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‘Benguet harvest OK despite frost’ By Artemio Dumlao (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2014 ‐ 12:00am 

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, Philippines – The prevailing frost has not affected the harvest of vegetables in Benguet and nearby towns of Mountain Province. Quoting reports from the Benguet Vegetable Farmers Cooperative, Augusta Balanoy said only five percent of the total vegetable production like potatoes, cabbage, lettuce and carrots are rotting because of the extreme weather condition. At least 13 Benguet towns are producing vegetables, and only a few had reported vegetable spoilage, she added. Frost wilts leafy vegetables and prevents them from growing to their desired size. Vegetable farms in Benguet have a natural barrier against frost as most of them are along sloping areas. The wind blows away precipitation on the leaves that develops into frost when the temperature dips. Some sitios in flat areas in Atok, Sayangan, Buguias, Kibungan, Bakun and Kapangan are experiencing frost. Farmers built green houses and sprinkler systems to wash away precipitation on leafy vegetables and reduce the effects of the low temperature. Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan dismissed reports that the frost had destroyed large areas of vegetables ready for harvest. Farmers have already learned from past experience so they have adopted methods to reduce spoilage, he added.

DA doles out fishers’ equipment in Leyte, Samar Category: Agri-Commodities 03 Jan 2014 Written by Alladin S. Diega / Correspondent DIIT, Leyte—To expedite rehabilitation of the fisheries sector in areas hit by Supertyphoon Yolanda, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) distributed two weeks ago here materials for boat repair and construction. Onboard the MV DA-BFAR, a multipurpose sea-vessel owned by the Department of Agriculture (DA), are some 400 boat engines and truckloads of marine plywood, nails and water-resistant adhesives. About 40 BFAR personnel from the central office in Manila and other nearby regions helped in distributing the materials for fishermen in Leyte and Eastern Samar affected by the super typhoon that made landfall on November 9 last year. Divided into several smaller groups, the DA ordered government employees to visit beneficiaries in their respective areas to assess the fishers’ needs and distribute materials to repair boats on the spot. According to BFAR Region 8 Director John Albaladejo some 18,890 boats were lost in the Eastern Visayas. Albaladejo told the BusinessMirror each fisher’s family needs one boat. Around 10,000 boats should be built to fully help fishermen in Eastern Visayas alone, he added. Albaladejo said the combined initiative of the BFAR central office and their local efforts led to the assembly of 1,540 boat units in the past two months. These boats, he added, are in different stages of construction around Eastern Samar and Leyte. The Department of Budget and Management has recently released the supplemental budget requested by the BFAR, amounting to P1.8 billion (roughly $40.91 million at $1=P44). The government has allocated half-a-billion pesos or about $11.37 million to rehabilitated fisheries infrastructure. The regional office of BFAR in Diit, Leyte, itself was destroyed, along with other five buildings of the DA.

According to the regional director, a guard died inside the complex while two employees staying at the office to oversee the transfer of sensitive equipments and materials were able to climb to a nearby telecommunication post. “The Pacific side of Region 8 were the most affected,” Albaladejo said. He added that for Eastern Samar, this consists of 13 towns—from Balangkayan to Guiuan, to Lawaan, including Basey and Marabut of Western Samar. “While for Leyte, the areas [affected were] from Tacloban to Abuyog.” The BFAR has boat-building centers in Tanuan and Mayurga, Leyte, and another in Basey, Western Samar, he explained. Albaladejo also said that BFAR National director Asis G. Perez ordered the immediate distribution of boat materials for repair because the construction of new boats would take much longer time. He added that Perez himself joined one of the smaller groups in distributing the repair materials and have chosen to stay, along with his family and some 30 Manila-based staff, to spend the New Year in the most affected region of Yolanda. Perez also distributed food baskets and cash amounting to P8,000 per person to employees of BFAR in Leyte and Eastern Samar, numbering to some 200 individuals, who lost their houses. The budget were culled from the savings of different divisions of the agency, the BFAR chief told the BusinessMirror.‐commodities/25307‐da‐doles‐out‐ fishers‐equipment‐in‐leyte‐samar                  

FAO distributes 1,800 tons of rice seeds in ‘Yolanda’-battered areas Category: Agri-Commodities 03 Jan 2014 Written by Priam F. Nepomuceno / Philippines News Agency TO ensure that farmers in the provinces battered by Supertyphoon Yolanda on November 8 will have the opportunity to repair the damages on their farms, the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) announced that is now distributing 1,800 tons of rice seeds to 44,000 farming families severely impacted by the weather disturbance. All of these farmers are living in Regions 6 and 8. Yolanda devastated an estimated 63,234 hectares of rice lands in the two Visayan regions. This coming March and April, the 1,800 tons of rice seed being distributed by the FAO is expected to provide enough rice to feed an estimated 800,000 people. This harvest has an estimated market value of $84 million. Having secured this season’s rice harvest, FAO is focusing on other pressing issues. As part of the joint UN Strategic Response Plan in response to Yolanda, FAO is seeking for $38 million to support more than 128,000 severely affected households in the Philippines, through interventions targeting rice and corn farming, fisheries, coconut farming, livestock, and agroforestry.‐commodities/25306‐fao‐distributes‐1‐ 800‐tons‐of‐rice‐seeds‐in‐yolanda‐battered‐areas              

Palm oil drops as crude slump reduces appeal of vegetable oil Category: Agri-Commodities 03 Jan 2014 Written by Bloomberg News PALM oil fell for a second day as crude oil’s biggest decline in almost 14 months on January 2 reduced the appeal of vegetable oils as biofuel feedstock and Indonesia forecast a jump in production this year. The contract for March delivery fell as much as 0.7 percent to 2,630 ringgit ($799) a metric ton on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives, and ended the morning session at 2,632 ringgit in Kuala Lumpur. Futures are unchanged this week after rallying 2.7 percent in the previous two weeks. West Texas Intermediate crude declined 3 percent on January 2, the biggest drop since November 2012, as an improving US economy added to speculation that the Federal Reserve will further curb stimulus. About 6.34 million tons of palm oil was probably processed into fuel last year, according to industry researcher Oil World. “The drop in crude oil has discouraged buyers,” Donny Khor, deputy director of futures and commodities at RHB Investment Bank Bhd., said by phone from Kuala Lumpur. Output in Indonesia, the world’s largest producer, will increase 15 percent to 28 million tons this year from 24.4 million tons in 2013, the Agriculture Ministry said on January 3. “If production is set to rise, the likelihood is that it might cause some downward pressure on palm oil as the higher production may contribute to higher stockpiles,” said Tan Chee Tat, an analyst at Phillip Futures Pte. in Singapore. Soybean oil for March delivery rose 0.7 percent to 39.06 cents a pound on the Chicago Board of Trade. Soybeans climbed 0.4 percent to $12.75 a bushel. Refined palm oil for May delivery declined 0.8 percent to 6,100 yuan ($1,008) a ton on the Dalian Commodity Exchange. Soybean oil lost 0.9 percent to 6,862 yuan. Bloomberg News

Organic farming advocate in Bacarra by Zac Sarian  January 3, 2014  

ORGANIC FARMER OF BACARRA — Angel Padron, 74, of Brgy. Libtong, Bacarra, Ilocos Norte is the  acknowledged leader in popularizing organic farming in his province. He is a Magsasakang Siyentista  who has turned his farm into a showcase of organic farming where other farmers go for training on the  basics of producing compost as well as vermicompost. He is shown here with a pile of compost that is  ready for bagging and for use in the field. 

Angel Padron, 74, of Brgy. Libtong, Bacarra, Ilocos Norte is the leading advocate of organic farming in Ilocos Norte. He is the president of the Ilocos Norte Organic Fertilizer Organization, and is also a certified Magsasakang Siyentista. Padron produces certified rice seeds and in the last five years, he has always used organic fertilizer to nurture his crops. He has not used any chemical fertilizer in his three-hectare farm where he grows papaya, dragon fruit, corn, garlic and vegetables besides rice. He claims that he produces 200 cavans of 40 kilos per bag or certified rice seed per hectare. That translates to 8 tons of palay per hectare. His rice seed production is profitable because he gets a high price for his produce. His certified seeds are bought at P1,200 per 40-kg bag by the government as well as private planters. If he produces registered seeds, that’s P1,600 per bag. Angel makes his own organic fertilizer for sale as well as for his own use. The raw materials that he composts consist of chicken manure, carbonized rice hull, cow manure, water hyacinth and fresh legume leaves.

He gets 60 bags (big feed bag) of chicken manure, 18 bags of carbonized rice hull and 18 bags of water hyacinth and fresh legume leaves like kakawate, ipil-ipil, etc. These are piled under a roofed structure where they are piled layer by layer. While piling each layer of the raw materials, EM or Effective Microorganism is sprinkled on the materials. Once every week, the pile is turned over. In 35 days the materials are composted and ready for use in the farm. Angel estimates that the raw materials cost just about P4,500. But the resulting compost of 45 bags (50 kg per bag) is worth P11,250 at P250 per bag. Angel also grows Red Lady papaya. In 2012, he planted 200 seedlings which were grown organically. He also made a good profit. During the peak production period, his 200 papaya trees yielded 450 kilos of ripe fruits each week which he supplied to a well known supermarket. He received P25 per kilo. He maximizes production in his dragon fruit plantation by intercropping the plants with vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, okra and the like. His farm has now become a training center in organic farming. DRAGON FRUIT EVERYWHERE – During our recent trip to Ilocos Norte, we observed that dragon fruit is practically everywhere – in yards of homes as well as in farms big and small. Of course, the leading producer and private rsearcher in dragon fruit is Edita Dacuycuy of Burgos town. She has already planted 10 hectares to this cactus fruit crop and plans to expand some more. Edita does not only plant and harvest dragon fruits for sale. She processes the fruits, the flowers and other parts of the plant for added value. She quips that if the coconut is the tree of life, the dragon fruit might as well be the vine of life. Among the byproducts she has developed from the fruits and parts of the dragon fruit are wine, ice cream vinegar, cupcake, noodles, spring roll and many more. Refmad Farm, the name of Edita’s farm, has now become a tourist destination, which Gov. Imee Marcos is supporting by constructing a cemented road to the farm. During our visit, construction was under way. TWO FORESTERS IN SOLSONA – In Solsona, we met a forester-couple who graduated from the Mariano Marcos State University in Batac in 1983 – Bob and Estrella ‘Baby’ Sacro. Bob is now a councilor (kagawad) in Solsona but is at the same time very active in planting mahogany trees for private land owners. For a couple of years after graduation, he worked as a casual employee of the Bureau of Forest Development. Then he launched his nursery in 1985 and started contracting planting of forest trees for other landowners.

