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.

Vote for Jessica Sanchez as American Idol

By Ben Cal

The Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), a leading service institution for immigrants in Washington, D.C., has predicted that Filipino-Mexican-American Jessica Sanchez will win the prestigious American Idol singing competition title during the finals on Wednesday (May 23, Manila time). 

Ms. Grace Valera, MHC co-director and spokesperson, sent an e-mail to the Philippines News Agency predicting a win by Jessica over American singer-composer Philip Philipps. Valera appealed to all Filipinos all over the world to unite and vote online for Jessica.

"A show of unity is a show of force leading to success. Jessica deserves to win," the MHC said in a press statement.

During the voting last week, Jessica garnered nearly 90 million votes, an incredible number as announced by Ryan Seacrest, MHC said.

Heavy favorite Joshua Ledet, a 19-year-old American, was eliminated in last week's voting with Jessica and Philipps remaining in contention for the final selection of American Idol for Season 11.

"Many organizations and individuals all over the United States have zealously supported the voting every week," MHC said.

In the East Coast, the MHC has been active since Day One of the popular TV show calling all kababayans, American, Asian, African-American friends, including the Spanish-speaking community, to cast their votes for the 16-year-old Jessica.

Two other MHC co-directors, Jesse A. Gatchalian and Arnedo S. Valera, also went out of their way calling on friends to vote online or text all for Jessica Sanchez whose mother is a Filipina from Bataan.

"In the West Coast, there is top-rated newscaster Gel Santos Relos and stage/movie actor Bernardo Bernardo at the helm doing their share online as well," MHC said.

"'Making everyone hang on to your every note' and 'sending people into heavens' were among the comments made by the AI judges, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, MHC added.

No female singer has won the American Idol title since 2007. The last one was won by Jordan Sparks.

During the Asia Heritage Foundation's Fiesta Asia, the biggest Asian Street festival in the U.S. capital, MHC campaigned to the over 21 ethnic groups participating in the annual event, attended by Asian, Latin, European, African-American, and white contingents.

Jessica became the judges' and public's favorite in her flawless rendition of Whitney Houston's "I will always love you."

MHC said "Jessica has a powerful voice that is remarkably sweet and tender."

Once again, MHC is calling on all Filipinos/Filipino-Americans and friends all over the United States to cast their votes for Jessica for the final showdown of American Idol on Wednesday (Manila time).

There are three ways to vote: by telephone 1-866-436-570 (all landlines-Verizon, Vonage, Magic Jack, AT & T, skype /cellphones no limit depending on your telephone plan and as long as it's a U.S.A. telephone number); or AT&T text to 570___ (Jessica's number changes every week so watch out for this on Tuesday evening); voting ONLINE through www. Americanidol.com (50 times maximum only).

MHC will open its office again for an "AI Jessica Sanchez Voting Party on May 22, Tuesday 7 p.m. till midnight at 3930 Walnut St., Suite 200, Fairfax, VA 22030, to anyone who wants to join in the voting. All of its computers and telephone landlines will be made available -- 202-247-0117/202-631-8856 or 703-675-6334.

Result of Impeachment Trial of Renato Corona

Whether conviction or acquittal, Senator-Judge Francis 'Chiz' Escudero is hoping that the verdict of the Senate, sitting as impeachment court of Chief Justice Renato Corona, would settle the issue with finality for the country to move forward.

Escudero said the ongoing impeachment trial of the chief magistrate has already affected the legislative works of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

"One way or the other, it has to be settled with finality so that we can now focus on the economic problems that need to be addressed," Escudero said.

"Whatever happens in this impeachment trial, convict or acquit Corona, the jobless would remain jobless and the sick will remain sick. We have to move forward and face problems concerning food for the table," the senator from Bicol added.

Escudero expressed concerns that another impeachment complaint will be filed against Corona if he will be acquitted, saying "it will really affect our work in the Senate."

With this, Escudero urged Corona to answer frankly with truthfulness all the questions to be asked, especially by the senator-judges.

"He is the only one who can answer difficult questions. He should not be evasive," Escudero said.

Senator Franklin Drilon said the impeachment court cannot compel Corona to reveal all but reminded the chief magistrate of his promise through his defense lawyers that he will bare all and will confront all the issues.

"He is called to task but we will respect his right to remain silent," Drilon said.

Drilon is hoping that Corona would not invoke the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court on his supposed dollar accounts and the foreign currency deposit acts or Republic Act No. 6246.

For his part, Senator Gregorio Honasan II said the chief magistrate should explain the alleged 82 dollar accounts that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales exposed last week based on the documents provided by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

"He should explain the 82 dollar accounts as well as his SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth). The public will judge if he will be telling the truth or not," Honasan said.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said Corona should corroborate his testimony with evidences even as he assured he will render his verdict based only on the evidence presented in the court.

"I will base my decision on evidence and not public opinion. I will review the articles of impeachment complaints," Pimentel said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said he has prepared a lot of clarificatory questions, mostly on the dollar accounts and Basa-Guidote Enterprises issue.

