SLB Newsbriefs...daily news from different sources, truncated and compiled. updated daily.
Newsbriefs 02 February Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

CBCP: Quit option stays

ILOILO CITY -- The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday said that resignation remained an option for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to resolve the "Hello Garci" controversy.

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo also brushed aside criticisms that the Catholic Church was interfering in politics. "When people do not like what we are saying, then we will be criticized as interfering in politics," Lagdameo said.

The archbishop of Jaro said that the resignation option was contained in the July 10, 2005, pastoral statement issued by the CBCP at the height of the wiretapping controversy that nearly unseated Ms Arroyo.

In last year's statement, the bishops stayed away from mounting calls for the President's resignation but said she should not ignore them.

Asked if last week's pastoral statement, issued after the prelates' first plenary this year, reflected what the CBCP felt about the unresolved political crisis, Lagdameo said: "Probably. Partly, we can say that that is a statement of frustration."

"We did not change (the July 10 statement). So it still stays that the President listen to the voice of the people," Lagdameo told reporters here after the launching of the People's Graftwatch of Iloilo Inc.

Palace rejects costly ConCon (

AFTER junking the unpopular plan to shelve the 2007 elections, the administration is not likely to accept the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) proposal to hold a Constitutional Convention (ConCon) to amend the 1987 Charter.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday Malacañang will stick to the plan to entrust the job of amending the Constitution to Congress, acting as a constituent assembly (Consa).

“At present, the position of the administration and Congress is to do it through constituent assembly,” Ermita said.

VAT profiteers face raps, loss of permits (

The government warned it will cancel the permits of retailers taking advantage of the higher value added tax to jack up prices and file criminal charges against those caught overpricing more than once.

The value added tax rose to 12 percent from 10 percent effective yesterday, triggering fears of price gouging.

But Trade Secretary Peter Favila said the government would go after profiteers even as he released a primer indicating the suggested retail prices of basic commodities such as canned goods, milk, and instant noodles.

“Unscrupulous profiteers should be warned that we will not hesitate to take action against those who will take advantage of the VAT increase,” he told a press briefing in Malacañang.

“We will publish these price lists to guide consumers as to just how much they should pay,” he said, adding three traders at the Trabajo Market in Manila were fined for jacking up their prices even before the new tax rate had taken effect.

Fertilizer fund traced to solon's foundation (

CEBU CITY -- The foundation that was to implement the Department of Agriculture's controversial hybrid rice program in Cebu's third district has the same address and phone number as the office and clinic of the district's representative, Antonio Yapha.

The people behind the foundation are employees of Yapha, a physician and one of the three Cebuano lawmakers who benefited from the DA's Hybrid Rice Commercialization (HRC) program. Yapha received P3 million, according to DA records.

The foundation was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission on May 30, 2002, under the name "Kasosyo Foundation." Its given address was Cebu City, with phone number 412-5773; its registration number was A200208333.

Per SEC records, its president, Wilfredo Camomot, was Yapha's speechwriter, who died of cardiac arrest on Aug. 23, 2004.

The other incorporators -- Ofelio Puno, Abundio Elle and Monico Baron -- are either related to or working for Yapha.

When the Inquirer dialed the number, it turned out to be the phone of Yapha's clinic cum district office at the Visayas Community Medical Center on Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City.

The woman who answered the phone was Nida Ordeniza, who said she was Yapha's secretary.

Asked if she was connected with the Kasosyo Foundation, Ordeniza said she had no knowledge of it. But when the Inquirer mentioned Camomot's name, she became evasive and said she could not answer questions because she was eating.

The Inquirer called again about 30 minutes later, but a male staff member said Ordeniza had left.

5 soldiers questioned for aiding Magdalo (

FIVE marines are being questioned for allegedly helping Capt. Nicanor Faeldon move around while he was in hiding for more than a month before his recapture on Jan. 27.
Pvts. Lorenzo Caranzo and Hardy Glaraga were taken to the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) compound in Camp Aguinaldo after they arrived at the Manila Domestic Airport on a Cebu Pacific flight from Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

Three other unnamed marines who are already in custody will also be questioned at the Isafp headquarters, said Armed Forces spokesman Col. Tristan Kison yesterday.

Kison told a press briefing that Caranzo and Glaraga were among the 185 soldiers charged before a military court for their participation in the short-lived Oakwood mutiny in July 2003 but they were released in May 2005 after they struck a plea bargain with military prosecutors.

“They were part of the Magdalo group that staged the failed mutiny and were the same persons who were charged and demoted two ranks lower for their involvement in that foiled uprising,” Kison said.

The two were fetched from Puerto Princesa where they were assigned, said Col. Gaudencio Pangilinan, chief of the military Counter-Intelligence Group.

Their names were found on a list of Faeldon’s contacts, Pangilinan said.

He added that Faeldon positively identified the two as his contacts.

Kison said the military may file appropriate charges against the two marine privates, depending on what is learned from their debriefing.

Luisita asks TRO on stock deal with farmers (

The Hacienda Luisita Inc. on Wednesday petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the implementation of the Department of Agrarian Reform order voiding its stock distribution option agreement with its farmer-beneficiaries.

In an 88-page pleading, Hacienda Luisita Inc. said the agreement was made pursuant to the mandate of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.

The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council earlier nullified the agreement described as a scheme meant to circumvent the law. The resolution was affirmed by Agrarian Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.

The petitioners also alleged that the council and Pangandaman violated the contractual and property rights enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

Senators hold DENR's P5-B budget (

To force Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Michael Defensor into testifying in its budget hearing, the Senate committee of the whole on Wednesday froze the proposed P5.59-billion allocation for his department.

The senators were annoyed to learn that the DENR has had two officers-in-charge since January 17: Undersecretary Armando de Castro from January 17 to 30 and Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio from January 31 to February 10.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said that questions about DENR policies could not be answered authoritatively by OICs who are replaced every two weeks.

"This is the first time I have seen a revolving door of OICs, and of a secretary on leave determining who should be the OIC. The office of the secretary has a public character; is not a fiefdom of anybody," Drilon said.

He said Defensor should decide whether he should return to the DENR or take up his new post in Malacañan. Defensor went on leave from the department on January 17 when he was named presidential chief of staff in a concurrent capacity. He replaced Rigoberto Tiglao, who was appointed ambassador to Greece.

SC upholds Desierto decision on PCGG vs Imelda Marcos, Tan (

THE Supreme Court has cleared former Ombudsman Aniano Desierto of any wrongdoing in his dismissal of graft charges against former first lady Imelda Marcos, tycoon Lucio Tan and several other people in the sale for P150 million of a block of shares in a five-star hotel held by the Development Bank of the Philippines 26 years ago.

The court said Desierto -- Ombudsman from 1995 to 2002 -- did not commit any grave abuse of discretion or cause “undue injury to the government” when he dismissed the case filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government against Marcos, Tan, and several officials of DBP and Sipalay Trading Corp. (STC) in 1997.

“The Ombudsman correctly found that some of the essential elements of the offense charged are not present. Verily, we cannot attribute any arbitrariness or despotism to him,” it added in a decision penned by Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez.

The PCGG had charged Tan, Marcos and officials of STC and DBP with violation of the anti-graft law for the alleged anomalous sale of DBP’s shares in Maranao Hotel Resort Corp. (MHRC), which then owned the Century Park Sheraton Hotel, to Tan’s STC.

