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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 28, 2011 Major News Stories (

February 28, 2011 Major News Stories
February 28, 2011 Major News Stories

LPA seen to bring rains in next few days—Pagasa

MANILA, Philippines—A low pressure area that formed off the coast of eastern Mindanao is expected to bring moderate to heavy rains in the region in the next few days, the government's weather agency said.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the low pressure area, which was located 170 kilometers east of General Santos City at about 2 p.m. Sunday, was unlikely to become a tropical cyclone.

The weather agency said the LPA appeared to be weakening and its chances of consolidating into a cyclone was “extremely poor.”

As of Sunday afternoon, Pagasa said it has received reports of moderate rains in parts of Mindanao. It noted that the LPA will be bringing thick rain clouds, which could lead to heavy rains. Luzon, on the other hand, will be cloudy and will have isolated rain showers.

“This disturbance will continue to bring scattered to widespread rains over Visayas and Mindanao which may trigger flashfloods and landslides,” Pagasa's advisory said. It also noted that the seas in eastern Philippines will be rough to very rough.

“Residents living in low lying areas, along river banks and near mountain slopes are advised to take all the necessary precautionary measures,” Pagasa said.

More evacuees arriving—DFA

MANILA, Philippines – Expect the number of Filipino migrant workers escaping from Libya to increase in the next couple of days, said the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has been on a "full OFW relocation and repatriation mode" since Saturday.

On Sunday, more than 120 overseas Filipino workers were scheduled to fly back to Manila, according to both the DFA and the Manila International Airport Authority.

They include 15 workers who were earlier flown to Madrid by their employers in Tripoli, said the DFA.

As of Sunday morning, 51 workers on board Gulf Air's 10 a.m. flight from Bahrain had arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

More OFWs were expected to take the following flights from the Middle East: Gulf Air's 2 p.m. flight, also from Bahrain, more than 40 workers; Qatar Airways' 3:35 p.m. flight from Doha, 31; and Emirates' 10 p.m. flight from Dubai, 36.

On Saturday, a total of 168 OFW evacuees arrived at the NAIA, said the DFA, citing records of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Acting Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, now in Tunisia, on Sunday reported to the home office that 131 OFWs had crossed the Libyan-Tunisian border.

"They are now safe ... A DFA team received them at the border and has made arrangements for their flight home," said Del Rosario.

The DFA head, along with Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr., arrived in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, on Saturday.

They had originally planned to proceed to Tripoli "if not for the de facto no-fly advisory that is being considered by the international community for Libya," said Assistant Secretary J. Eduardo Malaya, also DFA spokesman.

Del Rosario is "personally overseeing the efforts of the government in repatriating our OFWs in the quickest way possible," noted Malaya.

130 Pinoys cross Libya-Tunisia border

MANILA, Philippines - Some 130 Filipinos have crossed the Libyan-Tunisian border at Ras al-Jedir, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert Del Rosario said Sunday.

A DFA team received them at the border and have made arrangements for their flight home, he said in a press statement.

The following Filipinos are already safe in Tunisia and will be on their way to Manila, according to Del Rosario:

Company name:  HANIL

Amor, Harid

Anos, Angelo

Bedonia, Antonio

Boscagan, Rocelo

Castillo, Raffy

Celino, Jerry

Dela Cruz, Marlon

Deocariza, Wilfredo

Dolor, Edwin

Domingo, Edgar

Estacio, Rogelio

Fortuna, Eric

Jabuli, Manolito

Kitlong, Roberto

Lahara, Rimoteo

Legaspi, Lousito

Leonardo, Roberto

Madredano, Dioniso Jr.

Mendoza, Edgardo

Mendoza, Elmer

Openia, Roger

Oscier, Bob

Padilla, Luis

Pascual, Armando

Ragalado, Ronillo

Pagaduan, Robert

Roxas, Rodrigo

Sales, Orlando

Samadiko, Jerry

Santos, Rogelio

Tabura, Jayson

Tadeo, Crispolo

Tiongzon, Nelson

Yaya, Ragael

Codo, Lorenso

Alcantara, Angelito

Company name: ATLC

Masaganda, Marlon

Company Name: RANHILL CO.

Conel, Eric C.

Bustallnno, Bouyan V.

Cayetano, Allan V.

Rivera, Desiree Ann C.

Baldemoro, Rosendo Jr G.

Aguilar, Fortunato Jr C.

Labrador, Allen T.

Tarrago, Esser Jose T,

Magbanua, Joven L.

Casugbo, Norlito

Orozco, Anthony L.

Gutierrez, Roel Jose D.

Encanto, Wilmor P.

Gelsana, Edson L.

Sta. Cruz, Ramon V.

Reblora, Manny M.

Vivas, Gary P.

Balingit, Danilo T.

Hallasgo, Leonil G.

Bromo, Raoul F.

Solomon, Arnel D.

Serrano, Gerardo V.

Serato, Julios T.

Reyes, Jeoffrey B.

Company name: BONATTI

Osorio, Ronaldo

Casanova, Redentor

Nicdao, Juan Jose

Atraso, Ernesto

Patacsil, Joel

Alducente, Oscar

Laurilla, Leocadio

Baroado, Silvano

Sablay, Eduardo

Adriano, Henry

Dural, Marlo

Santos, Rodolfo

Mamauag, Joseph

Santos, Emilio Jr.

Layo, Ramon

Moyong, Ramon

Salazar, Arthur

Italia, Alberto

Ibrahim, Ahmad

Sinlao, Igmidio

Cabrera, Ismael

Gayoso, Zion Anthony

Suing, Edgardo

Bonjan, Antonio

Montalbo, Teodoro

Fajardo, Michael

Cordez, Renen Aries

Punzalan, Roberto Jr.

Carmona, Nelson

Emboltorio, Jorge

Casiñas, Francisco Jr.

Balucan, Anthony

Enriquez, Jeffrey

Inabangan, Randy

Macapagal, Edwin

Wania, Emiliano Jr.

Cuyom, Jun

Ebreo, Jojo

Dadale, Francisco  Jr.

Gonda, Randy

Angelo, Edwardo

Clarete, Amiel

Apao, Stephen

Gomez, Roden

Layco, Serafin

Brucal, Jordan

De Leon, Merlegan

Tidalgo, Nove

Delos Santos, Allan

Company Name: GEMMO

Dela Cruz, Cristine

Pasha, Randy

Acevedo, Rolando

Hernandez, Reynante

Eriele, Anika

Capablanca, Ashley

Capablanca, Ivan

Dela Cruz, Justine

Dela Cruz, Patrcia

Lailo, Imard

Catimbang, Gerry

Dela Cruz, Gina Dela Wervana

Dela Cruz, Neil

Rayson, Boots

Realica, Josefina

Realica, Mario

Villanueva, Gualberto

Alhambra, Edmond

Capablanca, Van

Acevedo, Rogelio

The DFA said it is now on “full relocation and repatriation mode” in view of the escalating violence in Libya.

It has mobilized its other embassies and consulates general to assist Filipinos who will be arriving in their countries from Libya.

There are also 24-hour landline numbers for families of Filipinos based in Libya, at 834-4580, 834-3245, 834-3240, and 834-4646.  

In cooperation with SMART Communications and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), a 24-hour "Libreng Tawag" program has been activated at the DFA for families of Filipinos to call their relatives in Libya.

58 Filipino evacuees from Libya arrive in Egypt

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 58 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who fled Libya made it safely through the Egyptian border on Saturday.

The first batch to arrive at the Philippine Embassy in Cairo, Egypt was composed of 13 OFWs.

Most of them were engineers working for a Korean construction firm.

They were welcomed at the embassy by Philippine Ambassador, Eduardo Pablo Maglaya.

“They should be leaving anytime this afternoon via Gulf Air. They should be arriving in Manila tomorrow, Sunday,” reported ABS-CBN Middle East Bureau chief Danny Buenafe.

The second batch of evacuees were 45 OFWs who worked from two separate construction firms in Libya.

Buenafe reported that the second batch are currently working on their travel documents and could be repatriated to Manila on Monday.

He said the Philippine Embassy is expecting more evacuees to break through the Egyptian border in the coming days.

“According to Ambassador Maglaya, from the border dito sa Egypt, they expect another batch, at least 51 [OFWs] by Monday,” said Buenafe.


