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

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 2, 2010 Major News Stories

Lighted candle started blaze? Fire razes houses along C Padilla St.

Several houses in a thickly-populated area in the interior portion of C. Padilla St. in barangay Duljo-Fatima and part of Mambaling were gutted by a fire late last night despite the heavy downpour.

The fire alarm was raised 9:06 p.m. and the fire fighters put it under control two hours and 20 minutes later.

According to radio reports, the fire started in the house of a certain Loben Mon-ineo, a widow.

Chito Fiel, who was interviewed over radio station dySS, said that he saw Mon-ineo light a candle shortly before the fire started.

He claimed that Monineo was on the second floor of her house and it was where the fire also started. Fiel also lost his house in the blaze.

Supt. Esmael Codilla, Cebu City Fire Marshal, said that they raised the alarm to Task Force Alpha less than an hour after they started fighting the blaze.

Firefighters from all over Metro Cebu were at the scene as of presstime. 

Cebu City Police Office Director Sr. Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe also rushed to the scene along with several policemen to help secure the area.

Heavy rain poured late last night, but the downpour did not do much to help put out the fire as strong winds blew fanning the flames towards several directions.

The Cebu City government has sent personnel to the area late last night. Former City Councilor Gerardo Carillo, who is now chairman of the Cebu City Disaster Coordi-nating Council, said that the fire victims will be housed at the nearby San Vicente gym and their food will be provided.

Firefighters faced the problem of narrow roads as their trucks could not penetrate the area where the blaze was fiercest.

A total of six sitios were affected as of 11 p.m., five in Duljo-Fatima and one in Mambaling.

Codilla estimated that there were about 70 to 80 houses that were destroyed. ? /NLQ (FREEMAN)

All Saints Day "very peaceful" - police chief

Aside from a brief tension between medical volunteers and traffic enforcers, yesterday's observance of All Saints Day in Cebu City was orderly and "very peaceful," said city police chief Senior Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe.

"Expected nato sa hapon magkadaghan ang tawo, but walay mga insidente o krimen na related aning pag-celebrate nato sa Kalag-kalag," Buenafe said. The city police chief himself went around the cemeteries in Cebu City starting 8am until the afternoon yesterday.

The tension occurred at the Calamba and Carreta cemeteries when the City Traffic Operations Management (CITOM) issued citation tickets to volunteers of the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF) for alleged illegal parking.

The ERUF volunteers were among those providing assistance to those visiting the cemeteries.

"Wala daw coordination between them, but anyway, what is important is that the celebration of the Kalag-kalag is very peaceful and we hope that this will continue until this occasion ends," Buenafe said.

Compared to the previous years, fewer bladed weapons and sharp instruments were reportedly confiscated this year. Buenafe attributed the same to the information campaign on the ban of any weapon that may be used for violence in the cemeteries.

"Ang mga gabantay sauna said na medyo lesser karon kay ang mga tawo na-edukar na man. Mag-obserbar ta aning okasyona solemnly. We want it peacefully celebrated so gibawal nato na including intoxicating liquor to avoid mga dili maayong mga insidente," Buenafe said.

He said the red alert status during the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections shall continue until today, All Souls Day. Police will continue to patrol cemeteries in the city for 24 hours.

Buenafe also said he has enough men patrolling commercial establishments to ensure that the robbery at a furniture firm in Mandaue City yesterday morning will not happen in Cebu City.

Security cameras have also been installed at the cemeteries.(FREEMAN)

Exhumation at Lorega cemetery next week

This year's observance of All Saints Day and All Souls Day will be the last at the Lorega San Miguel Public Cemetery.

Next week, the city government will start the excavation and exhumation of some 362 cadavers to give way to the construction of a three-story building for socialized housing. The project is seen to benefit an initial 60 families that have been living with the dead for decades and who are members of United Cemetery Side Residence Association Inc.

Councilor Alvin Dizon, in his visit to the area yesterday, started relaying the information to the families of the affected cadavers, several of whom are still unaware of the cemetery's closure. The city government has put up notices in strategic areas in the cemeteries.

Those who learned about the project early on had taken the prerogative to transfer the remains of their loved ones to another cemetery.

There are 362 cadavers that are scheduled for exhumation next week, but the city health department has disallowed the exhumation of 22 cadavers, as they were buried just less than five years. 

