Monday, August 27, 2007

Sex, lies and the Catholic Church


By Patricia Evangelista - Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- There was an old woman of great virtue, she had 26 children and didn’t know what to do. She dressed them and schooled them and fed them their bread, bellowed at them soundly and put them to bed.

In a newspaper article, Christine Herrera reported that Gloria Junio first gave birth at 15 and popped out a bouncing Junio baby little more than once a year. She was, between births, pregnant for the majority of 20 years, alongside some of her daughters. Three children died young, one child after falling off the dinner table. She has forgotten some names, is uncertain who is still living, and now has a grand total of 96 known grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

This year, the country’s population hit the astounding total of 88 million, and is expected to reach 94 million in 2010. Gloria Junio’s story is just one of many. Population estimates from the Philippine Minimum National Social Data show that this country’s population is a population of young people. With an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, the ballooning birthrate renders null any of the much-trumpeted economic gains claimed by the government. The need to address the issue of overpopulation seems ridiculously obvious.

Just recently, in Olongapo City, councilor John Carlos de los Reyes was disturbed by the Reproductive Health Code’s policy statement, a portion of which reads that “Unmet family planning needs due to shortage of supplies may contribute to the looming surge in the city’s population in the near future.” He claims that “We are poor not because we are many, but because only a few wittingly or unwittingly deprive our kababayan of opportunities to prosper,” as if a few million more mouths to feed will make it easier to spread around “opportunities to prosper.”

In 2003, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines successfully blocked legislation that would have authorized the use of national funds for condoms and other contraceptive supplies. In 2006, the government backed off from its trial run of a sex education program in two areas of Metro Manila. The bishops objected that the introduction of sex education into public schools would encourage teenagers to try premarital sex rather than remain abstinent.

The argument is interesting. A teenager’s choice to have sex is not made because a teacher dangles a condom in front of students and runs down the colorful menu of possible sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Blame it on raging hormones, on television, on the alignment of the stars, or simply on choice. At the risk of excommunication, it has to be said: People do have sex before marriage, and have done so long before MTV and the World Wide Web. They will continue to do so long after this generation goes geriatric. To preach abstinence in a vacuum is not only ineffective, it is irresponsible.

The 2003 National and Demographic and Health Survey shows that the problem revolves around lack of information and access to family planning services. Sex education is not sexy; when done correctly, it is clinical, scientific and brutally honest. It explains what can happen after the wham, bam, and thank you ma’am, and what to do to prevent repercussions if the choice is to be made. Sources also say that nurses in government health clinics in Manila teach that condoms have holes in them, a myth that has also been articulated by Vatican spokesmen.

It would be wonderful if all conversations about birds and bees and what happens when watering pots meet flowers can happen between parents and children. That is rarely the case in a country where most of the parents, themselves poor and without access to correct sex education, cannot reliably transmit information. Information about sex comes from whispered conversations between friends, and it is easier to say yes to the boy who promises eternal love if there is no mention of STDs or condoms. Even with media taking up the responsibility of educating the public, the average Pinoy teenager cannot afford to buy condoms, much less the latest issue of Cosmopolitan.

Studies conducted by the UP Population Institute and the Alan Guttmacher Institute states that 473,400 cases of induced abortion were recorded in 2000. The Department of Health has put complications related to abortion as the fourth leading cause of maternal deaths in the country. Ninety-one percent of the recorded cases are of married women, and it is reasonable to assume that there are thousands more cases of young girls who bleed in dark rooms because of fear and ignorance, and more cases of fetuses found in the college toilets. Perhaps with better education programs, and greater access to contraception, none of these would have been necessary.

A bill (introduced in the 13th Congress) “providing for reproductive health care structures and appropriating funds” still sits in the back burner. According to Rep. Fergenel Biron of the fourth district of Iloilo, many of the representatives who initially supported the bill pulled out in fear of a Catholic backlash.

There are several concessions that must be made by a modern democratic country. Foremost is the right of an individual to choices he believes are beneficial to himself. It is that right that protects a leftist from being tortured because of his ideology, the same right that enshrines the value of the ballot box, and the same right that permits the publication of this column today. For the Catholic Church to claim it is immoral for a gay man to copulate with another is fair, but when the government tosses a homosexual man into jail because of that claim is to violate the principle of pluralism by which the government stands. The same goes for a man’s, or, in most cases, a woman’s, sovereignty over her body—it is her temple, not the Church’s.

That the Church continues to campaign against contraception should not be held against the priests, it is their right. It is the government that must take responsibility for allowing that Catholic lobby to decide against the welfare of the people. At the moment, the DOH has put reproductive health and population issues at “low priority,” while a P180-million budget for artificial family planning is still being delayed.

The saying goes that in a democracy, the voice of the people is the voice of God. Vox Populi, Vox Dei. According to a United Nations survey, in the Philippines, two out of five women who want to use contraceptives don’t have access. The 2006 Family Planning Survey reveals that the unmet needs for contraception remain high, with one in six women wanting but not able to practice family planning. The 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey shows that the problem of overpopulation revolves around lack of information and access to family planning services.

In a situation where the voice from above clashes against the voice of the people, even God has to learn how to compromise.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Angeles STL controversy worsens

Councilors call mayor’s closure order ‘illegal’


ANGELES CITY -- The sanggunniang panglungsod (SP) has adopted a resolution describing as illegal Mayor Francis "Blueboy" Nepomuceno’s order stopping the Small Town Lottery (STL) operations here.

In the SP resolution sponsored by Councilor Willie Rivera, the councilors asked the Office of the City Mayor and the police not to disrupt the STL games.

Voting 8-2 with one abstention, the SP, in a recent session, approved the resolution "declaring the closure of the STL agent of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in Angeles City as Illegal."

The resolution also orders the chief of the business permit and licensing division to open the establishment and directs public official and members of the police station to refrain from further committing acts which would disrupt the legitimate and peaceful operation of the STL.

The City Information Office (CI), as of yesterday afternoon, failed to return calls and text messages to reporters on the reaction of Nepomuceno to the resolution.

