THE WORLD IN 2013: 'YOLANDA' ONE OF TOP STORIES

The strongest storm to ever make landfall, the Boston Marathon bombing and the dramatic papal changeover at the Vatican were among the top news stories of 2013, according to the Associated Press’ annual poll of editors and news directors. The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII. Photo: Body bags containing the remains of typhoon victims are pictured on the premises of a health center in San Isidro, Tacloban, Leyte.

ALSO: Still jolly X’mas for most Pinoys -SWS

The SWS said its nationwide survey, conducted Dec. 11-16, found that 62 percent of people in the country expect a happy Christmas. This is down slightly from 64 percent in 2012 and 2011. But in the Visayas, the expectation of a happy Christmas declined to a new record-low 57 percent in 2013 as the expectation of a sad Christmas reached record-high 11 percent, the SWS said. “Conversely, the expectation of a sad Christmas in Visayas increased by four points, from seven percent in 2012 to 11 percent in 2013,” the pollster added. The last quarter has been particularly bad for the region in terms on calamities, with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol and Cebu in October and the super typhoon Yolanda that devastated most parts of Eastern Visayas last month. The SWS survey showed expectations for a happy Christmas in Visayas declined by nine points, from 66 percent in 2012 to 57 percent this year. Before the post-Yolanda survey, the lowest recorded expectation of a happy Christmas in the Visayas region was in 2006 at 60 percent.

ALSO: Peace on earth — Pope; Pontiff prays for Yolanda victims
POPE Francis called for peace in several hot spots all over the world even as he prayed for typhoon victims in the Philippines during his Christmas message “to the city and the world (Urbi et Orbi)” on Wednesday. The pope called for humanitarian aid access in Syria and “social harmony” in South Sudan on his first Christmas in the Vatican after months of shaking up the papacy with his humble style and common touch. Francis also pleaded for divine aid to rescue child soldiers “robbed of their childhood” and for peace in the conflict-torn Central African Republic which he said was “often forgotten and overlooked”. In a wide-ranging address known as the “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and to the World) blessing that touched on many conflicts, the Argentine pope invited non-believers to join in a “desire” for peace in the world.

ALSO: Get e-passport, DFA tells OFWs /Visa-free entry to Myanmar for Filipinos to be effective in January

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has advised Filipino passport holders to start securing the new e-passport as non-machine readable passports will no longer be allowed after Oct. 31, 2015. The Philippine embassy in Riyadh has informed Filipinos in Saudi Arabia that non-machine readable passports will be completely phased out by Nov. 24, 2015 in line with the regulations of the DFA and the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Those who still hold the old passports after October 2015 will likely encounter difficulties at immigration checks when traveling through any port of entry around the world. The embassy said strict rules are in place for an extension of the validity of expiring or expired passports.


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THE WORLD IN 2013: 'YOLANDA' ONE OF TOP STORIES


Body bags containing the remains of typhoon victims are pictured on the premises of a health center in San Isidro, Tacloban, Leyte. More than a thousand bodies are unburied, seven weeks after the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Joining Yolanda as the world’s top news stories in 2013 are (below, from left) the death of South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, the election of Pope Francis and the Boston Marathon bombing. FREEMAN/AP NEW YORK

NEW YORK, DECEMBER 30, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Associated Press - The strongest storm to ever make landfall, the Boston Marathon bombing and the dramatic papal changeover at the Vatican were among the top news stories of 2013, according to the Associated Press’ annual poll of editors and news directors.

The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII.

The following is a list of 2013’s top stories.

Philippine typhoon: The toll wreaked by Super Typhoon Yolanda aka Haiyan was stunning in its scope after it struck Nov. 8. More than 6,000 people died; hundreds remain missing. The typhoon damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 16 million people, with rebuilding expected to take years.

Marathon bombing: In seconds, celebration transformed into carnage, as two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured. Authorities soon identified two suspects - Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who died in a shootout with police, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 20, who faces multiple charges.

