Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: A year of changing telecommunications market dynamics

MANILA, Philippines - To say that 2010 was a difficult year for the Philippine telecommunications industry is an understatement.

The industry’s dynamics have changed dramatically. While consumers rejoice about the barrage of unlimited and bucket priced offerings that brought down the costs of text messaging and mobile voice calls, the revenues of telecommunications companies suffered.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) chairman Manuel Pangilinan explained that market conditions are changing. “From 800 to 900 million text messages outbound every day, this has gone up to 1.2 billion. However, yields have declined from 18 centavos per text to 13 centavos,” he noted.

While before, 800 million SMS sent per day meant P144 million in earnings, the yield has now gone down to P104 million. Multiply the difference by 365 days and the amount is just mind-blowing.

PLDT during its third quarter 2010 briefing noted that cellular data/text revenues fell 13% to P31 billion, despite a 25% increase in text volumes, as they remain under pressure from the proliferation of lower yield offerings, multiple-SIM ownership, and regulator-mandated load validity extensions.

Take the recent May 2010 national and local elections, wherein candidates and their supporters utilized the power of text messaging to solicit support and to campaign. While millions of election-related SMS were being sent, most utilized unlimited/bucket priced offerings.

Globe Telecom president and CEO Ernest Cu said the company’s financial results are reflective of the challenges facing the industry, whereby traffic is growing, but revenues are declining with the market’s increasing preference for unlimited services. Despite an increase in traffic and over-all usage, Globe’s mobile revenues were lower with sustained price pressures resulting from intense competition and subscribers’ increasing preference for lower-yield bucket and unlimited promotions.

Globe’s Super All Txt 20 is one such bucket priced offering. For only P20 a day, a subscriber gets to send 200 text messages to any network which means that each SMS costs only 10 centavos. The company’s Unli Txt All Day allows one to send unlimited text messages to Globe/TM subscribers for one day.

Smart Buddy’s AllTxt Combo Plus gives a subscriber 100 text messages to another Smart subscriber, 10 texts to other networks, plus five minutes of calling, all for just P25.

Sun Cellular’s P25 Superloaded Call and Text Unlimited has free 30 minutes of mobile internet on top of unlimited Sun-to-Sun calls and 10 texts to other networks. Its Sun TextALL, now a permanent product offering, enables a subscriber to send 150 text messages to any network for only P15 a day.

The list goes on and on. Many of these promos are offered for a limited time only, but they are usually renewed.

Forever gone were the days when text messages cost P1 each and telcos were making so much money from text messaging alone.

The mobile telephony sector is now a matured one. The cellular penetration rate has now exceeded 80% and the number of Filipinos who still do not use mobile phone services is dwindling. This triggered the search for new revenue streams and the rise of broadband Internet services as the new revenue driver.

But even the cost of mobile Internet access has significantly gone down, thanks to bucket price and unlimited offerings. For just P50 a day, a Globe subscriber is given unlimited access to the Internet using a Globe Tattoo Broadband USB or mobile phone for one day. Smart also offers unlimited mobile surfing for P50 per day while Smart Broadband has its unlimited Internet access promo at P200 good for five days. Sun Broadband prepaid has a similar offering (one day unlimited for P50).

With the entry of a new player, San Miguel Corp./Liberty Telecom’s Wi-Tribe, expect the cost of Internet access to go down even further.

With Filipinos having in their plate so many choices, the one who is able to offer the lowest price and at the same time the best quality of service will emerge the winner.

Now here’s a look at how the industry’s decision makers view 2010 as well as prospects for the coming year:

• “2010 was a challenging year of transition for the telco industry. Competition intensified in the cellular business. Broadband grew strongly. Margins came under pressure even as demand for more network resources increased. For PLDT, 2010 has been a year when it maintained its market leadership in the face of these challenges. Our focus has been managing this transition where traditional revenue sources such as fixed toll revenues like IDD and NDD were on the decline while new revenue sources such as broadband were on the rise. We preserved margins by strengthening cost management given the modest top-line growth.

“We expect the challenges of 2010 to carry into next year. Demand for bucket and unlimited offers in the cellular space will continue. We expect that broadband will keep growing given the growing popularity of social networking and new access devices such as tablets and smartphones. PLDT will continue to invest in its network in order to fortify its market leadership.” — Napoleon Nazareno, president and CEO, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.

