Pangasinan hardest hit: 44 dead from 'Cosme' in Central, Northern Luzon

>> Saturday, May 24, 2008

SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union -- The death toll from tropical storm "Cosme" has reached 44 in Central and Northern Luzon with most fatalities coming from Region 1 particularly in Pangasinan.

Region 1 (Ilocos) was considered the hardest hit area by Cosme, which left the country on May 20.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council said the number of injured has reached 16, five from Region 1, four from Region 3 (Central Luzon), and seven from the Cordillera Administrative Region as of press time.

NDCC said 31 casualties were from Pangasinan, eight from La Union, four from Zambales and one from Benguet. Most of the victims died after being hit by falling debris and flying sheets of galvanized iron roofing blown away by strong winds.
The NDCC said 16 people were injured while one was reported missing as of press time.

More than one million residents of Regions 1, 3, 6 and the Cordillera Administrative Region were affected by floods, landslides and storm surges brought by Cosme, which made landfall in Pangasinan last Saturday and slashed through Northern Luzon.

The damage to agriculture and infrastructure was placed at P149.66 million.
The NDCC said several power transmission lines in La Union, Pangasinan and Zambales were damaged when several towers were toppled by strong winds.
Electricity has yet to be restored in 10 towns and a city in La Union, 21 in Pangasinan and two municipalities in Zambales.

Telecommunications and water supply in Pangasinan have also been cut off since May 17, the NDCC said.

Relief operations were still being conducted in the affected areas at press time.
Elvira Calina, regional disaster coordinating council chief of Pangasinan, said about 80 percent of the province still has no electricity.

She said officials were working on restoring power within two weeks.

Potable water was brought in from nearby provinces or was drawn by residents using manual pumps because the local water distribution company could not operate without power, she said.

Chief weather forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said Cosme, which reached the strength of a typhoon when it hit Pangasinan, generated small tornadoes, which could partly account for the widespread damage.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapuz said 74 school buildings were damaged, including 43 in Pangasinan, less than two weeks before the start of the school year.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development said the agency has provided close to P1-million worth of food packs to affected families in the provinces of Pangasinan, La Union, Zambales, Benguet and Baguio City.

DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral said the agency has more than P5 million in standby funds and stockpiles in the four affected regions.

Twelve evacuation centers were set up by the DSWD in the CAR and Regions 1, 3, and 6, which served 205 families or 1,170 individuals who sought temporary shelter in these centers, bringing to 43,003 families and 229,225 persons served in various ways relative to the recent onslaught of Cosme.

Aside from scattered rainshowers, no tropical cyclone is likely to affect the country until the weekend, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said yesterday May 21.

Pagasa weather forecaster Rene Paciente said latest satellite data showed that there was a slim chance that the low pressure area spotted off southern Visayas will develop into a tropical depression.

However, Paciente said the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) would bring rains over Luzon and the eastern section of Visayas and Mindanao in the next 24 hours.
Paciente said the country could be visited by at least one more tropical cyclone this month.

As of 2 a.m. on May 21, the LPA was estimated at 910 kilometers east of southern Visayas, which was embedded along the ITCZ.

Twenty tropical cyclones are expected to enter the Philippine area of responsibility this year, Pagasa earlier said.

Last year, a total of 49 people were killed and over 180,000 families were affected by
13 tropical cyclones that hit the country, according to the NDCC.

The weather disturbances also left damage to agriculture and infrastructure reaching over P800 million, the NDCC said.

In his report to President Arroyo, Defense Secretary and NDCC Chairman Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. said that damage to agriculture and infrastructure has reached P3.327 billion, with Region 1 accounting for P3.284 billion in agriculture and P15.492 million in infrastructure damages. -- By Jerry Padilla, Jennelyn Mondejar and George Trillo


Tribal group opposes mine firm’s exploration

By Dexter A. See

BAKUN, Benguet – A tribal group in this remote town urged the Cordillera office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to turn down a request for endorsement of a mining exploration project here because the proponent failed to obtain the consent of affected communities.

Consultations were conducted to seek the consent of affected villages for its exploration project, but the Gambang Indigenous Community and Peoples Organization said Royalco Philippines, a mining company, failed to get the full support of the affected people.

One reason for the company’s failure to get the consent of the villagers was its failure to address concerns about environmental protection and livelihood for the people who would be displaced by the project.

The group said the required majority vote of the affected residents was not obtained when it conducted a referendum, a process required by law to get the people’s consent for the project.

The majority vote depends on the population of the affected communities, and it is an important factor in determining if a mining project is going to be endorsed.

The group said a majority vote for the endorsement of the project was not obtained when the referendum was held last December, but despite the failure to get the required vote, a memorandum of agreement was signed between the elders and the company.

Results of the referendum showed that only 745 voters or 25.69 percent of the total number of voters (2,899) participated in the decision-making exercise, the group said.
This indicated that there was no substantial compliance with the consultation process.

But despite the failure, some elders and Royalco executives reportedly signed an agreement on the conduct of the exploration project.

The signing reportedly took place in Barangay Bangao in Buguias town, a place outside the municipality of Bakun.

The group alleged the company had initiated series of meetings with residents of affected areas, claiming that the consultations were authorized by NCIP.

It was also claimed that some of the residents who attended the series of meetings were allegedly given small amounts of money by some company executives in consideration for their support for the exploration, which is in preparation for actual mining operations.

Bakun is considered one of the highly mineralized areas in the province with a substantial amount of ore deposits, which could sustain viable large-scale mining operations.

The affected the people of the indigenous communities are invoking their rights and privileges provided for under the Indigenous peoples Rights Act.

IPRA requires free and prior informed consent for a mining project so that abuses by the mining companies could be prevented and so that the affected communities would benefit from mining operations.

The NCIP is expected to evaluate the positions of the affected communities in connection with the agreement entered into between some elders of the community and the mining executives before it decides on the question of whether or not to
endorse the exploration project.


Miner’s body found in tunnel

TUBA, Benguet – A 48-year-old miner, who was suspected to have been trapped, was found dead by his fellow miners inside a mine tunnel at Camp 6 here.

Chief Supt. Eugene G. Martin, regional police director, identified the victim as Ben Baligno, 48, married, pocket miner, native of Tadian, Mountain Province, resident of Camp 6, Tuba, Benguet.

Police investigation showed the victim went inside the tunnel to continue extracting ores late afternoon on May 17 when typhoon "Cosme" was whipping the Cordillera.

His companions, who refused to join him in the operation, were alarmed when Baligno did not come back to their residence the past two days.

They sought the assistance of the Tuba police station in the search of their missing companion.

Later, rescuers found the body of the victim inside the tunnel which was reportedly filled with water. – Dexter A. See


Former NPA rebels turn lemon grass oil extractors

By Mike Guimbatan Jr.

BANAUE, Ifugao—They lived half their lives with the wild grasses of the Cordillera, but today, some of the former communist rebels in Ifugao ventured into lemon grass production and processing.

Mario Pugong, a former rebel leader who was a pioneer member of the first communist movement in the Cordillera based in Hapao, Hungduan is now engaged in the distillation and fermentation of essential oils and other extracts from lemon grass.

Pugong is the president of the Concerned Citizens for Ifugao Peace and Development, composed mostly of former rebels turned farmers in Banaue and Hungudan areas.

The CCIPD has been planting lemon grass in commercial quantities to show example in their community that there is a better alternative to the illegal marijuana production.
It paid off when government and non-government institutions recognized their effort and convinced them into oil extraction and by-products processing.

The group now produces pure extracts for sale to cosmetics and detergent processors as well as processing by-products into organic fertilizers, organic pesticides, local soap manufacturing and tea drinks.

According to Pugong, many of his former colleagues in the communist movement have now turned entrepreneurs engaged in the planting not just of lemon grass but also of arabica and robusta coffee varieties.

Fernando Bahatan, a retired government executive and project coordinator of the CCIPD sourced out partners such as the Isabela State University , the Geo Farms in Bayambang, Pangasinan, and even the United Nations Development Programme.

Bahatan said they have been in partnership with donor agencies and are currently developing the practical use of lemon grass leaves for community use.

In his report to outgoing peace adviser Jesus Dureza, Bahatan said they have other ventures but the lemon grass production provided greater interest and returns.

