May 2011

ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas

With the visits of high-ranking military and defense officials from the United States and China in the past two weeks, the dispute over the Spratly islands in the South China Sea has heated up again.

Prior to the arrival of Chinese Defense Minister Liang Gaunglie, there were reports that two Chinese naval boats shadowed a Philippine exploration ship around the disputed area, and that Philippine Air Force planes were buzzed by two Chinese jets over the region. While Liang was in the country for talks with President Aquino, the Philippine Star came up with photos of new Chinese military garrisons in some of the disputed islands while News5 reported on Vietnamese structures built on other islands in the disputed area.

While the Philippines formally protested the first incident before the United Nations, the government was nonchalant on the other reports. Aquino said the government would investigate the reported buzzing incident while downplaying the report on new Chinese military garrisons, saying that they have been there for years.

Aquino conveniently overlooked the fact that the Chinese government had initially claimed that the structures on Mischief Reef were built by Chinese fishermen as rest areas a few years ago, and later said that they were actually weather stations. The Chinese have obviously been lying about the military garrisons, and Aquino would rather not confront the Chinese defense minister over the structures during their talks.

The Aquino administration cannot continue to close its eyes to China’s recent aggressive behavior in the disputed islands without weakening the country’s claims over the Spratlys. While we concede that the country does not have the capability to defend its claim militarily, it must, however, continue to assert its valid claim by filing formal diplomatic protests over such disturbing incidents.

More importantly, the Philippine government must come up with a long-term strategy and policy vis-à-vis its claim over the island group.

The Spratlys are being claimed by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The area consists of 26 islands and islets and seven groups of huge rocks in the South China Sea. The disputed islands have a maritime area of 160,000 square kilometers and land area totaling 170 hectares.

Among the six claimants, the Philippines was the first to officially make its claim. As early as 1933, a Philippine senator protested after the French annexed the Spratlys. During World War II, Japan occupied the islands for military reasons. After Japan relinquished its claim after its surrender, the Philippines claimed the territories in 1946.

In 1956, Filipino navigator Tomas Cloma claimed ownership and occupation of the Spratlys by issuing a “proclamation to the world.” In 1957, in reply to Cloma’s letters demanding that the Philippine government settle the question of ownership of the islands, then Vice President and Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Garcia assured Cloma that the government “does not regard with indifference the economic exploitation and settlement of these uninhabited and unoccupied islands by Philippine nationals,” but stopped short of officially claiming the islands.

In 1978, President Marcos issued a proclamation declaring ownership of some islands in the Spratlys group. President Ramos reaffirmed the proclamation in 1995. The Philippines now occupies eight of the islands.

In February 2008, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo entered into a so-called “Spratly Deal” with Beijing, which according to former Speaker Jose de Venecia was done in exchange for loans attended by bribery and corruption. Malaya publisher and columnist Jake Macasaet said he was told by a source that under the “Spratly Deal,” China would be allowed to explore territorial waters of the Philippines.

In the same month, Far Eastern Economic Review’s Barry Wain accused Arroyo of selling out to China the Philippine and regional interests in the South China Sea. Wain argued that Arroyo violated a 2002 regional agreement that called on Asean member-states to deal with China as a bloc on the six-country Spratly Islands dispute.

Wain said that during Arroyo’s state visit to China in 2004, the two countries signed the “Agreement for Seismic Undertaking for Certain Areas in the South China Sea By and Between China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Philippine National Oil Company” which, Wain said, angered Vietnam. Surprisingly, the Philippines allowed the eight islands the country occupied in the agreement.

We do hope that President Aquino would not follow the lead of his predecessor in selling out Philippine sovereignty over the disputed islands in exchange for economic and other favors.

China is obviously eyeing the islands to gain control of the important South China Sea shipping lanes, the rich fishing grounds, and the vast oil deposits estimated at 18 billion tons underneath the disputed territory.

The US, on the other hand, is not about to give up its military domination in the region to China as shown by the American military’s show of force in August. During the period, the US conducted joint military and naval exercises with South Korea and Vietnam, the latter a most unlikely but now willing ally. That month, China staged its own military exercise with North Korea.

The conflict between the Americans and the Chinese in the region is expected to escalate in the coming years as the world’s second biggest economy prepares to become a military power, too. The Americans, on the other hand, need to reestablish their domination over Southeast Asia, which is fast becoming a very important focal point in both world economy and politics.

In this brewing conflict, the Philippines is certain to be caught in the middle. Among the six claimants, the Philippines is nearest to the islands; in fact, the southernmost tip of Palawan is just 136 miles off Mischief Reef, where the Chinese have built a military installation. And although officially the US has no bases in the Philippines, it can use either the Mutual Defense Treaty or the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to launch any counter-attack against the Chinese from the country.

The US has assured the Philippines that it would come to its defense in the event of an armed conflict with China over the Spratly Islands. The US position was reaffirmed by US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. during a speech delivered on board the USS Carl Vinson, which visited Manila after playing an important role in the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

In his remarks, Thomas said: “Now and in the future, we will maintain our strong relationship, and we are dedicated to being your partner whenever you are in harm’s way… this is a commitment born of our shared histories and close ties, and we are proud to stand by your side.”