• “2010 was quite a competitive year for the telecommunications industry as it experienced a single-digit growth. It also achieved breakthroughs in both 3G and 3.5G (HSDPA) offerings. Consumers have had good experience, especially as new terminals came on Android, Blackberry, IPhone, among others. All in all, it was an exciting year for technology. Next year, we expect further developments in 3.5G. New Android phones are also getting exciting. We are optimistic both about the telco industry and the economy in general. The people have also increased confidence and trust.”

“In 2010, Sun Cellular is the first telco in the Philippines to achieve one million postpaid GSM subscribers. In 2011, we are confident we can achieve robust growth in both 2G and 3.5G as we continue our strong rollout of cellsites. By end of 2011, Sun should be even in number of cellsites as the other two telco players in almost all regions of the country.” — James Go, president, Digital Telecommunications Phils. Inc. (Digitel)

• “Globe has good momentum heading into 2011. Both our postpaid and prepaid business have shown strength going into the end of the year. Our broadband business has also continued to perform well despite the intense competition for subscribers.

“2011 will continue to be a tough year for the industry with the escalating price competition. Unlimited plans and aggressive bucket offerings will continue to erode yields. The competition for market share will escalate amid the prospects of a fourth player emerging.” — Ernest Cu, president and CEO, Globe Telecom

• “2010 was a challenging year for the telcos, as competition intensified and the Internet/social media and new technologies influenced the shift on consumer behavior on how to communicate, putting pressure on traditional revenue sources like voice calls and international long distance calls. Data and internet subscribers continued to increase and is expected to accelerate to the next level of sustained growth.

“It was a difficult year for Bayan but performance was consistent with the industry trend. Total revenue decreased due to lower voice revenues but residential internet and corporate data services posted revenue growth. With sound operating expense management, we expect the year to end in double digit growth in EBITDA.

“Our growth drivers next year would continue to be data and internet services for both consumer and corporate sectors. On the consumer side, we will continue to focus on internet services as we leverage on our cooperation within the Lopez Group to deliver relevant and compelling communication and content services. At the same time, Bayan has been strong in the corporate data sector servicing banks and BPOs, and we hope to gain on the opportunities.” — Rafael Aguado, chief operations officer, Bayan Telecommunications

• “The telecommunications industry will continue to face challenging times, with tough competition and new technologies. It will also continue to suffer from diminishing revenues and increasing capital expenditure. With all these happening, the consumer will continue to benefit while the telcos will continue to fight in keeping their customers while the new telcos look into grabbing customers from the. As for MyPhone, it’s a great year. The device business will continue to grow in leaps and bounds with the mobile phones still leading the way and new affordable devices such as smart phones and tablets coming in strong in the second half of the year. MyPhone will continue to invest in expanding our retail chains and service centers to maintain its excellent quality and after-sales service reputation. Overall, the public will surely be the winner with all the exciting things happening in the telco industry.” — David Lim, chairman, Solid Group, makers of MyPhone

• “The telco industry had a good year but its profitability was greatly reduced due to the highly competitive ‘unlimited plans’ that each provider offered its subscribers. This trend would continue this coming year. What needs to be looked into is the deteriorating service availability or accessibility due to network congestion brought about by the unlimited plans. Customer dissatisfaction has been rising because of higher frequency of dropped calls, delayed SMS, and line unavailability.

“Our agency did very well in terms of revenue generation in line with the President’s directive to raise revenues to help the budget. I immediately directed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to improve its efficiency in the collection of fees and compliance to regulatory requirements. To the credit of the NTC, they immediately implemented the directive resulting in a collection surplus of more than P400 million above target as of end-November. Hopefully, we will hit half a billion pesos above target by yearend. This despite the election ban of several months.”

BSP keeps policy rate at record low

MANILA, Philippines - The central bank left its key policy rate unchanged at 4% following a policy review on Wednesday, a decision that had been widely expected by the markets.

The rate has been at a record low of 4% since July 2009, with the Philippines one of the few countries in Asia not to have raised rates since the global financial crisis.

The policy-making Monetary Board holds a rate-setting meeting every 6 weeks.

Earlier, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco said there was no compelling reason to raise interest rates, with inflation seen staying benign in the medium term.

