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

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 3, 2011 Major News Stories (

February 3, 2011 Major News Stories
February 3, 2011 Major News Stories


No storms but heavy rains signal 'creeping disaster' - DOST

No storm of late has visited the country, but rains up to five times heavier than normal have drenched parts of the country in the past month.

Filipinos must then expect more disastrous floods, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on Wednesday said. “I think the message that we really want to impart here is that what we are having right now is a creeping disaster," DOST Undersecretary Graciano Yumul Jr. added.

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) recorded above-average rainfall in January, director Nathaniel Servando said.

He said rains were three times heavier than normal in the cities of Surigao and Hinatuan in the Caraga region. In Catarman and Catbalogan, both in Eastern Samar, rains were heavier by three to almost five times.

Yumul attributed the above-average rainfall to La Niña — an abnormal weather pattern that brings about above average rainfall — as well as the scourge of global warming.

Palawan should expect bad weather this Thursday and Friday because a low-pressure area would be hovering above it, according to the undersecretary.

He added that rains will dampen the summer of 2011 as typhoons heavier than those that crossed the country in 2010 will whip the Philippines this year.

Weather bureau warns of increasing calamities from rains

CALAMITIES IN the southeastern portions of the country are expected to worsen with excessive rainfall seen prevailing until May, officials said yesterday.

Weather bureau officials said in a briefing in Malacañang that rainfall volume in several areas outside Metro Manila have tripled last month, indicating impending disaster as the situation is seen extending in the first half with stronger typhoons expected in the second half.

Despite the forecast, the Palace does not see an immediate need to augment the P2.6-billion calamity fund for this year, of which a fourth (P662 million) is automatically apportioned to the Department of Social Welfare and Development as quick response fund for disasters.

Graciano P. Yumul, Department of Science and Technology undersecretary, said La Niña -- an offshoot of global warming -- has caused rainfall of more than 1,000 millimeters (mm) in areas along the eastern seaboard last month.

"What is really a bit dangerous is... that we’re seeing a thousand millimeters of rainfall for several areas," Mr. Yumul said.

Based on data from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), rainfall more than tripled in January in the cities of Surigao in Surigao del Norte and Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur within the Caraga region and Catarman City in Samar province, while it was almost five times the average in Catbalogan City.

"What we are having right now is a creeping disaster," said Mr. Yumul, referring to flooding in several provinces in Visayas and Mindanao since December.

He added the situation could worsen with the arrival of stronger typhoons.

"We know for a fact that during the La Niña, aside from having more typhoons, you would actually expect more intense typhoons," Mr. Yumul said.

For his part, Nathaniel T. Servando, PAGASA acting administrator, said above-normal rains are expected in the eastern seaboard until March and may shift to other areas towards the summer.

Metro Manila and other areas in the western side, he added, receive more rains starting May.

"We expect... the onset of the rainy season might come earlier because of the La Niña," Mr. Servando said.

"That is the time Metro Manila will receive heavy precipitation."

In the same briefing, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon J. Soliman said while a fourth of the calamity fund is automatically allocated to her department: "The remaining of this P2.6 billion is allocated when you request the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council)."

"The chair, who is [Defense] Secretary Voltaire Gazmin then recommends and the President has to approve the use of the 75%," she added.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky A. Carandang, for his part, said in a text message that there is no need at the moment to augment the calamity fund given PAGASA’s forecast.

Mr. Carandang said the national government has been coordinating with local authorities on mitigating the impact of calamities.

"There has been a lot of effort and attention paid to preparing for these weather disturbances."

Local government units, by law, are now empowered to draw on their respective calamity funds once there is a local declaration of a state of calamity.

Meanwhile, the NDRRMC said in a report yesterday that one person died and five others are missing as rains continue to pound Caraga.

A total of 239,395 persons were affected in 347 barangays in the provinces of Misamis Oriental in Region 10 (Northern Mindanao) and Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Dinagat island in Caraga.

Sea trips cancelled

CEBU CITY -- At least 16 vessels cancelled their trips due to bad weather Wednesday, leaving some 200 people stranded, a Coast Guard (CG) official said.

Four of these vessels are inter-island ferries while four others are fastcraft plying various routes in the Visayas, such as Bohol, Leyte, Negros Island, Dumaguete City, Danao City and Camotes Island, Cebu.

The remaining eight are motor bancas, said Captain Anelito Gabisan, CG District Central Eastern Visayas spokesperson.

“We have not issued any hold departure order prohibiting them from leaving ports. They just voluntarily cancelled their trips,” he said.

The CG has an existing policy that bars vessels, especially those weighing 1,000 gross tons and below, from leaving ports whenever a storm signal is declared within its jurisdiction.

In the absence of weather advisory from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, the CG can still prevent vessels from sailing.

Gabisan said they can apply CG Memorandum Circular 3, which authorizes them to adopt the Beaufort Wind Scale, which measures wind velocity and its effect at sea.

The Beaufort scale is applied when waves are five- to seven-foot high, he said.

With the low pressure area in Visayas, Gabisan reiterated his call for small motor bancas and fishermen to refrain from venturing into the sea to avoid loss of lives.

DPWH told to do drainage

THE Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should also look at addressing the drainage problem in Cebu City, instead of constructing more flyovers.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama said DPWH’s mandate also covers the construction of drainage systems, adding that the flooding problem has made the construction of an efficient sewage system more urgent.

Rama meets offficials to organize concerns

FRESH from his overseas trip, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama lined-up several meetings with officials from neighboring cities and towns to discuss common concerns.

This Friday, Rama will meet with representatives of local government units (LGUs) in Metro Cebu to talk about peace and order, traffic, coastal management, drugs and solid waste management.

Rama earlier met with officials from the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu to discuss possible solutions to the flooding that hit Cebu and Mandaue last week.

347 diarrhea cases in Cebu City noted last month

by By Rene U. Borromeo/FPL

CEBU, Philippines - The Cebu City Health Department recorded 347 cases of diarrhea in January wherein 13 victims have landed in the hospitals.

