Saturday, December 29, 2007

DepEd recognizes outstanding SPED teachers, centers

The national winners for the Visually Impaired Category are Arlene Ranile from Mandaue City Central School SPED Center, Edgar Sagun from Candelaria CS SPED Center in Zambales

DepEd recognizes outstanding SPED teachers, centers

In celebration of 100 years of Special Education (SPED) in the country, the Department of Education (DepEd) recognized the outstanding SPED teachers who have made the department's SPED programs successful.

Held at Great Eastern Hotel in Quezon City, the awarding ceremony was part of a three day conference on SPED themed: "Celebrating 100 Years of Special Education." The conference sought to review the policies, current approaches, and strategies in Special Education. Best practices were also highlighted in line with SPED's centennial celebration.

"In our efforts to provide education for all, DepEd has been implementing various educational programs for those with special needs," DepEd Secretary Jesli Lapus said.

The national winners for the Visually Impaired Category are Arlene Ranile from Mandaue City Central School SPED Center, Edgar Sagun from Candelaria CS SPED Center in Zambales, and Thelma Guarino from Bagong Silang SPED Center in Caloocan City.

For the Hearing Impaired Category, Brenda Ebreo of La Union SPED Center, San Fernando City won the first place, followed by Phoebe Santiago of Legazpi City Division SPED Center and Estrella Bautista of San Fernando ES for the third place.

Meanwhile, Estrela Sartiga of Lipata CS SPED Center, Marife De Guzman from La Union SPED Center, and Maurina Jerusalem from Midsayap Pilot ES SPED Center in Cotabato ruled the Children with Autism Category.

On the other hand, Edvin Cabrera from Integrated School for Exceptional Children in Iloilo City bagged the first place in the Children with Mental Retardation Category. Virginia Amanon of Midsayap Pilot CS in Cotabato and Rosario Santos of Sta. Ana ES SPED Center in Manila were in second and third place, respectively.

Lastly, for the Gifted and Talented Children, Nora Amowas of Baguio City SPED Center won the first place, followed by Efremelia Caronan of Tuguegarao East CS in Tuguegarao City and Ma. Fe Teresa Penaflor of Dinalupihan ES in Bataan who won second and third places, respectively.

The best SPED Centers were also acknowledged. The national winners are La Union SPED Center in San Fernando City for the first place, Zapatera ES SPED Center in Cebu City for the second place, and Paaralang Pag-ibig at Pag-asa from San Pablo City for the third place.

The department's programs and projects on SPED are inspired by the 1994 Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special Education by UNESCO member-countries which states that "the fundamental principle of inclusive schools is that all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or difference they may have."

The Special Education Division, which is under the Bureau of Elementary Education, prepares instructional materials specifically designed for children with special needs. It also establishes linkages with agencies concerned with the education and welfare of these children

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Piecework workers entitled to 13th month pay -- DoLE

Piecework workers entitled to 13th month pay -- DoLE

MANILA, Philippines -- The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) reminded employers that workers paid on piecework basis, along with all the other rank and file employees, are entitled to the 13th month pay.

In a statement, DoLE Secretary Arturo Brion said Presidential Decree 851 mandates all employers to pay their rank and file workers the 13th month pay regardless of the nature the workers’ jobs and irrespective of the methods by which their wages are paid provided they worked for at least one month during a calendar year.

Brion said the law entitles all full-time rank and file workers, as well as those who are paid on piecework basis, or a fixed or guaranteed wage plus commission, to receive the 13th month pay.

Workers paid on piece-rate basis are those who are paid a standard amount for every piece or unit of work produced that is more or less regularly replicated without regard to the time spend in producing each piece or unit.

He added that employees working part-time in two or more firms are also entitled to the 13th month pay from each of their employers.

He said that the 13th month pay should not be less than one-twelfth (1/12) of the total basic salary earned by an employee in a calendar year whether he or she is paid on a full time, part-time, or piecework basis, or paid with fixed salary plus commission.

He also said that the benefit should be paid not later than December 24 of every year. An employer, however, may give his or her employees one-half of the 13th month pay before the opening of the regular school year and the remaining half on or before December 24 of every year.

