Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gonzalez’s son stumps Justice ‘mafia’

The “guardian angel” of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez monitors not only his health but also all documents, including the “work of evil”

of the so-called mafia in the department.

Gonzalez’s son, Dr. Marigold Gonzalez, checks on the health of his father every time he works at the Executive Lounge of the Department of Justice.

A source of The Manila Times said Dr. Gonzalez serves as the sentinel inside the Office of the Secretary to weed out the mafia. The shadowy group is said to be composed of civilians and employees engaged in large-scale case-fixing for huge fees.

The Secretary’s visitors are “sanitized” by his son to ensure that he is not infected with virus. The justice chief recently underwent a kidney transplant.

It was learned that the mafia cannot penetrate anymore the inner office of Gonzalez and make him sign dubious documents since Dr. Gonzalez is guarding his father.

Another person watching thoroughly the documents of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is Undersecretary Fidel Exconde, Gonzalez’s chief of staff.

“With Marigold and Undersecretary Exconde around, the DOJ mafia cannot get their way to feed wrong information and erroneous resolutions to the Secretary. They have abused the confidence of the good secretary but not with Marigold and Exconde around,” said a source who declined to be identified.

Dr. Gonzalez serves as the “muscle” inside the department, and Exconde the “skeleton.” The department’s regular procedure in review of cases is now back. Before, the mafia bypassed it to pull off its racket.

Under Memorandum Circular No. 7, Sec. Gonzalez is implementing the “bar code” system just like Malacañang. Without the bar code, a document from his office is considered unofficial and will not be released. The system was said to be Exconde’s brainchild.

Gonzalez returned to the department on November 16.

Supposedly, the mafia includes a Filipino-Chinese lawyer, whose clients are Chinese and South Koreans; a “Zambales-based fixer” passing himself off as an Immigration official; another fixer, a woman, known for “sneaking” cases into the department; and one from a political clan who, recently, was able to “fix” a big-time drug case.

By Jomar Canlas, Manila Times Reporter

Indians show the way to forest conservation

By F. C. Payumo - Inquirer

Recently I read in a travel magazine about how the Amazon Indians are using Google Earth, Global Positioning System (GPS) and other technologies in protecting their rainforest and preserving their history and cultural traditions. Curious to know more, I logged on to Google and learned that the Surui Indians and other tribes are aided by improved satellite images not only in keeping tabs on loggers and miners but also in cataloguing medicinal plants, hunting grounds, ancestral cemeteries and sacred sites.

“We want people to know that these territories are not just empty swaths of green as seen by satellite, but the homes, supermarkets, museums, libraries of a people who depend on these areas for their survival,” said Vasco van Roosmalen of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). “Google Earth is used primarily for vigilance. Indians log on and study images, inch by inch, looking to see where new gold mines are popping up or where deforestation is occurring. We offered the Google Earth team a list of coordinates where it would be helpful to have sharper images.”

I wondered if we could do the same thing in our country. So I clicked on Google Earth and zoomed in on the forest in Subic and Bataan. While I could see clearly the airport and buildings in the Subic Bay Freeport and had fun looking for the rooftop of my house, huge areas of the forest in Bataan province were a blur. And they were not real-time images (there was not even a trace of the ongoing Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway construction). But I am sure the government or the World Wildlife Fund can ask Google Earth for updated and sharper images just like ACT did for the Amazon Indians.

I also went to the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to ask how we use satellite images. I was told that we have infrared maps that can be a powerful tool in protecting our environment. But we have not seen the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or the local officials use them. To begin with, the maps cover only certain areas and are not updated. It was only the Bataan forests that had images taken both in 1989 and 2002, but none in 2007.

Still, the snapshots show graphically what occurred over 12 years around Mt. Natib and Mt. Mariveles. The infrared images show the thick vegetation in crimson color. Since it takes a trained eye to spot the changes, I asked a helpful officer of NAMRIA to point out the areas of degradation by encircling them. He encircled a total of seven areas that had been deforested.

Wouldn’t these and similar images of the country’s protected areas serve the cause of environment protection if posted yearly in the provincial, municipal and "barangay" [village] halls, and published in newspapers rather than kept in government archives? More eyes watching -- from the public, the NGOs, etc. -- will put pressure on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local officials from the provincial down to the barangay level. A performance-based evaluation can be done more objectively with these images than with any self-serving reports from the forest rangers or ground patrols.

This can be a practical contribution to the Conference on Climate Change held in Albay province by Gov. Joey Salceda. Although the Philippines is not in the league of the United States, Europe or China in terms of carbon emission, it is one of the most threatened among the world’s biodiversity hotspots. And since, according to Conservation International, deforestation is responsible for one-fourth of all greenhouse gas emission -- more than double the amount from the world’s cars and trucks -- it is through forest conservation that we can contribute to the fight against global warming.

The Amazon Indians have shown us the way. Whether in harnessing the benefits of satellite, cyberspace or the airwaves, we can emulate how they employ technology. Our officials want to spend P16 billion for the National Broadband Network and P24 billion for Cyber Education, while the Amazon tribes make use of satellite services for their rainforest protection free. And Google Earth is more than happy because it reaps good publicity.

We read that the Department of Transportation and Communications, after having abandoned the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with ZTE Corp., is still bent on spending money for the broadband by inviting the telecom companies to bid. I thought the issue is precisely whether or not the government needs to have a dedicated connectivity, given that private communications backbones already serve 98 percent of the population.

With respect to the use of technology in education, why spend P18 billion of the total P24-billion Cyber Education budget for separate connectivity alone? Why not make use of the other NBN -- the government NBN-4 television station -- to broadcast the lectures of so-called expert teachers? An hour a day, five days a week should be set aside by the station to telecast such lectures not only to the students in schools but to the out-of-school youth and adults in their homes. If the content is anywhere close to the quality of the programs of Knowledge Channel, this distance-learning program would even help push the government TV channel’s rating one notch up!

In the areas not reached by NBN-4, there are the 1,501-strong cable TV operators to play the DVDs on their community channels. Finally, to the very few remaining schools that are too remote to be reached either by regular or cable TV, DVDs of the lectures can be sent.

Is this an Indian solution? Maybe, but that’s what we need.

New airline flies Davao skies

A new airline will soon serve travelers to Kalibo, Cebu, Subic and Manila from Davao City. Pacific Pearl Airways will start its operations in December with two Advanced Boeing 737-200 aircrafts with around 112-114 seating capacity.

According to Richard Ryu, vice president of DavKor International Group Corp, initial flights will be to Kalibo and Subic but the plan to serve other destinations in the country is in the pipeline.

International destinations will include Brunei, Kota Kinabalu and Palau. They are still finalizing permits to fly to South Korea from Subic.

Pacific Pearl Airways’ objectives are: provide its customers with efficient service and value for money in airline transportation; offer its employees and associates with professional corporate environment, opportunities for career development and just compensation; enable its stockholders to achieve optimum investment returns; and contribute to the economic, social and cultural advancement of the Filipino Nation.

The company is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission with permits from the Philippines Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and Air Transportation Office.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Arroyo orders review of all foreign-funded projects

Arroyo orders review of all foreign-funded projects

By Christine Avendaño, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. - Inquirer

With the World Bank still not moving to lift its suspension of deliberations on the $232-million soft loan intended for Philippine road projects, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has issued a string of instructions to ensure that foreign-assisted and funded projects would be free of irregularities.

The instructions, which include a review of the road projects covered by the suspended WB loan, were contained in Administrative Order No. 210.

Cabinet officials, meanwhile, snubbed Monday the Senate probe of the suspended $232-million WB loan, due to corruption, as they pressed for more time to prepare their defense.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the committee on economic affairs, was visibly irritated by the last-minute decision by the Cabinet members to skip the probe but was relieved that they did not invoke Executive Order 464.

EO 464 prohibits government officials from testifying before congressional committees without the permission of the President.

But Legarda warned that she would hold the Cabinet officials in contempt if they fail to live up to their commitment to attend the next hearing scheduled next month.

Legarda said she received a call from Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde who cited the “lack of material time” and evacuation efforts for Typhoon “Mina” as the Cabinet secretaries’ main reasons for their absence.