Up to now, he continues to plant forest trees for other people. He can easily claim that he must have produced the most number of mahogany seedlings in Ilocos Norte, and has planted them in really big numbers in people’s farms. One balikbayan from Pinili, Ilocos Norte, for instance, had contracted Bob to plant 250,000 mahogany seedlings in a big property several years ago. A few years later, the owner had asked the Land Bank to appraise the plantation for loaning purposes. The appraised value was said to be P127 million. In Currimao, another town next to Pinili, Bob had planted 150,000 mahogany seedlings for Roy Gabino. He has done the same in several other towns in Ilocos Norte and other provinces. He usually sells his seedlings at P10 apiece and charges P2 for planting the same. THE LADY FORESTER – Bob’s wife, the former Estrella Curameng, is a forester of the provincial government. She is the Community Development Assistant for Environmental concerns in Ilocos Norte. She is responsible for implementing reforestation programs in vulnerable areas in Ilocos Norte, among them big areas in Dingras, Solsona and Badoc. In Solsona’s Brgy. Maan-anteng Manalpaac, a public land comprising 1,200 hectares is being planted to forest and fruit trees. Being planted during our visit were thousands of Arabica coffee seedlings. Earlier planted were narra, molave, duhat, pine trees, mango, coconut, rambutan and others. BIG PUBLIC LAND – There’s a big public land out there in Dungon Dungon, Burgos town, which is awaiting development. It is about 250 to 300 hectares. One possibility is to develop the place into a Leisure Farm just like some of those found in Taiwan. For a start, Ricardo Tolentino, the Mango King, said he could start planting 20 hectares to mango. The Ilocos Dragon Fruit Queen, Edita Dacuycuy, on the other hand, intimated she could plant 10 to 20 hectares to dragon fruit. Another fellow we talked to, Nestor Acosta, the vegetable expert, said the place can produce a lot of high-value vegetables. The good thing about the place is that there is a source of water that could be developed. What is also attractive is that from the higher portion of the property, the tourists can see the windmills in Pagudpud town. That’s one attraction. What would be needed are investors who would come up with an eating place, or eating places, that will offer the best of Ilocano cuisine as well as fresh fruits and delicacies. Food, good food, attracts a lot of tourists.

Senator seeks regulation of e-cigarettes use, promotion Category: Nation 03 Jan 2014 Written by Mia M. Gonzalez CITING the duty of the state to protect public health, a senator is seeking the regulated use and promotion of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in the country. In filing Senate Bill (SB) 2011, or the E-Cigarette Regulation Act of 2013, Sen. Manuel Lapid said the use of e-cigarettes, which is offered as an alternative to smokers to minimize their addiction to tobacco products, “remains a concern to health experts.” “E-cigarettes are not regulated in the same manner as tobacco products because they do not contain tobacco—thus falling outside the ambit of the Tobacco Regulation Act. Thus, these devices are accessible to anyone who wishes to use them, including minors,” Lapid said in his explanatory note. He said that even with the “exercise of discretion and utmost care by retailers in the sale of ecigarettes and similar devices to minors, there are no clear and defined regulations imposing penalties for the commission of such sales or the gearing of advertisements or product packaging toward the sale to minors.” “The lack of regulation, compounded by product accessibility, popularity and attractive design, makes such devices appealing to young adults, teenagers and minors, thereby encouraging their experimentation with or outright use of the same,” he said. Lapid said SB 2011 seeks to regulate the sale and use by minors of e-cigarettes and similar devices, such as electronic vamping devices, personal vaporizers (PVs), or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic inhaler devices. He said his proposal is anchored on the state policy to protect the people from “hazardous products and promote the right to health and instill health consciousness among the public.” The proposed measure covers e-cigarettes, electronic vamping devices, PVs, or ENDS that “vaporize liquid nicotine into an aerosol mist and are meant to mimic and serve as a substitute for smoking tobacco.” SB 2011 prohibits the sale and distribution of such products to minors. The bill prohibits the sale or distribution of e-cigarettes within 100 meters from a school, public playground, or other facilities particularly frequented by and intended for minors. It requires point-of-sale establishments offering, distributing, or selling e-cigarettes to post a disclaimer on their products, stating clearly that the sale to minors or those below 18 years old is

unlawful; and requires retailers to verify the age of their customers through valid identification cards. SB 2011 also provides a comprehensive guideline to e-cigarette manufacturers on advertising, promotions and even sponsorships. The bill bars the use of celebrity endorsers and “cartoon characters or subjects that depict humans or animals with comically exaggerated features or that attribute human or unnatural characteristics to animals, plants or other objects” in advertisements, which must not be oriented toward minors. The ads will only depict persons who are or appear to be above 25 years old, and shall not portray or depict scenes where there is actual use of, act of using, or puffing of e-cigarettes. The proposed measure bars print advertisements, “unless there is reasonable basis to believe” that at least 75 percent of the readers of the publication are 18 years old and above, and its youth readership comprises less than 10 percent of all youth in the Philippines. The ads shall not be placed on the packaging or outside covers, whether front or back, or a magazine, newspaper, journal or other publication printed for general circulation. Outdoor advertisements shall not be placed on billboards, wall murals, or transport stops or stations within a hundred meters from schools, public playgrounds, or similar facilities frequented by minors; and shall not be more than 70 square meters in total size either individually or when placed in “deliberate combination” with other outdoor ads. The outdoor ads shall not be placed on public transportation, and in stations, terminals or platforms of public transportation except point-of-sale establishments. Such ads cannot be placed in connection with the showing of any film which minors are allowed to see. Under the bill, radio and television ads on e-cigarettes are not allowed during prime time, as may be determined or defined by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). No electronic advertisements shall be incorporated within any video or audio cassette, videogame machine, optical disc, or any similar medium unless access is restricted to adults. Internet advertisements are barred unless the site is restricted to adults, a limitation that applies only to commercial communications and not private company web sites. Under SB 2011, all e-cigarette advertising on television, cable television, radio and other forms of mass media will be prohibited; after six months, all cinema and outdoor advertising shall be prohibited.

The proposed measure also provides that telephone communications on promotional offers, programs or events must include a recorded health-warning message in English or Filipino. It prohibits the distribution or sale of merchandise such clothes, caps, visors, backpacks, writing implements and umbrellas bearing an e-cigarette brand visible to others when used; and limits clothing sizes for adults only.The e-cigarette brand should also not appear on items that are used by minors such as toys, sports equipment, video games, and food; and on shopping bags. SB 2011 prohibits e-cigarette manufacturers from sponsoring events whose target audience are minors.E-cigarette brand sponsorships are prohibited unless there is “reasonable basis” to believe that 75 percent of those in attendance at the sponsored activity are at least 18 years old, the activity would not attract minors, among others. Under the bill, beginning July 1, 2014, e-cigarette companies are barred from sponsoring any sport, concert, cultural or art event; and individual and team athletes, artists or performers where the sponsorship would require the advertisement or promotion of the product. Only the attribution to the name of the company in the roster of sponsors would be allowed. SB 2011 creates an Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) to implement the proposed measure, to be chaired by the trade secretary and vice-chaired by the health secretary. The members are the Secretaries of justice, of finance, of science, and of education; and a representative each from the industry to be nominated by the recognized associations of the industry, and a non-governmental organization involved in public health promotion nominated by the Department of Health in consultation with concerned NGOs. Under SB 2011, first-time offenders of the provisions on access restrictions face a minimum fine of P5,000 or a maximum jail time of 30 days; while succeeding offenses would result to the imposition of both penalties plus the revocation of business licenses or permits. Minors who violate that will be subject to the Chief and Youth Welfare Code. First-time violation of the advertising and promotions provisions of the proposed bill would entail a maximum fine of P100,000, or one-year imprisonment, or both; the second offense, P200,000 fine and a two-year jail term, or both. On the third offense, in addition to a maximum fine of P400,000, or three-year imprisonment or both, the business permits and licenses shall be revoked or canceled.In the case of business establishments, the owner, president, manager or officials would be held liable. If the guilty officer is an alien, he will be summarily deported after serving sentence and forever barred from re-entering the Philippines.‐senator‐seeks‐regulation‐of‐e‐ cigarettes‐use‐promotion

Palace: No magic wand to reduce power costs (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2014 ‐ 12:00am   4  17 googleplus0  0  

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang is awaiting a proposal from Congress on the issue of power costs. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the law limits the actions of Malacañang, referring to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). “There is no magic wand to wave,” she said. “While you believe that the executive has so much power, (it is) perceived power, we are limited by what the law says.” Valte said “it depends on the proposal, and also remember that the President is very careful about using his certification powers,” when asked whether President Aquino would certify as urgent bills seeking to amend EPIRA. “Normally, the process is such that we look at the bills that are already pending in Congress, not the ones that are initiated by the administration,” she said. Aquino has asked agencies to look into the problem and to find possible solutions within the law, Valte said. Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1  

Various bills have been filed in Congress seeking to amend EPIRA. Tight supply to raise prices?

Electricity rates might shoot up again in Luzon this summer if unpaid power producers are unable to generate power to meet higher demand. The Philippine Independent Power Producers Association (PIPPA) said a tight power supply situation might appear in summer if power generators are left unpaid because of the Supreme Court’s 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) on Meralco’s rate hike. A tight power supply situation happens when power producers are unable to supply enough electricity to meet demand for a certain period. It leads to high prices at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), the country’s trading floor for electricity. In November 2013, due to tight supply at the spot market, the price of electricity for Luzon in the spot market rose to P15.51 per kilowatt-hour from P6.16 per kwh in October. The higher rate was reflected in the December 2013 bills of consumers. Speaking to reporters yesterday, PIPPA president Luis Miguel Aboitiz said while the TRO’s impact differs for each generator, those that have weaker balance sheets might not be able to continuously generate capacity if the issue drags on and they are left unpaid for the fuel supply. For now, electricity demand is at its lowest so there is no supply problem, he added. Meralco has not yet been able to pay power producers roughly P10 billion because the TRO prevents it from collecting from its 5.3 million customers. Aboitiz sees a problem if the issue drags on beyond March and unpaid power generators are unable to generate more electricity coupled with the lack of rain to power hydro plants. “If there are no forced outages, there won’t be any problem. Fortunately, this is the time of the year when demand is at its lowest,” he said. “This is from Dec. 20 to March 15. If we have large plants that fail or absolutely no rain in March, that would bring in a tighter power situation. “The impact on the industry depends on how long this lasts. You cannot have one impact for the whole industry.” Aboitiz hopes the problem is resolved as soon as possible. “The consequence is minimal if it’s resolved quickly,” he said. The SC has set oral arguments on the petition filed by militant groups on Jan. 21. – Alexis Romero, Iris Gonzales‐no‐magic‐wand‐reduce‐power‐costs

Lawmaker urges gov’t to consider tax amnesty By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2014 ‐ 12:00am   4  51 googleplus0  1  

MANILA, Philippines - With no new taxes on the horizon, the government should consider a tax amnesty to raise revenues and stabilize its fiscal position, a House leader said yesterday. In raising the proposal, Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao cited a recent report from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on some P300 billion in uncollected taxes. He said with such a large amount of uncollected taxes, “imposing new or higher taxes would be inadvisable.” “A tax amnesty for the delinquent accounts may be worth considering,” Aggabao said. “Even just a fraction of the P300-billion tax collectibles will amount to a sizable fund that may be exclusively earmarked for Super Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation,” he said. Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo, chairman of the House ways and means committee, earlier said the administration should reconsider its no new tax policy, or at least restructure its tax system in certain industries to sustain government expenditures as well as the country’s growth. The administration, making good its 2010 promise, has not imposed new taxes except those on liquor and cigarette or the so-called sin products. Quimbo, in a statement, said “there remain risks and uncertainties in the global economy, uncertainties in investments supposed to be coming into the country, and even the environment.” “Do we need new taxes? Maybe, but at the very least, we need to assess our tax system in some sectors because actual national expenses are not always predictable,” the Marikina lawmaker said.

