‘Helen’ Leaves 7 dead In Northern Luzon

Seven people died while three others were injured after tropical storm Helen battered the northern Luzon, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The NDRRMC also reported that rescue teams are still searching for two persons who have been missing during the height of the storm.

The weather disturbance, which made landfall in Isabela Wednesday dawn, affected almost 20,000 families in 217 barangays in Regions 1, 2, and Cordillera Administrative Region, the NDRRMC added.

To date, 3,106 families or 10,650 persons are currently staying in 77 evacuation centers.

‘Helen’ Makes Landfall In Isabela

Tropical storm “Helen” (international name: Kai-tak) made landfall in Isabela before dawn Wednesday, a PAGASA forecaster said. PAGASA forecaster Gener Quitlong, in an interview over radio dzMM, said Helen made landfall in Palanan, Isabela at 1 a.m. Isabela officials had already carried out a preemptive evacuation in anticipation of the storm.

The province is also under threat of flooding as the Magat dam was already at 189.72 meters, which is only 0.28 meter short its spilling level of 190 meters. The dam was releasing 321 cubic meters per second of water as of 4 a.m., PAGASA said

Meanwhile, Quitlong said Helen is now crossing over Kalinga and Apayao, and is expected to exit the Philippine landmass in Ilocos Norte between 4 and 6 p.m. today.

The storm will then head towards southern China and exit the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) on Friday morning. As of 5 a.m., PAGASA said Helen was located 60 kilometers south southeast of Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. The storm was still packing winds of 85 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center with gustiness of up to 100 kph. It was moving west northwest at 17 kph.

Storm warning signal number 2 remains hoisted over the following areas:

Cagayan

Babuyan Group of Islands

Calayan Group of Islands

Batanes Group of Islands

Isabela

Northern Aurora

Quirino

Nueva Vizcaya

Benguet

Ifugao

Mt. Province

Ilocos Sur

Apayao

Kalinga

Ilocos Norte

Abra

Meanwhile, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Tarlac, La Union and the rest of Aurora remain under storm warning signal number 1.

Preschool to high school classes are automatically suspended in areas under signal number 2, while classes in preschool are automatically suspended in areas under signal number 1. “Residents living in low-lying and mountainous areas under public storm warning signal #2 and #1 are alerted against possible flashfloods and landslides,” PAGASA said.

“Likewise, those living in coastal areas under public storm warning #2 are alerted against big waves or storm surges generated by this tropical storm,” it added.

PAGASA said moderate to heavy rains (7.5 -12 millimeters per hour) were being experienced over Mindoro, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite and Metro Manila; and intermittent light to moderate rains (2.5 – 7.5 mm/hr) over central Luzon and the rest of southern Luzon.

The rains over central and southern Luzon, and Visayas, especially the western section, were due to the enhanced southwest monsoon, Quitlong said.

If Aquino Returns Shortlist Of Nominees, JBC To Hold Its Ground

The Judicial and Bar Council will hold its ground should President Benigno Aquino III send back to the body the shortlist of eight nominees for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a member of the council said Tuesday.

JBC ex-officio member Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr. maintained that it is Aquino’s “duty to choose among the list,” adding the JBC will not change the contents of the shortlist should the President return it to them.

A similar incident happened in 2010 when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sent back the council’s shortlist for Supreme Court chief.

But then Chief Justice Reynato Puno who led the JBC defied Arroyo, throwing the same list back to Malacañang.

The deadline for Aquino to make his final choice from the shortlist is on August 27.

Meanwhile, Tupas said that the JBC did not “single out” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, underscoring that the JBC was simply following its rules.

“I sympathize with the Secretary. I would’ve voted for her if she was qualified but she wasn’t singled out. The JBC just followed rules,” Tupas said.

He said that the President’s appointment of a chief magistrate would “complete the process started on December 12″ when lawmakers approved the impeachment complaint against Corona.