The dispute over the Spratlys will eventually come to a head, hopefully not militarily. International intervention would not resolve the crisscrossing claims. Only a fair and enforceable agreement among the claimants could possibly resolve the long-standing dispute. The government has to decide now where the Philippines stands on this, and aggressively work for such resolution before the conflict turns into an ugly military confrontation.

Likewise, the conflict between the US and China over military domination in Southeast Asia will eventually come to a head. It is important that the Philippine government knows where its position would be when these two events present themselves.

(valabelgas@aol.com)

FROM THE STANDS
By Domini M. Torrevillas
The Philippine Star

Current broadsheets reported that President Aquino wants a dialogue in resolving the Philippine China dispute over the Spratlys. But he also expressed the Philippine position during the visit of Chinese defense minister Liang Guanglie, that the group of Spratlys islands called “Nansha” belongs to the Philippines. It was also reported that he expressed a possible escalation of tension over the disputes in the South China Sea, particularly if Chinese patrol gun boats and jet buzzing planes continue to disturb Philippine explorations in the disputed waters near the Spratlys.

The position of President Aquino demonstrates that he is aware and very much concerned about the preservation of the territorial integrity of our country. I also think that he understands the relevance and pertinence of the Philippine-China dispute over Spratlys to geo-political undertones surrounding the dispute, as well as the historical failure of his predecessors to act before it became too late as in the case of the loss of North Borneo (now called Sabah) to Malaysia.

At the outset, let me say that many of our countrymen are still nursing the pain and agony over the loss of North Borneo as a Philippine territory since the 16th Century when the British government, an undisputed ally of the United States, unilaterally ceded the territory to Malaysia. We have been silent, if not timid like lambs, in expressing our dismay when Uncle Sam supported the UK for its action and looked the other way and forgot the many thousands of Filipinos who died in defending the cause of Western democracy during World War II.

To bring the dispute in perspective, I also think that the President understands that the present situation in the Spratlys is different from what happened when the UK ceded North Borneo to Malaysia. The issue now is more than just the Philippine territorial claim against China’s claim. America’s interest is at stake here. With the loss of the American bases in the Philippines and Guam, and with Malaysia being against the American presence in the China Seas, the Philippine claim is pygmy to the global interest of super powers – in this case America and China.

We cannot predict what is next to come about the situation in the China Seas. We know and understand that we are no match in fighting with a super power like China. China can ignore our claim and use force to get what it wants. But I think China’s leaders would understand that that is not the best way to resolve the dispute with the Philippines. After all, China may realize that Nansha is but a dot in the world map, and China occupies a great part of the Asian continent.

We should appreciate the fact that our President was not intimidated in frankly expressing his views. That is wisdom par excellence, and it clearly demonstrates leadership and policy direction that we must not surrender our country’s territorial integrity and territoriality of ownership of parts of Spratlys. Hence if for anything else, the initiative of the President could be a milestone and legacy of his Administration in whichever direction our claim of a part of the Spratlys lead.

* * *

Should well-to-do prisoners be allowed luxuries while in penitentiaries, such as TV and Karaoke sets, air-conditioning and refrigerators, and even their own bahay kubo? Such amenities make it appear that the prisoners are being given special treatment, amid the poor, crowded, badly-ventilated rooms that the less-privileged penitents live in. Why make life in prison comfortable for rich inmates who violated the law and are therefore serving time for such violations?

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on revision of laws, is asking the justice department to consider the feasibility of a “pay-to-stay” program in national penitentiaries. Her idea is to allow convicts sentenced for nonviolent crimes, to apply for a “pay-to-stay” program – but they pay hotel rates for such a privilege.

Santiago said that the “pay-to-stay” program is observed in the United States penal system which allows wealthy prisoners to be housed separately from other inmates, allowed private cells, work release programs, Ipods, mobile phones, and computers, provided they pay hotel rates. Such pay-to-stay programs are implemented in most cities in California and are being considered for implementation in New York and Massachusetts.

“The new law will disqualify any prisoner who has a history of violence, is a sex, drug, or arson registrant, or has a situation or condition that may endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the other ‘pay-to-stay’ inmates, or the jail staff,” Santiago said.

She said that her proposed law should apply only to nonviolent crimes such as crimes against public interest, which include fraud, forgery, and falsification; crimes against public morals, including gambling and betting; and nonviolent crimes against property, such as theft and bouncing checks.

Santiago said her new law will not apply to Antonio Leviste, because he was convicted of the violent crime of homicide.

* * *

As to President P-Noy’s request to be left alone when it comes to his love life, well, that would be asking too much of media. Loss of privacy is something that can’t be avoided by celebrities, especially public servants, whose private lives cannot be spared from public scrutiny. This does not mean that the media can literally intrude into the subjects’ bedroom, i.e., to take photographs and videos of intimate scenes between subjects and spouses or lovers. But they cannot be stopped from peering into the mundane affairs of celebrities – who they are dating, what they’re wearing, if they’ve done nose and breast jobs – provided that such actions do not impinge on public morals. An eminent person who decides to have a breast implant or reduction cannot be faulted for her desire to look and feel better. But if the subject in question has sex change – well, that will not look nice to one’s constituents, does it? Media has to expose that for sure. If it were a politician having affairs with his staff, shouldn’t the media expose that? Yes it should. But of course in our society that seems debatable, as we turn a blind eye to government officials who keep mistresses and dozens of children and flaunt it.