AO No. 210

The President issued AO 210 on Nov. 22, the day Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and WB officials held a joint news conference wherein the WB affirmed its commitment to fund Phase 2 of National Roads Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP) but only after safeguards had been put in place to prevent the recurrence of irregularities.

Under the administrative order titled “Harnessing Government, Civil Society and Sectoral Groups for Transparency and Procurement Process,” Ms Arroyo directed the Pro-Performance System (PPS) and the Procurement Transparency Group (PTG) to review the road projects and “to report to the President.”

The PPS is under the Presidential Management Staff office while the PTG is under the Government Procurement Policy Board, which in turn is under the Department of Budget and Management.

No surprise

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said the AO came as no surprise because the President had already given him instructions to conduct a review of the road projects and his office was “coordinating with the WB on the procurement issue.”

“Whether it’s Phase 1 or Phase 2 of the NRIMP, it’s still the procurement process of the WB which would be looked into,” Andaya said in a phone interview, when asked what particular road project in the NRIMP would be subject for review.

Before the WB incident, Andaya said the President had given Cabinet officials instructions “months back” to refine and strengthen the implementation of the procurement law.

In her order, Ms Arroyo asked the Presidential Anti-Graft and Corruption to “report on the suspended road projects and consult with the World Bank and other funding agencies on other anomalies to investigate.”

And to ensure that foreign-funded projects would be free of irregularities, the President issued the following directives:

• The PPS and the National Economic and Development Authority must undertake regular consultations with foreign-funding agencies to minimize, uncover and address anomalies in foreign-funded projects;

• The PTG must submit a detailed plan for the deployment of civil society observers in bids and awards committees handling projects worth P100 million or more;

• The GPPB must review regulations, systems and procedures for Official Development Assistance and government-to-government projects and recommend integrity and transparency reforms;

• The DBM must source funds for the investigation of irregularities in foreign-funded infrastructure projects.

Kill the hero

presidential aspirants are auditioning for, in various guises: the man on horseback, the self-made man, the man of the market, the man from Subic

Kill the hero

By John Nery - Inquirer

A line connects “Beowulf,” the Medieval Old English saga now reincarnated on the silver screen, directly to our own epics, like those that sing of Lam-ang of the Ilocanos and Sandayo of the Suban-ons. That line continues, through the martyr’s narrative that Ninoy Aquino wrote with his own blood, right down to our day.

It is the quest for the hero-protector, or rather the stubborn notion, persisting over the centuries and across civilizations, that one man will emerge to save the people. “He is our hope,” the Suban-on guman sings, “To keep our waters,/ To watch over our springs.”

Lost in the howling wilderness that our politics has led us to, harassed by the Grendels of our own making, we feel that need more than ever: A man, “no one else like him alive,” will yet lead us.

* * *

Conversations about the sorry state of our politics these days often turn on the hope that someone will start a chain reaction of radical change. Perhaps Among Ed, the priest-turned-governor of Pampanga, will be the focus of a new politics of participation? Perhaps Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga can inspire politics with the power of example?

Even the hopes some oppositionists have nursed, that Speaker Jose de Venecia will turn against his political allies, starting with the President, tap the same deep vein in our thinking: One brave man, like Lam-ang, can inspire the defeat of legion: “Oh, so many were they/ Nobody could count how many!”

It is this role of “man for the people” that presidential aspirants are auditioning for, in various guises: the man on horseback, the self-made man, the man of the market, the man from Subic. Even Margaret Thatcher’s “the best man for the job is a woman” is making a comeback.

* * *

The troubling thing about all these epics (all the way back to Homer, in fact) is that, despite being the work of a collective imagination, they are elitist in nature. They celebrate the feats, to borrow from Seamus Heaney’s translation of “Beowulf,” of the “highborn and powerful.”

* * *

Robert Zemeckis own take on “Beowulf” is a diverting must-see, but mainly for the daring script, written by recent Manila visitor Neil Gaiman and “Pulp Fiction” screenwriter Roger Avary.

(The use of digital motion-capture is distracting, and in the case of Grendel’s evil mother, inexplicably de-eroticizing. Angelina Jolie’s idealized, tattoo-free nakedness is a daydreamer’s idea of sex.)

I think it was the Boston Globe that described the movie perfectly, as a “pulp epic.” In their retelling, Gaiman and Avary create a hero on a more human scale. He still does battle with fabulous sea monsters (like Lam-ang, who spears “the biggest crocodile”) and possesses supernatural stamina (like Aliguyon of the Ifugao, who fights his rival for a year and a half before taking a break). He still traffics in the marvelous (like Sandayo, who tames a river by forcing its waters back to its source). But like modern man, he has his own demons: He cannot tell a story without embroidering it, and he cannot resist temptation.

This is a hero more our size.

* * *

I was not one of those who went to the airport on Aug. 21, 1983 to welcome Ninoy home, but I can understand the appeal this exile held for those who did: He was the “man for the people,” returning at long last.

In one of the many instructive footnotes in “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines,” Benedict Anderson cautions us -- those of us who imagine the Filipino nation -- about “the current martyrology surrounding the assassinated senator.” He was writing in 1988, which makes me wonder why the great scholar misunderstood the place Ninoy held in the country’s heart. Ninoy is worth commemorating not because he was highborn and powerful, although in his single term in the Senate he did fascinate people with his cinematic use of a personal helicopter and his aura of easy entitlement. He is worth celebrating because he is, precisely, a martyr, not the hero of an epic.

What makes him the representative Filipino is the seven years he spent in prison and the three years he spent in exile, which utterly changed him. Without these years in the political and spiritual desert, his death wouldn’t have mattered as much. Indeed, without these years, I doubt whether he would have made the decisions that would lead to his death in the first place.

Already, we can see in Ninoy’s self-sacrifice the seeds of an anti-epic. Whereas the hero in “Beowulf” or “The Harvest Song of Aliguyon” saves his people or achieves feats of derring-do by becoming more of himself, a martyr saves by dying to himself.

To find our way out of the wilderness, we need more martyrs, not heroes.

* * *

A word about, well, the “word-hoard” of our own epics: They are wonderfully evocative. In Jovita Ventura Castro’s translation of the composite text compiled by Leopoldo Y. Yabes, for example, the Lam-ang epic includes this almost-throwaway line from a battle scene: “Like the rain in the evening/ The spears fell.” This sent me burrowing through my books, to recover two images it had reminded me of. First, a 50-year-old word-picture from Philip Larkin’s “The Whitsun Weddings,” with its unforgettable close: “there swelled/ A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower/ Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.” And then a page from the back of the breviary, where I found St. Augustine writing epistolary advice: “The monks in Egypt are said to offer frequent prayers, but these are very short and hurled like swift javelins.”

A writer, Borges once wrote, “creates” his own precursors. A reader too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Villar to malls: Stop using plastic bags

By: Bernadette E. Tamayo - Journal Online

ALARMED by the increasing volume of solid waste in the metropolis, Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. asked mall owners to reduce the daily garbage produced by their customers.

He urged owners of department stores, malls and commercial establishments to use “reusable” environment-friendly shopping bags instead of plastic bags.

“I understand there are grocery stores now that are providing their customers with earth-friendly reusable bags but for a fee. This practice will be more effective if they will give out these bags at no cost to customers,” Villar said.

He earlier filed Senate Bill 1802 which mandates all department stores, malls and commercial establishments to provide reusable ecologically-friendly bags.

“This approach will combine citizen discipline and responsible corporate management and hopefully will make a significant dent in the garbage problem,” he said.

Villar said the use of plastics should be reduced because these are non-biodegradable.

Once enacted into law, the measure will cover commercial establishments with three or more stores, sales offices or branches nationwide or those with capitalization of more than P5 million.

“Solving the country’s garbage problem has a lot to do with lifestyle. Every individual must participate and must be responsible in solving the perennial garbage problem,” Villar said.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Govt hospitals ordered to prescribe generics

By Joyce Pangco Pañares - Manila Standard Today

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered the Department of Health to draft a circular requiring all government doctors to prescribe generic drugs pending the passage of a cheaper medicines law.

