Thursday, December 31, 2009

Asian shares bring curtain down on year of recovery

HONG KONG - Asia's markets rebounded during 2009 from losses incurred in the global financial crisis, but analysts warned of further volatility in the 12 months ahead.

More than a year after world economies went into freefall, the Asia-Pacific region has recovered strongly, largely due to the rapid deployment of massive government stimulus measures.

The year saw investor confidence return across the region. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index ended 52% higher after being stripped by nearly the same amount in 2008.

In China the Shanghai Composite Index surged 80% while Seoul's KOSPI added nearly 50%. Tokyo's Nikkei-225 ended a tumultuous year 20% higher.

However, analysts warned of further volatility in 2010, as the United States and China look to end massive stimulus packages.

"If the economic recovery in the US takes hold, the government will likely exit its stimulus package," ICBC International strategist Ernie Hon told Dow Jones Newswires.

"Additionally, China is already facing a potential property market bubble."

The Shanghai Composite Index enjoyed a huge bull run in 2009 after shedding nearly two thirds of its value in 2008 as the effects of the global financial crisis took hold.

Beijing in 2008 unveiled a four-trillion-yuan (586-billion-dollar) stimulus package along with big tax breaks to boost domestic spending amid the global slump.

But analysts see the Chinese market consolidating in 2010 as the government looks to rein in record lending and surging property prices.

"In 2010, the Chinese stock market may continue to consolidate in a see-saw pattern. Various factors may affect the market including the possible exit from the stimulus package" said Cai Junyi, stock analyst at Shanghai Securities.

Japan saw a volatile 12 months as the country exited recession but saw unemployment hit a record high as prices continued to fall along with wages and a stronger yen battered exporters.

On Wednesday the Nikkei-225 closed down 0.86% at 10,546.44, still up 20% over the year.

A major concern for policymakers in 2010 is tackling falling consumer prices and averting another deflationary spiral, analysts said.

"Even if the performances of individual companies are impressive (in 2010), the overall stock market wouldn't get a boost without confidence in Japan," said Hiroaki Kuramochi, chief equity marketing officer at Tokai Tokyo Securities.

Investors will continue to look to the United States amid signs the world's biggest economy is recovering from deep recession.

"Recent US economic data have been encouraging," said Macquarie Private Wealth Associate Director Marcus Droga in Sydney. "The US market obviously believes the economy is more likely to get better".

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 20% ahead of Thursday's final trading session of 2009.

Elsewhere Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 index added more than 30% in a year that saw Australia hailed as "the wonder from Down Under", as the only major Western economy to avoid recession and the first to ease monetary stimulus amid surging resources exports to China.

However, AMP Capital Investors chief economist Shane Oliver said he expected a weaker 2010 as the after effects of the banking crisis in the US continued.

"That's going to no doubt throw up a few losses here and there," he said.

In India, Mumbai's Sensex index added a massive 80% as the government's economic reforms and coordinated policy actions restored confidence with foreign investors returning.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was 65% higher, as the government declared the end to a severe recession that had emerged in the third quarter of 2008.

The region's other markets also surged, with Sri Lanka 128% higher, Bangkok and Manila more than 60% up on the year, Kuala Lumpur up 45% and Wellington 18% higher.

2010 burden: Philippine deficits and debts

MANILA, Philippines - Each Filipino now owes P47,039 to local and foreign creditors, based on the national government's total debt stock as of September.

A month before that, each of the 92.2 million Filipinos owed P45,889.

The culprit: the widening budget deficit that prompts the government to borrow some more. Additional debts, which address current funding needs but could be paid in the future, translate to more debt burden for future generations.

The fact that the Philippines has been spending more than it earns is not earthshaking. Even the richest of countries have budget gaps. But prudence dictates that this deficit, which is a fiscal policy issue, has to be manageable.

Already, there are concerns about how the Philippines is faring as far as fiscal discipline is concerned.

The Philippines blew past its P250-billion fiscal gap target for 2009, recording a deficit of P272.5 billion with one more month to go before the year ends.

If this year's experience is any guide, analysts believe the country's 2010 budget deficit will also breach the government's official target.


Weak revenues—due to slower economic growth, several revenue-eroding laws, the negative impact of typhoons on tax collection, and lackluster privatization of assets—have been blamed for the wider-than-targeted deficit this year.

Except for privatization, which is expected to pick up steam, the same factors are seen to push the budget deficit above goal in 2010.

Despite the continued deterioration in the government's fiscal position, analysts at some of the biggest banking institutions say it's not as bad as it seems.

The government had set next year's budget deficit ceiling at P233.4 billion, but the country's economic managers are looking to increase this "to incorporate realistic assumptions."

They said more revenue-eroding measures that will take effect next year as well as the lingering economic downturn will take toll on the collections of the government's main tax agencies, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs.

The government is also expected to spend more for reconstruction efforts following back-to-back typhoons.

Taking these into account, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the actual 2010 deficit figure may hit close to P300 billion, the same as their "worst-case scenario" for the 2009 budget gap.

Teves' forecast is in line with analysts' consensus.

Not alone

Viewed in the context of the current economic crisis, financial experts say the country's swelling budget shortfall is not worrisome at all.

Unlike in 2004, when the poor fiscal state of the country was a product of the government's own hubris, the recent global crisis has made a large deficit more acceptable.

According to Metrobank head of research Marc Bautista, the country needs to incur a deficit to be able to sustain economic growth by curing sluggish demand through increased spending.

He noted that other countries are doing the same thing.

"There is room for deficit spending in 2010, the markets all but expect it already, and the Philippines is not alone in this predicament," Bautista said.

DBS strategist Philip Wee, for his part, said the widening budget gap has not really affected the strength of the Philippines , given the country's steadily rising external liquidity, and the peso's stability.

Fiscal consolidation

Nonetheless, the Philippines is eyeing to wipe out its budget deficit by 2013.

The country first targeted to balance the budget in 2008, but pushed this goal back to 2010 due to adverse external developments, including the rise in commodity prices and the onset of the global financial crisis. The 2010 goal was pushed further to 2013 to accommodate deficit spending for the economy.

As the country consolidates its fiscal position, Teves said that the government’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will also drop to 46.1% by 2013 from the programmed 57.6% by end-2009.

Similarly, he said the consolidated public sector fiscal position—the combined fiscal positions of the government, state-owned agencies and government financial institutions—will post a surplus during that year.

In the end, the economic managers will be assessed on how they managed the country’s finances. After all, it is the future generations of Filipinos who will bear the burden of today’s folly.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oscars ballots mailed to voters

LOS ANGELES – The race for next year's Oscars got under way Monday as nomination ballot papers were posted to the 5,777 voters who will decide the movie industry's most prestigious awards.

Voting members of the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences receive ballot papers roughly one month ahead of the nominations announcement on February 2. Ballots must be returned by January 23, the Academy said.

A second round of ballots will be mailed out after the nominations announcement where members will cast their decisive votes to determine the winners at the March 7 awards in Hollywood.

Next year's Oscars race is expected to be one of the most wide open in years while the battle for the coveted best picture statuette has been expanded to include 10 nominees.

Recession-drama "Up In the Air", starring George Clooney, and James Cameron's science-fiction fantasy epic "Avatar" are among the leading early contenders for the top honor, according to pundits.

Death toll from ro-ro ferry sinking may reach 42

36 missing, 6 dead in MV Baleno-9 tragedy

BATANGAS CITY, Philippines – Search and rescue operations in two separate sea tragedies in Batangas and Cavite resumed on Monday.

In Batangas, rescuers were racing against time to find and save 36 people who went missing after the MV Baleno-9 sank Saturday night.

Based on its manifest, the roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ferry had 74 passengers and 14 crew on board or a total of 88.

However, on Monday, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commandant Wilfredo Tamayo reported that there were actually more than 100 on board the ferry.

A total of 69 have been rescued, up from Sunday's figure of 62.

Thirty-six are missing, 14 more than what was reported on Sunday.

The number of dead bodies retrieved was still at 6, as of posting.

On Monday, some people reported to authorities that they belatedly learned of relatives who were on board the inter-island ferry, which accounts for the higher number of missing passengers.

More missing passengers reported

Paul Angelo de Castro, team leader of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), said some more relatives of the victims went to the Batangas Port to report missing family members.

Sonny Trinidad, brother of missing passenger Police Officer 2 Neil Trinidad, came to the PNRC operation center Monday morning to inquire about his brother.

In an interview with the ABS-CBN News, Sonny said they were only informed of their missing brother through Neil’s girlfriend.

“Nalaman lang namin na kasama ang kapatid namin sa lumubog na barko noong Linggo ng gabi nang mag-text ang girfriend ng kapatid ko kaya Lunes na kami ng umaga nakapunta dito sa Port of Batangas,” Trinidad said.

PNRC volunteers listed Neil’s name on the missing person bulletin board after his relatives claimed that he boarded the vessel from Calapan City last Saturday.

Three of Bona Tan’s relatives were also not included initially on the missing person bulletin, as of Monday.

“Nagtanong na ako sa opisina ng Besta Shipping Lines noon pang Linggo pero wala silang maibigay na impormasyon kung nakasama sa mga nawawala ang mga kamag-anak ko,” Tan said, adding that the ship's staff could not even present her the manifest.

