1 Comment 27 February 2010

By Carmela Lapeña

Many Pinoys will spare no expense to have whiter skin. That’s why store shelves are flooded with whitening products—from soaps, creams, and powders. And, oh, who hasn’t heard of glutathione? To be white is to be beautiful. At least that’s what the ads tell us. READ FULL STORY. See related story in a previous issue – “This Beauty Thing.”




No Comments 25 February 2010

By Amadís Ma. Guerrero

An impressive, almost awesome sight.

Sprawling over a 400-hectare area facing Bagac Bay, Bataan, with its bracing sea breeze, are over 20 imposing ancestral homes, transplanted from their native soil, brought by brick by brick by trucks to this town (Bagac) known for its resorts, coded, reassembled, painstakingly reconstructed, and restored to their former splendor.

This is Cuidad Real de Acuzar, a project of Gerry Acuzar, 54, an art collector from the capital city of Balanga, and owner of San Jose Builders. “I believe that it is every Filipino’s duty and responsibility to safeguard his cultural agency,” Acuzar feels.

Acuzar bought the houses, which were in a state of neglect, from the owners, and in some cases also purchased the lot where the bygone mansions stood. The owners of ancestral homes which were well-preserved were not approached. There are no houses from Vigan.

The project actually started eight years ago but only gained momentum during the past three years. The bahay na bato, or great houses made of stone on the first floor and of wood on the second (constructed this way to withstand earthquakes), come from Tondo, Binondo and Quiapo, Manila; Quezon, Pampanga, La Union, the Ilocos and Cagayan.

A recent exposure trip organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines introduced the Ciudad to media persons and others interested, or involved in, heritage conservation. Location shooting was also ongoing for an ABS-CBN costume telenovela, with the cast and some stars promenading in Old-World attire. An informal photo-op ensued, and there were some extras dressed as guardia civil.

The Ciudad has a workforce of 130, including 10 wood sculptors, three metal sculptors, 30 craftsmen who design ceilings, along with construction workers. There are also five architects, two of them historical architects, and two artists.

Art director Jose Ceriola estimates the houses are in a 60-70 percent original condition. In one house, tiles have become fresco paintings depicting imaginative scenes from olden days.

In a fit of whimsy, for instance, Ceriola painted one native in tribal gear who is – texting!

The bodega (warehouse) has materials (Philippine hardwood) good for 50 houses. Ceriola said 22 mansions have been constructed, eventually to reach 50.

Many of the houses have four-poster beds, grand staircases, capiz-shell windows, vintage photos and paintings, santó and other objects redolent of the late 19th century and early 20th century.

“The most impressive house,” said tour guide Nico Manalo, is that of Rafael Enriquez, a well-known visual artist of the late 19th century. Indeed, it is a grand structure, built by architect Felix Roxas in 1970.  On the other hand, the “daintiest house” is in pink while the most “macho” (as in grey and massive) came from Candaba, Pampanga. The Novicio Santo Romano House was once owned by a relative of the Lunas from Badoc, Ilocos Norte. Many important meetings were held here during World War II.

One house used to belong to a Nueva Ecija warlord who was the target of assassination attempts during the 1970s and 1920s. The term used to describe it was “pinaulanan ng bala (literally bullets rained down upon him). He survived.

A day tour (walk-in or reservations) of the Cuidad de Real Azucar costs P750 per. There is also a big building, Escolta, which is distinct from the others. It is modeled on the architecture of the old shopping district of Manila, and may soon function as a hotel, for the rooms are ready.


Current Affairs


24 Comments 21 February 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

It used to be that the Philippines’ biggest competitive advantage in the global job market is the proficiency of our skilled workers in the English language. This advantage, however, is fast being eroded by rising competition from other countries coupled with declining mastery of the English language by our college graduates.

Recent language test results released by the IDP Education Pty. Ltd. Philippines, an accredited group that administers the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to Filipinos seeking to work and migrate abroad, showed that the Philippines is no longer the top English-speaking country in Asia.

With an overall score of 6.71, Malaysia is now the No. 1 in English proficiency in Asia. The Philippines placed only second with 6.69, followed by Indonesia (5.99), India (5.79) and Thailand (5.71). This was gleaned from IELTS results in 2008, during which some 35,000 Filipinos — 70 percent of them nursing graduates applying for jobs abroad — took the language exam to evaluate their English proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening.

During a conference on English organized by the Centre for International Education (CIE) in Manila, Andrew King, country director of IDP Education Pty. Ltd. Philippines warned that the continuous decline in Filipinos’ English proficiency could affect the growth of the call center industry which provides thousands of jobs at home and abroad.

English still rules

In an interview with Planet Philippines, King stressed that English remains the lingua franca or default language of international business and diplomacy.

“Things like international treaties, business contracts and so on, are written in English, because it’s an exact language,” he says. “You have to have people that can speak, read and write it well. To operate at high levels, you need very good English.”

He states that employers in today’s global market want people that have not only international experience and good qualifications that are recognized all over the world but also high proficiency in spoken and written English. “English has less elasticity and flexibility so you can say exactly what you want to say and not argue about the meaning. If you get your tenses, plurals and prepositions wrong, then you’re not going to be accurate.”