‘Abolition of SARO to reduce red tape’ By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2014 ‐ 12:00am 

MANILA, Philippines - The abolition of the special allotment release order (SARO) would reduce red tape and fast-track the implementation of government projects, Malacañang said yesterday. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the new system would allow agencies to undertake procurement activities immediately after the signing of the national budget. Previously, agencies had to wait for the SARO before they could issue a notice of award to winning bidders. “It will be easier for them to front-load projects, at least ideally, within the first week of January, you can already award projects,” Valte said in a press briefing. “More importantly, the GAA (General Appropriations Act) as a release document will reduce red tape or the papers that have to be accomplished and submitted, and you lessen opportunities for corruption because there is less red tape.” The budget department has removed the SARO requirement in the wake of reports that some groups are benefiting from the circulation of fake release orders. The National Bureau of Investigation is now probing the “well-established” and “highly coordinated” racket, which reportedly involved some budget personnel. Under the GAA-as-release-document system, agencies will no longer need SAROs to obligate funds for their projects.

This means that an agency can start obligating funds as soon as the 2014 budget or GAA is implemented on the first working day of the fiscal year. In lieu of the SARO, the 2014 budget will serve as the government’s primary budget release document. “All the disaggregated budget items in the GAA are already considered released to their respective agencies, with the exception of lump-sum funds that have yet to be itemized, and which will require prior approval before their release,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in an earlier statement. However, some items will still require clearance and approval before their funds can be disbursed. These include lump-sum funds within an agency’s budget that have not been itemized prior to the enactment of the 2014 budget, and special purpose funds including the calamity fund and budgetary support to government corporations. “The DBM (Department of Budget and Management) is currently in process of full computerization of issuing SAROs for those items that still need it, like the SPF and lump sum,” Valte said. She said measures are in place to ensure that the new system would not be tainted with anomalies. “The agency remains responsible for the budget that is given to them and, of course, part of that is the assurance that they follow the process when it comes to procurement, disbursement, liquidation since they are being audited by the COA (Commission on Audit),” Valte said.


Lawmaker says SSS ‘has no moral authority’ to increase contributions Category: Economy 03 Jan 2014 Written by with Marvyn Benaning AN activist- lawmaker on Friday blasted the Social Security System (SSS), which has begun implementing an increase in members’ contributions this month, saying it “has no moral authority to collect more.” Party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna said instead of hiking members’ contributions, the SSS should instead collect some P90 billion in unremitted premiums from delinquent employers. The Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) also demanded that the 0.6-percent increase in contributions be suspended indefinitely, calling it “unjustified and grossly detrimental to the interests of the members of the state pension fund.” SSS officials have said the state pension fund has an accumulated unfunded liability estimated at P1.1 trillion since 1980. Increasing at a rate of 8 percent per annum, this would wipe out the SSS by 2041. To address this, President Aquino approved the increase in September last year. SSS President Emilio de Quiros Jr. also said the increase is part of its “reform agenda,” which seeks to gradually lengthen the actuarial life of the Social Security Fund. But Colmenares said if this was the case, officers of the state-owned pension fund should not have given themselves hefty bonuses last year. “If they are saying that they are running low on funds, then why give out huge bonuses for themselves? They cannot claim lack of funds while, at the same time, given themselves large bonuses,” he said, as he challenged Mr. Aquino to rescind his order to increase the premiums. The BMP also dismissed de Quiros’s explanation. “How can it go bankrupt when, presently, the SSS has more than 30 million members and is increasing rapidly furthermore, it has invested billions of pesos of its members’ funds in highly profitable industries, such as real estate, mining, telecommunication, banking and power,” BMP’s Gie Relova said. The labor organization demanded an investigation of the SSS, including what it called its “antipeople” investments in mining and its continued exposure in the “volatile” Philippine Stock Exchange.

“Only after an investigation and transparency measures [are] in place and [with] improved services can the government justify the contribution increase. Until they do so, wave upon wave of protest actions shall be launched against the parasitic and unmistakably anti-worker policy of the Aquino government,” Relova warned. The increase in contributions translates to around P60 for an employee earning P10,000 a month. In 2012 SSS membership included 602,139 employers, 21,945,734 employees, 3,803,327 selfemployed and 3,708,306 voluntary members. There were 1,595,741 pensioners as of December 2012 receiving social-security benefits (retirement, death, disability) and employee’s compensation benefits (death, disability), data from the SSS web site showed. with Marvyn Benaning‐lawmaker‐says‐sss‐has‐no‐ moral‐authority‐to‐increase‐contributions                          

What should be done in Hacienda Luisita? AT GROUND LEVEL By Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2014 ‐ 12:00am   10  113 googleplus1  1  

In last week’s column, I promised to dwell in today’s piece on the issues raised by the Hacienda Luisita farmworkers concerning the Department of Agrarian Reform’s implementation of the Supreme Court’s final ruling on April 24, 2012. This involves the distribution of 4,915 hectares of the 6,453-hectare estate to 6,296 farmworker-beneficiaries. As the DAR was proceeding to distribute the land via a tambiolo (lottery drum) raffle, the farmworkers belonging to AMBALA complained to the Supreme Court last July, calling this method a sham. “Not an inch of land has been physically distributed,” they charged, and many supposed beneficiaries were “disenfranchised,” their rights violated. The complaints, affirmed by an on-site fact-finding mission in September, included the following: • Insertion of nearly 1,000 questionable names in the master list of beneficiaries; • Exclusion from distribution of hundreds of hectares of land, sowing confusion, dislocation and dispute among beneficiaries over lot allocation and individual titling; • Imposition of compulsory signing of promissory notes to ensure amortization payments; Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1  

• Inaction on the farmworkers’ appeal to revoke a 1996 conversion order on 500 hectares of prime agricultural land that was left undeveloped after five years, contrary to the requirement of the law; (Consequently, farmworker families have occupied portions of the “converted” land and planted rice and other food crops, under a project called bungkalan. The bungkalan began in 2005, at the height of the farmworkers’ and sugar-central workers’ strike, historically marked by the ignominious Hacienda Luisita Massacre of Nov. 16, 2004. (The Cojuangco-controlled Tarlac Development Corp. and the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., employing armed security guards and filing cases in court, have repeatedly tried, unsuccessfully, to evict the farmworkers.)

• Grant of overpriced landlord compensation to the HLI. (The SC final ruling set “just compensation” at the 1989 HLI land value, or P40,000 per hectare. Yet, last August, DAR Sec. Virgilio delos Reyes told a congressional hearing that, by factoring in 12% interest on the land since 1989, the Cojuangcos’ compensation may exceed P100,000 per hectare – more than double the amount set by the high tribunal). Two important conclusions were made by the fact-finding mission participated in by 11 peasant organizations, peasant-support and agrarian-reform advocacy groups. In their report last November, they said: 1. That the farmworkers’ demand for free land distribution was “just and must be granted”; and 2. That the farmworkers’ demand for recognition of their right to collective (rather than individual) land ownership should be heeded, as it is “equitable and just.” Why should they not have to pay? Because the HLI land should have been distributed among the farmworkers 46 years ago — in 1967! That was the condition set by the government for financially supporting Jose Cojuangco Sr. in buying the estate in 1957. Underlining the justness of the demand is this straightforward statement by Maria DomingoCorpuz, 99-year-old resident of Barangay Cutcut, Tarlac City. A farmworker since 1930 (when Tabacalera was still managing the hacienda), she and her 10 children have continued working for the Cojuangcos. “Ang Hacienda Luisita ay pag-aari ng mga magsasaka at hindi ng mga Cojuangco. Sinangla lang ito nang 10 taon at hindi na isinauli, inagaw na nila,” she said. (The hacienda is owned by the farmers, not the Cojuangcos. They mortgaged the land for 10 years and they haven’t returned it, they grabbed it.) Apong Maria’s grievance — shared by 6,000 longtime farmworkers — is compounded by what the Cojuangcos allegedly did, which worsened the hardships endured by her family over the past 56 years. She disclosed: “We used to have a hectare of land (under Tabacalera) where we planted rice for our consumption. But that piece of land was taken by the Cojuangcos when they came in 1957.” Other families who also cultivated parcels of land for their own food before 1957, may have suffered the same fate as the Corpuzes. One of Apong Maria’s five daughters, Leonarda “Nanay Leoning” Corpuz-Halili, 57, mother of six, has taken after her mother. She has joined the United Luisita Workers Union and is one of the women leaders in Barangay Cutcut. During the 2004-2005 strike, she was active in both the picketline and the bungkalan. Exultantly she related her experience-cum-discovery, saying:

“I was in the picketline since day one of the strike. I stopped doing other jobs and focused on contributing to the strike as I realized the importance of our struggle for our land rights. I helped in the cooking. I helped plant crops for our food on patches of land adjacent to the picketline.” “I thought to myself then, that if we had done this earlier, I could have sent my children to school. There’s been a big improvement in our income now that we are cultivating the land through the bungkalan, unlike before when we were only earning a measly P9.50 as take-home pay.” The eight-year bungkalan experience has shown the benefits of collective land ownership and cultivation vis-a-vis individual ownership-cultivation. It’s more economically viable, as the reduction of distributable HLI land to only 4,915 hectares for 6,296 beneficiaries would mean, otherwise, that each farmworker family may eventually own less than a hectare — and this, after paying amortization over 30 years. *




Benguet farmers see minimal effect of frost on harvest By Artemio A. Dumlao ( | Updated January 3, 2014 ‐ 3:41pm   1  0 googleplus0  0  

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet - Despite the frost in the highlands, its effect on vegetables produced in Benguet and several adjacent towns in Mt. Province is minimal. Augusta Balanoy of the Benguet Vegetable Farmers Cooperative, citing reports from their members, said only five percent of the total production of highland vegetables like potatoes, cabbages, lettuce, carrots and the likes are spoiled by the extreme weather condition in the highland areas. Earlier, weather forecaster said the temperature along the so-called “Vegetable Belt” in Benguet has dipped to a low of eight degrees Celcius and even chillier at times. At least 13 Benguet towns are producing vegetables, Balanoy said, and only a few reported of spoilage from frost. Frost, which Benguet vegetable farmers regularly contend with, wilts leafy vegetables and prevents them from further growing to their desired size. Only a few sitios among several towns, Balanoy said, have been affected by the frost. Vegetable farms in Benguet even have a natural “barrier” against frost because majority of the farms are along sloping areas, hence the natural winds blow precipitation away from the leaves, preventing it to develop into frost when temperature dips. Several sitios located in flat areas in Atok, Sayangan, Buguias, Kibungan, Bakun and Kapangan are experiencing frost. Even in these areas, Balanoy said, farmers have put up measures against low temperatures such as building green houses, installing sprinkler systems and others to fight precipitation on leafy vegetables. owing to the only minimal effect of frost, the supply will not be affected, the farmer’s representative added.‐farmers‐see‐minimal‐effect‐frost‐ harvest  

Solon backs construction of ‘clean coal’ power plant by Ellson Quismorio  January 3, 2014  

A Misamis Oriental lawmaker on Friday expressed her full support for the construction of a P30billion “clean coal” power plant in her home province, saying it would help solve the power shortfall plaguing Mindanao. Rep. Juliette Uy said the 405-megawatt (MW) power plant of FDC Misamis Power Corporation (FDC Misamis), to be constructed in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental, would be of both economic and social boon to the region. “The (FDC Misamis plant) is a major investment project that has the endorsement of both the local and national governments since it will help address the shortfall of power in Mindanao and meet the increasing demand for energy in Region 10. More investments and business development for the province will flow once the power plant commences construction and moreso when it goes online,” Uy said. FDC Misamis is a subsidiary of FDC Utilities, Inc., the utilities and infrastructure arm of the Filinvest Development Corporation (FDC) of the Gotianun group. It shall build three units of the power plant, which is expected to start commercial operations by 2016. “In keeping with the need for continued development and strict environmental protection standards, we are informed that the power plant to be put up by FDC Misamis will use circulating fluidized bed boiler technology, the latest in clean coal technology known,” noted Uy who is member of the House Committee on Energy. This type of clean coal technology ultimately swayed the solon and local officials into endorsing the project in an 84.4-hectare area within the Phividec Industrial Estate in the barangays of Balacanas, Tambobong and San Martin in Villanueva. According to FDC Misamis, the technology removes more than 95 percent of sulphur emissions and creates negligible nitrogen oxide levels while generating useful by-products such as calcium sulphate that is useful for cement production. “This energy project will also help diversify the energy mix in Mindanao and hopefully ensure the supply of reliable and cheap electricity for Misamis Oriental and the rest of the region,” Uy said.The Misamis Oriental legislator further noted that the power plant will spur more economic opportunities for the localities when it goes into commercial operations. “We share the optimism of local officials and the investors that the FDC Misamis Project will help further local economic development with more jobs and economic opportunities for the entire district and province,” said Uy.‐backs‐construction‐of‐clean‐coal‐power‐plant/

More convenient payment of government fees set by Edd K. Usman  January 3, 2014  

Manila, Philippines — The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) sees long queues at cashier’s windows at government offices to disappear with the introduction next month of PhPay, an internet- based electronic payment facility. “PhPay will allow the public to pay for government transactions through online delivery channels, including ATM (automated teller machine) accounts, credit cards, bank and non-bank over-the-counter payments, mobile wallets (SMS, short messaging service), mobile banking and rural banks, among others,” said Jops Josef, PhPay’s project leader. PhPay is one of the services belonging to Integrated Government Philippines (iGovPhil), a joint project of DOST and its Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO). He said many companies have already offered their services for PhPay, as he cited the online payment facility’s convenience to both the public and the government. A convenience fee of about P10 to P40 would be collected for each PhPay transaction.

