Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recto Convicts Renato Corona Guilty at Impeachment Trial

Recto Convicts Renato Corona Guilty at Impeachment Trial

Here is the text of the explanation of vote of Senator-judge Ralph Recto who found Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty:

"I base my decision on facts presented in this court, and not on opinions aired outside of it; on testimonies of witnesses, and not on theories of wags; on the arguments of lawyers, and not on the analysis of their spokesmen; on submitted evidence, and not on anonymous leaks; and above all, on the figures in official documents, and not the numbers on the recent polls, because as a judge, my duty is to choose what is right and not what is popular.

"Let me put forward my observations on this trial :

"First, in an impeachment complaint, length is not strength. Better for an indictment to be short but substantial, than one that is long in allegations but short in proof.

"Second, haste makes waste. The reason why the trial simmered in the Senate is because the articles were served half-cooked instead of well-done.

"Third, the way evidence was produced left a bad taste in the mouth.

"Mr. President, let me now explain my vote.

"There is no such thing as a SALN so statistically perfect that it is precise to the last decimal point. If a government employee is asked to catalogue what he owes and what he owns, some information may fall into the crack, not as an act of deliberate concealment, but as an unwitting omission done in good faith.

"So this boils down to the degree of the unintentional miscalculation, and logic dictates that we accept slight inaccuracies because if we leave no room for those, then, believe me, no government official will be left behind his desk.

"In the case of the Chief Justice's SALN, the undeclared assets are so huge, 50 times more than what he declared in cash - 2.4 million in US dollar deposits, 80 million in peso deposits – that they cannot be brushed aside as innocent exclusions.

"The very same Constitution that he had sworn to obey and uphold makes it mandatory for a public officer like him to submit a true declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities and net worth.

"Mr. Corona knows this because in cases brought to the Supreme Court, he had punished his fellow government workers for failing to disclose far lesser amounts.

"He should have declared the above.

"Thus I vote guilty on Article II.

"Mr. President, in a few hours we will be pulling the plug on this afternoon political telenovela. With a sigh of relief, let's go back to our regular programming, where hard, unheralded work is done away from camera lights.

"The end of the trial doesn't call for celebration. It calls for getting our bearings back and setting our priorities right again.

"One in five people who watched this trial on TV occasionally go hungry. One in three in the labor force had all the time to watch because they had no work.

"Five in 10 people who followed this trial rated themselves poor. 80% do not have a bank account or savings.

"So if we think what we have done here is herculean, then we stand indicted for being clueless of what our people want and ignorant of our true potential.

"It is easy to impeach one man. What is hard is to impeach hunger, to impeach joblessness, and to impeach poverty.

Estrada Votes Guilty for Renato Corona at Impeachment

Senate President Pro-Tempore-judge Jinggoy Estrada voted for conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona. The following is the text of his explanation:

"Magandang hapon po sa lahat.

"This trial and this court, the entire process, its completion is a historic redemption of our justice system. We owe that in great measure to the brilliance, sense of fairness and firm resolve of our presiding officer, no less the Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. I say redemption because this same process failed to achieve justice for my own father, former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada. It failed because clearly the plan was to resolve the issue in the streets. And it failed sadly because the presiding officer at the trial of my father proved to be a partisan himself. Those sordid events led this nation to nine years under the rule of a woman, a small woman, who was installed by the rule of the mob and the imprimatur of a Supreme Court that succumbed to the pressure of that mob.

"I am more than sure that my father would have been given the chance to be heard fairly, justly and squarely katulad ng pagkakataon na ipinagkaloob ng impeachment court na ito kay Chief Justice Corona. Had the impeachment rules been strictly implemented then in 2001, those private prosecutors who disrespected this court by walking out, thus robbing my father the chance to defend himself, would not have been allowed to do so, much less be held in contempt.

"Today we confront and make history. We make a historic decision this day to pass judgment on the chief magistrate of the Supreme Court of this nation after 44 gruelling days of trial spread out in four difficult months. Our people followed this trial closely and in this exercise we have demonstrated to them and to the international community that our country adheres and subscribes to the supremacy of the democratic framework and the majesty in fulfilling the mandate of the most basic of all our laws – the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.

"Sa paglilitis na ating isinagawa sa harap ng sambayanang Pilipino, itinaguyod natin sa ating Senado ang itinadhana ng ating Saligang batas. Binigyang-buhay natin ang diwa ng mga proseso ng ating batas at bingyan natin ng patas na pagdinig ang panig ng taga-usig at ng nasasakdal.

"Today, I join the nation in a fervent prayer that we can begin healing the wounds inflicted by the pain of this trial. We pray that we can as soon as possible bring closure to this painful episode in the annals of our country. I pray that as we conclude this defining moment, we can unite again as a nation, as a society and attend to the many pressing problems that face us.

"I take the view after hearing the arguments and counter-arguments that the Chief Justice did not include in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth his SALN, US$ 2.4 million and 80.7 million pesos. – this he admitted in open court. Napatunayan ng depensa na hindi 45 properties, kung hindi 5 lamang. Hindi 82 dollar accounts, kundi 4 lamang. At hindi 10, 11, 12 million dollars, kung hindi 2.4 million dollars lamang. But these numbers are irrelevant because the most important question is: "Itong limang real properties, apat na dollar accounts na may halagang 2.4 million dollars ba ay idineklara ng tama? Idineklara ba ito sa takdang oras o panahon?" Ang sagot ko po ay hindi.

"It was argued by the defense panel that the non-inclusion of dollar deposits by the Chief Justice in his SALN was made in good faith and is covered by the provision of absolute confidentiality under the Foreign Currency Deposits Act. I regret to say that I am not convinced. Because the Chief Justice is a learned man of law. He is in fact, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – isang opisyal na hindi lamang malalim ang kaalaman sa batas, kundi isang opisyal na may tungkuling basahin kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng mga batas. Bilang Punong Mahistrado, siya ay dapat na may higit na kaalaman at pag-unawa sa diwa ng batas at tungkulin niyang ipatupad ito nang walang bahid na pagtatakip sa pansariling interes. And I believe that the framers of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act did not intend to create the opportunity for public officials to conceal their assets or stash away foreign currencies under this law.

"I therefore make this painful decision with a heavy heart but confident that we have given justice to our people. Sa kadahilanang ito, wala akong pag-aalinlangan ngayon na ang nasasakdal ay nagkasala at lumabag sa itinadhana ng ating Saligang Batas. Sa wikang Ingles, in my eyes, he is guilty.

"Maraming salamat po."

Ping Lacson Votes Guilty on Renato Corona

Ping Lacson Votes Guilty on Renato Corona
Here's the explanation of vote of Senator-Judge Panfilo Lacson on the 44th and final day of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Tuesday:

"When a witness takes the stand, he is first to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That makes half-truths no better than lies.

"I have always been an investigator all my public service life. Modesty aside, I have the uncommon ability to determine if a person is telling the truth or not.

"An error in judgment has no place in this trial because it is final and irreversible. Equally important to me is the testimony of the respondent, particularly in this case, because the exalted position of the highest magistrate of the land must shut its door to anyone who desecrates the solemn oath that engulfs a testimony in any judicial proceeding.

"Over the weekend I did my homework and discernment. Let me share it with you.

"Chief Justice Renato Corona had at one point $ 3,977,790 and 87 cents. At a given time he had P91,280,499 and 22 centavos. If you ask me, so, what is the difference between $ 3.9 million and $ 2.4 million, between P91 million and P80.7 million? My answer is: a lot of money.

"Chief Justice Renato Corona used to work as a senior officer of the tax and corporate counseling group of the tax division of a prominent accounting firm, Sycip Gorres and Velayo and Company. He also taught commercial law, taxation and corporate law at the Ateneo de Manila University for 17 years. I find it hard to believe his testimony that he does not understand accounting.

"Chief Justice Corona testified under oath he invested in currencies and not in properties in the late 1960s, mindful of the Basa-Guidote family squabble over some real estate properties left by their deceased parents.

"The fact is, the family feud started in 1989. One cannot simply learn from the lessons of the future, even if the standards of moral fitness for such a lofty position in government were lowered, an acquittal may still be difficult to justify.

"Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, I therefore find the respondent guilty as charged under Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment."

Twisted Interpretation of Law by Miriam Defensor Santiago

Twisted Interpretation of Law by Miriam Defensor Santiago

Senator-judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago voted to acquit Chief Justice Renato Corona. The following is her written explanation of her vote:

"The Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent, until the contrary is proved. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. How much proof is necessary? In other words, what is the standard of proof? I have adopted the very high standard of "overwhelming preponderance of evidence." My standard is very high, because removal by conviction on impeachment is a stunning penalty, the ruin of a life.

"The defendant admitted that he did not declare his dollar accounts and certain commingled peso accounts in his SALN. Did this omission amount to an impeachable offense? No.

"Under the rule of ejusdem generis, when a general word occurs after a number of specific words, the meaning of the general word should be limited to the kind or class of thing within which the specific words fall. The Constitution provides that the impeachable offenses are: "culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust." An omission in good faith in the SALN carries a light penalty, and is even allowed to be corrected. Thus, it is not impeachable.

"The Constitution simply provides that a public officer shall submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. That is all. There are no details. The Constitution is a brief declaration of fundamental principles. Many constitutional provisions are only commands to the Congress to enact laws to carry out the purpose of the charter.

"As a general rule, constitutional provisions are not self-executory. The usual exceptions are the Bill of Rights, and constitutional prohibitions. All other constitutional provisions, such as the SALN provision, need implementing laws to provide the details. Hence, Congress, to implement this constitutional provision, has passed a number of laws, including the Foreign Currency Act, which confers absolute confidentiality on dollar deposits.

