Friday, February 1, 2013

Philippine Army commander Lt. Gen. Noel A. Coballes

Newly-appointed Philippine Army commander Lt. Gen. Noel A. Coballes vowed to do everything to procure modern equipment and capability training for the troops under his command.

"I have spent most of my military career in the field. I know that our ground forces are given comfort through the support provided to them, it fuels their passion and will stand firmly amidst the rigors and adversities in the front lines, it gives them strength to uphold their sworn mandate," he added.

Coballes said he wants each soldier - down to the lowest private in the remotest detachment - to be aware that the PA will take care of him or her while they take care of the country's peace and security.

Philippine Government Debt as of 2013

As of November 2012, the National Government debt stood at P5.381 trillion, higher by P22 billion from P5.359 trillion on end-October 2012 level.

Of the total debt, P1.975 trillion, or 37 percent is owed to external creditors and P3.406 trillion, or 63 percent, to domestic creditors.

External debt decreased by P11 billion from end-October 2012 level due to the appreciation of the local currency as well as the net depreciation of third currencies against the US dollar which reduced the peso value of NG debt by P14 billion and P12 billion, respectively.

This was partially offset by the P15 billion net availment for the period.

Domestic debt increased by P33 billion from the previous month's level due to net issuance of government securities.

On the other hand, total guaranteed debt of the National Government was recorded at P509 billion, lower by P19 billion from end-October 2012 level of P528 billion.

The decrease in external guaranteed obligations of P8 billion was due to local currency appreciation and third currency net depreciation against the US dollar which accounted for a P2 billion and P6 billion reduction in peso value of guaranteed external obligations, respectively.

NPAs Use Landmine in Davao

A soldier assigned to the 28th Infantry Battalion was killed while six of his fellow troopers were hurt after their two-vehicle convoy ran over a landmine at Sitio Mainit, Barangay Calapagan, Lupon, Davao Oriental early Tuesday morning.

Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, and the mother unit of the said military formation, said the incident transpired around 12: 20 a.m.

He identified the fallen soldier as Private First Class Jhassam Diaz.

Paniza added that Diaz's six wounded companions are now being treated at the Tagum Regional Hospital and Davao Oriental Provincial Hospital in Mati City.

The 10th Infantry Division spokesperson said that the soldiers were on their way home after conducting "Pablo" relief works when the rear wheel of the second truck of the two-vehicle convoy hit the NPA landmine which exploded.

The blast hit Diaz and six other soldiers which mortally wounded the former and severely injured the other troopers.

US Navy ship running aground in the Tubbataha Reef

Malacanang said the Philippine government is determined to press its claim for the damage caused by a US Navy ship running aground in the Tubbataha Reef last week.

In a press briefing in Malacanang on Wednesday, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Department of Foreign Affairs will discuss the country's claims with US officials after the US Navy ship is removed from the Tubbataha Reef.

"The DFA will be the lead agency in discussing this matter with their US counterparts," Lacierda said about the Philippine claim for damages.

As of the moment, however, Lacierda said the prime consideration is removing the naval ship from the area before Philippine and US official discuss compensation.

"Nag-usap kami ni (We have already discussed this with) Secretary Albert del Rosario. Do not be worried about our claims. We have the law. We will enforce the law," he said.

"This is a national treasure and a world heritage site and, therefore, it is important to us. It is precious to us. But, you must remember, the primary consideration right now is to remove the ship from the reef," Lacierda added noting any salvage operation must ensure minimal damage to the reefs.

The President's instruction is to prioritize taking the ship out with minimal damage to the reefs, he said. Lacierda added that the President is concerned with the situation on the reefs.

Asked by reporters whether the 1,000 square meters of damaged to the reefs is significant, the Palace official said: "It's a damage to a world heritage site. It's a damage to our natural resources. It's a damage to an important site. We cannot but put emphasis on the importance of this reef as a heritage site."

Flooding in Mindanao

Outgoing National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Executive Director Benito Ramos said Wednesday several families in North Cotabato and Maguindanao were forcibly evacuated from their homes on Tuesday night as the river in the area overflowed due to heavy rains.

In a phone interview, Ramos said 30,318 families or 123,551 persons were affected as the Pagalungan River at the boundary of North Cotabato and Maguindanao overflowed and caused knee-deep floods.

Ramos said the overflowing river affected Pikit and Kabacan in North Cotabato, and Pagalungan and Datu Montawal in Maguindanao.

As of Wednesday morning, Ramos said several families from Davao, Caraga and SOCCSKSARGEN had been brought to evacuation centers.

On the other hand, NDRRMC said the damage caused by flash floods brought by heavy rain since last week went up to P58 million.

NDRRMC reported P50 million in damage to infrastructure was recorded in the Davao region alone while P6.6 million in damage to agriculture was recorded in Agusan del Sur and P1.1 million in damage was recorded in the Caraga region, where the Agusan and Surigao provinces are located.

NDRRMC also reported that at least six people had been killed while four were missing in the wake of rain and floods brought by the tail-end of a cold front on Mindanao and parts of Southern Luzon.

In a separate interview, PAGASA Forecaster Aldczar Aurelio said that the low pressure area in General Santos City threatens to bring more rain in Southern Mindanao.

He warned that the LPA may pose a threat to parts of Mindanao including the Davao area, which had been hit by flash floods.

Aurelio said the regions of Davao, Soccsksargen, and Caraga will have cloudy skies with moderate to heavy rains because of the weather disturbance.

Renewable Energy Potential of the Philippines

Environment watchdog Greenpeace Southeast Asia's new report raised urgency for increasingly tapping renewable energy (RE) nationwide, noting this can generate for the Philippines not only green jobs but also potential annual savings exceeding US$ 200 million.

Launched Wednesday in Metro Manila, the report 'Green is Gold' said available renewables in the country and potential savings from utilizing these to displace imported fuel are biomass (US$ 6.9 million), hydropower (US$ 65.9 million), solar (US$ 8.5 million) and wind energy (US$ 29.5 ) as well as from OTEC or ocean thermal energy conversion (US$ 5.2 million).

Projections for geothermal energy over the next 10 years also show this renewable can help the country realize foreign exchange savings of about US$ 588.4 million, the report continued.

"The Philippines' RE potential is about 261,000 megawatts yet this resource remains not fully tapped so we launched the report to call on government to facilitate investments in large-scale RE projects," Greenpeace Southeast Asia Exec. Dir. Von Hernandez said.

National Renewable Energy Board Chairperson Pedro Maniego backed such call, noting RE's share of total power supply already dipped from 35 percent to 26 percent even if Republic Act 9513 (RE Act of 2008) prioritizes development of renewable power sources.