The 22 cadavers will only be transferred to another tomb in the area that will not be affected by the construction.

The cadavers that have been buried for more than five years, but have not been claimed by relatives will be placed in a temporary bone chamber. Relatives who wish to claim the remains will be able to do so without payment, as recently approved by the City Council.

The exhumation was supposed to start this week but was delayed because relatives have requested that they be allowed to observe All Saints Day and All Souls Day at the cemetery.

The city is also awaiting the certification from the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation that no person with pending criminal case is buried there.

Dizon said all requirements will be completed next week so the clearing will finally start and will end in a month. After the construction of the three-story building, the cemetery will be cleared of tombs and cadavers.

"The clearing will be done phase by phase. There are all in all 3,012 cadavers in this cemetery that we will have to remove. After all, this cemetery was closed because it is no longer compliant with the sanitation code which requires the cemetery to be 25 meters away from a residential house and 50 meters away from a water source," Dizon said.

The Lorega cemetery has been a home not only to the dead but also to the living as early as 1970s. Currently, there are about 400 families and structures built on top or beside the tombs.

The 74-year-old cemetery was established in 1936 before the Second World War. Before that, it was already the graveyard of the oldest cadaver buried in 1912.

The Lorega San Miguel Public Cemetery was also where Don Vicente Sotto and General Arcadio Maxilom were first buried before there remains were transferred.

The proposed socialized housing project is being funded by the Priority Development Assistance Fund of former Congressman Raul del Mar amounting to P10 million plus additional funds from non-government organizations amounting to P3 million. (FREEMAN)

Aquino to visit parents' graves on Nov 2

by By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III is spending All Saints' Day, November 1, privately and quietly and will visit the graves of his parents, Sen. Noynoy and President Corazon Aquino, on November 2 instead.

Coast Guard imposes 48-hour advance notice from ship agents

Last weekend's foiled terrorist attack on the United States has prompted the Philippine Coast Guard to require ship agents to submit their list of passengers, crew and cargo 48 hours in advance.

House body OK's bill on review centers

THE HOUSE committee on higher education and technical education has approved a consolidated bill penalizing universities or colleges requiring students to enroll in a school-accredited review center prior to taking the licensure examination.

Gun ban stays until November 10—PNP

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Monday that the gun ban remains enforced until November 10.

Drug test for tanod who shot actor dead

The barangay tanod who shot dead an actor in the middle of a film shoot in barangay Parian last Saturday night will be subjected to a drug test tomorrow for allegedly being unruly in the set.

This as the director of the Cebu City Police Office said there was no lapse on the part of the policemen who secured the area of the film shooting, saying they properly informed the barangay officials and tanods beforehand.

Chief Insp. Alexis Relado, chief of Parian Police Station, said they were supposed to have the suspect, Edgardo Cuizon, undergo the drug test yesterday, but because of the holidays, the scheduled test was moved to today.

"Kinahanglan pa man gud mubayad og P300 sa banko unya wa ma'y banko gahapon," Relado said.

He said Cuizon, 51, was already submitted to a liquor test and found to be negative of alcohol.

The FREEMAN received information that the suspect appeared either intoxicated or high when he was warned not to go to the set but still stayed around and ended up killing Kirk Abella, 32.

Abella, a resident of Barangay Punta Princesa, is connected with Alan Lyddiard Films based in London, United Kingdom.

Relado would not confirm this independent report.

"Dili sa ingon nga ming-defend ko sa tanod but dili man siya hostile that time. Gikuyogan pa gani siya ug pulis padung didto nya gi-warningan siya daan nga naay ga-shooting na mga artista didto. Ato siya i-undergo og drug test para matagaan og fair treatment," he said.

Relado added that since he served as chief of the police station for over two months, he found out the suspect to be active especially in their curfew operations and was never seen bringing a gun.

City police chief Sr. Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe was the one who ordered Relado to have the barangay tanod undergo a drug test.

"Ang barangay tanod gi-submit for liquor test and gi-advise-an pud nako to undergo drug test kay mahibulong ta nganong ni-react man siya didto nga well-disseminated and well-coordinated man to. Gisultian ang mga tawo didto nga naay shooting nga ginabuhat," he said.

Buenafe also countered allegations that the police did not properly inform the tanods of the film shooting.