Exempted from the 13th month pay are workers who are paid on purely commission, boundary, task basis, or pakyaw (wholesale), or those who are paid a fixed amount for performing specific work. Household helpers and persons in the personal service of another are also not entitled to the13th month pay.

Brion said giving 13th month pay to these workers depends upon the discretion of employers. He, nonetheless, enjoined employers of household helpers and those who provide them personal services to give these workers the 13th month benefit.

“These workers deserve benefits as they perform domestic chores and attend to the needs of our families at home, thereby, allowing us to attend to our jobs and businesses,” Brion said.

Friday, December 21, 2007

2009: UN International Year of Astronomy

Agence France-Presse

PARIS -- The United Nations has proclaimed 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy to mark the 400th anniversary of observations by Galileo that revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) said here on Thursday.

The initiative, to be hosted by the IAU and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), was approved by the UN in response to a request by Italy, where the great astronomer was born, it said.

Ninety-nine countries and 14 organizations have so far signed up to participate in the scheme, which will seek to promote public involvement in skywatching, especially by the young.

"IYA 2009 will highlight global cooperation for peaceful purposes -- the search for our cosmic origin and our common heritage which connect all citizens of planet Earth," the IAU added.

In 1609, Galileo used a primitive telescope to discover spots on the Sun, craters and peaks on the surface of the Moon and satellites orbiting Jupiter.

His findings confirmed Copernicus's theory that the planets orbited the Sun rather than the Earth, but he incurred the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church by going against its doctrine of celestial mechanics.

Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Inquisition and was forced to recant his findings to avoid being burned at the stake. He spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II, after a 13-year investigation, said the Church had erred but argued that 17th-century theologians were working with the best knowledge available to them at the time.

Solon pushes stiffer penalties for crimes of indecency

By Maila Ager

MANILA, Philippines -- To help curb, if not eradicate, crimes of indecency, a member of the House of Representatives has filed a bill seeking to impose stiffer penalties for perpetrators of “highly scandalous crimes against decency.”

Aside from longer jail sentences, House Bill 2856 filed by Cebu Representative Antonio Cuenco also seeks to increase the fines provided for in the Revised Penal Code for such offenses as grave scandal, indecency and pornography, among others, to between P100,000 to P2,000,000, among others.

Currently, such offenses carry sentences of only six months or less.

“The current law seems to be taken lightly by offenders since its penalties are minimal compared to the gravity of crime,” Cuenco said in a statement Thursday.

“There is no justice if we let the criminals responsible for the grim days ahead of these victims walk away unscathed -- only to be incarcerated be for a mere six months or less,” he said.

Cuenco said crimes against decency continue to increase because perpetrators are “insufficiently punished, and some, even worse, [continue committing the crime] with impunity.”

The lawmaker also said there is a need to amend some provisions in the law “to curtail, if not totally eradicate the conduct of inappropriate and obscene behavior.”

Palace clarifies long holiday break

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer

So sorry. There will be no additional pay for employees in the private sector reporting for work on Dec. 22 (Saturday) and 23 (Sunday), as well as on Dec. 29 (Saturday).

“There’s no instruction from higher-ups to issue a presidential proclamation to declare these days as special nonworking holidays,” said Severo “Nonoy” Catura, an undersecretary in the Office of the Executive Secretary.

The option of granting long holidays to employees in the private sector rests with employers, said Catura.

Just like in the government, it’s up to employers or heads of offices to decide whether to come up with a skeletal force in the afternoon of Dec. 23, he said.

Special nonworking day

The government has declared Dec. 24 (Monday) a special nonworking day under Presidential Proclamation No. 1211.

Christmas Day is a regular holiday, so is Dec. 30 (Rizal Day) and New Year’s Day.

Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve) is a nationwide special holiday under Republic Act No. 9492.

This clarification came after Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said at his regular press conference Wednesday that a long Christmas holiday and a long New Year holiday awaited employees.

Back to work Dec. 26

Ermita said that the long Christmas holiday—at least for state employees who do not go to work on weekends—would start on Dec. 22 (Saturday) and end on Tuesday (Dec. 25).

