Pacquiao, sobber since 2011

Manny Pacquiao couldn’t exactly tell the last time he had a drink–or even a sip–of anything that had alcohol on it. Having drawn inspiration from his religious transformation, Pacquiao is proud to say that he has been sober since 2011.

For somebody who used to drink heavily, gamble a great deal and engage in illicit affairs, avoiding these highly-addictive vices were easily achieved by Pacquiao, citing that God told him in a dream that it was time to mend his ways.

“I can’t remember the last time I drank,” said Pacquiao, staring at the ceiling of his office at the MP Tower in Quiapo, Manila, in search of an answer. Pacquiao tried his best to recall that time, squinting his eyes but there was no answer even after a lengthy pause. “I don’t know when exactly but it (the last time) was probably in the early-second half of 2011.”

For the last 18 or so months, Pacquiao either drank water or protein shakes and stayed away from betting in cockfights and pool halls and spending countless hours in casinos, spending his free time attending to his congressional duties and preaching, urging others to lead a clean life. Even while playing basketball, Pacquiao always reminds his teammates and even players from opposing teams to shun alcohol.

In fact, when Pacquiao celebrated his 34th birthday last December in General Santos City, alcohol was not served and very much unlike in the previous years when classy wine and upmarket liquor flowed freely.

One subordinate has also somehow heeded Pacquiao’s call that he no longer goes out at night to down a few bottles of his favorite brew but does so in the private confines of his living room, away from the eyes of his boss.

Months and months without alcohol hasn’t deterred his resolve and Pacquiao also succeeded in getting rid of his nasty gambling habit and forget about his lascivious lifestyle.

It is for these reasons that Pacquiao is optimistic of his much-awaited ring return in September against a foe who will be named by June. “Walang inom. Walang bisyo,” said Pacquiao. “Ready to fight tayo.” Whether it is going to be his tormentor Juan Manuel Marquez or not, Pacquiao assures everyone he will be back with a bang. Before his interviewer could utter the words, Pacquiao beat him to the punch.

“Yes, we will rise again.”

DENR asks candidates for a garbage-free campaign

Trees may not be counted as voters, but they still deserve respect, especially from those seeking elective government positions.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje on Tuesday urged candidates to avoid nailing or tacking posters on trees during the campaign for the 2013 polls. “We are calling on all well-meaning candidates to spare the trees of campaign materials and use only the common poster areas designated by the Commission on Elections,” Paje said in a statement. His appeal came only days after the official campaign period for local elections started March 29. The campaign period for the national polls has meanwhile started since Feb. 12.

Aside from posters, streamers and other campaign paraphernalia should also not be attached to trees, with Paje advising candidates to instead put up poles for these purposes. “We will not get tired of reminding the public that trees are also living creatures; they could get hurt or sick from infection… Worse, they could die if left untreated for a long time,” Paje said. This, as he touted the role of trees in providing oxygen, food and homes for humans and animals, as well as reducing air pollution and soil erosion.

The Environment department has also signed a joint memorandum circular with Comelec and the Interior and Local Government department to ensure propert waste management during the campaign. The document aims to push for candidates’ adherence to Republic Act 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act even during the campaign period. “Through this garbage-free campaign, we hope to minimize and properly manage the volume of garbage from campaign materials during the national and local elections,” Environment Undersecretary Analiza Rebuelta-Teh said.

Sanctions will be imposed against candidates and groups who violate the joint ciruclar, using the penalties provided under the Local Government Code and RA 9003, among others. Civil society, youth groups and private individuals have also been encouraged to report violations to the concerned agencies.

Groups have earlier called on candidates to mount “garbage-free” election campaigns by refraining from using leaflets, pamphlets, posters, stickers, decals, and plastic and tarpaulin streamers.

Politicians have also been urged to immediately conduct cleanup drives for their campaign materials after the May 13 elections. “We also hope that candidates will come up with meaningful platforms integrating sustainable solutions to the chronic garbage, toxic, disaster and livelihood woes facing many of our communities,” EcoWaste Coalition had said.