Lemon grass in upland communities grow bigger and taller but the only disadvantage is their oil production which is lower than tropical plantation areas. “It could be attributed to the climate”, Bahatan explained but their group said they produce better quality of oil.

For his part, Pugong said the production and processing of essential oils from lemon grass have been made possible in projects for rebel returnees with the assistance of UNDP and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

“The projects help us rebel returnees in community-based rural development, as well as the opportunity in our dreams for a better livelihood” Pugong told Dureza and international donors during an ocular visit to a lemon grass fermentation and distillation plant in Banaue last week.

Bahatan meanwhile said lemon grass production and processing include “capacity-building seminar-workshops where we could assist the members of the CCIPD and interested community residents on lemon grass leaves, distilled water, and essential oils.”

Lemongrass is used in herbal teas and other nonalcoholic beverages in baked goods, and in confections. Oil from lemongrass is widely used as a fragrance in perfumes and cosmetics, such as soaps and creams.

Citral, extracted from the oil, is used in flavoring soft drinks in scenting soaps and detergents, as a fragrance in perfumes and cosmetics, and as a mask for disagreeable odors in several industrial products.

Citral is also used in the synthesis of ionones used in perfumes and cosmetics.


Councilor killed in Abra; violence rises

BANGUED, Abra – Assassins in the province have become bolder with their latest victim, 65-year-old Tineg town councilor Pedro Inon who was shot dead night of May 19 in his boarding house here at Barangay Calaba.

A septuagenarian lawyer and a security guard were also recently killed inside their own turfs.

Criminal defense lawyer Demetrio Villamor Pre, 75, was gunned down in his house-cum-law office in Barangay Bone 4, Bangued town.

That same day, and just a few steps away from Pre’s house, 32-year-old security guard Efren Bersalona was slain in the Bangued town hall where he was on duty.

The Bangued town hall is a few meters away from the provincial capitol building where President Arroyo met with National Security Council and Cordillera leaders a week before the killings. Both murders remain unsolved.

Inon, the third ranking board member of hinterland Tineg town, was resting in his boarding house when he was killed night of May 19.

Inon was a known political ally of Tineg Mayor Edwin Crisologo, who in turn, was associated with former governor Vicente Valera.


No jueteng in P’panga,cop chiefs declare

By George Trillo

ANGELES CITY – The police directors of Pampanga and this city denied claims jueteng persists in their turfs, but admitted “bookies” have persisted as they capitalize on the legal operations of the small town lottery (STL).

“I am not privy to reports that jueteng persists in Pampanga. I don’t think we have jueteng in the province,” said Senior Supt. Keith Singian, provincial police director.

Senior Supt. Felixberto Castillo, who was installed as Angeles City police chief last month, also issued the same denial.

Castillo took over after Senior Supt. George Gaddi was sacked following a violent raid on the Lake Tahoe STL office here.

Castillo alleged some STL employees were engaged in “bookies,” which he said some people mistook as jueteng.

The Lake Tahoe office was padlocked during the raid, but Castillo said it reopened last Monday after “compromise talks” with city officials.

Earlier, Pampanga first district Rep. Carmelo Lazatin, vice chairman of the House of committee on games and amusement, cited reports that jueteng rakes in P90 million monthly in this city and P900 million in other parts of Pampanga.

He said the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, which runs STL, and the local governments hosting STL operations are losing out to the popular illegal numbers game.

But Singian said the “bookies” of some STL employees, particularly in Mabalacat and Magalang towns, are being mistaken as jueteng operations.

“What these STL bet collectors do is remit only 50 percent of the bets to the STL operator and retain the other 50 percent for bookies,” he said.


Seaman kills ex-soldier in tiff

SOLSONA, Ilocos Norte — A former Army soldier was killed last week during a quarrel with a vacationing seaman in Barangay Catangraran, this town, police said,
Police said doctors at the provincial hospital failed to revive victim Liberto "Atong" Gamboa Jr., 47, married, who was in comatose due to fractured skull.

SPO4 Alejandro Melchor said the victim confronted Aliman Gabriel, a seaman, whom he accused of mauling his son during a basketball game here.

Gabriel said he bashed the victim’s head with a stone when the former Army man tried to shoot him. -- Jun Guiang


Captured CPP leader tagged in Cagayan Rep. Aguinaldo's slay

GAMU, Isabela – The military has tagged a ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Northeast Luzon Regional Party Committee who was captured in Cainta, Rizal last week, in the killing of Cagayan congressman Rodolfo Aguinaldo seven years ago.

Besides the Aguinaldo killing, the Army said CPP leader Randy Malayao, 38, is also being investigated for the ambush of soldiers in San Mariano town; the killing of barangay chairman Nicholas Collado, also in San Mariano; the liquidation of Army personnel in Ilagan town; and the slay of businessman Benjamin Olalia Jr., also in Ilagan.

The Army’s 5th Infantry Division based at Camp Melchor de la Cruz here, which was responsible for Malayao’s arrest, formally turned him over to the custody of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group after presenting him to the media Tuesday.

In a statement, the National Democratic Front-Cagayan Valley accused the military of “abducting” Malayao, who it said was “unarmed” and had a safe conduct pass as the movement’s political consultant.

Maj. Gen. Melchor Dilodilo, 5th ID chief, said Malayao was nabbed by virtue of arrest warrants for two counts of murder and frustrated murder issued by the Tuguegarao City (Cagayan) regional trial court.

Malayao also has a pending criminal case before the Ilagan (Isabela) RTC.
According to the Army, Malayao, an active student leader at the University of the Philippines, used the nom de guerre Salvador del Pueblo as the NDF’s Cagayan Valley spokesman.

Malayao, also known as Panyo, Tonyo, James or Edu in the underground movement, also heads the regional education department of the NLRPC, formerly known as the Cagayan Valley Regional Party Committee, the Army said.

“The capture of Malayao is a big blow to the communist terrorist organization, further derailing their plans and hostile actions. It also denotes that they are on the run and lacks (people’s) support, leaving them with no capable cadres to stand by their organization,” Dilodilo said. – CL



Baguio under state of calamity; Benguet execs mull same declaration
By Dexter A See

BAGUIO CITY – The city council has placed this mountain resort city under a state of calamity due to extensive damage caused by typhoon "Cosme" to public and private properties.

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration on May 17 declared typhoon signal No. 3 over Baguio and Benguet.

Spawned by the typhoon, heavy rains and strong closed major roads, communication and power lines were down.

People who intended to travel to the lowlands were stranded in the city and were forced to stay for another day or two in their hotels and lodging houses.

While no casualty was reported in the city, Baguio officials decided to place the city under a state of calamity to enable the city government to address problems caused by at least 50 landslides and floods at the City Camp Lagoon.

Telephone lines and electricity supply were cut off for two to three days due to typhoon Cosme’s strong winds which also downed communication and electric poles in the different barangays.

Reports at the city social welfare and development office showed at least 40 families were hard-hit by the typhoon.

When a locality is under a state of calamity, local officials can disburse five percent of calamity funds for pressing activities such as relief and rehabilitation operations to help the typhoon victims.

Meanwhile, the Benguet provincial board was studying a proposal to place the province under a state of calamity, noting that the local agriculture industry has been greatly affected by Cosme.

Newly harvested vegetables did not reach the La Trinidad trading post due to the closure of the national and provincial roads, thereby creating an artificial shortage of highland vegetables in the Metro Manila markets.

However, steady supply of vegetables has been restored, and prices of the farm crops have stabilized in the past three days.

Disaster officials warned residents in the region to prepare for the possibility of stronger typhoons during the rainy season, saying the country is now experiencing the effects of the La Niña phenomenon which is expected to bring more rains to the country.

Concerned government agencies are still conducting their assessment on the extent of damages in different areas especially in terms of infrastructure and agriculture so that the national government could apportion part of the calamity fund for the rehabilitation of heavily damaged infrastructure facilities in the Cordillera.

The Cordillera is prone to calamity because of its peculiar mountainous terrain. Landslides, rockslides, and mudslides usually happen because of severe soil erosion caused by the unabated cutting of trees.

SM plan to develop forested GSIS site confirmed
BAGUIO CITY – Indeed, there is a plan to develop the pinestand within the Baguio Convention Center area into a condotel complex under a joint venture between the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Shoemart Development Corporation.

This was confirmed before the city council last Monday by SMDC representative Carlo Alampay.