Employees in government and private offices are expected to be at work on Dec. 26 (Wednesday) until Dec. 28 (Friday), he said.

For government workers -- except those in vital departments and agencies -- the four-day New Year holiday begins on Dec. 29 (Saturday) and ends on Jan. 1 (Tuesday).

Under the Labor Code, employers must pay those who report for work on legal holidays 200 percent of the daily rate of their employees.

On special holidays, employers must pay an additional 30 percent over the regular rate.

The President may declare other special holidays from time to time.

The legal holidays are Jan. 1 (New Year), April 9 (Bataan Day), May 1 (Labor Day), Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, June 12 (Independence Day), Aug. 31 (National Heroes Day), the end of Ramadan, Nov. 1 (All Saints’ Day), Nov. 30 (Bonifacio Day), Christmas Day and Dec. 30.

Considered special holidays are Aug. 21 (Ninoy Aquino Day), Nov. 1, Election Day, Dec. 24, Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve) and Black Saturday.

Andaya: Arroyo ready to veto budget over P17B insertion

Andaya: Arroyo ready to veto budget over P17B insertion

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez -

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is prepared to veto the 2008 budget if the House of Representatives insists on taking P17 billion from automatically appropriated debt servicing funds and diverting this to various projects, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said Thursday.

At the same time, Andaya denied claims by some senators about the supposed P30-billion presidential pork barrel, saying it does not exist.

What the president has been allotted is an P800-million contingency fund, a standby fund for emergency expenditures that is subject to audit, Andaya said.

Andaya said allowing the House insertion would incur "legal problems and fiscal risks because you don’t have the cash to pay for the P17 billion. Where will you get the money for this?"

He did not say where the P17 billion is supposed to go to, only that it was intended for various projects.

"Malacañang has nothing to do with this," he said, adding that he has already communicated the Palace’s request to take out the insertion to the respective finance committee heads of the House and the Senate.

But if Congress insists on the insertion, he said Arroyo might be forced to veto the budget.

"This early, we are giving the signal already about what action [Malacañang] might take if they insist,” Andaya warned the two chambers, which are meeting to reconcile their respective versions of the budget.

Because of the automatic appropriation of funds for such items as debt servicing, the Internal Revenue Allotment of local governments, and life insurance premiums, Andaya said what Malacañang is actually asking for is only about P770 billion of the proposed P1.277-trillion 2008 budget.

Andaya said the government will have to operate on a reenacted budget, at least for the first quarter of 2008, after Congress failed to pass the budget before going on Christmas break Wednesday.

But he said Arroyo wants a new budget to fund key projects and increase appropriation for social services.

He also said that, contrary to the claims of some senators, the administration has increased funding for health, by P5 billion, and education, by P17.8 billion.

‘Nothing illegal about bonuses’--Andaya

By Christine Avendaño, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Saying the House of Representatives has fiscal autonomy, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Thursday said that the House can grant each congressmen the P200,000 in staff bonuses this Christmas.

Andaya said the House did not violate anything by granting the bonuses to its employees.

“They’re fiscally autonomous. The funds for these are strictly from their own,” Andaya told reporters in Malacañang.

Because of its own system, the House like the national government can grant bonuses, he explained. He said, recently, the Palace granted up to P10,000 in performance bonuses to all government employees.

Asked how the House will get its funds for the bonuses, the budget secretary said: “Remember that when you are fiscally autonomous, you have the power to realign, you have power of savings, power of recommendation.”

“So you can actually readjust your budget to suit the needs of your members but of course within your ceiling,” Andaya said.

Meanwhile, Andaya said his department had already released the P7,000 the national government will shell out as performance bonuses to government employees.

“Government employees should get their bonuses by now,” he said.

In late October, only members of the majority allegedly received cash gifts of as much as P500,000 each when they went to Malacañang for a breakfast meeting with President Macapagal-Arrroyo.

But this time even members of the House opposition also received the P200,000 in staff bonuses, a member of the militant bloc confirmed Thursday.

