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Newsbriefs 12 December Morning
Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

Charter Change proposals done

AFTER 113 days of hearings, debates and provincial consultations, the 55-member Consultative Commission (ConCom) is finally prepared to offer to Malacañang its version of an amended Constitution.

Some of the more important recommendations of the commission, which will submit the draft of its constitutional revisions to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Dec. 15, include:

• The adoption of a parliamentary form of government, where the elected Punong Ministro will share his or her powers with President Arroyo, who will be allowed to finish her term in 2010.

The mandatory shift to a federal structure will not be implemented, though, and a 10-year transition period is instead suggested.

• The Armed Forces of the Philippines will be stripped of its legal blanket to stage a coup d’etat or a military takeover with the amendment of Article II Section 3, which will return the duty to “protect the people and the state” to the “government,” as originally stated in the 1973 and 1935 Constitutions.

• The provision restricting the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources of the country by foreigners will be removed to allow the latter full ownership of such corporations, provided it is in joint venture with the state.

• The claim to Sabah will be enshrined in the revised charter with the reinclusion of the phrase “all the other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic or legal title” as part of the description of national territory.

• The 100 percent restriction on foreign ownership for media will also be removed.

• Land ownership for foreigners will be a matter of reciprocity. Alienable lands of public domain, which would be limited to agricultural lands, may be held by private corporations and associations, including foreigners, through lease, the terms of which would be determined by the Parliament.

• A Bill of Duties and Obligations will be included in the revised charter, which states among others that it is the duty of all Filipino citizens to find “gainful employment,” be loyal to the Federal Republic of the Philippines, and to exercise their right to suffrage always.

• The death penalty will be abolished with the inclusion of repeal of Republic Act 7659.

A provision stating that “the State and the citizens shall prevent and prohibit the killing of humans in any form and for whatever purpose” will be included in the Bill of Duties.

Commissioner Vicente Paterno, chairman of the ConCom Committee on National Patrimony and Economic Reforms, admitted that they have encountered public apprehensions as far as foreign ownership of certain enterprises is concerned during their nationwide consultations.

“There were some objections on full ownership on certain industries that’s why we have to leave the discretion to the Congress (Parliament),” Paterno explained.

JdV bid to end Garci probe draws support (

CONGRESSMEN from the Lower House’s ruling coalition have backed Speaker Jose de Venecia’s call to end the ‘‘Hello Garci’’ tape probe before the Chamber’s Christmas break on Dec. 16.

Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas and Parañaque City Rep. Eduardo Zialcita said whatever information the joint panel could exact from former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano should be incorporated in their final report, which should be finished before the Christmas break.

‘‘Let the lawmakers raise issues that have long been bugging them and let Garcillano answer them and prove that he is not lying. We should put an end to the probe before the House’s Christmas break to give a quiet and peace(ful) (time) to the people and let them enjoy the Yuletide season. It is also time for solons to visit their constituents during the coming break,’’ Cagas said.

They reasoned that the five committees jointly investigating the wiretapped conversations purportedly between Garcillano and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to rig the May 2004 elections have exhausted all their efforts, and ending the probe would unclog the Chamber’s legislative calendar.

GMA: Four issues take center stage at ASEAN meet (

President Arroyo arrived in Kuala Lumpur Sunday with high hopes that the 11th ASEAN Summit will further bolster the Philippines’ ministerial, economic and bilateral ties with other member-nations.

In her speech before leaving from Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, the President said four major points will be discussed in the summit: the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area, the energy security in the region, counterterrorism and interfaith dialogue.

She said the Philippines needs to pursue investments in energy infrastructure and search for broader collaboration in new and renewable energy and alternative fuels to head off an energy crisis triggered by the rising price of oil in the world market.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Filipino people will gain from the security cooperation in the ASEAN, especially with the economic superpowers joining the security partnership.

The President also noted of the importance to raise the poverty alleviation concern in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines subregion by pushing for more investments and tourism cooperation in the region since Mindanao will likely to benefit from this.

Northrail to push through, GMA tells Chinese premier (

KUALA LUMPUR (via PLDT) — President Arroyo assured the Chinese government here yesterday that it could start "the ball rolling" and proceed with the construction of the Northrail project.

Mrs. Arroyo gave the assurance to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a meeting ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), the first East Asia and other summits here where both leaders are scheduled to participate.

The President allayed the Chinese government’s worries about the much-delayed Northrail project due to controversies surrounding its approval.

