Monthly Archives: June 2008

Do we need to beg for meager financial assistance for the damages brought about by typhoon “Frank”in the country when we really have the money?

Free ‘impounded’ funds in billions, GMA urged

The Daily Tribune

06/27/2008

Instead of traipsing around the United States, begging bowl in hand for meager financial assistance for the damage Typhoon “Frank” wrought on the country, causing the M/V Princess of the Stars’ sinking, which resulted in the death of close to over 500, with some 600 still missing, senators yesterday called on President Arroyo to free billions of pesos in “impounded funds” from the national budget which they stressed can certainly be utilized to help people and places hit by the latest typhoon.

Opposition Sen. Francis Escudero identified at least P6.6 billion worth of funds which, if added to the Calamity Fund of P2 billion for the year, can vastly aid typhoon victims and even repair damaged public infrastructure.

“There is no reason aid should come in trickles to flood-hit areas when there are certain segments in the national budget, other than the calamity fund, which can be tapped for disaster work,” Escudero said.

These funds, he explained, are the P2 billion Kilos Asenso Fund, the P3.6 billion Financial Subsidy to Local Government Units and the P1 billion Kalayaan Barangay Fund

“The release of these funds is contingent on the President’s approval. She should dig into these funds so there will be more resources available for relief work,” the senator stressed, pointing out that “These (funds) are bigger than the $100,000 aid the President got from the US State Department, one which was met with profuse thanks from her, as if she had won the lotto, when in fact she has, at her easy disposal, all the above-mentioned funds to use in times such as this.”

Escudero stressed that the local government leaders canvassed have told him that they have not even received any allotment from Kilos Asenso or Kalayaan Barangay which means that these funds technically are still on embargo but can be freed.

Also yesterday, at least three senators urged Malacañang to tap Mrs. Arroyo’s vast pork barrel while appealing for the release of their counterpart funds to help in the relief and retrieval operations.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon and Sen. Pia Cayetano made the twin call for the President to “unfreeze” their respective pork barrel allocations, also known as Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), while Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II also called on Mrs. Arroyo to consider covering needed expenses through the Presidential Social Fund and other budgetary provisions under her office such

as the funds mentioned earlier by Escudero.

Cayetano, in a statement, took exception to comments that some senators have done little or nothing to help relief operations in Western Visayas which was badly devastated last week by typhoon Frank.

“Senators who have been critical of the administration and those aligned with the opposition have not been receiving funds due them under the PDAF for two to three years now,” she stressed.

“These senators, including myself, would have been in a position to help out more extensively in times of calamity, if only this administration has not been selective in the release of congressional allocations,” added the lady senator, whose congressional funds have been withheld by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) since the second half of 2005.

She said however, that in her case, with the help of friends in the private sector, non-government organizations, civic groups her office has also been able to shore up modest contributions to help relief efforts for the victims of typhoon Frank.

The same sentiment was also relayed by Biazon and Escudero, the former claiming that whatever is still remaining in his allotments has yet to be released.

“I would like it to be allocated toward the rehabilitation of the (Panay group of) islands. There have been no releases since the opening of the Garci tapes investigation,” he said.

“Rehabilitation will require the deployment of a lot of funding. I hope that Malacañang is listening to me,” Biazon, appearing in the weekly Kapihan sa Senado, said.

Rep. Ferjenel Biron of Iloilo’s fourth district and Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico both decried the slow unfreezing of the P2-billion Kilos Asenso Fund, which is included in the P228.2 billion Allocations for Local Government Units (ALGU) item in Republic Act 9498, or the General Appropriations Act for 2008. The biggest component in this block is the P210.7 billion earmarked for Internal Revenue Allotment of LGUs.

Also included in the ALGU is some P3.6 billion in “Financial Subsidy to LGUs”, which is designed to partly fund the premium contributions of local governments in the Phil Health enrollment of their indigent constituents.

“This can be used to address public health challenges which arose from the calamity, which include repair of hospitals, replenishment of medical stocks, and settlement of Phil Health claims, usage which meets the congressional intent about this particular expenditure”, he said

The Kalayaan Barangay on the other hand, forms part of the P51 billion budget of the Department of National Defense. To be imple-mented by the Armed Forces, the P1-bilion fund is intended for the development of dissident-threatened villages.

