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

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 9, 2011 Major News Stories (dyab-cebu.bokyo@blogger.com)

February 9, 2011 Major News Stories
February 9, 2011 Major News Stories

Police mum on Reyes’ apparent suicide

MANILA, Philippines—National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Nicanor Bartolome declined to provide initial information on their investigation into the death of former Armed Forces chief Angelo Reyes Tuesday.

"(We will) allow them to have some privacy," Bartolome said, referring to the bereaved family of Reyes, who died from a gunshot wound in an apparent suicide.

Bartolome said police would "conclude the investigation later on" in deference to the family's request for privacy while they grieve.

He did not say the kind of gun used in Reyes' death, saying that information would be released after the investigation.

Reyes was visiting the grave of his mother at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina City when he apparently shot himself. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Easter Police District director Chief Superintendent Francisco Manalo said Reyes’ body would not be autopsied based on the request of his family.

“Natanggap na ng pamilya. ‘Yon na ‘yon (The family has accepted it. That’s it),” Manalo said.

Reyes’ death came amid charges he received P50 million as send-off money when he retired as military chief in 2001.

AFP to give Reyes full military honors —spokesman

MANILA, Philippines -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines will give full military honors to former defense secretary and chief of staff retired General Angelo Reyes who had reportedly committed suicide early Tuesday.

In a briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, AFP spokesman Brigadier General Jose Mabanta said that military honors is given to former military officials but said that it is the family's decision whether to accept it or not.

He added that "the usual military honors (will be given), notwithstanding the cause of death."

However, the military spokesman said that they have not yet communicated with Reyes' family.

"Let's wait for the time being if this will be given to him," Mabanta told reporters.

Meanwhile, Mabanta extended the military's condolences to Reyes' family.

"We are shocked and saddened by the passing of General Angelo Reyes. We condole with the family of Sir Angie," Mabanta said.

"We never expected this... He is (sic) a good soldier, he may have been misunderstood at time but he was able to perform what was required of him," he added.

"He has always been after the morale of the common soldier so this is certainly a very sad day for the armed forces but certainly, the armed forces will move forwards," the military spokesman furthered.

Reyes reportedly committed suicide early Tuesday in front of his mother's grave in Loyola Memorial Heights in Marikina City. He was brought to the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City by his two children, their driver and a bodyguard, where he was pronounced dead at 8:32 am.

Reyes had been identified to have been among the former military generals who were involved in the Armed Forces fund mess.

Gringo says Reyes a victim of trial by publicity

The late former military chief Angelo Reyes may have been a victim of trial by publicity in several congressional hearings, a senator said on Tuesday.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Reyes' fellow alumnus at the Philippine Military Academy, told reporters the accusations hurled against Reyes especially during the first hearing might have been too much for him to bear.

"Sa unang hearing, nakita natin emosyonal si Secretary Reyes," he said. "Baka sa bigat ng kinakarga niya at naapekuhan ang pamilya niya at mahal niya sa buhay, hindi niya nakayanan."

Thus, Honasan proposed that future Senate hearings be moderated "so that we will not unnecessarily and prematurely subject any person to trial by publicity."

"Kailangang i-moderate o timplahin natin ang proceeding para walang nayuyurakang pangalan," he added.

Honasan said it must be required of all resource persons to produce hard evidence before tagging any person in wrongdoing.

He, however, said he is not blaming any of his fellow senators.

"All of us must share collective responsibility for this," Honasan said.

Honasan is in favor of postponing the Senate's inquiry but said it must eventually continue.

"The hearings must continue because the Filipino people are waiting for closure," he said.

Miriam not sorry for critiques vs Reyes

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on Tuesday said she is  not sorry for saying harsh words against the late Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes during the recent Senate panel inquiry on military corruption.

In an interview, Santiago said she was merely quoting the law when she sided with former military budget officer George Rabusa after the latter accused Reyes of pocketing P50 million in military funds.

"It is almost impossible for him [Reyes] to contradict or impeach the testimony of Lt. Col. Rabusa because the Supreme Court has said many times that mere testimony of an eye witness is sufficient even to convict a crime of murder for as long as the eyewitness has not been impeached, that is to say his credibility has not been shot," she told reporters.

Rabusa earlier said Reyes was a beneficiary of a "pabaon" system that gave lump sums of cash to outgoing Armed Forces chiefs.

He said he and his former superior, former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot, personally delivered the money to Reyes at the White House, the official quarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff in Camp Aguinaldo.

The former budget officer said incumbent military chiefs also received P10 million in monthly discretionary funds, which came from a multi-million slush fund sourced from the budgets of the different military services.

Reyes died of a single gunshot wound to the chest Tuesday morning while visiting his mother's tomb in Marikina City. Police confirmed Reyes’s death was a suicide.

Santiago earlier decried a move by Reyes' camp to make her and 3 other senators inhibit themselves in the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing. She also lashed out at wives and mistresses of military generals who allegedly enriched themselves by supplying overpriced items to the military.

Reyes family may still be summoned

In the interview, the senator said she commiserates with Reyes's family for their recent tragedy.

She said that while she still wants Reyes's family to face investigation, they should not be invited to the Senate inquiry until after their period of mourning.

"It should not be immediately after the event because we are a very compassionate people, maybe they are still inarticulate at this period of tragedy in their lives," she said.

Asked if senators went overboard in criticizing Reyes, Santiago said the accusation is mere speculation since no one knows what Reyes was thinking.

She noted that the former defense chief was facing a subpoena after he refused to appear in the last Senate Blue Ribbon panel hearing.

She said Reyes's wife, Teresita, was also set to be questioned for allegedly buying a house in Cabernet Circle, South Anaheim, California worth $504,000 through a close friend, Erlinda Yambao Ligot, wife of former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot.

"It would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or maybe he was just depressed, you can’t really tell. I don’t want to speculate. But I really do feel sorry for him because he must have been in extreme turmoil to have taken such an extreme step," she said.

No to executive session

Santiago rejected suggestions that the Senate hold an executive session first before naming individuals during a public hearing.

"I’m afraid that the media will complain because media will accuse us of withholding information from the public and immediately invoke the right to information which is enshrined in our Constitution. That is our problem," she said.

She also pointed out that any public hearing by a political branch of government runs the risk of becoming a mere trial by publicity. At worst, she said lawmakers can merely file a recommendation with an enclosed report on the matter being investigated.

Santiago said "persons of interest" named in congressional inquiries in aid of legislation have a hard time avoiding publicity.

"The main purpose of these hearings is to publicize them, maybe to engage in name and shame, and hope that the public will uphold whatever has been brought out by the evidence during the trial," she said.

"It is traditional to be sensationalistic in these cases, particularly for members of the committee who are not lawyers. They don’t know what the limits are, and they tend to overstep the bounds of propriety in their desire to show to the media and to the viewing public that they have made a certain point. Iyon ang problema kasi hindi sila abugado, kung anu-anong pinagtatanong at kung anu-anong komentaryo," she added.

The senator, meanwhile, said Congress can still find answers in the military corruption scandal even with Reyes's untimely demise.

"Some will, of course, maximize and exploit the fact that he may have committed suicide over a guilty conscience. That is for them to decide. I wouldn’t do it. But certainly there will be some truths to be harvested by continuing with the hearing. It will not become useless or ineffective just because one of the persons of interest died," she said.

Enrile upholds right of Senate to investigate

MANILA, Philippines—Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile upheld the right of the Senate to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation amid speculations that the death of former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes might have been due to corruption allegations hurled at him during its hearings.

Trillanes not responsible for Reyes’ death, not sorry for feud

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was not sorry about his feud with the late Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes as he did not also feel responsible for his untimely demise.

“No definitely not,” Trillanes told reporters when asked if senators should feel responsible for Reyes' death after they grilled him in the Senate over the alleged P50 million send-off money that he received when he retired as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Remember that General Reyes is a graduate of PMA [Philippine Military Academy]. He used to be the chief of staff of the AFP so he went through all the pressures necessary to survive those chapters in his life,” he said.

Trillanes did not also agree to Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan's statement that Reyes was subjected to a trial by publicity that could have been one of the reasons why he committed suicide.

“No. I believe we're not doing anything different,” said Trillanes.

“Remember, we also went through the same thing back in 2007 .We were subjected to even worse trial by publicity. We faced the government propaganda there and we were even incarcerated seen and a half years after and we're still here. So maybe there's another mission for us to accomplish and sad to say, that's just life was meant to be for Secretary Reyes,” he said.

The senator was detained for the failed coup attempt against then President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He was granted provisional release in December last year and was later granted amnesty by incumbent President Benigno Aquino III.

Asked if he was sorry that he had a bitter exchange of words with Reyes when they faced off in the Senate, Trillanes said, “No kasi sabi ko nga [like what I said] I'm the kind of person who would learn from lessons of life and we'd have preferred that things have ended in a more pleasant route but that's just how life was meant to be.”

