Thursday, July 30, 2009

RP-US ties at forefront of Arroyo-Obama meeting

MANILA - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and US President Barack Obama finally met at the White House Thursday (early morning Friday), with the two leaders praising Philippine-US partnership in a range of issues. Arroyo, the first Southeast Asian leader who was received by Obama in the White House, arrived at around 3 p.m. at the executive mansion, where pro- and anti-Arroyo groups held protests outside the White House gates. The meeting, held at the Oval Office, lasted 45 minutes. She was accompanied by Philippine Ambassador to the US Willy Gaa, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, House Speaker Prospero Nograles, presidential adviser on climate change Heherson Alvarez and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Speaking to members of the media, Obama hailed the relationship of the two allies, and mentioned the contributions of Filipinos to America. "We are proud to have 4 million persons of Filipino ancestry contributing to our country each and every day in all walks of life. The fact that we have Filipino veterans who have walked side by side with American soldiers on behalf of freedom, all those things that have strengthened the relations of our two countries," he said. Obama said they primarily discussed the fight against terrorism during their meeting. "I am very pleased that President Arroyo has made such good progress on dealing with counterterrorism issues. She has initiated a peace process in Mindanao that we think has the potential to bring peace and stability to a part of the Philippines that has been wracked by unrest for too long," Obama said. 'Above its weight' He also said they are "grateful" for the Philippines' "strong voice" in issues concerning the region, particularly in Southeast Asia. "We are very grateful of the stong voice that the Philippines has provided in dealing with issues in Asia, ranging from the human rights violations that have too long existed in Burma, to the problems that we're seeing with respect to nuclear proliferation in North Korea," he said. He also said that the Philippines will be the "coordinating country" in the US relationship with the ASEAN." "So we're gonna be having a busy agenda together, working to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, improving the multilateral partnerships in Asia that can create greater security and greater prosperity for all countries," he said. "Although the Philippines is not the largest of countries, using a phrase in boxing, it punches above its weight in the international arena," Thanking US Arroyo meanwhile thanked Obama for inviting her to the White House, and reiterated the Philippines' support to issues America is pursuing in the region. "The US is essential to the economic, diplomatic, and national security of our country. We are very thankful for the US as an important ally in helping to professionalize our military, in making it more effective," Arroyo said. "Just as important, we are thankful to the US for being such a good ally... working on 'soft power', helping us to build bridges, roads, schools, not only in Mindanao but across the nation. And this assistance by the US has gone a long way in helping us achieve what we have been able to achieve in the peace process in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines and also in our fight against terrorism," Arroyo said. She also added that she has informed Obama on the progress of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). She also said that the Philippines will stand behind the US in two crucial issues in the region: Burma and North Korea. She also thanked the US's help in facing climate change, and the granting of benefits for Filipino World War II veterans. Obama also praised Arroyo on her "outstanding" work. "President Arroyo has done outstanding work on a range of issues. She mentioned the areas where the United States and the Philippines are of one accord, and as evidenced here today, she's somebody who knows the issues, she has experience leading the Philippines through some very difficult times," Obama said. "She has expressed great friendship towards the United States, and aside from her great personal charm we are very appreciative of the concrete ways that her administration has pursued strengthening ties with the United States, so I'm very grateful for that," he added.

4th visit to White House This is Mrs. Arroyo's 4th visit to the White House since she became President. Her first visit was back in November 2001, following the terror attacks in the United States, and was received by then US President George W. Bush. She again visited the Bush White House in May 2003 in a state visit, and also in 2008, upon Bush's invitation. Prior to the meeting, Mrs. Arroyo met with several US lawmakers and government officials at the Willard Hotel. Among them, according to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, were Admiral Dennis Blair, director for National Intelligence; US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and US Senator Sheila Jackson Lee. She also met with the leaders of the RP-US Friendship Caucus. Arroyo and her delegation arrived in Washington for the four-day working visit in the US last Wednesday (Thursday morning Manila time). The President and her party deplaned at the Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Aside from Washington, the President will also go to New York, Chicago, and Guam. She is also set for an interview with business news network CNBC. With reports from Rodney Jaleco and Ging Reyes, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau, in Washington, and Reuters

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'My term ends in 2010'

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo came out swinging yesterday at her critics in her last State of the Nation Address (SONA), defending her style of governance and vowing to continue to “fight” for the welfare of ordinary Filipinos and the economy up to the last day of her term in June 2010.