Harrowing ordeal

Buenafe said most of the evacuees shared harrowing tales about their situation in Libya.

“Talagang grabe daw talaga ang sitwasyon and they said that the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) should now act fast, intensify efforts to repatriate the Filipinos, dahil talagang nakikita nila na talagang exposed sila sa hostilities within the Libyan border,” he said.

None of the evacuees were able to bring their passports, which were kept by their employers.

“’Yung employers tumakas na rin, ‘yung iba naman hindi nakabalik because yung mga branches of their offices are quite distanced from where the [OFWs] were situated as a group sa Benghazi, [Libya],” explained Buenafe.

DFA chief to evacuate 550 Filipinos from Tripoli

MANILA, Philippines—Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario managed to enter Tripoli Sunday under difficult circumstances and will evacuate some 550 Filipinos to Tunisia in light of politico-security tensions in Libya, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The Philippine Embassy in Tripoli reported that Secretary Del Rosario and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. entered Libyan territory at 9 a.m. (4 p.m., Manila time). They will bring out the Filipinos on their way back to Djerba, the first Tunisian city after the border, Sunday night.

Batches of 300 and 250 Filipinos are at the Embassy premises and ready to leave Libya for Tunisia.

Del Rosario and Conejos visited the Philippine School in Tripoli, which has served as a relocation site for 87 Filipinos awaiting transit out of Libya.

The Filipinos will travel in a convoy of 55 vans and buses towards the Tunisian border. Another set of vehicles will take them to Djerba.

Embassy officials said that as of today, it was relatively calm and peaceful in their area.

Del Rosario and Conejos left the country Friday night and arrived in Tunis Saturday morning. They and a small DFA team then proceeded to Djerba to facilitate the cross-over into Tunisia of Filipino repatriates.

Pursuant to the instructions of President Benigno S. Aquino III, the DFA is on a full relocation and repatriation mode for its nationals in Libya, in view of the escalating violence and widespread insecurity there.

Apart from the Embassies near Libya, the DFA has mobilized its other Embassies and Consulates General to assist Filipinos who will be transiting their areas on the way to the Philippines.

“Our objective is to undertake the repatriation as quickly as possible. We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our beloved Filipinos in Libya,” Del Rosario said.

Arrangements are likewise being finalized for Greek-owned ferries, among others, to evacuate Filipinos in the northeast city of Benghazi and other areas.

1st batch of OFWs from Libya walks out of OWWA bus

MANILA, Philippines – The first batch of repatriated overseas Filipino workers from Libya walked out of the bus provided by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on Saturday morning at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The 20 OFWs who were all tired and lacked sleep alleged that OWWA did not take care of them and was instead busy with earning “handsome points” from media.

“Ni tubig hindi ka naialok tapos paghihintayin ka ng napaka-tagal. Aba'y nag-walkout kami,” said Manuel Cruzat. "Pinasakay lang [kami sa bus]. Propaganda!"

Although Cruzat and the rest of his group were met by OWWA officials and were given hats, they were not immediately brought to their employment agency where their families were waiting for them.

The irked workers decided to board the vehicles of their agency, the LBS Recruitment Solutions Corporation, to take them to the office.

They also stressed that it was their employer, the Vinci Grand Project and their employment agency that paid for their repatriation and not the government.

“Nandoon pa lang kami masama na ang loob namin sa OWWA. Wala naman silang ginawang action. Kung tawagan sila parang wala silang magawa at napakarami daw Pilipino silang inaasikaso. May naitulong ba sila? Wala naman. Nagbabayad naman kami ng kumpleto sa kanila,” said Cruzat.

For its part, OWWA said they did not immediately drive the OFWs to their employment agency as they were still waiting for the second batch to arrive.

“Kaya ho pinaghihintay sila doon magkakatagpo po yung first batch at saka second batch. Kapag pinaalis (bus) yun baka yung second batch naman ang mawalan ng sasakyan,” said Jay Santillan, OWWA Repatriation Officer.

At the agency, the OFWs were met by their excited family members.

“Masayang-masaya kung baga nawala ang worry mo,” said Salvacion Parro.

Asian evacuees tell of Libya turmoil

NEW DELHI, India - Evacuees returning to Asia from Libya at the weekend told harrowing tales of survival, of chaos and violence, looting and dwindling supplies and above all the relief of being back home.

Two state-run Air India flights carrying a total of 530 evacuees arrived at New Delhi late Saturday to be greeted by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao.

Vietnam and the Philippines also welcomed home expatriates, though tens of thousands of often low-wage workers remain in the country as Asian governments struggle to put evacuation plans into effect.

"This escape of mine makes me feel I am in heaven," said Indian engineer Mohammed Sali, 63. "One man came and put the knife on my neck. He took all my belongings -- laptop, chain, even my car.

"We heard gunshots every day. I went under a container and stayed there. Somehow we managed to escape.

"People have to go without food and water for three or four days as the situation there is bad. People are on the streets... police stations have been burnt down. There is no safety, no police."

There are some 18,000 Indians in Libya, of whom 3,000 are believed to be in the eastern port city of Benghazi working for car companies, construction firms and hospitals, while others are scattered across the oil-rich country.

Fears of a full-scale civil war as Moamer Kadhafi loses his grip on power have prompted many countries to rush to get their citizens out.

"The need of the hour is for India to send as many planes to get all the Indians out," said Moben Kureshi, 27, a factory worker who was on the first plane to land in New Delhi.

"Those people who are far from Tripoli are in massive trouble as foreigners are under serious threat. We were looted at the airport itself. At least three groups, including mine, had their mobiles taken away at the check-in.

"The situation of Indians, especially who are residing in workers camps, is very bad as the camps have been burnt down and there is no shelter, food and water."

Indian officials said the air rescue effort would go on for at least two weeks, while a passenger ship was also due to arrive in Libya on Sunday to take Indian evacuees to Alexandria in Egypt, from where they will be flown home.

In Vietnam, migrant labourers landing on home soil appeared badly shaken by their experiences trying to get home.

A weeping Vu Van Loi was one of almost 100 workers who arrived at Tan Son Nhat international airport in Ho Chi Minh City, VNExpress news website reported.

"I thought I could not get back home. In the airport in Tripoli, there was a lot of gunfire. It was very chaotic," said Loi, holding his daughter.

He was one of 10,000 Vietnamese who had been working in Libya.

"The sound of gunfire became more and more each day," the website quoted another worker, Nguyen Viet Cuong, as saying.

A total of 168 Filipinos have so far arrived home, including a group of hotel and construction workers who landed early Sunday, but 26,000 Filipino expatriates are still stranded.

The foreign department in Manila said it was on "full relocation and repatriation mode" with foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario in the capital of Tunisia to help Filipinos who had crossed the border.

Impoverished Bangladesh has some 60,000 citizens working in Libya, mostly low-paid construction workers, and says it is still considering how best to help them.

Angry relatives staged protests on Saturday, demanding authorities act swiftly to get their family members home safely.

Some 30 South Koreans meanwhile managed to get out on board a Turkish army vessel, Seoul's defence ministry said Sunday. One of its warships was due to arrive in Benghazi on Thursday to evacuate more nationals to nearby Greece.

At least 500 other South Koreans were still thought to be in Libya.

Gaddafis ask Pinoy househelpers to stay

MANILA, Philippines -  The family of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has reportedly asked 4 of their Filipino househelpers to stay behind in the country.

The 4 Filipinos, who have yet to be identified, have yet to get in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) amid the ongoing repatriation of thousands of overseas Filipino workers from Libya.

The DFA said Sunday that some 1, 327 Filipinos have already left Libya. Of these, some 249 have reached Manila.

A total of 151 Filipinos arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Sunday after being repatriated by their employers in Libya. The Filipinos arrived in three batches.

Won Constructions employees and engineer Judith Tuvera who crossed from Tobruk in Libya to Alexandria with her employer arrived with 47 OFWs who were employees of Marriot Hotel in Libya on Sunday morning together on board Gulf Airways.

Meanwhile, 34 OFWs arrived in the afternoon via Gulf Airways.

Another 19 OFWs - 15 engineers and employees of Akakus Oil Company, 2 medical staff of Tripoli Medical Center, and 2 employees of Consolidated Contractor International Company - also arrived via Qatar Airways.