The number however was lower compared to the 452 cases in the same period last year. Cebu City Health officer Stella Ygoña said diarrhea is usually caused by unsanitary food and drinks.

“Eighty per cent of the diarrhea cases that we have last month caused by unsanitary food while the remaining 20 per cent caused by unsafe drinks,” she told the reporters at the City Hall yesterday.

She discouraged the public, particularly the students, from buying food and drinks that are being sold at the sidewalk in the vicinity of public and private elementary schools because these does not have sanitary permits.

Ygoña could not assure that the food sold by sidewalk vendors are fit for human consumption because these are displayed openly in the baskets and are prone to dust or saliva of persons.

Ygoña said some person also touch them directly with their bare hands.

Relative diarrhea is having more bowel movements than usual. Thus, if an individual has two or more bowel movements in a day diarrhea is present.

The FREEMAN verified from food vendors operating along the Cebu City Central School, including the so-called “pungko-pungko” or ambulant food vendors along D. Jakosalem street and found out that they do not have sanitary permits.

Food vendor Efren Sacristan is worried because of Ygoña’s pronouncement that their food is unsafe for human consumption because he believes that some persons may no longer patronize their products.

“Bisan og wala mi’y sanitary permit pero giayo man usab namo pagluto ang among baligya ug dili usab namo kini ipahikap-hikap sa mga customers,” he told The FREEMAN.

Because most of the sidewalk food vendors do not have spoons for their customers, they just provide them with plastic cellophane.

“Daghan man usab ang mamalit sa among pagkaon kay gawas nga barato wala man usab sila’y reklamo sa among pagkaluto,” another “pungko-pungko” vendor said.

Meanwhile, Ygoña has described the dengue cases in Cebu City for the month of January as “alarming” even if they have only recorded 126 cases, which is relatively lower compared to the 196 in the same period last year.

There were also two reported dengue-related deaths in January last year while only one death recorded so far this year.

The city health officials yesterday distributed net curtains laced with chemicals that can kill mosquitoes in Talamban and Mabolo Elementary Schools as part of their campaign against the dreaded disease.

Philippine floods toll hits 75, damage at $45 mln

MANILA, Philippines - The death toll in the Philippines from more than a month of sustained heavy rains has risen to 75, disaster agency officials said on Wednesday, warning of more floods and landslides in the country's eastern seaboard.

Floods kill four in Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines - Heavy rain swamping the southern Philippines has left four people dead and affected 250,000 others, officials said Wednesday.

The rains over the past five days have flooded entire towns and caused landslides across vast areas of the mainly rural south, with more bad weather forecast for the rest of the month.

"What we are having now is a creeping disaster," the head of the state weather service, Graciano Yumul, told reporters in Manila.

Yumul said Surigao, a city of 120,000 people, had received 1.8 meters (nearly six feet) of rain in one day.

Two farmers drowned on Monday and another on Friday when they were swept away while crossing swollen rivers near Surigao, June Parada, spokesman for the provincial government of Surigao del Norte, told AFP.

A seven-year-old boy also drowned in a neighboring southern province, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Manila.

The government was rushing rescue equipment and emergency aid to nearly a quarter million people affected by the floods and landslides, it added.

It was the second time the region had been hit by torrential rains this year.

Flooding across the southern and central Philippines last month claimed 75 lives, according to the disaster council.

Butuan City '90 percent under water'

by by Stanley Palisada, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines- Temporary shelters in Butuan City are becoming filled to the brim with the latest wave of evacuations Tuesday night.

Residents whose homes have been inundated have cramped in classrooms where as much as a hundred families are forced to seek refuge.

Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand Amante told national disaster officials that their city is now 90% underwater.

At the Florencio Sibayan Elementary School in Butuan City, the homeless await relief goods such as food and water. But medicines are scarce and children are getting sick. One evacuee, Edmundo Gutierrez worries over the lack of medicines.

"Kinahanglan na diri mga tambal kay naay mga sakit sa tiyan ug mga katol (we need medicines for stomach aches and skin diseases)," Gutierrez said.

Respiratory ailments also plague evacuation centers -- the very young, being the most vulnerable.

The city's Social Welfare Office says it can only do so much in providing for those seeking refuge in temporary shelters.

The DSWD admits, as evacuees suffer from various ailments, donated medicines are now as essential as food and water. The city government is also calling for more donations for clothes as evacuees have run out of dry clothes.

Critical levels in Agusan River

Many of the evacuees have left their homes, farms and farm animals and with the continuing floods agriculture damage could be dire. Tuesday night, water levels at the Agusan River reached a critical level of 3.55 meters.

Many low-lying villages in Butuan City have fled their homes. In the midst of battering rain and severe flooding, rescue groups

For farmer Cresencia Balbuena, the non stop rains brought staggering losses for her farming business. Her recently planted rice fields now resemble a river.

"Nabalaka ko unsaon pagbayad sa utang. dili na ko mokita kay naanod naman (I worry about my debts. I lost everything to floods)," said Balbuena.

Damage to agriculture cannot be pegged at this time as access to many municipalities in the region are blocked by floods.

300% more rain

According to PAGASA, unusual rain volume has been recorded in the Caraga region. Surigao City in particular received almost 300% more rain than normal or 271 milimeters of rain, while cities like Butuan received at least 207 milimeters of rain on January 31, 2011.

PAGASA's Nathaniel Servando said rain above 180 milimeters is already considered heavy. At a press conference in Manila on Wednesday, the weather bureau said more rains brought about by the La Niña Phenomenon can affect CARAGA, Northern Mindanao or Eastern Visayas.

A total of 22 municipalities are now affected by floods in the CARAGA region. Latest National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council or NDRRMC said 4 of these are in Agusan Del Norte, 4 in Agusan Del Sur, Surigao Del Sur, 5 and Surigao Del Norte, 9 towns.

Floods brought about by continuous rains in the eastern seaboard have already affected 300,000 residents in most of CARAGA region, or about 1.4 million individuals.