Gov’t hastens implementation of Treasury Single Account By Zinnia B. Dela Peña (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2014 ‐ 12:00am 

MANILA, Philippines - The government will speed up the implementation of the treasury single account (TSA), a unified structure of government bank accounts that will allow greater cash management. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the Aquino administration hopes to operationalize the TSA as soon as possible to ensure that government cash balances are optimally managed to reduce borrowing costs. The government, he said, would save P1.5 billion from the TSA, which is considered an effective tool in establishing oversight and centralized control over government’s cash resources. A TSA will provide accurate and timely information on bank account balances, revenue and cash positions of the government including its line agencies. It also facilitates better fiscal, debt management and monetary policy coordination. It ensures systematic recording and reporting of all liabilities of government entities including real and contingent liabilities to enable the national government to manage its financial exposure. “We will initially include five of the biggest GOCCs (government-owned corporations) and eventually expand its diverge,” Purisima said. The TSA forms part of the government’s public financial management reform program, which seeks to simplify, improve and harmonize the financial management processes and information systems of the public sector as well as reengineer and integrate in the relevant systems in the Department of Budget and Management, Commission on Audit, Department of Finance and implementing agencies.

New footbridge vital to IPs, ‘Tamaraw’ protection in Mindoro by Ellalyn De Vera  January 3, 2014  

For years, the communities around the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm, composed mostly of the TauBuid and Buhid indigenous groups, in Occidental Mindoro used a rickety cable footbridge to cross the river, with only wire mesh protecting the sides of the bridge. In many remote areas like Rizal town in Occidental Mindoro, a reliable footbridge is the key to gaining access to education and medical services; transporting goods and services; and attaining a better life. A new 103-meter footbridge now provides a more reliable and safe means of traversing the river, a vital service to the local community, in this town. Officials of Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park, the provincial government of Occidental Mindoro, and representatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, local non-government organizations, and indigenous peoples, witnessed recently the inauguration of the hanging footbridge at the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm in Barangay Manoot in Rizal town. “The bridge will not only serve the people of Barangay Manoot, particularly our brothers and sisters of the Tau-Buid and Buhid groups, but will also allow more people to know more about the Tamaraw and the biodiversity of Mindoro,” Grace Diamante, director of the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., said. Rod Agas of the pool farm added that the bridge would be vital to the future plans for the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm, including its future transformation into the Mindoro Biodiversity Park. “Occidental Mindoro is part of the transit for poached wildlife, including birds and other species coming from Palawan. Rescued and confiscated species can be cared for in the park and rehabilitated before they are released back into the wild,” he said. MIBNP Protected Area Superintendent Rodel Boyles hoped “to have more projects that have the collaboration of major stakeholders to better protect the Tamaraw and other species of the park, as well as help indigenous groups and local communities, who are our partners in conservation.” Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park covers 75,445 hectares and lies in the heart of Mindoro island. About 75 percent of the park is in Occidental Mindoro, in municipalities of Sablayan, Calintaan, Rizal and fringes of San Jose.

The remaining portion falls under the territory of Oriental Mindoro in the towns of Sabang, Rosacara, Villahermosa, Itagan, Lisap, Pinamalayan, Gloria, Bansud, Bongabon, Mansalay and Panaytayan. The park is best known as the habitat of the critically endangered Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis). Other unique species of flora and fauna in the park include the Mindoro Imperial Pigeon (Ducula mindorensis); Mindoro Tarictic Hornbill (Penelopides mindorensis); Mindoro Bleeding-Heart Pigeon (Galliculumba platenae); Mindoro Rusa Deer (Cervus marianus barandanus) and the Mindoro Pine (Pinus merkusii). Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park is one of five ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP) in the Philippines, which includes Mt. Apo Natural Park, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, Mt. Malindang Range Natural, and Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve.

PSA combines 4 statistical agencies by Edu Lopez  January 3, 2014  

The National Statistics Office (NSO), the primary statistical arm of the government, along with three other major statistical agencies engaged in the collection and compilation data for planning and policy purposes will now be known as the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). The implementing rules and regulations of Philippine Statistical Act of 2013 which took effect on Dec. 29, 2013 mandate the reorganization of the Philippine Statistical System and the creation of the PSA through the merging of the NSO, National Statistical Coordination Board, Bureau of Agricultural Statistics of the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics of the Department of Labor. The PSA, which is headed by the national statistician, will be primarily responsible for all national censuses and surveys, sector statistics, consolidation of selected administrative recording systems and compilation of national accounts. The law directs the PSA to carry out, enforce and administer civil registration functions in the country. Its main tasks include planning; development and prescription; dissemination and enforcement of policies, rules and regulations; and coordination of government-wide programs governing the production of official general-purpose statistics and the delivery of civil registration services. The law also provides for the creation of the Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute (PSRTI) to replace the Statistical Research and Training Center. The PSRTI, which is headed by an executive director, is accountable for the development of a comprehensive and integrated research and training program on the theories, concepts and methodologies for the promotion of the statistical system, among others. Both the PSA and PSRTI will be attached to the National Economic and Development Authority for policy coordination.

DBM relaxes rules for fund releases by Chino Leyco  January 3, 2014  

ABAD The national government has relaxed its rules on the release of public funds as the Aquino administration wants a much faster disbursement to boost the country’s economy, a cabinet official said yesterday. Budget and Management Secretary Florencio B. Abad said some budgetary items under the 2014 national budget will no longer require prior clearance and approval before the funds can be released to their respective agencies. Abad said the General Appropriations Act (GAA) will be now considered as the government’s official budget release document. With the new policy, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) also phased out the use of Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs), which have been subject to scrutiny after the surface of fake SAROs. Under the GAA-as-Release-Document budget regime, departments and agencies will no longer need to secure SAROs to obligate funds — which involves entering into contracts and kickstarting the procurement process — for a particular project. Instead, an agency can begin obligating funds as soon as the 2014 GAA is implemented on the very first working day of the fiscal year. “The 2014 GAA, as signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III last December 20, already stands as the government’s primary budget release document. This means that all the disaggregated

budget items in the GAA are already considered released to their respective agencies,” Abad said. He, however, said that lump-sum funds that have yet to be itemized will require prior approval before their release. “By making the GAA as the release document for all budgetary items, we’ve practically eliminated the delays that have plagued fund releases, since agencies no longer have to secure SAROs and other release documents to obligate their funds,” Abad said. Other budgetary items that will likewise need clearance prior to release are those with conditions and requirements specified under the 2014 GAA’s General/Special Provisions and Budget Affirmation/Veto Message in the GAA, and all automatically appropriated items, including Special Accounts in the General Fund.

Pagasa releases list of storm names for 2014 By Bong Lozada   9:44 pm | Friday, January 3rd, 2014  

Photo from MANILA, Philippines— The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has released the list of names of tropical storm for 2014. According to Pagasa, the 2014 list duplicated the items in 2010. Among the interesting names that would be used are “Waldo,” “Mario” and “Venus.”

Pagasa uses a four-year rotation which uses a list of 25 names every four years which began in 2001 when the bureau used nicknames for typhoons instead of the clichéd names ending in “ing.” Joining the three are Agaton, Basyang, Caloy, Domeng, Ester, Florita, Glenda, Henry, Inday, Juan, Katring, Luis, Neneng, Ompong, Paeng, Queenie, Ruby, Seniang, Tomas, Usman, Yayang and Zeny. Related story ‘Butchoy,’ ‘Buchoy’ or ‘Butsoy’… Read more:‐releases‐list‐of‐storm‐names‐for‐ 2014#ixzz2padk3684   Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook                                AMID POT LEGALIZATION IN COLORADO  

Palace: Marijuana is illegal in Philippines By Bong Lozada   3:44 pm | Friday, January 3rd, 2014  

Seedling marijuana plants. AP FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—Marijuana is an illegal substance in the Philippines and Malacañang remains steadfast in implementing the law, a Palace spokesperson said Friday. The remark came a day after the first recreational marijuana industry in the US opened in Colorado, kicking off an experiment that will be watched closely around the world. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that unless Congress amends the law, marijuana remains a prohibited substance under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. “It’s prohibited under the Dangerous Drugs Act. It will remain as such until Congress amends it otherwise,” Valte said at a media. Valte stressed that Philippine law enforcers would continue to enforce the anti-illegal drugs law that prohibits all narcotics, including marijuana, in the country. “As of the moment, the Executive Department implements the law as it is,” she said. Pot is still illegal under the American federal law, but the US Justice Department outlined an eight-point slate of priorities for pot regulation, requiring states to keep the drug away from minors, criminal cartels, federal property and other states in order to avoid a federal crackdown. Colorado voters in 2012 approved the legal pot industry that opened on Wednesday. Washington state has its own version, which is scheduled to open in mid-2014. Uruguay passed a law in December to become the first nation to regulate pot. Pot advocates have argued a legal market would generate revenue for states and save money by not having to lock up so many drug offenders.

But a group of addiction counselors and physicians in the US said they’re seeing more marijuana addiction problems, especially in youths, and that wider pot availability will exacerbate the problem. “This is just throwing gas on the fire,” said Ben Cort of the Colorado Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Hospital. With Associated Press Read more:‐marijuana‐is‐illegal‐in‐ philippines#ixzz2paeCl0uz   Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook                                   

DENR eyes fines for air pollution By DJ Yap  Philippine Daily Inquirer   3:23 pm | Friday, January 3rd, 2014   

AP FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines – Following the discovery that the New Year fireworks worsened air pollution in Metro Manila nearly 10 times the tolerable level, environment officials are now considering imposing penalties on cities that fail to regulate firecracker use. Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said his agency was studying ways of minimizing air pollution during the New Year celebrations, including slapping sanctions on cities and municipalities where pollutants are found to have risen the most. “For example, we may impose a fine of P1 million for a certain percent rise of PM10, or particulate matter 10 microns and below in diameter, which is the standard used in measuring air quality,” he said. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it recorded unnaturally high readings of PM 10 in Metro Manila on Jan. 1 at the height of the revelry. The average reading was 1,437 ug/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter of air), compared to 2013′s 537 ug/Ncm, “way beyond” the average healthy value of 150 ug/Ncm set by the government and the World Health Organization. Paje said some cities, including Marikina and Muntinlupa, have already passed ordinances regulating the sale and manufacture of firecrackers.

