Thursday, 26 November 2009

Taiwan social drama tipped to win Chinese-language 'Oscars'

TAIPEI – Taiwanese director Leon Dai's social drama "No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti" is tipped for top honours Saturday at the island's Golden Horse Film Awards, considered the Chinese-language "Oscars", critics said.

The emotionally charged movie, based on a true story of a diver's desperate fight for custody of his daughter, is the favourite for best picture and would be the first local movie in seven years to win the coveted award.

"It has a slight advantage as the best picture hasn't gone to a Taiwanese film for a long time," said Steven Tu, an influential film critic who recently published a book about the island's cinema.

The Golden Horse Awards, broadcast by Chinese-language channels as far away as Canada, are styled on the US Academy Awards but are decided by a jury along the lines of the Cannes film festival.

Dai's movie, whose title is Spanish and means "I Can't Live Without You", is competing in a rich and varied field that stretches from romantic drama "Like A Dream" to art-house picture "Face" and black comedies "Cow" and "Crazy Racer."

"The films represent different genres and they are evenly matched, so it's really anybody's guess," said Tu.

Indeed, Chinese director Guan Hu's "Cow" could surprise with its lively portrayal of a Chinese farmer entrusted by the communist army to look after a cow during the war against Japan in the 1940s, critics say.

"Guan uses one man (Huang Bo) and one cow to reflect the struggles of that period in a dramatic and epic-like story," said Ryan Cheng, a critic associated with the Kaohsiung Film Festival in southern Taiwan.

For the best director title, Dai faces better-known rivals Clara Law of Hong Kong ("Like a Dream") and Taiwan-based Malaysian high-brow director Tsai Ming-liang ("Face").

"Law has a long history with the Golden Horse awards while Tsai has an intense personal style that sets him apart, so either could be the winner," Tu said.

Tsai, who won the best director in 1994, has staged a comeback with "Face" ("Visage"), which is the first of a new series of works produced by The Louvre and has bagged five nominations.

Law, now based in Australia, has been nominated for best director three times but walked away empty-handed each time.

"Like A Dream," about a man chasing a girl from his dreams, leads the race with nine nods, including Chinese leading lady Yolanda Yuan for best actress, a category dominated by mainland names this year.

Also representing China in this category are Zhou Xun and Li Bingbing from espionage thriller "The Message". The only exception is Taiwanese-French Sandrine Pinna ("Yang Yang").

"I think the best leading actress is hardest to predict as the contenders are all very impressive. Zhou might have a better chance as she's now widely recognised," said Cheng.

For best actor, Cheng's pick is Huang from "Cow", but other observers beg to differ.

Bob Dylan brings Christmas cheer to those without homes

LONDON – Singer Bob Dylan reminisces about Christmas past, turkey dinners and his favorite holiday songs in a rare interview in a magazine for homeless people.

The 68-year-old singer has baffled fans and critics with his new album "Christmas in the Heart" -- a collection of carols and traditional yuletide songs delivered in his croaking voice.

All proceeds will go to charities for the homeless and hungry in the United States, Britain and 80 poor countries.

Asked why he picked those organizations, Dylan told the interviewer: "They get food straight to the people. No military organization, no bureaucracy, no governments to deal with."

The exclusive interview appeared in The Big Issue magazine in Britain and similar street papers in North America.

Dylan -- born Robert Allen Zimmerman -- said that although Jewish, he never felt left out of Christmas as a boy growing up in Minnesota.

He recalled "plenty of snow, jingle bells, Christmas carolers going from house to house, sleighs in the streets, town bells ringing, nativity plays."

His idea of a good Christmas dinner was roast turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, collard greens and all the trimmings.

The songs on the Christmas album were "part of my life, just like folk songs," he said.

Why does Christmas have the best songs? "Maybe because it's so worldwide and everybody can relate to it in their own way."

The release of the Christmas album has only added to the enigma of Dylan and caps an eventful year for him.

He played more than 100 shows in Europe and North America as part of his "Never Ending Tour" and topped the charts in Britain and the United States with his album "Together Through Life."

He was also detained by police in New Jersey in July when homeowners spotted a hooded man wandering around their street in the rain. The young police officer failed to recognize the Oscar and Grammy-winning songwriter.

The Christmas album has also renewed speculation among Bob-watchers about his current faith, if any. He was a Born Again Christian from 1979-81 and released three religious-themed albums.

He cryptically told the interviewer: "I am a true believer" but did not elaborate further.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Comelec is ‘stupid,’ says Boy Abunda

MANILA – Television host Boy Abunda has branded the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as “stupid” after the latter turned down the accreditation of “Ang Ladlad” due to "moral grounds."