The BSP expects annual inflation in December to come in between 2.5% to 3.4%, bringing the full-year average below the midpoint of the government's 3.5% to 5.5% target.

All 11 analysts in a Reuters poll expected the central bank to hold rates on Wednesday. Six of 10 economists expect a rate hike in the first half of 2011.

The central bank cut rates by a total of 200 basis points between December 2008 and July 2009 to soften the blow of the global recession.

The government expects the economy to have grown faster than its 2010 target of 5% to 6%, supported by a recovery in trade and remittances.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

New HIV cases up 40% in November

MANILA, Philippines - One hundred and 12 Filipinos tested positive for HIV in November, up 40% from the 80 reported cases in November last year, according to the HIV and AIDS Registry of the Department of Health (DOH).

Health officials said 92% of the cases are males. At least 62% of the new HIV positive patients are between the ages of 20-29. Males having sex with other males (82%) was the predominant type of sexual transmission of HIV.

Eight of the 112 reported cases were overseas Filipino workers; all 8 acquired the HIV infection through sexual contact. At least 160 OFWs have tested positive for HIV infection since the start of the year.

In all, the DOH has recorded 1,417 new HIV cases from January to November.

It said 11 units of donated blood also tested positive for HIV.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines earlier said OFWs, who now account for one in every four HIV positive Filipinos, are highly susceptible to the virus, as they are exposed to foreign cultures that abet high-risk behavior, including commercial sex sans the use of prophylactics.

Rep. Arnel Ty of party-list group LPGMA pushed for increased government funding for preventive HIV/AIDS education.

"It would be sensible for us to spend a lot more for preventive education now to reduce the future human suffering due to HIV/AIDS, and avoid the potentially larger costs associated with the treatment of more patients," Ty said in a statement.

The Philippine National AIDS Council has warned the number of HIV cases in the country could reach 46,000 by 2015, unless effective strategies are put in place to check the spread of the disease.

Ty pressed his call for Congress to revisit the 1998 AIDS Prevention and Control Law and reinforce the fight against the highly destructive disease.

In House Resolution 724, Ty cited the need for Congress to ascertain whether existing policies and measures under the 12-year-old law are enough to quell the HIV/AIDS epidemic and improve the conditions of Filipinos living with the disease.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Day blast injures 6 in Jolo

ZAMBOANGA CITY - Six people were wounded Saturday when a bomb went off in a church during Mass on Christmas Day in Jolo, Sulu.

Initial reports said an improvised explosive device went off at the Sacred Heart Chapel in Bgy. Asturias, Jolo, Sulu at 7:20 a.m. on Saturday, December 25.

Col. Romeo Tanalgo, acting commander of Joint Task Force Comet, said the explosive fell on the right side of the church's roof. He said the church is located beside the Camp Asturias police camp.

The explosion occurred right after a Christmas morning Mass ended as parishioners were preparing to leave the church.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Randolph Cabangbang said the priest officiating the mass was among the wounded.

Two of the injured victims were identified as Emma Tan, 29, and Antonette Quiniones, 30. They are now being treated at the provincial health hospital.

Three of the injured are being treated at the trauma hospital inside Camp Teodulfo Bautista.

Jolo police have tightened security at all vital installations including religious sites in Sulu.

"While we have received reports before na magkakaroon ng ganyang insidente, lalo nating pinagtibay ang pagbabantay ng vital installation lalong lalo na sa bayan ng Jolo--mga simbahan, mosque, cell sites, at oil depot," said Tanalgo.

Military officials would not immediately name any suspects in the blast on Jolo island but the island is a known bastion of the Abu Sayyaf, a group linked to the Al-Qaeda network.

The Abu Sayyaf, a gang of self-styled Islamic militants founded in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's network, has long used the mostly-Muslim island of Jolo as a base, carrying out kidnappings and bombings.

It is believed to have carried out the worst terror attacks in Philippine history including the bombing of a passenger ferry in Manila Bay that killed more than 100 people in 2004.

It has also kidnapped many foreigners and Filipino Christians, hiding them in the jungles of Jolo and other southern islands.

US forces have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002 to train local troops in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf.

Oil jumps to highest since 2008 crisis, $100 eyed

NEW YORK/LONDON – Oil surged above $91 a barrel to its highest price in more than two years on Thursday, as OPEC member Libya's apparent lack of concern over prices prompted some analysts to call for a new year's run at $100.