Alampay presented before the body a concept plan for the said project dubbed “Baguio Air.” It would involve the development of the 1.4 hectare area with the construction of four 13-storey condotel buildings and commercial complex as highlights.

Alampay said that under the joint venture, SM would finance and undertake the constructions while GSIS would contribute the land.

It would also include the “redevelopment” of the Baguio Convention Center and the Sunshine Park.

Alampay however assured that the development framework takes into consideration concerns for the environmental preservation. He said they hired a private company, the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation to guide the firm on preserving the trees in the area.

He said the company has inventoried a total of 967 trees in the area. A total of 313 trees were recommended for cutting and 105 for balling and transplanting thus, a total of 549 trees will remain, according to Alampay.

He said they also intend to convert the rooftops of the said buildings into garden decks.

The representatives from SM, GSIS and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources regional office were invited by the council to shed light on the issue in the light of pending proposals opposing any development in the subject area.

Alampay assured that everything will be subject to approval by the city council. He said they have submitted a letter of intent to the office of the mayor but Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda said the city council has yet to receive a copy of said letter.

DENR-CAR representative Guillermo Fianza informed the body that the office has not received any application for tree cutting permit from the SM and assured that no application will be processed unless the same is endorsed by the city government.

The city council asked SM to submit copies of the joint venture agreement and other documents.

The aldermen however asked Alampay to consider the following:

*that the area being eyed is classified as institutional and therefore cannot be built on;
*that there are questions as to the ownership of the subject lot with cases still pending before the courts;
*that there is an agreement between the GSIS and the city as to the purchase of the convention center;
*that if ever implemented, the project should address concerns on accessibility by the local populace and must answer the acute need for housing facilities in the city.

Three proposals are now pending before the city council calling for the preservation of the pine forest as such and opposing any plan to development the same into anything but a pine forest.

Councilor Richard Carino filed a resolution “opposing any plan to cut trees or construct a building by SM properties or any other persons over the lot situated between the Baguio Convention Center and Court of Appeals building.”

Councilors Fred Bagbagen, Isabelo Cosalan Jr. and Elaine Sembrano’s joint proposed resolution also opposed the “removal of the Pine Forest at the BCC grounds to allow construction of a commercial structure by private developers.”

Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda, meanwhile, wants to request the GSIS to submit a letter of intent for whatever development it may undertake in area.

The aldermen said that removing the woodland would have great effect on the environment as apart from being one of the few remaining pinestands in the area, it supplies part of the water needs of the city.

Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. in his media briefing assured that the city’s interest will be considered before any development will be allowed in the area.

He said the area should be preserved as such and that the proponents instead find other areas to develop. Aileen P. Refuerzo

Baguio execs mull fate of computerization contract
By Aileen P. Refuerzo

BAGUIO CITY – The city council will study whether or not it will annul the city government’s contract with the COMFAC Corporation for the computerization of the city’s real property tax administration and collection system.

The body last week sought opinion from the city legal office while it tasked its committee on laws to review documents of the contract including the accounting of the hardware and other Information Technology equipment purchased by the contractor for the project vis-à-vis those bought by the city, before recommending any action to the city council.

Councilors Galo Weygan and Perlita Rondez, in a proposed resolution, sought to declare as null and void the contract agreement and deed of understanding between the city and COMFAC because of the private firm’s failure to complete the project despite the lapse of the agreed term of one year.

The contract was made on June 21, 2001 and was scheduled for completion after one year but it was only last May 9 this year that it was turned over to the city government.

COMFAC chief operating officer Juliet Capala who attended the council session asked the body not rescind the contract saying the delay only involved “some technicalities” and did not affect in any way the intent of the project.

She said they were able to computerize the real property tax requirements of the city assessor’s office as intended by the project in 2003 while that of the city treasurer’s
office was completed in 2005.

Both offices have since been using the computerized programs until today.
Capala said the only thing that was delayed was the acceptance aspect as they had to follow their process of completing the users’ acceptance testing to ensure effectiveness of the project.

Capala said another cause for the delay was the need to change the forms being used which necessitated redoing the system.

She said they were not obligated under the contract to make said adjustments, but they accommodated said changes just the same to ensure effectiveness of the project.

The contractor said they have not claimed nor received any payment from the city for the project which costs P5 million.

Capala said that they expect to get paid now that the project has been completed and turned over to the city.

The councilors however expressed reservations saying the contractor evidently violated the contract term after it failed to turn over the project on time.

Capala appealed for consideration saying the city should also consider the benefit that the city derived from project despite the delay.

City budget officer Leticia Clemente supported Capala’s appeal and recommended payment of the project.

“I think that we gained more than we lost on this deal because the (target) offices have been assisted by the project,” Clemente said.

The body however resolved to further study the matter with the help of the city legal

Meanwhile, Councilor Antonio Tabora Jr. asked Clemente to submit a report on the various Management Information System (MIS) projects funded by the city over the years.

Tabora cited appropriations made by the city since 2001 amounting to close to P30 million for the computerization project and he said the council should be apprised on these projects.

Clemente said the MIS project includes installation of programs for interconnectivity of the offices, purchase of hardware and maintenance and improvement of servers. She said the COMFAC deal is just one of the projects of the MIS.

P45M needed to complete 21-km city alternate road
BAGUIO CITY – The Cordillera office of the Department of Public Works and Highways needs at least P45 million to complete the 21-kilometer circumferential road project aimed at easing the worsening traffic congestion at the central business district of this mountain resort city.

The implementation of the circumferential road project, which was supposed to have been completed over eight years ago, has been facing complicated hitches, particularly on the road-right-of-way problems and opposition from previous city officials.

Mariano R. Alquiza, DPWH-CAR regional director, said the required amount will be used to pay the remaining road-right-of-way problem at the Happy Hallow area to complete the road project at the city’s eastern link.

Originally, the circumferential road project had a total funding of P300 million from the national government’s obligation to the city over its numerous reservations which were accumulated over a period of ten years.

Alquiza said there was need for the DPWH central office to release the P45 million allocations in order for the road to pass through private properties and prevent owners from opposing the project.

He said delays in several packages of the project caused several problems in the sourcing of additional funds because the initial estimates were no longer applicable as a result of the successive increases in the prices of construction materials.

The road project was divided into 14 packages but only two packages, particularly those located within the Happy Hallow area, have yet to be completed.

Alquiza said he had talks with Chairman Narcisos Abaya of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority for the latter to allow the road to pass through the premises of the Camp John Hay.

The 21-km road would connect the city’s western link in Irisan barangay and its eastern link in the Happy Hallow area.

Motorists from Naguilian road who want to go to the other side of the city could take the route of Asin road which exits along Marcos highway, then take the Bakakeng or Balacbac routes to reach Camp 7 along Kennon road before taking the Camp7-Loakan road until reaching their point of destination in CJH or Happy Hallow area.

Once the required funds are released by the DPWH central office, the Alquiza disclosed the circumferential road project could be completed in a short period of time so that tourists and local residents could enjoy the fruits of having alternate routes to free them from the hustles of the traffic jams in the city proper. – Dexter A See



46,000 Cordillera studes affected by tuition hike
By Dexter A See

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – At least 46,000 students enrolled in the different higher education institutions in the Cordillera will be affected by the 4.5 to 38 percent hike in tuition fee to be implemented by seven private schools in the different parts of the region.

This was bared by Dr. Freddie Bernal, regional director of the Commission on Higher Education in the Cordillera, who added the figure represents over 46 percent of the 98,000 college students who are expected to enroll in the 36 public and private tertiary schools spread in the different parts of the Cordillera.

While tuition fees collected in the seven state universities and colleges in the region remain at a minimal level, seven out of the 29 private higher education institutions have opted to increase their tuition fees due to a number of factors, particularly their desire to increase the salaries and wages of their personnel, improve their school facilities and hike their return of investment.

The schools which will increase their tuition fees this coming schoolyear include Saint Louis University (SLU) – 4.5 percent; Baguio College of Technology – 5 percent; University of Baguio (UB) – 7.5 percent; Baguio Central University (BCU) – 8.25 percent; University of the Cordillera (UC) – 10 percent, Divine Word College of Banged which is based in Bangued, Abra – 14 percent and Carlos MA College -38 percent.