"Ang Ladlad" is an organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT).

Reports said Comelec rejected “Ang Ladlad” for party-list accreditation on the grounds that it advocates "sexual immorality" and "immoral doctrines."

Abunda did not take this statement sitting down. Abunda lambasted the poll body for reportedly calling the group a “source of immorality.”

He said in his show "SNN: Showbiz News Ngayon:" "'Yong sinabi ng Comelec na ‘Ang Ladlad’ is parang the source of immorality, sabi ni Mayor [Rodrigo] Duterte (of Davao City) ngayong araw (Tuesday) sa mga front page, it is bigotry of the highest order. Para sa akin, 'yan ay isang katangahan."

"Para sa akin, isang malinaw talaga na walang pang-unawa na tama [ang Comelec]. And you are a government agency, 'yon lamang," Abunda added.

Abunda’s co-host and close friend Kris Aquino also defended her gay friend.

“You are mean. And the gay people naman are taxpayers. So, what's the problem?" Aquino said.

On November 11, the Comelec said although the party presented proper documents and evidence for their accreditation, its petition was "dismissable on moral grounds."

Page 5 of its ruling states that “Ang Ladlad's” definition of the LGBT as a marginalized sector "makes it crystal clear that the petitioner tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs."

The document quotes passages from both the Bible and the Koran that describe homosexuality as "unseemly" or "transgressive."

The Comelec also went on to state that accrediting “Ang Ladlad” would pose risks for Filipino youths.

"Ang Ladlad" also applied for party-list accreditation in 2007, but was denied due to the lack of regional membership in the Philippines.

In a previous phone interview with, “Ang Ladlad,” through its head Danton Remoto, said the group would contest the Comelec ruling before the Supreme Court.

Remoto, who taught literature at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University for over 20 years, criticized the Comelec's allegation that older homosexuals are threats to the youth.

He also took issue against the Comelec ruling's frequent citation of Internet-sourced reports, saying that a legal document should at least use primary sourcing. Remoto said this spoke of "intellectual bankruptcy" among Comelec officials.

Remoto said the Comelec ruling is offensive to the LGBT community and an insult to their human rights.

Journalists condemn Maguindanao massacre

MANILA – Philippine and foreign media organizations on Tuesday condemned the massacre of at least 47 people, including journalists, in last Monday’s incident in Maguindanao.

Rowena Paraan, coordinator of the Media Safety Office of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) challenged the government to take immediate action.

“We challenge PNP (Philippine National Police) and Malacañang na huwag protektahan kung sino yung gumawa nito kahit gaano kalapit sa inyo. Kasi kung proprotektahan ninyo ang pumatay sa mga mamamahayag na ito, parang kayo na rin yung nag pull ng trigger,” Paraan said.

Paraan confirmed that 12 journalists were killed in Maguindanao and some of them were members of the NUJP.

Death toll to climb

However, she clarified that the list provided to them by their local chapters is not yet the final figure. They believe the number of journalists killed in the incident could still climb as authorities continue to recover more bodies.

“We think na yung 12 hindi pa yun ang buong bilang kasi based sa info na nakuha namin, there were actually 30 media practitioners who were invited to join the coverage,” said Paraan.

She added that they have tapped the help of local journalists to find out who actually went to cover the supposed filing of the certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu.

About a hundred armed men stopped the convoy of Mangudadatu’s wife while on their way to file the vice mayor’s COC on Monday afternoon. Aside form the group of journalists, Mangudadatu’s wife, several of his relatives, and supporters were also killed in the incident.

Police and military recovered some of the bodies in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.

Highest number of journalists killed

“Ito ang isang incident with the highest number of journalists killed. A single incident kung saan we have at least 12 members of media slain. Wala kaming maalalang ibang kaso kahit sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas na mas dadami pa sa bilang na ito na mga mamamahayag na pinatay,” Paraan said.

According to Paraan, most of the victims came from General Santos, Koronadal and Sultan Kudarat.

“Mayrong mga miyembro ang NUJP doon sa mga nasa listahan so medyo napakahirap para sa amin. Yung ibang hindi namin myembro some of them were actually participants sa mga trainings that we conducted in those provinces,” she said.

Data from the NUJP shows that 104 journalists have been killed since 1986. Of the total, 67 were killed under the Arroyo administration.

“Wala pang nahuhuli. Kung may nahuli man at naparusahan, puro gunmen. Not a single mastermind has been arrested and prosecuted,” Nonoy Espina, NUJP’s vice chairperson said.