"It was bomb-like revelation coming from the Office of the Ombudsman and AMLC that require his convincing explanation. He cannot afford to invoke right against self-incrimination," Lacson said.

Corona is set to take the witness stand at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, vowing to reveal all and explain the accusations that he committed betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution as well as graft and corruption.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona on Trial

The Senate, sitting as the impeachment court of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, may extend the impeachment trial up to Friday, depending on the testimony that the chief magistrate would give beginning Tuesday.

"The Friday extension will be considered in a caucus that will be called on Thursday noon," Senate Majority Leader-judge Vicente Sotto III said in an interview a few hours before the 2 p.m. impeachment trial where Corona will testify for the first time since it started last January 16.

The Senate holds impeachment trial from Monday to Thursday only and reserved Friday for filing of motions by both the prosecution and the defense panels.

"That is the reason why we have caucus on Thursday, because there might be things that may arrive in the next two days," Sotto said.

He, however, is hoping that the senator-judges will be able to listen to the closing argument of both panels and "the court may render it's decision at soonest possible time."

Earlier, Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile said the Senate has set a deadline to render the verdict on or before May 31, in time for the sine die adjournment of Congress on June 7.

Sotto said the Senate President will announce the results of the caucus held last Monday before the court will proceed for the much-anticipated testimony of Corona regarding the alleged 82 dollar accounts which Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales revealed last week.

"The motions or privilege motions of the senators during the last impeachment trials, we will be announcing the decision taken up in the caucus. The Senate President has his suggestion, mostly were carried by the body. So, he will announce it before the start of the impeachment trial today," he said.

Sotto said the Senate President will announce also the court decision on the order to defense hostile witness Harvey Keh to explain why he should not be cited for contempt for trying to influence the presiding officer after submitting documents relating to the alleged dollar accounts of the chief justice.

He, however, said the Senate did not tackle the motion of Senator-judge Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III to vote again on the Supreme Court's temporary restraining order (TRO) that stopped the Senate impeachment court from tackling the dollar accounts of the chief magistrate.

"The issue of the TRO by Senator Pimentel will not be taken up, because it might preempt the testimony of the respondent, so it was not tackled," Sotto explained.

Voting 13-10, the court had earlier made a decision to honor the TRO petitioned by the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) where Corona has allegedly foreign currency deposits.

Security at Philippine Senate During Impeachment Trial

Southern Police District (SPD) on Tuesday deployed sufficient number of police personnel to quell protesters who will turn violent in the light of the testimony of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona at the Senate in Pasay City.

SPD Director Chief Supt. Benito Estipona said the district police force would be in charge in providing security at the Senate in connection with the ongoing impeachment of the chief justice.

Estipona said protesters will be allowed only up to the area near "Amazing Show Philippines".

At about 6 a.m. Tuesday, sufficient number of police personnel from Pasay City Police Station and district police security battalion were already deployed in the area.

No traffic rerouting, however, within the vicinity will be implemented though security will be tight to prevent protesters from barging into the Senate grounds.

Corona's testimony is being awaited by the public particularly his answer to all allegations against him especially his failure to declare several assets in his statements of assets, liabilities and networth (SALNs).

The House of Representatives' prosecution team is expected to ask Corona about the alleged dollar accounts presented earlier by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales from a report by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Philippine Senate Tries Renato Corona

Embattled Chief Justice Renato Corona arrived at the Philippine Senate to take the witness stand in his impeachment trial over allegations he has over US$ 10 million dollars and failure to declare it in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

The chief magistrate arrived at exactly 1:35 p.m. on board a black Chevrolet Blazer, keeping his promise to face his own impeachment trial which started last Jan. 16.

Corona was accompanied by his wife Cristina, family members and supporters including some Supreme Court employees.

His much-awaited appearance is a blockbuster, with the Senate running out of tickets for the first 200 people who wanted to watch the impeachment trial.

The Senate has tightened security to prevent any clash between pro- and anti-impeachment groups, which have been prevented to get closer at the GSIS building.

As early as 6 a.m., members of Pasay police arrived at the Philippine Senate to secure the area as additional law enforcers Southern Police District and regional battalion from the National Capital Region Police Office augmented the security forces.

Engineer Victor Lim Tan Snatched by NPA

At least eight armed men abducted the former mayor of Carrascal, Surigao Del Sur Monday night while working at his construction office in Sitio Catupgas, Barangay Zone 3, Lanuza, Surigao del Sur.

Supt. Martin Gamba, CARAGA police spokesperson, identified the victim as Engineer Victor Lim Tan, 67, a resident of Barangay Enbarcadero, Carrascal.

CARAGA, or Region 13, is composed of Agusan Del Norte, Agusan Del Sur, Surigao Del Norte, Surigao Del Sur and Dinagat Islands.

Gamba said that police were now tracking the suspects and the victim even as they were investigating reports that Tan was abducted once by suspected New People's Army members sometime in 1997.