“At the end of this speech I shall step down from this stage, but not from the presidency. My term does not end until next year. Until then, I will fight for the ordinary Filipino. The nation comes first. There is much to do as head of state – to the very last day,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

Wearing a magenta terno and sporting a hairstyle similar to what she had when she was sworn into office in 2001, Mrs. Arroyo started her SONA with a prayer for the cancer-stricken former President Corazon Aquino, whom she later cited in her speech.

She said under her administration, the economy grew stronger despite the global recession while the country’s democracy remained protected despite several destabilization attempts accompanied by allegations of massive corruption and efforts to amend the Constitution to purportedly prolong her stay in office. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank expect the economy to contract this year.

She said she never declared martial law and never expressed a desire to extend her term.

“A year is a long time. Patuloy ang pamumuhunan sa tinatawag na three E’s ng ekonomiya, environment at edukasyon. (We will continue to invest in the three E’s of economy, environment and education). There are many perils that we must still guard against,” she said.

“Some say that after this SONA, it will be all politics. Sorry, but there’s more work.” She thanked Filipinos for allowing her to serve as President.

She asked political candidates in the coming elections “to talk more about how they will build up the nation rather than tear down their opponents.”

“Our candidates must understand the complexities of our government and what it takes to move the country forward. Give the electorate real choices and not just sweet talk,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“Meanwhile, I will keep a steady hand on the tiller, keeping the ship of state away from the shallows some prefer, and steering it straight on the course I set in 2001,” she said.

While not naming names, the President delivered heavy punches to some of her strongest critics, who were apparently former President Joseph Estrada, Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr., Sen. Mar Roxas, and critical business groups.

“I never expressed the desire to extend myself beyond my term. Many of those who accuse me of it tried to cling like nails to their posts,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“I am accused of misgovernance. Many of those who accuse me of it left me the problem of their misgovernance to solve. And we did it,” she said.

She said she was “falsely accused, without proof, of using my office for personal profit. Many of those who accuse me of it have lifestyles and spending habits that make them walking proofs of that crime.”

“We can read their frustrations. They had the chance to serve this good country and they blew it by serving themselves,” she said.

“Those who live in glass houses should cast no stones. Those who should be in jail should not threaten it, especially if they have been there,” she said, apparently referring to Estrada’s detention and conviction for plunder. Mrs. Arroyo pardoned Estrada shortly after his conviction by the Sandiganbayan in October 2007.

Apparently referring to her erstwhile ally De Venecia, she said the “noisiest critics of constitutional reform tirelessly and shamelessly attempted Cha-cha (Charter change) when they thought they could take advantage of a shift in the form of government.”

“Now that they feel they cannot benefit from it, they oppose it,” the President said.

She, however, remained silent on her latest position on moves in the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution.

She said “as the seeds of fundamental political reform are planted, let us address the highest exercise of democracy, voting.”

She also hit Roxas, who has presidential ambitions, for using the Cheaper Medicine Law issue to lambast her. She said she exercised her powers under the law to increase the number of medicine whose prices are to be reduced.

Just do it

“To those who want to be President, this advice: If you really want something done, just to do it. Do it hard. Do it well. Don’t pussyfoot. Don’t pander. And don’t say bad words in public,” she said, apparently referring to Roxas’ swear words during an anti-Charter change rally in Makati City in December.

Mrs. Arroyo said being the President in the last eight years was not easy and was full of risks, but countered it by working “24/7 and being ready for any contingency, any crisis, anywhere, anytime.”