“Its been so much a tradition that people expect that when media are there, nothing bad can happen because nothing bad usually happens in the glare of cameras. But yesterday was totally raw abuse of power,” he added.

For Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the group of journalists who went to Maguindanao was there to cover a legitimate story.

“And they were not taking sides. There was nothing, no evidence of them taking sides,” Mangahas said.

She lamented not seeing the local government of Maguindanao “feeling as concerned about what happened”.

In solidarity

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) also expressed outrage and condemned the massacre.

According to KBP President Herman Basbaño, the carnage is another blow to the already battered image of Philippine media. Basbaño said the perpetrators in the incident showed disregard for law and order.

He likewise called on the national government and all law enforcement authorities to thoroughly probe and put the culprits behind bars.

The Philippine Press Institute (PPI) echoed the sentiments of other media groups and joined the call to urge the government to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

"The perpetrators should be arrested, prosecuted, and, after trial, punished. We must put a stop to the culture of impunity in the killing of journalists and make the country safe again for media people," PPI chairman-president Isagani Yambot said in a press statement.

The PPI also urged President Arroyo to disarm all political warlords, dismantle private armies, and intensify the drive against loose firearms, of which there are more than 110,000 in Mindanao alone.

In another statement, the Samahang Plaridel condoled with the victims and deplored what it described as “the most gruesome incidence of political violence involving rival clans in Mindanao.”

“No less than a swift and decisive action from Malacañang can prevent further escalation of violence that already snuffed the lives of local mediamen who were simply doing their jobs when caught in the crossfire,” the group said.

It added that “such politically-motivated heinous crimes demand a critical response not just to serve justice to the victims' families but more importantly, to put a stop to the culture of violence in Mindanao during election season”.

For members of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC), the massacre worsens the prevailing climate of impunity in the county.

“We, officers and members of the Malacañang Press Corps seek justice for our colleagues, who were massacred in the line of duty in Maguindanao. The incident is terrible and sickening,” the group said.

A reminder

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), in a statement, said the killings “are likely to trigger a cycle of reprisals and counter-reprisals that will raise even higher the levels of violence in Maguindanao, quite possibly in the rest of Mindanao, and even the entire Philippines itself. Violence has a way of begetting further violence, as Philippine experience demonstrates.”

It condemned the Maguindanao massacre as “not only an attack on a local politician, on his supporters, and on journalists. It was also an attack on what’s left of Philippine democracy, in which free and peaceful elections have never been as urgent an imperative as today.”

“Only the quickest and most decisive response in terms of arresting and bringing the perpetrators to court can prevent the November 23 killings from turning into one more incident to inspire the killers—of journalists, political activists, local officials, priests, lawyers and judges—who roam this country with impunity to keep on killing.,” said CMFR in the statement.

CMFR likewise rejected Malacañang’s declaration of a state of emergency in the province as well as in neighboring Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City.

“The local military and police are widely known to be partial to certain groups, and are likely to harden that partisanship as elections in May 2010 nears. Indeed policemen are said to have been part of the group of 100 that waylaid the convoy the slain journalists were accompanying. A state of emergency will provide a convenient cover for military and police partisanship, among other reasons because it will provide them a legal basis for preventing the media from covering the impact on the citizenry of the political rivalries, based on clan disputes, that haunt Maguindanao and other areas of Mindanao as well as the overall conduct of the elections there,” said CMFR.

CMFR asserted the crucial task of media “to provide the citizenry the information it needs so it can make such decisions as to who to vote for as well as others related to its well-being and safety.”

“We reiterate, however, that no story is worth the life of a single journalist. Journalists must take the greatest care to assure their own safety, and to evaluate the risks involved before covering any event of public relevance anywhere. Journalists must thus take care to steer clear of partisanships likely to transform them into casualties of the clash between political parties and feuding clans, and to affirm through their work and actions their sole loyalty to the professional and ethical imperatives of fairness and truth telling,” said CMFR.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urged the international community to intervene to demand a full probe to bring to justice those responsible for the crime.

“This is an event which shocks journalists around the world to the core. We need a strong and urgent response from the Philippine government and the international community,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Michelle Van Eimeren's mountain top wedding

AUSTRALIA - Former Miss Australia Michelle Van Eimeren will literally feel like she’s on top of the world when she marries boyfriend Mark Murrow at 3 p.m. this Saturday.

The ceremony will be held at the summit of Wollongong’s Mt Keira. The mountain is 464 meters high and boasts expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and rainforests.

Ex-husband Ogie Alcasid and girlfriend Regine Velasquez arrived from the Philippines yesterday to attend the event.