If not for the monitoring efforts of the PNRC, “hindi pa namin malalamang nawawala ang kamag-anak namin,” Tan said.

Meantime, the sixth casualty has been identified by relatives as Hermie An Largado, 22, of San Jose, Bulacan.

The other fatalities are Jenny Cabral Mutia, 36, of Socorro, Oriental Mindoro; Lealyn Peñaranda, 20, of Pola, Oriental Mindoro; eight-month-old Angelica Balanza; Jennilyn Gutierrez; and, June Panagsagan.

Moonlight saves passengers

Meanwhile, several passengers of M/V Baleno 9 said they managed to survive the sinking of the ill-fated ferry last Saturday with the help of moonlight.

“We survived, thanks to the moonlight that served as our guiding light in escaping from the sinking ferry,” Alberto Perez, 25, told ABS-CBN News.

Perez, a resident of Barangay 24 RR Station in Batangas City, was one of 68 passengers who survived the sinking of the ferry off San Agapito point in Isla Verde, Batangas City Saturday night.

“I thought we would die when people fell all over me, but it’s good that the moonlight was bright and I found my way out of the ferry,” Perez said as he lay in bed at the Batangas Regional Hospital .

Despite panicking, he was able to lift up an elderly woman to the surface of the sea before he was able to cling onto a wooden board.

“I was able to push two kids to safety but I don’t know if they survived,” Perez said, holding back tears.

'So many children'

Perez suffered contusions in his chest, legs and arms when passengers fell on top and stepped on him in the rush to get out of the air-conditioned room of the vessel.

“There were so many children, I couldn’t imagine how to save them all,” he recalled.

Perez said he even shouted at the passengers not to panic, and guided them out of the room. “After helping an elderly, I went down in the water again to help others but I was stepped on and almost lost my breath.”

Perez said the incident happened so fast they hardly had time to react upon being roused from sleep. “We woke up only when people were already shouting and in a little while water came rushing in.”

“I weep when I remember the children left inside the ferry, I could only pray for them as I floated in the dark,” Perez said.

Perez added that they were rescued by a passing ship, M/V Reina delos Angeles of the Montenegro Shipping Lines, while the others were saved by M/V Baleno-3 after an hour drifting at sea.

“We are thankful that the moon was bright so the rescuers could locate us while floating at sea,” he said.

Cold sea water

Perez, together with his friend, Michael Palipay, almost died of hypothermia. “The water was so cold. If the rescuers didn’t arrive soon, we might have died from the cold.”

Perez was admitted to the hospital and placed under medical observation after swallowing seawater with gasoline and engine oil from the vessel. Palipay, however, managed to survive.

Perez said they left Calapan port bound for Batangas at around 9:30 p.m., and the ferry sank at around 9:45 p.m.

“When we reached Verde Island the waves were so huge the water entered the front portion of the ferry until we gradually sank,” he said.

Perez said he even saw one family still sleeping inside their van when the vessel sank.

Perez said he already noticed the roll-on, roll-off (RORO) vessel tilting to its portside before sailing from Calapan port.

“It’s possible we were overloaded because there were many vehicles and passengers coming from Christmas holiday in Mindoro,” he said.

Coast Guard officials said they will conduct an immediate inquiry into the vessel’s captain and crew.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

'Clogged' Mayon volcano could burst: expert

LEGASPI, Philippines - Rumbling Mayon volcano in the Philippines is showing signs of becoming clogged with lava and could erupt explosively, a government volcanologist said Saturday.

The volcano, which has been oozing lava for weeks, is also emitting gas and ash, all signs of a powerful eruption any day now, said Ed Laguerta, head of the government's volcanology team monitoring Mayon.

"Mayon volcano is still in a high state of unrest and in the coming days it could still have an explosive eruption," he warned in a radio interview.

"The number of (volcanic) quakes have lessened but now the quakes are of a different variety. What is becoming clear is that it (the volcano) is getting clogged. That is when the lava is rising but cannot get out," he said.

"The edifice looks inflated so we cannot say that the actual activity of Mayon has decreased," he said.

"Just because the volcano looks calm... it does not mean its activity is decreasing. We cannot be off our guard. After this calm period, it could explode with even more force," Laguerta added.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said it had kept Mayon on alert level four, meaning a hazardous eruption may occur within days.

It warned people to stay away from river channels and other areas that might possibly be hit by volcanic mudflow in the event heavy rain falls on Mayon.

The government has evacuated more than 47,000 people living around the volcano, about 330 kilometres (200 miles) southeast of Manila, since it began belching smoke and oozing lava earlier this month.

The evacuees are housed in 28 makeshift centres -- mostly government schools -- and could remain there for more than a month until the volcano settles, said Jukes Nunez, director of the disaster preparations office.

There are still a few people who refuse to leave the danger zone but Nunez said they were at the fringes of the zone and were not directly threatened.

However, he warned that the evacuees would need to find new shelters when schools reopen in January after the Christmas holidays.

Governor Joey Salceda, whose province includes Mayon, said in a television interview that he plans to set up a tent city for those who evacuated the area around the volcano.

The 2,460-metre (8,070-foot) volcano, which is famed for its near-perfect cone, has erupted 48 times in recorded history. In 1814, more than 1,200 people were killed as lava buried the town of Cagsawa.

You couldn't make it up: offbeat stories from 2009

PARIS, France - Weird, wild and wonderful stories from 2009:

- Anti-corruption officials in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu found a way to literally stop airport workers from pocketing bribes. They issued them with pocketless trousers.

- A Norwegian man landed himself in hot water when police caught him having sex with his girlfriend as he raced at over 130 kilometres (80 miles) an hour through a 100km/h zone on a highway near Oslo.

- Old technology came to the aid of the new in a Brazilian prison, when guards found that inmates were getting mobile phones flown in to them strapped to carrier pigeons.

- Life imitated fiction when paid-for copies of George Orwell's book "1984" were mysteriously deleted from the Amazon company's new electronic reading device. Apologising, the firm said it had not been emulating Orwell's sinister "Big Brother", but had simply realised that it didn't have the rights to sell the title.

- An 11-month-old boy accidentally dialled an emergency number while playing with a house telephone in the Canadian province of British Columbia. When police arrived, they arrested his father, who was growing marijuana plants in his home.

- Farmers who pay individual attention to their cows, notably by giving them names, are rewarded with higher milk production, a team at Newcastle University in England said, quoting the results of a poll.

- Tired of seeing his parishioners give weird and wonderful names to their offspring, a Catholic priest in Croatia offered monetary rewards worth around 135 euros (195 dollars) to anyone who chose good old-fashioned monikers such as Lana, Petra, Luka or Karlo.

- "There's probably no God - now stop worrying and enjoy your life," proclaimed an ad campaign backed by atheists and aimed at London commuters. Religious groups were not amused, but the advertising standards body ruled that the posters were acceptable.

- For several hours a publicity stunt mesmerized US networks as they scrambled to broadcast live footage of the flying-saucer shaped balloon feared to be carrying a six-year-old boy. The parents later admitted that it was a hoax perpetrated in a bid to land their own reality television show.

- A group of Greek anarchists organised a collection to rebuild the newspaper kiosk of a 74-year-old woman that had burned down during a riot they were involved in. "We should support a fellow human being victimised by violence," said the group, which collected 13,000 euros (19,000 dollars) for the woman.

- A British academic who spent seven years collecting the dung of rare lizards in the Philippines was devastated when a clean-up team threw it out of his laboratory with the trash. "To some people it might have been just lizard shit... but to me it represented years of painstaking work," he said.

- Fans of a baseball team in the Japanese city of Osaka scoured a river to pull out a statue of the US fast-food icon Colonel Sanders that they had thrown into it 25 years before. They had hurled the object into the water in the honour of a successful player who they said looked like the good colonel -- but ever since they did so their team's fortunes had plummeted. Recovered from the mud, the figure was duly blessed in a Shinto ceremony.

- Irish police were scratching their heads to find out how a single Polish driver whose name had been recorded as "Prawo Jazdy" could have chalked up so many traffic offences -- until they realised that the phrase simply meant "Driving Licence" in Polish.

- Hoping to symbolise a new era in US-Russian relations, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed what was billed as a "reset" button to her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. But the Americans were red-faced when they realised that the Russian word printed on the large red device actually meant "overload".

- A Hong-Kong financial journalist was so overcome with emotion when the shares of the HSBC bank plunged 24 per cent at the close of trading that she burst into tears while on the air. She later explained that she was upset at the consequences for small investors, and did not hold shares herself.

- The local council of a village in southeast England decided not to repair the many potholes in their roads because they forced drivers to go more slowly. The safety-conscious councillors were overruled by a regional body.

- A 34-year-old Briton beat off over 30,000 competitors to win what Australian officials touted as the "best job in the world" -- spending six months as a caretaker on a tropical island of the Great Barrier Reef.

- A British woman won a famous victory -- and lots of publicity -- in forcing a supermarket chain to stop charging more for large sizes of bras than for smaller ones. The group she founded on the Facebook internet site was called "Busts 4 Justice".