“We agree with the Ombudsman that in approving the sale of the shareholdings, private respondent DBP officials did not give unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference to STC,” the court said, adding that they had “acted in good faith, and sound exercise of judgment.”
Newsbriefs 31 January Afternoon
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

House panel junks 'no-el' proposal

The House of Representatives Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday junked a proposal to scrap the 2007 mid-term elections, DZMM reported.

Voting 14-3, congressmen disapproved the proposal by the Consultative Commission (Con-Com), which would have extended term limits for lawmakers and local government officials.

The three lawmakers who voted in favor of term extension were Reps. Douglas Cagas, Victoria Reyes and Carmen Cari.

There will be elections in 2007, promises Palace

Malacañang Tuesday has firmly come down on the side of having national elections in 2007.

However, Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye clarified that, "There will be elections in 2007 but we can be sure that President Arroyo will serve her full term unless the people say otherwise in a Constitutionally-sanctioned process."

The Palace had pushed yesterday for parliamentary elections in 2007, effectively dropping the no-election proposal of the consultative commission (con-com) that was opposed by former President Fidel Ramos, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, government officials and various sectors.

3 solons got funds from DA program before 2004 polls—exec (

THREE lawmakers from Cebu province allegedly received funds from the Department of Agriculture's Hybrid Rice Commercialization (HRC) Program several days before the 2004 election, an agriculture official told the Senate on Tuesday.

Eduardo Lecciones, DA regional director for Central Visayas, testified that Representatives Antonio Cuenco (Second District of Cebu City), Simeon Kintanar (Second District of Cebu province), and Antonio Yapha (Third District of Cebu province) were given 5.4 million pesos on May 3, 2004.

Lecciones said nine million pesos were allotted for Cebu, but only 60 percent of the money was transferred that day.

He said Jocelyn Bolante had authorized the release of the funds through foundations, including one called Kasosyo (Associate) Foundation.

Senate committee offers P20,000-reward for Bolante arrest (

AN INITIAL 20,000-peso reward has been put up by a Senate committee for information that will lead to the arrest of a former agriculture official who has repeatedly refused to attend Senate inquiries on a scam involving the use of fertilizer funds, a senator said.

Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. head of the committee on agriculture and food, enjoined the public on Tuesday to contribute to the reward money to be given to anyone who could bring about the arrest of former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante who had not attended the hearings since he was first invited on Oct. 6, 2005.

Magsaysay said reports by his committee and the committee on public accountability of public officials and investigations (blue ribbon) on their joint investigation into the 780 million-peso fertilizer fund mess had identified Bolante as the “master architect of the grand agro theft.”

Four dead, 2 hurt in new MILF-AFP clashes (

Fresh fighting broke out between the military and the main Islamic separatist group in Mindanao, rebel and military officials said on Tuesday, as the two sides prepared for peace talks set to be held next week.

Col. Gerry Jalandoni, the brigade commander in Maguindanao area on Mindanao, said four rebels were killed and two militiamen wounded when members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked government positions in Datu Unsay town on Monday.

"We only defended our positions," Jalandoni said, adding that an undetermined number of rebels were wounded when the army sent reinforcements to push back the attackers.

But the MILF gave a different account of the clash, saying the fighting was triggered by an army attack on rebel positions and that one rebel was killed and eight wounded.

The country's largest Muslim rebel group also said it was worried that fighting might escalate into full-blown hostilities and affect the upcoming peace talks, to be held in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

"The incident would certainly affect the peace process," the MILF's chief negotiator, Mohaqher Iqbal, told Reuters by telephone.

"We protest the military attack. This is a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement."

Government and MILF peace negotiators are due to resume talks on February 6 to 7 in Kuala Lumpur as part of efforts to set up an ancestral homeland for four million Muslims in the southern part of the mostly Roman Catholic nation.

Since March 2001, Malaysia has been hosting talks between the two sides to end a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and delayed development of the impoverished but resource-rich southern island of Mindanao.

AFP: Shoot-to-kill order for mutineers last option (

The military on Tuesday said it will only shoot the four escaped Oakwood mutineers if they attempt to resist arrest.

Armed Forces spokesman Col. Tristan Kison said soldiers and policemen must use all means to arrest the plotters and only use the shoot-to-kill order as a last resort.

"Our soldiers and policemen know that they should only use sufficient amount of force in arresting the four," Kison told DZMM.

He added: "Now what is sufficient amount of force? This will depend on the circumstances of the arrest. If the accused fights back or even tries to fight back, [authorities] can shoot to kill."

A newspaper report earlier quoted Maj. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, chief of the Northern Luzon Command, saying he has issued a shoot-to-kill order for
Capt. Nathaniel Rabonza and 1Lts. Laurence San Juan, Sony Sarmiento and Patricio Bumidang. The four bolted from the detention facility in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig on January 17.

Court resets hearing after mutineers' no show (

The Makati Regional Trial Court on Tuesday postponed its hearing on the rebellion case of the Oakwod mutineers after the accused failed to appear before the court.

Judge Oscar Pimentel set the next hearing for February 14 after prosecutors moved for the postponement, citing a plan to rescue the mutineers.

Pimentel also approved a petition by the defense panel for an ocular inspection of the officers' detention cells.

Roel Pulido, lawyer of Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, earlier claimed that his client was tortured after being recaptured by the military last Friday. He added that the military decided not to present his client to media scrutiny since doing so would prove his claim.

Armed Forces spokesman Col. Tristan Kison denied Pulido's claim, adding that Faeldon was being kept in a decent cell.
Newsbriefs 31 January Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

VAT increase to hike fuel prices by P3/l (

EXPECT pump prices to go up by P2.50 to P3 a liter if world crude prices remain high and the new value added tax (VAT) rate of 12 percent kicks in by February, a consumer group warned yesterday.

Consumer and Oil Price Watch Chairman Raul Concepcion told reporters that the estimated increase would apply to small oil companies that import finished petroleum products. Oil refiners would show a lower increase, he said.

Concepcion’s warning came as Finance Secretary Margarito Teves recommended that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo raise the VAT rate by 2 percent under the Expanded Value Added Tax Law.

Under the law, the finance secretary may recommend to the President an increase in the VAT rate if the ratio of VAT collections to the gross domestic product (GDP) exceeds 2.8 percent or if the ratio of the budget deficit to GDP exceeds 1.5 percent.

Statistics showed that VAT collections reached P156.82 billion in 2005, or about 2.92 percent of the nominal GDP of P5.379 trillion.

On the other hand, the budget deficit of P146.5 billion last year accounted for about 2.72 percent of GDP.

Automated 2007 elections look dim (

WITH LESS than two years to go, IT experts are not that optimistic that the country’s election system could be fully automated in time for the 2007 mid-term elections.

Gus Lagman, adviser of the Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines, admitted on Monday that the timetable for such an automated system would be too “tight.”

“We’re only 17 months away. It would take three months before that (modernization) law could be passed. So we’re left with 14 months. And then the bidding process normally takes several months, maybe 90 days,” Lagman told a Senate hearing on the electoral system.

“That’s going to leave us 11 months to procure and implement the system, and educate the voters,” he added.

Educating the electorate on the new system would also take several months, he stressed.

Elena Van Tooren, president of the Philippine Computer Society, said it would take at least two years to implement an automated system.

She cautioned against rushing into a system that was being tried only for the first time.

She also said that, owing to many questions about the credibility and integrity of the whole process, “it may take a while to build this credibility and transparency in the process.”