With crude reaching back-to-back 26-month highs, ultra-cold weather stoking demand and depleting U.S. stockpiles at the fastest pace in 12 years, traders are now looking for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to signal when it might begin pumping more crude.

But Libya's top oil official, one of OPEC's most hawkish members toward oil prices, appeared unconcerned by the gains, which have lifted prices more than 20 percent in three months as fundamentals turn more positive and investors factor in an improving economic outlook for next year.

"It's fair to say it (the price) is about right, but still I think that it needs to improve a little bit more. About $100 would be a fair price for the time being," Libya's National Oil Corp Chairman Shokri Ghanem told Reuters in Cairo ahead of a meeting of Arab oil exporting countries.

"I think current oil prices are reflecting the situation in the market which is a well-balanced market," he said.
U.S. crude for February rose $1.03 to settle at $91.51 a barrel, the highest price since October 7, 2008 when oil prices were crashing from their $147 record as the world's financial industry reeled and investors fled risky assets. Prices hit an intraday peak of $91.63 a barrel.

ICE Brent crude settled at $94.25, up 60 cents from Wednesday after a midsession burst of gains triggered by buy-stops and as the dollar fell.

Although some said low trading volume on the last day before Christmas likely exaggerated gains, few expected to see a correction as traders looked forward to a fresh infusion of institutional investment in the booming commodities sector. U.S. crude traded about 220,000 contracts, one-third the norm.

"I don't think we'll pull back much before February. We'll see some fund allocations next month so we should continue to see support," said Antoine Halff of Newedge Group in New York.

So far economic news is supporting the gains too. Data on Thursday showed new U.S. claims for jobless benefits dipped last week and consumer spending increased in November for a fifth straight month, reinforcing views of a solid economic growth pace in the fourth quarter.

And while gasoline prices now back above $3 a gallon could begin to erode spending in the still fragile U.S. economy, the fact that they remain far below their $4 peak two years ago suggests they will not pack the same psychological punch.


Nearly three years after oil first traded at $100, demand is again rising swiftly, but one key factor has changed significantly. Unlike the start of 2008, when OPEC was already pumping flat out, the group now has a sizable amount of idle capacity it could use to douse the rally -- if it chooses.

A series of comments in recent months suggest the cartel is now ready to tolerate a price higher than the $70-to-$80 band it has publicly supported for the past two years, and analysts say that means it may wait too long before pumping more oil.

"With OPEC set to be reactive rather than proactive, the route to $100 appears fairly unobstructed at this time," said analysts at Barclays Capital.

Oil traders will be looking for comments this weekend from other core Gulf OPEC ministers to see if they are more concerned than they were two weeks ago when the group decided at its meeting in Quito, Ecuador, to maintain supply quotas.

The meeting of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) in Cairo will not set policy, and OPEC's next formal meeting is not scheduled until June.

But some analysts say they expect the group to quietly lift output prior to that by leaking more oil than quotas permit, and few expect a rerun of 2008's explosive rise.

"We're not back to before the 2008 crisis, this is not the same market... We have a lot more spare capacity, and demand growth is tentative," said Halff.


Unusually cold weather in the United States and Europe has helped to spur the latest leg of a more than 30 percent rally from this year's low struck in May.

After a contraction in demand following the global economic recession, fuel use has begun to rebound and is expected to continue growing next year, taking absolute oil consumption to an all-time high. But the rate of growth will still be lower than a peak hit in 2004.

"Markets still have an upward bias. They just took out the recent and earlier highs and ran a few stops. Economic optimism, cold weather and crude stock drawdown are supporting in the background," said Tom Bentz, broker at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures in New York.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New peso bills have more security features

MANILA, Philippines - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has added more security features on the new bank notes that will be available on a limited basis starting next week.

The new bills feature the seals of the republic and the BSP. It also has a patch where the colors change from blue to green and back to blue at a 45 degree angle.

The P500 has a photo inset where the face of the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., father of President Aquino, appears. At a different angle, the photo changes to 500.

The bills have micro prints and security threads that will make it more difficult for counterfeiters to copy. The 200-peso, 500-peso and 1,000-peso bills have a 4mm security thread embedded on the paper. They also have a security feature for the vision-impaired as the numerical amount is embossed on the bill for the blind to feel the surface.