Asked about the reported phone call of Arroyo to Reyes at the height of the Senate investigation into the alleged military corruption, “Maybe that's an angle that we could pursue after we have mourned the passing of General Reyes.”

Reyes chose to hide the truth, says Tañada

MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers and people from the military were shocked and saddened when they heard the news that former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes died this morning (Feb. 8).

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo 'Erin' Tañada said his death can be considered a setback to the investigation the House Committee on Justice is doing in line with the alleged anomalies in the AFP.

"Nakakalungkot ang pangyayari, nakikiramay kami sa pagkamatay niya. Sayang at inasahan namin na tutulong siya sa usapin ng katiwalian, pero mukhang pinili niyang itago ang katotohanan," Tañada said.

On the other hand, AFP Spokesperson Jose Mabanta said the AFP was shocked with the news, and they are hoping that despite what happened, the quest for truth would still be attained.

"We are shocked and saddened by the death of former Gen. Reyes. We condole with his immediate family. We hope the quest of the AFP in getting the truth will be attained. We hope the Senate and Congress can expedite enactment of laws the AFP needs to improve governance," Mabanta said.

He added he did not expect that Reyes would commit suicide because he knew him to be strong, someone who cared for the common soldiers. He also described the former defense chief to be witty, someone who could face any problem squarely.

Ret. Colonel Ariel Querubin agreed.

"Marami pa sana dapat malaman sa testimony niya pero hindi na natin malalaman kung ano talaga yun alam niya. Mahirap din naman husgahan. May mga tao na may suicidal tendencies pero hindi ko yun nakita sa kanya. Hindi ko rin naman alam ang pinagdadaanan niya. The pressure may have taken its toll. Na-drag na ang pangalan niya at pamilya niya," Querubin said.

Former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Chief Dionisio Santiago said it is unfair to call Reyes a coward.

"Hindi kaduwagan yun ginawa niya. He had his reasons for doing that, let us respect it," Santiago said.

DZIQ: Reyes not greedy; he merely inherited a system—Robles

MANILA, Philippines—“Former Secretary Angelo Reyes just inherited a [rotten] system and he wasn’t greedy,” said retired commodore Rex Robles in an interview on Tuesday with anchor Ramon Tulfo on his top-rating public service show “Isumbong Mo Kay Tulfo” on DZIQ 990 AM Radyo Inquirer.

Robles was one of the closest friends of Reyes, who took his life Tuesday morning amid the on-going investigation by the Senate on the AFP fund mess.

Their friendship goes way back to the Philippine Military Academy where Robles belonged to the PMA Class ’65. Reyes graduated the following year.

Robles recalled: “The first squad leader of plebeian Angelo Reyes was Rex Robles, that’s me. His first shout, his first beating, his push-up, even his first cry in the PMA, all came from me.”

Asked by Tulfo how Reyes was as a cadet, Robles said, “He was very strong spirited. If there’s something he didn’t like in what you did, he will talk to you face to face.”

Robles remembered how good Reyes was as a PMA student, being cited as “Best Debater” and a sharpshooter. Reyes also received top honors while taking up his post-graduate studies in Harvard University and the Asian Institute of Management.

Robles recalled how efficient Reyes was when he was already holding cabinet positions in the government. While others took weeks to decide, Reyes can arrive at a sound decision in a day.

“Because he was a multi-tasker,” Tulfo said in agreement.

Reyes looked like a very serious, stiff military man in person but Robles said his friend had a very good sense of humor and knew how to have fun. He recalled how in one occasion, he and singer-comedian Rico Puno exchanged jokes on stage for an hour, just like how stand-up comedians performed.

Robles was one of the few friends whom Reyes spoke to before he fatally shot himself while visiting his parents’ grave in Marikina City on Tuesday morning.

“He called me up Monday at exactly one in the afternoon (1 p.m.) and told me that GMA just talked to him over the phone. I thought it was GMA Channel 7 so I asked him, ‘Pare, you’re going to be interviewed on television?’ I was just kidding but I knew he was referring to (former) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” Robles told DZIQ.

The conversation with Arroyo and Reyes tackled, first, the letter Reyes sent to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, asking his former junior officer to reveal his supporters in the investigation. Second was why he, Robles, was picking a fight with Parañaque City Representative Roilo Golez.

Robles said, “I think President GMA (Arroyo) should be the one who should speak about this. She should come out and tell what she knows.”

On Reyes’ suicide, Tulfo and Robles discussed how in Japanese and German culture, especially in the military, taking one’s life was considered an honorable thing to do.

Robles, in a light-hearted mood, said, “I’m telling you Mon (Tulfo), don’t laugh. But if all military generals who had [traces of graft and corruption] will commit suicide at once, only two or three will be left alive.”

Being a veteran tri-media journalist who has been covering the police and the military for decades, Tulfo said, “My God, that’s true.”

Robles revealed how some generals would ask, upfront, for P350 million.

Referring to the Senate hearing, Robles continued: “If in that meeting with senators, those who have sinned would take their lives, only few will be left standing.”

Tulfo agreed, saying, “You’re right, lucky if only two stay alive.”

After laughing, Robles said, “Yes, only two. Borrowing a term from the Bible, they are like whitened sepulchres, white from the outside but rotten inside.”

PMA group supports AFP probe

A MILITARY fraternity in Cebu City yesterday asked legislators to create a “stricter law or regulation that cures the defects and loopholes” in the present procurement law, amid allegations of widespread graft and corrupt practices in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Philippine Military Academy-Cebu Squad passed a resolution supporting public calls to prosecute those directly or indirectly involved in the fraudulent practices among AFP top officials.

Their call came on same day former AFP chief of staff Angelo Reyes committed suicide in the wake of the Senate inquiry into the allegedly irregular disbursement of military funds.

“The PMA-Cebu Squad recognizes and acknowledges that such rampant and widespread graft and corrupt practices in the AFP was the main cause of early resignation or retirement of professional and talented officers in the AFP and armed political participation and uprising among the officers and men of the AFP,” the resolution read.

The PMA-Cebu Squad, a fraternal organization composed of more than 300 graduates and associates of the PMA based in Cebu, is headed by Clarence Martinez.

Graft, corruption

The PMA-Cebu Squad said it condemns “in the strongest possible terms” the alleged rampant graft and corrupt acts in the military.

The corruption of the government funds, the group said, deprives the military of its allocation intended for units and personnel.

The group also joined calls for a “new, professional and graft-free Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

The group said there is a need to revisit the government procurement measures for these are either obsolete or incapable of being implemented.

“The PMA-Cebu Squad appreciates the revelation of witnesses, sans exonerating them for their wrongdoings, if any, for being men enough to admit their guilt and for their decision to come out in the open in order to expose what they know regarding AFP corruption,” the resolution states.

It said the wealth should be retrieved by the government from grafters regardless of their position in the military.

Catholic church now more understanding of suicides

MANILA, Philippines - The Catholic Church is now more understanding of those who commit suicide, said former Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Oscar Cruz.

Cruz made this comment hours after former Defense Secretary and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Angelo Reyes took his own life in front of his mother's grave at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina City on Tuesday morning.

Previously, no Catholic burials and Masses were celebrated for people who commit suicide.

"But now, the Church is more understanding because in this state of mind that is so confused and depressed, then he is not himself," said Cruz.

The former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) added that "though suicide is still censurable, it is less in gravity than conceived before."

Cruz explained further that people who commit suicide "are not themselves," as presumed with the advancement of psychiatric sciences.

It does not mean that suicide is not censurable. It still is, but is now less in gravity than before, he said.

"People who are no longer in the right senses because of very serious difficulties and big depression, et cetera. Definitely, it will be very hard to say they were themselves when they took their life," Cruz said.

'My heart goes to him'

The archbishop commended Reyes's soul to God, even as he revealed he did not expect Reyes to commit suicide.

"Frankly, [for] one thing, I did not expect this," said Cruz, an outspoken critic of the past and present administrations.

"My heart goes to him. He must have been suffering much from the past days because of what has been revealed nationwide," Cruz added.

Reyes has been in the hot seat for allegedly being involved in the fund mess with former AFP comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia and the "pabaon" reportedly given to AFP top generals upon retirement.

The archbishop is hoping Reyes' heirs would "be able to return whatever funds, in cash or in kind, that do not belong to the family and it is called restitution."

Reyes family to critics: No flowers, please

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) No flowers, no prayers, please.

For those who “belittled” and “maligned” former Armed Forces chief Angelo Reyes, they are not welcome to attend the wake, said Patricia Daza, speaking on behalf of the bereaved Reyes family.

"They know who they are. They are not welcome," she said.

Reyes, apparently distraught after being accused of massive corruption, died from a single bullet he fired into his chest while at the graveyard of his mother in Marikina City Tuesday morning.