Defense of Renato Corona Chief Justice

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Renato C. Corona on Tuesday personally appeared and testified to defend himself during the 40th day of the impeachment trial against him at the Senate Impeachment Court

Corona is charged with graft and corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust by 188 members of the House of Representatives. He was impeached by the House on Dec. 12, 2011.

Corona also allegedly owned 82 dollar accounts spread in five banks, which had transactional balances of from US$ 10 to US$ 12 million from April 2003 to December 2011 as testified into by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales during her testimony as a defense's "hostile witness" before the Impeachment Court last week.

In his opening statement before the Impeachment Court and the Filipino people, Corona said that he appeared before the Court to explain everything that had been hurled against him.

Corona said that the full force of the government has been exerted against him, adding that, the impeachment trial is not against corruption, but rather, the impeachment trial is "hatred, galit, benggansa laban sa isang tao".

He said that it is now the time to stop this disunity and divisiveness, adding that, "ano ba ang kasalanan ko, wala akong kasalanan, wala akong ginawang katiwalian at ako ay hindi nagnakaw sa gobyerno."

"I will not drag my family in this impeachment trial, if I had committed any wrongdoing," Corona said.

"Malinis po ang aking konsensya. Malinis po ang konsensya ng aking pamilya. Wala kaming ginawang masama o kawalanghayaan," Corona said.

Elaborating on the simple lifestyle of his famly, Corona became emotional.

All Barangays in South Cotabato Have Electricity

President Benigno Simeon S. Aquino III commended power distribution utility South Cotabato II Electric Cooperative (Socoteco II) for completing the energization of all 204 barangays within its service area.

Engr. Rodolfo Ocat, Socoteco II general manager, in a statement, said the President specifically lauded the electric cooperative's contribution to the national government's ongoing countryside energization initiatives through the flagship Sitio Electrification and Barangay Line Enhancement Program.

In a message sent to the electric cooperative for its recent 31st annual general assembly, Ocat said the President cited the cooperative "for helping illuminate our straight and righteous path towards a brighter tomorrow."

Socoteco II recently energized 15 communities here and nearby municipalities of Polomolok and Tupi in South Cotabato as part of the program's implementation.

The National Electrification Administration (NEA) earlier earmarked some P6.27 billion for the implementation this year of the Sitio Electrification and Barangay Line Enhancement Program, which had been endorsed by the President as a priority initiative.

The agency said it would use P3.70 billion of its 2012 budget while the national government signified to provide an augmentation of some P2.57 billion for the rural electrification program.

The national government had tapped local electric cooperatives as the main implementers of the program, with the Department of Energy and NEA as the supervising agencies.

Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said Socoteco II was among the electric cooperatives in the country which had completely energized their service areas.

Socoteco II, which is considered as the largest electric cooperative in Mindanao and the second largest in the country, serves this city, the entire Sarangani Province and the municipalities of Tupi and Polomolok in South Cotabato.

"We especially laud Socoteco II for energizing 100 percent of the nine towns, one city, and 204 barangays in its area… while keeping system losses at an average of only 10.99 percent," Almendras said.

Socoteco II was among the power utilities in Mindanao that were recently hit by long rotating brownouts due to a power shortage in the island.

But Ocat said they had kept power outages in area at a minimal level compared to other localities due to its linkup with independent power producers serving the island.

In anticipation of the current energy shortage in Mindanao, he explained that the electric cooperative started looking for new sources of electricity as early as 2010 when it suffered daily outages lasting about nine hours as a result of the drought-triggered depletion of power supplies produced by the National Power Corp.'s hydroelectric plants.

In October last year, Socoteco II signed a power supply agreement with the Aboitiz-controlled Therma Marine, Inc. for a standby augmentation supply of 18-megawatts (MW) in case the foreseen power shortage worsens.

To ensure adequate power supply in the area, the cooperative also signed a power sales agreement with the Alcantara Group's Sarangani Energy Corp. (SEC) for the provision of 70 megawatts (MW) of power starting 2015.

SEC, which is joint venture between the Alcantara's Conal Holdings Corp. and Thailand's Electricity Generating Public Co., is currently building a 200-MW coal-fired power plant in Maasim town in Sarangani.

Renato Corona's dollar deposits and expensive condominiums

By Lilybeth G. Ison

On Day 40 of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona on Tuesday, the House of Representatives' prosecution team warned the chief magistrate against using the defense of selective prosecution, saying this legal strategy won't work for someone who is widely perceived to be guilty of the impeachment charges filed against him. 

"It would be lamentable if the chief justice would insist on his claim that he is being singled out for prosecution for his failure to declare all of his assets while others similarly situated are not being prosecuted," said prosecution spokesman Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara.

Angara said it would be better if the chief justice would answer each and every allegation hurled against him, particularly the multimillion-peso and dollar deposits and expensive condominiums that he either misdeclared or did not declare at all.

He said Corona's repeated claim of selective prosecution was not an acceptable defense.