Lagman, Tooren and other IT experts appeared at the hearing on three Senate bills seeking to amend RA 8436, which authorized the Commission on Elections to use automated counting machines in the May 1998 elections.

GMA, foes all say bishops are right

Reactions to the pastoral letter issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Sunday were varied but most, if not all, toed party lines.

As expected, Malacañan on Monday welcomed the challenge posed by the CBCP for the government to give importance to the renewal of public life through moral values, national solidarity, ascendancy of truth, welfare of the poor and heroic Christian citizenship.

In a statement Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said President Arroyo has acknowledged the pastoral statement with humility and an open mind.

"We are open to all just and fair means under the law to ferret out the truth surrounding all controversies affecting the presidency," Bunye said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita also stressed that the CBCP’s appeal to put a stop to destructive politics has vindicated President Arroyo’s repeated call for our people to put an end to divisive politics.

Opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said, however, that the President should heed the CBCP call by immediately resigning.

Another oppositionist, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, went further by saying that as in previous instances, Malacañan has again twisted the message conveyed by the CBCP by saying that President Arroyo has always been supportive of efforts to get to the bottom of all controversies affecting the presidency.

Lacson said the President should concede that the 2004 elections were tainted as asserted by the CBCP and that she managed to wriggle out of the impeachment charges filed against her in the House of Representatives by the sheer power of her allies in the majority who voted to dismiss the complaints.

An ally of the President in the Senate, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, said the CBCP statement has both good and bad news for Mrs. Arroyo.

"The good news is that the CBCP rejects extraconstitutional means of changing the government. This means goodbye EDSA, coup d’état," she said.

The bad news is that the CBCP sees no closure to the charge of electoral fraud against the President in 2004. "This means the CBCP will support another round of impeachment proceedings against the President."

Ten million Filipinos at risk from church call to ban mining: industry (

A senior Philippine industry executive warned Monday that up to 10 million people were at risk of economic dislocation over calls by the country's dominant Roman Catholic church to outlaw the multi billion dollar mining industry.

Saying the country's 1995 mining law "destroys life" and produces "evil effects," the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Sunday urged President Gloria Arroyo to "recall all approved mining concessions and to disapprove pending applications."

The statement, issued by the local Roman Catholic leadership at its annual conclave, cited risks to potential "massive environmental damage" and the industry's supposed failure to uplift the lives of residents of resources-rich areas.

Chamber of Mines of the Philippines president Benjamin Philip Romualdez said the industry, which is expected to have annual turnover of about five billion dollars this year, was surprised by the "very sweeping and extreme position" that the bishops have taken.

He urged church leaders to reconsider their position, which he said would be "very detrimental to the country."

Palace reverses position on polls

MALACAÑANG back- pedaled on a plan to shelve the 2007 elections, but insisted yesterday that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would remain in office through parliamentary races next year.

“The 2007 elections will be held but as we have agreed during the Lakas National Directorate meeting, the mandate of the President and the vice president will not be touched,” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Ermita’s statement was a step back from his earlier refusal to abandon the no-election plan proposed by the Consultative Commission (ConCom) established by the President to recommend changes to the Constitution.

Ermita also expressed confidence that Congress would be able to decide on Charter changes over the next 16 months to pave the way for a shift to a parliamentary system of government by next year.

While Speaker Jose de Venecia has yet to convince his Senate counterparts to join a bicameral body to tackle Charter Change, the House of Representatives appears poised to adopt a blueprint submitted by the now-defunct ConCom.

Under the blueprint, Mrs. Arroyo will share equal powers with the elected prime minister, with both stripped of the power to dissolve parliament.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, can only be removed from power through impeachment, while the prime minister may be removed by a no-confidence vote.

The no-election proposal had come under increasing criticism from Congress and was described by former President Fidel Ramos as “a disaster waiting to happen.”

Over the weekend, that criticism was joined by Catholic bishops, who objected strongly to the plan.

Palace won't initiate moves to revive wiretapping probe (

DESPITE recognizing a call by an influential group of Catholic bishops to pursue the truth on a wiretapping scandal that has linked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to cheating in the 2004 election, Malacañang said it would not initiate moves for another investigation.

Tossing the task to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor said the CBCP could instead form a committee and look into the controversy.

"Maybe within the CBCP a committee can be formed. We will be including all the other leaders of the different churches. We will be most willing to participate," Defensor said in an interview.

"There are constitutionally mandated bodies to do that and we are most willing to join and participate. It should not be coming from Malacañang," he said.

"We just have to wait for the proper time and the proper forum and the proper procedure in which people can bring out a complaint," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

"It's not for us to raise our hands and volunteer ourselves that we want to be investigated because we will tell the truth. That's not the way it is. Let somebody bring it out," Ermita said.

"There is a way that we can prove to the good bishops what the administration is doing everything [to unearth the truth]," Ermita said.

Prosecutors ask court to arraign 4 US marines (

GOVERNMENT prosecutors are set to ask the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court to set the arraignment of the four American soldiers who were charged with raping a 22-year old Filipina in Nov. 1 last year.

Olongapo City Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni yesterday said he will file a motion asking Judge Renato Dilag to reverse his decision suspending the arraignment of US S/Sgt. Chad Carpentier, L/Cpls. Daniel Smith, Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis until Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has resolved the motions for review submitted by the defense.

Jalandoni said Dilag has to reconsider his decision because the DoJ secretary has 60 days to resolve the motions for review, while the court has only 30 days within which to set the arraignment from the time the case is filed.

He said this situation could lead to a dangerous predicament since the prescribed period for the court to set the arraignment is running out.

Under the rules, the court has 30 days within which to set the arraignment from the time the case is filed. Arraignment allows the accused to face the complainant and to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty for the crime allegedly committed.

“The court did not fix a limit. We will try to convince the court and ask an affirmative relief that he set the arraignment even if the DoJ has not yet resolved the motions for review of the US Marines,” Jalandoni said.

“We have to follow the law. They (accused) have not filed yet a motion to defer, but the court has already decided to defer the arraignment,” Jalandoni said.

Senate slams PCGG deals, scraps budget (

THE Senate yesterday scrapped the entire budget of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) after its chairman refused to answer questions of senators on the reported deal between the agency and business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco.

In yesterday’s hearing on the proposed 2006 budget for PCGG, Senator Joker Arroyo asked Chairman Camilo Sabio whether or not the decision to enter into a settlement with Cojuangco on the P50 billion coconut levy was authorized by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In refusing to answer the question, Sabio invoked Executive Order 1, dated Feb. 28, 1986, creating the commission and giving it the task to recover ill-gotten wealth.

Sabio noted that under EO 1 “no member or staff of the commission shall testify or produce evidence in any judicial, legislative or administrative proceedings concerning matters within its official cognizance.”

“With due respect and deep regrets, I beg leave not to be forced to answer this,” Sabio said.

The senator, however, pressed on, saying all the Senate wants to know is whether the decision to enter into the reported compromise has been cleared with the President.

“We are talking here of a P50 billion settlement, and I said this is not the kind of settlement that can be entered into by the chairman of the PCGG (alone),” Arroyo said.

Sabio again refused to answer the question.

“You asked for a budget, but you refuse to answer questions. No way will we give you your budget,” Arroyo warned.

Senator Manny Villar, who acted as chairman of the hearing, then noted that since PCGG was not willing to answer any questions, “then I see no reason why they are still here. It is very clear that you are not going to present your budget.”

