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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 3, 2010 Major News Stories

City allocates P4.95 million: State of calamity in fire-hit areas

The Cebu City Council yesterday approved in a special session the declaration of a state of calamity in three sitios of barangay Duljo-Fatima that was hit by fire late Monday night.

Senator Villar seeks extra pay for teachers working beyond 6 hours

If Senator Manuel Villar's bill is passed into law, public school teachers would be entitled to additional pay for tasks done beyond their six-hour daily work schedule.
Senate Bill 2454 or the Six-Hour Workday for Public School Teachers Act of 2010 seeks to limit the working hours of public school teachers to six a day (or 30 hours a week) and grant them additional compensation for any work rendered beyond those hours.

Section 5, Rule XVII of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Title, I, Subtitle A, Book V of the Administrative Code of 1987 says that "officers and employees of all departments and agencies except those covered by special laws shall render not less than eight hours of work a day for five days a week or a total of forty-hours a week, exclusive of time for lunch."

However, because of Republic Act 4670 or the Magna Carta of Public School Teachers, the Department of Education issued Memorandum 291 series of 2008 to allow teachers only six hours for actual classroom teaching a day.

However, Villar said the memorandum requires that two more hours be spent in teaching-related activities, in the end still giving teachers eight-hour workdays. 

"Reducing their number of working hours will allow them to have more time to innovate and enhance classroom teaching and result to a more productive workforce," he said.

"To ensure improved working condition for public school teachers and to alleviate their standard of living, there is a need to enact a legislative measure that will grant them a six-hour workday plus additional compensation for work rendered beyond six hours," Villar said in his bill.

Under SB 2454, any teacher engaged in actual teaching after six hours will be entitled to the same rate as his or her regular compensation plus at least 25 percent of his or her basic pay. 

Under the bill, any teacher engaged in co-curricula, out-of-school activities, and other related activities after their first six hours of work will be paid an additional compensation of at least 25 percent of his or her regular pay.

SB 2454 says that the Department of Education, in coordination with the Civil Service Commission, will provide the necessary rules and regulations for the effective implementation of the Act. 

PNP still on red alert despite end of holidays

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine National Police (PNP) is not dropping its alert status following the discovery of suspicious packages bound for the United States over the weekend.

For hitting patrol car: Police sue Joavan; readies complaint for "Mayor" plate

Joavan Fernandez is facing yet two more criminal cases, this time for malicious mischief and direct assault after he allegedly rammed his sports utility vehicle intentionally into a patrol car last Sunday.

The Talisay City Police filed cases against the controversial son of Mayor Socrates Fernandez before the Talisay City Prosecutor's Office yesterday afternoon.

The green Pajero is now under police custody, but authorities are still looking for Joavan who reportedly fled the scene after hitting the right side of the Toyota Innova patrol car with SJV-955 of the Talisay City Police, which was driven by Insp. Diosdado Malazarte.

Police recovered the vehicle from Joavan's house in Mansueto Sudivision in Barangay Tabunok. The green Pajero has a plate number GNZ-357 on the rear portion, but bears a plate that says MAYOR on the front. The vehicle's left headlight was broken and a portion of its front had dents.

Joavan was not at the house at that time and it was no less than the mayor who handed over the car key to the police after Biñas threatened to have the vehicle towed if the key would not be found.

Talisay police chief Supt. Henry Biñas said it is now up to the court to issue a warrant for Fernandez' arrest. Fernandez, however, may still post bail for the two cases.

Biñas said they will also file a separate complaint against Joavan for using an un-authorized MAYOR plate.

Senior Insp. Ciriaco Larrobis, Inspectors Jose Nilo Abello and Diosdado Malazarte, and the two field training personnel who were on board the patrol during the incident filed their sworn statements together with photos of the two damaged vehicles before the fiscal's office.

They said they were at the Cebu South Coastal Road-Rabaya St. intersection on their way to barangay Cansojong when an SUV, which was coming from Cebu City, hit the right side of their vehicle. The three police officers were able to identify Fernandez as SUV's window was reportedly open at that time.

No one was hurt in the incident, but damage is pegged at P83,000. The patrol car was donated by the Talisay City government.

Provincial Police Director Senior Supt. Erson Digal himself directed Biñas to pursue the cases and said what happened was a sign of disrespect to authorities and the taxpayers of Talisay City.

Still, the mayor insisted his son did not intend to hit the police car and that the Pajero's brakes just malfunctioned that night.

Husband of cop arrested for selling shabu

The husband of a female cop was arrested in a buy-bust operation in Barangay Poblacion, Argao last Monday night.