Still and all, ’twas peaceful

THE PNP yesterday said the overall situation during Holy Week was “generally peaceful” despite a number of untoward incidents and recorded crimes.

PNP chief Alan Purisima said he allowed regional police directors to downgrade their alert levels depending on the prevailing situation in their areas.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said at least 12 died, 531 were injured and two are missing.

Eduardo Batac, acting NDRRMC executive director and Office of Civil Defense administrator, said of the 12 fatalities, seven drowned.

They were three-year-old Blizz Eilengie Tesorio (Maundy Thursday), Roland Deo, 33, of Bolinao, Pangasinan (Black Saturday), Avelino Daliri, 29, of Ilagan, Isabela (Good Friday), Venancio Dumon, of Echague, Isabela (Good Friday), Felimon Aclan, 25 of Batangas City (Good Friday), Junior Redondo and Richard Matanguihan, of Tanauan City (Maundy Thursday).

Cristy Dion, 39, of San Fabian, Pangasinan and Apple Joy Carion, 13, of Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro, remain missing as they were swept by strong currents last Black Saturday.

Romeo Parahinog, 18, of Angono, Rizal and Simon Abitong Jr, of Antipolo City, were killed in vehicular accidents on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; Lowie Bulso, of Lipa City died in a fire on Good Friday; Sofronie Jamis Bombeo, 50, was killed in a shooting rampage in Libertad, Misamis Oriental on Maundy Thursday; and a militiaman was killed by communist rebels in Butuan City on Good Friday.

Director Alex Paul Monteagudo, PNP director for operations, said Oplan SumVac (Operational Plan Summer Vacation) will still be in effect today as thousands are expected to return from the provinces.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it would focus its traffic management efforts on key chokepoints namely Balintawak and Mindanao Avenue in the north and Magallanes in the south.

MMDA Traffic Engineering Center director Noemi Recio said they have traffic constables in place as part of the overall “Oplan Metro Alalay Semana Santa” or Oplan MASS which started last March 22.

Under Oplan MASS, the agency has deployed 1, 847 traffic enforcers along with tow trucks, emergency and communication vehicles, including the three “Agila” vans fitted with communications and monitoring equipment, and ambulances.

The 60-kilometer per hour (kph) speed limit along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City and the Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Paranaque will be in effect.

Operators of the South Luzon and North Luzon Expressways will be enforcing a speed limit of 100 kph for cars, jeeps and pick-ups not more than seven feet high and 80 kph for buses and trucks. The minimum speed remains at 60 kph.

MMDA said the “number-coding” will remain suspended until tomorrow except for Makati City which will enforce the scheme starting today.

Philippines could become gateway to ASEAN

The Philippines could become a gateway to Southeast Asia when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pushes through with market integration in 2015, a Cabinet official last week said.

“We in the Philippines look forward to ASEAN integration in 2015. Our hope is that the Philippines will be the Northern and Pacific gateway to ASEAN,” Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima said during Standard Chartered’s Singapore Forum 2013.

“The Aquino administration is committed to ensuring that we continue to invest in infrastructure, our people, and address the constraints to growth to ensure that our people are ready to take full advantage and be part of an integrated ASEAN,” Mr. Purisima added.

The Finance chief noted that integration would help ASEAN tap its potentials.

“The ASEAN demographic places the region in a very strong position for growth. It is important that ASEAN integrates because our collective strengths are more formidable than our individual competencies,” he said.

The region, he added, collectively makes up the world’s third largest population behind China and India.

“The region’s population is also one of the youngest in the world, with an average age of 27, which put the region at an advantage versus the rest of the world.”

ASEAN is currently pursuing regional market integration through various commitments that are targeted to be completed by 2015.

Initiatives towards the creation of an ASEAN Economic Community include the lowering of trade barriers, capital markets integration and greater information sharing, among others.