At this point, Sabio began to leave but Senator Juan Ponce Enrile announced that PCGG has yet to give to him certain documents that he requested earlier.

Among others, Enrile has asked PCGG earlier to furnish the Senate with a listing of all the companies taken over by the commission, indicating their condition at the time of the takeover and their present condition.

Senate now probing hybrid-rice program (

Neophyte Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III of Quezon called for a congressional inquiry last week into the alleged mishandling of the multimillion fund for the government’s hybrid-rice commercialization program.

On Monday it was the turn of two senators to file a resolution seeking to investigate the alleged misuse of the program’s fund, hinting at its possible diversion to finance the campaign of President Arroyo in the 2004 elections.

Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, has filed a resolution directing his committee to probe the program and the alleged mismanagement of its funds.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has also filed a resolution directing an inquiry into the alleged misuse of P26.1-million funds in the hybrid-rice program.

Both resolutions cited Article 2, Section 21 of the Constitution mandating that "the State shall promote comprehensive rural development and agrarian reform."

In his resolution Magsaysay said that under the program, the government would provide massive subsidy in the purchase of hybrid-rice seeds for distribution to local government units, nongovernment and people’s organizations.

It was the Philippine Rice Research Institute which first managed and carried out the program, but this was moved from the Department of Agriculture to the Office of the President and reverted to the department in 2005.

Magsaysay said a Special Allotment Release Order on April 28, 2004, released P544 million of the Marcos wealth for a hybrid-rice commercialization program.

The Commission on Audit discovered that the program could not properly account for more than P55.7 million as of December 2004 and that financial reports did not adequately cover the P945-million hybrid-rice funds of 2004, Magsaysay said in his resolution.
Newsbriefs 26 January Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

VFA office abolished

THE EXECUTIVE director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACom) appears headed to losing his office a day after he warned against the proposed junking of the controversial agreement.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has decided to abolish the commission because it "duplicates" the functions of the bicameral Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA (LOVFA), Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said yesterday.

Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo also indicated that Zosimo Paredes -- the most often quoted official of the commission since the alleged rape of a Filipino woman by a group of US Marines last Nov. 1 -- could not speak in behalf of the administration on the VFA.

"[Ms Arroyo] is convinced that [the VFACom] is redundant because it duplicates the work of the LOVFA, and it requires an appropriation of P20 million a year," Santiago said, adding:

Malacañang waffles on ’07 elections (

THE Palace sent out mixed signals yesterday over a proposal to scrub the 2007 midterm elections, with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita contradicting Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye’s assessment of Tuesday’s Council of State meeting.

After the four-hour meeting, Bunye said most of the members of the advisory Council were against canceling the 2007 elections.

In remarks yesterday, however, Ermita denied Bunye’s conclusion and said the no-election proposal was not even extensively discussed.

“There was no consensus, although I do not want to be the one to disprove what the good press secretary said,” Ermita said.

A Council communique prepared by Malacañang did not mention the no-election plan, but the document was neither approved nor adopted by the 75 political and economic leaders who joined the meeting.

Aquino says too much focus on Charter change (

THE WOMAN who created the Council of State in 1987 said she had no regrets about not attending the council meeting called by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Tuesday.

Former President Corazon Aquino, who celebrated her 73rd birthday yesterday, formed the council to advise the incumbent President on pressing issues that impact on the national welfare.

"I just heard what Senator Kiko Pangilinan had said. He was saying that he thought more issues would have been addressed. I supposed there was much focus on Charter change," Aquino said.

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, who was present at the meeting, lamented that the executive order creating the council was meant to be "an advisory body to the President and should not have been a platform to push for Cha-cha (Charter change)."

Other administration senators told the Inquirer that instead of a dialogue, they were treated to "lectures" on the urgency of changing the Constitution.

Asked if the council just wasted its time, Aquino quipped: "Not really. I was not there so I'm in no position to say they wasted their time or not."

While she welcomed the council's decision to proceed with the local and national elections in 2007, more pressing issues like poverty should have been tackled instead of Charter change, Aquino said.

Influential bishops may intervene in Estrada case (

MANILA (AFP) - Influential Roman Catholic Bishops in the Philippines said Wednesday they may intervene in the corruption case of former president Joseph Estrada, whom they helped topple in 2001.

Estrada had written a "humble letter of appeal" for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to support him in his case pending before a special graft court.

While the church hierarchy does not have a say in judicial matters, it is a political force in this largely Roman Catholic nation and its support is key to shaping public opinion.

"I hope that the truth shall eventually give me back my freedom," Estrada said in his letter, adding that his case has dragged on for five years without an immediate resolution in sight.

The ex-president asked the bishops to provide "a moral and detached assessment" of his case.

Archbishop Oscar Quevedo, a senior CBCP member, said the bishops will discuss Estrada's case when the group holds an annual plenary later this week.

Comelec eyes Indian automated poll system (
THE Commission on Elections now wants to use Indian voting technology that is being used to count 700 million election returns written in 15 languages in just three hours.

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos said he has abandoned the poll body’s original modernization and computerization programs and is now supporting the system developed entirely in India.

Abalos proposed the acquisition of tens of thousands of the two-piece, battery-operated devices presented to local media yesterday by Indian Chief Election Commissioner B.B. Tandon and Raggesh Aggarwal, an Indian technical expert.

The Comelec chairman said he has also been offered modern election management technology from suppliers in countries like Japan and the United States, to replace the “primitive” system used in the Philippines.

Comelec Commissioner Resurreccion Borra said the agency has asked for the approval of a P1.3 billion outlay for the modernization program.

Abalos said he invited Tandon and Aggarwal to the House of Representatives to convince legislators to approve a bill that would allow alternative means of computerizing the elections.
Newsbriefs 24 January Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

AFP: Military plot vs Arroyo exists

The Armed Forces leadership on Monday confirmed the existence of a plot to overthrow the Arroyo administration being hatched by disaffected members of the military.

The AFP chief, Gen. Generoso Senga, disclosed that military operatives have seen "some indications" to show that rumors of this plot are true.

"There are some indications of intentions on the ground and we are verifying their extent," Senga told reporters at an early-morning press conference at Camp Aguinaldo.

He was flanked by the Army chief, Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the Air Force chief, Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes, and the Navy chief, Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga. It was a virtual show of force and unity of the AFP services.

"There is a threat. This is the object of our intelligence effort. At this point I cannot say that the threat is that serious. This is something we should take seriously and for our operatives to determine," Senga added.

He said AFP intelligence is verifying if the coup threat is originating from within or outside the ranks of the military.

Pressed by reporters, he declined to elaborate on the "indications" of the military-coup plot.

"We have some leads. We know some of them. We are verifying these. But intentions are different from capabilities. I think we should not discuss them now," Senga said.

An additional set of "hotline" numbers was announced on Monday for informants to use.

These are 0916-2637245 and 0921-2275670. The old number is 0915-2546579.

Mindanao EU visitors get MILF peace vow (

ZAMBOANGA CITY - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Monday assured the European Union of its commitment to sign a peace agreement with the Philippine government and end more than three decades of bloody fighting in the southern Philippines.

Muhammad Ameen, secretary of the MILF Central Committee, said his group is optimistic that it will soon finally seal an agreement with the government. The agreement will be just, lasting, he said, and it will comprehensively address the root cause of the conflict in Mindanao.

"We are really optimistic and we hope the MILF and the Philippines will be able to sign a peace agreement soon," he said after a group of European Union ambassadors, led by Jan De Kok, inspected EU-funded projects in the Muslim autonomous region last week.

