USS Guardian Minesweeper still stuck at Tubbataha Reef

The minesweeper Guardian remains stuck on the Tubbataha Reefs in the western Philippines, but salvage teams have managed to board the ship several times to determine the vessel’s condition, U.S. Navy officials said Jan. 22.

“Salvage teams have been on and off the ship,” a Navy official in Washington said. “They’re not getting long windows when the weather breaks, but they’ve gotten some people on board to assess the situation.”

The ship, which is stuck on a reef at the Tubbataha natural marine park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had just completed a port call at Subic Bay in the western Philippines when the grounding occurred last Thursday.

While the assessments continue, Navy salvors are working to figure how to remove the ship from the reef. It will be at least another week and maybe longer, the official said, before that decision is made.

The Navy still hopes to get the Guardian off the reef and return her to service.

“There are no plans to abandon the ship right now,” the official said.

MMDA opens bike lane in Makati-EDSA

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) opened a one-kilometer bike lane from Magallanes to Ayala Avenue along the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) on Thursday.

“We wanted to have bike lanes on the roads of Makati to further promote the healthy practice of using bicycles as everyday means of transportation,” MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino told reporters.

“These dedicated lanes are intended to ensure the safety of the bicycle riders who traverse Metro Manila’s major roads”, he added.

Users of the MMDA bikes should present a valid identification card to be issued a plastic card indicating the bike number. The issued card will then be surrendered at the control area where they will exit.

‘No Need For Noy To Sign Waiver’

Malacañang sees no need for President Aquino to sign any waiver on his bank accounts despite the challenge hurled by Senators Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, who want all members of the Cabinet to give the public access to their assets.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte pointed out that doing so would lump Aquino with expelled chief justice Renato Corona, who was found guilty of non-disclosure of assets, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

“Is it fair to put the President, who has not been accused of graft, who has not been accused of dishonesty, to put him in the same category as the man who was just removed from his post, from being the highest magistrate of the land?” Valte asked.

Despite Aquino’s promise during the 2010 presidential campaign to sign a waiver of his bank accounts once elected president, Valte argued there is no need at this point to make good on this promise, since it was made in a different context at the time.

Valte echoed the statement of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that signing bank waivers are mere “theatrics,” especially because such waivers have always been included in the annual statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) that they regularly submit.

“Under the Bank Secrecy Law, there are exceptions there that would trigger the opening of the accounts,” she said.

“It’s all theatrics. Again, there is already a waiver in the SALN that authorizes the Ombudsman to get all the relevant information from all government offices,” she said.

She also added that Aquino has always made available his SALN, from the time he entered government service when he won as Tarlac congressman in 1998, when he was elected senator in 2007 and until now that he is President.

“From 1998 onward, they have all been available publicly. Nobody had said that his SALN disclosure was incomplete or they have not been truthful. And the same goes for members of his Cabinet,” Valte said.

So far, no incumbent Cabinet official – perhaps even past ones – has declared his dollar account/s, if there are any, in the SALN that he has submitted.

Valte qualified, however, that it will be up to members of the official family – in an individual capacity – to sign a waiver if they want to, either on their peso or foreign currency deposits.

“It will be the personal decision of the Cabinet members if they want to sign a waiver under the Bank Secrecy Law and under the FCD Law if applicable,” she said in her weekly interview over state-run radio dzRB.

Appeal To Supreme Court Will Spark Crisis, Enrile Warns Ex- Chief Justice.

A day after the senate decision about the impeachment of the Ex- Chief Justice, Renato Corona, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, issued a landmark and warned him against questioning the decision in the Supreme Court.

Enrile, who presided over the 44-day impeachment trial, and masterly steered it to its conclusion last Tuesday, maintained that the Senate had “the sole power to try and decide all impeachment cases” under the Constitution.

“I will say this very frankly and I hope they understand—if they (the Supreme Court) will question the jurisdiction of the impeachment court and reverse our decision, we will defy them,” he said in an interview with ANC where he kicked off a series of TV and radio interview, apparently to explain the verdict.

“If they want a constitutional crisis in this country, they will have one.”

Corona’s impeachment marked the first ever completed impeachment trial in the country’s history. But, In 2001, a similar ouster proceeding in the Senate against then President Joseph Estrada was aborted following a prosecution walkout.

