wala may suporta from Manila bisan og gamay, bisan pagdasig o pagsuporta wala gyud. Gikapoy na ko unya daghan pa ko'g nakaaway mao na ako na lang i-file ning mga kaso unya bahala na sila sa Manila," Go told The FREEMAN.

But Go assured he will continue with his cause to minimize, if not to totally stop the graft and corruption in his office, saying that he will still do something against all those illegal franchises issued during the term of his predecessors.

"Walang atrasan ito. I will file the appropriate cases at the Department of Transportation and Communication and it is up to the LTFRB and DOTC officials to decide. Para kung naa may bayaran or areglohan didto na, dili na ko kapasanginlan," Go said.

The LTFRB-7 director had earlier asked the DOTC officials in Manila to send personnel here to conduct an inventory of all questionable franchises that were issued by his predecessors, but his request was not acted upon.

Go said more than 2,000 taxi franchises were illegally issued by the former LTFRB regional directors allegedly in connivance with the hearing officers despite the existing moratorium in the issuance of taxi franchises in Metro Cebu.

When the LTFRB-Manila suspended the issuance of additional taxi franchises in Metro Cebu in 2003 there were still 4,000 units that time, but now statistics show there are more than 6,000 taxi units operating in Metro Cebu.

Go earlier accused lawyer Evelyn Misal, his chief legal officer as one of the "most guilty" persons who participated in the questionable issuance of hundreds of taxi franchises in Metro Cebu.

Misal chose not to comment about the accusation made by his regional director.

Go said he is studying for the possible filing of administrative charges against Misal and other LTFRB-7 hearing officer Douglas Sanson because documents show that they were the ones who endorsed the approval of the illegal taxi franchises despite the existing moratorium.

Barangay employees work in Faelnar's cock farm?

Guadalupe barangay captain-elect Michael Gacasan vowed to get rid of the employees who only report during paydays to collect their salaries.

Gacasan said he received reports that some of the 180 barangay employees are considered "15-30" or those who only report for work during paydays.

There were also reports that some barangay employees are assigned by outgoing Barangay Captain Eugenio "Jing-Jing" Faelnar to work in his cock farm.

Some tanods were also said to have been moonlighting as guards of subdivisions in the barangay.

In an interview over DYLA, Gacasan said he did not know some of the 180 employees that were hired by Faelnar were detailed to look after his fighting cocks in Sitio Banawa.

Gacasan promised to conduct a personnel audit as soon as he formally assumed office in November 30. He said that the days of these employees are already numbered.

On the other hand he assured that barangay employees who are doing their job will be retained.

In a follow-up interview with The FREEMAN, Faelnar admitted that some barangay personnel are also working at his roosters' breeding site but explained that these personnel only stay there from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m.

"Dunay pipila ka personnel nga nangyawat ba kay P2,500 ra go'y sweldo nila sa barangay. Mitrabaho sila nako isip maoy tigpakaon sa mga manok gikan sa kaadlawon hangtud nga sila mo-duty na sa barangay," said Faelnar, a cockfight enthusiast.

About Gacasan's allegation that there are some barangay personnel who only reports to the barangay during paydays, Faelnar has challenged Gacasan to name them.

Faelnar criticized Gacasan because he was among the barangay officials who recommended some relatives to work in the barangay.

"Karon gani kining mga unom niya ka paryente wala na mo-report sa trabaho, ako gani nga giingnan ang akong secretary nga i-mark absent na sila kon dili g'yud motunga," he said.

Faelnar said he had instructions to the 38 tanods of Guadalupe to always conduct preventive patrols in the barangay and to stay for one or two hours in subdivisions' entrance.

Gacasan, who was supported by South District Rep. Tomas Osmeña, won in the last barangay elections against Faelnar's son and number one councilman Dino.

Gacasan said he welcomes any suggestions from the public, even from Faelnar, on how to be effective in serving the more than 29,000 residents of Guadalupe.

"Broadcaster" punches Capitol consultant

Angry that his colleagues moved to oust him from their organization, a "broadcaster" allegedly punched the group's president inside a fastfood chain at Fuente Osmeña.

Dan Nolasco, a member of the Cebu Association of Media Practitioners (CAMP), reportedly punched CAMP President Sam Costanilla in a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Costanilla is also Capitol consultant on media affairs and freelance radio commentator.

