Saturday, February 9, 2013

NPA Surrender

At least nine New People's Army (NPA) rebels operating in Catanduanes gave up their armed struggle and surrendered on Monday to a Philippine Army (PA) official, Army Maj. Angelo Guzman, PA Bicol spokesperson, said Thursday.

Guzman said the strength of the communist movement is slowly waning after government forces heightened its "Bayanihan" program, an internal peace and security initiative aimed to end the four decades-old insurgency problem in the country.

Quoting Army Lt. Col Rodolfo Batang, commanding officer of the Army's 83rd Infantry Battalion, he said the surrender of nine NPA rebels here is an indication that the command's Bayanihan program is going on in full throttle.

Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, the newly installed AFP chief of staff, in a command conference in Manila told various AFP commanders to make "insurgency insignificant" by 2016.

"They (rebels) have made the right decision to go down the mountains and abandoned the armed struggle and joined the main stream of society," Guzman said.

He identified those who surrendered as Victor Soriao alias Vicvic, Edna Tavera alias Rona, Dante Coranes alias "Nhads", father and son Domingo dela Cruz Sr. alias "Kikay-Kikay" and Domingo Dela Cruz Jr., Eddie Tesorero alias "Taptap", Quimpo Ralla alias "Lilo", Florida Francisco alias "Pida" and Francisco Mejares alias "Ikwi."

Guzman said the NPA rebels surrendered in separate occasions from Jan. 20 to Jan. 27.

Atimonan, Quezon shooting incident

Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima Wednesday said the National Bureau of Investigation is readying criminal charges against those involved in the Atimonan, Quezon shooting incident where 13 people were killed last Jan. 6.

The NBI is the Philippines' premier investigating body and is an attached agency of the Department of Justice.

President Benigno S. Aquino III has mandated the NBI to conduct the investigation into the Atimonan shooting incident and determine what really transpired during that fateful day and determine who, if any, is liable.

"Ready na rin ang NBI dyan sa pag-file ng kaso," De Lima said in an ambush interview.

She said the NBI draft report has reached 300 pages even while the ballistic report has yet to be completed.

De Lima said the NBI has no deadline to complete the report.

13th month pay for Filipino Workers

The Department of Labor and Employment on Tuesday commended two private companies for their immediate compliance to the 13th month pay law.

Commended for complying with Presidential Decree 851 requiring employers to pay their employees 13th month pay were DOCOMO InterTouch, an Internet Service Provider located at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig; and the Bank of Commerce.

In a letter to the labor secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, DOCOMO InterTouch reported that its 245 employees already received their 2012 13th month pay amounting to of P5,768,580.69.

The Bank of Commerce in Mandaluyong City allotted P61,816,270.67 for the 13th month pay of its 1,799 rank and file employees and junior and senior officers.

"The 13th month pay is a core labor standard which should be enjoyed by all workers," Baldoz said. "It is among the tasks of the DOLE to ensure that all employers abide by this law."

Baldoz expressed her high regard for employers who conform to labor laws and standards and those who put their workers' concern as one of their top priorities.

As early as November last year, Baldoz already reminded employers that the 13th month pay is a statutory benefit usually expected as part of the employees yearend benefits and is also a core labor standard.

Under Presidential Decree 851, all employers are required to pay all of their employees a 13th month pay not later than December 24 of every year. It defines 13th month pay as one twelfth (1/12) of the basic salary of an employee within a calendar year.

It also explains that the basic salary includes all remunerations or earnings paid by an employer to an employee for services rendered. The formula for computing the 13th month pay is total basic salary earned during the year divided by 12 months.

However, it does not include allowances and monetary benefits not considered as part of the basic salary, such as the cash equivalent of unused vacation and sick leave credits, overtime pay, night shift differential pay, holiday pay, and cost of living allowance (COLA).

Confirmation of Arsenio M. Balisacan

The Commission on Appointments committee on tourism and economic development recommended Wednesday the confirmation of Arsenio M. Balisacan as secretary of Socio-Economic Planning and director general of the National Economic and Development Authority.

Balisacan got the CA panel's nod without any opposition, hoping to deliver more to sustain the country's growing economy.

"I'm very thankful that they have trusted me. I hope I can deliver. It sharpens the focus," Balisacan said in a media interview after the CA deliberation on his ad interim appointment.