The councilors who approved the resolution are Efren de la Cruz, Jay Sangil, Maricel Morales, Ruben Maniago, Rudy Simeon, Dan Lacson, Pogs Suller, and Rivera, all members of the majority bloc.

But top Councilor Ric Zalamea, also a member of the majority, abstained.

Two members of the minority bloc, Councilors Ares Yabut and Pitong del Rosario, voted against the resolution.

Rosario, an ally of Nepomuceno, took up the cudgels for the mayor. He said the council should not further discuss the STL controversy, which had been tackled in the last four successive council sessions.

"If they want to file charges against the mayor so be it. Let the higher court (court of law) take care of the STL problem. This (SP session) is not the venue," Del Rosario said.

LGUs won’t spend for village polls

By Julie M. Aurelio

MANILA, Philippines -- Local government units are up in arms against the plan of the Commission on Elections for them to shoulder 25 percent of the expenses for the barangay (village) elections in October.

"Why should any portion of the expenses for the upcoming elections be taken out of the budget of LGUs? The Comelec is in charge of all elections, and, therefore, all election-related expenses," Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said Saturday.

Binay pointed out that under Republic Act 9340 or the Synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (youth council) Elections Act, LGUs are not required to share in election-related expenditures.

"All funds for this particular election are to be taken from the Comelec budget. If needed, these funds may be augmented by an amount not exceeding 10 per cent of the SK budget," Binay said. "There is no mention of a 25-per cent share from LGUs."

No funds have been appropriated for the barangay and SK elections in this year's current budget of LGUs since their budget was prepared a year in advance.

"Besides, some LGUs are already hard-pressed just meeting their payroll requirements, so how can they afford to share 25 percent of their budget for the elections?" Binay asked.

Binay suggested that the Comelec might as well postpone or cancel the elections altogether if the funds are insufficient to meet the expenses.

"I have long proposed that barangay chairmen and SK officials be appointed by the incumbent mayors. This way, we will be able to ensure cooperation and teamwork," he added.

Aside from saving on election expenses, Binay pointed out that allowing local chief executives to appoint barangay and SK officials would help do away with "too much and unnecessary politics in the grassroots level."

More environment-friendly end for video karera machines

By Jeannette Andrade

MANILA, Philippines – The Quezon City Police District (QCPD) “symbolically” destroyed yesterday some 30 video karera (VK) machines at the grandstand of its headquarters in Camp Karingal, Quezon City.

The police organization then let the QC Environmental Protection and Waste Disposal (EPWD) unit to dispose of the machines in a more environment-friendly manner for a fee.

The approach is a first for any police district in Metro Manila. Usually, VK machines are smashed using axes or crowbars.

Video karera machines look like slot machines. A person can bet as low as P1 on an electronic horse and win all the coins inside the machine. The machines are illegal because minors are able to play the games.

QCPD Director Sr. Supt. Magtanggol Gatdula destroyed about five machines, then let the EPWD to take the other units which will be destroyed at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority grounds in Zambales.

QCPD spokesperson Supt. Asprinio Cabula told the Inquirer they had to pay P100 for every unit the EPWD took.

Cabula said the materials used in manufacturing the machines were “hazardous.” “The monitors (screens) of the VK are reportedly made of materials that could adversely affect the environment,” he said.

The VK machines, the spokesperson said, were confiscated in several barangays but no suspected illegal machine operators were arrested. The suspects were identified only as “Boyet Africa,” “Nick,” “Ely,” and “Eva,” who reportedly operated in Barangay Pasong Tamo in Pingkian, and Barangays Salvacion and Manresa, both in La Loma.

Cabula maintained that when the raids were conducted, there were no persons in the places were the VK machines were found.

Gatdula said the destruction of the machines was a “manifestation of the police district’s and the local government’s united effort against the operation of the illegal game.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Korean firm to invest in jathropa plant in RP

Korean company is set to ijels Corp. (PNOC-AFC), has agreed to invest $150 million initially for 75,000 hectares of jatropha plantation over the said period.

The company will spend $60 million to put up a 300 metric ton refinery that will process jatropha, a known biofuel source.

Peter Abaya, PNOC-AFC president, said the joint venture will promote the exploration and use of indigenous, new and renewable energy sources in power generation in a bid to reduce dependence on imported energy.

Under the deal, PNOC-AFC, the government’s alternative fuel arm, will own 20-percent stake in the project with no liabilities and other financial obligations except to provide 75,000 hectares of land for commercial plantation and development of the plant.

KTI is a publicly listed company with investments in several industries, primarily energy plants and bioenergy.
--Euan Paulo C. AƱonuevo - Manila Times

People rely much on politicians’ aid, lady solon laments

ORANI, Bataan -- A neophyte lady solon wants to change the attitude of many people who, she said, "are too much dependent on the assistance of politicians."

Congresswoman Herminia Roman (1st district, Bataan) has launched income-generating and livelihood programs for her constituents "to make everybody busy."

"Masyado nang umaasa ang mga tao sa mga politiko dahil na rin siguro sa kawalan ng trabaho, at ito ang gusto nating baguhin sa pamamagitan ng pagbibigay ng livelihood programs sa kanila," said Congresswoman Roman in an interview.

Mrs. Roman, wife of former congressman Tony Roman, defeated by a big number of votes former congressman and SBMA chairman Felicito Payumo, who was once called as a political kingpin and regional chairman of the Liberal Party in Region 3.

The lady solon has been asking the Department of Trade and Industry to conduct skills training for her constituents to enable them to become productive and self-sufficient.

"Nakikipag-ugnayan na tayo sa DTI upang tumulong sila na mabigyan ng skills at livelihood projects ang ating mga walang trabahong mamamayan," she said.

Even before she was elected to Congress, she had been providing livelihood projects for the people of 1st district in support of her husband’s program.

Mrs. Roman had been accessible even before she entered politics. (Mar Supnad - Manila Bulletin)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lim bans street basketball in Manila

By Tina Santos - Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Playing basketball in the middle of the street is no longer allowed in the City of Manila.

Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim the other day directed the city’s department of public services to order the officials of all barangays to immediately remove basketball courts set up in the middle of streets or major thoroughfares.

The move, the mayor said, was prompted by complaints from motorists about streets that have become impassable due to people playing basketball.

At times, he added, motorists who insisted on passing through the street ended up fighting with the players.

According to Lim, motorists should be able to move freely through the city’s streets and thoroughfares.

He pointed that there are sports complexes in Manila which the public can use for various kinds of sports.

Playing on the streets, he added, can be dangerous not only to motorists, but to the players as well.

“If someone is playing basketball on the road and he runs after the ball, he could get hit by a passing car,” Lim said.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Customs gets tough on ship import

TO stop the smuggling of imported ships and vessels, the Bureau of Customs and the Maritime Industry Authority yesterday signed a Memorandum of Agreement banning the registration of imported ships and vessels without clearance from the BoC.

The agreement was signed by Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales and MARINA administrator Vicente Suazo, Jr.

The agreement bans the registration and renewal of imported ships and vessels unless appropriate clearances have been issued by the BoC showing that correct taxes, duties and fees were paid.

Imported ships and vessels previously registered with MARINA will also be subject to post-entry audit of the BoC to determine if there is any deficiency in duties and taxes. Lee Ann Ducusin

'No to ROTC!'

By: Jeffrey C. Tiangco
NOT again.

Students and militant youth organizations yesterday rejected the proposal to resurrect the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

“As early as now, this proposal must be nipped in the bud. It seeks not only to totally disregard what students have fought for in the past. It also trains students into becoming passive, docile reserved soldiers for a mercenary and war-mongering armed force,” the Anakbayan said in a statement.

“We won’t be surprised if this move is also a part of the government’s Armed Forces recruitment program since not many are willing to subject themselves to ‘Pinoy laban sa kapwa Pinoy’ wars,” the group said.

Earlier, Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas filed House Bill 309 seeking to repeal Republic Act 9163 or the National Service Training Program Act and restore ROTC as a requirement for college students.

The NSTP offered a Literacy Training Service course designed to train students to become teachers for out-of-school youths and other marginalized sectors.

It also offered another alternative, the Civic Welfare Training Service, which focuses on improving health, education, environment, entrepreneurship, safety, recreation and morals of the people.

The NSTP program has shorter period as students are only required to complete one program for two semesters. The ROTC, however, requires a two-year, four-semester program for males.

Under the bill, the secretary of national defense shall direct the conduct of military training for the purpose of producing enlisted and officer reservists.

SSS pension increased

By: Tess Bedico
THIS news will gladden the hearts of over a million people.

Starting next month, pensioners of the Social Security System will receive higher pensions as the SSS decided to implement a 10 percent increase, MalacaƱang announced yesterday. The adjustment is retroactive to August.

A Palace statement quoting SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Corazon dela Paz said pensioners as of July 31, 2007 are covered by the increase.

“Starting in September, pensioners will receive in their accounts the 10 percent increase retroactive to the month of August on top of their regular pension,” Dela Paz said.

It will be the second time in less than a year that the SSS granted a 10 percent hike in pensions. The last pension increase was in September last year, the first since 2000.

Pension amounts range from a minimum of P1,000 to a maximum of P21,443 monthly.

SSS Executive Vice President and Chief Actuary Horacio Templo assured the increase will not affect the actuarial soundness of SSS funds which is expected to last until 2038.

Templo said the SSS is even expected to post a surplus of P2.6 billion from contributions vis-a vis benefit payments.

Comelec issues sked for SK, barangay polls

By: Lee Ann P. Ducusin
THE Commission on Elections has issued a calendar for the scheduled barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan on Oct. 29.

Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos yesterday issued Resolution No. 8264, which prescribe the activities for the political exercises.

The poll body is set to inspect polling places starting today to Aug. 30.

It also warned that the last day for filing petitions for inclusion or exclusion in the proper municipal or metropolitan trial courts is on Aug. 20 except for Muntinlupa City, which is on Sept. 3.

Election officers will post the final list of voters for the synchronized baranggay and SK elections from Sept. 14 to Oct. 28.

The prohibition on the issuance of appointments, promotion, creation of new positions, filling up of vacant positions or giving salary increases for government agencies or offices will start on Sept. 29.

The election period will start on Sept. 29 and will end on Nov. 13.

Abalos said that during this period several activities are banned.

They are alteration of territory of a precinct or establishment of a new precinct; illegal release of prisoners; raising of funds through dances, lotteries, cockfight, and others;

Carrying of firearms, deadly weapons; organizing or maintaining reaction/strike forces or similar forces; transfer and detail of officers and employees in the civil service, including public school teachers;

The use of security personnel or bodyguards by candidates whether or not such bodyguards are regular members of the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines or other government law enforcement agency; and suspension of any elective provincial, city, municipal or barangay officer.

The filing of the certificates of candidacy will be from Oct. 11 to Oct. 18.

The campaign period will start on Oct. 19 and will end on Oct. 27.

During the campaign period, posting, displaying, distributing and using illegal campaign materials; making any donation or gift, in cash or in kind; use of armored/land/water/air craft; construction or maintenance of provincial, city, municipal or barangay-funded roads and bridges, among others, are prohibited.

Abalos said he is hoping that everybody will follow the calendar so that the country will have a clean, honest and orderly elections.

U.S. teacher teaches first class in space

WASHINGTON -- The first teacher in space taught her first lesson in zero-gravity on Tuesday, answering questions from school children in Idaho from the orbiting International Space Station hundreds of miles above Earth.

Barbara Morgan, flanked by crewmates Alvin Drew and Dave Williams, talked for 25 minutes to children at the Discovery Center in Boise, Idaho, the northwestern state where Morgan taught at a primary school early in her career.

“Astronauts and teachers actually do the same thing. We explore, we discover and we share,” she told the class via videolink. “Those are absolutely wonderful jobs.”

