Chief Justice Corona’s Judgement Day: Guilty Or Not Guilty?

Today Chief Justice Renato Corona’s fate now hangs on 23 senators, who sit as judges in the impeachment trial of Corona that started on January 16, 2012 and ended on Monday, May 28, 2012.

According to Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, first thing that will happen on the court is the voting of all the senators judges under the Article 2 after this is the Article 3 and the final vote will be on the Article 3.

Sen. Sotto explained that under Article 2 is the decision of the court if they will acquit Corona after that the senator-judges will vote the two (2) remaining article.

To convict the Chief Justice, 16 votes are needed or two-thirds of the 23 senator-judges while Corona would need eight votes to be acquitted.

If Corona will be convicted, he will be removed from being the Chief Justice.

Navy Monitors 79 Chinese Boats Near Shoal

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday that China has already positioned close to a hundred numbers of vessels within the Philippine territorial waters for about 124 nautical miles from our mainland Zambales, to further heightening the territorial row in the area.

Reports coming from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) were forwarded to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showing that in the present times, there are already 5 Chinese vessels within the vicinity of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on top of 16 Chinese fishing boats that have been situated 56 utility boats for their ongoing fishing operations.

In addition, it has already added 2 additional Fishery Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) vessels in Panatag, harmonizing the first fishery vessels.

Nevertheless, China’s foreign department refused such number of vessels in the area. It was said that it was only 20 fishing boats that were present in Panatag, the usual; number during May in past years.

Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesman, stated that China has sent the vessels while conversing with the Philippines on how to resolve tensions in the area.

At around 7 p.m. of May 21 the 5 Chinese vessels were monitored near the shoal which corresponding names, namely Chinese Maritime Ships (CMS-71) CMS-84, and FLEC 301, FLEC 303 and FLEC 310.

2 of the Chinese vessels were considered as the most advanced Chinese vessels, FLEC 301 and FLEC 303 respectively, it’s the latest addition in the disputed shoal against the 2 Philippine civilian vessels positioned in the area just to symbolize the country’s territorial ownership.

Last Tuesday, Hernandez mentioned that there were still 16 Chinese fishing vessels and that the number of utility boats rises up to 76.

“It is regrettable that these actions occurred at a time when China has been articulating for a de-escalation of tensions and while the two sides have been discussing how to defuse the situation in the area,” Hernandez said in a press briefing.

He added that the Philippines even objected for these actions of China as clear misruling of Philippine sovereignty and authority over the shoal and sovereign rights over the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that covers the waters around Panatag Shoal or also known as Bajo de Masinloc

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showed it sincere concern over these continuous actions by China that worsen the tension in Panatag Shoal in a note verbale dated May 21, 2012  that was sent to the Chinese government through the Chinese embassy in Manila.

Hernandez cited that the actions of China are also in violation of the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea, specifically paragraph 5, which calls the Parties “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

Phl demands pullout of Chinese vessels

Despite China’s self-imposed fishing ban it was said by the FCG reports that reached the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), that Chinese fishermen have still been running fishing in the area aside from reaping giant clams and other endangered species inside the shoal.

Moreover, the PCG report to the DFA also highlighted the 16 Chinese fishing boats in which 10 of them were inside the lagoon fishing while the 6 others were outside. It was monitored that it arrived last Monday evening escorted by a Chinese vessel.

“The increase in the number of China’s vessels in the area imperils marine biodiversity in the shoal and threatens the marine ecosystem in the whole of the West Philippine Sea,” Hernandez said.

He as well said that the Chinese fishermen have unlawfully scoured the area and dishonestly garnered giant clams and corals.

He said the recent actions of China are also in violation of the United Nations Charter, specifically Article 2.4, which provides that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

“The Philippines, therefore, demands that China’s vessels immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines’ EEZ and for China to refrain from taking further actions that exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea),” Hernandez said.