Enrile was visibly in combat mode when the issue of appeal was raised the morning after 20 of the 23 members of the Senate impeachment court voted to convict Corona for his failure to declare dollar and peso deposits in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

Enrile expressed doubts over how a Supreme Court decision reversing the conviction of Corona could be enforced, considering that the Senate was “outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in terms of the trial and judgment in an impeachment case.”

“They cannot review our decision,” he said. “Otherwise, they will be the one to make the final decision in violation of the Constitution, which says that the Senate has the sole power to decide and try all impeachment cases.”

Phl Seeks Win-Win Situation In Shoal Row With China

President Benigno Aquino III said that the country will pursue a win-win situation with China within the claims with both countries regarding Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

Aquino told the business forum of the Joint Alumni Clubs of US Universities last Wednesday that, “We have not stopped having communication with them in trying to look for a win-win situation.”

However, while the country intends to look for a win-win scenario for both parties, Aquino mentioned that he would still keep track of upholding and enforcing the laws.

“If it’s clear that we have a 200-mile exclusive economic zone designated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and both of us are parties to it, is it too much to ask that our rights are respected by our neighbors, in the same token that we respect their rights?” he asked.

With determination, Aquino also claimed that he is not going to give up any areas that belong to the country.

“I am not empowered to give up any of our territory,” he said.

Aquino added that the authority intends to handle the matter diplomatically.

“We do not want to present a threat to them in any shape, manner, or form in terms of military action,” he added.

On the other hand, Albert del Rosario the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, revealed that the Philippines has more investments in China than China has in the Philippines.

He stated that the Philippine investments in China amounts to nearly $3 billion as against to China’s investments in the Philippines which is approximately less than a billion and a half ($1.5).

Last Wednesday, Del Rosario told the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines that, “We benefit from our relations with China just as China benefits from its relationships with us.”

Del Rosario also mentioned that China, in which is considered the Philippines’ 3rd largest trading partner, signed a memorandum of agreement during President Aquino’s state visit last year that both countries would work towards accomplishing $60 billion in 2-way trade within a 5-year period and 2 million inward visitors within 5 years.

“It was also agreed upon that the bilateral agenda would be moved forward in the most positive way, while the areas of contention such as the West Philippine Sea would be abstracted and dealt with separately,” he added.

Having the fact that Chinese investments in the country is only half of Philippine investments in China, Del Rosario then said that Filipino businessmen will not be discouraged from investing in their country despite the recent activities and happenings taken by the Chinese travel agencies suspending tour packages to the Philippines as tensions over the borderline of the islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) increased.

Also, China possessed Philippine fruit exports suspected of carrying pests amid a tense argument between the two countries over Panatag Shoal.

“I don’t think that we should be discouraging our businessmen from investing in China. It’s a good thing if they see how we do it here but what we’re trying to do is at least equalize the amount of investments that go out and we’re hoping that more Chinese investors will take an interest in the Philippines,” Del Rosario said.

“We’d like to believe it’s not,” Del Rosario replied when he was asked if the suspension of tour packages to the Philippines, the reduction in flights, and the possession of Philippine bananas are forms of pressure by China among the maritime argument between Philippines.

“We’d like to believe it’s a technical issue,” he added.

Economic pressure

If China continues to exert economic pressure to the Philippines such as blocking bananas and canceling tour packages, then, the lawmakers said and warned that the economy of the Philippines would be in danger.

Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco and Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said the suspension of tour packages and the controls on fruit importations is “China’s subtle warning versus Philippine on its vast economic arsenal.”

Also, they urged that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should step up efforts in paving the way for the creation of a joint Philippine-China study commission, which would focus on finding mutually acceptable solutions to end the dispute in the Spratlys.

“The decision of Chinese travel agencies to suspend travel to the Philippines could be China’s subtle warning that it does not even need its military to bring widespread economic destruction in the country,” Haresco said.

He warned the suspension of tour packages to the country by Chinese travel agencies “could be the beginning of a larger and more sustained campaign to remind the Philippines and even the US that its economic arsenal is as devastating as its three-million strong People’s Liberation Army.”

Also, he added that the effect of the travel suspension would already deny the economy millions of dollars in potential tourism revenues and warned that Beijing might even go further by obliging a ban on Filipino overseas workers, including those working in Hong Kong and Macau.