Vatican changeover: Pope Benedict XVI stunned Catholics around the world with his announcement in February that he would resign. The cardinal elected to succeed him, soon known as Pope Francis of Argentina, proceeded to captivate Catholics and non-Catholics alike with a tone of openness, modesty, and tolerance.

Nelson Mandela: With the South African leader’s death at 95, his compatriots, world leaders, and countless other admirers mourned the loss of a one-of-a-kind hero.

Divided Congress: Polls showed Congress with historically low ratings, and the key reason was partisan conflict. Among the consequences were the automatic spending curbs known as sequestration and October’s government shutdown.

Health-care overhaul: The White House had hoped the Oct. 1 launch of open enrollment would be a showcase. Instead, the website became a symbol of dysfunction. The site improved, but a wave of cancellation notices from insurers undercut Obama’s oft-repeated pledge that people who liked their existing coverage could keep it.

Syria: The death toll rose past 120,000 as Syria’s nearly three-year-old civil warfare raged on with no signs of resolution.

NSA spying: The ripples continue months after the world learned of Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst who leaked troves of documents detailing NSA surveillance operations.

Gay marriage: The gay-rights movement won a huge victory in June with two Supreme Court decisions. One cleared the way for ending a ban on same-sex marriages in California. The other struck a 1996 law passed by Congress that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Other states soon followed.

Missing women found: A call for help came May 6, and the revelations that followed were grim. A former bus driver, Ariel Castro, had abducted three females from the streets of Cleveland from 2002 to 2004 when they were 14, 16, and 20. He kept them chained and raped and assaulted them until their escape. He pleaded guilty to multiple charges, and in September, faced with life in prison, hanged himself in his cell.

FROM MANILA STANDARD

Still jolly X’mas for most Pinoys By Joyce Pangco Panares | Dec. 25, 2013 at 12:01am


PHOTO & CAPTION FROM StraitsTimes.com: Filipino Catholics raise their arms during prayers as they attend the first dawn Mass inside a church at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. Christmas has always been a lavish affair in the Philippines. This season, however, celebrations in Metro Manila have been muted, as those who have so much give to those Typhoon Haiyan left with nearly nothing. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

This, despite calamities, according to SWS survey

MOST Filipinos still expect a merry Christmas this year although many people in the Visayas expect the holiday to be bleak, according to the latest poll of the Social Weather Stations.

The SWS said its nationwide survey, conducted Dec. 11-16, found that 62 percent of people in the country expect a happy Christmas. This is down slightly from 64 percent in 2012 and 2011.

But in the Visayas, the expectation of a happy Christmas declined to a new record-low 57 percent in 2013 as the expectation of a sad Christmas reached record-high 11 percent, the SWS said.

“Conversely, the expectation of a sad Christmas in Visayas increased by four points, from seven percent in 2012 to 11 percent in 2013,” the pollster added.

The last quarter has been particularly bad for the region in terms on calamities, with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol and Cebu in October and the super typhoon Yolanda that devastated most parts of Eastern Visayas last month.

The SWS survey showed expectations for a happy Christmas in Visayas declined by nine points, from 66 percent in 2012 to 57 percent this year.

Before the post-Yolanda survey, the lowest recorded expectation of a happy Christmas in the Visayas region was in 2006 at 60 percent.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma, for his part, said the Palace still takes heart over the nationwide results of the survey, which showed that 62 percent of Filipinos remain optimistic of having a merry Christmas this year.

“Despite the slight decline, we are gratified to know that nearly two out of three Filipinos expect to have a happy Christmas,” Coloma said.

“Lower figure in the Visayas may be due to the series of calamities that affected nearly all the Visayan provinces,” the Palace official added.

At least nine percent of Filipinos expect a sad Christmas, while 28 percent said the holidays will be neither happy nor sad.

Across the country, Mindanaoans are the most optimistic of having a happy Christmas at 77 percent, compared to 61 percent in Balance Luzon, 57 percent in Visayas and 47 percent in the National Capital Region.

