Thursday, 31 December 2009

(UPDATE) Filipino nabbed for Pinay housekeeper's murder in Vienna

MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino has been arrested by police in Vienna for the murder of Filipina housekeeper Romalyn Basalo, whose body was found inside the residence of a Lebanese ambassador on December 29.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to obtain the name of the suspect, who has reportedly confessed to stabbing the 30-year-old victim to death inside the residence of Lebanese Ambassador to Vienna Ishaya El Khoury.

Basalo's body was found by a Filipina stay-out cook of the ambassador at 10 a.m. on Tuesday (Vienna time).

An investigator told ABS-CBN Europe New Bureau that the "murderer might have strangled the victim with an electric wire and stabbed her" repeatedly.

Police investigators said the possible motive for the murder could have been jealousy because Basalo has reportedly maintained several "acquaintances while she guarded the ambassador's residence.

It was not disclosed if the suspect is one of the "acquaintances" of the Filipina housekeeper.

Investigators said the suspect confessed at the first hearing that he killed the victim with multiple stab attack and revealed to the investigators the location of the knife used in the murder.

The relatives and friends of the victim were completely shocked about the result of the investigation. Nobody wanted to talk.

Filipino religious groups in the city have started to offer masses for the victim. Novenas were also held in several places where Filipinos usually meet.

The police findings would likely be a shock to the husband, who is expected to arrive in Vienna on Thursday.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Armed Ampatuan followers sighted in Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato

AMPATUAN, Maguindanao, Philippines – Police and troops sighted yesterday armed Ampatuan partisans in the hinterlands of Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and in Cotabato City.

Army Maj. Randolph Cabangbang told The STAR about 60 of them were seen scampering in different directions as troops and police advanced.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces in Sultan sa Barongis town have reinforced troops hunting down the remaining Ampatuan fighters, he added.

Cabangbang said troops will raid more areas in Maguindanao in search of high-powered firearms as soon as the military gets the search warrants from the General Santos City Regional Trial Court.

“Out of the 25 municipalities in Maguindanao, we are targeting 16 of them for the raid and these are the municipalities known as controlled by the Ampatuans,” he said.

“We can get a lot more evidence and high-powered firearms,” he said.

Ampatuan trial starts Jan. 5

The trial of Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, principal accused in the Nov. 23 Maguindanao massacre, will start at the Police Non-Commission Office Club in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Jan. 5.

In Cotabato City, Judge Melanio Guerrero of Cotabato RTC Branch 15 has not ordered the transfer to Metro Manila of the Ampatuans jailed in Cotabato City, General Santos City and Davao City.

Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina, Philippine National Police spokesman, said indignation rallies will not be allowed inside Camp Crame.

“We are very optimistic that it would be all systems go for the hearing come Jan. 5,” he said.

“We will allow the (protesters) as long as they have permits. We will observe maximum tolerance.

“I expect those who will be covering the trial to observe camp rules. They do not have to express their indignation because they have properly expressed it,” he added.

Espina said 300 policemen will be tasked to maintain peace and order inside Camp Crame during the proceedings.

“They (policemen) will be manning strategic posts, the ingress and egress of people, traffic and all points of interest regarding the hearing,” he said.

GMA wants conviction

President Arroyo wants the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre convicted before she steps down in June next year, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential economic spokesman Gary Olivar said he is not surprised that Mrs. Arroyo would like the mass murder resolved before her terms ends.

“The important thing is to administer justice impartially, fairly, and then as quickly as possible consistent with those objectives,” he said.

Olivar said Malacañang is satisfied with the pace of the investigation and prosecution of the case.

“I haven’t seen anything yet to tell me people are dragging their feet on this,” he said.

“I think people are moving on this as fast as the process will allow them in the administration of impartial justice (but) sometimes some cases really do move slower than others for various reasons.”

While everybody wants justice to be immediately served, it is also prudent that the case be resolved carefully to ensure fairness, Olivar said.

Mrs. Arroyo will preside over a Cabinet meeting in Baguio City today where the Maguindanao situation would be on top of the agenda.