Haresco said that the only way to fix the problem in the Spratlys is through direct mutual dialogue with China without discounting the possibility of entering into a joint exploration arrangement in the areas claimed by the Philippines.

While the United States will always remain a valuable supporter to the Philippines, bragging Washington into the Spratlys argument “will do more harm than good” as this is being viewed as an indirect needling by Beijing.

Tactical support

On the other hand, Malacañang, restated that the presence of a US submarine in Subic had nothing to do with the Philippines’ disagreement with China over the disputed Panatag shoal.

Edwin Lacierda, Presidential spokesman, illiterates that the US government made a request last April 3, 2012, days before the April 10 standoff saying that they be allowed to dock their submarine in the area.

“And so it (US request) was addressed to the Department of National Defense and the DND gave its approval on April 24. So, I don’t need to answer or respond to the statements made by the Left,” Lacierda explicated.

Earlier, security officials revealed the visit of submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777) in Subic was a routine port call scheduled last April 3, before the standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels in Panatag shoal started. The US attack submarine rose last Sunday in Subic Bay.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said the visit of a US submarine in Subic violated the country’s sovereignty.

In a statement, the CPP said the US is using the entire Philippines as a vast military base where it could dock its ships, land its fighter jets, fly its drones, conduct repairs and replenish supplies.

Filipino protesters led by former military rebel Nicanor Faeldon said they are planning to sail to Panatag as a show of support.

“They want to protest against the aggression being committed by China against our country, Faeldon’s spokesman kit guerrero said.

He said at least two fishing vessels carrying faeldon’s group were expected to arrive at the shoal later on Friday.

“They are intending to stay there at least three days and fish, if they are not prevented from doing so, Guerrero said, adding that planting a Philippine flag on the rock was also an option.

Fishermen from Batanes, Faeldon’s home province, along with fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales would be joining Faeldon to fish in Panatag that China has included in its declared fishing holiday.

The Philippines has reminded China that the West Philippine Sea is not the sum total of their bilateral relations.

The Philippines remains a safe and a welcoming country even as tensions over the disputed islands escalated.

Stay on the line

China has demanded manila not take measures in the political and legal aspects, saying it will worsen and complicate the situation.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said last Monday in a press conference in Beijing that the Philippines should adhere to “diplomatic negotiations” to resolve the standoff.

“In particular, diplomatic negotiations should be adhered to in resolving the current situation, rather than continuing to incite public opinion and send contradictory messages,” Hong said.

DFA Chief Calls For Patriotism

In the interview yesterday of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, he said that resolving the territorial argument between China would not be easy as he called for a position of “patriotism” among Filipinos and sacrifice if the Philippines is tested.

While the consultations are yet to resolve the standoff in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal which is also called or knows as Bajo de Masinloc, it should be pursued, Del Rosario mentioned that the Philippines should continue to stand up and defeat its sovereign rights over the shoal and the West Philippine Sea in general.

“We need to defend what is ours. We need to stand up even as we look for ways to solve the disputes peacefully. We need to stand for what is ours. In order for us to do this, I think it is not going to be easy – and as you see it is not easy,” Del Rosario said before the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines.

“We need to get our people to bond together. We need to unite. We need to take a position of patriotism that what is ours is ours and we will stand for it. And it is possible that we may be tested and if we are tested, it is possible that everyone will need to make a sacrifice,” he added.

Del Rosario repeated that the Philippines is looking at different strategies to defend its claims and position in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in general which includes the legal track of dispute settlement mechanisms, including the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“Do we have to have China with us when we go to this dispute settlement mechanism, the answer is no. There are mechanisms there where we believe we can pursue our objectives without China being with us,” he uttered.

A map was prepared by the USA Armed Forces in 1903 and was given to Del Rosario during his last visit to Washington.

The map included Panatag Shoal as part of the island groups of the Philippines, contrary to China’s claim that it is not included in the Philippine boundaries under the Treaty of Paris.

Del Rosario said that he and the Chinese Ambassador Ma Xeqing had began to discuss the pullout of ships in Panatag Shoal when they were engaged in consultations prior to the fishing ban China announced this week, but the two sides did not arrive at a conclusion or agreement.

