Tuesday, January 30, 2007

PARTIAL 2007 POLL AUTOMATION NOT DOABLE??? Kudos to all...Bulok. By. M.Esquillo

Bulok- a Filifino word meaning ROTTEN.

In the issue about poll automation, people should find-out and decide who deserves this tag.

So much for Sen. Gordon’s effort on poll automation, so much for PGMA’s approval, and so much for putting-it into law, the last say is till in the hands of our very formidable Commission on Election headed by our man of the house “Mr. It can’t be done” chairman Abalos, who, as early as October last year already went to the media shouting- that Partial Poll Automation can’t be done by 2007, saying a law hasn’t even been approved yet and a budget also hasn’t been released .

Year 2003, or even earlier than this, as the Filipino masses could recall, the Commission on Election pushed hard to acquire machines for poll automation. They did it so hastily that they stepped over technicalities and illegal procurement procedures, results? A 1.3B worth of machines junked inside a warehouse (The P1.3-billion contract with Mega Pacific e-Solutions, was invalidated by the Supreme Court in January 2004 because of glaring irregularities that attended the bidding process…the Mega-Pacific was incorporated only 11 days before the actual submission of Bid..???), and the good news is, according to our system of law - COMELEC officials were CLEARED, and by law, NOT GUILTY of any crime, a 1.3B worth of anomalies without a convicted individual…ironic? No! Bulok!

After the most talked about junking of these machines, 2004 election was done manually, and still, as expected, marred by controversies and cheating allegations. The commission cried like heroes: “that is why the poll should be automated”. As if they were saying that they did their best but they were junked and they don’t know why: playing innocent? Wow Bulok!

A few months after the 2004 mess, Election I mean, poll automation issue was on fire, it was even included in PGMA’s 10 point agenda where the talk about 2007 poll automation is so hot you could cook a lechon in less than a minute. Here goes COMELEC again providing their angelic cry for poll automation. We are all for it!!! Taking the guise of someone who is very ready for automation any time a law is put in place, isn’t that remarkable?

Tracking the issues about this poll automation: PGMA signed R.A. 9369 last Jan.23, seeking to amend the current automation law Republic Act 8436. This law emanated from Sen. Dick Gordon’s S.B. 2231 or the Automated Election Act which was approved last Oct. 12, 2007. (an earlier version was authored by Sen. Angara in the year 2003). A house version (HB 5352 which was approved via a vote of 163 VS 2 last June 7, 2006) of this SB was also authored by Rep. Jesli Lapuz (currently the DepEd Secretary). Even if a person is not fully aware of this tracks, one could say that this issue has been in all the places around the country for quite a long time. Majority of our masses are tired of waiting. The irony is that, despite of the COMELEC’s pronouncements that they are pushing for poll automation for the past 6 years all they can say now is “it can’t be done”. A great service for the Filipino people… Bulok

Now, the issue is at the edge, even to the extent where our favorite guy claim that he would rather be put in jail than to push for partial automation on May 14 unprepared! Jesus, Mary and Joseph… isn’t all those years more than enough??? What have they been doing for the past years? Listening to the issue and events as it shape our electoral system while doing nothing is truly remarkable...Bulok

Our guy was well updated with all the details of deliberations all the way from the start of filling in the lower house up to the time when the senate bungled over excessive debates last April to Oct. 2006. “Mr. It can’t be done” should have prepared for whatever the result is and could have been positive enough to at least prepare for its approval. Besides he was bound to be the hero of poll automation right? Not because he wants to but simply because it is within his mandates as the chairman of the nation’s very credible poll body to make our election Clean, and speedy. They were ready since 2004 right?..Bulok.

This issue has been, according to our great leaders and political experts should be studied first. If a single year is not enough to study a single bill then how long can we make a law? The Bill has been debated well in both houses. Now, COMELEC says it’s too late while local officials says they want to study it first…STUDY??? At this stage what a sense of responsibility…Bulok

If study is the issue, they should have done it last year while the issue was hot on the grill, when all text are available in almost all sources, the net, print publications and even from the files of both houses..if they are too concern about studying the bill or I mean the newly signed RA 9369, they had all the time last year but they simply ignored it, they went on to ride with other issues where media is much more focus..No MEDIA, NO THANKS! ..Bulok

Whatever comes after the ComElec’s Advisory Council convene on Monday and whatever their final recommendations on the viability of partial poll automation, the people should know that Automation has been a long debated issue, but there are those who only sits without doing anything pretending to be concern but not acting when needed. It has been placed in lengthy debates and It has been approved into law. And accordingly, the said RA says that a partial automation in at least 2 pilot municipalities and 2 pilot cities must be made prior to full implementation. The pilot testing will enable our “very credible poll body” to STUDY the system prior to its full implementation on 2010. This has been the issue since last April 2006, COMELEC has been in every step of the way but they did nothing to prepare for the possibility of its approval, they did not prepare when they had the time, I wonder why, maybe we can ask ”Mr. It can’t be done” why…Bulok!

Rotten materials emits a very unpleasant smell…in the issue of poll automation Rotten officials go unpunished and even not given reprimands. In a normal company, a manager who does nothing to prepare for the inevitable things (specially if he has the full knowledge of that thing) that might happen in months or even years to come usually gets fired. Much more if he is caught saying “I am not prepared” despite of the reality that it is his duty to be so. In the COMELEC’s case, they are simply unprepared that’s all…Bulok

2004 Election was very controversial- An open- buffet of allegations on massive cheating, delays in counting and proclamation, protests left and right resulting to an almost a constitutional and political crisis last year. A very traditional election feast for the tired Filipino people and these could again happen after May 14 courtesy of our “Mr. It cant be done” who did all his best to prepare since last 2004 Election to really and honestly make our election process really credible. But let us not just give “Mr. it cant be done” all the credits let us also give hand for those who derailed the passing of the bill in the senate for without them this law should have been smoothly been in its place late August. And kudos should also be given to our great political leaders who did nothing but criticize each other from January to December 2006 and placed automation on the bottom of their priorities. To them we should give an award to honor their great service to the nation, the award will be entitled “BULOK”.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Transcript of Keynote Address of Senator Richard J. Gordon
Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines
19 January 2007

It is a great honor to join the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on its first meeting in the new year, and I welcome the opportunity to take part in this discussion of prime developments and challenges in our country.

We meet at a pivotal time and hopeful time for the Philippines. We Filipinos have come through a year of challenge and difficulty. The economy is experiencing a period of resurgence on what seems to be a good run. Politically the government has weathered challenges to its authority and stability. International credit rating agencies have given the country a vote of confidence, and there is a prevalent sense of optimism in the air, something we have not known since the eve of the 1997 financial crisis.