UN concerned over Philippines tobacco fair

The United Nations has expressed concern that the Philippines could encourage smoking by hosting one of the world’s biggest tobacco trade shows, a health official said Tuesday.

UN agencies in the Philippines have written to President Benigno Aquino citing Manila’s treaty pledge to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, World Health Organization senior health adviser Eigil Sorensen said.

The ProTobEx Asia show, described on its website as featuring the latest innovations in processing, cigarette making and packaging, will be held at an indoor exhibition hall in the Pasay district of Manila from March 20-22.
“It’s important that there is no official endorsement by the government of the tobacco event,” Sorensen told AFP.

He praised the steps being taken by the Philippine government to curb tobacco use but said more needs to be done. Sorensen noted that it was the second straight year that the Philippines was hosting the annual tobacco fair, which the WHO says gathers some of the world’s biggest tobacco manufacturers and advertisers.

“If there is a government endorsement, it might be seen as a mixed signal,” he added.
Sorensen took note of the significant reduction in the number of Filipino youth smokers, to one in 10 in 2011 compared to two in 10 four years earlier.

Last year the legislature passed a new law substantially raising tobacco taxes to help finance the government’s health care program. However, Sorensen said 14 million Filipinos out of the nearly 100 million population smoked daily, leading to 10 deaths by the hour from tobacco-related diseases.

“Despite the significant decrease in the prevalence of smoking among youths 13 to 15 years old, the tobacco epidemic in the country remains a serious issue,” Sorensen added.
“The Philippines has a vibrant tobacco industry. Tobacco has played, and continues to play, an important role in the domestic economy, earning millions of dollars for the country,” the ProTobEx site said of the venue selection. It praised the host city for lifting its blanket ban on indoor smoking at the trade show venue.

Organizers said the fair is not open to the general public or media. Aquino spokesman Ricky Carandang did not immediately reply to the AFP’s request for comment, while city officials were unavailable for comment.

Tejada suicide sparks soul-searching at UP


“The UP deprived my daughter of her only hope to help us,” said the father of Kristel Tejada, a freshman at the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila who took her life on March 15 at their home in Tayuman by drinking silver cleaner.

The suicide of Kristel, 16, the eldest of five children of a taxi driver and a housewife, came after she filed a leave of absence in the middle of the second semester for failure to pay tuition of less than P10,000.

“How painful was it to remove that sole hope to help your parents and yourself?” said Christopher Tejada after hearing Mass with wife, Blesilda, at the Philippine General Hospital chapel.

Kristel’s death triggered protests on the campuses of the UP System and prompted the UP administration to consider reforms in its socialized tuition scheme.

UP president Alfredo Pascual said the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) needed to be restructured to make the economic indicators that determine a student’s capacity to pay more realistic, the application process less tedious and the monthly allowance increased.

Pascual said he would propose to the governing UP Board of Regents at its meeting next month to lift the controversial “no-late-payment” tuition policy effective immediately.

“My position as UP president (is) no student shall be denied access to UP education due to financial constraints. I’m all for its lifting. I will immediately propose to the Board (of Regents) next meeting on April 12 to lift the ‘no-late-payment policy’ effective on all college units,” Pascual said in a statement issued at a press conference at the administration building on the UP Diliman campus.

Resign The elder Tejada welcomed the call of the faculty and staff of the Department of Behavioral Sciences in UP Manila for the resignation of the school’s chancellor and vice chancellor.

Christopher told reporters that others may be more deserving to replace Chancellor Manuel Agulto and Vice Chancellor Josephine de Luna.

“Vice chancellor, you know how we asked for your help and humbled ourselves before you,” the father said.

Christopher accepted the return of his daughter’s UP identification card, which she had to surrender when she filed a leave of absence.

“It’s as if she lived for me. When she turned over her ID, it was like snuffing out her life. Perhaps she is happy now because her ID was returned [to us]. She’s still part of UP,” he said.

