PHNO HEADLINE NEWS THIS PAST WEEKEND

TYPHOON RUBY VICTIMS STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE

DEC 21 ---PHOTO: A farmer prepares coconuts to be made of copra at a coconut farm just next to the seashore in Hernani town, Eastern Samar. AFP photo  (MANILA TIMES)  Life is a constant throw of the dice for farmer Nilo Dilao and other residents of Samar, the ground zero for many of East Asia’s deadliest storms. Homes, boats, crops, livestock and jobs are all on the line each time the monster winds roar in from the Pacific Ocean, leaving survivors to mourn their dead and pick up the broken pieces, year in and year out. “Life is a struggle here,” Dilao, 43, told Agence France-Presse a few days after Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) destroyed his shanty and killed more than 20 people this month. He likened the plight of local people to those of stray chickens. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO in Tugas, Bantayan: The gift of presence (Gawad Kalinga)

DEC 21 --PHOTO: Gawad Kalinga is present in almost every province in the country, spread in over 2,000 organized communities and affecting 60,000 families. There are 16 Area Coordination Teams that are on ground, going where help is needed the most. The GK model has also been adopted in other developing nations like Cambodia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It is also in the forefront of peace-building work in conflict areas in Mindanao and reconstruction work in post-disaster communities. MANILA, Philippines - This is an edited extract from the book, “The Genius of the Poor,” which recounts the author’s 2013 journey visiting GK communities nationwide. Last year, the venue for my Christmas celebration was a glitzy night club in Metro Manila. This year it was GK (Gawad Kalinga) Tugas Village in Bantayan (Nothern Cebu), and the “discotheque” is a small, wooden gazebo. CONTINUE READING...

ALSO: YEARENDER -- Bilibid: From premier prison to center for illegal drugs, guns

For the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), 2014 was a year of scandal that saw its transformation from premier prison facility to a center of illegal trade in drugs and guns. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has enlisted the help of law enforcement and intelligence agencies – the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) – to neutralize well-entrenched syndicates operating inside the nine-hectare prison facility. For the past years, gang leaders “living like kings” have succeeded in continuing to direct their illegal activities from inside the prison, said De Lima. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: House fails to vote on Noy’s impeachment raps

The moves to impeach President Aquino are still hanging in the air, with the House of Representatives adjourning its session last Wednesday without finally dismissing the three complaints against him. The House failed to vote on the justice committee recommendation to throw out the complaints filed by Aquino’s critics and endorsed by militant party-list representatives belonging to the Makabayan bloc. The same group doggedly tried to remove then President Arroyo through the only legal means to do so by filing annual impeachment cases against her. Arroyo’s allies consistently threw out the complaints. Last Sept. 2, the justice committee, chaired by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who belongs to the ruling Liberal Party, voted overwhelmingly to dismiss the three complaints against Aquino. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO in Tacloban: South Koreans leaving behind grateful nation 

PHOTO: HEAD OF MISSION LEYTE Col. Lee Chulwon, head of the Korean Araw joint contingent,welcomes Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to the Korean Memorial Park at Barangay Candahug in Palo town. DANNY PETILLA --PALO, Leyte—A few days before Christmas last year, Col. Lee Chulwon was preparing for the holidays with his family in his native Seoul. But instead of spending the holidays with his family, Lee, on orders from his government, embarked on South Korea’s largest peacetime humanitarian mission ever: help its close ally the Philippines recover from the destruction brought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) -----Asian laggard  An ardent student of history, Lee is mystified by the Philippines’ falling behind its neighbors. An Asian economic powerhouse in the 1960s next only to Japan, the Philippines has lagged behind other economies in the region (39th in 2013 gross domestic product [GDP], at $272 billion) even with rising economic growth, while South Korea, economically backward in 1962, has vaulted to the top (14th in GDP in 2013 with $1.22 trillion).READ FULL REPORT FROM THE BEGINNING...

ALSO: LRT, MRT fare up on Jan. 4  

Starting January 4, 2015, riders of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1 and 2 and Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT) will have to pay more because the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has finally decided to increase fares for the three rail lines. “It’s a tough decision, but it had to be made. It’s been several years since an increase was proposed. We delayed its implementation one last time until after the Christmas season. While 2015 will see increased fares, it will also see marked improvements in our LRT and MRT services,” DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said on Saturday.
Under the new rates, a base fare of P11 will be implemented. An additional P1 will be charged per kilometer. The increase is in line with the 2011-2016 Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (PDP). The PDP directs the adoption of the “user-pays” principle in the pricing of transportation services. Currently, the government allocates P12 billion a year to subsidize LRT and MRT operations. Under the “user-pays” principle, riders will shoulder more of the cost for their own trips. The fare hike entails a shift from the current zonal fare scheme to a distance-based system, meaning that commuters will be charged based on the distance they travel. ROSALIE PERIABRAS THIS IS THE FULL REPORT FROM THE MANILA TIMES