He fears such share will dip further once the proposed 23 coal-fired power plants around the country begin operating.

"RE is key to sustainable development and the Philippines has abundant renewable sources so we must develop these," he said during the launch.

Aside from savings, 'Green is Gold said tapping RE can generate for government other benefits totaling over PhP1.5 billion a year.

The report noted biomass alone can generate some P460 million annually in terms of government share, real property taxes, local business taxes and ER 1-94 contributions.

Other renewables and projected annual benefits from these are hydropower (P520 million), solar (P20 million), wind (P366 million) and OTEC (P120 million).

Commission on Elections-DOJ Special Task Force

Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima has designated ten prosecutors to the Commission on Elections-DOJ Special Task Force that will conduct preliminary investigation and prosecution of election cases.

De Lima also ordered the regional prosecutors to assign two prosecutors for each province who will be part of the task force.

In Department Order No. 053, designated members of the Comelec-DOJ Special Task Force in the NCR are Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Roberto Lao, Assistant State Prosecutors Cesar Calubag and Diosdado Solidum, Jr., and seven other assistant state prosecutors.

114th anniversary of 1st Philippine Republic

President Benigno S. Aquino III reiterated his call toward "straight path of good governance" in his speech delivered for him by Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. during the celebration on Wednesday of the 114th anniversary of 1st Philippine Republic.

President Aquino assured that "those who will commit abuses in the performance of their duties will face the legal consequences of their acts," stressing that he will exert all efforts to put a period to corruption and malpractices and "divert them into strategies that will bring changes and improvements for the betterment of the Filipino nation."

President Aquino likened the commemoration of the 114th years the the ratified the Malolos Constitution and the 1st Philippines Republicas the symbol of the "realization of the long cherished dream that "our heroes fought for; the disentanglement from the tie of oppression; enjoying freedom and independence; and proving to the world that our country, the Philippines belong to the Filipinos and for the Filipinos."

He called on all to always "safeguard our freedom and defend our constitution", and warned that if we will not heed to this call, going back into the dark past of our history is inevitable.

The President called for unity and cooperation of every Filipino "in threading the path of good governance".

The president stressed that the sovereignty, democratic government that we are enjoying now are concrete indications of the successful struggle of our ancestors who bravely fought for our freedom.

Commission on Elections (Comelec)-enforced gun ban

The Western Visayas region has taken the No.2 spot eclipsed only by the National Capital Region (NCR)in the number of individuals arrested for violating the Commission on Elections (Comelec)-enforced gun ban since its start last January 13.

Police Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, Jr., Police Regional Office 6 director, said to date, 19 people in Western Visayas have been taken into police custody after they were found in possession of deadly weapons at police checkpoints.

Iloilo has the highest number of arrest with 13 while Bacolod City and the province of Aklan having three each.

Fifteen assorted guns and bladed weapons, and a grenade were confiscated by police, Cruz said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Drug Agency (PDEA)in Region 6 said it has began tracking moves by illegal drug traders based in Metro Manila aiming a big shipment of prohibited drugs like shabu for distribution during the Dinagyang Festival on January 26-27 by way of sea ports scattered around the region.

Manuel Amalilio founder of Aman Futures Group Philippines

Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of Manuel Amalilio, founder of Aman Futures Group Philippines, Inc., who was being hunted for a P12-billion pyramiding scam that duped some 15,000 victims in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Amalilio is now detained at the Bureau of Immigration detention facility in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, According to De Lima.

De Lima said Amalilio was arrested by Malaysian authorities for having a fraudulent passport and Malaysian identification cards.

The Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is now coordinating with the Malaysian police for the immediate deportation of Amalilio.

A copy of the warrant of arrest issued by the Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court against Amalilio has also been furnished the Malaysian police.

Mindanao Rains

The National Disaster Risk Reduction ad Management Council reported Wednesday the damage by flash floods brought by the tail-end of a cold front that brought rains to Mindanao since last week stood at almost P58 million.

In its update, NDRRMC said the damage reached to at P57,940,318 including P51 million in infrastructure; P6 million in agriculture and P80,000 in private properties particular in the areas of Region 12 such as Suralla in South Cotabato; Caraga region included San Luis and Veruela both in Agusan Del Sur; and Region 11 (Davao Region) in Davao Oriental.

It also said at least 35 houses were destroyed and 241 damaged in Davao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur.

The NDRRMC said as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, flash floods had affected 59,304 families or 245,487 people were affected in 202 villages in three cities and 31 towns in nine provinces in Regions 11, 12 and Caraga.

Of these, 14,174 families or 65,611 people are staying in 120 evacuation centers.

NDRRMC said the death toll from the floods remained at six while four people are still considered missing.

The NDRRMC said Tubod town in Surigao del Norte was placed under a state of calamity.

Earlier placed under a state of calamity were 15 villages in Davao City.

APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC)

Setting growth as their benchmark in formulating recommendations, members of the Asia-Pacific business leaders who comprise the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) gathered in Manila on Wednesday to outline their work agenda for the year.

The body agreed to pursue and strengthen the region's economic growth and resilience at a time when the global economy is facing many short and long term challenges.

ABAC said it will place a stronger focus on investments, services trade and infrastructure development areas that APEC has not given as much attention in the past.

Under the theme of "Partnership, Resilience and Bridges to Growth," ABAC will develop recommendations on how APEC economies can deepen regional economic integration, promote infrastructure and sustainable development, foster small and micro enterprise (SME) development and entrepreneurship and promote the development and integration of financial market.

ABAC engaged APEC senior officials from 17 APEC economies in a dialogue to present their agenda and to identify areas for collaboration through the year.

Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) development remained high in ABAC's priorities in recognition of the fact that it is the backbone of economic growth in most APEC economies.

This year, ABAC will focus on solutions to SMMEs to overcome information, logistics and financial barriers. Increasing the participation of women in business with focus on promoting entrepreneurship and easing access to finance will be given priority.

" We have conscious work to enhance, facilitate and give the SMEs ideas to perform better with focus at two important issues; financing and use of information technology," Juan Frando Raffo, chair of SME working group said.

He said with the use of information technology, "it is a wonderful opportunity to be aboard, buy and sell product. It is also an excellent way to link in financing structure."

On the financial aspect, Anthony J. L. Nightingale said "the ASEAN economies have enough resources the only lacking is the mechanism to harness these financial resources."

German biogas and biomass investors

German biogas and biomass investors are willing to fund projects in the Philippines given the country's huge potential of this sector.

A business forum organized by the ECCP, in coordination with the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammernarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the German-Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GPCCI), on biogas and biomass, was attended by more than 200 Filipino representatives from the sector and officials of eight German companies Monday.

European Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ECCP) Vice President Marshal Beck, in a briefing Wednesday, said he has received positive feedbacks from the representatives of the German companies.

"They were really happy with the quality of the projects that they were informed about," he said.

Beck said the sector will greatly benefit from the huge interest of the foreign investors who bid to provide latest technology and all the necessary capital investments.

"They are aware that there are very good projects here…They are willing to partially finance some projects. The banks are also willing to extend loans so there are all the ingredients to start biomass, biogass projects in the country this year," he said.

Sources of biogas include the manure of hogs and poultry while biomass sources include bagasse or the left over after the sugar case has been extracted of its juice and rice husks.

The German companies that sent representatives to the forum are Vastani GmgH, Eckrohrkessel GmbH, Envitec Biogas AG, GTP Solutions GmbH, Binder GmbH, Ascentec GmbH, Novis GmbH, and Pregobello GmbH.

Representatives of these companies are scheduled to visit some biomass and biogas projects in Southern Luzon during the week to check the sites and see the challenges and possible ways to improve the sector.

Beck said representatives from four out of the eight companies are offering good technologies for small biogas plants, which has a capacity of 25kW to 1MW.

Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Catholic bishops will be briefed on the precinct count optical scan machines during the 106th Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines set to start Saturday.

A church source revealed that Automated Election System Watch are expected to share their knowledge on the PCOS, during the two-day meet, to be held at the Pope Piux XII Catholic Center in Manila.

The church insider added the prelates are eager to know if the machines are fool proof, thus preventing cheating during elections.

"As early as now, there are already talks of certain people offering wholesale cheating and how much money you need to pay in order for you to win," said the source.

The source added that the bishops support the automated polls because of the speedy result they would also want the process to be credible.

On the other hand, the bishops are also looking to discuss other national issues in the country including the peace process.

"Every Plenary there are certain issues that the bishops want to focus and discuss. The issue of mining is usually included. Since the election is already near it will also be included. Another topic that will be discussed is the peace process," said the source.

The government's peace negotiator Marvic Leonen has been invited, according to the source.

President Benigno S. Aquino III’s attendance at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland

The government has set aside around P49 million for President Benigno S. Aquino III's attendance at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

The Philippine President is expected to highlight the administration's anti-corruption campaign and make a pitch on the Philippines' readiness to receive more investments, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said Wednesday.

Ochoa said the Chief Executive will not only participate in economic discussions with global business and political leaders in Davos, but will also deliver a keynote address on the fight against corruption at the WEF "Partnering Against Corruption Initiative" on Jan 24.

"President Aquino's participation in the WEF is an important opportunity for us to let the world know of our determination to institutionalize good governance in our country as one of the principal pillars of fiscal reform," Ochoa said.

"President Aquino will share the successes of his administration's campaign against corruption, which served as a springboard for the significant improvement in our country's economy," Ochoa added.

Aquino will depart for Davos Wednesday night to take part in the WEF from Jan 23 to 27, accompanied by a 63-member delegation that includes Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Cabinet Secretary to the President Jose Rene Almendras and PCDSPO Secretary Ramon Carandang.

DILG Investigates Killing of Erlinda Domingo

Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas on Wednesday made a marching orders to police investigators to be sure that all angles are explored in relation to the Tuesday night killing of Maconacon, Isabela Mayor Erlinda Domingo.

The mayor was shot dead while she was about to check in at the Park Villa Apartelle in Examiner Street, Quezon City.

"Mariin kong ipinapaalala kina NCRPO Police Director Leonardo Espina at QCPD Director Senior Superintendent Richard Albano na alamin nila ang kabuoan nito. Ang inaasahan ko ay isang comprehensibong imbestigasyon sa krimeng ito," (I reminded QCPD Director Senior Superintendent Richard Albano to look into the whole story of the crime. What I expect is a comprehensive investigation of the this crime) said Roxas as he is commended police fast response and action that led to the arrest of three of the six suspects in less than 24 hours.

Roxas said this is not the first time that an incumbent mayor in the town of Maconacon was murdered. He said in 2009, Maconacon Mayor Francisco Talosig was also killed by a lone unidentified male gunman.

Talosig was shot in the neck with a .45-caliber pistol and died after several months of coma, Roxas said.

"Nakakapagtaka lang po na ang malayong bayan ng Maconacon—isang bayan sa dalampasigan ng Isabela na nakaharap na sa Dagat Pasipiko—sa loob ng tatlong taon ay dalawang mayor ang binaril," It is surprising that two mayors had already been killed in Maconacon) Roxas explained.

"Ang punto po dito, hindi ito ang kauna-unahang beses na nagkaroon ng pagpaslang ng mayor ng Maconacon. Nais nating malaman kung isolated events ba ito o kunektado ito," Roxas added. (The point here is that this is not the first time that the mayor of Maconacon is killed. We would like to know if the two killings are isolated cases or connected to each other)

QCPD investigation said the victim and her driver were unloading their baggage from their Mitsubishi Adventure when gunmen, aboard two motorcycles, appeared.

Case against China

Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday supported the Philippines' move to file a case against China before a United Nations arbitration body, saying it is an expression of commitment of President Benigno Aquino III to protect Philippine sovereignty.

"The filing of the case before the UN tribunal is an expression of our desire to resolve the dispute with China within the framework of international law," Binay said in a press statement.

Binay urged China to recognize the jurisdiction of the UN body, saying this would help advance peace and harmony in the ASEAN region.

"President Aquino is committed to protect our sovereignty and is likewise committed to resolving the dispute with China in a peaceful manner. I am hopeful that China, in the interest of greater peace and harmony in the region, would recognize the jurisdiction of the UN arbitration tribunal in accordance with international law," the Vice President said.

He emphasized the dispute "should not define our relations with China, considering the historic and cultural ties that bind our two nations."

"A peaceful resolution, under the purview of international law, would be in the best interest of both countries and the ASEAN region," Binay said.

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), which is chaired by the Vice President, likewise expressed its full support for the administration's action.

"President Aquino has consistently defended our sovereignty against provocative moves by China," UNA Secretary General Toby Tiangco said.

Philippine Navy (PN) multi-purpose assault craft (MPAC)

A Philippine Navy (PN) multi-purpose assault craft (MPAC) has successfully rescued 21 fishermen whose boat was severely damaged after colliding with a tanker in Manila Bay early Tuesday morning.

"MPAC BA-485 was patrolling in Manila Bay when they spotted M/B Lala Boom B in distressed situation with her right outrigger broken after it was rammed by M/T Pullilan," Philippine Fleet deputy public information officer Lt. Rommel Rodriquez said.