"The family is very, very devastated,” said Daza, who served as public relations officer of Reyes during his stint as secretary of the Department of Energy.

“They request that those people who maligned, belittled, humiliated the secretary in public and media not to come anymore to pay their respects,” she said.

Daza specifically cited 1Utak partylist group, lawmakers and military officers “who fabricated lies against the secretary."

"Please don’t come. Don’t send prayers or flowers. The family will never accept them,” she said.

Asked if the Reyes family was blaming the lawmakers conducting inquiries into the alleged corruption in the military, Daza said: "You can't help it. I don't know but I would assume (that)."

She said the family stressed that the suicide of Reyes was not in any way an admission of guilt.

"He was just dragged into this controversy," Daza said.

She said Reyes “wanted to spare his family and the military and the PMA (Philippine Military Academy)” from further embarrassment brought about by the high-profile Senate inquiry.

“Until the end, he was an officer, a gentleman. He did not betray anyone, he did not squeal,” Daza said.

His body lies at the Ascension Chapels in Quezon City.

The family is still waiting for the arrival of Reyes' only living brother from the United States before deciding when to bury his remains.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Reyes' former boss, was among the first to arrive at the Ascension Chapels.

Arroyo, now a congresswoman representing Pampanga, was also among the first to arrive at the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City when news broke about Reyes’ suicide.

Members of the media have been barred from entering the chapel.

Reyes ‘protected us all’, says former AFP chief

MANILA, Philippines – Former Armed Forces chief Angelo Reyes “protected us all” when he died Tuesday, another ex-military chief said in an interview at Reyes’ wake in a funeral home in Quezon City.

“He protected all of us, even the institution, for the Filipino people, for us to move on,” General Dionisio Santiago, former Armed Forces chief when Reyes was defense secretary, said in Filipino in an interview with media in Arlington.

Santiago said he never thought that Reyes would do it, referring to the apparent suicide of the military officer early Tuesday when he shot himself in the chest at the grave of his mother in Marikina City.

Santiago said he appreciated Reyes more because what he did was “an act of courage to save the PMA [Philippine Military Academy] and the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines].”

Both institutions have been under fire following the expose of a multimillion-peso fund scam in the military by former budget officer, Lieutenant Colonel George Rabusa, who implicated Reyes, the Armed Forces chief at that time. Reyes was also a PMA graduate.

“It is a difficult act to do, very few people will do that,” said Santiago.

Santiago said what Reyes did was the “best solution so that the AFP will be out of the issue.”

Santiago was referring to an interview with retired commodore Rex Robles who, in his last talk with Reyes, quoted him as saying that he has found a solution where “everyone will be at peace.”

Police add attempted homicide to rap sheet

THE Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) yesterday filed multiple complaints against Joavan Fernandez, tagging him for attempted homicide, direct assault, drug possession and damage to government property.

Signed by City Police Director Melvin Buenafe, the complaints came alongside the ones filed against his companions, Benedict Gabasa and Terence Bayani, before the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor.

Gabasa was accused of possession of illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia and a firearm replica, while Bayani was tagged for drug possession.

Councilors ask Soc: Keep City’s cars from Joavan

TALISAY City councilors went to Mayor Socrates Fernandez’s office in full force yesterday to remind him again of the proper use of vehicles issued by City Hall.

“We reminded him that he should refrain from letting Joavan use his service vehicle,” said Councilor Romeo Villarante, who acted as the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP) spokesperson.

Criminal complaints were filed yesterday against the mayor’s son and two of his companions, over a run-in with the police forces of Talisay and Cebu City last Sunday.

Vice Mayor Alan Bucao led the councilors during the visit to Fernandez’s office after their regular session past 11 a.m..

In their pre-session caucus, SP members reached a consensus to raise the misuse of government vehicles with Fernandez.

While Joavan was using a Honda Civic car, his two companions, Benedict Gabasa and Terrence Bayani, used a City Hall-issued Toyota Revo (SGH-541), which used to be the mayor’s service vehicle.

Joavan’s friends used the vehicle without getting an official trip ticket from City Hall.

Villarante said the SP has the moral and legal obligation to stop anyone from abusing City-owned vehicles and using them for personal purposes.

“As a collegial body, we are pressured to make the necessary move to at least remind him (Mayor Fernandez) about it,” he said.

The meeting with the mayor lasted for 30 minutes, where the latter also explained his side and said the use of the Toyota Revo by Joavan’s friends was “incidental.”

Fernandez earlier said he temporarily entrusted the vehicle to Joavan so he can repair a dent on the vehicle’s body.

Joavan maintains an auto repair shop in the front yard of his father’s “house of

prayer” in Barangay Candulawan, Talisay City.

But Villarante found it odd that the mayor let Joavan repair the vehicle, when City Hall has its own motor pool, where unserviceable government vehicles and heavy equipment are fixed.

When asked about Fernandez’s comment on the misuse of his service vehicle, Villarante said the mayor intently listened to them but he did not make a definite commitment to stop the irregular practice.

The legislator vowed to raise the concern to the anti-graft office or the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) if Fernandez continues to let his adopted son use City-owned vehicles.

In September last year, Gabasa was driving the same Toyota Revo, also without a trip ticket and a driver’s license, when policemen intercepted him in Bulacao, Cebu City.

Gabasa reportedly fetched a female friend from Mango Square in Cebu City.

Both the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas and DILG announced they will look into the improper use of government vehicles in Talisay City, but they have yet to reveal the results.

Sanchez dares helpers to sue his son

CEBU Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr. yesterday challenged former workers in his household staff to file their complaint against his son before the police.

“If they felt aggrieved, let them file the proper charges. The most that I can do, being his father, is to provide him a lawyer, but he is facing it on his own,” Sanchez said.

The vice governor’s reaction was sought after one of their housemaids alleged that she and her other two co-workers were mauled by Leodegreco “Greco” Sanchez at dawn last Friday.

Greco denied mauling their maids. He said he merely confronted Ledelina Barilos, 59, of Barangay Poblacion, Carcar, along with two other helpers. But he never laid a finger on them, he said, even if he was tipsy during the confrontation.

The vice governor said that his son had asked Barilos to watch his three-month-old baby, but they were not in his room when Greco arrived.

That angered Leodegreco. He later found out that his baby was in his sister’s room.

The vice governor said he saw no bruises on the maids when his wife presented them to him the following day. He said the issue was blown out of proportion, because he is a politician.

All three maids have since left, he said.

“It was politicized,” he told reporters.

The vice governor also said that Barilos, who worked with them for seven years, should have asked him for money for medical consultations, instead of informing other people.

He said he had treated them well and was considerate in giving them cash advances.

Demolition in Metro Cebu begins

FOUR of the 73 members of the Mahiga Riverside Neighborhood Association (Marna) voluntarily demolished half their homes yesterday.

According to Marna president Amelita Chiefe, more will follow suit.

In the morning, Man-daue City officials inspected the area, Sitio Marna, which is home to 200 houses. It is located beyond the vacant lot across the SM City Cebu North Wing and can be reached by a narrow bridge. The 10-meter wide creek snakes through Marna, and also cuts through Sitios Mahusay, Sapa-Sapa 1 and 2, Maha-yang and Gothong, before emptying its contents at the Mactan Channel.

Identified

Randy Zanoria of the Mandaue City Legal Office said they identified 25 houses violating the three-meter easement provision of the law. That means their houses are up to or over the creek’s edge.

Others have houses that straddle the waterway, building bridges to span the divide.

Article 51 of Presidential Decree 1067, or the Water Code of the Philippines, provides a three-meter easement zone along the banks of rivers, streams, shores of seas and lakes throughout its entire length, for public use in the interest of recreation, navigation, flotage, fishing and salvage.

It also prohibits the building of structures within the three-meter easement zone or staying in there longer than what is required.

Belen Daganta, who lives along the creek in Sitio Sapa-Sapa 1, said she is willing to give up half of her two-story concrete house.

“But we hope the government will only take three meters off our house,” said Daganta in Cebuano, whose husband works overseas.

Financial aid

Chiefe said Marna members Marissa Mana-yon, Danny Custodio, Emma Carollo and Lourdes Julvesano demolished a three-meter portion of their house yesterday, without awaiting orders from City Hall.

She said three others—Martin Soriano, Eugenio Beluntan and Randy Fuetenegra—will likely follow suit as soon as everything is finalized like the financial assistance or relocation site.

The financial assistance, as provided by law, is equivalent to a minimum wage multiplied by 60 days, or around P15,000.

Chiefe noted the disparity in measurement among residents who voluntarily demolished portions of their house, but Subang-daku Barangay Captain Ernie Manatad arrived with personnel from the City Engineering Office to measure and identify the violating portions.

Manatad said some will not be greatly affected by the demolition, but others will be left homeless.

Linette (not her real name), a mother of two, said she does not mind moving her house back a little.