ALSO: CHED chief faces raps; Licuanan linked to anomalous computer deal

PHOTO: CHEd Chair Patricia Licuanan ---PHILIPPINE Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (Paascu) president Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ filed criminal and administrative complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Dr. Patricia Licuanan and the president of a computer group over an alleged anomalous deal with a private company. The same complaint was lodged against Leo Querubin, president of the Philippine Computer Society (PCS).Fr. Tabora was assisted by Paascu legal counsel Joseph Noel Estrada. The complaint is based on a Memorandum of Agreement dated April 21, 2014, where the commission allocated to the PCS P10 million as mobilization fund for the creation of an accrediting body to be known as the PCS-Information Computing Accreditation Board (PICAB). READ FULL REPORT...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

Typhoon Ruby victims struggle to survive 


A farmer prepares coconuts to be made of copra at a coconut farm just next to the seashore in Hernani town, Eastern Samar. AFP photo

MANILA, DECEMBER 22, 2014 (MANILA TIMES)  Life is a constant throw of the dice for farmer Nilo Dilao and other residents of Samar, the ground zero for many of East Asia’s deadliest storms.

Homes, boats, crops, livestock and jobs are all on the line each time the monster winds roar in from the Pacific Ocean, leaving survivors to mourn their dead and pick up the broken pieces, year in and year out.

“Life is a struggle here,” Dilao, 43, told Agence France-Presse a few days after Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) destroyed his shanty and killed more than 20 people this month.

He likened the plight of local people to those of stray chickens.

“We’re scratching at the soil non-stop in hopes of finding a scrap to eat,” he said.

Ruby came a year after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the strongest ever storm recorded on land, killed 7,350 people on Samar and neighboring islands.

Samar is often the first major Asian landmass hit by the more than 20 tropical storms or typhoons that are born in the Pacific Ocean each year.

With much of the mountainous island stripped by deforestation, most of its 1.8 million residents live on narrow, sea-level strips along the coast, at the mercy of the storms’ ferocious winds and tsunami-like ocean surges.

Living in the town of Taft on Samar’s east coast, the Dilao family survived the storm surges of Yolanda and Ruby by fleeing to a nearby hill, waiting them out under a raggedy tent made of bamboo frames and a tarpaulin sheet.

In nearby San Julian, small-scale farmer Benjie Baldenero was also struggling to cope with having lost his home after Yolanda when it happened again when Ruby battered the region.

The 40-year-old spoke of pledging the next harvest as collateral so he could borrow money to rebuild his grass hut again and replace flooded rice seedlings.

“We have not even repaid last year’s debts and here we are needing to take out more loans,” Baldenero told Agence France-Presse.

Typhoons and guerillas

The vicious cycle ensures Samar and the neighboring island of Leyte are among the poorest regions of the Philippines, accounting for just 2.2 percent of national economic output.

“Bad weather plays a major role in shaping our economy because typhoons destroy practically everything in their path,” Ben Evardone, a congressman and former governor of Eastern Samar province, told Agence France-Presse.

Six in 10 people on Samar’s east coast are poor, according to government data, fuelling a decades-old communist insurgency that has largely petered out across the rest of the Philippines.

Samar is one of only five regions of the country where New People’s Army rebels are still active, Philippine Army spokesman Colonel Noel Detoyato told Agence France-Presse.

“They continue to attract followers due to the poverty,” he said.

Typhoons and guerrillas also mean the island attracts few outside investors, Evardone
said.

There are few jobs available except farming and fishing, which are among those most vulnerable to the extreme weather.

Those in the few other industries also suffer during the storms.

Jaime Caballa, 53, saw his restaurant in the university town of Can-avid ripped apart by Ruby, then ransacked by looters.

With banks unwilling to lend without collateral and his modest savings gutted by Yolanda, the father-of-four now has to deal with loan sharks to finance repairs.

“The restaurant was shuttered for a week after Yolanda. This time, we’ll likely be out of business for months,” he told Agence France-Presse.

The extreme weather leaves the island with coconuts, also the Philippines’ principal export crop, as the main source of income.

Farmers also plant much less valuable sweet potatoes, cassava and taro to supplement their rice-based diet.

But even coconuts are no match for the strongest winds.

Yolanda destroyed most of the island’s coconut industry last year, felling more than 33 million trees across the central Philippines according to official estimates, while Ruby took care of much of what was left.