Mrs. Arroyo again slammed what she called “a cartel in the medicine industry” for refusing to release patents on their branded drugs as she reminded government doctors to do their share in the administration’s war against the cartel.

“The [health department] must draft this circular making mandatory for all government doctors to prescribe generic medicines, which are 50 to 75 percent cheaper but equally effective as branded drugs,” she told barangay officials as she discussed the “Half-Priced Medicines Program” aimed at cutting by half the cost of medicines by 2010.

Mrs. Arroyo also distributed to residents certificates to operate Botika ng Barangay outlets and 125 scholarship vouchers from the Technical Education Skills Development Authority.

The Botika ng Barangay serves as the health department’s distribution network for cheaper medicines from India, which are imported by the state-owned Philippine International Trading Corp.

There are now over 10,409 Botika ng Barangay nationwide, selling amoxicillin, cotrimoxazole, paracetamol and multi-vitamins.

Earlier, the President called on lawmakers to scrap the price control provision under the Cheap Medicines Bill in an attempt to hasten its passage.

Mrs. Arroyo said an “acceptable minimum” must be reached to ensure that pharmaceutical companies did not succeed in delaying further the passage of the bill.

“During the last Congress, it was passed but it did not reach the bicameral panel. Now, there is a bone of contention as to price control and maybe we can remove some controversial provisions so an acceptable minimum can be reached,” she said.

She said the law would help destroy the industry cartel that she claimed controlled at least 70 percent of the market.

“At least 90 percent of our medicines now are off patent, but still 90 percent of the medicines circulating nationwide are branded and are more expensive than their generic counterparts. So I am encouraging all of you to prescribe generic medicines and support our vision of cutting the prices of medicine by half come 2010,” she said.

Also yesterday, Iloilo City Rep. Ferjenel Biron, the main author of the cheaper medicines bill pending in the House, said he supported the President’s proposal to bar doctors from specifying brands in their prescriptions. With Romie A. Evangelista

Neglect, abuse, graft are most common charges filed against barangay officials

Neglect, abuse, graft are most common charges filed against barangay officials

By Rommel Lontayao, Manila TimesReporter

Critical appraisal heaped on barangay chairmen and council-members’ conduct and performance range from negligent, lazy and incompetent to greedy, corrupt and murderous—just like those used to describe higher government officials.

Corruption, neglect of duty, and abuse of authority of officials at the barangay level are three of the most common reasons various groups are pushing for the abolition of the barangay elections and the elimination of the Sangguniang Kabataan itself.

Most of the cases filed against barangay officials are for—or related to—these offenses.

In the country’s capital city alone, many cases filed at the Manila Barangay Bureau are complaints of corruption and abuse of authority against barangay chairmen and kagawads (councilmen).

One complaint involving corruption is that filed by a former barangay councilman and a former barangay secretary against their chairman. This man had allegedly sold his own private vehicle to the barangay, but never changed the ownership of the vehicle afterward. He received the purchase payment but retained ownership of the vehicle.

Paid absentee kagawads

Besides this, complainants Johnny Balbona and Jesus Jacinto, residents of Barangay 816 Zone 88 District V, in Paco, Manila, complained that their chairman, Arturo Lantin, had continuously given honoraria to former barangay councilmen even if they had already transferred to residences outside and distant from the barangay. These kagawads were therefore unable to do their duties at Barangay 816.

Balbona further claimed that one councilwoman, Imelda Lantin, who is the wife of the chairman, had received her honoraria and cash gifts despite being out of the country for nearly 11 months.

According to Balbona and Jacinto, their barangay hall is not being used for barangay council meetings and other official purposes. It is instead now being leased to vendors for P30 a month. At night, Balbona and Jacinto said, the barangay hall becomes a “pot session room” for illegal drug and solvent addicts.

Included as respondents in the complaints filed by Balbona and Jacinto, who are backed by more than a hundred residents of the barangay, were councilmen Gemma Ordona, Nene Amaneo, Boy Caponpon, Alvin Franco, Merlita Manalo and Joenery Estillero. These had allegedly connived with the Lantins.

Denied barangay certificate

Another complaint was made by Loreta Godani. She was allegedly not given the barangay certificate she needed, when she approached Barangay Chairman Lantin.

You cannot apply for or be issued some government documents without a barangay certification. Barangay chairmen are obliged to issue these certifications when asked to do so by legitimate residents.

Meanwhile, in Barangay 142 Zone 12, a complaint charges that Belen Lariosa, barangay chairman; Rosanna Rubio, secretary; and Daniel Garde, councilman, committed grave abuse of authority and dereliction of duty. This case was filed by Carmelita Gardon, a resident of Barangay 143 Zone 12, Balut, Tondo, Manila.

Gardon had reported to the barangay authorities that certain persons destroyed her family’s water meter and steel gate. She then filed cases against these vandals. But her complaints were not acted on. She now charges Barangay Chairwoman Lariosa, Secretary Rubio and Councilman Garde of dereliction of duty in ignoring her requests for action on the cases she had filed against the vandals. She also accuses the three officials of using intimidation to stop her family from pursuing the cases she had filed. This clearly, if true, was grave accuse of authority.

Gardon also added in her complaint that the chairwoman even told one of her relatives that “she will not entertain nor issue any permit, clearances, or certification when it involves any member of the Gardon family.”

“It is evident that the respondents are using their influence and position in harassing and influencing the witnesses as well as preventing access to documents relevant for filing the appropriate criminal and civil charges against [those persons involved in the destruction of our water meter and steel gate],” Gardon added in her written complaint.

Humorous, scary and sad

The Manila Barangay Bureau-Complaint and Investigation Section also has the humorously interesting case of a barangay chairman reported to be squatting in the middle of a street, of a scary and grim case of another chairman charged with committing acts of lasciviousness and making grave threats, and of the sad case of still another chairman who had allegedly cheated the Meralco or the city government by illegally tapping an electricity supply line.

Investigator Teddy Remandaban of the Manila Barangay Bureau-Complaint and Investigation Section estimated that their office receives more than a hundred complaints annually. At present, he said, they are attending to some 30 pending cases.

Remandaban confirmed that most cases filed are those involving corruption, dereliction of duty and abuse of authority.

The barangay bureau, by itself, does not have the authority to suspend or dismiss any elected barangay official from his position. It can only endorse complaint charges against the barangay officials to the city council, which is vested with disciplinary and penal powers.

Perhaps except for those whose residents are severely terrorized by the barangay officials or where the barangay has very few residents (like the country’s smallest barangay, Quezon City’s Barangay Manga, with a population of only 494), there must be tens of thousands of similar complaints of abuse, corruption and dereliction and abandonment of duty throughout the country.

The many barangays throughout Metro Manila—like many in Pasay City where garbage is left uncollected and whose culverts are clogged—must be manned by derelict officials.

Those who allow their streets to be used as parking areas day and night by commercial trucks—despite no parking signs—must correctly be suspected of being both derelict and corrupt.

Meanwhile, nationwide very few officials accused of various crimes and offenses related to the October 29 barangay and SK elections have been punished by their town and city councils.

Most likely these criminal barangay officials did the wrongdoings they did on barangay election day with the approval and support (or at least the acquiescence) of the officials of their superior town or city and province.

Social scientists, politicians, youth leaders unite to kill SK

Social scientists, politicians, youth leaders unite to kill SK

OUTRAGED by the trapo-linked politics of candidates in the last barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, social scientists, politicians, youth and student leaders are moving to abolish barangay elections and abolish the SK itself.

The barangay and the SK are forbidden by the Local Government Code from being political and partisan.

Nearly everyone wants to kill the SK—including the creator of that body itself, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel.

Other politicians who want the SK abolished are former Iloilo congressman and now Vice-Governor Rolex Suplico and Batangas Vice-Governor Jose Antonio Leviste 2nd.

Besides the SK’s having become as bad as trapo politicians, Suplico is for abolishing the youth assembly because of its dismal performance.

Leviste was an SK official before he became a professional politician. He is also disgusted with the SK’s failures and present trapo-style behavior.