The MILF has repeatedly appealed for aid from donor countries to help develop war-torn areas and provide basic health services to Muslims in Mindanao.

Even admin senators cool to Council (

Only two pro-administration senators favor Malacañang’s move to convene the Council of State today, while three of their colleagues doubt it will produce substantial results.

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said he would attend the meeting, set for 10 a.m. at Malacañang.

"I may have differences with the current leadership but whether we like it or not, GMA is still the President and as such, out of respect for the office, I will attend the Council of State meeting," he said.

Pangilinan is a member of a Liberal Party faction that withdrew support from President Arroyo at the early stage of the political crisis last year.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, who heads the LP as president and head of the party faction, is not attending the meeting.

Sen. Manuel Roxas II is not a member of the council but nevertheless agrees that a meeting is in order.

Sen. Manuel Villar, meanwhile, has not yet decided if he will attend. Villar heads the Nacionalista Party.

"I have not consulted with members of the party," he said.

Council of State meets without opposition (

The Council of State meeting opens Tuesday in Malacañan as scheduled by the President with her critics continuing to call it a "no-account event" that is less important than the Ledac (Legislative-Executive Development Council).

Sen. Joker Arroyo, quoting the President and her key people, said Monday in a press statement, "Attendance is desired but not required, so the Council of State is no big deal."

In the House of Representatives the opposition bloc reiterated its stand to boycott the meeting.

"No one from our ranks will attend the Council of State meeting," said Rep. Francis Escudero, leader of the House opposition and spokesman for the United Opposition.

Joker: Is the money for HR victims intact? (

SENATOR Joker Arroyo yesterday asked the Department of Budget and Management to reveal if the P10 billion share of human rights victims in the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos regime is still intact and available for disbursement.

Arroyo said the P10 billion is part of the $718,764,000, or over P35 billion, that the government has recovered from the Marcos regime.

The senator made the call after DBM officials failed to assure senators yesterday that the government is not dipping its hands in the funds for its own purposes.

During the hearing on the DBM’s proposed 2006 budget, Secretary Romulo Neri told the senators that the government has already set aside P8 billion from the recovered Marcos money for the human rights victims.

But Arroyo noted that pending measures in both the Senate and the House of Representatives call for the allocation of P10 billion from the recovered wealth for the compensation of the human rights victims.

“They cannot make a categorical statement that the P10 billion earmarked for human rights victims is really intact and won’t be touched in case of emergency. They cannot give us an assurance that the government won’t touch it,” Arroyo said.

P27B of seized Marcos funds gone, Senate told (

THE P27 BILLION for land reform drawn from the P35 billion in Swiss bank deposits of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, which the government got hold of in 2004, is now “practically gone,” a budget official told the Senate yesterday.

Nora C. Oliveros, a director at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), said only P5 billion remained of the confiscated Marcos wealth after P8 billion was set aside to compensate the human rights victims of martial law.

However, the remaining P5 billion will be used by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) this year.

“(It’s) practically gone, your Honor,” Oliveros said during the Senate hearing on the DBM budget.

Senate President Franklin Drilon ordered DBM officials to explain why and how the Marcos funds were used, including P4.9 billion that was released right before the May 2004 elections.

He surmised that part of it went to the P728-million fertilizer fund that the Department of Agriculture (DA) released just before the elections allegedly to help finance the campaign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“So, the Marcos wealth is all finished. The P35 billion is all spent because you need P16 billion this year (for CARP) and you have only P5 billion left. So, the P35 billion is all spent,” Drilon said.

Meter keeps running on Marcoses (

WHILE the Marcoses have stubbornly defied the United States Ninth District Court’s final judgment to indemnify the 9,539 victims of human rights violations 20 years after the class suit against the Marcos Estate has been filed and won, the meter keeps on running.

The Marcoses now owe the victims of torture, disappearances and summary executions and their heirs some $392,817 each or P20.82 million, for a total of $3.8 billion.

According to American lawyer Robert Swift, lead counsel of the plaintiffs, the sum awarded has grown from $2 billion to $3,747,087,686.77 due to compounded interest.

The original $2 billion was awarded on Feb. 3, 1995, when the US District Court in Hawaii rendered its final judgment in the case of Hilao vs Estate of Ferdinand Marcos Multi-District Litigation 840 ordering the Marcos Estate to pay the victims compensatory and exemplary damages.

Thus, from only $204,000 per victim when the $2 billion was first awarded, the Marcoses will now have to shell out $392,817 to “satisfy the final judgment.”

According to Swift, a federal statute in the US governs the interest rate that is due on an unpaid judgment.

DFA ordered to save Filipina sentenced to die in Kuwait (

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to do everything they can to save a Filipina teacher set to hang in Kuwait for killing her boss there.

“The President has instructed the DFA to look into the plight of Marilou Ranario, and to exhaust all diplomatic and legal means to save her life,” Malacañang spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait was negotiating with the family of the victim to accept blood money in return for Ranario’s life, while a separate appeal before the court was being pursued by her two Kuwaiti defense lawyers hired by the mission, the DFA said yesterday.

Ranario, 33, a native of Surigao del Sur, was found guilty on September 28 last year of stabbing her employer to death. The DFA did not provide details of the stabbing incident, but reports said she retaliated for the “insults” hurled on “her people.”

The court has yet to set a date of execution by hanging (not beheading, as earlier reported in a local paper).

Hero’s welcome awaits Pacquiao (

The House of Representatives is set to give the highest commendation to Manny Pacquiao even as the nation prepares a hero’s welcome for the Filipino boxing champion.

The gesture was prompted by three resolutions filed separately yesterday by Representatives Eduardo Gullas of Cebu, Juan Miguel Zubiri of Bukidnon and Darlene Antonino-Custodio of South Cotabato, which is bounded in the south by General Santos City, hometown of the fighter also known as "Pacman."

Pacquiao stopped Erik Morales in the 10th round over the weekend, vindicating himself in the grudge match in Las Vegas, Nevada after a heartbreaking loss to the Mexican in March last year.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bong Revilla asked Malacañang to declare Pacquiao’s arrival date in Manila a non-working holiday, saying the boxing sensation "deserves a hero’s welcome after he gave every Filipino "a much-needed respite from talk of disunity and instability."
"Especially over the weekend when talks of a pending coup d’état went around," Revilla said in a statement.

US troops arrive in Sulu (

US troops have started arriving in Sulu for Exercise Balikatan (BK) 2006, which will run from Feb. 20 to March 5 and focus on humanitarian and engineering activities to help residents of the province.

Aside from Sulu, the joint military exercise will also be held simultaneously in Cebu and certain parts of Luzon.

"The exercise demonstrates US resolve, consistent with the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement, to train, advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)," read a fact sheet released by the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

The joint exercise "will inject thousands of US dollars into the Sulu economy in the purchase of local supplies, contracted services and other exercise-related expenditures," the fact sheet read.

Some 5,500 US military personnel and 2,800 Filipino soldiers are to take part in the joint exercises all over the country, with the aim of improving "inter-operability" between the allies.

Approximately 150 Filipino soldiers and 250 American troops will conduct multiple medical, dental, veterinary and engineering civic action projects in Sulu under the Project Bayanihan, an agreement under the Mutual Defense Treaty that provides the framework for humanitarian and civic action programs in Mindanao.
Newsbriefs 19 January Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

Lozano case rejection won’t faze opposition

Gladdened by the House of Representatives secretary-general’s rejection of the impeachment complaint against President Arroyo filed by the lawyer Oliver Lozano, the opposition said on Wednesday its own complaint will have a bigger chance of making it.