Cabinet officials said she will study the possible lifting of the state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and General Santos City as peace and order appear to be improving.

DOJ ends probe

The Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded yesterday its investigation into the cold-blooded killing of 57 people in Maguindanao last Nov. 23.

Around 60 of some 200 respondents were able to file counter-affidavits during the proceedings that lasted a month.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said all respondents have been given ample time to answer the charges in two hearings.

However, most of them, including alleged masterminds Adal Jr. and his father Maguindanao Gov. Andal Sr., waived their right to submit a counter-affidavit, she added.

Devanadera said the consolidated complaints filed by the PNP and National Bureau of Investigation have been submitted for resolution.

“The panel will now study the submitted counter-affidavits and evidence, which will be the bases for the resolution,” she said.

Devanadera said the panel led by Senior State Prosecutor Rosanne Balauag would issue a resolution on or before Feb. 2, 2010 to comply with a DOJ rule that preliminary investigations must be completed within 60 days after filing of complaint.

Among those to be considered by the panel are the defense submitted by five Ampatuans – Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy, Acting Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Islam, Shariff Aguak Mayor Anwar, Akmad Tato and Saudi Jr. – and over 50 police officers tagged in the killing, including those being considered as state witnesses, she added.

The five Ampatuans were represented by lawyer Roberto Villanueva, who refused to reveal to reporters contents of the defense they have submitted to the panel.

Ampatuans given more time to submit defense

The DOJ has given seven Ampatuans and others accused of rebellion more time to submit their defense.

State Prosecutor Lamberto Fabros said all 638 respondents are given until Jan. 12 to submit counter-affidavits.

Only Barira town Mayor Alexander Tumawis submitted his counter-affidavit in yesterday’s preliminary investigation.

“There is no truth to this (allegation),” he told reporters.

“I have many friends to prove that I have nothing to do with it (alleged rebellion).”

Tumawis said he is not related to the Ampatuans and only deals with them as political allies.

He could not be involved in the rebellion as his town is two hours away from the bailiwick of the Ampatuans, he added.

Police have tagged five Ampatuans - Rajah Buayan Mayor Yacob Ampatuan, Mamasapano Mayor Banarin Ampatuan, Datu Ulo Ampatuan, Datu Ipi Ampatuan and Datu Kanor Ampatuan - as alleged leaders of the rebellion.

Can Peace be Achieved in Maguindanao?

MANILA, Philippines - The Maguindanao massacre was triggered by two clans' struggle to gain power over the province.

This kind of conflict is not exclusive in Maguindanao but local leaders in other provinces have found a way to maintain peace among clans.

In an interview on ANC's Talkback with Tina Palma on Monday, Sarangani Governor Miguel Dominguez said their peace program not only involved residents but local authorities and insurgents as well.

"First thing we did was invest in the culture of peace training where we invested in leaders and developed what we call peace and development advocates in every barangay, even went to the extent training our army, police together with the MILF..." Dominguez said.

Sarangani was among the recipients of the "Galing Pook Award" for its peace efforts.

The Galing Pook Foundation honors yearly outstanding practices of local government units ranging from peace and conflict resolution to environmental management.

Another awardee is Tabuk in Kalinga Province where Mayor Camilo Lammawin Jr. combined traditional ways of resolving conflict with local government institutions.

"Ten years ago Tabuk was dubbed as the most dangerous place in the Cordilleras because of so many killings, tribal vendettas... so we helped organize all these tribes. A tribe has Bodong holders, the peace pot holders... so we had to organize these Bodong holders and have to meet them thru Bodong warming wherein two tribes meet again, renew their peace pact..." Lammawin Jr. said.

Former Congressman Nereus Acosta who is also a member of the National Selection Committee of Galing Pook said the awardees were successful in their peace efforts due to their innovations.

He however admits it could take time before peace can be achieved among the Ampatuans and Mangudadatus in Maguindanao.

When asked if martial law is the solution to the Maguindanao massacre, Dominguez said it is, so long as its implementation is only temporary.