- One of dozens of British members of parliament caught up in a scandal over illegal claims for expenses had to admit that he had been reimbursed by taxpayers for installing an ornamental duck house on his private estate. Announcing his resignation, he had to admit that the ducks had not even liked the thing.

- Australian officials in charge of handing out cash as part of an economic stimulus plan accidentally credited the accounts of 16,000 people who were no long living. Local media dubbed the beneficiaries "the grateful dead."

- Roman Catholics in two Swiss mountain villages said they wanted to give up a century-old prayer that asked for the local glacier to retreat. Due to global warming, the request was being answered more than they had ever wanted, they said.

- Fans of the recently deceased US pop singer Michael Jackson started taking great interest in a 3,000-year-old Egyptian artefact at a Chicago museum. The limestone bust, of an unidentified woman, looked uncannily like their hero.

- A regional official in France had to settle a fight between two adjoining Parisian suburbs, which had redirected traffic down a shared one-way street in opposite directions, meeting head-on at their boundary.

- An intrepid museum guard saved a national treasure when floods hit the Philippine capital Manila. He managed to move most of the 200 pairs of shoes once owned by the country's big-spending former first lady, Imelda Marcos, onto an upper floor.

- Another museum, in the US state of Ohio, was upset when what it had thought was a lock of hair from the aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart turned out to be only a piece of thread. The International Women's Air and Space Museum had sent it for DNA testing, hoping to find a clue to why Earhart disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

- A six-year-old girl became an instant media celebrity in China when a TV interviewer asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. "A corrupt official, because corrupt officials have lots of things," she replied.

Phivolcs: Mayon's hazardous eruption may happen this week

MANILA, Philippines - The Mayon Volcano's feared hazardous eruption may happen within the week, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said Wednesday.

"Yes. It is possible because the rate of changing from moderate-sized explosion, as we observed yesterday (Tuesday), is quite fast," Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum told ANC's News@8 when asked if the hazardous explosion may occur this week.

Solidum, however, clarified that the Mayon Volcano may still calm down or settle with moderate eruptions during the week. He warned people that the continuous lava flow from the volcano still poses danger and the 6-kilometer to 8-kilometer danger zones should be free from human activity.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, the Phivolcs has detected 1,051 volcanic earthquakes, a slight decrease compared to the last 2 days' number of detected earthquakes.

Solidum said the earthquakes' intensities were "consistently bigger in size" since Tuesday and the number of detected tremors is still high, which indicates that the volcano's seismic activity remains intense.

The Phivolcs also observed 66 ash explosions during times of good visibility as the volcano has been covered by thick clouds since Monday.

It said the explosions produced grayish to light brown ash columns that went as high as 100 meters to 1 kilometer above the crater summit. The ashes fell towards the southwest direction, it added.

The agency's observers also tallied 280 "audible booming and rumbling sounds" 12 kilometers to 15 kilometers away from the volcano's crater.

The Phivolcs said lava continued to flow from the volcano's mouth to the Bonga-Buyuan, Miisi and Lidong gullies and sulfur dioxide emission remained very high measuring at an average of 6,737 tons per day.

The Phivolcs also said the volcano has spewed 20 million cubic meters of lava since Monday morning, a day after Alert Level 4 was hoisted over the volcano.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said that as of Wednesday morning, a total of 9,880 families have been evacuated from the danger zones.

The evacuated families are residents of 32 villages in Camalig, Daraga, Legazpi City, Tabaco City, Malilipot, Sto. Domingo, Ligao City and Guinobatan.

The PNP said peacekeeping forces have been deployed in 26 evacuation shelters to secure the affected families.

Pacquiao chides Mayweather: Excuses, excuses

MANILA, Philippines – Seven-time world champion Manny Pacquiao has merely laughed off the drug testing issue being raised by Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s saying that the former pound-for-pound king is just trying to excuse himself from the fight.

“Marami lang siyang dahilan, marami siyang dinedemand. Siguro wala pa ‘yong fight, takot na,” said Pacquiao.

The Filipino champion, who recently won the World Boxing Organization welterweight title from Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto, said Mayweather maybe getting nervous with the idea of trading punches with him.

Thus, American boxer came out with a statement demanding an Olympic-type of dope testing.

“Sa akin walang problema kung gusto niyang lumaban. Fight kaming dalawa... pero kung medyo natakot siya -- palakasin muna niya loob niya,” said Pacquiao.

Pacquiao made it clear he has no qualm in undergoing tests. What he’s opposed against is having him to give blood so near the March 13 fight date.

“Require natin lahat pati blood test... pero ‘wag naman doon sa day of the fight, manghihina ka naman noon,” he said.

The Filipino boxing star added that the Mayweather camp may also be using the issue to just to distract him.

“Gumagawa lang siya ng paraan, strategy niya para magalit ako... para ma-distract ako sa concentration sa fight,” said the reigning pound-for-pound king.

Protecting Manny

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, meanwhile, said he called off the fight to protect Pacquiao from the dictates of Mayweather.

''Right now the fight is off. I will not allow Manny to be made like a fool and pushed around by Mayweather,” he said.

Arum said it looks like Mayweather never had any intention to fight Pacquiao.

“We don't trust them anymore. Mayweather never had any intention to fight Pacquiao and he's looking for a way out and to smear Manny's image as somebody who takes drugs,” he said.

Drug allegations first came out shortly before Pacquiao’s fight against Cotto when Mayweather’s father, Floyd Sr., insinuated that the Filipino may have been using performance-enhanceming drugs to maintain his punching power despite his climb in weight.

Pacquiao has repeatedly denied the allegations. All his drugs tests conducted by the Nevada State Athletic Commission have also cleared him of steroid use.

“This is clear harassment on Mayweather’s part,” Arum lamented. “He knows Manny feels weakened when blood is drawn from him.”

The Top Rank head honcho is now eyeing World Boxing Association super welterweight champion Yuri Foreman or former International Boxing Federation junior welterweight champion Paul “Paulie” Malignaggi as Pacquiao’s next opponent.

This comes after Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, who represents Mayweather, said he will not allow any Golden Boy fighters to fight Pacquiao, the current World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight champion.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Abortion pill cleared for sale in Italy: official journal

ROME - The sale of the RU486 abortion pill in Italy was given a final green light on Wednesday, despite protests from the Vatican and members of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government.

The Italian pharmaceutical authority AIFA had initially authorised the sale of RU486 on July 31, but was then asked by a Senate committee to rethink its decision in the face of objections in this predominantly Catholic nation.

It upheld its decision on December 2 -- and publication of that stance in the online edition of the Italian government's official journal on Wednesday cleared the way for its sale.

Unlike in other countries, however, RU486 -- an alternative to surgical abortion -- will only be administered in hospitals in Italy.

"The debate is not yet over," Senator Donatella Poretti told AFP. "From tomorrow, it has to be asked why Italian women (prescribed RU486) will be required to stay in hospital."

When AIFA initially approved the drug, deputy interior minister Alfredo Mantovano said its decision was tantamount to classifying it as just another drug for treating fever, rather than "an instrument for ending a life".

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, former head of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, went so far as to threaten "excommunication for the doctor, the woman and all those who push for the use" of RU486, which he called "a deadly poison".

Three months ago, during a conference in Rome, the French inventor of RU486, Etienne Baulieu, denounced the fact that Italy was "the only major country in Europe" where it was still not available.

Approved in France since 1988, RU486 -- also known as mifepristone -- is manufactured for Europe by French laboratory Exelgyn, which applied two years ago to put it on the Italian market.

It differs from the morning-after pill Norlevo, which has been available in Italy since 2000.

Ampatuans: Billionaires of 3rd poorest province?

MANILA, Philippines - Officially, the networth of the Ampatuan clan's patriarch is P11 million. Unofficially, however, the wealth of embattled Andal Ampatuan Sr., former Maguindanao governor, and his family members, could reach up to at least P1.3 billion.

The official accounting of Ampatuan Sr.’s wealth was based on the 2002 statement of assets, liabilities and networth disclosed by the Maguindanao governor to the government.

Aside from Ampatuan Sr., who has been a politician for decades, other relatives also hold various public positions. Public officials are required to submit an accounting of their wealth for transparency.

Recently, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said the government is already moving to freeze the assets of the Ampatuan clan and that the Anti-Money Laundering Council has started looking into the assets of the Ampatuans.

She said a freeze order on the Ampatuan's wealth may be forthcoming.


The P11 million official networth of the Ampatuan Sr. is far from the reported assets believed to be owned by the clan he heads.

He and family members are reported to own the following properties:
- 16 homes in Davao City
- 14 houses located in Maguindanao province, divided among family members
- 2 houses in nearby Tacurong City in adjacent Sultan Kudarat province
- 2 mansions in Metro Manila - one in Makati City and another in posh Alabang village.

These properties, believed to be listed under different names, are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of pesos.

Billionaire Ampatuan

An ABS-CBN News source said almost all of the houses have vaults that contain weapons and cash.

According to a source from the police, the cash of the Ampatuans, hidden in various locations, aggregate to about P1.3 billion.