She said she has 21 boarders and earns roughly P15,000 in room rentals. But if she loses half her house, she will lose half of her earnings.

She said she had a house across the creek on the Cebu City side, which she sold for P12,000, when she learned the City would evict families living along the waterways.

But unlike their counterparts in Cebu City, Marna members are assured of either a relocation or compensation from Mandaue City.

Chiefe said each member has been depositing P250 a month to the group. Marna is under the Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives (Pacsi), a nongovernment organization that recently facilitated the on-site development of Malibu-Matimco Homeowners’ Association in an interior portion of Barangay Subangdaku last October.

According to Pacsi’s recent survey, there are 2,630 creek dwellers in Mandaue City, 300 of them along Mahiga.

Last Jan. 25, their homes were submerged in water after a cloudburst phenomenon dumped more than the average amount of rainfall in a short time, causing waterways in Mandaue and Cebu Cities to overflow.

‘Diarrhea’ victim

In a related development, one-year-old Dennise Ann de la Victoria, who nearly drowned during last month’s flood, died last Monday. She had been suffering from diarrhea, said her mother Joan.

The Subangdaku ba-rangay captain said they are waiting for the parents to apply for a certificate of being indigent so they can claim financial assistance from the City Social Welfare Office.

Dennise Ann was left in an improvised hammock, when rising flood waters caught up with her. A neighbor was able to revive the unconscious infant when her parents arrived.

The mother reportedly refused to take her daughter to the hospital for a checkup afterwards. “Nothing happened to my daughter, except get her butt wet,” she told Sun.Star Cebu in Cebuano.

City Hall reports P1B ‘extra’ from 2010

CEBU City Hall exceeded target collections in 2010 and has over a billion pesos to burn for this year.

So, there is enough to cover drainage expenses, which the Cebu City Government is giving priority following the floods in some areas of the city in late January, officials said.

The target income of the City Government in 2010 was P3.1 billion, but the City collected P4.5 billion.

Chief reopens health center

DAY-AS Health Center opened yesterday morning, after an inventory.

Barangay Captain Rey Ellery Cañada confirmed the allegations of a barangay health worker that he padlocked the health center and kept food there during the Sinulog.

But he said all his actions can be justified.

He said closed the health center last Monday morning because the medical staff—composed of a midwife, two barangay health workers (BHWs) and a city nutrition scholar (CNS)—refused to submit an inventory of medicines and equipment to the barangay.

Prosecutor describes case as ‘grumbling’

AN assistant prosecutor has been accused of removing, concealing, destroying and falsifying public documents, among others, in relation to a complaint against an Emirati.

Assistant City Prosecutor Mary Ann Castro, according to the complaint lodged before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas yesterday, acted less like a fiscal and more like a defense lawyer for Adnan Sayed Anwar Ali Alkazim.

“I heard from reliable sources within the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office itself that Prosecutor Castro was the one who prepared the counter-affidavit of Adnan Alkazim” read Patrick Henri George’s complaint.

Castro, who was previously detailed to the Bureau of Immigration (BI), denied the charge.

In an interview with Sun.Star Cebu last night, she described the complaint as “grumbling” of someone who failed to obtain a favorable ruling.

Hazards

“This is part of the hazards of the job,” she said, adding that the dismissal of the complaint against Alkazim of the United Arab Emirates was the work of the entire Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor and not just hers.

But the complaint that George, an Iranian-Filipino, filed said Castro’s acts are “in utter betrayal of the public trust her office is imbued with,” which “oppressed” him and the other victims of Alkazim.

He charged her with grave misconduct, oppression, dishonesty, discourtesy in the course of official duties, falsification of official documents, refusing to perform official duty, conduct unbecoming and conduct prejudicial to the best interests of the service.

The allegations, if pro-ven, carry the administrative penalty of dismissal from service.

Jail

He also accused her of qualified bribery and violating the provisions of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, all criminal acts that, if proven, involve a jail term.

George, together with siblings Christopher, Vazgen Gregory and Duffi Songa, and one Sharon Abego, had earlier accused Alkazim of large-scale trafficking.

The Emirati was arrested in an entrapment operation carried out by the Theft and Robbery Section of the Cebu City Police Office on Jan. 8. He allegedly swindled more than P300,000 from George after promising him a job abroad.

George alleged that Castro was immediately present after the entrapment operation and supposedly “served as Adnan Alkazim’s counsel” as he was being processed at the PNP Crime Laboratory, where police checked his hands for the special marking powder used in the entrapment operation.

George said when the complaint was formally filed against Alkazim at the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor, Castro “somehow was the one who acted as inquest prosecutor” and subscribed the criminal complaint.

In resolving to dismiss the complaint, Castro supposedly made “so many falsified notations and intercalations,” like how there was no Philippine Overseas Employment Administration certification that Alkazim was not a licensed recruiter when the complainant’s copy of the complaint had one attached.

Capitol aid assures end to brownouts

POWER supply in Camotes Island will be stable in a couple of days, assured National Power Corp. (Napocor) president Froilan Tampinco.

Tampinco was in Cebu yesterday to sign the memorandum of agreement with the Capitol and the Camotes Electric Cooperative (Celco) after the Province agreed to lend P9.1 million to the electric cooperative so it can pay the advance payment Napocor requested.

Gov. Gwen Garcia said she decided to step in to promote the residents’ general welfare, especially since the island is also a popular tourist destination.

"Ang Pagkanaug" to be observed tomorrow

CEBU, Philippines - The annual observance of the descent of the Our Lady of Lourdes will take place tomorrow, Feb. 10, at the Basilica del Sto. Niño, right after the concelebrated mass at 5:30 p.m.

This long-running tradition called “Pagkanaug sa Birhen sa Lourdes” at the Basilica is held before actual feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. The feast day, on the other hand, will be celebrated on Feb. 12, Saturday, with a 4 p.m. mass to be presided by Rev. Fr. Rodolfo Bugna, O.S.A., rector of the Basilica del Sto. Niño.

The late Don Juan Rivera and his wife Doña Andrea Rivera started this tradition and passed it on to their daughter, the late matriarch of the Gullas family, Josefina “Inday Pining” Rivera Gullas.

Today, the tradition is being led by the Cofradia de la Virgen de Lourdes of the Basilica del Sto. Niño, together with the Augustinian friars.

“Ang Pagkanaug sa Birhen sa Lourdes” is expected to lend more significance to the annual feast and commemoration by the Catholic Church of one of the most renowned apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It was on February 11, 1858 that the Blessed Mother appeared to a peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous (who was later canonized as a saint) in Lourdes, southern France – now one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the world.

Mendoza details more misuse of AFP funds

MANILA, Philippines - About half of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization fund for 2001 was diverted for the purchase of office supplies.

Heidi Mendoza, former auditor at the Commission on Audit (COA), disclosed this before the House of Representatives on Tuesday as she fleshed out a money trail of AFP funds that were misused, converted or diverted from their intended purposes.

She said 94% of some P1.6 billion of the modernization fund went into letters of credit that were credited in advance. She noted this ensured extra revenue will be made out of the amount.

In 2001, around 50% of the fund went to the purchase of office supplies, with a hefty P76 million spent during the last 3 days of the year.

Mendoza said several transactions worth P17.9 million were made on December 28, 2001, and the suppliers were all the same. There were purchases of folders, toners, copy papers, printer ribbons, clear books, transparencies and diskettes.

Further investigation though revealed that the printer ribbons did not match available printers at the AFP.

As of posting time, Mendoza was still testifying before the House justice committee about the results of the review she made on 4 AFP funds, namely, the modernization fund, detention fund, United Nations (UN) fund, and the Balikatan fund.

She said the audit started after former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo personally requested that she lead the team that will assist the Ombudsman in its investigation of then military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.

Garcia has been accused of amassing at least P300 million in ill-gotten wealth.

Mendoza said her audit findings were already submitted to the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan as evidence in the plunder case against Garcia.

UN and Balikatan Funds

Mendoza said the reimbursement of the AFP from the UN showed decreasing levels: from P548 million in 2001 to P275 million in 2004.

She said some of the funds passed through intermediary accounts of the AFP with the Land Bank of the Philippines in Iloilo and General Santos City.

However, she said some did not go into AFP accounts.

She disclosed that P120 million of the UN money went to the Philippine Air Force for the repair of a C130 aircraft in 2002. However, documents showed the repair of the same plane was already funded by another account, the Balikatan fund.

Some P9.1 million from the Balikatan fund was also used solely for fuel expenses in 2002, while fuel expenses worth P182.5 million were also withdrawn from the UN fund in the same year.

Mendoza said about 73.45% of the Balikatan fund for 2002 to 2003 went to just one food supplier.

Cover-up

 

Mendoza and former COA chairman Guillermo Carague faced off before the House panel on Tuesday.