"On the short term, as a party we support martial law, given we dismantle, disarm every single person in Maguindanao to level the playing field. Second, those responsible should be arrested and charged, once we achieve that, martial law should be lifted as soon as possible."

But Lammawin Jr. and Acosta are against it.

They believe government can solve the killings and prevent further violence without martial law.

Despite opposition from various sectors, martial law stays in effect in Maguindanao.

But whether or not this will actually solve the Maguindanao massacre and stop the violence in the province remains to be seen.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Great Pili Tree - Miriam Coronel Ferrer

Less known but just as versatile and hardy as the legendary coconut is the pili tree. Both plants grow profusely in the Bicol region, where typhoons and volcanic eruptions frequently visit. Resistant to strong winds and hot weather conditions, the pili tree will cope better with the adverse impact of climate change than most plants.

An indigenous species (scientific name, Canarium Ovatum) that grows up to 100 years old and up to 35 meters in height, the pili tree starts bearing fruit at around age six. Upright with leaves and branches roundly spread, they are beautiful as shade trees lining up avenues or marking borders.

Like the coconut, harvesting of pili nuts is year-round. According to government argriculturists, a tree bears one to two thousands nuts per year, or around 33 kilos of kernel. Needing no chemical input, the pili nut is thus produced “organically.”

All parts of the pili tree are useful to humans. The hard shells of the nut are used for fuel, handicrafts and charcoal briquettes. Recently, we used it as additional filling material for soil eroded by typhoon Ondoy in our farm in Rizal. The pulp is eaten boiled, pickled, sweetened or sautéed; the surplus, fed to the pigs. Oil extracted from the pulps and kernels can be used as cooking oil, fuel oil for lamps, and for making insect repellants, moisturizers and perfumes. Pili oil is said to possess the high qualities of olive oil.

Tasty pasalubong

Everybody who has been to Albay and Sorsogon provinces, the country’s pili heartland, has tasted the caramelized pili nuts, turrones de pili, and pili tarts.

Other places in the Bicol region have their own delicacies, or at least their own names for the same products. In Tagalog-speaking Vinzons, Camarines Norte, one will find the alinamnam, caramelized candy made from condensed milk and whole pili kernels, wrapped in colorful cellophane sheets. Our friends also like the pandecillos bought from this Ferrer hometown as pasalubong. These are rectangular pastries filled with sweetened, chopped pili.

Another favorite is the pili roll called pianono: a delicious spread of chopped pili cooked in condensed milk and spread on a thin layer of chiffon-like cake and rolled.

Bottled santan is jam made from coconut milk and molasses, liberally sprinkled with whole pili kernels, and patiently stirred a long time over low fire. According to my 85-year mother-in-law, a special kind of binao (or coconut bowl)-shaped molasses called balikutsay is used to produce the jam’s soft, granule-free thickness.

Other uses

Resin from the bark called Manila elemi is being exported to China and Europe for industrial uses such as transparent paper used as window panes, and as additives to plastic, plaster, printer ink and various paint products. Locally, the wood is used to caulk boats.

In Camarines Sur, now glamourously called “CamSur” after earning a place in the faddy tourist map, spas offer facial and body treatments using lotions made from the nut, which is rich in moisture and vitamin E..

Also rich in phosphorous, calcium, protein, and potassium, the pili nut is a good alternative to the expensive pine nut in pesto sauce, and can be thrown into all kinds of breads, pastries and sautéed food.

Interestingly, despite the highly commercial value of the pili nut, machines for depulping and shelling have yet to be commercially available. This must be because the country, including Bicol where 82 percent of pili production takes place, is rich in labor.

One prototype shelling machine developed by a Bicolano scientist and produced only upon order sells for around P15,000.

For small entrepreneurs, using several small, thick chopping knives, and mobilizing all the free hands in the household is more cost-effective. Our household help finds it easier to crack nuts with a piece of rock, a hammer or the geologist’s piko (rock pick).

Tree of life

Given the unmet demand for pili supplies, the pili tree is highly recommended for agroforestry projects, especially in typhoon-frequented areas. Since the nuts can be stored for long periods, it is also ideal for rural communities with poor roads and transportation facilities. Not surprisingly, the Samar Island Biodiversity Project that began in 2005 includes the planting of pili seedlings in about 100 hectares of nonproductive land.