“But it’s not enough to regulate firecrackers in only one or two cities, because the air pollution will cover not just one or two cities but the whole Metro Manila,” he said. But Paje said the agency was still studying the legal basis for the sanctions, including the Clean Air Act. He added that the Pollution Adjudication Board would be in charge of the matter. The DENR regularly monitors air quality in Metro Manila and pays particular attention to pollution levels during the New Year celebration. Fire crackers and fireworks are big business in the Philippines as many people believe making noise to greet the arrival of the New Year spells good fortune. Read more:‐eyes‐fines‐for‐air‐pollution#ixzz2paeZGPOi   Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook                                 

Latest `Yolanda’ death toll hits 6,166 By Julliane Love De Jesus   12:25 pm | Friday, January 3rd, 2014  

INQUIRER FILE PHOTO MANILA, Philippines—Ten more bodies had been recovered from the rubble since Dec. 29, bringing the death toll from supertyphoon ‘‘Yolanda’’ to 6,166 as of Friday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported. The NDRRMC also said the number of people injured by the killer typhoon rose to 28,626. The number of missing still stands at 1,785. More than two-thirds of the death toll, or 5,768, were reported in the provinces of Leyte, Samar and Eastern Samar, On Thursday, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. quoted rehabilitation czar Secretary Panfilo Lacson as saying that the government has formed a team to speed up the burial of 1,400 more bodies left on the streets in devastated areas. The typhoon that affected 16 million people in the Visayas has caused massive damage to roads, bridges, facilities and other infrastructures worth P18.3 billion. The same amount of damage to crops, livestock, fisheries and irrigation facilities in affected areas was also reported. To date, a total of 890,895 homeless families, or more than four million persons, are still seeking shelter in evacuation centers almost two months after the deluge. Read more:‐yolanda‐death‐toll‐hits‐6166#ixzz2paeoIx8h   Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook 

In the Know: PH only country with June‐March school year Philippine Daily Inquirer   1:46 am | Saturday, January 4th, 2014  

The Philippines is the only member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that follows a June-to-March academic calendar. Other Asean countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and, most recently, Thailand, are already following the September-to-May school calendar. In the United States, the school calendar begins between August and September and ends in June. In some European countries, the school year starts in the first week of September. In Nordic countries like Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland, it generally starts between midto end-August. In Southern European countries like Greece, Portugal and Turkey, the school calendar starts during the second half of September. Other Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have a different school calendar. The academic year in Japan starts in April and ends in March. South Korea’s academic year begins in March and ends in February. Like in some European countries and in the United States, China’s school calendar also starts in September and ends in June. In Australia, the school year begins in January and ends in December. Executive Order No. 292, signed in July 1987 by then President Corazon Aquino, provides that the opening date of the school year for the elementary, secondary and tertiary levels for public and private schools “shall not be earlier than the first day of June nor later than the last day of July of each year unless prevented by fortuitous events.” This academic calendar was adopted to coincide with the country’s two seasons—rainy (from June to November) and dry (from December to May). Education Secretary Armin Luistro said last month that no decision has been made regarding the proposed shift in academic calendar for basic education. He cited a Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) study showing that typhoons and heavy rains are not frequent occurrences during June and July. Classes in April and May may also not be advisable due to the intense heat, Luistro said

Bills that would change the academic calendar have been filed by Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla in the House of Representatives and by Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada in the Senate.—Compiled by Marielle Medina and Kathleen T. de Villa, Inquirer Research Sources: Inquirer Archives, Organisation of School Time in Europe by the European Commission, Seoul National University, Chuo University,, NYC Department of Education Read more:‐the‐know‐ph‐only‐country‐with‐june‐march‐school‐ year#ixzz2pagQ74ig   Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook                                     

Frost descends on Benguet farms By Kimberlie Quitasol  Inquirer Northern Luzon   10:08 pm | Friday, January 3rd, 2014  

FROST has blanketed sections of Atok town in Benguet province once again, but it’s a seasonal phenomenon for which most vegetable farmers are prepared. Atok and other upland towns become far colder than Baguio City between December to February each year. GLADYS MAXIMO/CONTRIBUTOR ATOK, Benguet—A blanket of frost covered some of this town’s farms on Thursday but local officials allayed fears that this would have an impact on the supply and prices of vegetables in Benguet province. Mayor Peter Alos said farmers had completed most of the season’s harvests, so any perceived damage in Barangay Paoay here due to frost would not hurt the supply. The farms of Atok and other Benguet towns supply 90 percent of Metro Manila’s daily salad vegetable demand. “The affected area [in Sitio Engladad, Barangay Paoay] was less than a hectare,” Alos said. “Some wombok (Chinese cabbage) were covered with frost but [the cold] affected only the outer [cabbage] leaves and not the whole crop,” he said. Murphy Wagayan, a farmer, said he lost all of his potatoes to frost, which he planted on 2,500 square meters of his farmland. Alos said frost always strikes a section of Sitio Engladad between December and February, which are the coldest months for the upland Cordillera provinces and Baguio City, when temperatures would drop to 11 degrees Celsius or lower. Wagayan’s plantation is located near a river, so a drop in temperature freezes water collecting around the leaves of plants there, including grass, Alos said.

“We had frost there on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, but the frost was minimal today (Thursday, Jan. 2) and [the ice sheet] melted by 7 a.m.,” Alos said. Wagayan said he expected the frost to affect Atok farms. “I knew [planting potatoes at this period] was a gamble. My potatoes would have been due for harvest next month (February),” he said. Atok produces an average of 100,000 tons of assorted crops each season, records from the Benguet provincial agriculture office showed. The Department of Agriculture said over 6,000 hectares were devoted to vegetable farming. Alos said the recent frost might have damaged potatoes but the annual drop in temperature rarely affects carrots, the town’s biggest moneymaker. Atok is host to the highest point in the Philippine highway system (the highest point of Halsema Highway is 2,255 meters above sea level), which explains why it has colder weather than Baguio. Read more:‐descends‐on‐benguet‐farms#ixzz2paggVqVs   Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook                     

DBM scraps Saro system Abad: Release order incorporated in budget  1:56 am | Friday, January 3rd, 2014  

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said Thursday an agency can begin obligating funds as soon as the 2014 GAA is implemented on the very first working day of the fiscal year. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO Goodbye Saros. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) announced Thursday the demise of special allotment release orders (Saros), which were faked last year as part of what it called a “wellestablished and highly coordinated racket.” That’s because the General Appropriations Act (GAA) is now considered the government’s “official budget release document.” As a result, departments and agencies “will no longer need to secure Saros to obligate funds,” the DBM said. In a statement, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said an agency could instead begin obligating funds as soon as the 2014 GAA was implemented on the very first working day of the fiscal year. “With the new GAA-as-release-document regime in place, however, and the fact that Saros are no longer needed for many of the fund releases we’ll be making this year, we don’t just intend to accelerate releases so that they can properly fund our key programs and projects,” Abad said. “We also mean to thwart those who’ve made the budget implementation process a hotbed of graft and corruption. This is part of our deliberate, focused campaign to facilitate greater transparency and accountability in the expenditure process, so that every peso spent by government will indeed benefit all Filipinos.”

Saro Gang in DBM The National Bureau of Investigation is still probing the use of bogus Saros for farm-to-market roads worth P879 million. The NBI has identified some of the members of the “Saro Gang” alleged to be responsible for the photocopying of original Saro to secure the release of pork barrel funds for public projects. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last week said the fake Saro syndicate was composed of DBM employees and congressional staff. Relampagos’ driver, janitor De Lima said the NBI was looking at the alleged participation of a driver and a janitor in the office of Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos. “We have their names but we can’t reveal them yet. The NBI is still looking into other personnel.” Abad said the DBM was made aware in 2013 “of a well-established and highly coordinated racket that centered on the dissemination of fake Saros.” “Altogether, however, it appears that unscrupulous individuals have taken advantage of the necessity of release documents so that these parties were able to profit from the distribution of fake Saros.” P2.265T budget Last Dec. 20, President Aquino signed the general appropriations act for this year’s national budget worth P2.265 trillion. Six days later, he signed the P14.6-billion supplemental budget, mainly for the rehabilitation of areas devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” and other recent calamities. Of the supplemental budget, P11.2 billion will be used to augment the existing calamity fund, while P3.4 billion will be added to the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s “quick response fund.” In the past, the DBM issued Saros to allow the release of funds for lump-sum items, such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, a pork barrel of legislators that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional on Nov. 19, 2013. Lump sums need approval But in the so-called “new regime,” a “first of its kind in the country’s governance history,” where the national budget document itself already authorizes budget release, lump-sum allocations will still require approval before they are released.

These will include “lump-sum funds within an agency’s budget that have not been itemized prior to the approval and enactment of the 2014 GAA, as well as Special Purpose Funds (SPF), including Budgetary Support to Government Corporations.” Primary release document Abad said the 2014 GAA, as signed by Aquino, was the government’s primary budget release document. “This means that all the disaggregated budget items in the GAA are already considered released to their respective agencies, with the exception of lump-sum funds that have yet to be itemized and which will require prior approval before their release.” Critics consider the SPF as the President’s own pork barrel because of their lump-sum nature and because they could not be released without his approval. The SPF amounted to P232.49 billion in 2011 and increased to P376.27 billion and P385.47 billion in 2012 and 2013, respectively.—Christian V. Esguerra Read more:‐scraps‐saro‐system#ixzz2pah4mm5c   Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook                         

House sets SSS probe By Maricel Cruz | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am Chamber takes up cudgels for members HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. demanded Friday that the Social Security System justify an increase in the monthly contributions of its 30 million members. Belmonte’s position directly contradicted the Palace, which on Thursday defended the increase in SSS premiums. Belmonte ordered the appropriate committee in the House to act on pending resolutions calling for a review of the financial status of the SSS when Congress resumes sessions on Jan. 20. Belmonte said “there must be an actuarial reason” behind the increase in the SSS premiums, which took effect Jan. 1. “That benefits cannot be sustained by income. This must be explained in plain talk to the members,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard in a text message. While Belmonte acknowledged that the increase was intended to improve member benefits, he said many lowly paid workers could no longer afford the higher cost. “Because of its impact on millions of members, certainly the appropriate House committee can, and will look into it,” Belmonte said of the SSS increase. On Thursday, Palace spokesman Herminio Coloma defended the increase, saying “benefits are not for free.” “The increase in contributions has been studied carefully based on costs and benefits because certainly, the benefits are not for free. Someone has to assume the burden of those benefits,” Coloma said. Several resolutions have been filed at the House seeking a review on the financial standing of the SSS, particularly after it was revealed that the board members voted P1 million bonuses for themselves in 2012. The resolutions were pending before the House committee on good government chaired by Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez. Rodriguez earlier vowed to attend to the resolutions. The monthly SSS contributions of at least 30.04 million individual members and 871,642 employers will rise to 11 percent from 10.4 percent effective January 2014.