The new bills are made up of 80% cotton and 20% abaca. It has an anti-bacterial quality that can stay up to more than 3 years for higher denominated bills.

When asked why is there a need for the new bills, BSP deputy governor Diwa Gunigundo says one of the reasons is that counterfeiters have already almost perfected the current bills though the incidents have remained manageable.

Gunigundo says so much have changed in the economy and society since the issuance of the current bills. The BSP will circulate P45 to P50 million worth of bills before the year ends and another P2 billion next year.

Current bills can still be used for 3 to 4 years before its demonetized although people can still exchange their old bills at the BSP after that period.

The designers of the bills are Design Systemat and Studio 5. The 2 groups collaborated in the reverse and obverse side of the money bills.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Another fuel price hike looms

MANILA, Philippines - The public will have to brace for higher fuel prices next week, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
DOE Undersecretary Jay Layug said oil prices are expected to go up given the higher demand for petroleum in the international market.
He explained that there is a surge in demand for diesel in Asia and increased consumption in North America and Europe due to the winter season.
He urged oil companies to keep price adjustments reasonable.
Some oil firms are expected to raise their pump prices by P1 to P1.50 per liter.
Layug, however, assured the public there is no shortage in the supply of oil.
“There is no supply shortage at this time, shell and chevron continue to suffer from their logistical problems but the others have stepped up,” he added.

Palace declares Dec. 24, 31 as holidays

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos may expect a long holiday this Christmas following the declaration of December 24th and the 31st as "special non-working holidays" by President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

With the expected influx of travelers to the provinces, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) are readying special permits to bus companies and other public utility vehicle operators that offer trips to the provinces this Christmas season.

The LTFRB said the special permits will be out by December 20th, to ensure there will be no shortage in buses for the provinces.

4 from ‘Morong 43’ fear communist death squad

MANILA, Philippines – Four of the 43 detainees who have been ordered freed by President Benigno Aquino III now fear for their lives after admitting their involvement in the communist movement.

Ellen Carandang, Cheryllyn Taoagon, Valentino Paulino, Jennyllyn Pizzaro, and John Mark Barrientos were among the “Morong 43” who were arrested by police and military troops in February during an alleged bomb-making training session.
While other members of the group are waiting to be released from detention, Carandang said she would rather stay in Camp Capinpin, where they are in military custody.
"Walang kapatawaran iyong ginawa namin pag-amin na NPA [New People’s Army] kami, at pagsabi na sila ay NPA din, markado na kami ng [communist execution squad], kaya ayaw namin umuwi,” she said.
Taoagon and Paulino share the same sentiment – and they want to join the military.
"Kasi marunong naman kami sa baril tapos alam din namin mag-organisa puwede kami taga-pagsalita," Taoagon said.
"Sanay naman ako sa bundok kaya di nalalayo sa pagiging sundalo," said Paulino.
Pizzaro, the youngest of the group, wants to continue her studies.
"Sa mga dati naming kasamahan, sana pabayaan kaming mabuhay ng normal," she said.
The Morong 43 may finally gain their freedom next week, when the court is expected to formally withdraw charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against the health workers.

FDI net inflow at $66-M in Sept

MANILA, Philippines - Foreign direct investments (FDI) recorded a net inflow of $66 million in September, reversing the $54 million outflow in the same month last year.

For the first 9 months of the year, the FDI net inflow amounted to $1.1 billion versus $1.6 billion in 2009.

"The moderate inflows this year reflected cautious investor sentiment on the back of renewed concerns over the exposure of European banks to sovereign debt and the health of the American economy, notwithstanding the strong fundamentals in the domestic economy," the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said.

Equity capital registered a net outflow of $22 million in September, better than the year ago's net outflow of $45 million.

Net FDI, portfolio inflows, and remittances from Filipinos working overseas help keep the country's balance of payments (BOP) in surplus.

The central bank has forecast a net FDI inflow of $2 billion this year, up 5.3% from $1.9 billion in 2009.

It said it expects the BOP surplus to hit $8.2 billion, more than double an earlier estimate of $3.7 billion, on strong exports, remittances and fund inflows.

The BOP surplus in the first 9 months of the year stood at $6.54 billion.