On this, my 50th year, I have embarked on a mission of propagating pili seedlings using nuts harvested from our farm. As I watched each seed sprout, I pondered the mystery of how the pod manages to knock off a perfect almond-shaped hole from its hard shell to emerge as a delicate drooping bud. Then I follow with excitement its progress into a straight stem with two leaves outstretched like hands opened wide in joy.

In between deadlines, meetings and field research in different parts of the country and Asia the last 12 months, I have sprouted about a thousand seedlings of this great tree. I have been giving these out to friends or friends of friends who have space on which to grow even one single tree.

For colleagues in Mindanao like Fr. Bert Alejo and Irene “Inday” Santiago in Davao, and university professors Malou Nanaman, Radzma Suhaili, Samson Molao and Domingo Non from Iligan, Sulu, North Cotabato and General Santos, respectively, it was more practical to give out the newly harvested fruit, which they can easily soak to remove the pulp, and then plant. Planted within two days after depulping, the seeds are viable almost 100 percent.

The pili seedling bank I began this year is a small way of giving back life for the blessing of life that I have received. In this holiday season, I am pleased to share the seedlings to all those who want to spread the good news in the pili tree.

The offer is good while supplies last.

Toyota to recall 43,000 cars in China

TOKYO - Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling about 43,000 cars in China due to a defect that may cause engine oil to leak, a company spokesman said Friday.

The recall affects four models, the Lexus ES 350, the Lexus RX 350, the Highlander sports utility vehicle and the Previa minivan, said the spokesman, Yuta Kaga.

It comes just months after Toyota announced its biggest ever recall in China, affecting about 688,000 vehicles, due to a defect in the electric window system.

Toyota's reputation for quality has been dented recently by a series of recalls or safety issues, including a fatal accident in California involving an accelerator pedal that jammed under the floor mat.

Missing passengers may be trapped inside sunken ferry

MANILA, Philippines - Twenty-four people on board the ill-fated passenger ferry Catalyn B may have been trapped inside the vessel after it smashed into a trawler off the coast of Limbones Island in Cavite, the Philippine Coast Guard said Friday.

Rescuers said they planned to spend 10 days searching for survivors and would also look into the fitness and discipline of the crew involved in the crash.

"I would say that we should stay there for about 10 days and then find out if we can be successful in (finding) the remaining unaccounted passengers," Coast Guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said in an interview.

Catalyn B, a flimsy, wooden vessel taking holidaymakers to their home village on a small island off the mouth of Manila Bay, smashed into Anathalia, a metal-hulled fishing boat, killing 3 people on Christmas eve. Forty-six survivors were fished out of the water on Thursday.

On Friday rescue boats combed sea waters of Bataan, Cavite and Batangas, hoping to find any sign that might point to the exact location of the missing ferry passengers. The PCG said some of the missing passengers may have been swept out to sea.

Some survivors warned that some of the missing could have been trapped inside the vessel, which the Coast Guard said sank in 67 meters (220 feet) of water within minutes of impact.

"Usually people can survive afloat for two to three days in Philippine waters," Ensign Jhoe Barbasa, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse

"But other factors also play a big role. Hunger, injuries or ailments, like hypertension, and the weather, can affect that window," she added.

Boat operations suspended

President Arroyo on Friday suspended operations of the boat owners, pending a full investigation of the ferry collision.

Since there were no reports of engine trouble or bad weather during the predawn collision, Tamayo said that "obviously" someone failed to observe nautical rules on rights of way, leading to the disaster.

"We're also looking at conditions of the watch at the navigating bridge -- whether the crew or the captain are in good physical condition, whether they (were) drunk or tired or maybe they were not awake at that time."

A formal inquiry will start "maybe in three or four days", he said.

Relatives of the missing passengers, meanwhile, spent Christmas at the PCG headquarters in Manila while waiting for news about the rescue efforts.