Another source said total cash could reach up to P3 billion since the Ampatuans prefer to stay liquid instead of stashing them in bank accounts or other financial instruments that are regulated.

In the latest raid conducted by the military on several Ampatuan homes in Maguindanao, no cash was retrieved.

Authorities suspect the family was able to hide the money before martial law was declared over the province.

Sources familiar with the wealth and investments of the Ampatuans said the family’s personal bank accounts, as well as the company accounts of their businesses, have also been cleaned out.

Poor kingdom

If these are true, the Ampatuans have amassed billions of pesos in wealth while the rest of Maguindanao wallowed in poverty.

The National Statistics Coordinating Board said Maguindanao is the third poorest province in the Philippines.

The Ampatuans own several businesses in the province, including a gasoline station and a pawnshop.

The government is currently studying assets of the Ampatuan clan that could not have been acquired with their meager salaries as public officials.

After the government concludes its investigation into the massacre and rebellion cases against the Ampatuans, its next target is the unlawfully accumulated assets of the clan. Executive secretary Eduardo Ermita said these will be frozen and seized.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Nov forex reserves at record $43.73-B

MANILA - The Philippines' gross international reserves (GIR), its main buffer against foreign exchange shocks, hit a fresh record high in November.

According to preliminary data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the country's GIR grew to a record $43.73 billion last month from the October level of $43.173 billion, which was revised downward from $43.181 billion.

The increase in last month's GIR was due to revaluation gains on the central bank's gold holdings, income from its investments abroad, and inflows of government loans.

The latest GIR could cover 8.1 months worth of the Philippines' import requirements. The reserves are also equivalent to 9.2 times the country's short-term external debt based on original maturity and 4.2 times based on residual maturity.

Short-term debt based on residual maturity refers to outstanding external debt with original maturity of one year or less, plus principal payments on medium- and long-term loans of the public and private sectors falling due within the next 12 months.

BSP Governor Amando Tetangco earlier said that the GIR could reach $42 to $43 billion by the end of this year, and $47 billion by the end of 2010.

He said money sent home by overseas Filipinos would also boost the country's foreign exchange reserves. Tetangco forecast remittances to grow 4% this year, higher than the BSP's previous forecast of flat growth from a record $16.4 billion in 2008.

SC urged to revoke martial law in Maguindanao

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Several petitions were filed Monday before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to declare as unconstitutional President Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1959, which placed most areas in the province of Maguindanao under martial law.

The first petition was filed by Maguindanao 1st District Rep. Didagen Dilangalen, whose daughter is related by marriage to the Ampatuans.

In his petition for certiorari and inhibition before the High Tribunal, Dilangalen questioned the grounds cited by Malacañang to declare martial law in the province.

The congressman said that under the 1987 Constitution, the President can only declare martial law in the Philippines or any part thereof in case of rebellion or invasion when the public sector requires it.

"It is very clear that it says actual rebellion or invasion. There is no such thing as imminent threat of rebellion or looming rebellion. There is no such thing as armed or public uprising in the area," he said in an ANC interview.

The other petitions were filed by the Ampatuans' lawyer, Philip Sigfrid Fortun; Albert Lee Angeles; human rights lawyers belonging to National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL); activist groups Bayan Muna, Gabriela, and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN); former Senator Jovito Salonga and several lawyers led by University of the Philippines (UP) law professor Harry Roque; and, law student Joseph Nelson Loyola.

The petitioners are seeking the High Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the enforcement of martial law in Maguindanao.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said all petitions relating to the Maguindanao incident would be discussed by the SC magistrates during its regular en banc session Tuesday.

“It will be included in tomorrow’s [Tuesday] agenda of the en banc. We will try to include all others in tomorrow’s agenda as well. Most probably, they will all be consolidated,” Marquez said in a text message.

Section 18 of Article VII of the Constitution states that the SC “may review, in an appropriate proceeding filed by any citizen, the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the extension thereof, and must promulgate its decision thereon within thirty days from its filing.”

Other petitions

In his petition, Fortun argued that the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao has no factual basis as no actual rebellion or invasion exist, and that the local judicial system that has jurisdiction over Maguindanao is fully operational, contrary to Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera's claim.

He also cited Section 18 of the Constitution which allows the President to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the country under martial law for a period not exceeding 60 days “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it.”

Fortun insisted that even imminent danger of rebellion does not exist in Maguindanao considering that the government has assured that it has full control of the situation following the declaration of a state of emergency and the corresponding take over of the province by government authorities.

Fortun also noted that the Ampatuans had already signified that they were willing to cooperate with the authorities in connection with the massacre of 57 civilians, including 30 journalists.

“No danger of retaliation or tumultuous uprising from the Ampatuans could therefore be expected. Thus, the claim of the government that supporters of, or the Ampatuans were brewing a plan to publicly rise and take up arms against it is pure speculation and conjecture,” Fortun said.

'No sufficient factual basis'

On the other hand, the NUPL and its co-petitioners argued that the claim of the government that there were heavily-armed groups that have established positions in some areas in Maguindanao has not been confirmed by other sources except by military and executive officials.

“As of this filing, however, no arrest or even a single encounter has happened between military troops and the so-called ‘heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao that have established positions to resist government troops, thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce laws and to maintain public order and safety’ claimed by Malacañang to be present in the province and used as a reason in the issuance of Proclamation No. 1959,” the petitioners said.

They noted that even the full text of Proclamation No. 1959 fails to state any sufficient factual basis for the declaration of martial law.

The petitioners said mere allegations about the alleged deterioration of the condition of peace and order in Maguindanao, to the extent that the local judicial system and other government mechanisms in the province are not functioning, are not enough bases for a declaration of martial law.

The petitioners also stressed that there was no instance, since the Maguindanao massacre happened, wherein President Arroyo as been deprived of any of her powers or prerogatives since she was able to exercise her powers as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines by issuing Proclamation No. 1946.

“The proclamation of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus are not a substitute for the incompetence of the authorities in the immediate arrest and detention of the butchers in the Ampatuan town massacre,” the petitioners said.

“Abuse of discretion”

Meanwhile, Salonga’s group also maintained that President Arroyo abused her discretion in declaring martial in Maguindanao considering that the massacre in Ampatuan town is a police matter already addressed by her earlier declaration of a state of emergency, which also covered the province.

“There is no one to blame for the breakdown of government functions in Maguindanao but the Arroyo administration itself, since from November 27, 2009, it had shut down government offices in the province and placed them under the control and supervision of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno," they argued.

They noted that the alleged acts of rebellion by the Ampatuans had already been quashed with the confiscation by the police and the military of huge caches of arms, explosives and ammunition.

Rebellion charges filed

Meanwhile, Devanadera said the Philippine National Police has already filed a formal complaint of rebellion against 24 individuals including former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan.

Devanadera said a panel of prosecutors led by Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera are still conducting inquest proceedings to determine whether there is probable cause to file rebellion charges against them before the trial court.

“The prosecutors are still conducting inquest proceedings. I don’t want to preempt their findings. If the evidence would warrant the filing of a case, then we will file it. If not, then they will be released,” she said.

The prosecutors have three days or until Tuesday to “judicially charge” those persons arrested during the implementation of martial law.

Aside from the petitions seeking the lifting of Proclamation No. 1959, the other issues to be tackled by the SC are the petitions filed by ARMM Gov. Ampatuan and other ARMM officials on the following:

  • seeking to enjoin government authorities from taking control of the region and suspending local officials and employees accused of having involvement in the November 23 massacre;
  • the petition of the Ampatuans seeking the issuance of TRO to enjoin authorities from arresting them without a warrant; and,
  • the motion of the Department of Justice seeking the transfer of the court proceedings involving the Maguindanao massacre to any court in Metro Manila.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Witness: 'We just followed orders'

MAGUINDANAO- A man who says he was a witness to Monday's massacre in the southern Philippines has told Al Jazeera how he was ordered to kill members of a rival political clan - including women and children - and to make sure no evidence was left behind.

The witness, who identified himself only as "Boy", said he was among more than 100 armed men who held up a convoy of political campaigners and journalists before taking them to a remote mountainous area where they were then killed.

Speaking to Al Jazeera's correspondent Marga Ortigas, "Boy" said the orders had come directly from Andal Ampatuan Jr., a local mayor and a member of a politically powerful local with close ties to the Philippines president.

"Datu Andal himself said, he said to us: anyone from the Mangudadatu clan - women or children - should be killed... We don't ask why, we just followed orders."

At least 57 people died in the massacre, believed to be the worst ever politically-related killings in the Philippines.

"Boy", who is now in hiding fearing his life is in danger, said all of the women in the group had been raped before being killed.

Their bodies were then dumped in mass graves that had already been dug out in advance using an excavator.

He said that Ampatuan Jr had also ordered that the reporters accompanying the convoy should also be killed to cover-up what had happened.


"That too was ordered by Datu Andal… because they didn't want any evidence left behind," he said.

"Boy" said the whole process had lasted little more than an hour before the gunmen had to abruptly abandon the scene following a warning that members of the military were nearby.

"We didn't get to finish, which is why the excavator was left there," he said.

"Someone called and said soldiers were on their way. I feel they have connections among the soldiers."

