Thursday, March 25, 2010

San Miguel in talks for coal mines

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine food-to-power conglomerate San Miguel Corp. said on Thursday it is looking at acquiring more coal mines to support its expansion into coal power projects.

San Miguel, through unit SM Energy Corp., plans to build coal-fired plants with a capacity of 150 to 300 megawatts in the southern Philippines.

"SM Energy has received offers for sale of coal mines located in Mindanao and initial talks between SM Energy and the proponents of such coal mines have been held," San Miguel said in a statement to the stock exchange.

Earlier this month, SM Energy bought a coal mine on Mindanao island.

The planned power project would cost up to $300 million and is expected to be on stream by 2010.

Aboitiz to bid for Angat hydro project

MANILA, Philippines - Energy producer Aboitiz Power Corp. said on Thursday it will team up with Norway's SN Power to bid for the 246-megawatt Angat hydro electric plant that is being privatised this year.

"Yes we will bid for Angat," Michael Hosillos, vice president for corporate services at SN Aboitiz Power Group, told reporters.

SN Aboitiz Power operates the Aboitiz Group's hydro power business, which has a total capacity of nearly 500 MW.

The Angat power plant in Bulacan, north of the capital, has attracted the interest of major local companies including Ayala Corp. and Metro Pacific Investment Corp.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Lacson's lawyer: No rush to cancel Ping's passport

MANILA, Philippines - A lawyer said Thursday that there should be no rush to cancel the passport of Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, who is wanted for the November 2000 murders of publicist Salvador "Bubby" Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito.

Lacson's lawyer Alex Avisado said cancelling the passport of the senator would render moot their pending motion for the determination of probable cause before the Manila City Regional Trial Court Branch 18.

The Dacer sisters on Wednesday asked the lower court to consider asking the Department of Foreign Affairs to cancel Lacson's passport and officially declare him a fugitive.

The Dacers’ lawyer, Demetrio Custodio, told ANC’s Dateline Philippines that Lacson’s prolonged stay out of the country means he has no intention of facing the murder charges in court.

“With his continuing non-appearance, it would now be right to declare him a fugitive from justice,” Custodio said, adding that the cancellation of the senator’s passport would prevent him from hopping from one country to another.

Avisado said the Dacer sisters’ motion has no basis.

He said Lacson can only be declared a fugitive, and his passport cancelled, if he has completely abandoned his defense in court.

“We still have a pending motion for reconsideration, motion for inhibition and other several pending motions. He cannot be declared a fugitive. His passport could not be legally cancelled,” the senator’s lawyer said.

He said that if the senator’s passport is cancelled and he appears in court voluntarily or involuntarily, their pleading before the lower court would become moot.

Political color

Avisado said they feel that the Dacer sisters’ move to rush the arrest of Lacson has a political angle.

Instead of focusing on Lacson, who has been cleared by former police superintendent Glenn Dumlao in the Dacer-Corbito double murder, Avisado said the sisters should go after former President Joseph Estrada, who is running again for the presidency in the May 10 elections.

“The way we see it, the branding of Lacson as a fugitive is merely for show. There is no legal purpose,” he said, adding that Lacson’s camp has been waiting for the Dacer sisters to make good their threat to file murder cases against Estrada for his alleged involvement in the double murder case.

Avisado said that aside from Dumlao’s testimony clearing Lacson, the testimony of former police officer Cezar Mancao cannot be used as a basis for the filing of murder charges against the senator.

He said Mancao has told the court that he was not sure about Lacson’s alleged role in the murders.

The lawyer was referring to Mancao’s testimony that he overheard Lacson ordering another former police officer, Michael Ray Aquino, to kill Dacer and his driver.

He said that during cross-examination, Mancao admitted that his interpretation of the conversation between Lacson and Aquino could have been wrong because he was only eavesdropping.

“In most criminal cases, this would automatically result to a dismissal of the case,” Avisado said.

Roxas biggest ad spender earlier in the game

Before he slid down to VP race, the Liberal bet was ready to match Villar’s resources

MANILA, Philippines—To veterans in political circles, the 2010 presidential campaign started 3 years ago. In November 2007, in a huge event at the historic Club Filipino, Senator Manuel Roxas II assumed presidency of the Liberal Party (LP) and vowed to bring the party to victory in 2010.