Edgar Rufo, 35, was placed under arrested with eight sachets of illegal drugs believed to be shabu worth P1,600. Rufo has two pending cases for alleged violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Anti-Illegal drugs Act.

Argao City Police Director Senior Inspector Wilbert Parilla said Rufo was placed under surveillance for several days before the bust was carried out. He said they had a hard time arresting Rufo because his alleged operation was not constant.

"On and off iyang pag-operate. Nadakpan siya twice unya ni-undang, unya mubalik ra sad," Parilla told The FREEMAN.

He said they decided to carry out the operation after receiving information that Rufo has returned to selling drugs during the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

Police personnel met Edgar at a street corner about 100 meters away from his residence. He was placed under arrest just as he received the P1,000 marked money. 

Rufo's wife, PO2 Analie Rufo, who is assigned at Ginatilan Police Station chose not to issue any comment to the media.

"No comment lang ko ana kay lahi akong panerbisyo unya lahi akong bana,"she said.

Parilla, however, said Analie has since known of her husband's alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade, which often caused their constant quarrels. Still, she reportedly gave him a chance, as he has promised to change.

"Never gi-tolerate sa wife ang iyang bana. In fact, sige sila ug away tungod ani pero nisaad ang bana nga mag-usab mao nga nag-wonder ang asawa nganong nadakpan," Parilla said.

Because of the incident, Provincial Police Director Senior Supt. Erson Digal will transfer Analie to the Provincial Security Service Group (PSSG), the agency assigned to investigate her. 

Police will be filing a case against Rufo for violation of RA 9165.

The buy-bust was a joint operation between the Argao police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency 7. 

Villarete to finish MCIAA administrative building despite corruption tag

In the spirit of good governance, newly installed Mactan Cebu International Airport general manager Nigel Paul Villarete vowed to finish the alleged anomalous construction of the airport's administrative building.

Villarete said he would be wasting government's money if he abandons the project because of allegations of corruption.

"That's not good governance if we are going to waste people's money on structure left standing and not used," Villarete said.

The construction of the MCIA administrative building is subject of an ongoing investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman Visayas because of the complaint filed by Crisologo Saavedra.

Saavedra, a self-styled graft crusader, questioned the P120-million project claiming that the airport management already spent P65 million but the structure remains unfinished.

Charged before the anti-graft office is the previous MCIAA Board composed of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Renato Osmeña, Patria Aurora Roa, Valeriano Avila, Winglip Chang, Nilo Jatico, Gordon Joseph and Ma. Lourdes Dedal.

Former general manager Adelberto Yap, Sigfredo Dublin, Bienvinido Malayang VII, Veronica Ordoñez and Lanto Makabangkit were also among the respondents.

In a forum yesterday, Villarete said he will review what transpired in the previous administration because he intends to finish the project and use the building.

Villarete said he actually have three options on what to do with the project. First, he can complete the construction and use the building; second, he can leave the unfinished structure as it is; and third, he can have it demolished.

"There has no other option that is available for us. Certainly, I'll take the positive option of good governance and that is good governance if we spend money and we are going to use it," he said.

It was lawyer Rory Jon Sepulveda who served as MCIAA Board legal consultant, has said that the MCIAA administration building was not finished because of certain impediments, including a claimant to the lot.

"Technical and legal obstacles should be overcome," Villarete said.

Villarete said it is his direction to secure the approval and the assistance of the MCIAA board to complete the building.

He said completing the building is the cheapest way to decongest the existing building which is used by airport operation and as offices.

Once the offices are transferred to the new building, a lot of spaces will be available in the existing building.

Villarete added that it is also easiest and cheapest way to improve infrastructure in the airport. 

COA: P6.6 million shortage at Bureau of Customs

The non-compliance of the Bureau of Customs in the required monthly report of accountable forms allegedly resulted to over P6 million cash shortage in the agency.

Capitol earns over P.5 million from terminal fees in 4 days

The upsurge of passengers to visit their departed love ones in the provinces has earned for the Capitol over half million pesos from the terminal fees at the Cebu South Bus Terminal.

Respect GMA's right to remain silent - Mendoza

MANILA, Philippines – Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's critics should respect the Sandiganbayan's decision to quash the subpoena for her to testify in the proceedings on the US $329-million ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) deal, her lawyer said. 

Reds hit Aquino for 'negative attitude' toward peace talks meet

An official of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines assailed President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday for demurring on a request for him to meet with representatives of communist insurgents before the resumption of the stalled peace talks.

Air Force: 4 new trainer planes from Italy to boost pilot training

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) on Tuesday expressed confidence that the scheduled arrival of four new trainer planes from Italy will boost the training of its pilots.