“There isn’t a day I do not work at my job or a waking moment when I do not think through a work-related problem,” she said.

“Even my critics cannot begrudge the long hours I put in. Our people deserve a government that works just as hard as they do,” she pointed out.

“Everything right can be undone by even a single wrong. Every step forward must be taken in the teeth of political pressures and economic constraints that could push you two steps back if you flinch and falter,” she said.

“I have not flinched, I have not faltered. Hindi ako umaatras sa hamon (I don’t run away from challenges),” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she has never done any of the things that “have scared my worst critics so much.”

“They are frightened by their own shadows,” she said.

She justified her frequent foreign trips, which critics have lambasted as a profligate misuse of public funds.

She also defended her strong moves to quell various destabilization and coup attempts since 2001, saying she was able to resolve the crises “with the ordinary powers of my office.”

“My critics call it dictatorship. I call it determination. We know it as strong government,” the President said.

“But I never declared martial law, though they are running scared as if I did. In truth, what they are really afraid of is their weakness in the face of this self-imagined threat,” she pointed out.

“I say to them: do not tell us what we all know, that democracy can be threatened. Tell us what you will do when it is attacked. I know what to do,” she said.

As she has shown in the past, she said, she will continue to firmly defend democracy and “try to sustain it by wise policies of economic progress, so that a democracy means not just an empty liberty but a full life for all.”

Unprecedented growth

Mrs. Arroyo pointed out that in 2008 up to the first quarter of 2009, the Philippines stood among only a few economies in Asia-Pacific that did not shrink.

“Compare this to 2001, when some of my current critics were driven out by people power. Asia was surging but our country was on the brink of bankruptcy,” she said. “The state of our nation is a strong economy. Good news for our people, bad news for our critics.”

“I did not become President to be popular. To work, to lead, to protect and preserve our country, our people, that is why I became President. When my father left the presidency, we were second to Japan. I want our Republic to be ready for the first world in 20 years,” she said.

Since 2001, the economy posted uninterrupted growth for 33 quarters; more than doubled its size from $76 billion to $186 billion, she said. The average Gross Domestic Product growth from 2001 to the first quarter of 2009 is the highest in 43 years.

The number of Filipinos who considered themselves poor went down from 59 percent to 47 percent even with the population growing, Mrs. Arroyo said.

The country’s per capita GDP rose from $967 to $2,000 while it created eight million jobs in the last eight years “much, much more than at any other time,” she pointed out.

“In sum: First, we have a strong economy and a strong fiscal position to withstand global shocks. Second, we built new modern infrastructure and completed unfinished ones. Third, the economy is more fair to the poor than ever before. Fourth, we are building a sound base for the next generation. Fifth, international authorities have taken notice that we are safer from environmental degradation and man-made disasters,” she said.

She said the global economic crisis hit both developed and developing countries worldwide but the Philippines was least affected and was cited for this by international rating agencies.

“Had we listened to the critics of those policies, had we not braced ourselves for the crisis that came, had we taken the easy road much preferred by politicians eyeing elections, this country would be flat on its back. It would take twice the effort just to get it back again on its feet to where we are now because we took the responsibility and paid the political price of doing the right thing,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

Under her watch, she said major highways and roads as well as ports and airports mushroomed all over the country, including the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry remained resilient despite the global recession with earnings of $6 billion and employment of 600,000, she said.

In the last four years, tourism almost doubled and is now a $5-billion industry, she said.

‘Living proofs’

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the personalities brought in by Mrs. Arroyo and asked to be acknwledged during her SONA were “living proofs” of the gains of the nation during her administration.

There was Gigi Gabiola, a former domestic worker in Dubai now working at the Department of Labor and Employment under the government’s emergency employment program.

Also presented during her SONA was Tarnati Dannawi, a Badjao trained in modern mariculture under the government’s food program that helped him earn P180,000 since last year.

