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Muslim leaders air concern

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Islamic leaders from around the world have expressed concern for the plight of the people affected by the fighting in Mindanao.

This as 12 more suspected Moro rebels were killed by Army soldiers in almost three days of clashes in the region.

Eid Kabalu, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) civil military affairs chief, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that members of the World Islamic Call Society, a nonprofit organization established in 1970, hoped the security problem in Mindanao would soon be resolved peacefully.

The society has for its members some 400 Islamic institutions and other groups on all the continents.

Kabalu, along with Moro National Liberation Front Chair Muslimin Sema and Vice Chair Hatilim Hassan, returned to the Philippines recently from the World Islamic Call Society conference held in Tripoli, Libya, on October 27-30.

“They are concerned with the situation in Mindanao as well the condition of the evacuees,” Kabalu said on his arrival in Manila.

The fighting since August between the military and rouge MILF elements has affected more than 600,000 people, many of whom remain in evacuation centers.

Scores have been killed on both sides, businesses have been ruined and lives uprooted following the aborted signing of an agreement between the government and the MILF that would have created an expanded homeland for the Moro people.

In the latest clashes, at least 12 suspected Moro rebels were killed in fighting that erupted Sunday night in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town after followers of MILF Commander Aneril Ombra Kato tried to regain control of their camp that was captured by the military last month.

Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

First posted 23:20:12 (Mla time) November 04, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Govt to present outdated report on poverty to UN

It may be outrageous, it may be surreal, but the government will declare before the whole world that poverty situation has improved in the country.

Such could be the distorted message that the Philippine government might send to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) when it talks on how it has kept its commitment to protect the rights of the Filipino people, a human rights group said Thursday.

In 1976, the Philippine government ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which gave the government the responsibility to provide its people access to food, education, adequate housing, decent jobs and healthcare among others.

Renato Mabunga, secretary-general of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), said the government is set to present a report on November 11 to 12 that is already outdated and should have been reported before the UN Committee three years ago.

Every year, the UNCESCR schedules countries who will present their country status reports before the Committee. But according to Mabunga, every time the table turns to the Philippines, the government always fails to submit a periodic report on time.

The government will send its representatives to Geneva, Switzerland to present a 2006 report, a combination of three reports which the government was unable to submit in 1995, 2000, and 2005.

“Rosy economic picture” in ’06 report

“ [The government] is most likely to say it has implemented policies and programs to satisfy social and economic rights such as access to food, employment, housing, education, and health services,” said the NGO-PO Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, an alliance of non-government organizations who came up with an alternative report for the UNCESCR.

In the 2006 report, the government boasted of an average three to five percent growth in key sectors of the economy from 2001 to 2004.

Moreover, the official report said that poverty incidence in the Philippines has gone down to 30.4 percent in 2003, which according to Bernie Larin of PhilRights is not the real situation of the country at present.

He said the country landed fifth among the world’s most hungry nations with 4 out of 10 Filipinos admitting that they experience hunger in the past year based from the recent survey of Gallup International.

More pictures to show

“Almost one-third of our school age children are not in school, 1.84 million for elementary age children and 3.94 million of our youth with ages 12-15. The poor are most likely to drop out of elementary grade compared to the rich families,” said Celia Soriano of Education Network Philippines.

Medical Actions Group, Inc added that despite the government’s recognition of the Right to Health, access to quality and affordable healthcare continues to elude the poor families and vulnerable sectors in need of medical aid.

Unlike the claims of the government that the country’s labor force increase from 29.674 million to 34.571 million since 1998 to 2003, Atty. Joselito S. Calivoso, Jr, Unit Coordinator of Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan) said that unemployment in the Philippines has been a perennial problem.

Calivoso also said that the government relies heavily on overseas employment to reduce the number of the unemployed.

NGOs’ report criticized the government’s inability to provide adequate housing while forced evictions continue. About 48, 432 homes were demolished since 2001 and about 50 percent of the evicted families were not provided relocation.

NGOs to appear before UNCESCR

Representatives from NGO-PO Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights will also appear before the UNCESCR on November 10 to present their report.

The Committee vowed to consider their report when the government delivers its own report the next day.

In case the UNCESCR shall find the government negligent of its commitments, Mabunga said the Committee cannot press sanctions on government.

“UNCESCR can only provide recommendations for the government through its concluding observations,” he added.
 

LILITA BALANE / Newsbreak | 11/07/2008 6:31 PM

as of 11/07/2008 6:31 PM

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RP is No. 5 in list of hungy nations - report

MANILA, Philippines - An international survey firm has recently ranked the Philippines as No. 5 among 56 countries worldwide where hunger is prevalent.

GMA news 24 Oras on Tuesday reported that Philippines, based on the Gallup International survey, was next to number one Cameroon, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Peru.

The report said the survey was conducted by the Voice of the People, a research group of Gallup International.

The report added that the group polled a total of 56,000 respondents in the survey or 1,000 respondents in each country.

According to report, the group wanted to give the 1.5 billion people in the world who experience hunger to be heard.

In the Philippines, the report showed an interview with 54-year-old woman in Quezon City who revealed details of their plight.

The woman sells used clothes while her 61-year-old husband is a tricycle driver.  The report said their combined income a day usually amounts to P250 which is not enough to feed her four children and 16 grandchildren.

“Minsan umiiyak na lang ang asawa ko pagdating nya. Hindi siya makabili ng pagkaing masarap. Kung Pasko, maniwawala kayo hindi kami makakain ng masarap pero sama-sama lang masaya kami," she said.

An interview with another woman called "Aling Nene" revealed details of a family which lives in a pushcart and collects garbage for a living.  She said that they sometimes do not eat.

Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

11/04/2008 | 10:48 PM

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Interfaith Mission Deplores All-out War, Humanitarian Crisis in N. Cotabato, Maguindanao

Even as the Arroyo government publicly declares that it is for peace in Mindanao, a National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission conducted in North Cotabato and Maguindanao from Oct. 21-24, 2008 concluded that the military offensives purportedly meant to merely pursue Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Ameril Ombra Kato and his group appear to be part of an all-out war.

The two provinces are among the foci of renewed fighting between government troops and the MILF.

“The situation in these provinces is deteriorating continuously, and it has now reached the proportions of a humanitarian crisis,” said Joel Virador, national vice chairman and former representative of Bayan Muna (People First).

The NIHM*, spearheaded by Kalinaw Mindanao, went to Pikit, North Cotabato and Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

The two municipalities have become hosts to persons displaced by the armed conflict in the two provinces. Based on Oct. 2 data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in Datu Piang alone there are 9,800 family heads with 50,012 dependents.

Skirmishes

There had been encounters between government troops and the MILF as early as June 30 in Sitio (sub-village) Maligaya, Barangay (village) Malamote in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

The next day, another skirmish took place in Sitio Tubak, Brgy. Pagangan in Aleosan, North Cotabato. The MILF fighters who figured in this firefight were identified as belonging to the 105th Brigade, led by Commander Ameril Ombra Kato.

The weeks before these incidents saw massive military deployment to North Cotabato, supposedly to secure the province for the Aug. 11 elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

These encounters drove community residents to evacuate to Brgy. Bagolibas in Aleosan and Brgys. Bual and Nalapaan in Pikit.

Later that same month, armed men burned some houses in Brgy. Bual and stole a number of farm animals in Brgy. Bagolibas.

On Aug. 2, some 84 houses in Aleosan were razed to the ground. The government claimed that these burnings were perpetrated by MILF fighters led by Kato.

On Aug. 8, four days after the Supreme Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order on the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) between the government and the MILF, the military implemented Oplan Ultimatum and additional troops were positioned in Pikit, Aleosan, and Midsayap. This, and the dissolution of the government panel in the peace negotiations with the MILF, served as prelude to the intensification of the fighting in North Cotabato.

While clashes continue in North Cotabato, the fighting has also spread to nearby Maguindanao.

Military operations have led residents of affected areas to flee to evacuation centers.

Humanitarian mission

In a statement released to the media in an Oct. 24 press conference in Cotabato City, the NIHM participants described the evacuees’ situation thus:

In the evacuation centers, the displaced persons suffer from inadequate facilities. Most of them have set up tents in whatever public place available. With heavy rains and flooding now common at this time of year, many child evacuees are sick with cough, cold, fever, and diarrhea. A number of evacuees have died of disease. There is also the trauma experienced by the evacuees, particularly the children.

Composed of human rights groups, relief workers, church-based groups, doctors, nurses, students, business groups, human rights advocates, peace advocates and various cause-oriented groups, the NIHM conducted human rights documentation, psycho-social and medical treatment, and relief operations for evacuees in Pikit and Datu Piang.

The NIHM documented various human rights abuses by the military in the two provinces. Violations included a raid in an evacuation center in Aleosan, North Cotabato. Evacuees interviewed by the NIHM in Pikit and Datu Piang narrated accounts of deaths due to strafing and aerial bombing, as well as threats and intimidation, torture, abductions, illegal searches and arrests, as well as divestment and destruction of property.

Among the prominent human rights violations documented by the NIHM was an Oct. 15 raid on a house, which had served as an evacuation center in Aleosan. The occupants were beaten up by the raiders, who were identified as elements of the Philippine Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion. Two of the occupants, Rakman Suleik and his son Samsudin, were taken away and brought to the Aleosan Municipal Police Office, where Rakman learned that there was a case against him. Samsudin, who delivered a testimony before the entire NIHM on Oct. 23, insisted that the soldiers who took his father did not show any warrant of arrest. Rakman is still in detention and there is no clear information on whether or not he has been charged with any offense.

“They had already evacuated (to escape the military’s atrocities), but even the evacuation center was not spared,” said Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) secretary-general Marie Hilao-Enriquez.

Meanwhile, the NIHM also assigned teams to conduct psycho-social treatment for the child evacuees. The psycho-social teams served a total of 214 children, and found manifestations of trauma in them, including restlessness and disruption of sleeping patterns. In the psycho-social activities, the children were asked to relate their experience regarding the conflict through sharing, drawings, and role-playing. The psycho-social teams noted that in their sessions, the children commonly expressed either fear or hatred of soldiers. Their drawings usually showed fighter planes dropping bombs on houses, the psycho-social teams disclosed.

The medical teams, who served a total of 192 patients, for its part noted that many of the patients were complaining of ailments that could be attributed to the conditions in the evacuation centers, such as ever, dizziness, headaches, skin and respiratory infections, and diarrhea.

The NIHM also conducted relief operations on Oct. 22, benefiting some 766 evacuees in Brgy. Batulawan, Pikit and Brgys. Tee and Poblacion in Datu Piang.

“All-out war”

The NIHM participants compared the situation in North Cotabato and Maguindanao to what happened during the all-out wars declared by the Estrada and Arroyo governments in 2000 and 2003, respectively. Said the participants in their statement:

The military offensives in North Cotabato and Maguindanao are carried out under the pretext of pursuit operations against Kato and his group, but these in reality fall within the context of an all-out war. The policy of “disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation” (DDR) which is now being carried out by the government shuts the door to peace and leaves all-out war as the main option. The so-called pursuit operations and “surgical operations” being conducted in North Cotabato and Maguindanao are characterized by the excessive use of firepower mainly against the civilian populace.

No military personnel have been called to account for the atrocities against human rights. The military’s tactic has invariably been to divert the blame for atrocities onto other groups.

The situation in the two provinces continues to deteriorate and has reached the proportions of a humanitarian crisis. As yet, there appears to be no end in sight to the miseries of those who have borne the brunt of the fighting.

The interfaith mission recommended the cessation of military operations in the two provinces. “This is the easiest way by which the evacuees could return to their homes and rebuild their lives,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) secretary-general Renato Reyes, Jr.

Aside from this, the mssion also recommended that the issues related to the conflict be addressed in the proper forum, particularly the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), a joint ceasefire monitoring body composed of representatives from both the government and the MILF. They also called for an independent investigation into human rights abuses perpetrated since the renewed fighting broke out, indemnification and rehabilitation assistance for the victims of the war, and the resumption of peace negotiations between the government and the MILF. (Bulatlat)

*The organizations that participated in the NIHM are Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, GABRIELA, Karapatan, Kawagib-Moro Human Rights Organization, Suara Bangsamoro, Liga ng Kabataang Moro, Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao, Kalumaran, Health Action for Human Rights, Bangsamoro Medical Society, Ecumenical Mission for Peace and Development, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Southeast Mindanao Ecumenical Council, Cotabato Regional Ecumenical Council, Children’s Rehabilitation Center-Southern Mindanao, Kabiba Alliance for Children’s Concern, Center for Women’s Resource, AlphaSigma Phi-CCSPC (Cotabato City State Polytechnic College) Chapter, The Torch Publication-CCSPC, Moro Youth Religious Organization, Assumption College of Davao-Social Work Students, Notre Dame University Peace Center, Notre Dame University College of Nursing, Notre Dame School of Dulawan, United Youth for Peace and Development, Lay Forum Philippines, United Methodist Church-Mindanao Philippines Annual Conference, Episcopal Diocese for Southern Philippines, United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Southern Mindanao District Conference, and Holy Cross of Davao College-Social Work Students.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Bulatlat

PUBLISHED ON October 25, 2008 AT 4:25 PM

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Thousands of Migrants Rally against GFMD

At least 5,000 migrant workers from different parts of the globe under the banner of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) held a rally in Manila today to protest the opening of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

The protesters converged along Quirino Ave. around 10 a.m. and marched toward the direction of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), venue of the GFMD. Some 300 elements of the Philippine Air Force and the Manila Police District blocked the protesters at the corner of Quirino Ave. and Mother Ignacia St.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of IMA and an Indonesian working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, said, “The GFMD is a meeting of exploiters who are only after the money of migrant workers. For them, that is the only value of migrant workers. We are nothing, we are not even human in their eyes.”

Emmanuel Villanueva of Migrante-Hong kong and Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said,

“It is the global pimps who have gathered to discuss how to commodify people and how to sell human beings.”

Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luzviminda Ilagan said, “They are plotting the future of migrants. They will discuss how to facilitate remittances but they will not reveal that it will only help their pockets, their governments but not the migrants.”

Villanueva criticized the GFMD’s agenda. “How can these people talk about the human rights of migrants when they are the exploiters of migrant workers?” he said.

Villanueva said, “We are against migration for development because this would mean parents leaving their children and children leaving their parents. This would mean destruction and separation of families.”

Jossel Ebisate, secretary general of the Alliance of Health Workers and a nurse at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) said that most children who become victims of domestic violence have one or both parents working abroad. He said the same is true with women whose husbands work overseas.

Zero-remittance

The IMA also led the International Zero Remittance Day today. Migrant workers from 29 countries heeded the call, said the IMA, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Germany, Italy, Belgium, United States, Canada, Fiji,Argentina, South Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Hong Kong.

Lestari said that migrant workers all over the world take on the difficult and dangerous jobs that even the local people shun. “On top of our sweat and blood, they do not want to recognize our contributions, our rights as workers and as humans…Let us punish those governments exploiting us.”

Gil Lebria of Migrante-Middle East slammed the Arroyo government’s ‘criminal negligence’. Lebria said distressed overseas Filipino workers receive no help from the Philippine government. He himself has recently been deported by the Kuwait authorities, was also subjected to torture in Taiwan several years ago.

Development?

Villanueva said that the concept of migration for development is actually globalization applied to migration. “Forced migration is an indication of maldevelopment,” said Villanueva.

Lestari deemed that globalization has failed as it has caused millions of people to get poorer by the day. She said that unemployment and poverty in the Philippines and Indonesia have worsened through the years even as the two countries rely on dollar remittances of migrant workers.

Lito Ustarez, vice chairperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU-May First Movement) said the Arroyo government cannot find solution to the unemployment. “That is why the Arroyo government is hosting the GFMD, to promote cheap Philippine labor to other countries.” (Bulatlat.com)

PUBLISHED ON October 29, 2008 AT 10:03 PM

BY BULATLAT

 

 

 

Int’l Mission: Off-shore Mining Violates Fisherfolk’s Right to Food and Livelihood

An international fact-finding body, which recently visited communities affected by the offshore oil and gas exploration along the Cebu-Bohol strait, revealed that the exploration would be detrimental to the livelihood of the fisherfolks in the area.

The offshore mining exploration is being undertaken by the Department of Energy (DoE) and Australian company, NorAsian Energy Ltd.

Vince Cinches, executive director of the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center, Inc. (FIDEC) and a delegate of the International Fact-Finding Mission sponsored by the Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), revealed that in all the communities they visited in Pinamungajan, Aloguinsan, Argao and Sibonga, there has been a 70 to 80 percent reduction in fish catch. Because of the reduction in income, children of many fisherfolks have stopped schooling, while others are getting sick because of malnutrition.

Other delegates of the IFFM are Andry Wijaya of Jatam-Indonesia and the Oil Watch Southeast Asia; Teh Chun Hong of PAN AP; Wichoksak Ronnarongpairee and Busarin Pandit of the Federation of Southern Fisherfolk (Thailand); Gilbert Sape of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS); and, Meggie Nolasco of Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Philippines).

Cinches, who is also co-convenor of the environmental group Save Tañon Strait Citizens’ Movement (STSCM) pointed out that the Visayas is the epicenter of global marine shorefish diversity with the “richest concentration of marine life in the entire planet.”

He said that the presence of NorAsian or JAPEX, is detrimental to the marine biodiversity in the area as the sonic boom from the air gun used in the seismic survey would result in damage to the body tissues of marine organisms, including their reproductive systems.

In addition, the noise that would be made could alter the distribution of fish by tens of kilometers.

“You should keep the oil underground and let fisherfolks have their means of livelihood,” said Andry Wijaya of Jatam-Indonesia and Oil Watch Southeast Asia (Indonesia).

Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos of STSCM asserted that drilling is a violation of the concept of social justice as provided for by the constitution. She added that the fisherfolks should have the supreme right to the use of fishing grounds.

Cinches said that because of strong opposition from different local governments in Bohol and the affected communities, NorAsian was forced to transfer their base of operations in Cebu by mid 2007. He said that Cebuanos should not permit what the Boholanos have rejected.

Paulita Destor of Bol-anong Kahugpungan sa mga Kabus nga Mananagat (Bokkana-Bohol) said that the exploration along the Cebu-Bohol Strait should be stopped as this would destroy the rich marine resources of the strait. This in turn would further bring the fisherfolks deeper into poverty.

Representatives from oil-producing countries Malaysia and Indonesia claimed that the presence of oil producing companies would not help in the country’s economy.

“Malaysia is a petroleum exporting country,” said Teh Chung Hong of Malaysia-based PAN-AP. “Forty percent of our income is from petroleum. But despite this our country still imposed a forty percent increase in the price of oil. Malaysia’s experience is that petroleum money will not bring benefit to people, even for oil-producing countries,” he said.

He further cited the example of Sarawak and Teranganu, which produces most of Malaysia’s oil. He said that these two states are also Malaysia’s poorest.

In response, Antonio E. Labios, regional director of the Department of Energy (DoE) Visayas Field Office, said that the claims of the fisherfolks regarding the reduction in fish catch is yet to be validated and substantiated by scientific studies.

Cinches said that Cebuanos should not wait for scientific studies to be made for this claim to be substantiated as the experience of the fisherfolks is enough evidence to prove the ill-effects of the survey.

Labios said that 12 of the 14 barangays of Argao have passed resolutions endorsing the project and that meetings with the mayors of Argao and Sibonga, as well as that of the governor have shown that they are supportive with the project. “We just have to address the issues of the fisherfolks,” he said.

However, the four-day IFFM further discovered that the communities as well as local government officials were not consulted by the mining companies before entering the seas, in violation of several Philippine laws. It was also disturbed by reports that some local government officials are involved in unethical relations with the mining companies and that the military has been deployed in certain areas to intimidate and quell the growing citizens’ movement against off-shore mining.

Labios further claimed that based on their consultation with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) is not required for NorAsian to conduct the survey as said document is only needed once production is started.

Regardless, NorAsian and JAPEX did their best to comply with environmental guidelines, which includes consultation with various stakeholders, claimed Labios.

Labios said that they would soon be signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Municipalities of Argao and Sibonga so as to lift the recent cease and desist order imposed by the provincial government of Cebu as per Executive Order No. 09 signed by Governor Gwendolyn Garcia.

Labios said that the purpose of the seismic survey is to minimize if not eliminate the environmental impact once the oil drilling is started.

“The DoE and the service contractor do not shy away in addressing the concern of the fisherfolk,” Labios said.

“It is disturbing to know that the Philippine government is hell-bent on pursuing these so-called energy development projects despite the overwhelming opposition of citizens, especially the poor fisherfolk who are the most affected. We have seen in Asia and many parts of the globe that at the end of the day, these would only benefit the companies and corrupt government officials. History shows that oil doesn’t translate to wealth of the people,” said Sape of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS).

BY RITCHE T. SALGADO
Contributor
Bulatlat
PUBLISHED ON October 25, 2008 AT 5:41 PM
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US Financial Crisis Could Lead to Job Losses in RP

Just how vulnerable is the Philippines to the effects of the US financial crisis? Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the Philippines is equipped to withstand the effects of the US financial crisis. But a labor economist thinks otherwise, saying the crisis could result, among other things, in job losses in the Philippines.

Just how vulnerable is the Philippines to the effects of the US financial crisis – which has been marked among other things by the recent bankruptcies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two of the biggest home mortgage loan companies; and Bear Stearns, Merril Lynch, and Lehman Brothers, three of the biggest financial institutions, in the US?

In her message during the Sept. 18 Philippine Economic Briefing held in Makati City, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the Philippines is equipped to withstand the effects of the US financial crisis because of its supposedly sound fundamentals, as well as because of the implementation of “tough economic reforms” that would result in increased revenues.

“The recent challenges we face are broadly external but they nevertheless require strong, decisive and targeted action internally,” Arroyo said. “The heights to which oil and other commodity prices have risen were unexpected and the depth of the financial market turbulence in the US is still unknown. Against this backdrop, the best buffer we have to external vulnerability is our own domestic internal strength.”

A labor economist, however, has argued otherwise. Paul Quintos, executive director of the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) and a London School of Economics (LSE)-trained economist, said the US financial crisis could result, among other things, in job losses in the Philippines.

Immediate causes of the crisis

To rescue itself from the effects of stock market overinflation, especially in IT (information technology)-related stocks (i.e., the “dot com bubble”), the US in 2001 blew the real estate and construction bubble. US financial institutions offered low interest rates for home mortgage loans: even those with low income or with virtually no collateral were encouraged to apply for home loans. Their loans, which became known as “subprime mortgages”, accumulated in US financial institutions starting 2001.

To spread the risk exposure of banks to these subprime mortgages, it underwent a process of “securitization”, in which home mortgage loan packages were combined with others, packaged and sold as bonds and securities called as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). These were guaranteed in credit default swaps (CDS) by insurance companies such as AIG and sold to other banks, financial investment houses, and companies in the US that deal in speculative investments for its high returns.

However, beginning in the last quarter of 2006, borrowers – especially those with subprime mortgages – increasingly failed to pay their amortizations. This caused a ripple of effects on banks and financial investment houses holding both the mortgages and CDOs, as well as those which issued CDS. This led to a series of bankruptcies of banks and investment houses, which were touted as “too big to fall”.

The effects of the subprime mortgage crisis have led to mortgage-credit losses of at least $400 billion, based on estimates by The Economist. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates a loss of some $945 billion worldwide.

The US credit crunch following the bankruptcies could lead to recession, Quintos said in an Oct. 2 forum in Quezon City. He added that it could have the effect of contagion to the rest of the world economy.

Economic impact on the Philippines

Quintos explained that the Philippines is particularly vulnerable to the effects of the US financial crisis because of its neocolonial ties to the US. “Neoliberal policies of liberalization of trade, investment and finance; deregulation, privatization, and others have exacerbated the country’s vulnerability to the crisis of the global capitalist system,” he said.

Quintos noted that since August 2007, P2 trillion ($42.52 billion at the Oct. 3 exchange rate of $1:P47.04) in stock values have been wiped out from the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE). He also cited a 12.3-percent drop in the peso’s strength against the dollar, and said that the exchange rate is likely to once more reach $1:P50. He said the crisis could lead to tighter conditions for loans, with higher costs of borrowing and interest rates, and lower capital inflows to the Philippines.

He also said the crisis could lead to a slump in the export of goods. He noted that around 18 percent of the country’s exports go directly to the US, while up to 70 percent are indirectly dependent on the US, as well as the European Union or EU markets, through the export of intermediate goods to TNC (transnational corporation) subcontractors in China, Taiwan, Korea, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and others for assembly into final goods.

It is not only the export of goods that could suffer, he said, but also the export of services. He noted that 90 percent of business process outsourcing (BPO) revenues comes from the US market.

He also warned of a possible decline in remittances, considering that 51 percent of remittances from overseas Filipinos are from the US.

Quintos also said the crisis could lead to further increases in the prices of food and petroleum products as speculative investments look for “safe havens” such as commodity futures markets.

The spike in prices of oil, rice, and wheat in the world market during the first half of the year is being attributed to speculation.

“With every 10-percent increase in food prices, 2.3 million Filipinos slide below the poverty line, while with every 10-percent increase in petroleum prices, 160,000 Filipinos slide below the poverty line,” he said.

“All these mean lower external and internal demand leading to higher unemployment, lower incomes, lower social spending, and higher taxes in the immediate future,” Quintos said.

He noted that 1/3 of all manufacturing employment in the country is in export processing zones, which he said would particularly suffer the consequences of the US financial crisis. He cited the layoffs of 125,000 workers in the manufacturing sector from July 2007 to July 2008.

Other areas he cited as likely to be affected by the crisis are small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), construction, wholesale and retail trade, transportation, agriculture, and BPO firms.

Quintos said the Arroyo administration is accountable for how the US financial crisis would be affecting the Philippines because of its “subservience to the US and other foreign monopoly capitalists in exchange for their continued support to the regime through development and military aid,” as well as for its “aggressive implementation of neoliberal policies for the interest of foreign capital.”

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
LABOR WATCH Bulatlat

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Muslim Leader Concerned Over Role of US troops, Inclusion of RP in War on Terror

A former presidential adviser under the Ramos administration and senior fellow of the US Institute of Peace expressed concern over the involvement of US troops in the war in Mindanao saying that the Philippines should not even be part of the US so-called “war on terror”.

“We are concerned over the involvement of US troops in the war in Mindanao.”

Amina Rasul, lead convener of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, expressed this concern during the Sept. 25 hearing of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA), in which she appeared as a resource person.

Rasul was a Presidential Adviser for Youth Affairs during the Ramos administration and former senior fellow of the US Institute of Peace.

The LOVFA, headed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco, conducted the hearing to look into reports that US troops in the Philippines are participating in actual combat operations.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) grants extraterritorial and extrajudicial “rights” to US troops visiting the Philippines. But the Terms of Reference for RP-US Exercise Balikatan 02-1, which are still being used as guidelines for Philippine and US troops participating in military exercises, prohibit the participation of US exercise participants in combat operations.

The Constitution prohibits foreign military presence on Philippine soil except under a treaty approved by both the Philippines and the other contracting party. Art. XVIII, Sec. 25 of the Constitution provides that:

After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.

The VFA was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999 and signed by then President Joseph Estrada. It was, however, never ratified by the US Senate.

While not taking any position supporting or opposing the VFA, Rasul expressed apprehension that the presence of US troops in the Philippines could involve the country in a war in which it should have no part. “Our worry is that we may become part of the global war on ‘terror’, and we are not part of that,” Rasul said.

Roland Simbulan, a development studies professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila and an expert on RP-US foreign and military relations, had expressed a similar view in an earlier interview with Bulatlat. “With the presence of US troops in our country, we can get into conflict with countries that are not our enemies,” he said.