The sentiment in the House of Representatives is growing that SK should be abolished because it can never be kept pure from partisan politics and the manipulation of powerful political parties and individual politicians.

It seems that most of the mayors of Pan­gasinan also want the SK abolished. The Inquirer even reported League of Municipalities of the Philippines President Mayor Ramon Guico as having said, “The mayors do not openly speak [about the issue] because of political reasons, but they are for the abolition of the SK.” The Inquirer report also quoted Guico saying, “many SK presidents fail to attend the municipal, city and provincial council sessions held during school days because they need to go to their classes.”

A report by the Philippine Council for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) came out just after the October 29 elections. By Avigail Olarte, it had the title “Kickbacks and love gifts SOP for SK execs.”

The report details how corrupt the young trapo-clones of the SK have become.

Samar News of Catbalogan City ran a well-reasoned article, “The case against the Sanggu­niang Kabataan [SK],” by political scientist Antonio Morales. It is the most incisive and devastating paper written to support the death of the SK.

Several student groups have also registered their desire to see the SK abolished by Congress.

The National Confederation of Youth Advocates, however, insists that the SK merely needs to be reformed not abolished.
--The Manila Times staff

Sangguniang Kabataan creator: Abolish SK!


Sangguniang Kabataan creator: Abolish SK!

Senator Pimentel wants barangays converted into bigger and viable economic units

By Efren L. Danao, Manila Times Senior Reporter

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.,the “Father of Local Autonomy” and the lawmaker who “created” the Sangguniang Kabataan, are among the millions who are disgusted with the monster that the SK has become. He now wants the SK abolished.

He is also unhappy with the performance of some barangay officials and this most basic political and administrative unit’s failure to achieve its potential.

He wants the barangay to be converted from a political unit into a properly organized and therefore viable economic unit.

Pimentel told The Manila Times that he conceived of the SK as a vehicle for the youth to be actively involved in community development. Now he laments that this ideal has not been achieved.

“I now have very serious doubts in keeping the SK as such,” he said.

For him, the last straw was the conduct of the SK election on October 29. “The supposedly more idealistic youths were imitating their elders by engaging in cheating, vote-buying and intimidation. There was even a killing,” he said. “It was ugly before but now it is already a serious moral and social problem.”

SK monster created

It would seem then that Pimentel had created a “monster” in the SK where the youths get indoctrinated fast and early into the ways of the older, corrupt politicians of their localities. Very often, the SK chairmen are related to the powers-that-be in the local government.

Pimentel, however, has not given up his desire to involve the youth in development efforts. But this would have to be through vehicles other than the SK, which he hopes would eventually go. He said he is now consulting with acting Chairman Re­surreccion Borra and Commissioner Florentino Tuazon of the Commission on Elections to map out plans on how to accomplish this.

“One proposal is to elect at large a youth representative in the municipal or city council. This means that a youth candidate will run alongside those for councilors,” he said.

Under the Local Government Code, it is only the president of the SK in the entire town or city that becomes ex-officio member of the municipal or city council. Pimentel noted that vote buying is also resorted to in the election of the president of the local association of SKs.

Pimentel’s proposal for the conversion of barangays from political to economic units is a radical departure from the barangay as seen by the code he authored. The barangay is the smallest political unit but Pimentel said its potentials would be enhanced if it becomes a true to its ideal as an apolitical entity and becomes a true economic units instead.

He said that it is about time that barangays become financially autonomous and viable. He lamented that the continuing dependence of barangays, as well as other local government units, on their internal revenue allotments is keeping them tied to the strings of the power that disburses the IRA.

He pointed out that the Local Government Code had given the barangays the power to become true economic units by raising local taxes but most of them had failed to exercise this power.

Pimentel said that if barangays continue to depend on the IRA for their operation, they would remain subject to the dictates of higher local government units and this negates the autonomy envisioned for them under the Local Government Code.

“There will be consultations on how to convert the barangays into economic units. I am confident that concrete reforms would come out within the next three years, before the next barangay election,” he said.

He also called for a more rational creation of barangays by municipal or city councils to make them more effective in local development instead of being mere instruments for scheming politicians out to distribute largesse to their loyal followers.

He noted that among the country’s barangays are those with very small population and land area. Most of these barangays were created through a resolution that ignored the provision of the Local Government Code stating that a barangay should have a population of at least 2,000.

Thus, there is a big disparity between Barangay Commonwealth, the most populous barangay in the country with almost 180,000 residents, and Barangay 660 in Ermita, Manila, the smallest with a population of only 74. Despite its small number of residents, Barangay 660 gets an IRA of P260,000 a year. Barangay Commonwealth has an IRA of P24 million a year. The smallest barangay in Quezon City, Barangay Manga, has a population of only 494.

The most popular barangay in the country, Forbes Park in Makati , has a population of 3,420 and an IRA of P1,016,808.

Pimentel said that the people are not necessarily better represented by the creation of a big number of barangays. He lauded Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim for deciding to rationalize the city’s 897 barangays. (See related story tomorrow, “Barangay execs must remain elective–Lim.”)

“This means that a single street in Manila with very few residents would no longer be recognized as a barangay,” he said.

Gov’t scored over WB loans

THE Anakpawis party-list slammed the administration for its desperate move to settle World Bank loan agreements, amid reports saying the international financing institution has deferred its soft loan the country’s road projects.

According to Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran, the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo is pushing for the WB loan so it can replenish sources of funds for corruption.

Beltran added that the government needs money to keep its political alliances intact until 2010.

“Malacañang is desperate to settle the WB loan agreement so it can have a replenished source of funds to corrupt. With all other money-making schemes of the Arroyo administration exposed and almost depleted, Malacañang is eyeing all possible sources of funds to keep its beleaguered leadership afloat and keep all its political allies intact until 2010,” he said in a statement.

The refusal of WB to continue with the negotiations for the second phase of the National Road Improvement and Management Program, is a test case for the administration to address the problem of corruption, Beltran said.

Earlier reports said that WB suspended the $232-million loan for the country’s road projects pending its investigation into irregularities in the bidding process and overpricing.

“This is not just a little incident. This will test the extent and seriousness of the graft and corruption record of President Arroyo,” Beltran stressed.

The militant solon added that Macalañang and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya are playing down the issue but they cannot deceive anti-corruption advocates and the Filipino people who are keeping a close watch on the administration’s corruption record.
Jester P. Manalastas - Journal Online

DILG schedules elections for execs of village groups

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has scheduled elections for officers of the Association of Barangay (village) Captains (ABC) and the Federated Sangguniang Kabataan (SK or youth council) in the city, municipal, provincial, and national levels for December and January.

DILG Memorandum Circular No. 2007-151 released on Wednesday sets the date and guidelines for the holding of ABC elections at the municipal and component city levels on December 11.

Winners of the municipal and city-level elections will then elect the league's president at the provincial or metropolitan level on December 29.

The election for president and other officers of the ABC national chapter will be on January 29, 2008.

The DILG also issued Memorandum Circular No. 2007-150 establishing the dates and guidelines for the election of the SK federation president and other officers.

On December 6, SK chairmen in the municipal and city level will hold elections. The winners will then elect the provincial or metropolitan federated president on December 17.

The SK national federation election is scheduled on January 17, 2008.

Federated presidents of the ABC and SK will sit as ex officio members of the legislative bodies of the municipalities, cities and provinces where they are elected.

In Eastern Visayas, the barangay and SK chairpersons in the region's 4,391 barangays are expected to be involved in the forthcoming federation elections, said DILG-8 Regional Director William Paler.

For the ABC elections, the municipal or city chapter president or, in his/her absence, the next highest ranking Liga ng mga Barangay (village league) officer would send notices to all reelected and newly elected Punong Barangay (village chief) for a meeting leading to the chapter election.

In the case of the SK Federation, the city or municipal DILG officer would write to all SK chairpersons at least five days before the scheduled elections.

Paler said that prior to the SK Federation elections at the local level, the DILG would conduct a three-day integrated SK Organizational Leadership and Reorientation Seminar on December 3-5 for municipalities and cities; December 14-16 for provinces; and January 14-16 next year for national officials.