"There is no conflict between the Constitution and the Foreign Currency Act. The perceived conflict is so simplistic that it is seriously laughable. If there is any conflict, it is between the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, which provides for a waiver of confidentiality; and the Foreign Currency Act, which provides for absolute confidentiality.

"It is for Congress to balance on the one hand, the need for public accountability from public officers; with, on the other hand, the desperate need for foreign investment, which entails confidentiality, on pain of driving away investors from our country. The argument that a dollar deposit protected from inquiry would nullify the principle of transparency is for Congress to resolve. We could retain the absolute confidentiality clause, with the amendment that Filipino public officers are not protected.

"The prosecution mistakes admission for confession. In a confession, the defendant admits guilt. In an admission, the defendant merely states facts, which might tend to prove his guilt. In the instant case, the defendant did not make a confession, but merely an admission, with a legal defense.

"As a former RTC judge, I find it reprehensible that the AMLA document was introduced in evidence, without authentication, as required by the Rules of Evidence. I am deeply disappointed that on at least three occasions, the prosecution claimed that its documents came from an anonymous source. Are you for real? Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. False in one thing, false in all things.

"The defendant used his own name in all his questioned transactions. He could have done otherwise, if his purpose was invisibility. Why would a suspected criminal leave his calling cards at the scene of the crime?

"Assuming for the sake of argument that there is a preponderance of evidence for the prosecution, the preponderance is not overwhelming."

"Would you be surprised if I vote not guilty?"

Renato Corona Judged Guilty

Senator-judge Franklin Drilon voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona. The following is his explanation:

"The Constitution commands the Respondent Chief Justice to file an accurate and complete SALN. This requirement is not a mere formality, as it goes into the heart of Respondent's moral fitness to hold public office.

"Respondent concealed his luxurious condominiums for 5 years after they were fully paid. Worse, Respondent reported the values of these condominiums at less than 50% of their acquisition cost.

"Respondent admits he did not declare 2.4 Million U.S. dollars, and 80 Million pesos, in his SALN. The enormity of Respondent's hidden assets – over 180 Million pesos, or 50 times more than his declared cash assets – is scandalous. It is grossly disproportionate to his total income for 10 years of about 27 Million pesos. It establishes a prima facie case of ill-gotten wealth under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

"One hundred eight million pesos. Res Ipsa Loquitor. The thing speaks for itself.

"Respondent justifies his concealment of his dollar accounts because of the alleged confidentiality in R.A. 6426. This kind of interpretation will encourage aspiring thieves in government to simply hide all their loot in FCDU accounts. The law does not prohibit Respondent from disclosing his foreign currency deposits. It bars the bank from disclosing them without his consent. In fact, he authorized this court to inquire into them.

"How can Respondent, the Chief Justice no less, claim good faith in asserting such a twisted interpretation of the law? Besides, the defense of good faith cannot be invoked. The punishable act of non-reporting of assets in one's SALN is mala prohibita, where good faith is immaterial.

"Respondent concealed his 80 Million peso deposits because allegedly they are "commingled funds" of BGEI and that of his relatives.

"Respondent presented n o evidence to substantiate his claims. If BGEI funds are held in trust, respondent must report such funds as assets, and enter the corresponding liabilities, in his SALN. He did not. He cannot claim good faith. He was the manager of SGV's Tax Department.

"The Supreme Court dismissed Delsa Flores, a lowly court interpreter, for not reporting in her SALN her stall in a public market.

"The Chief Justice must be held to a much higher standard.

"Those who dispense justice must conform to the highest standards of professional integrity, and personal honesty. Chief Justice Corona knowingly, deliberately, and with malice aforethought, filed inaccurate and false SALNs to conceal his enormous wealth. Where our Constitution and our laws require disclosure, he chose the path of concealment. He has lost his moral fitness to serve the people. He has betrayed the public trust. He cannot be Chief Justice a minute longer.

"I found the Respondent guilty."

Chief Justice Renato Corona is Guilty

The following is the explanation of Senator-judge Edgardo Angara on his verdict to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona:

"Sa nakalipas na limang buwan, ang atensyon ng sambayanan ay nakatuon sa impeachment trial ni Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. Mula sa pagiging pribadong abogado, siya ay nanungkulan sa ilalim ng dalawang Pangulo at nahirang bilang Punong Mahistrado—isang natatanging tagumpay para sa isang abogado, at ang pinakamataas na posisyon sa isa sa tatlong magkakapantay na sangay ng gobyerno.

"Ngunit napapaloob dito ay isa pang storya, ang kwento ng isang pamilya na pinagwatak watak ng mapait na away tungkol sa pagaari at pera. Tumagal ng tatlumpong taon ang away, nauwi sa demandahan—at humantong pa sa paglilitis na ito.

"Pera, kapangyarihan, away pamilya—ito ang ugat ng storya. Hindi ang lahat ng ito ay matutugunan natin sa paglilitis na ito, subalit hangad din natin na ito'y matuldukan.

"The question, quite simply, is the Chief Justice's alleged failure to disclose a true and complete statement of assets, as mandated by the Constitution, and whether this constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution and/or betrayal of public trust.

"The Constitution and our statutes[1] oblige every public official to make and submit "a complete disclosure of his assets, liabilities, and net worth in order to suppress any questionable accumulation of wealth".

"This obligatory constitutional rule seeks to eradicate corruption, promote transparency in government and maintain a standard of honesty in the public service.

"The Prosecution and the Defense were one in producing proof that the Chief Justice has bank accounts he did not declare in his SALN. Removing any iota of doubt about this vital fact was the Chief Justice himself who openly admitted before this Court that he has four (4) U.S. dollar accounts totaling U.S.$ 2.4 million, and three (3) peso accounts of P80.7 million.

"I may grant the Chief Justice's plea of honest mistake of judgment. But given his broad experience in public law and practice in investment advisory services, his willful and deliberate omission, together with the magnitude of the subject matter, amounts to a culpable violation—thus a failure meriting condemnation.

"The Chief Justice justified his willful failure to disclose his U.S. dollar accounts on the so-called absolute confidentiality provision of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (R.A. 6426). However, it seems clear that the mantle of protection is extended to foreign depositors in the spirit of promoting foreign investment. The law was never intended to be a convenient device for Filipino public officials to conceal their assets.

"When the accounts were disclosed by no less than the Chief Justice, this left no prohibition against this Impeachment Court from admitting the evidence and weighing it on the scales of justice.

"The defense argues that the Ombudsman illegally obtained documents on Chief Justice's bank transactions because there was no pending case involving the subject bank accounts or any court order authorizing the production of such records.

"The defense, however, fails to consider that the documents produced by the Ombudsman were official records of the AMLC, which it receives from covered institutions pursuant to law. The Ombudsman has the power and authority to obtain these records from the AMLC pursuant to the Constitution and the Chief Justice's own SALN waiver.

"On the whole, the defense's main objection rings hollow since the Chief Justice himself admitted to the existence of the accounts, and the amounts they held—not to mention the fact that information on these were provided by witnesses presented by the defense panel themselves.

"The Supreme Court no less has said, "no position exacts a greater demand on moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the Judiciary."[3] As the head of the judiciary, a standard far higher is placed on Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.

"This impeachment trial breaks new ground. This Senate, sitting as judges, adopts its own rules and makes it own decisions. Within the bounds of the rule of law, it can initiate new doctrines and new precedents. Its pronouncement is the final word.

"It seems unnecessary for me to dwell further on the P80.7 million account the Chief Justice stated is commingled with the funds of his children and the Basa-Guidote family. But this fund could very well provide the seed of reconciliation for the two feuding branches of the family.

For these reasons, I find the Respondent GUILTY of the charge under Article II of the Articles of Impeachment."

Renato Corona Is Guilty, Court Found

By Lilybeth G. Ison

The prosecution panel from the House of Representatives hailed on Tuesday as a "victory for accountability, transparency and the rule of law" the decision of the Senate, sitting as the impeachment court, to convict Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. 

The prosecution said the removal from office of the chief magistrate "heralds a new beginning for the judiciary whose image has been tarnished in the course of the chief justice's impeachment, as well as provides a big boost to the Aquino administration's campaign to cleanse the bureaucracy of graft and corruption."

"This is the start of putting our Republic back in order for we did not convict a man but rather we saved our institutions from grievous harm of corruption and betrayal of public trust," said House Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III, one of the spokesmen for the prosecution.

"We showed our determination towards transparency and good governance with this verdict," he stressed.

Tanada said that in carrying out the very first verdict of conviction in an impeachment trial, the Senate has shown to "our people and the world that our country is politically mature and ready to forge ahead in our fight for transparency and accountability in our democratic processes."

For his part, Aurora Rep. Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, also spokesman for the prosecution, said much more remains to be done by the government to ensure transparency, accountability and adherence to the rule of law, which are all key to good governance.

Angara expressed hope that the chief justice's conviction would pave the way for the restoration of the people's faith in the institutions.

"We are hopeful that this historic decision of the Senate impeachment court will help restore the people's faith in the judiciary and in government," he said.

"We hope it is not just a change of personnel but a change in mindset and a change in the way things are done in government," he added.

Tanada congratulated the entire nation "not because we convicted Renato Corona, but because we were able to stop the downward spiral of our judiciary into a morass of corruption."

"Today we, as a people showed the world that our country is politically mature and ready to forge ahead in our fight for transparency and accountability and most importantly strengthen our democratic processes," said Tanada in a statement.