“It takes seven years for coconut trees to bear fruit. In the meantime, what will our people do? The impact of these typhoons will be felt over a long time,” Evardone said.

Exodus

Many Samar residents leave the island if they can.

Samar and Leyte are well-known sources of unskilled domestic workers and laborers for Manila as well as Cebu City.

Many educated residents also eventually move out, said Cristina Colico, 36, a lawyer and San Julian native who now works at the central bank in Manila.

“Samar residents can endure the storms, that’s not why they leave,” she told AFP.

“They just want to look for better jobs elsewhere.”

But this option is not always open to unskilled workers.

“I wish we could move elsewhere, but in reality we know we have nowhere else to go,” said Dilao the coconut farmer.


FROM PHILSTAR

The gift of presence By Thomas Graham (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 21, 2014 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0


Gawad Kalinga is present in almost every province in the country, spread in over 2,000 organized communities and affecting 60,000 families. There are 16 Area Coordination Teams that are on ground, going where help is needed the most. The GK model has also been adopted in other developing nations like Cambodia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It is also in the forefront of peace-building work in conflict areas in Mindanao and reconstruction work in post-disaster communities.

MANILA, Philippines - This is an edited extract from the book, “The Genius of the Poor,” which recounts the author’s 2013 journey visiting GK communities nationwide.

Last year, the venue for my Christmas celebration was a glitzy night club in Metro Manila.

This year it was GK (Gawad Kalinga) Tugas Village in Bantayan (Nothern Cebu), and the “discotheque” is a small, wooden gazebo.


Tony Meloto ‏@tonymeloto Dec 5:  New homes,new lives for Haiyan survivors at Manny O GKVillage in Tugas, Bantayan. Hope turns tragedy into opportunity.

There was no booming sound system – instead, we relied on our own voices, or on the music provided by one man’s basic Nokia mobile phone.

The lighting, meanwhile, consisted of a single torch, its fading brightness being the only thing that saved this community from complete darkness.

Tugas Village has, after all, been without power since Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) made its devastating impact here almost two months ago.

One could hardly imagine a more ill-equipped party and yet, as I danced and sang alongside some two dozen community members, I must confess to having the time of my life.

I arrived a few hours earlier amid some confusion. After a treacherous motorbike ride across an unlit dirt track, my arrival at the village induced a mild state of panic among my hosts who rarely (if ever) receive foreign visitors in this far-flung corner of the island. Indeed, owing to a logistical mix-up, no one at the village was expecting me at all.

“We hadn’t intended to celebrate much this year – not even a Christmas dinner – so we don’t have much to offer you,” Jose, the community president, told me apologetically.

“Nasaan ang pamilya mo? (Where is your family?)” one of the mabuhay ladies asked me, looking concerned.

The thought that I might be feeling alone this Christmas seemed to galvanize the entire community into action, and they immediately began making preparations for an impromptu dinner.

Before I even had a moment to urge upon my guests that they needn’t make any special plans, one of the residents, a local fisherman, was already presenting a couple of squid he had caught earlier that day while another resident lit a fire.

As the village suddenly morphed into a hive of activity, I was drawn, almost magnetically, towards a group of excited children who had gathered expectantly around the motorbike. “Bilisan mo! Halika na! (Hurry up! Come with me!),” they urged me, as a boisterous tug-of-war broke out amongst those most eager to drag me off to the wooden gazebo where they usually played.

Given the time of year, I had stopped off in town on the way to buy a few simple presents for the children of Tugas Village. My instinct, upon arriving at our play area, was to hand these out first, as I wasn’t quite sure how else I might pass the time with such a large group of young children who barely spoke a word of English.

The gifts were warmly received since, from what I could tell, they were the only presents the children would receive this Christmas.

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that their reaction to receiving material gifts did not match the sheer enthusiasm and energy they showed for my simply being there.

In stark contrast to the western culture that has shaped me, this community seems to have retained the gift of exulting in the sheer simplicity of a shared humanity.


Housing Project of Municipality of Hernani located at Brgy San Miguel(Pinasuan area)-A joint project of Gawad Kalinga and Municipality of Hernani...donor of units are Mr. Boy Abunda & MS. Kris Aquino

Resilience in adversity

With bedtime approaching for the children, Alfie, a young man roughly my age, took the torch to show me around their village. 2013 has been a tough year for them. The houses they had built with their own sweat only a few years earlier took the full force of Typhoon Haiyan, with only two out of 16 now having a roof, while another four were destroyed entirely.

Their vegetable patch, from which they grew different crops to feed themselves and to sell at the local market, was destroyed, whilst access to running water or electricity had still not been restored.

Alfie’s home is one of those seriously damaged that it is temporarily uninhabitable, so he led me inside the house he shared with another family. “We are so blessed that our neighbors have taken us in. We built these homes together – and now we support each other through the tough times,” he told me, sitting on the bed he, his wife and three children currently shared. Another entire family apparently slept on the bed opposite.

To any outsider, 2013 would be regarded as having dealt a major blow to their dreams, and yet the way Alfie sees the brighter positives in disaster seems to sum up the distinctly Filipino way of dealing with such setbacks.

Staring at the gaping hole in the roof above, he went on: “My wife and I stay awake at night watching the stars. To think that we had never noticed them before – it’s actually quite romantic!” And with that he threw a suggestive wink at his wife, who recoiled in embarrassment.

Re-joining the party that was now in full swing, I began eating and drinking, dancing, singing and chatting with Alfie and other members of the community as if they were life-long friends.

Becoming family

As midnight approached, Jose, the village president, showed me to his house. “You are always welcome at number two Tugas Village, because you are already like family to us,” he told me, as he bid good night.

That evening, I lay awake for several hours, struggling to get comfortable on the single sheet of hardwood which constituted my bed. Growing increasingly restless at my inability to fall asleep, I eventually got up and made a visit to the bathroom, located at the back of the house.

On my way, I noticed that Jose’s wife was sleeping on a plank of wood even narrower than mine – and that she was sharing this space with their three children. Going further, I stumbled across Jose lying on a simple bench in the shed outside. My own self-pity was immediately offset by the realization that I probably had the best ‘bed’ in the entire village. Not only I was sleeping in one of only two houses which still had roofs, but Jose and his wife had given me the marital bed.

As I lay my head on the wooden plank once more, sleep remained beyond me, although this time my thoughts were filled not with self-pity but with humble gratitude.

Separated from my nearest and dearest by thousands of miles, I arrived unannounced at a community I had never met before and knew virtually nothing about. The mabuhay ladies were right: perhaps for the first time during my journey, I was the one who felt vulnerable and alone.

Now, a few hours later, I was reflecting upon one of the most memorable and meaningful Christmases of my life – because this community had loved and cared for me in a way I scarcely feel I deserve.

I paused to reflect how I might react if a young man, unknown to me, were to appear suddenly on my doorstep claiming he had nowhere to spend Christmas and no one to spend it with. Would I welcome him into my home, ask him to join me at the dinner table and offer him my bed while I sleep on the couch?

The society I come from would surely find various perfectly justifiable “reasons” for not doing so, and yet the wonderful welcome I have been given here reveals my human inadequacies.

This isolated community has somehow put me more in touch with my own humanity, and my earlier sense of loneliness at being separated from my blood family has been replaced by a new sense of belonging to a wider family, which it seems will do anything for me.

I am reminded of something that Dale Lugue, the volunteer I met at the beginning of my journey, said to me in Bagong Silang: “If you make the effort to come alongside the poor, they will never leave you behind.”

Meanwhile, by choosing to spend my Christmas here, I seem to have sent a powerful message to this community that they matter.

Previously intending not to have a Christmas dinner this year, they now talk of having had one of their most enjoyable Christmas celebrations in some time, and the experience seemed to have given them renewed hope for the future.

Even on Christmas Day, it seems that it is our presence, and not our presents, that really count.


Shanties or makeshift houses made of plywood, scrap metal, and cardboard boxes have been replaced with colorful houses that give GK Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat residents protection, safety and hope - See more at: http://www.gk1world.com/journey-out-of-poverty#sthash.Ux5oVGbX.dpuf

Genius redefined

When GK founder Tony Meloto first mentioned the expression “genius of the poor” to me, I felt skeptical. At that time, a patronizing pity for the poor made me see them as principally objects of charity. What they may have to offer me never even occurred to me. After all, I was the one blessed with a world-class education and a wonderful, loving family. What could I possibly learn from the marginalized and lost?

Genius, I have discovered, lies not just in individual brilliance in some area of human activity, but in a supremely positive, humane attitude to life, to its ups and downs, to its unfairness and its opportunities, and above all to other people – family, neighbor or stranger.

In this respect I have glimpsed genius in the impoverished community of Bantayan as well as many other places I have been privileged to visit. And in the process I have been taught, not how to pass an exam or appear intelligent, but simply how to live a more authentic human life.

The author is a British journalist who came to the Philippines on a short-term assignment. He has since stayed over two years in the country, volunteering for GK and other causes. “The Genius of the Poor” is available at Fully Booked and Human Nature stores nationwide.


FROM PHILSTAR

YEARENDER: Bilibid: From premier prison to center for illegal drugs, guns By Perseus Echeminada (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 21, 2014 - 12:00am 0 2 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - For the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), 2014 was a year of scandal that saw its transformation from premier prison facility to a center of illegal trade in drugs and guns.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has enlisted the help of law enforcement and intelligence agencies – the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) – to neutralize well-entrenched syndicates operating inside the nine-hectare prison facility.

For the past years, gang leaders “living like kings” have succeeded in continuing to direct their illegal activities from inside the prison, said De Lima.

Last week, law enforcers raided kubols (shelters) at the NBP, leading to the discovery of high-powered guns, drugs, cash amounting to over P2 million, expensive watches and other smuggled items.

At least 19 convicted drug lords, mostly Chinese and Taiwanese, and crime gang leaders were pulled out from their luxury kubols and confined at the extension detention center of the NBI.

Inmates’ privileges such as visitation and good conduct credits were suspended pending investigation of the contraband found inside their secret rooms.

De Lima has ordered a continued crackdown on high profile prisoners to restore the shattered pillar of the justice system in the country.

“We have begun dismantling the kubols of high-risk inmates,” said Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) director Franklin Bucayu.

The BuCor is the fourth pillar of the criminal justice system, which includes law enforcement, prosecution, correction and community.

It is supposed to protect the public and prevent crimes by providing convicted criminals opportunities for reformation for their eventual return to their respective communities.

When a crime is committed, law enforcement plays its role by arresting the suspected criminal, then prosecution files a criminal complaint, courts hear and decide the case and the Bucor implements “the safekeeping of prisoners” sentenced by courts.

The overcrowded NBP, built for 8,700 inmates but now teeming with 23,000 prisoners mostly serving life sentences in the maximum security compound, has created a four-wall community for high profile convicts like drug lords who have practically ruled the prison facility.

Reports of a shabu laboratory, prostitution and other illegal activities began leaking in media.

An NBP source said at least 80 percent of inmates are convicted of heinous crimes. The premier facility has become a permanent asylum for hundreds of drug lords, gambling lords and local “mafiosi.”

“In the four-wall community, there are those categorized as sexually deranged, mentally unstable, criminally insane, violent types and all considered as pure predators,” a source said.

He said from the leaders of various prison gangs operating within the enclosed the facility, gang leaders, mostly drug lords, rise, imposing control and exercising jurisdiction side by side with institutional workers and security personnel.

Haven for foreign drug lords

The proliferation of the illegal drug trade inside the prison has revived the call for the re-imposition of the death penalty as there is no room for reformation of convicted drug lords, Sen. Vicente Sotto III said.

Sotto said the Philippines has become a playground for foreign drug syndicates because convicted drug lords can still operate right in their cells at the NBP.

Because of the lax prison system and the absence of death sentence, drug lords prefer to operate in the Philippines where they can bribe to get their way even while serving life terms, Sotto noted.

A total of 5,872 smuggled items like drugs, improvised weapons and guns, 14 golf carts, electric bikes and air conditioning units were confiscated when shelters at the NBP were raided last week.

To address congestion at the NBP, administrators allowed the kubols to be built at the maximum security compound where wealthy inmates could stay.

This paved the way for inmates to have secret air-conditioned rooms equipped with Internet connection and other amenities like jacuzzi. Makeshift shabu laboratories were also built inside the kubols.

At present, there are 3,790 shift rooms inside dormitories shared by 14,000 inmates at the maximum security compound.

Prostitution

Prostitution is also a problem at the NBP.

Sex workers have managed to enter the prison in connivance with corrupt jail guards and officials to cater to the needs of rich inmates.

To address the problem, the BuCor has imposed a screening policy on female visitors.

At least 101 women who presented bogus papers to gain access to the facility have been arrested.

BuCor has also cut down the number of volunteer groups to prevent the entry of contraband through non-legitimate visitors.

As of Sept. 16, 175 groups were prevented from entering the facility after they were found to be fly-by-night organizations.

Restoring the criminal justice system

The full implementation of the BuCor modernization program will pave the way for the restoration of the country’s correction system.

Bucayu said the review of reformation policies and accomplishments of the rehabilitation program is ongoing.

“Transformation of the NBP into a community-oriented environment through quasi-local government structure is being put in place,” he said.

The pangkat or gang type of organization structures are now renamed “barangays.”

And finally, this year saw the approval of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act 10575 or the BuCor Modernization Act, which provides for professionalization of personnel and restructuring of the system.

The plan includes the transfer of the NBP to Laur, Nueva Ecija to decongest the prison.

“With the many changes being implemented right now, we hope to make the NBP a premier prison facility again,” Bucayu said.


FROM PHILSTAR

House fails to vote on Noy’s impeachment raps By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 21, 2014 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - The moves to impeach President Aquino are still hanging in the air, with the House of Representatives adjourning its session last Wednesday without finally dismissing the three complaints against him.

The House failed to vote on the justice committee recommendation to throw out the complaints filed by Aquino’s critics and endorsed by militant party-list representatives belonging to the Makabayan bloc.

The same group doggedly tried to remove then President Arroyo through the only legal means to do so by filing annual impeachment cases against her. Arroyo’s allies consistently threw out the complaints.

Last Sept. 2, the justice committee, chaired by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who belongs to the ruling Liberal Party, voted overwhelmingly to dismiss the three complaints against Aquino.

The President is insulated from any new cases, but he is still theoretically vulnerable to impeachment because the House has not finally killed the three complaints against him.


AQUINO

If all of Aquino’s critics and political enemies could gather the votes of one-third or 97 of the 290 members of the House, they could send the complaints directly to the Senate for trial, as what happened in the case of former chief justice Renato Corona.

“There is absolutely no chance at all that the President could be impeached,” Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said when asked if there is any chance that the necessary vote could be mustered during the month-long Christmas recess of Congress

“At most, the impeachers could gather only 18 votes – those who voted against the 2015 budget proposed by the President,” he said.

He said the House did not purposely call for a vote on the justice committee report “because we were pressed for time to approve the two budget bills – the 2015 budget and the additional outlay for 2014 – and the joint resolution on emergency powers, among other important measures.”

“We gave priority to those measures, especially the budget bills and the joint resolution, which had to be approved before yearend,” he said. “That was how confident we were that the President cannot be impeached while the committee report is awaiting final action,” he stressed.

Gonzales added that the House would finally vote on the justice committee recommendation when Congress resumes its session next month.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite, who is a leader of the National Unity Party, agreed with the majority leader’s assessment.

Still, Barzaga said the pendency of the impeachment cases “is like a Damocles’ sword hanging over P-Noy’s head.”

“If P-Noy were an unpopular President, his critics and political enemies would have an easier time gathering the necessary votes to impeach him,” he said.

He said Aquino’s impeachers would have to reckon with his popular support if they try to gather the votes to send their complaints to the Senate.

“There is also the issue of the President’s successor, in case he is ousted,” he added without elaborating.

Barzaga is obviously referring to Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee for alleged overpricing of at least two Makati buildings when he was mayor and for other corruption allegations.

The three pending impeachment complaints against Aquino are based largely on the Supreme Court (SC) decision declaring at least four practices under the administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program as unconstitutional.

The SC has not resolved a Malacañang motion appealing its ruling.

A fourth complaint anchored on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States was barred, since it was presented after the first three complaints were filed and referred to the justice committee.

Impeachment filers and other militant groups have questioned EDCA’s constitutionality before the SC, which has yet to resolve the issue.

This year is the first time Aquino faced an impeachment proceeding. It is not clear if his critics would resort to an annual serial filing of complaints as they did with Arroyo.


FROM THE INQUIRER

South Koreans leaving behind grateful nation Danny Petilla @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:29 AM | Sunday, December 21st, 2014


THE SUNSHINE TROOPS The 296-strong Korean Araw joint contingent who helped in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of “Yolanda”-ravaged communities in Leyte prepare to go back home after a year of deployment. DANNY PETILLA

PALO, Leyte—A few days before Christmas last year, Col. Lee Chulwon was preparing for the holidays with his family in his native Seoul.

But instead of spending the holidays with his family, Lee, on orders from his government, embarked on South Korea’s largest peacetime humanitarian mission ever: help its close ally the Philippines recover from the destruction brought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan).

Like the good soldier that he is, Lee bid his family goodbye, packed his bags and found himself surveying the near apocalyptic wasteland that was Tacloban City, this town and nearby Tanauan town where more than 7,000 perished during the storm.

As Filipinos faced their bleakest Christmas in years, 540 South Korean troops led by Lee who arrived in two six-month deployments prepared for South Korea’s biggest and longest international campaign that came in the wake of history’s strongest storm ever to hit land.

As the ravages of Yolanda started burning news wires and the Internet around the world, a curious thought crossed Lee’s mind.

Philippine training

“I had a feeling she (South Korean President Park Geun-hye) would send me,” Lee said through an interpreter.

Lee graduated from an officers’ course at the Joint Command and Staffs College in Camp Aguinaldo in 1998, which made him a natural choice for Park for the Philippine mission.