No let-up in rains, floods in CARAGA


MANILA, Philippines - Floods due to non-stop rains still affect parts of the CARAGA region in Mindanao, as another low pressure area threatens other areas of Mindanao with flash floods and landslides.

Water shortage hits Leyte

TACLOBAN CITY -- Water supply in this city and nearby towns will be reduced until Feb. 5 as the Leyte Metropolitan Water District (LMWD) desilts major sources.

The rivers in Pastrana and Dagami towns are heavily silted as a result of the continuous rains, said LMWD General Manager Nestor P. Villasin.

"Due to the continuous heavy rainfall in the region, volume of silts and sediments causes decrease in the volume of raw water entering our intake structures in Tingib, Pastrana, Leyte," Mr. Villasin stated in an advisory issued yesterday.

The desiltation would cause a 20% decrease in water production and will result in low water pressure to no water in far points of distribution such as Tacloban City.

Ma. Teresa D. Pascua, LMWD information officer, said in an interview that the water sources will not be totally shut during desiltation.

"All efforts are being undertaken by LMWD management in order to restore normal water supply the soonest," she said.

"Our personnel are there in the source to do desilting 24 hours to prevent total closure,."

The Pastrana source supplies the water requirement of Pastrana, Sta. Fe, and Palo towns.

Another source in Dagami delivers water to the towns of Dagami, Tabon-tabon, Tanauan and Tolosa.

The two sources have a combined daily water output of 31,000 cubic meters.

Meanwhile, the water district assured the public water from the facility is potable despite flooding.

Transmission and distribution lines are regularly inspected for possible leaks.

Ms. Pascua said that if water is turbid, concessionaires have been advised to check service pipes and call their office for immediate repair.

"We monitor the quality of water through our personnel deployed in different points," she added.

New taximeter means 3% tax

TAXI operators using the new receipt-issuing meters are now required to declare their monthly gross receipts.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) set the requirement and will collect three percent, not 10 percent as earlier reported, from the taxi operators based on the gross receipts.

“This is the reason we urge passengers to demand a receipt from the taxi driver. If the driver refuses, the passenger can report the matter to us and we will investigate,” Bell Suelto Jr., head of the BIR 13 taxpayers’ information division, said.

Richard Cabucos, owner of Richelda Taxi and president of the Metro Cebu Taxi Operators (MCTOA), had said that they pay the BIR P250 per unit per month whether or not the unit is running.

Suelto said this practice is now corrected with the issuance of fare receipts.

There is now basis for the BIR to get the gross receipts and compute the three percent tax.

“The operators cannot pass on the percentage tax to the drivers because the operators are the ones in business,” he said.

Their failure to declare the correct gross sales is tantamount to tax evasion, Suelto said.

The flagdown rate of taxicabs using the receipt-issuing meters is P40 for the first 500 meters and succeeding distance is set at P3.50 for every 250 meters.

The old meters have a flagdown rate of P30 and succeeding distance is set at P2.50.

‘Mandaue drivers violated law’

JEEPNEY operators and drivers in Mandaue City erred in seeking for a provisional relief against the imposition of the city ordinances, a Cebu City Hall lawyer said yesterday.

In fact, City Attorney Joseph Bernaldez said the petitioners are violating the ordinances everyday. At the hearing of the temporary restraining order yesterday, he said the relief being sought is “practically defective” thus, must be denied.

Judge Gabriel Ingles of the Regional Trial Court Branch 58 tackled the restraining

order prayed for by the petitioner, the Kahugpungan sa Mandaue Jeepney Operators ug Draybers Association Inc. (Kamjoda).

The petitioners lodged on Jan. 25 a civil case for declaratory relief, prohibition, a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction against Cebu City, Mayor Michael Rama, the Cebu City Council, the Cebu Integrated Traffic Management (Citom) and Citom Chief Sylvan Jakosalem.

The petitioners alleged the enforcement of City Ordinances 1837, 1958, 2072 and 2214 caused them “extreme economic and social prejudice.”

The petitioners further claimed that prohibition in the ordinance “resulted in depriving the petitioners and other jeepney drivers and owners of a lawful livelihood by not allowing them to pick up passengers along their lawfully mandated routes.”

Full force

Members of Kamjoda flocked the RTC Branch 58 courtroom during the hearing.

Lawyer Augustine Vestil Jr. said the city ordinances, particularly City Ordinance 1837, is “unfair” and “prejudicial” to the petitioners’ means of living.

City Ordinance 1837 prohibits 21-B route jeepneys from loading and unloading passengers other than at the designated terminals.

But Ingles asked Vestil about the sense of urgency of the petition and that why did the petitioners only file the complaint this month, considering that the ordinance was passed in 2006 yet and has been in effect for about four years already.

Vestil told Ingles the petitioners have long been contemplating in filing a petition, but monetary considerations, among others, prevented them.


But with the “increasing burden” the petitioners get from Citom personnel, Vestil said the petitioners got the courage to bring their cause to court, notwithstanding the ire they are getting from the respondents.

Ingles also asked if granting the relief sought by the petitioners will prejudge the validity of the city ordinances, to which Vestil said is negative.

Vestil said the purpose of provisional remedy aims to stop the continued act of the respondents, particularly Citom, in imposing fines on drivers and operators caught violating the measures.

But Bernaldez disagreed, saying an ordinance “enjoys its validity and regularity” unless proven otherwise.

Thus, Bernaldez said the ordinances the Cebu City Council passed several years ago must be implemented without further delay.

Bernaldez said he agreed with the observation of the court that the issuance of a TRO would prejudge the validity of the ordinances.

Judge Ingles set for resolution the petition for issuance of a TRO.

ABC suspends benefits, aid

By Elly T. Bolonos

WITH no contributions yet from its members and the monthly expenses eating up the current funds, the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) of Cebu City may have to suspend the delivery of services to its members and employees soon.

It has now suspended the hospitalization and burial assistance to barangay officials and employees because there is no money available, ABC Cebu City President Michael Ralota said.