Considering how long we have hoped for a change in national fortunes. It might be easy for some to join the chorus of optimism, but we would be doing ourselves and our country a disservice if we don't look at the national situation thoughtfully and objectively. Precisely because we seem to be on a roll, this is the time to ask how we can sustain the period of economic resurgence in our country. Including providing specific recommendations on how to do so. Continued success is not a given.

Hopeful times like these have come and gone before in our country. Again and again, at difficult times or turns in our history, we have known surges of vitality in our national life. I should know, we did Subic quite fast, surprised everybody, only to see them followed by decline and even crisis. The last thing we want is to ride the cycle of boom and bust again.

Curiously there are those who believe that our best course now is for politics to just get out of the way, and let private enterprise do its thing. Some even say that holding elections this May could spook the economy and send it into a tailspin. Because of our perpetually quibbling politicians, and sometimes murderous politics, the idea of a political respite may sound appealing.

But it is a mirage. As already seen, the very idea of cancelling the elections this year proposed by Cha Cha advocates, certainly not by this representation, became a lightning rod for citizen protest causing the administration to relent. Its kindred idea of ousting the Senate and growing unicameral, has gained no traction whatsoever in public opinion.

The hard reality is that politics and governance are crucial to sustaining our economic momentum. There is no way forward outside of democratic politics and sound public policy and administration. When administration allies of President Arroyo fended-off impeachment moves against her and then phased-out a coup attempt last year, fears of political instability in the country receded.

When this was followed by purposive legislative and executive action to wrestle down the fiscal deficit, particularly in passing the expanded VAT, and improving government revenues, international confidence was renewed in our capability for sound economic management.

These developments combined with soaring OFW remittances, high tourist arrivals and export receipts, bring us where we are now. The same convergence of Economic and Political concerns will sustain our economic momentum.

I see three key political challenges that are critical at this time. The first challenge is holding free, credible and speedy elections in May, and commencing the process of automating the conduct of elections and other electoral reforms. The second is affirming the rule of law in the country, and all that it connotes of public order, national security, effective judiciary, and transparent laws and regulations. Third and finally, we need effective Executive- Legistlative collaboration, in taking down long-standing roadblocks to economic modernization, like the poor state of infrastructure and social services in our country.

Each of these is a test of Philippine political credibility. As with Don Quijote's windmill, we will soar or sink depending on how successfully we meet them. The May elections have taken on exceptional importance, not only because electoral results will have grave repercussions in policy making, but because they are now seen at home and abroad, as a test of our capability to hold credible elections.

It is a sad thing to say about the oldest democracy in Asia, that we are back to Kindergarten school in Elections management. By a combination of both tradition and opportunism, we have failed to adopt modern technologies to our electoral system and processes. Each political exercise has become more farcical than the last. To foreign correspondents who have covered elections in other countries, it is totally mystifying why voters must painstakingly write down every name they vote for, and why it takes weeks, even months, to proclaim election winners. It is what Winston Churchill called, "A riddle wrapped in a mystery within an enigma."

This dubious tradition is compounded by recent developments that raise some uncertainty about the coming balloting. The rash of suspensions of local officials by sudden orders of the Ombudsman, are unsettling and raise questions about their timing. Why is this happening now when the election season is at hand? The inclusion of one or two pro-administration officials does not dispel worries about an orchestrated effort to curry advantage for administration bets.

We condemn in no uncertain terms, and speaking from experience in Subic Bay, the excessive and unjustifiable use of force by the police in Iloilo, against Governor Noli Tupaz. I'm glad, I was told earlier today, that the closure this week of Newsbreak, a news magazine highly critical of the administration is not really political. I hope that's true and not propaganda. But I was very concerned last night when I saw that and I included this as part of my speech. But this is part of the reason why many have caused to be skeptical in this country today. The memories of the Tribune of last year and many others including what I'm going to say later, I think will add to that.

The great controversy over the 2004 presidential election has served as a national wake-up call to fully reform our electoral system. Reform will not come easy however, after two years of preparing for this political exercise, we still have no comprehensive program for reform and modernization of the system. People will still have to stand vigil over the process. Speedy canvassing is still years away. But this coming May there is hope at least, that we will take the first and vital step since we've started holding elections in this country, towards real electoral reform -- the beginning of automation of our election system.

By overwhelming votes, both houses of Congress have passed election law amendments that authorize the COMELEC to use an automated election system in order to ensure transparency, credibility, fairness, speedy and accuracy recording in our elections. The amended act is now with the President for her signature. We are confident that she will give it her approval because not only did she certify this bill to Congress, but also added automated election as part of her ten-point agenda. I hope she will not change her mind.

The significant provisions of the amended law are: one, for the 2007 elections, full-automation of the election system in two provinces and two highly- urbanized cities each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. An appropriation of 2.6 billion pesos for this is authorized under the law. Two: full-automation nationwide in the 2010 national and local elections. By initiating the system in the 2007 elections, we can make needed adjustments and changes in technology and organization for nationwide automation of the vote. Other features of this bill include speedy electronic transmission of results within the hour, and the voter verifiable paper audit trail.

This should obviate hopefully, wholesale cheating which is called "dagdag-bawas" in this country, literally, "more or less". One act of Congress of course will not transform our electoral system and our Commission on Elections into a haven of suffrage. The important thing however, is that the reform process will start once the President signs this into law. And we will not stop until we truly have in place, an election system that works.

This is my commitment as chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws, and principal author and sponsor of the automated election bill. The COMELEC therefore has no business saying that it can no longer implement the law in time for the May elections.

The COMELEC is the only organization that is totally starved of credibility. This is plain and simple shirking of responsibility. We have brought to Manila one of the election machines necessary for the pilot effort. If the COMELEC doesn't want to move, this representation has made arrangement, gone out of its way, to go to San Francisco and pick up one of the machines, and it's coming this Saturday, to be able to show here to our country, that we can actually do it in time for this coming elections.

Five hundred to a thousand machines can be brought in within weeks if we act with dispatch. The point to remember is that we are starting here a paradigm shift in elections management in our country. Postpone this reform yet again, and we will have yet again, a messy balloting in 2010, national and local elections.

Those who have championed this law at the senate and the house, and at civic forums across the country, submit that what matters in the May elections is not so much who wins in the balloting, the administration or the opposition, what matters is that we are able to hold free, credible and speedy elections. If we meet the test we all win. Fail it, and we all lose; and that includes the country's economic momentum.

Second challenge we must meet is maintaining and ensuring the rule of law in our country.

Specifically, this simply means that the government is subject to law. It should not engage in constitutional or legal stretch as they have done in the past year. 1017, 464, PI, Con Ass, Cha Cha and all these other things that they have tried to do. All this must be put to a stop. The Constitution is the criteria of validity.

The Judiciary must remain independent. Individual rights must be guaranteed, and citizens welfare must be promoted at all times. Rule of law is a hot-button issue now because the country is facing questions about, and I think it should involve all of you here, the recent wave of killings of journalists, judges, activists, and politicians that overall disfigure public order and civility in this country.