The 12 workers of Won Constructions were from Tobruk. They were met by a team from the Philippine Embassy in Cairo at an outpost in Al Sallum, a border town in Egypt. The OFWs proceeded to Cairo where they were flown to Bahrain to take their flight to Manila.

The 81 OFWs from Marriot Hotel were evacuated from Tripoli and were flown to Amman by their employer onboard a chartered flight. From there, they were brought to Bahrain where they took 2 batch flights to Manila.

Meanwhile, 15 OFWs were flown to Madrid before they were brought to Bahrain. Other 4 OFWs who arrived on board Qatar Airways were flown from Tripoli to Malta. From Malta, all 19 OFWs were flown to Bahrain where their employers scheduled their flights to Manila.

All 3 batches were welcomed by a team from the DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) led by DFA-OUMWA special assistant Enrico Fos and OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon, respectively.

Another batch of 36 OFWs from Asia Konstruct and 2 OFWs from Moscow will arrive on Sunday night

The DFA said it is now on “full relocation and repatriation mode” in view of the escalating violence in Libya.

It has mobilized its other embassies and consulates general to assist Filipinos who will be arriving in their countries from Libya.

There are also 24-hour landline numbers for families of Filipinos based in Libya, at 834-4580, 834-3245, 834-3240, and 834-4646.  

"Our objective is to undertake the relocation and repatriation as quickly as possible. We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our beloved Filipinos in Libya," DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

Del Rosario, Foereign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos, and a DFA team are now in Jerba, near the border to facilitate the cross-over of Filipinos into Tunisia.

11 Pinoys still missing in NZ quake: DFA

MANILA, Philippines – Eleven Filipinos have remained missing in the aftermath of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Sunday.

The earthquake has killed 146 people so far.

The DFA said a certain Elisa Torres, who remained missing and was thought to be Filipino, was determined to be of another nationality.

The missing Filipinos are Jesse Lloyd Redoble, John Christopher Chua, Ezea Mae Medalle, Emmabel Anova, Jewel Francisco, Ivy Jane Cabunillas, Mary Louise Anne Amantillo, Valquin Bensurto, Rhea Mae Sumalpong, Erica Nora, and Lalaine Agatep.

Through the DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) and the Regional Consular Office (RCO) in Cebu, Charge d’Affaires (CDA) in Wellington Giovanni Palec conducted a telephone conference Saturday with the Cebu-based families of the 5 missing Filipinos believed trapped in the rubble of the CTV building.

Palec informed them on the latest updates from New Zealand police and other officials and the initiatives undertaken by his team.

No person has been rescued alive since last Wednesday.  

The parents of 2 missing Filipinos arrived Saturday in Christchurch.

New Zealand authorities are refusing to identify those who perished until they have recovered the bodies and verified their identities through DNA testing.

Police have also yet to release a consolidated list of missing persons with their nationalities, despite repeated requests by New Zealanders and other families searching for answers regarding the status of missing loved ones.

The remains of those recovered are transported to a military camp in Christchurch, where the identification and processing will take around 3 weeks.

Arrangements are underway to have the relatives of the 11 missing Filipinos to go to New Zealand to assist in the identification of the fatalities, the DFA said in a press statement.

The Philippine embassy team arrived in Christchurch on February 23 to coordinate efforts with authorities, as well as look after the welfare of the 2,000-strong Filipinos in Christchurch.    

Philippine officials had repeatedly asked and prodded rescue officials to continue on with the search, given the text messages that were sent by a number of missing Filipinos immediately after the quake.

NZ quake toll reaches 146

by Reuters

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - Rescuers pulled apart levelled buildings in New Zealand's quake-hit city of Christchurch on Sunday as the death toll climbed to 146 and people gathered to pray that survivors will be found six days after the devastating tremor.  

SC tells lower courts to promptly resolve cases

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court has reminded lower court judges to promptly resolve the cases they were handling after it imposed a P40,000 fine on a retired Cebu regional trial court judge, who failed to decide on hundreds of cases assigned to him.

In its February 16 resolution, the tribunal’s Second Division upheld the July 6, 2009, decision of the Office of the Court Administrator finding retired Mandaue City RTC Branch 56 Judge Augustine A. Vestil “guilty of undue delay in deciding cases.”

“We cannot overemphasize the court’s policy on prompt resolution of disputes. Justice delayed is justice denied,” said the ruling penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta.

“The honor and integrity of the judicial system is measured not only by the fairness and correctness of decisions rendered, but also by the efficiency with which disputes are resolved,” the court added.

Joining Peralta in his decision were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Roberto Abad and Jose Mendoza.

“There is no excuse for mediocrity in the performance of judicial functions. The position of judge exacts nothing less than faithful observance of the law and the Constitution in the discharge of official duties,” the justices said.

Results of the OCA audit of Vestil’s court showed that the judge failed to hand down his decision within the 90-day reglamentary period on 15 cases which were already submitted for resolution.

The audit revealed that 247 cases had still remained “dormant for a considerable length of time” in Vestil’s sala when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges on August 8, 2007.

The OCA also found out that Vestil did not maintain an organized record management of cases assigned to him.

“No system was being followed to facilitate the monitoring of the status of cases,” the OCA audit said.

To explain the delay in the disposition of cases, Vestil argued that he had been handling a total of 1,431 cases, including 555 civil cases and 876 criminal cases.

But the magistrates said Vestil’s claim of heavy caseload “cannot excuse him from doing his mandated duty to resolve cases with diligence and dispatch.”

They said the judge could have just asked for an extension if he thought he could not keep up with the mandated period with which to resolve the cases.

“Corollarily, a heavy caseload may excuse a judge’s failure to decide cases within the reglementary period, but not their failure to request an extension of time within which to decide the case on time,” the court said.

For these violations, the court ordered the OCA to deduct P40,000 from Vestil’s remaining P100,000 in retirement benefits.

Berger, Esdrelon fate known today

by By Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon

Lawyer Salvador Solima is optimistic that his clients Norwegian engineer Sven Erik Berger and Cebuana nurse Karen Esdrelon will be freed from detention later today as the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor’s Office is expected to resolve the criminal complaints for kidnapping with homicide.

Youth rep wants Children’s Code done in Bisaya

by cherry_haya

TWO months after joining the Cebu City Council, Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Federation President John Philip Po II filed his first three resolutions, including a request to translate to Bisaya the Cebu City Children’s Code.

“The provisions of the Code can best be understood by the various duty bearers and stakeholders if it is translated into Cebuano, the language of the people of the City,” he said.

He addressed his request to the Cebu City Commission for the Welfare and Protection of Children.

Council chides hospital chief

by By Garry B. Lao

The Cebu City Council has criticized Cebu City Medical Center administrator Dr. Eduardo Sedoripa for saying that he will first seek Mayor Michael Rama’s permission before giving a report on last week’s incident to the council.    

Mayor looks for new accounting, urban poor department managers

by cherry_haya

CEBU City Mayor Michael Rama disclosed yesterday he will replace two of his department heads in a week or two.

The two chiefs are Arlene Rentuza of the accounting department and Danilo Gabiana of the Department for the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP).

His reasons? He said he wants documents in the accounting department processed more quickly and “a planner and a manager” to head DWUP.

973 teaching positions for CV

by By Gregg M. Rubio/JMO

CEBU, Philippines - The Department of Education (DepEd) has opened 973 items for public school teachers in Central Visayas for school year 2011-2012.

DepEd Regional Director Recaredo Borgonia announced the opening during a forum at the NS Royal Pensione recently.

Around 300 items are allocated for Cebu Province Division while the other items will be distributed among schools in Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor. In Cebu, highly urbanized and component cities have their own schools division each.

Aside from the 973 items, Borgonia said DepEd will also build infrastructure worth P1 billion. The infrastructure facilities should be in place before the opening of classes in June.

Borgonia admitted the P1 billion is not enough for infrastructure facilities across Region 7, but said it can augment “crucial resources for education.”

Borgonia said DepEd 7 has hired additional 11 civil engineers who would supervise the construction of school buildings to ensure they live up to safety standards.

On March 7 and 8, DepEd will hold a detailed planning workshop in Subic, which will be attended by school officials and division superintendents. This will be the first time that division superintendents will attend the planning and Borgonia said DepEd purposely included the division superintendents in the planning so that the department’s officials will hear the concerns straight from them.

