Thursday, 29 July 2010

PIA Dispatch - Thursday, July 29, 2010

World Bank execs call on P-Noy

President Benigno S. Aquino III welcomed today ranking officials of the World Bank (WB) during a courtesy call at the Yellow Room of the Malacanang Guest House.

The President received Mr. James Adams, WB vice president for the East Asia Pacific, who was accompanied by WB Philippines Director Bert Hofman and Jesse Ang, resident representative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the WB Group which promotes sustainable private sector investment to improve the quality of lives in developing countries.

The WB is a major source of development assistance and technical support in terms of development policies and reform programs in infrastructure, social development, education, health, among others.

Joining the President in welcoming the callers were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, and Social Welfare Undersecretary Alicia Bala.

Palace studying proposal to give excess NFA rice imports to RP’s poor

Malacañang today said that it will study suggestions that President Benigno S. Aquino III allow the distribution of surplus imported rice to poor families instead of leaving the grains to rot in warehouses.

“Certainly isang magandang suhestyon yon, pero pag-aaralan pa” (Certainbly that is a good suggestion, but we will study it), Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing today.

Lacierda said National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Lito Banayo had hinted at the possibility of dispensing the excess supply of rice to the poor. A farmer’s group, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, concurred with the NFA chief’s suggestion and urged President Aquino the other day to distribute the surplus rice to the more than four million impoverished Filipinos.

Lacierda said Banayo is currently assessing the condition of the rice stocks stored in NFA warehouses.

He also said Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman would also be consulted regarding Banayo’s recommendation.

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, President Aquino revealed that due to the over importation of rice during the Arroyo administration, excess supply was left to rot in warehouses, while the government agonizes over a P171.6 billion debt incurred by the NFA in rice importation as of May 2010.

Banayo has said that the NFA, with the help of the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of investigation would conduct a probe that will involve a system and management audit on the reported over-importation of rice and determine the possible accountability of parties involved.

Bahay Pangarap ready for P-Noy

The Bahay Pangarap is now ready to accommodate President Benigno S. Aquino III any moment he decides to take up residence within the Malacanang compound in Manila, the head of Palace guards said today.

Presidential Security Group (PSG) chief Colonel Ramon Mateo Dizon said the PSG has started strengthening security around Bahay Pangarap, which is included in the plan along with the renovation.

“So, as far as I know, by this weekend, we will be ready whenever the President wants to transfer. And that date is up to the President,” Dizon told Palace reporters in a news conference in Malacanang today.

Dizon said they have not only “hardened” the security of the house itself, but the security systems that were placed within the area.

“The security operating procedures have always been strict in that area because that is where the President usually plays golf. So, now that the President has decided to transfer to Bahay Pangarap, we have tightened our security systems in the area,” he said.

Part of the security arrangements, Dizon said, is the strengthening of procedures at the checkpoints and limiting access to the area.

Dizon said they have requested the Coast Guard to strengthen the security systems along the river, although these security systems have been in placed even during the time of Mrs. Aquino, the President’s mother.

“This is more or less a review of the (security) systems and making sure that these are being followed,” he said.

Dizon assured that the PSG will try not to limit the traffic in Pasig River, being a transportation hub used by a lot of people for commerce.

He said minor changes were made in the Bahay Pangarap like adding rooms for the household, and for the security personnel who will stay with the President. One room was also constructed for the President’s guests.

Asked about the concern on the overflowing of Pasig River, Dizon said: “During Ondoy, one step was left. So, there’s no concern on flooding.”

The Bahay Pangarap originally was intended by former President Manuel Quezon IIII as a recreational Park for the President of the Philippines.

PIA Dispatch - Wednesday, July 28, 2010

P-Noy meets with UN Country Team

President Benigno S. Aquino III met with the United Nations Country Team in the Philippines  who paid him a courtesy call in Malacañang today.

The Chief Executive welcomed Dr. Jacqueline Badcock, Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme, and members of the team, namely; Lawrence Jeff Johnson of the International Labor Organization, Suneeta Mukherjee of the UN Population Fund, Vanessa Tobin of the United Nations Children’s Fund, Soe Nyunt-U of the World Health Organization, Teresita Bagaso of the Joint UN Programme for HIV/AIDS, Yolanda Arban of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Brenda Pimentel of the International Maritime Organization and Rico Salcedo of the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Welcoming the UN group at Malacanang’s Premiere Guest House, the President said he looked forward to the meeting, which provides a venue to “improve Philippine commitments to the United Nations.”

For her part, Badcock congratulated the President for his victory during the elections and for the delivery of his first State of the Nation Address last Monday.

Also present during the meeting were Presidential Management Staff Head Julia Abad, Secretary Enrique Ona of the Department of Health, Secretary Armin Luistro of the Department of Education and Undersecretary Alicia Bala of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

No spin, no fabrication in news stories – says P-Noy communications men

The incoming communications men of President Benigno S. Aquino III today said they see no need for contriving a new public image for him as he will be projected simply as who he is and on the basis of his announced visions for the Filipino people.

Recently resigned television news anchor Ricky Carandang who is likely to assume the messaging functions of the new Palace communications group said that even with the complex nature of the presidential communications and the growing sophistication of the media, they will not employ deliberate means to unduly enhance the President and his administration.