Metro Manila had its second lowest percentage of people expecting a happy Christmas, following the 45 percent record-low posted in 2006.

The survey was taken from Dec. 11-16 using face-to-face interviews among 1,550 adults.

It had sampling error margins of ±3% for national percentages, ±4% for Visayas, and ±6% for Metro Manila, Balance Luzon and Mindanao.

Christmas this year comes as conflicts and natural disasters have stricken Christians worldwide, from the historic Syrian town of Maalula where residents still speak Jesus’ ancient Aramaic, to typhoon-hit Tacloban City in the Philippines.

In Bethlehem. thousands of worshipers and tourists from around the world flocked Tuesday to Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, as the Middle East reels from conflicts and Pope Francis celebrates his first Christmas mass.

Jerusalem’s Latin patriarch will lead a procession to Bethlehem and celebrate midnight mass in the holy city attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and other dignitaries.

In a Christmas message last week, Fuad Twal, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, spoke of the sufferings of the Palestinian people and the vicious conflict that has rocked Syria for 33 months.

Twal, the top Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year hiatus were being hampered by Israeli settlement construction.

“As long as this problem is not resolved, the people of our region will suffer,” said Twal, adding the Israel-Palestinian conflict was “a major obstacle” to Middle East stability.

The patriarch also called for a ceasefire in Syria, where bloody fighting between regime forces and rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad has killed an estimated 126,000 people since March 2011.

“As the Syrian problem cannot be resolved by the force of arms,” he said.

“We call on all political leaders to assume the responsibility for finding a mutually acceptable political solution that will end the senseless violence and uphold respect for the dignity of people.”

For Maalula residents it will be a grim Christmas as hundreds of Christians have fled a rebel assault on their ancient hamlet and have taken shelter in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly prayed for an end to the Syrian conflict and spoken against international armed intervention since his election in March, plans to make his first visit to the Holy Land in May next year.

The Argentine pope will first visit Jordan, then Israel and the Palestinian territories and is expected to celebrate high mass in Bethlehem. The Vatican is expected to officially announce the visit after Christmas.

“We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” he said, calling for “the universal right to lead a dignified life and freely practise one’s own faith to be respected”.

Eastern Christians number between an estimated 10 and 13 million, with minorities living in Muslim-majority Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, as well as Israel. With AFP

FROM MANILA STANDARD

Peace on earth — Pope By AFP | Dec. 26, 2013 at 12:01am

Pontiff also prays for victims of Yolanda


Urbi et Orbi. Pope Francis delivers his traditional Christmas blessing from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Christmas Day. Inset shows the pope kissing the unveiled statue of baby Jesus during his Christmas Eve Mass the day before to mark the birth of Jesus. AFP

POPE Francis called for peace in several hot spots all over the world even as he prayed for typhoon victims in the Philippines during his Christmas message “to the city and the world (Urbi et Orbi)” on Wednesday.

The pope called for humanitarian aid access in Syria and “social harmony” in South Sudan on his first Christmas in the Vatican after months of shaking up the papacy with his humble style and common touch.

Francis also pleaded for divine aid to rescue child soldiers “robbed of their childhood” and for peace in the conflict-torn Central African Republic which he said was “often forgotten and overlooked”.

In a wide-ranging address known as the “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and to the World) blessing that touched on many conflicts, the Argentine pope invited non-believers to join in a “desire” for peace in the world.

“Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance,” the 77-year-old pope told a crowd of tens of thousands of faithful in St Peter’s Square.

“Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid,” he said.

The conflict in Syria is estimated to have killed more than 126,000 people since it first started out as peaceful anti-regime protests 2011 and the violence there has unsettled the Middle East as a whole.

A grim reminder of the tensions ravaging the region came on Wednesday when a car bomb outside a Baghdad church after a Christmas service left at least 14 people dead—the latest in a string of daily attacks.

“Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq,” the pope said in his prayer.