According to former Gen. Edilberto Adan, chairman of the Presidential Commission on the VFA, there are 400-600 US troops deployed in the Philippines at any one time.

US troops in the Philippines operate from what are known as “Cooperative Security Locations” or CSLs. The website GlogalSecurity.org defines a CSL as follows:

A Cooperative Security Location (CSL) is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent US presence. CSLs will require periodic service, contractor and/or host nation support. CSLs provide contingency access and are a focal point for security cooperation activities. They may contain propositioned equipment. CSLs are: rapidly scalable and located for tactical use, expandable to become a FOS (Forward Operating Site), forward and expeditionary. They will have no family support system.

In the Philippines, there are CSLs installed in Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); as well as in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City, in Cotabato City, and in Basilan.

Camp Navarro hosts the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

The JSOTF-P was established by the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC). It began its work when SOCPAC deployed to the Philippines Joint Task Force (JTF) 510. Based on an item on GlobalSecurity.org, JTF 510 was deployed to the Philippines “to support Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the US government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge.

Adan said at the Sept. 25 hearing that majority of US troops’ activities in the Philippines are “humanitarian and civic actions.”

A similar claim was expressed at the same hearing by Sulu Gov. Abdulsakur Tan, a supporter of the VFA, who said, “American forces have been helping in civic, social, and economic activities.”

However, a June 2006 article by Robert D. Kaplan – an American journalist who has been a consultant to the US Army’s Special Forces Regiment, the US Marines, and the US Air Force – even “humanitarian and civic actions” serve to assist the war effort. He wrote in a June 2006 article for The Atlantic Monthly that:

I have visited a number of CSLs in East Africa and Asia. Here is how they work. The United States provides aid to upgrade maintenance facilities, thereby helping the host country to better project its own air and naval power in the region. At the same time, we hold periodic exercises with the host country’s military, in which the base is a focus. We also offer humanitarian help to the surrounding area. Such civil-affairs projects garner positive publicity for our military in the local media – and they long preceded the response to the tsunami, which marked the first time that many in the world media paid attention to the humanitarian work done all over the world, all the time, by the US military. The result is a positive diplomatic context for getting the host country’s approval for use of the base when and if we need it.

More straightforward was Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat, another VFA supporter, who said that the work of US troops in the Philippines includes intelligence, which has included the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

According to Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr., intelligence or surveillance already constitutes participation in combat operations. “We believe that US participation in intelligence work is already engagement in the armed conflict because it involves the deployment of resources and personnel against a hostile military target,” the Bayan leader said.

Simbulan had expressed a similar view in his interview with Bulatlat.

“(It is part of combat operations because) you identify what your targets are,” Simbulan said. “You do not just attack with a shotgun approach. You have first to identify your targets.”

Other purposes of US military presence in the Philippines, Lobregat said, are “winning hearts and minds, supporting effective communications…and sharing of experience.”

The first deployment of US troops to the Philippines since the 1991 Senate vote against the extension of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement took place in 2002, when the Balikatan 02-1 military exercises in Basilan were held. Since then, US troops have established a continuous presence in the country.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat September 27, 2008 AT 10:08 PM

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Oil flows off Palawan

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 4) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has announced the extraction of fresh oil off Palawan.

"The President is pleased to announce, as reported by Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, the extraction of fresh oil from the Galoc oil field in the northwest offshore of Palawan at 10:45 am today [Thursday]," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told a press conference.

“The President is optimistic that this new development will positively impact on the administration's efforts to reduce the country's annual oil importation of US $6 billion, and in turn will also contain the increasing cost of food and other commodities," said Ermita, reading from a prepared statement.

He also said that this could translate to $1.4 billion in foreign exchange savings for the Philippines.

Ermita said the President described the oil from the Galoc field as “light, medium crude oil, with a potential high yield of light ends, such as gasoline.”

Ermita said the discovery, to be called Palawan light, was made at 10:45 a.m. Thursday and was put on board a Philippine vessel at 11:20 a.m. to be brought to local refineries.

Ermita said subject to further studies, the Galoc oil field is expected to yield from 10 million to 20 million barrels of oil a day, or about six percent of the national demand of 300,000 barrels a day.

The volume of extract confirmed early production targets of 17,000 to 20,000 barrels of oil per day in the first 90 days of operation, said Ermita.

A consortium of foreign and Philippine companies, called Galoc Production Co., is a majority shareholder in the oil field. Otto Energy Limited of Perth, Australia, an international exploration and production company, has a 31.28 percent stake in the consortium.

Thea Alberto
INQUIRER.net
October 09, 2008
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Groups Slam Senate ‘Railroading’ of RP-Japan Trade Deal

Two groups opposed to the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) have condemned what they described as the “railroading” of the treaty last night at the Senate.

The JPEPA was approved, close to midnight, with a vote of 16-4. Those who voted “Yes” were Senate President Manuel Villar, Senate President Pro-Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, JPEPA sponsor Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Edgardo Angara, Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Ramon Revilla Jr, Manuel Roxas II, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Richard Gordon and Manuel Lapid. Those who voted “No” were Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Ma. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Joker Arroyo and Pia Cayetano were absent from the voting, while Antonio Trillanes IV is in prison.

In a statement, the NO DEAL! Movement and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) said they were not surprised that the JPEPA was approved while the country was not watching.

“This treaty has been negotiated by Malacañang and signed by Ms. Gloria Arroyo in virtual secrecy,” the two groups said. “The undemocratic and non-transparent manner with which the deal has been conceived has resulted in a seriously flawed agreement that threatens to further destroy the jobs and livelihood of Filipino workers, farmers and fishers and further destroy local industries and stunt long-term economic development.”

These defects of the agreement, as well as the questionable gains of the treaty such as the supposed increased access of Filipino nurses and health workers to Japan, had been exposed in Senate hearings, NO DEAL! Movement and Bayan further said.

“The Senate hearings have also exposed the JPEPA as unconstitutional as it violates the provisions of the 1987 Constitution on foreign ownership and investment among others,” the two groups added.

They also criticized as “lacking in nationalist credentials” the senators who voted in favor of the JPEPA, of whom four — Villar, Roxas, Legarda, and Lacson — had expressed presidential aspirations.

NO DEAL! Movement and Bayan vowed to use all available means — “from mass protests to the Supreme Court” — to stop the deal’s implementation.

“We believe in economic cooperation among countries such as through bilateral trade and investment deals,” NO DEAL! Movement and Bayan said. “But such cooperation must be founded on mutual respect and benefit. JPEPA has completely failed to meet these basic and non-negotiable requirements.”

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat October 9, 2008 AT 3:58 PM

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IBON bats for bigger budget for poor amid US meltdown

With the worsening US and global economic crisis expected to aggravate poverty in the country, militant think tank IBON Foundation pushed Friday for bigger allocations for social services in the P1.41-trillion proposed national budget for 2009.

In a statement, IBON lamented health gets an "atrociously low" 2.5% of the total budget, education gets 13%, and housing gets 0.4%.

"The perennially low budget allocation for social services will have a deeper repercussion on the poor and vulnerable sectors as the deteriorating global economic crisis destroys more jobs and livelihood and inflates the cost of living," it said.

Experts count slowdown in export demand, tighter flows in foreign investments and increased speculation in food and fuel prices as among the consequences of the US financial crisis.

Thus, it said it becomes more urgent for government to provide sufficient social services such as health, education and housing.

Yet, it said the proposed budget levels obviously could not cover the expected increased demand for public schools and hospitals among others.

IBON noted that for the past 10 years, government has been spending an amount equivalent to 2.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) for education, way below the international standards of 5% to 6%.

For health, it has been spending only 3.2% of the GDP, lower than the norm set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

IBON said government should at least meet these levels to alleviate the present condition in the country seen to worsen with the global crisis.

"To increase spending for social services, government should put a stop to burdensome payments and cut back on military spending. The proposed budget for 2008 allocates P683 billion for debt principal and interest payment, while it allocates P5 billion for AFP modernization.
In contrast, government allots only P30 million for health care assistance," it said.

IBON added the removal of regressive taxes such as the reformed value-added tax (RVAT) on oil is equally urgent to lessen the inflationary impact of the financial crisis.

The Arroyo government should also abandon its proposal for new taxes because these will further burden the Filipinos already suffering from low incomes and spiraling cost of living, it said.

Also, IBON urged the administration not to use the global crisis as an excuse to impose more taxes in its effort to achieve a balanced budget.

GMANews.TV 10/04/2008 | 06:34 AM

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Oxfam: Humanitarian crisis in Mindanao is real

A non-government organization has belied Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita's statement that there is no humanitarian crisis in the south arising out of collapse of the peace talks between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

""The humanitarian needs in Mindanao are real. The armed conflict has caused suffering for civilians and worsened their experience of poverty," Oxfam country director Lan Mercado said in a statement.

Mercado was reacting to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita's brushing aside of the displaced civilians' situation in areas in Mindanao that are affected by the military's pursuit operations against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters.

"We continue to see evacuees who go hungry at shelters, contract diseases, and worry their future. Civilians live in fear for their safety and lives because of the presence of armed groups in their villages," she said, adding that hundreds of children in Mindanao, have stopped going to school because of the hostilities.


Mercado said Oxfam and other non-government organizations (NGO) have been working with the Philippine government to provide food and safety for the evacuees.

However, she said the combined food aid of several NGOs and government are still not enough to prevent mothers from risking their lives by returning to their homes to pick vegetables for their hungry children.

She added that several evacuees, mostly farmers, have been forced to sell their livestock to be able to buy food. Without their farm animals, Oxfam said the evacuees' long-term livelihood recovery is at risk.

"It is civilians who lose the most in times of conflict. Women, in particular, are hit the hardest as they take care of the well being of the family amidst uncertainty. They have to constantly worry about their husbands' and children's safety. Women have to accept odd, sometimes risky, jobs to supplement the family income because they cannot continue with their usual economic activities that get disrupted by hostilities. Many succumb to stress-related diseases," Mercado said.

'Not that bad'

The National Disaster Coordinating Council's data said 60, 042 families or 292,977 persons have been displaced by the hostilities. It said only 13,321 families are staying in 104 evacuation centers in at least three regions in Mindanao.

The agency said the government has released P92.555 million for the relief operations in Mindanao. The NGOs, meanwhile, have distributed goods worth P17.846 million for the evacuees.

Asked if there is a humanitarian crisis in Mindanao, Ermita told reporters, "There is none." He said the government can still address the needs of the thousands of evacuees in Mindanao.

The executive secretary also insisted that the humanitarian situation in Mindanao is "not that bad."

Hostilities in Mindanao heigtened after the government failed to sign a Bangsamoro homeland deal with the MILF.

Government security forces have been pursuing at least three radical commanders of the separatist group, who are responsible for civilian attacks in North Cotabato and Lanao provinces.

Government data said 83 people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed in clashes between the rebels and the military.

abs-cbnNEWS.com | 09/27/2008 9:29 AM

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'Nothing mutual about RP-US mutual defense pact'

 

There is nothing "mutual" about the 50-year-old RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty, militant umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Saturday.

In a statement posted on its website, the group said the MDT instead is a continuing reminder of the Philippines' mendicancy and subservience to US interests.

"Over the past 50 years, the MDT has benefited the US primarily. It has allowed the US to make the Philippines its neo-colonial outpost in Southeast Asia, having used the country during the US wars of aggression in Korea and Vietnam. It made possible the existence then of US military bases and the existence now of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement," it said.

Bayan said that after 50 years of sitting on the Mutual Defense Board, the Philippine military has not achieved modernization.

Even when there were US military bases, and after countless "joint exercises," the AFP has remained a backward armed force in the region, it added.

"This is because the US never really intended the AFP to modernize fully and become a self-reliant armed force. This is a basic condition for the US to continuously influence over the AFP and keep the latter dependent on US military aid and surplus goods," it said.

Also, Bayan noted that while the MDT's mandate is that of warding off external threats to the Philippines, it is also being used to justify American presence versus an internal threat such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or even the Abu Sayyaf.


It added the extreme puppetry of the Arroyo regime is apparent when it allows the continuing and permanent presence of American troops in Mindanao in the guise of "joint exercises" and "civic and humanitarian missions."

Yet, it said the Balikatan exercise in Mindanao has allowed the US Special Forces under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines to be closer than ever to the armed conflict.

"The vague provisions of the VFA allow the US forces to maintain a rotational force of 400-600 soldiers who stay for about six months and take part in so-called 'approved activities.' Through this loophole in the VFA, the US is already operating a Forward Operating Site, a new type of flexible basing arrangement, in Zamboanga," it added.

Bayan said the so-called "civic operations" and "humanitarian missions" are merely part of the over-all "communications strategy" of the US forces as pointed out in Annex A of the US Pacific Command Joint Training Strategy for 2007.

"The US is deploying US Special Forces - armed and trained fighters, not doctors and dentists - to Mindanao," it said.

It added the Visiting Forces Agreement does not set a limit on the number of US troops that can enter the Philippines, the number of activities that can be approved in a year, and the type of activities that can take place.

Also, it said the US has acquired an expanded combat role when it engages in intelligence work and is embedded in armed units of the AFP.

"Despite the apparent violations of the Philippine constitution by the US forces, the Philippine government wants to have more 'joint exercises.' This means more intervention, violations of the Constitution, and the undermining of our sovereignty," it said.

GMANews.TV 09/27/2008 | 07:49 AM

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US Troops Are Here to Stay, Concealed in Bases Within AFP Camps

Since losing a number of its major overseas bases in the 1990s, the US has had to make shifts in its basing strategy. It now increasingly relies on what its Department of Defense calls “Cooperative Security Locations” (CSLs), and there is now less emphasis on “Main Operating Bases” (MOBs). It has a number of CSLs in the Philippines, one of which is in Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City.

The US military installation within Camp Navarro was mentioned by Pacifico Agabin, dean of the Lyceum of the Philippines School of Law, during his presentation at the oral arguments against the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) before the Supreme Court on Sept. 19.

The 1987 Constitution does not allow foreign military presence on Philippine soil except through a treaty jointly recognized by both contracting parties. Art. XVIII, Sec. 25 of the Constitution provides that:

“After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

The VFA was ratified in 1999 by the Philippine Senate and signed by then President Joseph Estrada, but it was never ratified by the US Senate.

The first RP-US Balikatan military exercises under the VFA – which provides only for short stays by US troops – were conducted in 2002. There has been continuous US military presence in the Philippines since then, manifested through the CSLs.

“Visiting is quite an understatement, considering that the US forces have been with us for six years, and six years can hardly be considered a visit,” Agabin said during the Sept. 19 oral arguments. “It is really a continuous visit. It is really a kind of visit that wears out the hospitality of the host.”

Agabin then cited the presence of CSLs within Philippine military camps – specifically the one located in Camp Navarro.

The website GlobalSecurity.org defines the MOB and the CSL as follows:

A Main Operating Base (MOB) is an enduring strategic asset established in friendly territory with permanently stationed combat forces, command and control structures, and family support facilities. MOBs serve as the anchor points for throughput, training, engagement, and US commitment to NATO. MOBs have: robust infrastructure; strategic access; established Command and Control; Forward Operating Sites and Cooperative Security Location support capability; and enduring family support facilities. These are already in existence.

A Cooperative Security Location (CSL) is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent US presence. CSLs will require periodic service, contractor and/or host nation support. CSLs provide contingency access and are a focal point for security cooperation activities. They may contain propositioned equipment. CSLs are: rapidly scalable and located for tactical use, expandable to become a FOS, forward and expeditionary. They will have no family support system.

The US Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, meanwhile, defines a base as “a locality from which operations are projected or supported,” reflecting clearly the role of these installations in war posturing.

In an article in the June 2005 issue of TheAtlantic.com, Robert D. Kaplan explains how CSLs work thus:

“A cooperative security location can be a tucked-away corner of a host country’s civilian airport, or a dirt runway somewhere with fuel and mechanical help nearby, or a military airport in a friendly country with which we have no formal basing agreement but, rather, an informal arrangement with private contractors acting as go-betweens. Because the CSL concept is built on subtle relationships, it’s where the war-fighting ability of the Pentagon and the diplomacy of the State Department coincide – or should. The problem with big bases in, say, Turkey – as we learned on the eve of the invasion of Iraq – is that they are an intrusive, intimidating symbol of American power, and the only power left to a host country is the power to deny us use of such bases. In the future, therefore, we will want unobtrusive bases that benefit the host country much more obviously than they benefit us. Allowing us the use of such a base would ramp up power for a country rather than humiliating it.

“I have visited a number of CSLs in East Africa and Asia. Here is how they work. The United States provides aid to upgrade maintenance facilities, thereby helping the host country to better project its own air and naval power in the region. At the same time, we hold periodic exercises with the host country’s military, in which the base is a focus. We also offer humanitarian help to the surrounding area. Such civil-affairs projects garner positive publicity for our military in the local media – and they long preceded the response to the tsunami, which marked the first time that many in the world media paid attention to the humanitarian work done all over the world, all the time, by the US military. The result is a positive diplomatic context for getting the host country’s approval for use of the base when and if we need it.

“Often the key role in managing a CSL is played by a private contractor. In Asia, for example, the private contractor is usually a retired American noncom, either Navy or Air Force, quite likely a maintenance expert, who is living in, say, Thailand or the Philippines, speaks the language fluently, perhaps has married locally after a divorce back home, and is generally much liked by the locals. He rents his facilities at the base from the host-country military, and then charges a fee to the US Air Force pilots transiting the base. Officially he is in business for himself, which the host country likes because it can then claim it is not really working with the American military. Of course no one, including the local media, believes this. But the very fact that a relationship with the US Armed Forces is indirect rather than direct eases tensions. The private contractor also prevents unfortunate incidents by keeping the visiting pilots out of trouble—steering them to the right hotels and bars, and advising them on how to behave. (Without Dan Generette, a private contractor for years at Utapao Naval Station, in Thailand, that base could never have been ramped up to provide tsunami relief the way it was.)”

According to Roland Simbulan, a professor of development studies at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila and an expert on RP-US foreign and military relations, the dismantling of the US bases in the Philippines following the Senate’s rejection of a new Military Bases Agreement in 1991 was a major contributor to the US shift in basing strategy.

The Philippines was once host to the largest US overseas bases. Subic Naval Base alone had an area of 6,658 hectares, while Clark Air Base covered 4,400 hectares.

Apart from these, the US had O’Donnell Transmitter Station (1,755 hectares), San Miguel Communications Station (1,100 hectares), Capas Naval Transmitter Station (356 hectares), John Hay Air Station (227 hectares), and Wallance Air Station (202 hectares).

All these spanned a total area of 14,698 hectares of arable land. “If you combine that, it would be bigger than Singapore,” Simbulan said in an interview.

“So the dismantling of the bases in the Philippines was a hard blow to the US. The US was really shocked by the 1991 vote against the new bases treaty… They were forced to shift to a new basing strategy.

“CSLs were developed to blunt political opposition to big military bases.”

The US maintains a number of CSLs, mostly in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. US officials claim that the CSLs particularly in Africa and Latin America exist for the purpose of combating the drug trade.

But this is just a cover, according to Simbulan. “The US has not been consistent in its fight against the drug trade,” he said. He noted that the US military, for instance, had colluded with drug syndicates in fighting revolutionary guerrillas and leaders in Colombia and Cuba.

In the Philippines, there are CSLs installed in Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); as well as in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City, in Cotabato City, and in Basilan.

Camp Navarro hosts the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

The JSOTF-P was established by the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC). It began its work when SOCPAC deployed to the Philippines Joint Task Force (JTF) 510. Based on an item on GlobalSecurity.org, JTF 510 was deployed to the Philippines “to support Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the US government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge.

“CSLs are off-limits to AFP personnel,” Simbulan disclosed. “I was able to talk with some AFP personnel at one time, and they told me they don’t really know what the US troops are doing in their offices within AFP camps.”

“The (main) purpose for these is for them to expand their operations so that when they have missions to Malaysia and Indonesia, they would have locations that are open to them,” he said.

Saimbulan also said that the CSLs in the Philippines are also used for “technical intelligence”, or surveillance, purposes. He said that the US troops conducting surveillance operations are particularly active in strategic areas like Southwestern Mindanao.

“They go around in civilian clothes,” he said. “Some of them disguise themselves as tourists.”

The immediate goal, he said, is for the US troops to consolidate their influence in Mindanao. “It follows that when they consolidate their influence there, US companies would have easier access to the area,” he said.

The long-term consideration, however, is that the US views China as a long-term threat, Simbulan said.

Simbulan said that between 100 and 500 US troops are deployed all year in the Philippines, working from these CSLs. These, he said, are apart from those who come to the Philippines periodically for the Balikatan military exercises.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita recently said that US troops come and go but they “all look alike,” so it is as though they never leave.

“They are replaced every now and then,” Ermita said. “They leave, contrary to the critics’ impression that they have not left.”

But this is not so, said Simbulan. “It is those who join the Balikatan who come and go, but those (in the CSLs) are deployed here for prolonged periods,” he said.

He recounted his conversation with the wife of a US official on one trip to Zamboanga, during which he learned that in the Camp Navarro CSL there is now a building for housing.

There is no treaty between the Philippines and the US which allows for the presence of CSLs on Philippine soil.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
PUBLISHED ON September 21, 2008 AT 12:32 AM

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As world stock market plunges,GSIS, SSS Funds in Danger - Courage

A group of government employees said that the funds of Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Social Security System (SSS) are in ‘grave danger.’

The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) said that the money invested by the GSIS and SSS in the local stock markets  will be affected by the falling world stock markets due the declaration of bankruptcy by the Lehman Brothers, one of the America’s top banking groups.

Courage National President Ferdinand Gaite said that they have warned the social security institutions about the danger of putting the members’ money in volatile investments the like of shares of stocks.

World financial analysts and stock brokers fear that the Lehman Brothers’ declaration is just one of the series of ‘bad news’ for the financial sector and the current US financial turmoil will worsen in the coming days.

“Like Manila Electric Co. shares, which dropped excessively—from the original price of P80.90 (US$1.71, based on the prevailing exchange rate) to P57 ($1.21) per share—same thing will happen to other investments made by the GSIS and SSS to the stock market,” explained Gaite.

Aside from the Meralco shares, GSIS also suffered losses in buying stocks with the former Equitable-PCI Bank, Bell Resources, Empire East, and even with San Miguel Corporation, he added.

The group said they will file formal charges against the GSIS management, particularly against GSIS President and General Manager Atty. Winston F. Garcia, for mismanagement of funds and violations of the Republic Act No. 8291 or the GSIS law. Bulatlat

BY NOEL SALES BARCELONA
Contributed to Bulatlat
September 17, 2008

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66 dead, 79 hurt in Mindanao fighting--NDCC

MANILA, Philippines -- At least 66 people have died from the ongoing conflict in Mindanao, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said.

In its latest report, the NDCC said four soldiers were killed in the fighting with the rest tallied as civilian casualties.

The report also said 79 people have been injured in the conflict, 66 civilians and 13 law enforcers.

The NDCC added that the number of affected families who have either lost their houses, displaced or have lost their livelihood have shot up from 88,243 families to 100,024 families or 479,223 persons.

The number of evacuees sheltering in evacuation centers has also shot up from 18,080 families (89,024 persons) to 22,861 families (111,133 persons), the NDCC added.

The NDCC also denied reports of a "food blockade" after a United Nations convoy of relief goods were barred to enter Poona Piagapo, Tangkal and Munai in Delabayan, Kauswagan on August 28.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines clarified that the convoy was not allowed to enter for "security reasons" and was allowed to proceed the following day with the help of the local government and Peace Advocates from Iligan City.

The NDCC also advised humanitarian aid workers to coordinate with the regional office of civil defense.

Continuous assistance to displaced civilians is being undertaken through government cluster leads, disaster coordinating councils and concerned local government units, the NDCC added in its report.

Total assistance being provided by the NDCC and partner organizations like local and international non-government organizations have reached P51.77 million.

The USAID has also provided an additional $100,000 to Save the Children under the Mindanao Emergency Response Network.

Health surveillance systems have been intensified and vaccination in evacuation centers have been conducted following a surge in reported cases of measles and mumps.

Medical consultations in Munai and Matungao are being conducted by local health personnel, the NDCC added.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has indicated that they were ready to assist displaced evacuees living with their relatives and friends so long as a signed master list would be provided by local chief executives.

The DSWD in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has also suggested that "bunk houses" be constructed as temporary shelter for displaced families and that the Department of Public Works and Highways help in the construction of these buildings.

The Office of Civil Defense in Region 10 also recommended that displaced families in the municipalities of Poona Piagapo, Tangkal and Munai be evacuated to Delabayan, Kauswagan and other coastal areas "where they can be served better."

But evacuees refused the offer for security reasons and for fear of "possible reprisal" from Christians, the NDCC added.

The OCD Region 10 has also expressed urgency to "decongest" the evacuations centers in Lanao del Norte since an increase in acute respiratory infections has been reported.

The NDCC added that the Armed Forces of the Philippines should also help in ensuring the safe entry of workers from the Department of Health and other health sectors to provide treatment and implement other disease control mechanisms.

There is also a need for rice and medicine augmentation in evacuation centers and assistance to refugees in terms of livelihood, crops and livestock rehabilitation, the NDCC added.

The DepEd has also raised concern on the effects to students of the indefinite suspension of classes due to the damages to school buildings and the use of some buildings as evacuation centers.

Classes are still suspended in schools in Kauswagan and Lanao del Norte provinces and also in Barangay (villages) Tingin-tingin, Baraason, Dilabayan, Kayontor and Paiton.

The DepEd is still assessing and validating damages in other provinces.

First posted 17:58:16 (Mla time) September 03, 2008
Alcuin Papa Katherine Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer 

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Debt Payments 48% of Proposed 2009 Budget; Allotment for Services Measly

In her message titled Standing Firm in the Midst of Economic Challenges, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said, “A number one priority of my Administration is services to uplift the lives of the poor. No other priority encapsulates so succinctly the commitments I have made since I assumed the Presidency.”

The message is addressed to members of the House of Representatives. Congress has started its deliberations Sept. 3 on the proposed P1.415-trillion ($30.22 billion at the Sept. 5 exchange rate of $1:P46.82) national budget for next year.

At first glance, the proposed budget shows increased allocations for education, health and other social services. A closer examination, however, would prove that these allotments are measly compared to debt payments.

In the same message, Arroyo said, “Debt service’s 21.4-percent share in the national budget next year shows a conspicuous continuous decline from 31.6 percent in 2005 and 23.2 percent in 2007, in accordance with our deficit reduction strategy. This means more resources can now be used for essential spending on investments on our human and capital resources.”

Arroyo was only referring to the interest payments pegged at P302.6 billion ($6.46 billion). If principal amortization would be computed, total debt service for next year is P681.5 billion ($1.46 billion) or 48.16 percent of the proposed national budget.

 

Proposed Allocation

Proposed Budget

(in billions)

Per Capita

Debt Service

Interest Payment

Principal Amortization

681.5

302.6

378.0

P7,391.54

Education

DepEd

SUCs

189.1

167.9

22.6

2,050.98

Health

27.8

301.52

Housing

5.3

57.48

Social Welfare

10.4

112.80

Agriculture and Agrarian Reform

DAR

DA

14.3

10.7

3.6

155.1

Defense

56.4

611.71

Source: National Expenditure Program for 2009
Per capita is computed based on the projected population for 2009, 92.2 million

 

Presidential Decree No. 1177, issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos during martial law, allows automatic appropriation for debt service and other expenditure items. Allocation for the principal amortization of national government debt is not included in the proposed national budget.

Health

Based on the proposed budget, the Department of Health (DoH) will get P27.8 billion ($593.76 million). The proposal is 36.9 percent higher than this year’s allocation.