Cheaper meds battle shifts to bicam

By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- With half of the job done, House members are gearing up for a much tougher fight at the bicameral conference committee over the much-awaited bill promising cheaper medicines for poor Filipinos.

Iloilo Representative Ferjenel Biron, principal author of House Bill 2844, on Thursday said he was expecting a clash between his group and its Senate counterpart over a provision in the House version requiring the establishment of a drug price regulatory board.

The board will be tasked to establish price ceilings on medicines based on factors such as retail prices of similar drugs abroad, currency exchange rates, and the cost of production and labor.

The bill prescribes that “no retailer may sell drugs or medicines at a retail price exceeding the maximum retail price fixed by the board.”

Biron said the House contingent could not strike a compromise with the Senate which wanted the provision dropped from the reconciled version of the measure.

At most, he said congressmen would be willing to place a time cap for the duration of the regulatory board to allow both chambers to assess if the strategy actually made drug prices more affordable.

Biron said the House panel would be open to a time frame of perhaps two years, with a condition that the bill be fine-tuned before the 14th Congress ends in 2010.

“Beyond this, the provision cannot be bargained [away],” he said.

“We need a drug price regulatory board if we really want to bring down the prices of medicines in our country. We can’t give our people false hopes,” Biron said.

Unfortunately for Biron and company, Senator Mar Roxas, the author of the Senate version of the bill, is strongly opposed to a regulatory board.

Roxas, a former trade secretary and investment banker, argues that the idea of a price regulatory board goes against the spirit of free enterprise besides opening the process to intense lobbying and manipulation.

The two chambers clashed over the same issue during a “pre-bicam” toward the end of the previous Congress. Roxas was implacable and only sent representatives to deal with his counterparts.

Roxas is again heading the Senate panel this time.

The House team will be composed of Representative Antonio Alvarez, chair of the committee on trade and industry, Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros, Rep. Janette Garin, Representative Edcel Lagman, Representative Jack Duavit, Representative Junie Cua, Representative Teodoro Locsin Jr., and Biron.

As provided by HB 2844, the board will be headed by the health secretary or by his designated undersecretary, with the trade secretary as vice chair.

Members will include the head of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, the president of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., a faculty member of a health sciences school, and two representatives from the consumers’ sector.

Developing countries to get climate change fund in 2009

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Developing countries like the Philippines will have to wait until 2009 to access the Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol, a climate specialist said Thursday.

World leaders agreed to operationalize the long-idle fund to help developing countries adapt to global warming at the recently concluded climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia.

Dr. Lourdes Tibig, a member of the Philippine delegation to the summit, said the Philippines could access the fund as early as 2009 once the mechanism has been established.

``The money is already there. It's just not being distributed because there's no mechanism yet,” she said in an interview.

Tibig is a supervising weather specialist at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration’s (PAGASA).

At the summit's end last Saturday, world leaders agreed to set 2009 as the deadline for a new treaty to tackle global warming, three years ahead of the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

An Adaptation Board, composed of representatives from developing countries, was created to draw up the mechanism on the fund allocation, while the World Bank's Global Environmental Facility was tapped to disburse it.

The fund is financed by a levy on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol. Since 1997, it has grown to $67 million and is seen as a major contributor to adaptation financing for developing countries.

The fund was designed to finance concrete adaptation programs in developing countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at cutting down greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

The CDM is a mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol which helps developed countries achieve their emissions reduction targets, and developing countries attain their sustainable development goals.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner Jasper Inventor, also a member of the Philippine delegation, however, said that the fund won't come "onstream" until 2012, when the Protocol expires.

``Under the framework, it's still 2012, unless we're able to negotiate a position that we should be able to access this fund after the negotiations,” he said in an interview.

Like Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, PAGASA’s Tibig and Inventor said the agreement to operationalize the fund was laudable.

``This, together with technology transfer, is a very important mechanism to help developing countries adapt to climate change,” Inventor said.

``This means further mapping, improving forecasting, disaster management and prevention -- things that will ensure that we move forward and adapt to a changing climate.”