M/T Pulilan has a crew of 14 men while the fishing boat was carrying 21 men.

He added that the mishap transpired when the fishing boat attempted to cross the tanker's bow.

The area where the collision took place was 4.7 nautical miles of South Harbor.

M/T Pulilan was headed for the Pasig entrance to unload her cargo of jet fuel while the fishermen, who were from Navotas, were headed for Manila Bay's fishing grounds.

Rodriquez said that the fishermen were trying to follow an old superstition which claims an abundant catch await those who managed to cross the bow of a larger vessel.

Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers

President Benigno Aquino III has signed the "Kasambahay Bill" that would benefit millions of domestic workers in the country.

"We are pleased to confirm that President Aquino signed Republic Act 10361 or 'An Act Instituting Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers' last January 18, 2013," said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte in a statement issued Wednesday.

Valte said RA 10361 will take effect 15 days after its publication in the print version of the Official Gazette or a newspaper of general circulation.

Lawmakers lauded President Aquino for the signing into law of the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers Act, saying this will benefit the more than two million domestic workers in the country.

"This sends a strong message that President Aquino is focused on spreading 'inclusive growth' throughout the country," said Aurora Rep. Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, one of the proponents of the proposed "Kasambahay Bill" at the House of Representatives.

"The measure makes sure that even our domestic workers will feel the gains achieved under the current administration. Pati mga kasambahay natin, kasama sa kaunlaran," he said.

Previously, Article 143 of the Labor Code pegs the monthly wage of kasambahays in Metro Manila at P800, those in "highly urbanized areas" at P650, and in other municipalities at P550.

Under the new law, domestic helpers will now receive P2,500 monthly for those working in the National Capital Region, P2,000 per month for those working in chartered cities and first class municipalities, and P1,500 for the rest.

Aside from the pay standardization, the new law assures all domestic helpers entitlement to 13th month pay, coverage in the Social Security System (SSS), PhilHealth, Pag-Ibig Fund and all the benefits provided under the Philippine Social Security System (RA 8282), as amended.

If the kasambahay salary is P5,000 and above, payment of SSS and Pag-Ibig contributions will be shared by both the employer and helper, while Philhealth premiums will still be paid in full by the employer.

The law also entitles domestic workers who have rendered at least one year of service an annual service incentive leave of five days with pay.

Department of Agrarian Reform Farm to Market Road

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)is constructing a P33 million farm-to-market road project that will connect barangays in agrarian reform communities (ARCs) in San Agustin, Isabela.

The road project is now under construction following formal groundbreaking led DAR Regional Director Marjorie Alzate and Isabela Congressman Georgidi Aggabao recently.

The project involves the concreting of 7.39 kilometers starting from barangay roads of San Antonio passing through Mapalad and Bautista.

Alzate explained the concreting of the road will ensure the uninterrupted flow of farm products from the ARC to the market as well as the flow of farm inputs from the commercial center to the farms. Other sectors are also set to benefit from the project.

Alzate noted that during the rainy season, the roads become muddy and full of potholes prompting public conveyances to charge higher than the usual fare.

Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012

The Supreme Court has required the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on two new petitions challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.

No action has been taken by the SC on the respective requests for Temporary Restraining Orders.

The petitions were filed by Expedito Bugarin vs. Office of the President; and Eduardo Olaguer and the Catholic Xybrspace Apostolate of the Philippines vs. DOH Secretary et al.

There are now six petitions challenging RA 10354.

The other four petitions were filed by James Imbong, et al. vs. Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, et al.; Serve Life Cagayan de Oro City, et al. vs. Office of the President, et al.,; Task Force for Family and Life Visayas Inc. and Valeriano Avila vs. Ochoa, et al.; and Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc. vs. Ochoa.

Google Opens Office in Philippines

Google Inc. will open a new branch in the Philippines to improve its services to its Filipino users.

The country has a growing 33 million internet users that is like to double after three years.

Google wants to take this opportunity to improve its services to the country and aid in the growth of Philippine businesses locally and globally.

"This new office will allow us to better engage with our local users, partners and advertisers. Over 33 million Filipinos access the Internet regularly to study, shop, search for ideas, opportunities create new businesses and connect to each other," said Julian Persaud, Managing Director of Google Inc.

Last year, Google partnered with the Dept. of Education (DepEd) for the project titled "Google Apps for Education" connecting 600,000 educators around the country using a common e-mail, chat and calendar.

Philippine Navy's charts are accurate

All of Philippine Navy's charts are accurate and updated and provide reliable navigation data to navigators, Philippine Navy assured.

Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, PN acting spokesperson, made this assurance in light of US 7th Fleet's claim that a faulty digital map (provided by PN) was one of the reasons its minesweeper ran aground off the marine sanctuary last Jan. 17.

"All of our navigation charts are updated and accurate so there is no danger in any of our ships running aground," Fabic assured.

He said PN's operation office checks the charts out before issuing them out to ship's navigators.

The US Navy is claiming that an error in their digital chart caused the USS Guardian to be off by eight nautical miles (almost 24 kilometers) from her course and causing her to ran aground in Tubbataha Reef.

He added that the PN is using charts in conjunction with modern radar, depth sounding equipment and global positioning systems as this is still reliable and more easier to use. p>Fabic also denied that the vessel was doing a surveillance mission as most of its topside gear was secured and not operating during the time of the collision.

"All her topside equipment was unmanned during the time of the mishap. In fact, all of it were stored," Fabic stressed.

He also declined to comment on how the accident involving one of the US Navy's sophisticated mine-hunting ships, adding that the US Navy is now conducting its investigation on the matter.

Fabic added that the PN was well aware that the USS Guardian was in the country's territorial waters as it was given clearance by the government to make a fueling stop in Subic Bay, Zambales last Jan. 13 and was headed for Puerto Princesa, Palawan for another port stop.

Gratitude to Filipino Nurses

President Benigno S. Aquino III expressed his gratitude to government nurses who forego financial gain in favor of being of service to fellow countrymen.

"It is this spirit of generosity that inspires us to work harder for the benefit of the people, particularly in pursuing our Universal Health Care program, which seeks to give efficient, accessible, and quality medical services to all Filipinos," the Chief Executive said in his message to the National League of Philippine Government Nurses Inc. (NLPGNI) on the occasion of its 52nd Founding Anniversary.

The NLPGNI opened its 2013 Biennial Convention at the Grand Regal Hotel, Davao City on Wednesday. The convention would end on Thursday.