Aside from the school buildings it constructed, the Cebu provincial government will also help augment the salary of teachers through its Provincial School Board to encourage more education graduates to pursue a teaching career.

City to hire 300 students for summer program

by By Garry B. Lao/JMO

Some 300 poor but deserving students from Cebu City will benefit from the Special Program for Employment of Students (SPES) come summer.

Arroyo camp scores anew in legal war vs truth body

The Supreme Court has denied the government’s bid to have an oral argument set for the constitutional issues hounding President Benigno Aquino III’s order to create a panel that would investigate the alleged abuses of the Arroyo administration.

In a two-page resolution, the SC also denied the motion filed by Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz asking the high court to appoint an “amicus curiae" (friend of the court) to assist in resolving the motion for reconsideration filed assailing the SC’s Dec. 7, 2010 decision declaring the Truth Commission unconstitutional.

“The Court resolved to deny the motions to appoint an amici curiae and to allow oral argument in support of the motion for reconsideration dated January 14, 2011 filed by the [Office of Solicitor General] for respondents Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr., Department of Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad and the Philippine Truth Commission of 2010," the Court ruled.

In its Dec. 7 decision, the SC, voting 10-5, ruled that Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1 violated the equal protection clause as it supposedly singles out the Arroyo administration for the fact-finding investigation.

Among the issues that the body was supposed to look into are the $329-million NBN-ZTE controversy, the P729-million fertilizer fund scam, and the “Hello, Garci" scandal where former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was accused of election fraud.

Separate petitions assailing EO 1 were filed by businessman Louis Biraogo, and Arroyo’s allies at the House of Representatives led by House Minority Leader Rep. Edcel Lagman.

In his motion seeking oral arguments on the case, Cadiz said the appointment of an amicus curiae is necessary “to ensure that the parties’ positions are fully elucidated" before the SC makes its final ruling on the constitutionality of the Truth Commission.

Government lawyers argued that EO 1 does not violate the equal protection clause because “the plain language of executive order shows that there is no intent to unfairly discriminate against the previous administration."

Cadiz said the Truth Commission, which is headed by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., only intended to look into questionable transactions in the Arroyo administration and not specific individuals.

Palace includes whistle-blowers act in priority bills

MANILA, Philippines –Malacañang has included two measures that would protect whistle-blowers and government witnesses in its list of priority bills it wants Congress to approve this year.

From 17, President Aquino will push for 23 measures for approval in his meeting on Monday with Congressional leaders at the first Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting under his watch.

Deputy presidential spokesperon Abigail Valte said Sunday that the Palace had added six more bills in its priority list from the 17 bills it had previously announced to the media.

Expected to attend Monday’s Ledac meeting were Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Jose Belmonte, other lawmakers, as well members of Mr. Aquino's Cabinet, Valte told government radio dzRB.

A statement by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said the six additional priority bills were the proposed anti-trust law; a measure which would provide protection and security to whistleblowers, amendments to the Witness Protection Program; an act creating a water regulatory body; a measure on government procurement reforms as well another measure defining the powers and functions of the Department of National Defense.

“All the 23 proposals went through benchmarking, goal-setting, and prioritization process during various Cabinet workshops and the succeeding meetings of the Cabinet Clusters,” Ochoa said.

“In determining the measures to be included in our priorities, we reckoned with four parameters: people, resources, legal basis and political objectives,” he added.

The 23 measures were part of President Aquino's 16-point agenda covering infrastructure development, economic development, sovereignty and security and good governance.

Since last month, the President and the Cabinet had looked into 180 measures before settling down to approve 17 measures that eventually became 23 for presentation to Congressional leaders today.

The Chief Executive had previously said he only wanted the executive to present a small number of priority measures to Congress because he wanted to make a ``judicious use'' of his power to certify a bill as urgent.

Among the measures the Palace will also ask Congress to swiftly approve include a bill that will reset this year's election in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and synchronize it with the mid-term elections in May 2013; a measure that will amend the Electric Power Industry Reform Act; a measure that will strengthen the Anti-Money laundering law and an act that will reorganize the National Food Authority, among others.

Earlier, the Palace had dropped the inclusion of a controversial responsible parenthood bill in its list of priority bills this year after it said it wanted to continue with its dialog with the Church. But Catholic bishops had since pulled out of their talks but Palace officials said it was now too late to push for the measure as well.

RH advocates march to CBCP


MANILA, Philippines – Women’s rights groups and cause-oriented organizations will march to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) office in Intramuros, Manila, on Sunday afternoon to highlight their support for the reproductive health (RH) bill.

House speaker: convicted Rep. Singson should resign


MANILA, Philippines - House Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr. said Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson should resign his elected post after being convicted for 18 months in prison for possession of illegal drugs in Hong Kong.

SC: It's final, Mikey can represent security guards, tricycle drivers in Congress

The Supreme Court has affirmed its earlier decision dismissing three petitions seeking to disqualify Mikey Arroyo as nominee of Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP) party-list group in the May 10, 2010 elections.

DOJ OKs fixed term for Armed Forces chief


MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has endorsed 2 proposed laws before the House of Representatives that prescribe a fixed term for the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and prohibits former military officers from being appointed as secretary of the Department of National Defense within 3 years after retirement.  

Teacher shot dead in Masbate ambush

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – A public school teacher was shot dead on Saturday in an ambush staged by unidentified armed men at a village in Dimasalang town in Masbate, a police officer said Sunday.

The victim, Genieve V. Arizala, 33, single, of Cataingan town in Masbate, was among the eight passengers on board a Masbate Electric Cooperative (Maselco) service vehicle that was fired upon by unidentified armed men at around 7:15 p.m. on Saturday along the national road in barangay Gaid, Dimasalang town, according to Senior Inspector Ayn Natuel of the Masbate police.

Zambo Sibugay villagers flee Army-communist clash


ZAMBOANGA, Philippines - Dozens of families have fled their homes in Kabasalan, Aamboanga Sibugay following a clash between soldiers and the New People's Army (NPA).

Sy-Coson, MVP and Yuvallos appointed in ABAC

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has appointed 3 of the country’s most powerful in the world of business to the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC).

Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said the 3 have been chosen based on the “recommendations” from the business industry and from advisers: SM Group’s Teresita “Tessie” Sy-Coson, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company’s Manuel “Manny” Pangilinan and Cebuano entrepreneur Jay Yuvallos.

The ABAC is the primary venue for private sector feedback. This was established by ASEAN Heads of Government in an effort to creating an integrated and competitive ASEAN economy.

Recap of developments in Middle East, North Africa

CAIRO—Here are the latest developments in unrest sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

LIBYA: World leaders called on Moammar Gadhafi to step down as Libyan protesters appeared to take control of the city closest to Tripoli threatening an endgame to his four-decade rule.

- Washington is prepared to offer "any kind of assistance" to Libyans seeking to overthrow Gadhafi's regime, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a day after President Barack Obama urged the strongman to step down.

- Senior US senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman urge Washington to recognize a transitional government in Libya and provide it with weapons.

- The United Nations imposed sanctions on Libya and EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton warns of "consequences" for Gadhafi.

- Mass evacuations from Libya criss-crossed the Mediterranean and the UN refugee agency said that "close to 100,000 people", mainly foreign migrants, have fled Libya to neighboring countries during the past week.

- Libyan customs officers have deserted the main border post with Tunisia at Ras Jedir, but soldiers and police loyal to Gadhafi are still present.

- German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Gadhafi to step down.

- Thousands of Libyans gathered to denounce Gadhafi's crumbling regime in front of journalists on a guided visit in the city of Az-Zawiyah, west of the capital.

- Interfax news agency said Russia could lose almost $4.0 billion in arms export contracts to Libya after Moscow joined other world powers in slapping an arms embargo on Gadhafi's regime

- Britain has revoked the diplomatic immunity of Gadhafi and members of his family.

- Libyan protest leaders established a transitional "national council" in cities seized by anti-regime forces.

- Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, denied that his family had secreted billions of dollars out of the country and scornfully dismissed a UN vote calling for freezing their assets.

OMAN: Two protesters were shot dead with rubber bullets and around five others wounded as Omani security forces opened fire on demonstrators who tried to storm a police station.