Inventor, however, clarified that projects to be financed by the fund were not limited to CDM projects.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Electricity bills to go down — ERC

ELECTRICITY bills may go down next year.

Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Rodolfo Albano Jr. yesterday said customers of the National Power Corp. may expect a cut of 16 centavos per kilowatthour starting early next year.

“Power rates are expected to go down by 12 centavos to 16 centavos per kWh. This is because of first, the appreciation of the peso against the dollar, and second, the efficient operation of some of the generating assets of Napocor –which were utilized to its full capacity. We expect this to be filed within the first quarter of next year,” Albano said.

He said the ERC is evaluating the Napocor rate applications under the generation rate adjustment mechanism or GRAM and incremental currency exchange rate adjustment or ICERA.

Albano said the ERC is also set to approve a possible average reduction of eight to 10 centavos per kWh for Napocor’s 8th ICERA and 9th GRAM applications for June 2006 to Dec. 2006.

The cut will be reflected in the Feb. 2008 bills of power consumers.

Napocor has a pending application for a reduction of 12 to 16 centavos per kWh for the 9th and 10th ICERA and GRAM. Albano said the Napocor applied for a rate reduction for its GRAM because the firm utilizes less oil-fired power plants. Journal Online

Jobless rate down in ’07, says survey

By Michelle Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- The unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent of the total labor force in October from 7.3 percent in the same month last year, in what the government said was a natural consequence of a robustly growing economy.

Based on the Labor Force Survey released Tuesday by the National Statistics Office, there were some 2,261,700 unemployed persons in October out of a total labor force of 35.9 million, or 6.3 percent of all workers.

Conversely, the number of employed persons was 33,638,300 for an employment rate of 93.7 percent.

Myrna Asuncion, head of the National Economic and Development Authority policy and planning department, said the drop in the unemployment rate meant there was an increase in the number of people generating income. This supported the earlier report on the growth of the Philippine economy that beat most forecasts, she said.

“More people are now earning income. This is a reflection of the economy’s performance,” Asuncion said in an interview.

The economy, as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), grew by 7.1 percent year-on-year in the first three quarters of 2007. This has kept the economy on track to surpass the official growth target rate of between 6.1 and 6.7 percent for the entire year.

The GDP, the most common yardstick of a country’s economic performance, is the sum of all goods produced and services rendered within an economy during a period.

The NSO said nearly half, or 48.8 percent, of all employed persons in October belonged to the services sector. The sector, which recorded the fastest growth among key sectors of the economy so far this year, includes the booming business process outsourcing (BPO) industry which counts call centers.

The latest data showed the services sector, boosted by the income generated by the BPO industry, grew 8.2 percent year-on-year from January to September this year, up greatly from the 6.1 percent recorded in the same period last year.

The agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector grew by 4.6 percent from January to September, while the industry sector (which includes manufacturing and mining) grew by 6.8 percent.

The NSO said that of the employed persons in October, 35.1 percent were part-time workers while the larger 64.9-percent share were full-time workers. Full-time workers are those who work at least 40 hours a week.

Employed persons looking for additional work are considered underemployed, according to the NSO. In October, the agency said, 18.1 percent of the labor force were underemployed.

Asuncion said the government had generated about 800,000 new jobs so far this year, still short of the target of 1 million jobs annually.

She said the government would work on meeting the million jobs a year target in 2008.

The government expects the economy to grow between 6.3 and 7 percent next year.

Asuncion said the government hopes this would translate to one million new jobs next year.

She said that if the growth would be in labor-intensive sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, the target of 1 million new jobs would be attainable.

Monday, December 17, 2007

207 of 236 solons back English as medium of instruction

207 of 236 solons back English as medium of instruction

By Christian V. Esguerra - Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--A BILL SEEKING to reinstate English as the medium of instruction in Philippine schools is gathering steam at the House of Representatives.

The so-called “English Bill” of Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas has attracted 206 coauthors, a number its principal proponent said all but assured its passage. There are 236 congressmen.

As House Bill No. 305, it seeks to supersede the government’s existing “bilingual” policy, which allows the use of English and Filipino as the mediums of instruction.

