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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.
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