"It is unfortunate that we have to go through this process to achieve political maturity, but it must be done if we need to join the family of democratic, transparent states," he said.

"The conviction of the chief justice is a referendum on the political agenda of President (Benigno) 'Noynoy' Aquino (III), especially his anti-corruption drive. With the Senate convicting the chief justice, the people are behind President Aquino's administration," he noted.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pinoy Fishermen Snatched by China Military Boat

Two fishermen from Bolinao, Pangasinan were reported missing after they failed to return home from a fishing expedition in the West Philippine Sea as of Friday.

They were identified as Rodolfo Molina, 26, and Jinggoy Paltep, 24, both of Barangay Balingasay, Bolinao.

A report said the two were with several other fishermen on board a mother boat that departed from Barangay Balingasay, Bolinao on May 21 on a fishing expedition in the West Philippine Sea.

Their companions said that while in mid-sea, some 50 to 60 nautical miles away from Bolinao and still within the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines, they boarded a small motorboat, colored white and blue, launched from the mother boat in order to catch fish.

However, many hours had passed and the two still failed to return to the mother boat.

Merly Gabatin Molina, mother of Rodolfo, went to the Bolinao police station at 4:30 a.m. Friday to report that her son and companion were not among the fishermen from the mother boat that had come back from the fishing expedition.

The incident was reported to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) in Lingayen and to the regional office of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in San Fernando City, La Union.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Business Tip for Balikbayan

A former accountant of an insurance company in the United States discovered the economic potentials of the fresh-water prawn , ulang (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), four months after he ventured into its production.

Frederick Yang, owner of the Yang Farm in Barangay Maddiangat in this municipality netted P19,000 from his 0.1 hectare ulang pond after he stocked it with 6,500 post larvae ulang.

Regional Director Urdujah Tejada of the Department of Science and Technology said Yang is one of the recipients of the Small Enterprises Technology Upgrading Program (SET UP) when the latter approached the agency and expressed his desire to further develop his 3.4 hectare farm which is planted to rice, high value crops and rubber.

In a simple harvest festival held recently in the Yang Farm, Frederick said he was convinced of the sincerity of the government to really assist fish farmers to improve their productivity.

"I don't know anything about such project on ulang. I first ventured into tilapia and red tilapia culture after I attended a seminar in Manila," he said.

As his initial ulang venture, Yang was able to net an income of P19,000 or a 58 percent return of investment. Like the rest of the other ulang growers in the region, the DOST, through World Fish Center, has introduced the use of vegetables as alternative feeds to cost-cut production and to limit the use of commercial feeds.

Hermogenes Tambalque, Aquaculture Scientist of World Fish and a former consultant of DOST said commercial feeds should only be applied to induce the growth of algae which becomes natural food for the species.

After that, commercial feeds usage should be minimized while the use of vegetables left-over as feeds is encouraged.

Meanwhile, Tejada lauded the efforts of Yang who started planting 20,000 rubber trees in his farm. The Director said he might be the first in Northern Luzon to venture into rubber plantation farming.

Owner of Globe Asiatique To Be Arrested

Department of Justice (DOJ) Prosecutor General Claro Arellano on Wednesday confirmed that Judge Amifaith Fider-Reyes of San Fernando City, Pampanga Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 42 has issued a warrant of arrest against Delfin Lee, the owner of Globe Asiatique.

Arellano said that no bail was recommended for the temporary liberty of the accused in the syndicated estafa case.

According to Arellano, the RTC did not immediately issue the warrant of arrest against the accused until such time that the prosecution team has presented enough evidence on the case.

Arellano said that the RTC judge found probable cause to proceed with the case against Lee.

Likewise, Judge Reyes also ordered his court staff to explain why the court was not informed about the six boxes of evidence presented to the court, hence, the issuance of the warrant of arrest was delayed.

Earlier, the DOJ has recommended the filing of syndicated estafa case against Lee.

The case stemmed from the alleged use of Globe Asiatique of "ghost borrowers" and fake documents in order to avail of a P6-billion housing loan from the Home Development Mutual Fund/Pag-IBIG Fund (HDMF/Pag-IBIG).

China Illegally Grabs An Island of the Philippines

By News Agencies

China has increased its presence in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc for Filipinos and Huangyan Dao for China in the South China Sea, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has charged. 

Using information supplied by the Philippine Coast Guard, the DFA said that May 22, Tuesday, marked the worst escalation of Chinese presence, listing 76 utility boats, 16 fishing vessels and less than five government vessels.

It compared the presence in May 21, when at around 8 p.m., there were five Government vessels (CMS-71, CMS-84, FLEC-301, FLEC-303 and FLEC-310), and 16 Chinese fishing vessels, but only 56 utility boats.

The presence of so-called fishing vessels is a mystery since China has already announced a fishing ban for its fishermen up to August this year.

At a briefing, the DFA said "there is an increasing number and pattern" of such presence in the area.

Expressing "grave concern over these continuing actions by China that escalate tension in Bajo de Masinloc, the DFA said that on Tuesday, May 21, it sent a Note Verbale to the Chinese Government through its embassy here. It is not known how the embassy reacted.

But earlier, on Tuesday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) warned that any escalation of the dispute in the Scarborough Shoal, particularly one that would "change the nature of the issue," would be opposed strongly.

In another press conference on Wednesday, MOFA spokesperson Hong Lei said there are about 20 such fishing boats in the area. "This number is roughly the same with that in the same period of the previous years," headed.

He defended the fishing boat presence and said it "complies with the related Chinese laws and the fishing moratorium issued by the Chinese government."

Calling the briefing a situationer report, the DFA said "it is regrettable that these actions occurred at a time when China has been articulating for a de-escalation of tensions and while the two sides have been discussing how to defuse the situation in the area."

"The Philippines demands that China's vessels immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines' EEZ and for China to refrain from taking further actions that exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea," which is how Manila now calls the South China Sea.

At the Beijing press conference, Philippine media was quoted to have reported that nearly 100 Chinese boats or dinghies are in the shoal, called Huangyan Dao in China and Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines.

Without giving particulars, Hong remarked that "the Philippine side has recently taken some provocative actions in the Huangyan Island waters, thus the Chinese side has adopted corresponding measures to strengthen management and control" by allowing more vessels in the contested territory.

"The Philippines protests these actions of China as clear violations of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Shoal and sovereign rights over the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that covers the waters around Bajo de Masinloc," the DFA said.

The DFA said it is committed to efforts of defusing the tensions in Bajo de Masinloc, and volunteered that "talks are continuing between the DFA and Chinese Embassy officials." Embassy officials, however, said there are no such talks in Manila.

China's actions also violate the United Nations Charter on the use of force against territorial integrity and political independence.

DFA's invoking of the ASEAN's Declaration of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea and the UN reinforces its position that negotiations with China must also be rules-based and multilateral.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Philippine Senator Calls Chief Justice Funny

Senator–judge Franklin Drilon has considered as "funny" the challenge of Chief Justice Renato Corona for him to sign a blank waiver authorizing government entities to examine all his bank records as well as statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

"I find it funny," was the short response of Drilon to Corona's challenge addressed also to the 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment complaints against the chief magistrate.

In his first appearance in his own impeachment trial, Corona signed a waiver authorizing the government agencies to examine all his dollar deposits and peso bank accounts to prove that he is not hiding anything illegal.

Corona, however, said he will only formally submit his waiver if the 188 complainants as well as Drilon will sign similar waiver.

After making his challenge, Corona suddenly walked out of the witness stand, forcing Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile to close all the doors of the Senate building to prevent the Chief Justice from leaving.

The defense panel later asked apology for Corona's departure, saying the chief magistrate suffered from hypoglycemia being a diabetic.

The defense asked the impeachment court to allow Corona to return on Wednesday, a request granted by visibly irritated Senate President.

Maintaining Diplomacy Over China's Stealing of Philippine Island

By Gloria Jane Baylon

China continues with its position of "committing to diplomatic consultations" with the Philippines over the disputed Scarborough Shoal and asked that Manila "send a clear and consistent message" along that tack, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a recent press conference in Beijing. 

The text of Hong's statement was relayed to Philippine media by the Chinese embassy in Manila, through its political officer and spokesperson, Zhang Hua.

Once again citing China's historical sovereignty over what is known to the Chinese as Huangyan Dao and Bajo de Masinloc to the Philippines, Hong sidestepped any suggestion at the press conference of third-party "meddling" in the dispute.

Specifically mentioned by the questioning journalist was Russia, a major China ally and a co-permanent member of the powerful United Nations Security Council.

Instead, Hong told journalists: "…China's position of committing to diplomatic consultation to address the current situation remains unchanged. We hope that the Philippine side will work towards the same direction with the Chinese side, take China's concerns seriously, return to the correct path of diplomatic solution and hence send a clear and consistent message."

The questioner wanted China's reaction to reports that "Russia had recently expressed that its opposition to meddling in the Huangyan Island issue by countries which are not parties to it."

The questioner was apparently alluding to the fact that China's sole tack on territorial disputes is bilateral diplomatic talks with the Philippines.

On the other hand, Manila posits not only a diplomatic route but also a multilateral approach through, for example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the international law-based mode via the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Amid Manila's stand-off with Beijing on Bajo de Masinloc, the Department of Foreign Affairs cites US commitment to defend the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

At the same press conference, Hong was asked China's reaction to an attempt by retired Filipino military man, Nicanor Faeldon, to sail to the Scarborough late last week and plant the Philippine flag.