"Invoking concerns about selective prosecution is not a good legal strategy because the courts won't acquit a thief who claims he's the only thief in the world," the Aurora solon said.

House Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III, meanwhile, said the prosecution team was ready to accept whatever verdict the senator-judges would hand down after hearing the chief justice's testimony, and hoped the chief magistrates and his supporters would do the same.

"We will accept whatever decision the impeachment court will hand down. I think acceptance of the decision, depending of course on what the explanation will be, is a sign of maturing democracy," he said.

Philippine Bananas Export to China

Quarantine officials of the People's Republic of China (PROC) have allowed Philippine bananas to enter their market after imposing stricter measures on the product coming from the country.

"I can tell you that we have a bit of good news. We have progressed in resolving the phytosanitary issue. We received word today that 30 to 40 containers have been allowed to pass in China. So that's a little bit of good news for us," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte announced in a press conference in Malacanang on Tuesday.

Valte said that it was agreed upon that the Department of Agriculture will double-check all banana exports before leaving the country and its counterparts in the PROC will join them once the exports arrived there.

"It will be subjected to a joint inspection to resolve quickly any phytosanitary issues," Valte said.

To assist the local banana producers affected by the trade row with PROC, Valte said President Benigno S. Aquino III already ordered a study so that some measures could be extended to them.

Although the import restrictions imposed by PROC started to ease, the government is still looking for other markets for Philippine bananas, she said.

The secretary of the Department of Agriculture organized a team from the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to go to China to check on the stranded banana shipments in response to PROC's claim that Philippine bananas shipped to have pests. Likewise, the Chinese quarantine officials have been invited to inspect plantations and ports in the country.

The Philippines is one of the world's top banana exporters with much of the fruits being grown in Mindanao. Its major markets include Japan, South Korea, PROC and New Zealand. In 2010, the total export earnings for fresh Cavendish banana amounted to US$ 720 million.

Trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona

Senator-Judge Ralph Recto led the opening prayer on the 40th day of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, asking for wisdom in search for truth as the chief magistrate testified in his own trial on Tuesday.

The complete text of Recto's opening prayer:

"We seek Your blessing, O Lord, so today we will only hear: The facts not the fable; The truth not the trickery; The authentic, not the alibis.

"We ask You, Heavenly Father, to enlighten those who will speak here today, so they will: Impress us with their honesty, and not indulge us with their evasion; Gain our respect with their candor, and not lose it through their excuses; Clarify our doubts, instead of adding to our confusion.

"We beseech You, Dear God, to guide those who sit in judgement today, so we will: Be curious without being caustic; Be inquisitive without being insulting; Be probing without being hurtful.

"We plead to You, Our Master, to grant the bigger jury out there with the wisdom so they will be able: To witness the proceedings with kindness in their hearts, and fairness on their minds; To erase their biases and embrace the thought that judgement should be put on hold until the accused has been heard; To know the important from the immaterial; To discern the substantial from the subterfuge.

"Guide us as we search for the truth. And when, with Your grace, we find it, then be assured: The truth shall not make us mad. The truth shall not make us miserable. The truth shall set us free."

All the 23 senators, led by Senate President and Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile, attended the resumption of trial as everybody awaited to hear the explanation of Corona on the allegations that he amassed 82 dollar accounts in five banks amounting to US$ 10 million.

Corona has been given enough leeway to express his feelings in almost two-hour opening statement where the chief justice became emotional on the accusation that he stole public funds.

"I did not steal government's money. I have no sin against the Filipino people," Corona said.

Corona also detailed the long overdue squabble among the family of his wife, the Basa and Guidote.

Human Rights Status in the Philippines

Malacanang cited the significant decrease in the cases of extrajudicial killings in the country as it attributed this development to the continuous and coordinated efforts of various government agencies under the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), tasked to work on cases of abuse.

In a regular press briefing in Malacanang on Tuesday, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the government has been seriously institutionalizing human rights protection to ensure the adherence to this goal.

"From 2008 to 2011, there were 28 -- 27 cases involving extrajudicial killings that were received by the PNP Task Force USIG. Experts from the European Union have also noted the decrease in the cases specifically at the start of the administration of President Aquino," Valte said.

"It can be attributed to the fact that the agencies have continued to work together. Mas pinaigting po 'yung kooperasyon nila to address 'yang mga ganitong issues. For example, 'yung AFP po natin, to institutionalize human rights protection, came up with the first ever AFP human rights handbook. That it has already been disseminated and is being taught even at training level. The AFP also continues to work with other stakeholders in human rights advocacy groups. Nagpatuloy pa 'yung kanilang consultation, kung ano yang mga nagiging problema at ano ho 'yang mga possible solutions para naman po mabigyan ng resolusyon 'yang mga ganitong kaso," she added.

Valte said that while there is a considerable decrease in numbers, the Aquino administration will incessantly work harder to totally eliminate cases of extrajudicial killings in the country.

She further noted that the PHRC remains focused on its responsibilities and will be presenting its assessment on the developments during the United Nation's Universal Periodic Review.