China: Only 20 vessels

Hong Lei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday that the Philippines have taken some offensive actions in the Huangyan Island waters which in is required “China to adopt corresponding measures to strengthen management and control.”

“To our knowledge, now there are about 20 Chinese fishing boats working in that area. This number is roughly the same with that in the same period of the previous years. The way these fishing boats are working complies with the related Chinese laws and the fishing moratorium issued by the Chinese government,” Hong said.

On Tuesday, China said that the involvement of countries in the standoff will meet steadfast opposition from the Chinese government.   Beijing was alarmed that some countries would help the Philippines establish a minimum credible defense posture by providing the country with patrol boats and military aircraft, so as to complement the Philippines’ diplomatic initiative in dealing with territorial disputes with China.

P-Noy Meets With INC Head

Malacañang said that the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, visited yesterday the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC)’s central office which is located in Quezon City to get to know with the religious group’s leader and “touch base” with the organization’s followers.

Eduardo Manalo, INC’s leader meets Aquino on the eve of the appearance of Chief Justice Renato Corona before the Senate impeachment court, but Malacañang then refused implications that the meeting is about or something to do with the impeachment trial.

Presidential spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda said that, “The purpose of the President is to touch base with his supporters and you don’t need to get the support right now.”

The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) management is apparently seen lobbying for the release of Corona, whose lead counsel is former justice Serafin Cuevas who is a member of the sect.

“Unfortunately, the schedule of the President and the schedule of Ka Eduardo (Manalo) could not jibe. It was only this Monday or today that they were able to find a common schedule,” Lacierda said. “The unfortunate thing was it was only today that they were able to find a common schedule.” He added.

Lacierda stated that Aquino’s meeting with the Iglesia ni Cristo’s leader was “warm.”

Aquino personally called for the impeachment of Corona in December 2011.

The last time that Aquino had a chance to visit the INC headquarters which was then considered as his first visit as well was before the May 2010 presidential elections when he was still a senator. He was accompanied by his sisters Ballsy Cruz and popular TV talk show host Kris Aquino.

“As you know, the INC supported the President during his senatorial campaign and during also his presidential campaign,” Lacierda recalled.

The spokesman admitted the impeachment trial was discussed, primarily because it was among the “burning issues of the day.”

“He explained to Ka Eduardo the reasons for the impeachment – that this is part of his reform agenda.

“The President only mentioned the reason why there was an impeachment against Chief Justice Corona and he explained his reasons,” he said.

Lacierda similarly modulated the implication of Aquino’s visit to the INC central office at Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, when he could just have received the religious leader at his office in Malacañang.

“I asked that and the President mentioned it’s always a practice of not only this President but also the other presidents, to visit the head of Iglesia ni Cristo in Central. This is nothing new,” he said.

The other topic discussed, aside from the impeachment according to Lacierda, was the government’s skills development program that will be implemented through the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA) which is being headed by Joel Villanueva, son of evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord Movement, and is said to be an administration senatorial candidate in 2013.

Lacierda rejected allusions that Aquino was seeking for INC’s support for the future candidate, Villanueva.

“It was only a discussion of what the government has been doing. But there’s certainly no way something was discussed about Villanueva,” he said.

“There are certain matters that we do not list out in the schedule,” he added, dismissing the accusations that the administration had not been transparent in its meeting with the INC.

Not bothered

Lacierda also mentioned that he doesn’t consider Roman Catholic priests’ celebration Masses for Corona just to show a support from the Church leadership for the plagued Chief Justice.

“We have no response to that. This is a free country. There’s a separation between Church and State. So let them – if he wants to celebrate Mass for the Chief Justice, by all means. We have no response to that. And obviously, only a Catholic priest can celebrate a Mass, a Catholic Mass. So there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

He referred to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines saying that they’re not even aware of any official stand of the CBCP regarding Corona’s impeachment.

“They have not released any statement. So we just rely on statements. We don’t rely on individual bishops. As far as we know, they have not published in their website any official position taken by the CBCP,” he said.

