Friday, March 8, 2013

Malaysian forces and the Filipinos pressing ownership

The Philippine government on Friday sought access to the 10 followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who were apprehended last Friday in Sabah, where deadly clashes between Malaysian forces and the Filipinos pressing ownership over the resource-rich territory is ongoing.

A note verbale or diplomatic note was sent this morning by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Malaysian Embassy in Manila to convey the request and to ensure "humane treatment" for the Filipinos under its custody, Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing.

Hernandez said the request is pursuant to the Vienna Convention on consular relations.

Malaysian security forces launched an all-out offensive against the Filipinos to quell the intrusion that killed at least two dozen Kiram's supporters who entered Sabah's coastal town of Lahad Datu by boat on Feb. 12 to assert the Sultanate's ownership over the territory.

Kiram, whose sultanate once owned several islands in Mindanao and Northern Borneo, sent his followers to Sabah to reclaim their homeland as efforts to get it back from Malaysia has been relegated to the backburner by present and past Philippine presidents.

Kiram declared a unilateral ceasefire but said his men will remain on defensive mode. Malaysia rejected the temporary truce and demanded unconditional surrender of the Filipinos.

Kiram's forebears leased Sabah to a British company in the 1870's but was illegally annexed by Great Britain which then handed over the territory to Malaysia when it gained independence from the British Crown in 1963.

Hernandez said the Philippine government will continue to explore all avenues to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis and avoid further loss of lives.

Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES)

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has allocated some P28.41 million for the implementation of the Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES) in Central Luzon this year.

DOLE regional director Raymundo Agravante said the labor agency is strengthening the SPES to help more poor but deserving students pursue their education by enlisting them during summer and/or Christmas vacations.

Throughout the years, the SPES in Region 3 has benefited countless of youth beneficiaries from the informal sector who wish to pursue and finish their studies and eventually land sustainable jobs," Agravante said.

Last year, a total of 9,574 students in the region were given an opportunity to work in private companies and local government units (LGUs) through SPES.

Agravante said they have achieved a 119 percent accomplishment rate in the implementation of SPES in the region last year, surpassing their annual target of 7,850.

The DOLE official has encouraged employers from the private sector to sustain their participation in the SPES to help more students.

With the onset of summer season, we are encouraging them to hire more SPES, he said.

Under Republic Act No. 7323, which was amended by RA 9547, the SPES is open to all qualified high school, college or vocational/technical students, and out-of-school-youth.

To qualify, a student must at least be 15 years old but not more than 25 years old.

Also, the combined net income after tax of his/her parents, including his/her income if any, does not exceed the latest annual poverty threshold level for a family of six as determined and provided by the National Economic and Development Authority and he/she must have obtained passing grades in the last school term attended.

Among the tasks they had include tax mappers, barangay survey personnel, encoders, school assistants, food service crew, gasoline attendants and promotion merchandisers.

The salaries of the students are in accordance with the prescribed minimum wage wherein DOLE shoulders 40 percent while the remaining 60 percent comes from the participating companies and LGUs.

Qualified students may already visit the Public Employment Service Office (PESO) in their locality and submit the SPES requirements, which include the duly accomplished SPES application form; copy of birth certificate; copy of latest income tax return of his/her parents or BIR certification that parents are exempted from tax payment; and certificate of good moral character issued by an authorized barangay official from place of residence.

Certification by the school registrar bearing the date of last enrolment and copy of original class card or Form 138, are additional requirements for SPES student-applicants.

Pantabangan Municipal Electric Services (PAMES)

Blackouts are getting to be a regular feature as this town's electric power supply suffered another disconnection on Thursday, the third in eight months, after the municipal government-operated Pantabangan Municipal Electric Services (PAMES) failed to pay its P1.7-million monthly bills First Gen Hydro Power Corp.(FGHPC).

FGHPC vice-president for business development of Dennis Gonzales announced the PAMES's disconnection due to its inability to pay the six-month accrued amount of P8,762,405.58.

Gonzales said their drastic action was the result of PAMES' failure to honor its commitment to remain current on its outstanding account by February 25.

We do not want PAMES' bills "to pile up" to such level that it would work against its operation and that it should settle at least their current account, he said.

The PAMES has an outstanding indebtedness of some P80 million with FGHPC which had accrued since 2007.