Balisacan expressed optimism the gross domestic product could hit 6 to 7 percent in the next 10 years and any country should be proud it.

"A 6 to 7 percent growth target is realistic and it should enough for any country to be proud of," Balisacan told Senate reporters.

For this year, Balisacan said election spending would propel the government's 5 to 6 percent economic growth.

Bus Management and Dispatch System (BMDS) of MMDA

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority will start the implementation on Thursday (January 31) of the Bus Management and Dispatch System (BMDS), an enhanced bus dispatch system that does not only regulate the number of public utility buses (PUBs) in EDSA but also monitors the drivers manning them.

The BMDS is the first bus reduction program in the country that utilizes biometrics or finger-scanning to identify and monitor PUB drivers, ensuring the safety of commuters that patronize PUBs, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said.

He said the program will be pilot-tested at the bus dispatch terminal of the MMDA at Fairview, Quezon City. Twelve more satellite stations will be established all over Metro Manila later this year.

"Our aim is to instill discipline among PUB drivers and make them aware that we at the MMDA, together with other agencies, are capable of monitoring them, especially their driving behavior," Tolentino said, noting the spate of fatal road accidents last year involving PUBs.

BMDS is a much improved system similar to the Organized Bus Route where PUBs are dispatched from four MMDA terminals, partnered with the private sector, based on passenger demand and current traffic situation in a given day.

But under BMDS, PUB drivers are now required to finger-scan at the dispatch terminals before being allowed to ply their routes. The MMDA has created a PUB Driver's Databank which contained the personal information of each registered driver, the bus company where he is employed, and even the number of his unsettled traffic violations.

A total of 3,471 city buses operated by 105 firms have registered in the database, which is also linked with other agencies such as LTO, LTFRB, and National Bureau of Investigation.

Comelec Rule on Voting Without ID

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) asserted that registered voters for this year's election can still cast their vote even without a voter's ID.

Comelec Regional Director lawyer Julius Torres explained that registered voters are not mandated to have their voter's ID on election day.

The different municipalities are responsible for distributing IDs. However, he explained that not everybody will be given because they are also relying on the supply coming from Manila.

Torres also emphasized that those who are not issued with ID can ask for voter's certification in their respected municipalities as a proof that they are registered.

Comelec Region 2 has registered the highest number of voters in the Cagayan Valley region.

This year, the total number of registered voters has reached 1.8 million.

Renewable developer Sta Clara Power Corporation

Renewable developer Sta Clara Power Corporation, together with Union Energy controlled by Puregold owner Lucio Co, will put up an eight-megawatt mini hydropower project in Oriental Mindoro.

Sta. Clara led by managed by its Chairman of the Board, Nicandro G. Linao, together with Union Energy and local government officials, will hold the groundbreaking ceremonies for the P1.9 billion mini-hydro project on Thursday.

The hydropower is expected to address the growing power needs of Oriental Mindoro and its nearby areas.

The project is located in the municipality of Naujan.

Mayor Raymond "Ray" Buenaventura of Daly City, California in Malacanang

President Benigno S. Aquino III received Mayor Raymond "Ray" Buenaventura of Daly City, California in Malacanang Palace Wednesday.

Buenaventura, of Filipino ancestry, was accompanied by Consul-General Marciano Paynor Jr. of San Francisco, USA, during his courtesy call at the Music Room of Malacanang Palace.

Also in attendance were Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Foreign Undersecretary Laura del Rosario, Foreign Affairs Chief Coordinator Cecilia Rebong and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta.

During the meeting, Buenaventura expressed his firm belief and confidence in the Aquino administration.

He told the Chief Executive he was honored to meet him and look forward to a good relationship between the Philippine government and the Daly City.

Elected mayor of Daly City in December 2012, Buenaventura oversees the largest city in San Mateo County with a population of over 102,000.

Daly City has one of the highest concentrations of Filipino migrants in the US.

He remains committed to work to address the diverse and changing needs of residents, businesses and employees in the city of Daly.

His five guiding principles in setting priorities include facilitating community building and civic engagement, promoting an aesthetic community environment, enhancing the quality of life for residents, creating a healthy citizens and healthy community opportunities, and fostering economic vitality and financial sustainability.