Morgan, now 55, trained as understudy to fellow teacher Christa McAuliffe in the 1980s as the National Aeronautic and Space Administration hoped that sending a teacher into space would fire the imaginations of millions and keep up support for its shuttle program.

But McAuliffe never made it to space. The Challenger shuttle exploded shortly after take-off in 1986, killing all seven people on board.

Twenty-two years later, Morgan has fulfilled the aim, riding aboard the shuttle Endeavour on a construction mission to the International Space Station.

In a session broadcast to Earth by the US space agency, she fielded questions such as how fast a baseball travels in space and how to drink in zero gravity weightlessness.

She and her fellow astronauts demonstrated, throwing real balls and swallowing floating bubbles of liquid. Asked how astronauts exercise in space, Morgan grabbed one of her colleagues and lifted him.

Morgan returned to teaching after the Challenger disaster but in the 1990s started six years of training in the astronaut corps. She is the star of this year’s second shuttle mission to the ISS.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How reliable is our land title system?


Even as we agree with Mr. Chan that it makes no sense for us to maintain the prohibition for aliens to own land here, our bigger problem is our land titling system. The system is broken… terribly broken. And because it is broken, bad elements of society have taken advantage of it.

The Philippine Star

Some months ago, Carlos Chan, a Filipino-Chinese taipan in China, invited me, Tony Lopez of BizNews Asia and Lito Gagni of Business Mirror to lunch. We were wondering what he wanted to talk to us about. As it turned out, Mr. Chan was tirelessly promoting the Philippines as an investment opportunity in China. And he always faced the problem of our constitutional prohibition for aliens to own land here.

Apparently, being able to own land is an important business consideration for would-be investors from China. We told Mr. Chan that there is no going around this provision other than cha cha or as they are doing now, the condominium concept. It is also possible for PEZA, Subic or Clark to offer long term leases that would be as good as owning land. This should be alright for Chinese investors because after all, no one privately owns land in China. They only get use of the land for a period of time.

Even as we agree with Mr. Chan that it makes no sense for us to maintain the prohibition for aliens to own land here, our bigger problem is our land titling system. The system is broken… terribly broken. And because it is broken, bad elements of society have taken advantage of it.

Between the criminal syndicates and their cohorts within government’s land titling bureaucracy, one can never be sure if the land title one is being presented is genuine. Or even if it is genuine now, one cannot discount the possibility that someone will be able to get title to one’s property through a perfectly orchestrated fraud that is also all legal.

One case that must be worrying land owners everywhere is the case of an old family estate that had held vast tracks of land in Metro Manila since the 1920s. The family had been dutifully paying real estate taxes for decades when all of a sudden they woke up one fine morning to find out someone else is not only claiming the property but already has title to it. Worse, the judicial system apparently upheld the new claimant.

The reliability of our land titling system is one important consideration that investors would consider before putting in large sums of risk capital in this country. Even if foreign investors can’t own the property, they at least want to make sure that the local owner with whom they are signing a long term lease is protected by our system of land registration.

It does not help that local registers of deeds do not keep original copies of titles in fire proof vaults. Many of us had that horrifying experience of having to go through the bureaucracy and the judicial system to revalidate our titles after the Quezon City Hall fire during the time of former Mayor Jun Simon. With the recent Muntinlupa town hall fire, a new set of victims will go through the same horrors.

Actually, even government is also victimized by the lack of system. There is this report that the City Hall of Naga as well as other government agencies are now being ejected because the heirs of the man who donated the property to government is now claiming the property back. Apparently, the donation has not been perfected with the land actually titled in the name of the local government unit. I understand that DepEd is also facing the same problems with the sites of many of our public schools, where the heirs are claiming the donated school sites back. This is a shameful mess.

Sen. Edgardo Angara is now proposing to reform the country’s “messy and costly” land titling and administration system that, Sen. Angara warned, has grievously harmed the national economy and left 60 percent of all real-estate properties without legal titles. Angara’s solution is the creation of a new government agency to undertake “all land administration and titling matters, with a mandate to put in place the administrative and structural reforms needed to solve the mess in the country’s land titling work.”

I am usually cynical about putting hope in administrative changes but I must admit that perhaps Angara is right in proposing the Land Administration Reform Act (LARA) of 2007, as the first step in clearing up our land titling mess. But if this agency will be managed the way the current agencies are being managed, then it will be an exercise in futility.

According to Angara, the bureaucratic overlap in land administration and titling not only failed to issue legal titles to 60 percent of real-estate properties in the country, but has been identified as the main cause of the proliferation of fake land titles and inaccurate and incomplete land records. “A monstrous overlap from too many agencies involved in land administration and registration, has been dragging down the real-estate sector,” he said.

Angara also pointed out a World Bank report that found out a Philippine land title, at $2,000, is one of the costliest in the world. The processing period is also one of the longest in the world, Angara said.

The mess also frustrated government efforts to craft an equitable real property valuation and taxation system. Angara correctly pointed out that the drag of the messy land administration and titling system on the national economy has resulted in the real-estate taxes forgone in the year 2000 alone at $132.9 million. Real-estate revenues have been on the decline since 1995. “These lost earnings and opportunities could have gone to vital government programs,” he added.

The proposed LARA, Angara said, shall carry out surveying, mapping, charting, classification and disposition of all alienable lands and patrimonial lands. It shall also issue titles and take charge of land resource information and management. Angara argued that no reform and streamlining can take place in the current land titling and administration work unless a single agency with a powerful mandate is created.

I agree with the sentiments of Sen. Angara. But I still think that unless the bureaucracy appointed to carry out the mandate is honest, competent and supported with the proper logistics, even this new agency will fail to reform our land registration system. And that’s bad news for our economy and our society.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

COA bares N. Vizcaya execs' fund scam

Special to

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya -The Commission on Audit has criticized the provincial government over the alleged illegal granting of honoraria and incentives to its officials which has taken some P4.6 million in funds from the coffers for the past two years.

In its 2006 audit report, the COA noted that provincial officials continued to illegally award themselves monthly allowances and other benefits despite an earlier warning to stop the practice.