Lacson could be hiding in the country: DOJ

MANILA, Philippines  - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Tuesday said intelligence reports indicate that fugitive Sen. Panfilo Lacson is in the Philippines after going into hiding last January.

Police arrest Ping's former driver

Inaresto ang dating driver ni Senator Panfilo Lacson na si Reynaldo Oximoso sa Bataan dahil sa umano'y pagkakasangkot sa pagpatay sa 5 miyembro ng CIDG. Inaalam din ng mga awtoridad kung may nalalaman si Oximoso sa Dacer-Corbito double murder case.

De Lima calls on APO leaders to help find two more blast suspects

(UPDATE) Justice Secretary Leila De Lima called on the leaders and alumni of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity to help find two more frat men suspected of being involved in the September 26 bar examination blast outside De La Salle University here.

2 more APO members linked to Bar exam blast

(Updated 6:18 p.m.) The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has already identified two more suspects in the grenade-throwing incident that marred the last day of this year's Bar examinations last September.
The two are also part of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who urged the group, whose members include Vice President Jejomar Binay, to turn over the two other suspects for questioning.

"I'm advising the APO leadership that the NBI will soon be coordinating with them. Please cooperate and turn them over to us for questioning," said De Lima at a press briefing on Tuesday. 

The two suspects allegedly helped facilitate the escape of fraternity brother Anthony Leal Nepomuceno, the primary suspect in the incident who allegedly fled the scene of the crime after throwing the grenade that injured about 47 people last Sept. 26 outside the De La Salle University campus in Taft Avenue, Manila. 

"The two other suspects who came to his (Nepomuceno's) rescue when he was being ganged up on, have already been identified," De Lima said without giving the names of the two. 

She also asked the NBI to coordinate with the APO lawyers who brought Nepomuceno to them last week.

De Lima said the two suspects may be charged as "co-principals, depending on the extent of their involvement."

The NBI had already filed a criminal complaint against Nepomuceno, whom Binay turned over to them Wednesday last week, so he can be charged for multiple frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder. 

Law regulating frat activities

The "fraternity war" angle is among the possible leads in the Bar exam violence, although it has not been established whether warring fraternities were indeed responsible for the grenade-throwing incident. 

In light of this, De Lima said a law should be passed to regulate activities of fraternities and sororities. 

She noted that fraternities may also be responsible for the grenade attacks at the La Consolacion College in Manila in 2008 and at the University of Perpetual Help in Las Pinas City in March this year. 

De Lima said she had ordered the NBI to determine whether the two grenade attacks are correlated to the post-Bar examinations blast.

"It's really time to consider some legislation on the matter of regulation ad monitoring the activities of fraternities and sororities... Because of these incidents — the undergraduates, the bolder ones, are prone to trouble-making — there should be some law," said De Lima, herself a founder of Lambda Rho Sigma, a sorority based at the San Beda law school where she earned her law degree. 

De Lima also said the law should also impose command responsibility for elders of fraternities whose members become errant.

APO frat leader asks DOJ not to be 'hasty'

MANILA, Philippines - Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity national president Mel Adriano said they will cooperate with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in bringing out 2 more of their members who allegedly conspired with Anthony Leal Nepomuceno in the September 26 Bar exams blasts on Taft Avenue, Manila. 

Glorietta blast witness urged to issue sworn statement

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice is (DoJ) is urging retired Army Col. Allan Sollano to issue a sworn statement on his allegations that the Glorietta 2 blast was caused by an explosive and not methane gas as was the result of an official probe.

Reelected village chief shot dead in Masbate—military

A reelected village chief was shot dead while visiting his departed relatives in a public cemetery in Masbate Monday evening, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
9th Infantry Division spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc, citing reports from 9th Infantry Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Purugganan, identified the victim as Vicente Lacbayug. 

Lacbayug was recently reelected as chief of Dayhagan village in Aroroy town. He was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen while visiting the tomb of a departed relative in Sitio (sub-village) Mahaba of the same village at around 6:30 pm Monday. Witnesses were not able to identify the two armed men.

De Lima raring to pin down vice mayor in rape case

"Gigil na gigil na ako." This was how Justice Secretary Leila de Lima described her eagerness to pursue criminal charges against a Maguindanao local official being eyed as a suspect in the rape of a 21-year-old volunteer nurse in the province.

De Lima did not mince words in expressing her disgust over the refusal of Vice Mayor Jordan Ibrahim of South Upi, Maguindanao, to cooperate with the authorities investigating the rape.

"There is no clear basis yet to include him as a suspect as much as we would want it, pero gigil na gigil na ako (but I'm raring to do it)," the tough-talking justice secretary said, eliciting chuckles from members of the media.

