Monday, 31 May 2010

Last chance for Freedom of Info Act on Friday

MANILA, Philippines - Pressure is mounting on House Speaker Prospero Nograles to make sure the Freedom of Information bill is ratified on June 4, when Congress is scheduled to adjourn sine die.

It will be the 14th Congress's last legislative session and final chance to pass the bill into law.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which is supported by the media, grants ordinary citizens access to information of public concern from all branches of government.

It was ratified by the Senate on February 1. Ratification in the House of Representatives is the final requirement before it becomes a law.

Once ratified, it will be submitted to President Arroyo for signature or it can lapse into law. She also has the option to veto it.

“The 14th Congress will be amiss in doing their primary duty of legislating important matters if this bill is not passed. Speaker Nograles himself will miss the chance to be the first Speaker of the House to give our citizens what the Constitution has asked Congress to do – the freedom of information,” said Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, who has led the bill's passage in the House.

Congress, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers (NBoC), on Monday took a break from the canvassing of votes cast for President and Vice-President to convene separate legislative sessions.

The Senate convened at 10 a.m. and passed a resolution urging the House to ratify the FOI bill.

Canvassing is priority

The House convened a legislative session at 4 p.m., but quickly adjourned without giving time for congressmen to consider the Freedom of Information bill. Nograles said they will not take up any matter other than canvassing.

"I think you will agree with me that canvassing, as the constitutional duty to proclaim the President and Vice-President, takes precedence over legislative matter. If you look at the physical arrangement of the floor today, you will see it is impossible for us to have a legislative session," Nograles said.

Tañada, however, assailed Nograles's position.

“I cannot accept the reasoning that we are still doing the canvassing of votes and thus cannot ratify the bill. The Senate had session this morning and performed their legislative functions. They were able to pass three national bills and eight local bills. I believe that the House of Representatives should not do less than what the Senate does. Why can’t the House meet in the morning to exercise its legislative functions and meet in the afternoon for the canvassing? Doing so would avoid complication with regards to the date of when Congress should end its legislative function vis-à-vis its role as a National Board of Canvassers,” he said.

Congress will take a one-day break from the canvassing on Friday. They will resume on Monday, June 7.

Less than 30 seconds

If there are no objections, ratifying the bill could take less than 30 seconds.

To ratify a bill, the majority floor leader just has to announce the approval of the bicameral committee report and then ask if there are objections. If there is none, the bill is ratified.

"We will continue the pressure and exhaust all legal means to have the people's will respected. As a congressman, Speaker Prospero Nograles should listen to the desires of the voters. He cannot cite a single constituency that is against this measure," said Vincent Lazatin, executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), one of the active groups pushing for the bill's passage.

"He should honor his commitment to ratify. Otherwise, his word has no meaning," Lazatin added.

If not ratified on Friday, all the efforts put in by its advocates will be put to waste. The bill would go back to square one during the 15th Congress.

No guarantees

Nograles could not guarantee the bill's ratification on June 4 He said he will put it in the calendar of business, but he cannot guarantee they will have a quorum.

"I will put it in the agenda and we will take it up on the floor. I'm going to be up there. But how can I guarantee it? I will just preside," Nograles said.

"We will have to campaign for the physical presence. We cannot transact business without a quorum. I need warm bodies. I want the media to help me campaign for warm bodies," he added.

Nograles stressed he should not be blamed if the bill is not ratified.

"I’ve been criticized or praised with this FOI bill. But if you will look at the record, Number 1, you will see that I am the co-author of that FOI bill. Number 2, I was the shepherd of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd reading. Number 3, I formed the bicameral conference [to consolidate the different versions of the Senate and the House of Representatives]," Nograles told House reporters.

"Number 4, we immediately approved it on bicam. Number 5, it was returned to us a little bit too late by the Senate. Number 6, we put it in the agenda. Number 7, it is not my fault that two congressmen from Cebu started to squabble in the floor and we have no quorum [during the last legislative session in February]," he added.

"That is the history. I hope you will be kinder to me because it is very unfair that the FOI bill will be on my shoulder as if I am in control of the matter," Nograles said.

