Current Affairs


No Comments 12 November 2013

Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan is the Commanding Officer of TOG 8, the Air Force unit tasked to provide air support for Samar and Leyte. Here he narrates his ordeal as Supertyphoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) unleashed her fury on Tacloban on that fateful morning of November 8. READ FULL STORY


Current Affairs


No Comments 11 November 2013

TACLOBAN CITY – Tormented survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda that is feared to have killed thousands rummaged for food through debris scattered with corpses, while frenzied mobs looted aid convoys.

Two days after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded flattened communities across a large part of the country last Nov. 8, desperate survival tactics created fresh horrors.

On the outskirts of Tacloban, a coastal eastern city of 220,000 where tsunami-like waves destroyed many buildings, Edward Gualberto accidentally stepped on bodies as he raided the wreckage of a home.

Wearing nothing but a pair of red basketball shorts, the father of four and barangay councilor apologized for his shabby appearance and for stealing from the dead.

“I am a decent person. But if you have not eaten in three days, you do shameful things to survive,” Gualberto told AFP as he dug canned goods from the debris and flies swarmed over the bodies.

“We have no food, we need water and other things to survive.”

After half a day’s work, he had filled a bag with an assortment of essentials, including packs of spaghetti, cans of beer, detergent, soap, canned goods, biscuits and candies.

People entered stores and homes just to to survive the day.

People entered stores and homes just to to survive the day.

“This typhoon has stripped us of our dignity… but I still have my family and I am thankful for that.”

Elsewhere in Tacloban, other survivors were employing more aggressive means as they took advantage of a security vacuum created when most of the city’s police force failed to turn up for work after the typhoon.

Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon said looters ransacked one of his organization’s trucks as it was crossing a bridge in Tanuan, Leyte, last Nov. 10.

“These are mobsters operating out of there,” said Gordon.

According to a report by the Sun Star, the truck carried enough food and water for 25,000 families.

Gordon tried to call local police forces for aid, but no one took his calls.

Like Gualberto, many said they had not eaten since the typhoon and overwhelmed authorities admitted they were unable to get enough relief supplies into the city.

Some broke through shops that had withstood the typhoon by hammering through glass windows and winching open steel barricades.

One desperate meat shop owner brandished a handgun in a failed bid to prevent one mob from entering his shop.

He was ignored and the shop was ransacked. The businessman just silently stood by, waving his gun in the air and shouting. When he realized he had lost the fight, he cursed them and walked away.

Nearby, pastry shop owner Emma Bermejo described the widespread looting as “anarchy.”

“There is no security personnel, relief goods are too slow to arrive. People are dirty, hungry and thirsty. A few more days and they will begin to kill each other,” she said.

“This is shameful. We have been hit by a catastrophe and now our businesses are gone. Looted. I can understand if they take our food and water, they can have it. But TV sets? Washing machines?”

Meanwhile, confused men, women and children walked aimlessly along roads strewn with overturned cars and felled power lines, some gagging from the stench of rotting flesh.

A team of military cadaver collectors had been deployed, but the soldiers appeared overwhelmed.

“There are six trucks going around the city picking up the dead, but it’s not enough,” said the driver of one of the vehicles as it wended its way through the streets.

“There are bodies everywhere, we do not have enough people to get to them.”

Some survivors handed out small letters to passers-by and reporters asking them to contact their relatives to relay their fate.

Many had wounds on their faces and were limping, while all had stories of unimaginable horror.

“The huge waves came again and again, flushing us out on the street and washing away our homes,” Mirasol Saoyi, 27, told AFP near the city’s seaside sports stadium that withstood the typhoon and where thousands of people had gathered.

“My husband tied us together, but still we got separated among the debris. I saw many people drowning, screaming and going under… I haven’t found my husband.” (Reuters and Agence France-Presse)


Current Affairs


No Comments 11 November 2013

TACLOBAN CITY — Corpses hung from trees, were scattered on sidewalks or buried in flattened buildings — some of the thousands believed killed in one Philippine city alone by ferocious Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that washed away homes and buildings with powerful winds and giant waves.