"But we could not just do that out of thin air. There has to be some supporting evidence, whatever it is," she continued.

According to De Lima, agents of the National Bureau of Investigation in Cotabato City were "earnestly" following up leads that would finally pin down the rapists of the nurse, identified by the authorities simply as "Florence."

She said she has directed the NBI to again issue a subpoena against Ibrahim and convince him to submit himself to DNA testing.

"The vice mayor is firm that he would not give his DNA sample. Our local NBI officials (in Cotabato City) are now at odds with him," she said.

In previous interviews, she said NBI investigators wanted to compare Ibrahim's DNA specimen with the semen taken from the victim's body to find out if the vice mayor had indeed raped the volunteer nurse.

De Lima said she was keeping her fingers crossed that Ibrahim would eventually cooperate with the NBI agents.

"This is now the third time. Determination could go a long way. Maybe this time we could be successful," she said.

She added: "I'm hoping that we could have somebody who could pinpoint the vice mayor or somebody from his camp so we could officially tag him as a suspect. Because if he's already a suspect, then it would be much easier (to get a DNA sample)."

Meanwhile, De Lima said she ordered the NBI to also invite for questioning Ibrahim's younger brother, Taboy, and four other men who may have knowledge of the rape.

Two of the men were supposedly the vice mayor's bodyguards while the remaining pair were drinking buddies of Melchor Fulgencio, a militiamen who has admitted participating in the crime.

De Lima said the NBI received "a new piece of information" that Taboy may have had a role in the incident.

Asked about the evidence against Taboy, she said there were "tips" about his alleged participation.

Regarding Fulgencio's alleged drinking buddies, De Lima said while they issued sworn statements, the two were not asked to provide DNA samples.

Ex-Senator Webb confident SC decision will favor son Hubert

Former Senator Freddie Webb expressed confidence that the Supreme Court will see the Vizconde massacre case, now nearly two decades old, from a different perspective and issue a decision in favor of his son and the other accused.

Bureau of Immigration sets new anti-corruption measures

Bawal nang umistambay sa opisina kapag tapos na ang oras ng trabaho. Ito ang utos sa mg empleyado ng bagong pamunuan ng Bureau of Immigration (BI). Ito ay  para matigil ang mga ma-anumalyang transaksyon na madalas umanong mangyari sa gabi. Bonus na lang para sa ahensiya na nakakatipid pa sila sa konsumo sa kuryente.

PAL workers march to Mendiola to protest layoff

Kumain sila ng kanin at tuyo para ipakita ang magiging buhay umano ng mga Philippine Airlines (PAL) workers dahil sa desisyon ng labor department na payagan ang mass lay-off ng mahigit dalawang libong empleyado ng PAL.

Malacañang hands off on PAL layoff

by By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News
MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang will not lift a finger to stop the impending layoff of thousands of workers at flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL).

DOLE justifies decision favoring PAL in labor row

The decision of Philippine Airlines to outsource some of its core and ancillary services is part of a bitter pill many airlines the world over are taking to cope with the challenges posed by the global financial crisis, an official of the Department of Labor and Employment said Tuesday.
PAL is one of the companies severely affected by the global financial crisis, "and it is the management prerogative to do whatever it can to survive," DOLE spokesman Nicon Fameronag said. 

The airline had total income of $180.7 million in 2006-2008, but the amount was not enough, as PAL incurred $312.2 million in the next two fiscal years (2009-2010, the department said. 

"These losses were incurred notwithstanding the fact that PAL continues to enjoy a high market share in both domestic and international routes," the department said in its decision citing the legality of PAL's move to outsource the some of its services and, as a consequence, lay off 2,600 workers belonging to the PAL Employees' Association (PALEA).

"Apparently, high market share alone does not guarantee profitability of a firm," the Labor Department said.

In a statement to the media, the Flight Attendants' and Stewards' Association of the Philippines (FASAP) said that it is "alarmed by the recent DOLE decision upholding PAL's termination of almost 3,000 employees under its outsourcing program," the flight attendants' association said.

"We deeply lament that PAL management decided to push through with the drastic spin-off measure, unmindful of how it will affect the lives of 3,000 workers and their families," FASAP added in the statement.

Fameronag said the department is preparing the legal argument defending its decision to side with PAL in the displacement of some 2,600 ground employees of the airline.

It argued that PAL had to implement "drastic cost saving measures" to reduce fixed operating expenses that include outsourcing of in-flight catering, airport services (ground handling, cargo terminal, cargo handling and ramp handling), and call center operations.

PALEA is set to appeal before the Court of Appeals the Labor Department's decision.

Fameronag said that outsourcing PAL ground operations was already indicated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between PAL union and management which recognizes the legitimate exercise of the management to "contract out or outsource services."