"We are grateful to have you as our partners in the implementation of this vital measure, so our countrymen may remain strong and healthy as they take advantage of the opportunities in this era of revitalization," the President said

The President said he hopes that the occasion will bring renewed vigor to the NLPGNI's collective effort to continue giving personalized care to the patients.

Largest rum market in the world after USA

Don Papa, a locally-produced rum was recently launched in Cebu.

Don Papa, a premium aged small batch single island rum from Negros was launched at The Distillery in Banilad, Cebu.

"We want to introduce Don Papa in its home country first, the second largest rum market in the world after USA. And with Visayas generally a big rum market in the Philippines, we decided to tap Cebu, a key city growing quite rapidly in terms of consumerism," said Stephen Carroll, founder of Bleeding Heart Rum Co. (BHRC), a two-year old company that carries the Don Papa brand.

Don Papa general manager AJ Garcia said they saw an opportunity to penetrate the spirits segment in the region, with rum manufacturing upgraded to the premium category.

BHRC marketing head Monica Llamas said it was time for Filipinos to experience premium quality local product that is able to compete internationally.

Don Papa was first launched in Bacolod and then in Manila last July.

Carroll said they wanted to give the brand six months to evaluate its performance.

Carroll said Don Papa was not designed to compete with the country's dominant brand, which has 99.9 percent of the market.

He said they want to enter the high end market, in the 25 to 45 age bracket.

Don Papa was distilled three times in Negros and aged for more than seven years in American oak barrels at the foot of Mount Kanlaon.

Justice for Atty. Juvian Achas and Dr. Rene Rafols

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court Wednesday offered their condolences to the families of Atty. Juvian Achas and Dr. Rene Rafols.

Achas and Rafols were killed during the shooting incident Tuesday inside the Cebu City Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 6.

The SC also condoled with the loved ones of John Pope, a Canadian national who committed the shooting rampage and later on shot himself dead.

After listening to the verbal report of Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez, Sereno ordered stricter security measures in all courts nationwide.

Sereno and the justices of the SC also urged police authorities to double their efforts to expedite their investigation into the shooting incident which also resulted in the wounding of Prosecutor Maria Teresa Casino.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines Task Force

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines will create a special task force to address the threats, violence and intimidation against lawyers around the country.

The shooting incident on Tuesday inside the Cebu Palace Hall of Justice where a doctor and a lawyer were killed and a prosecutor left in critical condition prompted IBP, the organization of lawyers in the country, to take this action.

"The IBP condemns in the strongest terms the violence that has erupted in the Cebu City court, calling attention to the increasing incidents of deadly work-related violence against lawyers all over the country," the IBP said in a statement Wednesday.

A memorandum of understanding shall be will be signed with the IBP, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police.

66th Philippine Airlines Interclub golf team championships

Golf teams from Davao City are now gearing up for the 66th Philippine Airlines Interclub golf team championships which will tee off February 21 in Cebu City with the Senior's division.

Lawyer Domingo Duerme, vice president of PAL Mindanao, said four courses will be used for the very first time in tournament history.

"This year's host unravels four golf courses for the event, hence the theme "4 at the Fore," he said.

The championship starts with the Senior's division on February 21-24 at the Alta Vista Golf and Country Club and Club Filipino de Cebu Golf Club with a record 100 teams, including 53 from abroad.

Cebu Country Club and Mactan Island Golf Club will then host the regular Interclub set February 26 to March 2 featuring more than half of the 78 squads in the regular Interclub are from overseas.

Cebu, which is eyeing back-to-back titles in the regular division, is hosting the unofficial national golf team championship for the first time in 12 years. Cebu now enjoys a hometown advantage as its confidence was boosted after winning last year's title over Del Monte in Davao by eight points.

The Cebuanos led by Lloyd Go's 70 points finished the four-day, five-to-play, four-to-count event with 507 points. Third place went to Alabang Golf with 493 points.

Wack Wack won the Founder's division with 476 points as the Mandaluyong-based team edged Orchard (461) and Negros (445). The Sportswriters class went to Camp John Hay (411) followed by Eagle Ridge (388) and Mt. Malindang (387).

In the Friendship division, Austral-Asian (303), Fil-Am Hawaii (284) and PGA British Columbia (282) finished in the top three in that order.

Competition was stiff in the seniors' tournament as Canlubang rallied in the final round to edge old rival Luisita, 571-568. Cebu Country Club landed a strong third with 566 points.

Manila Golf Club nipped Apo Golf, 524-523, to win the Founders crown while Fil-Am Hawaii came home with the Sportswriters plum with 479 ahead of Davao (473) and Chamorro (472).

Malaysian investors welcome in Philippines

Mayor Joaquin Chipeco on Wednesday rolled out the red carpet to welcome Malaysian investors.

The Malaysian business delegation was led by Alloy MTD Chairman Dato' Dr. Nik Hussain bin Abdul Rahman and President Dato' Azmil Khalid and the firm's board of directors. The Malaysian company is an infrastructure group which will be constructing Calabarzon Regional Government Center.

The mayor remarked the foreign business delegation visit augured well on the signing of the joint venture agreement of the MTD Philippines and the city's ambitious project as the hub of the Calabarzon regional government center.

The Calabarzon region groups the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon which claim the country's fastest growth and development sites.

In a post jobs fair report on Tuesday, Mayor Chipeco observed the huge turn-out of job applicants in response to more business locators and investors who have invested and expanded their industries in the city.

The mayor had earlier directed the holding of the jobs and employment promotions activities over the weekend to welcome the New Year with renewed vigor, dynamism and optimism after the city copped the country's "Most Business-Friendly City" level 2 in the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry(PCCI)roster of distinctions last year.

Chipeco forecast brighter prospects for the city after garnering the latest PCCI business accolade in addition to the strings of national distinctions on good governance, local government administration and the coveted "Seal of Good Housekeeping" awards.

He said the coming of more investors to the city would also bring prospects for employment opportunities.

More than 3,000 job aspirants converged at the Calamba City hall during the recent job fair hosted by the city government through its Information, Investment Promotions and Employment Services Office (IIPESO).

Justice for Maconacon Mayor Erlinda Domingo

At least two more suspects in the killing of a town mayor of Isabela province in Quezon City Tuesday night were arrested in separate follow-up operations, police said Wednesday morning.

Quezon City Police District Station 2 head Superintendent Pedro Sanchez said the two suspects were arrested based on the information provided by the first suspect arrested identified as Christian Flores Pahinado.

Pahinado was arrested shortly after the killing of Maconacon mayor Erlinda Domingo.

Sanchez said one of the suspects, a male, was arrested at Purok 20 in Barangay Commonwealth in Quezon City while the other, a female, was arrested at Barangay Culiat, also in Quezon City.