As the scale of devastation became clear on Nov. 10 from one of the worst storms ever recorded, officials said emergency crews could find more bodies when they reach parts of the archipelago cut off by flooding and landslides. Desperate residents raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water as the government began relief efforts and international aid operations got underway.

Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Nov. 8 and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 235 kph (147 mph) that gusted to 275 kph (170 mph), and a storm surge of 6 meters (20 feet).

A man brings his lifeless 6-year-old daughter to the morgue in Tacloban City.

A man brings his lifeless 6-year-old daughter to the morgue in Tacloban City.

Hardest hit in the Philippines was Leyte Island, where regional Police Chief Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 dead, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most were in Tacloban, the provincial capital of about 200,000 people that is the biggest city on the island.

Reports also trickled in indicating deaths elsewhere on the island.

On Samar Island, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.

Reports from other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.

With communications still knocked out in many areas, it was unclear how authorities were arriving at their estimates of the number of people killed, and it will be days before the full extent of the storm is known.

“On the way to the airport, we saw many bodies along the street,” said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila, about 580 kilometers (360 miles) to the northwest. “They were covered with just anything — tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboard.” She said she passed “well over 100” bodies.

In one part of Tacloban, a ship had been pushed ashore and sat amid damaged homes.

Haiyan inflicted serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.

The Philippine National Red Cross said its efforts were hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies it was shipping to Tacloban from the southern port of Davao.

Tacloban’s two largest malls and grocery stores were looted, and police guarded a fuel depot. About 200 police officers were sent into Tacloban to restore law and order.

With other rampant looting reported, President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban. A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.

Residents walk past damaged structures in Daanbantayan, Cebu.

Residents walk past damaged structures in Daanbantayan, Cebu.

The massive casualties occurred even though the government had evacuated nearly 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon.

Challenged to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, the Philippine government also accepted help from abroad.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that he and his wife, Michelle, were “deeply saddened” by the deaths and damage from the typhoon. He said the U.S. was providing “significant humanitarian assistance” and was ready to assist in relief and recovery efforts.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and fly in emergency supplies.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “extremely concerned” by the widespread destruction and the steeply rising death toll, according to a statement released by his office.

Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people at the Vatican in prayer for the victims. The Philippines has the largest number of Catholics in Asia, and Filipinos are one of Rome’s biggest immigrant communities.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Aquino was “speechless” when he told him of the devastation in Tacloban.

“I told him all systems are down,” Gazmin said. “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”

“The devastation is … I don’t have the words for it,” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said. “It’s really horrific. It’s a great human tragedy.” (Associated Press)


Current Affairs


No Comments 04 November 2013

Rosalyn, already a mother of six children, is waiting to give birth. But she will not enjoy the privacy of her own delivery room. Instead, Rosalyn will be one of the 300 new mothers crammed into the wards at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila, which sees, on average, 60 new babies come into the world every single day. READ FULL STORY

(See Related Story)


Current Affairs


No Comments 16 October 2013

CEBU CITY — Devotees wept after a deadly earthquake on Oct. 15 rocked the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines, badly damaging the country’s oldest church and leaving other historic places of worship in ruins. (In photo is the limestone bell tower of the Philippines’ oldest church, Cebu’s Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, in ruins.)

Ten churches, some of which have crucial links to the earliest moments of the Spanish colonial and Catholic conquest in the 1500s, were damaged as the 7.2-magnitude quake struck the central islands of Cebu and Bohol.

“It is like part of the body of our country has been destroyed,” Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua, a history lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, told Agence France-Presse.

He said the damage was particularly painful because the Philippines had already lost so many of its cultural treasures to war, typhoons, earthquakes and poverty-driven neglect.