He adds: “Here and around the world, people are asking for better competency in English. Being able to get by is not enough.”

King says proficiency in English is a huge advantage for every job seeker, even those who have no plans of working overseas. Foreign companies in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, he notes, locally administer their contracts in English. “A foreign company won’t enter into a contract that’s not of their language.”

For business consultant Peter Wallace, who also spoke at the CIE English conference, comprehension is the problem. “Do you understand what you’re hearing? Do you understand what it means when you say that? These are the issues.”

BOP takes action

The biggest obstacle for the ever-growing BPO industry sector is recruiting enough capable graduates with the required English skills. Industry observers estimate that only three in every 100 applicants are able to gain satisfactory employment. In certain cases, the BPO industry has taken it upon themselves to train prospective employees so that company growth will not be impeded.

“The formal educational system is hard-pressed to train young Filipinos in proper grammatical English, so the private sector has taken the lead,” says Frank Holz, CEO of Outsource2Philippines.

Observers have attributed the decline in English skills to budgetary constraints and lack of proper infrastructure in the country’s educational system. “In fairness, the Department of Education is trying its best, but unfortunately, this generation of teachers does not have the capability,” says Wallace.

King attributes the decline in English to the poor quality and training of local schoolteachers, as well as the continuing use of outdated or erroneous textbooks. “Students are not being taught correct English and the resources and materials they’re given is incorrect.”

Bilingual policy

Another problem, and a continuing topic of debate, has been the educational system’s bilingual policy, adopted 35 years ago which compels schools to use English and Filipino as medium of instruction. “People use the excuse that there’s ‘Filipino English.’ Filipino English is English as long as it’s correct. If it’s incorrect English, it doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s just being an apologist for people’s mistakes is wrong,” King points out.

The incorrect use of the language on local TV newscasts and English-dubbed cartoons, also contributes to the decline in English proficiency among Filipinos. “Everyday, on virtually all television and newspapers, you hear incorrect use of prepositions,” adds King.

He cites the words “in” and “on” as examples. “You hear the car was driving on the lane, which would mean on top of, rather than in, as in within the two lines.”

He also blames technology such as the internet and SMS messaging (texting) on cell phones, which favors speed and levity but fosters poor written skills. “We use abbreviations in chat rooms, and we have created a whole new language, and texting on cell phones has created a short language.”

Even cultural prejudice and ignorance is an issue, King laments. “Snobbery – you’re a snob if you speak English. No, you’re a person that’s committed to learn more than one language.”

Gov’t response

In response to IDP’s released test results, the government assures that it remains committed to improving the quality of teachers in the Philippines, particularly in public schools. Malacañang cites a number of ongoing projects to improve the English proficiency of teachers and students in public schools, such as the “Project Turning Around,” “Every Child A Reader Program,” and the National English Proficiency Program. Officials also said the government is allotting P1.1 billion to train nearly 400,000 teachers in Math, Science and English skills.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said he brought up the problem during one Cabinet meeting and top government officials agreed to do something about it.

“We are part of the global community and there is economic competition among countries in the world. Let’s face it, English is still the number one language in the entire world,” said Santos.

King says that the problem could be traced to the prevailing social and political conditions in the country. “One of the issues is that there are too many children for teachers to cope with. You can go back to population control, so there are so many that you can’t manage within the education system. But that’s a whole different argument.”

One possible solution he suggests is to import external people to analyze the English curriculum and resources, and try to identify the issues that are affecting the ability to communicate accurately.

Another solution, adds Holz, is to use the internet in English training. “More work needs to be done on this, but eventually there won’t be as great a reliance on instructor-led training,” he says. “Rather the entire process from assessment through delivery through final validation will be able to be done online.”

Whatever the solution, King says it’s going to take time. “You’re not going to magically turn around a generation of people whose English has been taught incorrectly.”


Current Affairs


No Comments 16 February 2010

By Tonette Orejas

Porac, Pampanga — It’s a Friday afternoon and Adonis Simpao is in the company of more than 20 public school teachers. The meeting, which the teachers requested three weeks ago, is finally pushing through in Barangay Pias here.

Simpao apologizes for not finding time much earlier, bowing his head as he entered the backyard of the host-teacher. It turned out that more than a month before the actual campaign period, this Liberal Party candidate in Pampanga’s second congressional district already has a full schedule.

“I get invitations to talk in small crowds of teachers, farmers, workers, students, parents, out-of-school youth, traders, laity, senior citizens, drivers, pastors,” the 41-year-old architect says.

By all measure, that’s quite a feat considering Simpao’s unenviable and abject situation. But whether the residents reach out to him because they support him and want to know what he has to offer or because they are merely curious to meet the modern-day David is another matter. And whether he stands a Chinaman’s chance to win is an entirely different (sob) story.

To say that Simpao is facing an uphill electoral battle is the understatement of the coming May election. His fellow cabalen – and the whole nation, for that matter – believe that the battle for the congressional seat in the second district of this province is finished long before it began. Simpao is making history for battling an incumbent President in an electoral contest for a lower position that is unheard of in our history. Come May 10, there won’t be an iota doubt that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will be the “hands down winner,” in the words of Rey Roquero, executive director of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party. (There are two aspirants aside from Simpao — Feliciano Serrano, an engineer and Filipinas Sampang, wife of a doctor – who are both running as independent candidates.)