Faeldon later claimed he abandoned his plans because of a direct personal plea from President Benigno Aquino III via telephone. Aquino purportedly told him not to add to the heat of the debate on the dispute.

"We have also taken notice of the reports," Hong responded, adding that "the Chinese side will remain highly vigilant on the island and obstruct any provocative behavior."

Meanwhile, Armed Forces spokesperson, Col. Arnulfo Burgos, said in a text message to the Philippines News Agency that "there is no truth" to a newspaper report about a botched attempt by the Philippine navy to shoo off Chinese fishermen out of Scarborough on April 8.

The Information Office of China's Ministry of Defense also corrected a Philippine media report that China was sending five warships to waters near the Philippines.

That was a "recent drill by a naval fleet of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the West Pacific waters," the Ministry said. "It is a regular training program included in its annual plan, not aimed at any particular country or target."

Drama of Chief Justice Renato Corona

By Jelly F. Musico

Senate President and president officer Juan Ponce Enrile ordered the Senate sergeant-at-arms to close all the doors of the Senate building after Chief Justice Renato Corona walked out of the witness stand after signing a conditional waiver authorizing the opening of all his peso and dollar accounts. 

After testifying for two hours, Corona excused himself without the approval from the presiding officer and left the witness stand allegedly after feeling ill due to his diabetes.

Enrile was visibly unhappy by Corona's action as he ordered that all the doors of the Senate be closed to prevent the chief magistrate from leaving the building.

"Nobody can get out of the Senate. I ordered all the doors be closed. I don't want any defiance of this impeachment court. If you are going to disrespect this court, the court will make a decision of this case right now," the visibly irritated Enrile said.

Enrile also warned the audience from the gallery for continuously booing specially when defense lead counsel Serafin Cuevas said Corona is taking his medicine and attending his personal necessity.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have been patient. I warned you. If you are going to continue to be disorderly, I will ask the sergeant-at-arms to escort all of you out of this session hall. I hope you understand the decorum required by this court. You may booed in some other place but not in this court. So ordered!"

Cuevas asked for recess to check the whereabouts of Corona who, later as claimed by his lawyers, went to the clinic to have his blood sugar checked.

"The chief justice has not eaten his lunch and he felt fainting 20 minutes before the trial because of his diabetes," according to his lawyer Jose Roy III.

Roy, later, said Corona might not come back to the witness stand, adding "the chief justice is feeling tired and dizzy."

An all senator-judges caucus has been called to decide on the drama that highlighted the much-anticipated appearance of the chief magistrate.

Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill of the Philippines

By Ed O. Barrita

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III has said the House of Representatives may pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill before the start of their recess on June 6. 

Tanada, the principal author of the proposed Freedom of information Law, said Malacanang formed a study group whose members recommended some amendments to the bill.

The first amendment to his bill is the insertion of the words "national security," thereby expanding the concept of national security beyond national defense and foreign affairs.

However, Tanada said Congress must define the meaning of national security because they will not allow the President or any other officials to just say a piece of information cannot be released to anybody because it involves national security.

The second amendment is in relation to policy-making, where access of information to the public is given only if a policy decision of the government is already approved.

No information shall be given when the proposed policy is still being discussed by concerned government officials.

The third amendment is the insertion of mandatory disclosure in government websites of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (Saln) of the president, vice president, senators, congressmen, cabinet members and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) with the rank of one star and above.

The fourth amendment is to delete the criminal aspect of the proposed law, such as the imprisonment of a public official who will deny access of information to the public for one reason or another.

Only administrative sanction such as suspension of that official from the service is recommended.

"I believe these amendments should be enacted into law," Tanada said.

Tanada said that even President Benigno S. Aquino III believed that his Freedom of Information Bill is important and should be passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Day 40 of Impeachment Trial of Renato Corona

by PNA
On Day 40 of his impeachment trial on Tuesday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona delivered his much-awaited testimony before the Senate, sitting as the impeachment court. 

In his opening statement, Corona said his appearance was a fulfillment of his promise to the Filipino people to answer all allegations hurled against him.

Corona, in his testimony, accused the government of using its entire machinery to discredit and impeach him.

He also accused the House of Representatives' prosecution panel of engaging in "dirty tactics."

Corona said the case was filed without solid evidence.

He accused the prosecution of abusing the law to prosecute him and this, according to him, is "unacceptable."

The chief magistrate also dragged President Benigno S. Aquino III and the Hacienda Luisita issue, and Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas in the impeachment case.

He also accused the President of wanting to control the three branches of government -- legislative, executive and the judiciary.

Corona also admitted, in his testimony, of investing in foreign currency business.

He also discussed the Basa-Guidote issue, even saying that the late Jose Basa oppressed his mother-in-law and family.

Corona also denied acquiring 45 properties, admitting to owning only five which, according to him, were all declared in his statements of assets, liabilities and networth (SALNs).

He also denied having US$ 10-12 million deposits in 82 bank accounts as he accused Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales of misleading the court, saying the Ombudsman's information came from "polluted source."

The prosecution defended the Ombudsman saying that Carpio-Morales "acted well within her general and specific powers, and did not do acts violative of either the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) or the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA)."

After his testimony, Corona walked out of the Senate impeachment court, which prompted Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile to issue a warning against the chief justice that his long testimony would be stricken off the record and the court would render a verdict on the impeachment case if the chief magistrate would not return to the witness stand and allow himself to be cross-examined by the prosecution and the senator-judges.

"We will give Corona until tomorrow (Wednesday) to return. If he does not return, we will consider this case submitted for resolution. If corona does not want to be cross-examined, I will order his statement stricken off the record," Enrile said.

Enrile's decision was supported by all the 23 senators present during the 40th day of the impeachment trial.

Meanwhile, the prosecution panel said the alleged "premeditated" and "planned walkout" of Corona only show that the chief magistrate has no intention to be cross-examined.

They said what the chief justice did was "a blatant insult and disrespect to the impeachment court."

The prosecution said the chief magistrate's actuation was unbecoming of a chief justice.

As head of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the land, it was shameful that the chief magistrate had resorted to this stunt, they said.

Senator–judge Franklin Drilon, for his part, considered as "funny" the challenge of the chief justice for him and the 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint to sign a blank waiver authorizing government entities concerned to examine all their bank records as well as their SALNs.

"I find it funny," was the short response of Drilon to Corona's challenge.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casino also said that the chief justice's challenge was obviously "a publicity stunt that does not deserve any serious consideration."

"It is a ploy to justify his continued refusal to reveal his true assets from the impeachment court. Unless he (Corona) answers questions from the prosecution, he has no right demanding anything from anyone," he said.

Defense lead counsel former SC Justice Serafin Cuevas, meanwhile, apologized for Corona's sudden departure from the session hall even as he got boos from the gallery.

Corona returned to the session hall on a wheelchair, forcing Cuevas to ask for suspension of the hearing to give the chief magistrate enough time to recover from hypoglycemia.

"He is not physically able and not mentally suited to carry on the direct examination. Corona will continue his testimony but not today," Cuevas said.

Enrile granted the request of the defense and, at the same time, demanded respect from Corona.

OWWA in Cebu City, Philippines

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) 7 celebrated its 30th Founding Anniversary by recognizing four of its institutional partners in Cebu.

The Apostleship of the Sea-Cebu, Stella Maris Seafarers' Center, Center for Overseas Women-Cebu, and ECMI-CBCP Visayas were given tokens of appreciation for their help and cooperation with OWWA.

Through them, OFWs receive financial support and advice over the years.

There are about 120,000 active OFW members of OWWA in Region 7, who have benefited from these NGOs.

OWWA and its NGO partners have been responsive to the welfare of their members and their families.

"On behalf of Region 7, I wish to thank all of you for your valuable support and continued services in uplifting the lives and well-being of our modern-day heroes, the OFWs, and their families," Wilfreda Misterio, OWWA 7 director, said.

Dormitory, Boarding House, Apartment Must Secure Business Permit

The city government has called on all dormitories here to secure business permits at city hall before they can rent out rooms or accommodate borders.

City Administrator Antonio Orendain Jr. said the license requirement should also cover homes that offer rooms for rent to students in Zamboanga.

Orendain warned that students staying in unlicensed dormitories may be evicted if it is discovered that these buildings are not covered by proper document.

He said that owners of apartments, dormitories or homes that offer temporary sources of income may lose money if they do not secure licenses for their operations and their homes or apartments will be padlocked by the city government.

Zamboanga City is the center of education in the Peninsula with several big universities and colleges catering to students from the island provinces such as Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Thousands of students from these island provinces and the three Zamboanga provinces -- Del Norte, Del Sur and Sibugay -- also go to Zamboanga for their college degrees.

The Western Mindanao State University (former Zamboanga Normal School), the Zamboanga City Polytechnic Colleges (former Regional School of Arts and Trades) and the Zamboanga Regional School of Fisheries are government educational institutions that provide college education at lower costs.

Aside from these government schools, there are also about a dozen colleges that offer several bachelor courses as well as short term vocational courses to students from the region.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) also offers cheap or subsidized training, mostly on manual skills courses, including language courses for other colleges graduates who want to shift from white collar courses to blue collar jobs.

Since these out of town students seldom have relatives in Zamboanga, they end up staying in dormitories or boarding houses in this city.

Orendain said these boarding houses must comply with all the requirements from the City Health Office such as comfort rooms and kitchen areas.

Dengue Cases in Negros Oriental Rising

The Department of Health (DOH) in Negros Oriental has confirmed an increase in the number of dengue cases in the province.