Costanilla together with his members Efren Lonzon, Mike Aton and Greg Senining reported the incident at the Fuente Police Station.

Costanilla said Nolasco got mad when he sent him a letter terminating his membership with CAMP because of his conviction of a crime of estafa. According to Costanilla, under their organization's rules, a member who is convicted of a crime should be ousted from the group.

Costanilla said they received a copy of the court decision finding Nolasco guilty of estafa. In fact, he was allegedly detained for more than a month at the Cebu City Jail.

When CAMP members met on Wednesday inside a fastfood chain, Nolasco approached Costanilla and immediately punched him on the stomach.

"Without provocation, giduol ko niya, ingon siya sumbagay ta? Unsa man isog ka? Dayon gisukmag ko niya" Costanilla said.

Nolasco said Costanilla wanted to embarrass him even if he knew that his conviction is still on appeal.

"Ilang gusto pakauwawan ko, napuno nako sa intriga nganong apilon pa man nila akong pamilya sa mga estorya," Nolasco said.

Costanilla however said he is not filing charges against Nolasco. The two instead agreed to settle their differences in the barangay.

Enrile: If House can give big allowances, so can Senate

by By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Thursday defended the allowances of certain Senate officials that are now deemed as excessive, and took full responsibility for authorizing them.  

Arroyo forced Neri to approve NBN-ZTE deal, court told

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had forced her Planning secretary, Romulo Neri, to approve the alleged anomaly-ridden proposal of Chinese firm ZTE Corp. in the government's national broadband network project in 2007, a newspaper columnist said Thursday.
Jarius Bondoc told the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division in a hearing that Neri himself told him this in a phone conversation on April 21, 2007, the day before the $329-million NBN deal was signed with ZTE Corp.

The trial was for the graft case slapped against former Commission on Election (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos, who allegedly tried to bribe Neri to approve the deal.

Under direct examination by Prosecutor Jacinto dela Cruz Jr., Bondoc said Neri called him in the morning of April 20, 2007 and gave him four names of people who were allegedly behind the overpricing of the NBN project.

"Secretary Neri mentioned a certain Ricky Razon, Abalos and either GMA (Arroyo's initials) or (then First Gentleman Jose Miguel) Mike Arroyo. He said, 'You find out for yourself. I can't tell you. I won't tell you'," said Bondoc, who claimed to have known Neri since the Cory Aquino administration.

That time, according to Bondoc, Neri was head of the Congressional Planning and Budget Office of the House of Representatives.

Interviewed after the hearing, Bondoc said his inquiries led him to discover that both Arroyos were involved -- an accusation that the couple has long since denied.

Dela Cruz tried to get Bondoc to expound on his phone conversation with Neri, but the defense objected. It got sustained by the anti-graft court.

The prosecutor instead marked as evidence Bondoc's six-page sworn affidavit dated October 8, 2007 – the same affidavit Bondoc submitted to the Senate blue ribbon committee when he testified on the same issue. 

In the affidavit, Bondoc quoted Neri as saying that the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) was forced to approve the ZTE proposal because "PGMA was pushing it." He said by way of explaining the pressure on his office, Neri blurted, "Binraso ako ni Presidente (I was forced by the President)."

Neri was also quoted as saying that Arroyo seemed unconcerned when he informed her of the P200-million bribe allegedly offered to him by Abalos to approve the ZTE proposal for the NBN project.

"Huwag mong tanggapin (Don't accept it), but I need the NEDA approval just the same," Arroyo allegedly told Neri then.

The former NEDA chief also reportedly confided to Bondoc that he feared for his life from both Abalos and had planned to resign as early as April 2007. Why Neri opted to stay in the Arroyogovernment was never explained.

Defense lawyers attacked Bondoc's testimony by questioning him on the blood ties between his wife, Marissa, and businessman Jose De Venecia III, who blew the whistle on the alleged irregularities surrounding the NBN-ZTE deal. Bondoc admitted that his wife and De Venecia are second cousins. 

Former executive secretary Ermita faces plunder raps

Former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is facing a plunder complaint over the alleged anomalous sale of the old Iloilo airport that happened during the term of former president and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Politics behind revival of 'PEACe bonds' issue, NGO says

Politics is behind renewed calls to investigate one of the President's trusted officials, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, for the P1.48 billion profit her former organization earned from government flotation bonds in 2001, a group of non-government organizations (NGO) said Thursday.