Speaking with his face covered to his identity, "Boy" said he was supposed to have been an active participant in the massacre but did not actually kill any of the victims.

He said he would have been shot if he had tried to intervene.

"I was just standing there," he said "I was all alone… I could only leave it up to my conscience."

7 counts of multiple murders vs Ampatuan Jr.

MANILA - Andal Ampatuan Jr., prime suspect in the brutal election-related murders of 57 people in Maguindanao last Monday, maintained his innocence Thursday and placed the blame on a "rogue" Moro commander being chased by Philippine authorities.

Ampatuan Jr., who is currently the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao province, is now being held at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters in Manila.

Ampatuan Jr maintains innocence, blames MILF's Umbra Kato (larger video)

In an interview by RPN News while in detention at the NBI, Ampatuan pointed to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Commander Umbra Kato as the possible mastermind of the Maguindanao massacre.

"Wala po akong kasalanan. Kaya pumunta po ako dito para ipakita po sa inyo, hindi ako nagtatago at wala akong kasalanan, [o] alam sa ibinibintang sa akin," Ampatuan said.

He denied that he is the mastermind of the atrocity.

"Napakadaling sabihin ang ganoon [that he is the mastermind]. Pero dapat may ebidensiya sila. Wala po akong kinalaman doon. Wala po akong kaalam-alam," Ampatuan said.

"Ang MILF po, alam natin terorista, lalo na po sa pamumuno ni Umbra Kato. terorista po sila," he said.

He also denied that he was at the scene of the crime, saying he was at the Datu Unsay municipal hall at the time of the massacre.

"Wala po ako [noong] time na 'yon, nasa munisipyo po ako," Andal Jr. said.

The military is pursuing Umbra Kato and his men for allegedly carrying out attacks in several villages in North Cotabato in 2008. The attacks sent thousands fleeing their homes and left scores of people dead. The attacks came after the Supreme Court (SC) prevented the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in August 2008. The MILF leadership however has denied the military’s allegations.

7 counts of multiple murder

Andal Ampatuan Jr. surrenders (larger video)

The plane carrying him and a group of government officials, led by Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza and Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, landed at the Villamor Air Base at past 7 Thursday evening.

Ampatuan's hands were not handcuffed, which is the standard operating procedure for suspects accused with heinous crimes. HE was restrained however by 2 NBI agents.

Seven counts of multiple murder charges are set to be filed against Ampatuan Jr. by the Department of Justice on Friday (November 27).

Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño said he has instructed prosecutors in Maguindanao to file the case by Friday in Cotabato City.

The DOJ has created a prosecution panel for the case. Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera will lead the group.

At the same time though, the DOJ will be making a request to the SC to have the case transferred.

The motion to the SC will seek the transfer of the trial venue from General Santos City to Manila, to ensure that security is guaranteed to all parties and witnesses who will appear in the court hearing.

Devanadera said they are still working on evidence against other suspects, but she did not disclose how many.

She also said they have 17 other sworn statements from other witnesses including the Mangudadatus.

When asked whether technicalities might be raised because the crime happened Monday, Zuño said no, arguing they are still in hot pursuit so they are still covered by the allowable period.

From Maguindanao to Manila

To transfer Ampatuan from General Santos City to Manila, the DOJ immediately conducted an inquest on the mayor at General Santos City’s Awang airport. It was conducted after Ampatuan Jr. was flown in by Dureza in a helicopter from Maguindanao’s capital town Shariff Aguak.

The inquest is the summary proceeding that enables the prosecutors, to directly bring the charges directly to court, in lieu of a long preliminary investigation.

Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu was also present at the airport, to swear in his affidavit of complaint.

Since the massacre Monday, it was the first time the bitter rivals met.

Tension ensued as Mangudadatu pointed his finger at Ampatuan.

He was about to confront the man who allegedly killed his wife and relatives, when the people around him prevailed upon him to calm down.

Not enough, says Mangudadatus

Mangudadatus bury massacre victims, hope for justice (larger video)

The Mangudadatus, who buried on Thursday family members slain in the bloody incident, said they are not satisfied with just Andal Ampatuan Jr.s surrender.

"Hindi isang Ampatuan lang ang sangkot diyan, kaya hindi pa sapat ‘yang paglantad ni Unsay dahil sa dami ng biktima," Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Assemblyman Khadaffy Mangudadatu said.

They asserted, more members of the Ampatuan clan were involved in the murders.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno has recommended that all local officials in Maguindanao, including other members of the Ampatuan clan, be suspended, amid suspicion they were also involved in the crime.

Puno admitted, provincial police are also at fault.

"Nakalimutan na nila na ang dapat nilang ipagtanggol ay ang Republika ng Pilipinas, hindi ang mga ninong-ninongan nila sa lugar na ‘yon," Puno said in a press conference at Camp Crame.

Aside from Ampatuan, 4 policemen who were allegedly in the area when the massacre occurred, are now under arrest.

Initial investigations showed, the mass killings were planned.

"Ang plano siguro nila i-cover up at ilibing lahat para mawalan. Iyon ang unang unang theory,” Philippine National Police chief Director-General Jesus Verzosa said.

"Everything was planned... talagang alam nila na gagawin nila ito," Puno added.

Puno will ask Congress and the Commission on Elections to scrap the law allowing local government officials to choose police officers in their areas.

Puno believes, this will prevent local officials from abusing their powers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Maguindanao massacre exposes brutal underbelly of RP politics

MANILA - The massacre of at least 46 people in the southern Philippines has exposed a brutal culture of guns, greed and money that for decades has poisoned the nation's political system, experts said Tuesday.

The murders in the province of Maguindanao on Monday are feared to be only the first of many killings likely ahead of next year's national elections, when posts from village chiefs to president will be up for grabs.

"This explosion of violence arises whenever there is an election," said Samira Gutoc, one of the leaders of the Young Moro Professionals, a group helping the government in peace talks with armed Muslim groups in the south.

Indeed, dozens of people are killed each election season in this impoverished and often lawless Southeast Asian nation.

Local political warlords have for generations competed for political power and the accompanying business riches that government posts offer.

These clans are widely known to control private armies, which carry out assassinations and counter-attacks against rivals.

The proliferation of over 1.1 million unlicenced firearms, most of them in the hands of rebel groups or paramilitaries, contributes to the general lawlessness in many remote areas, according to police.

In one high-profile murder in the run-up to congressional elections in 2007, a hired assassin gunned down a member of parliament from a northern province on the steps of a Manila church as the politician attended a wedding.

All in all, 121 people were killed in that polling season, according to national police statistics, slightly lower than the 148 who died in the 2004 national elections.

But while the problem plagues the entire country, experts say the situation is particularly volatile in Maguindanao and other parts of the far southern island of Mindanao, where a Muslim insurgency has raged for decades.

"Politics in Mindanao is about ownership of power. Public office is perceived as a personal, clannish thing -- a birthright, and they would spill blood for it," Gutoc said.

She said she expected more violence in the fallout from Monday's massacre, with relatives of those killed likely to carry out vendetta killings, called "rido" in the local dialect.

"Retaliation is a natural course of events," she said.

At least 46 people were murdered as they accompanied the wife of local official Esmael Mangudadatu to file his candidacy for governor of Maguindanao, as he bid to end the decades-old control of a rival Muslim clan.

The military said 100 heavily armed men under the control of his rival, Andal Ampatuan, seized the group and later shot them.

Forty-six bodies have so far been found, police said.

The military said the Ampatuans were the prime suspects in the massacre.

Abhoud Syed Linga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and an expert on clan fighting, said the revenge culture complicates the Muslim insurgency, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives since the 1970s.

"Some rido are sustained for generations," Linga said. "The retaliation and counter-retaliation involve the whole family or clan."

The vendetta killings, he said, are the "consequence of the absence of justice" for a perceived wrong.

"Among Muslims the value of justice is strong, to the extent that it becomes a duty for family members to work for justice and reject oppression," he said.

Amnesty International said the killings underlined the danger facing civilians across the entire country in the lead-up to next year's elections.

"The government must prohibit and disband private armies and paramilitary forces immediately," said Amnesty's deputy director in Asia, Donna Guest.

Police name Ampatuan Jr. as top suspect in massacre

MANILA - Police on Wednesday named a political ally of President Gloria Arroyo as the prime suspect in an election-linked massacre of at least 50 people.

"According to the initial reports, those who were abducted and murdered at Saniag were initially stopped by a group led by the mayor of Datu Unsay," national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said.

The mayor of Datu Unsay is Andal Ampatuan Jr., a member of Arroyo's ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition and son of an extremely powerful regional politician who has ensured local support for the president in previous elections.

The military had previously named bodyguards hired by the Ampatuan clan as the suspected gunmen in Monday's massacre in which relatives and aides of a rival politician, plus a group of journalists, were abducted and shot dead.

However, the police spokesman's comments were the first time Ampatuan Jr has been specifically named as a top suspect in the massacre, which took place in a village on the outskirts of a town that bears the clan's name.

Espina, however, did not say if police are already readying charges against the local official.

The Ampatuan son was being groomed to succeed his father, the three-term governor of Maguindanao province on Mindanao island.