Mendoza earlier said that ranking Palace officials asked her to "go slow" on her investigation into the missing AFP money after Ombudsman Marcelo asked her to conduct the probe in 2004.

Carague denied there was cover-up in the financial investigation, noting that it was not a COA audit to begin with.

The House hearing went on despite the death of ex-AFP chief Angelo Reyes, who was supposed to testify on the plea bargaining agreement entered into by the government and Garcia.

Reyes himself was accused of receiving P50 million from military funds as a send-off gift when he retired as AFP chief.

Ex-AFP finance officer denies missing funds

MANILA, Philippines - A former finance officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denied on Tuesday that there were missing funds from the military coffers.

Former AFP Finance Officer Fernando Sabat's signature appears alongside that of former military comptroller Carlos Garcia for a P200-million check from the AFP’s trust funds.

Sabat confirmed before the House of Representatives justice committee that he wrote United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) to separate the amount into different accounts. A total of P150 million was deposited into one account and the remainder into another account.

His testimony dovetails with the earlier testimony of former state auditor Heidi Mendoza that the P200 million was separated into different accounts.

However, Mendoza said some P50 million was unaccounted for.

Sabat said the P50 million was not missing but intact and credited to the AFP’s accounts 2 months later. The supposedly missing money was deposited in an account in UCPB-Tordesillas branch.

Eva Magno, branch manager of UCPB Alfaro Branch at the time of the transaction, confirmed before the committee that P150 million was deposited in a premium account while the rest was transferred to an automatic transfer account.

Meanwhile, Land Bank of the Philippines President Gilda Pico flatly denied before the committee the existence of 2 clearing accounts in Iloilo and General Santos City for the $5 million supposedly coming from the United Nations (UN).

Mendoza said she could not trace the money trail of the $5 million because she was not able to go to the UN.

Pico referred to a Land Bank clearing account whose owner Mendoza could not identify. Pico explained that for funds from the UN, the JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank credits a Land Bank account in New York.

It is then that the Land Bank credits the money to the AFP Greenhills account.

The prosecution also asserted that the allegedly missing money was found and that there was even a certification from the AFP.

Meanwhile, former Commission on Audit (COA) chairman Guillermo Carague said he authorized the investigation of Mendoza but maintained it was under the Ombudsman.

Carague also clarified he did not prevent Mendoza from going to the UN and investigate the missing $5 million. He said he did not authorize Mendoza's probe under the CoA since the auditor should get her authority from the Ombudsman.

In the same hearing, former AFP Chief Benjamin Defensor denied he was in receipt of any payola from the AFP.

Benito de Leon, the former executive assistant of ex-AFP chief Roy Cimatu, said he received P10 million for the expenses of Cimatu’s office.

Also, former Surigao del Norte congressman Prospero Pichay denied receiving hush money in exchange for defending the AFP’s budget as congressman.

De Lima, Merci clash in House probe on plea bargain deal

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez faced off on Tuesday during a Lower House committee probe, offering contradictory opinions on the plea bargain deal that the Office of the Ombudsman struck with former Armed Forces comptroller Carlos Garcia last year.

De Lima, who was invited by the House panel on justice to share her views as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the controversial agreement that threatened to undermine the plunder case against Garcia, said that the plea bargain deal between Garcia and special prosecutors under Gutierrez had “a bit of irregularity."

“If evidence is strong enough in filing of the case, how come that strong evidence became weak? Why was it strong at the time it is being filed and suddenly became weak when the plea bargain was entered?" she asked during the congressional inquiry on Tuesday.

Gutierrez, however, insisted that her office’s agreement with Garcia was “legal" and that the special prosecutors represented the Filipino people in the case.

“As an independent body of government, we have the evidence ourselves... This is position I hold and I have taken this position," she said.

De Lima, however, said that Gutierrez and her deputies should have consulted other government agencies, as well as the military, before entering the deal, because the case involved public funds allocated for use by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“It is not right to mix up prosecutor and prosecution representation. This is case-to-case basis. There should be a strict practice on this. Plunder involves public funds, and we cannot say that the people are just represented by the government," the justice secretary said.

De Lima likewise proposed before the House panel to create a “composite team" of prosecutors, not just from the Office of the Ombudsman but from other agencies as well, to handle Garcia’s case if the plea bargain deal is junked by Sandiganbayan.

Garcia is being tried for the crime of plunder by the Sandiganbayan, the Philippines’ anti-graft court.

Agreeing that the court has the final say on the matter, Gutierrez insisted that as head of a constitutionally independent body, she will not bow down to opinions from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Lahat pinag-uusapan natin nakadepende sa ruling ng Sandiganbayan. Kung ano po ang sabihin ng korte, yun po ang aming papaniwalaan at hindi ‘yung nanggagaling sa DOJ," she said.

(All our discussions here depend on the Sandiganbayan ruling. Whatever the court says, that’s what we will believe and not that which comes from the DOJ.)

Last year, special prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman entered into a plea bargain agreement with Garcia, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of direct bribery and money laundering instead of the crime of plunder as part of the deal.

After admitting to these offenses, the ex-comptroller was allowed to post bail and to temporarily walk out of jail in December last year.

The former AFP comptroller was also allowed to return only P135 million out of the P303 million he allegedly stole from government coffers.

The Office of the Solicitor General, an agency attached to the DOJ, has earlier asked the Sandiganbayan to allow it to intervene in the controversial deal and to nullify Garcia’s arraignment for direct bribery.

Aquino’s shortlist for next AFP chief has 3 to 4 names

MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III has narrowed down his choice for the next Armed Forces chief of staff to “three or four candidates.”

Aquino offers posts to state auditor-turned-witness

MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III has offered former Commission on Audit auditor Heidi Mendoza to return to government service.

Mr. Aquino said he talked to Mendoza on Monday night and he offered her several posts in government.

“I would want her to think about it,” President Aquino said.

Asked what posts he offered to her and whether at least one was a Cabinet position, Mr. Aquino said he would give the details only after Mendoza’s acceptance of any of the posts.

Flood of nominees delays PNoy's pick of 2 poll execs

President Benigno Aquino III has yet to name the new commissioners to fill two vacancies in the Commission on Elections, due to the deluge of applications and recommendations from various political parties, watchdog organizations and other groups.

Aquino wants Freedom of Info bill 'fixed'

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III wants the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) Act revised.

He said on Tuesday that this prompted him to avoid including the FOI bill on the list of priority measures that the Palace wants lawmakers to fast-track.

Aquino said he is not comfortable that all “raw information” on government affairs should be made public.

“Iyung Freedom of Information, we still need to work on it,” he said.

“I'll give you a specific, for instance, meron tayong mga youth ambassadors, I think is the phrase. They were sent to a country in the ASEAN or in Asia tapos 'pag balik, may suspected SARS 'yung isa doon  -- so, raw report.”

“Theoretically, a Freedom of Information measure would say that even the raw report should be made public already. Ngayon, pagkarating po dito, parang dumagdag ng dalawa o tatlo o apat. So siyempre po, may tendency tayo na sasabihin suspected, lalabas po 'pag nasa istasyon na ng media ay baka may panic na i-induce,” he explained.

The President said he does not want to hide anything that is of public interest.

“In the interim, I don't think we have been hiding anything. We have not avoided any question that has been thrown our way. So even in the absence of any Freedom of Information Law, we have been trying to be transparent to the utmost level possible,” he said.

“But, of course, there are times that when especially in a raw state, hindi natin pwedeng idi-discuss lest we might have apprehensions raised that are not necessary. So ang dulo noon, shortcut answer is, we're still fine-tuning exactly how it will be, the details of this Freedom of Information Bill."

Pia: Axing RH bill from priority legislation 'disturbing'

Malacañang's sudden move to exclude the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill from its priority legislation is "very disappointing and disturbing," Senator Pia Cayetano said Tuesday.

Filipino seaman slain by Somali pirate —DoLE

MANILA, Philippines—Somali pirates have shot and killed a Filipino seaman held captive on a cargo ship near the Indian Ocean country of Seychelles, the Department of Labor reported on Tuesday.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, in a statement, said the pirates shot and killed Farolito Vallega, 48, on January 26 on board the MV Beluga Navigation, a German-owned ship registered in Antigua and Barbuda.

The information was belatedly relayed to the Department of Labor and Employment by the Beluga Nomination’s local manning agency, Marlow Navigation Philippines, Inc.

Baldoz, quoting a preliminary report from Marlow, said Vallega was shot dead by the pirates apparently in a “fit of anger” after an element of the Combined Maritime Forces, the international anti-piracy contingent patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aden, tried to free the Beluga Nomination and rescue its crew.

The Beluga Nomination was hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Seychelles on January 22. The vessel has a 12-member crew, seven of them Filipinos, the rest Polish, Russian and Ukrainian. Vallega served as a bosun or boatswain, which is a non-licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship.