In Cebu, shocked devotees said prayers as they gathered in front of the Basilica Minore de Santo Niño (Basilica of the Child Jesus), the oldest church in the Philippines and home to one of the country’s most important religious icons.

The limestone bell tower of the church, the latest version of which was built in 1735, was destroyed in the quake.

“I wanted to seek sanctuary here but it turns out the church was damaged,” Fraulein Muntag, 32, a mother of two, told AFP as she wept and prayed the rosary at the site.

Muntag was among 100 people who had gathered amid aftershocks around the damaged belfry in the late afternoon, with candles lit in vigil.

Cebu is regarded as the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines because it was there that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, arrived in 1521.

He converted a friendly local chief and his wife to Catholicism, making them the first Christian Filipinos. To mark their conversion, he gave them a statue of the infant Jesus.

The statue is kept in the Basilica and the people of Cebu, whose patron saint is the infant Jesus, continue to venerate the icon.

The Spaniards went on to rule the Philippines until the late 1800s, and the country became majority Catholic over that time.

The Philippines has since remained the Church’s most important outpost in Asia, with Catholics making up nearly 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people.

Another two popular churches in Cebu, built in 1860 and 1909, were damaged.

Loboc Church in Bohol in ruins

Loboc Church in Bohol in ruins

On neighboring Bohol island, seven churches dating back centuries and also holding huge importance for Catholics were in tatters.

Iconic Bohol treasures in shambles

Bohol churches before and after earthquake

Click for more photos of destruction

The ceiling of the Our Lady of the Assumption church, built in the 1800s and reputed to have a well which gives miraculous water, was caved in.

The facade and bell tower of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which dates back to the 1700s, had crumbled.

It was built from stones of coral, quarried from the sea and reputedly plastered together using the white of a million eggs, according to historical records.

And the 17th-Century San Pedro church, known for its ornately painted ceiling, was entirely caved in, as if a giant fist had punched it from above.

The quake killed at least 93 people, according to authorities. However there were no reports of casualties inside the churches as they were mostly empty when the tremor hit in the morning of a public holiday.

The facade of the centuries-old Baclayon Church in Bohol, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was severely damaged.

The facade of the centuries-old Baclayon Church in Bohol, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was severely damaged.

The National Commission on Culture and the Arts issued a statement declaring they would “rescue and later, rehabilitate, damaged heritage structures,” particularly the churches.

“(But) the psychological and emotional damage is very substantial. It seems to be the more difficult thing to repair,” Maris Diokno, a commission member and head of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, told AFP.

Chua also noted that while the structures might be restored, the beautiful frescoes, murals and decorations that once covered many of the church walls and ceilings were gone forever, Chua said.

“What is truly lost are the paintings. The paintings can never be recovered,” he said. (Agence France-Presse)


Current Affairs


No Comments 15 September 2013

He speaks as if he has not failed his own people. He talks as if he had taken good care of their needs. How many else are like him who has put self and ego above community? READ FULL STORY


Current Affairs


No Comments 26 August 2013

Whether they come in large or small amounts, pork barrel allocations have generated a lot of controversy since they were first introduced in the Philippines in 1922. In 1925, Senate Minority Leader Juan Sumulong charged that the ruling party had “misused public funds in the form of pork barrel appropriations.” READ FULL STORY


Current Affairs


No Comments 18 June 2013

It’s raining season once again and we face the yearly problem of flooding in Metro Manila. I keep getting calls from broadcast media asking for interviews about the problem, its historical origins and urban redevelopment solutions. READ FULL STORY



Current Affairs


No Comments 07 June 2013

Just like its infamous traffic gridlock, Manila’s airport woes have defied solution for the longest time. But if our officials are to be believed, there is a glimmer of hope, at least on the airport scene. (Forget the monstrous traffic jams on EDSA, they’re beyond salvation.)

The Aquino administration is hell-bent on finding a long-term solution to Manila’s airport woes after numerous rehabilitation efforts at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have failed to uplift the gateway’s reputation as one of the world’s worst airports.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Emilio Abaya said the government is studying several options on whether to rebuild NAIA into a modern facility or move the international airport somewhere else.