The bill instead assigns English as the sole medium from Grade 3 to fourth year high school, while keeping the current language policy for college students.

Under the measure, schools will be given the option of using English, Filipino or a regional language to teach subjects from preschool to Grade 2.

It also prescribes the teaching of English and Filipino as separate subjects throughout elementary and high school, while seeking to “enliven” English as the “language of interaction in schools.”

RP kikilos para sa climate change

TINIYAK kahapon ni Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza na itutuloy ng bansa ang mga proyekto at pangako nito na makakapagbawas ng greenhouse emission para maiwasan ang mga delubyo at kalamidad na posibleng tumama sa bansa tulad ng pagbaha, kakulangan sa tubig at pagkasira ng pananim at lamang dagat dulot ng global warming.

Sa talumpati niya sa 12-day UN Conference on Climate Change sa Bali, Indonesia kung saan pinala-kpakan siya bago at matapos niyang ihatid ang pahayag ng bansa, sinabi ni Atienza na kahit hindi masisisi ang Pilipinas sa epekto ng global warming, gagawa pa rin umano ng hakbang ang pamahalaan na makatulong dahil ang Pilipinas ay madalis maapektuhan ng matinding sama ng panahon tulad ng bagyo, baha, landslides at iba na nakakapinsala sa pamumuhay ng tao at ari-arian.

Hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring nabubuong commitment mula sa Estados Unidos ang 190 nasyon na kasama sa konperensya na bawasan ang emission level ng 25 hanggang 40 percent sa 2020. Nilala-yon ng Bali conference na magkaroon ng usapin na palitan ang Kyoto Protocol na nakatakdang mag-expire sa 2012. Ginawa ang protocol noong 1997 kung saan nire-require ang mga bansa na bawasan ang greenhouse gas emissions at ang mayayamang bansa ang magtutustos nito.

“We have accelerated our shift to renewable energy sources. We are one of thr few countries with mandatory vehicle emission testing mandated by law. We have banned open burning. We just passed the biofuels law that provided for its mandatory use and incentives,” ayon kay Atienza na kumatawan kay Pangulong Arroyo sa konperensya.

Sinabi pa niya na naroon ang malaking paghamon na pakilusin ang lahat at makiisa para sa climate change na mangyayari lamang kung meron malawakang information campaign.

“We have less thatn 10 years to effectively address climate change or it will cause irreversible ecological disasters if temperature increased by 3 to 4 degrees centigrade. Some 340 million people will be displaced and 1.8 billion people will be deprived of drinking water. Climate change will condemn our people to poverty,” ayon pa kay Atienza.

Friday, December 14, 2007

‘No rigging in Transco auction’--justice chief

By Margaux Ortiz

MANILA, Philippines -- Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez is challenging opposition senators who described the National Transmission Corp. (Transco) bidding process as a charade to substantiate their allegations.

“Monte Oro Grid Resources was the highest bidder. How can it be lutong macao (a charade)?” Gonzalez said in an interview with reporters on Thursday.

The winning consortium, which counts among its partners Enrique Razon, treasurer of the administration Team Unity in the May senatorial elections, won the right to operate the strategic national power transmission grid with a $3.95-billion bid on Wednesday.

Opposition senators said they would seek a Supreme Court injunction to stop the awarding of the assets of National Transmission Corp. (Transco) to the consortium.

Gonzalez stressed that the allegations were unfair to the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), which conducted the auction.

“It was important that the PSALM board provided for a minimum floor price, but the offered bid of the winning bidder was very, very much more,” the Department of Justice secretary said.

“If that was lutong macao, [the people behind Monte Oro] would not offer a price because they are already sure that they would win,” he added.

Asked to react to allegations that Razon’s consortium won the bid because of his alleged close ties to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Gonzalez said the businessman was just part of the group that participated in the bidding process.

“Does it mean that just because he was there, you would have to disqualify the highest bid?” Gonzalez pointed out, stressing that the consortium was not a sole proprietorship.

When asked about the plan of opposition Senator Ma. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal's to file a class action suit against the auction, Gonzalez said there was no way to stop the bid.