Human face Kristel’s death “gave us a human face to the longstanding struggle against state apathy and neglect of the education of our youth” in the midst of limited opportunities and elitist policies, said the statement issued by the faculty and staff of the Department of Behavioral Sciences in UP Manila.

Sociology professor Jocelyn del Mundo read the statement at the Philippine General Hospital chapel after a Mass sponsored by the UP Manila Student Council for Tejada.

Del Mundo urged a review of the STFAP to make the system simpler, more student-friendly and efficient. She said other strategies like study-now-pay-later and installment payment schemes should be considered.

Despite the criticisms and protests against the memorandum on the no-late-payment policy, Agulto and De Luna “turned a deaf ear and persisted with their autocratic and callous style of leadership,” Del Mundo said.

Not cold-hearted Agulto decried the media’s portrayal of him and De Luna as “cold-hearted and ruthless.”

At the press conference, the official broke down and recalled how he was once in a situation similar to Tejada’s. “I was once a medical school student struggling to pay my tuition,” Agulto said, his voice cracking.

“We do not wish to give anyone a difficult time. We dream for them as they aspire for their future. We do not wish to pose obstacles in realizing their dreams,” he said.

Installment plan Pascual said his administration would institute an installment payment plan so cash-strapped parents could pay the tuition according to their salary schedule.

The no-late-payment policy was applied to Tejada whose application in December for a loan to cover her second semester tuition was denied because the semester was underway for nine weeks.

Father laid off Tejada, who was assessed in May to fall under STFAP Bracket D, which requires her to pay P300 a unit plus miscellaneous fees, appealed last September or midway into the first semester to be reassessed into Bracket E2, which would have exempted her from paying tuition and entitled her to a stipend.

In her appeal, Tejada said her father was laid off from work and her parents were constantly fighting over lack of money. She was turned down reportedly for failing to submit supporting documents.

Her father was able to pay her first-semester tuition loan of P6,337 only on Dec. 19 and immediately asked that she be allowed to enroll for the second semester under a tuition loan.

Appeal denied The father’s appeal was denied as the UP Manila Office of Student Affairs cited a policy that bars the late payment of tuition when classes for the semester have begun.

Tejada’s mother’s personal appeal to Agulto was also denied. Agulto said he had to uphold the decision made by his officials.

“If only I knew the extent of her difficulties, I personally would have attended to her family’s needs,” Agulto said.

Income brackets Under the STFAP, students are categorized according to their families’ annual income and other factors.

For the UP Diliman, Los Baños and Manila campuses, students in Bracket A with annual family income of above P1 million pay P1,500/unit; Bracket B (P500,001-P1 million) P1,000/unit; Bracket C (P250,000-P500,000) P600; Bracket D (P135,000 to P250,000) P300; Bracket E1 (P80,001 to P135,000) free tuition; and Bracket E2 (P80,000 or less) free tuition plus P12,000 per semester stipend.

For UP Baguio, Mindanao, San Fernando and Visayas campuses, Bracket A students pay P1,000/unit; Bracket B P600; Bracket C P400; Bracket D P200 and Bracket E free tuition. Those who do not apply for STFAP automatically fall under Bracket A.

Mismatch Pascual acknowledged a “mismatch” between the economic indicators and the actual financial need of students under the STFAP, while the long application and verification process delayed decisions on appeals to be reassessed, as what happened in Tejada’s case.

Under the proposed changes, Pascual said a student’s capacity to pay would be based not only on the family income but also on a socioeconomic classification based on aggregate expenditures.

He also said that the current stipend of P12,000 a semester for students under Bracket E2 was inadequate and that he would propose to increase this to P20,000 a semester.

Shift scholarships Pascual said his administration would try to shift scholarships more toward a student’s financial need rather than academic excellence and seek to increase the slots for student assistants with higher allowances.

He said the 14-page application form would be cut down to two pages and the application processing time reduced from six months to two months.

Pascual added he hoped the Board of Regents would immediately approve the changes so these could be implemented by the start of the next school year in June.