The Presidential Human Rights Committee is continuing its work in tandem with the Commission on Human Rights. And we intend to present these developments when the Philippine delegation goes for the Universal Periodic Review on May 29, 2012. That would be next week," Valte said.

Dollars and Peso Accounts of Renato Corona

By Jelly F. Musico

Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile has allowed Chief Justice Renato Corona to use powerpoint presentation to dispute claims of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales that the chief magistrate has 82 dollar accounts amounting to US$ 10 to 12 million. 

"Ombudsman has used powerpoint presentation when she claimed that I have 82 dollar accounts. Can I also use powerpoint presentation?" Corona asked.

"Granted," Senate President and presiding officer Juan Ponce Enrile who then called five-minute suspension to set up the powerpoint presentation.

Before he asked to allow the use of powerpoint presentation, Corona denied that he owned 82 dollars accounts.

"I don't know any person who owned bank 82 dollar accounts. She is misleading that the report was based on the report of AMLC (anti-money laundering council)," Corona said.

"This AMLC report that the Ombudsman presented in this court is not authenticated, has no predicate crime, no investigation, no court order and no notice from depositors. Clearly, it came from a polluted source," Corona explained.

Corona said he formed a team of accountants to study the powerpoint presentation of the Ombudsman.

"We studied what the Ombudsman did and clearly, it was one of the deception, exaggeration, misrepresentation," Corona said.

"I have no 10 to 12 million dollars as stated by Ombudsman Morales. I don't have also 82 dollar accounts. I did not steal people's money, not even a single centavo," Corona said.

Corona said he did not declare his dollar accounts in his SALN because Republic Act 6426 or Foreign Currency Deposit Act provides "absolute confidentiality."

Basa-Guidote Scandal Destroys Family Relationship

By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

Impeached Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Renato C. Corona on Tuesday admitted before the Senate Impeachment Court that his family is not into investing in properties but invested instead in foreign exchange. 

Corona told the Impeachment Court that it would be hard to understand the Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. (BGEI) shares without knowing about their conflict.

He said that one of the reasons for Basa-Guidote conflict is the Libis Compound, in Quezon City, adding that, the problem with their family is that they are very wealthy, but the assets are tied in the property.

Corona said that for five months they were insulted in the newspapers on purportedly how his wife was so selfless and ruthless. "Walang katotohanan 'yan (There is no truth in it)," he said.

Corona said that Mr. Jose Ma. Basa was not the one who was oppressed, but rather, Basa was the one who oppressed.

Apologizing for saying such statement, Corona said that the public has to know, adding that, Mr. Basa had no job such that during his entire life he (Basa) was a "spoiled brat" and rich.

Corona denied any knowledge about the Basa-Guidote shares sale, saying that, he did not know what happened, adding that, he was not present then and his wife has her own lawyer.

He read the letter of his daughter Carla, saying that, her purchase of BGEI shares has "complied with the process of law".

In the letter read by Corona, Carla Corona denied that her father used his influence for her to gain control of BGEI.

Corona read daughter's letter: "Who is oppressing whom? Jose, Raymunda Basa fled the country when mom won case against them."

Based on Carla's letter, the total value of the BGEI shares was only P22,000 such that risk was so great "I was willing to bid up to P50,000".

Corona said that with the family feud, they never bought the property and invested in foreign exchange because it was easier to divide for their children.

Corona reiterated that the alleged 45 properties belonging to him is a "big lie", saying that, he does not have 45 properties, adding that, he did not conceal any property which he did not declare in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

He said that he only had five properties which were declared in his SALN.

He said that the "fair market value" declared in his SALN was being assessed and updated periodically, adding that, the "fair market value" based on the tax declaration was more reliable, accurate and updated.

Otherwise, Corona said, if the "fair market value" would be the basis, every year there would be a need for the appraiser, adding that, it was not the intention of the SALN Law.

Filipino Military Officers on Court Martial Trial

A General Court Martial begins Tuesday the trial of four military officers charged in connection with the so-called Al-Barka, Basilan fiasco.

There, 19 Special Forces troops were killed in an encounter with Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels on Oct. 18, 2011.

The Armed Forces said Monday four officers will not be confined or restricted to quarters while the trial against them is on.

The accused are Lt. Col. Leonardo I. Peña, former commanding officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion; Col. Alexander Macario, former commander of the Special Operations Task Force–Basilan Province; Col. Amikandra S. Undug, former Regiment Commander of Special Forces Regiment (Airborne), Special Operations Command (SOCOM); and Lt. Col. Orlando D. Edralin, former commandant of Special Forces School, SOCOM.

They were accused of violating Article 84 (Willful or Negligent Loss, Damage or Wrongful Disposition); Article 96 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman); and Article 97 (Disorders and Neglects to the Prejudice of Good Order and Military Discipline) of the Articles of War.

According to Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., AFP spokesperson, the accused will not be confined as the case against them is purely administrative in nature and the officers are not considered a flight risk.