Hospitalization aid is P20,000 for a barangay captain, P10,000 for a councilor, and P5,000 for an employee.

Ralota, barangay captain of T. Padilla, said the P709,000 the group has in the bank will no longer be enough to pay for the salaries of employees and for operational expenses.

The ABC needs P320,000 a month to pay 36 employees and another sum for utility bills.

It relies on the contributions of the barangays but as of yesterday, not one barangay has given its share for this year.

It also gets help from the Cebu City Government but unless it can liquidate the P1.5 million the previous set of officers took out as cash advances, assistance from City Hall is not going to be immediate, Ralota told Sun.Star Cebu in an interview.

A barangay gives the ABC some P25,000 for annual membership and a share of its internal revenue allotment (IRA), which depends on the income of the barangay.

Ralota said ABC can collect some P7 million a year if all 80 barangays of Cebu City pay their dues.

The delay in the approval of the barangay budgets has contributed to the problem, Ralota said.

Unless the barangays start giving ABC their share this month, the association will have to withhold salaries of its employees, he said.

So please give your contributions soon so that we can resume the services and benefits, Ralota appealed to the barangay councils.

Mayor Michael Rama it would be unfair to the current set of barangay officers to bear the brunt of the follies of the previous barangay administration.

The mayor said the Commission on Audit (COA) should consider the situation of the ABC.

In response to Ralota’s appeal, Barangay Captains George Rama of Basak San Nicolas and Eliodoro Sanchez of Busay said they will pay their membership fees.

But George Rama said he won’t give anything more as he prefers to implement projects for his barangay on his own instead of waiting for the ABC to give the funding.

He said Basak San Nicolas used to give P210,000 to the ABC, but not this time.

He said the ABC under Ralota will be in for rough times ahead since at least 20 barangay captains have told him that they won’t be paying their dues to the ABC.

The barangay captain of Basak San Nicolas is a vocal critic of Ralota.

For his part, Sanchez said Barangay Busay will give what is due the ABC once its annual budget is approved by the City Council.

Busay has earmarked P100,000 for the ABC, on top of the membership due of P25,000.

Sanchez had lost the ABC presidency to Ralota.

Ralota plans to introduce income-generating programs to make the ABC self-reliant and a sustainable organization and to organize seminars on governance for the barangay leaders.

Ralota, who sits in the City Council as an ex-officio member, said his P3-million pork barrel fund will be used to buy computers for the barangays.

Rama earns help from Japan

CEBU City Mayor Michael Rama came home from his five-day trip to Japan with a commitment from two hospitals there to donate health care equipment to the City.

The mayor clarified yesterday that his trip to Japan was not a vacation, but an official trip, contrary to what had been reported.

In a news conference, Rama said Shinseijuzenkai Medical Corp. and Juzenkai Medical Corp. will give Cebu City a total of 80 mechanical beds, 80 mattresses, 32 towel pots, 20 small refrigerators, 10 wheel chairs, nine regular beds and four food warmers.

Prevent loitering, fix cameras on bridge

CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia asked the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office (LLCPO) to have a crowd control system in place at the Marcelo Fernan Bridge to prevent loitering in the area.

The governor also ordered the supplier of the cameras installed on the bridge to replace defective units as its deadline had lapsed last Jan. 17.

Meanwhile, the LLCPO filed alarm and scandal charges against the lifeguard for causing a commotion on the Marcelo Fernan bridge last Tuesday.

Villahermoso stood on one of the beams at the old Mactan-Mandaue bridge and appeared to commit suicide by jumping. Two weeks ago, another man climbed one of the Marcelo Fernan Bridge’s towers and camped there for more than 48 hours.

Both incidents caused traffic congestion on the bridge and nearby roads.


LLCPO Director Senior Supt. Anthony Obenza said he will recommend that blue guards be assigned to the bridge to prevent similar incidents.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza proposed the deployment of a PNP patrol at the Marcelo Fernan and the old Mactan-Mandaue Bridge.

But Obenza said the police cannot do it all the time as they have other concerns.

LLCPO and Mandaue City Police Office (MCPO) patrol their respective sides of the bridges.

But the governor said the Mactan Bridge Board spends P2.5 million a year for five security guards to secure the bridge.


She said surveillance cameras have been installed on the bridge and are more efficient than the guards. Unlike the guards, she added, the cameras do not take meal or coffee breaks.

OBO sees big collection in ‘11

THE Office of the Building Official (OBO) in Cebu City had collected some P23.6 million last year, almost double from its collection in 2006.

Acting building official Josefa Ylanan said the collection came from the different permits they issued to building owners.

OBO collected P7,669,-512.56 from building fee, P10,921,113.20 from occupancy fee, P1,250,243.58 from mechanical fee, P1,403,523.48 from electrical fee, P2,087,779.43 from business fee and P333,997.93 in miscellaneous income.

Ylanan said her office issued 810 building permits last year, 656 occupancy, 180 fence, 539 mechanical, 4,957 electrical, four excavation, 71 demolition, six sidewalk enclosure, 42 streamer, 16 billboard/signboard, seven change of use and 6 scaffolding permits.

She said they had also inspected 2,552 businesses in the city last year, despite the lack of personnel in her office.


In 2006, OBO just collected P13.6 million, P11.6 in 2007, P 19.5 million in 2008 and P22.4 in 2009.

The acting building official attributed their bigger collection last year to several buildings constructed in the city.

Ylanan is optimistic their collection will be bigger this year because of the buildings to be constructed at the South Road Properties (SRP).

Filinvest Land Inc., the first closed deal of the SRP has already started their ground works for their 50.6 hectares mixed land use.

On the other hand, SM Prime Holdings is scheduled to have its ground-breaking next month for its 25-hectare mall at the SRP.

Filinvest and SM will also build hotels, high-rise buildings, waterfront development,

entertainment, hospitals, among others.

More income

Ylanan said if these buildings will be constructed, OBO will definitely generate more fees from different permits.