Of the seven Filipino seafarers, Ferdinand Aquino, 46, a cook, escaped by jumping overboard and was eventually rescued.

Another seaman, Elviro Salazar, 26, a wiper, was reported missing. The four other Filipinos remain captives of the pirates.

Baldoz said that according to Marlow, the captive seamen’s employers continue to negotiate for the release of all hostages and to undertake search and retrieval operation for the missing Salazar and the body of Vallega.

Baldoz, in a statement, condemned the killing. “We express outrage over this senseless disregard for human life and we condemn in the strongest possible terms the atrocity of the Somali pirates. We are also saddened by this tragic incident, and deeply condole with the family and relatives of the deceased Filipino seaman,” she said.

Baldoz added the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration was extending all possible assistance and monetary benefits to Vallega’s family.

She said she has also directed the OWWA to provide the necessary package of assistance to Aquino and his family, to the family of Salazar.

The manning agency was also working on the provision of the death benefits of Vallega and the continued allotment of the wages for the rest of the Filipino seamen.

Baldoz has discussed with its tripartite partners a plan of action containing measures on how to better safeguard and protect Filipino seafarers on board international vessels traversing the pirates-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

In a meeting last Saturday, officials of the DoLE, OWWA, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Maritime Training Council, the Joint Manning Group and the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines called for firmer, decisive international action against sea piracy.

The meeting reviewed and assessed current anti-piracy procedures and measures to come up with updated action plan on how to provide better protection to Filipino seafarers.

Among the recommendations were for the Department of Foreign Affairs to “strongly urge” the United Nations to review the existing mandate of the multinational forces in the Indian Ocean and empower such forces to take a more proactive role to combat piracy, and to encourage governments, whose flag the pirated ships are flying, to prosecute pirates if and when apprehended by the naval forces.

Taiwan extends screening of Filipino workers

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan on Tuesday raised the screening period for Filipino workers and threatened to bar them from entry as a spat with Manila over the deportation of Taiwanese nationals to China deepened.

The diplomatic row erupted in December after Philippine authorities arrested 14 Taiwanese in an alleged fraud bust and deported them to China, despite protests from Taipei which wanted them returned to the island to face justice.

The new rules, effective immediately, raise to four months the maximum screening period for Filipino workers wanting to move to Taiwan. Screening for migrant workers currently takes up to 12 days.

Calling for "goodwill response" from Manila, Wang Ju-hsuan, the head of the island's Council of Labour Affairs, said Taiwan may "adopt even stricter retaliatory measures that may include a freeze of worker imports from the Philippines."

She urged local employers to turn to countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia as sources of overseas workers.

Earlier in the day, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Timothy Yang called on the Philippines to boost cooperation on tackling cross-border crime in a bid to avoid a recurrence of the row.

"It's time for the two sides to sit down and talk," he said.

"A mechanism should be set up to jointly bust international crime. That way, we could also avoid a repeat of the recent row."

Taiwan's foreign ministry said Monday the island's diplomatic representative in Manila would be recalled this week.

In a statement, it added: "The screening of applications for work here by various Filipino workers will be tightened" and the existing visa-free treatment for Filipinos travelling to Taiwan will also be called off.

Yang said "the retaliatory measures were aimed to safeguard our sovereignty and national dignity".

There are about 72,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan, sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year back to the Philippines.

"We'd like to maintain our friendly ties with the Philippines, but what it did first has harmed such ties. Therefore we decided to adopt the measures so as to safeguard national dignity and to display our discontent," the ministry said.

It said the measures will be reviewed contingent upon the Philippines' "goodwill" in the future.

The Philippines, like most countries, formally recognises Beijing rather than Taipei, but maintains trade and tourism ties with Taiwan.

PNoy not keen on lifting VAT on oil

by abs-cbnNEWS.com

Citing other ways to ease price pressures on basic goods, President Aquino said on Tuesday that he is not keen on scrapping the value-added-tax on oil.  

Customs loses P12-B from strong peso, tax credits

by abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs (BoC) reported that it lost P12 billion in revenues due to the strong peso and tax credit utilization last year.

$1: 43.410

$1: 43.410 {P43.63}

Euro 1: 59.3222

32 Filipino repatriates to arrive Wednesday—DFA

The second batch of Filipinos fleeing the hostilities in Egypt will return to the Philippines on Wednesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Egypt protests draw biggest crowd yet

CAIRO—(UPDATE) Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square and towns across Egypt on Tuesday, in the biggest show of defiance to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak since the revolt began.

225 rescued in Indonesian ferry fire

by Agence France-Presse

JAKARTA, Indonesia - More than 200 passengers have been rescued from an Indonesian ferry that caught fire early Tuesday off the coast of the country's capital, Jakarta, the transport ministry said.

Two Koreas hold first talks since island attack

by by Park Chan-Kyong, Agence France-Presse

SEOUL, South Korea - The two Koreas Tuesday began their first talks since the North's deadly shelling of a South Korean border island in November sent tensions soaring, Seoul's defence ministry said.

Italy prosecutors to seek immediate trial for Berlusconi

by Reuters

MILAN, Italy - Milan prosecutors will on Wednesday formally ask that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stand trial immediately in connection with an investigation of his relations with an underage girl, a judicial official said.

PBA Board approves Studio 23 telecast

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Board of Governors has approved the proposal of Solar Entertainment Corp. to transfer the television coverage of the games in the next two conferences to ABS-CBN’s Studio 23.

The PBA Board granted approval on Monday after evaluating the technical facilities and capability of Studio 23.

"The members of the Board have consulted with their respective principals regarding the said transfer," said board chairman Rene Pardo in PBA’s official statement.

"Given the time constraints and lack of available and acceptable VHF channels at this time, the Board allowed the transfer of the coverage to Studio 23 for the rest of the season," he added.

Solar Entertainment proposed to transfer the coverage after government channel RPN-9, which aired the games for several years, decided to reformat its programming.

PBA Commissioner Chito Salud said they made the decision so that fans will continue to enjoy the games.

"The Board's decision ensures that our fans will continue to enjoy our PBA games for the 36th season," said Salud.

"It has always been the primary consideration of the Board of Governors that our games are brought to a wider and younger audience," he added.

Azkals hope to wow 18,000 fans Wednesday

BACOLOD, Negros Occidental, Philippines—The match considered puny in international football is the biggest one yet for the Philippines.

Aquino personally renews driver’s license

MANILA, Philippines—President Aquino personally went to the Land Transportation Office Tuesday morning to renew his driver’s license on the occasion of his 51st birthday.

Driver’s licenses usually expire on a motorist’s birthday.

Mr. Aquino went to the LTO’s licensing section at its main offices on East Avenue in Quezon City at past 10 a.m.

President Aquino waved to well-wishers and LTO employees but didn’t give any interview to the media.

Sarah reiterates she won't leave ABS-CBN

by abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – Pop Star Princess Sarah Geronimo is setting the record straight. Contrary to persistent rumors, she will not leave the Kapamilya network.

John Estrada wants to reconcile with Willie

by abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – John Estrada is confident that he and Randy Santiago will eventually reconcile with celebrity friend Willie Revillame.

Under Merci, Ombudsman goes after mostly small fish

(Second of Four Parts)

WHO has been jailed for corruption in the Philippines?

In its search for answers, the Philippine Threshold Program launched a study on “Time Served for Corruption" covering 118 cases from 2001 to 2008 of public officials who had been prosecuted by the Ombudsman, convicted by the Sandiganbayan, and sent to jail after the Supreme Court upheld their convictions.

Over three-fourths or 93 of the cases were in different stages of execution proceedings. The small balance of 25 individuals had been served court orders committing them to prison, but nearly half or 11 had been pardoned by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In short, less than one in every 10 persons convicted of corruption since 2001 has actually been jailed.

Furthermore, of the 14 persons with court-issued jail sentences, only seven are actually serving time. And worst of all, of the seven in jail, only one person has completed his/her prison sentence.

As of 2009, of the seven serving time, the highest ranking officials are two barangay chairmen.

But the Office of the Ombudsman, which received $6.5 million as its share in the Philippine Threshold Program, says it is doing its best despite what it has repeatedly described as limited resources.

Bristling at the barrage of criticism it has attracted – especially since Merceditas N. Gutierrez became its head in December 2005 – the Office says it is a victim to misperceptions that in turn can be traced to malicious media reports.

In its latest annual report that covered 2009, the Office says it investigated and adjudicated a total of 8,000 cases. In addition, sanctions were imposed on at least 500 public officials and employees nationwide, the report says. Among these were the suspension and dismissal of high-ranking officials or those who occupy positions with salary grade 27 (or those receiving an annual salary of P446,076) and above, such as municipal mayors, regional directors, and university presidents.

But interviews with observers, complainants, and former and present Ombudsman insiders, as well as a closer scrutiny of official data reveal a different picture. Indeed, indications are that the Office has been failing in its duty to act promptly on complaints and to prioritize those involving high-ranking officials, grave offenses, and large sums of money and property.