P-Noy should take the questions asked by the paparazzi about girls he dates and where, with a grain of salt. He is a bachelor, and he is President of the Philippines. His romantic escapades are titillating news items. In fact I honestly think he enjoys being asked about his love life. My only misgiving here is that the ladies being linked to him might look “kawawa.” They should not feel that way. They should consider it a privilege to be noticed, to be wined and dined by the highest official of the land. So what if he does not offer them marriage? Don’t cry over spilled milk, dearies. Have fun, and write about your night(s) out with the guy. With apologies to President P-Noy, somebody said, “No man is worth two tears.”

* * *

The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation Legacy Secretariat announces that due to the inclement weather, the Bantayog Legacy Dinner scheduled for Friday, May 27, will be moved to next Friday, June 3rd, same time and place.

The Upsilon Pumapalo Golf Tournament at Sherwood Hills Golf Course in Cavite has been moved from May 27 to June 2, a Thursday, due to Typhoon Chedeng.

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=689904&publicationSubCategoryId=64

By Daniel Ten Kate
Bloomberg.com

Vietnam and the Philippines are pushing forward oil and gas exploration projects in areas of the South China Sea claimed by China, sparking a fresh clash in one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors.

State-owned PetroVietnam’s partner Talisman Energy Inc. (TLM) aims to begin drilling next year in a separate block that China awarded to a U.S. rival and has protected with gunboats. Ricky Carandang, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, said the Philippines plans to exploit a field in an area of the sea where Chinese patrol boats harassed a survey vessel in March.

The neighbors of China, which has Asia’s largest military, were emboldened after the U.S. asserted interest in the waters last year, said James A. Lyons Jr., a former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander. A surge in crude prices to near $100 a barrel also spurred Vietnam and the Philippines to pursue the oil needed to meet economic growth targets of at least 7 percent this year.

“With the economic situation in the Philippines and Vietnam, the exploration for oil and gas makes good economic sense,” said Lyons, who led the Pacific Fleet from 1985 to 1987 and is now president of Lion Associates LLC, a Warrenton, Virgina-based business advisory company. “They depend on the United States to provide the overarching security umbrella.”

Cut Cables

Vietnam protested to China over an incident yesterday in which it says three Chinese vessels cut the survey cables of a ship belonging to Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, more commonly known as PetroVietnam. The confrontation occurred inside lot 148, 120 nautical miles off the coast of Phu Yen province, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hanoi said in a faxed statement. Lot 148 is also claimed by China.

China asserts “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the South China Sea, including oil and gas fields more than three times further from its coast than they are from Vietnam. Exploration in waters under China’s jurisdiction infringes its “sovereignty and interests and is illegal,” the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said May 12.

Maritime disputes may be discussed at an annual security forum in Singapore starting June 3 that will include a speech from Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie. At last year’s event, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. opposed efforts to “intimidate” companies operating in the sea.

The Philippines protested April 5 to the United Nations that a Chinese map laying out its claims had “no basis under international law.” Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei also have overlapping claims with China.

‘Legitimate Licenses’

Talisman, Canada’s third-largest oil company by market value, will start exploratory drilling about 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) from China’s Hainan island, located off its southern coast, after a seismic program this year, according to a corporate presentation on its website this month. The Calgary- based company is partnered with Hanoi-based PetroVietnam.

“We have what we believe are legitimate licenses,” John Manzoni, Talisman’s chief executive officer, said in a May 4 interview. The company plans to push ahead “at a normal pace.”

Talisman’s blocks 133 and 134, about 300 kilometers from Vietnam, are known as WAB-21 in China — which in 1992 awarded Crestone Energy Corp. the site, now owned by Houston-based Harvest Natural Resources Inc. (HNR)

China “did indicate it was very concerning to them and that they would intervene in some way,” Harvest CEO James Edmiston said in response to questions about Talisman’s license in an August interview.

Ordered to Leave

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) plans an exploratory well off Vietnam this year, Mark W. Albers, a senior vice president, said in a March 9 meeting with analysts. The Irving, Texas-based company is developing Block 119, state-run Vietnam News reported March 31, without saying where it got the information. Part of the site sits in waters claimed by China.

Details of exploration programs are confidential, Exxon Mobil spokesman Patrick McGinn said by e-mail.

Two Chinese patrol boats in March ordered a ship doing seismic work for Forum Energy Plc (FEP) to leave an area near disputed waters about 250 kilometers west of the Philippines’ island of Palawan, Philippines Army Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban said at the time. The Chinese left the area after two military aircraft were deployed, he said.

The contract area for Chertsey, U.K.-based Forum Energy lies in waters China, Vietnam and the Philippines agreed to explore jointly in an arrangement that lapsed in 2008. Majority owned by Manila-based Philex Mining Corp. (PX), Forum plans to drill wells there, it said in a March 15 statement.