Death Toll From ‘Habagat’ Rains Nears 100

The number of people who lost their lives from last week’s torrential rains has reached 92, latest government data revealed on Monday.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said most of the deaths were recorded in Central Luzon with 38; followed by the National Capital Region (32); MIMAROPA (15); Region I (6); and Region IV-B (1).

NDRRMC data showed that drowning was the most common cause of death with 66 cases.

The other causes of death were: landslide (12); electrocution (4); heart attack (3); struck by lightning (2); hit by falling trees (2); nervous breakdown (1). The cause of death of two of the fatalities were not indicated.

The number of people affected by torrential rains and floods rose to 3.45 million. Of this number, 89, 114 families or 410,729 people were still inside evacuation centers.

Meanwhile, the total cost of damage to infrastructure and agriculture in affected areas has reached P616,376,611.50.

Severe flooding also damaged 8,629 houses in Regions I, III, IV-A, IV-B and VI.

A total of 40 towns, cities and provinces have so far declared a state of calamity.

NDRRMC Executive Director Benito Ramos said coastal areas such as Hagonoy, Calumpit, Marilao and Obando in Bulacan; and Apalit, Sasmuan, Candaba, Masantol and Lubao in Pampanga remain flooded.

“Nakadugtong ito sa dagat, lalo na kung high tide, babagal ang pag-hupa ng baha,” Ramos told dzMM.

PAGASA said Metro Manila and nearby areas remain under threat to possible torrential rains as tropical depression “Helen” moves closer to the Philippines.

PAGASA forecaster Samuel Duran said sea conditions remain favorable for Helen to develop into a storm, threatening to bring heavy rains over the Philippines by enhancing the southwest monsoon (habagat).

Duran said Helen is forecast to hit extreme northern Luzon, but may still bring rains to central and southern Luzon which are still reeling from the effects of the two weeks of raining from tropical cyclone “Gener” and the enhanced southwest monsoon.

As of 7 a.m., Helen was located 600 kilometers east northeast of Casiguran, Aurora. It was moving slowly at 9 kilometers per hour.

Ramos, meanwhile, said local government units are more prepared than ever in responding to disasters, citing stronger links between the NDRRMC and its local counter parts.

He said 86% of LGUs so far have established local disaster management councils.

Philippines Floods – At Least 49 Dead

Thousands of Filipinos have shoveled dirt and debris from flood-ravaged homes, shops and roads under a shining sun after nearly two weeks of non-stop rain shut down the capital and forced hundreds of thousands to escape from the deluge.

At least 49 people died and more than two million people were affected by Manila’s worst flooding since 2009.

More than half of the sprawling metropolis of 12 million was submerged at the peak, and schools and offices have been closed for days.

Under a hot sun on Thursday as the rain finally stopped, residents began to fix disheveled homes and stores in flood-hit communities that resembled a wasteland littered with mud-caked garbage.

Some of the displaced in still-crowded evacuation centres have begun to trickle back to neighbourhoods where floodwaters have subsided, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said, but more than 314,000 people remained in hundreds of evacuation centres in Manila and outlying provinces.

“We were totally washed out,” said Rudy Aquino, a flower shop owner along Araneta Avenue, where more than three metres of rampaging floodwaters swamped everything and carried all sorts of garbage and even a wayward cargo truck.

Aquino, whose shop also was hit by the more massive flashflood in 2009, told The Associated Press he was moving to a safer location when the deluge engulfed his business on Tuesday and again late on Wednesday when floodwaters rose again.

As he tried to rise from the latest onslaught, a fresh supply of red orchids arrived at his shop on Thursday as he and staff were cleaning up.

Even though the weather has cleared, the government was busy with rescue and relief work in the worst-hit areas, especially along swollen rivers and coastal communities.

In hard-hit Marikina city in the capital, rescuers on rubber boats floated down still-flooded streets to reach thousands of residents marooned in submerged houses along the Marikina River.

After the rains stopped, thousands of shoppers descended on grocery stores to stack up on food and other supplies.