"Naay gi-conduct na investigation nganong nahitabo to but initially, makita nato nga wa man silay lapses ato. Naa ray mura'g psychotic kuan siguro ang tawo during that time nganong mi-react man siya ug ingon adto knowing nga film shooting man to," Buenafe said.

A case for reckless imprudence resulting to homicide and violation of the gun ban is now being prepared against the suspect.

Abella's remains are now at the St. Francis Funeral Homes along N. Bacalso Avenue.

His sister Cleofe Escanillan said that was her youngest brother's first movie.

Abella, single but with a son, was recently informed by a neighbor connected with the film industry about the documentary. He was later hired by Alan Lyddiard, the producer.

Escanillan said that based on what Lyddiard told her, he is possibly no longer pursuing the movie.

She said she and her other siblings are pursuing the case despite the pleas of Cuizon's wife.

"Ngano gud 'tawn? Sila mao'y muatras pero kami dili. Lahi ra gyud 'ning mamatyan ka," she said.

Abella was playing the role of an assassin and wore a bonnet to cover his face and was armed with a toy gun when he was shot by Cuizon who thought the victim was really out to shoot someone.  (FREEMAN)

LTFRB chief says transfer is move to stop exposés

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Regional Director Benjamin Go believes his impending transfer is a move to stop his exposes on the alleged anomalies at the bureau.

"Mao na'y solution nila, ibalhin ko, then business as usual again. Hindi na matuloy ang pag-expose ko sa mga anomalies. Sa bagay, pagod na ako, payag na rin ako lumipat na lang," Go told The FREEMAN.

Rumors circulating the transportation industry have it that Go will be transferred to another region and will be replaced by a public information officer of a government-owned and controlled corporation.

Go, who assumed as regional director last May 13, admitted being disappointed with the transfer and said he feels "harassed" by reports that he is making the exposes as a means to get money. He said he does not need to engage in illegal activities for money because he belongs to a well to do family.

"Give me a Holy Bible and I will place my hand on it and swear. Grabe na nga demolition job. Sobra na kaayo na. Naa man siguro lie detector test sa National Bureau of Investigation willing ko mag-undergo to prove that I am not lying," Go said in a text message to the reporter who reportedly writes adverse reports against him.

One report has it that Go's expose can be likened to the so-called "Oplan Paila-ila" popularized among law enforcement officers when they get assigned to a new place.

Go assured he will stand by his exposes.

"I will stand as witness against all those illegal franchises that were issued by my predecessors when this will be investigated by central office of LTFRB," Go said.

He also admitted being saddened that no one at LTFRB seems to be supporting his move to investigate the questionable issuance of some 2,000 taxi franchises even after the moratorium issued by the LTFRB-Manila in 2003.

When the LTFRB-Manila suspended the issuance of additional taxi franchises in Metro Cebu in 2003, the number of taxi units was pegged at 4,000. However, recent records show that there are at least 6,000 taxi units now operating in Metro Cebu.

Go earlier accused lawyer Evelyn Misal, his chief legal officer who also served as hearing officer of applications for franchises, as having participated in the questionable issuance of hundreds of taxifranchises in Metro Cebu.

De Lima hands off on Napolcom chief's appointment

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima refused to rule on the validity of the appointment of lawyer Eduardo V. Escueta as Commissioner, Vice Chairman and Executive Officer of the National Police Commission (Napolcom).

De Lima, in her legal opinion said issuing a ruling on the case "would only cause unwarranted intrusion into the judicial power of the Supreme Court."

She issued the legal opinion after the Department of Interior and Local Government asked if Escueta is covered by Executive Order No. 2 revoking all the appointments made by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the appointment ban two months prior to the Presidential elections.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said Escueta was appointed as acting commissioner of Napolcom on July 21, 2008 and was permanently appointed to his post on March 25, 2010.

De Lima said the case on Escueta's appointment is already with the Supreme Court.

"By settled policy and practice, the Secretary of Justice does not render opinion or give legal advice on matters that, as in this case, are sub judice or pending litigation before the courts," she said.

"To rule on your query would be an unwarranted intrusion into the exercise of the judicial powers and functions pertaining to the Supreme Court, or a separate and coordinate branch of the government, and could subject this Office to criticism for violation of the independence of the Judiciary," De Lima added.