She specified that for building permit alone, a permittee will pay up to P23 per square meter of the floor area.

For occupancy permit, Ylanan said an applicant will pay P1,000 for every million of the building’s cost.

“Mag-anticipate ta nga matukod na nang maong mga building aron mudako pa atong makolekta nga permit fees niining tuiga (Let’s anticipate that the building will be constructed so our permit fees will grow bigger this year),” Ylanan said.

De Lima slams Ombudsman over Garcia tack

by By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has criticized the Office of the Ombudsman for saying in a congressional hearing on Tuesday that a statement by the wife of former military comptroller retired Major General Carlos Garcia was not enough evidence to pin the Garcia family for alleged pocketing of millions in military funds.

De Lima expressed support to former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo's opinion that Clarita Garcia's statement may be used in the plunder case against the couple and their sons.

"Puwede iyun kasi that's a statement of a co-conspirator. And yung sinasabi na, 'statement lang yun' at wala daw si Mrs. Garcia so how can she be confronted, kailangan ma-test ang kanyang credibility by presenting her in court. Kaya nga may extradition proceedings. Why aren't they working on the extradition proceedings?" de Lima told media in an ambush interview on Wednesday.

"Ang nakakalungkot diyan, naging kondisyon lang pala ito, that's according to the legal attaché of the US embassy, na naging kondisyon pa nga nila yung pag-withdraw ng extradition proceedings diyan sa plea bargain agreement. So instead of working on the extradition proceedings and making sure that the extradition proceedings succeed, they're avoiding the extradition proceedings," de Lima said.

"Kailangan talaga ng Office of the Ombudsman to seriously re-examine and reassess their position with the end in view of withdrawing the plea bargain agreement. Ganun din dun sa Sandiganbayan, kailangan tingnan nila nang maigi yung sitwasyon," she added.

Enrile: Mendoza exposé should make Ombudsman rethink plea bargain

The testimony of former state auditor Heidi Mendoza at the House of Representatives exposing alleged corruption among top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines should prod Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to rethink the plea bargain deal with ex-military comptroller Carlos Garcia, a senator said Wednesday.

Soldiers' wives irked over alleged military corruption

by By Niña Corpuz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines - Stories about the luxurious lifestyle of the wives of retired generals Carlos Garcia and Angelo Reyes have irked the wives of ordinary soldiers.

While ordinary soldiers put their lives on the line, the wives of the 2 former top military officials allegedly got thousands of pesos in shopping money.

Shirley Regua cried when she recalled what happened to her husband, Corporal Adriano Regua, who died while rescuing Ondoy victims in Laguna.

"Bakit sila ganun? Habang maraming buhay ng sundalo ang nasasakripisyo?” she said.

Normini Caneba and Edita Galising, who are also wives of ordinary soldiers, couldn't help but feel bad about stories on the alleged excessive lifestyle of some generals' wives.

"Ganun pala, winaldas nila, dapat man lang ma-konsiyensya sila,” said Edita Galising.

"Masakit, sila pala pa-shopping shopping lang," said Normini Caneba.

They are also saddened by the negative image that the Armed Forces is getting because of the issue.

Shirley insisted that not all who serve in the military are abusive.

She said she knew Daisy Bangit and Bibeth Ibrado, the wives of former chiefs of staff. "Madali silang lapitan, simpleng maybahay lang, simple."

Shirley, Normini, and Edita want the guilty to pay for their crimes, but they also believe there are still many honest people in the Armed Forces.

"Ang kasalanan ng iilan, ay hindi kasalanan ng lahat," said Shirley.

On Tuesday, Reyes denied revelations of former budget officer George Rabusa that his wife received thousands of dollars in shopping money.

Garcia plea bargain deal: Institutional corruption

by By Caroline J. Howard, ABS-CBN News Channel

MANILA, Philippines - The House Justice Committee is studying the possibility of recommending sanctions against special prosecutors who struck a plea bargain agreement with former Armed Forces comptroller Carlos Garcia. This following the explosive testimony of Commission on Audit auditor Heidi Mendoza.

Speaking on ANC's "The Rundown," House Justice Committee Chairman Neil Tupas said they are mulling filing charges against state prosecutors before the Office of the President.

"There might be a possibility that a Committee on Justice will file cases before the Office of the President. It might be possible because of the gravity, and we saw institutional corruption," he said.

Citing the evidence and Mendoza's statement, Tupas said prosecutors should have had a strong case against Garcia and the Sandiganbayan, enough basis to junk the deal.

"We don't agree with the Ombudsman that the case is weak, or that there's no evidence," Tupas said.  "Heidi Mendoza is a very, very credible witness. It's clear based on the testimony and circumstances surrounding the plea bargain deal it should be nullified."

Tupas admitted he was surprised that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez didn't think there was any allegation of money sourced from government coffers during the committee hearing on Tuesday, even as the information in the complaints expressly stated it was in relation to government projects and contracts.

He said he was also bothered by the prosecution's decision to dismiss certain evidence or use some statements Mendoza made before the committee.

"Heidi Mendoza got all the support when Simeon Marcelo was the Ombudsman, but with the change of leadership, not only was she not given support, she was ousted from her office."

Amend Ombudsman Act, Plunder Law

Amid what he called the "shocking" revelation of offenses and "institutional corruption" Tupas believes it may be time to amend the Ombudsman Act and the Plunder Law.

"We have to amend the Ombudsman Act. It's not working. The prosecutors and the Ombudsman should be two independent and distinct bodies under the Constitution."

"We should prohibit plea bargaining agreements in cases of plunder. It's not in the law now, that's why they entered into it. We should amend the plunder law. If it's a one time, big-time transaction of P100 million, it's not considered plunder under the law. It should be a series or culmination of acts. It doesn't make sense."

Citing the rules on evidence, Tupas said there is a certain presumption of ill-gotten wealth under the plunder law, pertaining to one's salary and the capacity to acquire a certain amount.

He added that a pattern can be established, but it is not necessary to prove each and every charge.