Last July 23, upon representation of FGHPC, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) cut off its electric service to PAMES, servicing the nine barangays of Fatima, East Poblacion, West Poblacion, Liberty, Villarica, Malbang, Marikit, Cadaclan, and Napon-napon, for alleged failure to pay its electric bills for the last five years.

Ten days later, according to town Mayor Romeo Borja Sr., the electricity was restored in the town after an hour-long dialogue between the groups of FGHPC senior vice president Victor Santos Jr., on the one hand, and then Interior and Local Government secretary Jesse Robredo, Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali, and Mayor Borja, on the other side. The dialogue took place at the headquarters of the National Police Commission (Napolcom).

On Feb. 11, power was again cut off for failure of PAMES to make true to the negotiations earlier reached. Power was resumed again after 10 days.

Aware of the operations of the town's schools, Gonzales said FGHPC has installed four generator units to cushion the impact of the power outage in the classrooms.

Gonzales also said that three additional generators would be installed in the town to cushion whatever ill-effects the power cut-off may impose on the town.

The supposed P80 million indebtedness of Pames to FGHPC was negotiated by the late Interior secretary Robredo, which had gone down to P52,264,222.75.

However, the latest power disconnection showed the inability of PAMES to make true to its commitment to make its account current.

Most Outstanding Sanggunian Panlungsod

For the third consecutive year, the City Council of San Fernando has won the "Most Outstanding Sanggunian Panlungsod" award at the national level, elevating it to the Hall of Fame awardee of the component cities in the country.

The award was conferred by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine Councilors League (PCL) on Thursday under a "Local Legislative Award" program in recognition of the exemplary performance of sanggunians of local government units (LGUs) in "legislating measures that help build the foundation of meaningful local administration and development."

In an address read by DILG Undersecretary Austere A. Panadero, President Benigno Aquino III reminded the city councils on the need for sustained dedication and commitment that the late DILG secretary Jesse Robredo had wanted to in pursuing the Local Legislative Award program.

After accepting the award, City of San Fernando vice mayor Edwin Santiago, concurrently presiding officer of the Sanggunian Panlungsod (SP), said the recognition reflects the council's commitment to the pursuit of excellence and quality in its legislative mission.

Santiago said the SP's performance was the result of a harmonious relationship between the city legislature and the executive led by city mayor Oscar S. Rodriguez.

The city executive and council "work hand in hand in our vision for San Fernando to be a Habitat of Human Excellence," Santiago said, adding that the SP "constantly consults the masses through public hearings before we pass codes, ordinances and resolutions because we know that they are all affected by legislations we pass."

For his part, Rodriguez lauded the city council's output of ordinances and resolutions that jibed with his administration's eight-point agenda aimed at raising the overall quality of life of Fernandinos.

"We coordinate closely and we share a common vision," Rodriguez said.

"We take governance seriously, taking into consideration the plight of the poor particularly," he added.

DILG regional director Florida Dijan has earlier said that the selection was based on a comprehensive criteria that included: effectiveness of the legislative agenda; legislative tracking system; availability of legislative documents; efficiency of performance of the Sanggunian; and quality of office set-up and staff complement.

In particular, the San Fernando Sanggunian was noted for "significant landmark legislations" such as the annual investment incentives program, comprehensive development plan, revenue code, solid waste management plan, appropriation ordinance, and the first-ever city risk reduction and management code for a local government unit.

Feng sui consultant Paloma

Two soothsayers confirmed counseling several election candidates who sought their help in boosting their respective political bids.

"I have a roster of political clients," feng sui consultant Paloma said during State-run PTV 4's 'Hatol ng Bayan' program for the 2013 mid-term polls.

Psychic Danny Atienza said national and local political personalities as well as foreign officials also seek his advice on matters related to their careers in the public sector.

"Some even consult me about which government position to aspire for," he said during the program.

Neither identified their respective clients nor bared their poll prospects this year, however.

Although the soothsayers offer counsel for the present and future, their method of generating this differs.

Paloma's prediction 'tools' include the stars, planets and clients' birth charts.

"I think everything we see in life is relevant," she said.

Atienza feels his client's vibes, however.

"A lot can be told by looking at a person," he said.