The massacre victims included the wife and relatives of rival Maguindanao politician Buluan town vice-mayor Ismael Mangudadatu.

The victims were abducted as they were travelling in a six-vehicle convoy to nominate Mangudadatu as the opposition candidate for governor in next year's elections.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pacquiao ducks personal questions; Jinkee not beside her man

LOS ANGELES—Manny Pacquiao's ear was hurting when he arrived at his official after-fight party at the Highlands in Hollywood. He had just seen his doctor earlier in the day to take a look at it, and was told it would be OK.

As for his next fight, the champ's camp says they will not start negotiations with any boxer, even Foyd Mayweather, Jr., until HBO has released the figures from the Cotto fight.

“We don’t have to call anybody out. Everybody needs to come to us,” said Mike Koncz, Pacquiao’s adviser. “Manny will fight any fighter that’s put in front of him, provided the economics of the fight are reasonable and fair to everybody. We all know Mayweather likes to talk. That’s how he stirs controversy. Manny’s never done that, and we don’t need to start doing it. We’re above that.”

Pacquiao was supposed to have a half-hour press conference before the show but he cancelled at the last minute. Instead, he gave journalists five minutes for questions after his mini-concert.

Before the event, the press was instructed not to ask personal questions. Rumors have flown that Pacquiao is having an affair with Philippine actress Krista Ranillo, who was spotted in Las Vegas last weekend. Pacman's wife, Jinkee, was not at the party.

Koncz deflected any rumors about Manny’s life.

“The more financially sound you become, there's always going to be intrigues. Unfortunately, sometimes those intrigues are not what they’re let out to be. Manny's personal life is his personal life,” Koncz said.

But many of Pacquiao's fans say his personal life is a non-issue.

“He encompasses and embodies that Filipino spirit,” said Filipino rapper, Bambu.

“He can do whatever with his life. We appreciate what he does in the ring. That’s all we care about,” said fan Mark Aco.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pacquiao arrives in Manila

MANILA – Well-wishers and family members gave Manny Pacquiao a warm welcome when he arrived in Manila Friday morning. Pacquiao, in turn, shared his victory with them, saying that he did not single-handedly make boxing history when he won his seventh world title in seven different weight divisions.

“Sa tagumpay ko, hindi lamang sa sarili ko, kundi proud ako na tayong mga Pilipino nakagawa ng record,” he said in a speech during his Thanksgiving Mass at Quiapo Church.

“Tayong lahat, hindi ko sinosolo, kundi lagi nating pasalamatan ang Panginoon at tayong mga Pilipino ang napiling makagawa ng history sa boxing,” he added.

Pacquiao achieved such feat after defeating Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto via technical knockout in Round 12 on Sunday (Saturday in Las Vegas).

He went on to say that he found success in boxing because of God. He said he has always trusted and believed in God.

“Sa kanyang kalooban, isinusuko ko ang fight na ito at alam ko naman at sabi ng Panginooon, sabi sa ating lahat na hindi tayo mabibigo 'pag tayo ay nananalig sa kanya,” he said.

He added: “At nakita niyo gusto ko lang i-example sa lahat na kung makita niyo hindi ako nabigo kay [Oscar] de la Hoya, napakalaki. Sino mag-akala na matatalo ko si de la Hoya? Napakatangkad, malaki. Kay [Ricky] Hatton, puro malalaki. Kay Cotto, last fight ko, pero lahat nagulat na ako maliit tinalo ko silang lahat. Why? Because I believe [in] God, I believe [in] the power of God, 100%.”

Formidable faith

Pacquiao said he always has a huge smile on his face minutes before his fights because he believes God will not fail him.

“Kaya ako naka-smile lang ako. Kung matalo ako, okay lang basta ako nagtiwala sa kapangyarihan ng Panginoon,” he added.

He also mentioned that he wanted his supporters to idolize his religiosity more than his excellence as a boxer. “Gusto ko idolohin na lahat ang pagiging madasalin at pagtitiwala ko sa Panginoon kung gaano siya kabait, kung gaano siya talaga masusubukan. Gusto kong maipadama sa lahat ng mga tao na because of God kaya ako nag-succeed sa mga laban ko.”

Pacquiao also cited how the power of prayers helped him get through tough fights.

“Alam ko lahat ng Pilipino nagdarasal so malakas din ang loob ko dahil maraming nagdadasal sa akin lalong-lalo na sa pamilya ko, mama ko, at kayong lahat. So malakas talaga loob ko, ako, nagdadasal ako tapos plus milyong-milyong Pilipinong nagdarasal sa akin so bakit pa ako mag-alinlangan? Bakit pa ako mangamba? Bakit pa ako matakot nandiyan ang Panginoon sa atin?”

Retirement not in mind

The pound-for-pound king arrived from Los Angeles, California around 5:30 a.m. onboard Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 with wife, Jinkee and his mother, Dionisia.

He happily greeted his children, supporters and the media at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2. He immediately hugged and kissed his three children, Jimuel, Michael and Princess. His youngest child, Queen Elizabeth, was not there.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa lahat ng sumuporta ant nagdasal sa nakaraan laban ko,” he addressed his fans during the short press conference at the airport.

He also answered questions regarding his plan to retire from boxing: “Wala pa naman. Siguro sa ngayon ay bakasyon muna, pahinga, ang makasama ko ang pamilya, okay… malaking bagay na.”

“At saka mag-relax muna kasi pagaling muna sa tenga kong namaga,” he added. He suffered a right ear injury after receiving blows from Cotto. There was a blood clot in his ear.

He also responded to his mother Dionisia’s call for him to retire: “Pinag-isipan ko, di nag-isip din ako kasi magulang ko ‘yan. Nirerespeto ko ang magulang ko siyempre lahat tayo ginagalang natin ang mga magulang natin.”

The newly-crowned World Boxing Organization (WBO) champion said his team is still studying the prospect of clashing against former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, Jr. of the United States.

Asked if he is ready to face Mayweather, Pacquiao said he is willing to fight the American.

He added in jest: “Kailangan siya din ang maghamon dahil siyempre, kailangan siya ang maghamon kasi mas mataas naman ang pay-per-view ko sa kanya kaysa as laban niya.”

Outside the ring

Meanwhile, Pacquiao said he is in no rush to file his certificate of candidacy (CoC) for the 2010 elections.

He has made known his desire to run for a congressional seat in Sarangani province. He is also being considered by the administration's Lakas-Kampi-CMD in its senatorial ticket.

The period of filing of CoCs at the Commission on Elections is from November 20 to December 1.

The press conference at NAIA was brief but media members did not forget to tease Pacquiao and Jinkee amid rumors linking the Filipino boxing sensation to young actress Krista Ranillo.

Pacquiao was even teased by the media to kiss Jinkee, and the couple obliged.

Hero’s welcome

From the airport, Pacquiao went to the New World Renaissance Hotel to rest and have breakfast. He then heard Mass at Quiapo church.

He proceeded to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City where his motorcade kicked off.

From the DENR office, the motorcade passed through Quezon Avenue, España, Pritil, Moriones, Roxas Boulevard, Pedro Gil, Taft Avenue, Buendia, Ayala Avenue, and Makati Avenue. The motorcade will end at the PAG-IBIG Building.

DENR Secretary Lito Atienza revealed that Pacquiao requested for a shorter motorcade route so that he will have more time to rest because he has not fully recovered from his right ear injury.

Unlike his past homecomings, Pacquiao will not go to Malacañang but will instead head to the Quirino Grandstand for the “Parangal Kay Manny Pacquiao sa Luneta.”

The event will be highlighted by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s conferment of the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Datu (Katangiang Ginto) on Pacquiao for having won an unprecedented seventh title in seven weight divisions.

Arroyo has designated Philippine Sports Commission chairman Harry Angping as head of the official ceremonies. The event is organized by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Department of Public Works and Highways, Metro Manila Development Authority, and the Office of the President

Monday, November 16, 2009

Filipinos in Austria proud of Pacman’s victory

VIENNA, Austria - Filipinos in Austria joined millions of Pinoys who celebrated Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Puerto Rican boxer Miguel Cotto in the bout held last Sunday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Rene Nunez said Pacquiao’s victory proved once again that the Filipinos can excel in any endeavor, and be a source of national pride and unity.

“Manny Pacquiao has always been, and is the pride of the Philippines. His win proves to the world that Filipinos can excel in any endeavor, whether it is in the field of politics, public service, sports, or entertainment. Manny proves to us that no fighter coming from the West or from the East can stand in his way to promote goodwill for the Filipino people,” Nunez said.

Ramon Reyes of the Circulo Caviteno said the victory of Pacquiao against the Puerto Rican fighter brought yet another achievement which the Filipinos can emulate to overcome the challenges facing the country.

“The Filipino once again emerged victorious in a battle of strength and wit. Manny Pacquiao has brought yet another proud achievement for the whole Filipino nation as he triumphed over Miguel Cotto,” Reyes said.

Ronnie Castillo of the Marriage Spirituality in Vienna described Pacquiao as “truly the pride” of the Philippines. He added that Pacquiao’s discipline and good work ethic “is something that we must emulate in order to gloriously over the challenges that come before us.”