The continuing communist insurgency, the longest one in Asia, and Muslim rebellion in the country that result in the government's presence in certain areas of the country being marginalized, the effectiveness of our courts and the justice system in meting out justice and resolving conflict. Some courts have become "Buyable". B-U-Y-A-B-L-E. The framework of laws and regulations that circumscribe business in the country resulting in the lowering of the Philippine standing in international competitiveness surveys conducted by among others, the World Bank.

We do not have the time here to discuss all these problems in detail. I will just raise two points.

First, I believe, our historic inability to bring closure, especially to many outstanding cases does not inspire much confidence in the rule of law in our land. We cannot even bring closure to Aguinaldo and Bonifacio. We cannot bring even closure to the collaborators in World War II.

But two cases: twenty years after the downfall Ferdinand Marcos and his family, our government is still litigating cases pertaining to his alleged ill-gotten wealth, and spending precious money on the PCGG. In fact, the PCGG has spent the most under this administration. You know, if you include all the administrations put together, the PCGG has dramatically increased its resources allegedly to recover the Marcos wealth. But you all know that our Committee, served by this representation, destroyed the myth that the PCGG cannot be touched, cannot be brought to court, cannot be brought to the Legislature.

Happy Anniversary boys and girls! Today is the anniversary of EDSA II. January 19. Five years after that fall from power, and being hauled to court on plunder charges, former President Joseph Estrada is still under trial and the travesty is, he is in Tanay, "Preso Caballero" so to speak. I have no beef against President Estrada, but certainly we send warped values to our young people in this country.

When we start talking about Justice, it must be applied to everyone fairly and squarely. No special treatment even for presidents, for Americans (like Smith), or for anybody in this country. It must be the same. The list goes on. The more important the case it seems, the harder it is for us to end them! This underscores a larger failing. The tendency of debates and contentions go on Ad Nausea.

The problem is of surpassing importance to our future as a nation. We cannot meet the challenges of the future if we are still rerunning the arguments of the past; thus the need for closure.

Secondly, our laws and regulations governing business in our country need review. When we are not over regulated, we are inequitably regulated; and we have a habit of changing policies in the middle of the game. Law and policy governing the economy have to be enduring and sustaining.

I know, I've come from Subic and I've seen issues such as the major port bid there, a major, major port operator had already won, and all of a sudden somebody lobbies with the powers that be, and an order is issued to set aside the debate; and that was a tragic mistake for the past administrations because we lost the opportunity to use the three airports of Subic, Clark and Manila and the two seaports of Subic and Manila, to jumpstart the development which could have been massive already in Central Luzon today. Why? Because there were contributors in the previous elections whom previous presidents cannot say no to.

Regulatory tax shield is what we are talking about here. We cannot stimulate investments and encourage trade with policies that lurch and change frequently. Weak and unstable states lack this type of continuity. Strong and stable states provide the investors time horizons for planning their projects.

The danger of sudden lurches in policy is well-illustrated in Thailand's recent change of the rules on foreign investments that spooked the stock exchanges and FDI decisions there. Perhaps it may even have benefited our country by doing so.

On the other hand, the assurance of policy, continuity, and stability is shown by the experience of China and Vietnam. They have attracted foreign investments because their policies are firm and hospitable to investments. This is the underlying reason why nations like them are doing better in attracting FDI's than capitalist countries like the Philippines.

Third: Executive-Legistlative collaboration. I believe we can sustain our current economic momentum if there is more effective Executive-Legislative collaboration. The danger of grid-lock and incessant executive-legislative bickering is the kryptonite of the presidential system of government.

Yet there is no good reason why the nation should be at the mercy of such infirmity. With greater Executive-Legislative collaboration, I believe, we can address more effectively, the major obstacles to accelerated economic growth and modernization.

These are: the modernization of infrastructure in the country; the improvement of education; the importance of public services; and eradicating graft in government. When Congress and the Executive collaborate, we can see how beneficial it can be to the nation.

The passage of the Sin Tax law, the EVAT law, and the Biofuels Act are just examples of this. When they are bickering, as in the distressing failure to pass a national budget for some years now, the nation is held hostage, the economy starves. In the last two weeks of session, we are hopeful that there will be a breakthrough in the passing the National budget of 2007.

If the rumored agreement proves firm, we will now have the wherewithal to aim for higher growth this year including pouring vital funds into infrastructure development and social services. In infrastructure, we need a serious and comprehensive long-term program for infrastructure development, commensurate to the demands of a major or modern economy.

Without modern airports, seaports, communications, power, and other vital infrastructures of a modern economy, the gains of the day are only fleeting. This is more than just a problem of money, it is a problem of commitment.

The long-delayed opening of the new Manila International Airport vividly illustrates all that has been wrong in infrastructure development in our country. And I say this, without batting an eyelash for as Secretary of Tourism, I said, "Let's open the airport, and let us investigate while the airport is operating. " Do not close it and make it a monument for practically a big time advertising for all people who land here and say --Why are we using this old airport when there is a new airport?" And the answer will be, "Well you know there was corruption in that airport," and we are advertising our corruption all over the place.

Ironically, we have today, many opportunities that could spell huge dividends if our infrastructure were only better. We can double our tourism arrivals, another love of mine, if we had the rooms, and I'm glad Boo Chanco spoke about that yesterday in his column, the airports, flights and the facilities to host them.

Tourism is a great industry that provides jobs to a lot of our people. That is why I have introduced the Tourism bill in the Senate to declare a national policy for Tourism so we can maximize the gains of this industry.

Unfortunately the game of Constitutional stretch by the President put it aside, and in the process, Tourism bill was put in the backboard. We intend to push it again and again until we get it done.

We could also spur greater growth in agriculture, industry and services if our infrastructure were up to speed. The 3-2-1 Luzon global corridor which I spoke about earlier, which I had also introduced in the Senate, seeks to integrate and optimize effectively and aggressively the three airports in Subic, Clark and Manila, two seaports in Subic and Manila, and one connecting highway or railway to encourage trade and investments and create business and job opportunities in the area.

Between Subic, Clark and Manila, you could actually put new industrial parks, promote it, so that we have a product that all these companies looking for new investments can put into right away.

We just don't build a road to say, "This is a project of Congressman Buwaya, Senator Mangungurakot, and you know, President so and so." We could do many more things that could rival our high-growth neighbors if only we had made the necessary investments in infrastructure, like in an adequate, efficient National Railway system in our earlier years.

But it's no use regretting the past. Our huge infrastructure gap, our glaring hole in national competitiveness must be filled by the decisive and energetic action of government today.

In Education we face a similar problem. Our needs are always way ahead of our capabilities. Every year we face a shortage of classrooms and teachers; and we have to worry about the quality of education in our public and private school system. Educational flaws stem from poor curriculum, inadequate teacher training and low investment in education.