The Philippines' BOP was in surplus of nearly $5.3 billion in 2009, the biggest in 2 years.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

3 ex-MWSS governing board members face tax evasion raps

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Tax evasion charges were filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) at the Justice Department on Thursday against 3 former governing board members of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Charged were Oscar I. Garcia, Ferdinand P. Mahusay and Lorenzo S. Sulaik who were found to have concealed their true income "by their deliberate and willful failure to file their income tax returns (ITRs)."

The three sat as members of the Governing Board of the Corporate and Regulatory Offices of the MWSS.

Deputy Commissioner Estela Sales of the Legal and Inspection group bared that based on documents of the Commission on Audit (COA), Garcia earned P2.6 million, P3.5 million and P5.3 million from 2007 to 2009 but failed to pay the correct taxes amounting to P1.6 million in 2007, P1.982 million in 2008 and P2.7 million in 2009 for an estimated aggregate tax liability of P6.3 million, inclusive of surcharges and interests.

COA records showed Mahusay earned P897,220 for taxable year 2008 and P4.5 million for taxable year 2009. His total tax liability amounts to P2.715 million, inclusive of surcharges and interests.

Sulaik, meantime, earned P3.2 million and P4.5 million in 2008 and 2009 but failed to pay the correct taxes amounting to P4.051 million, inclusive of surcharges and interests.

Sales said the charges against the three were the result of separate investigations by the BIR following the Senate Committee on Finance inquiry on the "excessive salaries and unwarrante bonuses and allowances of GOCC (Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporation) and GFI (Government Financial Institution) executives."

The filing of separate criminal charges against Garcia, Mahusay and Sulaik are the 18th, 19th and 20th, respectively, under the Run After Tax Evaders (RATE) program of the BIR under the Aquino administration.

Tax evasion charges vs toy firm

Meantime, the BIR also filed tax evasion charges at the Department of Justice against a toy company for "willful attempt to evade or defeat payment of taxes and deliberate failure to supply correct and accurate information".

Wanly Toys International Corp. (Wanly Toys) and its responsible corporate officers were found to have deliberately underdeclared its income for taxable year 2008 amounting to a tax liability of P26.398 million, inclusive of increments.

Wanly Toys officers charged before the DOJ include Imee Tan Yao, president; Haide Yao, corporate treasurer; and William Pan, Jr., certified public accountant.

Wanly toys is engaged in trading imported toys and other items on wholesale basis. Its offices are located at Elcano St., Tondo, Manila.

BIR Deputy Commissioner Estela Sales of the Legal and Inspection Group bared that data obtained by the bureau's Reconciliation of Listings for Enforcement (RELIEF) System show that Wanly Toys made total sales amounting to P107.3 million in the year in question but underdeclared its income by P81.7 million or by 76.34%.

Under the Tax Reform Act of 1997, an underdeclaration of more than 30% is considered as "substantial underdeclaration" and constitutes prima facie evidence for a false or fraudulent return.

The case against Wanly Toys and its responsible officers is the 21st filed under the Run After Tax Evaders (RATE) program of the BIR under the Aquino administration.

PNoy swears in envoys to Japan, Holy See, ASEAN

MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday inducted Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manuel "Manolo" Lopez and 10 other new government officials during ceremonies held at Malacañang’s Premier Guest House.

Aside from Lopez, the other officials who were sworn in by the President were:

  • Mercedes Tuason, ambassador to the Holy See;
  • Wilfrido Villacorta, permanent Representative of Philippines to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia;
  • Imelda Nicolas, chairperson of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas;
  • Edgar Galavante, acting executive director of the Dangerous Drugs Board;
  • Felix William Fuentebella, commissioner of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board;
  • Nariman Ambolodto, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government;
  • Herminio Alcasid, member and chairman of the board of directors of the Philippine National Oil Company– Development and Management Corporation.

Alcasid is the father of singer-composer, actor, and TV host Ogie Alcasid.

Three officials of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process also took their oath before Aquino.

They are:

  • Zenaida Brigida Hamada-Pawid, commissioner (representing Island Groups and the rest of the Visayas region);
  • Dionesia Banua, commissioner (representing Island Groups and the rest of the Visayas region); and,
  • Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, executive director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.
The oathtaking was held after the President’s private meeting with Ryoki Sugita, chairman of Japanese publishing giant Nikkei, Inc.

Lacson cannot dictate terms of surrender: De Lima

MANILA, Philippines – Fugitive Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson cannot dictate the conditions of his surrender, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday.