Senate Blinks on ISAFP witnesses(

The Senate committee investigating the Garcillano tapes will not contest the military’s refusal to let its intelligence agents testify at the hearing.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, head of the Committee on National Defense, said last week that he will summon 14 agents of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to the inquiry.

Biazon had named ISAFP as the mastermind in the wiretapping of telephone conversations between former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and President Arroyo.

But AFP spokesman Col. Tristan Kison on Saturday invoked Executive Order 464 in barring the ISAFP agents from testifying in the Senate hearing.

EO 464 requires top military, police and government officials to get the President’s permission before attending any congressional inquiry.

On Sunday Biazon said the committee will just wait for the Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of EO 464.

"We have no choice but to wait for the Supreme Court to resolve the constitutionality of the EO 464," Biazon said in a phone interview.

A bipartisan group of 16 senators had challenged the legality of the order before the Court.

Recount of Legarda’s votes starts Monday (

THE SUPREME COURT, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), will finally start recounting the votes defeated vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda says were cast for her but unlawfully counted in favor of Vice President Noli de Castro in last year's national elections.

The recount is to be conducted at the Court of Appeals compound in Manila from 8:30 a.m. to noon, and from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Saturdays and Sundays.
Legarda is contesting De Castro's victory, charging that he and his running mate, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had cheated. Legarda's running mate, presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., had also filed an electoral protest but the PET dismissed it after Poe died last year.

Lawyers for Legarda and De Castro estimated the vote recount could last between nine months and two years of a tedious, manual process that could become embroiled in bickering over procedural and technical matters.

CBCP head vows return to pastoral mission (

SMARTING from observations that the Catholic Church had more and more immersed itself in political issues, the new president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has pledged to lead a return to more parochial concerns.

Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said on CBCP Online that his fresh two-year term would focus on the pastoral mission of the Catholic Church.

"Renewal and evangelization are the challenges facing the Philippine Church," he said. "If we focus more on our pastoral mission, we might not get the impression that we are just responding to political crises."

8 believed killed after collapse of Cebu mine (

ANOTHER mining disaster reminiscent of the Mt. Diwalwal accident last month killed up to eight people in Cebu province over the weekend.

Authorities said only two miners were confirmed dead so far while six others are still missing as of press time.

An explosion reportedly caused by methane gas destroyed the mineshaft in Dalaguete town, a known coal mining area, and buried the miners alive.

The two fatalities were identified as Boyet Ceraldes and Jeremenio Zuñiga, both 25 and miners of the Ibalon Resources and Development Corp.

Rommel Montanez, chief police investigator, said the bodies of Ceraldes and Zuñiga have been recovered but six of their colleagues were still missing.

Palparan transfer plan panics NPA (

A SUPPOSED plan to transfer controversial Major General Jovito Palparan to Southern Tagalog is causing panic among communists in the region.

Palparan is reportedly being eyed to become commander of the 2nd Infantry Division based in Tanay, Rizal after his stint as Central Luzon military commander.

This early, however, communist leaders in Southern Tagalog are concerned about Palparans transfer, saying they expect summary executions, abductions, forced disappearances and other atrocities to occur in the region.

In a statement published in its Web site on Friday, CPP said it was obvious that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration wants Palparan, the current commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, to do the rounds of the different regions “to boost its fascist campaign of political assassinations and sow the patented Palparan-style terrorism across the Philippine countryside.”

“Wherever he is assigned, Gen. Palparan leaves a bloody trail of summary executions, abductions, forced disappearances and other atrocities,” said CPP spokesman Gregorio Rosal alias Ka Roger.

Hopes hang low as trade ministers gather for WTO summit (

HONG KONG (AP) - Expectations hang low as trade negotiators representing the WTO's 148 countries gather this week in this Asian financial capital.

So low, in fact, that there are concerns the World Trade Organization summit, which starts here Tuesday, could collapse like the previous one in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003 -- or the debacle in Seattle in 1999.

Negotiations to reach a treaty that would cut global trade barriers in a wide array of sectors have reached an impasse over agriculture -- an issue that has dogged the current "Doha round" of talks since they started in Qatar's capital in 2001.

Many negotiators blame the stalemate on the European Union's refusal to further cut its farm subsidies and tariffs. But the U.S. and Japan are also criticized for their trade barriers by developing nations, which say that access to wealthy nations' agricultural markets is vital to their economic growth.

Ghost of political uncertainty forecast to steal Christmas (

MANILA (AFP) - Retailers and manufacturers are bracing for their worst Christmas in years with Filipino consumers spending much less despite record pre-holiday cash transfers from relatives abroad, according to economists.