“No spin, no manufacture and no fabrication,” said Carandang on the kind of information the media will expect from Malacañang and the executive arm of government.

Newspaper columnist Herminio ‘Sonny’ Coloma, who will handle dissemination functions, including the supervision of all government-run media entities, shared Carandang’s views, adding that the President Is one person whose image needs no more embellishments.

Coloma said the President will be projected with authenticity and with genuineness, taking into account the spontaneity of the people’s awareness and reactions to him.

Coloma cited as an example President Aquino’s recent visit to Romblon province where crowds came out to greet him even if the visit was unannounced. He said that upon hearing that the President was in town, people from all over went to see him, picking up along the way an assortment of items colored yellow.

Coloma said there is no need to spin stories or flood the media with “praise” releases about the President and Malacañang. “Sa totoo lang (to tell you the truth)”, said Coloma, this is what the President prefers.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

PIA Dispatch - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

President Aquino receives new envoys from Switzerland, Chile, Cambodia

President Benigno C. Aquino III received the credentials of three foreign ambassadors who called on him in Malacañang this morning.

First to arrive at 10 a.m. was His Excellency Ivo Sieber, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Swiss Confederation, followed by His Excellency Roberto Mayorga Lorca, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Chile at 10:30 a.m.

Last to arrive was His Excellency Hos Sereythonh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Cambodia, who presented his credentials at 11 a.m.

All three foreign dignitaries were accorded arrival honors at the Palace grounds. They signed the presidential guestbook before being ushered to the Music Room for the presentation.

Each of the ambassadors then met privately with the President.

Joining the President was Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

NFA poised to investigate rice over-importation

The National Food Authority (NFA) will conduct an intensive inquiry into the reported over-importation of rice as divulged by President Benigno C. Aquino III in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday.

In a news briefing in Malacañang, NFA administrator Lito Banayo said the probe will involve a system and management audit meant to identify the problems inherited by the food agency from the previous administration.

Banayo said he has requested Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima for assistance upon the advice of National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director Magtanggol Gatdula for the audit.

Apart from the Justice department and the NBI, Banayo is also tapping some lawyers, financial experts and other professionals to help in the investigation.

Banayo has also asked Jesus Posadas, former vice president for purchasing of San Miguel Corp. and a commodities trading expert, to head the probe.

”I am minded to institute a systems and management audit of my agency to ensure that both systems and personnel are functioning properly according to our mandate,” Banayo told reporters.

In his SONA, President Aquino said the NFA imported 900,000 metric tons (MT) of rice in 2004, even as the shortage was estimated at only 117,000 MT. In 2007, the NFA again over-imported, buying 1.827 MT to address a shortfall of only 589,000 MT.

The President said the excess supply was left to rot in warehouses, while the government had to deal with a debt of P171.6 billion in rice importation costs as of May 2010.

Banayo identified specific areas of concern for the probers. These are:

• Overstocked warehouses;

• P177 billion debt as of June 30, 2010;

• Spoilage of the imported rice and the possibility of corruption;

• Government inability to help the farmers;

• Allegations of irregularities; and

• Reports of Smuggling.

The probers were also tasked to look into the purchase and importation protocol insofar as timing and volume are concerned; inventory system to prevent waste and spoilage of stocks; and methods and procedure of selling the stocks to ensure they are sold efficiently.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

PIA Dispatch - Monday, July 26, 2010

P-Noy vows to turn around fiscal mess

President Benigno S. Aquino III, delivering his first State of the Nation Address, today said that misuse of the national budget and funds abuse by state-run firms and agencies during the Arroyo administration will weigh heavily against his fledgling administration, but he vowed to reverse the situation while opening windows of opportunity for all.

“I could almost feel the weight of my responsibility” said the President, as he lamented over initial findings that only about P100 billion or 6.5 percent of the P1.54 trillion national budget for 2010 has been left for the remaining six months of the year. This means, he said, that roughly one (l) percent is left for each remaining month.

He said that in the first half of this year, government expenditures have already exceeded the revenues boosting the first semester national deficit to Pl96.7 billion. Earlier projections placed the yearend figure to reach about P319 billion.

The President also rued over the abuse of funds by certain government-owned and-controlled corporations (GOCCs), which his people have unearthed barely a month into his six-year term.

The President said billions have been lost in still unexplained and questionable deals entered into by many GOCCs whose incumbent officials are mostly last-hour or midnight appointees of former President Arroyo.

Among state agencies he mentioned were the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), National Food Authority (NFA), National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR), the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), Department of Public Works and Highways to include its use of the road users tax, and the calamity funds.

The President said it was revolting to know that money was there only to be wasted.

“Your have heard how the public coffers were squandered, this is what is clear to me now: change can only come from our determination to stamp out this extravagance and corruption.

The President singled out the MWSS as an example of how state funds are misused with top officials themselves enjoying millions in cash perks and even housing privileges in MWSS properties.

He also cited the misuse of the P2 billion calamity funds where 70 percent has now been spent even as the country enters into the critical typhoon season of the year. He said distribution was found uneven, with bigger funds going into the one district of Pampanga, home-province of former President Gloria Arroyo, now congresswoman in the province’s second district.