Employed SSS members will be paying an additional 0.3 percent for their monthly contributions while self-employed, voluntary members and overseas Filipino workers will be paying 0.6 percent more every month. Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares urged the SSS to defer the increase. “Many of their members are still experiencing price shocks from the rising prices of oil and electricity,” Colmenares said. He also urged Congress to investigate the hefty bonuses granted to the board. “It is not the premium that should increase but the pension for its members,” Colmenares said. House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption said that both the increases in the monthly contributions for members of the SSS and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) are valid issues that have to be reviewed by Congress, given that the public interest is involved. Employed PhilHealth members who used to pay monthly contributions of P175 will now have to pay P200, to be shared equally with their employers. Self-employed PhilHealth members or individually paying members who used to pay a monthly contribution of P150 are now also required to give P200. Two militant groups, the Bukuran ng Maggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and Bayan Muna demanded that the SSS increase be suspended indefinitely, saying it was “totally unjustified and grossly detrimental to the interests of the members of the state pension fund.” The BMP said the government’s justification for the premium increase was “devoid of logic.” “How can it go bankrupt when the SSS has more than 30 million members and... it has invested billions of pesos of its members’ funds in highly profitable industries such as real estate, mining, telecommunication, banking and power?” labor leader Gie Relova said. SSS officials say the state pension fund has accumulated an estimated P1.1 trillion in unfunded liability since 1980, which has been increasing at 8 percent annually, and would wipe out the fund by 2041. To address this, President Aquino approved a 0.6 percent increase in employee contributions in September. But Relova said there was nothing wrong with employees availing of their benefits because the funds were theirs to begin with.

He added that mismanagement of the SSS funds was the reason for the state agency’s problems, and that the solution was not to raise premiums. “The depletion of the SSS funds by 2041is simply a scare tactic by the Aquino government since the premium-paying members of today shall be pensioners by then,” Relova added. The militant workers called for an independent investigation into the SSS operations and how it used its funds. “Only after an investigation and transparency measures are in place and services are improvd can the government justify the contribution increase. Until they do so, wave upon wave of protest actions shall be launched against the parasitic and unmistakably anti-worker policy of the Aquino government,” Relova said. The BMP and Bayan Muna also demanded the SSS board members return the P9 million in bonuses they voted for themselves in 2012. “The callousness of the SSS directors on the premium increase is consistent with their failed promises to return the bonus they awarded themselves,” Relova said. “The SSS Board of Directors must return the bonuses and suspend indefinitely the anti-worker premium increase or face the wrath of the more than 30 million SSS membership,” Relova added. Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares added that the SSS should collect some P90 billion in unremitted premiums from delinquent employers instead of raising contribution rates. Colmenares also dismissed the explanation of SSS president Emilio de Quiros Jr. that the premium hike is part of the fund’s “reform agenda” aimed at lengthening the actuarial life of the SSS. “If they are saying that they are running low on funds, then why give out huge bonuses for themselves? They cannot claim lacks of funds while at the same time give themselves large bonuses,” Colmenares said.- With Joyce P. Pañares and Merk Maguddayao‐sets‐sss‐probe‐/          

Red Tide warning up By Othel V. Campos | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources warned consumers Friday against eating shellfishes harvested from the coastal waters of Zamboanga and Bataan due to the presence of toxic paralytic shellfish poison or red tide. Dumanguillas Bay in Zamboanga del Sur and shoreline towns of Orani, Balanga, Mariveles, Limay, Orion, Pilar, Abucay and Samal yielded positive to toxin screening. All types of shellfishes and shrimp fry or alamang are not safe for human consumption, according to shellfish bulletin No.1 Series of 2014 issued by the Bureau on January 2, 2014. Meanwhile, fish, squids, crabs and shrimps are safe and can be eaten while fresh and washed after removing innards. According to BFAR, places that are free from red tide are the coastal waters of Cavite, Las Piñas, Parañaque, Navotas, Bulacan and Bataan in Manila Bay. Also safe are harvests from the waters of Alaminos, Anda, Bolinao and Wawa, Bani in Pangasinan; Masinloc Bay in Zambales; waters of Milagros and Mandaon in Masbate and Inner Malampaya Sound in Taytay, Honday Bay and Puerty Bay in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Completing the bureau’s safe list are catch from Roxas, Pontevedra, Panay, Roxas City, Ivisan and Sapian in Capiz; coastal waters of E.B. Magalona, Pontevedra, Pulupandan, Valladolid, Talisay City, Bacolod City, Hinigaran, Cadiz City, Victorias City, Bago City and San Enrique in Negros Occidental.‐tide‐warning‐up/                

CHED to schools: Go slow on Sept. opening By Joyce Pangco Panares | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am THE Commission on Higher Education on Friday cautioned universities and colleges from shifting the start of their school year to August after four schools announced they were seriously considering the move. Adamson University said it is almost 100 percent sure of implementing the change this year and adopting two summer sessions instead, one from April to May and the other from June to July. The University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and the De La Salle University are also studying the possibility of shifting the start of their first semester this year to align themselves with most universities in the world, which begin their school year in August, September or October. The Philippines is the only member-country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) still starting its academic year in June, but Ched chairperson Patricia Licuanan urged schools to proceed cautiously. “It is okay for a few schools to decide to shift their academic year, especially for autonomous institutions,” she said. “But as we see that more and more are jumping on the bandwagon, we advise all to study this very carefully. Ched has to come in. In fact we are forming a technical working group to study this very carefully and look at all possible implications,” Licuanan added. She said an August start for the academic year would make it easier for foreign students to enroll here and for Filipino students to enroll abroad. The shift would also improve the mobility of students and faculty once the Association of Southeast Asian Nations becomes a single community in 2015, she said. “But it is also important to think of what will happen in relation to Filipino students because the basic education will not change. What do you do with these students coming into college—they graduate in March and they will wait until August to enter college?” Licuanan said college students would still suffer from the heavy rains even if the school year starts in August.

“Some compromise might be necessary. One of these might be a quarterly system or a trisemester to provide more entry points for foreign students coming in and ours coming out,” she said. “This is not for everybody. Schools should assess if they have enough cross-border activity to make it worth it to change their academic calendar. What percent of the school population are we talking about? Perhaps they should crunch their numbers first,” Licuanan said. Late last year, DLSU and the University of Sto. Tomas announced plans to restructure their school year with DLSU starting school year 2014 to 2015 in the last week of August. UST, on the other hand, said it was planning to start the school year in September . UP has also announced plans to start the school year in August, pending the approval of its regents. Under the proposed academic calendar, the first semester will end in December and the second semester will start in January. Ateneo also released its proposal to shift to an August-to-May academic calendar starting school year 2015-2016. The move was expected to “speed up the Ateneo’s internationalization efforts and will extend its scope for potential partnerships with other universities overseas,” the proposal reads.‐to‐schools‐go‐slow‐on‐sept‐opening/                      

Palace can’t do ‘magic’ to cut power rate hike By Joyce Pangco Panares | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am THE Supreme Court found ground to stop an electricity rate hike and lawmakers are even proposing the abolition of the controversial Electric Power Industry Reform Act, but Malacañang insisted on Friday that it could not do anything to address the complaints of consumers. “There is no magic wand to wave,” deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said, adding that it was up to Congress to amend the Epira, which is being blamed for a looming increase in power rates which are already the second costliest in Asia. “We welcome any initiatives to amend or at least to put forth amendments from our legislators to the Epira Law,” Valte said. “But we would have to look into these proposed amendments before we can tell you fully that we’re on board on this or we don’t agree with this particular amendment,” she qualified. “I will ask Department of Energy if it has any specific initiatives that they want to push for as amendments,” Valte said, noting that both the DOE and the Department of Justice are investigating claims of collusion among power generators. The DOE itself admitted in a Senate investigation that some trading manuevers in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market and shutting down power plants without justification are clear indications of collusion to raise electricity prices. But Valte said there is no report yet on the DOE-DOJ probe and the Palace legal team has yet to finish reviewing proposals on the possibility of using the Malampaya Funds and the President’s Social Fund to subsidize the power rate hike. Both Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon supported calls to review or abrogate the 12-year-old Epira after it supposedly failed to achieve its original purpose. “I think its about time that we revisit the Epira law and see if it’s really working or if it really resulted in genuine competition that would supposedly lower costs,” Belmonte told reporters when the Manila Electric Co. announced in December it would have to impose its biggest rate increase in history. “The EPIRA law is supposed to promote free competition in order that the consumers can benefit from a lower but efficient power generation system. The opposite apparently happened,” Drilon said on another occasion.

On Dec. 23, the Supreme Court stopped Meralco from slapping the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour increase in electricity rates for its 5.3 million customers. Although the Court is in holiday recess, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, acting on the recommendation of the associate justice in charge of the case, issued a 60-day temporary restraining order to stop Meralco from imposing its rate hike. Court spokesman Theodore Te said the order also restrained the Energy Regulatory Commission from implementing its Dec. 9 ruling that approved the rate hike. The ERC ruling allowed Meralco to bill an additional P2.41 per kilowatt-hour charge in December, P1.21 per kWh in February and P0.53 per kWh in March. Te said the TRO, which was sought by two groups of petitioners, was effective immediately. The Court also ordered Meralco and the ERC to answer the points raised in the petitions of leftist lawmakers and consumer groups by Jan. 8, 2014, before oral arguments are held on Jan. 21. Te said the order does not cover charges already billed—collected or not. The first petition was filed last Dec. 19 by Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate, Gabriela Reps. Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon. The second was filed on the next day by the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reform, the Federation of Village Association and Federation of Las Pinas Homeowners Association. The petitioners alleged that their constitutional right to due process was violated when the ERC approved the rate hike without conducting public hearings. They also questioned the speed—just four days—with which the ERC approved Meralco’s petition for a rate hike.‐can‐t‐do‐magic‐to‐cut‐power‐rate‐ hike/          

High-level US meeting on PH rehab needs set By Francisco Tuyay | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am A US institution will be holding a convention of top US policy makers to assess and respond to the rehabilitation needs of the Philippine government in rebuilding the lives of the millions of Filipinos affected by super typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda. In its official website, the Sumitro Chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and for Southeast Asia Studies says the conference, “The US Response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines,” aims to “focus the role of the US government and military in responding to the devastation” incurred by typhoon Haiyan. The CSIS says the symposium, a half-day affair to be held in Washington DC on Jan. 8, will discuss how the US government, the private sector and non-government organizations can sustain the rehabilitation of the areas destroyed by Yolanda. “The conference will focus on the role of the US government and military, the private sector and non-government organizations in responding to the devastation,” the CSIS said. “The conference will provide estimates of the rehabilitation needs and a platform to think about how US policy makers should look at the rehabilitation going forward. Yolanda slammed into Central and Eastern Visayas on Nov. 8, and portions of Luzon, severely affecting 16 million people, displacing 4 million others and causing P36 billion worth of damage to infrastructure and agriculture. “Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013, and has since been described as the worst typhoon in Filipino history,” the CSIS said in its initial assessment of the damage caused by Yolanda. “The death toll stands at more than 6,000 and the damage is estimated at over $5 billion.” Ernest Bower, a senior adviser and Sumitro chairman for the CSIS, will be outlining the mission during the opening of the conference. The Philippines will be sending its representatives to the meeting, and they will be led by its ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia. Expected to grace the meeting are the different pillars of the US government, senior Defense and State Department officials, world aid program representatives and financial managers.

Two days after Yolanda struck, the US government brought tons of relief and food items to aid the typhoon victims in the Visayas including Tacloban City, the hardest area. The US aside, at least 23 foreign military forces responded to the plight of the Filipinos in various parts of the Visayas.‐level‐us‐meeting‐on‐ph‐rehab‐needs‐ set/                                    

‘Dole reached P33.9b in 2013’ By Merck Maguddayao | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the government gave P33.85 billion in cash grants and spent P1.59 billion in disaster aid last year.