Dr. Socrates Villamor, provincial DOH chief, said that confirmed dengue cases in Negros Oriental reached 235 from Jan. 1 to May 15 this year. The figures were based on admission cases at the three hospitals in Dumaguete City, namely, Holy Child Hospital, Silliman University Medical Center, and the Negros Oriental Provincial Hospital.

Villamor said a 33 percent increase was noted this year over last year's figures of 177 cases and no deaths due to dengue for the same period covered.

Two deaths, involving pre-school children, were also reported within the period from Jan. 1 to May 15, this year.

Villamor said the fatalities, both girls, were a 5-year old from Sibulan town who died last January, and a 3-year old from Bacong who succumbed to the disease just last week.

He allayed fears of an epidemic outbreak of dengue cases in the province, saying the increase was expected because of the arrival of the rainy season. Health officials are anticipating further rise in the number of dengue cases during the coming months.

Dumaguete City tops the list of the 10 local government units in Negros Oriental having the highest number of dengue cases at 109. Bayawan City came in second with 23 cases, followed by Tanjay with 19; Bais, 10; Bacong, 9; Sibulan, 8; Manjuyod and San Jose, 7 each; and Dauin and Guihulngan, 6 cases each.

The municipalities of Amlan, Vallehermoso, La Libertad and Jimalalud had no dengue cases reported for the same period, while the rest of the cities and municipalities had five cases and below.

Dr. Villamor appealed to the public to begin adopting the government's 4S strategy in combating dengue.

The 4S strategy stands for Search and Destroy breeding places of dengue mosquito vectors, Seek early consultation, adopt Self-Protection measures like the use of insect repellant lotion, and Say No to indiscriminate fogging.

According to Dr. Villamor, patients who manifest symptoms of high fever, rashes and nausea, among others, must consult a physician immediately as most cases with the said symptoms nowadays are being considered as suspect dengue cases.

Garbage Problem in Cebu, Philippines

Businessman Ephrain "Jun" Pelaez Jr. has issued a notice to sue barangay officials in Lapu-Lapu City and Mayor Paz Radaza for allegedly not doing something about the city's garbage problem.

Pelaez, through his legal counsel Atty. Joan Largo, said the officials have been given a 30-day notice to comply with Republic Act (RA) 9300, or the Solid Waste Management Act.

According to Pelaez, garbage disposal in the city has been a perennial problem since 2007.

He said barangay officials have failed to perform the mandates under the Local Government Code and RA 9003, among other laws.

Pelaez, who ran against Radaza in the last election, kept a photographic journal for four consecutive years of the garbage strewn by the roadside, which, he said, was meant to be a wake-up call for the Radazas.

The mayor's husband, former Lapu-Lapu City mayor Arturo Radaza, is the representative of the seventh congressional district consisting of the city of Lapu-Lapu.

"Our request was simple, clean the city up. But we were ignored and persecuted and the city remains dirty to this day," Pelaez said.

Mayor Radaza said she believes the issue, which had been tackled in 2007, has something to do with Pelaez's political aspirations next year.

"At least now I know who I'll be facing in the elections next year. Today he is at it again, trying to make solid waste management an issue," she said.

She said that despite repeated issuance of solid waste citation tickets, Barangay Basak has failed to act on its garbage problem.

Basak Road is a major artery in the city and the garbage problem is the barangay captain's way of sabotaging the city's efforts to keep it clean, she said.

The barangay captain of Basak is Isabelito Darnayla, who defeated Lolita Berdin, a close ally of the Radazas and wife of former city councilor Alley Berdin, in the May 2010 elections.

Fire in La Libertad, Negros Oriental

Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo has ordered the Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP) to submit a comprehensive report on the fire incident that burned the La Libertad booth at the Sidlakang Negros Village along E. J. Blanco road in Barangay Piapi in Dumaguete City recently.

He also demanded an explanation from Provincial Tourism Officer, Myla Abellana, why the incident occurred when there were security guards assigned in the Sidlakang Negros Village. The governor wanted to find out circumstances behind the incident or someone should be held responsible for it.

The governor said he was saddened over the incident as it might stir some political intrigues and issues.

He also asked Engr. Berchmans Patrimonio to cordon the area and never allow any attempt to rehabilitate the booth while the BFP is still investigating the fire incident.

The governor said he wanted to know whether the building was constructed with proper building permit to include electrical connection.

The Sidlakang Negros Village LGU booths, constructed during the time of late Governor Emilio Macias II, were intended to serve as a venue for the activities of the province like the Buglasan Festival held every year.

Southern Negros Geothermal Production Field

The Energy Development Corp. (EDC)- Southern Negros Geothermal Production Field (SNGPF) is now coordinating with the local government units in Negros Oriental and concerned government agencies about the proper dissemination of rain gauge data.

Engr. Dwight Maxino, EDC vice president for Negros and concurrent resident manager of the Southern Negros Geothermal Production Field, the company focused attention on how to properly interpret rain gauge data that they have collected.

The EDC-SNGPF recently invited PAG-ASA Provincial chief Edsin Culi, provincial coordinator of the Provincial Disaster Risk reduction Management Council ( PDRRMC) Angelo Tiongson, Information Officer Adrian Sedillo, Valencia Mayor Enrique Gonzalez and some councilors and members of the media to an informal meeting regarding the interpretation of rainfall reading.

Maxino said the company has been disseminating the rain gauge data to the media and to the local government units but they were not aware how these agencies had been interpreting these. The most common warning that they can give is to inform the public that the Buayahan spillway is no longer passable, which would signal that a strong flood is coming.

The warning is given to areas that might be affected with possible flooding by the Okoy and Banica Rivers. The data has been disseminated and shared with the aim to alert the public on possible flooding.

At present, it is only EDC- SNGPF that has established a rain gauge data monitoring system in the mountains of Valencia, Negros Oriental since it is part of their area of responsibility.

Maxino admitted that although they have established the rain gauge, they do not have the proper training and capability of interpreting and analyzing these. They are just adopting their own measurements that would alert them when rainwater will reach a certain level that could already be cause for concern.

There are three automated rain gauges placed in different areas at the geothermal site in Valencia. The alarm is automatically set on a certain level during strong or heavy rain.

Provincial PAG-ASA Chief Culi said that there were different types of rains that could contribute to the data collection of the rain gauge.

He said they were willing to extend their help to the EDC–SNGPF personnel assigned to monitor the rain gauge meters in order to properly analyze and interpret data.

Caritas Village Housing Project

The group of volunteers, priests and the Social Action Center Coordinator of the Diocese of Dumaguete, Rev. Fr. Burton Villarmente, have expressed concern over the reported presence of informal illegal settlers in some portions of the land for the Caritas Village Housing Project for tropical storm "Sendong" victims in the city.

One of the volunteers reported that a shanty was built in the area by people who claimed they were victims of the flood spurred by "Sendong" last December. They later found out that this family did not seek permission either from the city government or from the Social Action Center to construct a house at the said site.

Fr. Villarmente suggested that this illegal settler should not be allowed to stay in the area because they will cause disturbance during the construction of the houses. They are also afraid that if they will allow illegal settlers to stay, they might also invite relatives to come and live in the area.

They are closely coordinating with the Department of Social Welfare and Development for the verification and evaluation of the bonafide recipients, said Fr. Villarmente. Some of those who claimed to be typhoon victims were actually evacuees coming from the town of Mabinay and Bais City, he said.

At present, the core group is now requesting the office of the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) to conduct a survey and staking of markers for the areas where the next unit will be built. It is important that there will be a clear survey for the area so that the builders can properly be guided.

Rev. Fr. Antonio Arnaiz, who is also a member of the core group, said once the area is surveyed and markers are in place, these will discourage illegal settlers to occupy the area. The area is still susceptible for illegal settlers because it is still in the process of clearing.

Fr. Burton also suggested that Dumaguete City Mayor Manuel Sagarbarria should also be informed of the situation in the area because the project is a partnership between the city government and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Caritas Village Housing Project is funded by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and implemented through the Social Action Center and the Diocese of Dumaguete. Each of the housing unit has at least a budget of P40,000 to P45,000 that already included a dirty kitchen and toilet.

2012 Summer Festival in the Philippines

The 2012 Summer Festival will culminate on Friday, May 26, with the Festival de las Bellas y Flores-Year 10, a competition of flower decked-arcos and exposition of beautiful gowns and pretty ladies.

The activity will kick off with the parade of arcos at 5 p.m. from Ledesma Street (fronting the Zamboanga City Fire District headquarters) to the Paseo del Mar where the show proper will be held at 6:30 p.m.

The arco competition will be judged based on originality, 30 percent; creativity, 30 percent; craftsmanship, 25 percent; and, impact, 10 percent.

The first place winner will receive P15,000 and a plaque; second place winner, P10,000 and a plaque; and, the third place winner, P10,000 and a plaque.

Gown entries will be judged based on the following criteria: craftsmanship, 45 percent; concept and design, 30 percent; aesthetic appeal, 15 percent; and, impact, 10 percent.

First prize for the gown competition will be P7,000 and a plaque; P5,000 and plaque for the second place; and, P3,000 and plaque for the third prize.

The prettiest señorita competition, on the other hand, will be based on the following criteria: beauty of face, 50 percent; physique, 25 percent; poise and posture, 15 percent; and, stage presence, 10 percent.

First prize for the prettiest señorita is P5,000 and a plaque; second prize is P3,000 and a plaque; and, third prize is P3,000 and a plaque.

The Festival de las Bellas y Flores-Year 10 forms part of the city government's 2012 Summer Festival, which is intended to involve the community and provide wholesome entertainment to local residents as well as visitors during summer.