“We will help more fisherfolk shift to fish farming with a budget of P1 billion,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo presented two beneficiaries of her administration’s education initiatives.

One of them, Mylene Amerol-Macumbal, finished Accounting at the Mindanao State University before pursuing law. She placed second in the last bar exams, making her the first Muslim woman bar topnotcher.

In technical education and skills training, the government has invested three times that of three previous administrations combined, Mrs. Arroyo said as she presented Jennifer Silbor, who was taught medical transcriptions.

In reiterating her commitment to push the peace process in Mindanao and resuming talks with communist rebels, Mrs. Arroyo presented Leah de la Cruz, one of the 12,00 rebel returnees since last year.

Captured in 2006, De la Cruz is now involved in handicraft livelihood training of former rebels supported by the local government.

Legislative Agenda:‘More work to be done’

President Arroyo bared in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday several bills that she wants to see passed before her term ends next year. These include the following:

• The Philippine Transport Security Act, which seeks to create a Philippine Transport Security Authority as a law enforcement body, specifically for the areas of civil aviation, maritime, land and rail transportation.

• Amendment of the Public Service Law, which governs the telecommunications industry.

• Creation of a Department of Information and Communication Technology.

• Extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program for five years.

• Amendment of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas charter.

• New “sin taxes” to boost the capacity to reduce poverty and pursue growth.

• Passage of the proposed simplified net income tax system for the self-employed and professionals.

• Approval of a P1-billion budget to help fisherfolk engage in modern mariculture or fish farming.

• Approval of funding for more policemen on the streets

Monday, July 27, 2009

Philippines' Arroyo to defend legacy amid protests

MANILA, Philippines – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was expected to defend her spotty achievements during her final state of the nation address Monday against a backdrop of widespread protests that have dogged her turbulent 8 1/2-year rule in the Philippines.

The 62-year-old U.S.-trained economist, who has survived four coup attempts and four impeachment bids since 2001, has been accused by opposition politicians of maneuvering to extend her term, which ends next year.

Her aides deny the claim, saying her speech in Congress will focus on efforts to protect the country's economy from the global financial meltdown through a 10-point program promising a balanced budget, education for all, automated elections, improved infrastructure and peace with Muslim and communist rebels.

Such achievements have eluded the Philippines since Arroyo took power in 2001 in a second "people power" revolt that ousted President Joseph Estrada on corruption charges. She won her own six-year term in 2004, but it was put in doubt when allegations surfaced that she conspired to rig the vote.

Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing, but her ratings plummeted, street protests surged, restive military officers plotted to overthrow her, opposition lawmakers repeatedly initiated impeachment proceedings against her and a dozen Cabinet members resigned in protest.

But she weathered the crises, shielded from impeachment by a loyal majority in the House of Representatives and from coup attempts by faithful generals.

Prominent left-wing group Bayan said it expected up to 15,000 protesters near Congress, where police set up container vans and barbed wire to keep them at bay.

Left-wing Rep. Satur Ocampo said he and several other lawmakers will boycott Arroyo's speech and instead join protests to call for her to step down when her terms ends in June.

Ocampo said he expected Arroyo to paint a "rosy picture" of her tumultuous years in power despite the crushing poverty and high unemployment that plague the country.

About a third of the population of 90 million live on less than $2 a day, and about 3,000 Filipinos leave every day seeking jobs abroad, joining about 10 million overseas workers whose remittances keep the economy afloat.

Presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde said Arroyo will focus on her economic accomplishments, including her success in providing education to the poor and exceeding a promise to provide a million jobs a year since 2001.

He described a string of corruption allegations against Arroyo as "a lie repeated a hundred times."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pacquiao prepares self for long grind vs Cotto

MANILA -- Manny Pacquiao is now making the most of his free time with his family before he begins the long grind in preparation for his fight against Miguel Cotto.

The top pound-for-pound fighter said he is very much excited to go back to the gym and start training for his upcoming fight with the reigning World Boxing Organization welterweight champion from Puerto Rico.