"They are presumed innocent until proven guilty," he stressed.

Brig. Gen. Teodoro Cirilo Torralba III has been appointed as the court martial president.

Torralba, at present the senior military adviser of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, is a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) "Mapitagan" Class of 1980.

Other members of the court martial are Col. Dante Talino, Col. Domingo Tutaan Jr., Col. Wilfred Bonilla, Col. Joel Celino, Col. Rafael Sera, all from the Philippine Army; and Col. Andre Tanyag from the Philippine Air Force.

Alternate members are Col. Rafael Valencia and Col. Arwel Oropesa, both from the PA.

The Law members are Col. Feliciano Loy and Lt. Col. Gerry Puluhanan, both from the Judge Advocate General Service.

The trial judge advocates are Lt. Col. Ser-Me Ayuyao, Lt. Col. Liberato Ramos, and Maj. Vener Malabanan III, all from JAGS.

The military defense counsel is composed of Maj. Rosel Tan, Maj. Julius Agdeppa and Maj. Gabrielle Octava.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front to Talk with Philippine Government

By Ben Cal

After more than 70 public consultations in the past few months, the government peace panel will conduct more dialogues with stakeholders in Mindanao before the resumption of exploratory talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) set in Kuala Lumpur late this month. 

Marvic Leonen, chair of the government peace panel, said on Monday a survey is also being conducted to feel the pulse of different sectors in southern Philippines on their views and opinions about the peace process.

The government peace panel had just held public consultation in Zamboanga City over the weekend.

Leonen assured the people that that the government is exercising "due diligence" in its negotiation with the MILF as issues are expected to become more difficult in the forthcoming negotiations.

The panel chair said that the government is carefully examining substantive issues, particularly legal aspects such as the creation of a new political autonomous entity that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the power-sharing and wealth-sharing that are contained in the Decision Points on Principles signed by both parties during the 27th formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last month.

The consultation in Zamboanga City was attended by civil society, business groups, security sector and the media.

During the dialogue, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles explained the GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles which contains 10 common stand points mutually identified by both parties to serve as a framework for the final peace agreement.

Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat attended the consultation.

Leonen reiterated that the peace negotiation with the MILF is conducted within the framework of the Constitution.

He said the creation of a new political autonomous entity is allowed as stated in Article 10, Sections 15 to 22 of the Constitution.

Section 15 states 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, he said "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," Leonen said.

In her message, Deles underscored that the government fully recognizes the concerns of the people, saying "that's why we are here. The panel conducts consultations in order to directly listen to the views of the public."

On the same note, Leonen said that the GPH panel "takes to heart the concerns" of the people and consider them on the negotiating table.

He said the panel has already conducted more than 70 consultations.

During the forum, Fr. Bert Alejo of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University asked "what constitutes valid and sufficient consultations" in view of the peace process, taking into account the lessons of the 2008 MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court due to lack of public consultations.

It may be recalled that the aborted signing of the MOA-AD had triggered renewed fighting between government forces and the MILF in some parts of Central Mindanao four years ago.

Leonen agreed that "sufficient consultations" should be clearly defined, adding that consultations are not only one set and not always a formal one.

He said "it may be a bit too legalistic" to qualify valid consultations while falling short of "looking behind its spirit."

Leonen also said that "consultation means listening earnestly, trying to understand the points raised by various sectors, and reflecting it as best as we can in order for persons making the political decision (from the different branches of government) to be properly informed."

Philippine Weather Update Today

Although the low-pressure area spotted over Northern Mindanao on Sunday has dissipated, an inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and the tail-end of a cold front continued to brings rains over parts of Luzon and Mindanao on Monday, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.

Weather forecaster Gladys Saludes said that with the ITCZ still affecting Mindanao and the tail-end of a cold front prevailing over Northern and Central Luzon, the whole country experienced mostly cloudy skies.

Meanwhile, Saludes said that the highest temperature recorded in Metro Manila as of 2:00 p.m. on Monday was 34.3 degrees Celsius at the Science Garden in Quezon City.

Elsewhere in Luzon, the highest temperature registered was 35 degrees Celsius in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. This compared with 33 degrees Celsius in Subic, Zambales; 31.8 in Dagupan City, Pangasinan; 30.3 in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan; and 29.8 in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte.

In the Visayas, Mactan in Cebu recorded 32.6 degrees Celsius, while General Santos City in Mindanao had 31.2 degrees.

Impeachment of Renato Corona Live Coverage on Trial

The House of Representatives' prosecution panel designated Monday private prosecutor Mario Bautista to cross-examine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona when he takes the stand Tuesday in his impeachment trial at the Senate.

House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Naptali Gonzales II told a press briefing a consensus was reached at at Monday's lunch meeting among public and private prosecutors.

Gonzales said Bautista would be assisted by private prosecutors Arthur Lim and Jose Justiniano.

The decision ended days of speculation on who would grill the chief justice after his direct testimony before the Senate, which sits as an impeachment court.