Lacierda said they haven’t heard anything from CBCP president Jose Palma “other than those short interviews.”

“But as an official position, we have not seen any official position taken by the CBCP. Any organization can make a position. Right now, it is in the hands of the senator-judges. So let’s wait for the testimony of Chief Justice Corona,” Lacierda said.

Meeting defended

There was nothing wrong with regards that the President having a meeting with INC leaders, just for the issue of the prosecution panel in Corona’s impeachment trial.

“It’s not uncommon for presidents to solicit the support of the influential group even harking back to the 1970s,” Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara said.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II also defended President Aquino’s visit to the INC.

“There’s nothing wrong about it. He just presented his sentiments on the impeachment of the Chief Justice and his campaign for reforms, which sentiments are known to the public,” he told the reporters.

He said the President’s visit may be compared to Aquino’s past meetings with Catholic bishops at the height of debates on the controversial Reproductive Health bill.

“If there are groups big or small that are holding contrary views, it is not unusual for us politicians to approach them to present to them our side. To ignore them would mean insensitivity on our part,” he said.

“In the case of the Chief Justice, whether there is lobbying or not from any group, we are confident that the strength of the evidence we have presented against him would get him convicted,” Gonzales stressed.

But Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said Aquino’s visit only showed his insecurity.

“Why is he going out of his way to explain Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment when he should have nothing to do with it in the first place?” Magsaysay said. “He looks so defensive especially when a so-called congressional source said the INC was influencing senator-judges to acquit the Chief Justice.”

No INC meeting

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile contradicted the reports that he met with any representative of the INC.

“I quarantined myself,” Enrile told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, for his part, said “lobbying for or against any issue is normal.”

“Whether it is happening I don’t know. I’m one of those who can say nobody had approached me to lobby then and now,” Sotto said.

“That’s part of the normal interaction between politicians and constituents. All sectors whether you are Iglesia or civilian or non-sectarian can talk to both sides,” Sen. Edgardo Angara said.

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) secretary-general and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco also denied that the INC was trying to influence senator-judges identified with UNA.

“As the secretary-general of UNA, I would like to state that there is no truth to that rumor. No emissaries from the INC have sent feelers to senator-judges belonging to UNA for the purpose of pleading for the Chief Justice,” Tiangco said in a statement.

“It is disappointing to read of an ‘anonymous’ source trying to besmirch the reputation of both INC and UNA,” he said. “This congressional source insists he remain anonymous while he attempts to discredit UNA and debase the INC.” – With Christina Mendez, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano

Timeline: Resumption of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona

Day 35 (May 7) The impeachment court allows the defense panel to subpoena Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as “hostile” witness, but two defense witnesses are barred from testifying since their testimonies bore no relevance to the case.

Day 36 (May 8) Chief Justice Renato Corona promises to testify before the Senate impeachment court based on the documents presented to the Office of the Ombudsman on his alleged $10-million bank deposits.

Day 37 (May 14) Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales presents an Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report, which reveals Corona allegedly had 82 accounts with a “transactional balance” amounting to $10 million, spread out over five banks and not declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Day 38 (May 15) Ombudsman Morales continues her testimony, saying there were “significant” transactions on Corona’s alleged dollar accounts during the 2004 and 2007 election periods and before the impeachment trial began.

Day 39 (May 16) The defense panel presents three complainants who filed charges against Corona before the Ombudsman in an attempt to show that their claims were baseless. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile compels Kaya Natin! Movement lead convenor Harvey Keh to explain why he should not be cited for contempt for handing over to his office confidential records of Corona’s alleged dollar accounts.

Day 40 (May 22) Corona testifies before the impeachment court.

200-MW Shortfall Seen In Mindanao

The starvation of the province, Mindanao from electricity is in danger, suffering from another 200-megawatt (MW) shortfall for the succeeding years due to high demand and continues lacking of generation capacity.