The seminar would "provide SK officials an appreciation of their roles as youth leaders and understanding of the nature of local governance," Paler said.

The Board of Election Supervisors would be composed of the DILG provincial director, or the DILG officer in a city or municipality, as the case may be, and representatives of the Commission on Elections and a local people's or non-government organization (for the Liga) and the Sanggunian secretary (for the SK).

Paler said the Board of Election Supervisors is tasked to resolve any controversy that might arise during the elections at their respective levels.

Pagasa: What went wrong?

By Alcuin Papa - Inquirer

Was PAGASA wrong in predicting the path of Typhoon “Mina”? The weather bureau does not think so.

In a conference of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) Saturday afternoon with President Macapagal-Arroyo in attendance, Science and Technology Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said that as early as Thursday, the weather bureau told the media that there were two scenarios on Mina’s path.

Yumul, a former officer in charge of Pagasa, said the first was that Mina would slam into Bicol and exit through Oriental Mindoro. The other was that it would hit Aurora and Isabela provinces, cut through northern Luzon and exit through Ilocos Sur.

“Is CNN right and was Pagasa wrong? No,” said Yumul, referring to the Cable News Network that predicted Mina would hit Aurora and Isabela instead of the Bicol region.

Yumul also said Pagasa had studied various models from other weather centers in Japan, Hong Kong and the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) run by the US Navy based in Hawaii.

The latter had predicted Mina’s present course.

“Other climate models use mathematical models. But Pagasa uses not only numerical but also real-time field station data,” he said.

Yumul said there was no use comparing the JTWC with Pagasa.

He also said Bicol would still experience heavy rains.

Science and Technology Secretary Estrella Alabastro earlier told reporters that other models had been studied for Mina.

“There are a lot of models, and Pagasa has its own model, and we compare. These models have different conclusions, but we have to buttress [a conclusion] with ground data,” she said.

Yumul said Pagasa forecasts were “official” and accountable. Other models did not have any accountability, he said.

According to regulations of the World Meteorological Organization, predictions of the official agency of the host country apply in so far as the host country is concerned, Yumul said.

“Pagasa looks at other models from other climate centers. Any layman looking at these models will not come up with an intelligent decision. But Pagasa has to make a stand. Our stand—that the storm would track a western direction—was based on available information of Pagasa,” he said.

Friday, November 23, 2007

City officials at odds over bid to buy luxury vehicles

By DEXTER A. SEE - Manila Bulletin

BAGUIO CITY – Officials of this mountain resort city are blaming each other for the allegedly railroaded appropriation of P19.6 million for the purchase of luxury cars which would serve as their service vehicles.

The members of the city council are now the subject of public criticism over their allegedly self-serving action.

Earlier, Mayor Reinaldo A. Bautista Jr. denied that he has knowledge of the council’s appropriation of funds for the purchase of vehicles for their official use.

Councilor Galo Weygan admitted having authored the ordinance appropriating the amount for the purchase of the vehicles, but he said it was with the knowledge and consent of the city mayor and the other members of the city council.

It was learned that the plan to buy service vehicles for all elected city officials was discussed during an out-of-town executive-legislative planning workshop held in Subic recently.

Subsequently, the matter was again deliberated at several meetings in the city and even in the mayor’s office, it was learned.

Under the controversial car plan, the city mayor’s office was allotted P4.6 million for the purchase of a brand-new service vehicle, while the members of the city council, including the vice mayor, were allotted P1 million each.

Earlier, various sectors in the city vehemently denounced the use of public funds for the purchase of luxury service vehicles for the city officials, calling the act "immoral and improper," and accusing the officials of abuse of authority.

The P19.6 million earmarked to buy the service vehicles of city officials was taken from the P25.2-million internal revenue allotment (IRA) surplus of the city government.

It was noted that only P5.6 million was appropriated by the city council for the implementation of infrastructure projects of some barangays.

Councilor Erdolfo Balajadja said that the city government no longer needs additional dump trucks to improve garbage collection.

The concerned sectors proposed that instead of buying luxury vehicles for local officials, the city government utilizes the fund for the purchase of five dump trucks to improve the collection of garbage in the city’s 128 barangays.

Bautista said that he was surprised to know that his office was allotted P4.6 million for the purchase of a new service vehicle, adding he does not know the intention of the council in including his office as a beneficiary of the controversial appropriation measure.

Certain City Hall quarters said some city officials are now trying to look for scapegoats to save themsevles from criticisms by the residents.

Inquirer exhibits Cannes Lions’ best creative minds

By Marlet D. Salazar, Ansbert Joaquin - Inquirer

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT ZONE -- In recognition of the creative minds in the marketing and advertising industry, the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday opened the Cannes Lions 2007 Winners Edition Exhibit and Screening at the 20th Philippine Advertising Congress (PAC) ongoing at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center here.

Inquirer president and CEO Sandy Prieto-Romualdez formally opened the exhibit and screening together with Cannes Lions executive chair Terry Savage. They were joined by Yoly Ong, 20th PAC chair, Andre Khan, president of the Advertising Board of the Philippines, and Merlee Jayme, president of the Creative Guild.

Said Romualdez: “The Inquirer will continually support the Cannes cause and promote better partnership between agencies and clients to achieve greater creative excellence at par with the rest of the world.”

The 20th PAC, which opened on Wednesday, runs until Saturday.

‘World’s coolest’

Neil Gaiman, the much-celebrated author of the “Sandman” graphic novel series and “Stardust,” opened the second day of the congress with a speech on “Imagination and Creativity in the Contemporary World.”

Gaiman praised the wealth and originality of Filipino folklore, which he described as “the coolest folklore in the world.”

He encouraged Filipino writers not to be afraid to explore their talents, and to just “write and finish it.”

On the usefulness of advertising, Gaiman said: “Advertising is incredibly useful when well done.”

The three-day Cannes Lions exhibit -- on view on the second floor of the convention center -- showcases the works of the world’s best creative people in advertising and marketing.

In 2004, the Inquirer was appointed the official Philippine representative to the Cannes International Advertising Festival. It was the first time a Filipino delegation took part in the prestigious advertising festival that gathers more than 8,000 delegates from 70 countries worldwide.


“One of superlatives” was how the organizers of the 20th PAC described the ongoing biennial event.

For one, the number of delegates -- 3,334, of whom 700 are students -- has surpassed that in previous congresses. There were 2,600 delegates in the 2005 PAC.

“We’ve made a record of sorts,” Ong told reporters shortly before the congress opened on Wednesday night.

This congress is also being held in the largest plenary hall, with the delegates having their meals in the largest dining area.

It likewise boasts the largest trade exhibit area.

“There are many firsts in [PAC] history, and they will all happen here. The sessions are the most interesting yet, as this is the first ad congress that has more than 20 speakers,” Ong said.

Also on Wednesday night, the Inquirer hosted a dinner during which it unveiled a new logo representing the merger of its other publications and printing press.

Dressed in a grass skirt in keeping with the luau-themed dinner, Romualdez announced that the Inquirer Group of Publications would now be simply known as the Inquirer Group.

Tycoon’s challenge

Chinese-Filipino tycoon John Gokongwei Jr. delivered the keynote address on opening night, retelling the story of his success in entrepreneurship and challenging Filipinos to think of the world as their market.

Gokongwei, chair emeritus of JG Summit Holdings Inc., urged the PAC delegates “to excel as entrepreneurs before the world” and to “create Filipino brands for the global market place.”

“With a world-class brand, we create pride for our nation,” he said, adding:

“Why serve 86 million when you can sell to four billion Asians? And that’s just to start you off. Because there is still the world beyond Asia.

“When you go back to your offices, think of ways to sell and market your products and services to the world … You can if you really try. I did. As a boy, I sold peanuts from my backyard. Today, I sell snacks to the world. I want to see other Filipinos do the same.”

Gokongwei first told his life story five years ago at the launch of the Ateneo de Manila School of Management, which was named after him. That was a few months before he embarked on mobile services.

His life story apparently continues to inspire, as proven by the standing ovation he received from the PAC delegates at the end of his speech.