She also noted that the issue involves the substantive rights of a private party, (i.e. Mr. Escueta).

"As a matter of policy, therefore, the Secretary of Justice has consistently refrained from rendering opinion on questions that are justiciable in nature or can be the subject of litigation before the courts," De Lima said.

Binay rating very good'

Top gov't execs positive; institutions improveVICE-PRESIDENT Jejomar C. Binay's first satisfaction score has turned out to be "very good" but some previous holders of the office posted better, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) said.

In a September survey where Filipinos were asked how content they were with officials in the line of succession to the presidency, 70% said they were satisfied with Mr. Binay's performance so far, with 12% holding the opposite opinion.

This gave the former Makati mayor a net score of +58, which compares to the "moderate" +22 received by Noli L. de Castro in May 2005, Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr.'s similarly "moderate" +19 in March 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's "excellent" +73 in Sept. 1998, Joseph E. Estrada's slightly higher "excellent" +78 in Sept. 1992 and Salvador H. Laurel's "good" +44 in Oct. 1986.

The other new entrant to the SWS list, House Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr., started his satisfaction ratings with a "neutral" +9 (34% satisfied, 25% dissatisfied), better than the last two persons who held the office: Prospero C. Nograles, a "poor" -12 in March 2008, and Arnulfo P. Fuentebella's "neutral" -4 in Dec. 2000.

Manuel B. Villar, Jr., meanwhile, scored a "moderate" +22 in Sept. 1998 when he started heading the chamber while Jose C. de Venecia received a "good" +39 in Aug. 1992 and a "moderate" +16 in Sept. 2001. Ramon V. Mitra, Jr. started out with a "good" +33 in Feb. 1990.

At the Senate, Juan Ponce Enrile -- reelected as the chamber's president, saw his net satisfaction score slip a bit but stay at "good" levels, to +39 in September from +41 in June.

Supreme Court Justice Renato C. Corona had his ratings pick up to "neutral" -5 from a "poor" -18 three months earlier.

Messrs. Binay and Belmonte welcomed the results and vowed to push reforms in their respective institutions.

"Vice-President Binay sees it as a reflection of the people's optimism about their future and encourages him to work harder, particularly in facing the challenges of the housing sector and addressing the concerns of our global Filipinos," spokesperson Joey Salgado said.

Mr. Binay -- who defeated President Benigno C. Aquino III's running mate -- has been tapped to head the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and was also named presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers' concerns.

Mr. Belmonte, meanwhile, said in a text message: "One of my goals is to improve the image of the House by better performance, projecting positive aspects of our work, good attendance."

The September SWS poll also showed the top state institutions gaining significantly from scores posted six months earlier.

Public satisfaction with the Cabinet as a whole increased the most to a "moderate" +22 from -7 in March. "The net satisfaction rating of the Cabinet had been neutral or poor since August 2005," the SWS said.

The Supreme Court improved to a "good" +33 from a "neutral" +9, while the Senate and House of Representatives both gained to "good" scores of +48 and +30, respectively, from a "moderate" +25 and "neutral" +7.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Cabinet's score was a result of being focused on serving the public.

"The public is seeing the manner in which the president and the Cabinet are focused on results and not self-promotion. As the president's team has settled in, their teamwork approach is taking root in departments and among agencies," Mr. Lacierda said in a text message.

"It is important to note public satisfaction outranks dissatisfaction two to one. Proactive measures and cooperation in typhoon preparedness, delivering services and welcoming public input are tangible signs for the public to see what government is doing," he added.

The SWS survey was conducted from Sept. 24-27 using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults nationwide.

The error margins are ±3% for national and ±6% for area percentages. -- from a report by Ana Mae G. Roa

PNoy won't meet NDF envoys

by By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III may be intent on forging peace with communist rebels but he is unlikely to meet with representatives of the National Democratic Front who are due to visit the country soon.

No US objections to review of VFA

by The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines - The US government has no objections to a Philippine review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), according to Washington's top diplomat in Manila.

Military defends troop pullout in Basilan

MANILA, Philippines - The military on Monday defended the pullout of Marine forces from Basilan amid talks that this may pave the way for the designation of an Army general as the new commander of the military's Western Mindanao Command.