BSP to review 2010, 2011 inflation forecasts

MANILA, Philippines - The central bank will review its inflation targets for this year and next year as stronger-than-expected economic growth could fuel an uptick in consumer prices.

"The inflation forecasts will have to be reviewed, and that is what we will do this week," Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco told reporters.

The BSP earlier expected inflation to average anywhere between 3.5% and 5.5% this year, and between 3% and 5% in 2011.

In the first quarter, the economy grew by 7.3% versus 0.5% in the same period last year, beating most expectations.

Faster economic growth, which reflects higher incomes, normally results in increase in demand for goods and services. As a result, inflation may accelerate.

The inflation projection by the central bank influences its decision whether or not to change key policy rates. Currently, the overnight borrowing rate stands at 4%, while overnight lending rate stands at 6%. Both are historic lows.

Lady boss finds suitable leadership style

MANILA, Philippines – Most lady executives are grappling with the challenge of finding the right leadership style.

If women demonstrate warmth and friendliness at work, they are perceived as too soft and unable to get down to business. Otherwise, they are criticized for not caring enough.

To former Accenture country managing director Beth Lui, who went through this classic dilemma, the solution was to strike a balance between the two.

Her soft-on-people-but-hard-on-results leadership style was something she developed through the years. It all started with a painful realization.

Not a people person


Lui, to put it bluntly, was a cold and insensitive boss.

How she went beyond putting work results above all else and into making a difference in people’s lives is the story she wants to share.

In the early 90’s, when Lui was just a new manager at Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), she made significant headway in her career by delivering a huge development project that proved the company's capability as an offshore delivery center.

Lui had about 60 people working on the project with her, and most of them thought she was demanding, unappreciative and emotionally detached.

She was the typical bulldozer, "Type-A" boss.

All she cared about was getting the job done—even if it meant her subordinates must miss out on their personal affairs to put in extra hours in their work.

In her drive to deliver, Lui overlooked and hurt the people in her team.

"I was very much task-oriented. My only concerns then were whether my subordinates would be able to finish their deliverables on time or if they should work weekends to complete their tasks," she said.

"Did I get the job done? Yes. Was the quality good? Yes. Did I have friends? No. I was sad."

Technical to managerial

Lui joined Accenture when she was only 22.

She started as entry level programmer at the business process outsourcing (BPO) firm. She yielded years of experience as she went up the corporate ladder—from programmer to system designer, then team leader, project manager, and finally, country head.

But unlike her managerial roles which involved dealing with a lot of people, her early roles were focused only on her own deliverables.

"I was focused on what I needed to finish. You only have to really rely on yourself. If you work hard, work long hours, manage your own time, you can do your job. That was life for me then," Lui recalled.

She said that as she took on large projects, she realized it was "so much harder to manage people than just manage one’s self."

"If you're supervising a large group, you're not just thinking about your deliverables. Along the way, you need to take time to get to know each one of your team members. There's a lot of interpersonal dynamics," she shared.

She said she discovered that developing good management skills was harder than developing the technical skills that led to her promotions.

She vowed to make a change.

Evolution

She made deliberate steps to shift from push-oriented, micro-management style to an empowerment approach.

She was no longer limited by the belief that she had to think through every problem herself and have all the answers.

She learned to encourage employees to take more initiative in solving problems, guided by the principles and philosophies of the company.

"I hold regular meetings with the core group that works with me on a day to day basis. We talk about issues and how we should solve these."

"This is another evolution of my leadership. You don’t have to tell employees what to do all the time. As long as there are philosophies, principles, the employees can find their own way."

Not that she was letting up. Lui said she remained as decisive as she had always been.

"I listen. But at the end of the day, someone has to make a decision."

Apparently, in Lui's case, soft skills helped deliver hard results too.

With her at the helm, Accenture was one of the leading and biggest BPO companies in the country, employing about 16,000 people—the highest among players in the industry.

Human touch

Lui said treating employees as real human beings, not as machines or tools, makes them more engaged and productive.