- Sultan Qaboos announced on Saturday he was boosting social benefits for students.

YEMEN: Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed Sunday to defend his three-decade regime "with every drop of blood", accusing opponents of seeking to split the nation.

- Five protesters were wounded as police dispersed an anti-regime demonstration of students in the city of Mukala, in Hadramaut province.

BAHRAIN: Thousands of Bahrainis marched in Manama calling for the fall of the ruling Sunni dynasty, as 18 opposition MPs submitted their letter of resignation to protest the killing of demonstrators.

- On Saturday, King Hamad reshuffled his cabinet and Shiite opposition leader Hassan Mashaima returned home from exile.

TUNISIA: Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi resigned as security forces clashed with protesters in Tunis demanding the removal of some ministers of his interim government, a day after three people were killed in the capital.

IRAQ: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned his cabinet to shape up within 100 days or face "changes", as protest organizers called for a fresh set of rallies and religious leaders demanded reforms.

- The governor of Babil province, south of Baghdad, stepped down, the third such resignation this month.

- Twenty people were wounded in clashes at a demonstration in the southern city of Amara.

EGYPT: Egypt's once widely feared interior minister Habib al-Adly is to appear before a criminal court on March 5 accused of money laundering, judicial sources said.

- Arab League chief Amr Mussa said he plans to run for president after a popular uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.

SAUDI ARABIA: More than 100 Saudi academics, activists and businessmen have called for major reforms including the establishment of a "constitutional monarchy" in the Gulf kingdom, in a statement posted on the Internet.

ALGERIA: Several hundred riot police blocked a new opposition attempt to stage an anti-government march in the center of the Algerian capital on Saturday, two days after a 19-year-old state of emergency was lifted.

MOROCCO: In Casablanca, almost 1,000 people rallied amid a heavy police presence to demand political reforms and a new constitution on Saturday.

QATAR: A Facebook page demanding the ouster of the pro-Western emir, accusing him of being an agent of Israel, had attracted 18,262 fans by Saturday.

SYRIA: A Facebook page has called for mass protests in Syria and in several Western countries against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, attracting 25,000 hits early on Saturday

JORDAN: Thousands joined a Friday demonstration organized by the Islamist opposition calling for reforms.

UN Council hits Kadhafi with sanctions

by Agence France-Presse

UNITED NATIONS – The UN Security Council unanimously ordered a travel and assets ban on Moamer Kadhafi's regime and a crimes against humanity investigation into the bloodshed blamed on the Libyan strongman.

China protest call smothered in police blanket

by Reuters

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, China– An online call for anti-government protests across China on Sunday instead brought an emphatic show of force by police determined to deter any buds of the kind of unrest that has shaken the Middle East.

Key tribes abandon Yemen president

by by Hammoud Mounassar, Agence France-Presse

SANAA - Pressure on Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign intensified on Saturday when the leaders of two of Yemen's most important tribes abandoned the president and joined the anti-regime movement.

New clashes erupt in Tunisia protests

TUNIS – Security forces and anti-government protesters clashed in the Tunisian capital Sunday, with police firing tear gas and warning shots to disperse stone-throwing youths in a third day of violence.

Make ‘fun runs’ fun for Citom enforcers too, asks councilor

by cherry_haya

THE popularity of fun runs has prompted the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (Citom) to request organizers to provide meals to traffic enforcers deployed along the route.

Councilor Richard Osmeña sponsored a resolution for organizers to feed Citom enforcers, in answer to the request of Citom Chief Rafael Yap.

Orcollo nabs World 8-Ball Championship

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino cue artist, Dennis “Robocop” Orcollo clinched the WPA World 8-Ball crown by beating Neils Feijen of Netherlands, 10-3, in the finals at the Fujairah Exhibition Center in United Arab Emirates.

Julaton mauls Mexican to retain WBO title

Dinomina ng Pinay WBO super bantamweight champion na si Ana "The Hurricane" Julaton ang kanyang kalabang Mexican-American na si Franchesca Alcanter para mapanatili ang kanyang korona.

PBA: Painters defuse Bolts for win No. 2

Sol Mercado struggled in his first game against his former team, aiding Rain or Shine well in beating Meralco, 101-92, for its second straight win in the PBA Commissioner's Cup Sunday night at the Astrodome.

Tenorio saves best for last as Alaska escapes Barangay Ginebra

L.A. Tenorio, Alaska's clutch player, again to the rescue. On Sunday, the cerebral point guard saved the Aces from the brink of defeat and steer Alaska to a tense 95-94 win in the main game of the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Astrodome.

Frye's jumper at OT buzzer lifts Suns (AP)

Channing Frye's long jumper as the buzzer sounded gave the Phoenix Suns a 110-108 overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. Grant Hill had 34 points for the Suns, who scored the first seven points of overtime before the Pacers rallied. Josh McRoberts tied the game at 108-108 on a 3-point play with 23.9 seconds remaining.

John weds Priscilla in La Union


MANILA, Philippines – John Estrada and Priscilla Meirelles got married on Saturday in La Union in a private ceremony, “The Buzz” reported Sunday.

Paquito Diaz's family denies death rumor


MANILA, Philippines – The daughter of Paquito Diaz on Sunday refuted reports that the veteran actor passed away.

Oscar nominations in main categories

HOLLYWOOD—Here are the nominations in the main Oscars categories, ahead of Sunday's Academy Awards show.


- "Black Swan"

- "The Fighter"

- "Inception"

- "The Kids Are All Right"

- "The King's Speech"

- "127 Hours"

- "The Social Network"

- "Toy Story 3"

- "True Grit"

- "Winter's Bone"


- Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan"

- David O. Russell for "The Fighter"

- Tom Hooper for "The King's Speech"

- David Fincher for "The Social Network"

- Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for "True Grit"


- Javier Bardem in "Biutiful"

- Jeff Bridges in "True Grit"

- Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network"

- Colin Firth in "The King's Speech"

- James Franco in "127 Hours"


- Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right"

- Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"

- Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"

- Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"

- Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine"


- Christian Bale in "The Fighter"

- John Hawkes in "Winter's Bone"

- Jeremy Renner in "The Town"

- Mark Ruffalo in "The Kids Are All Right"

- Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech"


- Amy Adams in "The Fighter"

- Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech"

- Melissa Leo in "The Fighter"

- Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit"

- Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom"


- "How to Train Your Dragon"

- "The Illusionist"

- "Toy Story 3"


- "Biutiful" (Mexico)

- "Dogtooth" (Greece)

- "In a Better World" (Denmark)

- "Incendies" (Canada)

- "Outside the Law" (Algeria)

Garcia’s successor: Swinging and turning around GSIS

MANILA, Philippines - Leaving a lucrative career is never easy. It becomes harder when you are headed to a controversy-laden institution with a mandate to serve over a million active and retired state workers.

Potential problems, however, did not dissuade Robert Vergara, the new president and general manager of the Government Service Insurance System or GSIS, into coming home.

He was at the top of his game as fund manager in one of Asia’s best investment houses, Lionhart (Hong Kong) Ltd.

But, inspired by the new administration’s call for change, Vergara, a native of Cabanatuan City, volunteered for government service.

“The stars seemed to be aligned for this one in terms of me coming home and serving government. In terms of what role, I think if you want to help, you don't choose,” he said.

“At first I thought, I just wanted to sit at the board level, where I can just come home as required with Hong Kong very near. But the job I was told, was Manila-based and a permanent one. I told my family I wanted to do it and they supported me,” he added.

First day at GSIS

On 22 September 2010, Vergara walked into his Pasay City office at the GSIS, an agency which waited for three months for a permanent boss since Winston Garcia left in end-June 2010.

“I was very shocked. My image of what a government office was supposed to look like was completely shattered by the office,” he noted.

The president and general manager’s (PGM) office is indeed generous in space. Comfortable furniture surrounds it; soft carpet covers the entire floor.

“I thought I’d see more paper and pencil stuff. I was surprised with the luxurious furnishings.  I’m from Hong Kong and you know how space is a premium there. This room can fit all 14 people from where I used to work (in HK).”

“It certainly raised my eyebrows but I just assumed that was what it should be like.”

Work ahead

Faced with a mandate from President Aquino to improve service, Vergara acknowledged this entails starting with his people.