It’s all-go for GMA

Last Jan. 28 the second division of the Commission on Elections officially lowered the boom on Simpao’s aspirations when it dismissed the petition of Akbayan Rep. Rissa Hontiveros to disqualify Mrs. Arroyo from running for a congressional seat in Pampanga and ruled that the President was not prohibited by the Constitution to run under a lower position. Hontiveros has asked the Supreme Court to reverse the poll body’s ruling.

Hontiveros also claimed that the President, by refusing to vacate her post after filing her candidacy for Congress, will be violating the constitutional provision regarding “equal protection of the law.”

“As current President, she has all the powers and resources as well as access to it that will definitely prejudice the chances of any opposing candidate in any electoral competition against her,” she said.

According to Hontiveros, the President spent around P459 million in infrastructure projects in her district last year. “That’s the most compelling reason why she should be disqualified from running. As the highest official of the land, virtually no one, not a sitting legislator and especially not an ordinary civilian like Mr. Adonis Simpao, can compete with the resources that she has at her disposal,” she said. Malacañang has disputed the figure cited by Hontiveros.

Simpao says he is not surprised by the poll body’s decision. “That was expected. That division and the Comelec are known not to decide on issues of public interests,” he said.

He concedes that Mrs. Arroyo has undue advantage because as sitting President she has almost unlimited access to government resources. She visited the second district 50 times during the past year (that translates to one visit per week), handing out various dole outs and infrastructure projects.

Somebody’s got to do it

Despite the great odds, Simpao is unperturbed and bent on pursuing the fight to the end.

Kailangang ating libutad (Somebody has to take the fight),” he said in the local dialect, explaining why he decided to file his candidacy a few hours before the deadline last December. “The second district needs a true representative. If Mrs. Arroyo really loves us Kapampangan, why didn’t she run as governor instead? She seems to have other interests, like being Speaker or Prime Minister.”

Back to the huddle in the yard, the teachers began sharing their thoughts on the May election before grilling Simpao on his platform on education, agriculture and environment.

His answers are direct. “As a legislator, I will bring and protect the people’s interests in Congress because I have no interests other than theirs, especially the poor. Public funds will be used properly, without graft. Infrastructure projects will be done based on the needs of the people, not because I or any contractors want to make money,” he explains. “I will serve with fear in God and respect for His commandments.”

Simpao talks more like a community organizer than a candidate. Humble and dressed modestly in an inexpensive shirt, he listens intently as his cabalen detail their problems and aspirations. His friends Eddie and Janet Ayen share that a number of times Simpao was mistaken for a worker because he usually slings a hand towel on his shoulder.

Rich girl, poor boy

Unlike President Arroyo who was born into power and wealth, Simpao, the eldest of 11 children, came from a poor family. His late father Pablo farmed a small plot of Riceland and built deep wells to support his family. His mother Cecilia ran a sari-sari store and sold vegetables she grew in the backyard for the daily baon to school of the children.

He was barely 16 and in third year high school when he chaired the chapter of the League of the Filipino Students at Don Honorio Ventura College of Arts and Trade (DHVCAT) in Bacolor town. The militant group led the mass walkout of students at the school to protest the murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia, a native of Bacolor, in 1984. They also held marches and pickets against the National Service Law and tuition fee hikes.

“It was easy to understand poverty and fight for an end to this form of injustice because we were poor,” he says.

After finishing one semester of an architectural course at DHVCAT, his parents asked him to stop schooling for lack of money. Not wanting to be a burden to the family, he worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Olongapo City and later as a janitor in a bank. After finishing a short course in computer programming, he joined a construction firm, serving as timekeeper, warehouseman and laborer. With his meager income, he resumed his architecture studies, enrolling in evening classes at the Technological Institute of the Philippines in Manila. In 1992 he was thrust again into the LFS leadership at TIP after the chapter chair went missing. He presided over the student council from 1993 until his graduation in 1994.

After short stints at Allied Bank and F. J. Jacinto Roofing, Simpao partnered with his four engineer brothers – a geodetic, a civil, an electrical and a sanitary engineer – to set up a company in 1998 offering design, construction and contracting services to local clients. His modest income has enabled him to build for his wife and three children a modest bungalow that remains unfinished until now, seven years after he started it.

Nothing personal

The Guagua native emphasizes that there is nothing personal about his fight with President Arroyo. “Hindi si Pangulong Arroyo ang kinakalaban natin kundi ang sistemang dala ng mga tradisyunal na pulitikong tulad niya,” he explains.

He agreed to enter the political fray when at the last minute no one had wanted to challenge Mrs. Arroyo. He said Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio was frantically urging prospective candidates until the last two hours before the deadline for the filing of candidacy. “Naghanap tayo ng puwedeng itapat sa Pangulo, pero walang gustong lumaban hanggang huling minuto. Kaya kinailangan nating manindigan.”

Simpao is fully cognizant of the odds he faces – “money, machinery, connections.” But he remains undaunted and even professes a healthy dose of guarded optimism.

