SLB Newsbriefs...daily news from different sources, truncated and compiled. updated daily.
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.

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