The field the Philippines plans to exploit is a “very important” part of Aquino’s plan to cut oil imports, spokesman Carandang said by phone May 16.
‘Not Bullied’

American policy makers have put forward the U.S., which has defense treaties with the Philippines and Thailand and guarantees Taiwan’s security, as a counterbalance to China. More than half of the world’s merchant fleet by tonnage passes through the South China Sea each year, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a research group in Alexandria, Virginia.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared a “national interest in the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce” in the waters at a regional meeting in Hanoi in October.

That statement gave Southeast Asian nations “a little more confidence,” said Michael Green, a former Asia specialist at the U.S. National Security Council who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It took somebody to say ‘we’re not going to be bullied.’”

China’s Shrinking Reserves

The U.S. navy has patrolled Asia-Pacific waters since World War II. China has bolstered its forces over the past decade, procuring nuclear-powered submarines and developing an aircraft carrier, according to a Defense Department report in August.

In a 1988 skirmish over the Spratly islands, China killed more than 70 Vietnamese troops and sank several ships, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 1994, Chinese warships were sent to stop Vietnamese drilling.

Chinese studies cited by the EIA suggest the waters sit atop more than 14 times BP Plc estimates of the country’s oil reserves and 10 times those for gas. China’s oil reserves have shrunk almost 40 percent since 2001 as the economy expanded 10.5 percent a year on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Vietnam’s domestic gas demand is set to triple by 2025, according to World Bank estimates. The Philippines plans to boost hydrocarbon reserves by 40 percent in the next two decades to reduce its almost total reliance on imports, according to a department of energy plan.

‘Tough Political Decision’

Going it alone may be a negotiating tactic, said Marshall Mays, director of Emerging Alpha in Hong Kong. China and its neighbors are likely “working on the assumption that a negotiated split of revenues” will be agreed, he said.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has made little progress in negotiating a binding code of conduct for the sea with China since 2002.

“By agreeing to a joint exploration you ipso facto recognize the legitimacy of the claims of the other countries,” said Ralf Emmers, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “That’s a very tough political decision.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-26/s-china-sea-oil-rush-risks-clashes-as-u-s-emboldens-vietnam.html

COMMONSENSE
By Marichu A. Villanueva
The Philippine Star

A young lawmaker made a very disturbing revelation that he found out from scrutiny of our government’s annual budget they pass upon in Congress every year. In a statement issued yesterday, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara discovered the government appears to be spending more on state prisoners than paying for the education of elementary school students.

Angara, son of veteran Senator Edgardo Angara, came up with such observation after doing his own calculations. It appears that we, taxpayers, have been spending P64,000 a year to house, feed and guard just one prisoner per year.

This amount should be of no concern if not compared to the actual budget allocated by the government for education about P8,600 per public elementary student every year. It’s really deplorable, if not an injustice. “That means it’s seven times more expensive to keep a person in jail than to keep a kid in school,” the young Angara rightfully noted.

How did the young Angara come up with these estimates? From official count, Angara got the country’s prison population of 104,710 this year. Of this total, 39,545 are being housed in the seven penitentiaries run by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor). One of which included the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City currently under fire for the sneaking in and out of high-profile inmates like ex-Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste and Rolito Go.

On the other hand, 65,165 of the total number of prisoners are being detained in the 419 jails managed by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). One of these BJMP-run jails is Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where the political warlord clan of former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. are all detained for the infamous Maguindanao massacre.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost his wife and sister in the carnage, denounced jailors of Ampatuan in Camp Bagong Diwa as being lenient to the wealthy and influential Ampatuans. Only recently, another celebrated detainee, road rage killer Jason Ivler, was transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa over alleged VIP treatment he was getting at the Quezon City jail while undergoing trial.

Being an attached agency of the Department of Justice, Secretary Leila De Lima immediately created a fact-finding panel to look into the Leviste caper. The BJMP, on the other hand, is an attached agency under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Secretary Jesse Robredo vowed to look into the complaints of Mangudadatu.

Based on the Congress-approved budget, Angara cited, BuCor has a P1.51 billion allocation for the current year while the BJMP has a P5.15-billion budget. “If you divide the budget of the penal institutions with the total jail population, the expense per prisoner comes to about P63,620 per annum,” Angara explained.

From the report of the BJMP in the official 2010 Philippine Statistical Yearbook, Angara cited, it claimed to have served 58,711 inmates in 2009. But for that year, Angara recalled, the budget that Congress approved for BJMP was based on a jail population of 69,360 based on the BJMP submission. There is obviously a big difference of about 11,000 which Angara branded as “phantom jailbirds.”

If each prisoner has P64,000 allocation in the yearly budget, then some people have been making money out of these “phantom jailbirds.”

Therefore, Angara called for an independent audit and actual head count of prisoners, especially since prison population is not even subject to the Commission on Audit (COA) census. Worse, no such head counts are being done daily as required by prisons’ manual.

This was the startling discovery made during the public hearing that investigated the Leviste caper. Hence, it was no surprise how influential and moneyed inmates like Leviste and Go were able to go in and out of the NBP premises, obviously with ease and connivance with unscrupulous prisons officials.

Doing an ocular inspection of the NBP compound triggered by the Leviste caper, the DOJ fact-finding panel saw for themselves how such “living out” privileges of Leviste and Go have been abused to the hilt. Plus the fact of lack of security provisions to prevent escape of prisoners like close circuit TV cameras in key areas around the more than 500-hectare NBP compound.