Roxas said the government could help ease the burden for families of victims of Typhoon “Frank” – including those on the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars – by facilitating and expediting the processing of necessary papers.

He said expenses can be covered through the Presidential Social Fund (PSF), which is collected from agencies such as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

According to Commission on Audit (CoA) reports, the PSF bank account had a balance of P2.7 billion as of Dec. 31, 2007. Forty percent of Pagcor proceeds go to the fund. “The President has discretionary funds for such contingencies and must spend as needed to help ease the plight of all those anxiously waiting for word on their kin, or those whose relatives have already been found among the casualties,” he said.

“The government should compel the relevant agencies to set up shop where the typhoon hit the hardest, where the victims are,” the senator added.

Among such agencies would be the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA), considering that some Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were onboard the sunken ferry, as well as the Social Security System (SSS) and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

“The OWWA and other government offices should have their people on the ground, where it matters. I ask the officials of these agencies to work directly with the people. Don’t manage the problem by remote control,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday defended the deployment by the US government of its aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to the country, dispelling apprehension of some senators over the political consequences in allowing the nuclear warship’s entry in the country.

Gordon, concurrent chair of the Philippine National Red Cross said Mrs. Arroyo should be thanked instead as she followed up the request with the American President, who had promptly dispatched the warship.

“I don’t think we have time to quibble over this. I will ask people from China, from Japan, from Mars to help us if they can help. I don’t care,” Gordon, in a press conference, said.

He noted that even fighter planes and helicopters were of use in the rescue, retrieval or relief operations because they could fly over the area or ferry relief good to the typhoon-hit areas in Panay island.

“America is our principal military ally. You all know that. What are we talking about here? Sure there is the law but the policy is neither to confirm or deny and this is an ally telling us we neither confirm or deny. I accept it. I’m just a senator. Others may not accept it but as far as I’m concerned, would they like to tell the relatives of those who are missing that they don’t want the Americans here?” Gordon pointed out, as he groused about coming up with an apolitical statement “everytime we do something. We lose our focus. The focus today is on rescue, relief, rescue and relief, search and rescue. We should focus on that and we should be helpful that there are people who are helping us.”

But he also assailed Mrs. Arroyo for her statements holding Sulpicio Lines accountable for the sea tragedy may have led to the death of more than 700 people, saying “I condemn any act right now that is ‘pagwapo,’ including the President’s. We should refrain from saying who is at fault at this point because if we do so, then we condemn everybody, even the small fishermen who also went out during the typhoon,” he said.

At the same time, Gordon appealed to the “delicadeza” (sense of propriety) of some congressmen who joined Mrs. Arroyo in her US trip in the midst of the devastation wreaked by typhoon Frank. “There are many others who don’t need to be there. Unless they have a good reason to do so, out of delicadeza they should just go home,” he said.

Gordon was also in the President’s entourage, but quickly cut short his trip upon hearing of the damage done by the typhoon.

Predictably, House allies of Mrs. Arroyo yesterday scored Sen. Rodolfo Biazon for his negative statements regarding the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

Led by House Speaker Propero Nograles, they pointed out that the Philippine government should be grateful to the US for helping in the search and rescue operations in the accident that befell on M/V Princess of the Stars.

“Do not and never criticize voluntary help. It’s voluntary. People who do that should ask what have they done themselves?” Nograles said yesterday in a message to House reporters.

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Is Obama distorting the Bible?

By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES – Barack Obama said Tuesday that evangelical leader James Dobsonwas “making stuff up” when he accused the presumed Democratic presidential nominee of distorting the Bible.

Dobson used his Focus on the Family radio program to highlight excerpts of a speech Obama gave in June 2006 to the liberal Christian group Call to Renewal.

Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane before landing in Los Angeles, Obama said the speech made the argument that people of faith, like himself, “try to translate some of our concerns in a universal language so that we can have an open and vigorous debate rather than having religion divide us.”

Obama added, “I think you’ll see that he was just making stuff up, maybe for his own purposes.”

In his program, Dobson focused on examples Obama cited in asking which Biblical passages should guide public policy. For instance, Obama said Leviticus suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination. Obama also cited Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.”

“Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles,” Obama said in the speech.

“I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” Dobson said.

Asked about Dobson’s assessment, Obama said “somebody would be pretty hard-pressed to make that argument” that he was distorting the Bible.