Interrupted The press conference was interrupted by some students’ attempts to protest the STFAP as they called for its immediate scrapping and for Agulto’s resignation.

Agulto said he was willing to resign if anyone could prove he did nothing to help Tejada. “You cannot say that we did nothing. But had I known her personal circumstances, I would have done even more,” he said.

Outside Quezon Hall on the UP Diliman campus, student protesters draped a black cloth on the statue of the Oblation.

Protesters also announced a students’ strike on all UP campuses to mourn Tejada’s death, called for the “rollback” in tuition and demanded accountability from UP officials in the wake of Tejada’s suicide.

Solidarity protest Students of Polytechnic University of the Philippines held solidarity protests over the death of Tejada and the reported tuition increase in their school.

“We fear that if tuition and other fees increase in PUP, we will face the same fate as the UP Iskolar ng Bayan. We must protest the fee hikes,” said PUP student regent Helen Alfonso.

PUP Communication Management Office director Ruby Gapasin said the students burned broken chairs on the school grounds.

PUP president Emanuel de Guzman held a dialogue with the students and assured them that the tuition for undergraduate courses would remain at P12 per unit.

However, the fees will increase for graduate school and open university because these receive minimal government subsidy.

6 more nations to join PH-US joint exercises

Australia, Brunei, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand will take part in this year’s Balikatan joint military exercise to be held in the Philippines next month, apart from the host and the United States, a Philippine military official said here Sunday.

They will participate in the Multinational Maritime Security Roundtable Discussion for the upcoming Balikatan Exercise 2013, which will run from April 5 to 17, said Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

However, the six countries will not be taking part in the actual field training exercises which will be limited to Filipino and US forces alone, Burgos added.

“The roundtable discussion seeks to determine specific humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in high-traffic international waters, and build response confidence among multi-national partners,” said Burgos.

“The event will be one of the highlights of this year’s military exercise wherein more than 8,000 soldiers from the AFP and US military are set to participate,” he said.

Burgos said the annual Balikatan exercise seeks to “further promote and foster the existing friendship” between the two countries and “advance the security and stability of the region in the near future.”

PNoy’s website, hacked

A hackers’ group posted a statement on the official website of President Benigno Aquino III early on Thursday, slamming his “mishandling” of the crisis in Sabah.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Sonny Coloma said that the hacking of the website,, was detected at around 1:30 a.m.

“An errant sentence critical of the government on the Sabah issue was found to have been inserted in one of the news items within the website,” Coloma said.

The President’s website was breached by hackers’ group, Anonymous Philippines.

It posted the message: “Greetings, President Aquino! We have watched how you signed into law a bill that endangers and tramples upon the netizens’ freedom of speech and expression. Now, we are silent witnesses as to how you are mishandling the Sabah issue. We did not engage the Malaysian hackers who invaded our cyberspace since we expected you to appropriately and judiciously act on the same, but you failed us,” the message read.”

The group added: “You did nothing while our fellow brothers are being butchered by the Malaysian forces, and while our women and children become subject of human rights abuses. If you can’t act on the issue as the Philippine President, at least do something as a fellow Filipino. We are watching.”

The website was already up as of 10 a.m.

PNoy Encourages Investors to Expand Businesses in the Philippines

President Benigno Aquino III urged Tuesday potential investors to consider expanding their respective businesses in the Philippines since the country is now in a better position to offer more and readily meet their requirements in order for their investments to prosper.

In his speech during the opening of the Philippine Investment Forum 2013 at the Peninsula Manila in Makati City, Aquino said that potential investors could partner with the government in investing in three priority sectors.

These include agriculture, which is the source of income for some 12.1-million Filipinos; tourism, which expects some 56-million visitors by 2016; and infrastructure, which will support agriculture and tourism through the development of road networks, ports, and airports that will ensure the safety and efficient passage of tourists and goods all over the country.

“At the end of the day, we are inviting you to come to the Philippines whether in these three sectors, or in others, because we know that, here, hard work, innovation, and creativity are rewarded with success,” the President said.