Records revealed that officials and employees who comprised the province's bids and awards committee (BAC), local finance committee (LFC) and the provincial school board (PSB) have been unlawfully receiving additional monthly honorarium and "year-end performance incentives" since 2005.

Virgilio Mapalad, COA team leader, said the provincial government should stop the payments and compel the recipients to refund the amounts they have received, reiterating its recommendation in the 2005 audit report.

The questionable payments were issued notices of disallowance but these were apparently ignored and the illegal practice continued, the report said.

In 2006, the unauthorized payments of honoraria reached P2.2 million, while 2.4 million was spent for the same purpose in the preceding year.

The 2005 report was the basis of board member Patricio Dumlao Jr. in filing graft charges against 40 officials and employees who received P10,000 and P5,000 as "extra bonus". The case remains pending before the Office of the Ombudsman, sources said.

Three takes
Audit documents showed that illegally-paid honoraria and bonuses were given to practically the same group of officials who manage the finances of the provincial government.

Three chiefs of offices, provincial treasurer Perfecto Martinez Jr., then-provincial administrator Epifanio Galima Jr. and personnel officer Maria Carla Torralba thrice received their honoraria and yearend bonuses as members of the LFC, BAC and PSB.

This is aside from their salaries and the P30,000 "cash gift" that was given to all provincial employees in December 2006.

Eight other officials, mostly chiefs of offices, twice received additional honoraria and incentives for their membership in two bodies, likewise aside from their regular pay and the P30,000 bonus.

Mapalad said the granting of fixed monthly honoraria to BAC and its technical working group (TWG), amounting to P1.3 million, was in violation of a budget circular that allows such grant only for every successful transaction completed by the BAC through competitive bidding.

In 2006, LFC members likewise illegally received a total of P337,800 in honoraria and bonuses, which was based on a "misplaced" application of a circular from the Department of Budget and Management, the COA said.

The payment of honoraria under this order, it was learned, is allowed only as compensation for a special project which required tasks beyond the employees' regular functions, and should be undertaken has a time frame of at least a month.

No pay
The granting of additional compensation to the 10-member PSB and its TWG, totaling P450,000 was likewise made "without legal basis", the report added.

Under the Local Government Code, officers and members of local school boards "shall perform their duties as such without compensation or remuneration".

According to the report, the amount spent for the PSB's unauthorized honorarium was illegally drawn from the special education fund (SEF) which is mainly intended for the construction, repair and upkeep of public schools, printing of textbooks or payment of teachers' salaries.

But provincial treasurer Martinez, also LFC chair, said the provincial government still has an option to respond to the COA report and justify the payments questioned therein.

"[Giving of honoraria] has been the practice even in the past administrations. I am surprised why it is only now that the COA came up with these observations," he said.

Martinez said the COA never issued any notice of disallowance for the payment of honoraria in 2005.

Importers’ documents for sale to smugglers

By William B. Depasupil, Reporter

ACCREDITATION of importers at the Bureau of Customs is for sale, one of the reasons the bureau is having a hard time running after big-time smugglers.

The accreditation for sale racket was confirmed to The Manila Times by a highly reliable Customs source following a series of seizures of smuggled goods worth hundreds of millions of pesos by Customs combined and Presidential Antismuggling Group (PASG) agents. The importers were found to be fictitious.

“Anybody could get a hassle-free accreditation if you come across with them [corrupt personnel],” the source said, adding that “it ranges from P30,000 to P50,000.” He added:

“You will be spared from the usual routine inspection and other documentary requirements, and you get your accreditation within the day.”

The Times has learned that there were some 15,000 accredited importers. In applying for accreditation, one needs to submit all the legal requisites, like business registration papers, and other documents to prove the firm’s legitimacy.

In addition, an actual verification of the office address and a photo of the business location and registered name outside should also be made by authorized Customs personnel.

Commissioner Napoleon Morales vowed to address the perennial problem of spurious accreditation as he ordered an immediate inventory of all accredited importers to determine if they have complied with the requirements.

“I am directing Deputy Commissioner [Reynaldo] Umali to explain if those importers were accredited,” Morales told The Times. “If they are accredited but turned out to be fictitious, they [Umali] will answer for it.”

Morales has earlier transferred the authority to accredit importers and brokers to the Customs legal service from the Customs intelligence and investigation service.

Umali, aside from being a deputy commissioner, is also the head of the accreditation unit and the legal division. Ironically, Umali is also concurrent executive director of the Run After the Smugglers (RATS) program of the bureau.

The Times called up Umali twice yesterday to get his side but nobody answered the phone in his office.

Records show that the RATS unit has filed more than a hundred cases against suspected smugglers before the justice department, but none could be considered a “big fish.”

Recently, Customs and PASG men seized P200-million worth of regulated and highly-taxable goods. Follow-up investigation, however, revealed that the consignees were fictitious.

“We verified the addresses listed but we found out that they were nonexistent,” Undersecretary Antonio Villar, the PASG chief, said

Order to close STL called illegal

PCSO says LGUs cannot prohibit STL operations


ANGELES CITY – The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) has notified Angeles Mayor Francis "Blueboy" Nepomuceno that local government units (LGUs) have no legal basis for ordering the closure of the Small Town Lottery (STL) outlets.

In a letter sent yesterday to Nepomuceno, PCSO said that a local government cannot prohibit the etablishment of lotto outlets by PCSO.

The autonomy vested in local governments does not mean that LGUs may enact ordinances or resolutions that go against laws duly enacted by Congress.

This principle is based on the country’s system of government in which the power of local government to legislate and enact ordinances or resolutions is merely a delegated power coming from Congress.

A local government cannot invoke local autonomy to go against this principle because the Constitution merely mandates "decentralization" and did not make local governments sovereign within the state or an "imperium in imperio" (empire within an empire).

The PCSO cited a 2001 Supreme Court (SC) ruling on the same problem between the PCSO and the LGUs.

Earlier, Nepomuceno reportedly asked the police to raid STL outlets here, citing alleged violation of Republic Act 7160. He also said the business permits used by the STL operators were issued illegally.