When a kid goes to school in a ram-shackled schoolroom, not even sure whether he is going to have a bench to sit on, not even sure whether he is going to have a blackboard, not even sure whether he is ever going to see a computer right there on the ground, and at the same time being hungry.

Compare that guy with a young guy in Singapore or in Hong Kong who goes to school in a train going underneath the ocean, something that is perhaps unbelievable to many of our young people, and see modern airports, and see schools that show they care, that the government cares for the welfare of its people. Not as a patron, but as somebody who wants to draw their people to go out of poverty, not to say, "Akong maka-mahirap" or " I'm pro-poor" but to pull them out and say, " We're going to pick you out of poverty and we're going to create that opportunity for change."

Yet it is in this area where we can be most competitive in the world, as our workforce has become more vital to the global economy so the challenge of educating our young become more imperative and urgent.

Congress and the Executive should agree that Education is the best economic policy of all. Our strategy must should not be to compete as a low-wage sweatshop economy, rather it is to harness our greatest asset -- our people, their great potential, their intrepidity and their industry so they can find their future not only in foreign shores but also in their native Filipinas.

As we develop this asset, we succeed as a nation. In the new global economy, the more you learn, the more you earn. I hope we will stop learning to just yearn and start learning, and in the process make a difference in the lives of our people.

We talk a lot about eradicating poverty in our country but the fact is there. Is that there is only one way of ending it. Government must lead and tell the people we are going to grow out of poverty. It is not enough to identify with the poor. It is important not just to give them hope, but to give them the wherewithal, to let themselves walk out into the promised land without false messiahs in this country proclaiming how much they love the poor, or as the Japanese would say, " how much they rob the poor."

We can do this by harnessing our greatest asset, our people, their great potential, as I pointed out, their intrepidity and industry, and I repeat it again and again, because this has shown us the success that they have done for us.

This country floats today based on those particular qualities of our people abroad. They have found their future in foreign shores and they are helping us rise up. We must do it here in our homeland. All these actions require decisive action in the political sphere.

Economists and political scientists warn that it is not enough for governments to survive. To be perfect they must be politically credible. There is a direct correlation between political credibility and economic development.

"Nation building," says Francis Fukuyama, is no longer the primary challenge to developing countries. It is state-building, creating effective institutions for governance and development. Good institutions enable government to break the cycle of poverty and make economic modernization happen.

What we have often lacked, unfortunately, is the capacity to focus. The capacity to focus on problems and never to relent until they are solved. We are focused on fixing the blame all the time, but we are never focusing on fixing the problems of our country.

We get distracted, when taxed with new trials and tribulations and where there is no news, some Senator or Congressman can easily make an expose and refocus once again our people on our weaknesses. It is time to focus on our strengths.

And we often lack the moral stamina for sustained effort. I use the word "Moral" stamina because it hurts me when I read William Howard Taft's report to Mr. Mckinley at the turn of the century when they first came here and he said, when Mckinley asked him, " What are we gonna do with the Filipinos?" and Mr. Taft said, "The Filipinos are ignorant and superstitious. And the very few that have any education that deserve the name, are but a few politicians, who have nothing but their personal interest to gratify, and no "Moral" stamina whatsoever ".

No courage to continue the course, to use education to uplift others, this is what we've lacked in the last sixty years because we have the new colonials amongst us today, our own countrymen who are in power -- the wealthy and the mighty.

We stand today before unparalleled opportunities to accelerate the modernization of our economy and our country. We will succeed to the extent that we have the political will, the economic know-how, and the moral stamina to meet the challenge.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I certainly believe that it is not too late to seek a newer world for this Philippines.

Thank you very much and God bless you all.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Korean Shipmaking Jobs to be Shipped Overseas

Korea's shipbuilding industry is still the envy of the world, outpacing its foreign rivals in technology, skill and orders. But now, in a quest for cheaper land and labor, some Korean shipbuilders are moving their operations overseas.

The shipbuilding industry is enormously important to the Korean economy, supplying hundreds of thousands of jobs. And with a single ship costing more than W200 billion(US$1=W937), the business generates tremendous foreign currency income. If Korean shipbuilders leave for foreign lands, then local workers will be out of jobs, affiliate companies will be badly impacted and the country will feel a hard economic blow.

STX Shipbuilding's construction zone on China's Changxing Island, Jan. 13. When it's fully operational, the 3.795 million sq. m shipyard will help bring an estimated 100,000 jobs to the area.

Yet that process is already underway. Korean shipmakers have built or are currently building ship block assembly plants overseas, and even constructing entire shipyards in the Philippines and China. Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction, the world's seventh largest shipbuilder, has invested US$721 million in a new shipyard at Subic Bay, the Philippines. When Hanjin was unable to expand its shipyard in Busan, Korea, it looked elsewhere for a new building site. With the Philippines offering low land prices and cheap manpower, a 50-year lease was signed. The construction site is working overtime to finish by March.

Korea's STX Shipbuilding, the sixth largest ship maker in the world, plans to build a 1.518 million sq. m ship block assembly plant in China by the end of next year. The company wants to increase its annual production capacity from 250,000 tons to 500,000 tons. And despite denials from STX, news reports in China say that STX will build a full shipyard there.

To learn the truth, this reporter last week visited Changxing, an island off the western coast of Dalian, Liaoning Province, China. Measuring one-seventh the size of Jeju Island, the whole of Changxing appears to be turning into an enormous construction zone. Earth-moving equipment and building vehicles line the roads. It is common knowledge among the islanders that STX Shipbuilding will start construction on the southern coast of Changxing in April. Local workers and merchants are all smiles at news reports that the Korean company will create thousands of jobs. When asked if she knew of the STX plan for a shipyard, Wen, 42, the owner of a supermarket, said, "We hear the news every day. People now call this place STX Island, instead of Changxing Island."

Four years ago, STX began looking for a site for its new shipyard. After encountering all kinds of grievances and regulations at home, the company gave up on building the facility in Korea. It found a more attractive industrial environment in China, where workers are forbidden from striking. Once STX decided on Changxing for the shipyard, all preparations to get the facility went speedily and without hitch. Early last year, STX and the city of Dalian held their first meeting, and a local corporate entity was established soon after.

The building site covers 3.795 million sq. m, four times the size of STX's Jinhae Shipyard. Although the price for the building site has not been officially disclosed, a Changxing official said, "Cost for a 1.98 million sq. m site in the first-stage contract is almost negligible." Total investment is said to be around US$920 million. In addition, the city of Dalian is providing the infrastructure for the shipyard for free, and a new highway is being built that will link Dalian with Changxing.

According to the Special Development Zone of Changxing, about 100,000 jobs will be created including 14,000 STX executives and staff and those in various affiliate companies. It's a huge figure, especially when one considers that only 300,000 new jobs were created in the whole of South Korea last year.