Previously, Buenaventura served as vice mayor of Daly City for one year in December, 2011, after having been appointed councilman to fill in a vacant seat due to a resignation in April of that same year.

Prior to his appointment as a councilman, Buenaventura was a Commissioner on the Library Board of Trustees for Daly City.

He is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and Washington D.C and a certified specialist in Criminal Law.

Team PNoy

Liberal Party coalition campaign manager Sen. Franklin Drilon clarified Wednesday the pro-administration senatorial coalition team was named Team PNoy and not Team Pinoy as being reported in the media.

Team PNoy, a coalition that was formed among the Liberal Party-Nacionalista Party-Nationalist People's Coalition and Akbayan last year, is, aside from P-Noy, the most common and preferred reference to President Benigno Aquino III.

It is the real and only team of the President for the upcoming mid-term elections, stressed Drilon.

"These are the people who the President chose to be his team in order to push his reforms for the last three years of his administration. It is clear to him: this is my company in tuwid na daan (straight path)," he said.

"This is his team and he is asking his people to support his team because he has a number of reforms to push for the last three years of his administration. If they trust the President, they will vote (for) his company," Drilon added.

He also said the coalition's new-found name clearly draws the line between the people who chose to align with the President's reforms and to pursue straight path in carrying out their roles in the Senate and those who are only disguising as "matuwid."

While there are others who are trying to join the "Daang Matuwid", not everyone is sincere, not everyone can be trusted, said Drilon.

Bawal ang Epal Dito Campaign

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is set to intensify its "Bawal ang Epal Dito Campaign" from this month to May 2013.

DSWD Director Rodora T. Rabaran, in a press briefing Wednesday, said the campaign was launched to protect the beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) against politicians or parties who plan to use the program for their personal agenda.

Rabaran said as the upcoming 2013 election nears, some politicians are out to use the program to gain advantage.

She explained that the beneficiaries should know their rights and to be vigilant of individuals or groups who plan to use the program for their personal gain by resorting to baseless threats to beneficiaries of the said program.

She added that the campaign aims to empower the public especially the beneficiaries, by increasing their knowledge about the program mechanics and the methods of selection and removal from the program.

Rabaran warned that some of the politicians are allegedly claiming that they have the authority to enlist and delist the beneficiaries from the program if these beneficiaries will not support political entities in the upcoming elections.

"No one has the right to delist a beneficiary," Rabaran further said explaining that only DSWD has the right to delist a beneficiary if he/she will not comply with the conditionalities of the program.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies (SOSIA)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies (SOSIA) on Wednesday issued a directive to all malls security guards to carry firearms.

"Today we will be issuing a directive requiring all the security guards in the malls to bear firearms. Guards posted in malls should also undergo a specialized course on mall security," Chief Superintendent Tomas Rentoy III, director of PNP-SOSIA said on Wednesday after meeting with 12 security managers of security agencies from different malls in Metro Manila

Rentoy said many security agencies refuse to arm their guards inside malls for fear of scaring off customers, but he said these should actually make mall-goers feel safer.

In related development, the Makati City Police has heightened security at the central business district and in the city's biggest shopping malls.

The Makati Police on Wednesday intensified its partnership with shopping malls and central business district's security forces with the launching of its Makati Central Business District-Joint Security System Program (MCBD-JSSP).

Sr. Supt. Manuel Lukban, chief of the Makati City Police, said under the program, security officers will be trained on how to detect would be criminals and protect their clients.

Among those who participated in the program are the security personnel from Ayala Security Forces, San Lorenzo Bantay Bayan, Makati Parking Authority (MPA), Makati Public Safety (MAPSA) and Makati City Police.

As part of the program, Lukban said the Makati City Police will be deploying teams in the biggest shopping malls in the city such as Greenbelt, Rustan's, Shoe Mart, Land Mark and Glorietta, as well as in the Stock Exchange.

He said the team will be composed of two personnel from the Makati City Police and will be augmented by personnel from either MPA or MAPSA and the central business district's security men.

The security officers, Lukban added, will also be trained on how to block the escaping lawless elements, how to protect their clients in times of the attack and how to fire guns.

Lukban said they will also be requiring shopping malls to assign personnel in their Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera command center to monitor the people entering the establishment.