The first-term mayor also wrote last July 19 to PCSO officials a letter telling them that he deemed the STL operations illegal.

"In view of all the foregoing legal and factual considerations, the PCSO is requesting that your good office to cause the immediate recall of your July 19, 2007 order of closure of operation of the PCSO STL Project in Angeles City, for the welfare of all parties who benefit from the continued operation of the STL Project," stated the letter sent to Nepomuceno by Lauro Patiag, PCSO legal department manager.

The PCSO, in the same letter, told Nepomuceno that "the authority of Lake Tahoe to conduct test run of the PCSO STL Project in Angeles City has been renewed for another year by the PCSO board of directors, per Board Resolution No. 254, series of 2007, effective June 13, 2007 ."

The Lake Tahoe Gaming and Amusement Corp. is the duly authorized STL agent here since March 2006, the PCSO said.

The PCSO said the city government was able to get its 10 percent share or some R10 million from the operations of the STL from March 8, 2006 to June 30, 2007.

"We are confident that, with your support for the PCSO STL Project whose main objectives are to eradicate the illegal numbers game (jueteng), to generate decent and legitimate employment to displaced cabos and cobradores, and to generate additional revenues and funding for charity fund in the local government units for their health, welfare-related and other charitable projects for the needy in their respective localities, your good self, as the newly elected Mayor of your beloved city, will be able to provide the much needed and much sought-after assistance by your indigent constituents in Angeles City," Conrado Zabella, PCSO on-line lottery sector assistant general manager, stated in his recent letter to Nepomuceno.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Reusable bags make a comeback

By TJ Burgonio - Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines -- If you haven't noticed it yet, reusable bags are slowly making a big comeback not only in supermarkets, but also in bookstores and small shops, and soon, in restaurants.

The "bound Bookshop," put up by journalists on Scout Castor Street near the busy Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City, has been offering cloth bags at P125 apiece to customers who refuse plastic bags.

"Ten out of our 15 customers refuse plastic bags. They'd rather carry the books in their bags. For those who don't have bags, we offer the cloth bags. It's much, much better than plastic bags,'' staff member Rosiedin `"Diding'' Lanao says.

She is thrilled when she sees her customers lugging the same cloth bag, which they call Hepburn bag because it bears the actress' (Audrey) portrait, when they walk into the cramped bookshop.

The bookshop, owned by journalists Carlos Conde, Inday Espina-Varona, May Rodriguez, Rowena Paraan, and Bernadette Sembrano, offers books on literature, journalism, politics, history, art, music, health, and erotica, among others.

If she had her way, Lanao, 31, who couldn't forget the day floodwaters and plastics swept into the bookshop during a heavy downpour years ago, would rather phase out plastic bags, and go cloth bags all the way. Cloth bags, however, are more costly to produce.

"There's just too many plastics around. They clog the canals, and waterways,'' she says.

It's a sign of the growing consciousness among entrepreneurs on the need to go green and contribute less to the garbage problem in the metropolis, and in a larger context, to the warming of the climate.

"Compared with two or three years ago, the public awareness [on the use of reusable bags] is more heightened now,'' says Gigie Cruz, a member of EcoWaste Coalition.

Cruz herself noticed a sea-change in the attitude of supermarket staff toward reusable bags.

Before, she had to argue with the sales staff of the SM Mall of Asia supermarket in Pasay City before she could stuff the grocery items in a large canvas bag she brought from home. Now, she breezes through the cashier counters, without questions asked.

There have been moves in the past to promote the use of reusable of bags at supermarkets and groceries, but these eventually sputtered, partly because of the public's lack of enthusiasm.

Now environmental groups, including EcoWaste, are reviving the "Balik-Bayong Campaign,'' a move to encourage people to go back to the tradition of bringing their own bags when they go to market and the supermarket.

Last month, the group and its partners invited Ms Earth beauty contestants to go marketing at the wet Nepa-Q Mart on Edsa in Quezon City with their bayong and cloth bags.

Bayong is a native bag made of buri palm leaves.

"We believe that single-use disposal plastic bags are big contributors to our garbage problem,'' Cruz says.

Major rivers and tributaries in Metro Manila like the Pasig, Marikina, and Tullahan Rivers have been clogged with mixed waste, mostly plastics, according to the EcoWaste Coalition.

In the discard survey facilitated by EcoWaste Coaliton and Greenpeace in Manila Bay in 2006, 76 percent of the garbage collected consisted of plastics. Of these plastics, 51 percent was single-use disposable plastic bags.

Over the past several months, big-name supermarkets have been aggressively promoting the use of reusable bags to its customers.

SM supermarkets, for instance, came out with their own green bags, and gave these away to customers on the condition that they buy P500 worth of products of Unilever.

Rustan's supermarket followed suit, but this time, it sold reusable bags to the customers, according to EcoWaste.

The EcoWaste and other green groups met with the Philippine Retailers Association two years ago, and broached the idea that they go green and give away these green bags to their customers, according to Cruz.

But the businessmen were worried about added costs, more shoplifting incidents, and "minus points'' for their advertisement, she adds.

"That's why we were surprised by the recent initiative,'' Cruz says in an interview at the EcoWaste office, referring to the SM launch of its green bag, made of polypropylene. “We thought they didn't like the idea.”

While SM is aggressively promoting its green bag in the media, the orientation of some its staff toward reusable bags still needs improvement.

Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia was accosted by sales staff of the SM North supermarket when she brought out her own cloth bag after doing her grocery round. After she complained, the management assured they would correct it.

"Maybe some of the companies are trying to do it because it's fashionable. We're hoping that's not the case. We're more optimistic that they're starting to see the problem,'' Cruz says.

"If they're doing it because it's the trend, it's still positive for us. We just want to encourage them to improve their system out of concern for the environment,'' she adds.

Binalot, a chain of restaurants that serves native food wrapped in banana leaves, is also keen on discarding plastic bags in favor of environment-friendly material, like "bayong,'' for its bulk deliveries.