“Tinanggap ko na ang alok at hamon upang labanan ang dambuhalang si Miguel Angel Cotto sa Nobyembre 14, sa MGM Grand Arena sa Las Vegas at excited na ako upang simulan ang paghahanda,” said Pacquiao in his column “Kumbinasyon”.

That’s why Pacquiao is making the most out of his free time by spending it with his family.

“Medyo mahaba pa rin ang nalalabing panahon para umpisahan ang training, kaya naman gugugulin ko ang mga oras na ito upang makasama ang aking pamilya,” he said.

Pacquiao’s coach, Freddie Roach, earlier said he is looking for another eight-week training camp to fully prepare his ward against the bigger Cotto.

The Filipino boxing star has agreed to fight at 145 pounds against the Puerto Rican champ.

Manny thanks ESPN Pacquiao, meanwhile, expressed his gratitude to sports TV network ESPN and to all his fans for selecting him as the Best Fighter in the 2009 Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) awards.

“Lubos akong nagpapasalamat dahil napili akong Best Fighter at naungusan ko ang mga malalaking superstar ng MMA gaya nila Anderson Silva at Lyoto Machida at ang kapwa boksingero na si Sugar Shane Mosley,” he said.

He considered the award as an honor because he said it meant that his performance inside the ring was highly appreciated.

Pacquiao also apologized for failing to attend the awarding ceremony because of his hectic schedule.

“Humihingi ako ng paumanhin dahil hindi ako nakaabot sa parangal at hindi ko natanggap ang award dahil na rin sa aking busy na schedule,” said the boxer.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

(UPDATE) Mancao: I took orders from Erap

MANILA - Former police officer Cezar Mancao on Wednesday told a Manila court that he directly took orders from former President Joseph Estrada as he testified for the first time in connection with the double murder of publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and driver Emmanuel Corbito in November 2000.

A radio dzMM report said Mancao was emotional when appeared before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 18 of Judge Myla Garcia-Fernandez.

The report said that, according to Alex Avisado, spokesman and lawyer of Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Mancao broke into tears after seeing for the first time in several years his colleagues in the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF).

Avisado said Mancao told the court that he was directly taking orders from Estrada.

“The only material admission to his affidavit was that he [Mancao] declared in open court that when he was Task Force Luzon chief, he was directly reporting to former president Estrada,” said Avisado later in an interview in ABS-CBN News Channel’s Top Story.

The radio report said the testimony was interrupted by the motion for inhibition of Avisado and another lawyer for the jailed suspects in the double murder case.

The lawyers wanted Fernandez to inhibit from the case for her surprise ruling allowing Mancao to testify.

Reports said the court was supposed to hear Avisado's motion asking the court not to admit Mancao as state witness on the double murder case.

Instead of ruling on the motion, Fernandez ordered Mancao to take the witness stand. Reports said the move was to help the court decide whether it would allow Mancao to become a state witness and remain under the government's Witness Protection Program.

In ordering Mancao to take the witness stand, Fernandez asked for the presence of the 9 policemen and civilian agents arrested for the double murder case.

The nine suspects include Senior Police Officer 4 Marino Soberano, Senior Police Officers 3 Mauro Torres and Jose Escalante, Crisostomo Purificacion, Digo De Pedro, Renato Malabanan, Jovencio Malabanan, Margarito Cueno and Rommel Rollan.

The radio report said that, according to Avisado, Mancao cried as he approached and hugged his former men. The report said the nine suspects were Mancao's former operatives when he was Task Force Luzon commander of the PAOCTF.

Mancao was scheduled to testify again before Judge Fernandez on August 13.

Mancao named Lacson and Estrada in the double murder case in his February 2009 affidavit which he executed in United States.

Avisado said however that the Arroyo government was only opening up the Dacer-Corbito case again to hit Lacson as well as Estrada.