At the same time, the Makati Police also launched its C-3 program wherein a common radio frequency will be used by all security personnel in the central business district.

Higher appetite for Asian currencies

The peso appreciated against the dollar Wednesday tracking counterparts in the region due to higher appetite for Asian currencies.

It gained P0.11 to close at 40.62 from the previous day's 40.73 finish.

It started the day at 40.68 and traded between 40.69 and 40.61. This brought the average for the day at 40.65.

Volume of trade reached US$ 943.3 million, lower than the US$ 1.16 billion Tuesday.

A trader said investors' risk appetite for the region's currency are high resulting in a "lot of inflows in the most part of the day."

"People are looking at currencies and investments with a higher yield," the trader said.

Another positive boost to the peso is the expectation for higher growth of the domestic economy in the last quarter and the full-year 2012, which the government is set to release Thursday (January 31).

Conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea

United States lawmakers on Wednesday expressed support on the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China over conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea.

"The US delegation supported the position of the President (Benigno Aquino III) in bringing the dispute to the UN arbitral tribunal, consistent with our policy of maintaining a peaceful resolution to the West Philippine Sea dispute," said Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda during the press briefing.

The US congressional delegation headed by Congressman Ed Royce of California, together with Congressmen Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Vernon Buchanan of Florida, Matt Salmon of Arizona, and Eliot Engel of the 16th District of New York, made a courtesy call Wednesday to the President.

Lacierda said the President explained to the visiting US lawmakers why the Philippine government had to bring the West Philippine Sea dispute before the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS).

The Philippine government earlier explained the filing of arbitrary case against China was necessary as China's 9-dash line claim encompasses practically the entire West Philippine Sea.

"We must challenge the unlawful claim of China under their 9-dash line in order to protect our national territory and maritime domain," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) stressed.

"The legal action is pursuant to the President's constitutional mandate to pursue the national interest and defend the Philippine territory and maritime domain. It also pursues the policy of a rules-based approach based on international law, especially UNCLOS, in resolving the disputes in the West Philippine Sea," it noted.

Having exhausted all possible initiatives, the DFA said, the government feels it is the time to act is now.

"If we do not act now, we will be in default," the DFA said.

With the filing of the arbitrary case against China, the Philippine government hopes that the arbitral tribunal will issue an award in accordance with international law that will direct China to respect the country's sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), continental shelf, contiguous zone, and territorial sea over the West Philippine Sea, and to desist from undertaking unlawful acts that violate the country's rights.

World Maritime University President Dr. Björn Kjerfve

President Benigno S. Aquino III received World Maritime University President Dr. Björn Kjerfve in Malacanang Palace Wednesday.

Dr. Kjerfve, who has dual United States and Swedish nationality, paid a courtesy call on the Chief Executive at the Music Room of the Malacanang Palace.

Also in attendance were Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and lawyer Nicasio Conti, Administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority.

Dr. Kjerfve was appointed as President of the WMU in Sweden in 2009.

He was the former Dean of the College of Geosciences and professor of Oceanography at Texas A&M University from 2004 to 2009.

While at Texas A&M, he oversaw four academic departments, the Texas Sea Grant Program, and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, including the 475 ocean sciences drilling vessel, D/V JOIDES Resolution.

Kjerfve was previously Professor of Marine and Geological Sciences at the University of South Carolina (1973-2004) and served as the Director of the Marine Science Program (2000-2004).

He received Ph.D., M.S., and B.A. degrees from Louisiana State University (Marine Sciences), University of Washington (Oceanography), and Georgia Southern University (Mathematics), respectively.

Kjerfve's expertise is coastal and estuarine physical oceanography.

He has published some 12 books and 250 scientific journal papers, book chapters, and reports; has supervised 14 Ph.D. dissertations and 24 M.S. theses, and taught more than 6,000 oceanography students.

European Assistance to the Philippines

The European Union on Wednesday assured the Philippines of continued assistance despite the financial crunch in Europe, especially on health reforms and poverty reduction in Mindanao.

"The situation on Europe has not affected the level of EU assistance worldwide or in the Philippines," said EU Ambassador to the Philippines Guy Ledoux.

However, he said the EU will be focusing more attention on priority projects to ensure maximum impact of its assistance.