“I decided to make a go to prove a point that we Kapampangans are standing up to her,” he says. “We are not a coward people. Kapampangans are decent people. . . We Kapampangans proved we are on the side of good in 2007. I believe this will still be the case in 2010.”  (In 2007 former priest Among Ed Panlilio trounced two close allies of Mrs. Arroyo – then Gov. Mark Lapid and Lubao Mayor Lilia Pineda.)

The coming electoral contest, according to him, is not about him but a “test for Kapampangans. . . Will they stand up for what is right and good and do the country a favor? That’s worth seeing this May.”

PHOTO: Adonis Simpao (left) with Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Satur Ocampo.




6 Comments 12 February 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

Experiencing the country in different ways. That is the mantra that local tour operators and the Department of Tourism (DOT) are conveying to foreign and domestic tourists interested in exploring the archipelago. The “Philippine Travel Mart,” was held recently to showcase prime destinations, special tour packages and other travel opportunities to prospective buyers and consumers. It was co-sponsored by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) and the DOT.

Whether it be touring the city of Manila by boat on the Pasig River, or partaking in an exotic, culinary-themed tour of Pampanga, or engaging in more physically-oriented activities in typical relaxation areas such as Boracay, repeat clients and visitors are being offered a more adventurous, unique tourism experience.

Yung ganda ng bansa is everywhere,” says Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano. “However, what has been happening in the last three years is that a lot new places have been developed. A lot of new places are part of the mainstream tourism traffic of the country already. People want to get new information before exploring, and this is the place.”

In 2008, the DOT and PHILTOA formulated a National Ecotourism Strategy Initiative to provide an assortment of new activities to entice tourists and to promote the protection and conservation of the environment as well.

“We’re proudly showing to the world that we’re taking care of the environment,” says Cesar Cruz, general manger of PHILTOA. “Eco-activities are nature based. You have to have good rivers, good forests and a good habitat for wild animals and flora and fauna.”

In 2009, the DOT and PHILTOA developed 24 adventure tour packages, also called modules, with specialized themes and concepts building on what each province and region can to offer. For example, for surfing and kayaking enthusiasts, there’s “Paddle & Surf” in Pangasinan’s Hundred Islands, as well as in La Union and Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. On kayak boats, tourists could go explore coves and islets. And though the country is not known to be a premier destination for surfing, the coastal towns of La Union offer several spots promising consistent “waves and breaks.”

For those that want both a land and sea escapade, “Crawl & Row” offers spelunking (or cave exploring) at Nueva Vizcaya’s Capisanan Cave System, as well as whitewater rafting at the Chico River in the Cordilleras. Then there’s Sagada in Mountain Province with caves so deep they appear to extend down to the ends of the earth. Also up north in Tuguegarao is the famous Callao cave, and down south, in Palawan, there is the St. Paul National Park with its caves that can be explored through the underground river.

Also popular among trekkers and trail-hikers is Mt. Pinatubo, which traverses the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales, where one can view the spectacular landscape. The area is also very popular among 4X4 enthusiasts who enjoy riding through creeks, dunes and rocks.

For a more immersive, cultural experience, there’s “Every Island, an Adventure,” with a wide assortment of activities the whole family can enjoy. Unique activities include oyster gathering in Calamianes Group of Islands and a safari tour of Calauit Game Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Palawan.

Not for the faint-hearted, there’s “Tuna, Tubing & Tibolis” in Sarangani province with its local version of the bouncy, soaking, white-water rafting, called “tubing” (where instead of a traditional raft, the passengers sit on recycled rubber tires).

For its part, Cebu has a number of beautiful islands to explore. Famous beaches like those in Sumilon, Malapascua, Camotes and Bantayan islands present a variety of physically-oriented prospects, such as jet skiing, parasailing, snorkeling and banana boat riding. With ample attractions, beach front Cebu hotels, adventures and restaurants, Cebu invites travelers for enjoying a remarkable vacation.

Farther down south, Davao is a popular locale for extreme sports, with activities like hiking, trekking, snorkeling, diving, bungee-jumping, bird-watching, island-hopping and camping. There’s the “Highlands to Islands” tour, which consists of a tuna dinner, Philippine Eagle and wildlife tour, mountain biking and zip-­lining on the longest zipline in the region.

Other specialized-theme activities for tourists include, but are not limited to, “Rafting & Rappelling,” which encompasses whitewater rafting, zipline and cultural immersion in Cagayan de Oro and rappelling in Camiguin; “Hike & Wave,” which consist of wakeboarding in Camarines Sur and climbing Mt. Mayon in Albay; the “Bicol Xpress,” which also includes wakeboarding in Camarines Sur, but with the added bonus of a whale-shark interaction tour in Donsol; and “Rock & Surf,” which consists of rock-climbing in Atimonan and surfing in Daet.

Activities are not limited to sports. There are also special educational opportunities for visitors to interact with local residents and learn about indigenous cultures such as that of the T’boli tribe of Lake Sebu in Mindanao.

“Tourists can have the chance to do a cultural diversion, to live with the natives and learn from them,” says Cruz. “It’s a very educational and positive activity.”

Durano says he has sampled every tour adventure module and thoroughly enjoyed them. “I like being outdoors and experiencing nature in different ways. Whether it be spelunking, rappelling, or kayaking, I enjoy experiencing things with some physical activity.”