“Well the opposition can always file anything. They will never be satisfied anyway,” the justice secretary said.

Madrigal said the victory of Razon, head of port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSCI), should prompt the Senate blue ribbon committee to act immediately on her resolution calling for an investigation of the Transco bidding.

Madrigal has also linked Arroyo's brother, Diosdado “Buboy” Macapagal Jr., and the Aboitiz family, a known administration ally, to Monte Oro.

Gonzalez said he would not see anything wrong about Arroyo’s brother being part of the consortium, if indeed he was.

"He is a legitimate businessman," Gonzalez pointed out. "It was the corporation that participated and the personality of the corporation is different from the individual's. Assuming that he participated, it is unfair [to conclude there is a conflict of interest] just because he is the brother of the President."

Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. earlier said Jose Ibazeta, president of Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), which conducted the auction, was in a conflict of interest situation, “being a current director of companies in Razon's empire.”

The sale of Transco assets has been described as the biggest privatization in Philippine history, involving power transmission lines with optic fiber broadband capability.

Senate passes 5 of 9 LEDAC priority bills

By Veronica Uy

MANILA, Philippines -- The Senate has approved five of nine bills that had been prioritized by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), Senate President Manuel Villar said Thursday.

Apart from the P1.227-trillion proposed national budget for 2008, Villar said the Senate also passed the Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises, Cheaper Medicines Bill, Personal Equity and Retirement Account Act, and the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF), the last one being passed Wednesday night with 12 affirmative votes.

ACEF, sponsored by Senator Edgardo Angara, seeks to ensure more benefits to Filipino farmers with more agricultural infrastructure, post-harvest facilities, research and development, and training.

It also provides that 10 percent of the fund be used to support scholarships in agriculture and fisheries, and in courses such as veterinary medicine.

“Next week we are set to ratify the bicameral report on the national budget and present it to the President for her signature. We will also work on the passage of the bill creating the Credit Information Bureau and bills for the benefit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Villar said.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Francis Pangilinan said the bicameral conference meeting that would thresh out the differences in the versions of the two Chambers was scheduled next week.

Villar said this showed that the Senate honored the commitment it made during the LEDAC meeting to pass more priority bills before Congress adjourns for Christmas.

With these bills and the ratification of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Treaty between the Philippines and Spain, Villar said the Senate had approved 14 measures “after only four months of holding plenary sessions.”

“The passage of these bills indicates that the Senate recognizes the real need to institute reforms in governance. This feat belies allegations that the Senate engages in too much politics at the expense of its legislative work,” he said.

The other priority bills specified at the LEDAC meeting were: amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, Civil Aviation Authority bill, amendments to the University of the Philippines Charter, and the Credit Information System.

“The Senate is willing to extend a hand of cooperation to the administration in order to fast-track the enactment of laws needed by the people,” Villar said.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

3.67 million Filipino kids malnourished -- officials

By Kristine L. Alave -- Inquirer

Eat your vegetables and do better in school.

This was the message of officials from the education and health departments on Monday as they launched a food awareness program to encourage schoolchildren to eat nutritious meals and not junk food.

Some 3.67 million children in the country, or about a quarter of the total number of students in the elementary level, are malnourished, officials said.

The Department of Education and the Department of Health, along with Nissin-Universal Robina Corp., kicked off the project at the Eulogio Rodriguez Elementary School in Mandaluyong City.

The initiative is part of the joint campaign of the two departments to inculcate healthy eating habits among schoolchildren.

Every year, the DepEd and the DoH, along with a private partner, conduct a school-to-school nationwide campaign that seeks to institutionalize nutrient supplementing and feeding activities.

Health Undersecretary Ethelyn Nieto talked to elementary students about the benefits of eating fruits, vegetables and doing regular exercises.

According to Nieto, the junk food that most children eat contains too much sugar and other chemicals that lead to lifestyle diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

“That’s why the older generations live longer. They didn’t have junk food,” she told the students.

Renee Yabut, Nissin-Universal product manager, said her company and the government agencies would bring health experts and nutritionists to the various schools to discuss food intake with the children