It is said that the Department of Energy (DOE) is already banking on power charges and diesel-fired power plants to upsurge the available power in the region next year.

Energy Secretary, Jose Rene Almendras, mentioned that, “If we do not have additional generation in Mindanao by the dry season next year, we will have a shortage.”

“I am looking at least 100 MW, almost 200 MW. It also depends on the rainfall next year,” Almendras added.

Up to the present time, the hydroelectric power plant is responsible for 53 percent of the total power supply in Mindanao.

The Mindanao network, according to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, which is in need of at least an average of 1,300 megawatt (MW) during peak hours, lacked 50 MW to 300 MW, resulting in two to four hours of rotating blackouts in the first quarter.

“In Mindanao, the situation has significantly improved. What is being reported to us is that there are no more blackouts,” Almendras said.

As an update, last week, there was still no power outage in Mindanao which follows the completed repair of the 200 megawatt (MW) Pulangi IV hydropower plant in Bukidnon.

The DOE released a circular outlining effort last March needed from numerous government agencies and private firms to lessen power outages in Mindanao.

But, Almendras said that Mindanao is running on bare requirements and is without any emergency reserves. A failure in any of the power generation equipment will thus automatically result in a shortfall and blackouts.

Almendras said that the situation might worsen next year when demands increases and there is insufficient rainfall for the hydropower plants.

The DOE recommends that the resumption of operations and rehabilitation of the 100 megawatt (MW) Iligan diesel power plant and the rehabilitation and transfer of 120 megawatt (MW) of privately owned power barges, and the transfer to Mindanao of the 96 megawatt (MW) of power barges presently operated by National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR), in order to solve the power supply concerns.

The DOE is in talks with private firms for the transfer of several power barges, Almendras said.

The Commission on Audit (COA) review is ongoing regarding the Iligan plant issue.

“The COA has requested for some additional documents from the local government unit and from the bidder to substantiate their offer, their process and pricing,” Almendras said

The 100-MW plant, which was last operated in 2010, was sold to Alsons Consolidated Resources Inc. (ACR) subsidiary Conal Holdings Corporation after the local government acquired it due to tax delinquency.

However, the power plant also needs COA clearance before it can be sold to ACR and resume operations.

Almendras said that the DOE wants the plant to start operations within the year for it to reach the maximum capacity ahead of the dry season next year.

Lastly, DOE is reviewing its plans following the failed bidding of four 32-MW power barges of Napocor.

The bidding of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management for the diesel-fired Power Barges 101-104 failed last week as only one of seven qualified bidders submitted an offer.

Under the bidding rules, winning firms should immediately transfer these power facilities to Mindanao and would have to stay there until 2014.

The DOE has been giving some warnings last 2010 with regards to Mindanao that it needs additional baseload generating capacity through private investor participation.

But the DOE said there were delays in securing permits from local government units.

For instance, Aboitiz Power Corporation, Sarangani Energy Corporation, and San Miguel Corporation are planning to put up coal-fired power plants in Mindanao but host communities opposed these plans due to environmental concerns.

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.

SWS: Poor Families Rise To 11.1M

A recent survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) discovered an estimated 11.1 million Filipino households consider themselves poor last March, while up from 9.1 million households in December.

The results of the survey was first published in BusinessWorld and found out that 55 percent of the respondents rated their households poor, 10 percent higher than the 45 percent three months earlier.

A rise of 9 points from the 36 percent or 7.2 million families are recorded in the previous quarter saying that they were poor in terms of food, an amount that translates to approximately 9.1 million families which accounted for the 45 percent.

It was with the Aquino administration that the figures went up this high.

SWS used face-to-face interviews as a mean to use for the noncommissioned survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for national percentages and plus or minus 6 percentage points for area percentages.

The record for self-rated food poverty was posted at 59 percent under the Ramos administration in April 1994 and in September 2002 under the Arroyo administration, while the record for self-rated poverty was posted in July 1985 at 74 percent under the Marcos regime.