Roxas’s presidential ambitions, like Manuel Villar Jr.’s, have been an open secret as far back as 2004. Until Benigno Aquino III entered the picture in August 2009, the country was gearing for a battle royal between the top campaign spenders of the 2001 (Villar) and 2004 (Roxas) senatorial elections.

In a shocking announcement in September—before crying supporters, also in Club Filipino—Roxas said he would just seek the vice presidency to give way to Aquino, his party mate who now wanted to be the Liberal standard bearer.

It was a big decision for Roxas, who had spent a lot on his preparations for the presidential campaign. On political advertising alone, he spent a total of P575.39 million on TV, radio, and print from January to August 2009, based on data from the media monitoring firm AGB Nielsen Media Research.

Roxas was prepared to match Villar’s advertising spending. The LP bet was even outspending his NP rival from January to April 2009, when Roxas spent a total of P268 million versus Villar’s P179 million.

It was old money versus new money. Roxas comes from the old-rich Araneta clan that owns vast tracts of land, more prominently the Araneta Center, a prime property in Cubao, Quezon City. Villar, on the other hand, became a billionaire through his real estate business.

By May 2009, however, Villar beat Roxas’s spending. In the 8-month period from January to August, Villar spent P790 million, which is P215 million more than Roxas’s spending.

The amounts are based on rate cards. The actual cost may be lower. Villar earlier claimed that he got a 66% discount on ad placements because he bought the spots early.

The pioneers

Villar and Roxas may be considered the pioneers of political advertising in the Philippines.

In the 2001 senatorial elections, Villar was the first politician to maximize political advertising. To the tune of Tom Jones’ “Sex Bomb,” a hit song at that time, he introduced his ST slogan (Sipag at Tiyaga, or industry and perseverance), relating those traits to his success in business and politics. He was also endorsed by popular sexy actress Rosanna Roces.

Villar’s ads were credited for his rise from No. 14 in the January 2004 surveys to No. 7 in the official election results. The political ad ban was only lifted in January 2001. Villar was among the few who were prepared to use the new campaign tool. (He won a re-election in 2007 elections, when he was the 3rd biggest spender.)

It was Roxas who pushed the limits of political advertising in the 2004 elections.

In January 2003, or 14 months before Election Day, Roxas introduced himself as “Mr. Palengke” in radio ads. In April 2003, he launched his TV ads, where the Wharton graduate sashayed to the popular tune of “Mr. Suave” by the band Parokya ni Edgar band.

Based on rate cards, then AC Nielsen data shows that Roxas spent P80.9 million in the pre-election year.

DTI ads

That amount, however, is questionable. The whole 2003, when he was launching several advertisements, Roxas was the secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry. He resigned only on December 10.

So like President Arroyo, who was a sitting president before the 2004 polls, Roxas could have also gotten a free ride on advertisements placed by his agency.

A Commission on Audit report shows that the DTI spent P26 million for ads in 2003. This amount is almost 10 times more than the agency’s advertising expenses the following year, P3 million in 2004, when Roxas had left the agency.

The amount of ads put out by DTI under Roxas in 2003 was equivalent to close to half (41%) of what 5 other government agencies and corporations combined spent on ads featuring President Arroyo that year (P63.16 million).

From January to May 2004, when Roxas was no longer with DTI, he spent P96.3 million on his campaign ads.

Roxas topped the 2004 elections with nearly 19 million votes, beating popular movie action star Ramon Bong Revilla Jr., who ranked 2nd. It was a big showing for a relatively unknown Cabinet secretary who ranked 22nd among senatorial hopefuls 8 months before elections. His ads were largely credited for his success.

The VP race

The presidential race was not encouraging for Roxas, however. Even as he battled Villar in the airwaves last year, he was trailing behind in the surveys.

The highest rating Roxas got in 2009 was 13% in May 2009. He ranked 5th among rumored candidates, although at 3% margin of error they were all statistically tied at the top spot.

The other candidates were Vice President Noli De Castro (18%), Senator Francis Escudero (17%), former President Joseph Estrada (15%), and Villar (14%).

But Roxas failed to boost his numbers. In the following survey, conducted from July to August 2008, he lost 2 points. Villar topped this survey with 25%.

When the idea of Benigno Aquino III’s candidacy was broached after President Aquino’s death, LP stalwarts were split. Eventually, Roxas himself offered to slide down.