"The human touch factor is very important. It doesn't always have to be a big event. It's a lot of day-to-day stuff."

"As a manager, you have the responsibility to deliver what clients ask from you without demoralizing your employees. You have to make them feel you are a team and you have a common goal."

"If you have good rapport with your subordinates, you get things done without being in an emotional rollercoaster with them. You complete projects on a friendly note."

She stressed that forging good relationship with employees must lead to improvement in the company's bottomline and not the other way around.

"You need to strike a balance."

After 31 years of service, Lui has quit her post at Accenture. She is reportedly joining the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. Group.

Exporters told: Sorry, gov't has no more funds

MANILA, Philippines - The government won’t be able to deliver on its promise to release an additional P100 million for export promotions.

Trade Secretary Jesli A. Lapus said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) could not find available funds.

“They [DBM] said the situation is tight right now,” Lapus said.

It was Lapus, who requested the DBM for the fund to support the promotional activities of exporters.

There was a previous P1-billion export-support fund, although only 24 projects have been approved for financing.

Of the P200-million approved projects, the government has so far released only P51.148 million.

The government later opted for realigning the balance to projects that would mitigate the effects of the recent calamities. Whether or not these projects were completed is not known.

Lapus said with funding from DBM not available, only projects related to the garments industry could get allocations, as the defunct Garments and Textile Export Board (GTEB) still has some available funds.

Garments and textile exporters used to pay some amount to the GTEB for their quota allocations. The GTEB was dissolved following the end of the quota regime in 2005.

Also, as a consolation, Lapus said the rules for the release of the P200-million worth of approved projects have been relaxed, allowing the exporters to immediately get 50% of the cost.

Previously, the exporters were only able to reimburse promotional expenses if they could show proofs, such as receipts and documentations.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Palace defends midnight reappointments to PAGCOR

MANILA, Philippines -- Malacañang defended the re-appointment of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) chairman Efraim Genuino, together with 4 board directors.

According to Presidential Management Staff (PMS) secretary Elena Bautista, Presidential Decree 1869 or the Pagcor charter allows the re-appointment of the chairman and board of directors every year.

Critics of President Arroyo opposed the re-appointment saying this could give the outgoing administration access to Pagcor's P17-billion fund.

Bautista also said this was no midnight appointment since the president signed the appointment documents on March 9 -- a day before the appointment ban began.

“Kaunting palugit ang naibigay sa amin. Pinag-aralan naman din po ito,” said Bautista.

But according to constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, it is not only the appointment date that should be considered but also the date in which the appointment was accepted.

“It's [appointment] completed by acceptance,” said Bernas.

Bernas added these appointments are also against the spirit of the Constitution, which bans midnight appointments.

“An outgoing president is just a caretaker,” he said.

Prof. Marvic Leonen, dean of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, said the re-appointment was completely unconstitutional.

“The appointments made by GMA to the board members of Pagcor and the chair of Pagcor is unconstitutional and may be challenged by the incoming president,” he said.

Bautista said the re-appointment is just for one year, after which the new president can choose a new chairman and board of directors.

Was 'malicious software' placed in recalled CF cards?

MANILA, Philippines - An international election observer disputed statements from poll automation contractor Smartmatic that the compact flash (CF) cards recalled just days before the May 10 elections were 100% cheat proof.

Former National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) executive director and international elections observer Telibert Laoc disputed Smartmatic vice-president for Asia-Pacific Cesar Flores' claims before the joint congressional canvass committee for president and vice-president, that the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines were sure to not read or honor any malicious software inserted when the recalled CF cards were reprogrammed due supposedly to programming glitches.

Laoc noted that the 3rd party certification of the PCOS machines by Systest showed the PCOS machines' firmware (or software installed in the machines) were not verified.

Laoc said this means it would be possible for anyone to insert malicious software that could pad vote results from the May 2010 elections since the system is not fool proof.

But while Laoc could not say for sure who would be responsible for the possible infection of the CF cards, if at all, he asserted that the abrupt recall of the CF cards just days before the election certainly caused a big damage on the credibility of the country’s first nationwide automated elections.