With a 3,100 strong work force, the chief executive’s main challenge is putting the right people in various levels.

“At the moment I just think we are not properly configured. My goal is really to have the appropriate organizational structure that is a more flat one,” he said.

Vergara, however, stressed that the ongoing GSIS reorganization will not mean letting go of people. He hopes it will be a relatively ‘painless one,’ especially since two veterans of the civil service, Francisco Duque and Karina David, both with experience heading the Civil Service Commission, now serve in the GSIS’ board.

When the right people are in their proper places, Vergara believes the workflow will turn smooth.

No turnover

Because of his late appointment, Vergara was not able to personally meet to exchange notes with his predecessor, the controversial Winston Garcia.

Vergara has launched a review of all GSIS policies and hopes this leads to better services for its members.

One such review is the agency’s global investment program (GIP), which did not really live up to expectations.

In 2008, the state fund under Garcia embarked on a $1 billion global investment program to capitalize on the growth potential in developed countries. However, the financial crisis derailed this goal and only $600 million was actually placed in offshore markets.

The world’s largest fixed income fund Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO) and Amundi co-managed the fund and as of end-December last year, the $600 million investment earned $92 million or an annualized return of just 5.1 percent.

“We want to review the GIP because when we allocated initially in 2008 the expectation was, it’s supposed to generate a return in dollars, of 8% per year.”

The agency may consider bringing the money back home but may well be diverted to other emerging markets or even commodity markets, as some basic goods have seen drastic price movements.

“They may be more volatile, but with rising populations, more mouths to feed and weather patterns, we’re seeing it’s possible that commodities will continue its upward trend like sugar, rice and cotton. When you look at per capita consumption of food relative to developed countries, emerging markets are a fraction of where they should be,” he added.

The Commission on Audit is also conducting an audit of all transactions done, in order to see what the present management has assumed from the previous administration. The results of the special mid-year audit will be out by next month.

Computerization, most urgent problem

Vergara’s biggest, most urgent problem is the agency’s botched computerization program.

Billions of pesos in benefits, premium and loan payments are still unreconciled or not credited in the proper accounts of members, most of whom are teachers.

Faced with this daunting task, the agency undertook a series of program enhancements, some done manually to help profile the accounts and match the payments. However, this is not enough with still over P10 billion in “unposted” or “misposted” payments as of 30 November 2010.

“This is already a great cut from the P20 billion where we stood because of the massive clearing done,” Vergara said.  

In 2003, the GSIS embarked on a computerization program involving an upgrade of its computer hardware as well as new database management software to provide faster service to its members.

However, this failed and led to suits and countersuits between the GSIS and its software developer IBM Corp.

Vergara is keen on a settlement, as long as the courts are involved for transparency's sake.

Equities exposure

While GSIS irons out its computerization woes, Vergara is also thinking of ways to increase income for the fund.

One of which is exploring hiking its exposure in the equities market to about 13 percent of investible funds.

“Given the relative attractiveness of equities to fixed income in terms of the return profile, the yields you can get can justify a greater allocation to equities.”

Coming in last September, he added the agency had an underweight position in equities at just about four percent given the size of its fund.

Banking on the outlook that the Philippine economy will likely grow between 6.5 and 7 percent this year, Vergara said he’d like the fund to bet on infrastructure-based companies like construction, toll roads and cement as well as some consumer and utilities stocks.  

Asset sale

With a wealth of properties tucked under the GSIS’s belt, the state fund chief opined that under his watch, an outright sale is preferred, rather than the usual joint ventures done during the previous administration.

Among those lined up are two properties located at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City with a combined size of 11,532 square meters. One is the 3,200 square meters near the proposed site of the new Philippine Stock Exchange building, and the other is 8,332 square meters located along McKinley Road.

“We’ve had enough of these joint ventures. We’re at historically high price for property. I want to realize them before property prices start consolidating again.”

Vergara said up to five local property firms have already signified interest in the Fort Bonifacio properties.

Other properties it hopes to dispose of include the 18,498 square meter property of the MMDA along Dona Julia Vargas corner Meralco Avenue in Pasig City.

The agency is also eyeing to sell some buildings in Makati and the condemned Philcomsen building along Ortigas Avenue in Pasig.    

Time off

With just so much to do, and so much expected of him, how does this golden year executive unwind? Well, just like many CEOs, he favors the greens.

But golf is not the only leisure this state fund chief loves. When not too involved in work or affairs of government pensioners, Vergara hits the dancing floor.

A certified jitterbug, Vergara impresses with his ‘swing’ moves, something that is hoped he can also do at the GSIS – swinging it and turning it around.

Get ready for big one, folk warned

MANILA, Philippines – Before the big one strikes, we need to be whistle-blowers to save thousands of lives.

In the wake of the recent destructive New Zealand earthquake, urban planner and architect Felino A. Palafox Jr. has urged contractors, particularly those who took on government projects such as public schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and ports, to come out and blow the whistle on the projects to avoid a catastrophe.

“Contractors, consultants, suppliers and all those who may have knowledge of corruption in specific infrastructure, buildings and land developments should report the truth like Heidi Mendoza and Colonel Rabusa so the projects could be given priority in structural, geologic and hydrologic audits,” Palafox told the INQUIRER in a phone interview last Thursday, two days after the New Zealand temblor.

Kelvin S. Rodolfo, professor emeritus at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, at Chicago and senior visiting fellow of Earth System Science at Manila Observatory at the Ateneo de Manila, told the INQUIRER: “In particular, there is an overuse of sand and gravel from Pinatubo for concrete. It is cheap and OK to use for hollow blocks but these contain too much weak pumice, and thus is much too fragile to use for load-bearing elements like posts and bearing walls. Buildings will collapse as a result.”

Palafox said he personally knew of some projects and structures that had become structurally unsound due to budget filching.

He said countries with a history of rampant corruption suffered more fatalities in disasters, and that earthquakes of the same intensity resulted in fewer casualties in Japan or California than when they occurred in Haiti.

The Philippines, he said, could learn from the mistakes of Haiti and the best practices of Japan and California.

Palafox estimates that “of the two million buildings and residential structures in Metro Manila, down to informal settlers, 25 percent would be vulnerable to earthquakes, liquefaction due to earthquakes, flooding and tsunamis at the waterfront.” That would run up to about 500,000 structures vulnerable to disaster.

“I pray to God I'm wrong,” he said.

In the meantime, Palafox urged Filipinos to “exercise common sense” and prepare themselves for the inevitable big one.

“Always keep a bottle of water, a whistle, a flashlight and a hammer near you in your workplace or in your room where you live. Be aware of where the fire extinguisher is, and know what part of the building is the safest to stay in.”

Palafox advised every member of the household to learn where the keys to the padlocked fire grill or fire exit are.

Palafox was alarmed that many houses stood near earthquake fault lines prone to liquefaction.

Rodolfo said family members should discuss what they would do in case of an earthquake.

“Every family's circumstances and vulnerability are unique, so each needs its own game plan. This is a poor country and the government has few resources, so it’s a mistake to assume it could help everyone during a disaster. Therefore, every family must educate itself about earthquakes and plan accordingly,” he said.

Rodolfo said it would also be wise to talk with neighboring families. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has plenty of free educational materials.

On July 7 last year, Palafox submitted 60 recommendations and a 10-year recommendation program on Emergency Preparedness Response to Disasters to the Aquino administration. One of the recommendations was the outlining and proper dissemination of “hazard maps” to pinpoint the most vulnerable areas.

He said ordinary citizens should know, for instance, what particular villages, developments and structures stood directly over or near fault lines. A hazard map should answer in layman's term what particular areas would be subjected to soil liquefaction.

He said that in more progressive countries like Japan, tourists could go to a government office and get a free hazard map.

Dr. Renato Solidum Jr., Phivolcs director, told the INQUIRER. “Definitely we need to produce better base maps so that we can put more details on the hazards.”

He said Phivolcs “draws the hazards on the maps that are available.”

He said that “base mapping is the issue, and that is not produced by our office.” Solidum said one of the agency’s programs is the mapping of the active faults in the Philippines beginning from the 1990s. Phivolcs also produces maps for liquefaction, for earthquake-triggered landslides and tsunami maps per province.