Gloria may grill Dinky on PEACe bonds inquiry-ally

An ally of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the latter may grill Social Welfare Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman when the House of Representatives conduct an inquiry on the Poverty Eradication and Alleviation Certificate (PEACe) bonds.

Bacalzo: Whole PNP to undergo retraining

by By Joel Caballero, ANC
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine National Police (PNP) has taken a beating with recent controversies involving a number of policemen.

Luistro sheds tears for Zambo knife attack survivors

by By Jewel Reyes, ABS-CBN Zamboanga
MANILA, Philippines - Education Secretary Armin Luistro could not help but weep after hearing the stories of the survivors of a deadly knife attack that killed 3 people in Talisayan Elementary School in Zamboanga City last Friday.

Water torture used on Cotabato bus blast suspects?

by By Lore Mae Andong, ABS-CBN Central Mindanao
COTABATO CITY - The mother of 2 of the suspects in the deadly Rural Transit Bus bombing in Matalam, North Cotabato has accused law enforcers of torturing her sons to own up to the crime.

Aquino needed to link Erap to Dacer murder: lawyer

by By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
SAN FRANCISCO – The counsel for slain publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer's daughters believes former police officer Michael Ray Aquino could provide vital testimony that would link former president Joseph Estrada to the Dacer-Corbito murders 9 years ago.

Tourist guide Celdran pleads not guilty to 'offending religious feelings'

Tourist guide Carlo Celdran donned his Jose Rizal suit anew for his arraignment on Thursday at the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) where he pleaded not guilty to the charge of offending religious feelings.

Aquino meets with Thai PM

by By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
HANOI—President Aquino met with Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in a bilateral meeting ahead of the opening ceremony of the 17th ASEAN Summit.

PNoy to meet Chinese Premier on Friday

HANOI - President Benigno Aquino III is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday at the sidelines of the 14th ASEAN Summit here.

Like Cory, PNoy calls for release of Suu Kyi

by By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
HANOI—President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday called for the immediate release of Myanmar democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi when he met with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein at the sidelines of the 14th ASEAN Summit being held in Hanoi, Vietanam.

Myanmar tells ASEAN Suu Kyi may be freed after polls—source

Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win has said that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be released after November 7 elections, an Asian diplomatic source said Thursday.

Aquino appoints permanent representative to ASEAN

President Aquino has appointed Wilfrido Villacorta as the Philippines' permanent representative to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the presidential palace said today.

$1: P43.102

$1: P43.102 (P43.26)

Euro 1: P59.5037

RP lifts ban on deployment of au pairs in Europe

The country's overseas employment authority has lifted the 13-year ban on the recruitment and deployment of au pairs (domestic assistants) to selected European countries.

Church group to DOLE: Sanction 'abusive' RP attaché in HK

A Church group has joined the growing call to sanction a Philippine labor attaché assigned to Hong Kong, following the rapid spread of a recorded conversation where the official berated a distressed overseas Filipina worker (OFW).

DOLE pushes bilateral labor deals for OFWs

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has created a committee that will develop policy guidelines for the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) covered by the government's bilateral labor agreements with other countries.

Economists say crisis slows remittance growth

by By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano, OFW Journalism Consortium
MANILA, Philippines – A slow growth in remittance flows and export of Filipino workers overseas are expected to occur as the United States economy remains wanting in signs of a recovery on lackluster jobs data.

Businessmen urge action, say 'honeymoon' over

MANILA, Philippines - Declaring the honeymoon period over, business leaders from 7 key sectors on Thursday pressed the Aquino administration on reforms to ensure that rosy outlooks for the year will be sustained in the long run.

Most industries are primed to end 2010 with growth due to a global pickup but bottlenecks caused by the strengthening peso, dwindling productivity, a dearth in infrastructure and unclear government policies need to be addressed, speakers told a conference hosted by the American and European chambers of commerce.

The event was held ahead of the Joint Foreign Chambers' submission to Malacañang next month of a 400-page roadmap hinged on so-called "seven big winners": agribusiness, business process outsourcing (BPO), power, transport infrastructure, manufacturing, mining and tourism.

The speakers were generally upbeat on 2010 prospects for areas ranging from agriculture and mineral exports, tourism arrivals and new BPO jobs.

Roberto C. Amores, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry's vice-president for agriculture, noted that food exports picked up in August while Chamber of Mines President Benjamin Philip G. Romualdez remarked on the 36% growth of his industry in the first half.