When he was the chairman of the Senate justice committee, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan recalled getting a report from the NBP that they averaged 44 cases of escaped convicts. Since we have 52 weeks in a year, the Senator noted, this means almost one escapee a week.

Last week, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) complained that a certain Frank Chua, a Taiwanese national, who is supposed to be serving life imprisonment at the NBP, is no longer there. Chua was caught in 1989 for smuggling into the country more than 80 kilos of shabu.

During his testimony before the DOJ probe panel, BuCor director retired Police General Ernesto Diokno admitted in the serious illegal drug problem right inside the NBP. In fact, Diokno revealed, the illegal drug syndicates are brazenly plying their trade among inmates who are hooked to these narcotic substances apparently smuggled inside their NBP jails. In fact, Diokno said the killing of NBP deputy director for security Rodrigo Mercado, who was gunned down in Laguna last May 6, was a drugs-related crime.

Diokno impressed upon the DOJ probe panel that he was more concerned over this drug problem at the NBP before Leviste pulled his stunt. Diokno stressed he is in charge of policy-making and introduced reforms at the BuCor. But the direct supervision of the day-to-day running of the NBP and the six other penal farms under BuCor, he said, rest with their respective superintendents.

While Diokno may be right on this score, he cannot, however, wash his hands off and turn a blind eye to what’s happening at the NBP where he holds his office.

Leviste’s abuse of his “living out” privilege has brought to fore the systemic bureaucratic disease that threatens the country’s penal system and crushes the ends of justice. And this we cannot allow to happen.

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=690232&publicationSubCategoryId=64

This must be the umpteenth time that P-Noy has uttered his now famous — or infamous — threat: “Heads will roll…”  But so far, no heads have rolled yet.  Mr. President, please…. we want to see some heads start rolling soon. — PERRY DIAZ

PNoy: Heads will roll if Ampatuan got VIP treatment

By Ron Gagalac
ABS-CBN News

BANGKOK, Thailand – President Aquino on Friday said jail officials will be fired from their jobs if it is proven that former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., alleged mastermind of the Maguindanao massacre, received special treatment in jail.

Aquino said he has yet to see the alleged photos and video of the Ampatuan patriarch getting special treatment while in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

“I cannot comment on it because I haven’t seen any of it. I haven’t seen the picture or the purported video but definitely if that happened, then heads should roll . There should be no VIP treatment. I’m sure [DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo] will report to me when I get home,” he said in a statement.

The President said he was informed before of the alleged VIP treatment of the Ampatuans, and that Justice Secretary Leila De Lima quickly acted on it.

“Ang alam ko nag-report sa akin for at least 3 or 4 instances na merong umabot sa kanyang ganoong report at pinuntahan niya (Robredo) not less than twice on a random day,” he said.

“Si Secretary Leila de Lima is trying to determine whether or not  information na tinatanggap ay tama o mali,” he added.

Ampatuan is accused of masterminding the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in Maguindanao province last Nov. 23, 2009. The victims were on their way to Shariff Aguak town to file the certificate of candidacy of now Gov. Toto Mangudadatu when their convoy was allegedly blocked at a checkpoint by police and militiamen of the Ampatuans.

Gotcha photos, video?

Mangudadatu on Thursday revealed pictures and a video that allegedly proved Ampatuan is enjoying special privileges inside the Quezon City Jail Annex.

The photos showed Ampatuan outside the jail cell while being massaged by another prisoner.

Another photo showed him with as many as 13 visitors, which violates the prison rule of only 3 visitors per inmate.

Another photo showed Ampatuan with one of his wives who was using a cellphone, violating the no-cellphone rule inside the jail.

Lawyer Harry Roque, meanwhile, said Ampatuan Sr. was also spotted dining at the Hotel Sofitel in Pasay City.

News of Ampatuan’s VIP treatment prompted the DILG chief to suspend jail warden Glenford Valdepeñas and jail personnel in Camp Bagong Diwa. Valdepeñas was replaced by temporarily replaced by Senior Inspector Bernardino Edgar T. Camus, leader of the Special Tactics and Response Team.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, meanwhile, said the President has been apprised of reports about special privileges enjoyed by VIPs in prisons, including Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

“The President is aware of these reports already and that he has directed the Department of Justice, DILG and even the economic managers team. Yung doon sa naunang dalawang ahensya, to conduct the necessary investigation and recommend to improve the system and nagbigay po ng directives din sa economic managers [to find out] what else we can do in terms of funding,” Valte said.

‘Massacre case too slow’

The President said he is also concerned with how the legal process against the Ampatuans are ongoing.

“Mas concentrate  kasi ako doon sa arraignment. Nagtatanong ako, ‘Kelan pa for everybody?’ Noong isang araw, nag-meeting din kami para malaman iyong status ng lahat ng pinaghuhuli pa. Over a hundred pa iyong nahabol, nabawasan ng dalawa. Doon sa dalawa, pero over a hundred pa rin ang natitira,” he said.

He added: “Siyempre, iyong arraignment, iyong umpisa ng paglilitis mahabang panahon. Baka abutin ng  anim na taon on an average. Hindi pa mag-uumpisa. Napakaimportante na mahuli iyong under accused.”