The President also cited the critical funding situation of the National Food Authority, now debt-ridden by about Pl77 billion due to over-importation.

But as he gave the public a glimpse of the initial fiscal situation uncovered early in his term, the President said “ we will open windows of opportunities.”

He said: “If we change all this, if we prioritize enabling others we will open windows of opportunities not just for ourselves but for those who direly need it.”

“We have already begun the process of change and we are now able to dream of better things for our country. Let us not forget that there are those who wish us to fail so that they will once again reclaim power to do as they please at the expense of our people,” he said.

Among the legislative proposals he laid out in his first SONA at the joint opening session of the 15th Congress at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City are:

a. Fiscal Responsibility bill

b. Amendment to the Procurement Law

c. Anti-trust bill

d. National Land Use bill

e. Amendment to the National Defense Act, and

f. Whistleblower’s bill.

g. Strengthening the witness protection program

The President bared that he would convene the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) at the soonest possible time to discuss the bills that need to be addressed He assured legislators that he would keep an open mind and treat the legislators honorably.

The fiscal responsibility bill, he said, would limit spending bills only for appropriations that have identified funding sources. The government, according to him, needs P104.1 billion to fund laws that have been passed but have yet to be implemented.

“We will re-evaluate fiscal incentives given in the past,” President Aquino said in the vernacular. “Now that we are tightening our purse strings, we need to identify those incentives that will remain and those that need to be done away with.”

Emphasizing that his administration will not allow another NBN-ZTE scandal to happen again, the President asked help from legislators to amend the country’s Procurement law. He pointed out that all proposed contracts, whether from local or foreign sources must undergo the scrutiny of correct procedures.

Stressing that it is the government’s duty to ensure that the market is fair for all, President Aquino said his administration will not tolerate monopolies nor cartels that kill competition.

“We need an Anti-Trust Law that will give life to these principles, to afford small- and medium-scale enterprises the opportunity to participate in the growth of our economy,” he said.

While asking for the passage of the National Land Use bill, the President also cited the need to amend the National Defense Act to make it more responsive to the current needs of national security. He mentioned that the law was passed during the Commonwealth period in 1935.

He appealed to legislators to pass the Whistleblower’s bill “to eradicate the prevalent culture of fear and silence that has hounded our system.”

“We will strengthen the Witness Protection program,” he said. “We must remember that from 2009 to 2010 alone, cases which involve the participation of witnesses under the program resulted in a ninety-five percent conviction.”

Pointing out that there is a need to review the country’s laws, President Aquino called on lawmakers to begin a re-codification of such laws “to ensure harmony in legislation and eliminate contradictions.”

Earlier in his speech, the President also appealed to lawmakers to go easy on the confirmation of his chosen cabinet men as he said they are all competent and have proven up to their task.

“It is but just that they not be forced to go through the eye of a needle to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments,” he said. “Should this happen, competent Filipinos will be encouraged to help our country by becoming public servants.”

P-Noy details cases of fund misuse in first SONA

In his first state of the nation (SONA) delivered today before the joint opening session of the 15th Congress, President Benigno S. Aquino III bared in detail some cases of fund misuse during the Arroyo administration which in part have worsened the country’s budget deficit problems.

He said that in the first six months of 2010, the previous administration spent more than what it earned. Its target collection was shot by P23.8 billion and its projected expenditure is P45.1 billion, he added.

The President specified the following fund misappropriations:

Calamity Funds

Of the P2 billion Calamity fund for 2010, which on its own is already very small, only P1.4 billion or 60 percent is left for use for the remainder of the year, when typhoons are just coming in.

Of the P108 million Calamity Fund allotted for Pampanga, P105 million of this went to one district alone. These funds were released during the election period, seven months after Ondoy and Pepeng struck. Pangasinan, which was hardest hit by Pepeng, received only P5 million for the damage wrought by typhoon Cosme in 2008.


Members of the board of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) were given fat rewards even if retired government employees failed to get their pension funds due them. In 2009 alone, the payroll of MWSS amounted to P51.4 million, excluding the additional allowances and benefits amounting to P160.1 million.

Regular employees got only 13th month pay plus cash gift but MWSS board members got an equivalent of 30 months pay including bonuses and allowances. The Board of trustees also received P14,000 per meeting, reaching P98,000 each month, excluding grocery incentive of P80,000 a year; mid year bonus, productivity bonus, anniversary bonus, year-end bonus, financial assistance, Christmas bonus and additional Christmas package, all worth P98,000.

The President said the MWSS spent P2.5 million each year for each board member, excluding car incentive, technical assistance and loans.

La Mesa Watershed was not spared. Homes were built for the top officials of MWSS, who couldn’t readily be removed from their posts because they are among the Midnight Appointees of the former president.


Infrastructure funds of the Department of Public Works and Highways for 246 priority safety projects funded by the Motor Vehicle Users Charge requiring P425 million budget but what was funded was only 28 projects and the rest were abandoned. The requested P425 million became P480 million, bigger because the additional funds went to select beneficiaries.


P3.5 billion that was ordered released for the victims of Pepeng and Ondoy involving 86 projects for public bidding. But 19 projects alone already got P981 million allotments. Fortunately their release was held even with the signed Special Allotment Release orders.