In a speech before the Makati Business Club last April, Abaya said his department has submitted three proposals on the airport system to President Aquino and the Cabinet.

The first option, Abaya said, involves a single airport system. Under this proposal, the government will end operations at NAIA and sell the property, and develop the Clark International Airport in Pampanga.

The second option is the twin airport system, where the government will develop Clark while maximizing operations at NAIA through 2025. At the same time, the government will look at an alternative site for a new airport, preferably 25 kilometers or 30 minutes away from the NAIA.

The third option is also a twin system, where the government will develop both Clark and NAIA, while considering an alternative airport.

“Previously, the direction was to move all NAIA’s current operations to Clark International Airport within the next five to seven years. What is clear now is that we need Clark to absorb some of the traffic in NAIA. Even if initially, it seems more cost-efficient to have a single main gateway, there are dual airport systems existing around the world that actually perform well commercially,” Abaya said.

While the Palace has yet to decide, Abaya said he could sense ample support in the Cabinet for the second option, wherein NAIA and Clark would be jointly developed while looking for a new site for an airport. Possible sites for the new airport include reclamation of Laguna de Bay or Manila Bay as well as the Sangley airport in Cavite.

The DOTC is still looking to increase the capacity of NAIA, but Abaya noted there is no available land to extend its runway or build a new terminal.

Since the planned move to Clark is not immediate, the government is spending P150 million to fix NAIA-1. Abaya said the ongoing improvement work at Terminal will be finished within the year, while the structural retrofit of Terminal 1 will continue through 2014.

Meanwhile, the expansion of Clark International Airport’s passenger terminal is expected to be completed by September, in time for the launch of new flights by a Middle East-based carrier, according to Victor Jose Luciano, president and chief executive officer at Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC).

“The existing terminal can only accommodate two million passengers annually, while the new passenger terminal expansion will further boost its capacity to 4 to 5 million passengers annually,” Luciano said in a statement.

CIAC expects passenger volume at the airport to reach two million this year, after registering 408,895 passengers in the first quarter alone.

The option of operating both Clark and NAIA involves a strategy that sends international air traffic to both airports, as well as feeder flights from or to domestic routes for passengers arriving from or departing for destinations abroad.

The most crucial ingredient in pursuing this dual airport plan, however, is a train system that connects them.

A “bullet train” project connecting Clark and Manila – covering a distance of 113 kilometers – has a long way to go in terms of project approval and bidding. It is being mulled as an alternative to the Northrail project that was mired in legal, financial and technical issues between the Philippines and China, the rail project’s funder.

The conglomerate Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC), led by Manny Pangilinan, is still keen on undertaking the government’s bullet train project between Manila and Clark, according to a company spokesperson.

However, the project seems a long shot since it remains in the early stages of project evaluation and has a long way to go before it reaches the bidding phase. Only when the government has decided on its airport will the rail project proceed.


Current Affairs


No Comments 02 June 2013

Overseas absentee voting (OAV) turnout in the last May 13 mid-term elections was way below the Commission on Elections’ hoped-for 60 percent in major precincts around the globe.

Based on available reports, the overseas vote may be even less than the 26 percent achieved in 2010 despite the stepped-up OAV campaign, with some major areas logging only five to eight percent voter turnout.

The troubling development prompted Senator Franklin Drilon to demand an explanation from the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Drilon, tipped as the incoming Senate president, wanted to know how the poll body and the DFA spent the additional funds they received to ensure that the overseas voting turnout in the last elections would surpass that in the 2010 presidential polls.

Through Drilon’s efforts as chairman of the Senate finance committee, Comelec received P105-M from the 2013 national budget, while the DFA was granted P43-M to implement the absentee voting law and “influence the result of the election by electing qualified leaders,” Drilon said.

But the turnout of only 113,209 overseas Filipinos means each absentee vote costs P1,310 per vote.