Recovered in the follow-up operations were firearms and ammunition, he added.

But Sanchez did not immediately name the two as follow-up operations are still ongoing.

Conducting the follow-up operations were the Quezon City police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit and Special Weapons and Tactics team.

USS Guardian (MCM-5) off Tubbataha Reef

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said it would be better for the environment if salvage teams tasked to extricate the USS Guardian (MCM-5) off Tubbataha Reef would lift rather than tow the stricken vessel from the grounding site.

He added that the option is very feasible for the US Navy as it has large ships equipped with very powerful cranes and lifting platforms.

Isorena said lifting is the kinder option as it would not damage the reef further.

Retrieval efforts for the USS Guardian is being stalled by heavy waves and inclement weather in the area.

The PCG was tasked to form a fact-finding team to look into the maritime mishap.

Last Jan. 17, the USS Guardian ran aground at Tubbataha Reef, a protected site.

The US Navy said it is looking into the possibility faulty chart data could have misled the minesweeper.

But on Jan. 21, the Tubbataha Management Office head Angelique Songco said the USS Guardian's crew ignored communications from her rangers.

Philippine Tourism Visitors Data

The Philippines, for the first time, surpassed the four million visitor arrival mark welcoming a total of 4,272,811 foreign visitors in 2012, posting a 9.07 percent increase from a total of 3,917,454 visitors in 2011.

However, it barely missed its target of 4.6 million tourist arrivals in 2012, achieving only 93.8 percent of its goal of 4,556,582 visitor arrivals last year, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Shortfalls were felt due to economic and political pressures from traditional markets such as US, Europe, and China. Even so, key source markets still registered positive growth for the year, the DOT said.

Tourism secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, in a press statement, said that crossing the 4-million mark is already a feat in itself. He believes that it puts the DOT on track to achieve its ultimate goal of 10 million visitor arrivals by 2016.

"It is going to become increasingly challenging to meet future targets. But we know that Filipinos are the biggest believers of our slogan, 'It's more fun in the Philippines'," Jimenez said.

"We remain confident and will continue to build on the positive energies in order to cross the 5-million milestone in 2013," he added.

Jimenez also said that the thrust of DOT's marketing in 2013 is market development, which entails expanding the potential market for new users and new uses.

"We will look into segments that we have not thoroughly explored. We will explore more creative executions geared toward sustaining the fun we have started," he said, hoping to have a stronger representation and to be part of the future of tourism in Asia.

The DOT reported that South Korea remains the biggest market and the first to contribute one million visitors with an unsurpassed record of 1,031,155 visitors or 24.13 percent of the total visitor volume to the Philippines, registering an 11.45 percent growth from South Korea in 2012.

Upgrading/Improving, Rehabilitation and Modernizing Airports

Brig. General Rodante S. Joya of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) gave his support to House Bill Nos. 1165, 1300, 1301, 1309, 2437 & 2634, or the Acts on Upgrading/Improving, Rehabilitation and Modernizing Airports.

The list of measures that were sourced from the website of the Senate are as follows:

HB No. 1165-SIARGAO AIRPORT, An act upgrading and modernizing the Siargao Airport in Barangay Sayak, Del Carmen, Surigao Del Norte;

HB No. 1300-CAGAYAN DE TAWI-TAWI AIRPORT, An act providing for the improvement and concreting of the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi airport in the municipality of Mapu , Province of Tawi-Tawi;

HB No. 1301-SANGA-SANGA AIRPORT, Capital Town of Bangao, Province of Tawi-Tawi, An act providing for the improvement, rehabilitation and modernization of the Sanga-Sanga airport in the Capital Town of Bangao, Province of Tawi-Tawi;

HB No. 1309-SIBUTU AIRPORT, Province of Tawai-Tawi, An Act providing for the improvement and concreting of the Sibutu Airport in the municipality of Sibutu, Province of Tawi-Tawi;

HB No. 2437-UBAY AIRPORT, An act providing for the Ubay Airport Development to accommodate commercial domestic and aviation training flights;

HB No.2634-VIRAC AIRPORT, An act providing for the improvement, rehabilitation and modernization of Virac Airport in the province of Catanduanes;

Winning contingent of Sinulog 2013 Free Interpretation Category

The winning contingent of Sinulog 2013 Free Interpretation Category will not join this year's Aliwan Festival in Metro Manila, this coming April.

Mayor Loreto Yu of Alang-alang, head of delegation of the Linganay Festival, said that due to financial problem and with the conduct of the forthcoming election, they had decided not to join this year in the grandest festival of Metro Manila.

Their contingent won P1 million while their festival queen was awarded with Best in Costume.

Yu said that Linganay have at least 400 performers that included dancers, props men, musicians, and support staff.

Linganay was adjudge last year at the Pintados-Kasadyaan festival as the grand champion that gives them the right to compete in Sinulog and Aliwan Festival along with their first place winner Pasaka Festival of Tanauan.

The contingent was also the grand champion in 2011 at Pintados-Kasadyaan and the grand champion at the 2012 Sinulog Festival.

Although they will not join this year's Aliwan, Mayor Yu said that they are still happy that they were able to give honor and glory to their town and the province of Leyte.

Lingganay, which in the local dialect means "bell," was conceptualized in 1995 based on the legend of the town's lost golden bell. The legend goes that when the Moro pirates staged a surprise attack in the town, they tried to flee away with the bell.

With this achievement of Linganay Festival, members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Leyte in their regular session (Tuesday) approved a resolution commending their achievement. Philippine Councilors League-Leyte Chapter President and Ex-Officio Member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan Wilson Uy, said that the back-to-back winning of Linganay in Sinulog Festival only shows that Leyte can offer tourist best festival presentation.

Media Coverage in Philippine Election

Media networks need not seek for the approval of the Commission on Elections before it could guest a candidate running in the May polls, the poll body's chief said Tuesday.

Instead, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr said TV networks should submit a notice of interview so the poll body could monitor the interview.

But Brillantes said they would issue a "clarificatory" resolution on this, as he admitted that some parts of Resolution 9615, which lays down implementing rules on Republic Act 9006 (Fair Elections Act) is confusing, particularly on the section which states that media should seek prior consent from the poll body before guesting candidates either on television or radio.

Under Resolution 9615, media entities have to secure a "prior approval of the Commission" before interviewing candidates.

"Prior consent should not be interpreted as a consent coming from the commission. It is just prior notice that they're going to interview," Brillantes said.

Meanwhile, Brillantes also told critics of the new Comelec ruling on limited airtime to go to the Supreme Court.

Last week, the poll body issued a resolution lessening the airtime of campaign advertisements, both on television and radio, and regulation of campaign ads online.

