MANILA, SEPTEMBER 1, 2010 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla – Aides of President Aquino removed yesterday his smiling photograph from the chief executive’s official Facebook page that had offended the families of the victims of the Aug. 23 hostage crisis that resulted in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists in Manila.

The new photo of a serious President replaced the controversial Facebook photo apparently to pacify Hong Kong and Chinese critics who condemned the mishandling of the hostage crisis and the bungled rescue attempt by Manila policemen.

The Manila police chief went on leave while five other police officers were relieved because of their lapses during the assault on the tourist bus where dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza held the Hong Kong tourists hostage.

Mendoza, who was dismissed from the police force last year for extortion, commandeered last Monday a Hong Thai Travel tourist bus in Intramuros and held hostage 21 Hong Kong tourists and four Filipino guides for several hours in front of the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park in Manila.

The suspect, armed with an M16 rifle and a pistol, had released several hostages before the SWAT team assaulted the bus resulting in the death of the hostage taker and eight tourists.

Police hostage negotiators said Mendoza turned violent due to frustration after failing to get his demand to be reinstated to the police force.

Shortly after the hostage crisis, the Facebook page of Mr. Aquino was swamped with negative comments from both Filipinos and foreigners who had seen on live television how incompetently the policemen handled the negotiations with the hostage taker.

Over the weekend, Secretary for Operations Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Office disclosed that the hate mail had lessened.

Two days after the hostage-taking incident, the President himself apologized on national television after some critics said his facial expression on his Facebook page was insensitive, even if unintentional.

“I have several expressions. I smile when I’m happy, I smile when I’m faced with a very difficult situation, and if I offended certain people, I apologize to them,” he declared in a hastily called press conference.

Coloma said comments on Aquino’s Facebook page are slowly going back to normal after being swamped with criticisms in connection with his smile and the death of the Hong Kong tourists.

He said there are still a few stinging remarks left in the Facebook account but there are more comments now supporting and defending the President.

He said they are not deleting all the negative remarks, but only the slanderous and “profane” comments.

Coloma said everyone is starting to move on and get on with life after the hostage incident, and the government is doing its best to improve the capabilities of its security forces while investigations on the incident continue.

He said they expect a fact-finding report on the incident to be submitted to the President in three weeks.

The Palace would welcome an early completion of the investigation report but they want to make sure that the probe would be “thorough, impartial and comprehensive.”

“What we are doing now is improving our police force based on the weaknesses we saw during the hostage situation. We will now exert efforts to form this elite strike force that our President has mentioned,” he said.

President Aquino said he had accepted the fact that he would not be given a break by the media and the public even if he is just starting in his job as the country’s chief executive.

“I never had a honeymoon, I think I can show you all of the columns that have been hitting me before I was even proclaimed, so that is to be expected, it comes with the turf,” Aquino told reporters in an ambush interview at the Palace.

“But I am sure a lot of them, especially those who have decided to be critics regardless of the circumstances and facts, once they know of the facts they will be hard pressed to come up with their next criticism,” he said.

Mr. Aquino is under fire for the supposed mishandling of the hostage-taking incident.

Coloma said there was no failure of leadership despite the bloody outcome.

“Hindsight is the clearest of all visions… In our opinion, there is no failure of leadership. The President was in his office. He was exercising his role as a leader in the way he deemed fit, he is exercising the mandate that the people had given him,” Coloma said on television. – With Aurea Calica

Noynoy cancels Indonesia, Vietnam trips By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated September 01, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (7) View comments

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino announced yesterday that his state visits to Vietnam and Indonesia would no longer push through because of conflict of schedule. He said his first trip would be to the United States late this month.

“Indonesia, I understand, can only accommodate us sometime in October,” Mr. Aquino said

The President said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit would be in Vietnam also in October and thus the state visit could be made simultaneous with it.

“We asked if we can do what has to be done in Vietnam in one trip rather than two trips,” the President said.

“I did promise that I would limit the trips to those that are absolutely necessary. As you see, Vietnam is the host for ASEAN this year and we should visit Vietnam (in October), in keeping with our promise to be more judicious in the way we spend the people’s money, especially the fact that we have very little left. I felt it was prudent to have one trip rather than two,” he added.

Mr. Aquino said he was not violating the tradition of visiting an ASEAN country first before embarking on any other foreign trip.

“That is the advice of the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs). Also, if the hosts said they could accommodate us in October, how can we insist we do it in September?” he said.

The President said it was not yet certain if he would have a meeting with US President Barack Obama.