Malacañang reacted last Thursday to the survey results saying that it was “natural” to see variations in the levels of self-rated poverty because the government’s antipoverty programs were taking time to be significantly felt.

Programs take time

President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesperson, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, acknowledged that discernments of poverty were among the indicators that the administration was looking at.

“As we have said in the beginning, antipoverty programs take some time before the effects are felt on a sustained basis,” Lacierda said in a news briefing.

“In the meantime, it is natural to see fluctuations in self-rated poverty,” he added.

Lacierda, nevertheless has provided subjective evidences of the government’s conditional cash transfer program benefiting target beneficiaries.

“We have heard for instance, when we were in Roxas City… one mother showed how her child was able to buy a new school bag, new shoes. She was also able to buy vitamins for her child,” Lacierda said.

For the survey, SWS showed a card to 1,200 adults nationwide and asked them, “Where would you place your family on this card?” The choices included “not poor,” “on the line” and “poor.”

Self-rated poverty scaled sharply in Mindanao having 72 percent in March from 38 percent in December. Also, it mounted in the Visayas island from 52 percent previously to 61 percent.

But on the other hand the percentages for Metro Manila from 47 percent to 46 percent while the rest of Luzon managed to maintain its 45 percent, remained basically unaffected.

Self-rated poverty also levitated among those living in the rural areas having 49 percent last December and 66 percent in March, but rarely changed among those in the urban areas amounting to 41 percent to 40 percent respectively.

Food poverty

For self-rated food poverty, SWS asked respondents “Based on the type of food eaten by your family, where would you place your family on this card?” Respondents were made to choose from “not poor,” “on the line” and “poor.”

Self-rated food poverty poured in Mindanao with respect to 30 percent last December while 64 percent in March. It also escalated in the Visayas from 43 percent to 47 percent but hardly changed in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon with just a difference of 1 percent last December.

SWS also determined the self-rated poverty threshold of respondents who considered their households poor or food-poor by asking how much they  needed monthly so as not to consider themselves poor.

The median poverty threshold rose in Metro Manila to P12,000 from P10,000, in Luzon outside Metro Manila to P10,000 from P6,000, in the Visayas to P8,000 from P6,000 and in Mindanao to P7,000 from P6,000.

The median food-poverty threshold in Metro Manila rose to P6,500 from P5,000. In Luzon outside Metro Manila, it rose to P5,000 from P4,000.

It went up to P4,500 from P3,750 in the Visayas and to P4,000 from P3,500 in Mindanao.

‘Justice Is Alive In The Philippines’

This was the principal emotion of Filipino citizens on the Supreme Court’s final decision ordering the distribution of almost 5,000 hectares of land to Hacienda Luisita farmer-beneficiaries.

Hacienda Luisita became a trending topic on Twitter on Tuesday after the ruling was released.

Twitter user Marin Jabin said, “Justice has finally served the people who deserve her!”

User Lar T tweeted, “Hacienda Luisita finally to be distributed to its rightful owners. Buhay ang hustisya sa Pilipinas (Justice is alive in the Philippines).”

While, Twitter user Stephanie Lim said she was happy for the farmers. “I hope that the distribution will happen as soon as possible.”

Television personalities also shared their thoughts through Twitter.

Actress Assunta de Rossi, who is married to Negros Occidental Representative Julio “Jules” Ledesma IV,  said, “Finally, Hacienda Luisita farmers will get what they deserve. Yes to land distribution! No to greed!”

“So happy for the farmers of Hacienda Luisita. Well deserved!” Claudine Trillo tweeted.

Posts on social networking site Facebook also praised the high court’s ruling.

‘Yellow men’

“After a lengthy war, the farmers finally get a taste of vengeance,” said Facebook user Ian Kim P. Gahoy.

“JUSTICE,” said Facebook user Gabriel Borlongan.