• P3.5 billion of current DPWH projects will now go through proper bidding for the real victims of storms Ondoy and Pepeng.


• The National Power Corp. from 2001 to 2004 was forced to sell power at a loss to forestall any electric power adjustments before the elections. Because of this, in 2004, the agency sank in debts forcing the national government to honor its P200 billion foreign obligations.


• The Metro Rail Transit was also used as a political tool by keeping the fares low, which disabled the operator from recouping its investments. As a result, the Land Bank and Development Bank of the Philippines were forced to buy the MRT.


• The National Food Authority over-imported rice in 2004. The shortage was 117,000 metric tons but it bought 900,000 mt. In 2007 the shortage was only 589,000 mt but it bought 1.827 million mt.

Because of the over-importation, the excess supply was left to rot in bodegas even if total debts for these imports reached P171.6 billion as of May 2010, which could have funded the justice department’s budget of P12.7 billion; the conditional cash transfers of the following years amounting to P29.6 billion; all the classrooms needed in the country worth P130 billion.

Mixed reactions on P-Noy’s SONA

President Benigno S. Aquino III’s first ever State of the Nation Address (SONA) today before the joint opening session of the 15th Congress drew mixed reactions from lawmakers, a number of them optimistic he will be able to push through his programs, and others including from the opposition complementing him and offering help.

"That was a good speech. But I hope it will unfold in the future, maybe within the next 100 days," said former President Fidel Ramos, who attended the SONA together with former President Joseph Estrada.

“We are all waiting for the roadmap, for the long term plan, para umangat na tayo, “ added Ramos."

"Hopefully during the budget deliberations we will be able to uncover and see for ourselves para mas maging malinaw sa Kongreso at kung saan me pagkakamali” said the former President of the detailed enumeration by President Aquino of cases of fiscal abuse by the Arroyo administration.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, the new minority leader in the House of Representatives said he will support the government's national agenda particularly with regard to House measures which will benefit the majority of the Filipino people.

Lagman said these include measures to strengthen healthcare, employment and more economic opportunities, and environmental protection, among others. Lagman said he will support President Aquino’s campaign to improve collection efficiency by stopping smuggling, tax evasion and curbing graft and corruption.

Earlier before the SONA and after losing the House speakership, Lagman said the proposed P1.7 trillion budget for 2010-2011 should include measures to increase taxes and the national government "improve collection efficiency particularly with the Philippines  having the lowest collection efficiency among the members of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)."

Former congresswoman Rissa Hontiveros-Baraquel expressed optimism that the SONA gave “concrete steps” on how to stamp out corruption in government.

She said the President’s SONA enumerated measures for specific government agencies to eradicate corruption such as amending the national procurement law and the passing of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, which will provide funding for laws that have already identified its sources of funding.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, for his part, said that the SONA was an “eye-opener” for the people to see the “difficulties that we are in, the sacrifices that we are supposed (to take) to help the President with.”

Meanwhile Senator Loren Legarda expressed dismay that the Aquino SONA “left out” several issues. She said the President failed to touch on topics such as agrarian reform, alleviating hunger and addressing climate change.

Legarda however was quick to add that she was pleased with Aquino’s plans were for Philhealth, the national health card,

The President said that an actual program to identify the correct number of Filipinos who sorely need Philhealth coverage will be undertaken as “current date is conflicting on this matter.”

He added that Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman “are moving to implement the National Household Targeting System that will identify the families that most urgently need assistance.”

“An estimated P9-billion is needed in order to provide coverage for five million poor Filipinos,” P-Noy said.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

PIA Dispatch - Friday, July 23, 2010

P-Noy installs new Army Chief

President Benigno S. Aquino III today installed Major General Arturo B. Ortiz as the new commanding general of the Philippine Army.

Ortiz, a holder of the Medal for Valor, the highest decoration in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), replaced Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, who was promoted as AFP Vice Chief of Staff. Ortiz is the 53rd chief of the Army, the main force of the AFP.

The President supervised the change of command ceremony at the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.

Military officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees welcomed Ortiz’s assumption, saying he is highly qualified for the post.

After assuming his post, Ortiz laid out the Army’s essential tasks: the active pursuit of Internal Security Operations (ISO), eradication of terrorist groups, and support to the peace initiatives of the government.

He also committed the Army to non-traditional missions such as disaster relief operations, environmental protection and community development activities.

A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1979, Ortiz is a bemedalled Army officer. Topping all his military medals and commendations is the Medal for Valor Award, which he received in 1990 from then President Corazon Aquino. The Medal of Valor is the highest military award given by the AFP.

Prior to his assumption as Army chief, Ortiz was the Commander of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) of the Philippine Army. He also assumed other major posts in the AFP and the Philippine Army such as Regiment Commander of the Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) (SFRA), Chief of the AFP Command Center, Head of the Tactics Group and Commandant of Cadets in the Philippine Military Academy, Commanding Officer of the Security and Escort Battalion of the Philippine Army, and Commanding Officer of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion.

Ortiz hails from Bautista, Pangasinan and was born and raised in Acupan, Itogon, Benguet.

DOJ for total revamp, not abolition, of PCGG

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima today said she will recommend to President Benigno S. Aquino III a total revamp in the composition of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), but not the agency’s abolition.