Palafox was a guest speaker in India in February 2010, at an international conference aimed at “remaking” Mumbai. He said that after the conference, the Indian government decided to demolish 32,000 buildings in Mumbai that were deemed vulnerable to disasters.

“India's democracy, I think, is as chaotic as ours, but I have to say they had the political will to demolish 32,000 buildings and re-plan Mumbai.”

Where there's an earthquake, there's a fire. Palafox said that after a destructive earthquake, fires usually follow. The bigger problems, however, would be the lack of water after the pipes would have been damaged, and the lack of firebreaks in informal-settler neighborhoods to stop the fire in its tracks.

Palafox said international standards dictate that every resident must have at least one square meter of space for himself in a common evacuation area.

“Do we have that in every barangay in our country? Metro Manila has 14 million daytime residents, do we have 14 million square meters of common open spaces as evacuation areas? And that evacuation area should include helipads, emergency clinics, emergency water supplies, emergency food supplies.”

“We're losing most of our open spaces in Metro Manila. They are being built on, they're being given up and they're being squatted on.”

DOLE: 98 OFWs arrive from Libya; more await evacuation

(Update 4 - 7:42 p.m.) Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have started to arrive by batches in the country today from conflict-ridden Libya, with 48 OFWs in three batches already here and two more batches to arrive later tonight, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday.

In its most recent bulletin, the DFA said a total of 97 Filipinos will arrive Saturday from Paris as part of the group from the OEA Grand Projects who were flown to France by their employer.

The first and second batch of 36 OFWs arrived this morning aboard a Cathay Pacific flight and a Gulf Air flight, while a third batch of 12 arrived this noon aboard a Singapore Air flight.

Two more batches of 49 will arrive Saturday night.

The DFA said it is on a "full relocation and repatriation mode" amid the escalating violence in Libya, as the government scrambles to evacuate up to nearly 30,000 Filipinos in light of the growing political turmoil there.

"Our objective is to undertake the relocation and repatriation as quickly as possible. We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our beloved Filipinos in Libya," acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.

The Department of Labor and Employment earlier said a total of 98 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) from Libya arrived in the country on Saturday,

In a release, DOLE Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the 98 arrived in batches from France.

The repatriates, according to Baldoz, were on board flights CX 901 which arrived 10:25 a.m.; GF154, at 11:15 a.m.; SQ 910, at 1:10 p.m.; VN 2690, at 1:30 p.m.; and SQ 912, which arrived at 4:00 p.m.

Baldoz said Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) administrator Carmelita Dimzon welcomed the OFWs at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to assist them, particularly those who would like to immediately return to their home provinces.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said earlier said a batch of 21 OFWs arrived at 9:40 a.m., while another batch of 34 is due at noon, and a group of four at 4 p.m.

Ine-explore kasi natin lahat na ways to get them out of Libya [We are exploring all ways to get them out of Libya]," she said on government-run dzRB radio.

She said some 90 Filipinos had been brought from Libya to Paris, even as exit routes by sea and land are being mapped out.

Some 100 OFWs are stranded in their work site in the Amal oil fields in Tripoli, Libya, as they call on the government to arrange their immediate repatriation in light of the worsening unrest there. Migrante


Political unrest has rocked Libya for several weeks, marked by armed confrontations as opposition groups wanting to end Muammar Gaddafi’s over four-decade rule continue to close in on him even as he vowed to "crush any enemy" last Friday.

Earlier, OFW Romelito Bagazona returned to the country Friday but remained worried about the family he left in Libya, dzBB radio reported. Bagazona arrived in the country to visit his ailing father.

New DFA chief heads for Tunisia

Meanwhile, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo Malaya said newly-appointed DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario left midnight for Tunisia, one of the areas where OFWs leaving Libya can assemble before being brought home.

He said DFA Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. accompanied Del Rosario on his trip.

“Gusto niya mismo makita nang personal ang kalagayan ng ating kababayan [He wanted to personally see the situation of our fellow Filipinos there]," he said.

Malaya said Del Rosario and Conejos were expected to arrive in Tunisia at 4 p.m. Manila time.

On the other hand, Malaya said the DFA is still verifying reports that at least one OFW had been killed in the violence in Libya.

“Wala pa po tayong confirmed reports diyan. Sana ang [nagsabi nito] may factual basis sa report. Tayo ay nananalangin wala talagang insidente tulad ng ganyan," he said. (We still do not have confirmed reports about that. We wish those who gave this report will have factual basis. We pray there are really no incidents such as these.)

Meanwhile, the DFA said it started operating Saturday a 24-hour “Libreng Tawag (free-call)" program for relatives of Filipinos still in Libya.

According to the DFA, the arrangement with Smart Communications allows families of the OFWs to talk directly to their relatives in the strife-torn country.

“Starting 9 a.m. Saturday, families of OFWs can go to the south wing lobby of the DFA Main Building in Pasay City to avail of the Libreng Tawag joint public service program," the DFA said.

It added a crisis management center has also been set-up with 24-hour hotline numbers: 834-4580, 834-3245, 834-3240, and 834-4646.

The crisis management center is for families of OFWs who may want to get information about the conditions of their relatives in Libya.

More OFWs set to arrive on Sunday

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said 16 more Filipinos from Libya are due to arrive home in two flights on Sunday.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said one batch of 15 OFWs employed by Akakus Craddok USA in Tripoli will arrive aboard a Qatar Airlines flight 3 p.m.

Two of the over 100 stranded OFWs in Amal oil fields, one of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) producers’ four largest, congregate with the others in their work site as they await word about their evacuation from conflict-ridden Libya. Migrante


Baldoz identified the 15 OFWs as Jimmy Fastino, Walter Paco, Roberto Abadecio, Leando De Castro, Jose Cacal, F. Punzalan, Castor Abaritos, Carlito Macatangay, Bernard Calnea, Aurelio Patacsil, August Bailey Caringal, Arturo del Rosario, Arnold Salvador, Alan Agriam, and Taguin Abbe.

"There will be other flights and we will disseminate the information about these as soon as we get confirmation," she said in a news release posted on the Labor Department website.

The 16th OFW, Eduardo Granadozin, will arrive separately at 9 p.m. also on Sunday, she added.


She said the 16 OFWs arrived in Spain together with Spanish engineers who evacuated from Libya onboard a chartered flight.

"The Spanish engineers who are workers of Repsol Petroleum of Spain took with them the 16 Filipinos even if they were not Repsol Petroleum employees. For this, we thank the company and the Government of Spain for allowing the OFWs to transit their country," Baldoz said.

On the other hand, Baldoz said the OFWs who returned home from Libya Saturday arrived from France, where they were evacuated through their local recruitment agencies and their employer, Vinci Grand Projects.

Over 100 OFWs stranded in Libyan oil field

In an email by one of some 100 OFWs stranded in their worksite in the Amal oil field in Libya, area facilities engineer Virgilio Bagano said they are now ready for evacuation but lamented they have yet to receive any notice either from their employer or from DFA and Embassy officials there.

Ready na sana kami sa evacuation kung kelan ready ang company namin o ano plano ng Embassy natin dito sa Libya. Kaso hangang ngayon wala pang action o tulong kaming natanggap," Bagano said in his email.

(We are ready for evacuation whenever our company is ready or depending on the plans of our Embassy here in Libya. But the thing is, until now we have not seen any action or help from them.)

Bagano’s message was sent to his wife, who then forwarded it to Migrante.

According to Bagano, while they are in the desert area of Amal, armed looters have been harassing them every night and confiscating their vehicles and heavy equipment.

Gabi-gabi walang kaming tulog. Laging nagbabantay [dahil] baka isunod ang mga gamit namin sa kwarto na gustong kunin," Bagano explained. (Every night we are unable to sleep. We have to always be on guard as the looters might choose to get next our stuff inside the rooms.)

Bagano said they are worried that their stock of food and water will soon run out, as they’re finding it hard to go out for supplies given the road blocks and the danger they may encounter in the streets.

Their only means of communication is the Internet, as phone signals have reportedly been blocked although electricity has not yet been cut off in the area, he added.

Bagano, however, lamented he could not find the email address of the DFA on its website.

The Amal site in eastern Libya is one of the four largest oil fields of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) producers.

$6.4M fund from Int’l Red Cross

As this developed, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has launched a $6.4-million emergency appeal for urgent needs of people affected by the violent unrest in Libya.