Manila-based University of Asia and the Pacific vice president Bernardo Villegas blamed political uncertainties as well as soaring oil prices for the descent of the spirit of Scrooge over Christmas.

Villegas said major industry players are reporting sales volume declines of between 5.0 and 10 percent as they approach what is normally their peak season when this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation of 84 million normally opens its purse strings to splurge on gifts and consumer items.

However, shopping mall traffic in Manila, which accounts for nearly a third of the country's domestic economic output, has been noticeably sparse, with the parking lots of giant malls nearly empty.

"We will have a bleak Christmas. We will not have the usual big increase in sales," he said. "If you talk to retailers, they have very sad faces."

NEDA insists Philippine economy not on road to meltdown (

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary General Augusto Santos Friday said he does not believe the Philippine economy is heading for a meltdown as some economists suggest.

Santos, who is the concurrent National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director, stressed the economy is probably not at the takeoff stage, “but neither is it, by any stretch of imagination, on the road to meltdown…. A meltdown implies sustained decline, but the reality is that the economy has gone through the usual ups and downs. This is no meltdown.”

In fact, “Political conflict may tempt some to think that the economy is on a hopeless descent. It is best to step back and take the long view. Annual growth in real per capita income has been on the uptrend, reversing its decline in 1998,” declared Santos.

According to Santos, there was indeed a slowdown in the 3rd quarter of 2005. The decline may be traced to: (a) the weak performance of agriculture partly due to insufficient rainfall—the lingering effects of the el Niño; (b) lower public spending due to the government’s efforts to cut its deficit; and (c) a decline in private construction.

“The slack, however, is not permanent. The effects of the El Niño should be gone in the 4th quarter, thereby boosting agriculture,” he said.

Former communist rebels to file murder charges vs ex-comrades (

MANILA (AP) - Former communist rebels who were tortured by their comrades during a "purge" of suspected spies 17 years ago vowed Friday to file criminal and other charges against their tormentors.

"It's now time for the courts to judge these crimes against humanity," said Robert Francis Garcia, a former student activist who joined the communist New People's Army in the 1980s.

Garcia and another former party member, Rogel Navarro, and the son of a couple killed by the rebels told a news conference that they would file charges.

The campaign against military "deep penetration agents" between February 1988 and January 1989 in Laguna and several other "left purges" are considered the darkest moments of the 36-year insurgency in the country.

Wiretap imperils AFP budget (

A glaring breach of security at the Armed Forces of the Philippines could mean the AFP’s proposed budget for 2006 would have to go through the wringer in the Senate, senators said yesterday.

This breach of security came in the form of a woman, Marietta Santos, who earlier said she was allowed to roam the compound of the Intelligence Service of the AFP when her lover, T/Sgt. Vidal Doble, was assigned at the ISAFP.

"The AFP’s budget is not yet finished. The Senate can always recall the top brass to explain this mess at the ISAFP," Sen. Manuel Villar, who chairs the Senate finance committee, said.

Bank loans to property sector pick up (

Commercial banks’ exposure to the Philippine property sector rose as of end-September after two consecutive quarters of decline, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Bank loans and investments in real estate as of the third quarter this year rose 2.4 percent to P205.4 billion from quarter ago and year-ago levels.

The rise in lenders’ exposure was largely due a P4.7-billion rise in real-estate loans, as bank investments in real estate companies were contained at P141 million.

Loans accounted for 92 percent of the banking industry’s exposure to the real-estate industry, while investments in securities issued by property firms comprised the remaining 8 percent.

Altogether, the ratio of loans and investments in real-estate companies to banks’ total lending portfolio, plus total debt and equity investments stood at 6 percent. This was slightly higher than 5.7 percent last quarter but lower than 6.3-percent ratio a year ago.

Pope: Materialism pollutes Christmas spirit (

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict warned on Sunday against rampant materialism which he said was polluting the spirit of Christmas.

"In today's consumer society, this time of the year unfortunately suffers from a sort of commercial 'pollution' that threatens to alter its real spirit," the Pope told a large crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square to hear his weekly Angelus blessing.

He said Christmas should be marked with sober celebrations and urged Christians to display a nativity crib in their houses as "a simple but effective way of showing their faith and conveying it to their children."

Last year, under Pope John Paul, the Vatican launched a high-profile campaign to urge Roman Catholic Italy not to compromise the spirit of Christmas through excess or dilute its message out of fear of offending a growing Muslim population.

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