De Lima said Lacson should follow the advice of his lawyer, Alexander Poblador, and follow the legal process “instead of laying down conditions that are not legally feasible at this point.”
Lacson, who has been charged for the murders of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, earlier said that he will continue to remain in hiding until justice is served or, in his own words, “when I’m already dead.”
The Interpol has also placed Lacson, a former director-general of the Philippine National Police, on its "red notice" list of international fugitives.
“Senator Lacson has a standing warrant of arrest and is a fugitive from justice. He knows that his present status does not accord him the privilege of laying down terms with a tenor of finality,” de Lima said.
The senator wants her to ask the courts to reinvestigate his case.
The DOJ chief, however, stressed that her office cannot act on Lacson’s motion for reinvestigation as doing so would violate the law. “The DOJ cannot, at this point, review what is for the courts to decide.”
Lacson, through his lawyer, had filed a second motion for reconsideration before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila in his bid to have his case reinvestigated. He also filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals with regard to the Manila RTC’s denial of his first motion for reconsideration.
“The issue of reinvestigation is now a single incident pending before 2 courts, the RTC and the Court of Appeals. The DOJ is without jurisdiction to preempt the decision of 2 courts of law on this matter,” she explained.
Surrender first

She said that Lacson's statements could be overtures for negotiating terms of his surrender that should not include involving the lifting of his warrant of arrest and the granting of his motion for reinvestigation.

“The issues Lacson has raised as conditions for his surrender, such as the granting of his motion for reinvestigation, should be discussed after his coming back into the fold of the law,” de Lima said. “If the new evidence as presented by Lacson's lawyers is indeed meritorious, at least one of the 2 courts of law which have jurisdiction over the incident will rule in Lacson's favor, and the DOJ will respect that ruling.”
De Lima added that the most that the DOJ can do is to withdraw its opposition to Lacson's motion for reinvestigation. “Lacson's surrender should precede any favorable response that may come from the government. Surrender, under criminal law, is a mitigating circumstance that can be properly appreciated not only by the courts but also by the DOJ.”
She said the government has to enforce the law and implement the arrest warrant against the senator.
“Any government concession will have to depend on Lacson's show of good faith and respect for our laws which apply to everyone, senator and ordinary citizen alike,” she said.
The DOJ chief also allayed Lacson’s concerns regarding his personal safety after he gives himself up.
“Given his stature, Senator Lacson has no reason to fear that he will be treated differently and persecuted by the government. But his refusal to return to the fold of the law and observe the legal processes will only galvanize the government's resolve to take him into custody, not to persecute him, but to enable him both to properly face his accusers, and to defend his innocence in the only venue where it can be sufficiently proven, in a court of law,” de Lima said.
Palace can’t interfere
The Palace echoed de Lima’s stand on the issue.
Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the case, including Lacson’s appeal for reinvestigation, is now in the courts’ hands.
"We welcome the fact that Senator Lacson has broken his silence on the issue," Valte said Thursday. "From what I understand there are already two courts that are hearing this matter. So hindi naman po yung executive ang magde-decide nito. Korte na ang may hawak ng kaso."
She said the senator will be given due process after he surrenders. "The fact remains that we will afford him due process if he decides to submit himself to the justice system."
The Malacañang deputy spokesperson declined to comment on Lacson’s apparent distrust of the Aquino administration. "Hindi ko naman po gusto [lagyan] ng kulay yun mga naging statement po ni Senator Lacson dahil yun po yung kanyang saloobin.”
She also explained that the P2-million peso bounty on Lacson’s head is just a proposal.
Aside from a criminal case, Lacson is also facing an ethics complaint in the Senate.
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption filed the complaint amid Lacson’s perceived failure to perform his government duties since he went into hiding.
His colleague, Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, said the ethics committee has yet to act on the complaint.
“The Senate will still have to approve the rules for the ethics committee. I will assure all sides of fairness and due process,” he said.
“I can’t comment on the merits because I have to hear both sides first and be fair in chairing the committee. Having said that, the [Aquino administration] should assure Sen. Ping of justice, due process and that he will be safe if detained,” Cayetano said.
He also urged Lacson to surrender. “Sen. Ping should surface and realize the DOJ and the courts have to treat him like any other fugitive from justice.”