He cited prediction of former president Joseph Estrada's 2001 ouster from Malacanang as among his career highlights.

Seaoil Philippines Reduces Fuel Price

Independent oil player Seaoil Philippines will further reduce the prices of some of its products effective 12:01 am on March 9, 2013.

In a statement Friday, the company said price of its premium and unleaded gasolines as well as kerosene will drop by P1 per liter.

Also, price of its diesel will decline by P0.90 per liter and the regular gasoline by P0.50 per liter.

"This is to reflect price movements int he international petroleum market," the statement added.

Malaysia Violates Human Rights of Filipinos

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said more than 50 individuals suspected of having links to the militant intruders in Lahad Datu have been detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.

He said the suspects, including women, were being detained in several locations in Sabah but outside the 'Ops Daulat' area.

"They were detained under the new act (Security Offenses [Special Measures] Act 2012) and read together with (several sections of) the Penal Code," he told a joint press conference with the Armed Forces Chief, Jeneral) Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd. Zin here Friday.

The Ops Daulat operation entered its fourth day Friday with helicopters being used to dispatch troops to locations in the vicinity to carry out the sweeping and mopping operations while fighter jets were flying above to monitor the situation.

Ismail said police were now obtaining information on the militant intruders from those detained to enable the security forces to achieve the objective of the operation.

However, he declined to disclose details of the arrest for fear that it could jeopardize the investigation.

"Regardless, the arrests were necessary because there were signs to link the suspects with the intruders," he said.

Meanwhile, Zulkifeli said that as of 5pm, the armed forces were still waiting for word from the Foreign Ministry on the development that the intruders would surrender without conditions.

"We have contacted Wisma Putra and there has been no news since this indication (on the surrender) from the relevant party.

"As such, the Ops Daulat will continue," he said adding that there had been no exchange of fire between the security forces and the enemy Friday.

Only Reaction to Sabah Crisis

House Assistant Majority Leader and Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles has urged President Benigno Aquino III to call for a special session by Congress to deal with the deteriorating situation in Sabah.

Nograles said Congress, through House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, can invite counterpart parliamentarians from Malaysia to draw up legislation that could help end the Sabah stalemate.

"There is a deep-rooted cause of this conflict, which should not be taken for granted," Nograles said, adding "there is also a very good way to help solve this impasse through the good offices of parliament."

"We in Congress could open a way to make direct contact with our parliamentary counterparts in Malaysia and use our established goodwill to help find an honorable alternative without prejudice to mutual national interests," he said.

Nograles expressed sadness over the ongoing stalemate in Sabah as the nation awaits the final peace accord between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with Malaysia playing an important role as mediator.

The lawmaker also appealed to contending parties to go into a ceasefire "to give way to an honorable way out of the bloody confrontation and possible conflagration."

He issued the statement even as Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III on Thursday called for a unilateral ceasefire in the standoff in Malaysia-controlled Sabah, which was, however, rejected by the Malaysian government.

Violence has continued and the death toll rose to more than 60 people.

"There can never be a peaceful and honorable solution to this conflict if all sides will not refrain from resorting to violence," Nograles said.

Sabah Belongs to Philippines

Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal stressed the sovereignty of Sabah in Malaysian is not negotiable because history indicates that Sabah belongs to Malaysia.

In this regard, Shafie, who is also Umno vice-president, said no party should make demands or question the sovereignty of Sabah in Malaysia because the chronology of history on the position of Sabah in Malaysia is clear and enshrined under the United Nations.

"If we look at the chronology, the cession fee which was decided was only a consolation, not rental, not compensation to the heir of the Sulu sultanate in existence at that time.

"After that, Sabah was invaded by the British but they (the heirs of the Sulu sultanate, who purportedly had rights), did not defend Sabah," he told reporters after meeting 160 Village Development and Security Committee chairmen and 152 heads of village here Friday.

Shafie, also Semporna Member of Parliament, said during the Second World War, the Japanese went to Sabah, but those who claimed they had rights to Sabah did nothing to defend the state and Sabah was defended by Sabahans.

Shafie said, in fact it was warriors like Mat Salleh who rose to oppose the colonizers when Sabah was under the British, and not those parties who claimed they had rights to the state.

He said, when the Cobbold Commission was set up in 1962 and carried out a consensus, with the members of the commission going all over the state, more than two-thirds of Sabahans at that time agreed to join Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Shafie Friday handed a private contribution to the family of the late Sgt Abdul Azis Sarikon at their residences.

He said the private contribution was aimed at easing the burden of the family of Azis who was killed in an ambush by militants from Sulu at Kampung Simunul last Saturday.

He said the contribution of RM10,000 was handed to eight families of policemen who were killed in Lahad Datu.

Shafie said, educational expenditure for the eldest son of Azis would also be borne by the Education Ministry, up to the university level.

The handing over ceremony was also joined by 1Malaysia Putera Club president Datuk Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim and a representative of the Giant supermarket who contributed basic necessities worth RM300 a month for 12 months, to the families of the victims.

Philippine Stock Market Goes Up

Stocks rebounded from a day's slump, regaining the 6,800 level on Friday, following the Wall Street's overnight rally.

The Philippine Stock Exchange index (PSEi) surged 108.64 points or 1.62 percent to close at 6,833.77 from Thursday's 6,725.13 finish. This was slightly lower than an all-time high of 6,835.21 on March 6.

The broader All Shares index also advanced 48.08 points or 1.14 percent to 4,254.98.

Freya Natividad, analyst, said a technical rally was felt following sharp correction near 6,700 in the prior session.

Natividad said investors took directions from the Wall Street's overnight rally, supported by improvement in the latest jobless claims data.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 33.25 points while Nasdaq added nine points.

Banco de Oro chief strategist Jonathan Ravelas said the local equities rallied anew after the United States reached a new high at 14,354.

"Local investors (considered this) as a signal to take on more risks, to buy stocks, causing the index above the 6,800 level," he said.

Ravelas said good earnings outlook for corporate, stable interest rates and lower inflation also continue to support the market's momentum upward.

The volume of transactions reached only 1.68 billion shares but values were high at P12.64 billion.

Advancers outpaced decliners, 113 to 61, while 40 issues were unchanged.

Most actively traded stocks were San Miguel Corporation, SM Investments Corporation, Ayala Land, Inc., Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company and Energy Development Corporation.

Malaysia massacres Filipinos in Sabah

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has expressed hope the problem in the Malaysian state of Sabah between Malaysian security forces and a group of armed Filipinos could be resolved soon.

As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesia will encourage diplomatic means to resolve the problem, the head of state said here Thursday.

"I will pursue a diplomatic approach in the near future, because it`s bad (if the incident prolongs). (But) it does not mean that Indonesia will intervene in Malaysia`s internal affairs. No," Yudhoyono stated.

He expressed his concern about the conflict that claimed a number of lives and hoped that the two parties could find a peaceful solution.

The president also hoped that Brunei Darussalam, as the current ASEAN Chair, to take pro-active moves to help resolve the problem peacefully.

He instructed Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa to make sure that Indonesian migrant workers in Sabah are safe.

"This is a sensitive issue, but we must not be indifferent to the problem. I have instructed the foreign minister to take a stance if it`s going closer to the Indonesian territories. The problem must not be complicated further. Therefore we must have the right stance," he said.

Meanwhile, BBC reported on Thursday that Malaysia rejected a call for a ceasefire by a Philippine Muslim clan who launched an incursion into a village in Sabah last month, saying the land belongs to them.

PM Najib Razak said they want the group "to unconditionally surrender".

The ceasefire offer by the group`s leader based in Manila came after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to the violence in Sabah.

Since fighting began, 60 people have died: 52 Filipinos and eight policemen.

Malaysian National Police Chief Ismail Omar was quoted as saying that at least 31 Filipinos have been killed this week.

The Manila-based leader of the Filipino clan, Jamalul Kiram III, one of several men who claims the title of Sultan of Sulu, said earlier this week they they were prepared to "fight to the last man".

But Thursday, Kiram issued a statement following Ban`s comments and called for a ceasefire to the violence in Sabah.

The group of 200 Filipinos landed at a coastal village in the Lahad Datu district of Sabah, on Malaysian Borneo, saying the territory was theirs.

Calling themselves the Royal Army of Sulu, the clan members said they were descendants of the Sultanate of Sulu in the southern Philippines, which ruled parts of northern Borneo for centuries, and demanded that the Malaysian government pay more money to lease their land.