Larry Subido of the Royal Salute club in Austria has all praises for Pacquaio, whom he said remains humble.

“Since his early days in boxing he never brags about his achievements. His love for our country and his fellow Filipinos are his priorities. Manny has all the money he could ever dream of but he always never fails to share with the poor,” Subido said.

Pacquiao's next fight: Congress in 2010

Hints at Mayweather fight

MANILA - Filipino boxing great Manny Pacquiao is bracing for two big battles in 2010: a congressional bid and a possible fight against former pound-for-pound champ Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Pacquiao told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda on Tuesday that he is bent on running for a seat in Congress in 2010.

"Tuloy iyong pagtakbo ko next year (My plan to run in the elections next year is still on)," Pacquiao said.

The boxing great, however, did not reveal if he will run for congressman of South Cotabato, where he lost in 2007 to Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio.

There were reports that Pacquiao is planning to run for congressman in Sarangani province. He is also reportedly being courted to run in Quezon City.

Pacquiao had just snatched the WBO welterweight from Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, whom he beat after 12 rounds in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday.

The title was the Filipino boxer's seventh. He also holds six titles in six different weight divisions.

Pacquiao is scheduled to return to the Philippines on Friday. He said he will stay for a while in Manila before returning to his home in General Santos City.

The boxer said he would take a vacation until early next year before entering into another fight deal, possibly with the camp of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Asked to pick between Juan Manuel Marquez and Mayweather Jr., he said he would prefer to fight the still undefeated Mayweather.

"I don't think na may manonood pa sa laban kay Marquez. Si Marquez ay tinalo na siya ni Floyd. Siguro bahala na si Bob Arum (I don't think boxing fans will be watching another a fight with Marquez. Marquez got beat by Floyd. I think I would have to leave it to Bob Arum)," Pacquiao said, hinting his desire to face Mayweather in his next fight.

Mayweather came back from retirement just hours before Pacquiao knocked down Mayweather's former opponent, Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton.

There were negotiations for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight but the talks broke down.

Mayweather instead entered into a fight deal with the camp of Marquez while Pacquiao sealed the prize fight with Cotto.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Minnesota official vouches for PCOS machines

MANILA - Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and a US election expert on Friday said the Commission on Elections made the right choice in choosing precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for the automation of the 2010 national elections.

Speaking via teleconference at the De La Salle University College of Law, Ritchie said the state of Minnesota has been using PCOS machines in elections for more than 20 years and not once have they questioned the results.

"The system you've chosen is a system we're very comfortable with and a system we trust in terms of security and ease of use. PCOS [machines] have a very high degree of accuracy and very trusted by citizens and gives high credibility. This is important in cases of close elections where we have to do count by hand," he said.

He said that while the actual count is automated, voters are still required to fill in the ballots that would be counted. This allows election officials to check the results with the actual copies of the ballots.

Prof. Rachel Smith, program director for the Excellence in Election Administration Center of the University of Minnesota, said that while PCOS machines are 99 percent accurate, poll officials should still safeguard the transfer of the machines and the actual ballots. She added that the memory cards should be sealed to prevent tampering.

"Memory card used [are] most vunerable to attack. It must be sealed inside voting system and check seals during transfers," she said also via teleconference.

Ritchie, meanwhile, said the success of an automated election ultimately depends on the vigilance of the Comelec and the support of the public.

Comelec officials, meanwhile, thanked the guest speakers for backing their decision to choose PCOS machines for next year's electoral exercise.

"It gives us a high level of confidence, the way they talked about trustworthiness and accuracy of the PCOS. It shows us we're on the right track because their system and our system are the same," Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Villar on ‘Wowowee’ gives away 6 houses, lots to OFWs

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Manuel Villar turned up yesterday on ABS-CBN’s noontime show “Wowowee” hosted by Willie Revillame and gave away houses and lots to six overseas Filipino workers.
He handed symbolic house keys and land titles to Sarah Felecio of Negros Occidental, Marnelli Recabar of Iloilo, Rosemarie Jaca of Romblon, Judith Vicente representing Hazel Vicente also of Romblon, Jennifer Sonbise representing Joanne Sonbise of Parañaque and Jolinald Chan representing Jenny Chan of Manila.
The fully furnished two-story, two-bedroom townhouses, each with a market price of P1.2 million, are located at the Villar-owned subdivisions Camella Seville in Caloocan City and Camelle Lessandra in Molino, Bacoor, Cavite.
Villar, who was accompanied and assisted by his daughter Camille, thanked the studio crew and the show audience for giving him the chance to help OFWs fulfill their lifelong dream to own a house.
“It is important that we are part of the fulfillment of their dreams. I myself was once poor, so I feel their suffering, their problems. As I’ve said earlier, it is imperative that families have their own houses, which will give them a chance to be together,” Villar said, lamenting that Filipinos had to go abroad to be able to feed their families.
The six new homeowners were contestants of the show’s “Willie of Fortune,” a special segment dedicated to migrant workers.
While at the studio watching the show with his daughter, Villar was requested by Revillame to grant him the personal favor of giving select contestants a house and lot.
Villar quickly agreed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Manny-Loren shaping up

Legarda turns down offer to run with Teodoro

MANILA, Philippines – The possible tandem of Senators Manuel “Manny” Villar and Loren Legarda for 2010 took shape Saturday as he closed the door on a teamup with Defense Secretary Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, the administration standard-bearer.
With Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno pulling out of the vice presidential race, the administration’s Lakas-Kampi-CMD was pressing Legarda to form a tandem with Teodoro.
To sweeten that offer, the ruling party said it was not averse to coalescing with Legarda’s party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition. It’s actually the NPC’s decision, according to Lakas-Kampi-CMD secretary general Gabriel Claudio.
“She continues to be a viable, desirable running mate to Gibo. That is certainly open and seriously considered by the party,” Claudio said by phone on Friday night.
But Legarda is not biting.
“With due respect, gratitude and admiration for Gibo, I hope that he can share my advocacy and platform … even as I stay with the opposition,” she told the Inquirer yesterday on the phone.
Asked about the chances of a teamup with Villar, the standard-bearer of the Nacionalista Party (NP), Legarda said:
“I am quietly, deeply reflecting on who could best help me accomplish my goals for the people.
“I will only consider it if he accepts my platform on sustainable development, good governance and climate change adaptation, and priority on migrant workers, which is so close to my heart.”
Legarda had earlier revealed that she was being courted by Villar, Teodoro, and Senator Francis Escudero, the presumptive standard-bearer of the NPC.
Same advocacies
Villar could not be reached on the phone.
Sought for comment, NP spokesman Gilbert Remulla heaped praise on Legarda, saying she was “an advocate of the same issues and programs that Senator Villar has been pursuing for the last two decades, which are OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] and the environment.”
“Her politics is only secondary to her advocacies, and that is the basis of a true leader,” Remulla said.
Legarda declared her intention to run for vice president at a press conference that followed a Friday rally at the Rizal Park where she launched her “green” candidacy. But she did not say whether she would run under her party, and who she would be running with.
Hours earlier, Puno announced that he would no longer run in tandem with Teodoro in order to focus on the rehabilitation of areas devastated by the recent back-to-back storms.
Legarda said she found Teodoro “intelligent and a man with integrity.”
“Amid the call of the times due to the recent typhoons, it’s not easy to be defense secretary, doing the work of an NDCC [National Disaster Coordinating Council] head while trying to campaign [for president],” Legarda said.
She said that despite her decision not to team up with Teodoro, they would still find a reason to work together in pursuit of her advocacies.
Escudero spurned?
Lakas-Kampi-CMD had been holding talks with Legarda for her to run with Teodoro under its banner. It is to hold a national convention on November 12 where Teodoro, his running mate and senatorial candidates are to be proclaimed.
There are reports that NPC chairman emeritus Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco has changed his mind about bankrolling Escudero’s presidential candidacy.
If the reports are true, these would free Legarda and clear the way for a coalition between Lakas and the NPC for the 2010 polls, said Claudio, who advises President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on political matters.
“It was previously presumed that NPC would have its own candidate for president. There’s a lot of speculation – indication that Senator Escudero just might not be endorsed by the party itself. So that gives rise to the prospects of a Lakas-NPC coalition,” Claudio said.
Only weeks ago, the Escudero-Legarda tandem appeared to be a done deal, with the two senators starting to map out their national campaign strategy.
Escudero was to have announced his presidential run early this month.
But in a surprise move, he deferred his announcement, purportedly in deference to the rescue and relief operations for typhoon victims.
Ball in NPC court
Claudio said the ruling party had no objection to a coalition with NPC, which, if formalized, could be the institutional basis for “a Gibo-Loren tandem.”
Party officials had described the tandem as “a potent combination.”
“[But] this is something we can’t decide unilaterally,” Claudio said.
Yesterday, he sent this text message: “The ball is in NPC’s court.”
Claudio said it was the League of Provinces of the Philippines that had endorsed the Teodoro-Legarda tandem as a condition for the coalition of the ruling party and the NPC.
There is a “rainbow coalition” of Lakas, Kampi, NPC and other parties in the House of Representatives, but none has been forged at the national level.
On the other hand, an NP stalwart said negotiations were ongoing for an NPC-NP alliance.
One issue being resolved is Legarda’s request to stay with the NPC in deference to Danding Cojuangco, said the source, who is privy to the talks but asked not to be named for lack of authority from Villar to discuss the matter publicly.
The NP stalwart admitted that the Villar camp was engaged in one of its most vital negotiations to defeat the Liberal Party tandem of Senators Benigno Aquino III and Manuel “Mar” Roxas.
Vilma et al.
As for Batangas Governor Vilma Santos running for vice president under the administration banner, Claudio said the ruling party had yet to get “a formal declaration of availability or non-availability” from her.
“No truth to that,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said over the state-run dzRB. “Somebody told me – I think it was Gabby [Claudio] – that there’s nothing definite about Vilma. Somebody just floated the idea that she could run as VP.”
If the party fails to get Legarda, or even Santos, to team up with Teodoro, it can fall back on its allies, Claudio said.
He named some of them as Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, both Lakas-Kampi-CMD members, and Tourism Secretary Ace Durano of the NPC.
“If [the NPC] will not allow Senator Legarda to be Gibo’s running mate, Lakas-Kampi will proceed to field somebody from its own ranks, where other excellent materials for vice president, can be drawn,” he said.
Popular VP candidate
A ranking Lakas-Kampi-CMD executive conceded that if the administration’s problem was Teodoro’s low popularity, “then obviously we will go for a popular vice presidential candidate.”
He said the administration actually had “a stable of ‘vice presidentiables.’”
To those named by Claudio he added business leader Manuel V. Pangilinan and actor and TV host Edu Manzano.
He cited Pangilinan’s “financial clout and muscle,” Garcia’s “Visayan bailiwick” and Manzano’s “celebrity appeal.”
But a governor from the Visayas said both Garcia and Durano had refused the offer to become Teodoro’s running mate.
Revilla is said to prefer the senatorial race where he is practically a sure winner, if recent survey results are any indication.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are you a Facebook addict?