According to the ICRC, the initial appeal aims to ensure adequate surgical and medical care for the wounded and emergency aid for people who fled Libya to Tunisia and Egypt.

"The reports we're getting indicate that the humanitarian situation inside Libya is worsening by the hour. We're very concerned about the growing number of people who are leaving their homes in search of safety and trying to cross the border," said the ICRC's deputy director of operations, Dominik Stillhart, in an article on the ICRC website.

ICRC said it will work with the Tunisian and Egyptian Red Crescent Societies, and offer services to people from the region and stranded foreigners who are urgently trying to contact their families.

Stillhart said he was also worried about news that Libyan hospitals and clinics were struggling to cope with large numbers of wounded.

In response to the deteriorating health situation, two planeloads of ICRC medical supplies were due to leave Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday night.

One was bound for Cairo and the other for Tunis, with the ICRC planning to move these supplies into Libya by road as quickly as possible.

Also, two emergency teams made up of ICRC Norwegian and Finnish Red Cross medical staff are waiting in Egypt and Tunisia to enter Libya as soon as they get clearance from the authorities.

"Each team includes two surgeons, two nurses, an anesthetist and other humanitarian specialists. They will be helping Libyan health staff to treat the wounded. The Libyan Red Crescent is providing blood supplies to hospitals inside the country, assessing the situation and paving the way for the ICRC to gain access to those in need," the ICRC said.

FACTBOX: Libya evacuations by country

Feb 26 – Following are details of countries evacuating nationals and employees from Libya or closing operations because of the political turmoil. The country entries are arranged alphabetically. (An asterisk mark * denotes new or updated entry as of Saturday.)

BOSNIA: Evacuation of Bosnians continued on Friday with 150 leaving Libya on Turkish boats from Benghazi and a number by air. Some 1,500 Bosnians lived in Libya.

BRAZIL: Malta harbour authorities said on Friday 3,000 Brazilian workers on a cruise ship were set to arrive overnight.

BRITAIN: Britain was drawing up plans to pull out British oil workers stranded in desert camps, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday. Six flights had left Libya in the past 24 hours carrying Britons, and the frigate HMS Cumberland had evacuated Britons and other foreigners from Benghazi, he said.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the last British government-sponsored charter plane would leave Tripoli on Saturday. The HMS Cumberland will return to Benghazi, possibly on Sunday, to pick up any remaining Britons there, he said.

BULGARIA: Around 100 Bulgarians living in Benghazi are expected to leave on a Turkish ship which docked in Benghazi on Thursday but has not left because of bad weather. Earlier, 10 Bulgarian citizens were evacuated on a Romanian aircraft.

CANADA: Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said on Thursday nearly 200 Canadians had been, or were about to be, evacuated on planes and ships arranged by other nations. He said a C-17 military transport plane with 156 seats was on its way to Italy from Germany and would fly to Tripoli as soon as Libyan authorities gave permission.

-- He also said a charter plane from Amman would arrive in Tripoli early on Friday. So far, 213 Canadians have said they want to leave Libya.

CHINA: China had evacuated almost 16,000 of its citizens by Saturday, Xinhua news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.

China's Ministry of Commerce has said 75 Chinese companies have operations in Libya, including the state-owned energy giant CNPC, parent company of PetroChina Co Ltd.

More than 3,000 Chinese nationals working in Libya boarded two chartered Greek vessels Friday evening at Benghazi port. They would be taken to Greece before returning home. (See Greece section for further details from Athens.)

China's Eastern Airlines will send eight chartered flights in the coming days to evacuate the Chinese from Malta, and the first two planes will arrive in the Mediterranean island nation on Saturday afternoon, according to the Chinese embassy.

CROATIA: Croatia said 28 Croatian workers have left Benghazi on an Italian military ship bound for Malta. A plane from Zagreb landed in Tripoli and Croatian officials were trying to reach the remaining workers at three different sites. There are around 125 Croat workers still in Libya.

GERMANY: Military sources have said Germany is sending three ships to the Libyan coast to help evacuate German citizens. The military is sending a supply vessel "Berlin" and the frigates "Brandenburg" and "Rheinland-Pfalz", with about 600 soldiers aboard. They are currently anchored off Valetta.

The Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that up to 150 Germans were still in Libya.

GREECE: Greece has evacuated 227 Greeks and Cypriots from Tripoli and Sabha aboard three C-130 military aircraft. It has also sent two frigates off Libya and the Greek island of Crete.

Two ships with a total of 4,500 evacuees, mainly Chinese, arrived in Crete from Libya on Thursday. Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians and Italians were also among the passengers. Another ferry, with 2,900 evacuees on board docked at the port of Heraklion on Saturday morning.

About 15,000 Chinese in total will be evacuated from Libya on Greek ships, the government has said. They will return home from Greece on chartered flights, officials said.

INDIA: The foreign ministry said it has sent a ship to Benghazi to evacuate at least 1,200 Indians and is seeking permission for its planes to land in Tripoli for other evacuations. There are 18,000 Indians in Libya, mostly in the oil, construction and health sectors.

IRELAND: Ireland is to try again to get a plane back to Tripoli. Irish media said an Irish air force plane returned to Malta from Tripoli with no passengers on board. There are around 70 Irish people in Libya, 54 of them Tripoli.

-- Ireland confirmed on Friday that members of the emergency civil assistance team are on the ground in Tripoli airport and are making contact with Irish nationals at the airport and elsewhere in Tripoli.

ITALY: Italy's foreign ministry said it planned to send a C130 aircraft on Friday to evacuate remaining Italians in Libya. A naval operation was underway to evacuate 150 Italians in Misrata and another 1,100 have left Libya in the last few days. The rest were expected back within the next 48 hours.

NETHERLANDS: The Dutch foreign ministry said on Friday 50 Dutch nationals remained in Libya, 25 of whom were looking to leave. However, communication with them was tough and sometimes impossible as they were spread out throughout the country.

PHILIPPINES: President Benigno Aquino said on Thursday his government was making preparations to repatriate about half of the 26,000 Filipino workers in Libya, most of them working in the medical and oil and gas sectors.

-- The government has also set aside 100 million pesos ($2.3 million) to lease planes to ferry Filipinos from Libya.

* ROMANIA: Romania's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday 270 citizens had been evacuated from Libya. Another 50 are being evacuated by air and 44 more by sea.

SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa said on Thursday it was arranging for a flight to evacuate some embassy staff and 30-40 nationals from Libya.

SOUTH KOREA: A chartered plane carrying about 200 nationals took off from Tripoli on Friday for Cairo and another is scheduled, the Foreign Ministry said. A total of 1,300 South Koreans were in Libya working for construction companies.

SPAIN: A Spanish armed forces plane carrying 124 people evacuated from Tripoli, landed in Madrid on Friday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. The evacuees included 40 Spaniards as well as Mexican, British, Canadian and Portuguese nationals. Spain is planning the evacuation of a small number of Spaniards from outside Tripoli, the spokesman said.

SYRIA: Syria has sent vessels to pick up Syrian nationals from different areas in Libya, in addition to continuing its flights to Tripoli. Minister of Transport Yarub Badr said two ships have been sent so far.

TUNISIA: Tunisia had at least 30,000 nationals in Libya. At least 7,000 have been able to leave. Tunisia sent five flights to Libya on Wednesday and two before that. Tunisia has scheduled a ferry to travel to Benghazi.

* International Federation of the Red Cross, the world's largest disaster relief organisation, said on Saturday 25,000 people had crossed from Libya to Tunisia.

"The number of arrivals has already reached 25,000 -- of which 5,000 are foreign nationals -- in five days since last Monday," it said in a statement.

* TURKEY: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday that Turkey had evacuated 14,776 people, including 579 foreigners.

UNITED STATES: A U.S.-chartered ferry, Maria Dolores, carrying more than 300 passengers, more than half of them U.S. citizens, arrived in Malta after being delayed by high winds and choppy seas. Another catamaran carrying more U.S. citizens was due to dock later in the day.

-- Separately, the State Department said a chartered aircraft would leave a Tripoli airfield on Friday for Istanbul.

VIETNAM: Vietnam has evacuated about 1,300 of its citizens from Libya out of 10,482 living and working there. The first 300 evacuees will reach home late on Friday.—Reuters


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