“Perhaps on the sidelines (of the United Nations General Assembly), not yet definite,” he said.

Aquino said there were a lot of demands on the part of the Indonesian president but they could meet at the UNGA in New York, along with the Vietnamese leader.

“I assume they will also be going to the General Assembly, then the conditions pertain to everybody, I don’t think there’s a need for any extra understanding,” he said, adding that he would go to the ASEAN summit in Vietnam and proceed with his state visit in Indonesia both in October, “assuming that there’s nothing untoward that happens, most of our storms are just approaching the country.”

Aquino pays tribute to Magsaysay awardees By Czeriza Valencia (The Philippine Star) Updated September 01, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino yesterday congratulated this year’s recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered the Nobel Prize of Asia.

“Today we pay tribute to who is perhaps the most-beloved president in our nation...President Magsaysay lived with simplicity and humility, with commitment to justice and idealism. Our awardees have spent their lives in the service of these same ideals,” he said in his address during yesterday’s awards ceremony at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

“To all of our awardees, congratulations. Thank you so much for being symbols of the highest ideals of humankind. Thank for accepting this award, for recognizing the honor that the Philippines, through the Ramon Magagsaysay Foundation, has bestowed upon you. Thank you for expressing your solidarity with our shared advocacy of a righteous path,” he said.

The award was conferred on seven people this year: Filipino educators Christopher Bernido and Maria Victoria Carpio-Bernido, former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, newspaper photographer Huo Daishan from China, Chinese bureaucrats Pan Yue and Fu Qiping, and Bangladeshi social worker A.H.M Noman Khan.

In separate acceptance speeches, husband and wife Christopher and Victoria emphasized the need to upgrade the competence of Filipino students in the sciences. The couple was cited for introducing alternative methods of learning science and non-science subjects in a struggling high school in Central Visayas.

“We believe that education and a mastery of the sciences will, in the long run, spell the difference between a world of plenty and a world of hunger, disease, suffering, darkness, and a hostile environment,” said Christopher. “We, therefore, gratefully accept the Ramon Magsaysay Award which challenges us to pursue further a new paradigm in teaching designed to bypass barriers that have prevented present-day educational practices from providing quality education to a new generation.”

Victoria, on the other hand, said educational reforms should not be merely centered on material comforts but in fully developing the learning capacity of students.

“The challenge is, can we give these children of farmers, fishermen, tricyle drivers, and laborers, the education at par with elite schools in Manila, in Berlin, or in New York? Clearly, facilities-wise this would be impossible,” she said. “But then, we do not look at the material aspects. Rather, we focus on the mind, spirit and heart of each child, and there we see untapped capabilities and incredible resiliency.”

Akiba, recognized for his advocacy against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, said that while denuclearization is just one of the many problems in the world, elimination of nuclear weapons would pave the way for greater cooperation between nations in other aspects.

“I do not claim that it is more important than any of the myriad other global problems we face. Certainly, our environmental problems are equally urgent and threatening. However, our success in solving those other problems will be determined by our handling of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“This very process would be both the cause and effect of a dramatic change in international relations, signaling a shift that would open the door to cooperation in other spheres.”

Huo, cited for his documentation and active campaigning to find solutions to the pollution destroying the Huai River, said receiving the award is a responsibility to continue his work in protecting the river.

He said the prize money he would receive would be used to install more water purifying systems in the villages near the river.

“I hope by doing so, the farmers in these villages, who are innocent victims of pollution, will understand our Magsaysay Award from a much closer distance, and feel its impact in their own lives,” said Huo.

Fu, conferred the award for initiating environment-friendly economic development in the once impoverished Tengtou village, credited the villagers for their accomplishment.

“This award belongs not only to me but to all the people who contributed to the success of the village,” he said in his acceptance address delivered by his representative Yuan Kun.

“Tengtou, though a small village, strove to create a miracle, which fully shows that Chinese peasants are capable of changing their destiny...My favorite hobby is to get up every morning and walk around the village. Whenever I pass by the orderly and beautiful houses while walking through the clean and green streets, I feel deeply the changes that have taken place in our village,” he added.

Pan, vice minister of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, did not send a representative to receive his award. The citation crediting his work in actively implementing Chinese environmental laws was read during the awarding ceremony.

Khan, cited for setting up a training center for helping persons with disabilities by giving them skills and employment opportunities, said he would also give his prize money to continue his work in the training center.

“This prestigious award will strengthen our commitment and boost the disability movement for empowerment of persons with disabilities,” he said in his acceptance speech.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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