We hope that justice will be for the deserving. we know that Sen. Lacson will be cleared, they are just using the case for political propaganda… Also against former president Erap to spoil his chances in next year’s presidency [race],” said Avisado.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

School days get a beating

he Department of Education (DepEd) urged public schools Friday to cancel their annual semestral break and conduct Saturday classes to make up for lost time after monsoon rains and the Influenza A(H1N1) virus have forced numerous class suspensions.

Frirday, the DepEd again suspended classes in public and private schools in preschool, elementary and high school levels in the National Capital Region (NCR) due to heavy rains caused by tropical storm "Isang." Although no storm signal was announced in the area, heavy rains flooded parts of Metro Manila.

It is the second time this week that the DepEd suspended classes and the fifth time this school year in the NCR.

"As a make-up, 'yung mga schools lang na kailangang mag habol. I think that's more than one week (semestral break), at kung mag Saturday baka makuha na," Lapus said in an earlier interview.

The make-up classes will ensure that the schools complete the required 204 school days this school year, he said.

Weather-related class suspensions are determined based on the guidelines set by the DepEd based on the Typhoon Signals System of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration's (PAGASA).

In Storm Signal No. 1 classes are automatically suspended in the pre-school level in all public and private schools. In Storm Signal No. 2 classes are automatically suspended in pre-school, elementary and secondary levels in all public and private schools.

In the absence of storm signal warnings from PAGASA, localized suspension of classes in both public and private schools in all levels can be decided by the local authorities, such as the local government and also DepEd regional directors.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pre-school, elementary classes in metro suspended

MANILA - Education Secretary Jesli Lapus on Thursday suspended afternoon classes in pre-school and elementary levels in Metro Manila due to tropical storm Isang. Lapus said the suspension of classes at the pre-school and grade school levels was based on the recommendation of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). He said the education department has advised all schools to bring home children attending morning classes. He said afternoon classes have also been suspended in Metro Manila. City of Manila education official Dr. Ponciano Menguito, meanwhile, announced that elementary and high school classes in Manila public schools have also been suspended because of the storm. As of 11 a.m., PAGASA said Tropical Storm "Isang" was located 240 kilometers east of Casiguran town in Aurora province. It was packed with maximum sustained winds of 75 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 90 kph. It was moving west northwest at 17 kilometers per hour. PAGASA hoisted storm signal No. 2 over Isabela, Southern Cagayan and towns in the northern part of Aurora. Storm signal No. 1 was hoisted over Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Kalinga, Apayao, Abra, Mt.Province, Ifugao, Benguet, La Union, Ilocos provinces, Babuyan Islands, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, the rest of Aurora and the rest of Cagayan. The weather bureau said "Isang" could be at 60 kilometers west of Tuguegarao City by Friday morning.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Do You Care?

Philippines warns Mayon volcano may erupt soon

MANILA (AFP) - – Philippines authorities warned that Mayon, one of the country's most active volcanoes, is showing signs of life and could erupt again soon.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said it is raising the 2,460-metre (8,070-foot) mountain's alert status to "moderate unrest" from that of "low-level unrest."

Nearby residents were reminded not to venture into a "permanent danger zone" in a six-kilometre (nearly four mile) radius from the crater.

The zone was also extended to seven kilometres on its southeast flank, which faces Legazpi, a city of 160,000 people.

"This alert condition signifies a state of unrest which could lead to ash explosions or eventually to hazardous magmatic eruption," the institute said in its latest advisory.

The increased frequency of low-level volcanic quakes had pushed toward the crater lip "a cone-shaped pile of hot, steaming old rocks, possibly remnants from previous eruptions which could be the source of the glow at the crater," it added.

Seismologist Renato Solidum, the head of the government institute, said the immediate danger if volcanic activity escalates was of ash explosions that could affect aviation at Legazpi airport or crush roofs of nearby houses.

"Sudden explosions and rockfalls from the upper slopes" are also a threat, the advisory said.

Mayon has erupted 48 times since records began, most recently in 2006. A major eruption in 1814 buried the town of Cagsawa.