A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey earlier showed more than half of Filipinos were dissatisfied with the delays in the Maguindanao massacre case.

Conducted from March 4 to 7, the SWS poll showed 51% of Filipinos were dissatisfied with the way the case is being resolved, up from 46% in November last year.

The respondents who said they were satisfied with the government’s handling of the case dropped to 32% from 41%, while the number of undecided rose to 16% from 12%.

The Aquino administration received a negative net satisfaction rating, -19, on the issue of the prosecution of the massacre case, down by 14 points from the “neutral” of -5 recorded last November.

Three out of 4 respondents said the prosecution of the case against the accused Ampatuans was too slow, 21% said it was moving just fine, and 4% said the government was “too much in a hurry.”

The SWS found 47% of the respondents who claimed that the way the accused are being treated is “just right,” 39%, said it was “too lenient” and 13% called it “too harsh.”

At least 67% of Filipinos said they are following the case “very closely/somewhat closely.” With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/05/27/11/pnoy-heads-will-roll-if-ampatuan-got-vip-treatment

By Ina Reformina
ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Embattled Bureau of Corrections(BuCor) Director Ernesto Diokno personally tendered his resignation to President Benigno Aquino III today.

Diokno arrived in Malacañan Palace around 1pm and tendered his resignation at around quarter to 2pm, ABS-CBN sources said.

Asked about the resignation, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said: “Diokno’s resignation [is] the most honorable, selfless way to go.”

Diokno was in hot water for the escape of New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) inmate Antonio Leviste last May 18, reportedly not the first of the former Batangas governor’s several unauthorized trips outside the facility.

Leviste’s arrest outside a Makati City building that he owns led to an investigation of the supposed VIP treatment of high-profile inmates in NBP.

Diokno’s resignation came ahead of Aquino’s action on a Department of Justice(DOJ) fact-finding committee report submitted to Malacanan today.

The contents of the 36-page report, as well as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s 8-page memorandum, have yet to be divulged to the public.

Diokno earlier said he is not to blame for the former Batangas governor’s slipping in and out of jail and eventual arrest outside the NBP compound. He said he supervises operations of the NBP as well as 6 other penal colonies nationwide.

“Paniwala ko po di ako dapat sisihin dito. Ako (po) sa policy-making sa opisina. Sad to say, ang opisina (of the BuCor Director) nandoon lang sa NBP,” he told a justice department fact-finding panel.

Asked who should take the blame, he said: “The Chief Superintendent…the superintendents of the minimum (security compound), BRSS (Bureau Reservation and Support Services)…Lahat yan dapat maimbestigahan mabuti.”

Diokno admitted that he received raw information about Leviste’s unauthorized trips outside the prison, but did not cancel his “sleeping-out” privilege despite the information.

Instead, he sent several memos to prison superintendents to report all movements of high-profile inmates inside NBP.

“May raw info na ako na pumupuslit si Leviste. I did a memo to all of superintendents to monitor nila. I am not obligated to guard them. I am in charge of policy-making. I told them that if they didn’t implement, they would be charged administratively,” he said.

Diokno said he also called for a command conference of the “council of elders,” composed of leaders of each brigade, to warn them against leaving the prison without authorization. He said Leviste is a member of the council of elders.

“Sabi ko, ‘Governor, itigil niyo na yung paglabas diyan dahil kung kayo ay lumalabas diyan, sa aking administrasyon ay hindi pwede sapagkat dito sa akin ipahuhuli ko kayo at icha-charge ko kayo,'” he recalled telling Leviste.

Asked why he did not cancel Leviste’s sleep-out status that allowed him to stay in a reservation outside the minimum security jail, Diokno said: “Yung iba sa kanila pwede hong gawin yan pero sa akin hindi ko pa nakikita. Raw information lang ang dumadating sa akin. Hindi naman niya sinasabing totoo. Wala naman akong kasalanan dahil ang approach natin diyan ay reformation.”

He added: “If he attempts to escape and we catch him, then we cancel (sleeping-out privilege). But if we don’t catch him doing it, there’s no evidence. I would be making a wrong judgment.”

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/05/30/11/diokno-resigns-bucor

AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR
By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star

It’s been 53 months since I rejoined the Philippine STAR in November 2006. I was there with the original Op-Ed columnists of the STAR when we became newspaper number 22 after the 1986 People Power Revolution restored press freedom, among others, in our country. I had to give up my AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR column in January 1987 when I joined the Cory Aquino government.

In all that time since rejoining the STAR, I have not really taken a break from my three times a week column. There were a couple of columns which I missed submitting and that was when I was hospitalized for a major surgery at the Makati Medical Center. But a vacation break from column writing, I have not asked for one in the last 53 months.

You don’t really need a break if you love and find fulfillment from what you’re doing, especially that aspect of my work when I get the opportunity to help address the Information Gap in our country and promote new ideals like the Focolare Movement’s Economy of Communion. However, even missionaries do need a break. The toughest soldiers need a break. Jesus Christ also took a break and went to the wilderness.

In my case, the pressure to take a break was not so much the writing job itself but an accumulation of health issues over the last three months. One after another, I seemed plagued to experience just about every ailment known to man, except perhaps STD, AIDS and similar embarrassing afflictions emanating from a promiscuous lifestyle.