Cruz says that it’s not only foreigners that are getting into these activities, but the locals as well. “More and more of our countrymen are beginning to appreciate them. Even surfing, it used to be an unknown activity here. But now, you go to places like La Union, you see Filipinos conducting surfing clinics.”

With rural provinces and islands naturally getting most of the attention due to their exotic and relaxing atmosphere, Metro Manila has been gradually losing its appeal. To prop up its touristy draw, the government and the private sector have teamed up to introduce the Pasig River Travel Cruise, a unique way of touring the metropolis aboard air-conditioned boats that cruise the Pasig. Besides providing a different view of the city, peripheral tours corresponding to each station destination have been developed. At the Binondo station, for example, tourists can embark the boat and go on a culinary walking tour of Chinatown. In historic Sta. Ana, there’s the Heritage Tour, where visitors can explore archeological finds and heritage structures. On Lawton, there’s the “Manila Madness Tour,” where shoppers can visit the nearby tiangges and malls. Last, but not least, there’s the Walled City of Intramuros, with its own distinct historical walking tour.

No matter the location or one’s preference — whether to relax and simply enjoy the view and breeze, or engage in the most strenuous of physical adventures — the Philippines has it.

“A lot of our kababayans abroad, when they left the country, the tourism industry in the country was still in its infancy stage,” says Durano. “It’s not in their minds that if they want to have a good experience during a vacation, they can do it here in the Philippines. Today, they can do that. In the past, people would just come home to visit their friends and family. You can do that and at the same time have some ‘R and R.’ There are so many places and things you can do here.”


Current Affairs


No Comments 09 February 2010

By Carolyn O. Arguillas


Davao City – Only two of the 12 prominent Ampatuans implicated in the November 23, 2009 massacre in Maguindanao are not running for any posts in this year’s elections: Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., and ARMM governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan. Just as well, their wives and a daughter are running, records of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) show.

Of the 12 Ampatuan clan members implicated as perpetrators or conspirators in the massacre of at least 58 persons (32 of them from the media), six are now in government custody; six others have yet to be arrested.

Detained at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila is Ampatuan Jr.; father Datu Andal S. Ampatuan Sr., is confined in a military hospital in Davao City;  and brothers Zaldy, Anwar and Sajid,  and brother-in-law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr., are detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in General Santos City.

At present, only Ampatuan Jr. is detained for multiple murder. Ampatuan Sr. and the clan members in General Santos City are detained for rebellion.

Ampatuan Jr’s dream of becoming governor of Maguindanao ended on November 23 but his wife, Reshal Santiago, is running for mayor of Datu Unsay.

Ampatuan Sr., then OIC governor of Maguindanao, is running for vice governor of Maguindanao against three opponents, including his daughter, Shaydee Ampatuan-Abutazil.

Zaldy’s wife, Bai Johaira or Bongbong Midtimbang is running for mayor of Datu Hoffer town, while eldest daughter Bai Norailla Kristina, is running for councilor. Both mother and daughter are assured of victory. They are running unopposed.

Anwar Sr., then mayor of Shariff Aguak, is running for vice mayor, while wife Zahara Upam is running for mayor. Three of their children are running for councilor of Shariff Aguak: Anhara, Anwar  Jr. (also known as Datu Ipi)  and Rowella. Another child, Manny Upam Ampatuan, is running for councilor of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

Sajid, OIC Governor from January to shortly before the massacre when Ampatuan Sr. took over, is running for provincial board member; his wife Zandria is running for mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha.

Akmad “Tato” Masukat Ampatuan Sr., then OIC vice governor, is running for vice mayor of Mamasapano against his daughter Lady Sha-honey. Son Bahnarin is running for mayor against another son, Benzar.

The six others  implicated in the massacre – grandsons Saudi Jr., Bahnarin and Datu Anwar “Ipi” Ampatuan, Jr.;  Kanor Datumanong Ampatuan , Datu Mama Ampatuan and Datu  Norodin Ampatuan – have yet to be arrested.

All six are also running for top posts: Saudi Jr. is seeking reelection as mayor of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town; Bahnarin is running for mayor of Mamasapano; Ipi is running for councilor of Shariff Aguak; Kanor is running for vice mayor of Datu Salibo; Datu Mama is running for councilor of Datu Salibo and Datu Norodin Datumanong Ampatuan, is running for councilor of Shariff Aguak.

Saudi’s brother, Saudi III, is running for vice mayor of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, while Saudi’s wife Jehan-jehan Lepail is running for councilor. Saudi’s mother, Soraida, is running for vice mayor in Parang.

Earlier, only nine Ampatuans were implicated in the massacre. Ampatuan Jr.,was charged with multiple murder on December 1 while the other clan members have yet to go through preliminary investigation:  Ampatuan, Sr., Nords Ampatuan, Akmad Ampatuan, Saudi Ampatuan, Jr., Bahnarin A. Ampatuan, Sajid Islam Uy Ampatuan, Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr. and Datu Zaldy “Puti”  U. Ampatuan.