Abductors of businesswoman, kid in Pagadian still unknown

by by Queenie Casimiro, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga
ZAMBOANGA City, Philippines - Authorities are still facing a blank wall on the identity of the armed group who abducted a businesswoman and her grandson last Saturday in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province.

RP's most wanted kidnapper falls at NAIA

The Philippines' most wanted kidnapper fell into the hands of authorities after several years in hiding in a surprise arrest just moments after the plane carrying him landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Flying in from Singapore, Rolando Fajardo, the alleged leader of a syndicate responsible for prominent kidnap-for-ransom heists including that of Japanese businessman Noboyuki Wakaoji in 1986, was arrested by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation at the arrival lobby of the NAIA.

"He didn't see it coming," NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula said.

During the flight, a female intelligence agent named Anna had been assigned to sit beside the fugitive so he would not be suspicious, Gatdula said. Fajardo has nine standing warrants for kidnapping for ransom and another for car theft, he added.

A P1-million reward had been put up for information that might lead to Fajardo's arrest, the same bounty that had been placed on his younger brother Harold, who remains in hiding.

A Filipino informant had tipped the NBI about Fajardo's flight home, Gatdula said, adding that coordination efforts had also been taken with the NBI's European counterparts.

Fajardo had been living in an unspecified city in Italy for years before he decided to return to the country using travel documents with his real name, Gatdula said.

He flew aboard Singapore Airlines Flight 910 that departed Singapore at 9:44 a.m. and arrived at 1:29 p.m.

2 Maguindanao massacre suspects fall

MANILA, Philippines - Government forces have arrested two more suspects in the gruesome Maguindanao massacre of 57 persons, including 32 journalists, last November, authorities said Monday.

Lacson's ex-aide, driver nabbed in Bataan

A former police officer and driver of Senator Panfilo Lacson was arrested in Bagac, Bataan, on Monday for his alleged involvement in the 1984 slaying of five policemen in Quezon City, the police said.

Vice mayor's son arrested for killing two women in Capiz town

A son of the vice mayor of a Capiz municipality stabbed dead a woman and her daughter and wounded another daughter inside the victims' house early Monday morning.

The police arrested the suspect Rodelio Simon, 27, son of Vice Mayor Rodolfo Simon of Sigma town, at a relative's house hours later. Rodelio has admitted to the crime, according to Inspector Isidro Berino, Sigma police chief.

Lorna Martinez, 50, died immediately of a stab wound in the chest while her daughter, Mary Jane, 27, succumbed to her stab wounds during treatment at the Roxas Memorial Provincial Hospital.

Lorna's other daughter, Jenny Martinez, 16, was wounded in the arm and side and was confined at St. Anthony hospital in Roxas City in Capiz.

The police recovered a 14-inch kitchen knife from the crime scene and believed to be the weapon used by the suspect.

Berino said investigators learned that the suspect entered the victims' house at Barangay Poblacion Norte in Sigma around 1:30 a.m. and stabbed Mary Jane first before attacking the other two victims who were sleeping in the same room.

Rodelio, a neighbor of the victims, fled after the attack but was arrested at a house of a relative around 7 a.m. Monday.

The police said the suspect has admitted that he was intoxicated when he attacked the victims but would not reveal the motive for the attack.

Berino said they were investigating reports that the suspect was angry at Mary Jane whom he was reportedly courting.

Boulder destroys house, kills boy

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – A large boulder that rolled down from a hill in Cagayan de Oro City on Sunday night destroyed a house and killed a boy, authorities said. 

P1M worth of firecrackers seized in Agusan del Sur

BUTUAN CITY- An estimated P1-M worth of undocumented pyrotechnics and firecrackers - whistle bombs, kwitis, Picolos, five star and baby rapid - were confiscated at a police checkpoint in Agusan del Sur on Saturday.

1998 Misamis plane crash victims remembered

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines -  Families of  Cebu Pacific flight 387 plane crash victims on Monday offered mass at the Cagayan De Oro Gardens to remember their loved ones.

Ships crossing Somalia urged to build 'panic rooms'

MANILA, Philippines - The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines on Monday urged the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to compel ships using the "Pirate Alley" off Somalia to build in fortified rooms where crew members can hide in the event of an attack.