"And more investments are flowing in. More projects are coming on stream ahead of schedule," Mr. Romualdez claimed.

The tourism sector, meanwhile, expects 10% growth in arrivals this year to 3.7 million despite a botched hostage rescue last August that led to the deaths of eight Hong Kong nationals, former Philippine Travel Agencies Association President Jose C. Clemente III said.

Oscar R. Sañez, Business Process Outsourcing Association of the Philippines chief executive, reiterated that his sector was poised to create some 500,00 jobs this year over the 440,000 generated in 2009.

But these gains will not be sustained unless the government addresses long-standing concerns, the businessmen said.

"We need more than 1,000 kilometers of toll roads just like Thailand," Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. President Ramoncito S. Fernandez said, noting that the Philippines has only 300 kilometers in comparison.

"If we can double this in five years, that's a noble achievement already," Mr. Fernandez said, adding that the government needs to "fast track the right of way process."

The government must also promote retail competition in the power market and make the environment for long-term power purchase deals more attractive as these two thrusts could lower electricity prices, said Daniel E. Chalmers, GN Power Ltd. Co. chairman.

Some called for increasing pressure on trade partners that undervalue their currencies at the cost of the Philippine economy and also better forecasting to help firms here cope with the strengthening peso.

"I would encourage Filipinos to voice concern over controlled currencies in the region," American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Senior Adviser John D. Forbes said.

Speakers went on to call for increased state spending for agriculture infrastructure, a roadmap to develop manufacturing, and a fresh marketing campaign to lure tourists.

Consistency between national and local government policies for mining is likewise needed, Mr. Romualdez said.

Customs files P10-M smuggling case vs equipment importer

MANILA, Philippines - In an ongoing name-and-shame campaign against erring importers, the Bureau of Customs has filed smuggling charges against a proprietor and broker of a company for allegedly undervaluing its shipments.

Customs may miss October target, blames strong peso

by Reuters
MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs, the government's second largest revenue agency, will likely miss its October collection target of P23.8 billion ($551 million), partly due to a strong peso, the head of the agency said on Thursday.

Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano erupts again

by Agence France-Presse
SLEMAN, Indonesia - Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano, which killed 32 people earlier this week, erupted again Thursday, spewing ash and deadly heat clouds, an official said.

Indonesia tsunami death toll nears 350

by by Bayu Ismoyo, Agence France-Presse
NORTH PAGAI, Indonesia - The death toll from a tsunami that pummelled remote Indonesian islands soared to 343 on Thursday as questions mounted over whether an elaborate warning system had failed.

Indonesia tsunami death toll likely to pass 500

The death toll from a tsunami that pummelled remote Indonesian islands is expected to pass 500, an official said Thursday as questions mounted over whether a warning system had failed.

Afghan wedding collapse kills 65

Sixty-five people, all but one woman and children, died when a ceiling collapsed at a wedding in one of the most remote regions of northern Afghanistan, an official said Thursday.

China expands naval fleet to 'safeguard sea rights'—report

BEIJING—China is expanding its naval surveillance fleet to better protect its maritime rights, state media reported Thursday, amid bitter deep-sea territorial disputes with neighboring nations.

Roach says Margarito got off lightly for using loaded wraps

by Agence France-Presse
LOS ANGELES - Legendary trainer Freddie Roach says Antonio Margarito got off lightly with a one-year suspension and suspects the Mexican boxer may have used loaded hand wraps against other opponents besides Shane Mosley.

Pacquiao shows his stuff in open training

MANILA, Philippines – Manny Pacquiao has showed the media a bit of boxing speed he'll be using against Mexico's Antonio Margarito on November 13. But Pacquiao's coach, Freddie Roach, assured that there will be more than just speed in the Filipino's arsenal on fight night.

Pacquiao to grace US senator's rally in Las Vegas

In yet another unscheduled break from training, pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao will fly to Las Vegas (Friday in Manila) to attend a political rally for Senate president Harry Reid, a close friend of promoter Bob Arum.

Revillame posts P426-M surety bond in suit vs ABS-CBN

TV host Willie Revillame has posted a P426-million surety bond after he was required to do so by a Quezon City court in connection with the P11-million damage suit he has filed against ABS-CBN.