P-Noy Richer By P10 Million In 2011

It was stated and showed in the latest statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of President Benigno Aquino III that he grew richer by P10.130 million last year which was then submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Aquino declared that as of December 31, 2011, he is to be worth P65.130 million, with P32.162 million in real properties and P32.967 million in personal and other assets, as opposed to P54.999 million in the previous year.

The increase of Aquino’s wealth last year is mostly revealed in the value of his real properties, which amounted to P22.073 million as of December 31, 2010.

His house in Quezon City was identified under inheritance was previously declared to be worth only P13.796 million but today was now valued at P23.6 million.

Aquino’s personal and other properties which cover motor vehicles, cash on hand and cash in bank, receivables, and other assets went down a little from P33.155 million in 2010 to PP32.967 million last year.

In total, Aquino’s net worth grew from P50.194 million as of June 30, 2010 to P65.130 million as of Dec. 31, 2011, after 18 months in office with an annual income of P1.212 million.

Aquino had earlier explained that the increase in his net worth last year can be attributed to inheritance, the transfer or documentation of which were completed only in 2011.

Aquino has so far submitted three SALNs before the Office of the Ombudsman, which is the official depository of the same along with that of the vice president and the heads of other constitutional bodies.

Aquino’s predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s SALNS show that she grew richer by as much as P76 million during her nine years in office, from 2001 to 2010.

China Is Ready For Escalation Of Philippine Standoff

Fu Ying, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, said Beijing was fully prepared for an escalation of a drawn-out maritime standoff with the Philippines, as a tense row over a disputed shoal continues.

“The Chinese side has… made all preparations to respond to any escalation of the situation by the Philippine side,” she told a Philippine diplomat in Beijing Monday, according to a statement posted on the foreign ministry website Tuesday.

The two countries have been locked in a territorial row over the disputed Scarborough Shoal — or Huangyan Island in Chinese — in the South China Sea for one month, with both sides sending ships to the area in a tense standoff.

It is one of the most high-profile flare-ups in recent years between the two countries over their competing territorial claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

The row erupted on April 8 when Chinese vessels blocked a Philippine warship from arresting crews of Chinese fishing boats off the shoal, which both countries claim as their own.

Currently, four Chinese surveillance ships and 10 fishing boats have anchored off the disputed shoal, facing off with two Philippine coast guard ships and a fisheries bureau vessel.

On Monday, Fu called Alex Chua, charge the affaires at the Philippine embassy in China, to make a “serious representation” over the situation, according to the statement.

“It is obvious that the Philippine side has not realized that it is making serious mistakes and instead is stepping up efforts to escalate tensions,” she told him.

ADB Official Cites PH Development Path

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), the country director for the Philippines mentioned last Wednesday that the Philippines is one of the good examples of countries taking path of development from an agricultural economy to one that is largely supported by services.

Neeraj Jain said at a briefing, that the traditional path is to move from agriculture to industries and then to services.

“This is happening amid the revolution in telecommunications in the Philippines, and experts are now raising the question of whether economies like these are conducive to growth that is inclusive or employment-friendly,” he said.

Also, the ADB official said that the Philippines financial market would need to acquire long-term instruments to help government efforts in encouraging investments in infrastructure.

Improved infrastructure

He stated that improved infrastructure would help efforts in the Philippines to move up to higher value-added activities, particularly the manufacturing and services sectors.

An example that Jain said as an example for the better infrastructure is that it can help in the push for the business process outsourcing sector to develop service offerings other than voice-based call centers.

He said longer-term loans had to be made available for undertakings such as public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

Funding for PPP

“Banks are now providing (loans) that mature in 10 or 12 years,” he said, adding that longer intentions will provide a greater boost to infrastructure projects.

The ADB announced last month the funding support for the PPP initiative “to help sustain the positive reform momentum.”

On the other hand, Australia, through the means of the Australian Agency for International Development, has set aside $15 million for the project development and monitoring facility (PDMF) that the ADB administers. The amount was on top of the $7 million provided to the facility last year.

Jain said the additional fund would mean that the PDMF would be able to support the preparation of more PPP projects than what was previously expected as doable.

With the additional fund, it is estimated that at least 12 PPP projects would be implemented or ready by 2016, more than twice the government target of five projects by the end of 2013.