The House Justice Committee has invited former Commission on Audit (COA) Commissioner Emmanuel Dalman to attend the proceeding to verify Mendoza's testimony that a Palace official told the COA office to go slow on Garcia's case.

"The testimony of Heidi Mendoza trying to stop her from doing her job is punishable under the law," Tupas said.

Remedial measures

Tupas said they will also look into slapping possible remedial measures against those involved.

The House Justice Committee will resume its hearing into Garcia's plea bargain deal next Tuesday.

The committee has until the middle of March to complete its probe into the plea bargain deal before referring the committee report to the plenary.

"We assure the public that some legislation will come out from this or filing of cases will happen," Tupas said.

Pursuing impeachment

Meantime, Tupas said  they are also bent on pursuing the impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Two complaints are pending before the House Committee on Justice.

Tupas called on the Supreme Court to decide on its ante-order on their impeachment hearings by February 15 so they can act on the impeachment complaints.

P1B funding for military project denied, says budget chief

A P1 billion budget sought by the Department of National Defense (DND) for a military project was not released by the Department of Budget and Management because the DND failed to comply with the government’s “no report, no budget” policy, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said Wednesday.

Philippine suspect held over Malaysia abductions

by Agence France-Presse

ZAMBOANGA - A Philippine Islamic militant accused of taking part in the 2000 kidnappings of European tourists on a Malaysian island resort has been arrested, the military said Wednesday.

Security forces detained the suspect, known variously as Arabi Sali or Amil Sali, in a raid Tuesday on the remote Philippine Tawi-Tawi islands near the Malaysian state of Sabah, said Army Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang.

Ona fails to get CA nod over organ trade

(UPDATE) Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Wednesday failed to get the approval of the powerful Commission on Appointments after Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago threatened to use her veto power as she questioned Ona’s position on human organ donation.

Taiwan protests Philippine deportations

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan on Wednesday protested to the Philippines for deporting 14 Taiwanese nationals suspected of fraud to China rather than their native land despite its requests.

$1: 43.965

$1: 43.965 (P44.21)

Euro 1: 61.1643

Customs reports P20.2B in collections

The Bureau of Customs said on Wednesday it collected P20.224 billion in duties and taxes in January, exceeding by P216 million its assigned revenue goal for the month.

DFA: No need for mandatory evacuation of Pinoys in Egypt


MANILA, Philippines – An official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said that a mandatory evacuation of Filipinos in Egypt would not be necessary.

Mubarak to step down at September election

CAIRO—(UPDATE) Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Tuesday he will not seek re-election in September but rejected demands that brought a million people on to the streets around the country that he quit immediately.

Clashes erupt between protesters, Mubarak supporters

by Reuters

CAIRO, Egypt - Opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak fought in central Cairo on Wednesday in what appeared to be a move by the strongman to stamp out nine days of protests calling for him to quit.

Protesters said some of the Mubarak supporters were members of the hated police forces in plain clothes. Some rode into the crowd on horses and camels and in horse-drawn carriages, wielding whips and sticks.

People fought each other with fists, sticks and stones while troops surrounding the square made no attempt to intervene. Reuters correspondents saw dozens of injured. Many people fled in panic.

The fighting broke out as international pressure grew on Mubarak to quit and his closest ally, the United States, told him bluntly that a political transition must begin immediately.

After Mubarak went on national television on Tuesday night to say he would not stand in elections scheduled for September, the armed forces said the protesters' demands had been heard and it was time for them to clear the streets.

Soon after several hundred pro-Mubarak supporters entered Tahrir (Liberation) Square, where a few thousand protesters had gathered, and the clashes broke out, witnesses said.

It was the ninth day of protests that erupted last week as public frustration with corruption, oppression and economic hardship under 30 years of rule by Mubarak boiled over.

An opposition coalition, which includes the Islamist organisation the Muslim Brotherhood and Nobel peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, responded to the army warning by calling for more protests.

It said it would only negotiate with Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief appointed by Mubarak at the weekend, once Mubarak stepped down.

Mubarak's offer to leave in September was his latest gambit in the crisis. At the weekend he reshuffled his cabinet and promised reform but it was not enough for protesters.

One million people took to the streets of Egyptian cities on Tuesday calling for him to quit.

Cut and cut clean

International backing for Mubarak, for three decades a stalwart of the West's Middle East policy and styled as a bulwark against the spread of militant Islam, has crumbled as he tried to brazen out the crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Mubarak for half an hour by telephone on Tuesday night after the 82-year-old announced his plan to step down in September.

"What is clear and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now," Obama said after speaking to him.

Pressure also came from Turkey, an important diplomatic voice in the Muslim world. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Mubarak's plan to step down in seven months time did not meet the people's expectations and the change should begin sooner.

France, Germany and Britain also called for a speedy transition.

"The transition needs to be rapid and credible and it needs to start now," British Prime Minister David Cameron told the UK parliament.

Some of the few words of encouragement for him have come from oil-giant Saudi Arabia, a country seen by many analysts as vulnerable to a similar outbreak of discontent.

Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, is also watching the situation in its western neighbour nervously, weighing the possibility that anti-Israeli Islamists might gain a share of power.

Yemen, Jordan feel the heat

Many analysts see the army as trying to ensure a transition of power that would allow it to retain much of its influence.

But some said tensions could rise even within the army if Mubarak were to hang on too long, and if senior officers were seen to be protecting a leader who had lost legitimacy.

"The longer this goes on, the more people will associate the military top brass with Mubarak. That is very dangerous," said Faysal Itani, a Middle East expert at Exclusive Analysis.

The uprising was inspired in part by a popular revolt in Tunisia last month which overthrew long-ruling President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The mood is spreading across the region.

King Abdullah of Jordan replaced his prime minister on Tuesday after protests there.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, said on Wednesday he would not seek to extend his presidency, a move that would end his three-decade rule in 2013.

Oil prices continued to climb on Wednesday on worries that unrest in Egypt would trigger regime change across the Middle East and North Africa, driving North Sea Brent crude towards a 28-month high.