Obama supporters also responded to Dobson.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Methodist pastor from Texas and longtime supporter ofPresident Bush who has endorsed Obama, said Tuesday he belongs to a group of religious leaders who, working independently of Obama’s campaign, launched a Web site to counter Dobson at http://www.jamesdobsondoesntspeakforme.com. The site highlights statements from Obama and Dobson and asks visitors to compare them.

Caldwell said he has great respect for Dobson’s advocacy for families, but said the criticism of Obama was “a bit over the top” and “crossed the line.”

“There has been a call for a higher level of politics and politicking,” Caldwell said. “So to attack at this level is inappropriate and I think unacceptable and we at least want to hold everybody accountable.”

Tom Minnery, a senior vice president at Focus on the Family, responded: “Without question, Dr. Dobson is speaking for millions of evangelicals because his understanding of the Bible is thoroughly evangelical.”

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It is only P5-M ransom; Indanan mayor has P3-million

If it is true that mayor Alvarez Isnaji of Indanan Sulu pocketed much of the P5-million ransom for the release of Ces Drillon and her abducted group of news team and their guide Mindanao peace advocate Octavio Dinampo, there is no truth to the perception that some 20 million pesos were paid as ransom.

According to PNP chief Avelino Razon Jr., Isnaji kept to himself P3-million and paid the kidnappers of Drilon and her news team and professor Dinampo 2 million pesos. .

Razon said the ransom money was produced by the family of the television journalist.

The police official also showed two pictures to the media at a press conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City. The pictures showed Isnaji, his son, Haider, Sulu Vice-Governor Lady Ann Sahidulla gathered around the P5-million ransom.

Also in the pictures was Senior Superintendent Willy Quidato of the PNP-Intelligence Group, whom Razon said was sent to Sulu on a covert operation in connection with the kidnapping.

He said Quidato was sent to Sulu after local police sources said the leader of the kidnap group was a certain “Larin-Larin.”

“Larin-Larin is the alias of Mayor Isnaji,” Razon said.

Isnaji and his son have been charged with kidnapping. They are currently detained at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame.

In the on-going operations to capture and punish the kidnappers, marines are weary of an all out offensive against the Abu Sayyaf bandits due to collateral damage that may be inflicted against the civilians.

Marine chief uneasy with AFP’s all-out-war vs bandits

The commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps has expressed apprehensions over the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ directive of an “all-out-war” against bandit groups in Sulu province following the release of an ABS-CBN team and their guide who were kidnapped by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“There are still better ways of dealing with the peace and order situation in Mindanao, such as a dialogue”, Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino said.

Rep. Yusof Jikiri of Sulu agreed with Dolorfino.

“The launching of an all-out-war against the bandits is an exaggerated move for the AFP. The kidnappers were vaguely identified by the captives, which indicates that there are new and small bandits operating in the hinterlands of Sulu”, Jikiri said.

Jikiri explained that what the AFP should do is to strengthen their intelligence network in the area to pinpoint the perpetrators and other lawless elements.

“This will avoid collateral damage and displacement of the civilians,” Jikiri added.

Meanwhile, AFP chief Gen. Alexander Yano said that the all-out-war does not only mean hunting down the kidnappers of broadcast journalist Ces Drilon, her team and university professor Octavio Dinampo. He said that offensives will focus on surgical strikes against Abu Sayyaf bandits and other high profile targets of the AFP. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is Ces Drillon and her television camera man safe?

(Photo file of Ces Drillon from the internet)

UPDATE: Ces Drillon, Jimmy Encarnacion, and Prof. Octavio Dinampo were released by their captors inTalipao Sulo around 11:00 p.m. Tuesday after nine days of captivity. They immediately underwent debriefing session in Zamboanga City. Drillon,who said “words are not enough to thank those who prayed for the professor, Jimmy, Angel, and myself,” ate rice porridge her first decent meal according to PNP chief Avelino Razon. Similarly medical examination was conducted on the three hostages and were all declared in good health.

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It was no less than Indanan Mayor Isnaii Alvares (hostage negotiator) revealed that the lives of Ces Drillon (TV anchorwoman) and two other companions are in grave danger after the Abu Sayyaf captors gave an ultimatum ( June 17, 2008 ) for the payment of P15-million ransom demanded by the bandit group.