34th richest man

Gokongwei, who is listed by Forbes as the 34th richest man in Southeast Asia with $425 million to his name, said that after five years of competing with two industry giants, his Digitel Telecommunications now counts on a 4-million subscriber base. He told of having to sell goods at 13 in the market in Cebu, where he was born. By then his father, whose empire was built on credit, had died, and he had become the man of the family.

“After this experience, I told myself, ‘If I can compete with people so much older than me, if I can support my whole family at 15, I can do anything!’”

Gokongwei’s trading business eventually branched out to Manila. He went up against two cornstarch manufacturing giants, also in Cebu, and into importation after World War II.

He ventured into food manufacturing and bought shares in San Miguel Corp.

The Gokongweis also own Cebu Pacific, Robinsons malls, Universal Robina Corp. and a beverage company that makes the C2 fun drink.

‘The man that I am’

“Looking back, I wonder, what would have happened if my father had not left my family with nothing? Would I have become the man I am? Who knows?” Gokongwei said.

He added: “I am 81 today. But I do not forget the little boy that I was in the palengke in Cebu. I still believe in family. I still want to make good. I still don’t mind going up against those older and better than me. I still believe hard work will not fail me. And I still believe in people willing to think the same way.

“Through the years, the market place has expanded -- between cities, between countries, between continents. I want to urge you all here to think bigger.”

The Money Trail

By Tony Maghirang

“WHERE has all my money gone?”

The typical working stiff usually asks this question after finding himself broke just days after payday. Policy-makers pose a similar question when trying to understand the state of the country's economy. Part of the answer lies in accounting for the inflow and outflow of money within the system: Where is our money coming from? How are we spending it?

The answers are especially significant at this time, since the last quarter of the year always means a spike in the volume of money coming in, says Dr. Ponciano Intal, Ph.D., executive director of De La Salle University's Angelo King Institute for Economic and Business Studies (AKI).

Much of the inflow comes from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), whose remittances are estimated at US$12B this year. Most of this amount ends up in personal consumption, housing, and children's education instead of domestic investments that, economists say, could have had a more positive impact on money supply.

Intal notes, however, that in the case of housing, OFW earnings are invested in durables - appliances, furniture and sports equipment. Another positive development is how Filipinos have learned to save whatever is left of their fixed and often skimpy salaries. Still, the overall gain in savings has been a low 35 percent compared to much higher rates in other developing countries.

Besides personal consumption, much of the money sent in by OFWs is spent on livelihood investments like passenger jeepneys and FX taxis, Intal observes. “OFWs must be making some form of investments, but there is no information on their magnitude,” he adds. “There is a need for government to keep track of how OFWs’ remittances are being used. It should be important enough to merit the attention of the national leadership.”

With OFW remittances playing a vital role in the inflow of money into the economy, there are fears that decreased overseas work would lead to less money circulating in the system. Intal remains unfazed. “I suspect this scenario may take another decade to actually happen.

There’s a construction boom in the Gulf States. Japan and other industrialized countries have graying populations that could spur increased demand for caregivers. There are also growing opportunities for Filipino IT professionals.” He adds that Filipinos are also the preferred worker overseas. “We adapt easily and are naturally gregarious. And we’re good at what we do.”

But even this anxiety over the decline in OFW placements could be a good thing if it leads to an improved business climate in the Philippines, contends Intal. Given a resurgent economy at home, prospective OFWs will choose to stay and find work here, he adds.

This has happened to South Korea, he notes. In the late ’70s and most of the ’80s, the South Koreans were a force to contend with in construction projects in the Middle East. After their economy heated up during the ’90s, it became increasingly difficult for the Gulf oil-producing states to import South Korean manpower.

Intal, however, cautions against putting the nation’s economy solely in the hands of OFWs. All that hue and cry about the valuable contribution of overseas workers to the economy should not diminish several developments in diverse local fronts, he says.

He describes the tourism industry to be “at the cusp of a major breakthrough the way Thailand was in 1984.” Tourism is a vital cog in national development since the industry is labor intensive and has multiple trickle-down effects on other sectors, from farming to handicrafts, Intal explains.

Just as promising is the agriculture sector on the rebound after years of neglect and low productivity. The AKI executive notes the improvement in the price of copra in the international market and the recent push for alternative energy sources like biofuels, which could energize the rural economy. The best performing jatropa seeds come from development-challenged regions like Maguindanao, he adds.

Intal also points to a massive ship-building project in Subic by South Korea’s Hanjin that could lead to potential employment opportunities especially for high-skilled laborers.

All told, there’s money going around, sums up Intal. And the immediate prospect is for more money coming in that would trickle down to all sectors in the near future, hopefully.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Subic Bay mega yard piles up the orders

Lloyd's Confirms that Hanjin's Subic Plant Will be 4th Largest in the World
Subic Bay mega yard piles up the orders.
Marcus Hand

WHEN Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction decided to invest in a $1bn shipbuilding yard in Subic Bay, it was a massive shot in the arm for country that had, in recent years, struggled to attract major inward investment.

The shipyard was one of the largest foreign investments made in the southeast Asian country in recent years, with its location being chosen over Malaysia and Vietnam, for what is set to be the fourth biggest shipbuilding facility in the world.

From officially signing the deal at the end of February last year, the yard has come up at an astonishing pace. The first steel was cut there earlier this year and its first dry dock will be completed by the end of the year.

The Subic Bay yard is already building up a comprehensive orderbook with orders for 34 containerships as well as a pair of bulkers and two aframax tankers. Although it is a greenfield site the South Korean shipbuilder is plunging right in, taking orders for ultra large containership tonnage.
With the new yard has come the demand for related infrastructure and the company is also building a condohotel.

There are continued stories that Hanjin plans a second shipyard in the south of the country, in Mindanao, although these have been denied by the South Korean firm.

Local reports say though that Hanjin plans to invest Pesos 20bn ($456m) in northern Mindanao at a 3,000 ha site in Phividec Industrial Estate. However, it is being held up by municipal governments concerned over guarantees of hiring local workers.

Another proposed mega-investment from the maritime sector that has hit a speed bump over its location is Cosco’s planned $3bn hub at the former US naval base at Sangley Point close to Manila.

The plan was announced when Cosco top man Wei Jaifu meet with Philippines president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in June this year. Despite this fanfare, much of the groundwork remained to be done — including assessing whether the preferred site was actually feasible.

A few months later it is the suitability, or the lack thereof, that would appear to be the problem. A lack of supporting infrastructure and a need for major land reclamation could scupper the project.

“The first choice of Cosco is Sangley Point but there are many problems because there are no access roads,” Francis Chua, the Philippines government’s special envoy to China for trade and investments, told reporters on the sidelines of a business conference in early October.

Mr Chua also spoke of the 4,000 ha project’s need for major land reclamation.
“They need a few hundred hectares for the project,” he says. “If Sangley, a lot of reclamation must be done so it would take time.

“The Chinese would like to invest soon and they have to wait a long time for Sangley Point to be ready.”

The Chinese company is now reported to be looking at some areas in Cavite, Subic, Bataan, Quezon and a small island in the south. However, in a blow to the Philippines, Cosco is also considering other countries in the region.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Firecracker total ban by 2010

Health chief bats for slow removal of firecrackers

AS CASES of firecracker related injuries continue to go up, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is pushing for the gradual phase-out of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices for residential use.

Citing the cases of injuries posted last year as a result of New Year’s revelry, Duque said it is now important that all firecrackers even those regulated and allowed under the law must likewise be banned.

“We should not take for granted those fireworks classified as legal, like Kwitis, because when inappropriately used it explodes earlier or later than expected. The risk of being injured is high. Even the small-sized Piccolo should not be belittled because it has a short ignition time and causes instant injury,” Duque warned during the launch of the Department of Health (DOH) anti-firecrackers use campaign, titled "Four-mula Kontra Paputok" held at the Dr. Juan G. Nolasco High School in Tondo, Manila.

He said Fireworks-Related Injuries Surveillance Report covering December 21, 2006 to January 5, 2007 registered about 1,306 cases and up as number three cause of injury on the list was Piccolo.