As early as June, the Philippine Entertainment Portal reported Van Eimeren had already purchased her wedding gown. Alcasid, who will walk down the aisle as a groomsman, told ABS-CBN he will wear a tuxedo. “Sila ang nagpagawa. I haven’t tried it on yet,” Alcasid said upon arrival at the Sydney International Airport. Velasquez will be wearing her own dress as she sings the wedding march, “I Love You So”.

Van Eimeren, who now works as a wedding planner in Richardson, New South Wales, appeared to be attending to all the last minute details herself.

“Later I have to go to the venue to deliver flowers!” she said.

Velasquez, once rumored to be the reason for the break up of Van Eimeren and Alcasid, says she’s eager to help. “She’s been very busy so hopefully I’ll be able to help somehow,” she said. She says she and Van Eimeren are “like sisters” now.

ABS-CBN contacted Van Eimeren a day before the wedding to find out if she would consider giving an interview. The news team didn’t want to steal footage and risk upsetting the bride-to-be, so it sought Van Eimeren’s permission.

“Oh you’re not upsetting me at all!” Van Eimeren seemed happy and upbeat and said, “I’ll talk to you. I don’t want to let anyone down. I just can’t talk right now because I have to go to my eldest daughter’s High School orientation. But I’ll call you back later.”

Minutes later, it was ex-husband Alcasid who rang to say Michelle would not be giving any interviews. “We’re from GMA. You know how it is. If we give you an interview, GMA will give us a hard time.” When it was pointed out that Van Eimeren is not a talent of the rival network, Alcasid turned to Van Eimeren and asked what she wanted to do. Van Eimeren told Alcasid, “I don’t want to let anyone down. But you’re my family, it’s up to you.” Alcasid then told ABS-CBN, “If it’s up to me, then the answer is no.”

Alcasid did not respond to ABS-CBN’s comment that if GMA wanted to cover the wedding, it would have sent a crew to Australia.

Aquino meets Cojuangcos on Hacienda Luisita issue

MANILA - Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Liberal Party standard bearer for the May 2010 polls, held a meeting with other members of the Cojuangco family Tuesday to talk about the Hacienda Luisita dispute.

The family meeting comes on the heels of the fifth anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre where 7 people died and hundreds of farm workers were wounded in a clash with police and soldiers during a blockade on Nov. 16, 2004.

In an interview on ANC’s Strictly Politics on Tuesday, Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) spokesman Atty. Antonio Ligon said, the Liberal Party presidential candidate has a minimal stake in the land.

“It will have no material impact,” Ligon told ANC’s Pia Hontiveros on Strictly Politics.

Ligon also defended the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) on which the sugar estate was placed to comply with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

“Kung ibibigay mo ‘yong lupa, ang social justice provision natin is not automatically land distribution,” he said.

Akbayan Chair Emeritus Rep. Etta Rosales meanwhile is pushing for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) and had indicated so in an open letter addressed to Aquino last week.

She cited a recommendation from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for the redistribution of land to farmers.

“You know, the argument given was, this was put to a vote, that farmers voted in favor (of the SDO). I think logic and good faith would let us know na hindi umubra. Let us not blame anybody. The SDO did not work,” Rosales also told Strictly Politics.

Rosales added, the DAR recommendation came out in early 2005, but was blocked by a 2006 temporary restraining order (TRO) granted to the Cojuangcos.

“That was 3 years ago. The TRO is still in effect,” Rosales said.

Rosales appealed to Aquino to do what he can to resolve the issue.

“This is bigger than your family. Dumistansya ka,” Rosales addressed the LP standard bearer.

Ligon meanwhile maintained that the farmers were given lots by HLI.

“There’s the 33.296% ownership (of the land). On top of that, they’ve been given 3% of gross sales from 1989 to 2004 – that was given to 10,500 farmers. They were given 240 square meters. Everything is under progress,” Ligon enumerated.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Susan Boyle reveals she was hit, bullied as a child

LONDON - Scottish singing star Susan Boyle revealed Tuesday how she was hit as a child at school by teachers.

Boyle, whose frumpy appearance hid a soaring voice which made her a global star, said she was also bullied by other students.

"You’re looking at someone who would get the belt every day. ‘Will you Shut up, Susan!’ - whack!" Boyle said in interviews published in Britain's tabloids.

"I was often left behind at school because of one thing or another. I was a slow learner," Boyle said in The Mirror, ahead of the release of her album next week.

"I’m just I’m a wee bit slower at picking things up than other people. So you get left behind in a system that just wants to rush on, you know?

"That was what I felt was happening to me."