Facebook user Jom Pineda said, “The SC justices voted 14-0 for Hacienda Luisita land distribution. Rejoice to Luisita farmers!”

There were also users who were skeptical about the decision.

Twitter user Dinz Francisco said, “Luisita finally to be distributed but I don’t think the yellow men will agree. They will bend all the rules to take it back.”

Hoping for no flip-flop

The sprawling sugar-estate is owned by President Benigno Aquino III’s Cojuanco clan.

Chief Justice Renato Corona has said his impeachment “is a revenge and a shameless attempt to stop the distribution of Hacienda Luisita lands.”

“If this is really the end of this case, just how long will it take to distribute the land to the farmers? 1 year, 5 years, 20 years? In the Philippines, the law moves slower than a Carabao,” said user Jon in a comment on INQUIRER.net.

“Hope the SC won’t flip-flop on this. Congrats to the farmers. Use the land wisely,” said user magsasakasanayon in another comment on the Inquirer website.

In the articles of impeachment against Corona, Article 3 refers to the lack of probity, integrity and independence resulting in flip-flopping decisions.

Philippines Ignores China Demand To Quit Shoal

Declaring “that’s our territory” and giving a warning to Chinese vessels to back off, the Philippine officials last Wednesday disregarded China’s demand to remove Filipino vessels from Panatag Shoal.

BRP Edsa, a Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue vessel, along with an archaeological survey mission aboard the MY Sarangani and a fishing boat was remained in the area, facing off two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels and a fishing boat.

Last Monday an order was demanded by China that all Filipino vessels should be out or clear the area, which then calls Huangyan Island and which is known internationally as Scarborough Shoal, and also sent an aircraft to buzz a Philippine fishing boat in the second, such incident happened since Saturday.

According to Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, “We’re also telling their ships to do the same,” he told the reporters.  “That’s our territory and we’re also saying the same thing to their ships.”

Carandang said talks between the Philippines and China were continuing. “Tensions have not degenerated,” he said, and the fact “that not a shot has been fired is already a sign that the situation is not deteriorating.”

Arbitration call ignored

Philippines and China have decided to settle the argument diplomatically but have both asserted on their ownership of the shoal, extending an eight-day deadlock on the high seas.

Last Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, asked China to bring the debate to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea for negotiation. The Chinese embassy, though, disregarded the proposal and asked the Philippines to extract its vessels from the shoal “and restore peace and stability there.”

The latest standoff between Manila and Beijing over disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) began on April 8 when a Philippine Navy plane spotted eight Chinese fishing boats in Panatag, a cluster of reefs and islands around a lagoon.

BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, the Philippine Navy flagship was transmitted to the area on April 10 and its officials boarded the fishing boats, but Chinese maritime surveillance vessel interposed. The fishing boats glided last Friday night.

The argument is just one of a countless claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea that quarry china against the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Conflict has increased in the past 2 years over worries that China is becoming more aggressive in its claims to the sea that overlaps shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe also the Middle East.

Even though supplicant countries have vowed to fix the territorial gaps peacefully, the arguments have vented in violence in the past which includes the 1988 when China and Vietnam collided in the Spratly Islands in a defiance that killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers. Many fear the disagreements that became Asia’s next flash point for armed conflict.

Vietnam held a maritime ceremony last Monday near the area where the event happened to remember the dead soldiers, state-controlled media reported.

Numerous rounds of talks have failed to end the impasse at Panatag, which is 872 kilometer from Hainan province, China’s next-door territory to the shoal.

Ancient Chinese shipwreck

Zhang Hua, Chinese embassy spokesperson, acknowledged that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos, permits countries to claim an exclusive economic zone but was then reported that Philippines could not exercise sovereignty on areas within those waters that are owned by other countries.

One ancient Chinese shipwreck could be found at Panatag, but the Philippine research ship has no right to rescue it, Zhang said. “We urge the archaeological vessel to leave the area immediately,” Zhang said in a statement.