At least the Chinese are happy. "Oriental Precision & Engineering, another Korean company, has a plant in Dalian, twice the size of its plant in Korea,'' said Xing Liangzhong, the vice mayor of Dalian. ''I'm sincerely thankful to Korean enterprises for contributing so much to our economic development here."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

May 14, 2007, election period starts today

The prohibitions on the carrying of firearms and other deadly weapons, suspension of local elective officials, and transfer of officers and employees in the civil service take effect today, the start of the five-month election period for the May 14 regular election of national and local officials, which ends on June 13.

Also prohibited starting today are the alteration of territory of a precinct or establishment of a new precinct, organization or maintenance of reaction forces, strike forces, or other similar forces, and use of security personnel or bodyguards of candidates, whether or not such bodyguards are regular members of the Armed Forces or the Philippine National Police or other law enforcement agencies.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec), led by Chairman Benjamin S. Abalos Sr. and Commissioners Resurreccion Z. Borra, Florentino A. Tuason Jr., Romeo A. Brawner, Rene V. Sarmiento, and Nicodemo T. Ferrer, said that during the election period, all gun-carrying privileges issued by the PNP are suspended and only the Comelec, through its Committee on Firearms and Security personnel, is the sole authority that can issue permits to carry firearms outside of residence.

Head of the Comelec Gun Ban Committee is Commissioner Nicodemo T. Ferrer.

Designated as Committee Vice Chairman is Law Department Director Alioden D. Dalaig, and as members two representatives each from the AFP and PNP. The committee is assigned to evaluate all applications for exemption from the gun ban and determine whether or not an applicant may be authorized to carry, bear, or transport firearms or to employ security personnel within the exemption as provided in Comelec en banc Resolution No. 7764A.

Ferrer said exemptions from the gun ban will be granted to officers or members of the AFP, PNP, or any law enforcement agencies constituting the normal security personnel complement of the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice, Comelec commissioners, other Cabinet members, and senior military and police officials.

The committee said members of the military and police forces, or any other law enforcement agencies are prohibited from carrying their firearms outside their barracks, garrison, camps, and offices, so are candidates for public office, including incumbent officials seeking election to any public office or any person, their security personnel, or bodyguards.

For purposes of implementing the ban, the Comelec gun ban committee said public places include building, street, park, private vehicle or public conveyance, even if licensed to possess or carry the same, unless authorized in writing by the Commission.

The Comelec also created a regional committee on firearms and security personnel composed of a regional election director as chairman, the assistant regional director as vice chairman, and the PNP regional director as member.

The regional committee will act only on requests for exemption of guards of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, who will escort prisoners pursuant to a lawful order.

The decisions of the Gun Ban Committee and those of the regional committee are appealable to the Comelec en banc, whose decision is final. By E. T. SUAREZ - Manila Bulletin

Mayor Peewee, Calixto, mga konsehal tuluyang sinibak

Ang Pilipino STAR Ngayon

Matapos tuluyang suspendihin si Cavite Gov. Ayong Maliksi, tuluyan na ring sinibak sina Pasay City Mayor Peewee Trinidad, Vice-Mayor Tony Calixto at 11 konsehal dito.

Bukas Enero 15 nakatakdang ihain ng Department of Interior and Local Govt. (DILG ) ang dismissal form office order laban sa mga nabanggit na opisyal sa Pasay City hall.

Ang nasabing dismissal order ay base na rin sa naging pinal na desisyon ng Office of the Ombudsman kaugnay sa kasong paglabag sa anti-graft and corruption practices na isinampa ng isang Juanito del Mundo laban kina Trinidad, Calixto at mga konsehal nito.

Matatandaang una nang sinuspinde ng DILG na 6-buwan na walang suweldo ang mga nasabing opisyal matapos na masangkot ang mga ito sa maanomalyang garbage disposal sa lungsod.

Samantala, nakatakda rin hainan ng dismissal from office order si Jaen Nueva Ecija Mayor Tony Esquivel at Iloilo Gov. Neil Tupaz dahil pa rin sa paglabag sa anti-graft law.

Kaugnay nito, sa kautusan na rin ng Office of the Ombudsman na ibinaba noong Enero 11 at 12, ipinag-utos na rin ni DILG Sec. Ronaldo Puno ang agarang pagsuspinde laban kina Mamburao Occidental Mindoro Mayor Joel Panaligan; Aguilar Pangasinan Mayor Ricardo Evangelista at Vallaheromos, Negros Occidental Mayor Joniper Villegas dahil sa mga kaso ng unathorized use of public funds. (Doris Franche)

Batangas braces for suspension of governor

The suspension stemmed from the graft charges filed by Vice Gov. Ricky Recto before the Ombudsman two years ago for alleged lack of bidding in the computerization project

BATANGAS CITY — All gates leading to the capitol grounds here have been blocked by dump trucks and bulldozers since yesterday morning, following news of an impending six-month suspension order from Office of the Ombudsman against Batangas Gov. Arman Sanchez spread over the weekend.

The STAR source who requested anonymity said that inside information from the Office of the Ombudsman said that a suspension order will be served to Sanchez tomorrow in connection with the alleged anomalous P350-million computerization program.

The suspension stemmed from the graft charges filed by Vice Gov. Ricky Recto before the Ombudsman two years ago for alleged lack of bidding in the computerization project.

If the suspension is served tomorrow, Sanchez will be the second government official suspended this year by the Ombudsman.

In a mobile phone interview, lawyer Ronnie Geron, Batangas provincial administrator, said they have yet to receive a copy of the suspension order.

Geron said the municipal mayors immediately flocked to Sanchez’s office at the capitol to show support to the beleaguered governor.

"We’re really frustrated if the suspension will push through," Geron said, adding that they were not expecting the suspension order because of the six-month suspension that was already been slapped against six members of the Bids and Awards committee who approved the computerization contract.

"The Ombudsman actually did not include Gov. Sanchez in the suspension order because of insufficient evidence linking him to the computerization project," Geron explained.

Asked if they’re planning to barricade the capitol grounds to prevent any representative of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) from serving the suspension order, Geron said they will act if something comes up but did not elaborate.

Sta. Teresita Mayor Adorlito Ginete, president of the Municipal Mayor’s League of Batangas, said they have yet to come up with a plan.

As of press time, supporters of the governor and town mayors allied to him continue to converge inside the provincial capitol. By Arnell Ozaeta - The Philippine Star

Pasay City execs dismissed

By Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star

Interior Undersecretary Brian Yamsuan disclosed yesterday that the Ombudsman ordered Friday the dismissal from government service of Pasay City Mayor Peewee Trinidad, Vice Mayor Antonio Calixto and 10 councilors for allegedly entering into an anomalous garbage contract.