On February 8, however, an amended complaint was filed before the Regional Trial Court Branch 221 under Judge Josephine Reyes-Solis, implicating 19 other Ampatuans. This brings the total number of Ampatuans implicated in the massacre to 28, but only 12 are prominent clan members. The name of Akmad Ampatuan, OIC mayor of Datu Salibo town, has been dropped from the list of respondents.

The panel of investigating prosecutors in a joint resolution dated February 5 said 11 Ampatuans were among those “positively identified by witnesses” to have participated in the carnage: Ampatuan Jr., Datu Kanor Ampatuan, Datu Bahnarin A. Ampatuan, Datu Mama Ampatuan, Datu Sajid Islam U. Ampatuan, Datu Anwar Ampatuan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr., Datu Ulo Ampatuan, Datu Ipi Ampatuan, Datu Harris Ampatuan, Datu Moning Ampatuan. Also implicated in the mass murder were Mogira Hadji Anggulat, Parido Zangkala Gogo, Jun Pendatun, Kagi Faizal and Sukarno Badal.

But the panel added that, “the confluence of events before and immediately after the commission of the offense leads us to no other inference than that respondents Andal Ampatuan, Sr., Datu Zaldy “Puti” U. Ampatuan, Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr., Datu Norodin Ampatuan, and Datu Jimmy Ampatuan  or five Ampatuans “connived with the actual perpetrators.”

Of the 16 Ampatuans named as perpetrators and conspirators, 12 are known. There is little information though about the real first names of Datu Ulo, Datu Harris, Datu Moning and Datu Jimmy.

Comelec records show that 68 Ampatuans are running in this year’s election – 50 of them carry the surname and 18 others use Ampatuan as middle name. Of the 50, at least 23 candidates are directly related to Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

At least 58 persons were massacred on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan, Maguindanao,  including 32 from the media. They were traveling in a convoy from Buluan, Maguindanao and were enroute to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy for governor of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu,  when stopped along the highway of Ampatuan town by about a hundred armed men led by Ampatuan, Jr., who dug his own political grave that same day.

PHOTO: (L-R) ARMM governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, Maguindanao OIC Sajid Ampatuan, President Arroyo and Congressman Didagen Dilangalen inaugurate a project in Maguindanao.




No Comments 07 February 2010

By Norimitsu Onishi

The New York Times

General Santos City – After a day of barbering, Rodolfo Gregorio went to his neighborhood karaoke bar still smelling of talcum powder. Putting aside his glass of Red Horse Extra Strong beer, he grasped a microphone with a habitué’s self-assuredness and briefly stilled the room with the Platters’ My Prayer.

Next, he belted out crowd-pleasers by Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. But Mr. Gregorio, 63, a witness to countless fistfights and occasional stabbings erupting from disputes over karaoke singing, did not dare choose one beloved classic: Frank Sinatra’s version of My Way.

“I used to like My Way, but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it,” he said. “You can get killed.” READ FULL STORY.




No Comments 04 February 2010

By Leandro Milan

Our hero is star-struck and, apparently, love-struck too.

After bagging the CNN Hero of the Year (2009) award, Efren Peñaflorida finds himself in hot pursuit of a more stunning and elusive trophy. The object of his affections is the gorgeous and alluring actress Angel Locsin.

Efren’s romantic exploits first came to light in late December when he was interviewed by Boy Abunda on the TV show Bottomline. In that interview, the acclaimed kariton educator admitted that he has had a big crush on the the actress for the longest time.

Angel and Efren first became friends on Facebook, drawn by their common interest to help the underprivileged – he, with his Kariton Klassroom project; she, with her numerous charitable undertakings. By sheer coincidence, on November 19, the two found themselves on the same flight to the US. She was on her way to New York to attend the Emmy Awards where she was nominated for Best Performance for an Actress in the teleserye Lobo. He was on his way to Los Angeles to receive an award as one of CNN’s Top Ten Heroes and later as CNN Hero of the Year for 2009 for his heroic attempt to bring education to the poor children of Cavite via a mobile classroom. Up on Cloud Nine, our star-struck hero did not pass up the chance to reveal his feelings for Angel.

When it was Angel’s turn to appear on the gossip show The Buzz on January 3, Boy, the self-proclaimed King of Talk, grilled the actress about Efren’s startling disclosure.

An embarrassed Angel was initially at a loss for words.

Paano ba?” she began. “Nakapag-usap kami. Actually, before pa naman magkaroon ng award sa kanya, magkaibigan na kami sa Facebook. Yung mga cause na ginagawa niya, sinusuportahan ko rin. Naniniwala ako sa mga gusto niyang gawin. And nagkita kami bago ako pumuntang New York, sabay kami sa eroplano kasi, e. Doon na kami nagkakilala talaga.”

Angel continued: “Nakapag-usap kami. Hindi ko alam kung paano ko sabihin, e… Yun nga, parang sinabi ko sa kanya na medyo natatakot akong sabihin sa kanya kasi siyempre siya yung nakikitang hope ng bansa natin, e. Para sa akin kasi, ang mas kailangan natin ngayon sa Pilipinas yung hope. At ayoko yung… dahil magulo nga ang buhay ko dahil nasa showbiz ako, ayokong yung hope na maibibigay niya sa mga tao, maapektuhan ng dahil sa akin. Sinabi ko sa kanya kung ready na ba siya na… Ay, nahihiya ako! Kung ready na ba siya na harapin yung mga yun. Ako kasi sinabi ko na, well ako kasi gusto ko friendship muna.”