‘We will not leave’

In an interview with the reporters last Wednesday, Defense Secretary Voltaire De Gazmin called on Filipinos to come together and let the world know that ”we are being bullied” by China.

Also on Wednesday, Bayan Muna Representatives Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares filed a resolution condemning China and calling for an inquiry into the government’s failure to assert sovereignty over the shoal.

“We also do not want to go to war, but we must assert our sovereignty, through whatever means we can,” Casiño said.

On Tuesday, Gazmin said, “We will fight for what is ours. We are in the area and we will not leave while we continue the talks” between the DFA and Chinese authorities.

BIR: No More Deadline Extension

Respective individuals and corporations received a reminder coming from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) that they have only until today to file their 2011 income tax returns (ITRs).

Ms. Kim S. Jacinto Henares, BIR Commissioner, provided specific instructions to all revenue deputy and assistant commissioners in supervising the tax filing operations on the regional and district levels, mainly those in Metro Manila where a lot of taxpayers are based.

Including the 25% surcharge and 20% interest per year, she highlighted that April 16 is the deadline and will not be extended, if so, fines will be obligatory on late filers.

BIR chief uttered that in case of purposive or intentional neglect to file a return, the present surcharge will be increased to 50 percent of the tax due.

Whether single or married, an individual taxpayer is allowed of the basic personal immunity of P50,000 plus P25,000 for each dependent child but not exceeding four. Only the other half reporting income can get the personal immunity.

The supplementary exemption for children shall be obtained by the husband, unless he waives his right in favor of his wife.

In the case of legally separated spouses, the supplementary exemption shall be claimed by the spouse who has safekeeping of the dependents.

Required to file ITRs are Filipino citizens residing here, Filipinos residing abroad but earning income here and foreigners residing and deriving income from the country.

An individual is excused from filing an ITR if his revenue does not surpass his total personal and additional exemptions and whose income has been subjected to final withholding tax.

Also exempted from this are the minimum wage earners and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) as far as their earnings from such employment are concerned.

An OFW is however required to file return and pay taxes if he derives income from sources within the country, say operating a grocery store and apartment houses.

An individual is not required to file ITR but may voluntarily submit one for purposes of loans and foreign travel requirements.

MERALCO Rates Up This Month

The power distributor, Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company (MERALCO), announced yesterday that their customers would have to shoulder higher electricity rates for this month.

Compared from the previous month of having P5.33 per kilowatt-hour, MERALCO’s generation charge will be P5.66, an increase of 33 centavos per kilowatt-hour for the billing month of April.

“Charges from WESM, which contributed seven percent to MERALCO’s power requirements, were higher by P2.46 per kwh compared to the level in the previous month,” the power distributor said.

“The output of hydroelectric plants declined last month, prompting the grid to rely on more expensive oil-based power plants to meet power requirements,” MERALCO added.

A data from MERALCO showed that there was a peak demand for the Luzon grid and rose by more than 300 megawatts (MW) at the beginning of summer.

MERALCO uttered that temporarily the power generation charge of IPPs went up by 24 centavos per kilowatt-hour after a mechanical difficulty that limits the utilization of the 460 megawatts (MW) Quezon Power coal plant.

IPPs interpreted a 44% of MERALCO’s power requirements for the supply month of March.

The price increase wasn’t able to offset due to the nine-centavo per kilowatt-hour decline in the generation charge of National power Corporation, which accounted for 49% of the total supply.

The electricity bill’s biggest component, which is the generation charge, accounts for 56% of the customer’s average monthly power bill. This charge goes directly to MERALCO’s power suppliers.

MERALCO said that the cost of power traded by generating companies could change monthly, based on several external factors such as the supply-demand situation, foreign exchange rate and furl prices.

The consumers need to be efficient in using energy among traditionally higher consumption during the summer season.

Power usage typically rise in dry seasons as appliances work doubly hard in this conditions and more household members are just staying indoor during the summer period.