However, the amount is still measly. With the projected 92.2-million population next year, government health spending would only be P0.83 ($0.02) per person per day.

For next year, the proposed allocation for disease prevention and control is only P4.51 billion ($96.33 million) while P161.73 million ($3.45 million) is allotted for monitoring and surveillance of diseases and outbreaks.

Subsidies for indigent patients for confinement in specialty hospitals and for the use of specialized equipment is only P6 million ($128,150.36).

The 12 specialty government hospitals have a combined budget of only P3.23 billion ($68.99 million). These include the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, Rizal Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center, Quirino Memorial Medical Center, Tondo Medical Center, Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, National Children's Hospital, National Center for Mental Health, Philippine Orthopedic Center, San Lazaro Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Medical Center.

The RITM will receive no fund for capital outlay.

The Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Medical Center will get the lowest budget of P103.85 million ($2.21 million). The National Center for Mental Health will be allotted P517.94 million ($11.06 million).

The budget for the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for this year is P1.14 billion ($24.35 million), of which P878.56 million ($18.76 million) is allotted for personnel services and only P3 million ($64,075.18) for capital outlay.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Memorial Medical Center will receive P 742.40 million ($15.86 million) and the AFP Medical Center, P850.09 million ($18,156557).

In fact, the proposed health budget is lesser by P6.62 billion ($141.39 million) than the government’s counter-insurgency funds for next year, which amounts to P34.42 billion ($735.16 million).

Moreover, the health budget is less than half of the proposed budget for the Department of National Defense pegged at P56.4 billion ($1.2 billion).

The Arroyo government will also allocate some P3.3 billion ($70.48 million) next year for the National Health Insurance Program. The amount will be used to provide health insurance to 4.7 million indigent households.

The NHIP is the main instrument of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

Arroyo said there are 65 million Filipinos who have health insurance, including 15 million indigents.
However, in a study, the National Institute of Health maintained that the PhilHealth’s claim of coverage is overestimated by at least 20 percent.

The Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) noted that the PhilHealth coverage bloated to 80 percent during the election period in 2007. In the past years, the coverage was only 61 percent.

Another study commissioned by the European Commission regarding PhilHealth coverage in Mindanao showed that only ten percent of the poor in Tawi-Tawi, 12 percent in Davao Oriental and 15 percent in Zamboanga del Norte and Maguindanao are covered by PhilHealth.

Education

The Department of Education (DepEd) will receive P167.9 billion ($3.59 billion) including P2 billion ($42.72 million) for construction of classrooms.

With the P2 billion budget, only 3,076 classrooms can be built. Arroyo said that each classroom costs P650,000 ($13,882.96).

In a statement, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) estimated that the DepEd needs to construct an additional 41,905 classrooms in order to attain a 1:45 classroom-to- student ratio.

Antonio Tinio, ACT chaiperson noted that at the elementary level, classroom shortages are concentrated in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon). At the secondary level, there are classroom shortages nationwide, but are most acutely felt in NCR, Calabarzon, Central Luzon, and Central and Western Visayas, he added.

The proposed budget will include P2.5 billion ($53.4 million) to fund the creation of 19,553 new teaching and non-teaching personnel.

ACT’s Tinio said, “To reduce class sizes to 40 students per class at the elementary level and 45 students per class at the secondary level, DepEd needs to hire 25,240 additional teachers.”

Tinio also criticized the ‘problematic’ computation of DepEd on the teacher-student ratios. "Teacher-pupil ratios don't take factors such as class size, teacher specialization from Grade 4 onwards, and teaching load into consideration. This leads to an absurd situation where the DepEd claims that there is now a surplus of teachers just because the teacher-pupil ratio stands at 1:35 for elementary and 1:39 for high schools," he said.

The budget for 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) is only P22.57 billion ($482.06 million).

The University of the Philippines (UP) system will get P6.7 billion ($143.1 million), the biggest budget among SUCs. The UP has a population of more than 50,000. It is comprised of seven constituent universities located in 12 campuses throughout the country.

The Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), the largest university in terms of student population will only receive P663.64 million ($14.17 million). It has six campuses, two branches and ten extension campuses serving more than 52,000 students.

The Philippine Normal University (PNU), the country’s center for teacher education, will only get P282.32 million ($6.03 million). It has four campuses in the country.

Housing, social welfare

A meager P5.3 billion ($113.2 million) will be allotted for housing.

The P300 million will be allotted for the operational requirements of regulatory agencies such as the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB).

The National Housing Authority (NHA) will get P3.5 billion ($74.75 million). Arroyo said it will be used to set up resettlement sites and build new housing units.

Meanwhile, even as the DSWD budget will increase by 116 percent, the bulk will go to donations and subsidies. These include Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program, P5 billion ($106.79 million); and, Malusog na Simula, Yaman ng Bansa feeding program, P1.58 billion ($33.75 million).

The Pantawid Pamilya program, Arroyo said, will provide cash grants to 321,000 poorest households.

Big chunks

The Arroyo government will invest P147.5 billion ($3.15 billion) for infrastructure. Of this amount, P83.9 billion will be used to build and maintain roads and bridges.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will receive P120 billion ($2.56 billion).

Critics, however, fear that the funds for infrastructure would be vulnerable to corruption. In many surveys, the DPWH is consistently perceived to be one of the most corrupt government agencies in the country.

Another controversial item in the proposed 2009 national budget is the allocation for confidential and intelligence expenses of different government offices amounting to P1.36 billion ($29.05 million).

The Office of the President will get the biggest intelligence fund worth P650 million ($13.88 million). The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) will get P270 million ($5.77 million) for the same purpose while the DND will receive P151.64 million ($3.24 million). These funds are not subject to government audit. Bulatlat

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, No. 31, September 7-13, 2008

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As GRP, MILF Clash over Aborted Agreement, Peace Deals with MNLF Remain Unimplemented

While the conflict between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has re-escalated in the wake of the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), between the two groups, there are previous peace agreements dealing with the Moro people’s struggle for self-determination that have yet to be properly implemented.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which began to wage armed struggle against the GRP following the infamous Jabidah Massacre of 1967, signed in 1976 the Tripoli Agreement with the Marcos government after the latter, weighed down by the costs of the Mindanao war, negotiated for peace. The peace negotiations and the signing of the agreement were sponsored and hosted by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The pact involved the grant of autonomy to Muslims. Under the said agreement, areas of autonomy for Muslims were to be established in the following areas: Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, and Palawan.

Conflicts on the issue of autonomy led to a breakdown of talks between the GRP and the MNLF in 1978, prompting a group led by Salamat Hashim to break away from the MNLF and form the MILF. Since then, the MILF has been fighting for Moro self-determination.

In 1989, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created through Republic Act No. 6734. The ARMM originally comprised the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur.

In 1996, the MNLF signed the Final Peace Agreement with the GRP. That same year, the MILF began peace negotiations with the GRP.

The 1996 Final Peace Agreement, which is an implementing mechanism for the Tripoli Agreement, provides among other things for amendments to or the repeal of RA 6734. It was specifically provided that amendments to or the repeal of RA 6734 would be initiated within the period 1996-1997, after which the amendatory law would be submitted to a plebiscite or referendum in the original ARMM provinces as well as in the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Sarangani and Palawan and the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, lligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Puerto Princesa.

The 1996 Final Peace Agreement created the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, with the ARMM under the MNLF, as a transitional implementing mechanism. It also placed the “areas of autonomy” provided for by the Tripoli Agreement within the coverage of a Special Zone for Peace and Development (SZOPAD). The SPCPD and the ARMM under the MNLF were to encourage the provinces within the SZOPAD to join what would be an expanded ARMM.

The agreed-upon amendments to RA 6734, which were expected to be initiated within the 1996-1997 period as provided for by the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, did not materialize. Instead, Congress, a few years later, passed RA 9054, which sought to expand the coverage of the ARMM – without consultations with the MNLF and the OIC. Under the said law, areas to be covered by the expanded ARMM were to be subjected to a plebiscite.

In the plebiscite held in August 2001 – after RA 9054 lapsed into law without Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s signature – only Marawi City and Basilan (except Isabela City) elected to be part of the expanded ARMM.

On Nov. 19, 2001, MNLF chairman and then ARMM Gov. Nur Misuari declared war on the Arroyo government for allegedly reneging on its commitments to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. The MNLF then attacked an Army headquarters in Jolo.

Misuari was subsequently arrested in Sabah, Malaysia for illegal entry and was turned over to the Philippine government by Malaysian authorities. He is currently under house arrest in New Manila, Quezon City.

“Fait accompli solution”

In an interview, Misuari, citing a comment by an OIC representative whom he did not identify, said the non-implementation of the GRP-MNLF agreements means that the government is merely interested in a “fait accompli solution” to the conflict in Mindanao. “A fait accompli solution could only mean one thing: the pursuit of peace through military means,” he said.

The MNLF leader said, however, that it is now impossible for the government to win against the MNLF by military means. He said the MNLF now has a total strength of 150,000-200,000 and is in possession of various high-powered weapons including, he said, anti-tank weapons. “If the government thinks they can win against us, they should go to Mandaluyong,” he said, referring to the Metro Manila city where the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) is located.

“The MNLF has not yet unleashed its military potential because we don’t want to be at odds with the OIC and its member-states – 57 member-states, all sovereign states, members of the United Nations in good standing – you know, we cannot annoy them, we cannot defy their demands that we maintain the peace,” he also said. “And we continue to uphold the achievement that we made across the negotiating table.”

Adding insult to injury, Misuari said, is the government’s attempt to impose its Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) with the MILF on the GRP-MNLF peace agreements.

The MOA-AD seeks the establishment of a BJE that would also cover the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan region – with the ARMM as the core of the new region. As regards governance, the agreement provides among other things that:

“The relationship between the Central Government and the BJE shall be associative characterized by shared authority and responsibility with a structure of governance based on executive, legislative, judicial and administrative institutions with defined powers and functions in the Comprehensive Compact. A period of transition shall be established in a Comprehensive Compact specifying the relationship between the Central Government and the BJE.”

The MNLF leader said that trying to impose the MOA-AD on their peace agreements with the GRP is an insult to his group.

“It is not good (for the Philippine government) to treat us the way they do,” Misuari said. “We have signed a formal peace agreement and now they are trying to sign a MOA which they want to impose or superimpose on our binding international agreement. This is tantamount to slapping the face...of the MNLF.”

He said that before signing the MOA-AD, the GRP would have done well to send a written communication to the MNLF and the OIC stating that it no longer feels bound by the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. “We would not have been hurt by that,” Misuari said.

The MOA-AD was to be signed by the GRP and the MILF last Aug. 5, but the Supreme Court on Aug. 4 issued a temporary restraining order on its signing following a petition by North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, supported by another petition filed by Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and two congressmen. The Supreme Court has since been hearing oral arguments on the MOA-AD.

Origins of the conflict

Moro historian Salah Jubair traces the roots of the present conflict in southern Philippines to the US annexation of Mindanao and Sulu into the Philippine territory in 1946. Jubair argues that the Bangsamoro is a people with a socio-political, economic, and cultural system distinct from that of the Filipino people.

The inclusion of Mindanao and Sulu in the scope of the 1946 “independence” granted to the Philippines paved the way for large-scale non-Muslim migration to the two islands. This large-scale migration, which began in the 1950s, brought with it the problem of land grabbing.

At some point the government even instituted a Mindanao Homestead Program, which involved giving land parcels seized from Moros to landless peasants from the Visayas islands and Luzon and also to former communist guerrillas who availed of amnesty. This was intended to defuse the peasant unrest and the revolutionary war that was staged in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the communist-led Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army), which was basically a peasant army.

The Jabidah Massacre of 1967 triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year. A breakdown in the GRP-MNLF peace talks in 1978 led a group led by Salamat Hashim to break away and form the MILF.

As the armed conflict between the GRP and the MILF rages in Mindanao because of an aborted agreement, another bigger conflict threatens to unfold, this time with the MNLF, because the government failed to implement a previous agreement. Bulatlat

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 29, August 24-30, 2008

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Sen Arroyo slams ‘overstaying’ US military in Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines -- Senator Joker Arroyo on Wednesday criticized what he described as “overstaying” American troops in Mindanao.

"The US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement…has been dubbed as the Overstaying Forces Agreement because of the continuous stay of US forces in the ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] border provinces," he said.

Arroyo also criticized what he called President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's “injudicious” plan to seek the help of the United Kingdom and Sweden in forging a peace settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

"First the Americans, then the British? The President would be better off avoiding Western participation [in] indigenously Asiatic affairs," he said.

Earlier, the senator criticized the presence of US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney in Kuala Lumpur for the scheduled signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and MILF.

The signing was called off after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on petitions by officials of North Cotabato and Zamboanga City to declare the agreement unconstitutional.

The aborted signing of the agreement was followed almost immediately after by fighting between government and MILF forces, which is still ongoing in Central Mindanao.

"It [seeking British and Swedish aid] is misguided, a frying pan to the fire approach. Whoever gave the President that bum steer should be canned," Arroyo said.

Citing the National Statistics Office, which places Muslims at only five percent of the country's population, Arroyo said the problem in Mindanao is a geographical dispute between Muslims and Christians.

First posted 13:31:14 (Mla time) August 27, 2008
Veronica Uy
INQUIRER.net
________________________________________________________________________ 

Padaca asks Filipinos: Replicate democratic victories

MANILA, Philippines -- Breakthroughs and victories against "oppressive political structures" need to be encouraged and supported to be replicated, said Isabela governor and Ramon Magsaysay awardee for government service Grace Magno Padaca on Sunday.

In accepting her award at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Padaca also said political victories were "fragile" and asked for continued support.

"Victories are fragile and they need to be supported and encouraged," she said. "Please continue encouraging and supporting me."

The Ramon Magsaysay Awards, recognized as Asia's Nobel Peace Prize, celebrated its 50th anniversary today with Padaca as one of the recipients.

Padaca broke the Dy family's grip on Isabela in the 2004 gubernatorial elections by raking in 55 percent of the votes, making headlines for toppling a political dynasty that spanned 30 years. Now on her second term as governor, she rose to fame for her campaign for democratic elections. Padaca also said that the "political victory" she achieved in her province must be replicated nationally.

"What we dared to do is to make democracy work especially in electing our leaders," she said. "In less than two years, we will be electing our leaders and are going to the polls. We need to continue succeeding after raining hopes on our people."

Meanwhile, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, chairman of the board of trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation, expressed hope that the Ramon Magsaysay Awards would be "Asia's solution to global problems."

Ayala also said that the future would not only connect countries and people but also problems.

"As we embark in the next 50 years, these global problems will remain unresolved without greatness of service," he added. "The world will continue to become more connected and we will become more connected with each other. Wealth and prosperity will no longer have boundaries.
In the next decade, we will be forced to face the demands of growth and development."

He said these "demands" include lack of access to resources, basic rights and accountability, among others.

Other winners of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Awards are Thailand's Therdchai Jivacate and the Philippines' Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CAD MRI) for public service; India's Prakash Amte and Mandakini Amte for community leadership; Japan's Akio Ishii for journalism, literature and creative
communication arts; Indonesia's Ahmad Syafii Maarif for peace and international understanding; and Sri Lanka's Ananda Galappatti for emergent leadership.

First posted 17:54:00 (Mla time) August 31, 2008
Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
_________________________________________________________________________ 

Cheaper medicines law not the solution--health groups

MANILA, Philippines -- The recently enacted cheaper medicines is “not the solution” to the problem of expensive medicines, around a hundred members of health workers’ groups who picketed the Department of Health (DoH) office in Manila on Thursday said.

Government’s claims that Republic Act 9502 or the "Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008” will make medicines affordable are giving consumers “false hopes,” Dr. Gene Nesperos, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (Head), said in an interview.

Joining Head in at the hour-long DoH picket to express “disappointment” with the measure were the Alliance of Health Workers, Council for Health and Development, and Kilos Bayan para sa Kalusugan (People’s Movement for Health).

“It might affect the price (of medicines) but whether it will make medicines affordable is an entirely different issue… possible na mas mura, pero hindi ibig sabihin ay kaya nang bilhin ng mga mahihirap [prices may be cheaper but it does not mean that the poor can afford them],” Nesperos said.

He called the measure a “weak law” that fails to address the “highly monopolized” prices of medicine, Nesperos said.

The intellectual property code provisions of the measure also allegedly favor importers and producers of medicines in the Philippines, Nesperos said.

The protesting health groups called for “concrete and more decisive actions” by of the government to explore possible solutions, not provided in the cheaper medicines law, to lower the prices of medicines and drugs.

The DoH is still formulating the implementing rules and regulations of the new law, Nesperos said, as he urged the agency not to be limited by the provisions of the law.

The protesters suggested that government regulate and nationalize the medicine industry in order “to dismantle monopoly” and ensure that drugs and medicines will be “affordable and accessible” to the masses.

“If the government is sincere in making medicines affordable and accessible, they should regulate the medicine industry,” Nesperos said.

First posted 14:49:16 (Mla time) August 28, 2008
Katherine Evangelista
INQUIRER.net
_______________________________________________________________________________________

Thousands turn out for 12-hour ‘Truth Fest’

Traffic snarled on northbound lane of Roxas Blvd

MANILA, Philippines -- Thousands of people have turned out for a 12-hour “Truth Fest” at the Rajah Sulaiman Plaza on Roxas Boulevard in Manila from 5 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday.

The participants, from militant labor, youth, church and other sectoral and civil society groups, carried banners and were escorted by marching bands as they converged on the site of the activity, where they were greeted by “gigantes,” giant figures traditionally used during the fiesta in Antipolo City.

The overnight activity comes a day after the 25th death anniversary of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., whose murder in 1983 helped spawn the mass protest movement that would eventually oust the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and replace him with Aquino’s widow, Corazon, the country’s first woman president.

Members of the artists’ coalition Tutok have painted the road with various derogatory images of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo against a backdrop of the American flag with bullets instead of stars.

Tutok coordinator Iggy Rodriguez said the backdrop symbolized US intervention in Philippine affairs, including the continuing conflict in Mindanao.

The images of Arroyo, on the other hand, are related to various issues raised against her.

Among these are of Arroyo dancing the cha-cha, a reference to Charter change, which is often shortened into the popular ballroom dance, and of a crucified Filipino with the President as Pontius Pilate.

As with traditional fiestas, the streets are lined with stalls selling food and various merchandise including books.

Traffic is snarled on the northbound lane of Roxas Boulevard, which has been closed from Quirino Avenue to Pedro Gil.

Among the personalities spotted at the protest are Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes, former social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman and Dante Madriaga.

The Truth Fest will feature a concert, art exhibits, films and a performance of the Philippine Dragonboat Team.

The activity will seek to set a new world record for a “voice choir” that will recite a “litany of untruths” allegedly committed by the Arroyo administration, Reyes said, including the “Hello Garci” scandal involving purported wiretaps of the President and a former election official allegedly discussing how to rig the 2004 elections in her favor, and the scandal-tainted national broadband network (NBN) deal, to which Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel have been implicated.

“It will be a venue for creative and innovative ways to encourage truth-telling and to search for truth,” said Sister Mary John Mananzan, OSB, of Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).

Mananzan also stressed that the event would not be a venue for politicians to campaign for the 2010 elections.

“Pwede silang magsalita, pero hindi sila pwedeng mangampanya [They can talk but they can’t campaign],” she added.

Independent film makers are expected to make a documentary film on the “Truth Fest,” featuring different perspectives of the event.

Hundreds of students belonging to the League of Filipino Students (LFS), Youth Act Now, and Anakbayan walked out of their classes at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Adamson University, and Philippine Christian University Friday morning to kick off the Truth Fest.

“Arroyo's game plan and scenario-building are becoming more obvious by the minute. First, Charter change, then Arroyo and her militarist-thinking advisers are now manipulating the Mindanao conflict to sow an atmosphere of panic and chaos even in Manila and other regions,” said LFS chairman Vencer Crisostomo.

"Instead of self-serving schemes, Arroyo should address the present economic crisis burdening the people. Last we checked oil prices are still at record-high levels, the lines at NFA retail shops are not getting any shorter and the government is earning more windfalls via the VAT at the expense of our poor countrymen,” said Ken Ramos, Anakbayan national chair.

By Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 13:30:00 08/22/2008

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On Ninoy’s 25th Death Anniversary,

Shadows of Marcos Seen in Gloria

On the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan - New Patriotic Alliance) said they see the ‘looming shadows of the Marcos dictatorship in the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.’

The group said that August 21 is ‘a landmark date in the fight against corruption, abuse of power and gross human rights violations.’ They held a protest in front of the late senator’s monument in Makati, Thursday afternoon.

Aquino, a leading critic of the Marcos dictatorship was was assassinated at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983.

In a statement, Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general said, “We see a president that refuses to learn from the lessons of history; one who is intent on repeating the mistakes of the past… Arroyo also wishes to perpetuate herself in power either through charter change or some Marcosian tactic of martial rule.”

Protesters held pictures of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Ferdinand Marcos.

Reyes said, “Ninoy’s death anniversary is a reminder of the price that was paid by those before us who fought the US-backed Marcos dictatorship…Under the US-backed Arroyo regime, many Filipinos continue to die fighting for the same causes of human rights, sovereignty and democracy.”
 
Bayan also condemned Arroyo’s all-out war in Mindanao, saying that it would ultimately fail if fundamental social problems are not addressed. Bulatlat

BY MEDZ MONTEREAL
Contributed to Bulatlat
Posted August 21, 2008 - 4:10 p.m.

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 The MoA, the Cha Cha, and the U.S. Ambassador

So much controversy has surrounded the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on ancestral domain between the Arroyo government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In stead of engendering peace, it has led to the escalation of the conflict; in stead of bringing about unity and the community of peoples, it has led to tensions between the MILF and the affected communities of North Cotabato, no less aided by the word war between Vice Gov. Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol and ‘peace’ adviser Hermogenes Esperon.  Events became clearer when suddenly the Arroyo government began pushing for charter change purportedly to achieve peace in Mindanao; and US ambassador Kristie Kenney showed up in the aborted signing of the MoA in Malaysia.  

The controversy came to a head with the declaration of the Arroyo government that it’s “all systems go” for charter change, purportedly to initiate the shift to federalism to accommodate the demands of the MILF for autonomy.  This stirred the hornet’s nest.  

Meanwhile, Sen. Joker Arroyo raised questions regarding the presence of US Ambassador Kristie Kenney in the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement with the MILF in Malaysia.  Quick to the defense was Justice Sec. Raul Gonzalez who castigated people for questioning the presence of Ambassador Kenney, which to him was normal.

Clearly, there are three interested parties in the ongoing negotiations between the government and the MILF.

First is the MILF and the Bangsamoro people.  

The struggle of the Bangsamoro people for their right to self-determination dates back to the American colonial period.  It was revived with the Jabidah massacre and the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1968. The armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MNLF erupted upon the declaration of Martial Law. The Organization of Islamic Conference intervened and pushed for peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MNLF.  

Talks between the GRP and the MNLF gained some ground with the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, which declared the ”establishment of Autonomy in the Southern Philippines within the realm of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”  The “areas of autonomy for the Muslims in the Southern Philippines”, as provided for by the Tripoli agreement are Basilan, Sulu, Tawi Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Palawan, and “all the cities and villages situated in the above-mentioned areas.” The autonomous government would have had a Legislative Assembly and an Executive Council.  Courts implementing the Islamic Shari’a laws would have been set-up.   And they should have had their own economic and financial system.  In addition, a “reasonable percentage” derived from revenues from mines and mineral resources should have been allotted “for the benefit of the areas of autonomy.”

But it was only in 1996 when the Final Peace Agreement was signed.  According to the agreement, Phase 1, lasting three years, began with the issuance of the Executive Order establishing the Special Zone of Peace and Development and the Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development.  Phase II should have involved the amendment or repeal of the Organic Act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) or RA 6734. In a plebiscite in November 2001 only Marawi city and Basilan (except Isabela city) elected to be part of the ARMM.

It took 20 years from the signing of the Tripoli agreement before a Final Peace Agreement was sealed.  And after more than ten years after the Final Peace Agreement was forged, seemingly the implementation has barely gone beyond Phase 1. The implementation or non-implementation of the Final Peace Agreement has been a constant source of tension between the GRP and the MNLF and has led to sporadic fighting between AFP and MNLF forces.  

Without settling the problems in the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF, the Arroyo government entered into a MoA with the MILF covering the same areas. The past few weeks manifested the sincerity, or rather the lack of it, of the Arroyo government in responding to the historic demand of the Bangsamoro people for self-determination.  The Arroyo government made a show of insisting on the MoA with the MILF while leaving the MNLF - which is waiting for the long overdue review of the implementation of the peace agreement - hanging in the balance, and at the same time, pushing through with the ARMM elections with its political allies in Mindanao taking control over the ARMM. By doing so it is dividing the Bangsamoro people.

Worse, it is trying to provoke a conflict between Moro and Christian communities by making the MILF believe that the MoA is a done deal while keeping the provisions of the agreement a secret thereby unsettling Christian and Lumad communities.

And for what? A lot of people think the Arroyo government is merely providing an excuse for pushing for charter change to keep itself in power beyond 2010. Obviously, the Arroyo government is the second interest group.  It claims that its only purpose in pushing for charter change is to achieve peace in Mindanao.  But its actions belie its supposed intentions.

If it genuinely wanted to achieve peace in Mindanao, it could have settled the unresolved issues with the MNLF early on.  This is not to say that the MNLF and MILF are one and the same and that solving the problems with the implementation of the MNLF peace agreement would likewise resolve the conflict with the MILF. But if the government was not able to implement the peace agreement with the MNLF, which required less concessions from it, how can it be relied on to implement the MoA with the MILF? Besides both the MNLF and the MILF are working for the benefit of the whole Bangsamoro people. Which brings us to the next point.  

Why is it that after more than 30 years of the Tripoli agreement and more than ten years after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement, the Bangsamoro people remain marginalized, oppressed and in a deteriorating state of poverty? How could things be different if the MoA and a final peace agreement is signed with the MILF?  If the government is serious in working for peace and development in Mindanao it could have addressed the problems of marginalization and poverty besetting the Bangsamoro people early on.  But it did not.  And now it is suddenly concerned with peace in Mindanao. Did it experience an epiphany of sorts that it suddenly decided to become magnanimous or is the government taking the MILF for a ride?  Why is it in a hurry to forge a deal with less than two years before it is supposed to step down? Why is there a sudden urgent need to shift to a federal system of government?

This government has never been known to uphold democratic processes or people’s rights.  On the contrary, during the last seven years of its rule, all it did was to keep itself in power at all costs through political maneuvering and through bribing, rewarding and accommodating politically its allies, and harassing, killing and abducting its critics. Perhaps that is not all it did because it has also been involved in numerous corruption scandals.  That is why, it is to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s interest to keep itself in power beyond 2010 or to at least ensure that an ally would succeed her

The third interested party is the US.  More than half of aid from the US government is pouring into Mindanao.  US troops have established a continuous presence in Mindanao since 2001 through the Balikatan joint military exercises as well as for “trainings” through the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines.  The US is as interested in bringing democracy and development to the Bangsamoro people as much as it does with the Iraqi and Afghan people. After all, the Philippines was declared by the US as the “second front in the war against terror.”

The positioning of the US in Mindanao is all about geopolitics, securing US interests in the region, and access to the island’s rich natural resources, including oil and natural gas. The report that Eid Kabalu of the MILF hinted that  US authorities approached them to secure their agreement to the establishment of US bases in Mindanao once a final peace agreement is forged is not surprising.  