Bernal revealed two other private tertiary schools were supposed to implemented their own tuition fee increase but they were not able to beat the deadline for the filing of their notice to increase tuition fee as well as the pre-requisites which includes a substantial consultation with the affected sectors of the institution.

Out of the amount to be generated from the tuition fee increase, 70 percent should be earmarked for the increase in the salaries of their personnel, 20 percent must be exhausted to improve the equipment and facilities of the school while 10 percent is set aside for the return of investment of the school owners.

Bernal warned private tertiary schools which were not authorized to increase their tuition fees that they will be forced to refund to their students over collection of fees once they receive complaints from students that they are charging them more than the approved rates.

Compared to the previous years, only a few number of schools have opted to increase their tuition fees while the others decided to maintain their old rates to allow students the option to transfer for the simple reason of lower fees.

While there would be an expected reduction of enrollees in the private schools due to exorbitant fees, state universities and colleges are preparing for the influx of enrollees from private schools which would perk up their enrollment for this coming schoolyear and will result in the overcrowding of classrooms that will have to be addressed by the State-run schools.

Typhoon damages P1.7M Beneco equipment; P2 M revenue loss bared
By Laarni Sibayan

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet -- More than P1.4 million of Benguet Electric Coop. poles, transformers and other equipments were destroyed by super typhoon Cosme last week that caused massive power outages in Baguio and Benguet.

Beneco operations and maintenance supervisor Zac Torres said 23 crews made up of two-men and eight contractors with nine personnel each worked 24-hours to restore power especially in Baguio where the typhoon hit the hardest, and where most of the damaged equipments were located.

Beneco also lost P2 million estimated revenue losses due to Cosme, according to corporate services department community relations officer Jason Wayet.

A total of 41 poles, seven transformers, and 102 fuse links had to be repaired or replaced by the maintenance crews during the onslaught of the typhoon, in an effort to restore power soonest.

The seven Beneco transformers that were damaged alone cost Beneco P829,500.00, while the 41 damaged poles cost P466,687.85, and the line materials (wires) that were replaced cost P91,608.54. These made up the bulk of the cost wrought by Typhoon Cosme.

OMD department manager Rocky Pallogan said about 75 percent of Beneco’s area of responsibility will have light May 23 and 100 this week.

“The damages exacerbated by landslides hampering the Beneco crew’s trucks from reaching far-flung barangays of Benguet to do their line patrol and restoration, makes it difficult to reach 100 percent restoration of power, but our linemen have been working non-stop,” Pallogan said.

In Baguio City proper, only individual residences that were isolated due to cut-lines, burned meters, and damaged transformers are the ones remaining without light. In Itogon, parts of Sablan, Dalicno and Sto. Tomas 50 percent remain without electricity.

Camp 4 down to Camp 1 restoration is also ongoing, while at the Sto. Tomas area after GreenValley, the heavy maintenance crews are replacing eight poles, according to Pallogan.

Beneco’s summary of expenses did not include the labor cost caused by Cosme.

Delay seen in Abatan-Cervantes road rehab
By March Fianza

MANKAYAN, Benguet -- Government engineers in charge of the P800 million rehabilitation of the Abatan-Mankayan-Cervantes road anticipate a delay in the concreting of its pavement, in the event that the contractor is unable to avail of ample supply of the necessary aggregates.

Information sources said the China Harbour Engineering Co. that won the project may yet be entangled in a number of lawsuits for violating rules regarding the operations of a mechanical processing plant for sand and gravel.

This was confirmed by engineers who requested anonymity, saying the China contractors are busy setting up a crushing plant, but have yet to acquire a permit to operate the same.

Based on the rules under Republic Act 7942 or the new Mining Law of 1995, the operation of mechanized processing plants must be covered by an Industrial Sand and Gravel (ISAG) permit to be issued by the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB).

However, in the case of China Harbour , the engineers said it can no longer be able to avail of the said permit since a resident businessman has already acquired the ISAG for the Municipality of Cervantes , Ilocos Sur. RA 7942 further provides that “only one ISAG permit is issued for one municipality.”

The informants said a representative of China Harbour may be dragging the company unnecessarily into legal controversies detrimental to the road project.

The representative of China Harbour is only “interested in making fast money and does not have regard for the legal framework” within which to do business, they said.
But, officials from the MGB said the government agency is bent on enforcing rules against violators of RA 7942 and will not hesitate to stop illegal quarry operations and illegal operations of mechanized crushing plants, as no one is above the law.

Meanwhile, barangay and municipal officials in Abatan, Mankayan and Cervantes deemed to be affected in any delay are closely monitoring all issues relative to the project.

It was supposed to have started in October last year, and is expected to be completed in three years, but with an impending lawsuit against China Harbour, beneficiaries of the P800 million road rehabilitation project look forward to a longer wait.

The road improvement project of GMA was programmed to shorten travel time from the provinces in Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera to the Ilocos Region.



Stricter implementation of overloading rules ordered

BONTOC, Mountain Province. Public works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Jr. has directed all his field offices nationwide to strictly implement tighter rules against overloading along all roads to prevent the rapid deterioration of concrete and asphalt pavements.

Ebdane’s order came to help reduce the increasing government expenditures for the maintenance of various roads which are damaged due to the passing of overloaded vehicles, especially cargo trucks.

Engineer Mariano Alquiza, DPWH regional director, said aside from imposition of stiff fines, owners and drivers of overloaded vehicles are obliged to unload their excess cargo on the site of the weigh bridges before they will be allowed to proceed to their points of destination.

In the Cordillera, the Regional Development Council bared the 20-year economic life of the concrete pavements could be lessened due to the continuous passing of overloaded trucks which bring agricultural crops from the farms to the markets.

The RDC noted the long struggle to gain national government attention for the rehabilitation of various roadlines would be in vain if the pavements would easily deteriorate due to the passing of overloaded vehicles daily.

However, Alquiza informed RDC members they are now looking for available sites near the agency’s weigh bridges where warehouses could be established to serve as storage areas for the unloaded items from the overloaded cargo trucks.
Under the anti-overloading law, 6-wheeleter trucks are only allowed to have a maximum axial load of 13.5 tons whereby 20 percent of its load must be concentrated in the front axle while the 80 percent must be equally distributed to the remaining axles of the vehicle.

Alquiza, chairman of the RDC’s infrastructure committee, pointed out they are obliged to strictly enforce Ebdane’s directive in the light of growi8hng concerns being raised by stakeholders on the safety of motorists plying the different national roads due to the prevalence of overloaded vehicles.

Earlier, local vegetable truckers and traders assailed the strict implementation of the provisions of the anti-overloading law along national roads in the Luzon area since it had resulted in the reduction of their supposed income from each shipment of cargo as they appealed to concerned government agencies to relax the strict implementation of the anti-overloading rules.

Prior to the implementation of the anti-overloading law, 6-wheeler trucks could load a maximum of 16 to 18 tons of cargo while a 10-wheelter truck could be loaded a cargo of over 28 tons which is detrimental to the safety of the motoring public especially in highways.

Alquiza added the strict implementation of the anti-overloading law would help reserve the longer economic life of various roads in the cordillera that are now undergoing rehabilitation, particularly phases 2 and 3 of the halsema highway, the Bontoc-Tabuk-Tuguegarao road, the Cervantes-Sabangan road, the Abatan-Mankayan-Cervantes road and the Baguio-Nueva- Vizcaya road. -- Dexter A. See

2,000 Mt Prov studes enjoy full scholarship

BONTOC, Mountain Province – The full scholarship being enjoyed by nearly 2,000 students of the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College here will still continue even with the untimely demise of its benefactor, the late Rep. Victor S. Dominguez.

Dr. Nieves A. Dacyon, MPSPC president, bared this adding those interested to avail of the program should formally write Kalinga Rep. Manuel S. Agyao, the congressional caretaker of the province, and await the decision of the screening committee.

Earlier, Agyao assured the people of Mountain Province , during a recent visit, that he will pursue the projects left out by the late congressman which includes the grant of full college scholarship to bonafide students from the province who are currently enrolled at the MPSPC.

Under the program, students who are able to meet the qualifications set by the screening committee would be granted free tuition and miscellaneous fees provided that they will be able to maintain average grades during their studies.