"Ito na ang pinakamabigat na desisyon sa buhay ko. Maniwala man kayo o hindi, ginagawa ko ito para sa bayan, para sa inyo (This is the hardest decision I had to make in my life. Believe it or not, I did this for the country, for you). I do this for unity in support of change. And if that means that somebody must make the sacrifice, it must be me. Ako na," Roxas told supporters in Club Filipino.

It’s a different story now in the vice presidential race, where it’s become a battle between the top senators of the 2004 (Roxas) and 2007 (Legarda) elections. Both had also aspired for the presidency.

In the Pulse Asia surveys of January and February 2010, Roxas maintained double-digit leads over Legarda. He enjoyed a rating of 47% and 43%, respectively, versus Legarda’s 28% and 27%.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay is a far 3rd—13% and 15%, respectively—in the vice presidential race.

Roxas has cut down on spending since he slid down to the vice presidential race. From September to December 2009, he was outspent 4 times by Legarda. The latter spent P178 million versus Roxas’s P42.62 million.

From January to August 2009, Roxas’s monthly average spending on ads was P72 million. In Septembers, when he declared that he would only be seeking the vice presidency, he only spent P5.24 million on ads. In October, Roxas stopped placing ads altogether.

He resumed his spending in November, starting at a meager P1.37 million. In December, he spent P36 million.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In RP, online support may not translate into votes

MANILA, Philippines - “At the Ateneo de Davao University for the Presidential Candidates Forum today,” read the status update on the Facebook fan page linked to the website of presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro on Tuesday afternoon. The message received 107 comments. Some asked questions about the forum, while others wrote messages of support for the administration’s presidential bet. One user asked the candidate to take action with regards to the “Morong 43.”

It is no surprise in a country that last year Universal McCann dubbed the “social networking capital of the world”, political campaigns are using web platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Presidential hopefuls Gilbert Teodoro, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Manny Villar, Josesph Estrada, Eddie Villanueva, and Richard Gordon all have social networking accounts linked to their websites

Atty. Mike Toledo, spokesman for Gilbert Teodoro and head of the Gilbert Teodoro Media Bureau told ABS-CBN that the campaign’s online efforts are aimed at youth voters, and that the campaign’s strategy is modeled after President Barrack Obama’s new media outreach efforts during the 2008 American elections.

Earlier in the campaign season ABS-CBN reported that the Aquino campaign was also using new media tactics that were inspired by Obama’s presidential campaign.

Obama’s online campaign has been credited with significantly contributing to his success in the 2008 American elections. His campaign had accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and even tapped one of the founders of Facebook, Chris Hughes, to grow the Democratic candidate’s online presence.

But in the Philippines, which has a more limited Internet penetration than America, it is unclear how online support will translate in to votes. The Nacionalista Party candidate Villar dropped six percentage points in the latest Pulse Asia survey. Villar’s campaign website links to a Facebook fan page that has 817,455 fans, a Twitter account that has 1,296 followers, and a Friendster account with 16,379 fans.

The Pulse Asia survey showed a six percentage point increase for Estrada, who has a comparatively smaller presence on social networking platforms. The Facebook and Twitter accounts linked to Estrada’s official website have 14,560 fans and 670 followers respectively. His Friendster account has 41 fans.

New media consultant Carlo Ople is skeptical that politicians in the Philippines will be able to replicate Obama’s success. “Social media is not a one-night stand. It’s a long term thing,” said Ople, noting that the candidates in the Philippines started their online campaigns only a few months before election day.

Ople, whose client list at one point included Sen. Mar Roxas, says that someone who connects to a candidate on a social networking site will not necessarily vote for that candidate. Ople says he is not working for any of the presidential or vice presidential campaigns this election season.

“It depends on how you use your existing fan base,” said Ople, when asked how social networks may influence the election. Ople believes that growing the number of connections on social networking websites, such as fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter, should only be part of a politician’s social media strategy. According to the consultant, the presidential candidates should try to engage and mobilize their social networking connections.

“If each of your 700,000 [Facebook Fans] gets 10 people to vote that’s 7 million, that’s the swing vote right there” he said. “700,000 people can turn into 700,000 soldiers.” Ople says that the Aquino campaign is the presidential campaign that is best engaging its social media networks, as its online campaign encourages people to participate in offline activities like wearing yellow on Fridays to show support for the candidate.