HEAD OF MISSION LEYTE Col. Lee Chulwon, head of the Korean Araw joint contingent,welcomes Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to the Korean Memorial Park at Barangay Candahug in Palo town. DANNY PETILLA

When Lee—a decorated 30-year veteran—landed in this town on Dec. 4 last year to do reconnaissance mapping, he could not believe his eyes.

“It was a war zone like no other,” said Lee, who saw action in two major conflicts: the civil war in East Timor in 2000 and the war in Iraq in 2004.

A Presbyterian Christian, the 52-year-old Lee admitted he prayed for strength and divine guidance after seeing the overwhelming devastation.

“It was not very encouraging to be a Filipino in those days,” he said.

Acting on official request of assistance from the Philippine government, the South Korean joint military contingent known as Araw, a word coined by Lee himself, arrived in Cebu province on Dec. 28. The troops—and tons of heavy equipment aboard two of the Korean Navy’s landing ship tanks—were in Leyte province the next day.

While it was winter in their homeland, the Korean soldiers, mostly in their early 20s, were thrust into Leyte’s humid weather, but made their presence immediately felt by clearing tons of debris to make roads passable again, fumigating dirt-laden communities— and by burying the corpses of more than 1,400 people who died in the storm.

“I can’t say we did the dirty work. But that’s part of the territory,” Lee said.

Precious gift

From Jan. 3 until Nov. 27 this year, the Araw contingent rebuilt 67 buildings, including 37 schools and eight hospitals and four houses of Filipino war veterans who fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.

Their medical mission treated 41,000 patients and their soup kitchens fed 62,000 people.

“What a precious gift their presence here has become to us,” said Korean War veteran Domingo C. Teves Sr., 89. His damaged house in Tacloban City was rebuilt by the Araw forces.

“Where will we be without our Korean friends,” said Erwin Ocana, mayor of Tolosa town where the Koreans rebuilt eight schoolhouses and seven other government facilities.

But like babies demanding to suckle from the same milk bottle, the mayors at one time were clamoring for use of the South Koreans’ heavy equipment.

No stranger to the intractable terrain of local politics and turf wars, Lee met these kinks head on.

Personal account

“We took the bull by the horns with honesty rather than with petty tricks,” Lee wrote in his book “Repaying Sacrifices of Blood with Sweat Drops.”

Published by Tacloban-based printer Tres Marias, the 309-page book is a personal account of Lee’s yearlong experience as head of Araw.

In his book, Lee expressed his frustrations at some of the organizational problems he ran into, like the habitual tardiness of local mayors that often derailed official events.

“I was sad to notice the lack of respect for the concept of time by some leading people of society,” Lee wrote.

Officials at the Korean public affairs office said it was a dig at Palo Mayor Remedios Loreto Petilla, matriarch of the powerful Petilla political dynasty in this province, who makes members of civil organizations, the military and the clergy wait for hours during various public functions.

“We are here investing heavily in your reconstruction, and your mayor (Petilla) forces us to wait for hours, that is not right,” a Korean officer close to Lee said.

In his book, Lee also disclosed how he sent home three young conscripts for getting drunk and ending up in the local massage parlor in Tacloban. The ironic twist is that the Koreans were led by a Filipino soldier.

“It pained me to have to cut short their duties, but I was left with no choice,” Lee wrote.

Asian laggard

An ardent student of history, Lee is mystified by the Philippines’ falling behind its neighbors.

An Asian economic powerhouse in the 1960s next only to Japan, the Philippines has lagged behind other economies in the region (39th in 2013 gross domestic product [GDP], at $272 billion) even with rising economic growth, while South Korea, economically backward in 1962, has vaulted to the top (14th in GDP in 2013 with $1.22 trillion).

Lee said he learned some of the reasons from his assignment here.

“I thought there was some small behavioral aspect that was blocking and obstructing the growth of the Philippines, which has great potential,” Lee said.

But nobody was talking about any negatives during the Araw mission completion ceremony at their camp in Candahug village here on Dec. 12.

“Let it be known that the Filipino people will forever be indebted to you,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.

“Lives were relived and friendships forged by our soldiers of peace here,” said Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Hyuk Lee during the same ceremony where Korea—home to 54,000 Filipino migrant workers—pledged to assist the Philippines even after its troops’ departure.

Heavy equipment donated

During the ceremony, the Korean government turned over P200 million worth of excavators, forklifts, dump trucks, tractors, payloaders and backhoes—the same equipment that its troops used during the typhoon cleanup—to the AFP.

“Technically, only our bodies are departing,” Lee said with a laugh.

“Lee is a good friend, a sincere and passionate leader. I will miss him,” said Mayor Pelagio Tecson Jr., whose town, Tanauan, made Lee an adopted citizen.

But what inspired Lee during his work here was the smiles on children’s faces. Their smiles reminded him of his own children, whom he had not seen for almost a year.

Lee said his absence forced him to miss important events in his three children’s lives, like graduations and the debut of his oldest daughter, Si-ah, 25, a famous actress back in Seoul, as the love interest of South Korean superstar Rain in the TV series “You’re Too Adorable For Me” on Korean Broadcasting System on Dec. 13.

But there were Lee’s other loved ones as well—his wife, Sungsook Jung, 51, daughter Ju-ah, a 24-year-old Christian pastor, and his only son, Janggi, 20, with whom he would love to be reunited now that his deployment was over.

Home for Christmas

Like the rest of his 296 troops who would be leaving the Philippines on Sunday aboard two Korean Air planes bound for their homeland, Lee was eager to be with his family on Christmas Day.

“Christmas with my family? Now, that is a treat I’m looking forward to,” he said.


FROM THE MANILA TIMES

LRT, MRT fare up on Jan. 4 December 20, 2014 6:35 pm

Starting January 4, 2015, riders of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1 and 2 and Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT) will have to pay more because the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has finally decided to increase fares for the three rail lines.

“It’s a tough decision, but it had to be made. It’s been several years since an increase was proposed. We delayed its implementation one last time until after the Christmas season. While 2015 will see increased fares, it will also see marked improvements in our LRT and MRT services,” DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said on Saturday.

Under the new rates, a base fare of P11 will be implemented. An additional P1 will be charged per kilometer.

The increase is in line with the 2011-2016 Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (PDP). The PDP directs the adoption of the “user-pays” principle in the pricing of transportation services. Currently, the government allocates P12 billion a year to subsidize LRT and MRT operations.

Under the “user-pays” principle, riders will shoulder more of the cost for their own trips. The fare hike entails a shift from the current zonal fare scheme to a distance-based system, meaning that commuters will be charged based on the distance they travel. ROSALIE PERIABRAS


FROM THE MANILA TIMES

CHED chief faces raps; Licuanan linked to anomalous computer deal
 
December 20, 2014 11:44 pm by Neil A. Alcober Reporter


CHEd Chair Patricia Licuanan PHOTO FROM HED.GOV.PH

PHILIPPINE Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (Paascu) president Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ filed criminal and administrative complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairperson Dr. Patricia Licuanan and the president of a computer group over an alleged anomalous deal with a private company.

The same complaint was lodged against Leo Querubin, president of the Philippine Computer Society (PCS).

Fr. Tabora was assisted by Paascu legal counsel Joseph Noel Estrada.

The complaint is based on a Memorandum of Agreement dated April 21, 2014, where the commission allocated to the PCS P10 million as mobilization fund for the creation of an accrediting body to be known as the PCS-Information Computing Accreditation Board (PICAB).

Paascu claimed that Licuanan and Querubin violated RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act particularly Sec. 3 (E) and (G). The group said Licuanan did not comply with the procurement law.

It also claimed that the PCS is not qualified to render the services provided for under the MOA because it is not an accrediting agency.

Tabora accused Licuanan of deliberately ignoring existing accrediting bodies under the Federation of Accrediting Agencies of the Philippines (FAAP) when he entered into the agreement which he said was disadvantageous to the government.

He said Licuanan gave PCS unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference and exceeded her and CHED’s powers when she entered into the questioned MOA.

The Times tried to get a clarification from the CHED but officials said they want to look at the complaint before issuing any statement.

The commission said it will wait for the evaluation of the Ombudsman and answer the allegations.
Last June, militant groups filed a criminal case against Licuanan and CHED other officials for allegedly neglecting to handle students’ complaints on tuition increases.

The complainants, which included the National Union of Students of the Philippines, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Anakbayan national president Vencer Crisostomo, League of Filipino Students and Rise for Education coordinator Vincent Sudaria, accused Licuanan, commissioners Maria Cynthia Rose Bautista, Minella Alarcon, Alex Brillantes Jr., and Ruperto Sanggalang, Executive Director Julito Vitriolo, CHED NCR Regional Director Leonida Calagui, and former CHED NCR Regional Director Catherine Castañeda of “gross inexcusable incompetence, inefficiency, and negligence” for their failure to act on students’ complaints on time.

“More than two months after the complaints have been filed, CHED has not released a final decision on any of the pending petitions, thus violating its own rules on tuition increases while also committing gross incompetence, gross inefficiency, and gross neglect of duty,” they said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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