"We're trying to brainstorm on how they can minimize use of plastic. They're willing to try out `bayong for food' instead of using plastic bags,'' Cruz says, recalling their meeting with the restaurant owners.

After reading about EcoWaste's campaign in the papers, Binalot's owner sought out a meeting with the group last week to help him find an alternative way of packing food deliveries.

The group plans next to write some companies, including National Bookstore, to shift to environment-friendly packaging, and lobby lawmakers in the House of Representatives to pass a pending bill regulating the use of plastics.

It's a long way to go, but it's a good start.

How many Koreans are really here? Almost half a million? BI officials say only 11,889 are documented

Koreans are the top tourist arrivals in the Philippines.

The Department of Tourism’s figures show dramatic rise in Korean visitor arrivals from 489,465 in 2005 to 572,133 in 2006. The surge continues until the first quarter of the year.

From January to March 2007 there were 171,716 Korean tourist arrivals. This means there will at least be 684,000 by year-end. But the DOT—because it is carrying out a campaign to woo more and more Koreans to our shores—feel there will be much more.

The influx to Koreans come to become legal residents has also grown. According to the Korean Chamber of Commerce, from barely 7,000 in 1980, the number grew to 70,000 by 2005. Koreans living in the Philippines today are estimated by Korean sources to be more than 100,000.

Other estimates—including those of the Bureau of Immigration Intelligence Department—give a much higher figure of up to nearly half-a-million. Most of these are of course illegal and undocumented.

The tourists are starkly visible in the country’s major destinations—like Boracay, Davao, Cebu and Bohol.

Makati’s Barangay Poblacion is the most famous “Korean village” in Metro Manila. But there “Korean villages” and strings of Korean stores and restaurants also in Quezon City and even Cainta, Rizal.

Most of the resident-population, whether legal or not, are students—mainly studying to speak and read English.

Korean travel agencies have organized partnerships with Filipinos or fellow Koreans with legal residence in the Philippines to open English-language schools. Koreans of all ages then come to the Philippines as tourists with one-month visas or longer. During their stay, they do almost nothing else but attend English classes. Their teachers are Filipinos.

A similar course in Korea would cost them 20 times more than their expense for their tuition and plane tickets and lodging in the Philippines.

Then there are Korean students with proper visas to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in Philippine colleges and universities. Many of them are enrolled in the provincial universities—like the ones in Bulacan, Bataan and Pam-panga here in Luzon.

The Philippines has also become a favorite destination for Korean retirees.

Korean retirees—just like their still business-active compatriots living and working here—are in almost all of the Philippines major urban areas. They are in Baguio, Subic, Angeles, Cebu, Iloilo and Bacolod, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.

Korean restaurants and grocery stores cater to them. Signs in Korean Hanggul script advertise their Korean names. There are Korean Protestant churches, hotels and bars.

They have for Koreans-only restaurants and subdivisions.

Most Filipinos welcome them. Some, who write to the newspapers, call up radio talk shows, damn them for being loud and noisy, rude and stingy.

Some Koreans came years ago as children and grew up here. They speak Tagalog and the regional languages. Besides English, they are particularly well versed in Ilokano, Ilongo, Capampangan and Cebuano.

Attractions such as cheaper English education, resorts and golf courses and wider business opportunities for those with some capital (much more than local small and medium size enterprises have) as well as Korea’s relative geographic proximity to the Philippines are the prime reasons behind the phenomenal rise of the Korean population here.

The hospitality for which the Filipinos are famous also drew them in.

Some records from the Bureau of Immigration indicate that Koreans come back after their first visit. Numbers of them return many times over and over again. They find and grab business opportunities. Koreans here are in tourism-related investments such as travel agencies, resorts, hotels, restaurants and spas that continue to sprout and grow in the major cities here.

Marketing initiatives, relaxed entry formalities and budget airlines as well as flight frequencies have also facilitated the Korean invasion.

The government is looking forward to reaching as high as 800,000 Koreans by the year 2010.

Meanwhile, as far as the BI data is concerned there are now 240,000 Koreans living in the country but only 11,889 of them are properly documented.
By Julia M. Fabon --With William Depasupil - Manila Times

Saturday, August 04, 2007

National Census 2007: Updating our statistical base to refine development interventions

THE 12th Census of Population (Popcen) has started. To be conducted for 25 days this month, the Popcen is led by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

The NSO has mobilized over 37,000 census enumerators, 7,000 team supervisors, and 2,000 census area managers who will augment the field staff of the (NSO). These enumerators will cover every household nationwide to gather information such as the number of people residing in the house, age, sex, marital status, education, and other demographic, social, and economic characteristics.

Aside from households, institutional populations such as those in hospitals, penitentiaries, military camps, convents, and seminaries will also be covered. Household units in exclusive subdivisions and condominiums will also be enumerated, using a self-administered questionnaire to be filled up by the household head or any responsible member of the household.

We urge the public to actively participate in the census. By allotting some time to enable the enumerators to gather the information or to fill out the self-administered forms, every responsible household member will contribute to the updating of the statistics that will guide the development efforts of the government. As pointed out in Executive Order No. 121, the Reorganization Act of the Philippine Statistical System, the census information is important in the formulation of national and local development plans and programs.

We commend the National Statistics Office, led by Administrator Carmelita N. Ericta, and their partners in the census, chiefly local statistics coordinating councils, for effectively preparing and taking on the challenge of the gigantic task that is the 12th Census of Population.

Lapus wants mandatory aptitude test for students

By Beverly T. Natividad - Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- In a bid to reduce what some call a mismatch between available jobs and the products of the country’s education system, the Department of Education now wants to make mandatory the taking of the National Career Assessment Exam (NCAE) by Filipino students.

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Thursday, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said that the department is now working on a bill to this effect and, at the same time, is looking for a sponsor at the lower house to facilitate its passage.

“We are preparing to file a bill to have it (NCAE) legislated and therefore, mandatory,” said Lapus.

The NCAE, he said, is one of his attempts towards changing the mind-sets of Filipinos who think that only a college diploma -- albeit stemming from a college education that is not compatible with their capabilities -- is the only way to have a productive work career.