The House minority leader, Rep. Francis Escudero, also said what Lozano did in getting ahead of refiling opposition’s endorsed impeachment complaint did not affect them in any way.

"We had nothing to do with what Lozano did. It does not affect us in any way," Escudero said.

New witnesses to face Senate wiretap hearing (

The Senate Committee on National Defense resumes its hearing today, Thursday, on the "Hello Garci" tapes, focusing on the wiretapping aspect of the conversation between President Arroyo and former Commission on Election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, committee chairman, said six new witnesses will testify.
Biazon earlier said the three new tapes will be played in Thursday’s inquiry.

"We will determine if there were other people besides the President and Garcillano whose phone conversations were wiretapped during the 2004 elections," Biazon said.

Senate sources on Wednesday said that former senator Gregorio Honasan was invited to the hearing.

But Honasan expressed reservations because the issue of the escape from prison of the soldiers in the failed Oakwood mutiny of 2003 "has become too complicated and too hot to handle," the source said.

The informant said Honasan was invited because his wiretapped conversation with "someone" will also be played.

The former senator was the head of security of the late presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. He also had the task to oversee sample ballot distribution until the Holy Week of 2004.

The source said Honasan’s conversation with a general was tapped, prompting Biazon to say the hearing would be "explosive" because of the new witnesses.

"Generals will attend the hearing to shed light on the matter," the senator said.

Army knew of escape plan (

IT'S A CASE of being forewarned but not being forearmed, if the military is to be believed.

Four Army junior officers who took part in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny pulled off their escape from a high-security detention center in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City on Tuesday night although the Army officials supposedly knew of their plan.

Captain Nathaniel Rabonza and 1st Lieutenants Lawrence San Juan, Sonny Sarmiento and Patricio Bumindang Jr. escaped several hours after they attended a hearing at a Makati Regional Trial Court.

Exactly how the four escaped remained a mystery. At 8 a.m. yesterday, 11 hours after the discovery of the escape, Army chief Lieutenant General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told reporters the military had known about the plan to break loose and had tried to preempt it.

Esperon said he ordered the transfer of the four mutineers from the Custodial Management Unit (CMU) to a nearby building on Tuesday afternoon to prevent them from escaping.

"They were supposed to be transferred but there was a discussion with the lawyer. There was a delay and so they had an opportunity to escape," Esperon told reporters.

Magdalo lawyer, senators don't buy story (

LAWYER Roel Pulido is not buying the Army's story that four more Oakwood mutineers have escaped from military custody.

At least not yet.

"Until one of them calls me, I'm open to both possibilities," said Pulido, referring to the other possibility that the Army was hiding his clients.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, chair of the Senate committee on national defense, also raised questions about the whereabouts of the four junior officers.

"Did they escape? Where they allowed to escape? Are they being hidden? And the 4th one that I heard this morning, niligpit ba (where they killed)? If they were allowed to escape by certain elements, does this indicate that the sympathy to the Magdalo's cause is widespread?" Biazon said.

"If they escaped, in the face of the fact that there was supposed to be an intelligence report that they were going to escape, this is not a failure of intelligence, (but) a failure in the implementation of the operational unit," Biazon said. "However, if they are being hidden, why are they being hidden?"

US decision on marines won’t affect case --- judge (

THE US refusal to surrender four marines charged with raping a Filipina won’t affect their trial, Judge Renato Dilag said yesterday as the government appealed for calm on a second day of anti-American protests.

The US embassy told the government on Tuesday that it will keep the marines in its custody despite Manila’s request to hand them over, citing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows large-scale American military exercises in the Philippines.
American officials promised to present the accused when needed.

The detention infuriated politicians, some of whom called for the scrapping of VFA, as left-wing protesters rallied in front of the US embassy for the second straight day.

Police said they detained at least three demonstrators who came too close to the fenced compound after breaking away from a group of about 100 activists who shouted “US troops out now” and “Down with US imperialism.”

Government officials came under fire for failing to secure custody of the American servicemen.

In a statement issued yesterday, Rep. Crispin Beltran denounced “a spineless government” represented by inept executives in the foreign affairs and justice departments who “cower in fear before the US.”

Senators want separate vote on Charter change (

Senators on Wednesday insisted on their prerogative to vote on constitutional change separately from the House of Representatives.

They took up the issue of whether the Senate and House should vote separately during the first hearing of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws on Charter change.

Congressmen had said they alone can constitute a constituent assembly and that the three-fourths vote provided for in the Constitution could be settled among themselves. House members also proposed that they can add the 235 members of the House and the 23 members of the Senate and compute what will make up three-fourths.

Under the rules, a three-fourths vote by the House and the Senate is needed to rewrite the Constitution.

Army: No wider destabilization plot (

Security officials dismissed reports yesterday that Tuesday night’s escape of four Oakwood mutineers was part of a wider destabilization plot against President Arroyo.

"We are looking at this as a pure escape," Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said after ordering a full investigation into the escape of the four junior officers who took part in a mutiny against Mrs. Arroyo in July 2003.

Esperon said he did not believe the jailbreak was part of another power grab in the offing.

Following the escape, the military and police were placed on full alert, which also forced the President to cancel her scheduled trip to the Bicol Region and call for an emergency meeting with her security officials.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita admitted the escape was a cause for concern but that he was not "overly alarmed" since the military reported no unauthorized troop movements.

Magdalo escapees: A profile (

They’re young but they have apparently gained enough military expertise to outsmart their elder custodians.

This could explain how Army Capt. Nathaniel Rabonza and 1Lts. Sonny Sarmiento, Patricio Bumindang Jr. and Lawrence San Juan staged their walk-in-the-park escape Tuesday night from the supposedly high-security Army detention facility at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

Rabonza’s profile showed that prior to his involvement in the short-lived July 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny, he was a psychological warfare specialist assigned in the Army’s elite Special Forces.

A 1995 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Rabonza is a close relative of retired Maj. Gen. Glen Rabonza, now the administrator of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, an agency of the Department of National Defense.

San Juan is one of the Army’s counterterrorism experts, having undergone anti-terrorism training here and in the United States.

Before the Oakwood mutiny, San Juan, of PMA Class ’97, was assigned to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Light Reaction Company (LRC), a crack anti-terrorism force.

A product of the PMA Cass ’98, Bumindang received training on mechanized and armored warfare here and in the United States.

He was assigned to the Army Light Armor Regiment before the failed Oakwood uprising.

Sarmiento, a classmate of Bumindang, was an expert infantry officer who led many combat missions fighting Muslim rebels in Mindanao.

Sarmiento, whose last assignment was as a company commander at the Army’s 1st Infantry "Tabak" Division based in Pagadian City, sneaked past tight government security to join the failed military uprising.

Their disappearance from the detention facility of the Army’s Headquarters and Headquarters and Support Group (HHSG) at Fort Bonifacio was only discovered during a head count of detainees at about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

"Alam naman nilang mga members the AFP’s elite force ang mga iyan. Bakit nila hinayaan basta-basta ang mga batang iyan (They knew that they were members of the military’s elite force. Why did they guard them so lightly)?" asked one senior military officer.

Army investigators have yet to determine the exact time the four left their supposedly well-guarded cells undiscovered.

There was speculation that the four had been able to establish outside contacts who aided in their escape.

Prior to their disappearance, the four young officers protested their unauthorized transfer to a maximum-security facility, also located inside the HHSG compound.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. earlier said the four were being transferred following reports that they were planning an escape.

But Esperon’s explanation failed to convince some in the military, claiming that the explanation was rather unusual for an army chief.

"He should know better than that. Kung mayroon report na planong pagtakas ang apat, bakit nakalusot pa? Dapat guardiyado na kaagad (If there was a report that they were planning to escape, how did they get away with it? They should have been closely watched immediately)," one officer wondered.

After the escape, security at Fort Bonifacio was immediately raised to its highest level. Even reporters were initially barred entry to the Army’s public information office.

Maj. Bartolome Bacarro, Army spokesman, also announced yesterday that security at the Army’s detention facility had been doubled.

Visits to Magdalo soldiers detained there were temporarily cancelled.

Prior to the escape of their colleagues, visitors of the detained soldiers, including Army Captains Milo Maestrecampo and Gerardo Gambala, two of the six key leaders of the failed military uprising, were given free access.

Gambala and Maestrecampo were transferred to the Army detention facility where they are free to receive visitors as part of a deal made with the government.

They were previously detained at the detention facility of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) at Camp Aguinaldo where visits are only open to relatives and on a limited basis.

"Doon sa Philippine Army (PA) puwede silang tumanggap ng bisita kahit sino. Maluwag doon (They can receive visitors at the Philippine Army facility. There are less restrictions there)," a military source said. — Jaime Laude

High court junks case vs Northrail

THE Supreme Court yesterday threw out a constitutional challenge to the multibillion-peso Northrail Project in Bulacan.

In a single-page resolution, the 15-member tribunal said the motion for reconsideration filed by the League of Urban Poor for Action was denied with finality because the petitioners failed to raise new arguments to warrant a reversal of its previous ruling.

Last Oct. 11, the urban poor group represented by lawyer Harry Roque petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the Northrail contract unconstitutional.

The high court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction but said the petitioners could file their complaint before the lower courts, which could look into whether competitive biddings were held before the contract was awarded to the China National Machinery and Equipment Corp. (CNMEC), and whether there was a prior appropriation of public funds and certification of its availability by proper accounting officials.

These are matters best left to a lower court, the justices said.
Newsbriefs 18 January Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

4 more Oakwood mutineers escape

FOUR Army junior officers who joined a short-lived mutiny in 2003 escaped late Tuesday evening from a military prison, triggering a security alert, officials said.

First Lieutenants Lawrence San Juan, Sonny Sarmiento, Nathaniel Rabonza and Patricio Bumindang piled up chairs inside their detention cell at Fort Bonifacio and sneaked out of the windows at around 9 p.m., intelligence reports said.

“Yes, there was an escape,” Army Chief Lieutenant General Hermogenes Esperon said in a phone interview with reporters.

"They were found to be absent during an accounting for the night," Army spokesman Major Bartolome Bacarro said, adding that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been informed of the incident and has ordered a massive manhunt and a thorough investigation of what happened.

The jailbreak came a month after Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon, one of the leaders of the failed coup in Makati City, also outsmarted his escorts and fled while taking a break from a court hearing.

“They are now fugitives... Those liable for the escape will be sanctioned,” Bacarro told GMA Network's “Saksi” newscast, as he appealed to the public to help hunt down the escaped mutineers.

Bolante asks SC to stop Senate from arresting him (

Former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante asked the Supreme Court yesterday to stop the Senate from implementing its warrant of arrest issued against him last December for his failure to appear before the hearing involving the P728-million fertilizer scam.

Bolante, in a 27-page petition filed through his lawyer Antonio Zulueta, said he failed to attend the hearings on Oct. 6 and Dec. 12, 2005 because of his prior commitments abroad. However, he would be willing to attend the scheduled Senate hearing on Jan. 23.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, chairman of the Senate committee on accountability and public officers and investigations, and Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., chairman of the committee on agriculture, have cited Bolante for contempt and directed Senate sergeant-at-arms retired Maj. Jose Balajadia Jr. to immediately arrest and detain Bolante.

The Senate committees said Bolante’s failure to appear and testify at the hearings despite personal notice delayed the inquiry.

Bolante argued in his petition, however, that the legislative inquiry conducted by the Senate committees had transcended its limitations and mutated into prosecution or judicial inquiry.

"Petitioner no longer stands as a mere resource person in the investigation but as an accused... The full investigation has already prejudged petitioner. The proceedings have turned into a prosecutorial inquiry in aid of persecution," Bolante said.

House: Impeach rap defective (

The House of Representatives sent back yesterday to Marcos loyalist lawyer Oliver Lozano the impeachment case he re-filed against President Arroyo the day before, calling it "defective."

Roberto Nazareno, the chamber’s secretary, said he returned the complaint to Lozano on the instruction of Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

Nazareno said the complaint filed on Monday was defective since it was not sworn to. Also, it was not endorsed by at least one congressman as required under the rules on impeachment.

He said even if these two requirements had been met, he was not sure if the House could accept the Lozano petition since the one-year protection against further impeachment complaints which Mrs. Arroyo enjoys has not expired.

Malacañang was quick to deny the opposition’s charges that the Arroyo administration had dispatched Lozano to re-file the impeachment complaint to preempt a stronger one to be filed by the opposition later.

"The opposition should be more careful and prudent about their accusations," Palace political adviser Gabriel Claudio said. "Attorney Lozano is not with the administration."

Opposition lawmakers said Lozano’s filing of a new impeachment complaint — which, in fact, is a version of the opposition’s amended complaint — had turned the impeachment process into a "rat race" whereby the first to file would be the one recognized by the House.

For his part, incoming presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said the Palace would face the new impeachment complaint at the appropriate time but was not overly concerned about it.

House committee wants people to decide fate of 2007 polls (

A "WORKING draft proposal" containing a provision that will give the people an option to either retain or scrap the 2007 elections has been adopted by a committee at the House of Representatives tasked to study proposed amendments to the 1987 Charter.

Voting 29-10, the committee on constitutional amendments agreed on Tuesday to adopt its 36 pages of proposed Charter amendments and a page of transitory provisions containing the "no-election" scenario as an option.

The committee proposals also include:

• Extending the three-year term of legislators to five years;

• Allowing the incumbent President to continue as Chief Executive and exercise the same powers under an interim parliament "except those to be delegated to a Prime Minister who shall serve as chief operating officer of the government, conformably with the parliamentary system."

This is contrary to the committee's original approved amendments by the committee where the President will serve as concurrent Prime Minister under an interim parliament.

• Making incumbent members of Congress automatic members of the parliament until their terms end in June 30, 2007 or until the first elections for members of parliament are held in May 2007.

• Allowing senators elected in May 2004 to continue to serve as members of parliament until June 2010.

• Enabling the incumbent Vice President to automatically become a member of parliament and the presiding officer "for the immediate election
of the Prime Minister."

Lakas lawmakers want six senators penalized (

IRATE congressmen moved yesterday to impose sanctions on Lakas senators who snubbed the party’s Jan. 14 national directorate meeting to discuss amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

The move to punish the senators came from Lakas congressmen who said party leaders have the obligation to attend important meetings to help resolve controversial issues such as the proposed Charter amendments and a recommendation to scrub the 2007 elections.