Secretary Corazon Soliman gives an update on social welfare operations in the Visayas on January 3, 2013 during a press conference in Quezon City. MANNY PALMERO “A total of 3.84 million households are covered by the regular Pantawid Pamilya program (Conditional Cash Transfer),” she said, noting that the coverage extended to indigent households in 1,627 cities and towns in 79 provinces and 17 regions. The dole amounted to P1,400 cash per indigent family for basic education and healthcare. Soliman said P1.17 billion in cash and relief aid to areas hit by typhoon Yolanda, particularly in Leyte and Samar islands. It also provided P278.8 million for the residents of Zamboanga City displaced by the Moro National Liberation Front siege in September last year; P96.9 million for Bohol and Central Visayas after the 7.2 magnitude in October; P25.2 million for Cavite and Metro Manila follwing monsoon rains in August; and P22.1 million for Central Luzon ravaged by Typhoon Santi in October. Soliman said the DSWD responded to the needs of Tausug evacuees from Sabah during the February armed conflict there, as well as areas hit by typhoons Pablo and Labuyo.

’Cracker injuries pushing to 1,000 By Macon Ramos-Araneta | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am THE Department of Health said Friday the call to ban firecrackers should not die down as the firecracker-related injuries recorded from Dec. 31 last year up to Jan. 3 this year were close to breaching the 1,000 mark. Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag said many people including lawmakers were opposed to a total firecracker ban despite the injuries caused by firecrackers every year. “So what will happen? They will be quiet again until they remember it during the next New Year celebration. Now this should no longer happen,” Tayag said. He said Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago had filed a bill in the Senate prohibiting the use of firecrackers in residential areas. She proposed instead a common area where fireworks could be lighted on New Year’s Eve. Tayag said Santiago’s proposed measure also sought to increase the penalties on the use of firecrackers. “We are urging local government units to conduct fireworks displays to be watched by residents in their locality,” Tayag said. “The individual use of firecrackers should be stopped due to the danger they poise to the user and the public.” Tayag said he hoped fire cracker manufacturers would understand the reason behind his department’s campaign against firecrackers even if a ban would greatly affect them. “Definitely, [a ban] will have a huge effect on the [firecracker] industry if a law prohibiting the use of firecrackers is passed,” Tayag said. “It will have a big impact on the billion-peso firecracker industry. Firecrackers will be deleted in the list of what they will manufacture. They will just make pyrotechnics.” Based on the reports coming from the Health Department’s 50 sentinel hospitals nationwide, 933 people were injured by firecrackers, two swallowed firecracker powder and 17 were hit by stray bullets from Dec. 21, 2013 up to Jan. 3, 2014.

The figures during the same period a year ago were 892 firecracker injuries, two firecracker ingestions and 25 people being hit by stray bullets. Tayag said 354 of the 914 people injured by firecrackers last year were injured by the illegal firecracker piccolo. “This means that almost two in every five patients hurt by firecrackers this year were injured by the piccolo,” Tayag said. He said the majority of the piccolo casualties were minors who were hit near the eyes. He said people were opting to buy the piccolo instead of the big firecrackers because they thought it was safe because it was cheap and small.‐cracker‐injuries‐pushing‐to‐1‐000/                                

Anti-measles vaccination drive set for 11.7m kids By Macon Ramos-Araneta | Jan. 04, 2014 at 12:01am Health Asssistant Secretary Eric Tayag on Friday said a summer nationwide vaccination of children below 5 years old is being lined up to prevent an all-out measles outbreak. In an interview, Tayag said 11.7 million children need anti-measles shots following 11,724 cases recorded on a 12-moth period last year.He said measles cases during the same period in 2012 was listed at 1,536. Tayag said that the National Capital Region has the most number of measles cases at 744 followed Southern Luzon, 436 and Western Visayas, 282. “There was an outbreak in the barangays of these areas, but it does not means there was an outbreak in the whole provinces or regions,” he said.Of 17 regions Tayag said those which did not report an increase in measles cases were Regions 7, 8 and 10 (Caraga).He also said there was a measles outbreak in the cities of Las Pinas, Muntinlupa, Caloocan, Manila, Navotas, Taguig, Valenzuela and Parañaque. Deputy Presindential Spokeswoman said the measles situation is being monitored. “Unfortunately, they (DOH) found that most of them are not vaccinated against tigdas or measles,” Valtre said at Friday’s briefing in Malacañang. In the Visayas, responders noted increased risk of dengue fever in Eastern Samar, according to Olive Tiu, Philippine Information Agency director in Region 8, quoting Dr. Ina Bluemel who is working in Guiuan and Borongan.Tayag said the newborn must take the first preventive vaccine shot for measles at 6 months to 12 months. The second vaccine shot is due upon reaching the age of 12 months to 18 months. Of suspected measles cases brought to San Lazaro Hospital, Tayag said only 21 were found positive for measles. Measles is caused by a virus that easily spreads through coughing and sneezing and even through breathing especially in enclosed places with infected people. With Ronald O. Reyes‐measles‐vaccination‐drive‐set‐for‐11‐7m‐ kids/

COA wants Boy Scouts to validate P4-M cash release January 4, 2014 11:52 am   THE first ever government audit of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP) showed that a total of P4.87 million could not be validated because cash vouchers traced to this amount were nowhere to be found. The Commission on Audit (COA) stated in their first audit of the volunteers’ organization that the validity of P4.87 million “could not be ascertained” because 1,749 cash vouchers are missing. “It was noted that the vouchers . . . were not on file,” the audit team said, referring to payments to registered members for accident, death, dismemberment and medical reimbursements. Out of the 2,127 vouchers amounting to P5.91 million, more than 82 percent of the documents are “not on file,” while only 378 vouchers amounting P1.03 million were on record. Inquiry with the Fields Operations Division showed that some files were still with the local councils. Some were still for signature of the recipient, while majority was already signed but not yet forwarded to the national office. “The absence of these [vouchers] hampered the audit and precluded the audit team from ascertaining the validity of the payments,” the report noted. Also, auditors noted that there were some payees who were given more than the maximum allowed of reimbursement. The difference ranged between P1,250 to P10,000. “Non-adherence . . . may result in possible disallowance since the expenditure is regarded as excessive because it exceeded the maximum amount allowed,” COA said. Apparently, the Commission also discovered that the national office of the BSP in Ermita, Manila neither have in their custody a masterlist not a database containing the applications for unit registration, which will reflect the complete list of registered members of Boy Scouts. COA said that the database of Boy Scouts members are integral because the application for unit registration serves as the basis of payment when a claimant avails himself of the financial assistance program. In turn, payment is made with the release of a cash voucher.

“The assertion of management [BSP] on completeness, existence and accuracy of records is doubtful considering that the absence of these documents deprived BSP in conducting appropriate procedures,” COA said. Without this masterlist, auditors said that the BSP could not reconcile the records coming from local councils to the head office. COA recommended that the head office set up a database to facilitate proper review procedures. In reply, the BSP accepted the recommendations “except for the development of policies on the possible forfeiture” of excess aid without notifications to the beneficiaries. “The management [BSP] contended that on the interest of benevolence and goodwill, BSP does not want to set prescription and tough regulation in claiming the checks since most of the claimants belong to the disadvantage group,” read the report, carrying BSP’s reply. The 2012 audit report is the first government audit of BSP done by COA after the Supreme Court ruled in June 2011 and decided with finality in March 2012 that the scouts organizations is a government-owned or -controlled corporation. JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON‐wants‐boy‐scouts‐to‐validate‐p4‐m‐cash‐release/64997/                          

Manila classes suspended Jan 9 for Black Nazarene feast January 4, 2014 10:45 am   Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada has ordered the suspension of classes in all levels on January 9, the feast of the Black Nazarene. Estrada, through Executive Order No. 41, explained that the suspension was necessary to ensure public order and safety. Around 12 million people are expected to participate in the procession of the Black Nazarene, according to the organizers. PNA‐classes‐suspended‐jan‐9‐for‐black‐nazarene‐feast/64979/                               

Palace open to amending Epira January 3, 2014 9:28 pm   by CATHERINE S. VALENTE REPORTER Malacañang is open to amending the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) of 2001, which has been blamed for skyrocketing power rates in the country. In a press conference, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte admitted that the government is not allowed to run its own power plants because of the Epira. But she said that the President has already directed all concerned agencies to find ways to bring down power costs.“The Epira prevents government from being a power generator,” Valte said. “While you believe the executive [department] has so much perceived power, we are limited by what the law says. There is no magic wand to wave.” “But it’s a cause of concern. The President has already given instructions to relevant agencies to see what they can do,” she added Valte said that the Palace is now studying the bills on the issue that are presently pending in Congress.She said that the government will also have to scrutinize various suggested solutions before it can get fully on board. “We look at the stage they are in and we look at the meat of the proposal,” she said, adding these will be considered when the appropriate Cabinet clusters propose measures to be part of the priority list. Meanwhile, Valte said that there are still no plans yet to convene the Legislative –Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac). She noted that a Technical Working Group (TWG) that works under the Ledac meets continuously. “Because of the good relationship that the President has with both leaders of Congress, nakocommunicate naman iyong mga ganitong bagay [these are easily communicated],” she said “Well, at least, for the President, it’s the good relationship that he has that ferries these bills through. Even last year, if you go by the numbers, we had a good number of substantial bills that were passed, at least the ones that have been identified as priority,” Valte added.‐open‐to‐amending‐epira‐2/64943/   

Aquino back at work January 3, 2014 9:25 pm   by CATHERINE S. VALENTE REPORTER President Benigno Aquino 3rd is now back at work after taking his holiday break, Malacanang said on Friday. In a press briefing, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said that the President is attending to paperwork and is getting briefing notes on various issues. “He’s actually back to work, he’s attending to paperwork. Marami tayong dapat ilabas na paperwork [We have so many paperwork to release],” Valte said. President Aquino took a brief vacation in Baguio City upon the recommendation of Health Secretary Enrique Ona. The President went back to work last December 30, leading rites in his hometown of Tarlac City marking the martyrdom of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.‐back‐at‐work/64935/                       

P90B in contributions held back from SSS January 3, 2014 9:21 pm   by JHOANNA BALLARAN REPORTER “It has no moral authority to collect more because it still has a lot more to collect.” So said a lawmaker hitting the Social Security System (SSS) plan to increase its members’ premium contributions as there are still P90-billion uncollected premiums from delinquent employers. Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list said on Friday that the SSS should first collect these unpaid premiums before implementing such increase. “The SSS should not increase its premium it should first collect its P90 billion uncollected premiums from delinquent employers. It has no moral authority to collect more because it still has a lot more to collect,” Colmenares said. Monthly SSS contributions are set to increase this month from 10.4 percent to 11 percent, making the total contribution of a minimum wage earner in Metro Manila at P945—P308 of which is the employee’s share while the remaining P636.20 is the employer’s. SSS Chief Executive Officer Emilio de Quiros said in October last year that the increase is set to reduce the government corporation’s unfunded liability by P166 billion, or 15 percent. The increase drew ire from the public as it was deemed irregular by observers. In 2012, SSS officials and board members received an average of P1 million in bonuses in 2012. “If they are saying that they are running low on funds then why did give out huge bonuses for themselves? They cannot claim lack of funds while at the same time giving themselves large bonuses,” the lawmaker said. In his 2013 State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Benigno Aquino 3rd expressed his support of the increase. “President Aquino should not have ordered the increase premium during his 2013 State of the Nation Address. [He] should now order SSS to desist from implementing this increased premium,” ended Colmenares. 0.6-percent hike The new SSS policy effective this month that requires each of the 30 million SSS individual

members to pay a higher monthly rate of 11 percent from their salary for the SSS premium, up from the previous rate of 10.4 percent. “Our people have been suffering already as a result of successive calamities. The increase in SSS premium is ill-timed and unfortunate. We need safety nets to cushion its impacts on the people. Otherwise, it would be better to defer the increase,” said Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol Batocabe was alluding to the larger than life devastation brought by Super Typhoon Yolanda, which left at least 6,000 people dead in the Visayas. An unprecedented P4.15 per kilowatt-hour Meralco power rate hike is also in the offing before it was stopped by the Supreme Court via a Temporary Restraining Order. But for Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, the hike in SSS premiums would be beneficial in the long run. “The adjustment is necessary to stave off bankruptcy of SSS in the long term. It is only reasonable,” Aggabao said. WITH REPORT FROM LLANESCA T. PANTI‐in‐contributions‐held‐back‐from‐sss/64923/                          