Gonzales said it was agreed private prosecutors will do better in cross-examining Corona considering that public lawyers like himself have not been in litigation for some time.

"I was once a good cross-examiner myself during my peak. But I have been out of practice for 17 years now and I personally would have a private prosecutor who is daily practicing law to cross-examine Corona," said Gonzales.

Depending on the length of Corona's testimony, he said the prosecutors are ready to cross-examine the chief magistrate.

"Of course, last minute adjustments would be made depending on the testimony of the chief justice, but we are ready," Gonzales said.

Lobbying of Iglesia ni Cristo for Corona Acquittal

Amid reports a religious group is allegedly lobbying for the acquittal of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said Monday there is nothing wrong with lobbying.

But he denied he was one of the five senators approached by Iglesia ni Cristo emissaries.

"Lobbying is normal. It did happen. That's normal, but I'm one of those who have not been (approached)," Sotto said in a media interview.

The Senate official made his reaction after the INC reportedly approached at least five senator-judges to seek the acquittal of Corona in the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate.

Sen. Edgardo Angara said it is within the rights of any religious group or individual to ask for an audience with the lawmakers, who are representatives of the people in Congress.

Angara said: "I think there is nothing wrong with constituents (who wish) to talk to their representative government.

"Anyway, that's the concept of democracy. People are represented by representatives and so the people and their organizations can talk to their representative."

Like Sotto, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said nobody had approached him to lobby for either acquittal or conviction of the chief magistrate.

"Nobody approached me," Enrile said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was one of the senators who was reportedly approached by the INC but even the lawmaker from Ilocos Norte denied such report.

"Nobody talked to me about the impeachment," Marcos said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he would prefer to tackle the impeachment issue with his colleagues.

Former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, Corona's lead counsel, is a member of the INC.

NPA Rebels Attack Albay International Airport

by Philippine News Agency - A lawmaker from the Bicol region condemned on Monday the latest terror attack by communist rebels on the proposed Albay International Airport

The military reported that at least eight rebels belonging to the New People's Army (NPA) swooped down on the project site located in Barangay Alobo, Daraga, Albay at around 9:35 p.m. Friday and opened fire on the 12 soldiers guarding the facility.

Two dump trucks, one backhoe, two articulated trucks, two payloaders, two road rollers and one grader owned by Sunrest Corporation were burned by the rebels.

Authorities said the rebels resented the non-payment of extortion demanded from private contractors.

"We view this incident with grave concern since these terrorists and/or bandits no longer choose what to destroy or where to sow fear and destruction," said Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe in a statement.

"Even major developments in our region, which will tremendously help the lives of our people, are no longer spared," he said.

Batocabe said the proposed Bicol International Airport is a major developmental efforts of the Bicolano political leaders as well as the Aquino administration. It is a private-public partnership (PPP) project designed to promote tourism, increase employment and spur economic growth in the region.

"When President Benigno Aquino III approved the continuation of the project, our fellow Bicolanos were all jubilant as we anticipated the numerous benefits it will bring to our lives," he said.

"What then is the fault of the proposed Bicol International Airport so as to invite such dastardly act? Why are there people who are heartless and do not want us Bicolanos to dream for a better life? Why do they want us Bicolanos to remain poor and undeveloped?" he added.

The Ako Bicol party-list solon said they will file appropriate resolution in the House of Representatives to investigate the incident.

More importantly, Batocabe said, "we want to institute measures that will instill confidence of investors in PPP projects in rural areas, ensure peace and order, and promote the unimpaired development of our countryside for the benefit of our people."

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it has already ordered units guarding flagship projects to keep a tighter watch on the ongoing construction work to prevent NPA rebels from staging similar attack like the one that took place in Daraga, Albay.

Testimony of Chief Justice Renato Corona

While almost every adult Filipino maybe anticipating the testimony of Chief Justice Renato Corona in his own impeachment trial on Tuesday, the proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) outshone the impeachment issues in a Senate caucus on Monday.

"Nothing unusual (on CJ's appearance). In fact, the AMLA amendment is more controversial when we discussed it in caucus," Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said without giving further details.

The majority leader said the period of interpellation on the three proposed bills on the AMLA amendments will continue during the morning regular session on Tuesday.

At 2 p.m., the Senate will resume the impeachment trial with Corona expected to testify and explain his alleged assets not reported in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Sotto said the Senate is hoping to approve the AMLA amendments along with some local bills before the sine die adjournment of the second regular session of the 15th Congress on June 7.

"We can only tackle the AMLA amendments. The Reproductive Health bill will not be finished," Sotto said.

Last week, Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Serge Osmena III pushed for the immediate passage of Senate Bill No. 3123 which aims to expand the definition of money laundering and the list of unlawful activities.

The bill expands the covered institutions and individuals for money laundering which will include foreign exchange corporations, money changers, remittance centers and similar establishments, pre-need companies, casinos, real estate agents, and precious stones and metal dealers.