An infuriated Negros Occidental Rep. Monico Puentevella criticized the absentee Lakas senators for acting as if they didn’t care about the party, after benefiting from their affiliation with it.

Puentevella reminded Lakas Senators Juan Flavier, Pia Cayetano, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Richard Gordon, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid about their responsibility to the administration party, which helped them get elected.

“After you won, (you say) goodbye? Where is the decency here?” Puentevella said, addressing himself to the senators on the ANC News Channel. “You should be ashamed.”

SC sets hearing on suit vs EO 464

The Supreme Court has set for Feb. 21 the oral argument on the petition filed by various groups led by Bayan Muna to declare President Arroyo’s controversial Executive Order No. 464 unconstitutional.

In an en banc resolution, the High Tribunal set the oral argument for 1 p.m.

The SC had earlier consolidated the petition for certiorari filed by party-list Reps. Satur Ocampo, Reynaldo Lesaca Jr., Rafael Mariano, Liza Maza, Teodoro Casiño, Joel Virador, the government employees’ group Courage and the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) with a similar petition filed by lawyer Francisco Chavez seeking the issuance of a temporary restraining order on the implementation of EO 464.

The party-list congressmen said EO 464, an order issued by Mrs. Arroyo requiring Cabinet members and officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to get the President’s permission before appearing in any congressional investigations, is unconstitutional and smacked of dictatorship.

"EO 464 is intended to hide facts which may lead to more questions on Mrs. Arroyo’s illegitimate mandate and corrupt practices. By virtue of this presidential fiat, the Executive department arrogated unto itself the power to make itself immune from the oversight functions of Congress," the petitioners said.

They claim that EO 464 suppresses civil liberties, making Mrs. Arroyo worse than the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. The order also curtails "the people’s right to information and access to public documents and public officials," they said.
Newsbriefs 12 January Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

Arroyo bows to Ramos’ bid for polls in 2007 (

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last night agreed to former President Fidel Ramos' demand to proceed with elections in 2007 in a bid to avert confrontation at the weekend caucus of the ruling party, a highly placed source told the Inquirer.

The source said that the two agreed that Ramos' proposal that Ms Arroyo relinquish power by June 2007 be thrown to the caucus of the Lakas-CMD national directorate on Saturday.

However, Ms Arroyo backed down on Ramos' call for her to reject the recommendation last month by her Consultative Commission to scrap elections in 2007 to pave the way for the institution of a parliamentary system in 2010.

"The (2007) election will go on as scheduled," the source said.

On Monday, the 77-year-old Ramos outlined an exit scenario for Ms Arroyo to resolve lingering doubts about her legitimacy sparked by disclosures in the "Hello Garci" wiretaps that indicated she stole the May 2004 election. The plan called on Ms Arroyo to cut short her term in June 2007 and run for a parliament seat.

House drafting new Charter without ‘no-el’ provision (

The chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments is drafting a new Constitution that does not include provisions on no-el (no elections) in 2007 and term extension for lawmakers and local officials.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Constantino Jaraula said yesterday he would present his draft this weekend to Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and probably to the Lakas meeting on Saturday at Malacañang.

He said he incorporated into his amended version of the Constitution most of the recommendations of the presidential consultative commission (con-com) on Cha-cha (Charter change), the most important of which is the shift to the parliamentary system.

However, he said he excluded the most controversial con-com suggestions, which were on the cancellation of elections in 2007 and the extension of elective terms.

If con-com would have its way, the election of senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, and other local officials in May 2007 would be scrapped, and the stay in office of these officials would be extended by three years to June 30, 2010, when President Arroyo’s six-year term expires.

The proposals have divided the nation and its leaders. Former President Fidel Ramos has described them as a "monumental blunder."

House should be blamed for budget’s delay (

The year 2006 marks the sixth consecutive year that Congress has failed to pass the national budget on time.

The people could understand the delay in 2001 because of the political upheaval that beset the country during its early months.

The succeeding delays, however, were completely unjustifiable and unacceptable. The people deserved better than the cavalier attitude of the lawmakers on the budget.

If the senators and the congressmen continue to exhibit this attitude, this would be the best argument for not allowing them to become automatic members of the parliament, should the shift to a parliamentary government succeeds.

The failure of Congress—especially of the House of Representatives—to act speedily on the most important annual bill requires a second look at the constitutional provision for the automatic reenactment of the previous budget if a new one is not in place.

New plan to impeach easier to kill, Palace feels (

MALACAÑANG said yesterday it would be easier to quash another impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after she survived a grueling vote in the House of Representatives last year.

“We are confident that members of Congress, especially those in the majority, still believe in their verdict last year,” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, on news that the opposition would initiate new proceedings against the President.

NFA to lose P8.3b feeding the poor (

Another P8.3 billion will go down the drain this year as far as the National Food Authority is concerned after losing the same amount in 2005.

NFA administrator Gregorio Tan, however, remains unfazed, saying it is in their mandate to lose all that cash as they import well-milled rice and sell it at relatively cheaper prices to poor families in the country.

“We lost P8.3 billion last year and we expect to lose the same this year. The causes of these loses are not controlled by the NFA,” Tan said during yesterday’s press conference at Malacañang.

‘Wage earners still must pay income tax’ (

Is the withholding tax exemption proposal for minimum-wage earners a misnomer?

There is no actual exemption, administration Sen. Ralph Recto clarified yesterday. What was approved was that in lieu of monthly payroll deductions by employers, tax payments could be deferred to April 15 of every year, the deadline set by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for filing income tax returns.

"It is not tax exemption. What it merely says is that your salary will no longer be subjected to withholding tax every month but you will still pay the tax later," explained Recto, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee.

According to Recto, wage earners still need to pay income tax on or before April 15 every year.

The statutory minimum wage varies per region with Metro Manila having the highest minimum wage at P325 per day. With 22 working days a month, and at 13 months a year, the gross pay of a minimum wage earner is P92,950.

A family of two minimum wage earners and four dependents can claim a maximum of P96,000 in deductions plus a tax credit of P2,400 for health insurance payments. They still need to pay P13,220 in income tax on combined earnings of P185,000 every year.

Instead of the withholding tax exemption, Recto is proposing that minimum-wage workers be given permanent relief from the payment of income tax.

"And we can do it by revising the tax code and raising exemptions so that a minimum wage earner today would be spared from paying tax," he said.

Japanese firms seek payment from PIATCo (

Two Japanese corporations asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to stop the government from paying P3 billion to Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. for building Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3 until PIATCo settles up with them first.

In two separate pleadings Takenaka and Asahikosan Corporations, the principal builder and supplier for the terminal, said their substantive rights stand be prejudiced if the P3 billion is released to PIATCo.

The consortium, they said, has given no indication that it will compensate them.

Newsbriefs: Please Post Below Some Of Your Thoughts
11/15/05 / 11/16/05 / 11/17/05 / 11/18/05 / 11/21/05 / 11/22/05 / 11/23/05 / 11/24/05 / 11/25/05 / 11/29/05 / 11/30/05 / 12/01/05 / 12/02/05 / 12/05/05 / 12/06/05 / 12/07/05 / 12/09/05 / 12/12/05 / 12/13/05 / 12/14/05 / 12/15/05 / 01/04/06 / 01/05/06 / 01/06/06 / 01/10/06 / 01/11/06 / 01/12/06 / 01/18/06 / 01/19/06 / 01/24/06 / 01/26/06 / 01/31/06 / 02/02/06 /

Powered by Blogger