Alvarez expressed his concern about the inability of the hostage families in meeting the demands of their captors. He said that the lives of the hostages are at stake here. If no ransom is delivered (on the given deadline), the Abu Sayyap threatened to cut off communication with him.

If so, does this mean that the lives of  Ces Drillon and her hostage companions in grave danger? In this regard, you do not expect the families of the hostages to be sitting down doing nothing. There are reports that the families of Drillon and Encarnacion are directly negotiating with the kidnappers however this is vehemently denied by the families concerned.   

In a joint statement of the families, they denied  reports that they were directly negotiating with the kidnappers. “Only Mayor Alvarez is directly communicating with the kidnappers. We are counting on him for the release of Ces and Jimmy and continue to pray for his efforts.” .

But Alvarez countered by saying  that it was Drilon herself who agreed to the P15-million ransom demanded by the kidnappers.

“I told her, why did she agree? She said she was just forced because guns were pointed at her,” Alvarez said.

 “We don’t know what they (the abductors) are up to and what they are asking from the family of Drilon, but they gave me an ultimatum until (today) to resolve this problem,”  Alvarez added.

Alvarez also scored ABS-CBN for reportedly letting the hostages’ families negotiate their release but the network quickly denied the accusation.

“We are deeply saddened and troubled by accusations that ABS-CBN has abandoned Ces and Jimmy. ABS-CBN is doing everything it can to help them and their families through this harrowing ordeal,” it said. Further the network disclosed it ruled out payment of ransom for the release of the hostages.

Government authorities are also firm on the state’s no-ransom policy but promised to exhaust all peaceful means in securing the release of the hostages.

Likewise the Armed Forces of the Philippines is against any ransom payment for the release of the hostages. According to Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres AFP public affairs chief that paying ransom would only embolden bandits and terrorists from kidnapping other personalities and conduct more terror activities

Torres also aired his concern about the huge amount of ransom money that could be spent to finance terrorists activities. He however  assured the public that the military is still on top of the situation despite the crisis.

As always the case, Malacañang is unfazed by the kidnappers’ ultimatum but not taking it lightly considering the Abu Sayyaf’s “long record of atrocities.”

“Our no-ransom policy has not changed,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said. “And we are gratified that ABS-CBN has not also changed its policy.” Further he reiterated the president’s  (Arroyo) concern with the safety hostages and order for authorities to get hostages unharmed.

“I’m not so sure about whether I know exactly what’s in the minds of these terrorists but the ultimatum is something we should not take lightly,” he said.

 “All options are open but whatever that may be, the main consideration is the safety of the hostages,” Dureza said.

Dureza also explained that an on going military operation, is intended to apprehend high ranking terrorist in the area; it is not meant to free the hostages. The operation is  about 25 kilometers away from where the bandits are believed to be holding the hostages.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales however has a more realistic assessment on the situation of the hostages. He believes that the ultimatum given by the bandits has placed the captives’ lives in greater danger.

“It is just that the negotiation does not seem to be doing okay. The problem is that these are the young hotheads and I think they are not part of Commander Putol (Abu Sayyaf commander Radullan Sahiron),” Gonzalez said.

When it comes to the safety of Drillon and her hostage companions, according to him the Abu Sayyaf  might have second thoughts about harming Drilon and her companions because of the victims’ high-profile status. But then being on the hands of ruthless criminals, anything can happen.

Flash Report:

Kidnappers of Ces Drillon and her camera man gave an indefinite extension in the negotiation for their release. Mayor Alvarez said that the hostage takers promised not to harm Drillon and her companion.

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Goodbye My Love—Myanmar military junta rejecting the much needed help

(AFP Photo: American naval ships barred from bringing in aids to the cyclone victims)

Millions are going hungry in the cyclone devastated Myanmar, the US is in a position to provide that much needed help but the paranoid military junta sent back naval ships full of relief supplies. Meanwhile, victims are showing “signs of mental health problems.” A lot of them are very sad and experience difficulty of sleeping at night.

Relief workers have found many victims who only received little assistance and in dire need of food, shelter and clean water.They said these items remain the top priority needs. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also fear that “many are also losing the will to survive.”