One of the unlawful activities that will be penalized under the measure is terrorism, including the conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The bill likewise enumerates the predicate offenses that will include bribery, frauds and illegal exactions, malversation of public funds and property, forgeries and counterfeiting, and violations of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

Two other amendment bills of the AMLA have been filed in a bid to avert the prospect of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Philippine Air Force Pilots Missing

The Philippine Air Force Monday said the search for the missing aircrew of its crashed Aeramacchi SF-260 trainer plane will continue until the two pilots are found.

"The PAF and the other rescue teams will continue the search-and-rescue operations till the aircraft and crew have been located," said PAF spokesman Lt. Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol.

Despite the three-day-old search, Okol said they have nothing to report yet save for the location of debris which consist of a flight helmet, fuel tank, and pilot seat last Friday.

As this develop, the PAF spokesman said they are focusing on four areas near La Monja Island near Mariveles as the possible impact site of the crash SF-260.

He said they already contacted a sonar-equipped survey vessel, with the help of the Philippine Navy, in the search and rescue operation.

The ship is also operating its own fathometer -- a depth measuring device.

Okol said once substantial evidence of wreckage has been detected by the survey ship, the next step will be deployment of divers to retrieve parts of the crashed plane or the bodies of the two missing pilots.

SF-260 with body number 716 left Sangley Point base around 6:52 a.m. Friday for a proficiency and training flight in the airspace of Corregidor.

Fishermen working off the waters of the La Monja Island saw the plane crashed into the sea around 7:15 a.m. p>The SF-260 is a light aircraft marketed as an aerobatics plane and a military trainer.

The military versions are popular with smaller air forces, which can also arm it for use in the close-support role.

USA Helps Philippine Navy Against China

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Monday the country's "maritime domain awareness" will be greatly boosted with the turnover of the frigate USS Dallas (BRP Ramon Alcaraz) to the Philippine Navy this week.

To be present in the turnover ceremony at Charleston, South Carolina on May 22 (U.S. time) are AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa and Philippine Fleet commander Rear Admiral Jose Luis Alano.

"This will provide us with more maritime assets to patrol our borders. This will allow us to go after poachers, pirates, drug smugglers and other elements who may violate our sovereignty in going about their unlawful business," AFP spokesperson Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said.

Burgos also said that a third Hamilton-class cutter is also in the works as Filipino and U.S. officials are in the midst of talks regarding the ship's possible transfer to the PN.

"The crewmen who will be manning our ship are now at the U.S. undergoing training on how to efficiently operate our newest frigate," he added.

The AFP spokesperson explained that the new ships for the PN, aircraft and helicopters for the Philippine Air Force and modern weaponry and communication equipment for the Philippine Army are part of the country's gradual shift to territorial defense.

This is in line with the AFP's efforts to build a credible defense force whose sole task is to protect the country from internal and external attack, he said.

"BRP Ramon Alcaraz" was named after after the World War II hero who commanded one of the country's three motor torpedo boats.

Incidentally, his command was named "Abra" (Q-112), a British-built naval craft measuring 55 feet long and armed with two torpedo tubes and four .50 caliber machines guns.

Together with his "Abra" crewmen, Alcaraz shot down three of the nine attacking Japanese Zero fighters in the middle of Manila Bay sometime in April of 1942.

When Corregidor fell on May 6, 1942, Alcaraz became a prisoner-of-war in Japanese-controlled camp in Malolos, Bulacan, where he gained much renown and respect for doing the best he could for his fellow captives.

Alcaraz survived Japanese captivity and resumed his career at the PN and eventually became its ranking officer, reaching the rank of commodore in 1966.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz has a displacement of 3,250 tons, a length of 378 feet, a beam of 43 feet, and draft of 15 feet.

Its propulsion system consists of two diesel engines and two gas turbines, giving it a top speed of 29 knots.

Philippines Rubber Plantation Industry

Amid the booming rubber plantation industry in Cotabato province, workers are being trained by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in the art of extracting an important raw material from the natural crop.

TESDA Director General Joel Villanueva announced the promulgation of the Training Regulations on Rubber Production NC II and Rubber Processing NC II.

These will serve as the training standards for developing the skills of workers interested in mastering the skill and securing employment in plantations.

"The province has the resources. TESDA will help provide the people with competencies through training so that they will learn the skills and technology to transform the crop into useful and marketable products," Villanueva said.

He said scholarships will be made available to qualified trainees under the agency's Training for Work Scholarship Program (TWSP), with an initial batch of 25 students undergoing the training next month at the Makilala Technical Vocational Training Center in Makilala town in North Cotabato.

Villanueva said the rubber tree plantations in the Cotabato provinces are a goldmine waiting to be tapped.

"The white drops of latex are called the whitegold of the plantation. We will train workers that will harvest them," he said.

Rubber is one of the major crops of Cotabato farmers. Farmers are able to harvest natural rubber with a minimum average of 300 kilograms per hectare a month.

These natural rubbers are now being sold to different processing plants to produce dry rubber.

The Philippines hopes to achieve the success of its neighbor countries in the rubber industry, like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.