The death toll jumped to 49 late on Thursday after casualty reports from the provinces reached the Civil Defence Office. Most were drowning victims. At least six were missing.

Rainfall Alert Warning Terminated Over Metro Manila

The state-run weather bureau on Thursday terminated the rainfall alert warning over Metro Manila but advised the public to continue monitoring updates.

In its latest message on its official account on the micro-blogging website Twitter, @dost_pagasa, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) terminated the alert warning at 12:20 noon of Thursday.

Light to moderate (1.0-7.o millimeters/hour) rains were observed over the last two hours.

Last-Minute Rule Change Could Help De Lima

A last minute change in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) rule on disqualification of candidates could help Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in her bid to become the next Chief Justice.

This is after Iloilo Rep, Niel Tupas Jr. bared he is pushing for an amendment to the rule on disqualifying candidates who are facing administrative cases.

“May pending akong amendment to the rules para maging equitable naman at maging fair sa mga applicants but it would depend on the decision ng members ng council kung anuman ang mangyayari on Wednesday,” he said.

Should the JBC support Tupas’ proposal, de Lima still has a shot at landing in the shortlist.

Tupas said de Lima is “definitely disqualified” based on the existing rules.

De Lima is believed to be the top pick of President Aquino for the top judicial post. President Aquino has to appoint the new Chief Justice on August 27. Incidentally, De Lima turns 53 on the same day.

Disbarment cases

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Monday unanimously junked de Lima’s motion for reconsideration on the IBP Board of Governors’ decision to proceed with a full-blown investigation into her disbarment cases.

The pendency of a criminal or regular administrative case automatically disqualifies a candidate from any judicial post according to Section 5, Rule 4 of  the Rules of the JBC.

The JBC has postponed its voting on the shortlist of Chief Justice candidates and instead reset the deliberations and voting on Wednesday.

The JBC granted the request of its two representatives from Congress, Sen. Chiz Escudero and Tupas, for more time to study the qualifications of all 20 CJ hopefuls.

Escudero was not present during the public interviews of the candidates of July 24-27 because of a Supreme Court ruling limiting the legislature’s representation in the JBC from two to one.

Tupas, on the other hand, was not present during the last day of the interviews after both the Senate and House of Representatives decided to pull out of the process.

Speaking to reporters, Escudero said the IBP decision to investigate the disbarment cases against de Lima was not discussed.

An ABS-CBN source, however, bared De Lima’s predicament was brought up.

De Lima has requested the JBC not to disqualify her from the race.

Escudero said the matter will be put to a vote also on Wednesday.

Palace denies pressuring IBP, JBC

A Malacañang spokesman, meanwhile, denied influencing the JBC or the IBP to help de Lima in her bid to become chief justice.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he is not privy to the developments in the JBC and declined to comment on these mattes.

“Kung magbibigay kami ng opinyon one way or the other, baka sabihin nilang nag-i-impluwensya po kami. So we feel it is better for us not to comment on what action they will take,” he said.

Lacierda said he still has no details on the nature of the assistance being given by the Palace legal team to de Lima’s bid to become chief justice.

Mark Anthony Barriga: A David Amongst Goliaths

It took a virtuoso performance from light flyweight (49 kgs) boxer Mark Anthony Barriga against Italian opponent Manuel Cappai to finally get Filipinos excited about their countryman in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Short-stacked with only 11 delegates being able to qualify to represent the three stars and the eight point sun, Barriga, one of the shortest boxers in his division, proved once again that boxing is the sport where Filipinos can be most successful through his opening round win.

Foreshadowing the path the 19-year-old has to embark on for that coveted first Olympic Gold, I penned that Barriga truly has a Goliathan task ahead of him prior to the opening day of competition. His performance suggested that he is a capable “David”, able to slay physically imposing giants.