She added: "There was discipline for the sake of discipline back then. But it’s all very different now. I think teachers are taught to understand children with learning disabilities a lot better."

She admitted one of the worst times of her life was when she started to get bullied at school. "There’s nothing worse than another person having power over you by bullying you and you not knowing how to get rid of that thing."

Boyle, a spinster from a small town in Scotland who was starved of oxygen at birth and has mild learning difficulties, had a meteoric rise to fame earlier this year.

The church volunteer became a star around the world after footage of her singing "I Dreamed A Dream" from the musical "Les Miserables" in the "Britain's Got Talent" auditions became a YouTube hit, with at least 100 million viewings.

Boyle was rushed to a London health clinic suffering from exhaustion after she was defeated in the final of the television talent show in June.

Dollar stable in Asia after Bernanke remark

TOKYO - The dollar was steady in Asia Tuesday after getting a brief boost from a rare comment on currencies by US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, who voiced support for a strong dollar.

The dollar was at 89.04 yen in Tokyo midday trade, against 89.05 in New York late Monday. The euro slipped to 1.4966 dollars from 1.4972 and to 133.25 yen after 133.32.

Bernanke's remark in a speech Thursday caused the dollar to shoot up against the euro, but the rally soon fizzled out as traders bet that the low level of US interest rates would continue to pressure the greenback.

The dollar lost ground against the yen Monday as dealers bet that the Fed is unlikely to raise its key interest rate any time soon from the current level of close to zero. Investors generally prefer currencies offering high yields.

"This bout of selling pressure on the dollar appears to be easing following Bernanke's remarks, which signalled US interest rates will stay low for the time being," said Yosuke Hosokawa, head of forex group of Chuo Mitsui Trust.

"But the dollar is likely to face another bout of selling," Hosokawa said.

Bernanke said the central bank was closely monitoring exchange rates with the dollar having lost its gains from safe haven flows during the height of the financial crisis.

"We are attentive to the implications of changes in the value of the dollar and will continue to formulate policy to guard against risks to our dual mandate to foster both maximum employment and price stability," the Federal Reserve chief told the Economic Club of New York.

"Our commitment to our dual objectives, together with the underlying strengths of the US economy, will help ensure that the dollar is strong and a source of global financial stability."

But "the reality is that the Fed is probably quite comfortable with a weak dollar given the positive impact on the economy and lack of associated inflation pressures," said Calyon analyst Mitul Kotecha.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Clinton to visit storm-hit Philippines

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday she will travel to the Philippines next week to "show solidarity" with the storm-battered nation, just after her visits to Singapore and Berlin.

Clinton also announced she will join President Barack Obama during his visit to China from November 15-18, her second trip as chief diplomat to the country the Obama administration recognizes as a key global player.

In a flurry of travel announcements this week, Clinton and her aides announced her tour of Europe and Asia, one that comes on top of a tour of Pakistan and the Middle East that only ended on Wednesday.

"I'll be going to the Philippines, to show solidarity with our friends in the Philippines who have been battered by typhoons and have just suffered so much over the last weeks," Clinton said in a speech in Washington.

Typhoon Santi (international name Mirinae) swept over the main island Luzon on Saturday, dumping heavy rain and bringing strong winds just weeks after Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) and Typhoon (Pepeng) Parma left about 1,100 dead and tens of thousands homeless.

During her visit to Manila from November 12-13, "the secretary will hold consultations with senior Filipino officials, highlighting the US-Philippines treaty alliance," Clinton's spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

Her trip starts with a stop in Berlin for official ceremonies on Monday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She was due to give a speech in the German capital on Sunday at the Atlantic Council.

In a speech in Washington to many of those who supported her during her presidential campaign last year, Clinton said the wall's fall marked the end of a Cold War era in which the world was divided into clear blocs.

"So we find ourselves now in a much more complex world, and we just have to be up for it and we have to be smarter about it," Clinton said. "And we have to demand more from ourselves and our partners."

Clinton will then visit Singapore for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meeting ahead of the APEC summit, at which President Barack Obama will make his inaugural appearance.

She will be in Singapore from November 10-12, before returning a day later from the Philippines to join Obama at the summit, aides said.

Kurt Tong, the State Department's pointman on APEC, said this week that the various APEC meetings, including those attended by Clinton, will focus on economic recovery following the massive global recession.

Clinton said in her speech that she will join Obama on a visit to China, which is scheduled from November 15-18, which she called a "very important trip to further the dialogue between our two countries."

China was a key stop on Clinton's first overseas tour as secretary of state, in what analysts said was a US bow to an increasingly powerful region in a bid to tackle the global economic crisis, climate change and nuclear weapons.