Ludy Magat, who has three relatives among those missing, could not help but cry over the fate of her relatives. “Ang hirap. Masakit, ‘di [namin] alam kung ano ang hinihintay namin," she said.

The relatives are requesting the PCG to send frogmen and find out if the missing people were indeed trapped inside Catalyn B.

The PCG, however, said they are focusing their efforts on searching for survivors first. It added that the Catalyn B is too deep for the PCG's divers.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Mayweather - I will defeat Pacquiao

Unbeaten American Floyd Mayweather, Jr. claims he will knock out WBO welterweight world champion Manny Pacquiao when the two boxing giants lock horns next year.

Speaking on HBO TV's Joe Buck chat show, the 32-year-old Mayweather -- who has an unblemished record from 40 fights -- said: "Pacquiao's a good fighter but I've been around the sport a long time and I've dominated boxing for around 15 years now.

"Nobody has defeated me yet so we'll have to see. The thing is, I don't want the fans to be really shocked by what will happen when we do happen to meet up -- because it's not going to be anything new for them."

"The things is, Manny has been knocked out before and he's taken losses. I'll be victorious."

Pacquiao will come into the fight following a remarkable 12 months which has seen him defeat Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto.

Meanwhile, Mayweather has fought only once in two years, a unanimous points victory over Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas.

Although definitive plans for the mega-money contest are yet to be confirmed, a date of March 13 is widely rumored to be agreed, with three possible venues in the running to stage the contest.

The two fighters are regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world right now and the fight is expected to generate record levels of interest, easily surpassing the previous record of $18.4 million for gate receipts, which was generated for Mayweather's bout with de la Hoya in 2007.

Two NFL stadiums are reported to be bidding to host the fight. Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys, is competing with the Superdome in New Orleans, as well as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

The two stadiums could accommodate up to 100,000 spectators, while the MGM Grand seats about 16,000.

Candle lighting held in Italy for Mindanao massacre

BOLOGNA, Italy – The Filipino community in Italy organized a candle lighting activity to demand among others, justice for the massacre that claimed the lives of at least 57 people in Maguindanao.

The “Fiaccolata” ceremony was attended by about 200 people of various nationalities. The Filipinos and Italians were joined by people from Morocco, Romania, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Chile, and Germany.

The event held at the old Piazza del Nettuno in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, also called for an end to the killings of journalists and activists in the Philippines and genuine and long lasting peace in Mindanao.

Around 30 journalists, civilians, lawyers and members of a political clan were among those killed in the massacre last November 23 in Maguindanao.

It was the first time that the Filipino community in Bologna led and organized a public mass action. Although held a day earlier, it was also intended to be part of the International Day Against Impunity on December 9.

Among the speakers at the peaceful and solemn rally were University Professors Gianni Sofri and Giulio Soravia; Gerardo Bombonato, president of the Association of Journalists in the Italian Region of Emilia-Romagna; Leonardo Barcelo and Bouchaib Kaline, both officials of the city and province of Bologna, respectively.

The Filipino community was represented by Adelle Ignacio, Councilor of the Province of Bologna and one of the lead organizers; Jose Avenido, president of the Federation of Filipino Associations of Bologna (FedFab) and Edwin Biglas of Migrante Sectoral Party.

At the start of the program, a child sang “One Little Candle” while candles were being lit in the Piazza. After the song, the names of the 30 journalists killed in the massacre were read.

Ignacio read the statement of the organizers saying that the activity was symbolic.

“We should not remain silent in the face of such atrocities. In one of the darkest period of our history, we light the candles as a condemnation of the violence and our desire for justice and long-lasting peace,” Ignacio said.

Sofri, an Italian professor of history explained the context surrounding the massacre for the benefit of the non-Filipino community in the crowd. He also observed how the incident gathered little attention from the European media. He said the event is one way of increasing the European's awareness of such issues.

Bombonato, representing the journalists in the region, said he usually does not go to such rallies, especially to participate because his job is to cover these events. However, what happened in the Philippines was deeply moving and he decided to join.

He said journalists are also under attack in Italy for exposing the truth, mainly scandals involving the Mafia, and he also read a poem about why people should stand up against the violation of our basic freedoms.