“We need a new approach… conscious of the timeline… we need new faces… a group that will have a sense of urgency to resolve pending issues confronting the office,” de Lima said at a press briefing in Malacañang today.

De Lima said the PCGG, a collegial commission with quasi-judicial authority and full sequestration powers, has not fully accomplished its mandate since it was created in February 1986 by President Corazon C. Aquino.

The commission was tasked to focus on the criminal prosecution, as well as on the recovery of the alleged ill-gotten wealth, of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, his family, and cronies.

De Lima said the move to revamp the PCGG will be among the many reform initiatives expected from the Department of Justice, as it strives weed out corruption and regain the trust and confidence of the people.

De Lima also said she is still studying moves on whether or not to reconstitute two task forces—Task Force Anti-Smuggling and Task Force Anti-Tax Evasion—to provide support to the campaigns of the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue against smuggling and tax dodging, respectively.

“I’m still evaluating their performances, as it is important to have a committed task force to speed up the progress of cases filed,” she said.

However, she said another task force, Anti-Human Trafficking, will stay and has now been reconstituted under the leadership of Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar.

Topping the agenda of Task Force Anti-Human Trafficking are the cases against 18 Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) personnel allegedly involved in the trafficking of Filipinos abroad.

DeLima also said she will review the purported “midnight rulings” of her predecessor, which included a controversial poaching case against Chinese nationals caught in Palawan and the gruesome Ruby Rose Barrameda murder case.

De Lima also said that she has yet to recommend to the President on who will be the replacement of resigned Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan.

“I have to be very careful in endorsing various posts,” she said, adding that the Immigration Bureau plays a very important role in curbing human trafficking.

P-Noy tells troops: Shortage in funds not a hindrance to disaster service

President Benigno S. Aquino III today called on the troops to carry on with their civil defense and disaster duties with renewed vigor and determination, even if support funding will be hampered by a shortage in calamity funds caused by the previous administration.

Addressing the turn-over of command of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio, Makati City today, the President said that much of the calamity funds were already spent during the first half of the year, leaving little for the second half when more weather disturbances are expected to hit the country.

In today’s ceremonies, the President installed Major General Arturo B. Ortiz as the new Philippine Army chief, replacing Lieutenant General Reynaldo Mapagu, who was appointed Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“Halos nilimas na po ang pondong dapat magagamit sana  natin sa darating na mga buwan. Hindi pa po nangangalahati ang mga bagyong inaasahan natin na darating sa taong ito, ngunit kung tatawagin kayo upang manguna sa mga search and rescue efforts, puso at tapang ang magiging pangunahin ninyong kasangkapan, dahil na rin sa kakapusan sa pondo at kagamitan (The calamity funds are almost depleted, but we are not even halfway through the number of typhoons that are expected to arrive during the year. However, if called upon for search and rescue efforts, heart and courage will be your primary instrument because of inadequate funds and equipment),” the President said.

According to the President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, he would not allow such practices under his administration.

“Hindi na po tayo papayag na magpatuloy ang ganitong kalakaran. Hindi tama na kung sino pa ang nagmamalasakit, kung sino pa ang labis labis ang sakripisyo para sa bayan, kayo pa ang pinahihirapan (We will no longer tolerate these practices. It is not right for those who sacrifice so much to suffer),” the President stressed.

Initial funds inventory disclosed recently by Budget Secretary Butch Abad showed that there are not enough funds left to deal with calamity disasters this year. Abad said less than 30%, or P592,034,346, remained of the P2 billion calamity fund allocated in the 2010 budget.

As the Arroyo administration has already used up to 70.4% or P1,407,965,654 in the first half of the year, Abad suggests that calamity funds may not be adequate to cope with this year’s typhoon season.

Of the remaining funds, the previous administration had not released the Quick Response Fund (QRF) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and Department of National Defense (DND), which amounts to P605,500,000.

Still, about P315,150,000 in commitments by the Arroyo government will have to be deducted, which will eventually will in a negative balance in the calamity funds.

In a media briefing after the turnover rites, the President said the DBM is looking at realigning the remaining savings from the P1.5-trillion national budget, such as the untapped P1 billion or P1.5 billion fund of the Kilos Asenso program.

The 54-year-old Ortiz was a recipient of the Valor of Medal, the highest award given by the military, three Gold Cross medals and numerous distinctions. “He was highly recommended by the Board of Generals,” President Aquino said.

The Chief Executive said he would work with Ortiz and the entire military hierarchy in pushing the reforms and modernization of the AFP “to better serve the interest of the foot soldiers and the public towards attaining peace, stability and progress. “

“Only with peace and order can stability take hold. And only with stability can economic progress ensue,” President Aquino pointed out.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

PIA Dispatch - Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gov’t unwraps short, long-term solutions to water shortage 

The Aquino administration today expressed serious concern about the current water supply shortage in Metro Manila, but assured that it is still isolated and can be addressed with short-term measures.

Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Edwin Lacierda and Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, in a press briefing this morning at the New Executive Building in Malacanang, disclosed a water supply sector program or water roadmap to be implemented over the next six years.

The two officials enumerated the definitive steps to be taken to immediately address the water supply problem.