Barriga was sharp and took advantage of almost every mistake his switch-hitting foe made. Countering patiently and effectively, Barriga dictated the fight with a looping right hook that dropped his much taller opponent to his knees. The Filipino boxer then stamped his class and continued to dominate Cappai en route to a 17-7 win after three rounds.

Barriga was so impressive some even managed to almost spoil his feat by calling his performance “Pacquiao-esque”. Incidentally, Pacquiao has extended monetary incentive for Barriga in the event he comes home with a medal.

“May bonus siya sa akin pag nag-medal siya (He gets a bonus from me if he wins a medal),” the 33-year-old Pacquiao told PhilStar.com late Tuesday.

Up next for Barriga is a quarterfinal showdown with 29-year-old Kazakh Birzhan Zhakypov this Saturday. Barriga has previously sparred with Zhakypov and was said to have bloodied his nose during one of those sessions. “We are studying the tape of my Kazakhstan opponent. I believe it will be a good fight because we sparred before and he is good and strong,” Barriga said in a quote from Philboxing.com.

In his win, Barriga showcased why he earned a spot in the Olympics managing to switch up from being a counter-puncher to the aggressor when needed. He made few mistakes and kept his defense tight, showed maturity in picking his shots rather than trading carelessly during heated exchanges. He also flashed a “pro-ready” style, which suggests a promising future if he decides to turn pro unlike other previous Filipino boxing Olympians. That said, his style may also get him in some tight decisions against better opponents with the way amateur boxing is scored.

As the competition gets stiffer, Barriga can count on being a marked man with his dominating performance. His next opponent will surely be more prepared with what he has to bring and have scouted his win attentively. For this capable “David”, the quest has just begun.

‘Gener’ To Exit PAR On Thursday – PAGASA

Typhoon “Gener” (international name: Saolo) is expected to exit the Philippine Area of Responsibility by Thursday, the state weather bureau said.

In its latest bulletin, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said the typhoon continues to move in a north northwest direction away from the country.

PAGASA has lifted the storm signal warning in Cagayan and Aparri, but Signal No. 1 remains hoisted over the Batanes Group of Islands, Calayan Group of Islands and Babuyan Group of Islands.

Gener, which was last spotted 395 kilometers north northeast of Basco, Batanes, has maintained its strength and will continue to cause rains because of its effect on the southwest monsoon.

More rains and moderate to strong winds over Luzon and Western Visayas are expected in the next few days, according to PAGASA.

PAGASA continues to warn residents living in low-lying and mountainous areas against flashfloods and landslides.

The typhoon has left at least 14 people dead and forced thousands of families to flee their homes due to floods.

UBS – PH Remains In Sweet Spot For Investments

The Philippines remains in a sweet spot with a lot of room for investment and economic activities, the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) said in its latest report. “The lack of excess suggests the Philippine economy is still in a sweet spot. Easy monetary policy settings and rich asset valuations can encourage excesses in domestic credit and investment activity, but these have yet to show up in a meaningful way,” UBS said in a report released last week following the 25-basis points reduction in key policy rates by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

On Thursday, the BSP reduced the overnight borrowing rate to a low of 3.75 percent and the lending rate to 5.75 percent on concerns over global growth risks. UBS raised the question as to whether it was necessary for monetary authorities to raise rates. It said that easing monetary policy may branch credit but this has yet to be seen. UBS also said the Philippine economy is not immune to the global external risks such as the crisis in the euro zone.

“At the same time, the Philippine economy is not immune to global headwinds. In the context of international risks to the Philippine economy and low inflation, a reasonable case for policy easing can and has been made by the BSP,” UBS said. It said that earlier BSP monetary policy should be good for asset prices.

UBS said it expects the policy rate to be at 3.75 percent for the overnight borrowing rate and the peso at 42 to the dollar by yearend.

The inflation rate dipped to 2.8 percent in June from 2.9 percent in May, according to latest data from the National Statistics Office. The June inflation brought year-to-date inflation at three percent, falling at the lower end of the central bank’s three to five percent target for 2012.