“We see ourselves as a source of information, as a source of energy,” says Felicity Tan, a volunteer for the Aquino campaign who is part of the team that is building the candidate’s social media networks. According to Tan, some fans of the campaign’s Facebook page use the page to coordinate events among themselves, including events that commemorated anniversary of the People Power Revolution.

Tan says that part of the campaign’s strategy is growing the overall number of Facebook fans, though she admits that not every fan will vote for Aquino. “The more people are engaged in Facebook the more it comes up on status updates, the more you can reach more people,” said Tan, referring to the Facebook features that allow users to see what activities their friends have participated in, like posting on a fan page. Earlier this week the campaign posted a three-step guide on its Facebook fan page showing fans how to invite their friends to join the page.

Tan says that the campaign is always “tweaking” its online strategy, but that it will remain largely unchanged between now and the end of the campaign season. She says that participants in Aquino’s social media campaign may use the latest Pulse Asia survey, which indicated that voters want a presidential candidate who is not corrupt and who cares about the poor, to determine “where we need to reach out more.”

The Aquino campaign maintains presences on multiple social networking sites including Twitter, where it has two accounts. The account @noynoyaquino is updated by the senator, according to Tan. The account @noynoy2010 is updated by campaign volunteers.

The website of Villar also links to several social networking websites, including, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and Friendster. The Villar campaign did not answer several requests by ABS-CBN News to comment on its social networking strategy and how the campaign is engaging those in their social networks in offline activities.

The Facebook fan page linked to Villar’s website is frequently updated with links to news articles about the candidate, as well as blog entries on the candidate’s website.

The Facebook feature that allows fans to write on the wall of the fan page has been disabled. But fans can comment on the content posted by the page administrators.

One post, which included a picture of a newspaper article about a Social Weather Stations survey, received 1,596 comments. Some users expressed support; others used the comment space to ask the candidate questions.

Ople is skeptical that the online strategies of the presidential campaigns will change much before election day. “Since we’re in the campaign period, you won’t see more innovation,” he said.

Arroyo vows smooth power transition

MANILA, Philippines - President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vowed on Wednesday to oversee a smooth transfer of power, allaying fears soldiers may intervene in the May 10 elections after she installed a loyal general as army chief.

Arroyo is not eligible for another term as president and is expected to step down on June 30. More than 50 million Filipinos will elect on May 10 the country's next leader and nearly 18,000 other national and local officials.

"We remain deeply committed to a smooth transition to a new government," Arroyo said at Manila's main army base after the installation of Lieutenant-General Delfin Bangit as chief of staff of the 120,000-member armed forces.

"Our accomplishments and progress today must be passed on to new leaders to continue the forward march for progress. We will be leaving the nation safer than we found it because of the great performance of the armed forces of the Philippines."

Arroyo's appointment of Bangit, educated at Australia's defence and military institutions, drew criticism from political opponents who fear the military might meddle in the political process.

In a speech after he assumed leadership of the military forces, Bangit sought to allay her critics' concerns. "I will not allow anybody to use me for partisan politics," he said. "Only God can use me."

Arroyo, the second longest serving president in the country's post-war history, is not retiring from politics yet. She is running for a seat in the lower house of Congress and hoping to become speaker of the House of Representatives.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

US jobless rate holds at 9.7% despite storms

WASHINGTON – The US economy shed fewer jobs than expected in February and the unemployment rate held at 9.7% despite severe winter storms, a government report said Friday, suggesting the labor market is stabilizing.

The Labor Department said that nonfarm payrolls fell by 36,000, surprising most analysts who projected 67,000 job losses because of massive snow storms that crippled the country's northeastern region.

January job losses were revised higher to 26,000, from an initial estimate of 20,000, though the overall payrolls trend pointed to gradual stabilization in the labor market.

The department said "it is not possible to quantify precisely the net impact of the winter storms" on the payrolls, but some analysts speculated that without the weather effect, jobs would have been created.

"This report is consistent with an economy that would not have lost jobs in the month, had it not been for the weather," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"With more normal conditions, it is likely that the economy would have added a small number of jobs in the month."

Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics said the weather impact "was surely not negligible so we assume payrolls ex-weather would have been positive."

Most economists had expected the unemployment rate to rise to 9.8% from 9.7% in January. The rate had peaked at 10.2% in October.

The total number of unemployed was essentially unchanged at 14.9 million.