Pushing the kilig factor several notches higher, Boy commented that he was surprised that the two were able to discuss something so serious in their brief, unplanned in-flight meeting.

And then came more revelations from Angel that elicited shrieks from the audience. Efren had visited her at home and he had talked to her father about his romantic intentions.

Paano ba?” she rambled on. “Kasi pumunta siya sa bahay. Nag-usap sila ng dad ko. Mas una niyang kinausap yung dad ko kesa sa akin. Nagulat ako pagdating ko, ‘Bakit parang nagkukulong sa kuwarto yung dalawa. Ano ang nangyayari dun?’”

Boy pressed on: “So Efren and your dad had a heart-to-heart talk?”

Pero first time lang po yun, Tito Boy. Nahihiya ako. Ano ba ‘yan, nawawala ako! Ang init ng pisngi ko,” confessed Angel, blushing.

She declined to speculate on where the whole thing would lead. Everything will fall into place if it is meant to be, she said.

In another television interview, this time on GMA-7’s 24 Oras, Efren confirmed his intentions to court the actress. He said it was back in 2004 when he developed a big crush on the Angel. What attracted her to him, he said, was not her looks and celebrity status but her character and inner beauty.

He admitted that he had gone to Angel’s house to talk to her father, Angel Colmenares, about his plans to court his daughter.

Sinabi ko sa dad niya kung ano yung intentions ko. In-open up ko sa dad niya. I was able to pray pa nga sa dad niya,” the high school teacher revealed. “Bago ko in-ask, bago ko in-open sa kanya ‘yong mga intentions ko, ready na ako. Prepared ako doon sa kung ano man ang mangyayari.”

Efren says he has not had a single girlfriend in all his 28 years, which explains why he appears so thrilled whenever he talks about his feelings for the actress. On the other hand, Angel, who turns 25 in April, has had three showbiz boyfriends: Mico Sotto, an aspiring actor who fell to his death from a condominium building six years ago; Oyo Sotto, Mico’s first cousin and son of Vic Sotto and Dina Bonnevie; and her latest ex, Luis Manzano, son of Vilma Santos and Edu Manzano. Angel and Luis ended their year-long relationship last August for still undisclosed reasons.

Unfortunately for our hero, But Angel does not appear to be too keen about his romantic intentions. Although she has gone out with Efren, she says all she could offer to him at this point is her friendship.

Hindi naman ako nagpapaligaw,” she said on Showbiz Ngayon last Jan. 21. “Right now, we’re good friends lang talaga. . . Minsan pumupunta siya sa bahay kasama yung mga kids. Minsan lumabas kami. Nanoood kami ng sine kasama ang mga bata. ‘Yon naman ‘yong usapan din namin, eh. Ayoko ‘yong kausap ko si Luis [Manzano] tapos may kausap akong iba. Ayoko namang magpaasa ng tao.”

Angel is keener in giving his erstwhile boyfriend another chance. Luis has admitted that he is wooing the actress again and reports say that he is a constant visitor in the Colmenares’ residence nowadays. “I’m trying to win her back and make up for my mistakes in the past. Na-realize ko she’s a good girl worth fighting for,” Luis was quoted in one report.

Angel appreciates Luis’ efforts to win her back. “May effort naman siya [Luis]. Na-appreciate ko naman. Tingnan natin kung ano ang…hindi naman kami nagmamadali. Siyempre, hindi naman ma-i-aalis kung gaano ka-espesyal si Luis.”

In tabloids and social networking sites, fans of Angel and Efren expressed shock, disappointment, even disdain at the news.

“You’re dreaming! Just because you’re a CNN Hero doesn’t mean you can be Angel’s boyfriend,” said one user on social networking site Twitter.

“It was great that he won as CNN Hero. But I was disappointed he wanted to join the celebrity world so quickly,” quipped a Facebook user.

Indeed, many onlookers find the Angel-Efren tandem implausible, even off-beat, because his chosen career and her social milieu are night and day. While both come from poor families, today their lifestyles are worlds apart. Efren is immersed in the harsh reality of the slums of Cavite. Angel inhabits the glittery make-believe world of Tinseltown. Can they defy fate and live happily ever after? Will this romance be nipped in the bud? One would think this unlikely fairy tale could happen only in the movies. Abangan!




3 Comments 02 February 2010

By Perla Aragon Choudhury

The money sent home by overseas Filipino sailors rose by $108 million to a new record of $2.501 billion in the first nine months of 2009, an increase of or 4.51 percent from $2.393 billion over the same period in 2008, according to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP).

TUCP secretary general and former Senator Ernesto Herrera said the rise in remittances from sea-based migrant Filipino workers is due to increased enlistment by ship owners in Europe and Asia.

“A growing number of European and Asian shipping firms is disbanding their multinational crews, and replacing them wholesale with all-Filipino personnel that are younger and more able,” says Herrera.

“Foreign employers find Filipino sailors quick learners, and easier to train compared to other nationals. This may be due to their superior instruction here, apart from their ability to understand English,” he adds.