The osteoarthritis on my knees would act up, usually induced by delicious foods with high purine. Barely recovering from that, my asthma would get into the act and that keeps me at home tied up to my oxygen machine. Not to be left out of the party, even my occasional spinal stenosis (back pains) and hyperacidity decided to revive.

Is this a conspiracy to unhinge your Chair Wrecker’s mind? The thought did occur to me.

Unfortunately, I cannot escape, albeit temporarily, from my physical realities. It’s either I address these health issues properly or risk encountering the dire consequences.

Earlier today, I told our STAR President, Miguel G. Belmonte, and our Editor in Chief, Isaac G. Belmonte: “For over three months now, I’ve encountered a series of health issues. While most of these are not life threatening per se, still the continuous series of ailments are eroding my morale and affecting my disposition. I badly need a one-month break to recharge my combat-fatigued soul, walk in the garden, rediscover love, intimacy and all that with my wife and live a different routine temporarily.”
Miguel reacted: “Sorry to hear about your health problems, Uncle Billy. Go ahead and take your much needed break.” Isaac supported Miguel and said: “Yes, I agree wholeheartedly.” I cannot thank Miguel and Isaac enough for their support and understanding. Thus, we will not be touching base again in this column until July 3 when I shall return with a vengeance.

You know that you need a break when it feels like a major lifetime endeavor to do what would otherwise be classified as a simple daily chore. You know that you need a break already when you reach a point that you have to force yourself to do something that you used to love. My health issues took such a toll on me that I was thus forced to take this break from column writing.

Sans the occasional furlough, warriors who have been in battle for too long will suffer from combat fatigue and start losing their energy, focus and drive. I had to impose that furlough on myself in order to prevent experiencing the effects of combat fatigue.

Fond memories of Anding

May I utilize this opportunity to express my heartfelt sympathies to the family of the late Alejandro “Anding” Roces, an esteemed personal friend and comrade-in-arms during the fight against the Marcos dictatorship. The loss of a great man like Anding Roces diminishes all of us.

The last time I touched base with Anding was during one of the famous Curry Tiffin Friday lunches, around three years or so ago, at the Manila Club, where Anding and I used to go. We would bump into each other there with our respective lunch companions. Anding would visit my table and proudly demonstrate his cast iron stomach – indeed a rarity for a man of his age. He would challenge me to poke hard his tummy just to prove his mettle.

Anding was actually more amazing than that cast-iron tummy of his. To be a favorite topic of National Hero Ninoy Aquino in his speeches would underscore the qualities of Anding Roces.

Anding Roces did not only write about history – he was a player in our contemporary history. More importantly, Anding was there fighting for the cause of freedom during the darkest period of martial law, when only persons of the finest qualities – like Anding Roces, Napoleon Rama, Soc Rodrigo et al – could stand up to the tyrant, while many other Filipinos cringed in fear and would rather not get involved.

* * *

Chair Wrecker e-mail and website: macesposo@yahoo.com and www.chairwrecker.com.

By Edwin Espejo
AsianCorrspondent.com

Rep. Manny Pacquiao’s honeymoon with the press as a member of Philippine Congress may have already ended with his bold attempt to interpellate veteran lawmaker Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay.

It is one thing to speak out his mind and defend his position on such critical and important issues as the pending Reproductive Health (RH) Bill now being deliberated in Congress. But to come apparently unprepared and ill-briefed is another.

We would have understood why Pacquiao had no personal knowledge on what transpired in the previous deliberations of the bill when he posed questions that were already raised and answered. He was, after all, absent from his congressional duties when he trained for more than two months for his fight against Shane Mosley.

But that should not be an excuse for his congressional staff for failing to properly brief the Sarangani solon.

His staff made him look silly and no longer the likable neophyte congressman trying to make his way around the halls of Philippine Congress.

There is no problem with Pacquiao standing against the RH bill. But if he and his staff think his massive popularity will sway and intimidate his peers on the opposite side of the debate, they are entirely wrong.

His popularity as a boxing cult and celebrity figure may help the cause of anti-RH bill advocates but, silently, proponents could not have helped themselves any better with Pacquiao arguing for their opponents.

In a related front, self-proclaimed Pacquiao advisor Mike Koncz was quoted as saying the promised provincial hospital in Sarangani may not come soon.

Koncz said they are still looking for funds.

This is one realization that will test Pacquiao’s statesmanship and pragmatism – on the better side.

With the current fiscal state of his province, Pacquiao and his staff must have already realized that building and running a gov’t hospital, a provincial one at that, are two different matters.

His congressional chief of staff Frankin ‘Jeng’ Gacal Jr should know better than everybody else in Pacquiao’s staff.

A former councilor of General Santos City, Gacal knew how much and from where the city gov’t gets its annual budget to operate the 120-bed city-run General Santos City Hospital.

That hospital was built as early as the ’70s. Yet, to this date, it continues to be subsidized by the city government after the devolution of the health department which started in 1991.

Its annual budget of P120 million is way up against its annual revenues, most of them coming from reimbursements from Philhealth, the government-run health insurance agency, which amount to just roughly P20 million every year.