The program has an annual allocation of P10 million, P7 million from the Priority Development Assistance Fund of Dominguez and another P3 million from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

MPSPC is the first public higher education institution in the country to offer such program to help the parents of indigent students shoulder the expensive cost of earning a descent education to uplift their respective families from poverty.

Dacyon shared the view of Dominguez and other provincial officials that providing the young generation with the proper education would bring forth economic development in the province because the youth will be trained to become productive and responsible citizens of the country.

Furthermore, she asserted education is the best inheritance that one can give his or her children since it could not be easily taken away from them and it could bring one to greater heights once the knowledge and skills learned will be used to the hilt.

Encouraged by the legacy left by Dominguez, the provincial government and several municipal governments have also set aside certain funds to finance the education of their chosen scholars who are also enrolled at the MPSPC.

The school official cited the “bayanihan spirit” of local officials and various sectors in pursuit towards the attainment of a professional populace is very much alive, thus, the same should continue to usher in more support for the tertiary education of deserving students from the different communities.

Dacyon emphasized education of the people should be one of the primordial concerns of local officials in order to allow the young generation to be able to hurdle the difficult times and be the ones to make a difference not only in the province but also in the country in the coming years.

Students expressed their gratitude to all those who have exerted extra effort in ensuring the continuity of the noble education program which has bee instrumental in the education of their brothers and sisters in the past three years. – Dexter A. See



TransCo vows to restore P’sinan power in 15 days
BY Jennelyn Mondejar

LINGAYEN, Pangasinan – National Transmission Corp. officials in western Pangasinan said they would restore power in 15 days in the aftermath of tropical storm “Cosme.”

Engineer Gerardo Torres, manager of TransCo’s western Pangasinan branch based in Labrador town, gave this assurance in a meeting of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council on May 20.

The provincial board passed a resolution summoning all power distributors in the province like the Dagupan Electric Corp., Pangasinan Electric Coop. and Central Pangasinan Electric Coop. to a special session last week assess the power situation in the province, which bore the brunt of Cosme whose strong winds uprooted electric posts and damaged power facilities.

“Our commitment is that in 15 days, everything will be normal,” Torres said.
But he added that this still depends on the capabilities of the local power distributors.
In the last two days, Torres said they have given priority to the 500,000-volt grid line.
He said 194 concrete poles were toppled down in the whole of central and western Pangasinan.

With the arrival of TransCo teams from Tuguegarao City, Bulacan and Pampanga, he said they expect to energize Cenpelco’s Labrador substation today.

Torres, however, said not all households will have power back immediately, as Cenpelco and other local power distributors also have to attend to other problems like their own damaged facilities.

Torres appealed to barangay and local officials and the police to stop the pilferage of power cables.

In Dagupan City, Supt. Dionicio Borromeo said they have arrested a resident in the act of selling 15 kilograms of electric copper wire to a junkshop.

Borromeo said a junkshop owner was also arrested Tuesday for buying a stolen Decorp transformer and electric cables.



NolComArmy chief named

CAMP AQUINO, Tarlac City – Maj. Gen. Isagani Cachuela, of Philippine Military Aca­demy Class 1976, took over the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command Wednesday replacing Lt. Gen. Rodrigo Maclang.

New AFP chief Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano presided over the change of command.
Cachuela faces a tough job of sustaining Nolcom’s gains in its anti-insurgency drive via the Campaign Plan Amihan as part of the military’s effort to reduce the insurgency to an inconsequential level on or before 2010.

During his time, Maclang said Nolcom led all unified commands in the clearing and downgrading of communist guerrilla fronts, with help from local governments.
During the first quarter, Maclang said four guerrilla fronts in Ilocos Sur, Isabela, Bulacan, Pampanga and Tarlac were dismantled and five others in Central Luzon were downgraded.

Nolcom’s feat accounts for half of the total enemy fronts declared dismantled and downgraded nationwide.

The other half is credited to the Southern Luzon Command, Central Mindanao Command, Eastern Minda­nao Command, and Western Mindanao Command. – RS



Low supply of bangus expected in 3 months
By Jennelyn Mondejar

DAGUPAN CITY – “Very low” supply of Dagupan or Bonuan bangus (milkfish) is expected in the next three months, city officials said even as the fishery industry suffered P547 million in losses as tropical storm “Cosme” battered the province last week.

The city council, presided over by Vice Mayor Belen Fernandez, declared a state of calamity in a special session late Monday afternoon.

“Expect a shortage of Bonuan and Dagupan bangus the coming weeks,” Fernandez said.

Mayor Simplicio Rosario of Binmaley town, considered as the province’s “fish bowl,” said their own fishery industry also suffered about P160 million in losses in bangus, malaga (siganid), and prawns raised in fishponds.

Rosario had to cut short his stay in the United States and flew back Tuesday to help his townmates.

He said he appealed for help from President Arroyo and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap in a letter he sent May 20.

“I hope the President can help us because the fishery sector is the life of our province,” he said.

Ninety-five percent of Dagupan City’s fishery sector produces bangus.
During normal days, bangus traded here daily reaches 25 to 30 tons, of which about 10 tons come from the city.

“We will be depending practically on what is left in the stocks,” Fernandez said, adding bangus grows from three to five months.

About 70 percent of bangus stocks were carried into rivers as heavy rains and strong winds brought by Cosme destroyed fishponds.

This has led to an extreme drop in bangus prices since Sunday, reaching as low as P15 a kilo.

More than 1,000 fishpens in rivers here, including the illegal ones, were wiped out, with only about 50 remaining, authorities said.

On May 20, bangus price started to increase from P30 to P50 per kilo.



Atienza, lady governor at loggerheads over gold-copper project in Vizcaya

SANTIAGO CITY – An executive of OceanaGold Philippines said Wednesday Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza has issued an explicit directive to the mining company to resume full operation despite a cease-and-desist order issued by Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma.

The operation of the Australian mining firm was stopped by the governor for its alleged failure to pay fees for what she described as "quarrying activities" at the Didipio gold-copper project site.

Ramoncito Gozar, vice president for communications and external affairs of OGPI, said Atienza told company president Patrick Goodfellow he sent last April 22 to Cuaresma a clarification letter stating that the on-going activities at the Didipio gold-copper project are allowed under the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement No. 001 and are part of the development work on the project.

"We have emphasized that these are not quarrying activities and pursuant to the provisions of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, an FTAA contractor has the right to extract and remove sand and gravel and other loose materials without need of a permit from the provincial governor," Atienza stated in his letter.

Atienza also told Cuaresma that FTAA No. 001 is valid and existing contract between the Philippine government and OceanaGold, adding that the Didipio gold-copper project is one of the priority mining projects of the national government under its minerals industry revitalization program.

"Assuming without granting that OceanaGold is not paying the tax due, suspending outright the activities concerned for such violation is not the appropriate penalty under the principle of due process," Atienza said.

Atienza said that the governor has exceeded her authority under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 by issuing the cease-and-desist order.

"The said order is definitely inappropriate, has no legal basis, and, therefore, cannot be recognized by this Department," he said.

The former Manila mayor said OceanaGold has contractual obligations to fulfill under FTAA No.001, particularly the obligation to develop the contract area within a fixed period of time pursuant to the three-year development work program.

"Over and above all legal considerations, we cannot lose sight of the tremendous socio-economic benefits that the Didipio Gold-copper project stands to generate not only for the national government but more so for the local communities," Atienza also said.

The secretary ordered OceanaGold to resume the development work, including earth-moving activities at the Didipio gold-copper project.

He also directed DENR and MGB Region 02, and notified Department of Interior and Local Government, the Philippine National Police, and other agencies composing the Minerals Development Council to ensure that his directive is fully carried out.

"We shall definitely look into the possibility of filing charges at the appropriate forum against the liable officials of the province," Atienza said.

However, Governor Cuaresma reiterated she was not scared by the secretary’s threat to file charges or even the possibility of imprisonment that may come as a result of the enforcement of her cease-and-desist order.

Earlier, MGB Director Horace Ramos instructed OceanaGold to resume development operation.

This came a day after he held a dialogue at the Didipio project with Cuaresma and Vice Gov. Jose Gambito Jr.

But the dialogue proved futile as the lady governor continued to enforce her cease-and-order is valid.

Ramos agreed in principle with Cuaresma and Gambito that because the issue involves national and local laws, it is appropriate to seek the opinion of the Department of Justice.