The Summer Festival kicked off April 13 with the kite flying competition and juego de antes held at the Paseo del Mar.

Other highlights during the month were the Dia de Ma'am Caling, Duathlon Challenge, Dia de Gen. Vicente S. Alvarez, Fiesta Engrande and many others.

Ipil City in Zamboanga Sibugay

Ipil, the capital town of Zamboanga Sibugay Province bordering the eastern boundary of this city will soon have its Pasalubong Complex to house all delicacies and souvenir items and other locally produced products by the local entrepreneurs of the province.

The town sits at the crossroads to Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and on to the other provinces and cities in mainland Mindanao and this city.

This on-going project is part of efforts to fast track the economic development of the Ipil and its bid for city hood.

Zamboanga del Norte has two component cities, Dipolog and Dapitan; Zamboanga del Norte has Pagadian City – the official regional center of the Zamboanga Peninsula Region, but the Province of Sibugay does not have any component city yet.

Ipil Mayor Eldwin Alibutdan said that the municipality of Ipil, as the center of trade and commerce and the capital town of Zamboanga Sibugay, is preparing for its city hood and thus the reason to prioritize infrastructure projects in the municipality.

He also said that the on-going Pasalubong complex situated near the town's public market, the renovation of the town's municipal hall, town plaza, roads and streets, municipal hospital and clinics, were among the infrastructure projects.

The mayor said the Pasalubong Complex would provide traders in the province with a place to sell their wares to the local populace and the thousands of people who pass by the municipality on the way to this city and to other parts in Mindanao.

The Mayor also said that the municipality must also hurdle its water supply problems, unemployment, environmental degradation and other forms of destruction, improper garbage segregation and undeveloped potential scenic spots.

Groundwater Sources in Bicol, Philippines

The regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has identified several groundwater sites in Bicol that could be developed into sources of supply for communities experiencing scarcity of potable water.

Among those identified through the intensified groundwater assessment program of the MGB are the Palhi Spring in Sorsogon City; Tulay na Lupa, Mampurog and San Vicente watersheds in Camarines Norte; and Mandali River in the municipality of Milagros, Jubuyuan Watershed of Aroroy and Tugbo, Nadawison and Domarog of the towns of Cataingan and Uson, all in Masbate.

Others are Bagong Silang, Macad, Caraman, Balogo and Odicon Springs within the watershed of Pasacao; and Nalalata Spring, Ballester Panoypoyan, Upper Casugad, Nadal, Casugad ff1, Casugad ff2, Casugad ff3 and Casugad ff4 located inside the Bula Watershed, both in Camarines Sur.

The assessment program was conducted by the MGB under its hydro-geological project whose implementation was started as early as the 1990s in response to the need to identify more water sources to address the region's dwindling water supply, particularly during the dry season.

When developed into water supply facilities, these groundwater sources could address the problem on potable water being encountered by various areas in the region, Luis Loyola, the MGB regional technical director based here on Tuesday said.

Palhi Spring in Barangay Capuy of Sorsogon City, Loyola said had 12 sub-springs that discharge a maximum total of 600 gallons per minute enough to supply all its adjoining eight barangays and even part of the nearby municipality of Castilla.

The Mandali River of Milagros, Masbate that accounts for about 3,300 gallons per day could provide sufficient supply to fill up the projected water demand of the town of Mobo and Masbate City that are presently living through water scarcity, he said.

Assessment of groundwater potential for Milagros was focus on collection of relevant information regarding the town's present water resources within a five kilometers radius and to formulate a water development plan for the construction of a water system, Loyola added.

In Aroroy, Masbate, Loyola said the Jabuyuan Watershed had eight springs with varying combined discharges from 0.019 to 5.760 liters per second.

He recommended that a water impounding structure is constructed and a cooperative is formed to manage a small water system in the area.

In Uson, Masbate, a total of five live springs were identified during a mapping survey and assessed to be potential potable water sources for the municipality whose communities rely on deep and shallow wells for their household water supply, EMB regional chief said.

Results of geological and geophysical survey in Cataingan, Masbate, meanwhile, showed limestone which underlies 70 percent of the municipality.

This mineral, according to Loyola is relatively an acquifer which contains water of undetermined capacity which can be tapped for domestic use.

In Camarines Norte, the groundwater sources identified are concentrated in the southern portion of Mt. Labo while in Pasacao, Camarines, five springs were located and measured for the water discharges.

A similar geo-hydrology was also conducted in Bula watershed to identify potential potable water sources for development and maximum utilization.

Discharge measurements were conducted on different artesian wells and springs within the area and it was found out that Nalalata, Ballester and Nadal springs are potential water sources. Pasacao and Bula watersheds are located in Camarines Sur.

The identification and assessment of these groundwater sources in several areas of Bicol, Loyola said would guide local authorities in providing safe water supply to their constituents.

Identifying and assessing the potential of these possible water sources will also serve as pointers for local government units covering them in instituting measures for the protection and preservation of these resources in line with "Water for Life" campaign of the government which was used a theme for the recent Earth Day celebration.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Meaning of Philippine Flag

By Honor Blanco Cabie

For 16 days starting May 28 each year, displaying the country's tricolors has become part of a revered tradition and culture of this multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country of nearly 98 million people from Batanes to Tawi Tawi. 

Sometime in the latter part of the 1960s, a young correspondent, covering a news event in Sulu, saw this as the country's national anthem was played in front of the capitol.

When the anthem was played by the military band, coinciding with the brisk hoisting of the Philippine flag, the correspondent immediately realized the indivisibility of this one nation as every Muslim and Christian in the audience stood at attention.

But a question remains: How many of the population are familiar with the specifics regarding the flag, despite the annual public display for 16 days, called National Flag days?

The national flag, displayed with the blue field on top in times of peace, and with the red field on top in times of war, is a horizontal bicolor with equal bands of blue and red, and with a white equilateral triangle based at the hoist side.

In the center of the triangle is a golden yellow sun with eight primary rays, each containing three individual rays.

At every corner of the triangle is a five-pointed golden yellow star.

The flag is horizontally divided into two basic colors -- royal blue and scarlet red -- with a white equilateral triangle based at the hoist side.

At the center of the triangle is a golden-yellow sun with eight primary rays, each containing three individual rays, and at each corner of the triangle is a five-pointed golden-yellow star.

The flag's length is twice its width, which translates into an aspect ratio of 1:2. The sides of the white triangle are equal to the width of the flag.

Each star is oriented such that it points towards the tip of the vertex at which it is located.

The flag's colors are specified by Republic Act 8491 in terms of their cable number in the system developed by the Color Association of the United States.

The Philippine flag, designed in 1897 by Emilio Aguinaldo while he was in exile in Hong Kong, is unique.

It can indicate a state of war when the red field is displayed on top, or on the observer's left when the flag is displayed vertically, with the white equilateral triangle at the top end.

According to official sources, the white triangle stands for equality and fraternity; the blue field for peace, truth, and justice; and the red field for patriotism and valor.

The eight primary rays of the sun represent the eight provinces which declared a state of war as soon as the first revolt was initiated in the 1896 Revolution of independence from Spain, and placed under martial law by the colonial government.

The eight provinces were Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, and Batangas.

The three stars represent the three major geographical divisions of this Southeast Asian archipelago: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.

Some have noted that the symbolism given in the 1898 Proclamation of Philippine Independence differs from the current official explanation.

One school of thought says the white triangle signifies the emblem of the Katipunan.

This is the secret society that opposed Spanish rule which was ushered in by Fernando Magallanes in 1521 until the Spanish armada was beaten by the troops of US Admiral George Dewey in 1898.

Another school of thought says the flag's colors celebrate the flag of the United States as a manifestation of Philippine gratitude for American protection against the Spanish during the Philippine Revolution.

Still another says that one of the three stars represents the island of Panay, not the entire Visayan islands.

Historians say it has been common since the 1960s to trace the development of the Philippine flag to the various war standards of the individual leaders of the Katipunan.

This was a pseudo-masonic revolutionary movement that opposed Spanish rule in the Philippines and led the Philippine Revolution.

But while some symbols common to the Katipunan flags would be adopted into the iconography of the Revolution, historians say it is inconclusive whether these war standards can be considered precursors to the present Philippine flag.

The first flag was sewn by Marcela Marino de Agoncillo with the help of her daughter Lorenza and Delfina Herbosa de Natividad (a niece of reformist leader José Rizal).

Agoncillo's remains are interred at the Dominican-run Sanctuario del Santo Cristo in San Juan City.

The flag, while it was displayed in battle on May 28, 1898, was formally unfurled during the proclamation of independence on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite.

The flag was first flown with the red field up on Feb. 4, 1899 to show that a state of war existed.

Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans two years later in Palanan, Isabela, and swore allegiance to the United States.

The defeat of the Philippine Republic ushered in American colonial rule which made the display of the Philippine flag an illegal move by the Sedition Act of 1907.

This law was repealed on Oct. 30, 1919. With the legalization of the Philippine flag, the cloth available in most stores was the red and blue of the flag of the United States, so the flag from 1919 onwards adopted the navy blue color.

The Philippine Legislature passed Act. No 2928 on March 26, 1920, which legally adopted the Philippine flag as the official flag of the Philippine Islands.

Up until the eve of World War II, Flag Day was celebrated each year on Oct. 30, commemorating the date the ban on the flag was lifted.

On March 25, 1936, following the inauguration of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in the previous year, President Manuel L. Quezon issued Executive Order No. 23 which provided for the technical description and specifications of the flag.