The Bangsamoro people is dealing with forces that have oppressed it for centuries, the US and the GRP.  Worse, it is dealing with an administration that knows no bounds in its greed for power and wealth, and does not respect any institution or process in its efforts at political survival. It is also dealing with the almighty US that is deeply in crisis and is preoccupied not with spreading democracy and development but with asserting its political-military hegemony and protecting its economic interests.  The involvement of the US in Mindanao is not about development, it is about its self-proclaimed “war on terror.” The motive of the Arroyo government is not to grant genuine autonomy to the Bangsamoro people but to perpetuate itself in power.  And they have been pitting the Bangsamoro and the Filipino people against each other to achieve this. How can the Bangsamoro people then achieve genuine peace and development under this government? Bulatlat 

BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
ANALYSIS
Vol. VIII, no. 28, August 17-23, 2008

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Senate, House leaders call for ‘full force of law’ vs MILF

MANILA, Philippines -- The leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives on Monday urged the government to come down hard on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for attacking five towns in Lanao del Norte province.

But other lawmakers urged caution, calling on the government and Moro rebels to immediately call a truce and resume peace talks.

The attacks came a day after the rebels ambushed an Army convoy in Mulondo town, Lanao del Sur province, leaving seven soldiers killed and 12 others wounded, and a week after military offensives dislodged hundreds of rebels from North Cotabato province.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines should undertake punitive action against the MILF forces involved and uphold the rule of law. We cannot afford renewed armed hostilities because this will only set back efforts to bring economic and social progress to Muslim Mindanao," Senate President Manuel Villar said in a statement.

He denounced the MILF for launching the attacks despite an existing ceasefire.

At the House, Speaker Prospero Nograles, in a separate statement, called the attacks on the Lanao del Norte communities acts of “terrorism” that should be condemned by everyone, including the MILF leadership.

“These acts of criminality and terrorism by rebel Muslim groups should be dealt with quickly and met frontally with the full force of the law,” he said.

“The government and our armed forces cannot afford now to deal with kid's gloves [with] this kind of situation,” Nograles said. “We want peace but when terrorism is the result of peace negotiations, the terrorists must be stopped and subdued at all cost.”

“The rampage being done by the MILF group clearly shows criminal terrorism by any definition. It’s time to throw the statute books and enforce our laws on terrorism. There is no other way to deal with this situation,” he said in a text message.

But Anak-Mindanao Representative Mujiv Hataman called for “the immediate cessation of hostilities in Lanao.”

“We condemn the death, injury, [hostage taking] and displacement of innocent civilians. The safety and security of their lives and property must not be risked at any cost. We, therefore, call for ceasefire and resumption of peace talks,” Hataman said.

Bayan Muna (People First) Representative Satur Ocampo also said he did not believe an all-out offensive against the MILF is necessary and urged government to calibrate its responses against the Moro rebels.

“If it upholds the primacy of the peace process, the government must calibrate its responses to MILF-initiated attacks. Otherwise, it would violate the ceasefire agreement,” Ocampo said.

Villar also urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to immediately release money from the government’s Emergency Fund so relief assistance, like food, medicine, and counsel, be provided the affected people.

"With another war in their midst, many of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, particularly in Lanao Del Sur and Lanao Del Norte, fear for the safety of their loved ones. Immediate resolution and a return to normalcy is urged the soonest time possible," he said.

"Let's keep in mind that peace and prosperity in Mindanao will eventually result in the welfare, stability and security of the entire Philippines," he added.

At the same time, Villar appealed to government agencies, particularly the Departments of Social Work and Development and of Health, the Commission on Human Rights, and local government officials, as well as non-government organizations, to ensure the safety of residents fleeing the areas of firefight.

"Evacuation procedures should be carried out in orderly fashion. Innocent civilians should not be caught in the crossfire between the military and forces of the MILF…Massive relief must be done now," he said.

Nograles said government cannot pursue peace with the MILF if the rebel leadership could not control their own ranks on the ground.

“We really have to know first from the MILF leaders if they are still in control. Those who are out of line should be relieved from their posts and should be punished by the MILF leadership for breaking the chain-of-command,” the Speaker said.

By Veronica Uy, Maila Ager
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:58:00 08/18/2008

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US troops join search for unexploded bombs in conflict area

BALIKI, Midsayap, North Cotabato (MindaNews/18 August) – Four American soldiers on board two silver Toyota Hilux Vigo vehicles with “VFA” plates in lieu of plate numbers,  joined the search for unexploded bombs here Sunday morning, detonating a recovered unexploded 500-pounder GP (general purpose) bomb.


A sergeant belonging to the Philippine Army’s Explosives Ordinance Disposal Team (EODT) told MindaNews two 500-pounder GPs dropped from OV-10 Broncos the previous Sunday (August 10) did not explode. He said they had found the tailend of the bomb and were still scouring the area for the warhead.


GP bombs are also referred to as “dumb bombs.”

The firefight early morning of August 10 and the air strikes that followed triggered a mass exodus of villagers from neighboring areas, including several barangays in Pikit and Aleosan towns.

Lt. Col. Diosdado Carreon, commanding officer of the 40th Infantry Battalion based in Aleosan had earlier Sunday morning told MindaNews it was safe to go interior as the road to Puypoyon had been cleared.

Barangay Baliki was among the areas of fighting between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces from late July until the air strikes on August 10.

MindaNews wanted to look into the reported burned houses in Sitio Puypoyon when the team  chanced upon the US troops’ vehicles on a hilly portion partly hidden by grasses.

The hilly portion turned out to be a detachment of the 38th IB where the two silver Toyota Hilux Vigo vehicles were parked.

An American soldier escorted by the Filipino sergeant emerged from downhill to get a container of mineral water and immediately returned to where they came from.

The Filipino soldier said "no photographs please, especially of the Americans," as he led the MindaNews team through booby traps, towards the "impact area" where the joint RP-US team was scouring for the warhead and the other UXO (unexploded ordnance) about 500 meters of grassland away. 

The soldier said four American soldiers joined the search for UXOs. He left the MindaNews team behind to seek permission from the RP-US team across.  He did not return.

A few minutes later, ten Filipino soldiers and paramilitary elements walked towards where the MindaNews team waited, bringing their pails, shovels, spades and the dug tailend of the 500-pounder GP bomb (see photo).

Another five minutes later, at around 10:15 a.m., a man who identified himself as Lt. Hermosura, intelligence officer of the 40th IB, walked from the “impact area” to where the MindaNews team and the 10 Filipino soldiers and paramilitary elements waited, warning everyone to move out since the team across was going to detonate the unexploded bomb

The other half of the bomb had been found, he said.

The impact area of the explosion, he said, is about 700 meters.

Hermosura said the bomb would be detonated to ensure it does not fall in the hands of the MILF. 

MindaNews sent Carreon a text message asking if he 40th IB sought the assistance of the American soldiers to look for UXOs or unexploded ordnance.  Carreon replied,  “no idea.” He said the Army division has control over the EOD.

MindaNews saw the American soldiers dining at Ybelle’s in Poblacion 3, Midsayap at around 6 p.m. Sunday before proceeding to the Hill Park Inn where they had been staying for a couple of days.

At breakfast around 7 a.m. Monday (August 18), MindaNews chanced upon one of the Americans, a Caucasian with clean-shaven head and a moustache, waiting for his breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant

But when MindaNews approached the American and gave the appropriate introductions, he said, “I don’t talk to reporters.”

US troops left the Philippines and their air and naval bases in 1991 when the Philippine Senate rejected the treaty extending their stay.

But the Philippine Senate under the Estrada administration ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States on May 27, 1999.

The VFA took effect on July 1, 1999, allowing for the return of the US troops back in the country, although on “temporary” status.

US troops arrived in the country via  Mindanao’s Basilan and Zamboanga in early 2002. They were supposed to have stayed only for six months. While the majority has left, several teams of American soldiers remained on a “semi-continuous” presence.

Then US Ambassador to Manila Francis Ricciardone explained to MindaNews in a February 2005 interview that they have “established a semi-continuous, not permanent, but semi-continuous (military presence)… some number of our personnel rotate at the pleasure of … your command.”

Protests against the holding of Balikatan 02-1 in Zamboanga and Basilan  in 2002 did not stop the exercise but led to the signing of  a Terms of Agreement (ToR)  that specified the number of troops from both countries, the scope and limitations of the visiting US troops.” 

The ToR also specified that US troops “shall remain at the Battalion Headquarters and, when approved, Company Tactical Headquarters where they can observe and assess the performance of the AFP forces.”

No ToRs have since been forged and each time Philippine and American military officials are asked, they refer to the 1999 VFA and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

(Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Monday, 18 August 2008 09:23

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 MoA on Ancestral Domain: It's Not Over, Yet

The strong backlash ignited by the MoA deserves a second look by the MILF leaders. A lesson that can be drawn is the fact that the war for self-determination involves not only taking arms and talking but also a political war to win the broadest support for the just and historic struggle of the Bangsamoro people.

The Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Ancestral Domain between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) does not automatically bind the Arroyo government to honor the territorial claim of the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao, Palawan, and Sulu. If there is any clear commitment made by the Philippine government based on the MoA, it is on explicit assurances that under any final accord with the MILF the property rights and investments of big landowners, transnational corporations, and foreign powers that are formalized in a myriad of agreements and treaties will be protected.

As to the ancestral domain, territories and resources, and authority of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) – all of these are subject to the yet-to-be cobbled Comprehensive Compact due in November 2009, a plebiscite, and charter change which are foreseen to be acrimonious and drawn-out in the coming years.

The MoA on Ancestral Domain, a by-product of a series of peace talks and agreements between the Arroyo government and the MILF since 2001, was to be signed by both parties on August 5 in Malaysia where the talks are being hosted by the Kuala Lumpur government. It was stopped by a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued August 4 by the Supreme Court (SC) acting on a petition filed against the MoA by local executives and politicians in Mindanao.

The MoA was hastily put together under instructions made to the government panel by Malacanang to come up with an agreement which the President would show as her "legacy of peace" during her State-of-the-Nation Address on July 28. A temporary deadlock in the talks changed all that, however. But the paper had to be drafted anyway by both parties under pain of losing the International Monitoring Team (IMT). Malaysia, which heads the IMT that is overseeing a ceasefire, had threatened to end the team's tour of duty on August 31 unless progress is made in the talks.

Secrecy

The street protests generated by the agreement particularly in Mindanao this week were inevitable in a peace process shrouded with secrecy. Although the positions of both government and MILF on the issues under negotiation have been well-publicized, the contents of the MoA were kept under wraps until a former AFP general privy to the peace talks reportedly leaked the document to test the waters, so to speak.

Basically, the MoA is a set of consensus points forged together by the two negotiating panels in the roadmap to peace that will culminate in the Comprehensive Compact. The next discussions after the MoA signing will prove to be more contentious as both sides tackle the specifics of the territorial and maritime resources claimed by the MILF covering, aside from the expanded Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), about 1,000 barangays (villages). Other discussions are on the mechanics and modalities of the BJE; the final scheduling of the local plebiscite among peoples including indigenous peoples and other non-Muslims covered by the Bangsamoro homeland; and, finally, amending the charter to establish a new federal system (with the Bangsamoro as a federated state) and parliamentary government that will be ratified nationwide in a second plebiscite.

Now that the contents of the MoA are out, with many pressure groups in Mindanao calling it a "sell-out," the next negotiations should anticipate a storm of fireworks and a possible derailment. The tit-for-tat in the SC dealing on the MoA's constitutional implications would be interesting to observe. Knowing, however, the high court's well-established deference to the chief executive's policy imperatives, it will likely rule in favor of the government no matter the insurmountable political backlash it would create.

But should the MoA, in the first place, be considered as a breakthrough in the Bangsamoro people's historic struggle for self-determination? A closer scrutiny of the unsigned agreement reveals that while the Philippine government pledges to recognize the ancestral domain claim of the Bangsamoro people in motherhood principles it appends several conditions. Among others, the conditions are: First, it exempts territories covered by "government projects or any other voluntary dealings entered into by the government and private individuals, corporate entities, or institutions." Second, although the BJE has jurisdiction and control over potential sources of energy including oil and natural gas, these will remain under the operation of the central government "in times of national emergency" or "when public interest so requires." Third, although the autonomous Bangsamoro government may engage in economic and trade relations with other countries, the central government reserves its jurisdiction on "external defense."

Excluded

As formulated, these conditions effectively exempt from the ancestral domain and BJE authority the mining, forest, and other resource areas covered by existing laws, executive agreements, and policies in favor of foreign corporations, local landowners, and other non-Muslim stakeholders. Likewise, the central government can always invoke "emergency situation" and "national interest" to exercise authority over energy resources.

Moreover, the presence of foreign military forces is also guaranteed in pursuit of the central government's "external defense" responsibility. The presence of U.S. troops, special operations forces, basing facilities, and surveillance systems in Moro-dominated areas and waters is guaranteed by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and other agreements signed secretly by Arroyo with the U.S. government since 2002 which the MoA implicitly honors.

Arroyo officials claim that the President aims to sustain the momentum of the peace process with the MILF until her term ends in June 2010. Critics and anti-Arroyo opposition groups are wary, however, that the peace talks are being calibrated to justify charter change en route to Arroyo's extending her power as prime minister under a federal cum parliamentary system that will also formalize the Bangsamoro homeland as a federated state. Considering that anti-Arroyo opposition groups are all gears for the 2010 elections, the Malacanang agenda will likely end up as another debacle akin to the fate suffered by her two previous attempts.

The MILF, on the other hand, views the MoA as a step forward for its goal of self-determination. Its leaders can always invoke the general concepts and principles of the MoA on Ancestral Domain to pursue the MILF's political goal more so if they choose to declare unilaterally a separate state later on.

But they should be pragmatic enough to learn from the mistakes of the MNLF when, its armed strength weakened by strategic setbacks and factionalism, and abandoned by its foreign backers, it forged a final peace accord 12 years ago that yielded neither real autonomy nor effective political authority and development for the Bangsamoro people. Ever incremental in their objectives, the MoA – for that matter the peace talks with Arroyo – is an incidental part of the MILF's 50-year jihad that its leaders declared in 2000. MILF ground forces continue to train and hold on to their arms knowing that their struggle for self-determination includes fighting and negotiating.

The strong backlash ignited by the MoA deserves a second look by the MILF leaders. A lesson that can be drawn is the fact that the war for self-determination involves not only taking arms and talking but also a political war to win the broadest support for the just and historic struggle of the Bangsamoro people. A lot of hard work needs to be done in this area.

BY THE POLICY STUDY, PUBLICATION, AND ADVOCACY
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 27, August 10-16, 2008

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Air Force planes bomb MILF lair

‘Eyeball-to-eyeball’ fighting in Cotabato

PIKIT, NORTH COTABATO—Philippine Air Force planes Sunday bombed suspected Moro rebel positions and ground troops pounded them with cannons and mortars after hundreds of guerrillas defied a government ultimatum to withdraw.

Eyewitness accounts put government casualties at three dead, while officials said one Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel was killed in the clashes that erupted mainly in North Cotabato province.

Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna said fighting was taking place “eyeball-to-eyeball” in some areas and that the military and police were “prepared for a long drawn-out action,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Some 500 guerrillas were involved in the fighting with Army units, including those from the 602nd Brigade, the 40th Infantry Battalion, and 7th Infantry Battalion, according to Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, acting AFP command center chief.

Military reports mentioned no deaths among soldiers but said at least six of them were wounded in skirmishes that occurred in areas largely outside the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where regional elections were to be held on Monday.

There was no indication that the new flare-up was directly related to the ARMM elections. But some of the fighting spilled over to two villages in Northern Kabuntalan, in Shariff Kabunsuan, where the rebels suffered one dead, according to Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, the ARMM police director.

Thousands flee

The weeks-long tension has forced some 100,000 villagers to flee their homes, relief officials in North Cotabato said.

Guided by troops on the ground, OV-10 Broncos, SF-260 planes and MG-520 attack helicopters hammered MILF positions in North Cotabato with 260-pound bombs and rockets, a senior PAF official monitoring the military operation said.

“We already launched air operations using OV-10s, MG-520s and SF-260s. Bombs, rockets and machine gun fire were delivered to targets given by ground troops,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not in charge of releasing statements to the media.

The bombs were dropped in the area “of the 105th Base Command of the MILF, which is out of control already,” the official told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

Further air strikes were expected until MILF troops heeded the government’s demand for a pullout.

Withdrawal ordered

The government had given about 800 guerrillas until 10 a.m. on Friday to vacate several villages they had occupied supposedly in violation of a 2003 ceasefire.

Officials accused the rebels of burning houses, destroying farms, stealing cattle and driving tens of thousands of people from their homes.

The fresh conflict came at a crucial point in peace negotiations between the government and the MILF rebels, who have reached an agreement calling for the establishment of an independent Bangsamoro homeland.

The formal signing of the accord was stopped last week by the Supreme Court, acting on petitions filed by Christian politicians opposed to the inclusion of their areas in the proposed Muslim homeland.

On Saturday, the rebels were ordered by their leaders to pull back but later complained that their withdrawal was hampered by government troops and armed villagers in areas where they were to pass. The rebels said some had sporadically fired at them.

Ready for war

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said the rebels under Commander Ombra Kato appeared to have become renegades for defying their leaders’ order to pull out.

Hundreds of rebels from Maguindanao are fighting government forces in Barangays Tomado, Dungguan, and Dualing in Aleosan; Barangay Tapudok and Kolambog in Pikit; and Barangay Baliki in Midsayap, all in North Cotabato.

“We are backing the local police in restoring normalcy in the area,” Ando said. “They (the rebels) refused to obey their officials, therefore they are ready for war.”

Ando added: “We do not like war but we have the mandate to enforce the rule of law. The government has given them enough time.”

‘Like New Year’

Col. Diosdado Carreon, chief of the 40th Infantry Battalion, said government forces had to fire howitzers in retaliation for rebel attacks that began at 6 a.m.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol said four of the soldiers were wounded by rockets and M-203 grenades fired by the rebels.

“The firing went on without stop for an hour ... It seemed cannons were also being fired,” evacuee Severina Dumag said in Filipino.

Rex Torino, reporter of Radio dxMS, said of the exchange of gunfire: “It was like it was the New Year.”

Torino said he saw three dead soldiers but military officials refused to identify them as their families still had to be informed.

Result of miscommunication

Eid Kabalu, spokesperson for the MILF, said that “there was continuous shelling. I hope it will not escalate to other areas.”

Kabalu said that before Sunday’s clashes, a mechanism for an orderly pullout should have been in place but there was miscommunication between the two sides on the implementation of the withdrawal process.

“Our forces are moving out but still the Army and the civilian militia were running after them, so our troops fought back as it is happening now,” Kabalu said.

In Aleosan, North Cotabato, motorists driving on the national highway in Pagangan village saw soldiers firing howitzers from 9 to 11 a.m.

Heavy rains started at around 2:30 p.m. caused suspension of hostilities.

Cat and mouse

Segovia said that the military’s “surgical” strikes were confined to specific areas in Midsayap, Aleosan, Pikit, and Libungan.

“These are adjoining towns, and because they are playing cat and mouse with government forces, where they will leave one area and then return, the situation is very fluid,” Segovia said.

Segovia said the military action was not an “offensive” requiring the use of all military might but a “clearing operation” in support of the PNP. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño in Manila, Edwin Fernandez, Nash B. Maulana, Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao, AP, AFP and Reuters

By Nikko Dizon, Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Mindanao Bureau
First Posted 01:33:00 08/11/2008

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Filipinos cutting back on food due to high cost -- survey

MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino families have been cutting back on their consumption to cope with double-digit inflation, according to a recent survey by Pulse Asia, Inc.

The survey showed that two in three households (66 percent) were “consuming less of and/or spending less on” food, while about one in four (24 percent) also said they had cut back on rice consumption or spending.

Aside from food, Filipino households have also been consuming less of other items, such as electricity (53 percent), transportation and transport fuel (32 percent), and liquefied petroleum gas (31 percent).

Among households with cell phones (60 percent), about a fifth (22 percent) said they had also reduced their cell phone load expenses.

These were the latest results released by the polling firm from its July 2008 Ulat ng Bayan survey. Earlier results from the same Pulse Asia survey showed 75 percent of Filipinos saying they were worse off now than they were a year ago.

The survey, conducted from July 1 to 14, 2008, used face-to-face interviews with a multistage probability sample of 1,200 adults. It had a margin of error of plus-minus 3 percentage points.

Inflation during the survey rose to a 17-year-high of 12.2 percent. It has been at double-digits since June when it jumped to 11.4 percent.

For food items alone, inflation has been at double-digits since April (12 percent). It was 14.2 percent in May, 17.4 percent in June and 18.6 percent in July. Rice prices increased 50 percent in July and 43 percent in June, compared with a year ago.

“Even as reduced consumption has been the main strategy of about half of Filipino households in coping with high inflation, other households sought additional sources of income (19 percent), borrowed money (10 percent) or dipped into their savings (10 percent),” Pulse Asia said in a statement released Wednesday.

The high cost of living calls for prioritizing expenses, said Gerry Castillo, a barangay official in Las Piñas, told the Inquirer in an interview that the high cost of living called for prioritizing expenses.

“We only buy what is important,” Castillo said of his family. “We cut back on entertainment expenses, for example.”

Fe Marcelo, a 39-year-old mother in Cubao, Quezon City, said she found the times to hard for her family of three.

Aside from struggling to budget expenses to fit her family’s food needs, she could not “give as much” to her 15-year-old daughter as before.

“For example, this morning, I wanted to buy her some socks. I originally wanted to buy five, but because of budget constraints, I could only buy three,” she said. “I usually avoid buying wholesale. I could still use the money left to buy other important things.”

To determine which items households have consumed less of or spent less on over the past three months, the survey asked the question, “Which of the following have you consumed less or spent less on in the past three months?”

They were presented the following choices and were instructed to choose only a maximum of three: food, rice, other foods aside from rice, electricity, transportation/gasoline/diesel, LPG and cell phone load (for households with cell phones).

Households that cut back on food consumption and/or expenditures increased by 22 percentage points since March, from 44 percent to 66 percent. The cutback on consumption and spending was “more widespread” in areas outside Metro Manila and among the lower classes.

It was 75 percent in the Visayas, 70 percent in Luzon outside Metro Manila and 61 percent in Mindanao. It was 71 percent among class E and 66 percent in class D.

“Nevertheless, [Metro Manila] and class ABC households also feel the impact of double-digit inflation rates,” Pulse Asia noted. The percentage of households reducing food consumption in Metro Manila was 47 percent, while it was 48 percent among class ABC.

To determine the impact of high prices on households, the survey also asked the question, “What is the main effect of the price increases of commodities and services on your family?”

Respondents were given the following choices and were instructed to choose only one: We reduced our consumption of other products or services apart from food and education (26 percent); we reduced our food consumption (23 percent); we looked for an additional source of income (19 percent); we borrowed money to meet the family’s expenses (11 percent); our savings was reduced (10 percent); and we pawned or sold things to meet the family’s expenses (3 percent).

The survey also found some 530,000 households (3 percent) having one or more of their members going “without food for at least one whole day” during the month preceding the survey “primarily because the household had no money to buy food.”

Of those who said yes, 9 in every 10 (89 percent) said it was because “there was no money for buying food” -- the reason of 91 percent of respondents in both class D and class E.

First posted 21:46:10 (Mla time) August 06, 2008
Kate V. Pedroso
Philippine Daily Inquirer
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Youth seek 1M signatures for wage hike, vs oil deregulation

MANILA, Philippines -- A youth group launched on Thursday a campaign to gather 1 million signatures to press their demand for a legislated P125 across-the-board wage increase and repeal the Oil Deregulation Law.

The signature drive of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) is part of their “national campaign for social justice amidst poverty and crisis,” said the group’s chair, Biyaya Quizon.

The campaign was launched at Plaza Miranda in Manila, with SCMP members urging students, church goers, and pedestrians to sign the petition.

“Now more than ever, a wage increase is needed,” Quizon said. “We express our extreme disappointment with the statements of Malacañang that it cannot allow another wage increase this year while the people are suffering everyday from the crisis.”

She also said the government should scrap the Value Added Tax on oil if it really wants to help the poor.

“Junking the VAT law will relieve the poor [from] paying too much for every single commodity they buy. How dare the Arroyo [administration] boast of how the poor are provided the Katas ng [Benefits of] VAT [program] while it is the same tax that [is] squeezed out of their empty pockets,” Quizon said.

After gathering one million signatures, the petition will be forwarded to the House of Representatives and the Senate to “create pressure for the immediate passage of the P125 bill and the repeal of the VAT law,” Quizon said.

SCMP would also seek the help of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in gathering signatures in parishes.

First posted 13:55:34 (Mla time) August 07, 2008
Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
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Mike Defensor mining deals stink -- green group

MANILA, Philippines—An environmental group on Friday assailed the mining contracts bagged by two Philippine companies, headed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's former chief of staff Michael Defensor, and called for a congressional inquiry into these.

“The Defensor-Chinese mining deal stinks to high heavens,” Kalikasan-People's Network for the Environment national coordinator Clemente Bautista said in a statement.

“That Michael Defensor is getting a lot of favor from the Arroyo administration is revolting.”

Nihao Mineral Resources Int'l and Geograce Philippines, both chaired by Defensor, signed a memorandum of agreement with China's Jiangxi Rare Earth and Rare Metals Tungsten Group Co. to explore nickel and put up a $150-million nickel plant in Zambales.

The President, who flew to Beijing to attend the Olympics Games opening, witnessed the MOA signing.

Kalikasan said it was baffled how a small mining firm like Geograce could forge a multi-million-dollar deal with big firms.

It said that in the first quarter, Geograce incurred a net loss of P17.18 million due to exploration costs, professional fees, salaries and rent and utilities expenses, among others.

Geograce has a claim to 142,376 hectares of mineral lands, the group said.

``It is baffling how a small mining company and without track record in the mining industry like Geograce could get multimillion mining deals with big foreign mining companies and how these mining companies of Mike Defensor were given hundreds of thousands of hectares of mineral lands by the Arroyo government,” Bautista said.

The background and operation of Defensor's companies should be investigated by the Senate and the House of Representatives, he said.

``The presence of high government officials and their relatives in these mining transactions could be a sign that the Arroyo administration and its cronies are making profit out of the country's mineral resources without being mindful if these projects would be beneficial to community or not,” he said.

Under the MOA, the three companies would form a strategic partnership to jointly explore and develop the Zambales mining holdings covering a total of 35,496.6 hectares, which are directly or indirectly held by Nihao and Geograce.

The INQUIRER tried but failed to reach Director Horacio Ramos of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau for comment.

Bautista said that Defensor's closeness to the President could explain how ``his mediocre companies were very 'lucky' in getting several mining concessions and lucrative mining deals.”

In June this year, Defensor's companies obtained small-scale mining permits from the Zambales provincial government a month after the governor canceled all ``regulatory approvals,” he said, citing news reports.

Geograce also forged mining agreements with the Brazilian-owned Vale, Masbate 13 Philippines, Nickelodeon Mines and Ophiolite Mines.

``There is something wrong with the picture of GMA (Arroyo) overseeing an agreement between a once notorious DENR Secretary currently affiliated with a small mining company and a large mining company,” Bautista said.

``It seems that the present government is selling the country's patrimony to foreign companies but not without ensuring that local allies also get a huge share of the plunder," he added.

First posted 23:04:14 (Mla time) August 08, 2008
TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
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SC stops MOA signing

MANILA, Philippines -- The Supreme Court has stopped the signing of the memorandum of Agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front over ancestral domain and set the hearing on August 15, its spokesman said.

The high tribunal also ordered the executive to provide the court and the parties that petitioned concerned a copy of the MOA not later than August 8, said lawyer Midas Marquez, information chief of the Supreme Court, Monday.