The other day, Rep. Carlos Padilla went to Cuaresma’s rescue, saying that the DENR secretary is treading on dangerous grounds for issuing a return-towork directive to OceanaGold, while the cease-and-desist is still in place. -- CP



After the deluge
Victims of Supertyphoon Cosme in northern and central Luzon are still trying to rebuild from the destruction it wrought. In Pangasinan, considered the province hardest hit by the storm, there is still no electricity in most towns while some areas are still submerged.

In other parts of northern Luzon like the Cordillera, some roads are still closed as a result of landslides while the price of rice is still up. Business is affected like tourism. The bangus industry is reeling wherein fishers and dealers have to contend with low prices even as the fish is seen to become scarce in the next three months.

This, as oil companies are saying they had to increase fuel prices as a “matter of survival,” like they are not gaining huge profits. Food is more expensive and the job market cold. Adding confusion is an archbishop from the south saying it is better for the country to have more food than cheaper fuel, like these are not interconnected – when oil prices go up, tendency is for prices of commodities like food to go up.

Every year, government officials say during dry months they have contingency measures for calamities like storms in preparation for rainy months. But everytime a typhoon strikes, most government offices are caught flat-footed while roads are closed, barangays are submerged and power lines are down.

Programs regarding disaster control or management are reactive, not proactive. Following Cosme, Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane said he has ordered the reconstitution of a task force to repair or replace national bridges and public buildings found to be in critical condition.

President Arroyo also signed Friday a law that would provide more financial and development assistance to micro, small and medium entrepreneurs in the country. These should have been done earlier.

Governance should not be used as a means to promote self-interest. Government should be about breakthrough results, not an endless discussion about the best practices that are unrelated to the core process of day-to-day pursuit after results that should make a difference in the life of the governed – who are paying the officials to stay in office with their taxes.

Esperon as peace adviser an irony
If the appointment of retired General Hermogenes Esperon as the president's adviser on peace process is being assailed, it is because people perceive he is not fit for the job given the dismal human rights record of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during his term as AFP chief.

Even government officials are questioning his appointment like Sen Chiz Escudero. “It would be difficult for Esperon and the public to reconcile his previous role as a combatant with his new-found position in the peace negotiation. How can he advise GMA on peace if all he did throughout his career is search and destroy the enemy?”

The opposition senator has reservations on Esperon making "unity attractive" to those considered by government as insurgents. "For someone to sit in the peace negotiating table, he or she has to provide the stimulus to forge genuine peace and end the long standing war and impunities from both sides. He has to provide the momentum to also resolve other conflicts in the country thorough democratic processes."

Trust and respect from both sides should be present to gather everyone on the peace negotiation table. But with Esperon who furiously implemented the counter-insurgency program that was deemed a ticket to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by the UN special rapporteur, the senator said Esperon "might find himself a square peg in a round hole".

The senator, like many constituents of this Banana Republic, believes there are other people who are a lot qualified and suitable to the job and who can command acceptability and respect to the parties involved in the peace agreement.

But despite serious doubts about Esperon, the senator said he wishes him well since he welcomes the job in a tight embrace. “Let us just hope that he can usher democratic transformation in the country's search for a long lasting reconciliation and peace.”

Escudero may have some hope on the capability of Esperon to be a good human rights advocate but for the families and relatives of victims of human rights violations under his tenure as AFP chief, his appointment was a kiss of death.



Gen. Martin ‘exaggerating’ on ‘media harassment’?

(A little more than a week ago, two members of the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club were allegedly harassed by the vice mayor of Alfonso Lista, Ifugao and his minions who allegedly “poked” their guns at them. Below is an article on the matter from the BCBC emailed to us.)

The Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club in a statement asked the regional police office and Ifugao officials to help in shedding light to the incident last week where a vice mayor allegedly poked his gun at two Baguio-based journalists as well as threatening them that forced them to flee from his residence for fear of their lives.

Alfonso Lista Vice Mayor Celemente Polig was identified by Malaya correspondents Ma. Elena Catajan and Redjie Cawis as the executive who pointed his gun at them while they were interviewing him at his residence last May 8 during the town’s celebration of the Ammung Festival.

Before any actions are taken, we would like to ask the Police Regional Office Cordillera, through regional police director Chief Supt. Eugene Martin, and the offices of Ifugao governor Teodoro Baguilat, Jr. and Rep. Solomon Chungalao to help in the investigation to be able to establish what really transpired, said BCBC President Pigeon Lobien in a statement.

Lobien was quoted in a local daily earlier this week that the club will coordinate efforts with the Cordillera Tourism Press Corps, an organization to which the two harassed media persons are members, in seeking for the clarification of the matter and before any actions are taken.

Lobien has recently talked with his counterpart at the CTPC, Manila Standard Today photo-correspondent Rick Reyes, and agreed that they take part in a planned forum between Polig and the two journalists.

We will suspend any action until we are given the full account, Lobien said as he said that all stories must have both sides of the stories.

While they are members of the BCBC, the CTPC and of the journalism community, we believe that we also should take into account that Polig has something to say. We want to be open to what he might be saying, he added.

The local daily said Polig refused to comment but is amenable to a forum or dialogue where he could also air his side. Chungalao offered to mediate, while other Ifugao officials said they will also help in the investigation.

Earlier, Reyes met with the two aggrieved journalists, Director Puficacion Molintas and Director Helen Tibaldo of the Philippine Information Agency Cordillera, where Cawis is also employed. Catajan, a past president of the BCBC, was in Alfonso Lista, May 8, with Cawis to cover the Ammung festival at the behest of Molintas and town mayor Charles Cattilig.

They sought to interview Polig because he is a descendant of the town’s first mayor and namesake.
(Below is a statement on the matter by the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines headed by its chairperson Jose Torres Jr. and secretary general Rowena Paraan.)

The harassment of Malaya correspondent Ma. Elena Catajan and the Philippine Information Agency's Redgie Cawis by Alfonso Lista, Ifugao Vice Mayor Clarence Polig and his cohorts illustrates very clearly how the culture of impunity in this country is allowed to flourish and embolden those who would wish to suppress the free Philippine press.

According to Catajan, a drunken Polig and his bodyguards drew guns on her and Cawis when they sought an interview on festivities in the town that they had been invited to cover by Mayor Charles Cattling.

The incident, by itself, is a classic example of how, in the Philippines, petty warlord-politicians can lord it over isolated communities, wielding virtual life and death powers that have time and again proven fatal for vigilant community journalists.

It should be noted that most of the media killings in the country have happened in the provinces, where politicians, warlords, corrupt military and police officials, and crime lords – many in collusion with or indistinguishable from each other – rule their own little fiefdoms.

The general inaction to these killings by the national government in faraway Metro Manila, which appears to be inflicted with an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude, if not downright apathy, has only served to embolden these enemies of press freedom. In the case of the harassment of Cawis and Catajan, however, Polig has actually appeared to have received encouragement closer to home, from someone whose sworn duty supposedly is to protect citizens.

Even before a complaint had been filed or an investigation carried out, Cordillera police director Chief Superintendent Eugene Martin has already ruled the two journalists' account of the incident "exaggerated."

How can any ordinary citizen expect protection from our law enforcement agencies when even journalists threatened or worse in the course of their work are brushed aside?

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines demands that the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police immediately investigate the despicable action of the Vice Mayor, Police and the cavalier and unprofessional behavior of Chief Superintendent Martin, and, if warranted, impose the fullest sanctions possible on them.

It is bad enough that so many of our colleagues have fallen in places much like Polig's kingdom. But to have police officers like Martin backing him up can only make it infinitely dangerous not only for journalists but for ordinary citizens. Continued inaction by the national government can only seal more death warrants not just for journalists but for press freedom. ***

My comment: The BCBC article said “a vice mayor allegedly poked his gun at two Baguio-based journalists (Cawis and Catajan) as well as threatening them that forced them to flee from his residence for fear of their lives.” In the second paragraph, it was said the vice mayor ‘pointed” his gun at them.

Now from the NUJP statement: “According to Catajan, a drunken Polig and his bodyguards drew guns on her and Cawis when they sought an interview on festivities in the town that they had been invited to cover by Mayor Charles Cattling.”