Following the report, President Barack Obama vowed to press on with measures to reduce unemployment.

"Even though it's better than expected, it's more than we should tolerate," he said.

"Far too many Americans remain out of work, far too many families are still struggling in these difficult economic times," he said.

"That's why I'm not going to rest and my administration is not going to rest in our efforts to help people who are looking to find a job to help business owners who want to expand, feel comfortable, hiring again," he said.

Christina Romer, the chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, urged Congress to pass additional measures to promote job creation as well as continue to support those struggling with unemployment.

On Thursday the House of Representatives passed a 15-billion-dollar measure to help reduce unemployment, after a similar move by the Senate.

The monthly labor market report, seen as a key indicator of economic momentum, underscored the persistent woes in the labor market, even after the economy emerged from the worst recession in decades in mid-2009.

Since the recession started in December 2007, the economy has shed 8.4 million jobs.

The Federal Reserve, the White House and most economists have warned that high unemployment would continue as the world's largest economy slowly recovers.

"Today’s employment report further highlights that there is a jobless recovery underway in America," said Jason Schenker of Prestige Economics.

"While leading economic indicators... continue to point towards growth and the Fed has acknowledged the return of a 'nascent recovery,' the US jobs market remains fundamentally weak," he said.

The economy expanded at a strong 5.9% pace in the 2009 fourth quarter, following a 2.2% rise in the third quarter that snapped a year of contraction.

The Labor Department report said the number of long-term unemployed, those jobless for at least 27 weeks, was 6.1 million in February, roughly holding steady since December and accounting for 40 percent of the unemployed.

The number of people working "involuntary" part time for economic reasons rose to 8.8 million from 8.3 million, due to cuts in work hours or the inability to find a full-time job.

The report noted that the government hired 15,000 temporary workers for the 2010 census.

Regulators close banks in four states

WASHINGTON – US bank regulators closed 4 banks in as many states on Friday, bringing the number of failures so far this year to 26 as deteriorating loans continued taking a toll on financial institutions.

The largest of the four was Sun American Bank of Boca Raton, Florida, which had approximately $535.7 million in total assets and $443.5 million in total deposits, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) said.

Regulators also closed Centennial Bank of Odgen, Utah, Waterfield Bank of Germantown, Maryland, and Bank of Illinois of Normal, Illinois.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair has said she expects bank failures to remain high through 2010, even as the economy improves, because the bank industry is continuing to recognize loan losses and clean up their balance sheets.

Regulators closed 140 banks in 2009, up from 25 in 2008 and only 3 in 2007.

The industry's woes are moving from residential loans and complex securities to more conventional types of retail and commercial loans hit hard by the recession.

The 12 branches of Sun American Bank will reopen on Monday as branches of First-Citizens Bank & Trust Company of Raleigh, North Carolina, which is assuming the deposits and purchasing essentially all the assets, FDIC said.

However, FDIC was unable to find a buyer for Centennial Bank so checks will be mailed on Monday to retail depositors for their insured funds, the agency said.

The bank had approximately $215.2 million in total assets and $205.1 million in total deposits. An estimated $1.8 million of those funds were uninsured, but that number could change as more information becomes available, FDIC said.

It encouraged customers with more than $250,000 in their accounts at Centennial to call the FDIC at 1-800-889-4976 to set up an appointment to discuss their deposits.

The FDIC also had to create a new depository institution to take over the operations of Waterfield Bank.

It said the new institution, also called Waterfield Bank, will remain open until April 5 to allow depositors access to their insured funds and time to move their accounts.

Waterfield Bank had $155.6 million in assets and $156.4 million in deposits. After April 5, the FDIC will mail checks to customers who have not closed their accounts or transferred their funds to another institution.

It estimated uninsured funds in Waterfield at about $407,000, but said that could change.

Heartland Bank and Trust of Bloomington, Illinois, agreed to assume the deposits of Bank of Illinois, whose two branches will reopen on Saturday as branches of Heartland.

FDIC said Bank of Illinois had $211.7 million in assets and $198.5 million in deposits. Heartland paid the FDIC a premium of 3.61% to assume the deposits and agreed to purchase essentially all of the failed bank's assets, FDIC said.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Arroyo wants to tap 'power crisis' provision in EPIRA

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - President Gloria Arroyo has decided to adopt Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes’ proposal for the president to tap Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and decisively solve the power crisis in Mindanao. However, this would make power more expensive.