Government Workers To Get Salary Increase Early

Impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona supposedly has at least $10 million in his bank accounts that the Ombudsman is now asking him to explain, regardless of his peso accounts and real estate properties.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, asked Corona to explain in writing within 72 hours how he obtained several peso and dollar accounts, allegedly “grossly disproportionate” to his salary, in different banks.

The order was dated April 20 and served on Corona on April 23.

“This office finds that there is reasonable ground to proceed further with the conduct of an inquiry vis-à-vis the charges that you, during your incumbency as a public officer, accumulated wealth that is purportedly grossly disproportionate to your salary and other lawful income,” Morales said in the April 20, 2012 order.

Furthermore, Morales mentioned in the letter that she had received information that “there are several bank accounts in PSBank and several other banks in your (Corona’s) name, including those denominated in US dollars the aggregate value of which amounts to at least US$10,000,000.”

Through his lawyer, Ramon Esguerra, Corona responded with a terse four-point reply: (1) I do not own 10M. It simply does not exist. (2) It’s part of the black propaganda and mind-conditioning preparatory to the resumption of trial on May 7. (3) No different from the phoney LRA [Land Registration Authority] list, phoney US property list, phoney surveys, phoney letters to the Inquirer editor, etc., etc. (4) The Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the Chief Justice.

Three complaints

Appealing her powers under Republic Act No. 6770, which describes the powers and functions of the Office of the Ombudsman, Morales asked Chief Justice to reply in writing to the complaints and to the information regarding his claimed accounts in several banks.

Morales quoted 3 complaints filed against Corona before her office for violation of anti-graft laws, raising the Ombudsman’s power to examine impeachable officers for serious misconduct, including violations of RA 9194, or the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001.

“They claim that you do not have the means to acquire properties in substantial amounts, supposedly considering your ‘indicated net worth, modest means and salary as a Chief Justice,’” the Ombudsman said in her letter to Corona.

Complainants Ruperto Aleroza, Gibby Gorres, Harvey Keh, Risa Hontiveros and Albert Concepcion sought to have Corona investigated for allegedly amassing “real and personal properties in significant amounts” and not declaring them in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) as required by law.

A complaint that was dated Feb. 17, it was stated that 10 pieces of real property which were presented by the House prosecution in Corona’s impeachment trial at the Senate. These include supposedly “posh” units at the Bellagio, Spanish Bay, The Columns, One Burgundy Plaza condominium developments and houses in the La Vista and Ayala Heights gated communities.

The complainants also mentioned that Corona’s alleged 10 peso accounts and two dollar accounts at Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) and five peso accounts with Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).

A second complaint was filed on March 1 by party-list member Walden Bello (Akbayan), Earnest Francis Calayag, Moses Mikael SD Albiento and Tristan Diane Brioso Zinampan.

They appealed that Corona under declared the values of his real properties in his SALN and did not declare his property in La Vista, Quezon City, and in McKinley Hills, Taguig.

They claimed that the “actual value of his personal properties in the amount of P31,752,623.00 exceeded the declared value in his SALN by P27,252,623.09.”

“According to complainants, the real and personal properties supposedly owned by you and your family are manifestly out of proportion to your salary as public officer, as well as other lawful income, during your respective tenures as associate justice and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court,” the Ombudsman said.

A third complaint dated March 28 was filed by Emmanuel Tiu Santos who said Corona had unexplained wealth consisting of P24.6 million in five accounts at PSBank and P12 million with BPI.

Santos, citing reports published in the Inquirer, pointed out that Corona also withdrew P32.6 million on the day he was impeached.

Trial resumes May 7

“While you may only be removed from office through impeachment proceedings, this office has, as reflected earlier, the power and duty to investigate you for any serious misconduct in office for the purpose of filing a verified complaint for impeachment, if warranted. It was on this account that this Office conducted an initial evaluation on the complaints,” the Ombudsman said.

The Ombudsman’s move comes as Corona’s impeachment trial at the Senate resumes on May 7 after Congress returns from a six-week break.

It will be the turn of the defense to present its case for Corona.

The prosecution sought to subpoena Corona’s alleged dollar accounts, but the Supreme Court stopped the Senate from compelling the banks to submit documents on the alleged dollar accounts.

Corona has said he would open his bank accounts to public scrutiny in due time.