I talked to Cawis and this is what he told me: Haan da inturung dagijay paltog da kinyami. Inkasa da isunga timmaray kamin a. (The vice mayor and his minions didn’t poke their guns at us. They cocked their guns so we ran to our vehicle and immediately sped off towards Banaue. If Cawis was telling the truth, the vice mayor and his men didn’t “poke,” “draw” or “point” their guns at him and Catajan. They merely cocked their “guns” presumably to frighten the two.

Now Chief Supt. Martin is under fire from the NUJP for saying reports about the incident were “exaggerated.” The BCBC report for one said Pollig and his men “poked” or “pointed” their guns at Cawis and Catajan while the NUJP said Pollig and his men “drew” their guns. My simple understanding of “poke” means to push, prod or thrust while to “draw” means (in this context) somebody getting one’s gun from a holster, a pocket or a belt. In Ilokano, it could mean inturong which could mean to “point.”

If reports said the guns were “poked, drawn” or “pointed,” then Martin was correct in saying the reports were “exaggerated.” The guns were merely “cocked” – not poked, drawn or pointed.

I don’t think Cawis was lying to me when he told his account about the incident. Martin said the reports were “exaggerated” after he was told by police in the area about their “investigation” on the matter.

The incident should serve as an eye opener to the media to double check their data and use precise words in describing an incident otherwise readers would get a wrong account of what really happened. At the risk of sounding redundant, media organizations should also not issue inaccurate statements and condemn anybody (like Martin) on any incident unless they double check their data.

As to Vice Mayor Pollig: Kitaen yo met a Apo ta haan kayo aginom adu sakayon to agkasakasa paltog yo (no agpayso man inbaga da.) Kitaen yo metlang a ta di kayo agsita “work permit” dagitoy journalists nu apan da dita kingdom yo ta haan da masapul iti “work permit” aggapu munisipyo no agkalap da iti damag. Nu siak siguro, naatake akon iti buteng.Ngem nu napagasatannak, baka nakataray ak dimmanun Baguio nga di oras nga kalla kamkamaten iti nauyong nga aso.

Ps also to Gen. Martin: Could you ask your men to check if the guns of the honorable vice mayor and his men are licensed? We don’t want another cocking incident. Bulang a mabalin pay. Thank you.



A social experiment

MANILA -- This is the first issue of a new series of columns that will henceforth replace my previous “Essays in Development” series. Starting with this issue, I will now shift from the essay form to the narrative form, yet another experiment in literary forms.
In what could also be an experiment in journalistic forms, I will now try to jive the content of my new television show with the content of this column. My show, “Ka Iking Live!” now comes out in Destiny Cable Channel 3, every Friday from 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m..
My television show aims to bring out “The News behind the News”, using the one on one interview format that I perfected during my days at DZEC and Net 25. Having said that, I would like to thank my “discoverer”, trainer and mentor Ka Jerson Samson for helping me hone my skills in this format.
Needless to say, my television show falls within the genre of investigative journalism, not really a new journalistic form, but is still open to a lot of experimentation in its delivery. In my case, I am going to give a focus to development topics, giving it the same hot treatment as any other current news.
My friend Professor Louie Checa Montemar of the De La Salle University’s Department of Political says that my show could be considered as a new social experiment, while at the same time it could become a venue for public service.
As if things have turned full circle for me, it is actually one of the readers of my column who became my new “discoverer”. Mr. Mike Delgado happens to be an executive of Destiny Cable and he was the one who introduced me to the top management of Global News Network (GNN), the producer of my show.
If you want my show to come out in your area, please ask your provider.



Saving, embracing a patch of pine

Now that Shoemart has confirmed before the city council its plan to build a condotel on that patch of pine beside the Baguio Convention Center, the local legislature can make its move. It can exercise the state’s power of eminent domain and expropriate the property and secure its integrity and future as a mini-forest within the urban center.

The city can take the cue from The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s most prestigious environmental organizations. Since 1955, The Conservancy has been buying and preserving pieces of land and water all over for the sake of plant and animal diversity. Theyinclude humans, in our case the residents and visitors who both now pine for the vanishing scent of pine.

The news said the condotel would be called Baguio Air Residences. It would be an irony of a name if the tree patch, which contributes to cleaner, cooler air for residents (and visitors), would be destroyed.

The news said SM would cut only 313 of the over 900 green and brown sentinels for Baguio’s environment. It would transfer some and spare the rest, in consultation with its consultancy agency based in Manila.

Having been with pine trees for years now, I know it’s one of the most sensitive species around. It can be balled when it’s a sapling or a pole, but not when it’s over 30 years old, like those in the man-made patch, which were balled and planted as a backdrop to the 1978 World Chess Championship.

Take the case of Camp John Hay. When earth-moving was done to level sites for residential houses, the trunk base of some mature pines were covered by soil and they eventually died.

Now that we’re at it, the city council can also expropriate other privately owned pine stands and open spaces and save them from the urban sprawl of subdivisions and commercial structures. It can decide to buy the decrepit, abandoned building at the corner of Session Rd. and Lower Mabini St. and have it knocked down for a refreshing open space along the city’s main street.

With that, you can have a breathing space within the busy city commercialcenter that provides a view of the Burnham Park.. Those who love Baguio - and almost anybody whoever stepped into this mountain resort claims that sentiment – can start writing SM and the Government Service Insurance System (which owns or owned the patch), asking them to spare that mini-forest.

The argument for this plea is borrowed from the GSIS, when it decided, in 2002, to buy “Parisian Life”, one of the paintings of Filipino artist and patriot Juan Luna, for about P46 million, in an auction by Christie’s in Hongkong.

Criticized for such purchase, the GSIS leadership said it does not only insure government workers and government property. It also insures national heritage, and the painting is part of national heritage.

In the same token, Baguio is national heritage. This is also National Heritage Month and GSIS does help insure national heritage. Unlike when it bought the painting, GSIS need not shell out a single centavo to save that pine patch. I’m certain GSIS members would embrace such move and end up showing their children and grand-children the trees they helped save wheneverthey’re up here.

The image I see is of their children and grand-children embracing those pines, for the trees would then symbolize their families’ contributions to and being a part of Baguio. The patch can be GSIS’ fitting gift to Baguio on the Centennial next year of the country’s Summer Capitaland despite the dwindling forests -- its only City of Pines.

That’s why delegates to the 7th Igorot International Consultation last month adopted a resolution asking GSIS and SM to forego their deal towards wreaking havoc on the pine patch. Mostly expatriates from Baguio and the Cordillera, they believe saving the forest would mean saving part of Baguio’s past and future. ( for comments.)



Public utilities / Murder of a thousand trees

Talks about abusing the city’s environment were about to turn into bad curses when finally SMIC buckled to admit its proposal to build three to four 13-storey Condotels on the mini forest beside the Baguio Convention Center.

Months after the 1990 earthquake, a multi-sectoral congress was held at Teachers’ Camp where it was agreed that sky rise buildings higher than four floors above the ground would no longer be constructed. In other words, the construction of a building higher than the top of a Pine tree may not be allowed.

That should have kept Baguio’s skyline just like the way it was. And I thought the sectoral summit was good because it would not be as easy now to acquire tree-cutting permits. But, it is the opposite. It seems easier to get tree-cutting permits for thousands of trees than for a single tree, especially for the rich applicant. Soon, the SM Condotels will come. Well, what can a small voice do to stop the rich and influential who can buy his way around?

Representatives of the proposed monstrous concrete edifices also confessed that more than 300 of around a thousand trees in the area will be killed. The 35-year old trees were planted by advocates of the “Green Revolution” program of then First Lady Imelda Marcos of the Ministry of Human Settlements.

Opposition to any tree-cutting activity has started to snowball with city council resolutions filed and supported by Baguio councilors Richard Carino, Fred Bagbagen, Isabelo ‘Poppo’ Cosalan Jr., Elaine Sembrano, Lulu Tabanda and others.

Earlier, former mayor Braulio Yaranon wrote the city council about the SM-GSIS deal, even saying that development permits were already issued to the proponents. If true, that means that some of our officials already knew of the plans of SM and GSIS, but they kept quiet. Were they intimidated or really innocent? Or were their mouths sealed with hundreds, maybe thousands of Ninoy’s bills?

Again, I see that some city dads who purport themselves as “lovers of the environment” are not lifting a finger against SM’s plan to murder more than 300 trees. Maybe future political interests are stopping them. But I do not believe that “SM provides big support to politicians in exchange for the help it gets for its business interests.”