Singson, who briefed President Benigno S. Aquino III and the Cabinet Wednesday night on the issue, said the onset of the rainy season complemented by cloud seeding operations, increased the water level in Angat Dam by 70 centimeters, from 158.18 meters last Tuesday to 158.88 meters Wednesday.

However, Singson reported 117 barangays experiencing up to six hours of short supply. Twenty-nine of these communities are in Caloocan City; 28 in Quezon City, and 35 barangays in Manila. Of these, 32 barangays have been reported to have zero water supply.

Among the short-term measures being undertaken to solve the water supply shortage are the following:

a) Continuing the mobilization of water tankers to affected barangays; 

b) Tapping the fire trucks of local governments and volunteer fire brigades to help deliver water to affected areas; 

c) The setting up of an action center to be manned by people from the two water supply concessionaires (Maynilad and Manila Water), along with the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System for a more efficient and orderly deployment of the water tankers to the affected barangays; 

d) Forging a cross-border sharing arrangement whereby Manila Water will supply an additional 40 million liters per day (MLD) to an estimated 100,000 Maynilad customers; 

e) Cloud seeding operations over Angat, with the two concessionaires initially chipping in P3.1 million to the Bureau of Soils and Water Management for this exercise, plus additional funds if necessary. 

f) Increasing the capacity of the treatment plant in Pututan in Muntinlupa, which currently provides 25 MLD to previously deprived customers in the area, to 50 MLD. 

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has called a meeting to tackle the request for security personnel to protect the volunteers supplying water from tankers to waterless areas, as well as repair crews of both concessionaires from harm and harassment by unruly residents.

Lacierda said the two concessionaires and the fire volunteers would also provide water for the hygiene and sanitation needs of public facilities like public schools, hospitals and markets to ward off epidemics. 

The Palace official also said the Aquino administration has called for donations of bottled water for distribution to the affected residents.

Lacierda likewise urged concerned citizens to immediately report to appropriate authorities, including barangay officials, all illegal water connections that could possibly contaminate the water supply through leaking pipes.

Singson pointed out that the MWSS board, in its last meeting, was told to “expedite and diligently study other proposals to tap other water sources like the Wawa River in Marikina, Laiban Dam, the Sierra Madre and Laguna Lake with due consideration on: reliability, investments; operational cost, water quality and impact on water tariffs.”

Singson said the letter of San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang to MWSS on the revival of its proposal to develop the Laiban Dam will be studied alongside other proposals.

“We only want to look at the project in terms of current market requirements instead of operating it at full in the future, which is not yet needed. If we only need 300 to 500 milliliters per day (MLD) now, why must we approve a project that will supply 1,900 MLD when it is not needed right now?” Singson explained.

He said he proposed that all these measures for a water roadmap be adopted in all urban centers of the country.

Local execs on top of water supply problem

Local executives are on top of the situation as far as the water shortage in Metro Manila is concerned.

This, Malacanang assured today, even as the Aquino government announced earlier several short-term measures as well as a long-range plan to address the problem. 

Three city mayors – Manila’s Alfredo Lim, Navotas’ John Ray Tiangco and Quezon City’s Herbert Bautista – joined Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda in assuring the public that the national government as well as local governments are doing all they can to address the situation. 

“We would like to assure that the local chief executives are on top of the situation” Lacierda said in press briefing in Malacanang. 

Mayor Bautista said that he has already created and is heading a Quezon City water crisis management task force to provide water in affected areas. He said they have already identified and delivered water supply to the 22 affected barangays in the city.

Although there is no water rationing yet in Manila, Mayor Lim said he had alerted fire volunteer brigades to put their water tanks on standby for speedy mobilization. Lim cited however the low water pressure in some parts of the city.

Since water interruptions started last Monday, Tiangco said they have mobilized 13 fire trucks for rationing to affected areas in Navotas. He also said that Maynilad had already been supplying water to the affected areas from 2pm to 8pm daily.

Since water supply has started to stabilize in Navotas, Tiangco said that situation has become more manageable. He also said that they are already structuring a system harnessing fire trucks to deliver water to affected communities.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

PIA Dispatch - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

President Aquino receives courtesy call from UK Foreign Minister 

President Benigno S. Aquino III received a courtesy call this morning from the new Minister of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Browne.

The meeting was held at the Music Room of Malacañan Palace, and increased trade and investment between the Philippines and the UK topped the agenda. They likewise discussed ways to improve the capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as well as possible assistance from the British government in Mindanao peace efforts.

Browne also took the opportunity to extend Britain’s appreciation of the role of Filipino workers, especially nurses and caregivers, in British society. In the past six years, more than 20,000 Filipinos were recruited into the UK health service. 

“We recognize the massive contribution of the Filipino workers to our society,” Browne said. “They are hardworking and caring.”

Browne, who was appointed Minister of State of the FCO on 14 May this year, will be in the Philippines from July 20 to 22 as part of his South East Asian trip aimed at actively promoting the business relationship between the Philippines and the rest of South East Asia. This is his first trip to Asia since the assumption of his post.

The courtesy call was an opportune meeting between representatives of two newly installed governments. While the Aquino administration was installed on June 30, the new British coalition government was formed on 12 May 2010, with Tory leader David Cameron as Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as his Deputy Prime Minister.

The last UK Foreign Secretary to visit the Philippines was Robin Cook in August 1997.