DFA to assist 16 Pinoys in tanker hijacked by Somalis

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has expressed confidence that the principals of the Panama-flagged tanker MV Polar could "make arrangements as soon as possible for the release of the vessel and its 24 crew members," including 16 Filipinos.

Aquino invited to visit 6 other countries, including Myanmar

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III was invited to visit six other countries during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Vietnam last week, but the president does not seem to be eager to schedule any of those visits just yet.

PAL workers protest DoLE order

MANILA, Philippines - Employees of Philippine Airlines (PAL) staged a protest action on Monday against the recent decision of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) allowing the mass layoff of some 2,600 workers of the airline.

Global crisis has cost 30 million jobs: IMF chief

AGADIR, Morocco - The global crisis has cost 30 million jobs around the world, International Monetary Fund director general Dominique Strauss-Kahn said Monday, opening a human development forum in Morocco. 

Deposits rise to P3.4-trillion

MANILA, Philippines - Deposit rose by 8.2% in the 8 months to August, reflecting the public's continued trust in the local banking system.

Indonesian volcano erupts, tsunami aid effort slow

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia - Indonesia's Mount Merapi spewed more heat clouds and ash on Monday as the country struggled to care for 65,000 people displaced by the volcano and a deadly tsunami.

Clinton warns Cambodia against China dependency

PHNOM PENH—US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Cambodians Monday not to become "too dependent" on China, during a visit to the capital in which she was expected to call for respect for human rights.

China goes door-to-door in world's biggest census

BEIJING - China kicked off a once-a-decade census Monday, a whirlwind 10-day head count that sees 6 million census takers scrutinize apartment blocks, scour migrant areas and scan rural villages to document massive demographic changes in the world's most populous country.

Pope condemns anti-Christian violence in Iraq

VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI condemned the "absurd violence" against Christians in Iraq on Monday after two priests and 35 worshippers were killed in a hostage drama at a cathedral in Baghdad.

Iraqi Christians mourn after church siege kills 52

BAGHDAD - Iraq's dwindling Christian community was grieving and afraid on Monday after militants seized a Baghdad church during evening Mass, held the congregation hostage and triggered a raid by Iraqi security forces. The attack left at least 52 people killed and 67 wounded - nearly everyone inside.
The attack, claimed by an al-Qaida-linked organization, is the latest assault against Iraq's Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as the community has fled to other countries.

Outside Our Lady of Deliverance church, Raed Hadi leaned against the car carrying his cousin's coffin, waiting for the police to let him bury him on church grounds.

"It was a massacre in there and now they are cleaning it up," he said Monday morning. "We Christians don't have enough protection ... What shall I do now? Leave and ask for asylum?"

"Now they make a show," said Jamal Jaju, who watched as Iraqi forces set up a chain link fence around the church and pushed back observers. "What can I say? I lost at least 20 friends in there."

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the assault as "ferocious" and called for renewed international efforts to broker peace in the region. Catholics made up 2.89 percent of Iraq's population in 1980; by 2008 they were merely 0.89 percent.

Islamic militants have systematically attacked Christians in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Sunday's bloodbath began at dusk, when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the Iraqi stock exchange. Only two guards were injured in the assault, which may have been an attempt by the militants to divert attention from their real target — the nearby church in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.

That attack soon followed. The gunmen went inside the church and took about 120 Christians hostage.

Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, the deputy interior minister, said 52 people were killed and 67 wounded. The dead included at least 10 policemen, two priests and five to eight attackers, according to various accounts.

It was unclear whether most hostages died at the hands of the attackers or during the rescue.

According to two security officials, most of the deaths were in the basement where a gunman killed about 30 hostages when Iraqi forces began to storm the building. One official said the gunman set off an explosives vest he was wearing, but the other said the gunman threw two grenades at his hostages. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

Video footage from an American drone that was overhead during the attack showed a black plume of smoke pouring out of the church followed by flashes before security forces charged inside. U.S. forces often supply air support to Iraqi forces conducting operations on the ground, feeding them video footage from their airborne drones.

"We have no clear picture yet whether the worshippers were killed by the security forces' bullets or by terrorists, but what we know is that most of them were killed when the security forces started to storm the church," said Christian lawmaker Younadem Kana, who condemned the operation as "hasty" and "not professional."

Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Monday that security forces arrested five suspects, some of whom were not Iraqi.