Ambushed by Malacañang media at the awarding ceremonies for the 10 outstanding policemen, the President said, “Yes, yes, I'm adopting his (Reyes') recommendations.”

However, the president was unable to thresh out the details of what she approved.

When sought for comment in a subsequent Palace briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Ricardo Saludo reported the following:

  • lease rental of modular generating sets adding 160 megawatts (MW);
  • operation of the Iigan diesel powered plant, adding 50-65 MW; and,
  • increased contracting capacity from Southern Philippines Power Corporation for 5 MW.

Saludo said these measures would raise electricity costs since the added power would come from costlier oil-fired plants.

Mindanao currently relies heavily on hydroelectric power, which takes a hit from low water supply during an El Niño phenomenon.

“We're very much concerned, and we share the serious worries of consumers and the private sector over the power situation in different parts of the country. And it has been our long time policy to encourage investment and build plants as the economy grows,” Saludo said.

Power crisis recommended

Reyes had earlier recommended the declaration of a Mindanao power crisis to enable government to contract additional generating capacity under Section 71 of the EPIRA.

Saludo could not immediately clarify if invoking Section 71 was also part of what was approved---as that would mean calling for a special session of Congress to approve a joint resolution to authorize the president to add generating capacity.

”We haven’t gone that far (calling on allies). The President is accepting the recommendation of the secretary of energy to declare a power crisis in Mindanao. That’s as far as it has gone. But calling a special session, we weren’t aware of such steps yet, but immediate steps ginagawa na," he said.

When told that House Speaker Prospero Nograles is afraid he might not be able to muster a quorum for a joint session for this purpose, Salcedo said: "We have to work with Congress. We have to see what may be feasible."

Section 71 was meant as a safeguard against the notorious take-or-pay provision of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs), which sent power rates soaring years ago.

Quorum a problem

Saludo himself expressed reservations that a quorum could be mustered since both houses of Congress are on campaign break till May 31 to allow lawmakers to campaign for the May 10 elections.

“I'm not sure she has gone that far (calling for special session). The Department of Energy (DOE) report didn’t say anything about a special session. It just recommended that a power crisis be declared in Mindanao. Whether there's need for special session, whether this can wait till Congress reconvenes in June, we leave that to the DOE to determine," he added.

Saludo isn’t also sure if leasing generation sets would be allowed without the congressional authority, since it could fall within the language of the law requiring additional generating capacity to be authorized by Congress first.

On Monday, the House energy committee, chaired by the President’s son, Pampanga 2nd district Rep. Mikey Arroyo, approved the recommendation for a special session of Congress to address the power crisis.

However, the President, under the Constitution, must be the one to call for the special session.

Enrile also doubts quorum

For his part, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said: "I am willing to convene a special session to take up that proposal, but the question is if we can muster a quorum to convene a special session, since everyone is campaigning now. Besides, we have to know what kind of emergency powers are we going to grant President Arroyo? We have to specify that. But my primary concern is if we will be able to muster a quorum to convene."

Section 71 empowers the president, with the consent of Congress in a joint resolution, to enter into agreements to ensure the supply of electricity at times of crisis.

The president is also set to show off her new Cabinet members to the media during the weekly Cabinet meeting set for Tuesday next week. It will be held in Sulu.

Last February, the House committee on energy, chaired by Rep. Arroyo, discussed during a hearing the emergency powers for the president. The concensus was to call for a special session.

Ampatuan silencing massacre witnesses: hitman

MANILA, Philippines - A man who says he took part in last November's massacre in Maguindanao province has told Al Jazeera how he now fears he too will be killed as the alleged mastermind of the killings seeks to silence potential witnesses against him.

In an exclusive interview, the man known as "Jesse" told how he had been ordered to kill a witness, and he now fears he will be next after the head of a powerful clan placed a bounty on his life.

"[Datu Unsay] gave the order for me to kill this one guy who could have been a witness against them," he said.

"I did it. If I didn't do as told, they would kill me."

The November 23 massacre in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao was the country's worst single incident of politically-related violence, leaving at least 57 people dead.

The killings are believed to have been masterminded by a leading member of a powerful local clan, Andal Ampatuan Jr., also known as Datu Unsay, in an attack on the family of a political rival.

More than 20 accompanying journalists and some passers-by were also killed in what investigators say was an attempt by the attackers to cover their tracks.