“This is outrageous. I wonder how the Comelec and the DFA can justify these numbers,” said Drilon, one of the principal sponsors of Republic Act No 9189, or the Overseas Absentee Voting Act enacted in February 2003.

“I hate to sound like a broken record, but I again deplore the dismal implementation of the absentee voting law in the just-concluded midterm elections,” Drilon said in a statement.

Lower than 2010 turnout

He said he wants to know why, despite an increased budget allocated to Comelec and DFA, the May 2013 polls had even fewer overseas voters — a low turnout of 15.35%.

Of the 737,759 registered overseas voters, only 113,209 actually cast their ballots, according to Drilon.

Drilon said the turnout was even less than the “already low” 26% turnout in the 2010 presidential elections, which is “getting more and more disappointing.”

“It seems that less and less Filipinos abroad are inclined to exercise their right to vote, contrary to the intention of Congress when this law was enacted,” he said.

In April, Comelec had predicted that 60% of overseas voters would participate in the polls. But for still unexplained reasons, the actual turnout was way off the target.

Less than 15% in Mideast

In Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, which accounts for 40 percent of almost a million OAV registrants, turnout figures point to less than 15 percent.

The Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia reported only 13,321 votes cast out of 164,290 registered voters in the three-city cluster composed of Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar. Only five percent turned out in Jeddah, eight percent in Riyadh and 10 percent in Al Khobar. The Dammam precinct reported a 10.96 percent turnout or only 2,723 out of 24,842 registered voters.

In Kuwait, a major destination of overseas Filipino workers, the voter turnout was barely eight percent of some 40,000 registered voters, according to embassy officials there.

In the United States, another big voting bloc, the turnout was placed at only 11 percent. Reports said only 13,976 out of 125,604 registered voters in the US and the Caribbean actually cast their vote.

The only relatively bright spot was Hong Kong, where 34 percent of its over 122,000 voters cast their votes. According to Hong Kong media reports, 28,260 Filipinos in Hong Kong participated in the month-long OAV. The turnout surpassed the 20 percent turnout in the 2007 senatorial elections.

Dismal turnout in Europe

Reports from Europe, indicate barely 14-percent turnout. ABS-CBN News reported that the European turnout “did not even reach 11,000 out of the total number of registered voters of 75,666.” In the United Kingdom, just over 2,500 out of 11,900 registered voters cast their ballots. In Italy, only 5,000 voted, out of 31,030 registered voters, while in Spain, just over a thousand out of some 7,000 registered participated.

Postal voting was allowed in almost all European centers and in Canada. But many overseas Filipinos, particularly in Canada, complained they did not receive their election ballots in the mail because they were mailed by Comelec to the wrong or old address. It appeared that Comelec staff failed to update the voters’ addresses.

The mailed ballots were meant to allow overseas voters to cast their votes from their homes and offices. But because many of the ballots were misdirected, the voters were directed by Comelec at the last minute to cast their votes at the Philippine Embassy or Consulate, which proved impractical for voters who cannot leave their work or home or live far from a Philippine diplomatic outpost.

Internet voting is best option

Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said he was also disappointed with the low overseas voting turnout but he could not explain how it happened.

Instead, Brillantes pushed for the adoption of Internet voting to generate increased participation among overseas Filipinos and speed up the voting process.

“If there will be Internet voting it should go up to about 60 to 70 percent,” he said. “It’s the old law that is being applied up to now [and] it’s not very practical to go to the embassy or consulate [to vote which] is the basic requirement. The solution is Internet voting.”

Internet voting, however, poses tremendous technical and logistical challenges Even advanced countries have not fully embraced it because of security problems. Putting up an online voting platform is the easy part, securing it from hackers is the hard part.

Brillantes would not own up to any shortcomings on the part of the Comelec. “Wala tayong pagkukulang. Talagang konti lang lumabas,” he said. “We’ll just have to study it now.”


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