“The court issued a TRO [temporary restraining order] restraining the respondents from signing the MOA,” Marquez told reporters, hours after the high tribunal met in an en banc session to deliberate on the petition filed by officials of North Cotabato who asked for a full disclosure of the contents of the MOA ahead of its signing.

The court also discussed the allegations of bribery at the Court of Appeals involving the settlement of the dispute between the Manila Electric Co. and the Government Service Insurance System.

Shortly after the high court started its session, government, through Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, sent its comment to the North Cotabato petition, Marquez said.

The government had tried to invoke executive privilege in its 26-page comment, saying while negotiations with the MILF did not involve any foreign power, there were military and national concerns that were raised.

“This being so, the entire process, the negotiations involving the said MOA and the drafts, documents thereof resulting from said negotiations is covered by the doctrine of executive privilege, which prevents the disclosure of information that could subvert military or diplomatic objectives,” the solicitor general said.

The government lawyers said while it recognizes the right of the petitioners to information, "they do not have an unfettered access to everything as these rights are subject to certain limitations."

"Notably, there are matters which, despite their being of public interest and concern, are considered privileged in nature," Devanadera said.

The high court also consolidated a petition filed Monday by officials of Zamboanga City with that filed by the North Cotabato executives

The petitioners from North Cotabato are Governor Jesus Sacdalan and Vice-Governor Emmanuel Piñol. Those from Zamboanga are city Mayor Celso Lobregat, and Representatives Isabelle Climaco and Erico Basilio Fabian.

The petitioners asked the high court to prevent the signing of the MoA until they are given copies of the documents.

First posted 17:51:03 (Mla time) August 04, 2008
Tetch Torres
INQUIRER.net

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Teachers’ group gives Arroyo failing mark

MANILA, Philippines -- For failing to tackle the worsening education crisis and their job concerns in her State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was given a failing grade by the country's public school teachers.

The President "has chosen to turn a blind eye to the worsening education crisis and a deaf ear to the teachers' clamor for better pay in the face of dire economic conditions," the militant Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said on Thursday.

"Mrs. Arroyo confirmed once again that the SONA is indeed the magic portal to an enchanted kingdom. Listening to (last Monday's) speech will leave you with the impression that it's all business as usual in the education sector," ACT chair Antonio Tinio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.

The President failed to mention "the huge decline in participation rates among school-age children," said Tinio, adding over three million children from six to 15 years old have been out of school.

Last week, the National Statistical Coordination Board said that one in six school-age children have been deprived of education and the number was rising steadily.

In a study, the NSCB also disclosed that the percentage of children enrolled in primary schools was down to 83 percent in the 2006-2007 school year from 90 percent five years earlier.

The numbers were even worse for secondary education at 59 percent, though they have been steady over five years, said the same study.

According to the NSCB, the number of Filipino children who did not have access to primary education worsened to 16.8 percent of the school-age population in the schoolyear ending 2007 from 15.6 percent the previous year because of the rising cost of living.

The NSCB said the failure of the country to send more of its school-age children to school kept it offtrack of the government's targets under the Millennium Development Goal that all Filipino kids would have access to basic education by 2015.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said they have been "squarely addressing the situation."

But Lapus also said that the latest Department of Education survey for school year 2007-2008 showed an improvement with a participation rate of 85 percent.

"This has, in fact, prodded us to intensify our Oplan Balik Eskwela (Operation Back to School) and Brigada Eskwela (School Brigade) program to encourage parents to send their kids to school at no cost...We've also asked local government units to come up with anti-truancy ordinance so parents will ensure their children's constant presence in school," he said.

Lapus expressed hope the DepEd "can count on the support of organizations such as ACT in educating the public on key education issues."

On Thursday, Tinio said Arroyo had yet to do anything to improve school participation rates beyond giving out a few scholarships.

He referred to "numerous flaws and limitations in the government's system of vouchers and subsidies, which Mrs. Arroyo mentioned in her speech."

"But they are only available for high school. There's no equivalent for elementary. They are also limited in scale," Tinio said.

The ACT leader said that while millions needed assistance, only about 200,000 students have been benefitting from aid.

"And lower middle class students of private high schools are the main beneficiaries, not the poor who are dropping out," Tinio pointed out, referring to the subsidies given to some students who enroll in private schools with low tuition rates to ease the pressure on public schools.

Tinio also scoffed at the President's "expression of caring for the plight of public school teachers in her SONA."

"If she truly cares, then why has she totally ignored our demand for a P9,000 increase that will give teachers decent salaries and restore the status of the teaching profession? It seems that she cares more for military and police personnel to whom her administration has granted substantial hikes in pay and benefits over the years," the ACT head added.

First posted 20:06:07 (Mla time) July 31, 2008
Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Protesters hold funeral march to Senate vs JPEPA

MANILA, Philippines -- Around a hundred members of environmentalist group marched on Monday from the Manila Film Center to the Senate in Pasay City to urge senators not to ratify the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

Clad in black to express their mourning, members of the EcoWaste Coalition, braved the rains, carrying a white casket as they walked, accompanied by a band playing a dirge.

"We'd like to remind senators that they are duty-bound to protect all aspects of Philippine life from unjust treaties like JPEPA. We should not allow Japan to take us by a noose like a cow thinking it is being prepared for slaughter," said Manny Calonzo, president of the group.

“The JPEPA is an unjust and immoral treaty that spells death of the Philippine’s environment and economy,” said lawyer Richard Gutierrez, executive director of the Ban Toxics group, which is affiliated with EcoWaste.

EcoWaste and other environmentalist fear the JPEPA will turn the country into a dumping ground of toxic industrial waste from Japan, despite assurances from the Senate that Japan has signed a “side agreement” that commits it to respecting the country’s environmental laws.

The leftist Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya, National Strength of the Fishers’ Movement in the Philippines), meanwhile, said the ratification of the JPEPA would kill the local tuna industry, on which 180,000 fishermen and their families depend.

The fisherfolk group said the trade pact would also turn the country into a “dumping site” of second-hand Japanese ships, like the ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars.

Gutierrez called on the Senate to the JPEPA treaty and renegotiate for better terms that would protect the country’s social rights and environment, stressing that they are not opposing economic trade with Japan, only “immoral and bad agreements” that pose a threat to the country.

“Japan will follow its self-interest regardless of a side-agreement,” Gutierrez said, adding that their group has received reports Japan has allegedly undertaken both legal and illegal trading of toxic chemicals with India, Thailand, and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Saying the government cannot even control garbage disposal in the country, Gutierrez said there is no guarantee Japan will not import toxic wastes once the JPEPA is ratified and in effect.

He said that over the past decades, the Philippines has welcomed Japanese waste products disguised as “surplus” or recyclable items, like television sets.

He also worried that the government may not be able to summon the political will to enforce environmental laws because of the “economic clout” wielded by Japan, the Philippines’ biggest trading partner.

Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia said the “majority of our senators have expressed that they have reservations about this treaty -- even they cannot deny that JPEPA is unjust, unconstitutional, and heavily biased towards Japan’s interests at the expense of Philippine sovereignty, economy, and environment.”

She added that the Senate ratification of the JPEPA, “with full knowledge of its terrible flaws,” would mean the death of the Philippines’ “dignity and aspirations as a nation.”

In a statement Monday, Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said: “With the increase in the supply of tuna produced by Japanese factory ships and their shipment to Japan and other countries, the local tuna producers and small tuna fishermen would be at their mercy by way of depressed prices.”

He said the local tuna industry generates some P18 billion.

As for used Japanese ships, Hicap said, “It is now a fact…as admitted by [the] owners of Sulpicio Lines, that [the] MV Princess of the Stars was acquired as a second-hand passenger and cargo ship for $5 million.”

The passenger ferry, with more than 800 passengers and crew, capsized and sank off Romblon province after sailing into the path of typhoon Frank (international codename: Fengshen) on June 21.

Hicap blamed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for failing to address what he called the proliferation of second-hand Japanese vessels sold to local businessmen.

First posted 14:06:49 (Mla time) August 04, 2008
Abigail Kwok Katherine Evangelista
INQUIRER.net

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Majority of Filipinos believe economy ‘worse now’--poll

MANILA, Philippines -- Even as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo continuously harps about a robust economy, 86 percent of Filipinos believe that the economy is "worse now" than in 2005, while 75 percent say their personal quality of life worsened over a one-year period, amid skyrocketing oil prices and record inflation, an independent survey showed.

Pulse Asia Inc. asked 1,200 respondents nationwide to describe the state of the economy now, compared to how it was in 2005, and 86 percent said it was "worse now," 10 percent said it was the "same" while four percent said it was "better now."

In its March survey, 66 percent said the economy was "worse now" compared to three years ago, 23 percent said it was the "same," while 11 percent said it was "better now."

"Despite claims of economic growth by the national administration, 86% of Filipinos say the national economy has worsened in the last three years -- a view articulated by big to overwhelming majorities (76% to 93%) across all geographic areas and socio-economic classes," Pulse
Asia said.

The study, conducted from July 1 to 14, showed that 75 percent of Filipinos think their personal quality of life grew "worse" compared to last year, while 84 percent said the national quality of life has worsened.

The figures showed an increase from the 59 percent who saw their personal quality of life, and the 71 percent who saw the national quality of life grow "worse" over a one-year-period during the last survey in March, Pulse Asia said.

Moreover, Filipinos were growing "pessimistic" with 64 percent, saying that they expect their personal quality of life to be "worse" next year, and 79 percent saying that they see the national quality of life worsening next year, it said.

The figures also showed an increase in pessimism from the March Pulse Asia survey, wherein 37 percent said they expected their personal quality of life to grow worse, and 52 percent said they expected the national quality of life to worsen.

The survey firm polled 1,200 respondents nationwide for the study, which has a margin of error of +/3 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.

Asked to describe their personal quality of life, compared to the same period last year, 75 percent said they were "worse now," 17 percent said they were "same as then," while only seven percent said they were "better now," Pulse Asia said.

Asked how they viewed the national quality of life compared to last year, 84 percent said the nation was "worse now," 12 percent said it was "same as then," while three percent said it was "better now," it said.

Pulse Asia said there was "hardly any movement" in the percentage of respondents who considered their personal and national quality of life as "better now" than last year.

Figures showed that the percentage of respondents who considered the quality of life as "same as then," decreased, as the number of those who saw the quality of life grow "worse" increased.

From 31 percent in March, 17 percent said their personal quality of life was "same as then" over a one-year period in July, and from 23 percent in March, 12 percent said the national quality of life was "same as then" in July.

First posted 14:17:45 (Mla time) July 30, 2008
Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net

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Filipino scientists, activists want IRRI out

MANILA, Philippines—Several groups of Filipino scientists and farmers Thursday slammed the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), as it is doing "nothing good for Filipino farmers and Philippine agriculture."

"There is no need for the IRRI to exist in the Philippines," said the groups Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (Agham, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) and Resist Agrochem TNCs (Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs).

IRRI is the oldest and largest international agricultural research institute in Asia, established to develop improved rice varieties and farming techniques.

"[IRRI] continues to be the No. 1 perpetrator of anti-farmer rice research in Asia. Science and technology should be reoriented to cater to the genuine needs of the farmers and the people," said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) chair and Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano.

The groups noted that IRRI, after the Green Revolution in the ’70s and its introduction of the high yielding varieties, nearly wiped out the country's traditional varieties.

Currently, they added, IRRI director general Robert Zeigler is calling for another green revolution, increased investments in rice research, delivery of best technology to farmers and productive pro-poor public and private sector partnerships.

Zeigler had said these were needed in response to the rice shortage in the country, which was a result of a convergence of events such as rapid population and economic growth in Asia, decrease in farm lands and decrease in water supply.

However, the group Resist Network stressed that the country could only attain true food security and self sufficiency that would genuinely boost Philippine agriculture and productivity through the firm cooperation of farmers, scientists and other groups.

According to Agham president Giovanni Tapang, Filipino scientists are "more than wiling to help in the development of Philippine agriculture that serves Filipino farmers and pro-Filipino interests."

Scientists affiliated with Agham and the Resist Network had thus given their support for the passage of House Bill No. 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) and HB No. 3058 or the Rice Industry Development Act (Rida).

Both house bills are sponsored by militant partly-list representatives from Anakpawis, Bayan Muna and Gabriela.

Tapang had stressed that "the GARB is the true solution to the age-old problem of landlessness and feudal exploitation in the country, as well as to the exacerbating food crisis which brings further suffering to the hungry and impoverished Filipinos."

Bantay Bigas convener Antonio Flores said the Rida will "pave the way for the development and protection of our rice industry into a self-reliant and sustainable economic element of our national development and bring the country away from import-dependency and food insecurity."

"To resolve the present rice crisis and prevent another one, there is no other alternative but to push for genuine land reform," Flores added.

First posted 18:55:53 (Mla time) July 24, 2008
Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Distrust hounds Arroyo on eve of SONA--Pulse Asia survey

MANILA, Philippines--President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will deliver her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday with around one in two Filipinos critical of her performance and distrusting her, according to an independent survey.

The Pulse Asia Inc. study, conducted from July 1 to 14, showed that 48 percent "disapprove" of her performance, while 53 percent had "small or no trust" in her.

The figures "do not differ significantly" from the 51-percent disapproval rating and the 57-percent distrust rating that the President scored in its March 2008 surey, Pulse Asia said.

Moreover, 35 percent said the pro-poor programs was part of "politicking" for the 2010 elections, it said.

The survey firm polled 1,200 respondents nationwide. At around that time, the administration announced subsidies for the poor which were sourced from Value Added Tax (VAT) revenues, continued to offer cheap rice from the National Food Authority (NFA), and pushed for lower electricity rates.

Asked to rate the President's performance, 48 percent said they disapproved, 22 percent approved, while 30 percent were undecided, Pulse Asia said.

Disapproval was highest in Mindanao (62 percent), followed by Metro Manila (50 percent), Luzon (48 percent), and the Visayas (31 percent). The President registered the highest approval rating in the Visayas (35 percent), it said.

Asked if they trusted the President, 53 percent said they had "small or no trust" in her, 19 percent said they had big trust, while 28 percent were undecided. Distrust was highest in Mindanao (64 percent), followed by Metro Manila (56 percent), Luzon (53 percent), and the Visayas (37 percent). Her trust rating was highest in the Visayas (32 percent) it said.

"Disapproval for presidential performance and distrust in President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo remain the predominant public sentiment with almost one out of every two Filipinos (48%) being critical of President Arroyo's performance and a small majority (53%) distrusting her," Pulse Asia said in a statement.

While the over-all figures were "essentially unchanged," Pulse Asia noted "marked movements" in the President's performance and trust ratings across geographical regions and economic classes.

In Metro Manila, the President's approval and trust ratings rose back to levels in October 2007, before the corruption controversy over the botched ZTE-NBN deal broke last January, Pulse Asia said.

Twenty percent of respondents in the capital said they approved of the President's performance, up from 11 percent in March 2008, and close to the 21-percent approval rating in October, it said.

Another 17 percent said they trusted the President, up from six percent in March 2008, and close to the 18-percent trust rating in October, it said.

Arroyo's disapproval rating in the ABC income brackets improved by 16 percentage points to 45 percent in July, from 61 percent in March. Her distrust rating also improved by 16 percentage points, to 49 percent from 65 percent during the same period, it said.

Asked which pro-poor program of the government they have availed of, 49 percent said NFA rice, 43 percent said they did not receive any, nine percent said they received the P500 one-time power bill subsidy, six percent said they benefited from the food for school program, two percent said they received the P1,500 fertilizer subsidy for farmers.

Asked why they thought administration was helping the poor, 35 percent said this was part of "politicking" for the 2010 elections, 30 percent said it was part of government's responsibility, 24 percent said the government wanted to help the poor in difficult times, 10 percent said the government was preventing "possible conflict" that could arise from poverty.

The survey had an error margin of plus or minus three percent.

First posted 12:19:53 (Mla time) July 27, 2008
Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net

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Opposition on real state of the nation: ‘RP a sinking ship’

 

MANILA, Philippines - A sinking ship and a captain who is robbing passengers on board - this was how various groups described the "real" state of the nation Wednesday, as it urged Filipinos to join protests during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28.

In a joint statement posted on the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) website, prominent opposition leaders criticized the administration's economic policies, including its insistence on imposing the value added tax on oil which displays the government's "insensitivity towards the plight of the people."

The group also scored the government's recent subsidy spree, saying these are "nothing more than dole-outs aimed at quelling unrest."

"For the people ... we hold a completely different version of the SONA. The real state of the nation is that of grinding poverty and hunger, repression and widespread human rights violation, massive unemployment and sky-rocketing cost of living. The real state of the nation is that of a sinking ship, whose captain robs then abandons all those on board," opposition figures said.

"Mrs. Arroyo is responsible for some of the worst economic policies that have wrought ruin on the people. Her insistence on imposing the Value Added Tax on oil smacks of gross insensitivity towards the plight of the people. Her so-called targeted subsidies are nothing more than dole-outs aimed at quelling unrest. So far Mrs. Arroyo has refused to take any responsibility for the mess her administration has created," the group added.

The group noted that President Arroyo will deliver her SONA on July 28 amid high prices of food, fuel and other basic commodities, and persistent allegations of corruption.

Also, they claimed the administration battle cry "Ramdam ang Kaunlaran (Progress is Felt)" has fallen flat on its face. Even the rallying call "Labanan and Kahirapan (Fight Poverty)" has also been discredited as nothing more than political gimmickry, they added.

"This year's SONA by Mrs. Arroyo will not bring any hope for the people. As in previous SONAs, this year's speech will be marked by motherhood statements and a firm denial of the gravity of the crisis under her watch," the group said.

Among those who signed the statement were former vice president Teofisto Guingona Jr., United Opposition spokesman Adel Tamano, and national artist Bienvenido Lumbrera, Maita Gomez, Fr. Rex Reyes of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, Fr. Jose Dizon of Solidarity Philippines, Fr. Rudy Abao, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, and professors Fidel Nemenzo and Connie Paz.

Other signatories include Renato Constantino, former transportation undersecretary and Concerned Citizens Movement head Josefina Lichauco, lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic of the Union of Muslims for Morality and Truth, Gat Inciong of the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties.

Also: Virgilio Eustaquio of the Kilusang EDSA Tres; actor Rez Cortez, party list representatives Satur Ocampo, Rafael Mariano and Liza Maza; Ferdinand Gaite of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Workers (Courage); professors Roland Tolentino (UP Aware), Danton Remoto (Ateneo de Manila University), and Maria Lourdes Agustin (White Ribbon Movement).

GMANews.TV

07/23/2008 | 01:54 PM

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Arroyo son hit for inaction on bill vs oil deregulation law

MANILA, Philippines -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s son, Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo, is being criticized for allegedly sitting down on the proposed measure to scrap the oil deregulation law.

Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano said the younger Arroyo has not acted on House Bill 1724 since he assumed chairmanship of the committee on energy.

“It’s been a year since the President’s son took over the helm of the committee on energy and House Bill 1724 has not even touched first base. Not even including it in the committee’s agenda,” Mariano said in a statement on Tuesday.

The lawmaker insisted that regulating the oil industry once again was “an absolute necessity to immediately arrest the overpricing of oil monopolies which is bleeding dry all sectors of society.”

He cited figures from the independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, which showed that since the start of deregulation in 1996, pump prices of unleaded gas have increased by 492 percent while prices of diesel by 607 percent.

In the year 2007 alone, Ibon said, Pilipinas Shell recorded profits of P4.12 billion, P2.75 billion for Chevron Philippines (formerly Caltex) , and P5.95 billion for Petron, which is co-owned by Saudi Aramco.

“This clearly shows that despite claims by the ‘Big Three’ of so-called under recoveries, they are raking in billions of super-profits,” Mariano said.

But Mariano said that the so-called “Big Three” has desperately tried to justify their “overpricing and price manipulation” under the guise of under recoveries and increased speculation.

Mariano then called on the people to intensify protest actions against the unabated rise in oil prices.

First posted 15:22:18 (Mla time) July 22, 2008
Maila Ager

INQUIRER.net

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Militants launch ‘awareness campaign’ for drivers

MANILA, Philippines -- An "awareness campaign" for public and private transport drivers on the issue of oil price increases was staged by a militant labor group Friday.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May 1st Movement) distributed stickers bearing the words, "No to VAT" along España Avenue.

Nita Gonzaga, KMU vice president for women's affairs, said since they could not force President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down, they would just "educate" the people instead.

"Ito ay isang awareness campaign para sa mga driver na hindi maganda ang nagiging resulta ng pagtaas ng gasoline [This is an awareness campaign for the drivers on the ill effects of the rising prices of gasoline]," she said.

Gonzaga added that today's protest was the start of weekly protests against VAT on oil and the need to implement the P125 across the board wage increase.

"Magkakabit kasi ang dalawang iyon. Dinadagdagan nila ang pasahe pero ang sahod namin ganoon pa rin [The two are connected. They implemented a fare increase but our wages are still the same]," she said.

The group was also not in favor of the recent fare increase, saying the workers were most affected by it.

"Nag-trickle down kasi yan sa mga manggagawa eh [That trickled down to the workers]," Gonzaga said.

The group also scoffed at the P4 billion subsidy for the poor that the President would provide, saying Arroyo was using the "blood and sweat" of workers to boost her image.

"Itong mga doleouts na ito ay hindi talaga paglilingkod sa mamamayan [These doleouts are not really service to the people]," Gonzaga said.

First posted 11:40:15 (Mla time) July 17, 2008
Abigail Kwok

INQUIRER.net

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Low education budget blamed for high drop-out rate

MANILA, Philippines -- A youth activist group blamed dropping enrollment rates on what it called the “ridiculously” education low budget, saying the government should increase the allocation to prevent school officials from charging “unnecessary fees.”

In a statement on Tuesday, League of Filipino Students (LFS) national president Vencer Crisostomo said the government’s spending for education has been “consistently on the drop…the reason why various fees are being collected in schools despite the government policy prohibiting such.”

The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) said on Monday that one in six school-age children are deprived of education while the enrollment rate went down to 83 percent in the 2006-2007school year.

Crisostomo said the P138-billion education budget would only be good for P12 a day for every student.

The LFS president also said the budget for education has dropped from 17.4 percent in 2001 to only 12 percent in 2008.

“The Arroyo government has been ignoring the education sector since it came to power in 2001. It is no surprise that many students who are now feeling the brunt are joining protests and walking out from their classes against this government,” said Crisostomo.

The group is expected to hold a nationwide campus walk-out on Friday, July 18, which will be participated by out-of-school youths.

First posted 16:52:57 (Mla time) July 15, 2008
Abigail Kwok

INQUIRER.net

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Peace Advocates Brand Esperon’s Appointment as Peace Czar ‘Ironic, Tragic, and Outrageous’

Senators, human rights, and peace advocates questioned the appointment of former AFP chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon as Peace Adviser. Inpeace Mindanao called it “ironic, tragic, and outrageous.”

Opposition senators, human rights and peace advocates raised a chorus of protest and painted a bleak future of the peace process with the appointment of former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon as the new Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Esperon retired from the AFP on May 9 – three months after reaching the age of 56, the mandatory retirement age from military service. (He was to retire on Feb. 9, but the Arroyo administration extended his term for another three months.)

After his retirement, the Arroyo administration wasted no time in appointing him to the top post at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). He replaces Jesus Dureza, a former journalist, who was reappointed as Press Secretary.

Esperon has been criticized, notably by Caloocan City Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, for his “anti-peace image.”

His appointment to the OPAPP comes on the heels of the informal talks held by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on May 13-15 in Oslo.

According to NDFP Negotiating Panel chairman Luis Jalandoni, the purpose of the meeting in Oslo was “(to find) ways of resuming the formal meetings of the negotiating panels in GRP-NDFP peace negotiations in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration.” In that meeting, the NDFP presented 13 impediments to the resumption of the peace negotiations, among them the “terrorist” listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison; the illegal “suspension” of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG); Oplan Bantay Laya I and II and the consequent gross and systematic violations of human rights; the persecution, murder, arrest and enforced disappearance of NDFP consultants; the demand for capitulation of the NDFP to the GRP in the guise of prolonged ceasefire before addressing the fundamental problems of Philippine society and the roots of the armed conflict; and the failure to indemnify the victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime.

Esperon’s appointment to the OPAPP also comes shortly after Malaysia, which facilitates the peace negotiations between the GRP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), pulled out its delegates from the International Monitoring Team (IMT) which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of agreements in relation to the talks, as well as the implementation of development projects in the areas of conflict.

Malaysian facilitator Othman Abdul Razak was reported as having issued a statement on May 3 blaming the GRP for the continuing impasse in its peace negotiations with the MILF.

The GRP-MILF peace talks hit a snag in December last year, after the GRP panel insisted that the MILF’s ancestral land claim be subjected to “constitutional processes.”

The MILF has criticized Esperon’s appointment to the OPAPP as “an indication of the growing militarization of the Arroyo administration, including the peace process.”

“Military men are trained to fight, not to negotiate,” said Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF Negotiating Panel.

A military officer through and through

Esperon entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1970, shortly after graduating as class valedictorian from the Philippine Science High School (PSHS). He graduated from the PMA in 1974.

He began his military career as a platoon leader in Basilan, and later headed several Army units as company commander, battalion commander, and brigade commander in various areas in Mindanao.

He also served in the Presidential Security Command (PSC), the forerunner of today’s Presidential Security Group (PSG), during the Marcos dictatorship. He was appointed as Philippine military attache to Chicago, Illinois from 1982 to 1986.

After the People Power I uprising of 1986, Esperon returned to the Philippines and immediately reported to Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, who was then AFP chief of staff. He was assigned to Camp Servillano Aquino in Tarlac, where he worked as an intelligence officer.

Esperon was already a lieutenant colonel when he was taken out of his post as area command staff for intelligence at the AFP’s Southern Command (Southcom) and called to palace duty in 1996. He was assigned as deputy commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) from 1996 to 1998, under then President Fidel V. Ramos.

He went back to combat duty in Mindanao after his stint at the PSG. In 2000, during the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” against the MILF, Esperon commanded the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade.

The “all-out war" between government forces and the MILF in March 2000 was sparked by a ferry bombing, which the Estrada government blamed on the MILF – an accusation the group denied. Government troops used the bombing as pretext to break into and overrun MILF areas. The “all-out war" led to the loss of thousands of lives and the displacement of as many as half a million civilians.

In 2002, Esperon was called back to Palace duty to serve as PSG commander, under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. As PSG commander, Esperon implemented a policy of “use of extreme force” in preventing demonstrators from getting near Malacañang. This period saw the start of violent dispersals of protest actions at the foot of the Chino Roces Bridge, a few meters away from the presidential palace, under the Arroyo regime.

In the May 2004 presidential elections, Esperon served as deputy commander of Task Force HOPE (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections).

In mid-2005, his name would figure twice in the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes.

The “Hello Garci” tapes were a series of wiretapped and recorded conversations in which a voice similar to Arroyo’s is heard instructing an election official – widely believed to be former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano – to rig the presidential polls. There is a specific instruction that a victory of “more than 1 M” be ensured for the woman.

Both Arroyo and Garcillano were forced to admit that they talked to each other during the counting period following the 2004 polls. They have however denied rigging the said elections.

In August 2005, Esperon was appointed as Army chief. In July the following year, he was appointed as AFP chief of staff.

His stint as AFP chief of staff saw the escalation of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of activists and other government critics.

UN (United Nations) Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston went on a mission to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines late last year, and came up with a report specifically pointing to the military’s involvement in these. “In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organizations,” Alston, who is also a professor at New York University (NYU), said.