But with Mubarak pledging to go, foreign investors have begun to show renewed interest in Egyptian bonds and stocks.

Soldier killed in Cairo clashes—state television

CAIRO—An Egyptian army soldier died in clashes between pro- and anti-regime protesters on Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday, state television said.

Internet restored in Cairo after revolt blackout

by Agence France-Presse

CAIRO, Egypt - Internet services were at least partially restored in Cairo on Wednesday after a five-day cut aimed at stymieing protests against President Hosni Mubarak's regime, Internet users said.

Yemen's president says won't stand for another term

by by Hammoud Mounassar, Agence France-Presse

SANAA, Yemen - Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, facing demands that he quit, said Wednesday he will freeze constitutional changes that would allow him to be president for life and put off a controversial April poll.

Tunisia's new government purges police leadership

TUNIS—Tunisia's interim government moved to take back control of the country's security forces on Wednesday, firing dozens of senior allies of fallen dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Saudi plans Jeddah projects after floods, protests

by By Asma Alsharif, Reuters

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia vowed to improve infrastructure in the second-largest city Jeddah after floods swept through the major port and killed 10 people, triggering rare protests among residents complaining of neglect.

Obama signs new nuclear deal with Russia

WASHINGTON—US President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed ratification documents for a new START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, in a showpiece moment for his "reset" of ties with the Kremlin.

Montiel braces for Donaire's speed, power


MANILA, Philippines – The camp of Mexican boxing champion Fernando Montiel is preparing their ward against Nonito Donaire Jr.'s most potent weapons: speed and power.

Tuñacao hopes to earn another shot at a world title

Malcolm Tuñacao has put a turbulent past behind him and slowly rebuilt his life in Japan, where he is now campaigning as a bantamweight, hoping to once again earn another world title bid.

Vice Mayor accuses DepEd of deviating from original plan for Palarong Pambansa training

“I AM disappointed. I am angry.”

These were the strong words of Cebu City Vice Mayor Augustus Joy Young after accusing the Department of Education (DepEd) of derailing their game plan for the Palarong Pambansa.

“I am very much disappointed. We had targeted to improve the region’s finish in the Palarong Pambansa but the DepEd has decided to choose another path and this is throwing the plan off,” said Young.

“Whatever their plans we deserve to be informed because the bulk of the athletes comes from Cebu City and we are the biggest contributor for the region,” said Young.

Two years ago, Young pushed for the regional meet, the Central Visayas Regional Athletic Association, to be held earlier so the preparation for the national games will be longer. The Cviraa was held November of last year instead of the usual February schedule.

The Palarong Pambansa is usually held in April.

However, instead of proceeding directly to training as what was expected, DepED instead decided to have a pool of players and hold another selection. It was supposedly scheduled last weekend and will end this weekend.

“It defeats the purpose of holding the regional meet earlier. Mao ra gihapon mura ra

ta nag Cviraa og February because until now, we do not have the final list of athletes and it’s already February,” said Young.

Young said he has been trying to contact Department of Education Recaredo Borgonia but he was never given any update as to where the preparations are.

Last year, Cebu City spent about P1 million for the Palarong Pambansa and Young said they could have increased the budget this year.

“We have been offering to help but they never included us. I am no longer inclined to help anymore,” said Young.

What was the last straw for Young was when archers from Dumaguete came to Cebu last week, thinking the selection was to be held last weekend.

However, the Cebuano archers also left on the same day, thinking the selection for archery will be held in Silliman.

“Aside from the kids spending P11,000 for their trip, what was worse was they had to skip class because of it. For us that is a big no-no. Sports is only secondary to academics. That is non-negotiable,” said Young.

Infighting, postponement hit Prisaa

ALL through the past weeks, Foundation University have led a faction urging other members to boycott the Private Schools Athletic Association (Prisaa) meet until “reforms are instituted.”

They put up a group called the Reform Prisaa Movement, spearheaded by Dr. Mira Sinco and Dr. Apricio Mequi of Foundation University and Atty. Peachy Alfelor-Moraleda, President of the University of Northeastern Philippine (UNEP) in Bicol.

They are trying to convince other schools to boycott the games and have sent countless memos. They also contacted various heads through text messages.

Pinoy breaks into Top 10 of World Jr. tennis


MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino tennis player Jeson Patrombon broke into the Top 10 of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior rankings.

Patrombon moved to rank No. 9, following a quarterfinal appearance in the recent Australian Open Juniors.

The netter from Iligan said he didn't expect the new ranking, considering that he was at number 242 two years ago.

Patrombon is now aiming to win his first grand slam singles this year.

Barbosa continues win streak in Moscow Open Chess


MANILA, Philippines – International Master (IM) Oliver Barbosa played even better in his 4th game in the 2011 Moscow Open chess championship and remain unscathed in the week-long event at the Russia State Social University in Moscow, Russia.

PBA: Talk N’ Text wins game 5 over San Miguel

A more aggressive Talk N' Text squad clobbered San Miguel, 99-77, to grab the pivotal game five victory and the 3-2 lead Wednesday in the best-of-seven finals of the 2010-2011 PBA Philippine Cup at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

Lakers take down Rockets in overtime

by Reuters

LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant scored 32 points and dished out 11 assists to help the Los Angeles Lakers outlast the Houston Rockets 114-106 in overtime on Tuesday.

Celtics rally to beat Kings

Ray Allen scored 22 points and Boston rallied to beat Sacramento 95-90 on Tuesday, the NBA's Eastern Conference leaders wrapping up a 3-1 western road swing.

Trillanes is most handsome senator: Miriam

by By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago thinks that her colleague, Antonio Trillanes IV, is the most good-looking lawmaker in the upper House.

Trillanes, chair of the Senate civil service and government reorganization committee, presented on Wednesday a proposal to strengthen the government's career executive system (CES).

After Trillanes' speech, Defensor-Santiago took to the floor to give a few comments.