“We are too fixated on this [college diploma], while other countries are not,” said Lapus.

The DepEd’s NCAE was given last January 17 to about 1.4 million fourth year high school students in 10,148 high schools nationwide. These examinations are intended to help students decide what courses to pursue in college or seek vocational education instead.

The results of the January examinations, said Lapus, show that the bulk of the takers have stronger inclinations and aptitudes for technical-vocational programs, and are therefore fit to pursue careers other than those based on a four-year college degree.

DepEd data showed that out of the almost 1.4 million high school students that took the NCAE, about 54% or 711,526 students scored high for technical-vocational programs.

Lapus said the DepEd has already started to strengthen its Technical-Vocational Education Curriculum in secondary schools in order to respond to these results. Technical-vocational curriculum focuses on skills development to prepare the students for employment after school.

The DepEd’s technical-vocational program covers various areas of specialization such as in arts and trade, agriculture and fishery.

Nearly 1.8 million high school students are expected to take the next NCAE on August 28, 2007.

Friday, August 03, 2007

LandBank opens P3b worth of credit facility

Land Bank of the Philippines has launched a P3-billion wholesale credit facility to support environment and farm projects and small and medium enterprises.

Land Bank’s countryside loan fund, called credit support for the environment, agribusiness and small and medium enterprises, aims to improve the access of borrowers to medium and long-term lending needed for agriculture and environmental projects.

It is also designed to intensify the bank’s support to priority sectors, mainly farmers, fisherfolk and small and medium enterprises.

“Through the CLF-CREAM, we hope to be able to expand our credit outreach and support more high-impact development projects that contribute to job generation, promote environmental protection and support entrepreneurship,” says LandBank president and chief executive Gilda Pico.

The fund is open to commercial, thrift and rural banks as well as nonbank financial institutions accredited under a similar program funded by the World Bank before.

Banks and non-bank financial institutions can re-lend the funds to sole-proprietorships, partnerships and corporations as well as cooperatives and associations that are at least 70-percent Filipino-owned.

LandBank has earmarked P3 billion for the facility, which is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The bank can lend as much as P300 million to a sub-borrower, which can use the funds for working capital and fixed asset requirements.

LandBank reported a net income of P1.05 billion in the first quarter of the year, up 16 percent from a year ago, on track to meet its P4-billion target for the year.

Loan portfolio grew 6 percent to P155.12 billion during the period while deposits expanded 19 percent to P280.83 billion.

LandBank has been shifting loans to priority sectors, specifically farmers and fisherfolk, microenterprises, environment projects and infrastructure, among others.

Loans to priority sectors hit P80.1 billion in the first quarter of the year, accounting for 69 percent of total loans from P77.4 billion or 65 percent in the same period last year.

Pico said the bank had established a P1-billion equity investment program to support microfinance operations in the countryside.

Why have sex? Researchers count 237 ways

WASHINGTON -- After exhaustively compiling a list of the 237 reasons why people have sex, researchers found that young men and women get intimate for mostly the same motivations.

It is more about lust in the body than a love connection in the heart.

US college-aged men and women agree on their top reasons for having sex -- they were attracted to the person, they wanted to experience physical pleasure and “it feels good,” according to a peer-reviewed study in the August edition of Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Twenty of the top 25 reasons given for having sex were the same for men and women.

Expressing love and showing affection were in the top 10 for both men and women, but they did take a back seat to the clear No. 1: “I was attracted to the person.”

Researchers at the University of Texas spent five years and their own money to study the overlooked “why” behind sex while other researchers were spending their time on the “how.”

Stereotypes refuted

“It’s refuted a lot of gender stereotypes . . . that men only want sex for the physical pleasure and women want love,” said University of Texas clinical psychology professor Cindy Meston, the study’s coauthor. “That’s not what I came up with in my findings.

"We found that people are having sex for lots of other reasons" beyond sheer arousal or a drive for procreation, said Meston.

Alongside predictable claims such as "I was 'horny'," "I was drunk," and "I was in love," was a catalogue of other "infrequent" justifications, from the sublime to the shocking.

Among them: "I wanted to get closer to God," "I felt sorry for the person," "I wanted to punish myself," and "I was slumming."

Both men and women reported doing it to get a job or promotion, or because they wanted to be "used or degraded."

Another response stated: "I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease."
Some claimed it was an aid to good sleep or even a headache cure.

A few respondents claimed they had done it because they wanted to have children.

“The more we look, the more we find similarity,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego.

Goldstein, who was not part of Meston’s study, said the Texas research made a lot of sense and adds to growing evidence that the vaunted differences in the genders may only be among people with sexual problems.

Meston and colleague David Buss first questioned 444 men and women -- ranging in age from 17 to 52 -- to come up with a list of 237 distinct reasons people have sex.

The reasons ranged from “It’s fun,” which men ranked fourth and women ranked eighth, to “I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease” which was ranked at the bottom by women.

Once they came up with that long list, Meston and Buss asked 1,549 college students taking psychology classes to rank the reasons on a one-to-five scale on how they applied to their experiences.

More opportunistic

“None of the gender differences are all that great,” Meston said. “Men were more likely to be opportunistic toward having sex, so if sex were there and available they would jump on it, somewhat more so than women. Women were more likely to have sex because they felt they needed to please their partner.”

But this is among college students among whom Meston conceded “hormones run rampant.” She predicted huge differences when older groups of people are studied.

Meston acknowledged the study was largely limited to the sexual habits of students and also that people might have been reluctant to cite socially unacceptable motivations, such as the desire to make money or punish a partner.

But she plans further studies in the future.

Since her study came out Tuesday, people are coming up with new reasons to have sex.

“Originally, I thought that we exhaustively compiled the list, but now I found that there should be some added,” Meston said.

"You need to know why people are having sex if you're trying to put into place a safe-sex program," Meston said.

"If you assume people have sex because they're in the heat of the moment, then (you tell them to) carry condoms. But if they're doing it for revenge or because they want to enhance their social status, that will require a different strategy."

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse