PHNO HEADLINE NEWS EARLY THIS PAST WEEKEND

POPE BLASTS VATICAN 'ILLS OF THE CURIA'
‘Backstabbing by cowards who don’t have the courage to say things openly is tantamount to murder in cold blood’ 

DEC 24 ---Vatican City – Pope Francis lambasted the Vatican’s bureaucracy on Monday, saying some within the Church lusted for power and suffered from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” in comments likely to outrage his adversaries. In a blistering indictment of the Vatican bureaucracy, Pope Francis accused the cardinals, bishops, and priests who serve him of using their Vatican careers to grab power and wealth, of living “hypocritical” double lives and forgetting that they’re supposed to be joyful men of God. The Argentine used a Christmas speech to cardinals, bishops, and priests to list a catalogue of ailments plaguing the very top of the Church. To the Catholic Church’s “seven deadly sins,” Pope Francis has added the “15 ailments of the Curia.”  READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Palace declares January 15, 16, 19 special non-working days 

Malacañang has declared January 15, 16 and 19, 2015, the days when Pope Francis will embark on a four- day pastoral visit to the Philippines as special non-working days in the National Capital Region (NCR). The proclamation (No. 936) was signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. Francis will be the third pontiff to visit the country after Pope Paul VI in 1970 and Pope John Paul II in 1981 and 1995. He is expected to arrive at Villamor Air Base before dusk on January 15 where he will be met by President Aquino being the head of the Vatican state and church leaders being the head of the one billion Catholics worldwide and the Bishop of Rome. BLIND LECTOR When he concelebrates the Mass at the Quirino Grandstand on January 18, persons with disabilities (PWDs) will have the privilege to sit near Pope Francis knowing the Pontiff’s compassion for the marginalized. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Christmas: It’s really more fun in the Philippines

Puto bumbong and bibingka sellers dot the streets as early as September. EY ACASIO

Even with all the modern conveniences and latest technological advances available today, tradition still plays a large role in Philippine popular culture. Aside from the everyday values being practiced in the regular Filipino household, these traditions are even more evident when it comes to special events such as the Holy Week and the Yuletide season. Western concepts such as gift-giving and Santa Claus have been incorporated into the festivities, but these are modified and given a Filipino twist to help make this season truly extraordinary. Filipinos abroad lament the lack of Christmas spirit in their current locations. This springs from the fact that while most other nationalities pause from their busy lives for their eggnogs and whatnot usually only on the day itself, the season in the Philippines officially starts as soon as the –ber months arrive. As early as September, carols start playing on the radio and through mall loudspeakers to remind everyone that Christmas is set to roll around again. There is much to be excited about, as Christmas is indeed more fun in the Philippines. Here are some of the lovely practices handed down through generations that are alive and well in this wonderful country. READ MORE...

ALSO: Pope urges ‘tenderness’ as millions fete Christmas

VATICAN CITY, Holy See — The pope led Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican on Wednesday calling for “tenderness” and “warmth” after a violence-plagued year as millions of Christians began marking the holiday. The Argentine pontiff’s brief homily was replete with Gospel references in his Christmas Eve mass, broadcast live in 3D for the first time. “Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us?” Pope Francis asked in Saint Peter’s Basilica, filled with some 5,000 worshippers. “Or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!” he said. The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics also called on “the arrogant, the proud… (and) those closed off to others” to meet life “with goodness, with meekness.”  READ FULL REPORT FROM THE INQUIRER

ALSO: Pope celebrates Christmas Eve Mass, calls Iraqi refugees

DEC 25 --PHOTO: Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. Pope Francis is celebrating Christmas Eve with a late-night Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and a phone call to some Iraqi refugees forced to flee their homes by Muslim militants. Francis told refugees at the tent camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Irbil in northern Iraq, that they were like Jesus, forced to flee because there was no place for them. For Christians, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem barn manger, chosen because there was no room for his parents at an inn. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)  VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve with a late-night Mass yesterday in St. Peter's Basilica and a phone call to some Iraqi refugees forced to flee their homes by Muslim militants. READ FULL REPORT FROM PHILSTAR...

ALSO: Stable prices, sufficient supply of goods assured for holidays

PHOTO: Roast pigs, considered to be the star of the Filipino noche buena, are sold in La Loma, Quezon City yesterday. BOY SANTOS MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) yesterday assured the public of stable prices and sufficient supply of basic goods and items for the traditional noche buena in supermarkets for the holiday season. In a statement, Trade Undersecretary Victorio Mario Dimagiba said results of the price monitoring activity conducted by the department showed that most stores are compliant with the Suggested Retail Prices (SRPs) set for basic and prime goods as well as Noche Buena products. Supply of goods in the market is also abundant despite the threat of tight supply due to port congestion. “With the positive results of our price monitoring, consumers are appeased that they will not encounter any problem with their grocery shopping for the holidays,” Dimagiba said. In preparation for the holiday season, the DTI intensified its monitoring efforts beginning October. Out of the 124 supermarkets and groceries located in Metro Manila monitored by the DTI, 98 establishments were found compliant with the SRPs, while 26 were issued with show cause orders for selling goods at higher prices. READ FULL REPORT...

(ALSO) Yearender: House produces ‘harvest of responsive legislation’

MANILA, Philippines - Socio-economic and fiscal reform bills as well as other legislation to help communities devastated by calamities were the main focus this year of the House of Representatives, which also managed to act swiftly on measures pushed by Malacañang at the last minute. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. at the start of the year dismissed the various political disturbances in the House, including attempts to impeach Supreme Court justices, saying lawmakers “must focus on the many concerns confronting our people.” In his address to the chamber as Congress adjourned for the Christmas break, Belmonte thanked his colleagues for their cooperation and hard work that he said resulted in a “harvest of meaningful and responsive legislation,” bannered by the ratification of the proposed 2015 P2.6-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) and the P22.4-billion supplemental budget. READ FULL REPORT...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

Pope blasts Vatican’s ills
Backstabbing by cowards who don’t have the courage to say things openly is tantamount to murder in cold blood’

VATICAN CITY, DECEMBER 29, 2014 (MANILA BULLETIN) by AFP and AP December 24, 2014 (updated) Share this:

Vatican City – Pope Francis lambasted the Vatican’s bureaucracy on Monday, saying some within the Church lusted for power and suffered from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” in comments likely to outrage his adversaries.

In a blistering indictment of the Vatican bureaucracy, Pope Francis accused the cardinals, bishops, and priests who serve him of using their Vatican careers to grab power and wealth, of living “hypocritical” double lives and forgetting that they’re supposed to be joyful men of God.

The Argentine used a Christmas speech to cardinals, bishops, and priests to list a catalogue of ailments plaguing the very top of the Church.

To the Catholic Church’s “seven deadly sins,” Pope Francis has added the “15 ailments of the Curia.”

Francis turned the traditional, genteel exchange of Christmas greetings into a public dressing down of the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See which governs the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. He made clear that his plans for a radical reform of the structures of church power must be accompanied by an even more radical spiritual reform of the men involved.

Ticking off 15 “ailments of the Curia” one by one, Francis urged the prelates sitting stone-faced before him in the marbled Sala Clementina to use the Christmas season to repent and atone and make the church a healthier, holier place in 2015.

Vatican watchers said they had never heard such a powerful, violent speech from a pope and suggested that it was informed by the results of a secret investigation ordered up by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in the aftermath of the 2012 leaks of his papers.

Benedict tasked three trusted cardinals to probe deep into the Vatican’s back-stabbing culture to root out what would have prompted a papal butler to steal incriminating documents and leak them to a journalist. Their report is known only to the two popes.

Pope Francis said the Vatican was riven with “existential schizophrenia,” “social exhibitionism,” “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” and a lust for power, all of which made for an “orchestra that plays out of tune.”

The outspoken pope also warned against greed, egoism, and people who think they are “immortal.”

It is not the first time the 78-year-old has taken on the scandal-hit, intrigue-filled Curia, and called for them to renounce gossip and act responsibly.

But rarely has he used such vivid terms to describe the sins he says afflict the heart of the Italian-dominated body, and the speech was very stonily received.

He slammed those who are slave to their “passions, caprices, and manias” as well as those who “possess a heart of stone and a stiff neck.”

He bemoaned the “scandal” caused by infighting and those who live a “double life” – their public one and a “hidden and often immoral” one.

He pitied those who, ridden with jealousy, “feel joy in seeing others fall down” and urged top officials to help him find a “cure.”

The pope advised red-hatted cardinals full of their own self-importance to “pay a visit to the cemeteries” to look at those “who thought they were immortal, immune, and indispensable!”

“The Curia is called on to always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness, and knowledge to fulfill its mission,” Francis said. “But even it, as any human body, can suffer from ailments, dysfunctions, illnesses.”

‘COLD-BLOODED MURDER’

Francis, who is the first Latin American pope and never worked in the Italian-dominated Curia before he was elected, has not shied from complaining about the gossiping, careerism, and bureaucratic power intrigues that afflict the Holy See.

And with relish, he returned to one of his favorite themes: the evils of gossip.

Backstabbing by “cowards who don’t have the courage to say things openly” is tantamount to “murder in cold blood,” he said.

The diatribe will doubtless fuel the opposition to the reform-minded Francis which has been growing within the Church, according to Vatican watchers.

But religious expert Gianni Valente told La Stampa’s Vatican Insider that he would also be applauded for “calling the diseases which plague his surroundings by their names.”

The Rev. Robert Wister, a church historian at Seton Hall University, said Francis was essentially asking the Curia to undergo an examination of conscience, asking them to reflect on how they had sinned before God before going to confession.

“Perhaps he believes that only a severe rebuke can help turn things around,” he said.

CARDINALS NOT AMUSED

The cardinals were not amused. Few smiled as Francis spoke, and at the end they offered only tepid applause to a speech that was so carefully prepared it had footnotes and Bibilical references. Francis greeted each one, but there was little Christmas cheer in the room.

It is, to be fair, a difficult time for the Curia. Francis and his nine key cardinal advisers are drawing up plans to revamp the whole bureaucratic structure, merging offices to make them more efficient and responsive.

Francis has said though that while this structural reform is moving ahead, what is taking much longer is the “spiritual reform” of the people involved.

The Vatican’s finances are also in the midst of an overhaul, with Francis’ finance czar, Cardinal George Pell, imposing new accounting and budget measures on traditionally independent congregations not used to having their books inspected.

Francis started off his list with the “ailment of feeling immortal, immune, or even indispensable.”

Then one by one he went on: Being rivals and boasting. Wanting to accumulate things. Having a “hardened heart.” Wooing superiors for personal gain. Having a “funereal face” and being too “rigid, tough, and arrogant,” especially toward underlings – a possible reference to the recently relieved Swiss Guard commander said to have been too tough on his recruits for Francis’ tastes.

Some critiques could have been seen as worthy of praise: working too hard and planning too much ahead. But even those traits came in for criticism as Francis noted that people who don’t take time off to be with family are overly stressed, and those who plan everything to a “T’’ don’t allow themselves to be surprised by the “freshness, fantasy and novelty” of the Holy Spirit.


FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

Palace declares January 15, 16, 19 special non-working days by madel Sabater-Namit, Christina I. Hermoso & Leslie Ann G. Aquino December 24, 2014 Share this: It’s official.

Malacañang has declared January 15, 16 and 19, 2015, the days when Pope Francis will embark on a four- day pastoral visit to the Philippines as special non-working days in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The proclamation (No. 936) was signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.

Francis will be the third pontiff to visit the country after Pope Paul VI in 1970 and Pope John Paul II in 1981 and 1995.

He is expected to arrive at Villamor Air Base before dusk on January 15 where he will be met by President Aquino being the head of the Vatican state and church leaders being the head of the one billion Catholics worldwide and the Bishop of Rome.

BLIND LECTOR

When he concelebrates the Mass at the Quirino Grandstand on January 18, persons with disabilities (PWDs) will have the privilege to sit near Pope Francis knowing the Pontiff’s compassion for the marginalized.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) secretary- general Fr. Marvin Mejia said, each of the 86 archdioceses, dioceses, and prelatures of the local Church will be sending five PWDs or representatives from the poor sector and 20 members of the clergy.

At the mass proper, Ma. Divina ‘”Divine” Zambales, who lost her sight to brain tumor when she was 10, will serve as lector and lead the congregation of an estimated crowd of about 6 million in prayer using the braille system.

Divine, 31, cannot contain her excitement. “Not everyone is given this opportunity. I’m very happy and excited for this blessing. That even if I have a disability, I am given this rare opportunity,” she told Manila Bulletin.

Divine has been chosen by the officials of the papal visit organizing committee and approved by their Vatican counterparts.

Being a lector is not new to Divine. She has served as lector at the Paco Catholic Church in Manila since 1998 using Braille.

Divine said after losing her eyesight, she left everything “up to God on what the future holds for her.” “Who would think that one day, I’ll be able to get close to the Holy Father?” she beamed.

ARTISAN’S GIFT

When the Pontiff leaves Tacloban city on January 17, he will bring home with him not only the warmth of Filipinos, but a piece of the Palo Cathedral.

From the debris of the Palo Cathedral that was damaged by typhoon Yolanda, Sculptor Willy Layug carved an 18-inch image of the Immaculate Concepcion since October. Francis is a Marian devotee.

“The trusses (posts) of the church were destroyed so this yakal was brought to us two weeks ago. So this is very significant because this was carved from the debris of the Yolanda and the Pope will have this,” he said.

An image of the Sto. Nino (child Jesus) carrying a lamb on his shoulder will also be given to the pontiff as gift, Layug revealed.

The two feet Sto. Niño made of Philippine cedar will be presented by Layug and his family to the pontiff during the Mass at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila, on January 18.

“Since the second week of January is the Feast of the Sto. Nino, we requested the Archdiocese of Manila if we could go to Rizal and present this to the pontiff,” said Layug.

Aside from the two gifts, Layug was also commissioned by the Archdioceses of Manila and Palo to do other religious images and liturgical items for the different papal events such as the lifesize image of the crucified Christ and lectern (for the Rizal Park event), and the Marian image (for Leyte).

Both are made from Gemelina tree or paper tree while the almost five feet lectern is made from teak wood.

According to Layug, the 5-foot-9 inches crucified Christ will have a rope binding him to the Cross as in real life crucifixions.

The crucified Christ with His mouth slightly open depicts the pain and agony that Jesus went through in saving mankind.

The lifesize Marian image wearing a Filipina dress, on the other hand, was made to look like a Filipina.

“When they gave this project to me there was no concept yet but we were already discussing it as early as July during the Plenary of the bishops. I was researching and I said why not do an image with a Filipina feature…morena. But the concept was approved only after the papal visit in Korea,” said Layug.

THE MESSAGE OF THE ARTWORK

“So, the concept is a Filipina Marian image with the Mama Mary holding the child Jesus extending help to the child drowning below their,” he added.

The 55-year old Layug said this is symbolic of the Yolanda tragedy.

“It represents the tragedy that took place in Leyte and that with Divine help and the faith of the people they were saved,” Layug explained.

The images are 80 percent done, according to Layug. The Archdiocese of Manila also requested him to do the processional cross for the Luneta event, and two small crucifixes for the Luneta Mass and Manila Cathedral Mass.

“We will also do that but we are targeting to finish everything by the first week of January,” said Layug.

Asked if he is donating the religious images to the church, he said, only the lifesize Marian image in Palo but the rest he will placed in his museum in Pampanga.

“I asked them if I can only lend them (images) because I’m going to bring that to my museum and they agreed,” Layug said.

He said he might just do a replica of the Marian image which he plans to donate to Palo.

“I just don’t know if I’ll be able to do the same thing again,” said Layug.

He, however, appealed to the public to look at what the pieces are trying to say and not so much on the artwork.

“While there is that pressure because the people will look at my work ….but I hope they appreciate more the message and not the artwork,” said Layug.

Incidentally, this is not the first time that Layug worked on something for the church. He made the retablo at the Collegio Filippino in Rome during the canonization of Filipino Saint Pedro Calungsod in 2012.

Layug also did the balddachino (canopy) of the Our Lady of La Naval in Quezon City many years ago.

25,000 SPREAD

The Philippine National Police (PNP) will tap 25,000 of its men to secure Pope Francis when he visits the country next month.

Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, PNP spokesman, said most of their personnel will be involved in securing the vicinity of the areas where the Pontiff is scheduled to visit in Manila and Tacloban.

Top police officials have been preparing for the Pope’s visit since a few months ago, even coordinating with the security of the Vatican to ensure the safety of the well-loved Pontiff.

“There will be ample security in all areas where the Pope would go. There will be specific task groups, specific security personnel and these are all part of the whole government approach,” said Mayor.(With a report from Aaron B. Recuenco)


FROM THE MANILA STANDARD

Christmas: It’s really more fun in the Philippines By Maan D’Asis Pamaran | Dec. 22, 2014 at 06:50pm


Puto bumbong and bibingka sellers dot the streets as early as September. EY ACASIO

Even with all the modern conveniences and latest technological advances available today, tradition still plays a large role in Philippine popular culture. Aside from the everyday values being practiced in the regular Filipino household, these traditions are even more evident when it comes to special events such as the Holy Week and the Yuletide season. Western concepts such as gift-giving and Santa Claus have been incorporated into the festivities, but these are modified and given a Filipino twist to help make this season truly extraordinary.


In many Christian Filipino homes the Belen or nativity scene is

prominently displayed among the usual trimmings. Teddy Pelaez
Filipinos abroad lament the lack of Christmas spirit in their current locations. This springs from the fact that while most other nationalities pause from their busy lives for their eggnogs and whatnot usually only on the day itself, the season in the Philippines officially starts as soon as the –ber months arrive. As early as September, carols start playing on the radio and through mall loudspeakers to remind everyone that Christmas is set to roll around again. There is much to be excited about, as Christmas is indeed more fun in the Philippines. Here are some of the lovely practices handed down through generations that are alive and well in this wonderful country.

1. Hanging a parol (Christmas lantern) on windows and porches. The parol is a star-shaped lantern that symbolizes the bright star that led the Three Kings to the manger where the child Jesus was born. The traditional parol does not stray far from the original design of a five-pointed star constructed out of bamboo strips and colorful papel de japon. A candle or lamp may also be carefully placed inside for illumination. Filipino creativity and the availability of other materials have given the parol other incarnations—ones crafted from Capiz shells and adorned with blinking fairy lights being the most popular among metrophiles. Pampanga is known as a Christmas destination because of its Giant Lantern festival held on the Saturday before Christmas. Huge parol entries from all over the country are paraded down the streets, their cacophony of lights blinking in tune to accompanying brass bands.

2. The Belen. While Santa Claus is a central figure in the Western world’s Christmas decorations, many Christian Filipino homes have a nativity scene prominently displayed among the usual trimmings. Small carved figures, porcelain statuettes, or even those made from recycled materials depicting the Holy Family are good reminders of the Reason for the season.

3. Simbang Gabi. The parol traditionally illuminated barrio folk’s paths as they wended their way through the dark to attend the Simbang Gabi at their local parish. These early morning devotional masses start on December 16 and end on December 24. The readings and gospels are all advent-related, leading to the culmination, which is the birth of Christ. It is said that those who complete the series may request for a special wish or favor from above. During the days of Martial Law, the imposition of a nationwide curfew (which was implemented from 11 p.m to 4 a.m) forced the Catholic Church to make some adjustments so that some services are now held in the early evening.

4. Bibingka, puto bumbong, salabat. After the early morning masses, Filipinos line up outside the church to get their fill of traditional Christmas goodies to warm them up from the chilly December air. Bibingka and puto bumbong are rice-based native cakes cooked using charcoal ovens and served on banana leaves. Salabat is a brewed ginger tea that is perfect for combating the cold.

5. Caroling. There are groups of carolers found in most countries that celebrate Christmas, but none are probably as festive (nor as noisy) as the Filipino children who wander from house to house, from one street to the next, singing popular Christmas songs in exchange for a few coins. Depending on the age and sophistication of the group, they can be accompanied by a guitar, drums and maracas made out of tin cans, or tambourines of pop caps strung on a wire.

6. Monito, monita. This is the Philippine version of Secret Santa, amped up. It is the practice of exchanging gifts among groups of friends, officemates or classmates, for a span of several weeks or days. After names are drawn, participants are given lists of categories the scheduled gifts have to fall into, e.g., Something Sweet may be a candy bar, while Something Long may be a scarf (or most probably something naughty). Aside from the revelation of who the gift-giver is, the thrill is in finding unusual or funny items that fit into each category.

7. Pamamasko. Some Filipinos like to jokingly say that they have developed amnesia or will go into hiding during the holiday season. This is because it is tradition to give out gifts of toys, clothes or money to godchildren on or around Christmas day. These godkids dress up and visit their ninongs or ninangs to receive their treats and to get their blessings. More enterprising tykes simply knock on random doors and shout “Namamasko po!” on Christmas day.

8. Family reunions. Christmas in the Philippines is best celebrated with family. This is the time when reunions and catch-ups among relatives are held, usually over tables groaning with food. The holiday break affords those in the cities the time to go home to their provinces and it is also a time for balikbayans to arrive. This practice is integral to helping forge strong familial bonds and the passing on of traditions and good memories to the next generation.

9. Noche Buena. If there is anything that Filipino celebrations can be known for, it is that any festive occasion is marked with a lot of good food. This rings especially true with the Noche Buena, the time-honored feast held on Christmas Eve. This is the time when mothers serve up the best of the best dishes to their families. While there are several items that are traditionally present at a true-blue holiday feast, such as lechon (roast pig), jamon (ham), and keso de bola (edam cheese), it is also a time for heirloom recipes to be served proudly at the table.

There are more practices unique to different parts of the archipelago, and even others that are unique in each family. What is important is to help keep these traditions alive, to pass it on, as something that the next generation can hold on to and eventually keep alive in their own future families.


FROM THE INQUIRER

Pope urges ‘tenderness’ as millions fete Christmas Agence France-Presse 6:35 AM | Thursday, December 25th, 2014

VATICAN CITY, Holy See — The pope led Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican on Wednesday calling for “tenderness” and “warmth” after a violence-plagued year as millions of Christians began marking the holiday.

The Argentine pontiff’s brief homily was replete with Gospel references in his Christmas Eve mass, broadcast live in 3D for the first time.

“Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us?” Pope Francis asked in Saint Peter’s Basilica, filled with some 5,000 worshippers.

“Or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!” he said.

The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics also called on “the arrogant, the proud… (and) those closed off to others” to meet life “with goodness, with meekness.”

In Bethlehem meanwhile, hectic preparations preceded celebrations on the West Bank town’s biggest night of the year, culminating in midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity built over the spot where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Scouts playing bagpipes and drums marched to the church in a procession led by Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, the top Catholic cleric in the Holy Land.

Outside the church at Manger Square, a man dressed as Santa Claus handed out sweets next to a giant green Christmas tree decorated with red, black and silver baubles — the colors of the Palestinian flag.

But for many faithful across the region, the festivities will be tinged with sadness following a year of bloodshed marked by a surge in the persecution of Christians that has drawn international condemnation.

“For many of you, the music of your Christmas hymns will also be accompanied by tears and sighs,” Pope Francis wrote in a long letter addressed to Christians in the Middle East.

– ‘Brutally driven out’ –

Ahead of the celebrations, the Argentine pontiff voiced concern about the growing persecution of Christians, some of whom he said had been “brutally driven out” of areas where they have lived since New Testament times.

Francis delivered a Christmas message via telephone to refugees displaced to Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.

“Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart,” the pope was quoted as telling the refugees by Italian press agency AGI.

“The children and the elderly are in my heart,” Francis also told the Iraqi refugees in the Ankawa camp.

In Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said about 150,000 Christians had been displaced by an offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State group, which has targeted Christians and other minorities, with dozens leaving Iraq each day.

Iraq’s displaced Christians “still live in a tragic situation and there are no quick solutions for them,” Sako told AFP, saying that particularly this Christmas, they needed reassurances that they “are not left alone and not forgotten”.

In Syria, Christians in the war-torn city of Homs were enjoying their first Christmas in three years in the Hamidiyeh neighbourhood, with a brightly coloured tree and a manger made from rubble set up in the middle of the ruins.

“Our joy is indescribable,” said Taghrid Naanaa while picking out tree decorations at a shop in the district, which the Syrian army recaptured from rebel fighters this year.

– ‘Justice for Christmas’ –

Elsewhere around the world, around 100 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong marked Christmas Eve with the first sizeable rally since the clearing of a central protest camp last week.

In France, the busy Christmas period has been marred by a series of attacks, including one linked to Islamic extremism, which killed one person and left another 25 wounded.

In the United States, officials scrambled to contain renewed anger after an armed black teenager was shot dead by a white officer in a St Louis suburb late Tuesday.

The incident occurred near Ferguson, a mainly African American town with a mostly white police force — ground zero of a protest movement over police killings of black men — and triggered immediate demonstrations.

And in Sierra Leone, all public Christmas celebrations were cancelled as a result of the Ebola crisis, with soldiers deployed on the streets over the holiday season to prevent spontaneous street celebrations, officials said.

Ahead of the midnight mass in Bethlehem, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas laid out his own Christmas wish-list.

“This Christmas we deliver a very special message to the world: All I want for Christmas is justice,” he said as the Palestinians press a major diplomatic push at the United Nations to seek an end to Israel’s decades-long occupation.


FROM PHILSTAR

Pope celebrates Christmas Eve Mass, calls Iraqi refugees By Nicole Winfield (Associated Press) | Updated December 25, 2014 - 7:03am 1 6 googleplus0 0


Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. Pope Francis is celebrating Christmas Eve with a late-night Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and a phone call to some Iraqi refugees forced to flee their homes by Muslim militants. Francis told refugees at the tent camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Irbil in northern Iraq, that they were like Jesus, forced to flee because there was no place for them. For Christians, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem barn manger, chosen because there was no room for his parents at an inn. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve with a late-night Mass yesterday in St. Peter's Basilica and a phone call to some Iraqi refugees forced to flee their homes by Muslim militants.

Francis told refugees at the tent camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Irbil in northern Iraq, that they were like Jesus, forced to flee because there was no place for them. For Christians, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem barn manger, chosen because there was no room for his parents at an inn.

"You're like Jesus on this night, and I bless you and am close to you," Francis told the Iraqis, according to the audio of the call provided by TV2000, the television of the Italian bishops' conference which arranged the hookup. "I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas."

The Ankawa camp houses mostly Christian refugees forced to flee the onslaught by militants of the Islamic State. In a letter to Mideast Christians penned earlier this week, Francis urged them to remain in the region, where Christian communities have existed for 2,000 years, and to help their fellow Muslim citizens present "a more authentic image of Islam" as a religion of peace.

During the Mass hours later in St. Peter's, Francis echoed some of the themes he raised in the phone call as he reflected on the Nativity scene.

"How much the world needs tenderness today!" he said. "God's patience, God's closeness, God's tenderness."

The phone call and nighttime Mass kicked off a busy few weeks for the 78-year-old pontiff that includes his traditional Christmas day speech, New Year's Eve vespers, and 2015 greetings a few hours later. On Jan. 6 he'll celebrate Epiphany Mass, and on Jan. 11 he'll baptize babies in the Sistine Chapel. A day later he gives his annual foreign policy address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See before boarding a plane for a weeklong trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

yesterday's Mass came just days after Francis excoriated the Vatican bureaucracy for a laundry list of sins, including lusting for power and suffering from "spiritual Alzheimer's."

Many of the same cardinals, bishops and priests who received the dressing down were on hand for the Mass. Several have spoken out in recent days saying Francis was merely asking them to examine their consciences, as any Jesuit spiritual director would do, and to use the Christmas season to heal.


FROM PHILSTAR

Stable prices, sufficient supply of goods assured for holidays By Louella Desiderio (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 25, 2014 - 12:00am 1 26 googleplus0 0


Roast pigs, considered to be the star of the Filipino noche buena, are sold in La Loma, Quezon City yesterday. BOY SANTOS

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) yesterday assured the public of stable prices and sufficient supply of basic goods and items for the traditional noche buena in supermarkets for the holiday season.

In a statement, Trade Undersecretary Victorio Mario Dimagiba said results of the price monitoring activity conducted by the department showed that most stores are compliant with the Suggested Retail Prices (SRPs) set for basic and prime goods as well as Noche Buena products.

Supply of goods in the market is also abundant despite the threat of tight supply due to port congestion.

“With the positive results of our price monitoring, consumers are appeased that they will not encounter any problem with their grocery shopping for the holidays,” Dimagiba said.

In preparation for the holiday season, the DTI intensified its monitoring efforts beginning October.

Out of the 124 supermarkets and groceries located in Metro Manila monitored by the DTI, 98 establishments were found compliant with the SRPs, while 26 were issued with show cause orders for selling goods at higher prices.

Of the 26 stores issued with show cause orders, 13 have complied with the SRPs.

The remaining 13 that have yet to comply are: CVC (Caloocan), Metro Gaisano (Mandaluyong), Wellcome Supermarket Metro Point Mall (Pasay), All Day Supermart (Mandaluyong), Ever Supermarket (Malabon), Rustan’s Supermarket Gateway (Quezon City), Super 8 Agora (San Juan), All Nation’s Food City Supermarket (Las Piñas), Puregold Cubao (QC), Ever Supermarket (Navotas), Ever Supermarket (Valenzuela), Super 8 Grocery Warehouse (Caloocan) and Super 8 (Baclaran).

Dimagiba said retailers are advised to sell goods within the SRPs.

Consumers, meanwhile, are encouraged to check the SRPs before making purchases.


FROM PHILSTAR

Yearender: House produces ‘harvest of responsive legislation’ By Paolo Romero and Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 25, 2014 - 12:00am 0 1 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - Socio-economic and fiscal reform bills as well as other legislation to help communities devastated by calamities were the main focus this year of the House of Representatives, which also managed to act swiftly on measures pushed by Malacañang at the last minute.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. at the start of the year dismissed the various political disturbances in the House, including attempts to impeach Supreme Court justices, saying lawmakers “must focus on the many concerns confronting our people.”

In his address to the chamber as Congress adjourned for the Christmas break, Belmonte thanked his colleagues for their cooperation and hard work that he said resulted in a “harvest of meaningful and responsive legislation,” bannered by the ratification of the proposed 2015 P2.6-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) and the P22.4-billion supplemental budget.

“Since 2011, a re-enacted budget has become a thing of the past. I trust that the timely passage of the 2015 GAA will enable the government to roll out its programs and projects, thereby ensuring the continued delivery of vital services to our people,” he said.