But "surely, there are less painful and humane ways to ensure the viability of PAL," FASAP said.

The CBA indicated that even if the displaced workers are absorbed by the outsourcing firms, their rights to "humane conditions of work, security of tenure, self organization and collective bargaining" will be guaranteed based on Articles 106 to 109 of the Labor Code and DOLE order 18-02.

OFW group launches 'online complaint form'

MANILA, Philippines – An alliance of Filipino migrant groups launched a new tool that would make it easier for distressed OFWs to air their complaints.

Peso breaks into 42:$1 territory

The peso broke into the 42:$1 territory and closed at its highest level in two-and-a-half years, buoyed by a surge in remittances sent by Filipinos abroad and the influx of "hot money" into the local stock market.

$1: 42.755

$1: 42.755 (P43.18)

Euro 1: 59.8231

Grieving Christians bury dead from Iraq church killings

by by Sammy Ketz, Agence France-Presse
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Grieving and fearful mourners in Baghdad were Tuesday burying dozens of Christians, including two priests, killed during a hostage drama carried out by Al-Qaeda gunmen that ended in a bloodbath.

Flash floods strand thousands in Thai city

by Agence France-Presse
BANGKOK, Thailand - Flash floods, several metres deep in places, have swept through a major city in southern Thailand, stranding about 100,000 residents, officials said Tuesday.

Indonesia warns volcano 'could erupt for months'

HARGOBINANGUN—Indonesia warned Tuesday its most active volcano could continue erupting for months as 50,000 remained in temporary shelters and airlines cancelled flights over the disaster-hit nation.

Arum sees Pacquiao victory over Margarito

In the end, promoter Bob Arum is still going along where the odds are. Arum declared he sees Manny Pacquiao beating Antonio Margarito when the two finally tangles next week for the World Boxing Council (WBC) junior middleweight title.

Margarito belittles Pacquiao win over Clottey

MANILA, Philippines – Mexico's Antonio Margarito has downplayed the victory of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao over Joshua Clottey last March, saying that all the Ghanaian did was "cover up."

Chances for Pacquiao-Mayweather get slimmer

MANILA, Philippines — As time goes by, chances of a mythical match between pound-for-pound kings Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are getting slimmer.

"I don't think it will ever happen. Nope. It will be one of those fights we're never going to see," Pacquiao's boxing trainer Freddie Roach told Yahoo! Sports.

Pacquiao, the top boxer in Ring Magazine's pound-for-pound list, has long been pitted against No. 2 fighter Mayweather.

Roach said the fight won't happen for the simple reason that Mayweather doesn't want to share the boxing ring with the Filipino champion.

"We wanted the fight so badly. We agreed to have everything. And that didn't happen because Floyd doesn't wanna fight Manny, that's the bottom line," said the Hall-of-Famer boxing coach.

Pacquiao sings 'Imagine' on Jimmy Kimmel show

MANILA, Philippines — Manny Pacquiao made his third appearance on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! late night show, unfettering his boxing gloves to sing "Imagine" on Monday (Tuesday, in Manila).

WBC boss proposes document to protect fighters

by Reuters
CANCUN, Mexico – The World Boxing Council wants to eliminate what they called exploitation of boxers by creating a document that lists a fighter's key information like injuries and total rounds fought.

Senate bill seeks to create PHL boxing academy

Noting that local boxers have always brought acclaim to the country, Senator Lito Lapid has filed a bill that would establish the Philippine Boxing Academy or the Philbaca.

Palace wants all gov't agencies to review social networking rules

Malacañang wants each government agency to review its policies on the use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook after President Benigno Aquino's speechwriter slipped in Vietnam and tweeted negatively about the wine served at a state banquet and how traffic was in Hanoi's streets.

Kris's tweet spills PNoy's visit to cemetery

Nabigong maging pribado ang pagdalaw ng pamilya ng pangulo sa puntod nina dating Pangulong Cory at dating Senador Ninoy Aquino sa Manila Memorial Park. Pilit mang itinago ng palasyo, ibinuko naman ng mismong kapatid ng pangulo ang schedule ng pagdalaw.

Ex-MTRCB exec sued over cash advances

MANILA, Philippines – A former Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) member has been charged for graft and corruption before the Sandiganbayan over cash advances she made 13 years ago.  Zorayda Abbas Tamano was accused of pocketing public funds entrusted to her, court records show. 

San Carlos City holds Pintaflores festival on Nov. 3-6

by By Leilani Chavez,
MANILA, Philippines - Every first week of the month of November, immediately after lighting candles in honor of departed souls, the people of San Carlos City in Negros Occidental go into a state of merriment as the city's trademark festival conquers the streets.