Fighting between army and rebel forces also raged in South Sudan, where thousands are believed to have been killed over the past week as the UN moves to boost its peacekeeping force to stave off a full civil war.

The first Latin American pope asked for “social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state”.

The Argentinian also said Central Africa was being “torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty”, called for immigrants to be given “acceptance and assistance”, urged an end to the scourge of human trafficking and prayed for typhoon victims in the Philippines.

The November typhoon left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing in the Philippines but survivors defiantly celebrated Christmas in their ruined communities, roasting hogs and filling churches to overflowing.

Francis has been riding a wave of popularity following his momentous election as leader of the world’s Catholics in March and was “Person of the Year” by Time magazine and the US gay rights publication The Advocate due to his now-famous remark on gay people: “Who am I to judge?”

In his first Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican, the pontiff highlighted the role played by shepherds in the Nativity, returning to the theme of humility that has been the hallmark of his papacy.

Shepherds were the first to witness the birth of Jesus “because they were among the last, the outcast,” he said.

The pope also called on Catholic believers to open their hearts and struggle against the “spirit of darkness.”

“If our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us,” Francis said at the service in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the place where Christians believe Jesus was born, Jerusalem’s Latin patriarch Fuad Twal celebrated a Christmas midnight mass attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In his homily, Twal called for a “just and equitable solution” to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Amid a rise in anti-Christian attacks he also said “the answer lies neither in emigration nor in closing in on ourselves.

“It consists in staying here,” he said.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists made their way past Israel’s controversial separation wall to reach the Palestinian hilltop town, where snow remains on the ground from a rare winter blizzard this month.

A giant Santa was set up in Manger Square, outside the centuries-old Church of the Nativity, where a candle-lit grotto marks the spot where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Visa-free entry to Myanmar for Filipinos to be effective in January By Xinhua (philstar.com) | Updated December 27, 2013 - 7:37pm

MANILA, Philippines -- Filipinos can visit Myanmar without a visa starting early next year when the agreement between the Philippines and Myanmar on visa-free entry takes effect, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.

With the pact, Filipino nationals holding ordinary passports may now enter Myanmar without a visa and stay there for up to 14 days beginning Jan. 4 next year, the department said.

"The visa-free entry agreement is expected to boost tourism, trade and investment between the Philippines and Myanmar," it said.

During Myanmar President U Thein Sein's state visit to the Philippines last Dec. 5, the two governments signed the Visa Exemption for Holders of Ordinary Passports.

The Philippines has already granted Myanmar nationals a 30-day visa-free privilege under the Executive Order 408, which was signed in 1960.

Get e-passport, DFA tells OFWs By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 29, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has advised Filipino passport holders to start securing the new e-passport as non-machine readable passports will no longer be allowed after Oct. 31, 2015.

The Philippine embassy in Riyadh has informed Filipinos in Saudi Arabia that non-machine readable passports will be completely phased out by Nov. 24, 2015 in line with the regulations of the DFA and the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The DFA said that Filipinos holding machine readable-ready passports (green) and machine readable passports (maroon) would no longer be allowed to extend validity of these passports after Oct. 31, 2014.

Those who still hold the old passports after October 2015 will likely encounter difficulties at immigration checks when traveling through any port of entry around the world.

The embassy said strict rules are in place for an extension of the validity of expiring or expired passports.

Passports that are valid for less than six months or those that have already expired may be extended once only in the following instances:

-Death in the family requiring the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) and members of his or her dependent family to urgently travel to the Philippines;

-medical emergencies requiring the OFW and members of his or her dependent family to urgently travel to the Philippines or another country for medical treatment;

-OFWs returning to their employers abroad with valid employment contracts processed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and those going home on final exit visas.

“In these instances, proof of urgency such as a copy of the death certificate, medical certificate, valid employment contracts processed by the POEA or any of the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices in Saudi Arabia, along with plane tickets with confirmed flight details shall be presented,” the embassy said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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