"I find him to be the most handsome senator standing in this house today," she said.

Santiago congratulated Trillanes on his first sponsorship speech, but said he should smile more often when delivering speeches.

John Lloyd, Shaina staying optimistic amid intrigues


MANILA, Philippines – Amid speculations about the real status of their relationship, young couple John Lloyd Cruz and Shaina Magdayao watched the premiere of Star Cinema's "Bulong" together on Tuesday night.

Let's get 'lucky': Tips for a better Year of the Rabbit


MANILA, Philippines - Place a water fountain in your home to attract money and wealth, and don't stay in your room if it's on the eastern part of the house.

These are some of the ways to bring good luck in the Year of the Rabbit, which begins on February 3, according to feng shui expert Joy Lim.

"Financially, magiging maganda tayo. Maganda kasi ang star sa southeast (Financially, this would be a good year because of the southeast star)," she said in an interview on dzMM's Pasada Sais Trenta Sabado.

She warned, however, that violence may be more prevalent in the country this year.

"Kailangang sobrang mag-ingat ngayon (We need to be extra careful)," she said.

The eastern part of the house, traditionally a source of good health in feng shui, is the "unluckiest" place to stay this year in terms of money and relationships, Lim said.

If your bedroom happens to be here, she suggested that you move to another area to rest, at least for the next few months.

"Alamin ang orientation ng bahay with a compass (Know the orientation of your home by using a compass)," Lim explained.

Don't let tables, chairs and other furniture face this direction, and avoid making too much noise in the area, she added.

The same thing goes for the western part of the house, which is the home of the rooster. Lim said this Chinese zodiac may not find as much luck in 2011 compared to the others.

The southeast part of your home, however, is a lucky place this year in feng shui. Lim said placing moving water here may increase prosperity and wealth energy in the area.

She said this may come in the form of a water fountain or a bowl with water and fish, particularly koi, which symbolizes happiness and good fortune in feng shui.

Toilets and trash bins should not be seen here as these "flush out" luck and money, according to Lim.

Place the trash bin in another part of your home, and for those who can't move their toilets, add a water fountain southeast of this area.

'Lucky' charms

Certain items can also help attract good fortune in the Year of the Rabbit, said Lim, who also sells Chinese good luck charms.

Among them is a set of 3 coins bound together by a red ribbon, called the "money catcher," which is said to bring financial luck when placed inside your wallet.

For those who want to wear these good luck charms, several accessories with different stones are sold across the country during this time of the year.

Also available are figurines in different sizes that promise more luck in different aspects of a person's life -- from health and relationships to career and business success.

The items, which can be displayed at home or in the workplace, usually take the form of Buddha and animals from the Chinese zodiac such as dragons.

Despite the so-called luck that feng shui charms and practices provide, Lim stressed that one must not rely solely on this ancient Chinese system. Getting ahead in life, she said, still requires a lot of hard work and effort.

"Hindi ito magic na andiyan na agad. Kailangan ng effort dito (This isn't like magic. It also requires effort)," she ended. -- Karen Flores,

'Year of the Rabbit' could also be year of the love cheat

HONG KONG—The Chinese calendar may be set to welcome in the 'Year of the Rabbit' but the new year could be auspicious for love cheats, astrologers predict, and those who want a younger partner.

China celebrates the first day of the Lunar New Year on Thursday and many Chinese people are keen on using the occasion to get a glimpse of what might be in store next year.

"The 'Year of the Rabbit' will see a lot of unusual romantic relationships," Hong Kong astrologer Anthony Cheng told AFP. "Including extra-marital affairs and relationships with huge age differences."

Cheng said husbands and wives should keep watch for wandering eyes as their trusted partners look for stimulation elsewhere, although the coming year will also be lucky for couples planning to tie the knot.

"The Year of the Rabbit is an auspicious time for marriages, so I would expect to see a lot of people taking the plunge, including famous people," he added.

"Those who are single are likely to find girlfriends or boyfriends, those who are in relationships are likely to get married, while those who are married are likely to have babies," Cheng predicted.

But women could see more health problems than usual, astrologers say, and should place a yellow gourd on their desks at work to ward off pesky colds and other ills -- no matter what bemused colleagues might think.

The predictions are made by analysing a person's birth date as shown in the Chinese Solar Calendar, one of the most keenly-watched methods for laying out one's destiny among Chinese communities around the world.

In Chinese culture, many people take the predictions seriously and even adjust their lives accordingly.

The Chinese calendar moves in 60-year cycles, meaning the world will experience similar events to those seen 60 years in the past.

In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit is fourth in a cycle of 12 animals that represent each Chinese New Year, with the Year of the Rabbit falling between February 3, 2011 to January 22, 2012.

But seismic events aren't just reserved for matters of the heart. Weird weather patterns and natural disasters are also in the offing.

"Countries like the US, Canada and Taiwan will probably suffer from natural disasters or accidents," astrologer Alion Yeo told Agence France-Presse.

"The weather will oscillate between the extremes -- it will either be extremely cold or extremely hot."

North and South Korea will continue to exchange hostilities, but the hardline Stalinist state should be more concerned about a disastrous epidemic.

"North Korea will likely witness an epidemic that would require assistance from the international community," said Peter So, a prominent Hong Kong astrologer and television personality.

Major accidents including train wrecks, fires, falling buildings or bridges are likely in Korea, India, Pakistan and throughout Africa, said Cheng, adding that Russia and China's Inner Mongolia province will experience large-scale earthquakes, with magnitudes of five or higher on the Richter Scale.

And it'll be a mixed bag for some of the world's political leaders.

China's president Hu Jintao will have luck on his side but his US counterpart Barack Obama has a so-so year in store based on the Chinese fortune-telling system, known as the Four Pillars of Destiny.

"Lady Luck will continue to shine on (Hu)," Peter So, a prominent astrologer and TV personality, told AFP. "Obama, on the other hand, would find this year very average for him, where there are many things he wants to achieve but it is unlikely that he would be successful."


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