Petitions on Cybercrime Law

The Supreme Court has reset the oral arguments on the petitions on Cybercrime Law next Tuesday.

"Upon motion of the Office of the Solicitor General and approval by the members of the SC, The continuation of the oral arguments on Cybercrime petitions scheduled was moved to next Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 2 p.m. at the New Session Hall.

According to SC en banc Clerk of Court Enriquetta Vidal, the oral arguments was postponed upon request Office of the Solicitor General who urgently summoned to Malacanang for a very important meeting.

The Solicitor General was supposed to defend the legality of the Cybercrime Law.

Philippine Garment Industry Revenue

The country's garments industry is gaining grounds registering P2-billion revenue in 2012 from a slump of less than a billion in 2009, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced on Monday.

Chinese garment companies that sourced their production materials locally uplifted the industry which crashed when US removed its quota in 2004. Its revenue increased from P1.7 billion in 2010 to P1.95 billion in 2011.

Outgoing DTI Undersecretary Cristino L. Panlilio said the DTI is working to get more concessions for the garments industry, forging bilateral and multi-lateral agreements.

"Tariff is the biggest barrier to our export, we need to get more concessions," Usec Panlilio said.

He said the DTI is working to forge agreements and consessions on Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) to get something for the industry.

The TPP is a proposed free trade agreement under negotiation (as of December 2012) with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

The GSP, on the other hand, gives vital access to European markets and since 1971, the EU has had rules ensuring that exporters from developing countries pay lower duties.

Best Ilonggo Cuisine

The Iloilo Hotels, Restaurants and Resorts Association (IHRRA) is set to present the best Ilonggo cuisine to the people and revelers of the Dinagyang Festival with its yearly Dinagyang Food Festival starting on Thursday until Sunday.

IHRRA president Alberto Ong of Mansion Garden Restaurant and vice president for restaurant Happy Abenir of Love and Kisses Pizza said the 21st year of Dinagyang food festival along Delgado starting at Iznart up to Valeria streets promises to be a satisfying food trip and fun with nightly musical bands.

IHRRA has a total 65 membership but only 36 hotels and restaurants in the city will participate in the four-day food festival.

Abenir said the food festival site is open for public dining on Thursday and Friday starting at 4:00 p.m. until midnight. But lunch will also be served on Saturday and Sunday for revelers as the Dinagyang fever reaches its pitch on the last two days.

Food prices at the festival site will be much lower than those offered in restaurants and hotels so that the revelers who failed to go for fine dining at the restaurants will have the chance to taste and enjoy the Ilonggo cuisine.

San Miguel Corp. will provide the nightly musical entertainment for the food fest patrons with the Manila-based Spongecola Band on Friday evening.

Freedom of Information Bill at House of Representatives

The much-awaited deliberations on the Freedom of Information Bill at the House of Representatives never materialized Tuesday as session was abruptly suspended till Wednesday afternoon due indirectly to a lack of quorum.

With the bill's principal authors eagerly expecting the sponsorship of the FOI bill at the plenary – which would have formally opened deliberations on the landmark legislation – sessions were suddenly suspended due to an issue that has nothing to do with the FOI bill.

It started when Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas opposed the reading of a motion referring Republic Act 10360, which created the Province of Davao Occidental, formerly Davao del Sur, to the House archives.

Cagas had opposed the move and questioned the presence of a quorum to stop the proceedings.

As it turned out, there were only 114 of the 287 House members present.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada said that they were saddened with the turn of events and found it "absurd" that a parochial issue had hijacked a bill of national importance.

"It does not look good for the whole House of Representatives if we can not even push the FOI to its logical conclusion," Tañada rued.

He said that he and other principal authors of the FOI Bill had tried to talk to Cagas so that he would give way for the sponsorship of House Bill 6766 to no avail.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs)

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said Tuesday the seismic activity of Taal Volcano in Batangas province has increased in the past 24 hours.

Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum, Jr. said from 7 a.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday, the agency has recorded 10 volcanic quakes, which was notably higher compared to the "no volcanic activity" from Sunday to Monday.

Solidum said no steaming has been observed in the past 24 hours and water temperature at the main crater lake decreased from 31.7 to 30.9 degrees Celsius.

The Phivolcs chief noted the volcano's alert level 1 will be maintained as "10 volcanic quakes are still appropriate for a volcano that is under abnormal level."

He said that a volcano under alert level 1 means that abnormal volcanic activities are observed, though a hazardous eruption is not imminent.

Since Jan 18, Solidum said that Taal Volcano was relatively calm, with its seismic network recording "zero to eight" volcanic earthquakes in a day.

He noted that no other significant volcanic activity was also observed in the past four days.

Enrile Scandal in the Philippines

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile Tuesday belittled comments he should have submitted an irrevocable resignation instead of declaring the Senate President post vacant.

"I have not committed any wrong to resign but since there was so much talk about something that is not understood well, I decided to ask for the vote of confidence of my peers whether they want me to stay or not," Enrile said in a media interview.

Although seven senators were absent, a total of 11 senators voted to reject the motion of Enrile to declare his post vacant while two abstained and three, including Enrile himself as movant, voted in favor.

"I'm glad that they expressed their position and I am thankful to them," Enrile said.

Enrile, however, said he is still waiting for his critics in the Senate to muster the number of votes "necessary to make me resign."

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III believed also that Enrile was just seeking a vote of confidence when the Senate President moved to declare his position vacant.

"It's a vote of confidence. He is seeking a vote of confidence," Sotto said, admitting he was surprised by Enrile's move.

"I was advised that he was going to deliver a privilege speech but I did not expect him to make that motion," Sotto added.

On the comment by Senate minority leader Alan Peter Cayetano that Enrile's motion was scripted, Sotto said: "That's unfair accusation."

Sotto challenged Enrile's critics to focus on finding a way to replace the 88-year-old lawmaker "but you cannot expect him to resign."

"He made that motion to see if the majority will agree," Sotto said.

Sotto explained that changing the Senate leadership during the remaining few weeks of the 15th Congress is a disaster and will put aside important pending bills.

"If that happens during the last two or three weeks of the Congress, then you throw the legislative branch of the government into shambles. Why? Because there will be reorganization. Forget all the pending bills," Sotto explained.

1st Republican Government in Asia

MANILA, Jan. 23 (PNA) -- After 114 years, Bulakenos remain proud of their province as the birthplace of the 1st Philippine Constitution and the 1st Republican Government in Asia.