The flag was once more banned with the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines beginning in December 1941, to be hoisted again with the establishment of the Japanese-sponsored Second Republic of the Philippines.

During ceremonies in October 1943, Emilio Aguinaldo hoisted the flag with the original Cuban blue and red colors restored.

The flag was initially flown with the blue stripe up, until President Jose P. Laurel proclaimed the existence of a state of war with the Allied Powers in 1944.

The Commonwealth government-in-exile in Washington, D.C. continued to use the flag with the American colors, and had flown it with the red stripe up since the initial invasion of the Japanese.

With the combined forces of the Filipino and American soldiers and the liberation of the Philippines in 1944 to 1945, the flag with the American colors was restored.

This flag was hoisted when Philippine independence was restored – not granted, as some historians say – on July 4, 1946.

In 1985, President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the colors of the flag restored to the original blue and red of the Cuban flag.

But this act was reversed after the largely peaceful Catholic Church-backed People Power Revolution removed Marcos from power.

For the 1998 centennial of the proclamation of Philippine independence, the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines (RA 8491) was passed, changing the shade of blue to royal blue.

The flag, often referred to as the tricolors – although there are actually four colors: white, blue, red, and the gold yellow of the sun and stars – is flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning.

Upon the official announcement of the death of the President or a former President, the flag should be flown at half-mast for 10 days.

It should be flown at half-mast for seven days following the death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice, the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The flag may also be required to fly at half-mast upon the death of other persons to be determined by the National Historical Institute, for less than seven days.

The flag shall be flown at half-mast on all the buildings and places where the dead was holding office, on the day of death until the day of interment of an incumbent member of the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, the Senate or the House of Representatives, and such other persons as may be determined by the National Historical Institute.

Under the law, when the flag is flown at half-mast, it should be first hoisted to the peak for a moment then lowered to the half-mast position.

It should be raised to the peak again before it is lowered for the day.

The flag may also be used to cover the caskets of the dead of the military, veterans of previous wars, national artists, and outstanding civilians as determined by the local government.

In such cases, the flag must be placed such that the white triangle is at the head and the blue portion covers the right side of the casket.

The flag should not be lowered to the grave or allowed to touch the ground, but should be solemnly folded and handed to the heirs of the deceased.

It is prohibited to deface or ridicule the flag, to dip the flag as a salute, or to add additional marks of any nature on the flag.

It may not be used as a drapery, festoon, tablecloth, as a covering for objects, or as part of a costume or uniform.

Several commercial uses of the flag are prohibited, including using the flag as a trademark or for commercial labels or designs.

It is forbidden to use the image of the flag on merchandise, or in any advertisement.

It also may not be used as a pennant in the hood, side, back and top of motor vehicles;

The flag may not be displayed horizontally face-up, or under any painting, picture or platform.

Training on Livelihood Entrepreneurship for Former Rebels

By Ben Cal

Last year's signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the government and the Cordillera Bodong Administration-Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CBA-CPLA) has paid off in transforming the former rebel group into a potent socioeconomic unit after its members underwent training on livelihood entrepreneurship

The Entrepreneurship Development Training (EDT) was jointly conducted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Abra, Mountain Province and Benguet, the home base of the CBA-CPLA.

Another training is scheduled this week in the provinces of Apayao and Kalinga.

EDT is designed to equip CBA-CPLA members with business skills to help improve their lives.

The training is considered as a dividend of peace stemming from the MOA signed between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the CBA-CPLA on July 4 of last year, marking the former rebel group's transformation into a peaceful socioeconomic unit.

Anna Laylo, OPAPP project manager, said the workshop is a primary step before support can be provided for the livelihood projects proposed by CBA-CPLA members under the MOA.

"This training will equip the participants with the necessary business management tools that would help them supervise their businesses well," Laylo said.

These tools include business planning, situation analysis, manpower distribution and marketing.

To put their newly acquired skills into practice, participants are placed in mock situations where they interact with other market players, such as customers, producers and lending institutions, among others.

"The projects they proposed are very feasible and promising," said Johnny G. Pulay, senior trading industry development specialist of DTI-Benguet.

The workshop was pilot-tested in February this year in Ifugao, spearheaded by the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority-Ifugao.

The attendees in the Benguet training expressed appreciation of the program.

OPAPP pointed to Miguel Toyaoan Jr., one of those who attended the workshop, who said the livelihood program will benefit the CPLA.

No More Brownouts in Mindanao, Philippines

The Aquino administration said that there are no more rotating blackouts in Mindanao following the repair and rehabilitation of the Polangui hydro-power plant, a Palace official said.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said during the regular press briefing in Malacanang on Monday that the government has already completed the repair and rehabilitation of Polangui power plant to ease Mindanao's power woes.

While the situation in Mindanao has improved, Lacierda said the Aquino government continues to pursue its plan to rehabilitate other power plants to ensure that the region has sufficient energy sources.

At present, Lacierda said the government is looking for other energy sources, including the Iligan Diesel Power Plant. He emphasized the need to rehabilitate the Iligan Diesel Power Plant that could produce 100 megawatts in eight months.

The government also plans to resort to renewable energy as part of the Aquino government's long-term plan to address the energy problem in the country particularly in Mindanao.

Autralia Helps the Philippines Against China

By Jelly F. Musico

The Department of National Defense (DND) enumerated on Monday the direct benefits that the Philippines would get if the Senate would ratify the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia

During the public hearing conducted by the Senate committee on foreign relations, Defense undersecretary for legal and legislative affairs Pio Lorenzo Batino said Australia can help in terms of the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), including transfer of military capabilities under SOVFA.

"If we have this SOVFA ratified, we will have a lot to learn and we can expect continued support of our military needs," Batino said.

He said SOVFA will also provide the legal framework as the two countries promote military cooperation by sending troops to Australia for military scholarships and training.

"The SOVFA will benefit the Philippines in terms of education and training, capacity building, humanitarian assistance and disaster response," Batino said.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) undersecretary Esteban Conejos said SOFVA, which the Australian parliament ratified in 2007, will enhance the capability of the AFP in terms of facing threat of terrorism, promoting maritime security, environment protection and relief operations during disasters.

"It will intensify bilateral relationship with Australia," Conejos said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as the DND and DFA to submit matrix comparing the VFA with Australia and the VFA with the United States, specifically the provision on criminal jurisdiction, to assure abuses of the agreement will not be violated by both parties.

"Evidently, this is a difficult issue that in this kind of agreement you will encounter a lot of problems," Enrile said.

"Based on the wordings of the Australia SOFVA, there is more reference for the rights of the receiving states with respect to criminal jurisdiction," Batino replied.

Enrile clarified that he is in favor of the measure, "but I just want to find out the criminal jurisdiction and custody provisions."

Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, supported the motion of Enrile requiring the involved government offices to submit further study on the criminal jurisdiction provision of the agreement.

"Cite that specific provision in SOVFA which you claimed is different from the VFA with the U.S. insofar as the criminal jurisdiction is concerned," Legarda said.

Legarda has given the concerned government agencies until Thursday to submit the report even as she set the next hearing on Monday next week.

The DFA said the Philippines and Australia have already been conducting joint military exercises but these are only covered by a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 1995.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard witnessed the signing of the SOVFA at Parliament House in Canberra in June 2007.

Lady Gaga Meets with Protest in Philippines

Authorities have mapped out security measures to prevent potential protests that may mar the two-day concert of controversial singer Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, popularly known as Lady Gaga, at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

According to Pasay chief of police Senior Supt. Melchor Reyes, they have prepared anti-riot teams to deal with protests and also deployed sufficient personnel to secure the concert venue.

He said he is not discounting the possibility some groups opposing the concert may attempt to disrupt it.

He added that anti-riot policemen have been put on alert since Sunday night.

Lady Gaga arrived in the country Saturday night in preparation for her concert on Monday and Tuesday.

Lady Gaga's concert has gained controversy after a religious conservative group opposed it, claiming some of her songs are anti-Christian.

Among the groups that vowed to hold protest actions are the Bible Mode International founded by former Manila Rep. Benny Abante and Bible Mode Youth Philippines.

Peace Talks with MILF in Mindanao

With the southern peace talks now in the crucial stage, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expressed hopes on Monday that "things will turn out smoothly" as negotiations proceed.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, said they are ready to resume peace talks with the government and just awaiting the date of the next meeting.

"It's difficult to predict [the negotiations] but we are hoping for the best [once we meet again]," he said over the phone.

Malaysia, the mediator of the southern peace process, has yet to set the date for the resumption of amity talks that shall be concurred upon by both the government and the MILF, Iqbal said, adding they are looking towards the end of May for the resumption of the negotiations.

During the 27th exploratory talks in April, the parties agreed to meet again this month.

Significantly, both sides signed in their last meeting in Kuala Lumpur the "Decision Points on Principles," which shall serve as the framework in the discussion and formulation of the comprehensive peace compact.

Aside from the creation of a new autonomous political entity to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the points laid out in the signed document include introducing the ministerial system, strengthening of the Shari'ah courts, protection of the people's basic rights, and power and wealth sharing between the national government and the autonomous body.

In their next meeting, Iqbal said the MILF may bring up on the negotiating table the creation of a new Moro entity and territory matters.

Both parties earlier agreed to continue talks on wealth and power sharing, he added.

Mario Victor Leonen, government chief peace negotiator, said they are exercising "due diligence" in negotiating with the Moro rebels as issues are expected to become more difficult on the peace table.

In a statement, he said the government is carefully examining substantive issues particularly those of legal concern, such as the creation of a new political autonomous entity that will replace the current ARMM, as well as power-sharing and wealth-sharing that are contained in the Decision Points on Principles.