“This firecracker is small and looks harmless; therefore it was not included in the ban list. But look, it has caused injuries to 119 children," Duque said, noting that Kwitis (138) and Five Star (133) were ranked numbers 1 and 2, respectively.

The health chief said the number of reported fireworks-related injuries has surged to more than 50 percent compared to last year (868 cases).

“However, it is not alarming. It only means that the government’s messages on seeking prompt treatment for sustained burns and injuries due to fireworks have been clearly sent to the public. The reason why we have a high number of reported cases is because even with just a slight cut on the skin, people go to the nearest hospital right away,” Duque explained.

Duque said the improved surveillance system and the massive information drive created by all agencies involved in the campaign for the high reporting coverage this year.

Aside from total ban, Duque also recommended that Republic Act (RA) 7183, the law that regulates the sale, manufacture, distribution and use of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices should be amended annually to update the list of banned fireworks; and that a governmental force requiring local fireworks manufacturers to reformulate and improve their products, particularly on its safety, be created.

“It is very important that we update our list regularly because there are always many new and, therefore, unclassified fireworks that find their way to the market each holiday season. If they are unclassified, they are illegal. Now, many of those that caused injuries last season were new names such as Camara, Chickboom, Dart Bomb, Tamba Lete, and even Darna. As a matter of fact, 157 of the reported injuries were from unknown fireworks,” Duque said.

Duque also reminded the public that Boga is still banned. Boga is a locally made improvised PVC pipe cannon.

"It is popular because it is cheap and re-usable. During the first week of the surveillance period (December 21-27) last holiday season, it topped the list of fireworks-related injuries after causing 38 eye injuries, 32 blast/burn injuries without amputation and one blast/burn injury with amputation. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo immediately banned it on December 27. The following surveillance week, it was not on the list anymore," Duque explained.

The ages of the victims of firecracker ranged from 24 weeks to 84 years old, with 52 percent of them 15 years old and younger. Majority or 80 percent were males. Sixty-two percent (826/1306) came from Metro Manila, with the largest proportion coming from Manila (277) and Quezon City (220). The highest number (562/1306) of cases were reported on January 1, 2007.

Two deaths were recorded in last year’s revelry: an unborn baby of a 21-year-old mother who was hit by a stray bullet and a 19-year-old male who died of tetanus.

The reported 1,306 reported cases were classified as follows: 1,267 firework-related injuries; 36 stray bullet injuries; and three Watusi ingestions. (MSN/Sunnex)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bill on cheaper drugs approved

The Senate passed Senate Bill No. 1658, the Quality Affordable Medicines Act of 2007, on final reading, as Congress resumed session after a month-long break.

“I commend my colleagues in the Senate for acting immediately to pass the Quality Affordable Medicines bill on third and final reading. Now we await the House of Representatives to pass their version, so we can immediately convene a bicameral conference committee hearing,” Roxas, primary author of SB 1658, said.

“The good thing is that we now have time on our side. This should not, however, be an excuse to sit on the bill. The more time the House and Senate have to discuss and reconcile the versions of the bill, the more responsive the bill could be for our countrymen’s health needs,” Roxas added.

SB 1658 was passed last October 2, and enjoys the support of the Departments of Health and Trade, groups such as the World Health Organization, Oxfam and Ayos na Gamot sa Abot Kayang Presyo (AGAP), and members of the academe such as Felipe Medalla and Rene Azurin, both of the University of the Philippines.

The bill will ease patent laws and bring in more affordable medicines abroad, helping spur competition to bring down prices. For instance, he noted how a common maintenance drug for diabetes, Daonil, costs P9.86 locally for a 5-mg tablet, which is taken twice a day. The same tablet however could be bought from India for less than one peso at roughly P.80.

Another diabetes treatment drug, Diamicron, costs P11 locally for a 30-mg tablet, taken twice a day. The same tablet can be bought for P5 from Pakistan and P7.57 from India , up to P12 savings in a day.

First among SB 1658’s provisions are the proposed amendments to the Intellectual Property Code which seek to allow the parallel importation of more affordable medicines from abroad; support the generics industry by adopting the “early working” principle and to disallow the grant of new patents on grounds of “new use;” and give ample muscle to the government through a framework for government use and compulsory licensing.

The bill also recommends strengthening the Bureau of Food and Drugs to serve as a counterfoil to attempts to bring in fake or substandard medicines by allowing BFAD to retain its operating income from fees and other charges so it could upgrade its facilities and beef up its human resources.

The bill also contains provisions allowing the President to impose drug price ceilings in times of calamity, public health emergencies, events that cause artificial and unreasonable price hikes, the prevalence of illegal price manipulation and whenever prevailing prices have risen to unreasonable levels. Roxas said that this mechanism is patterned after the provisions of the Price Act.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Political clans extend power base, groom newbies in barangay post

The members of the House of Representatives who are former barangay chairmen are Antonio Diaz (Second District, Zambales), Marina Clarete (First District, Misamis Occidental), Edelmiro Amante Sr. (Second District, Agusan del Norte), Eufrocino Codilla Sr. (Fourth District, Leyte) and Florencio Vargas (Second District, Cagayan).
National and local politicians have turned barangays, the lowest rung of political power in the Philippines, into levers of clout and control – but also vassals of political largesse – for political and electoral campaigns.

In 2006, the Arroyo administration hitched its campaign for Charter change on “barangay consultations." Whether the forums were staged or genuine community initiatives at political discourse, one thing was clear: money flowed in generous amounts to the barangays for these “consultations."

It was the Marcos administration, however, that first unleashed the latent powers of the barangays in the ‘70s. Marcos used the barangay councils, and their junior clone, the Kabataang Barangay, to legitimize martial law, and project a veneer of popular support for his regime. Too, Marcos started a tradition of spreading a bounty of political favors to barangay village chiefs, from sacks of rice to piles of cash.

In the past five years, 49 barangays have been created in Luzon and Mindanao. Almost seven out of 10 are from Mindanao. Almost half are in the province of Maguindanao alone.

Barangay politics today offers a mirror image of the good and bad in Philippine politics. Some exemplary barangay leaders have served as a modernizing force in their communities, while others less diligent and more steeled in old-style politics, of regress and stagnation.

But the ties that bind barangays to local and national politicians have endured, and remains ever strong.

GMA News Research found in a study that most of the 29 newly-created barangays belong to provinces that have showed consistent political loyalty in the past two elections: 25 are from provinces that are administration bailiwicks and 10 from opposition bailiwicks.

All the new barangays are within the territories of active political clans. By all accounts, the new barangays have served them two purposes: 1. as village units of their political machine; and 2. as entry point for young clan members just starting out in politics, or as alternative posting for those who have to wait out term limit bans.

Many political families have taken interest in seemingly lowly barangay posts. And why not? For certain traditional politicians, the barangay proved to be a good ground to launch political careers.

A study of GMA News Research showed that at least 12 incumbent local officials who are also members of political families started their political careers in the barangay hall. Five of them are congressmen, one is a governor of a rich province, two vice governors and four mayors.

The members of the House of Representatives who are former barangay chairmen are Antonio Diaz (Second District, Zambales), Marina Clarete (First District, Misamis Occidental), Edelmiro Amante Sr. (Second District, Agusan del Norte), Eufrocino Codilla Sr. (Fourth District, Leyte) and Florencio Vargas (Second District, Cagayan).

Diaz, now 80 and one of the oldest congressmen right now, was barangay captain of Santa Maria, Castillejos, from, 1958 to 1961, shortly after the reign of his uncle, President Ramon Magsaysay. He became vice governor of Zambales before his election as congressman, assemblyman and congressman again.

Amante, another veteran at 74, had the most colorful political career—from being barangay captain of Ampayon, Butuan City in 1959, he went on to become a councilor, 1972 Constitutional Convention delegate, assemblyman, and congressmen. He was President Fidel Ramos's executive secretary and presidential consultant for Mindanao flagship projects. His son Erlpe John is the incumbent governor of Agusan del Norte.