“His record as AFP Chief of Staff shows nothing that qualifies him as peace adviser, aside from the imprudent idea that a freshly-retired general, not a civilian, is tasked to address the complexities of the country's continuing civil war,” said Beverly Musni , a lawyer and convenor of Inpeace Mindanao, an organization of peace advocates.

“What advise would Esperon give to Ms. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in addressing the issue of peace?”

Ironic, tragic, and outrageous

Inpeace Mindanao, in a press statement, called Esperon’s appointment as “ironic, tragic, and outrageous.”

“Ironic because in the effort to address the issue of armed conflict raging in Mindanao between the GRP and the revolutionary forces of the MILF and the NDF, principled dialogue and sincerity is the key. But with General Esperon, comes a war hawk who is hell-bent to quash the armed conflict rather than talk peace.”

“Esperon’s appointment also becomes tragic. The people remember it was Esperon who vowed to crush the insurgency by 2010. It was Esperon who, a few months ago when his term was extended as Chief of Staff, said the months ahead would be bloody. As a military man he has relentlessly pursued war as a solution to the country’s armed conflict without making himself accountable for the devastation wrought by military operations and all-out wars on civilians. Esperon is no student of history to believe that the military solution cannot root out a political movement that is bred by decades of poverty and injustice in just three years.”

“Finally, Esperon's appointment is so contemptible it insults the common sense. What credibility, for example, does the ‘Hello Garci’ general have in talking about the substantive agenda in the peace process such as socio-political, economic, and electoral reforms?”

“By surrounding itself with loyal hawks like General Esperon, the Arroyo administration shows no hope and sincerity to seriously talk peace. What Arroyo gives with her left hand, she takes back with her right: while informal talks with the NDFP were opened in Norway at the start of last week, Esperon was appointed peace adviser at the end of the week.”

“Of course, we could all be wrong, if the peace Arroyo and Esperon mean is the silence of the graveyard.”

Seeing no hope in the peace process with Esperon’s appointment, Inpeace challenged peace advocates to work with the marginalized and oppressed and to “unite and confront the barriers to peace, starting with rejecting a general's appointment as government's peace czar.” Bulatlat

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 16, May 25-31, 2008

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Break silence on NBN scandal, House leader tells De Venecia

MANILA, Philippines -- Calls for former Speaker Jose de Venecia to break his silence about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s meeting with officials of a Chinese telecommunications firm linked to an allegedly anomalous transaction gained ground Monday when an opposition leader at the House of Representatives joined the bandwagon.

“If he [De Venecia] has something to say, he should say it. If he has anything to add to the story, then he should come out,” House Minority Floor Leader Ronaldo Zamora said over the phone on Monday.

“When he was kicked out, he delivered a speech that in the next few weeks, he was going to come out, that there will be more stories. I think a lot of us are waiting for that to develop,” he said.

Zamora believes the former Speaker knows a lot more than what he has been saying in the media, and more than what the new witness supposedly knows in Arroyo’s reported November 2 meeting with executives of the ZTE Corp. in China.

ZTE bagged the $329 million national broadband network agreement over allegations of bribery and corruption, which the firm’s officials have denied.

But Zamora was quick to clarify though that any talk of impeachment at this point was premature, pointing out that the one-year prohibition for filing another case against the President has yet to expire in October.

“The period for impeachment will begin in October so mahirap pag-usapan yan [it’s difficult to talk about it],” he said.

“While impeachment is a sole method you can render the President and similar official accountable, anong pwede nating gawin [what can we do]? We just have to wait,” Zamora said.

“Obviously, a lot of people are very skeptical on the explanation being given by the Palace that it was just a social meeting. Give me a break, sino bang maniniwala [who believes that]?” he further said.

Zamora was convinced that Malacañang was hiding something in that meeting and that De Venecia’s role was important.

“I think former Speaker De Venecia can help in filling up the blanks,” he said. “We need enough people who will speak out which is why the role of De Venecia is important.”

First posted 12:46:38 (Mla time) May 19, 2008
Maila Ager

INQUIRER.net

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7.1 million families rate themselves food-poor -- SWS

MANILA, Philippines -- The number of Filipino families that consider themselves food-poor rose by one million, from 6.1 million families in December 2007 to 7.1 million last March, a Social Weather Stations survey for the first quarter of 2008 showed.

The latest figure is equivalent to 40 percent of Filipino households, up from the previous quarter's 34 percent. Self-rated food poverty, however, "has been on a general downward trend since June 2006," SWS said.

SWS on March 28-31 asked 1,200 household heads all over the country to rate their families as poor, not poor or somewhere in between based on the type of food they ate. The sampling error margin was plus or minus three percentage points.

While 40 percent considered themselves food-poor, 32 percent said they were not, and 29 percent put themselves on the food borderline.

Self-rated food poverty went up in Mindanao (from 39 percent in December to 50 percent), Metro Manila (from 28 to 35 percent) and the rest of Luzon (from 35 to 39 percent), but remained at 32 percent in the Visayas.

Meanwhile, self-rated food poverty thresholds -- the monthly amount that poor households say they need to consider themselves not food-poor -- failed to rise in all areas despite inflation.

"[This] is a sign the poor are actually lowering their real living standards," SWS said.

The March 2008 median thresholds were P3,000 in Mindanao, P3,500 in the rest of Luzon, P4,000 in the Visayas and P5,000 in Metro Manila. According to SWS, "these levels had already been reached and surpassed several years ago."

Metro Manila had a threshold of P6,000 in December 2000, the base year of the consumer price index. In March 2008 cost of food terms, this was equivalent to P8,400, which means the extent of belt-tightening in Metro Manila amounted to P2,400.

In the same survey, SWS found that 26.3 percent of households that considered themselves food-poor experienced hunger between January and March 2008.

Meanwhile, 10.2 percent of the not food-poor families and 7.2 percent of those on the food borderline went hungry in the first quarter.

More families among the food-poor experienced severe and moderate hunger (5.8 percent and 20.4 percent, respectively) compared to those among the not food-poor (1.9 percent and 8.2 percent) and those on the food borderline (0.9 percent and 6.2 percent).

The household heads' ratings of their general poverty were also consistent with their experience of involuntary hunger.

According to SWS, 50 percent of Filipino families said they were generally poor, 26 percent said they were not, and 24 percent put themselves on the borderline.

Among poor families, 22.6 percent experienced hunger between January and March 2008. Hunger was not as prevalent among the not poor (12.1 percent) and borderline families (5.2 percent).

First posted 19:23:12 (Mla time) May 19, 2008
Cyril Bonabente

Philippine Daily Inquirer

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High food prices may force RP ration cut--UN agency

 

MANILA, Philippines -- A UN agency may be forced to cut rations feeding more than a million people in the troubled southern Philippines because of soaring world food prices, it warned Tuesday.

 

The World Food Program has just 4,000 tonnes of rice left in its warehouse in conflict-hit Mindanao, a supply which will only last about two months, said Alghassim Wurie, the agency's deputy country director.

 

If the WFP fails to get more funds it may be forced to "cut rations and the most affected would be women and children," Wurie said.

 

"We are appealing for the donor community, the governments and the private sector companies to help us raise enough money to enable us to deliver support," Wurie told AFP.

 

He said the World Food Program (WFP) will need $500 million in extra worldwide funds this year due to rising food prices, with $19 million needed in immediate "operational funding" for Mindanao.

 

The WFP fed some 1.6 million people in Mindanao last year, most of them women and children in five central Mindanao provinces wracked by a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency.

 

WFP runs a novel food-for-education program in Mindanao, where children are enticed to return to schools in exchange for rice rations to their families, and also helps feed families displaced by the insurgency.

 

First posted 10:40:45 (Mla time) April 15, 2008
Agence France-Presse

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Groups, employees to picket for P125 wage hike

 

MANILA, Philippines - Demonstrations by militant organizations demanding for a P125 wage hike and the removal of value-added tax from petroleum products will greet Congress when it resumes session Monday.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) will lead the picket at the Lower House in Quezon City.

"On April 21, we will rattle Congress to act and immediately pass into law the bills for P125 wage hike and P3,000 increase for government employees. They will also be called upon to enact the bill for the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law that spurred the unending oil price increases," KMU secretary general Wilson Baldonaza said.

He said they will push for the passage of the P125 wage hike for all workers in the private sector and P3,000 for government employees.

Baldonaza said this is aside from the KMU's challenge to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to prioritize pending House bills for a P125 wage hike and the removal of VAT on fuel products.

Citing the reported food crisis looming ahead, KMU chairman Elmer Labog said there is now basis for a wage hike.

"Sa pagbubukas ng Kongreso ang tindig namin i-certify as urgent ito (When Congress opens we will insist that the P125 wage hike bill be prioritized)," he said in an interview on dzRH radio.

The wage hike and lower prices resulting from the lifting of VAT on fuel products will keep the Philippines from going the way of riot-torn Haiti in the face of a food crisis, he said.

"President Arroyo should not wait for the Filipinos to run riot just because they can no longer afford to buy even the cheaper National Food Authority rice, noodles and sardines. She should compel the Congress to prioritize House Bill 1722 or the proposal for P125 wage hike for the workers. If (she) has political will she must also remove the VAT on petroleum products because this will reduce, even minimal, the spiraling daily cost of living of the Filipino family," Baldonaza said.

He said the P125 wage hike bill, once passed into law, would provide immediate economic relief, even if temporary, against rising prices of basic commodities.

On the other hand, he said lifting VAT from petroleum products will have several benefits for the masses.

These include some P59 in savings for all users of 11-kg liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and will benefit 5.9 million households or up to 51.7 million people.

Also, this would mean an added income of P123 per working day that would benefit 426,572 jeepney drivers; or added income of P19 per day for 581,578 tricycle drivers.

 

GMANews.TV

04/20/2008 | 08:21 AM

High rice prices to last for some time -- experts

 

MANILA, Philippines -- Rice prices are likely to keep rising for some time as production of the staple fails to keep up with soaring demand, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said Friday.

 

The Philippines-based institute earlier warned of potential civil unrest as governments struggle to provide cheap rice amid a sustained rise in prices over the past two years to near-record levels.

 

"Longer term demand-supply imbalance is clearly indicated by depletion of stock that has been going on for years,” the latest edition of the IRRI publication Rice Today quoted IRRI economist Sushil Pandey as saying.

 

"We have been consuming more than what we have been producing and research to increase rice productivity is needed to address this imbalance," Pandey added.

Just 7.0 percent of the annual global production of the grain, a staple food of more than three billion people mostly living in the developing world, is traded in the international market.

 

This was because rice was seen as a political commodity and governments strive to maintain large stocks to guard against large price swings, IRRI said.

 

The institute said it had convened a group of experts to draw up a list of what could be done to solve the crisis and they agreed that raising yields was the only long-term solution.

 

IRRI said the crisis was affecting both the urban poor as well as rice farmers who farm small plots that cannot produce enough even for their own family's use.

 

"Although the current rising rice price was seen as beneficial for farmers who grow a reasonable surplus that they can sell on the market, poor farmers with small or no surplus and poor urban consumers will continue to lose out if the price continues to rise," it said.

 

Philippine Rice Research Institute head Leo Sebastian urged governments to increase investment in agricultural research.

 

"(The) impact of technologies is a driver of increased rice production, whether a country exports or imports," he said.

 

"But everybody is saying that investment in agricultural research is small or limited -- and something needs to be done about this."

 

First posted 12:26:43 (Mla time) April 11, 2008
Agence France-Presse

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'Corruptionary' - a dictionary of corruption-related terms in the Philippines

MANILA: Rampant corruption is a major problem in the Philippines. So one group has come up with a unique dictionary called ‘Corruptionary’ to help people make sense of the language of corruption in the country.

Volunteer students and researchers from the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, interviewed various government agencies, businessmen, media personalities, as well as victims of corruption.

And after two years of conducting these interviews, they were able to put together about 400 corruption-related terms and jargons.

Bobby Tuazon, Director, Center for People Empowerment in Governance, said: "It is sad that we are coming out with this book but we realise how deep really corruption is. There's a glaring subculture of corruption hidden by people who cover it. If we want to solve the problem, we need to realise the depth and magnitude of how serious it is."

In a recent regional poll conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, the Philippines was perceived by foreign businessmen to be Asia's most corrupt.

The people behind ‘Corruptionary’ hope that by exposing the terminologies used by corruptors, it would be easier to expose corruption in the country. They believe that corruption robs not only public money but also whatever hopes Filipinos may have for a better future.

More than a just a specialised dictionary, ‘Corruptionary’ serves as an academic textbook for young Filipinos.

Mr Tuazon continued: "It is an educational tool for them to become more aware of how corruption has become systemic in the Philippines. (It’s) not just a glossary. In educating the children on the prevalence of corruption, the youth can play their part in combating this menace of corruption."

'Corruptionary' is being sold for US$6. An English version of the book is also in the works. - CNA/vm

 

By Channel NewsAsia's Christine Ong 

Posted: 11 April 2008 2053 hrs

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CPBO: RP should be less dependent on remittances

 

MANILA, Philippines—The government was urged to make the economy less dependent on foreign exchange remittances from overseas Filipino workers to sustain decent growth.

 

The call was made by the Congressional Planning and Budget Office (CPBO), the economic research office of the House of Representatives, in view of the strengthening of the peso.

 

In its study entitled “Weighing the Impact of the Peso Appreciation,” the CPBO noted that billions of pesos worth of remittances were lost due to the rise of the peso from January to December 2007 alone.

 

Remittances sent by OFWs to their families helped spur consumer spending and economic growth.

 

Citing figures as of 2006, the study said the 8.23 million OFWs were estimated to be supporting 40 million Filipinos, almost half of the country’s population.

 

The beneficiaries were estimated to have received about P8.6 billion less in remittances in December from what they got in January last year because of the appreciation of the peso over the 12-month period from 48.9 to $1 to only 41.7.

 

CPBO said OFW income would continue to shrink in peso terms, as the local currency was expected to reach as high as 39 to a dollar this year.

Given this projection, the economy should have more diversified sources of growth, it said.

 

“While OFWs have significant contributions to the economy, the government should not become overdependent on their remittances to boost growth,” CPBO said.

 

Although economic managers take pride in the Philippines’ accelerating economic growth, the fact that the number of OFWs continue to increase was proof that many Filipinos do not earn enough in their own country, the CPBO said.

 

It added that the government should set a long-term goal of improving the economy in such a way that employment would be sufficient for its citizens.

The think tank said that remittances from OFWs had been significant contributors to the economy, accounting for about 8.4 percent of the gross national product. Consumption, which is boosted by remittances, accounts for three-fourths of the GDP.

 

In the meantime, CPBO also urged the government and the private sector to take advantage of the rising peso. It said that while the peso had adverse effects on income of OFWs and exporters, there were ways to benefit from it.

The government is urged to prepay more dollar-denominated debts, whose peso amount shrinks with the rising value of the local currency.

 

Private companies, especially those using imported equipment, should pursue their plans to purchase such goods when the peso is strong to save on cost.

 

First posted 22:26:09 (Mla time) April 06, 2008
Michelle Remo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Palawan town to stop issuing permits for open-pit mines

 

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines -- At least 37 pending mining applications, mostly on nickel, were stopped on their tracks Monday after the local government unit of Quezon, the municipality known as the hot spot of mining projects in southern Palawan, declared it had enough with open-pit nickel mining.

"We will no longer entertain any new applications and we will not endorse any of the pending ones," Quezon town Mayor Ronilo B. Caputilla told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.

 

Quezon hosts the south's second largest mining project, the Berong Nickel Corp. (BNC) project.

 

Records obtained from government agencies show that the municipality has the highest number of mining applications in the nickel-rich southern Palawan.

Asked what prompted the local government to take the same stand earlier made by the city government of Puerto Princesa, Caputilla said they were worried about the potential damage to the environment.

 

"With Berong (Nickel Corp.) alone, we have received too many complaints from local residents about the siltation of the river and the shorelines. We dread to see what happens if we allow more of these kinds of project," he said.

Caputilla added that the municipality was prioritizing its program to boost local coconut production.

 

"Our main program is about encouraging the planting of more coconuts as this will benefit more farmers and their families. With mining, only a few people benefit," he said.

 

Asked to comment on BNC's claim of following the world's best practice in environmental management in connection with a mining project, Caputilla claimed that the company only showed them portions of the mining project.

 

"They showcase areas that look okay but they don't bring their visitors to areas that are really problematic," he said.

 

Apart from BNC, which has a mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) approved by the previous municipal leadership, two other MPSA applications for limestone quarry were earlier approved in 2001 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the Quezon-Central Palawan Mining and Industrial Corp. and Palawan Star Venture Mining Inc

 

First posted 00:00:40 (Mla time) April 01, 2008
Redempto Anda

Southern Luzon Bureau

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Rice crisis plus scandals may alter Arroyo's future

 

MANILA (Reuters) - For Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, already battling a corruption scandal, the price of rice could affect her political future.

Rice is more than just a food in the Philippines. It's eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner, sometimes by itself.

The country's estimated 90 million people consume 33,000 tonnes per day and the government is trying to contain a surge in prices of the staple by securing guaranteed supplies.

DISCONTENT RISING

The cost of some local grains has risen more than 30 percent from a year ago and while there have been no signs of mass anger, consternation is beginning to set in.

"It's terrible, really terrible," said Ronnie Tecson, a father of four, perusing sacks of fragrant Thai rice as well as domestic grain at one of the biggest food markets in Manila.

Near him, vendors at the Nepa-Q market were using erasable markers to write up prices on boards. Indelible markers don't make any sense when costs climb so often.

"Some of the customers say, "Come on, help us out", said Annie Bernardo, a stall manager, describing pleas to reduce the prices. "If I say "No" they get angry and ask me what kind of person I am."

But consumer frustration, limited for now to raising eyebrows and voices at shopkeepers, can quickly escalate.

RICE A POLITICAL COMMODITY

Arroyo is worried that if prices suddenly spike or there is a rice shortage, people will take to the streets. Her government is moving to secure stocks now, ahead of a traditional lean period for local rice that lasts from July to September.

"Rice is a political commodity here," said Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

"If there's a shortage, it would really heighten the anger of the people against the government."

The Philippines, one of the world's biggest buyers of rice, paid about $708 per tonne at a tender this month for imported rice, more than double what it paid six months ago.

Despite rising global prices, the government has bought about 1.2 million tonnes of rice out of the 1.8 million it says it will need to import to meet demand in 2008.

The National Food Authority (NFA), the grain purchasing arm of the government that spends billions of pesos every year subsidising rice to the public, is now one of the biggest drags on public finances, with net liabilities in 2006 of nearly 43 billion pesos ($1 billion).

But the NFA has only a limited impact. In local markets, traders often tell customers they are out of NFA rice, which is kept at 18.25 pesos a kilogram, forcing them to pay nearly 30 pesos per kg for other varieties.

MARIE ANTOINETTE

At the end of last month, government stocks were enough to last 9 days, below the average requirement of 15 days. During July to September the state aims to hold 30 days worth of stock.

Arroyo has assured Filipinos there is no threat of scarcity but her request to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last month to see if he could guarantee Manila up to 1.5 million tonnes of rice was exceptional and highlighted official concern.

Hanoi said it could only ensure a supply of 1 million tonnes.

This week, the government said it would ask fast-food chains to start offering half portions of rice to discourage people from over-ordering.

"It reminds me of Marie Antoinette, who shortly before the French Revolution famously said if people had no bread to eat, they should eat cake," said Aquilino Pimentel, an opposition senator, of the government move.

Arroyo's image has been battered by a kickbacks scandal and although support from the army and from allies in the House of Representatives should allow her to see out her term ending in 2010, a food crisis could alter the situation.

Filipinos have overthrown two presidents since 1986 through popular revolts. Opposition groups, who have been calling for Arroyo to go since 2005, would be quick to seize upon rice shortages as a rallying cry.

POP'N GROWTH TOO FAST

The Philippines, which is aiming to produce 17 million tonnes of unmilled rice this year, has a long-term goal of self-sufficiency but rising harvests cannot keep pace with one of Asia's fastest growing populations.

Three babies are born every minute in this largely Catholic country but Arroyo is unlikely to change her staunch opposition to artificial contraception at a time when the support of politically powerful bishops is so crucial.

The former economist is proud of her financial record with economic growth hitting a 31-year high of 7.3 percent in 2007. But inflation has recently been climbing, undercutting some of the benefits.

Florencio Rutagines, an electrician whose dollar earnings from years of working on a cruise ship are being gobbled up by a rising local currency and inflation, said his family could never cut back on rice.

"A Greek colleague once said to me; I know Filipinos, no rice, no power," he said as he finished lunch at a Jollibee fast-food outlet in Manila.

And Arroyo knows it too.

By Carmel Crimmins

ABS-CBNnews.com

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Higher rice prices to hurt UN food aid in Mindanao

The impending rice crisis is going to hit children in Mindanao the hardest.

This was the warning raised by World Food Program (WFP) country director Valerie Guarnieri, as costs for food purchases of the United Nations agency almost doubled because of the successive increases in rice prices.

"The price increases are straining our budget," Guarnieri told Newsbreak. "We may be able to reach less people as a result."

The UN-WFP is extending food assistance to about 1.1 million people in Mindanao as part of its "Food for Education" program in the war-torn island. Under the program, 187,000 children in Grades 1 to 6 are provided with 12.5 kilos of rice each month to encourage parents to send their children to school.

The intervention was initiated after studies showed that 40 percent of parents there cite lack of food as a contributing factor in not sending their children to school. The program covers 800 schools located in conflict-affected areas.

Guarnieri said the WFP’s budget for food purchases (to include rice, corn, and cooking oil) now account for 60 percent of the agency’s total budget, from 45 percent last year.

Emergency Appeal

The WFP is suffering from a US$500-million gap in its budget for its worldwide operation as a result of skyrocketing prices of grains. If donations do not arrive by April, the agency would be forced to reduce food rations in countries where they operate.

If the trend continues, the WFP may cut down on the number of beneficiaries for its "Food for Education" program, Guarnieri said. Based on the latest prices of rice, the WPF is spending $11 million for 23,000 metric tons of rice. With the same amount last year, the agency was able to purchase 40,000 metric tons of rice.

Guarnieri has launched an emergency appeal to donor countries to pour in at least $500 million dollars by April, representing the budget gap caused by the spikes in prices of rice. If the money won't be forthcoming, she warned that the WFP would have to reduce its food rations because of rapidly increasing commodity prices.

A crunch in rice supply and fears of shortage are putting pressure on the world market, hitting heavy rice importing countries like the Philippines. The Arroyo government has been allaying fears that the crisis could lead to rationing, but admitted that prices of commercial rice could further inflate.

Average prices of rice have soared between P5 to P7 since the start of the year and there is no sign that prices are going to stabilize soon, as prices in the world market continue to soar.

The skyrocketing price of the staple food could further hurt millions of Filipinos living below poverty line.

Based on the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) conducted by the National Statistics Office, out of 90 million Filipinos, 68 million live on or under P80 ($2) a day. The same survey shows that for every P100 earnings, P41.40 or over a third goes for food expenses. The rest are spent on medicines, clothing, education expenses, and other bills. This story is part of Newsbreak's Mindanao Online Reporting Project funded by the Australian Embassy.
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Rising rice prices spark concerns in RP, across Asia

MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine activists warn about possible riots. Aid agencies across Asia worry how they will feed the hungry. Governments dig deeper every day to fund subsidies.

A sharp rise in the price of rice is hitting consumer pocketbooks and raising fears of public turmoil in the many parts of Asia where rice is a staple.

Part of a surge in global food costs, rice prices on world markets have jumped 50 percent in the past two months and at least doubled since 2004. Experts blame rising fuel and fertilizer expenses as well as crops curtailed by disease, pests and climate change. There are concerns prices could rise a further 40 percent in coming months.

The higher prices have already sparked protests in the Philippines, where a government official has asked the public to save leftover rice. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a ban on rice exports Wednesday to curb rising prices at home. Vietnamese exporters and farmers are stockpiling rice in expectation of further price increases.

Prestoline Suyat of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May First Movement), a left-wing workers group, warned that "hunger and poverty may eventually lead to riots."

The neediest are hit hardest.

Rodolfo de Lima, a 42-year-old parking lot attendant in Manila, said "my family will go hungry" if prices continue to rise.

"If your family misses a meal, you really don't know what you can do, but I won't do anything bad," said de Lima, whose right foot was amputated after he was shot during a 1985 gang war.

Others might not be so restrained, said Domingo Casarte, 41, a street vendor.

"There are people who are hotheaded," he said. "When people get trapped, I can't say what they will do."

The US Department of Agriculture forecasts global rice stocks for 2007-08 at 72 million tons, the lowest since 1983-84 and about half of the peak in 2000-01.

The higher prices are stretching the budgets of aid agencies providing rice to North Korea and other countries, particularly with donations already falling.

Jack Dunford, head of a consortium in Thailand helping more than 140,000 refugees from military-ruled Myanmar, said soaring rice prices and a slumping US dollar are forcing cuts in already meager food aid.

"This rice price is just killing us," he said. "This is a very vulnerable group of people under threat."

China is among several countries in the region that subsidize rice prices, an increasingly expensive proposition.

Rice prices have almost doubled in Bangladesh in just a year, sparking resentment but no unrest yet. Repeated floods and a severe cyclone last year have cut production, forcing the government to increase imports.

In Vietnam, a major rice exporter, the crop has been hit by a virus called tungro and infestations of the brown planthopper insect.

Farmers there say they are not benefiting from the higher prices.

"The rice price has gone up 50 percent over the past three months, but I'm not making any more money because I have to pay double for fertilizer, insecticides and labor costs," said Nguyen Thi Thu, 46, a farmer in Ha Tay province, just outside Hanoi.

Another farmer, Cao Thi Thuy, 37, in Nam Dinh province, 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Hanoi, said exporters have actually been paying less for rice over the last week.

"If the world prices are going up still, then Vietnamese rice-exporting companies are benefiting, not us," she said. "They tell us that now weather is better, and rice can grow more easily, so we should not expect higher prices."

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, worried about anything that could spark a "people power" revolt against her, is assuring the public that rice won't run out or skyrocket in price during the traditionally lean months of July to September.

This week, she arranged the purchase of up to 1.5 million tons from Vietnam. She also has ordered a crackdown on price manipulation, hoarding and profiteering on subsidized rice, and will hold a food summit April 4.

Things are so tight that Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap has asked people not to throw away leftover rice and urged fast-food restaurants, which normally give customers a cup of rice with meals, to offer a half-cup option to cut waste.

The Philippines is facing "a perfect storm," said Senator Mar Roxas, president of the Liberal Party. Problems coping with rising rice prices are compounded by higher oil prices and a US economic downturn, which could reduce the money sent home to families by Filipinos working in the United States. Such remittances underpin the economy.

Philippine farmers say the country, which has become the world's largest importer of rice after being an exporter in the early 1970s, has shot itself in the foot by developing some former rice paddies for housing and golf courses and planting more lucrative crops on others.

One Asian country, Japan, is encouraging cuts in rice production. Rice prices there have been falling in recent months as people eat less rice and more bread.

By Paul Alexander
Associated Press
First Posted 14:03:00 03/28/2008

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 1 in 2 Pinoys disapprove of Arroyo - Pulse Asia

MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's approval ratings have dropped amid a corruption scandal that sparked calls for her resignation, with about one in two Filipinos critical of her performance, according to a survey released Monday.

Pulse Asia, an independent pollster, said 51 percent of 1,200 respondents disapproved of Arroyo's performance in the Feb. 21-March 8 survey, compared with 39 percent in October.

Arroyo's approval ratings plunged to 23 percent from 30 percent in October, the pollster said. The survey has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Almost nine in 10 Filipinos — or 87 percent of those polled — said they were aware of allegations of corruption surrounding an aborted $330 million (€214 million) telecommunications deal that has been the subject of a Senate investigation.

