Sunday, May 6, 2007

Luring Voters

By Carmel Crimmins

SAN ISIDRO, Philippines (Reuters) - Campaigning for local and congressional polls is rolling into its final week in the Philippines with candidates dispensing cash, food, mascots and even their own brand of underwear to woo voters. 

Elections in this Southeast Asian country are renowned for their colourful cast of characters, endemic corruption and violence.

In the village of San Isidro, around 50 km north of Manila, Father Ed Panlilio has swapped his clerical robes for a white bullet-proof vest as he campaigns for the governor's seat in Pampanga, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's home turf. 

The Catholic priest, who has been suspended from performing spiritual duties while he focuses on politics, has been getting death threats but vows to keep going with his anti-corruption, anti-Arroyo ticket. 

"It's part of the commitment. It's all the way," said the 53-year-old, before boarding a truck festooned with posters of him, in trademark white, looking up to the heavens. "It's a divine crusade based on gospel values." 

Panlilio's no-frills campaign relies on donations and volunteers fed up with shady quarrying operations and the province's reputation as a centre for illegal gambling. 

His background as a priest carries a lot of weight with devout parishioners in the largely Catholic country. 

"We've had gambling lords and quarry lords, why not praise the lord?" said Bert Salvador, 46, a Panlilio supporter. 


For politicians who can't rely on divine endorsement, there are the traditional routes to victory -- advertising, handouts and, of course, vote-buying and vote-manipulation. 

Public office is a lucrative career in the Philippines and with half the 24 seats in the Senate, all 240 slots in the lower house and nearly 18,000 positions in local government up for grabs on May 14, billions of pesos have already been spent trying to secure posts. 

On the official campaign trail, politicians dole out freebies, from roast pork and beer to fresh fish and rice, as well as amulets and insurance policies. 

But behind the scenes, candidates' agents dispense cash and favours to get elected. Harassment and intimidation are also employed and smear campaigns are carried out via text message. 

Seven out of 10 voters expect vote-buying and half of them think it's okay to accept the cash provided they vote with their conscience, according to a recent survey. 

"This is the only time they (the public) can make money out of these people, out of the government," said Benito Lim, a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines. 

"This is the only time they are treated like kings. They sing to them, they plead to them, they organise, they dance before them and say good things about them and give them money." 


Across the archipelago, actors-turned-candidates and scions of political dynasties are racing from rally to rally, making speeches, singing jingles and pressing the flesh. 

In Manila, a city councillor is appealing to the female vote by giving away underwear with his nickname printed on the rear. 

Others are playing on their names or pseudonyms, which can be used on ballot papers. These are important factors because manual polling means that voters have to write out the names of their preferred choices. 

Prospero Pichay, a pro-government candidate for the Senate, has created his own mascot, "Super Pichay", a comic book-style figure with his facial features to reach out to the electorate. 

The lawmaker, whose last name sounds like "pechay", a variety of local lettuce, has 10 lifesize mascots, complete with blue capes, fibreglass masks and lettuces stuffed down their cummerbunds, attending rallies across the country. 

His catchphrase is "Plant in the Senate". 

"If it catches the attention of the kids then it should catch the attention of the parents," the candidate reasoned. 

But when it comes to name recall, Agakhan Sharief wins hands down. The 36-year-old is using his pseudonym, Osama Bin Laden, to get elected to the council in his province of Lanao del Sur, in the Philippines' Muslim south. 

With his beard, turban and neck scarf, Sharief looks like the world's most wanted terror suspect. And it's getting people's attention. 

"I'm expecting in this coming election, Inshallah (God willing), a landslide victory for Bin Laden," he said.

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NPAs abduct Philippine mayor

(AFP) - Communist rebels abducted a Philippine mayor campaigning for re-election after killing two of his bodyguards in an ambush, but the official later escaped, police said yesterday.

Alex Aranas, mayor of Pola township in Mindoro Oriental Province, south of Manila, had just finished campaigning in a village late on Friday when his group was attacked by about 30 New People's Army guerrillas, regional police chief Napoleon Cachuela said. Two of his bodyguards were killed.

Aranas and his two other security escorts, both soldiers, sought refuge in a nearby house owned by a friend. The guerrillas threatened to burn it down and kill all occupants if they did not yield. The mayor and his guards then gave themselves up, police said.

Cachuela said Aranas and the two soldiers escaped hours later. He did not give details.


It was the second time Aranas was seized by the rebels. He was snatched along with about a dozen other people during the 2004 election campaign.

The rebels released Aranas and 10 others within hours. Two soldiers in his security detail were later abandoned by the guerrillas during a clash with the military two days later.

Aranas said at the time that the rebels demanded a so-called "permit to campaign" fee that would allow politicians to campaign in their areas. It was uncertain whether Aranas paid it then, and if the rebels were again demanding money.

The government has condemned the practice as extortion and warned candidates not to comply.

The Maoist rebels, which the US and the EU consider a terrorist group, have been waging a Marxist rebellion since the late 1960s. The military estimates they have about 7,000 fighters, and the rebels claim to have a presence in nearly 70 of the Philippines' 79 provinces.