Sarangani, the province at least, cannot afford to allocate P120 million for a similar hospital out of its annual revenues. Allocating such amount will mean setting aside roughly 25 per cent of its total annual income.

True, building a hospital was one of the campaign promises of Pacquiao. But in the real and practical world of fiscal management in the province, it is like building an edifice to ensure the local government will go bankrupt in no time.

There are better alternative solutions, such as the ones now in place in the province.

It will not hurt his image if Pacquiao will publicly admit that breaking his campaign promise may be a better and wiser choice.

Welcome to the world of Philippine politics – post election campaign.

http://asiancorrespondent.com/55938/pacquiao-politics-reality-bytes-and-bites/

By Alex P. Vidal

NEWPORT BEACH, California — Whether it is a doctor or albularyo (quack doctor) toting the scissors, Filipino boys consider it as birthright or duty to undergo circumsicion at early age as part of tradition that started way back in the pre-Spanish colonization.

In fact, male circumcision, the surgical removal of some or all of the foreskin (prepuce) from the penis, is the source of pride for most Filipino boys entering adolescence. The ritual is more of a badge of glory than implied passport to the men’s club.

Far cry from the standpoint of some residents of San Francisco, California who will vote in an election in November whether to ban circumcision.

California’s Department of Elections certified just over 7,700 signatures gathered by proponents of the ban who aim to outlaw the practice of circumcising males 18 years or younger even despite religious or cultural traditions.

JAIL TERM

Anyone, including medical practitioners, could face a $1,000 fine and one year in jail if they violate the ban in accordance with the proposal.

If the referendum was applied in the Philippines, Filipinos would mock and scoff at the idea and would never take it seriously; they would view it as invasion of the provinces of religion and culture.

The word “circumcision” or “tuli” in Tagalog comes from Latin circum (meaning “around”) and caedere (meaning “to cut”). Uncircumcised boys passed puberty age usually face taunts and ridicule from playmates who call them as “putyong” in Hiligaynon, “pisot” in Cebuano, or “supot” in Tagalog.

To be branded with such unsavory tag is totally unacceptable for most Filipino boys thus circumcision has been considered a requisite like high school diploma.

GENITAL CUTTING

Supporters of the ban, meanwhile, argued that the practice of circumcision would “protect all infants and children in San Francisco from the pain and harm caused by forced genital cutting,” according to campaign literature posted on their web site.

Former Senator Juan Flavier was a staunch advocate of circumcision for health reason. He subscribed to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which stated that “there were evidence indicating that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV acquisition by men during penile-vaginal sex, but also state that circumcision only provides partial protection and should be considered only in conjunction with other proven prevention measures.”

Early depictions of circumcision are found in cave paintings and Ancient Egyptian tombs, though some pictures are open to interpretation. Religious male circumcision is considered a commandment from God in Judaism.

WIDELY PRACTISED

In Islam, though not discussed in the Qur’an, male circumcision is widely practised and most often considered to be a sunnah. It is also customary in some Christian churches in Africa, including some Orient Orthodox Churches.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global estimates suggest that 30% of males are circumcised, of whom 68% are Muslim.The prevalence of circumcision varies mostly with religious affiliation, and sometimes culture.

Most circumcisions are performed during adolescence for cultural or religious reasons; in some countries they are more commonly performed during infancy.

In some cultures, males must be circumcised shortly after birth, during childhood, or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. Circumcision is commonly practised in the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

By Ina Reformina
ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued subpoenas to former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her 3 co-respondents in connection with a plunder complaint filed by former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez for alleged misuse of Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) funds.

This formally starts the preliminary investigation on the case to determine whether there is probable cause to file the charges in court.

Arroyo, former executive secretary and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, former Arroyo Health Secretary and current Civil Service Commission (CSC) chair Francisco Duque III, and former OWWA administrator Virgilio Angelo were ordered to appear at the DOJ on June 6, 2011 to file, and personally subscribe to, their respective counter-affidavits in a subpoena order dated May 20, 2011.

“Also, there are pieces of evidence submitted which shall be made available for the examination by you and your counsel at the same office during working hours or any working day before the date set above for you to submit your counter-affidavit,” the subpoena read.

Chavez’s 23-page complaint filed last April alleged that some P554.8-million in OWWA funds derived from contributions of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and their employers were misused by Arroyo, et al.

Over P530 million of the funds were transferred from the OWWA Medicare Fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) in February 2004, the complaint added.

This was allegedly intended to boost Arroyo’s presidential campaign.

Aside from plunder, the complaint also accused respondents of malversation and/or illegal use of OWWA funds, graft and corruption, violations of the Omnibus Election Code and Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, and qualified theft.

“You are hereby warned that failure on your part to comply with this SUBPOENA shall be considered as waiver to present your defense in this preliminary investigation and the case shall be considered submitted,” the subpoena read.

The subpoena was issued by the panel tasked to conduct the preliminary investigation, namely Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo and Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Elizabeth Intos-Santos.

The Chavez complaint is the second plunder complaint filed at the DOJ after Arroyo stepped down from the presidency.

The first was filed by Danilo Lihaylihay in August 2010 in connection with the sale of the old Iloilo airport for the non-remittance of P72-million in capital gains tax.

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/-depth/05/25/11/doj-subpoenas-arroyo-over-plunder-complaint