He said the EU is in the process of modernizing its cooperation with recipient states, concentrating on "higher impact" projects.

In the Philippines, the EU is already using modern cooperation tools like budget support; and will explore new tools like combining grants with loans to increase their impact, Ledoux said.

For this year, the bloc is providing at least P2 billion worth of development aid to support the Philippine government's health programs and alleviate poverty Mindanao.

Mindanao, Ledoux said, is in need of immediate assistance especially during the crucial transition phase following the signing of the framework agreement, which serves as a blueprint for a final peace accord seen to end decades of Muslim rebellion in the region.

Part of the EU's assistance to the Philippines would also support reforms in the government for the promotion of good governance and transparency, government officials said.

In 2011, EU aid to the Philippines had reached € 110 million or about P5.9 billion. Ninety percent of this amount is in the form of direct grants rather than loans.

6.8 percent expansion of Philippine economy

Metropolitan Banking Corp. (Metrobank) forecasts a 6.8 percent expansion of the Philippine economy for the fourth quarter of 2012 and 6.6 percent for the whole year.

The bank's full-year projection is higher than the government's five to six percent target growth, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), for the year.

The government will release Thursday the official report on the 2012 fourth quarter and full year expansion of the domestic economy.

At the end of the third quarter last year, the economy grew by 6.5 percent while the third quarter growth stood at 7.1 percent, highest in the ASEAN and second strongest in Asia after China.

In a research note, Metrobank cited domestic consumption as among the major growth drivers of the economy.

"Domestic consumption is in turn largely underpinned by OFW remittances and the low inflation environment," it said.

Growth of inflows from overseas Filipinos grew by six percent year-on-year in the first eleven months of 2012, higher than the five percent target of the central bank.

The research note said the rise in the remittances is expected to boost growth of consumption spending by about five to six percent.

Another growth booster is government spending, which continue to rise and which the research note projects grew by at least 10 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

The services sector, which continue to be among the strong growth driver of the economy, is expected to remain resilient.

"Growth in the industry sector is seen to come from the sustained expansion in construction activities in the fourth quarter," the report said.

The research note, on the other hand, said that this can be offset by the "modest growth in the agriculture sector on the back of lower crop production and the continued decline in the fisheries sub-sector."

Amid the generally positive outlook on the economy, the research note said that "while a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said that foreign direct investment flows to the Philippines outpaced the growth in other ASEAN economies, the support from investment spending is seen to remain modest amid still uncertain global economic prospects and financial strains in the advanced economies."

Agricultural lands in Quezon province

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will distribute to 952 farmer-beneficiaries next month this 1,937.91 hectares of agricultural lands in Quezon province.

This was learned from Undersecretary for Field Operations Jose Grageda during the multi-stakeholders dialogue on land rights and peace in Bondoc Peninsula held recently at the Queen Margaret Court in Barangay Domoit, Lucena City, Quezon.

Grageda said that 480 hectares of land from the Reyes property will be distributed to 267 farmers, while the rest are from the properties of the Matias and Uy families. The lands to be distributed are located in the municipality of Mulanay.

Mulanay is considered as one among the "agrarian hot spots" in the Bondoc Peninsula. Other towns include San Francisco, San Andres, San Narciso, and Buenavista where landowners control big landholdings.

Grageda also said that two (2) remaining titles of Reyes property are expected to be distributed by March or on the first quarter of the year.

Intelligence fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office

The Sandiganbayan has granted the motion for the cancellation of travel passports filed by the prosecution against the three accused in the plunder case involving the alleged misuse of P366-million confidential/intelligence fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

In a resolution, the Sandiganbayan ordered the Dept. of Foreign Affairs to cancel the respective travel passports of accused former PCSO general manager Rosario C. Uriarte, former PCSO board of directors members Jose Taruc V and Maria Fatima Abad Santos Valdes.

The resolution was signed by Sandiganbayan First Division Chairman Associate Justice Efren N. dela Cruz and Associate Justices Rafael Lagos and Rodolfo Ponferrada.

The Sandiganbayan also ordered the Interpol-National Capital Central Bureau to place the three accused in the so-called "Red Status Notice", which means they can be arrested in any country.