He said the approval of the supplemental budget for 2014 is also vital because urgent infrastructure, socio-economic rehabilitation and reconstruction projects, which are not funded under existing laws, need to be funded and commenced at the earliest possible time.

Belmonte, however, said an even greater challenge to the rehabilitation of calamity-affected areas would be to provide the means by which victims could rebuild their lives better than before.

“We should not merely rebuild damaged infrastructure and property, or restore means of livelihood, or resume disrupted classes. We should also restore hope, confidence and resolve in individuals, families and communities,” he said.

“It is only through genuine empowerment that our people can truly live their own lives, fend for their own families and carve their own future,” he added.

As of Dec. 17, the House has processed 1,688 measures. Of these bills, 20 were enacted into law and 350 more were approved on third and final reading. To date, the chamber was in receipt of some 7,115 measures filed by lawmakers, of which 5,305 are bills and 1,810 resolutions. The total number of committee reports is 527.

Key socio-economic legislation enacted into law include Republic Act 10635 or Establishing the MARINA as the Single Maritime Administration; RA 10638, Extending the Corporate Life of Philippine National Railways For Another Fifty Years; RA 10641, Allowing the Full Entry of Foreign Banks; RA 10644, Promoting Job Generation and Inclusive Growth Through the Development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; RA 10645, An Act Providing For the Mandatory PhilHealth Coverage For All Senior Citizens; RA 10647, Strengthening the Ladderized Interface Between Technical-Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education; and RA 10648, Providing Scholarship Grants to Top Graduates of All Public High Schools.

Other House-approved measures enacted into law were the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act; Strengthening the Anti-Drug Campaign; Picture-based (cigarette) Health Warning Act; Iskolar ng Bayan Act; and Open Learning through Distance Education.

The chamber also ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the amendments to the Fisheries Code, and adopted the Senate version of the proposed tax exemption for 13th-month pay and other bonuses. The proposed statute on the establishment of the Open High School System for out-of-school youth and adults is under bicameral consideration.

‘Emergency powers’ resolution

During the last quarter of the year, the House committee on energy chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali began deliberations on the proposed Joint Resolution 21, whose immediate passage was sought by President Aquino to grant him emergency powers to deal with the expected power shortage in Luzon next year.

Aquino had invoked Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to allow him to enter into contracts that let the government tap additional generating capacity.

Under EPIRA, the government is barred from engaging in the power generation business.

Almost immediately after the resolution was filed by Malacañang, the House leadership junked the proposal contained in the measure, which was strongly pushed by Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, for the government to lease or buy expensive power barges from foreign suppliers, saying the move will cost taxpayers as much as P12 billion for just a short period of use.

Reps. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Terry Ridon of the Kabataan party-list group warned the proposal to lease power barges was only meant to line the pockets of certain administration officials in an election year.

In the end, in a vote of 148-18, the House passed on Dec. 10 the resolution but mandated that the government implement instead the Interruptible Load Program (ILP), where large industrial and commercial establishments such as malls, and some government offices, are required to disconnect from the grid during peak hours and use their own generators to free up power for households and small users.

Bangsamoro Basic Law

After months of delay, Aquino personally submitted to Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon in September the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that seeks to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao.

The initial plan was to have the proposed BBL approved by the House before the end of the year but after 34 public hearings – most of which were conducted in various provinces in Mindanao – the ad hoc committee conducting the deliberations said more work is needed owing to various constitutional issues that arose in the course of the hearings.

The BBL, according to Malacañang, should be approved by Congress next year to allow for the conduct of a plebiscite in affected areas and the appointment of transition officials before the election of new leaders in the envisioned autonomous Bangsamoro region.

Retired SC Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza said the proposed law as it is “is beyond the power of Congress to pass” and that there were at least five provisions in the draft that were unconstitutional.

He said the BBL referred to the new autonomous region in Mindanao to be created by the proposed law as a “territory” and “ancestral homeland” of the Bangsamoro people, which is contrary to the Constitution.

He said the term “territory” in law refers to a part of the country separated from the rest or a geographical area under the jurisdiction of another country or sovereign power.

Mendoza also warned that the BBL has given extensive authority to the proposed Bangsamoro government over many areas while effectively limiting the powers of the national government.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the ad hoc panel, said the House remains committed to the peace process in Mindanao even as he vowed that the chamber will come up with the BBL that will stand legal and constitutional scrutiny.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

© Copyright, 2014 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved


PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE [PHNO] WEBSITE