1,800 tons of rice seeds distributed in Visayas January 3, 2014 9:19 pm  

To ensure that farmers in the provinces battered by Super Typhoon Yolanda on November 8 will have the opportunity to repair the damages on their farms, the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) announced that is now distributing 1,800 tons of rice seeds to 44,000 farming families severely impacted by the weather disturbance. All of these farmers are living in Regions 6 and 8. Yolanda devastated an estimated 63,234 hectares of rice lands in the two Visayan regions. This coming March and April, the 1,800 tons of rice seed being distributed by the FAO is expected to provide enough rice to feed an estimated 800,000 people. This harvest has an estimated market value of $84 million. Having secured this season’s rice harvest, FAO is focusing on other pressing issues. As part of the joint UN Strategic Response Plan in response to Yolanda, FAO is seeking for $38 million to support more than 128 000 severely affected households in the Philippines, through interventions targeting rice and corn farming, fisheries, coconut farming, livestock, and agroforestry. PNA‐tons‐of‐rice‐seeds‐distributed‐in‐visayas/64918/                

Pork oozes from 2014 national budget January 3, 2014 9:19 pm   by NEIL A. ALCOBER MILITANT group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) claimed that the national budget for 2014, which was recently signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, is filled with pork barrel funds. KMU said that legislators’ pork funds previously under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional, have merely been included in the budgets of various government agencies and that legislators can access the said funds through “recommendations.” The group also noted that the easily visible presidential pork in the P2.3 trillion national budget amounts to P522 billion composed of Special Purpose Funds (P283 billion), Unprogrammed Funds (P139 billion), Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program funds (P20 billion) and Personnel Benefits fund and the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation fund (P80 billion). “Aquino approved the 2014 national budget like a thief in the night, when everyone was trying to enjoy the holidays. He clearly does not want this national budget scrutinized because it still contains a lot of pork barrel funds,” Roger Soluta, the group’s secretary general, said. “The 2014 national budget clearly shows that Aquino wants to retain the pork barrel system, contrary to the demand of a huge and still growing number of Filipinos. He [Aquino]is the Pork Barrel King, the No. 1 defender of a system that has enriched not only Napoles but many politicians in the country,” Soluta added. On December 20, President Aquino signed the P2.265-trillion national budget for 2014. But the budget approved by lawmakers is about P4 billion lower than the President’s proposal of P2.268 trillion. President Aquino has said that the government remains strong despite the pork barrel controversy. Vice President Jejomar Binay earlier waved his P200 million social fund, including the 15 senators.‐oozes‐from‐2014‐national‐budget/64915/       

Red tide alert raised in Zamboanga, Bataan January 3, 2014 9:03 pm   by JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on Friday warned the public from catching and consuming shellfish from coastal waters of Zamboanga del Sur and Bataan, noting that the areas are still positive for red tide toxin. In its Shellfish Bulletin 1-2014, BFAR announced to the public that harvested shellfish and other fish species from the coastal waters of Bataan (Mariveles, Limay, Orion, Pilar, Balanga, Orani, Abucay and Samal) and Dumanquillas Bay in Zamboanga del Sur are still positive for paralytic shellfish poison that is beyond the regulatory limit. “All types of shellfish and acetes or ‘alamang’ gathered and collected from the areas are not safe for human consumption,” the agency said. BFAR, however, said that several species—including fish, shrimps, and crabs—are safe to eat provided that they are fresh and washed thoroughly, and internal organs such as gills and intestines are removed before cooking. The agency, on the other hand, lifted the red tide alert in Misamis Occidental and Murcielagos Bay in Zamboanga del Norte. Meanwhile, several areas surrounding the Manila Bay remain free from red tide, including the coastal waters of Cavite, Las Piñas, Paranaque, Navotas, and Bulacan. Major fishing areas of Alaminos, Wawa and Bani in Pangasinan; Masinloc in Zambales; coastal waters of Milagros and Mandaon in Masbate; Juag Lagoon in Matnog and Sorsogon Bay in Sorsogon; Honda and Puerto Bays in Puerto Princesa City, and Inner Malampaya Sound in Taytay, Palawan are likewise negative of toxins. Also free from red tide are the coastal waters of Pilar, President Roxas, Panay Roxas City, Ivisan and Sapian in Capiz; E.B. Ma-galona, Pontevedra, Pulupandan, Valladolid, Talisay City, Silay City, Bacolod City, Hinigaran, Cadiz City, Victorias City, Bago City, Binalbagan and San Enrique in Negros Occidental.‐tide‐alert‐raised‐in‐zamboanga‐bataan/64890/     

Palace: SARO abolition to reduce corruption January 3, 2014 7:54 pm   Malacañang on Friday said that the abolition of the special allotment release order (SARO) could reduce corruption and expedite the implementation of government projects. Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte in a press briefing said that the current system would allow agencies to undertake procurement activities immediately after approval of the national budget and not wait for several weeks before starting the process. She said that ideally, by first week of January, agencies can start issuing notice of award. Previously, agencies have to wait for the SAROs before they can start pre-procurement process. “It will be easier for them [agencies] to front-load projects, at least ideally within the first week of January, you can already award projects,” Valte said.“More importantly, the GAA [General Appropriations Act] as a release document will reduce red tape or the papers that have to be accomplished and submitted; and you lessen opportunities for corruption because there is less red tape,” she added.On Thursday, the Department of Budget and Management (DMB) announced that departments and agencies no longer need to secure SAROs to get funds because the 2014 budget acts as the government’s official budget release document. Asked how the abolition of SAROs shield government projects from anomalies, Valte said that government agencies are now more transparent and responsible. “At the same time, they have to follow the legal process when it comes to procurement, disbursement, and liquidation,” she said “This safeguard is in addition to the audit and assessment being done by the Commission on Audit,” she added. Meanwhile, Valte said that special purpose funds and lump sum funds still need a SARO given their lump sum figure. Funds that still need a SARO are calamity funds since the law mandates certain criteria that should be met before a request is approved, she said. The DBM is already in the process of computerizing the issuance of SAROS for lump sum items to speed up the process, she added. CATHERINE S. VALENTE‐saro‐abolition‐to‐reduce‐corruption/64824/ 

Posted on January 03, 2014 07:07:40 PM

Exporters see trade, processing potential in ecozones TRANSFORMING the country’s economic zones into trade facilitation hubs can boost the country’s competitiveness amid an increasingly integrated Southeast Asia, Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (Philexport) said in a recent statement.   Quoting a study by the Philippine Institute for Development  Studies (PIDS), Philexport said: "[T]he overall performance of  SEZs (special economic zones) can still be improved."    The group said that through lowering operating costs, SEZs and export processing zones in the  Philippines serve mainly to improve the competitiveness of businesses that locate in these  areas."They (economic zones) offer fiscal incentives, provide better infrastructure and facilities,  streamline customs and business registration procedures, and liberalize foreign exchange  policies," read the statement.The country has over 300 economic zones, all of which are  administered by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.    Citing the study, which was authored by PIDS Senior Research Fellow Rosario G. Manasan,  Philexport said: "SEZs can be reinvented into efficient distribution, production, and trade  facilitation hubs to help firms reduce logistics cost and become more internationally  competitive."    "Ecozones can be used to expand market access by linking up regional suppliers and leveraging  economies of scale in production," read the statement.    Ms. Manasan recommended in her study that rules in SEZs be made "flexible enough to  accommodate both exporters and non‐exporters."    She added that SEZs should also allow a wide range of commercial and manufacturing activities  within their premises. ‐‐ Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag‐see‐trade,‐ processing‐potential‐in‐ecozones&id=81495 

DENR plans to penalize cities that failed to regulate use of firecrackers Written by  Tribune   Saturday, 04 January 2014 00:00   The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is mulling to penalize cities that failed to regulate the use of firecrackers during the holiday season. The plan was seriously considered after the air pollution in the metropolis was monitored to have worsened after the New Year’s Eve revelry. According to the DENR, the pollution level in the metropolis reached almost 10 times the tolerable level because of the wanton use of pyrotechnics in the last revelry welcoming the New Year. DENR Secretary Ramon Paje disclosed they are studying the possibility of minimizing air pollution during the celebrations and one of their considerations is to penalize or impose sanctions on cities and municipalities where the pollutants are found to have risen the most. Paje said they are entertaining the possibility of penalizing a territory with a P1 million fine if the particulate matter (PM10) rose to 10 microns and below in diameter. The DENR secretary said the measurement is the standard being used in measuring the quality of air in a given place. In Metro Manila, the DENR said they recorded significant high readings on January 1 during the height of the revelry. The average reading was 1,437 ug/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter of air), compared to 2013?s 537 ug/Ncm, “way beyond” the average healthy value of 150 ug/Ncm set by the government and the World Health Organization. Ordinances regulating the sale and manufacture of firecrackers have already been passed in Marikina and Muntinlupa cities. Muntinlupa City Mayor Jaime Fresnedi even issued a stern warning to those who are planning to use firecrackers during the New Year revelry to refrain. Fresnedi was concerned over the health and safety of the residents of Muntinlupa, thus he ordered the concerned law enforcement agencies to make a strict monitoring. However, Paje said such regulations of the local government units are not enough because they are only one or two and the 17 cities and a municipality that composed it should also do the same regulations to address the pollution problem after the revelry. Considering all the other concerns, the DENR chief said they are studying the legal basis for the planned penalty to a given area that will be found to have failed to monitor the use of firecrackers. The basis of the DENR in case it wants to sanction a given municipality or city is to look into the provision of the Clean Air Act and Paje said the Pollution Adjudication Board would be in charge of the matter. The monitoring of the pollution level in the metropolis is being done by the DENR in a regular basis during the celebration of New Year where many people are not paying attention to the possible effect to the environment.

Based on the monitoring of DENR, the two highest levels of PM10 were recorded in Quezon City at 1 a.m. in the vicinity of Ateneo de Manila University on Katipunan Avenue at 1,990 ug/Ncm, and the intersection of Edsa and Timog Avenue at 1,450 ug/Ncm. These were followed by the 1,160 ug/Ncm measured also at 1 a.m. in Valenzuela City, and the 1,150 ug/Ncm measured at 4 a.m. in Taguig City. The city government of Makati under Mayor Jun Binay has given a prior warning to its constituents before the revelry to minimize the use of firecrackers and even banned their use in three barangays where the oil leak has occurred. Alvin Murcia‐section/denr‐plans‐to‐penalize‐cities‐that‐failed‐to‐ regulate‐use‐of‐firecrackers                                    

2014 01 04 quedancor daily news monitor  
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