Ampatuan Jr. is now being held in a Manila jail accused of multiple counts of murder, although his trial was recently suspended indefinitely, pending decisions on motions filed by his lawyers.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Jesse admitted he had taken part in the November killings, but said that as an employee of Ampatuan Jr.'s cousin, he had to either kill or be killed.

And he said the attack was carried out not on Ampatuan Jr's orders, but on the orders of his father, the clan patriarch and former governor of the province.

"I was there when they met a week prior and talked about the killings," he said.

"Unsay only does what he is told by Andal Sr… I followed orders too… I fired shots, I don't know how many I hit … if I hadn't - well, we know what Unsay is like."

Now in hiding and using an assumed name, Jesse is awaiting a decision from Philippine authorities on his plea for witness protection in return for his testimony.

In the meantime, he says, Ampatuan Jr. has placed a $45,000 bounty on his head.

Political ties

The Ampatuan clan has fiercely denied any involvement in the massacre.

Ampatuan Sr. has controlled Maguindanao province for most of the past decade and had been grooming his son to take his place as governor in national elections scheduled for May.

The family also had close political ties to Gloria Arroyo, the Philippine president who critics say had allowed the Ampatuans to build up a powerful militia in return for delivering votes.

Marga Ortigas, Al Jazeera's Manila correspondent, says the investigation into the massacre has been seen as a test not only of the Philippine judiciary but of the strength of the country's democracy as a whole.

While dozens of other clan members have been charged in relation to the killings, only one man – Ampatuan Jr. – has so far been brought to court.

With his trial now suspended, many Filipinos are skeptical that the perpetrators of the massacre will ever be brought to justice.

Court authorities have rejected accusations of political pressure and say they are doing the best they can.

In any case, Jesse told Al Jazeera, inside or outside of jail, the Ampatuan clan has a long reach.

"Unsay has been telling his men to be patient, that he'll get out. And when he does, he will punish anyone who turned against them," he said.

Villar's ads exceed combined airtime of 5 rivals

MANILA, Philippines--The advertisements of Nacionalista Party (NP) standard bearer Manuel Villar Jr. were aired for a total of 8,730 minutes (6 days) in a span of 3 months before the start of the official campaign period, exceeding the combined airtime of 5 other leading presidential candidates during the same period.

This was according to data of AGB Nielsen Media Research which were presented on Thursday by Pera at Pulitika (PaP), a consortium seeking to monitor election campaign financing.

Television and radio ads of the 6 top presidential candidates were aired for a total of 15,479 minutes from Nov. 1, 2009, to Feb. 8, 2010. The official campaign period started on February 9.

If played continuously, all these ads will take nearly 11 days to watch and listen to.

Senator Benigno Aquino III, former president Joseph Estrada, former defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., Senator Richard Gordon, and evangelist Eddie Villanueva had a combined airtime of 6,747 minutes or over 4 days.

Lawyer Roberto Cadiz, PaP consortium chairman and Libertas executive director, said the May 2010 polls is proving to be the most expensive elections. Citing historical data, Cadiz said they are expecting most of the candidates to spend 95% of their campaign kitty on media.

Total television and radio airtime (in minutes) from Nov. 1, 2009 to Feb. 8, 2010


Television airtime

Radio airtime

Senator Benigno Aquino III



Former President Joseph Estrada



Senator Richard Gordon



Former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro



Brother Eduardo Villanueva



Senator Manuel Villar



Total of all candidates



Source: Pera't Pulitika, AGB Nielsen media research group

Ad spending

Based on published rate cards, Villar’s ads cost a total of P1.2 billion in 3 months. It’s almost equal to the combined spending of P1.3 billion by 5 other leading presidential candidates.

Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Elections Act mandates media organizations to give candidates various discount—30% for television, 20% for radio, and 10% for print.

Villar has earlier claimed that he got a 66% discount because he bought the media spots very early.

Ad spending from Nov. 1, 2009 to Feb 8, 2010


Ad spending

Senator Benigno Aquino III

P357.58 million

Former President Joseph Estrada

P92.7 million

Senator Richard Gordon

P245.9 million

Former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro

P472.8 million

Brother Eduardo Villanueva

P103 million

Senator Manuel Villar

P1.2 billion

Total of all candidates

P2.5 billion

Source: Pera't Pulitika, AGB Nielsen media research group