 

US flotilla leaving Myanmar coast with aid aboard

YANGON, Myanmar – U.S. Navy ships laden with relief supplies will steam away from Myanmar’s coast Thursday, their helicopters barred by the ruling junta even though millions of cyclone survivors need food, shelter or medical care.

More than a month after the storm, many people in stricken areas still have received no aid at all and the military regime continued to impose constraints on international rescue efforts, humanitarian groups said Wednesday.

“I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta,” said Adm. Timothy J. Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

The USS Essex and three other amphibious assault ships, which have been in international waters off Myanmar since May 13, will continue with their previously scheduled missions, Keating said in a statement issued by his headquarters in Hawaii.

But Keating added that “should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering people, we are prepared to help.”

He said the U.S. had made “at least 15 attempts” to persuade the junta to allow the ships, which carry 22 medium and heavy helicopters, four landing craft and 5,000 sailors and Marines, to deliver aid directly to victims in Myanmar’s most badly damaged areas.

The junta also refused help from French and British warships that broke off from scheduled missions to stand by off Myanmar.

U.S. military C-130 transport planes hare being allowed to fly in relief supplies to Yangon, the country’s biggest city, from a temporary base in Thailand.

Some 1.3 million survivors have been reached with assistance by local and international aid groups, the Red Cross or U.N. agencies, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

But U.N. officials estimated 1.1 million more still needed help. “There remains a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance for the affected populations,” the agency warned.

The government says 78,000 people were killed by the May 2-3 cyclone and 56,000 more are unaccounted for.

The junta, which explicitly rejected the use of foreign military helicopters in the relief effort, has not authorized the entry of nine civilian helicopters flying on behalf of the U.N. World Food Program though they have been in Thailand since last week.

Only one helicopter chartered by the WFP was allowed in more than a week ago and it didn’t begin flying supply missions from Yangon to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta until Monday.

Restrictions on visa and travel permission for foreign workers, as well as on entry of some equipment, are hampering the aid effort, despite a pledge made almost two weeks ago by the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon to allow foreign aid workers free access to devastated areas.

“The small number of visas and the short duration of travel permits for access” into the delta area “continue to impose serious constraints on the effectiveness of overall operations,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Wednesday.

In Washington, White House secretary Dana Perino criticized Myanmar’s ruling generals for hindering aid efforts.

“The Burmese regime must permit all international aid workers the access necessary to provide the urgently needed assistance,” Perino said. “There is no more time to waste.”

Myanmar, meanwhile, reportedly has been able to field only seven helicopters of its own.

Paul Risley, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said the junta’s refusal to let military helicopters work in the country meant the U.N. had to charter large civilian aircraft, adding greatly to his agency’s costs.

The WFP has budgeted $70 million for food and ground operations and nearly as much — $50 million — to charter the 10 helicopters, he said. It has received contributions of about $50 million toward the total, he added.

In previous large-scale disasters — such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake — helicopters on loan from friendly nations’ militaries were used to rush in emergency supplies, he said.

“For political reasons, the Myanmar government was reluctant to approve their use,” Risley said.

The isolationist regime is extremely suspicious of outsiders, particularly of the U.S. and other Western nations that have criticized its harsh treatment of democracy advocates.

Despite the problems, the World Health Organization reported some cause for optimism.

In a report circulated Wednesday, it cited an assessment by the U.N. Children’s Fund of conditions in hard-to-reach areas outside the town of Bogalay, one of the areas worst affected by the storm.

It quoted the assessment as saying that “there were no post-cyclone deaths in any of the villages assessed” as well as no signs of acute malnutrition. It also said suitable sources were found for clean water, assuming the use of some form of treatment.

The findings appeared to counteract fears there could be a “second wave” of deaths after the cyclone due to the lack of immediate large-scale assistance.

However, Doctors Without Borders warned that as monsoon rains become heavier, there will be more challenges supplying aid and keeping survivors healthy.

Sailing open boats with relief workers and supplies is becoming more difficult “because of the speed of the wind, because of the current, the storm,” said Souheil Reaiche, the group’s mission chief in Myanmar. “So they have to be careful.”

Mobile clinics are filling in for the delta’s wrecked medical facilities, but they can only do basic health care, Reaiche said.

People will develop more respiratory infections because they don’t have proper shelter, he said. With mosquitoes beginning to recover from the cyclone’s inundation, there are worries about dengue fever and malaria, he said.

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