Excerpts from the statements of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, translated in Italian, were also read.

Kaline, a Moroccan immigrant, said that it is important as a member of the larger community of nations, to express their solidarity to the people facing such atrocities and condemn the perpetrators.

Barcelo, originally from Chile, who sought asylum in Italy after the Pinochet coup, shared his country's experience under fascist rule and the need to fight tyranny together.

During the program, many Italians who were just passing by the Fiaccolata, most of whom were doing their early Christmas shopping, stopped and listened.

The Fiaccolata also enjoyed the broad support of political, religious and regional organizations in Bologna. Among them were the Forum Immigrazione of the Partido Democratico (PD); CGIL, an institution for worker's rights; Migrante Sectoral Party; the Council of Foreigners in the Province of Bologna; El Shaddai; El Elohim; FedFab; Lafa, an organization of Laguna residents; Lampada Milan; Kakampi; Guardians; Christian Joint Fellowship; Liwanag; Flussi; and San Pedronians.

Monday, 7 December 2009

2nd disqualification case vs Arroyo filed

MANILA - Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel on Monday filed a petition before the Commission on Elections seeking to disqualify President Arroyo from running for Congress next year.

In a four-page petition, Hontiveros-Baraquel said Mrs. Arroyo should be barred from running in next year's polls because the Constitution bars the president and vice-president from running for re-election.

"If people in the two highest elective positions are barred for re-election, how much more a lower position? Mrs. Arroyo isn't even qualified to run for barangay tanod," she said.

She added that Mrs. Arroyo's congressional bid also violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution since she could tap government resources for her campaign.

Lawyer Oliver Lozano earlier filed a similar petition to disqualify Arroyo from running in next year's polls. He noted that the 1987 Constitution provides that "the president shall not be eligible for any re-election."

He said the word "any" refers to any elective post, and this includes Arroyo's bid to represent the 2nd district of Pampanga in the House of Representatives.

Randy David dreads 2010 no-proclamation scenario

MANILA – University of the Philippines (UP) Professor Randy David is not giving up the fight against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Interviewed on ANC's Strictly Politics on Tuesday, David said he has just transferred the battle to another arena.

“This is the arena of public opinion which involves the entire Filipino nation and not just voters in the second district of Pampanga. I really believe President Arroyo crossed the line of public decency and trust which govern all public officials when she filed her Certificate of Candidacy,” David told ANC's Pia Hontiveros.

“I'm now pressuring all our countrymen to ask her to relinquish all powers of the president, to resign if she doesn't want to be impeached or driven from office,” David added.

He is also calling on presidential candidates to ensure fair elections next year.

He said they should sign a collective letter urging the President to step down now “in order to ensure non-partisan electoral exercise in 2010.”

No match

David was widely expected to challenge Arroyo's congressional bid.

“I'm not an electoral animal myself. I think there's a way of fighting in which the battle is not so unjust. The President has been engaged in premature campaigning since 5 months ago after almost 50 visits to the province. You can't possibly match that,” David said, explaining his decision not to run.

“She's using as means to patronage, public funds that are at her disposal as president. I would have lost in an election where the entire game has been rigged from the start,” he added.

The UP professor also said he refused to give credence to Arroyo's political plans.

“Running against her, presenting a serious candidate against her - somebody who has no qualms about using the power of the president - would have been an acceptance, it would be conferring legitimacy on exercise that's false from the start. What she's doing is totally unprecedented. It's a breach of public trust which is ground for impeachment" he stated.

Dreaded scenario

Arroyo's congressional bid is suspected to have something to do with plans to change the country's system of government from presidential to parliamentary, with herself as Speaker of the House.

According to David, the President and her allies could be plotting another scenario entirely.

“There is another scenario which I really dread as a Filipino. It will continue political destabilization in the country... a no-proclamation scenario of all candidates of all offices - senator, vice-president and president,” he said.

“Only local officials will be proclaimed and that includes congressmen. You might possibly have a House Speaker, but no president, no vice-president, no Senate president. You'll only have an acting president,” ended David.