Yamsuan said the dismissal order would be coursed through the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the agency tasked to implement the order.

Last November,Trinidad and company were ordered suspended by Malacanang for the same reason.

Yamsuan said the DILG failed to serve the order on Friday because it was penned late Friday afternoon.

He said the dismissal order would be served to Trinidad and the other officials on Monday.

Asked if Yamsuan had seen a copy of the order, he said he only heard about it from an official from the Office of the Ombudsman.

"I haven’t seen a copy of the dismissal although I have been informed about it. From what I know, the lawyer of Mayor Trinidad has been furnished with the dismissal order," he added.

Councilor Allan Panaligan, who is now the acting mayor of Pasay, will replace Trinidad while Arvin Tolentino, also a councilor will act as the vice mayor.

Both Panaligan and Tolentino were not charged with graft because they did not sign the garbage deal.

Trinidad, Calixto, and 10 councilors were suspended over alleged anomalies in the garbage collection and disposal contracts. The suspension order was issued by the Office of the Ombudsman and also implemented by the interior department.

The preventive suspension order was issued even as the department was directed to conduct "further investigation" of the case.

Greed, not need, is causing global warming

Hardly a day passes with-out some new dire warning of the disastrous impact of man-made global warming. Climate change is on us as we witness huge ice shelves of the Arctic and Antarctica breaking up. Rare and wonderful species are threatened with extinction and low-lying coastlines around the world will soon be flooded and uninhabitable. Campaigns to save the environment are growing. In Subic Bay fisherfolk are trying to close illegal fish pens that are polluting the waters, damaging the corals and the beaches and disrupting the livelihood of hundreds. Speaking out for justice is more important than ever as fish and animals are threatened worldwide.

Polar Bears on the list of endangered species, hundreds of species are going extent and climate change and environmental damage is causing it. The scientific evidence that we humans are heating up the planet by the nonstop burning of fossil fuels is undeniable. Heavy industries pollute the environment with billowing smoke and belching gases that create a seal around the planet and prevents the escape of heat into space.

Earth now a greenhouse
We have turned the planet into a greenhouse, temperatures continue rising alternatively causing heat waves, forest fires, droughts, desertification, violent storms, rising sea levels, freezing winters blistering summers, flash floods and melting ice caps. We are facing a catastrophe.

Political will, a change in our lifestyle and a change in corporate behavior is necessary to reverse this process. Oil corporations that drill and spill must be held accountable, mining companies that dig and damage have to be challenged to change their wasteful ways. All of us have to adopt new habits and conserve energy and power.

We can reduce asthma and lung disease, toxic poisoning, food contamination and water pollution by caring more about people than profit. Global warming is driven more by greed than need.

Unnecessary power plants
This week Filipinos began campaigning against a proposed 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant to be built on the beautiful and scenic Redondo Peninsula on Subic Bay. Coal burning power plants are the most polluting and damaging of all. There is already a surplus of power generation in the Subic Bay area. There is a Enron power plant in Subic already. In 1996 a new power line from the national grid provided even more power. A congressional hearing found evidence of corruption. The line was unnecessary, over designed and overpriced. It was still erected, and a corrupt nobody got elected to high office. Industry helps elect it own. The proposed power coal plant is just more of the same, a trade of electrical power for political power.

Electricity and gas prices have greatly increased. That slows investment, causes poverty, and increases forest destruction. The poor use more charcoal for cooking now and more trees are lost. After 60 years of indiscriminate logging by the rich almost 70 percent of the Philippine forests, the lungs of the earth, are gone.

Toxic fumes from the burning charcoal in the shacks of the poor cause them extensive lung damage and asthma. By providing low cost smokeless charcoal made from waste coconut husks we are tying to provide an alternative and we plant 1,000 trees a year. Change is possible on a small and large scale if we act together for the common good.

Aeta leader assassinated
In Zambales a Philippine indigenous group of Aeta protested the start of an open pit mine and had it stopped. But its leader was later assassinated by a death squad.

In the Amazon rain forest 800 Achuar, an indigenous people, led by their chief Alfonso Hualinga Sandy and his wife, Ana, banded together and surrounded the Peruvian oil drilling complex of Pluspetrol in a peaceful protest a few months ago.

They demanded an end to 36 years of oil spills and environmental destruction. Waving their ceremonial spears they closed the roads, airport and river port and halted production for two weeks. Corporate earnings plunged, government revenue stopped and suddenly these forgotten throwaway people were in the headlines and getting total government attention. Soon most of their demands were met, it was an unexpected but resounding success.

So, peaceful protesters, take heart. People power can save the environment, speaking out does work, we just have to do more of it to save the planet and ourselves.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kandidatong atat mangampanya kakasuhan ng Comelec

Kakasuhan ng Commission on Elections (Comelec) ang sinumang kandidato na maagang mangangampanya para sa darating na May 2007 elections.

Ayon kay Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, posibleng makasuhan ng premature campaigning ang mga kandidatong mangangampanya bago ang campaign period.

Nabatid na Pebrero 13 hanggang Mayo 12 ang kampanya para sa mga local na kandidato samantalang mula Marso 30 hanggang Mayo 12 naman ang sa pagka-senador.

Sinabi ni Jimenez na maaaring makulong ng isa hanggang anim na taon at diskuwalipikasyon sa posisyon ang kahihinatnan ng makakasuhang premature campaigning.

Nilinaw din nito na absuwelto naman sa kasong premature campaigning ang mga pulitikong ngayon lamang nagpapakalat ng mga campaign material dahil hindi pa naman nakakapaghain ang mga ito ng kanilang certificate of candidacy kung kaya’t hindi naman maituturing na kandidato ang mga ito.

Samantala, inihayag din ng Comelec na pinaghahandaan na rin nila ang pagsasa-ayos ng aplikasyon ng absentee voting para sa mga Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s).

Aniya, nasa proseso na ngayon ang Committee on Absentee Voting ng pangangalap ng mga nagpaparehistrong OFW’s mula sa iba’t ibang sulok ng mundo.

Idinagdag pa ni Jimenez na mauuna ng 30 araw ang botohan para sa mga OFW’s kaysa sa local na botante na itinakda mula Abril 14 hanggang Mayo 14. (Doris Franche - Ang Pilipino STAR Ngayon )

Pagasa receives Korean grant for rainfall monitoring

The Climatology and Agrometeorology branch of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) would receive a grant assistance from the Korean government to improve its rainfall monitoring and flood forecasting system.

Rosalina de Guzman, supervising weather specialist, said the Korea International Cooperation Agency would be providing early warning system devices such as rain gauges to Pagasa in the middle part of the year. A rain gauge costs $15,000.

De Guzman said the whole project costs millions of pesos, which would be piloted in the river basin in Iloilo City.

The project also includes the installation of rain gauges in Aurora and Mindanao river basins.