MANILA - Facebook users beware. Psychologists are now probing a new kind of addiction called Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD).

Psychologist Dr. Michael Fenichel, who has published numerous writings on FAD online, describes it as a situation in which Facebook usage "overtakes" daily activities like waking up, getting dressed, using the telephone, or checking e-mail.

"The amazing thing is that, like cellphones, nobody seems to notice the vast amount of time and energy - at work, at home, and now while on the move - people are devoting to Facebook. It has become a given," Fenichel writes in an online post titled "Facebook Addiction Disorder- A New Challenge?"

FAD could be classified under the more broad "internet addiction disorder" or internet overuse.

Academic papers have already posed theories on internet addiction and social networking addiction, and even less, cellphone addiction.

"Like most activities, moderation and integration are key. Those that may seriously label and treat FAD as a behavioral addiction will clearly need to use context in determining if a behavior has become demonstrably harmful to overall social, work, or face-to-face interpersonal efficacy," Fenichel added.

You are a Facebook addict if...

According to Joanna Lipari, a clinical psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles who was interviewed for a CNN report, here are some signs that you are addicted to Facebook:

1. You lose sleep over Facebook. When using Facebook becomes a compulsion and you spend entire nights logged on to the site, causing you to become tired the next day.

2. You spend more than an hour a day on Facebook. Lipari said it is difficult to define how much is too much when it comes to Facebook usage, but that an average person need only spend half an hour on the site.

3. You become obsessed with old loves or exes you reconnect with on Facebook.

4. You ignore work in favor of Facebook. This means you do not do your job in order to sneak time on Facebook.

5. The thought of getting off Facebook leaves you in cold sweat. If you try going a day without Facebook and it causes you stress and anxiety, this means you need help.

According to the same report by Elizabeth Cohen, Senior CNN Medical Correspondent, Facebook addiction is not yet an actual medical diagnosis.

However, the report notes that several therapists in the United States have noticed a rise in the number of clients who get hooked on social networking, to the point of social dysfunction.

Facebook fun

Facebook, launched by the world's youngest billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, has over 300 million users worldwide, half of whom log on to the site every day.

Further, about 2 billion photos and 14 million videos are uploaded on various Facebook pages a month and about 6 billion minutes are spent on Facebook a day, worldwide.

According to Willis Wee, founder of the social media and marketing blog, this is twice as much time that people spend on Google.

The global social networking website allows users to post and share content (like photos, links, videos, and notes), play casual games and applications, and interact with friends and family through messaging and chat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Countries with the Biggest Gaps Between Rich and Poor

The U.N. Development Program recently came out with a report looking, among other things, at income inequality worldwide.

The UNDP ranked countries and regions based on a number of factors, including their Gini coefficient, named for Italian statistician Corrado Gini.

We have listed the world's most advanced economies based on their Gini score, with zero marking absolute equality and 100 absolute inequality. Scandinavian countries, Japan, and the Czech Republic have the least amount of inequality. The U.S. is among the most unequal, but it's not No. 1. To see which economy is, read on.

Top 11 Countries With the Biggest Gaps Between Rich and Poor

No. 1 Hong Kong

ED Jones/AFP/Getty Images, PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Gini score: 43.4
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 207.2
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.0
Richest 10%: 34.9
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 17.8

Renowned for its high concentration of Rolls-Royces, expensive real estate, and posh shops, the Chinese special administrative region has plenty of rich who enjoy showing off their wealth. However, Hong Kong also has one of the largest public housing sectors in the world, with about half the population living in government-supported or -subsidized housing estates. The city has no minimum wage—except for domestic helpers from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries.

No. 2 Singapore

Gini score: 42.5
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 161.3
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 1.9
Richest 10%: 32.8
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 17.7

Singapore is one of the world's most open economies, and it suffered badly following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers last year. Recently, though, the city-state's economy has rebounded, with GDP growing an annualized 14.9% rate in the third quarter compared with the previous quarter.

No. 3 U.S.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Gini score: 40.8
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 13,751.4
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 1.9
Richest 10%: 29.9
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 15.9

The share of income for the top percentile of Americans was 23.5% in 2007, the highest since 1928, according to Emmanuel Saez, a Berkeley economist who won the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal in April. Income for the top 0.01% hit a record-high 6.04%. And the recession may be exacerbating income inequality.

No. 4 Israel

Gini score: 39.2
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 164.0
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.1
Richest 10%: 28.8
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 13.4

Gone are the days when Israel was one of the world's most egalitarian societies. Early Labor Zionist pioneers built kibbutzim for Jewish immigrants, but those collectives have fallen on hard times. The growing number of haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, with large families and men who study the Torah rather than work has worsened the inequality problem.

No. 5 Portugal

Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Gini score: 38.5
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 222.8
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.0
Richest 10%: 29.8
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 15.0

While Portugal emerged from recession in the second quarter, the unemployment rate tops 9%. The ruling Socialists retained power in elections last month but lost seats to parties on the far left.

No. 6 New Zealand

Gini score: 36.2
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 135.7
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.2
Richest 10%: 27.8
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 12.5

According to the OECD, New Zealand had the biggest rise in inequality among member nations in the two decades starting in the mid-1980s. The country's economy emerged from recession in the second quarter, but with growth of just 0.1%, the central bank is likely to keep interest rates low until well into 2010.

No. 7 (tie) Italy

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images, GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

Gini score: 36.0
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 2,101.6
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.3
Richest 10%: 26.8
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 11.6

Italians are focused now on the melodrama surrounding embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The political crisis comes at a time when the economy is still mired in recession even as countries like Germany and France are growing again.

No. 7 (tie) Britain

Gini score: 36.0
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 2,772.0
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.1
Richest 10%: 28.5
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 13.8

According to Britain's Institute of Fiscal Studies, a government-funded think tank, the average national income, adjusted for inflation, grew 0.5% between 2004 and 2008. In contrast, the same figure for the top 90% income bracket jumped 1.2% over the same period. That was predominantly driven by large salaries and bonuses from the financial services sector in the pre-credit crunch era.

No. 9 Australia

GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images, Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Gini score: 35.2
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 821.0
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.0
Richest 10%: 25.4
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 12.5

While developed economies elsewhere fell into recession, the Lucky Country's good fortune held out, with Australia continuing to grow thanks in part to strong demand from China for its resources. This month the central bank raised interest rates, making Australia a leader among countries moving away from monetary easing.

No. 10 (tie) Ireland

Gini score: 34.3
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 259.0
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.9
Richest 10%: 27.2
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 9.4

Put aside the old comparisons to Asia's tiger economies. Ireland's workers are suffering badly from the recession; the unemployment rate soared in August to 12.5%. That's the second-worst in the EU, behind only Spain.

No. 10 (tie) Greece

getty images, ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Gini score: 34.3
GDP 2007 (US$ billions): 313.4
Share of income or expenditure (%)
Poorest 10%: 2.5
Richest 10%: 26.0
Ratio of income or expenditure, share of top 10% to lowest 10%: 10.2

Newly elected Prime Minister George Papandreou's government faces potential disciplinary action from the European Union, which has reprimanded Greece for a budget deficit of 6% of GDP, twice the EU limit. The IMF projects the economy will shrink 0.8% this year.