The attack on Aranas was the latest in a string of election-related violence in the run-up to the balloting on May 14.

In the bloodiest attack so far, six relatives of a town mayor now running for a congressional seat were killed in an ambush on Friday while returning from a funeral in northern Abra Province.

Three others were wounded.

More than 75 have been killed and at least 82 wounded since January when campaigning for local and congressional elections began, police said.

Almost 150 deaths were recorded during the hotly contested 2004 election.

Nearly 87,000 candidates are vying for 17,000 national and local positions, including 265 seats in the House of Representatives and half of the 24 Senate seats.

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US$6 Billion For 2008

The Philippines plans to undertake a borrowing program totalling 325.57 billion pesos (6.84 billion U.S. dollars) in 2008, a local newspaper said here on Friday.

The new program would be 16.7 percent less than that of this year, as the government trys to roll over its maturing obligations with continuous borrowing, the Philippine Star reported.

Some 70 percent of the 2008 borrowing program would be raised from the domestic credit market, the report quoted Finance Secretary Margarito Teves as saying, while the remaining 30 percent would be sourced from the foreign market in a combination of commercial borrowing and official development assistance (ODA).

Teves added that the Philippines is also hoping to qualify for the so-called compact assistance of the Millennium Challenge Account, a U.S. bilateral development fund.

By November this year, the government plans to make a presentation before the U.S. lender, detailing its efforts to meet the criteria for the assistance, Tevels said.

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Guinness World Record For Philippine Mothers

Nearly 4,000 mothers around the Philippines on Wednesday set a new world record for simultaneous breastfeeding, organisers said.

At least 3,869 mothers began feeding their babies at 10:00 am (0200 GMT) sharp in basketball courts and community health centres at 156 sites around the country.

"We are certain we were able to establish a new Guinness world record on breastfeeding in multiple sites," said Nona Andaya-Castillo, one of the organisers.

Last year the Philippines set a new world record for a single site when 3,738 mothers breastfed their babies in a sports stadium in Manila beating the previous record of 1,135 mothers set in Berkeley, California in 2005.

Organised by advocacy groups along with the United Nations Children's Fund ( UNICEF), the departments of health and social welfare and local governments, the event was intended to raise public awareness of breast feeding and discourage mothers from using infant milk formulas.

In Manila alone, 1,028 mothers participated in the event at gymnasium.

Andaya-Castillo said the event was "not only for the record" but a drive to urge mothers to stop using infant milk formulas which "do not guard children from various illnesses and infections such as asthma and diarrhea."

According to the World Health Organisation, children fed with infant formula are 25 times more likely to die of diarrhea than those who are breast-fed.

"Stop using formula milk. A baby deserves his mother's milk," said health department chief Francisco Duque at the event.

The event also stressed the health benefits of breast feeding for the mothers, protecting them from postpartum hemorrhage, anemia and even breast cancer.-- AFP

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Kite Blamed For Helicopter Crash

( - The string from a child's kite was responsible for the crash of a Philippine military helicopter that killed nine people, the head of the country's air force said on Thursday.

Although the full report on the crash on April 28 has not been released Lieutenant General Horacio Tolentino said a kite string appeared to be the likely cause.

He said that Muslim rebels had used kites to disable air force helicopters in the past.

However terrorist involvement is not suspected in the latest incident.

Tolentino said crash survivor Captain Allan Villagarcia told him that the aircraft was flying perfectly and just about to land in the central island of Cebu when a kite got entangled in the rotor blades.

"There was no problem with the engine. It (the kite string) caused the stoppage of the rotor," Tolentino said.

He said the nylon kite string was found still entangled, just below the main rotor blade.

The Vietnam-era UH-1H "Huey" helicopter, carrying four people on a training flight, went down on a crowded street, killing seven people on the ground and two members of the crew.

Tolentino said the kites were being flown in an area where kite flying is banned to avoid endangering aircraft. But, despite this, the air force has no plans to charge anyone.

"We are not blaming anyone for what has happened. It is not the intention of the people flying the kites to cause accidents," he said. - Sapa-AFP

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Texas Instruments To Invest $1 Billion in the Philippines

U.S. semiconductor company Texas Instruments Inc. said Thursday it plans to invest about $1 billion over 10 years in a new test and assembly facility in the Philippines.

The new facility, Texas Instruments' second in the country, will be located on a 19-acre site in Clark Freeport Zone, a former U.S. Air Force base northwest of Manila.

Construction will start in the second half of this year and initial production will begin later next year, officials said.

"This is an important site for TI because it will add capacity to support our growing business and serve our customers," said Kevin Ritchie, senior vice president of the company's technology and manufacturing group.

Texas Instruments already operates a production complex in the northern city of Baguio. The facility, which has undergone at least four expansions since it was set up in 1979, accounts for 40 percent of the semiconductor company's global output.

The new investment will generate 3,000 jobs and boost Philippine electronics exports, which account for two-thirds of country's goods shipment, officials said.

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