In a meeting with the council, the proponents were told to construct their building somewhere outside the city. That request, if granted, would definitely satisfy one of the many goals of the BLIST concept ( Baguio , La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba) – decongestion. That would also be good if big schools were invited to build outside the city.

If the BLIST idea has an accompanying law, it should identify specific infrastructure for certain areas. The reason is that lands within specific zonal areas, just because these are privately-owned, should not be allowed to be developed in any manner the owner wants to have it done without considering the point of view of others. Also, tree-cutting permits should not be issued just because the trees to be cut stand inside a privately-owned lot.

Howl a protest against SM’s ‘declaration of war’ on more that 300 helpless and innocent Pine trees. Regardless of the number, whether SM murders 300, 500, a thousand or just one lonely tree, the weight of all the actions is the same. I wish to be around at a time when killing a single tree would be punishable by death.
The issue about soaring electricity rates in Metro Manila is no more than a corporate problem that should have involved only the stockholders, but it dragged everyone into it, including the mere consumer. Take a closer look and you will see the cosmetics. In contrast to what they want the consumers to see, the main actors are not really talking about how to lower the rates.

They are talking about their personal shares. They are talking about money. GSIS is talking about its percentage earnings; Meralco is explaining how much one gets while the government is talking about its royalties in electricity sales and its shares through VAT collections. These words do not come out of their mouths as the actors are civil but, the ringing is very clear in between every statement they make – just like the cash register.

Understandably, electric corporations are money-making ventures where “service is a priority,” second only to profit. But according to our lawmakers, there are surer ways to lower the rates. One, remove the government’s royalty-shares from sales because in this case power rates definitely increase and the burden brought by it is shouldered by non-business consumers. By the way, not even our lawmakers know where the royalties go.

Second, charges on systems losses from the Napocor, Transco and power producers should be scrapped gradually, because while that is allowed by the EPIRA and the Energy Regulatory Commission, consumers do not understand the logic in paying for something that they did not use. They also find it unfair that business establishments can easily pass to their customers their power consumption while residential power consumers pay their electrical bills out of their own pockets.

Wonder of all wonders it easily passed scrutiny in congress. At that time, there were rumors that big lobby money went around in the House for the passage of the EPIRA, systems loss payments included. When the time came to explain to the public the provision, there was no good reason other than saying “that is what the EPIRA says” and “we are only following what the law says.”

I think consumers are entitled to a better explanation of the law and why congress allowed the power business to collect payment for systems losses. If there is no rational and acceptable explanation to it, then it should be scrapped – because at the outset, it was already unreasonable.

Third, eliminating for good all the VAT charges on power sale would still be the best legislative amendment ever. It would be good to get rid of that, anyway ever since that was imposed, and despite the promise by government financial managers of an economic boom, I noticed that Filipinos fell even deeper into poverty. In general, the resultant effect of the VAT was contrary to what the proponents expected. Now they are not talking.

Now, before any self-styled “cooperative” moves to confuse local power consumers by using the Meralco issue, lawful electric cooperatives all over should take the cudgels of explaining that what is happening to Meralco is a corporate problem. Exactly, that could have happened to Beneco if its clients opted to register with the SEC or voted to convert to a stock-cooperative. Whatever, the two options are profit-oriented organizations. –



The Arroyo-Lopez War

Finally, after almost 80 years of a family feud between two wealthy clans, it seems that the final battle has started. On one side of the conflict is the Arroyo clan, wealthy merchants of Chinese origin who gained political supremacy in the early 1900's when their patriarch, Jose Arroyo, was elected Senator in 1919. With the help of his close friend -- then Senate President Manuel L. Quezon -- his younger brother, Dr. Mariano Arroyo, was appointed provincial governor in 1928.

On the other side is the Lopez clan headed by Eugenio "Ening" Lopez who used his newspaper El Tiempo -- founded in 1901 by his father, Benito Lopez, the first governor of Iloilo in 1906 who was assassinated two years later by a rival political faction -- to expose the jueteng ring that Governor Arroyo and a Chinese trader named Sualoy started in Iloilo. El Tiempo's incessant exposure of the jueteng operations finally paid off. Sualoy was charged, found guilty, imprisoned, and then deported to China.

That was the beginning of the Arroyo-Lopez War. As a result of the crackdown on the jueteng operations, Governor Arroyo filed a libel suit against Lopez and El Tiempo. Lopez retaliated by filing administrative charges against Governor Arroyo. Governor General Davis was also informed about the case and he sent Judge Francisco Moran to investigate. Moran discovered that Governor Arroyo was involved in the jueting operations including a gambling den. Consequently, Moran dismissed the libel charges against Lopez and his newspaper. In 1930, the administrative trial found Governor Arroyo guilty of corruption and Governor General Davis relieved him from his post.

Humiliated, Jesusa Lacson Arroyo, the widow of Senator Arroyo who died in 1927, picked up the pieces and moved her entire family to Negros Occidental. One of her sons, Ignacio, would become the father of the current First Gentleman, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo.

Meanwhile, Eugenio Lopez progressed in business and his brother Fernando entered into politics and was elected three times as Vice-President. Don Eugenio established the first airline in Asia and expanded his newspaper business. In 1962, he purchased Meralco, the country's largest electric company. His son, Eugenio "Geny" Lopez, Jr., built ABS-CBN to become the country's undisputed leader in broadcasting.

In 1972, the Lopez family suffered under the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Geny Lopez was implicated in an alleged plot to kill Marcos. Under obscure circumstances, Lopez escaped from detention and slipped out of the country. Marcos' brother-in-law, Kokoy Romualdez, then took over Meralco. When Marcos was ousted in 1986, Cory Aquino returned Meralco and ABS-CBN to the Lopezes.

For more than 20 years, the Lopezes had undisputed control of Meralco. They also diversified into new business ventures. Over the past several years, ABS-CBN became a pain in the neck of P+resident Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Their coverage of the various scandals involving the First Couple have contributed to the Arroyos' negative public image.

It is no wonder then that Meralco is now in the crosshairs of President Arroyo's sight. The joint congressional hearing chaired by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and Congressman Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo has stirred into life a family feud that has been dormant for 78 years. There were speculations that the real reason for the Meralco "witch hunt" is for the government to take over Meralco and break it up into smaller companies. If this would happen, guess who would take over a divested Meralco?

Let's look at someone who has been at the forefront of the battle: Winston Garcia, President and General Manager of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). His aggressive and arrogant demeanor in the Meralco board room -- he is a recent member on the Meralco board representing GSIS which has 23% ownership of Meralco -- has made a lot of people wonder what his ulterior motive is. Many believe that Garcia is on the board to wage a "proxy war" for the Arroyos.

For one thing, Garcia is not the typical government bureaucrat. He is a scion of a powerful political dynasty in Cebu with close ties to Malacanang. His father, Pablo, is a congressman and concurrently Deputy Speaker of the House. His brother, Pablo John, is also a congressman. And his sister, Gwendolyn, is the current Governor of Cebu. She announced recently that she is a candidate for Vice President in 2010.
In addition, the Garcia family has large stockholdings in the Aboitiz-owned Visayan Electric Company (VECO), the country's second largest private electric utility.

The corporate officers include three Garcias, to wit: Dennis A. Garcia, President and General Manager; Ramontito A. Garcia, Tre+asurer; and Jess Anthony N. Garcia, legal counsel and Assistant Corporate Secretary. Of the 11 members of the VECO Board of Directors, five are Garcias, namely, Dennis N.A. Garcia, Ramontito E. Garcia, Gil A. Garcia II, Charles Sylvester A. Garcia, and Antonio V. A. Garcia de Escaño. The Aboitizes, have five members of the Board. Recently, a news account reported that Winston Garcia is serving VECO as a lawyer on retainer. The question is: What would VECO -- and Winston Garcia -- stand to gain if Meralco were broken up into smaller companies?

It is also a common knowledge that the Aboitizes are business cronies of the First Couple. With the Lopezes trying hard to defend themselves from a pack of wolves, it would probably take a miracle to survive these attacks. But miracles do happen and they happen when it's least expected to happen. And the last and final question is: What would the Arroyos stand to gain when Meralco breaks up? (PerryDiaz@gmail. com)


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