Laoc has been observing the proceedings at the joint committee’s work in the Batasan Pambansa since day 1. He was a local member of the delegation of the US-based National Democratic Institute, which, in March, said the Comelec had not done enough to boost the credibility of the polls.

Focus on old questions

For the last 2 days of the joint committee’s work, the committee members just focused on old questions about the accuracy and security of the automated election system.

On Thursday night, it canvassed 5 of the 278 certificates of canvass (COCs) that would pave the way for the proclamation of the new president and vice-president.

Earlier Thursday, the committee spent over 1 hour discussing whether it should subpoena and study all 76,000 recalled CF cards for signs of tampering.

Smartmatic's Flores had previously told them that the PCOS machine software would not allow it to read any tampered CF cards.

House Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. wondered how Smartmatic was able to address the problem so quickly.

“Doon nag-umpisa. If they didn’t reconfigure 8 days before the election, we won't have any problem given the fact that Smartmatic, in its public statements, said that it will take 3 months to configure PCOS machines, and then suddenly, it took them 48 hours to retrieve and deliver to 76,000 precincts,“ he said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, said: “Subpoena 76,000 flash cards retrieved by Smartmatic and ask Comelec to submit an audit log of PCOS machines and create a technical committee to study audit logs of the PCOS machines. Did Smartmatic subcontract to IT companies? And if it did, what were the subcontractors that handled it? We want them stated into the records so if there's need for it, we’ll summon them to determine the integrity of those they did.”

Political operators at work?

Sources have told ABS-CBN News that some technicians who handled the reprogramming of the CF cards could have been employed by political operators to insert malicious software that could pad votes. The CF cards are said to be the brains of the PCOS machines.

ABS-CBN News has had no way to verify such a claim by sources, but the allegation has made the rounds of political circles.

While committee co-chairs Nograles and Enrile have gone to great lengths to remind committee members that the panel’s main task is to canvass the votes and not to investigate electoral fraud, the panel still ended up taking up questions about cheating since it goes into the matter of ascertaining the authenticity and due execution of the COCs.

Lawmakers wanted to be sure that the COCs were based on authentic and untampered fruits of the automated election system.

Cagayan de Oro case

Aside from the CF card recall, other serious debates during the early hours of the 2nd day of the canvass were the matter of the CF cards and election returns found in a dump in Cagayan de Oro.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel blew his top at the explanation of Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal of the incident, saying the Comelec was trying to protect its own people.

Larrazabal told the body that the CF cards and ERs found in a dump were those that were not claimed by the political parties. Some 30 copies of ERs are printed per precinct for dissemination to political parties, among others.

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento then responded by saying that the Comelec has ordered an investigation into the matter.

Larrazabal said the ERs were actually stolen from Comelec officers.

“The ERs referred to were ERs not claimed by political parties. Not all were claimed by representatives of political parties. Those were the documents found. Not all 30 ERs were claimed, like 5 weren't claimed, but 25 were given out. They were stolen from the office of election officers after the counting,” he said.

Pimentel moved to strike the response off the record, saying, “I accuse Larrazabal of trying to protect those who had a failure to protect the ERs. The Comelec has a tendency to protect its own kind, I think you're trying to do that.”

Sarmiento said the Comelec had created a committee to investigate the incident, and that it issued an order relieving the election officer of Cagayan de Oro pending an investigation.”

Speak in layman's terms

Meantime, Laoc advised information technology (IT) experts appearing before the committee to “laymanize” their language, noting the non-tech savvyness of the committee members may be causing the circuitous arguments.

Over at the gallery, there were fewer members of the audience, with a few people caught sleeping out of boredom.

The joint canvass committee meeting was supposed to start at 1 p.m. but started almost an hour late due to the tardiness of the committee members. However, the meeting had fewer breaks.

PAGASA: Summer's still here

MANILA, Philippines - No, it's not yet rainy season. Summer is still here.

The government's weather bureau said rains experienced in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon and Visayas for the past days were brought on by a low pressure area near Basco, Batanes.