Witnesses have testified that Mrs Arroyo's husband and a former elections chief allegedly benefited from huge kickbacks linked to the deal. Both men have denied the accusations. One witness also linked Arroyo to the scandal but offered no evidence.

Pulse Asia said the survey was conducted at the same time as protests by tens of thousands of people calling for her resignation over the scandal.

Mrs Arroyo, who still enjoys the support of the powerful military and some influential Roman Catholic bishops, has vowed to fight corruption and finish her term, which ends in 2010.

In her seven years in power, she has survived four attempted power grabs and three opposition impeachment bids over alleged corruption and vote-rigging. – AP

 

GMANews.TV

03/24/2008 | 02:56 PM

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 Memo to Arroyo forecasts rice crisis: KMP

 

An activist peasant group suggested that the Arroyo administration may not be telling all that it knows of a "rice crisis" as it disclosed on Saturday the contents of two internal memoranda to President Arroyo which cited rising local and global demand for rice combined with tight grains supply, plus abnormal weather, as among the factors for higher rice prices this year.

 

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the factors cited in the two documents, one from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and another from the National Food Authority (NFA), showed that a "rice crisis" is "imminent", particularly by the second half of 2008.

 

The KMP said Saturday a projected "rice crisis" this year can be gleaned from the two government memoranda it had obtained:

 

1) "Update on the Rice Situation and Outlook for 2008 and Request for Authority to Import Additional 500,000 MT of Rice and the Corresponding Budget Support for 2008", dated February 11, 2008, and signed by Jessup P. Navarro, National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator;

 

2) A February 27, 2008 DA memorandum of Secretary Arthur Yap to President Arroyo on the "World Rice Situation and Expectations for 2008"

 

Rafael Mariano, chairman of KMP and concurrent president of Anakpawis party-list, said "these memos outline the reasons for the impending rice crisis".

 

"As can be seen from the memos Gloria and her regime knows that a rice crisis is imminent but it is still fooling the people because she is afraid of her political future, but by doing so she is toying with the lives of at least 68 million Filipinos who earn less than $2 a day," said Mariano.

 

Production can't meet demand

While the Philippines registered a 6% growth in palay production in 2007 and will likely continue to see this repeated in the first half of 2008, these are insufficient to meet the increase in demand and the need to keep adequate supply during the lean months in the third quarter of 2008.

 

"The registered growth in palay production is not enough to meet the combined effect of an increase in demand and the need to maintain the required buffer stock by July 1, the start of the traditional lean supply months of July to September of each year," the NFA memo said.

 

The memo said palay production in 2007 was 16.237 thousand metric tons (TMT) or nearly 6% higher than the 15.327 TMT in 2006. The increase is due to a 2.7% increase in area planted to palay plus a 3.16% increase in yield.

 

The NFA said the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics has projected production in the first half of 2008 at 7.154 TMT or 6.33% higher than 2007.

 

These gains are not enough to meet the per capita consumption of rice in 2008, which is estimated to increase by 2 kilos from 118 to 120 kilos per capita, the NFA said.

 

"Rice supply-use estimates for crop year 2007-08 considering three (3) scenario (high, medium, low) showed that despite projected gains in productivity, the country will still require an import level of 1.6 to 2.2 MMT, to fully meet demand and buffer stock requirement good for 90-day by end of June 30, this year," the NFA memo said.

 

Tight global supply

 

 

The NFA said the "tight global rice situation" worsened with China’s reported purchase of 1 million metric tons (MMT) from Vietnam.

 

Vietnam has informed the Philippines of its supply limitations.

 

"Vietnam was reported to have already suspended its rice export activities for 2008 due to limited supply. Also Vietnam wrote DA they will only assure 1 MMT rice exports to the Philippines," it said.

 

The NFA memo also said "world market price of rice remains volatile, increasing at significant levels," which has thus affected NFA’s rice procurements.

 

From December 21, 2007 to end of January 2008, the NFA memo said it "has procured a total of only 1,658 MT palay (1,077 MT in rice equivalent) or 88% less than the volume procured same month last year."

 

The NFA memo said "prevailing ex-farm price of palay in major palay producing areas in Luzon (Region 2, 3, 4 & 5) ranged from a low of P11.00/kg (Isabela & Quirino) to a high of P14.50 in Nueva Ecija. In the Visayas, prices averaged at P11.50-P12.00/kg while in Mindanao, prices were higher at P11.00-P14.00/kg."

 

Abnormal weather

 

 

The NFA memo also cited Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration’s (PAGASA) forecast of "abnormal weather" conditions this year as a factor for the projected rice shortage.

 

"The abnormal weather condition will more likely result to stress the standing palay crop, more especially during its booting stage which would result to low yields," the NFA said.

 

Based on the other memo, from Secretary Arthur Yap to Pres. Arroyo, it noted the supply constraints of rice-exporting countries.

 

"In Thailand, palay harvest will be on March – April but the volume is only very limited estimated at 6 MMT (roughly 30% of their annual production) since their main harvest will still be on November where harvest is estimated at 20 MMT," the memo said. "Bulk of their palay inventory is still in the hands of the farmers as they are awaiting for higher prices."

 

"The Thai government is still holding around 1.5 MMT two-year old rice but the new government is still adamant to touch the volume," it added.

 

The DA memo also noted that Vietnam and China have "now imposed volume limitations on their rice exports."

 

It said world rice prices are expected to continue its upward trend especially since "some governments are rushing to build up their inventories."

 

Long-term measures

 

 

Mariano said the information from the two memoranda means that "rice is now a sellers market."

 

Mariano said rice importation is only a "band-aid" solution, which makes the Philippines "more dependent on other countries."

 

To help alleviate the rice shortage, the KMP proposed the following long-term measures:

 

- Increase rice production through "genuine agrarian reform";

 

- Break-up the local rice cartel;

 

- Stop conversion of rice/crop farms to non-agricultural uses;

 

- Scrap deals that give land rights to foreigners.

 

 

ABS-CBN NEWS ONLINE

National (as of 3/23/2008 9:20 AM )

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Youth lead Manila protest as politicians take back seat

 

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 5) Politicians took a back seat as thousands of students and left-wing activists led in pressing their call for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's resignation Friday in the third mass protest in a month over corruption allegations implicating her and her husband.

Several Roman Catholic bishops and dozens of priests and nuns critical of Arroyo joined the rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio in central Manila. Some released doves and green balloons to signify peace and the search for truth.

Rally organizers estimated the protesters reached a peak of 10,000 but police placed the number at 6,000, much smaller than the tens of thousands who rallied in Makati City two weeks ago in the biggest protest since the opposition-dominated Senate opened hearings into the Internet broadband scandal last year.

Former vice president Teofisto Guingona, Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, and Gabriela Representative Liza Maza joined the protest, but were not allowed to go up the stage. Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim briefly spoke on stage but later told reporters his presence was only to ensure peace and order and not to join calls for Arroyo to step down.

The protesters peacefully dispersed after about four hours of impassioned speeches, songs and chants of “Oust Gloria!”

Among the more notable events on the program was a time-travel skit on the alleged scams of the Arroyo administration had the crowd in stitches.

The fast-paced role-play performed by the University of the Philippines Repertory, which had a lone narrator doing all the voices and two actresses exaggerating their moves, was about a curious girl from the future who traveled magically to the past, witnessing one scam after another in her quest to find Arroyo's "mole."

The crowd laughed heartily when the girl realized that she did not need "magic shoes" to get to the end of the Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, which was "so short for its overprice."

Renato Reyes, secretary general of leftwing alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance, Bayan) said mass actions would continue even during the Lenten week, as long as Arroyo refused to resign.

"The fight is definitely far from over," said Reyes. "There will be a resurrection of sorts in protest movements right after the Lenten break. People will not forget easily the sins of this administration.”

The Senate has been investigating allegations that Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo and former elections chief Benjamin Abalos Sr. benefited from huge kickbacks in the aborted US$330 million deal with China's ZTE Corp. to set up a nationwide broadband network.

Malacañang has dismissed the charges as hearsay and opposition "grandstanding." The First Gentleman and Abalos -- who resigned last year after he was implicated -- have both denied any wrongdoing. ZTE has said it did not bribe anyone.

Arroyo canceled the contract in September because of the controversy.

Jose "Joey" De Venecia III, the first to blow the whistle on the alleged bribes and overpricing in the broadband deal, urged the public never to give up in their search for truth behind the scandal.

Reyes said the issues of "corruption, human rights abuses and abuse of power" remain, "so the protests will continue."

Scores of marchers from urban poor communities carried bamboo crosses with placards saying "Stop the Suffering" as they chanted "Oust Gloria!"

Local artists, including rapper Peter Park Her, whose song tackles allegations of corruption in the Arroyo government, performed before the crowd.

Rock bands like Datu's Tribe, Republika de Lata and rapper Gloc9 were also among the performers.

Pinoy punk group Music Front fronted by Arnold Morales (formerly of the Urban Bandits) played two Pinoy punk classics from the '80s, "Nagpapapansin" and "No Future sa Pader."

The Jerks also performed two of its popular songs--"Sayaw sa Bubog" and "Rage," which echoed Dylan Thomas' raging "against the dying of the light."

UP's Kontra Gapi also made its presence felt.

"Panahon na para magalit tayong lahat [It's time to be angry]!" vocalist Chikoy Pura told the audience.

Later Pura told the Philippine Daily Inquirer: "We are here not just to perform. At least, we are four more warm bodies. This is the best way to contribute to the movement. We all have a part to play."

Earlier in the day, an interfaith mass officiated by Catholic Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, and Protestant pastors from the National Council of Churches was held.

Students from University of the Philippines, Dela Salle University, Ateneo De Manila, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Philippine School of Business Administration, University of Sto. Tomas, University of Asia and the Pacific, among others were present in the rally.

Youth Act Now also hit Arroyo for her "unity walk" with students, saying the real voice of the youth belonged to those present in the protest actions.

"Even if we have examinations, we are here to search for the truth," said Alvin Peters, the group’s spokesman.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines head Angel Lagdameo could not make it due to health reasons, said Cruz.

"He was really looking forward to coming over," said Archbishop Cruz. "He's in the hospital receiving intense medication for a pulmonary ailment. He was very sorry that he could not come. I said he need not go since there were other opportunities to do so. He's sending us his blessing."

Cruz, a staunch critic of Arroyo, called anew for the President to resign.

"This is just to show the administration that it has begun and it also has not ended," said Cruz, adding that protests were not futile.

Bacani repeated a call by the CBCP for Arroyo to "remove all obstructions to the discovery of the truth" behind the broadband deal.

He said Arroyo hasn't yet directed her officials to speak out "no matter who gets hurt, no matter who is involved."

"We are waiting for that," Bacani said.

Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo welcomed the rally as an "exercise of the democratic freedom we all enjoy" but urged the protesters to be responsible "and express themselves in a civilized manner and not resort to name calling." With The Associated Press

 

By Abigail Kwok, Thea Alberto, Allison Lopez, Alcuin Papa, Tina Santos
INQUIRER.net, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 15:58:00 03/14/2008

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Ombudsman doing lifestyle check on Lozada--lawyer

 

MANILA, Philippines--The Office of the Ombudsman ordered a lifestyle check on whistleblower Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. right after he testified at the Senate last February, a lawyer who filed graft cases against those involved in the allegedly anomalous National Broadband Network-ZTE deal said.

 

Lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr. revealed on Monday that inquiries he made at the Senate revealed that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez herself asked for copies of stenographic notes covered by Lozada's testimony.

 

He said these documents, requested by Gutierrez on Feb. 11 -- the day she announced the creation of an investigative panel that would look into the allegations that Malacañang was involved in the alleged overpricing of the NBN deal -- were picked up on Feb. 20 by a certain Rodney Henson, whom he traced to the anti-graft body's assets investigation bureau.

 

The lawyer added that if the requested documents were for the purpose of investigating the anomalous deal, the panel would have informed the parties that the Ombudsman had obtained Senate records of Lozada's testimonies.

 

"It only debunks her impartiality to the case and shows that she prioritized an investigation of Lozada rather than [acting] on the complaints related to the ZTE filed before her office," Francisco told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) by phone on Monday.

 

It took the Ombudsman roughly five months before it conducted a preliminary investigation on the seven ZTE-related cases filed as early as last September which involved key personalities including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo.

 

In an urgent omnibus motion he filed on Monday, Francisco asked Gutierrez to explain her dubious acts, noting that as the Ombudsman, she was not allowed to write letters to government agencies and bodies to request for records as provided for under the rules of procedures of the anti-graft body.

 

Under the rules, he said, the chairman of the fact-finding panel assigned to conduct fact-finding on a particular case, or any of its authorized investigators, should be the one to make such requests.

 

Last Sept. 24, Francisco requested that the anti-graft body conduct an investigation on the President’s husband and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., who were linked to alleged kickbacks and overpricing in the deal and to secure all records of the Senate investigation.

 

But up to now, the investigative panel had yet to make a request to the Senate, Francisco said.

 

He noted that this was contrary to what Assistant Ombudsman for the Military Emilio Gonzalez III, head of the panel, said during the public hearing last March 4.

Gonzalez announced that the panel was merely waiting for the Senate to act on its request.

 

For lying and making misrepresentations on its investigation on the anomalous deal, Francisco asked the present investigative panel to be disbanded and constitute a new and impartial body to take over the case.

 

First posted 18:11:43 (Mla time) March 10, 2008
Jocelyn Uy

Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Govt forecast: Food crisis unlikely, but higher prices, yes

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes face newsmen at the Philippine Embassy on the eve of the International Renewable Energy Conference at the Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON D.C. - Top Philippine officials allayed fears of a looming food crisis but warned of rising prices caused largely by the spiraling cost of imported crude oil.

The plus side of a La Niña phenomenon experienced by the Philippines in the latter half of 2007, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap explained, is that rice farms will have enough water this crop season.

"A lot of our rain-fed areas for rice have water today, whereas last year, when we had a dry spell, walang tubig ang sakahan natin," he said.

"I have been e-mailed the latest planting intentions and the report I’m getting initially for the first and second quarters of 2008, we are going to hit our targets, and it will be higher than 2007," Yap added.

They also plan to import 1.7 million metric tons of rice to further buttress the country’s grain reserves.

So if the Department of Agriculture projects that Filipinos will have enough food this year, why is Albay Governor Joey Salceda warning of a food crisis?

"It does not mean na kung walang food crisis or shortage hindi tayo mabibigla sa pricing. Baka yun ang sinasabi ni Gov. Salceda," Yap surmised.

"What we’re trying to tell our countrymen right now is that all over the world, there is really a constriction of supply of commodities, it’s driving up the local price of grains," he said. "Since it’s driving up the price of grains, we somehow have to pay because that is the correct price."

With the cost of crude rising well above $100 a barrel, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes suggested the country should get used to a regime of higher prices.

It’s a simple question of supply and demand, he said. Most of the world’s deposits of fossil fuels are projected to be depleted or will become uneconomical to extract in 30 to 50 years.

"The demand for fuel will go up, the supply is going down, so the price of oil and coal will go up. The only way out is to find alternative energy sources," Reyes said.

Yap and Reyes delivered their reports to the International Renewable Energy Conference at the Washington Convention Center.

The impending shift to renewable sources of energy has prompted these two diverse fields – agriculture and energy – to join forces in search of viable alternatives to the current reliance of fossil fuels.

By 2010, after all the best-effort at developing renewable fuels, Reyes said the Philippines will still be 40 percent reliant on fossil-based fuel and energy sources.

Reyes stressed the Philippines, just like the rest of the world, has no choice but to develop renewable energy. And it has to do this fast.

"Last year," he said, "Philippine economic growth breached the 7 percent mark, and we expect the country to sustain growth in the 5 percent range over the next two years. We need energy to support that growth".

Clean fuels boon to environment
He also underscored the benefits of renewable fuels on the environment.

Fossil-based "dirty fuel" has triggered protests wherever a new coal or bunker power plants is being built.

In contrast, renewable energy taps existing natural resources, ranging from volcanic steam to sea currents to sunlight.

"Our country can be a virtual laboratory for developing solar, biomass, hydro and ocean-based energy," Reyes said.

The energy chief said the challenge is formidable. "Right now in government, I don’t think there is anybody there with a degree in renewable energy, because this is a new area."

He pointed to current initiatives to enable the shift to renewable energy.

"This will have to be done in a very integrated manner. You need planning, people who can work in this field. We hope to get more inputs in the medium-term development plan so it will be there in the planning and the budgeting," Reyes explained.

The Department of Energy wants to make the Philippines the largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, and the largest wind energy producer in Southeast Asia.

It also wants to double hydroelectric capacity by 2013, and produce up to 131 megawatts from biomass, solar and ocean energy.

Reyes said they have not yet computed the price tag for this ambitious plan.

At the moment, they have no choice but to pursue the dream of energy self-sufficiency piecemeal.

Yap, for instance, disclosed that they are developing 16 ethanol plants in Negros, tapping into the island’s chief produce – cane sugar.

US help to push shift to renewable energy
With capital in short supply, the Philippines is working with foreign partners to develop the country’s renewable energy sector.

US oil giant Chevron, Reyes disclosed, is actively developing geothermal energy in Bicol. Another company, Sunpower, has built the world’s biggest factory of solar cells in Laguna.

The government is also working with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to energize about 1,000 barangays, mostly in Mindanao, using a mix of solar and mini-hydro technologies.

The USAID-sponsored Alliance for Multi-Regional Off-grid Renewable Energy (AMORE), Reyes said, "opened fresh paths for peace, partnership and social services" in 400 remote, strife-torn Mindanao villages."

Reyes stressed that the "challenge is in the transition", which could be a painful process.

With lower oil prices nowhere in sight, Reyes said this may give added impetus to efforts at weaning away from oil and coal.

He refused to say if the Arroyo administration is considering rationing oil if prices continue to climb rapidly.

But with a growing number of poor Filipinos, Yap assured the government is ready to take appropriate steps to cushion the effects of higher food prices.

By RODNEY J. JALECO
ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

 

UN: More Pinoys could go hungry due to rising food prices

More Filipinos could go hungry this year as the market price of rice soars out of reach of ordinary households, a country director of the United Nations World Food Program revealed Friday.

Valerie Guarnieri, WFP Country Director for the Philippines, said the Philippine government could end up spending more to subsidize prices of rice as world food prices go up.  

"Rice sales in the Philippines are traditionally subsidized. The question will be whether the government will be able to maintain the current levels the lowest grade rice is sold at and/or increase it only marginally and at what cost because that would mean incurring further debt in order to maintain those low prices," she told ABS-CBN News Channel.

"I think it's a very difficult situation but one which the government is looking at and has the means, if it can control the prices, of addressing at least in the short to medium term. If the prices continue to rise then all bets are off," she added.

She said food prices globally have risen by at least 40 percent, which translates to a $500 million increase in WFP costs to support an average of 90 million people around the world per year. The UN agency now provides food aid to about 1.1 million of the Philippines' 90 million people.

Guarnieri warned that the increase in food prices could lead to more hunger incidence in the country, particularly in Mindanao island where some of the country's poorest provinces are located.

She said that according to WFP research, 70 percent of total expenditures of a poor household in Mindanao goes to food. "When you think of being poor and spending 70 percent of your money on food, you're really not in the position to accommodate any price increase and that is something that has to be watched very carefully," she added.

Lower priority

Guarnieri said the UN was unlikely to ramp up its food aid to the Philippines immediately since it is considered a "middle-income country" with lower priority.

She said rising oil prices and climate change are contributing to food scarcity and a rise in prices of basic commodities globally. Other factors that affect food prices are increased food demand from nations such as China and India and a trend towards biofuel production, which affects crops normally used for food.

She said the Philippines is relatively safe from the increase in world food prices since most of its food products is sourced locally. She added, however, that the government could have a problem in sourcing 15 percent of the country's total rice consumption requirement for the year, which is usually imported.

Earlier this year, President Arroyo went outside normal commercial channels to ask Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung about securing rice, an exceptional move that highlighted growing global anxiety over how nations will feed their people as commodity prices climb.

The Vietnamese government, however, said it will ship only one million tons of rice to the Philippines this year, which is more than a quarter less than last year.

"This is a wake-up call," Robert Zeigler, director general of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), told Reuters. "We have a crisis brewing in terms of rice supply."

Because of the expected shortfall, the IRRI has pushed for a repeat of the Green Revolution - a 13-year Philippine government program which introduced high yield varieties of rice to increase yearly output by 42 percent.

Nearly half the planet's 6.6 billion people depend on rice to survive but rising populations and economic growth mean that the world is already eating more of the grain than is harvested.

World stocks of the grain are currently around 72 million tons, their lowest levels since the early- to mid-1970s when food shortages triggered a devastating famine in Bangladesh.

Zeigler said other importing nations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia could also be at risk and as soon as this year.

"When you have a president calling a prime minister asking them to guarantee rice supplies it’s a possibility, that's for sure," said Zeigler.

No increase in food prices yet

The Philippine government on Friday assured that prices of basic commodities would remain at their current levels as costs of rice, cooking oil and pork increased over the past weeks.

“What consumers can expect within the coming weeks is to see the prices at its levels today. After what I’ve heard from the very sector, for instance supply-wise, there should be no problem. Sa rice, the harvest will start next month. Between now and April, we don’t see any reason why the prices will further move up. We will watch it very, very closely with the Department of Agriculture," said Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila.

The Department of Agriculture said prices of commercial rice would no longer move beyond the P26-per-kilo level, noting that the harvest season in the country has begun. The price of pork, meanwhile, would also remain at P170 per kilo until April when supply is expected to normalize.

The department said chicken should cost P100 to P110 per kilo as it urged consumers not patronize vendors who are selling beyond this level.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it will publish in the next two days on major broadsheets the suggested retail price of consumer goods.

The DTI also announced that it is planning to conduct inspections on dry and wet supermarkets to monitor the prices.

The Department of Energy, meanwhile, said it does not discount the possibility that fuel prices will go up over the weekend due to high oil prices in the international market. With Reuters, AFP

ABS-CBN News

National (as of 3/7/2008 7:08 PM)
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Mike Arroyo trust rating sinks to negative 51


MANILA, Philippines -- The public trust rating of Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo has sunk to its lowest level since 2001, according to the latest survey conducted by private polling firm Social Weather Stations (SWS).

SWS found that 13 percent of the respondents had "much trust" in the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's husband and 64 percent had "little trust," giving him a net -51 (percent "much trust" minus percent "little trust"), his lowest trust rating since January 2001.

The latest SWS survey was conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2007, using face-to-face interviews with 1,200 adults divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Scandals

Distrust in the President's husband was highest in Metro Manila (net -66), followed by the rest of Luzon (net -56), Mindanao (net -49), and the Visayas (net -35).

Distrust was higher among the ABC classes (net -65), compared with the lower classes D (net -49) and E (net -50).

The President's husband has been linked to several scandals, like the Jose Pidal account, the "Hello Garci" controversy, the fertilizer scam, and recently, the scrapped $329-million National Broadband Network deal.

Directly related

"Public satisfaction with President Macapagal-Arroyo's performance and public trust in the First Gentleman are directly related to each other," SWS said in a statement issued Monday.

This means that a low public trust in Mike Arroyo results in a low performance rating for the President.

The same relationship was noted early on by SWS in December 2001.

SWS said the President's record-setting rating in November 2001 (53 percent satisfaction rating) would have been higher were it not for the controversy surrounding her husband.

He has been steadily unpopular over the past seven years, almost from the start of the Arroyo administration. His wife's negative ratings only began in the third quarter of 2004.

In 21 national SWS surveys since January 2001, Mike Arroyo received an average net trust rating of -32 (20 percent "much trust" and 52 percent "little trust").

His net trust rating was positive only once, in January 2001, when he received a net trust rating of +14.

"The SWS surveys on the trust rating of first spouses are noncommissioned, and are included on SWS' own initiative," the polling group said. Eliza Victoria, Inquirer Research

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:09:00 03/04/2008

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AFP deploys anti-coup force

An anti-coup Army unit is being sent to Metro Manila as the government braces for street protests to press for President Arroyo's resignation, the military said yesterday.

 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is deploying a battalion composed of four companies of infantry and 32 tanks and armored vehicles to beef up Metro Manila's security forces during the commemoration of the 22nd anniversary of the EDSA people power revolution on Monday.

 

A composite battalion from the Army's 2nd, 5th and 7th Infantry Divisions arrived in Metro Manila yesterday to augment the 3,000-strong force of the National Capital Region Command (NCRCOM).

 

"The forces will form part of the operational readiness and contingency force of the AFP to prevent any attempts of power grab, if ever," NCRCOM commander Maj. Gen. Fernando Mesa said.

 

In previous years, soldiers were pulled out of their anti-insurgency duties and sent to Manila to participate in the celebration of the civilian-backed military bloodless uprising that toppled the regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

 

Mesa explained that the soldiers' presence in Metro Manila was aimed at preserving peace and ensuring that the laws of the land are enforced.

 

Earlier, Mesa warned that soldiers who break the chain of command would be harshly dealt with.

 

The warning came following reports that the current political developments caused by alleged widespread anomalies in the government have already affected the troops' morale.

 

"I would also like to assure the public and the business sector that this operational readiness of NCRCOM is aimed at preserving democracy," Mesa said.

 

He allayed fears that disgruntled soldiers are planning to challenge the government, saying that soldiers who will do so will be met with the full force of the law.

 

Aside from the fresh troop reinforcement, elite troops were already deployed in Metro Manila even before the Makati City rally last week.

 

By Jaime Laude

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Headlines – Manila Star

 

 

'Asar' students 'chika' with Lozada on campus tour

 

MANILA, Philippines -- The crowd was composed mostly of law students from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, University of Santo Tomas and University of the East--members of the Advocacy for Sustained Accountability and Reform (Asar) movement.

 

They greeted whistle-blower Rodolfo Lozada Jr. with wild cheering when he showed up at a gathering Friday afternoon at Malcolm Hall at UP Diliman in Quezon City.

 

The activity was organized by the Law Student Government Coordinating Council, composed of law student councils from the four universities.

 

Like a true celebrity, Lozada Friday found himself fielding questions about his sex life and his favorite super hero in a chat with students of the Ateneo Law School in Rockwell, Makati City.

 

Perhaps the most titillating question of the afternoon was if there was "more" to his friendship with Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chair Romulo Neri.

 

"Ours is a genuine friendship. It's a friendship on an intellectual level, nothing else," an amused Lozada told his audience.

 

Since making his explosive testimony in the Senate about irregularities in the scandal-ridden NBN deal, Lozada has been making the rounds of campuses for speaking engagements, and is treated like a celebrity each time.

 

After a stressful two weeks in the limelight, the electronic and communications engineer said he felt glad to be with the students who believed in his cause.

 

Lozada spoke before a crowd of some 500 students and later led in the lighting of candles for truth.

 

"After the 'Harapan' in one channel, where I became Jun Lozada against the mob, once in a while I want to be with the mob [of students]," he said, drawing cheers from his audience. "It lightens the burden. I forget the problems when I see many people are one with me."

 

In a seven-minute speech, punctuated by cheers, applause and chants, Lozada rallied the college students to join him in his campaign to put a stop to the corrupt system ailing the government.

 

Sign of outrage

 

"Are you ready to take action now?" he asked the crowd, led by UP College of Law students wearing white shirts with black armbands.

 

"There are many ways. There's one thing I ask of you. Let's change our mind-set, let's not just sit back ... I hope to see the day when change starts with every individual, in every individual's heart. I hope you see in your heart that this is not just our fight, but your fight," Lozada said.

 

"This is a sign of outrage, and outrage is a healthy thing," Theodore Te of the UP College of Law said in an interview.