The UK has always been a major European bilateral partner of the Philippines, which is currently attracting serious interest throughout Europe due to what are deemed to be positive developments brought about by the Aquino administration’s policies in fostering political stability, economic growth, and social security. The total bilateral trade between the Philippines and the UK in 2008 was recorded at US$791 million, in favor of the Philippines. 

The UK is cumulatively the biggest European investor in the country, with British investment amounting to US$18 billion in the past decade. There are around 200 British companies active in the Philippines, ranging from multi-national to small and medium enterprises.

BIR to step up tax collection, will go after tax cheats

In a bid to meet its target of Php860 billion, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) vowed today to intensify its tax collection by running after tax cheats. 

“We are strengthening our enforcement activities, and it is highlighted by filing tax evasion cases,” BIR Commissioner Kim Henares told reporters in a press briefing in Malacañang. “We started last Thursday and we intend to keep on filing every other week.”

“I have confidence in my people and confidence in the attitude of the Filipino people, that they want to help their government; and that we will able to reach the Php860-billion goal,” she said.

Henares clarified however that people who deliberately cheated on their tax payments may still make the necessary restitution by submitting amended income tax returns.

“It is the time for everyone to pay their right taxes. If they had not paid their right taxes before, what they can do is amend their return and put the right amount and pay these taxes before we even file a case against them, because once we file a case, it will be a no-compromise situation. It will continue until the case is resolved,” Henares said. 

According to Henares, about 40 percent of the income earners belonged to the so-called “underground economy,” making it difficult for the BIR to go after them.

“There is more than P4 million that we are collecting from the fixed earners, but for sole proprietors, for individuals doing business and professionals, there is only less than a million from 800,000 people,” Henares said. 

To encourage more income earners to pay their taxes, Henares hinted that the BIR would simplify and streamline the tax payment system. 

The BIR chief also said that the reforms are meant to ensure “that our people will realize the new way of doing business is to make sure that every single centavo collected goes to the national treasury.”

She stressed that the BIR’s intensified tax collection campaign would cover all sectors, adding that no sector is 100-percent compliant. 

Henares urged the public to pay their correct taxes while they still have the chance to do so. Furthermore, she advised consumers to demand a receipt for every commodity or service rendered to them to aid the agency’s campaign against tax evaders.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

PIA Dispatch - Tuesday, July 20, 2010

P-Noy swears in VP Binay as HUDCC Chair

President Benigno S. Aquino III administered the oath of office to Vice President Jejomar Binay as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council in a simple ceremony this morning in Malacañang.

Joining the Vice President were members of his family led by his wife Elenita and son Makati Mayor Jun-Jun Binay.

As HUDCC chair, Binay will be charged with overseeing the agency’s functions of coordinating the activities of the government housing agencies to ensure the accomplishment of the National Shelter Program.
He will also lead the agency in:

Formulating national objectives for housing and urban development and to design broad strategies for accomplishment of these objectives;

Determining the participation and coordinate the activities of the key government housing agencies in the national housing program;

Monitoring, reviewing and evaluating the effectively of these agencies’ exercise of their assigned functions;

Assisting in the maximum participation of the private sector in all aspects of housing and urban development;

Recommending new legislation and amendments to existing laws as may be necessary for the attainment of the government’s objective in housing;

Formulating the basic policies, guidelines and implementing mechanisms for the disposal or development of acquired or existing assets of the key housing agencies; and,

Exercising or performing other powers and functions as may be deemed necessary, proper or incidental to the attainment of its purpose and objectives.

Immediately after the oath-taking rites, Vice President Binay joined President Aquino and the rest of the members of his official family for a Cabinet meeting in the adjoining Aguinaldo State Dining Room.

P-Noy receives representative of US President 

President Benigno S. Aquino III met with US State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns today at the Malacanan Palace.

Burns holds the highest rank among career ambassadors in the State Department and is so far the highest US official to meet with President Aquino since he assumed office on June 30. 

Talking to Palace reporters after his audience with the President, Burns said his visit underscores US President Barack Obama’s determination to renew and extend the US-Philippines partnership in the spirit of mutual respect. 

“I am delighted to be here in Manila, and very pleased to have the opportunity to convey congratulations and best regards from President Obama to President Aquino,” Burns told Palace reporters.

During the visit, Burns discussed with President Aquino a range of issues including bilateral relations, ASEAN concerns and the efforts of the new Philippine government towards poverty reduction, health, education, job creation, protection of human rights, judicial reforms and improvement of accountability and transparency. They also discussed the status of US development assistance to the country, especially in Mindanao, where Burns is scheduled to visit.

“I emphasize that the US wants to do everything we can in health, in progress, and in all of those areas which we saw important to creating a better future for the people of the Philippines,” said Burns.

Asked about the significance of his scheduled trip to Mindanao, Burns said it is an indication of the continuing commitment of the US to working with the Philippine government in trying to create a greater sense of economic fruitfulness throughout the Philippines, including Mindanao.

“We contribute a considerable percentage of our development assistance in the Philippines and I look forward to the opportunity to observe some of those programs. And we do take pride in the advice and training that our security forces can contribute as well as the efforts of the Philippine government. This is an ongoing effort,” Burns said. 