Too, while it constantly pleads poverty whenever it is asked why it cannot do more or better, it has been so generous to its own employees that they have not only enjoyed classes on such things as siomai-making and cosmetology, but also bonuses that, some former and present insiders say, have sometimes coincided with Gutierrez’s birthday or the filing of an impeachment complaint against her.

The public perhaps would overlook the latter if only the Office had proved instrumental in curbing corruption and inefficiency in government. But it apparently hasn’t, prompting people like human-rights leader Marie Hilao-Enriquez (whose group Karapatan has helped file at least six cases before the body) to complain, “Patong-patong na violations nila (Their violations are already piling up)."

Effete campaign against corruption.

The Sandiganbayan database on 1,210 cases filed by the Ombudsman from Dec. 2005 to Dec. 2009 in fact reveals unflattering evidence of what might well be the Office’s effete campaign against corruption.

The top 10 cases filed by the Ombudsman were usurpation (445); violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, 387; malversation, 87; falsification, 69; estafa, 68; violation of the Government Service Insurance System Act, 67; perjury, 14; violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, 13; murder, 6; and, physical injuries, 6. Only one plunder case was filed, four bribery cases, and curiously, even one robbery case and two infidelity cases.

The 1,210 cases enrolled 4,066 respondents. Some cases involve multiple respondents, and some of the same respondents are actually named in several cases. Thus, decisions may vary for each accused such that one may be convicted and another acquitted in the same case.

More than half or 52 percent were filed against 2,109 officials and personnel of town, city, and provincial government units, while the second biggest cluster consists of cases filed against 784 private individuals (19 percent).

The 1,210 cases involved, according to the Sandiganbayan database, an aggregate amount of P6.37 billion, or a negligible sliver of the P1.645-trillion 2011 budget that bankrolls the operations of the government. Of this amount, P2.76 billion involved cases against private individuals.

This flurry of filing cases has triggered not so good results, however. Not only did just five percent end in convictions, 48 percent or 1,936 accused have cases pending before the Sandiganbayan; 14 percent or cases against 588 persons had been dismissed; and two percent or 61 accused had their cases archived. Cases against 244 individuals (6 percent) also resulted in the acquittal of the accused.

Former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, who led the prosecution team that secured ousted President Joseph Estrada’s conviction for plunder, says that there are people in the Ombudsman’s Office who are very good at “mishandling" cases to favor the accused. This, he says, partly explains the relatively high number of withdrawn and dismissed cases at the Sandiganbayan.

Before becoming Special Prosecutor in 2003, Villa-Ignacio also served briefly as assistant ombudsman under then Ombudsman Simeon V. Marcelo.

Withdrawn, dismissed

Sandiganbayan data show that the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which is under the purview of the Ombudsman, withdrew cases against 881 individuals between December 2005 and December 2009. Cases involving 588 accused were dismissed during the same period. Altogether, these account for 36 percent of the total number of case disposals by the Ombudsman under Gutierrez.

“(It’s) very simple," Villa-Ignacio says of how the ‘mishandling’ is done. “One, the information filed is defective so that is an assurance that the case would not prosper. Or the presentation of evidence is incomplete."

Villa-Ignacio says that he had confronted the prosecutors he believed to be responsible for what can only be described as deliberate mistakes. He also says that shortly after Gutierrez became Ombudsman, he had personally pointed out to her the people with whom she should be careful, as well as those she could trust. But she seems to have ignored his advice, he says. Instead, she and Villa-Ignacio would later have a public tiff.

Villa-Ignacio retired in February 2010 and now teaches law at the Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Law. He traces his rift with Gutierrez to the case involving the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) purchase of automated counting machines from Mega Pacific for P1.3 billion in 2004.

The Supreme Court had declared the contract null and void because, it said, Comelec had disregarded bidding rules and procedures. Yet in 2006, the Ombudsman absolved all Comelec officials of any wrongdoing in the deal – a ruling that Villa-Ignacio thought was objectionable. He also said this out loud.

Soon after, he says, his deputies were ordered to report directly to Gutierrez, effectively stripping him of his administrative and prosecutorial powers. He says he was also not given the opportunity to read cases before these were filed with the Sandiganbayan. And toward the end of his term, Villa-Ignacio became the subject of administrative and estafa complaints over a donation of water pumps for Typhoon Milenyo victims.

‘Impeach Mercy’ plaint

While Villa-Ignacio has an obvious axe to grind against the Ombudsman, the same cannot be said about the foundation Kilosbayan and watchdog group Bantay Katarungan, which jointly filed an impeachment complaint against Gutierrez in 2009, citing as grounds her Office’s decision on the Mega Pacific case, as well as her inaction on the P1-billion fertilizer fund scam that was said to have enabled massive fraud in the 2004 presidential elections, and the collusion between bidders and state officials in skimming off millions of pesos from World Bank-funded projects, among others.

In July 2010, petitioners led by former Akbayan party-list representative Risa Hontiveros filed another impeachment complaint against Gutierrez. Among other reasons, they said the Ombudsman had betrayed the public trust for failing to act swiftly on the cases filed against then President Arroyo and her allies in the botched National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment (ZTE) Corp.

Yet another complaint was filed the next month, August 2010, this time by civil society groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes. That brought the number of attempts to oust Gutierrez from her post to three. If those who are now wailing over the case of former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia could have their way, that count could soon be four.

Lawyer Jose Manuel I. Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), says that the Ombudsman should actually be focusing on high-ranking officials because convicting only low-ranking ones does not stop corruption. “It even encourages it (corruption) because high-ranking officials get away with it," he argues. “The higher your position, the easier it is for you to get corrupt because it becomes more difficult to file a case against you or have you convicted."

Case from Samar

Procerfina Lucban, an eatery owner from Catbalogan, Samar, knows whereof Diokno speaks. As head of the Concerned Citizens Action Force Organization in her hometown, she helped another group to file a complaint with the Ombudsman against provincial officials, including the then governor and vice governor. The case stemmed from the provincial government’s apparent use of the calamity fund for three years in a row despite the absence of a disaster of any kind during that period.

In 2006, the Ombudsman found only six of the 22 respondents guilty of “grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service." It dismissed the administrative charges against the former governor, vice governor, and several others because they were either re-elected or no longer in public service.

Of the respondents that the Ombudsman said were guilty, only one was eventually dismissed from his job at the capitol. As of this writing, two are even still working there as provincial officers.

At least the Ombudsman took just two years to render a decision on the case. For the higher-profile Ortigas rubout case, the Office took a year more before it could issue a resolution on a complaint filed by the family of one of the victims.

On Nov. 7, 2005, Anton Cu-unjieng, Anthony Bryan Dulay, and Francis Xavier Manzano were shot dead in Ortigas by Philippine National Police (PNP) anti-carjacking operatives. In 2006, the Commission on Human Rights submitted a report to the Ombudsman that recommended that members of the PNP’s Task Force Limbas be charged with murder.

The Ombudsman, however, dismissed all administrative charges against the 11 respondents and cleared six of them of any criminal liability.

Diokno, the complainant’s legal counsel, immediately filed a motion for reconsideration, asking that the administrative case be reinstated and that all be charged with murder. As of last July, the lawyer says, there was still no update on the preliminary investigation that started in 2006. “Preliminary investigation," he notes, “is just step one and it has taken four years already."

Case delays foster impunity, he adds. Naturally, says Diokno, officials would hardly be discouraged from engaging in illegal acts if it takes, say, a decade minimum for a court decision to be rendered on a case.

Not fully staffed

For sure, though, part of the difficulty that impedes the speed of the Office in handling complaints is the fact that these involve complex issues. More often than not, these result in multiple cases that require tremendous amounts of field investigation and preparation. Former Ombudsman Marcelo himself says that prosecutors and investigators are thus overloaded with cases. This, he continues, has a profound impact on the quality and speed of investigation and prosecution work.

The Office’s own 2008 annual report also cited as difficulties its much leaner personnel complement compared to other agencies, as well as what it said is its meager allocation from the national budget. Gutierrez said in the report, “(It) has always been a source of wonder how we had gotten by considering the nature and extent of our responsibilities, and, most of all, the public’s expectations of us."

Then again, the General Appropriations Acts in the last seven years show that the allocation for the Office of the Ombudsman has been increasing significantly. In fact, the Ombudsman now enjoys triple the budget it used to receive seven years ago. From P392.08 million in 2003, its allotment jumped to P647.54 million in 2005. This figure more than doubled in 2009, reaching P1.33 billion.

Official data also show that a considerable chunk of the Office’s budget has been going to employee salaries and benefits as the agency’s staff grows in number. But this has not meant that the Office has a full complement of personnel.