 

Lozada, clad in a white long-sleeved shirt, hoisted the Philippine flag as the crowd sang the national anthem, before he made his brief speech.

 

He said he expected the government to file more charges against him and raid Philippine Forest Corp. for more personalities they could use to destroy his credibility.

 

"I believe the government has something to do with it," he said later in a forum, referring to the appearance of Erwin Santos, now officer in charge of Philforest, who had accused him of irregularities.

 

Say 'cheese'

 

Lozada said UP students could expect government agents to set up surveillance cameras on the campus, as they had done at La Salle Green Hills and St. Scholastica's College.

 

"If you see it, have your picture taken," he said, eliciting cheers.

 

Lozada said his decision to disclose everything he knows about the National Broadband Network deal despite risks and persecution was worth it because a lot of people, including the students, put value to it.

 

He invited the students to join him and former President Corazon Aquino at Baclaran Church in Parañaque City, not Sto. Domingo Church as earlier reported, on Monday afternoon to mark the anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power revolt.

 

After his speech, Lozada led the lighting of candles "for truth in the country." The students then proceeded to hold a cultural show, where representatives from the different universities made speeches, gave presentations and read poetry.

 

Lozada, wearing a white shirt and denim jeans and surrounded by his Senate escorts, was warmly cheered by a roomful of law students, some of whom had come from other universities.

 

Upon his arrival at the packed hall, the students rose to their feet and clapped wildly. Many of them whipped out digital cameras to take photos.

 

Lozada looked bewildered by the reception.

 

"I don't see myself as a celebrity. I'm the most unlikely celebrity," he said in answer to a question on which actor and actress he would like to portray him and his wife, should their lives be made into a movie.

 

Sex, ZTE and superheroes

 

Dubbed "Chika-chika with Lozada," the event was supposed to be an informal meeting of minds with one of the most controversial personalities today, said Rafael Calinisan, president of the Ateneo Law School student council.

 

"In fact, we wanted the questions to have no connection to ZTE," Calinisan said, referring to the Chinese corporation that won the NBN contract allegedly upon the brokering of former Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr.

 

True enough, a student, who was identified by the moderator as "Mr. E from class 4-C," sent this question via text message: "With all that's going on, how has it affected your sex life?"

 

In the laughter that followed, a grinning Lozada retorted: "Since you're anonymous anyway, why don't you come here, and I'll whisper to you my answer."

 

Another student asked: "Which superhero are you: Superman, Batman or Spider-Man?" Lozada replied: "I've never seen myself as a hero. I can't properly describe myself as a hero."

 

Later, he admitted a preference for "Mighty Mightor."

 

In spite of the informality of the affair, most of the questions centered on the NBN contract.

 

Asked if he was prepared to go to jail for possible offenses he committed as the former president of Philforest, Lozada appeared defensive, saying everything he had done was "board-approved."

 

But if all these were now being used against him, he said: "So be it."

 

He alluded several times to the "harassment and threats" against him and his family.

 

"My former staff is being paraded against me...My former employees are being visited, even my former girlfriends," he said in jest.

 

"In fact, I was asking one of my kindergarten classmates if he has been visited. Maybe they're going to expose all my sins from kindergarten," he said.

 

Mum on the President

 

Lozada would not directly answer questions involving President Macapagal-Arroyo.

 

"Can I invoke executive privilege?" he quipped when asked if he believed Ms Arroyo was responsible for the NBN-ZTE contract.

 

Turning sober, he said: "That's a very difficult question. Let us wait for Secretary Neri to come out, or be told by the Supreme Court to answer questions before the Senate."

 

Asked if he was among those asking for Ms Arroyo's resignation, he said no. "When I set out to tell the truth, that was it. Let the people decide what to do with the truth," he said.

 

One of the law students asked, did he still believe in justice?

 

"I do believe in justice. Justice for me is what is good, what is fair, what is right," he said. "Unfortunately what we have in this country is not a justice system but a legal system."

 

"Even if it's not right, good or fair, as long as they can make it legal then it's okay," he said.

 

He advised the law students: "So to all of you would-be lawyers, aspire to be justices, not legal luminaries."

 

By TJ Burgonio, DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:44:00 02/23/2008

 

 

 

10,000 display outrage

JDV son: Palace cabal could have gotten P10B

 

MANILA, Philippines -- In the loudest display yet of public outrage over the controversial $329-million broadband deal, thousands of protesters Friday demanded the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

 

Spurred by the exposés of Senate whistle-blower Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., the rally brought together people of clashing ideologies, from opposition politicians and leftwing militants to office workers and robed seminarians.

 

Some 10,000 demonstrators, by police estimates and wire agencies AP and Reuters, took part in the protest, waving banners, singing songs, praying and chanting slogans.

 

Lozada wasn't around. But businessman Joey de Venecia, who first disclosed the alleged bribe offers in the negotiations for the National Broadband Network (NBN) project with China's ZTE Corp., was among the rally speakers, and he didn't hold his punches in lambasting Malacañang.

 

"You, thieves, get out of Malacañang!" De Venecia said to cheers.

 

The young De Venecia also alleged GMA, FG [First Gentleman], Abalos and the Malacañang cabal would have gotten P10-billion kickbacks from ZTE had the project not been scrapped.

 

"It's in the dark shadows of government offices that conspiracies defraud us ... We should fight this with our lives," said the son of ousted Speaker Jose de Venecia.

 

"The forces of evil in Malacañang are strong but we, the people, are stronger than anybody in Malacañang," he also said.


At times tripping over his words, De Venecia later said it was his first time to speak in a public rally.

 

He started his speech by saying: "I'm no politician."

 

He said he was happy to be at the rally to "show support for the resignation of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo."

 

At one point, to the delight of the crowd, he shouted: "Back off, First Gentleman."

 

'Lozada is the truth'

 

De Venecia was alluding to a purported attempt by Ms Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, to bamboozle him into withdrawing his proposal for the NBN contract.

 

De Venecia spoke of the supposed incident with Mike Arroyo when he testified last year at the Senate on the now-scrapped project involving China's ZTE Corp. He and Lozada also linked former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. to alleged offers of bribe.

 

Lozada, a former government consultant, also implicated Malacañang officials in his alleged abduction by armed men at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to prevent him from appearing at the Senate.

 

The protesters converged at the Ninoy Aquino monument, where they expressed their indignation over the most serious scandal to buffet the Arroyo administration since the "Hello Garci" controversy of 2005.

 

Lozada's name repeatedly came up in the rally.

 

"Jun Lozada is the truth," activist priest Robert Reyes told the crowd, drawing cheers. "Where does true strength lie? Who is truly strong--Malacañang or Jun Lozada?" The crowd roared back Lozada's name.

 

Rally theme

 

The rally had one theme: The people have had enough.

 

"People, act now and we'll join you. That's our duty as members of the clergy: To be with the people as they walk toward a better future," Fr. Joe Dizon of Solidarity Philippines said.

 

Similar protest rallies were also held in Mindanao, including in the cities of Davao, Cagayan de Oro and General Santos, as well as in the Visayas, including Bacolod and Cebu cities.

 

In Makati City, confetti rained down on Paseo de Roxas from the Philippine Stock Exchange Tower and another building. Office employees watched from windows.

 

Some of the placards and banners read: Lozada, di ka nag-iisa (You're not alone).

 

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said he hoped Friday's rally would sow the seeds of bigger protests "in the tradition of people power."

 

Students also came by the busloads.

 

At least 650 riot policemen were deployed at the corner of Ayala and Paseo de Roxas Avenues to keep the peace.

 

Feeling 1986

 

"This reminds me of 1986, before Edsa," Guingona told the Inquirer, alluding to the "People Power" revolt that toppled Ferdinand Marcos.

 

"The feeling was just like this--of tension, of excitement, of the feeling that something is going to happen."

Maceda expressed the hope that the protests would eventually convince Ms Arroyo to step down and resign.

 

Even the lame

 

A man wheeling himself on a makeshift wooden skateboard led the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan contingent marching along Ayala Avenue, unmindful of his lame legs.

 

Roel Balao, 40 and a resident of Valenzuela City, said he was a regular at protest rallies since Edsa 1. He wheeled himself by pushing himself forward, way ahead of the marchers.

 

"I can no longer stomach what Gloria is doing," he said in Filipino. "Even if I am lame, I join protests."

 

Antonio Lachica hobbled on one foot and supported himself with a pair of crutches.

 

GMA shirts

 

Office workers at the Central Business District showed their approval of the rally by showering the rallyists with white confetti from buildings.

 

Makati City Hall employees sold T-shirts with a cartoon of Ms Arroyo lying on bags of money, with the slogan: "Moderate the greed, exterminate the breed."

 

Students from the University of the Philippines, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, the University of the East and the Lyceum of the Philippines also came.


Lawyer Harry Roque sang a message to the tune of the Queen's "We Will Rock You," except that he sang: "We will oust you!"

 

They were there, too

 

A list furnished the Inquirer indicated the groups that sent representatives (and had their names announced onstage), among them :

 

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, Philippine Airlines Employees Association, August 21 Movement, La Liga Policy Institute, Maryhill School of Theology, Inter-Congregational theological Center, Ecumenical Bishops Forum, and St. Andrews Theological Seminary.

 

By DJ Yap, Julie M. Aurelio
With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:26:00 02/16/2008

 

 

 

 

 

Money, power behind fall of De Venecia--analysts

 

MANILA, Philippines -- The ouster of former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. has once again highlighted how a small group of political elites here use their power to sway colleagues and enrich their loved ones, analysts say.

 

De Venecia -- who accused President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her government and her family of corruption -- was voted out of his seat after a marathon session, and replaced with close Arroyo ally Prospero Nograles, representative of Davao City.

 

Experts said the move showed how lawmakers, whose monthly salary is a mere P35,000 ($850), are easily swayed by more powerful members with lots of cash and influence in the worlds of politics and business.

 

"It is not like other democracies where you have a solid party system," political analyst Antonio Abaya, of the Foundation for Transparency and Public Accountability, told Agence France-Presse.

 

"Here it is all about money and power. We call it the politics of patronage."

 

Edmund Tayao, a political scientist with the University of Santo Tomas, agreed, saying: "Politics in this country is dominated by a small group of rich and very powerful families."

 

One of the most sought-after jobs in the country is Speaker of the House, a position that wields enormous power -- especially when it comes to dividing up the yearly congressional budget for local spending.

 

This year the financial allotment totals around P16.7 billion ($481 million dollars) for just 239 lawmakers to be used in their constituencies for projects such as roads and schools.

 

For some lawmakers, "pork-barrel" allocations for their congressional districts can be upwards of P70 million -- which, along with all the other perks of holding public office, are not audited.

 

"With all that largesse at his fingertips, the speaker of the House has one of the most influential positions in the Philippines," said Clarita Carlos, a political scientist with the University of the Philippines.

 

"This is the taxpayer's money and we have no idea how it is spent or where it is spent. Why should these clowns be allowed to have all that money without any accountability?"

 

De Venecia -- who served as speaker for 12 years -- was the fall guy in a classic dispute between two powerful political families over money, Tayao explained.

 

The 72-year-old veteran had been an ardent supporter of Arroyo for years, guiding her through the fallout following the disputed 2004 presidential election and deflecting repeated congressional attempts to impeach her.

 

He rewarded those lawmakers who fell in line with generous financial support for their constituencies.

 

But on Monday, he turned on her, delivering a stinging speech against her on the House floor, accusing her of corruption and cheating to win re-election.

 

According to Tayao, De Venecia lost faith in Arroyo when his son Jose III or Joey lost a controversial broadband network contract last year to a Chinese company -- a deal the younger De Venecia says was tainted by massive corruption at the highest levels.

 

Joey de Venecia also accused Arroyo’s husband, lawyer Jose Miguel Arroyo, of trying to silence him over the deal.

 

During a Senate investigation, it was alleged the $330-million project was overpriced by $200 million.

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," Tayao said.

 

Arroyo's two lawmaker sons, Juan Miguel and Diosdado, eventually led the campaign to remove the De Venecia.

 

Amando Doronila, a columnist for the Philippine Daily Enquirer, described De Venecia's ouster as "a vendetta between the Arroyos and the De Venecias over the spoils of office -- an issue basically concerned with corruption."

 

Another commentator, Jarius Bondoc, wrote in the Philippine Star that with Nograles as speaker, control over the congressional pork-barrel "would land in the hands of the Arroyos -- including First Gentleman Mike."

 

"That would make their family truly the most powerful in the land -- with Mrs. Arroyo in charge of the executive and the other Arroyos lording over the House."

 

Tayao said Arroyo had taken a "big gamble" in dumping De Venecia.

 

"He has been around for a long time and knows where the skeletons are buried," he said.

 

By Karl Wilson
Agence France-Presse
First Posted 14:18:00 02/07/2008

 

 

Lozada expose may mark end of Arroyo rule--MBC exec

 

MANILA, Philippines -- The Makati Business Club (MBC) on Thursday said the revelations of Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. about the controversial national broadband network (NBN) contract “may mark the beginning of the end for the regime” of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

 

"The previous [Estrada] regime started eroding when it began to turn against its own people like [former Ilocos Sur governor Luis] ‘Chavit’ Singson, and it appears the same thing is happening," said Alberto A. Lim, MBC executive director.

 

In a phone interview Thursday, Lim said that at the start, Lozada's arrival at the airport looked liked that of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. when he returned to the country in 1983.

 

"Like Ninoy, Lozada went through the tarmac, but subsequent events make the arrival look more like the supposed ambush attempt on Singson just before he talked against [former president] Joseph Estrada," Lim added, Lim referring to the confusion about whether Lozada was abducted by police or was spirited away from the airport by supporters.

 

Singson’s charges of corruption against Estrada led to the former president’s impeachment and aborted trial, which triggered the popular uprising that ousted and replaced him with Arroyo in 2001.

 

Lozada, a key witness in the Senate inquiry into the NBN controversy, has implicated First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and resigned Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. to the scandal-tainted deal with China’s ZTE Corp., which has since been scrapped.

 

By Ronnel Domingo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 13:06:00 02/07/2008

 

 

 

US Pinoys donate to war on graft

 

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO– Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in the United States have been donating dollars to support the drive against graft and corruption in the Philippines.

 

A civil society group in Pampanga became their first beneficiary.

 

Started in December last year, the "$1 Moral Crusade against Graft and Corruption" has already pooled $9,000, according to Dr. Philip Chua, chair of the Filipino United Network (FUN) that began the online drive.

 

At least 1,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans gave $1, $25 or $50 each. Among the donors were four Americans.

 

The names of the donors and details of the campaign are posted on http://www.filipinounitednetwork.com.

 

Turnover

 

Chua arrived from the United States on Sunday and handed a check to the Kapampangan Marangal Inc. (Kami).

 

Kami, formed by election campaign volunteers of Gov. Eddie Panlilio, intends to use the FUN funds for organizing and training under its good citizenship program in Pampanga, said Averyll Laquindanum, its director.

 

Pampanga was chosen one of the recipients because the "moral leadership" of Panlilio, a Catholic priest on leave, provided a catalyst for new initiatives in anticorruption efforts, Chua said.

 

Panlilio has changed the collection and regulatory systems in the quarry industry, transforming it into a multimillion-peso revenue source. In almost seven months, revenues have reached P136.5 million.

 

The governor has also removed kickbacks in public projects by complying with national bidding law and policies.

 

New dawn

 

"The Pampanga experiment can be a new dawn in our nation," said Chua during Sunday's gathering of US-based Filipino leaders.

 

Part of the FUN donations will go to the housing and education programs of Gawad Kalinga, Chua said.

 

"Overseas Filipinos really love their country, but we are disappointed with our leaders because of pervasive graft and corruption. We want to see the transformation of our country as a nation and people," he said.

 

Several US-based organizations of Filipinos and Filpino-Americans have been gravitating toward Pampanga after the May 14, 2007 polls.

 

That was due in part to the Pampangan Crusaders USA (Pamagcusa), which has been helping civil society groups in Pampanga to establish networks abroad and offer help to what San Fernando Archbishop Paciano Aniceto called the "birthing of a new Pampanga."

 

By that, Aniceto meant "uplifting the lives of poor Kapampangan."

 

"Our thrust is advancing good citizenship through volunteerism," Pamagcusa's Josie Castro said. "Our hearts belong to Pampanga and we want to contribute our bit in helping our people progress."

 

At Pamagcusa's invitation, Dr. Charlie Capati of Gawad Kalinga-US, Chiera Cruza of the Ayala Foundation-US, Elsa Bayani of Initiative 2010, and Dr. Primo Andres of the Filipino-American Leadership Council arrived here to connect with civil society leaders, Panlilio and San Fernando Mayor Oscar Rodriguez.

 

Proud Filipinos

 

"To be able to say you're proud of being Filipino, you have to help back home and help bring about good changes in the lives of your fellow Filipinos," said Capati.

 

Cruza said Panlilio and the Kapampangan's show of unity in the last elections had "inspired us."

 

"You have become the symbol of hope to many," she said. Her group offers a "way of giving back to the country."

 

Bayani, a retired nurse, has promised to help in pushing issues involving children in conflict with the law. "We are excited to help in Pampanga. We don't want children below 15 years old to be in jail," she said.

 

Andres, whose group was the prime mover in the protests against a racial slur aired in the sitcom "Desperate Housewives," looked at the Pampanga experience as a "shining example" in the Philippines.

 

Panlilio said good governance, as a program and goal, was not entirely new since several local officials had been trying to prove that it could be done in the last 20 years.

 

"What is important is the participation of the people. They have to partake and contribute to peace and progress-building," he said.

 

First posted 04:22:50 (Mla time) January 31, 2008
Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk

 

 

 

Travel for Health: A Sell-out of Philippine Health Care

 

Medical tourism is but one form of globalization of health care – foreign doctors, foreign owned hospitals and medical facilities catering to foreign clients: a sell-out of the country's health care system to foreign big business that spells government abandonment of its responsibility to provide much needed health services to the people.

 

With a guidebook for medical tourists, which would be released internationally this October, there seems to be no stopping the sell-out of the country's health industry.

 

Besides a Medical Tourism Bill being on the legislative agenda, there are subtle indications that the government is bent on getting a slice of the booming medical tourism industry in the Asian region.

 

The Department of Health (DoH) has been frantic about the dollar-earning potential of medical tourism while purportedly intending to allocate its enormous potential revenue from this for the improvement of the public health care system.

 

According to the DoH, the "nascent yet promising" medical tourism industry has so far already earned about $300 million since 2006, and is expected to earn as much $1 billion by 2012.  

 

Medical tourism is broadly defined as a health holiday along with a provision for cost-effective private medical care in collaboration with the tourism industry for patients needing surgical and/or other forms of specialized treatment.

 

The Philippines, since 2004, has been packaged as the next destination for medical tourism. This project is  officially known as Medical Tourism Philippines ( MTP). Initiated in 2004, it was only re-launched by the DoH in January 2006. MTP also involves the participation of health management organizations (HMOs).

 

Services vary from elective procedures like rhinoplasty (nose lift), liposuction, breast augmentation, orthodontics, to more serious and life-saving procedures such as joint replacements, bone marrow transplants, eye surgery, bariatric and cardiac bypass surgery among others.

 

Foreigners as market

 

Foreigners who want to avail of cheap surgical procedures are the main target market. For example, the cost of nasal injections is from P7,000 to P10,000 ($171.57-$245.10 ) as compared to a surgical noselift which will cost from P20,000 to P30,000 ($490.20- to $735.29). Besides being cheaper, patients are assured of the best doctors trained abroad while easily recovering in the most exotic spots in the country.

 

In recent reports according to Health Undersecretary Jade del Mundo, the country's health tourism sector covers 35 hospitals and stand-alone surgical facilities.

 

Leading private hospitals in the country like the Makati Medical Center, St. Luke's Medical Center, Metropolitan Hospital, Medical City are pilot centers for MTP. Five other government hospitals, namely Lung Center of the Philippines, Philippine Heart Center, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Philippine Children's Medical Center, and East Avenue Medical Center have been included as venues for special procedures like kidney and heart transplant.

 

Bumrungrad International, the same company that runs the famed Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand, since 2005 already purchased a controlling interest of 40-percent share of Asian Hospital.

 

Health officials claim that medical tourism could also alleviate the mass migration of health professionals as the demand for high paying jobs would surge in.

 

However, these have yet to be seen. In the meantime, hospitals around the country still suffer from lack of doctors and nurses. The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) says that the government should start addressing the reason health professionals leave – low salary, poor working conditions and lack of job security.

 

Fundamentally wrong

 

There is something fundamentally wrong when a government starts offering "world-class" healthcare to foreign clients when it cannot even guarantee health for its people. In fact, more than 60 percent of Filipinos do not have access to primary health care and the leading causes of death are mostly treatable and preventable diseases.

 

Globalized health care

 

Under MTP, foreigners will be provided quality health care, while poor Filipino patients are likely to be neglected further. Priority will be given to these foreign patients with money to pay and thus services for charity patients will be decreased significantly.

 

At the Philippine Heart Center alone, an indigent patient wanting to undergo a heart transplant would have to wait for a grueling six months before he or she can be operated on. In the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, there is a heavy backlog of patients.

 

The full-scale implementation of MTP is seen to lead to the eventual foreign ownerships of hospitals and most segments of medical services in the country. The present moves of the Arroyo government to overhaul the Constitution would hasten such development.

 

Medical tourism is but one form of globalization of health care – foreign doctors, foreign owned hospitals and medical facilities catering to foreign clients: a sell-out of the country's health care system to foreign big business that spells government abandonment of its responsibility to provide much needed health services to the people.

 

 

BY PHILIP PARAAN
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 50, January 27-February 2, 2008

 

 

 

RP Call Centers, OFWS to be hit by U.S. slowdown

 

Call centers and overseas Filipino workers, both lauded by the Arroyo government as economic winners, are seen to be the worst hit by an anticipated US recession and general slowdown in the world economy, according to independent think-tank IBON Foundation.

 

IBON research head Sonny Africa said that the country’s economy would be hurt by a foreseen US economic slowdown, particularly given the Philippines ’ strong economic ties with the superpower. Africa said the US is one of the country’s top investment and exports partners. The US accounted for nearly 32% of total approved foreign direct investment in the first semester of 2007 and 17% of total Philippine exports from January to November 2007.

 

Africa said that the business process outsourcing sector, which is led by call centers, may experience job losses and pressure on wages to fall, and the same may happen to US subcontractors in the country’s export processing zones. The effect would be magnified further by how many Philippine exports to East Asia are actually intra-firm exports with the US being the ultimate destination. Major US firms with BPO operations in the Philippines include Accenture, Amex and AIG, while the US accounts for 14% of the total investments in export processing zones from 1995 to 2005.

 

Overseas Filipino workers’ remittances would also likely drop, which would further hurt the country’s growth by slowing domestic consumption. Africa pointed out that although the US is not a top destination for the country’s OFWs, most of the employing countries depend on US investments, such as trade centers like Hong Kong and oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia . Further, OFW deployments may drop with a similarly expected slump in world economic growth, which has been slowing from 5.4% in 2007 to an expected 5.2% in 2007 and 4.8% in 2008.

 

These developments may also result in a bursting of the domestic real estate bubble of the past few years, which has been driven mainly by OFWs demand for housing and call centers, for office space.

 

“If there is a worsening of the fiscal crisis as a result of the slowdown of these two vital sectors, the country could experience a steep economic slowdown in the coming years,” said Africa .

 

He added that this scenario could have been avoided if only the country had developed stronger domestic industry and agriculture sectors, which would have created enough jobs to absorb displaced overseas workers.

 

IBON News / January 23, 2008

 

 

Higher unemployment threatens RP due to US slowdown – ILO

The worst is yet to come for Filipino workers.

 

The International Labor Organization (ILO) yesterday warned of higher unemployment in the Philippines and other countries due to the prevailing economic slowdown in the United States.

 

ILO director general Juan Somavia said economic turbulence due to credit market turmoil and rising oil prices may likely push the unemployment level in countries worldwide, including the Philippines.

 

“The new projection for 2008 is in contrast to 2007, a watershed year in which sound global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth led to the stabilization of global labor market with more people in work and fewer unemployed,” Somavia said.

 

The ILO called on governments in Southeast Asia and the Pacific to implement social protection schemes and social safety nets to address the looming displacement of workers.

 

In the ILO’s annual Global Employment Trends (GET) report, Somavia said the projection for 2008 is “one of contrast and uncertainty.”

“While global growth is annually producing millions of new jobs, unemployment remains unacceptably high and may go to levels not seen before this year,” Somavia disclosed.

 

“Though more people are in work than ever before, this does not mean that these jobs are decent. Too many people, if not unemployed, remain among the ranks of the working poor, the vulnerable and the discouraged,” he added.

 

ILO said that for the past years, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam have shown promising development due to good performance of the agricultural sector.

 

But ILO said the development in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including the Philippines, has been less impressive.

 

While the unemployment rates in the region are comparably low in recent years, ILO said the unemployment trend among women continues to rise.

 

ILO noted that labor productivity growth in the region in the past year was also stagnant and much lower than in other Asian regions.

The Philippines and other countries in South Asia and the Pacific still need decent jobs, the ILO said.

 

Strong global demand

 

But in terms of the global demand for Filipino workers, a labor official gave assurance that it would remain strong despite fears of a US recession.

 

Many foreign countries, particularly developed countries, are still approaching the Philippines wanting to recruit Filipino workers, particularly skilled laborers and professionals, said Rosalinda Baldoz, administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

 

“Foreign employers come to us because they are short of skilled workers and their nationals refuse to handle the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs,” Baldoz told local reporters.

 

Even in the US, where there are fears of a looming recession, Baldoz said they see a growing demand for temporary workers in hotels as well as nurses.

 

Middle Eastern countries also need thousands of foreign workers due to heightened economic activity there, she added.

 

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman will offer job opportunities in the construction, medical, retail, energy engineers and planners, telecommunications, hotel and restaurant and the information technology sectors, she said.

 

East Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia will continue to hire Filipinos for the construction and ship building sectors, factory workers, IT and healthcare, managers and supervisors for the gaming industry.

 

Nurses, architects, entertainers, engineers and draftsmen would also be in demand, she added.

 

Australia and New Zealand also have a strong demand for construction workers, health, IT professionals and skilled workers in trade, hotel, restaurants as well as teachers.

 

Last year, a total of 1.073 million Filipinos went overseas for work compared to 1.062 million that went overseas in 2006, Baldoz said.

The government is confident that more than a million workers will go abroad this year as well.

 

Banking on tourism

 

Philippine tourism, meanwhile, would continue to boom despite the US economic downturn, Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said.

 

“For the past three years, the country’s tourism industry has been facing those challenges and year 2008 is no different. We have managed those challenges and the proof of that is the high international arrivals,” Durano said.

 

He further pointed out that US comprises only 18 percent of the total international arrivals and any slowdown would be compensated by the European and other markets.

 

“The worst-case scenario is zero growth for the US market but that’s still 500,000 American tourists for the Philippines,” Durano pointed out.

He said the DOT remains firm in its target of 300,000 additional foreign tourists and $1 billion more earnings for the local tourism industry in year 2008.

 

Mayen Jaymalin

Philippine Daily Inquirer; Friday, January 25, 2008

 

 

 

 

Rich-poor gap widens in RP -- official survey


MANILA, Philippines -- The gap between rich and poor in the Philippines is widening, with the richest 10 percent of families raking in more than a third of the country's total income, according to government data released Saturday.

 

The richest 1.74 million families earned 36 percent of the total 2006 family income of just over P3 trillion ($74 billion), the National Statistics Office said in a statement.

 

The data placed the average family income at $12 a day, with few families having any savings.

 

The government says a Filipino family has about four members on average.

It said t