Charice won't sue resto over food poisoning incident

MANILA, Philippines - International singing sensation Charice is not filing charges against a restaurant in Singapore after falling ill due to alleged food poisoning.

Grand Lotto jackpot expected to hit P300 M

Filipinos down on their luck as the holidays approach are expected to queue at lotto outlets Wednesday in a bid to become instant millionaires by Christmas.

Traders agree to improve salt quality under iodization law

TACLOBAN CITY -- Salt traders here have agreed to improve product quality in compliance with the salt iodization law.

The traders met with the local Bantay Asin Task Force last month to forge a partnership and ensure that the quality of iodized salt marketed in the region meets provisions of Republic Act 8172, or Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide (ASIN).

Charles Uykim, Jr., owner of Cocomart with warehouse in Marasbaras district in this city, has called on the government to start monitoring activities at the source to upgrade the quality of iodine content.

"We just receive salt shipments here. Checking should be done at the production site," he added.

Edward P. Otico, an associate of international organization Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), said his group will assist the Health department in coming up with a quality control system that will be followed by all salt producers nationwide.

GAIN will send an iodine checker this month at the Tacloban port area.

"The small and portable instrument provides reliable performance," Mr. Otico said.

The task force, which composed of various government agencies in Region 8, called for a meeting with traders after survey results showed low intake of iodine among target age groups.

The latest National Nutrition Survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute showed that 97.2% of households in Eastern Visayas have been using iodized salt.

Below minimum standard

However, the same study revealed that iodine excretion of children in Region 8 is 83 microgram per liter of urine (µg/L), lactating mothers 58 µg/L ,and pregnant women with 83 µg/L. These figures are way below the 100-150 minimum iodine excretion using the same measurement.

"Salt traders must understand that distributing iodized salt is their social responsibility. Only 25% of the households in the country have adequately been using iodized salt. Over 67 million Filipinos and 1.67 million newborns are unprotected," Mr. Otico said.

The most common health concern from iodine deficiency is goiter.

Other concerns are reproductive failures, psychomotor defects, retarded physical development, impaired mental functions and hypothyroidism.

Under the law, salt producers/manufacturers shall register with the Food and Drug Administration, which shall maintain updated registry of salt producers/manufacturers and shall monitor compliance with the salt iodization program. 

SWS: Satisfaction with govt institutions improve under Aquino admin

Public satisfaction with the performance of top government institutions improved during the first three months of President Benigno Aquino III's administration, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.
The SWS poll, conducted from September 24 to 27 and first published on Tuesday in the broadsheet Business World, revealed that net satisfaction with top institutions from the government's three branches increased "significantly" during the first few months of Aquino's presidency.

The biggest improvement in net satisfaction was registered by the Cabinet, whose rating improved from a "poor" –7 mark last March to a "moderate" +22 rating in September, according to SWS.

The survey also showed increases in the net satisfaction ratings of the two chambers of Congress, with the House of Representatives receiving a +30 rating from a +7 mark last March. The Senate, meanwhile, got a higher +48 rating compared to its +25 mark seven months ago.

Public satisfaction with the Supreme Court also improved to +33 last month from its +9 rating last March.

Despite the high court's positive marks, Chief Justice Renato Corona received a "neutral" –5 net satisfaction rating, a slight improvement from his "poor" –18 three months ago.

Binay, Belmonte get initial positive marks

Vice President Jejomar Binay, meanwhile, got a "very good" initial public satisfaction rating of +58 in the September 2010 SWS poll.

Binay's first rating as vice-president is higher compared to his predecessor, former Vice President Noli De Castro, who got an initial +22 score in May 2005.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. also got a positive initial rating of +9, better than former House Speaker Prospero Nograles' "poor" –12 initial rating in March 2008.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's satisfaction rating still received a +39 score in the latest SWS poll, although the figure showed a slight decrease from his +41 rating three months earlier.

The SWS survey was conducted using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 randomly selected adults nationwide. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percent.

Changes at ABS-CBN: What Maria Ressa leaves behind

MANILA, Philippines - ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Division (NCAD) chief Maria Ressa announced weeks ago that she would not renew her contract with ABS-CBN, which ends in January 2011. For 6 years as head of the news division, her battle cry was "excellent journalism to make the world a better place." From the newsroom, Ressa worked to change the country, the network, and journalism.

For 6 years as head of the news division, her battle cry was "excellent journalism to make the world a better place." From the newsroom, Ressa worked to change the country, the network, and journalism.

For the country, she launched a citizen journalism campaign that, she said, was "people power with new technology."

For the network, she set an ethical standard for ABS-CBN journalists.