A cryptically worded statement posted late Sunday on a militant website allegedly by the Islamic State of Iraq appeared to claim responsibility for the attack.

The group, which is linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, said it would "exterminate Iraqi Christians" if Muslim women in Egypt were not freed.

It specifically mentioned two women that extremists maintain have converted to Islam and are being held against their will in Egypt.

The two are wives of priests. Some believe they converted to Islam to leave their husbands since divorce is banned by Egypt's Coptic Church. One woman disappeared in 2004 and the other this past July.

Egypt's Christians had originally maintained they were kidnapped and staged rallies for their release. In both cases, police subsequently recovered the two women, who denied they had converted. They were then spirited away to distant monasteries.

The cases were widely publicized in Egypt, which has its own fraught sectarian relations, have continued to be a rallying point for Egypt's hardline Muslims. They hold weekly demonstrations in mosques calling for the women's "release."

Bishop Morqos, an assistant to Egypt's Coptic pope, told The Associated Press that the women fear for their lives and will remain in seclusion.

"The two are afraid to appear in public, fearing assassination by extremists," he said.

In their message Sunday, the militants called on the Vatican, which held a meeting last month to discuss the fate of Christians in the Middle East, to release the women.

"We direct our speech to the Vatican and say that as you met with Christians of the Mideast a few days ago to support them and back them, now you have to pressure them to release our sisters, otherwise death will reach you all," it said.

On Monday, Iraqi authorities took extra measures to protect Christian neighborhoods and churches in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad. Additional police cars and checkpoints were seen near many churches, and authorities were conducting extensive searches on cars and pedestrians heading to churches.

"This is more than a tragedy," said Iraq's Human Rights minister, Wijdan Mikheil, who is a Christian.

Choking back tears as she spoke with reporters outside Our Lady of Deliverance church, she said: "What is happening to Iraqis in general and Christians in particular is an attempt to push them out of the country, but we hope Iraqis remain united."

Our Lady of Deliverance is a Syrian Catholic church.

Karim Khalil, a 49-year-old Iraqi Christian, said he moved to Syria with his family last year because he felt his religion made him a target in Baghdad.

"Iraqi militias threatened me, saying I was on the side of the Americans because I am Christian," Karim told the AP. "They said I would be killed if I stayed in Iraq."

Now he lives in Damascus with his wife and five children.

"I have left behind my house and everything to escape with my family," he said.

Many other Iraqi Christians living in Syria refused to speak to the AP. They said they fear militias may exact revenge on their families in Iraq. - AP

Brazil fetes first female president-elect Rousseff

BRASILIA—Brazilians Monday celebrated the election of their first-ever female president, Dilma Rousseff, who pledged to extend policies implemented by popular outgoing leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, her mentor.

Arum: Pacquiao, Margarito to brawl at full strength

MANILA, Philippines – Bob Arum, the promoter of Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito, is confident that the fighters will be armed with optimum might when they face off on November 13 (November 14 in Manila).

Roach: Pacquiao to stick to welterweight for next fight

If coach Freddie Roach will have his way, he'll have Manny Pacquiao return as a welterweight in his next fight.

Pacman, bares fighting shoes in Margarito bout

Handang-handa na si boxing champ Manny Pacquiao sa laban nila ni Antonio Margarito. Sa kanyang pre-fight event sa California, ibinida ng pound-for-pound king ang boxing shoes na gagamitin niya sa laban. Dagsa ang mga fans sa event kung saan nakasama pa ni Pacman sa stage si Laila Ali na anak ng boxing legend na si Muhammad Ali.

RP team vies in ASEAN school chess Olympiad

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is set to compete in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Primary School Sports Olympiad 2010 (APSSO) Chess Championships in Indonesia.

Carandang halts tweeting, reviews social media policy

by By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News
MANILA,  Philippines - Presidential Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang has stopped his staff from tweeting as he reviews their social media policy following the diplomatic gaffe committed by a presidential speechwriter's tweets about her experiences in Vietnam.

Dengue downs TV, movie director

MANILA, Philippines – Director Rory Quintos has been brought to a hospital due to dengue.

Rey Valera not leaving 'Pilipinas Win na Win'

by by Mario Dumaual, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - Nagpasiklab ng ispekulasyon ang binitawang linya ng singer-composer na si Rey Valera noong Sabado sa "Pilipinas Win na Win."