She said the equipment would enhance Pagasa’s monitoring of drought and flooding. It would also help the agency in assessing climate change and its impact on water resources and flood, including agriculture production.

De Guzman said they are currently conducting a study on climate change in the country and its effect to the agriculture sector.

Meanwhile, she said the peak of the El Niño phenomenon was experienced last December in Mindanao, specifically in Bukidnon, while below normal rainfall was experienced in the Visayas in November.

Luzon, however, experienced above normal rainfall in December, she said.

De Guzman said the weak El Niño will continue to prevail until the first half of the year.
By Helen Flores - The Philippine Star

Saturday, January 06, 2007



Puspusan na ang isinasagawang paghahanda ng Olongapo City Government para sa dalawang (2) araw na ‘’Overseas Job Fair’’ simula alas-9 ng umaga hanggang alas-5 ng hapon sa ika-15 at 16 ng Pebrero 2007.

Ang Job Fair na gaganapin sa Rizal Triangle Covered Court ay handog ni City Mayor James ‘’Bong’’ Gordon, Jr. sa mga skilled workers ng lungsod na nais magkapag-trabaho sa ibang bansa.

Ang kagandahan nito ay walang anumang placement fee ang kukunin sa mga makakapasang aplikante at sky is the limit ang bilang ng kukuning kwalipikadong manggagawa.

‘’Naniniwala ako sa galing at kalidad ng manggagawang Olongapeño kaya patuloy na magbibigay ang lokal na pamahalaan ng mga pagkakataon na magamit at ipakita ang kagalingang ito,’’ wika ni Mayor Bong Gordon.

Sa pangunguna ng Public Employment Services Office (PESO) at sa pakikipag-tulungan ng Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) ay bubuksan ang pagkakataon sa mga residente ng Olongapo na makapag-trabaho sa Taiwan, Korea at iba pang bansa na nangangailangan ng malaking work force.

Bukas ang mga aplikasyon para sa mga kalalakihan at kababaihang nasa dalawampu (20) hanggang tatlumput-walong (38) taong gulang. Kailangan lamang na magdala ng 1 litrato (2x2) kasama ang resume, birth certificate, employment certificates, NBI clearance at iba pang supporting documents.

Ayon kay PESO Manager Evelyn delos Santos, ‘’Mas maganda kung ang mga aplikante ay may nakahanda nang Passport upang sa gayo’y kapag nakapasa ay madali na silang makaka-alis.’’

Sa imbitasyon ni Mayor Gordon ay darating ang labinglimang (15) ibat-ibang ahensiya buhat pa sa ka-Maynilaan upang maki-isa sa job fair.

Matatandaan na marami nang mga Olongpeño ang nasa Korea ngayon na kabilang sa mga nakapasang aplikante sa mga isinagawang kahalintulad na Overseas Job Fair ni Mayor Gordon noong 2005 at 2006.

Olongapo City Public Affairs Office

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Palace graft body to suspend 5 corrupt execs a month

Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. Inquirer
MANILA – The Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) says it plans to suspend at least five corrupt officials every month in 2007 as part of its intensified crackdown on corruption.

The PAGC said it will also reward government agencies that get high marks in its "anti-corruption scorecard."

“We look forward to the coming year as a period of building further on PAGC’s achievements in the past year, to really drive our message across that this government will leave no stone unturned to substantially reduce, if not to totally eradicate, corruption,” said PAGC Chairperson Constancia de Guzman in a press statement.

In its attack plan for 2007, the PAGC said it aims to resolve at least two cases each week or 10 per month at most.

To meet its 2007 goals, the PAGC said the capacity of its investigators would be enhanced through additional training and through sharing of information and coordination in the conduct of surveillance with the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police-CIDG.

"We want to ensure that corruption will indeed be a high-risk, low-reward activity,"said De Guzman.

The agency also plans to create an anti-corruption scorecard that will gauge how well agencies are faring in the campaign. The Department of Budget and Management has shown interest in the proposal and may use the scorecard in budget allocation to reward agencies actively implementing anti-corruption plans, according to De Guzman.

The PAGC will conduct so-called "visioning and missioning" workshops with Cabinet secretaries to ensure that they implement anti-corruption strategies in their departments.

The PAGC plans to tap a P1 billion anti-corruption fund from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for its 2007 program.

Beware of illegal recruiters in cyberspace, DOLE warns

WITH the bright prospect of another 10-percent to 12-percent increase in overseas deployment this year, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Monday warned against illegal recruiters that include foreign and cyberspace-based firms.

“I advise all overseas job applicants to always inquire or consult the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration [POEA] office regarding overseas employment, much more if they are in doubt,” Labor and Employment Secretary Arturo Brion said.

Brion made the warning after receiving reports from POEA about overseas manpower brokers that recruit Filipino caregivers and nurses to work in Spain.

“The Spanish government has not authorized any placement agency outside the Philippines to recruit Filipino workers,” he said.

Brion explained that under the “Proyekto Piloto,” the experimental hiring of Filipino health-care professionals and skilled workers, only Philippine-based and licensed recruitment agencies are allowed to deploy OFWs to Spain.

“In our memorandum of understanding with Spain, the point of hiring and issuance of entry visas and work permits are exclusively in the Philippines,” Brion pointed out.

On cyberspace or Internet job advertisement, Deputy Administrator Leo Cacdac admitted that POEA allows licensed recruitment agencies to advertise their job orders on their respective websites or any online job-search companies if the vacancies are covered by manpower requests of accredited employers.

But Cacdac warned that unscrupulous persons have built cheap-looking websites in legitimate online job-search companies or entered several discussion boards or forums that refrequented by OFWs to lure their victims.

Applicants should always be alert and wary of the jobs offered, like “too-good-to-be-true” salaries and other perks including accommodation and bonuses.

POEA records show that for the period January to November 2006 alone, OFW deployment has already reached 1,037,135, or 12.8 percent higher than 919,480 posted in the same period in 2005.

It is the first time in the 30-year history of overseas employment that the one-million mark was breached

Monday, January 01, 2007

‘Constitutional crisis over Smith’

By Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star

A constitutional crisis could be the result of the transfer of convicted rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith from the custody of Philippine authorities to the US embassy, a group of lawyers warned yesterday.

The Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (Codal), an organization of lawyers, law professors and law students, also denounced yesterday the "surreptitious release" of Smith from the Makati City Jail (MCJ) on Dec. 29 as a blatant display of disrespect for the judicial system.

Codal spokesperson Neri Colmenares said that by ordering Smith’s transfer, the executive branch is courting a constitutional clash with the judiciary, should the Supreme Court uphold Makati City regional trial court (RTC) Judge Benjamin Pozon’s decision to detain Smith at the MCJ and bar the US and Philippine governments from transferring the 21-year-old US Marine to a facility not run by Philippine authorities.