National Press Office

Along the lines of the brand-new printing machine launch introduced by the National Press Office in its basement Wednesday, the agency's officials specified some improvements in the machines and their control.

The NPO is required to print about 52 million ballots in 90 days; however, director Emmanuel Andaya said that with three Canon Color Stream 3000 printing machines, they can print ballots in lesser time for about 60 days.

"We are confident we can finish the job earlier," he said.

"We can print one million a day and it's up to the Comelec to receive the ballots and test them before they will be accepted."

Andaya said security will also be highly restricted from now on as visible CCTV cameras are already installed, which will run for 24 hours so that it can monitor all the actions of employees.

"If there are any complaints, we can rewind the activities," he said, explaining that printing will be done continuously with allowed rests of two hours at night and two hours during at day time to reload paper.

Operators from the NPO who run the machines underwent extensive training from German and Singaporean engineers for about one month to make sure the machines were run properly.

There will also be engineers on standby in case problems with the machine arise, with readily available kits with essential replacement parts.

Andaya also said the chance of the machine experiencing technical problems is slim since the machines have been tested for 2 months, with no risks of overheating since the basement of NPO is regulated with air-conditioning units.

"We are improving the capacity of the NPO," Andaya said. "We do this event to show the public that the NPO is prepared in doing its responsibility as the official printer of ballots."

Meanwhile, NPO assistant director, Raul Nagrampa explained the printing process which the machines worked on.

"From the paper stockroom, the paper will be delivered to the new printing machines that will churn out all the ballots," Nagrampa said.

Manila Electric Company's (Meralco) Prepaid Electricity Scheme

Labor groups expressed opposition to three current developments on electricity in a press briefing Wednesday.

The Lanao Power Consumer Federation (Lapocof), Laban ng Mamamayan para sa Katotohanan at Katarungan (Lampara) and umbrella labor rights group Nagkaisa signified their aversion toward the Manila Electric Company's (Meralco) Prepaid Electricity Scheme, House Bill 6214 that aims to reform the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and proposed increase in electrical charges.

With the Prepaid Electricity Scheme, Meralco said it aims to give consumers control over their electrical bills. It was pilot tested in Binangonan and Taytay, Rizal and then moved on to Pasig City.

Prepaid load will be available for P100, P200, P300, P500 and P1000.

Sr. Eva Arcos of Lampara, however, the scheme is anti-labor as it will result in unemployment among bill collectors, branch officers and linemen, whose services will not be necessary anymore.

She stressed that electricity is not just a consumer good but is also a basic right of every Filipino, therefore it is the obligation of Meralco and the government to make sure that the need for this is met.

On the other hand, Joshua Mata of Nagkaisa expressed opposition to House Bill 6214, otherwise known as "An Act Strengthening The National Electrification Administration Further Amending For The Purpose Presidential Decree No. 269, As Amended, Otherwise Known As The "National Electrification Administration Decree".

HB 6214 is being pushed by the NEA with the aim to reform the organization for a more effective administration.

Mata, however, said the bill is considered a threat to the rights and welfare of 8 million consumers getting electricity from electric cooperatives.

According to Mata, if HB 6214 is passed into law, NEA will have the power to remove workers from electric cooperatives and to have the last say in collective bargaining agreements that are supposed to be under the authority of the Department of Labor.

Meanwhile, Dr. Melchie J. Ambalong of Lapocof spoke against the proposed increase in electrical charges.

A 39-centavo increase was proposed by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) as a payment for stranded universal charges. Sixty percent of revenues coming from the charges will serve as a payment for left over contracts that the government entered.

Philippine economy forecast in 2013

A Sunlife Financial executive expects the Philippine economy to have gown by 6.5 percent in 2012 and between seven to 7.5 percent this year, given the continued improvement in the country's economic fundamentals.

These projections are generally higher than the government's five to six percent target growth, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), for 2012 and six to seven percent for 2013.

In an investors' briefing Wednesday, Sunlife Financial Asia Investment Managing Director Michael Manuel said the continued rise of the domestic economy remains fuelled by several factors such as strong domestic consumption, low interest rates, better fiscal situation and higher confidence by both local and foreign investors.

In the first three quarters of 2012, the domestic economy grew by 6.5 percent, while growth in the third quarter alone stood at 7.1 percent, highest in the ASEAN and next after China.