According to the latest information from the Ombudsman, more than half of the 2,177 authorized positions were still vacant as of June 2010. Out of the total plantilla items of 700 for investigators and prosecutors – both of whom form the backbone of the agency – only 297 had been filled up as of July 2010, says Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus Jr. in a written reply to queries submitted to the Office by the PCIJ.

The Office, says de Jesus, had stepped up its recruitment efforts. But he says that since the Ombudsman is covered by the Salary Standardization Plan, which sets a uniform compensation level for almost all government agencies, the Office’s pay scale appears to be too low to attract lawyers. He even says, “We are losing some of our lawyers whom we have trained through the years because they are lured by the tempting offers of some private and government corporations."

Such offers could only be really generous ones. According to the Ombudsman’s human resources division, the salary of a lawyer for an entry-level position corresponds to salary grade 26, or P42,639 a month. A lawyer who has been in practice for two decades, meanwhile, says that current starting salaries for lawyers in private firms are between P30,000 to P35,000. But he hastens to add that there are extra benefits, such as a car plan, in the bigger firms.

Mercy most generous

Yet Ombudsman officials and personnel are hardly wanting in benefits themselves. The Office’s own statements of income and expenses show that its ‘additional compensation’ grew by 268 percent from just P4.73 million in 2004 to P17.40 million in 2008. Both representation and transportation allowances also rose by more than 300 percent from just P12 million in 2004 to more than P50 million in 2008. ‘Other bonus and allowances’ posted the highest increase at 383 percent from P4.62 million to P22.32 million during the same years.

“Compared to other Ombudsmen, Madame (Gutierrez) is very generous," comments an employee of the Office who declines to be named. “She knows the needs of her employees and she takes care of them well. So she gave a lot of bonuses."

The insider says that Gutierrez gives bonuses whenever the school year starts. She also gave P20,000 to all employees when Typhoon Ondoy struck in 2009. Moreover, the employee recalls that Ombudsman personnel have received bonuses worth a month’s salary around the time of Gutierrez’s birthday, although not always every year.

Villa-Ignacio adds that there was one instance when Gutierrez even gave a ‘bonus’ when an impeachment case was filed against her and another when the case was dismissed. Employees referred to their windfall as ‘impeachment bonus,’ he says, so much so that someone remarked, “Sana every year merong impeachment (I hope an impeachment case is filed every year)."

The Ombudsman, however, remembers that particular ‘bonus’ differently, and refers to it as “financial assistance." In another written reply to PCIJ’s queries, it says that this “assistance" was extended “to alleviate the plight of its employees from the unstable prices of basic commodities." The Office also says, “(It) has nothing to do with the cases filed against the Honorable Ombudsman."

Whether ‘bonus’ or ‘assistance,’ the Office was legally in the clear in giving it. The General Appropriations Act says that constitutional offices – among them the Ombudsman -- can use savings in their respective appropriations for certain purposes. These include the hiring of contractual and casual personnel, payment of extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses, commutable representation and transportation allowances, and fringe benefits for officials and employees.

Rewards & perks

In addition, constitutional commissions and offices enjoying fiscal autonomy are also authorized to formulate and implement the organizational structure of their respective offices and to fix and determine the salaries, allowances and other benefits of their personnel in accordance with the rates and levels authorized under applicable laws.

Villa-Ignacio also says that he has nothing against the bonuses, which the employees could well need. But he says, “They should also be motivated to work… reward for work...but reward for impeachment dismissal? It doesn’t seem good."

He is unhappy as well over Gutierrez’s decision to discontinue the merit-based award system mandated by the civil service in which the performance of lawyers and non-lawyers are evaluated for purposes of yearly award and recognition.

Instead, he says, Gutierrez subsequently offered programs such as gardening, flower arrangement, cosmetology, massage, and ice cream- and siomai-making. These programs, says Villa-Ignacio, do not send the right message to employees, especially to young and idealistic lawyers who should be encouraged to do better in prosecution.

An Ombudsman employee says that there is still evaluation of employees’ performance, albeit for the purposes of productive incentive pay and civil-service requirements instead of rewards.

The Office itself says that it last conferred ‘Best Employee Awards’ to 108 of its personnel in 2007. “Presently," it says, “it is not being implemented because the existing Program on Awards and Incentives for Service Excellence (PRAISE) has been subjected to review and a new PRAISE has been adopted. Copy of the new PRAISE was forwarded to the Civil Service Commission for approval."

Assistant Ombudsman de Jesus meantime asserts that aside from “cross trainings," the Office has implemented “programs for continued improvement and development of investigators and prosecutors with funding from the USAID."

Best attire award

In July 2008, in her Business Mirror column, Gutierrez explained she had done away with the merit-based award system because it “was exposed to suffer from certain built-in weaknesses that had caused internal disagreements," and on motion of “a great majority of the officers and staff" who apparently did not win the awards.

In its place, Gutierrez launched a new awards program on the occasion of the Ombudsman’s 21st founding anniversary that year. She wrote, “I have begun giving rewards to our personnel who dressed up the best in Filipiniana attire during our Monday flag ceremonies. This is in line with the Civil Service Commission’s attempts to boost nationalism among us Filipinos."

She also raved: “And yes, we do have a veggie garden now. It is located at the back of the main office. It provides a good diversion to the high-pressure job of the office, and enables our personnel to take home very fresh produce that is good for their health. It is also our humble contribution to the environment and we are very proud of it."

But Ombudsman employees have been enjoying more than fresh vegetables and bonuses. According to the Office’s 2009 annual report, its Human Resource Management has extended scholarship to deserving Ombudsman personnel, and “spearheaded the provision of livelihood trainings to OMB employees and their dependents."

These included, the report said, “free training programs on practical vegetable gardening, making novelty items and other fashion accessories, soap-making,

candle-making, perfume-making and the like… which OMB employees may utilize to improve their economic conditions."

The gardening project, de Jesus also explains, is a temporary activity while the lot the Office purchased for a building annex remains vacant. He says, “(It) is actually an environmental awareness program covering the processing of organic waste vis-à-vis the zero-waste program, use of the processed waste or compost as fertilizer and the planting of organic vegetables."

“It was not intended to conflict with their job," says de Jesus. “(All these) were just part of the Ombudsman’s continuing concerns for the lowly paid employees of her office."

Yet aside from livelihood-enhancement activities, the Ombudsman has seen after the medical and dental needs not just of its 1,000-strong workforce but also of their dependents.

The agency reported that in 2009, it administered and funded “438 annual medical examinations; sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides examination of 1,773 employees; administration of anti-flu vaccine for 650 employees; administration of pneumococcal vaccine for 516 employees; and administration of cervical vaccine for 1,122 employees and dependents." – PCIJ, February 2011

Read first part: Ombudsman a failure, despite flood of funds

Japan cuts Filipino nurses some slack in exams

After the first two batches of Filipino nurses and caregivers who have applied for jobs in Japan in the last two years registered very low passing rates, the Japanese government has decided to revise the qualifying exams and make it easier for the applicants to pass.

Since the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) was implemented in 2009, only one Filipino nurse qualified to work in Japan after going through rigorous application and hiring procedures, an official of the Japanese embassy in Manila said Tuesday.

In the same period, 139 Filipino nurses and 299 caregiver applicants were accepted to train in Japan between 2009 and 2010, the Japanese official who requested anonymity as we was not supposed to talked about the revised exams prior to an official statement from his government.

Applicants are given qualification tests after six months of the language course but the Japanese official said Filipino applicants had a difficult time passing the examinations.

For the sake of Filipino applicants, the Japanese diplomat said medical terms in Japanese — like diabetes, cataract, and pulmonary tuberculosis — will be replaced with English words to make it easier during the written tests.

"We are trying to improve the implementation of movement of natural persons particularly in the (context) of licensure examination to make it more passable for foreign applicants including Filipinos," he said.

With the steady decline in Japan’s population, the Japanese government has intensified hiring foreign nurses and caregivers for its graying retirees.

Restricting Filipino entertainers

Embassy officials in Manila, however, said Japan is now restricting the entry of entertainers from the Philippines with stricter visa processing to keeps Filipinos from falling prey to human trafficking operations in Japan and other developed countries.

Official Japanese data showed that entertainers deployed to Japan have been on a steady decline from 11,065 visas given in 2007 to 9,199 in 2008 and 7,465 in 2009.

The Philippines and Japan this year will review the implementation of JPEPA to facilitate trade and investments and the deployment of Filipino nurses and caregivers to Japan.

There are now 300 new nurse applicants vying for 102 slots and 250 applicants for caregivers competing for 85 new slots, according to the Japanese envoy.

These aspirants will be sent to Japan for six-month language training and to take qualifying tests for work and training in hospitals and homes for the elderly.

Those who qualify will get a $400 monthly allowance from the Japanese government, and stay in Japan for three years.

Foreign nurses and caregivers in Japan are given a monthly salary ranging from P66,000 to P130,000 a month.


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