Hayden, Belo rekindle their romance

MANILA, Philippines – After much speculation, Hayden Kho on Sunday finally confirmed that he and celebrity doctor Vicki Belo are back into each other's arms.

Still no winner for P295M Grand Lotto jackpot

MANILA, Philippines – The 6/55 Grand Lotto draw is still waiting for a jackpot winner. 

Alcohol more harmful than heroin, crack cocaine: study

by Agence France-Presse
LONDON, United Kingdom - Alcohol is more harmful than illegal drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, a new study by British researchers said Monday.

Scientists looked at the dangers to both the individual and to wider society and found that alcohol was the most dangerous substance, according to the study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD).

The results fly in the face of long-held opinions about which drugs pose the greatest dangers, with the authors claiming they demonstrate "the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm."

"They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol... is a valid and necessary public health strategy," said the authors.

Drug experts on the committee devised their own system to judge substances and believe their consensus provides a valuable assessment which could guide policymakers.

The research, published in medical journal The Lancet, looked at the how much a drug harms the human body as well as other factors such as what its use costs the health care and prison systems.

Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine -- or crystal meth -- were found to be the most deadly. But when the wider social effects were factored in, alcohol was the most dangerous, followed by heroin and crack cocaine, said the study.

Substances were given a mark from zero to 100 based on certain criteria, with alcohol scoring 72 overall followed by 55 for heroin and 54 for crack.

One of the study's authors was David Nutt, a former British government drugs adviser during the previous Labour administration.

He was sacked after a disagreement with the government over the decision to upgrade the classification of cannabis.

The ISCD says its remit is to investigate and review scientific evidence relating to drugs, free from political concerns.

Cell-destroying protein to boost cancer fight—scientists

SYDNEY—Australian and British scientists have uncovered a "death" protein that destroys rogue cells in what could be breakthrough for the fight against cancer, malaria and diabetes, researchers said Monday.
The protein, perforin, targets wayward cells and punches a hole in their membranes to let in killer enzymes, project leader James Whisstock said, adding the discovery "answers a really fundamental mystery of immunity."

"Perforin is our body's weapon of cleansing and death," said Whisstock, from Australia's Monash University.

"It breaks into cells that have been hijacked by viruses or turned into cancer cells and allows toxic enzymes in, to destroy the cell from within," he said. "Without it, our immune system can't destroy these cells."

High-powered microscopes in Australia and at London's Birkbeck College had allowed scientists to examine perforin's structure and function, Whisstock said, revealing a "powerful molecule" that targets malignant or infected cells.

Without perforin – released by "killer" cells designed to destroy harmful invaders – the body was unable to fight infections. Studies with mice had linked defective perforin to leukemia and heightened cell malignancy.

The discovery also had implications for autoimmune diseases such as juvenile type 1 diabetes and for transplant patients, with the protein linked to both the elimination of healthy cells and tissue rejection, added Whisstock.

"Now we know how it works, we can start to fine-tune it to fight cancer, malaria and diabetes," Whisstock said.

Fellow researcher Joe Trapani said the 10-year study found that perforin's structure was similar to bacterial toxins like anthrax and listeria, suggesting that the human body had learned its tactics from diseases themselves.

"Quite remarkably that mechanism is conserved all the way back to bacteria... we've actually pinched it off bacteria at some point (in human evolution) and turned it back against them," said Trapani, from Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Center.

"It's a war conducted between our immune system and bacteria and we're actually fighting using similar weapons," he told AFP, explaining that it was 2-billion-year-old blueprint.

Trapani said the discovery had exciting and diverse applications ranging from "stuff in third-world countries with the malaria all the way through to more Western-style medicine with transplantation and so on."

Whisstock said researchers were looking for ways to inhibit and boost perforin and use it to "deliver toxic cargoes into cells by choice," hoping to pave the way for new drugs.

"I have worked on this for a long time and it answers a really fundamental mystery of immunity," Whisstock told ABC radio.

"So I think just from a fundamental science perspective, I think it is really, really important and it is actually also a really cool story."

Q&A: U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday

WASHINGTON, USA - Republicans appear headed to a big victory in Tuesday's midterm elections that would deal a severe political blow to President Barack Obama and spark a shake-up in Washington with far-reaching implications. 

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