Gener Quitlong, weather forecaster of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said rains in Mindanao were caused by the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

Quitlong said that as soon as the low pressure area dissipates, the scorching heat of summer, coupled with the effect of El Niño, will be felt again in Metro Manila.

He said PAGASA expects the rainy season to come second week of June.

Traffic was heavy and several commuters got stranded after floods hit several streets in Metro Manila due to heavy rains on Friday night.

La Niña

Meanwhile, Quitlong said PAGASA is expecting the onset of the La Niña phenomenon by September, which will continue to affect the country until December.

La Niña is the counterpart of El Niño as it brings more than the usual rain.

Quitlong said that once La Niña sets, the country should expect heavier rains during the last quarter of the year. He added that the phenomenon may invite more typhoons in the country.

He said at least 20 typhoons enter the country every year.

He said PAGASA will immediately issue advisories to the agriculture sector and the local government units once La Niña's onset becomes inevitable.

Quitlong said citizens, especially those living near mountain slopes and low-lying areas, to prepare for landslides and flashfloods during the La Niña's onslaught.

He said that this early, the Philippine Coast Guard has already started to prepare for the possible onset of La Niña.

He urged local government units and other concerned agencies to come up with measures on how to react to floods and landslides during the rainy season.

Gov't launches search for toughest job in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines - What is the toughest job in the Philippines?

This is the question of the labor department as it launched a contest to pay tribute to hardworking employees.

Netizens have various opinions on who has the toughest job.

There were those who cited teachers, garbage collectors, migrant workers, lawyers and embalmers.

But if you ask residents of Pasig City, it's likely they'd cite the persons responsible for cleaning rivers.

Marvin has been a river cleaner with Bantay Ilog, for several years now.

He gets paid P2,000 a month, but he spends the entire day under the sun, doing his job.

He said the hardest part is being surrounded by the stinky garbage.

“Iyong una, ang hirap talaga ng amoy. Nakakasuka pero masasanay ka rin,” he said.

The ABS-CBN News team tagged along with Marvin on a typical day at work.

Like Marvin said, trying to get over the foul smell of rubbish is the hardest challenge.

River cleaners suffer from back pains from hours of working.

Shards of glass at the bottom of the river also make their work dangerous.

Not to mention, they could contract all sorts of diseases from the dirty water.

Marvin added that many people look down on him because of his job, but he said, he’s proud of what he does for a living.

“Walang akong pakialam sa kanila dahil para sa pamilya ko ito at marangal ang aking trabaho,” Marvin said.

Like Marvin, many Filipinos bravely perform work every day just to put food on the table for their families.

That's why looking for the toughest job in the Philippines is going to be a tough call for the labor department.

Students recycle notebooks to save on school expenses

MANILA, Philippines - High school seniors at a local high school busied themselves last week recycling notebooks for use in the coming schoolyear.

They took the unused pages from old notebooks, sewed them up, and added a nice cover to make a brand new notebook.

High school students make new notebooks out of old ones to save on school expenses.

To streamline the operation, the students, all from Baesa High School in Caloocan City, have grouped themselves and assigned specific tasks to each one.

"Nag-cluster po kami. May taga-tanggal ng tahi, taga-bilang, taga-tahi at taga-balot," said Gerald Yambot, a student at the said school.

The hardest part of the task is sewing the pages, the students said. "Di na kasi pare-pareho ang butas," explained Dianne Rose Fernandez, also a student at Baesa High School.

But the new notebooks are not just for these students who made them. They were given away to incoming students of the school last Friday, the last day of Brigada Eskwela, the weeklong program of the Department of Education where teachers, parents and students join hands to clean up and prepare schools for the schoolyear opening in June

"Makakatulong pa kami sa mga magulang na hirap din sa budget, said Gerald.

"Makakatulong sa mga magulang nila," added Corazon San Luis, assistant principal of Baesa High School.

Although the Department of Trade and Industry is keeping tabs on the prices of school supplies, many parents are students are looking for ways to save further on school expenses. Recycling old school supplies is one such step.

The participants of the project plan to make this an annual program which they hope will be adopted by schools throughout the country.