And for journalism, she fought for free media that provided quality coverage for the public good.

Joining hands with citizen journalists

Ressa was passionate about citizen journalism as a tool for Filipinos to highlight the injustices in their own communities and incite national change.

In an interview shown on ANC's Storyline Special, "Once," Ressa said that after nearly 20 years as CNN's lead investigative reporter in Asia, she made the move to ABS-CBN specifically to "commit to the country," adding that "ABS-CBN is huge...its impact on our society is immense." She wanted news to shine a spotlight on problems that needed to be fixed and to be "infused" with values. "Values like hope and empowerment. More than anything," Ressa said. "Forget hope. Empowerment."

Ressa spearheaded two Boto Mo iPatrol Mo (BMPM) citizen journalism campaigns for the 2007 and 2010 general elections to push citizens to check corruption in the polls by reporting on the election process in their own communities. Citizen journalists, known as Boto Patrollers, used the Internet and mobile phone technology to inform ABS-CBN about vote buying, tampering with election documents and faking ballots. Then, the station used the power of traditional media to amplify verified information.

Jing Castañeda, one of ABS-CBN's veteran reporters, explained: "Maria envisioned a country where citizen journalists and professional journalists worked hand in hand. Citizen journalists, through ABS-CBN's BMPM program, realized that the power to change the world, literally, is in their hands.  Maria made this happen." 

Throughout 2009, ABS-CBN built the ranks of citizen journalists with school visits, training workshops, and a Boto Patrollers' concert attended by at least 20,000 people. On Election Day 2010, BMPM had 81,000 citizen journalists to bolster the reports of some 50 professional journalists from ABS CBN. Patrollers from hundreds of barangays were incorporated into the existing order of the newsroom. Their reports strengthened media's ability to check corruption and increased the depth and range of the network's coverage.

The slogan of BMPM 2010 was "Ako ang Simula" or "I am the Change" – a message for Filipinos to embody constructive nation building by being the start of the change they wanted for their country. ABS-CBN New Media Manager Arlene Burgos, who co-headed the 2010 BMPM campaign, explained: "The Philippines is a young democracy. We are at that point where we are testing the limits of our own institutions. Since we are still struggling with democracy, we are learning how to participate with the government. BMPM provided citizens with the power to speak about their institutions, their government.  It's basic and yet fundamental to how democracies work."

Saying no to corruption

Ressa said on Storyline that when ABS-CBN chairman Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez offered her the job as news head in 2004, he asked her to create a professional news organization and promised her full control of news. In the same special, she said, "You can not have a professional news group if you're for sale...Change is hard...People didn't like it. The people who benefited lost income....Before I joined ABS-CBN, I was the friend of everyone....When I joined ABS-CBN after I started making the move, boy, I cannot count the number of enemies that started racking up."

Ressa created a standards and ethics manual to establish a moral and professional yardstick tailored specifically to the journalists at ABS-CBN. The manual guides newsmen on how to handle journalistic challenges ranging from how to cover religion to how to handle hostile situations.

One human resources (HR) representative, who was assigned to the news group when Ressa began implementing the standards and ethics code in 2006, said that it wasn't received well initially. Between May and December of that year, there were 11 disciplinary cases, ranging from written warnings, to 2-day to a week suspensions, and 2 terminations.  There was roughly the same number of cases in 2007. "Finally (in 2008), it served as their bible as journalists. And it wasn't an excuse if they didn't read it," said the HR representative. 

Vince Rodriguez, who was both head of Studio 23 News and Ressa's executive assistant during her first year at ABS-CBN said: "What Maria did was give the news group back its credibility. But it goes beyond the Standards and Ethics Manual. She showed she would not tolerate corruption in any form. She eliminated gray areas but she allowed people to debate and discuss ethical issues they were unsure of because she had an open door policy."

Another ABS-CBN employee added that Ressa made herself accessible by literally keeping the door to her office open.

Outside ABS-CBN, Vergel Santos, chairman of the Editorial Board for BusinessWorld, observed that, "Her reputation alone made the network look instantly more credible. And the credibility she lent to it became in time its own." But Santos also said, "Now, again, how she has effected, if at all she has, local journalistic practices and standards is a point itself too presumptuous, even patronizing, to raise."

Ressa ardently defends media freedom. Recently, Ressa advocated against restrictive legislation for the press at a Senate inquiry into the role of media in the bungled August 23 hostage incident, which was aired live and internationally. When Senator Joker Arroyo asked media to help draw a line to serve its interests and the "national interest," Ressa pointed out that freedom of expression as "enshrined by the constitution" is in the national interest as "one of the key goals of our country."