The government is scheduled to report the 2012 fourth quarter and full-year growth on Thursday.

"There is still a lot of potential to grow no matter if our growth has been strengthening," Manuel said.

Manual also disclosed his expectation for the continued strengthening of the peso to about 38-39 to a dollar this year.

To date, the peso continues to trade between 40-level against a US currency.

Also, the local bourse is projected to continue its rise and is expected to surpass the 6,300-level this year, a level, which he said, was considered by analysts as unthinkable before the end of 2012, given the correction in the last few days of the year after several days of rally.

The Philippine Stock Exchange index (PSEi) closed to its 12th record high this year at 6,271.23 points.

Manuel, however, cautioned the investing public on leaning on the main index alone saying that when they do this "there's not much growth."

"There are stocks that are not part of the index but can produce higher growth (and these include) power generation, banking and property sector," he said.

Meanwhile, Manuel expects interest rates in the country to "go lower but not too much."

For one, the central bank has cut its policy rates by a total of 100 basis points last year to support growth of the domestic economy.

In its meeting last week, the central bank's policy-making Monetary Board (MB) decided to maintain the rates for the second consecutive policy meeting after citing the lesser need to boost domestic growth.

Travel ban to the Arab state

Amid continued chaos across Egypt, the Dept. of Foreign Affairs will not issue a travel ban to the Arab state but warned Filipinos there to take caution.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez Wednesday said there is no need to impose such measure at the moment as the demonstrations and violence are contained in particular areas of Egypt.

"For now, we are monitoring the situation in Egypt. There's a need to see how it will play out in the coming days," Hernandez told a press briefing.

There are at least 6,000 Filipinos living and working in Egypt and Hernandez said the Philippine embassy is coordinating closely with them.

"We have a standing advisory to the Filipino community there to be vigilant," Hernandez said, adding the embassy has an existing contingency plan should the situation in Egypt deteriorate.

Anti-government protesters outraged by the slow-paced reforms in the country clashed with supporters of President Mohamed Morsy's supporters and police since last week.

Electric Chair for Aman Scam Founder

Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima Wednesday maintained her silence on efforts of the government to bring back Aman Futures Group Philippines, Inc. founder Emmanuel Amalilio, Jr. to the country.

However, De Lima mentioned media reports as among the reasons why Amalilio's deportation was prevented by Malaysian authorities last Friday.

Amalilio is the alleged mastermind behind the P12-billion pyramiding scam that duped 15,000 victims in Visayas and Mindanao.

He was arrested in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for possession of fraudulent Malaysian passport and identification card Tuesday last week.

Amalilio was supposed to return to the country last Friday evening but Malaysian authorities stopped him from boarding the plane back to the Philippines.

"If you are asking for updates on Amalilio, I beg your understanding and indulgence but we cannot be sharing those information at this point," De Lima Wednesday said in an ambush interview.

"We are undertaking steps both diplomatic and mutual police cooperation to ensure we can get him (Amalilio). As to time frame, we do not want to make any commitment and we cannot be sharing those information," De Lima said.

Philippine Fighter Jets from South Korea

The Philippines is buying 12 fighter jets from South Korea primarily for training, interdiction, disaster response, Malacanang said Wednesday.

The Dept. of Defense announced Wednesday the Philippines is purchasing combat aircraft from South Korea as part of its modernization program.

"We are buying. I confirmed it with Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. They are primarily for training, interdiction, disaster response. These planes have camera capabilities to monitor and also take pictures of disaster areas. So it will be used in a number of ways," Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a press conference in Malacanang.

The new planes will be deployed whenever they are necessary, he added.

"If there is a disaster, it will be deployed to monitor and see the extent of damage, for instance, in a disaster area. It will be deployed whenever there's a need for the plane to be deployed," he explained.

The military hardware upgrade is already a priority even before the country's latest incident with China, Lacierda said, noting the dispute wasn't an issue when the government decided to upgrade its military hardware.

The government is modernizing the country's military air assets after the air force decommissioned its fighter jets, Lacierda said.

"We don't have any existing jets right now that are in use, therefore, it is necessary for us to upgrade based on our commitment to upgrade our military hardware and this is part of the ongoing process of modernizing our military," he said.