Colmenares warned that the US embassy is foreign territory under international law and is beyond the reach of any Supreme Court order.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, however, said the transfer of Smith from the MCJ was necessary to protect both Philippine and US national interests.

Enrile asserted that the transfer was allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.

"In a contract like this, it is an extraordinary system, another sovereign that is involved. It is not only the sovereignty of the Philippines that must be taken into account but you have to take into account the sovereignty of the other state which entered into the agreement," Enrile said in an interview over dzBB yesterday.

"We should not sacrifice our national interest. What we are talking about right now is only on the issue of custody," Enrile said. "The case will continue. The case is on and is being appealed. It will continue to be heard by the highest court of the land. Let us wait for the decision of the highest court of the land. Let the process take place."

Colmenares said President Arroyo, in allegedly authorizing the transfer, committed a culpable violation of the Constitution, noting that under Article VII Sections 17 and 5, the President is required to defend the Constitution and execute all laws faithfully.

"Under Section 13 of the 1987 Constitution, anyone who commits a capital offense in the Philippines cannot post bail nor be released on recognizance when the evidence of guilt is strong," Colmenares said. "Not only were the evidence strong against Smith, but they were sufficient to find him guilty beyond reasonable doubt."

"Allowing the accused to remain in US custody is releasing Smith on recognizance to the US government — (an action) clearly not allowed under the Constitution. The VFA, or any treaty for that matter, cannot trump the 1987 Constitution," he added.

He said the US will, in fact, be violating their obligations under the VFA if they continue exercising absolute custody over the accused because Article II of the bilateral act clearly provides that "it is the duty of US personnel to respect the laws of the Republic of the Philippines" and that "the US Government shall take all measures within its authority to ensure that this is done."

The lawyer’s group also said the American government has not even recognized the VFA as a treaty and has refused to have it ratified by the US Senate until today.

"Since the VFA is not recognized as a treaty by the US, it cannot be the basis for the entry of foreign troops and facilities into the Philippines," Codal said in its statement. "It is the height of self-humiliation for President Arroyo to insist on calling the VFA a treaty while the US refuse to accord it the same level of respect."

"(Smith’s) transfer to the US embassy, in the middle of the night at that, to the custody of the US (authorities), despite pending litigation in Philippine courts, is not only a violation of the (1987) Constitution, but also a complete disregard (of) and disrespect for the judicial branch including the Supreme Court," Codal said in a statement.

"It is not only a contempt of court, but treachery that signals the complete breakdown of the rule of law," Codal said, noting that President Arroyo is "not only without power to transfer a convict under the custody of the Regional Trial Court but is also estopped from doing the same since it submitted the issue to the judgment of the Court of Appeals and, ultimately, the Supreme Court." Unequal relations
Colmenares said the VFA also screams of unequal relations under the US counterpart VFA because the latter "is strictly and unequally construed against the Philippines."

He explained that under the US VFA, the US can immediately imprison any Filipino soldier who commits a crime in US territory and may waive that right only upon request of the Philippine government, but unlike the Philippine VFA, the request may be denied.

Codal believes that since the US maintains the right to refuse the Philippine request for custody, the Philippines should also do the same under the terms of the counterpart agreement.

The group said giving the US the absolute discretion on the custody of a convicted US personnel immediately clashes with the constitutional rights of the rape victim, legal provisions on bail, and the equal protection clause.

"This is the first time when a US serviceman is convicted of rape and allowing the convict to escape punishment is not only unjust to the victim but an insult to Philippine sovereignty," Colmenares said.

"This disparity in treatment is magnified by the fact that arrested Filipinos in the US are immediately detained and deported like cattle for not having a visa, while the convicted Smith stays in comfortable rooms in his embassy," he said. Lost self-respect
Meanwhile, Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said the pride and self-respect the Philippines earned from the removal of the US military bases in Clark Field, Pampanga and Subic Bay in Olongapo, Zambales have been obliterated by the acts of the Philippine government when it turned Smith over to US custody.

While there are ambiguities in the VFA which Pozon capitalized upon to ensure that the Philippines’ sovereign rights and Constitution are not trampled upon, Tañada said "the new and hastily forged Romulo-Kenney Agreement on Smith’s custody reflects an unthinkable sellout of our national interest.

"Shouldn’t our attitude in the ambiguities be on the side of our own nationals rather than a foreigner, especially when there is already a conviction of rape?" Tañada asked. "Isn’t it ironic that when this issue erupted last year, our government asked for custodial rights of the accused and now that he is already convicted, we are turning Smith over to the US?"

He added that whoever ordered the transfer of Smith’s custody should have clearly and strongly explained to the US that the Philippines has its own judicial processes that should be followed.

He said the merits of the case is for the courts to decide, not the executive branch.

"The US’s utter disregard of our judicial system and processes which we partly inherited from them is unconscionable. If the tables were turned, I don’t think the US or its judicial system would permit such a transfer," he said.

Tañada said the authorities acted like thieves in the night when the Philippine government officials in collusion with US government personnel turned over Smith from his Makati City jail cell late Friday night and transported him to the US embassy compound in Manila.

But Enrile said the issue of Smith’s transfer should not even be a cause of alarm. He added that the Philippines has more to lose than gain if it insists on detaining Smith in Philippine custody.

"Now, if we push that, we will have a democratic rupture with America," Enrile said. "Are we ready to confront America on this issue and is it worth our people’s interest to sacrifice the security and the national interest of the country, including maybe our economic interest, in this particular issue. That is a larger consideration to be taken into account."

Enrile has been vocal against the local court’s insistence on taking Smith into custody. The senator was also confident that the US government would respect provisions of the VFA even after Smith is already in their custody.

"Since the start, I asked them to let the Americans have custody of Smith. Anyway, this case will go on. As long as he remains in the country, the sovereign rights of the Philippines are respected," Enrile said. "But if we are going to insist on what we want, do we have the clout to do it?"

Hinting that the country still needs the joint RP-US Balikatan exercises, Enrile said the government needs to maintain the US as an ally to help the government in protecting the country’s vast coastline and territory. It will be recalled the Enrile served as defense minister under ousted former President Ferdinand Marcos and his successor President Corazon Aquino.

"Besides that, America is our ally. There is an unseen value that is given to them. If there is no America, we will have to spend half of our lives to provide with ourselves with our security umbrella to protect ourselves from our neighbors. We do not have a Navy, the Air Force. We have the ground forces to protect ourselves but that’s all," Enrile said.

Besides the nation’s security concerns, Enrile said the US government greatly helps in uplifting the country’s economy, which may be the more logical reason why the Philippines could not simply reject the US government’s request for Smith’s transfer.

"America is the source of a bigger portion of our economy. Much of our trade is trade with America, we cannot give it out just like that. The source of our economic development, one of the main sources is America," he added. — With Pia Lee Brago, Christina Mendez