Emphasizing that the peace negotiations is conducted within the framework of the Constitution, Leonen pointed out that agreeing to create a new political autonomous entity is allowed as stated in Article 10, Section 15 to 22.

He cited Section 15 which stated that "there shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao…(in) areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines."

Further, Leonen said that "the basis of autonomy is democracy."

"In the national politics, there will always be a minority whose views and concerns cannot be always accommodated because they could never become a majority. Thus, the only way to guarantee a level of democracy is allow them to govern in one region, but still remain in the entire Republic of the Philippines," he explained.

Leonen stressed that the peace negotiations with the MILF is at the "peak of its discussions" on political settlement.

The parties are set to discuss substantive issues in the next round of talks this May. This includes deliberating "details and particulars" on power-sharing, wealth-sharing between the national government and the envisioned new autonomous political entity, mode of defining its geographical area, transition and normalization mechanism, according to another statement from the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Peaceful Solution to Mindanao Conflict

By Ben Cal

Marvic Leonen, chair of the government peace panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has admitted that the next round of exploratory talks "will be very difficult" as both sides will now tackle the substantive issues to find a peaceful solution to end the decades-old Mindanao armed conflict

"We are now at the heart of the negotiations on political settlement. Such political settlement needs continuous consultations with different sectors. This will go through a political process (in the different branches of government and in the national and local governments)," Leonen said.

The next round of talks will be held in Kuala Lumpur later this month.

The two peace panels will deliberate on the "details and particulars" on power-sharing, wealth-sharing between the national government and the envisioned new autonomous political entity, mode of defining its geographical area, transition and normalization mechanism.

"We move forward. It's clear where the peace talks are leading us — as laid out in the Decision Points on Principles," Leonen stated.

He pointed out that while there is guarded optimism and due diligence, the next talks will be very difficult.

Leonen assured that the government will remain engaged in the peace talks, saying that "it is important that we find a just and lasting solution to this problem in Mindanao."

Meanwhile, civil society organizations (CSOs) in Mindanao have underlined the importance of their role in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF.

"We need to be aware of the position of the two panels to keep pushing the talks further," the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) quoted Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao People's Caucus (MPC).

The government has been conducting consultative meetings in various parts of Mindanao to inform the people on the important issues in ongoing peace negotiations.

The MPC, a group of non-government groups in Mindanao, is helping the GPH and the MILF find common grounds in the peace negotiations.

Last month, the GPH and the MILF signed the Decision Points on Principles during the 27th formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur.

The document contains 10 mutually identified common standpoints that serve as a framework for the final peace agreement.

Apply for Salary Loan with Philippine SSS

Philip Cesar (not the basketball player) wasted no time in encashing the P17,000 check he received from the Social Security System (SSS) last December 2011.

The amount was for an SSS Salary Loan he took out to fix the faulty transmission of his car. His salary as an employee in a private agency was just enough for his family regular expenses; funds for emergencies – such as a busted transmission – have to be sourced elsewhere. Hence, the SSS Salary Loan that Philip would have to repay for the next 24 months.

Philip is just one of the 1.06 million SSS members who were granted salary loans in 2011. The pension institution disbursed a total of P15.8 billion for members' salary loans last year, 41 percent higher than the P11.17 billion it released in 2010 for over 803,000 member-borrowers.

"The salary loan is among the most popular SSS programs, with loan releases growing at an average rate of 14 percent for the past five years," SSS Officer-in-Charge Edgar Solilapsi observed. "The fact that the number of borrowers has hit the one-million mark shows the tremendous personal need that our salary loans fill in our members' lives."

The SSS Salary Loan is a privilege granted to active members with at least 36 monthly contributions, six of which must be within the 12-month period prior to the month of loan application. Salary loans are payable in two years in 24 equal monthly installments at 10 percent annual interest. The last time the number of borrowers reached one million was in 2009, whem 1.29 million members availed of the Salary Loan.

"Majority of the salary loan borrowers in 2011 were employees. Only nine percent if the P15.8 billion, or P1.47 billion, went to self-employed and voluntary members, including overseas Filipino workers," Solilapsi added.

"These numbers highlight the value of active SSS membership, since only those who are updated in their SSS payments are entitled to salary loans."

Also important for members to retain that privilege is for them to ensure that their salary loans are repaid on time. Salary loan delinquency has long been a problem for the pension institution, which is the reason behind its latest offering of the Loan Penalty Condonation Program.

Under this new amnesty program, members are given the opportunity to pay their overdue obligations and have 50 to 100 percent of their accumulated penalties written off. The program opened last April 2 and will run until September 30, 2012.

"We urge members with delinquent loans to take advantage of this opportunity before the program ends on September 30. Otherwise, they will have to pay the full amount of penalties, and possibly have their total loan balance deducted from final benefit claims, which by then could balloon to the tens of thousands," said Solilapsi.

Pnoy Aquino Meets with Iglesia ni Cristo Leaders

President Benigno S. Aquino III met with Iglesia ni Cristo's Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo to "touch base" with the group which has supported the former since his days as senator.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda confirmed the meeting in a news conference Monday, only hours after the two met at the INC Central office in Quezon City.

Lacierda addressed doubts from some groups the meeting was primarily focused on the alleged lobbying of the INC for impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona's acquittal by the Senate Impeachment Court.

The presidential spokesman said the meeting was scheduled even before the Holy Week but their respective schedules did not permit a meeting until Monday.

Lacierda said: "Today, we confirm that the President met with Ka Eduardo of the Iglesia ni Cristo this morning. Their meeting has been previously scheduled, in fact before holy week pa… there was already a planned meeting with Ka Eduardo, unfortunately the schedule of the President and the schedule of Ka Eduardo could not jibe then.

"It was only today that they were able to find a common schedule."

Lacierda added: "The purpose of the President's meeting was to touch base with Ka Eduardo and the Iglesia ni Cristo.

"As you know the Iglesia ni Cristo supported the President during his Senatorial campaign and also during his Presidential campaign… yes, the impeachment issue was discussed because it is one of the burning issues of the day.

"The President explained to Ka Eduardo the reasons for the (Chief Justice Corona) impeachment, that this is part of his reform agenda..."

Also discussed were developmental programs of the Aquino administration, Lacierda said.

"Hindi lamang po ang impeachment ang pinag-usapan, napag-usapan din ang mga ginagawa ng ating pamahalaan… na mention din po ni Pangulong Aquino ang TESDA, kung ano ang ginagawang projects ng TESDA."

Lacierda stressed the meeting had nothing to do with the "INC lobbying" issue that came out in the papers last weekend.

"This has nothing to do with the news about the lobbying of the INC, again let me emphasize this has been previously scheduled… we don't believe there is an INC lobby for the chief justice," Lacierda noted.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Saturday INC officials had been meeting senators to lobby for the acquittal of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Manny Pacquiao Defends the Bible and God's Truth

By Eddie G. Alinea

Aren't they gonna stop? It looks like attempts to distract title defending World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao peace of mind will continue until he faces challenger Timothy Bradley on June 9 in Las Vegas. 

This despite the writer himself, Granville Ampong, who created a stir when he wrongly reported that Pacquiao, quoting a verse in the Bible, had despised the third sex and saying they "should be killed," had cleared the air denying the 147-pound titlist never said that.

The 33-year-old eight-division world champ, also, had apologized to all those he must have hurt by his statement opposing same-sex marriage.

Here now comes various organizations claiming to represent Asian and Filipino-American lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender communities calling on the Pacman for a more open and transparent dialogue on the issue.

Which simply means that Pacquiao's apology for mamking such opinion, based on God's Commandments, has not been accepted, that the issue isn't close yet and the "Fighter of the Decade" will have to divert his attention between defending his title and thinking about the controversy comes night of his fight.

For expressing his opinion, which, in the first place, was not borne out of whims but on the teachings of God as embodied in the Holy Book, is facing condemnation, not only from some sectors in the foreign media but from the Philippine press as well.

Which, to many, is quiet unfair because as he said, He's just spreading the words in the Scripture, which he is tasked owing to his being now a preacher and engaged in Bible study.

Pacquiao, in fact, should instead be commended and praised for standing up in defense of his belief as a Catholic. Alone and in the absence of church leaders who opted to keep silence for fear of being feasted upon.

What Pacquiao, a boxer born in poverty, did should have totally erased all doubts that, indeed, he has changed from a wayward guy engaged in womanizing, gambling, drinking and other vices.

By daring to stand proud of his Catholic faith, not afraid to practice his belief not only in words but in deed, Pacquiao just showed the traits and character of a good Christian not seen even among the top honchos of the more than 1 billion Catholics around the world.

His detractors said Pacquiao shouldn't have expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage as it is unfair to those who believe they have the right to lead their own right to live as they wish they should.

But what about Pacquiao's right to express his belief? The same right U.S. President Obama enjoyed when expressed his approval of marriage between individuals of same genders.

Why are those now condemning the Filipino ring icon not condemn, too, President Obama, who incidentally, in approving such marriages completed a 360-degree turn around following his earlier disapproval of the idea? Could it be that Obama's turn around, made on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, was only made to attract the votes of those concerned?

Perhaps foreign media could be forgiven in their criticism over Pacquiao's belief for they, especially the Americans, as the entire world knows, are not the best example of moral and spiritual virtues.

But for their Filipino counterparts to join in the fray, is not right. The Philippines is the only country in Asia whose citizens are predominantly Catholics. Filipinos, therefore, should be the first to come and defend him in this issue.