“This is not an empty promise — you will have the Filipino people and our administration as committed partners,” he added.

Aquino underscored the creativity, dedication, and loyalty of Filipino labor, saying these are the characteristics that firms want in their work force.

“Given the opportunity, they (Filipino workers) will do the same for you, whatever industry you may be involved in,” the President said.

“The investments that you will bring into our country will redound to tens of thousands of jobs for our countrymen—men and women who will be able to put food on their tables, send their children to school, and meet the needs and wants of their families,” he said.

“Together, we will be empowering them: giving them greater power to contribute to economic growth and opportunities to uplift their lives and even the lives of their fellow Filipinos. All together, we will be building the success of the industry, the Philippines and the Filipino people,” he added.

The President noted that since he assumed office in 2010, he had spent the last two years and eight months on weeding out graft and corruption in order to provide a level playing field for all as well as to “ensure that integrity, transparency, and accountability characterize our actions.”

“Over the past years, we have been doing everything we can to level the playing field—from reforming the judiciary, to streamlining the process of setting up business in the Philippines, to following the proper bidding and procurement processes. We are also investing heavily in our countrymen—empowering them to take stock of their lives and to realize their potential,” Aquino said.

The Philippine Investment Forum 2013 brings together policymakers, business leaders, economists and key overseas investors in painting an overview of the Philippine economy including analysis into all its key sectors.

Political dynasties reign in the Philippines accdg. to study

Political dynasties continue to reign in the Philippine political landscape, especially in isolated and far-off provinces, despite anti-dynasty initiatives of civil society, a study by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Policy Center has found.

Ronaldo Mendoza, executive director of the AIM Policy Center and leader of a research team that looked into reigning political clans with a tight control of elective positions in local governments nationwide, said political dynasties continue to monopolize political power in many local governments like provinces, municipalities and cities nationwide, and categorized current reigning political clans as “fat” or “thin” dynasties.

Despite the Maguindanao massacre that was condemned here and abroad, the Ampatuan family continues to reign in Maguindanao, topping the list of the “fat” dynasties in the country.

Mendoza said “fat” dynasties are political families that have several members holding elective positions in a certain local government for three years.

A “thin” dynasty is a political clan that only has two members – like a father and son – swapping certain positions, as when a mayor-father, at the end of his maximum three terms, lets his son, who may also have reached his three-year term either as vice mayor, councilor, provincial governor or vice governor, running for each other’s position, he added.

A fat dynasty monopolizing power is an undesirable situation, he pointed out, as checks and balances among elected officials in a certain local government are difficult if they are all from one family.

In Maguindanao, the “fat” Ampatuan dynasty held eight out of the 37 mayoralty posts in the province’s 37 municipalities, Mendoza said.

Other provinces with a big number of fat dynasties include Apayao province, Dinagat Islands, Siquijor and Sulu.

Mendoza said in their study, which looked into dynasties that took and kept power in the 2007 and 2010 elections, there were more fat dynasties in the political landscape in the 2010 elections.

Mendoza presented the 2012 study results yesterday in a forum attended by academe and civil society that tackled the issue of political dynasties at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center, Pasig.

Dubbed “Building an Inclusive Democracy,” the forum featured the AIM Policy Center study led by Mendoza, as well as academics from the University of the Philippines – National College of Public Administration, De La Salle University, and Ateneo de Manila University who are among the most dedicated scholars on dynasties, politics, and elections in the country.

Mendoza, however, said the Philippines was not alone in having the problem of political dynasty.

“We’re not the only ones with this particular phenomenon,” he said. “Let’s not beat ourselves up because of it.”

Mendoza said other Asia countries have recently seen dynasties, but thin ones, holding power, as he cited the case of Thailand where a sister of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck, was voted into the post; North Korea where a son of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un, succeeded the strongman; Rahul Gandhi of the Gandhi political dynasty eyed to be a prime minister; South Korea where the first female elected president Park Geun-hye is a daughter of former president Park Chung-he