About 229,000 Filipino sailors are on board merchant shipping vessels around the world at any given time, data from the Department of Labor and Employment show.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reports that in 2007 – the year for which the most recent data are available – Filipino seafarers were employed by 1,157 registered/accredited manning agencies, up from 869 in 2006.

The Philippines, says POEA, has been the world’s leading supplier of seafarers since 1987, making it the manning capital of the world.

Overseas assignments

Data in 2007 showed that Filipino seamen were scattered aboard vessels bearing various flags of registry: Panama – 51,614; Bahamas – 29,681; Liberia – 21,966; Singapore – 10,308; Marshall Islands – 9, 772; United Kingdom – 8,172 ; Malta – 7,513; Cyprus – 7, 052; the Netherlands – 7,017; and Norway – 6, 975.

By vessel type, here are the 2007 statistics on Filipino seamen: passenger-type – 47, 782; bulk carriers – 42, 356; containers – 31, 983; tankers – 25,011; oil/product tankers – 14, 462;   general cargo ships – 10,754.;  chemical tankers – 7,502 ; tugboats – 6,610;  pure car carriers – 5,742; and gas tankers – 3,471.

By type of work, the 226,900 local seafarers deployed overseas in 2007 were assigned as follows: seamen – 31,818; oilers – 19,491; ordinary semen – 17,355; mess men – 7,810; chief cooks – 7,778; bosuns – 7,737; third engineers – 7,056; third mates – 6,599; and waiters – 6,388.

Global crisis

In late 2008, even as the global financial crisis was wreaking havoc on virtually every major economic sector, the manning industry suffered minimal setback in terms of job losses.

“The bulk of the seafaring industry is not as affected as people might think,” says Miguel Angel Rocha, vice-president for business development of CF Sharp Crew Management, Inc., one of the country’s leading manning companies. His firm is now the major business of CCF Sharp, a port agency business began in the late 1930s by his grandfather and business partner CF Sharp. It is also the first Filipino manning company to be certified as compliant with ISO 9000 Standards.

“The manning industry is a trailing indicator,” Rocha tells Planet Philippines in an interview. “Only after an event will it be affected. Lately, ships had been 15% laid up, or out of service, and by 2009 the figure was 30%. But jobs were not lost because of the `hot’ or `warm’ nature of the industry – a ship always needs engineers and crew to operate, maintain and mobilize it.

“Chinese factories stopped ordering raw materials and so bulk ships were the first to get affected. By November 2008 there was a decrease in daily chartering from $180, 0000 per day to $3,000-5,000 per day in September. After Christmas [of 2008] and New Year [of 2009], there were no more orders and container ships were down. We don’t see a significant loss of jobs but we do see slower growth.”


Rocha is optimistically guarded about the prospects in 2010.

“Even if the global economy gets better, it will take a long time before we see a recovery in our industry,” he stresses.

He warns that if the market worsens, jobs will be harder to find.

“Also, seafarers now working might have to work less and stay on vacation longer. There is no growth as ship owners try to maintain their pace of work where they have 15 persons on board for the 10 actually needed.”

But then, Rocha explains, the shipping industry is cyclical. “A new ship means new crew in boom times. Now this is going to change and so they’re laying vessels but not selling them for scrap, and giving the crew  longer shore leave. But then again, things might turn around and it will be boom time again.”

Poaching of officers

Rocha is actually more concerned about the poaching of senior officers, from master officers and chief mates to chief and second engineers, which could have a more dramatic impact on the industry.

The global shortage of officers is oftentimes remedied by a greater-rotation-cum-shorter-vacation solution. The problem is only a recent development, according to Rocha. Officers and ratings used to be available, mostly from the West.

“But as more ships were built in the ‘90s and today, as the economy of the West expands, British, German and Norwegian officers can earn as much or even more on land. They have left and have been replaced by officers from Poland and Ukraine.”

The vacuum could have been filled up by the local manning industry but unfortunately, there are not enough Filipinos with the required skills and training.

Lack of training

“There are 80 to 100 maritime schools offering BS Marine Transportation and BS Marine Engineering courses with a curriculum of three years in the classroom and 12 months on board a ship prior to state board exams, but less than 20 percent of the students get on board,” he laments.

Rocha cites two top maritime schools in the Philippines where slightly under 15% of the most recent graduating class have trained on a ship. Their graduates got certificates of academic equivalency but they are not on board because the majority of ship owners do not make a provision for cadets on board, who would also have to be paid.

“The problem is no one is willing to challenge ship owners,” he continues. “Some 280,000 students graduate each year. That seems a lot of seamen who could get a higher income for their families. But people don’t see the uphill battle in getting the license, and educators prey on seamen. Going abroad is not always pleasant experience and can be very daunting.”

But Rocha notes that there is a bit of positive news on the horizon as ship owners have lately invested in training. For one, the Norwegian Shipowners Association has a program for cadets.

But without support from POEA and the Commission for Higher Education (CHED), Rocha fears that maritime schools might not participate or offer enough slots in the training and development of seafarers.

It remains to be seen if the government and the manning industry could come up with policies and measures to address the problems and challenges. Unless there is a serious effort to meet them head-on, less and less Filipino seafarers may find their way into the open seas.


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