This was gathered from interviews from various sectors in Bulacan during the inauguration of the 1st Philippine Republic at Barasoain Church Wednesday

It was in Barasoain Church where Gen. Emilio F. Aguinaldo inaugurated in February 23, 1899 the 1st Philippine Republic also known as 'Malolos Republic'.

Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr . was sent by President Benigno S. Aquino III to represent him and delivered his speech.

"It is here where our first Congress was created," Bulacan vice governor Daniel R. Fernando said. "This is recognized not only in the Philippines but also in Asia. They know that it is here, where we attain our freedom." he added.

Bulacan governor Wilhelmino M. Sy-Alvarado said that Bulacan is also a home to many of the country's greatest artists with a good number elevated as national artists like Levi Celerio, composer and national artist; Nicanor Abelardo, prolific composer of Kundiman; Valeriano Hernandez Pena, author of the First Tagalog Novel "Nena at Neneng" and others.

Bernadette Tamayo, 58 OIC assistant auperintendent of DepEd, said she is proud that it is in Bulacan where the 1st Philippine Republic was inaugurated. She added "It is a manifestation of how our ancestors value freedom and independence and their nationalistic effort to establish a government that we can run."

Lovely Jhade Santos, 16, student chairperson of Girl Scout of the Philippines Bulacan School, from San Jose Del Monte National Trade School, said she feels proud that Bulacan province was known also for having great poets like Francisco Baltazar, Jose Corazon de Jesus and other heroes like Marcelo H. del Pilar and Gregorio del Pilar and more.

US Navy Minesweeper Hit Philippine Reef

Lawmakers Wednesday rejected the excuse given by U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Scott Swift that the faulty navigation chart caused the USS Guardian (MCM-5), a 68-meter US Navy minesweeper, to ram into the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan early Thursday morning last week, damaging at least 10 linear meters of one of the country's protected sites.

Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan (Part-list, Gabriela) said Swift's pronouncement is not just a lame excuse but a ridiculous alibi as well. "From the most technologically advanced country, to use a map and a faulty one at that, it is rubbing salt to injury," Ilagan said.

Ilagan expressed disappointment and criticized the US for destroying the reef, which is home to thousands of marine species covering 130,028 hectares. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1993.

Ilagan also chided the US for trespassing on Philippine waters, blatantly violating marine laws and ignoring the authorities and for using the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as an excuse.

"And we are supposed to swallow their excuse hook, line and sinker?" Ilagan asked.

Rep. Teddy Casiño (Party-list, Bayan Muna) said he did not understand why the minesweeper was present in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park when it was already on its way to Indonesia coming from a port call in Subic Bay.

"What is a minesweeper doing there in the first place?" Casiño asked. Reports said the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was unaware of the presence of the ship in the Sulu Sea where the Tubbataha reef is located.

Casiño also noted US Navy's reported uncooperative actions towards the Tubbataha Reef Park rangers. He cited reports by Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board head Angelique Songco that when park rangers attempted to survey the damage on the reef and offered to help, the US Ship Guardian's commander deployed personnel into battle position, forcing them to back-off.

Philippine Task Force on Tubbataha

By Lilybeth G. Ison
MANILA, Jan. 23 (PNA) -- The Philippine Task Force on Tubbataha reported that around 1,000 square meters of the reef were damaged in the grounding the United States minesweeper USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef National Park last week.

"There were dives made by the US Navy to assess the extent of damage to the ship and also a dive made by our Philippine assessment team to determine the extent of damage to the reef itself. The damage, based on the initial dive, was approximately 1,000 square meters," said Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda during Wednesday's press briefing in Malacanang.

As regards the damage of USS Guardian, Lacierda said there were severe damage to the rudder and the propeller of the vessel based on the initial assessment of the divers.

Under Republic Act 10067 or "The Tubbataha National Park Law," the Tubbataha Reef National Park covers an approximate area of 97,030 hectares.

"This (Tubbataha Reef) is a national treasure and a world heritage site and, therefore, it is important to us. It is precious to us. The primary consideration right now is to remove the ship from the reef," the Presidential Spokesman said.

Lacierda stressed that the first and the paramount responsibility right now of the task force is to take away the ship.

"The (Philippine) Coast Guard is there precisely to act as a marine protection agency. We cannot emphasize (more) the fact that this is a national treasure, this is a world heritage site and, therefore, we will do the best that we can to ensure that the extrication of the ship shall be done with minimal damage to the reef," he said.

As to the issue if the Philippine government will claim damages from the US government, Lacierda said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be the lead agency in discussing this matter with their US counterparts.

"Nag-usap (na) kami ni (DFA) Secretary (Albert) del Rosario. Do not be worried about our claims. We have the law. We will enforce the law," he noted.

But, he said that before discussing anything else, "we have to ensure that we cause minimal damage to the reef itself during the period of salvaging the ship away from the reef."

Lacierda said the US salvage operators have already fine tuned their plan subject, of course, to the discussions with their Philippine counterparts, on how to best salvage the ship with minimal damage to the reef.

Philippine Bridge Project

Solong Bridge will soon be completed with funds provided by Malacañang Palace.

Lawyer Bobby V. Dumlao, Director IV of the Office of the Presidential Action Center, Malacañang, Manila has recently sent an endorsement letter to Elizabeth Pilorin, chief, Public Information Division, Department of Public works and Highways (DPWH), directing her to monitor the actions taken in the construction of Solong Bridge.

"For monitoring purposes of the Office of the Executive Secretary, prompt advice of the action taken hereon to the party concerned and this Office citing Code No. TL-BEC-11-28-2012-17, pursuant to the provisions of Republic Act No. 6713 and Republic Act No. 9485 is requested," Director Dumlao wrote in his letter.

To recall, the leaders of 18 barangays in the municipality of Sibalom and San Remigio town whose barangays would directly benefit with the completion of Solong Bridge adopted on June 16, 2012 Joint Resolution No. 2012-005 requesting President Benigno Simeon Aquino III financial assistance for the continuation of the bridge's construction.

The Sibalom barangays include barangays of District 1, District 2, District 3 and District 4, Solong, Esperanza 1, Esperanza 2, Esperanza 3, Cadoldolan, Igdagmay, Bongbongan 1, Lagdo, Villar, Lacaron, Olaga and Bigaa and barangays Carmelo 1 and Carmelo 2 of San Remigio.

The completion of this 360-lineal meter long bridge will shorten the way to these barangays from the Poblacion by at least seven kilometers.

The bridge project is already about 70% completed as per records of the Provincial Engineer's Office which implemented the project in 2003. Reportedly, the Provincial Government of Antique has spent P90 million for Phase 1, 2 and 3 of the project. The DPWH Regional Office also implemented a P30M Phase 4 of the project in 2009.