Liz Uy mum on 'romance' with PNoy

MANILA, Philippines – Celebrity stylist Liz Uy is still keeping mum on her rumored romantic relationship with 50-year-old bachelor President Benigno Aquino III.

ABS-CBN to air 'Kokak' remake

MANILA, Philippines – The high-rating Saturday fantasy-drama anthology, "Wansapanataym," offers its viewers the fresh tandem of Cristine Reyes and Luis Manzano as they team up in Ruben Marcelino's "Kokak."

Marvin Agustin is juror in intl indie film fest in Brussels

MANILA, Philippines – Actor Marvin Agustin is set to take time out from the shooting of "Tanging Ina Mo, Last na 'To" movie to go Belgium and be part of the jury of one of the most interesting festivals in the world, the Brussels International Independent Film Festival.

Piolo offers to be Kristine-Oyo's wedding singer

MANILA, Philippines – Hunk actor Piolo Pascual said he is very much willing to sing on the wedding day of his "Noah" co-star Kristine Hermosa and her real-life sweetheart Oyo Boy Sotto.

DFA junks 'RP' acronym, adopts 'PH' or 'PHL'

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is doing away with the "RP" acronym, and will use the world-standard initials PH or PHL.

Roll up, roll up to the US elections circus!

NEW YORK - Heard the one about the witch, the brothel madam and the guy in the Nazi suit? The punchline is that they're not jokes, but candidates in perhaps the zaniest US congressional elections ever.

Just when US politicians seemingly couldn't find new ways to lose their dignity, they did.

There are serious issues in Tuesday's congressional and gubernatorial polls: President Barack Obama's authority and the struggling US economy, for starters.

But that didn't always mean a serious campaign.

Take Christine O'Donnell, Republican senatorial candidate in the state of Delaware.

Her most famous declaration? "I'm not a witch."

O'Donnell, one of the angry, anti-Obama insurgents from the Tea Party movement, may have an important contribution to offer, but her passionate non-witch declaration -- even though she admitted to dabbling in the dark arts long ago -- is all many are likely to remember.

Then there's Carl Paladino, running as Republican candidate for governor of the massively indebted, politically dysfunctional New York state.

To project a tough, no-nonsense image, he famously vowed to take "a baseball bat" to the legislature in Albany.

Unfortunately, the righteous man turned out to have a dirty secret: his reported penchant for sending racist and X-rated email attachments, including one depicting a woman getting over-friendly with a horse.

Paladino's not alone with a porn problem. South Carolina's Alvin Greene, running for the Senate as a Democrat, actually faces pornography charges.

If they lose on Tuesday, both men might get sympathy -- or more -- from fellow would-be politician Kristin Davis.

She's running for New York governor, but her main political exposure has been as the madam who supplied Eliot Spitzer, the state's chief executive at the time, with prostitutes, leading to his resignation in 2008.

"Politicians are the biggest whores in this state. I might be the only person on this stage who knows how to deal with them," she proudly declared in a televised debate to explain why she was qualified for high office.

What with the economy and the military quagmire in Afghanistan, there's plenty of bad news in this election. So it might be no surprise that some candidates are lashing out at the messengers.

Paladino told an annoying reporter to his face: "I'll take you out, buddy," while Joe Miller, a Tea Partier from Alaska -- home state of Tea Party queen Sarah Palin -- went a step further: his private security guards actually handcuffed pesky Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger.

But Republican congressional candidate Rich Iott has only his own judgment to blame for bad press.

It emerged during the campaign that he likes to dress up as a World War II German SS officer in battle reenactments. Of course, Iott says these sessions, where he reportedly participated under the nomme de guerre Reinhard Pferdmann, are all clean fun.

But the Internet pictures of him in Nazi garb have gone down badly, even in this angry, radicalized year.

Not that all the wackiness of this election is ugly. Some is just plain wacky: such as Jimmy McMillan, leader of The Rent is Too Damn High Party, running for New York governor.

An impressive figure who wore black gloves and sported an enormous handlebar moustache, McMillan said he wants to "make New York an independent state." First, though, those rents need lowering.

And then there is California's bid to become the first state in the country where smoking marijuana is legal.

The debt-ridden Golden State has other hot contests. There's a tight Senate race and the gubernatorial contest between record-spending Republican billionaire Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown, nicknamed "Governor Moonbeam" for his last spell in the office.

But after all the vitriol in these elections, the marijuana referendum, known as Proposition 19, could be the ultimate escape.

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