Gov’t acts to mitigate water shortage 

The government today announced that it will hold Massive cloud seeding operations to generate rainfall above the Angat area in Bulacan to mitigate the effects of low water supply in Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, which are served by the Maynilad water concessionaire.

In a press briefing today in Malacanang, Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson said efforts are underway to bring water levels back to normal in several areas after it has reached critical condition because of the substantial reduction of water in Angat dam.

Singson disclosed government remedial measures a day after President Benigno S. Aquino III ordered an evaluation of the water situation in the country, particularly Metro Manila, in light of the water shortage in several areas. 

According to Singson, 344 barangays, or 49 percent of the Maynilad concession area, are already undergoing water rationing, while some portions are benefiting from less than 6 hours of water supply. He said they have already mobilized 40 tankers to distribute water to affected areas. 

He said the current supply of Maynilad is down to 1,800 million liters per day instead of the normal 2,400 million. 

Singson said the 167-meter water level of Angat dam would only last 60 days, assuming no water or rainfall. He noted that the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) released the equivalent of three months’ supply of domestic water from Angat dam after typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng hit the country, which may have contributed to the current water levels. 

The dam is currently being repaired for leaks.

About 98 percent of water supply in Metro Manila comes from Angat dam. Maynilad Water Services Inc. serves about seven million people.

On the other hand, Manila Water, the other water concessionaire, has an affected area of 21 percent, but fairs better because it impounds their supply of water in the La mesa Dam.

He said his department has requested for the assistance of the DILG to help disseminate water conservation measures to local government units. 

He added that the government is looking for alternative water sources such as the Marikina river, Laguna lake and the Pampanga river.

DA conducts briefing to corn farmers in RM

Some 130 corn farmers from the municipality of Ramon Magsaysay (RM), Zamboanga del Sur convened last week to participate in the corn briefing. It was held at their Corn Postharvest Processing and Trading Center (CPPTC), a facility obtained from the Department of Agriculture- National Agribusiness Corporation (DA-NABCOR), congressional funds from district I and the local government of RM.  

Opening the briefing is a video presentation of the country’s corn industry which showed the uses of corn as a source of food and food products for human and livestock consumption. It emphasized that poultry and swine feeds utilize 70% corn as its main ingredient. Corn is also a source of raw materials for industrial products such as construction materials, textiles and fertilizers. 

Discussed were biological control agents for corn pests such as trichogramma evanescens and balanced fertilization. Mr. Felizardo Salomes, Regional Corn Banner Coordinator said that Trichogramma controls corn borer by parasitizing its egg. “For a hectare, we need to apply 80-100 trichocards twice. Twenty-five days after sowing, apply trichocards on the third leaf. Repeat application after a week.” Trichocards cost 2 pesos per card and can be procured at the DA’s Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC) at Barangay Sudlon, Molave, Zamboanga del Sur and the Western Mindanao Agricultural Research Center (WESMIARC) in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. 

However, if farmers plant corn during off-season, they can avail of Trichogramma for free through the DA’s corn banner program says Mr. Alex Pulmano, Assistant Operations Division Chief. 

Salomes also encouraged the farmers to use balanced fertilization by proper combination of inorganic and organic fertilizers. He reintroduced Bio-N inoculant that contains nitrogen fixing bacteria that can save 30-50% nitrogen requirement for corn.  

Engr. Dante Franco, CPPTC Plant Manager for his part proved that through balanced fertilization method, plant growth is healthy as manifested in the corn planted near the grains center which is now on its tasseling stage . 

Ramon Magsaysay Municipal Mayor Pacifico Bulahan, Jr. in his message encouraged farmers to plant more corn because of the ready market provided by the grains center. “Gidasig ko kamong tanan sa pagtanom ug daghan pa nga mais tungod kay bulahan kita niining planta nga anaa sa atong lugar nga diin mopasalig sa pagpalit sa atong mga abot nga mais, ingon man matagbo niini ang kinahanglanong 50 thousand kilos nga mais sa matag proseso.” Mayor Bulahan also added that the municipality of RM is an agricultural area that whatever crops planted to its rich soil, it will surely grow and bear fruits. 

For his impression RM corn farmer Mr. Arsenio Magsayo expressed his gratitude to the DA for its effort of imparting and educating them on existing technologies that would lead them to better yield and income. “Nindut ang kamaisan kung maayo ug higala sa kinaiyahan ang gamiton nga abuno.”

Complementing the briefing was the distribution of corn information materials. Salomes said the farm visit allowed them to observe and assess good standing of corn. With continued good weather condition, he is optimistic that the first cropping season would reap good harvest. This could address the volume requirement of the grains center in the region. He announced that corn farmers can avail of infrastructure project and some farm machineries like farm tractors, village type Corn Postharvest, and corn mill through farmers association on a counterparting scheme. 

On a larger scale, the grains center in RM buys corn-on-cobs. This facility is worth P32-miilion where DA-NABCOR counterparted P20M, 10M from ZDS 1st District represented by Hon. Victor J. Yu and 2M from the Municipality of Ramon Magsaysay. This facility allows continuous supply of corn and produces premium quality grains at 14 per cent moisture content and reduces drying and processing costs by 50 per cent. The center is producing food grade quality. (MB-Laride & D-Abenes/DA9)