Clarete made a big hop in the political ladder when she got elected as congressman from being barangay chairman in Oroquieta City in the late '90s. Still, she inherited the post from his husband Ernie, who did not seek another position. In the 14th Congress, seven congressmen from the previous Congress successfully turned over their seats to their wives, most of whom have no political background.

Both Codilla and Vargas became mayors after serving in the barangay hall. Vargas was vice governor, then governor, of Cagayan before he ran and won as congressman.

Bulacan Gov. Joselito "Jon-Jon" Mendoza was the barangay captain of Buhat, Bocaue town before he ran and won as governor in the elections last May, besting seasoned politician and former governor Roberto Pagdanganan.

But it was his political clout that made him win. His sister, then governor Josefina de la Cruz, campaigned for him even before the campaign period started. The de la Cruz-Mendoza clan officially became a political family when Jon-Jon won.

Ilocos Sur Vice Gov. Jeremias Singson, former Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson's brother, at least took it a step at a time despite the fact that he belongs to the most powerful clan in the province.

He was barangay chairman in a village in Vigan for 13 years then became the town's vice mayor for seven years, then provincial board member for three years. He took a three-year break from politics then ran for and won as vice governor and, subsequently, provincial board member again, before reclaiming the vice governor post.

Palawan Vice Gov. David Ponce de Leon got his big break politically when he was appointed OIC vice governor of Palawan shortly after his stint at the barangay hall. He was congressman before he got elected as vice governor.

Four city and municipal mayors are also former barangay chairmen -- Michael Fariñas of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte; Cielo Krisel Lagman-Luistro of Tabaco City, Albay; George Pinzon of Luna, La Union; and Benjamin Bautista Jr. of Malita, Davao del Sur.

Fariñas, of course, has the backing of his prominent clan. Lagman-Luistro also had the same privilege: she was barangay chairman of Sogod, Bacacay in Albay in 1997 to 1998, when his father, Edcel Lagman, was serving his last term as representative of the First District of the province. Lagman-Luistro went on to become provincial board member and even replaced his father in the House from 1889 to 2004.

Bautista was appointed barangay captain in 1982 to 1985, when his father Benjamin Jr. was assemblyman representing Davao del Sur. He was vice governor, then governor before he ran and won as Malita mayor. A demotion it may seem, but members of the Bautista clan actually switch posts among themselves. Benjamin Jr.'s brother Franklin, is congressman of the Second District; another brother, Claude, lost his bid for governor. Like their father, all three siblings became mayor of Malita.

While her family is virtually controlling Davao del Sur politics, Claude’s teenage daughter Claudine Diana is also doing her share, being SK Federation president in Digos City. Claudine obviously won the position with the help of the clan and is on her way to inheriting the posts her family appears to have owned.

For certain political families, the youngest members are presented the SK as launchpad for an early political career. The clout of the clan ensures the victory of their young. In some cases, the decision of the voters is no longer; the appointing power of those who rule is enough.

Lawrence Lluch Cruz, a member of the Badelles-Lluch political family of Lanao del Norte, entered politics via SK in barangay Pala-o, Iligan City. A nephew of former Rep. Alipio Badelles (First District, Lanao del Norte), Cruz then became federation chairman of the Kabataang Barangay in Iligan City and vice president of Kabataang Barangay-Philippines.

He was appointed Iligan City councilor in 1988, when his granduncle Mariano Lluch Badelles Sr. was congressman of the First District. Cruz was elected councilor in 1992.

Cruz then ran and won as Iligan City vice mayor in 2001. After serving only one term, he sought the mayoralty post and won. He is currently on his second term on the posr, which his grandfather Pacificador used to occupy.

In Bangar, La Union, the vice mayor used to be SK Federation president. Gary Pinzon was SK Federation president in 1993 to 1996, when his father George was Bangar mayor.

Gary was appointed Bangar councilor also during his father’s 10-year stint in the municipal hall. He eventually inherited his father’s post in 1998, serving three terms before bequeathing it to his sister Joy Meri. Gary settled for the vice mayoralty seat. His father, who started as barangay captain in the ‘70s, is now on his third term as mayor of Luna, La Union. -- Karen Tiongson-Mayrina, Allan Vallarta and Brenda Barrientos

Belo launches environmental campaign

During the company’s outing last summer, Belo doctors, managers and employees helped clear the shore of Club Morocco in Subic from garbage and other waste materials.

It was a recent trip to Baguio City that prompted Dr. Vicki Belo to be proactive for the environment. She remembered that she and her family would open the windows of their vehicles when they get near the top of Baguio to breathe and enjoy the clean cool air of the city. But on her recent trip, she was aghast and surprised that the air was warmer than before and it wasn’t as fresh.

"It was a different feeling and I didn’t like it," lamented Vicki. "I guess it was one of the effects of Global Warming so I told myself I should do my share of helping the environment."

So with her Belo Medical Group, she has launched the "Belo Goes Green" campaign. She now joins the growing list of companies and organizations worldwide which aims to conserve, preserve and protect the environment.

The first medical clinic to launch an environmental crusade, Dr. Vicki Belo urges all its employees and patients to do their respective parts and efforts on ecological protection and help decrease the severity of the climate change threat.

Even her daughter, Crystal who heads the product line Belo Essentials, is moving towards a more eco-friendly products and company.

"We’re studying the possibility of a re-filling station for our lotions, etcetera likened to what Body Shop has done. Or we might try to put stickers on our plastic bottles on how to properly dispose the containers. We might even try to repurchase them and recycle these plastic containers," she shared.

Of course this is in line with her mother’s thrust to make reduction, reusing and recycling be part of the daily practices in all Belo clinics. Integrating environmental sustainability in its daily operations, Belo makes use of its important assets to create a positive impact for its corporate imaging, branding campaign and marketing efforts.

Teaming up with noted cosmetic surgeon in the "Belo Goes Green" campaign is former Environment Secretary Elisea "Bebet" Gozun for a multi-pronged environmental awareness to start in all Belo clinics.

"It’s important to be environmentally conscious and it has to start from where you work or where you live," Dr. Belo said. "We want to inspire our patients and the public to be better at protecting the environment."

Secretary Gozun was awarded last April by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as one of the seven "Champions of the Earth," with former US Vice President Al Gore. She will orient all Belo employees to raise awareness on the environmental issue and motivate them to become responsible stalwarts of the environment.

"Belo Goes Green" is anchored on its objective to provide a better quality of life by adopting a strong advocacy on ecological protection. The campaign was launched with the distribution of marketing collaterals such as mugs, umbrellas, pins, T–shirts, bags, badges and buttons which give tips to preserve Mother Earth. The items to promote the environmental campaign use natural or organic fibers and bio-degradable materials for reusing and recycling.

Starting with energy conservation, Belo cuts costs on electrical consumption by turning off lights, air-conditioning units and computers in all offices of support departments during lunch hour. Waste segregation is also practiced, carefully observing that hazardous chemical wastes in the clinics do not pose threat to the environment.

Employees recycle papers, envelopes, old magazines, and newspapers. Belo uses detergents which are eco-labeled brands for safe waste water. Light bulbs in the clinics and offices are flurescent to reduce energy consumption. Company vehicles of Belo likewise use unleaded gasoline.

From disposable to reusable, the clinic recently came out with "Belo Goes Green" mugs in place of plastic cups, for use by employees and patients in all branches. The mugs are also on sale and profit will be donated to support greening efforts of planting tress.

During the company’s outing last summer, Belo doctors, managers and employees helped clear the shore of Club Morocco in Subic from garbage and other waste materials.

Loyal Belo patients receive regular environmental tips through text messages and email to make them more aware about the "Belo Goes Green" campaign.

Belo also screened Al Gore’s celebrated and award-winning film about climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," in all its branches to keep the employees abreast of global conservation. Another movie they screened last Oct. 26 at My Cinema, Greenbelt 3 in Makati City was Leonardo Di Caprio’s documentary on global warming entitled "Eleventh Hour."

Moreover, for its future efforts on its green campaign, Belo will partner with other companies to advocate activities on environmental protection and propagate its efforts from recycling to saving energy. Crispina Belen - Manila Bulletin