At the hearing, Ressa was specifically targeted for putting the quality of President Aquino's leadership on the line in an article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal titled,  "Noynoy Flunks his First Test." In response to that criticism, Ressa stated: "Journalism, ethics and freedom of speech are universal. There is no conflict of interest between a journalist inside the Philippines (and outside)…. Journalists only convey the events that happen. In fact, I can tell you, I wrote that article with the intent of constructively criticizing and hoping for better action from the government."

The editor of the Wall Street Journal Asia's editorial page, Mary Kissel, stressed that Noynoy Aquino explicitly ran for office on the promise of transparency and accountability, and that journalism, as an independent watchdog for government, is one of the only institutions in the Philippines that can help the administration achieve that goal. For Kissel, the article was a success because it stimulated debate across the board.

Maria Ressa's brand of journalism

In the Storyline interview, Ressa said, "You can't just give isolated facts without context because people get confused, and who else will say it so, you go fact, fact, fact, this will support this. I even know, working for CNN, it is impossible to be objective."

Chi Almario, ABS-CBN's head of newsgathering, spoke about Ressa as someone who unabashedly stands her ground. One ABS-CBN employee described Ressa as combative in a Western way.

But for Armand Sol, the head of Editing Operations at ABS-CBN, Ressa has a straightforward American approach to doing work, and the warm personal touch of a Filipina. According to Sol, Ressa would not speak badly about people behind their backs and never took arguments personally.

On Storyline, Ressa said, "We (ABS-CBN News) are confrontational. We are aggressive. That's the direction we want to be. We want to hold you accountable."

Almario explained, "As a journalist you can't back away from confrontation. You always have to be in the fighting mode. Hesitation could be mistaken as cowardice. We can't afford to be timid. She knows people are watching and she has to lead because that is the ABS brand- we're fearless."

Two mediamen outside ABS-CBN, Vergel Santos and Luis Teodoro, deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said they disagreed with certain things that were done during Maria's stewardship. But both independently observed general improvements in the network's coverage during the past 6 years.
Despite Ressa's media freedom defense, Teodoro took issue with the ethical choices networks and executives made in covering the August 23rd hostage incident. He said, "I don't think it's Maria alone but I think it's because the networks are locked in a struggle for ratings. So they are driven to take shortcuts."

Nevertheless, Teodoro emphasized that the CMFR saw improved coverage of the 2007 and 2010 elections from ABS-CBN. Monitoring the 2004 national elections, Teodoro noticed that coverage was reactive, the reporters were not well prepared and the reporting tended to be repeated. But in 2007, he saw reporters demanding candidates to focus on the issues. Whereas previously, he observed public affairs programs being held later and later in the evening, under Ressa, discourse about the elections moved to primetime.

Teodoro said, "We attributed this (improved election coverage) to the direction of Maria Ressa. In the last election, 2010, the same things were going on but it was even better. The networks were sponsoring forums and debates, which improved the dialogue and discourse."

Santos said, "I have observed that, in her stewardship, the discussion of public issues on the network has widened and to some degree deepened and that reporting itself has acquired some depth - has shown to have gone further into the whys and wherefores of the news. The network seems to me also to have been more open about itself, thus inspiring openness in the industry itself, which I think a critical ethical and self-policing development."

The Next Change

Ging Reyes, ABS-CBN's North American bureau chief for the past 8 years will take over for Ressa. For the past 2 weeks, Reyes and Ressa have worked in side by side offices to facilitate a smooth transition.

Even after Ressa's departure, ABS-CBN News' professional relationships in the broadcast industry will likely remain the same. The executive director of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), Reynaldo Hulog, said, "It may be hard to fill her shoes. However, we do not think that the KBP's relationship with ABS-CBN will change. ABS-CBN has always tried to maintain its good standing in the association -- not to mention, the broadcast industry."

For his part, Teodoro said, "There are more factors in the way the media will turn out than one person. Although as far as ABS-CBN was concerned, Maria did a lot of positive things."

Ressa said on Storyline, "I think the next phase now is combining all of the different initiatives that we've put together-- the citizen journalism, our editorial perspective and public service, that's where it needs to go. But perhaps, that's not where ABS wants to go now." She added, "Perhaps really, it's time to allow someone else with new ideas to come and test whether my ideas are right. Even look at the changes that will happen when I go, who's to say they're not right?"

Ressa has yet to disclose what change is next for her.

She ended the Storyline special by saying, "I don't know if I'll be alive for the next 20 years. But you know, in 1986, I said I think the Philippines is going to be amazing 20 years from now. It didn't happen but I do hope that in my lifetime, I will see a much greater improvement in the quality of life, governance and of our own democracy. And I will do all I can to empower this coming generation."

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