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Archive for February 5th, 2008

Neri back to work, says he celebrated birthday ‘on the run’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 17:57:00 02/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri said he would return to work on Wednesday after the Supreme Court issued a status quo order, preventing the Senate from arresting him.

“I can go back to work tomorrow [Wednesday]. Before I was being harassed in my office, there were arresting officers, even at my house,” Neri told RMN radio on Tuesday.

At the same time, Neri maintained: “I cannot go there [Senate] without any permission from the Palace.”

Asked if he had been in his house all along when the Senate sergeant-at-arms was pursuing him, Neri said: “Let’s not talk about that.”

Neri said he celebrated his birthday over the weekend while “on the run.”

The Senate sought Neri’s arrest after he snubbed summons to appear before a legislative inquiry into the bribery allegations surrounding the scrapped $329-million contract of China’s ZTE Corp. for the National Broadband Network (NBN) project.

The Senate also issued an arrest warrant against government consultant Rodolfo Lozada, who was also involved in the NBN project.

The Chinese firm secured the NBN project when Neri was socioeconomic planning secretary.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-02-05T13:57:06+00:00+00:0002b+00:00Tue, 05 Feb 2008 13:57:06 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm02

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Esperon denies generals plotting to kill De Venecia

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:54:00 02/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. denied former House Speaker Jose de Venecia’s claim that three generals are plotting to assassinate him and his son, the whistleblower in the controversial national broadband network (NBN) contract.

At the same time, Esperon said the political storm whipped up by De Venecia’s ouster was unlikely to cause restiveness within the ranks.

“An assassination attempt on a member of Congress by us, using the Abu Sayyaf, I don’t think that could be possible,” the military chief told reporters in Fort Bonifacio.

Reports said that an Abu Sayyaf bandit would be freed from jail to assassinate the former speaker, and his son, Jose III, who linked First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to the allegedly onerous $329-million NBN deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

The deal was scrapped following De Venecia III’s expose, which also claimed the contract was marred by bribe offers and kickbacks.

Asked if the developments in the political front could spark destabilization moves, Esperon said: “It’s so far-fetched. I don’t think that should be our worry, the speakership of the house.”

“While I will not deny [to] you that I think some people might take advantage of this, we have not seen any as of now. We have not seen that on the ground, and so, there is no need for us to go on red alert, or blue alert for that matter,” he said.

The military chief said it was difficult to investigate the alleged assassination plot, since De Venecia’s source, former Army chief Jaime Delos Santos, had denied giving such information to the former speaker.

“Where do I start? [With] an information that was denied by the supposed source? Is there a mix-up somewhere?” Esperon said.

“If we could be provided the information, then we would be happy to look into that, but I tell you, we do not assassinate people,” he said.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-02-05T08:04:15+00:00+00:0002b+00:00Tue, 05 Feb 2008 08:04:15 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am02

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Arroyo leans on ERC to slash Meralco rates

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:34:00 02/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to file several petitions before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to bring down the rates of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

The President directed the DTI’s consumer protection bureau to ask the ERC to “enjoin” the Lopez-owned firm to buy from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) during non-peak hours, when it is cheaper, instead of during peak hours.

The DTI, she said, should also ask the ERC to stop Meralco from collecting “systems loss” charges; bring down the return-on-rate base (RORB) to 12 percent from 16 percent; and “ensure” that residential power users are given “preferential treatment” over commercial users.

In a speech at the closing of the Energy Summit at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City, the President also ordered the National Power Corp. (Napocor) to charge Meralco the same rate it charges Luzon electric cooperatives.

“Seven years after EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act), we continue to experience the high cost of electricity. I’ve been wondering. I’ve been asking everybody,” she said.

The President said she has learned that Meralco’s distribution charge was the highest of the 140 utilities and electric cooperatives in the country.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-02-05T08:03:33+00:00+00:0002b+00:00Tue, 05 Feb 2008 08:03:33 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am02

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Palace welcomes SC resolution vs Neri arrest

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:12:00 02/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang welcomes the Supreme Court’s resolution stopping the arrest by the Senate of former economic planning secretary Romulo Neri, a Palace official said Tuesday.

“We are pleased… It speaks well of the court’s earlier decision on maters covering executive privilege,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said.

“We trust that the Senate will heed the earlier ruling of the Supreme Court on executive privilege,” she said.

The Senate had sought the arrests of Neri and government consultant Rodolfo Lozada for snubbing its hearing on the alleged onerous $329-milion contract for the scrapped national broadband network (NBN) project.

Neri, who headed the National economic Development Authority when China’s ZTE Corp. secured the contract, has sought the Supreme Court’s intervention. Lozada is abroad.

When he appeared before the Senate late last year, Neri accused former Commission on Elections (Comlec) chairman Benjamin Abalos of trying to bribe him to favor the Chinese firm. The scandal forced Abalos to resign.

But Neri refused to discuss details of his conversation with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when he told her about the bribe offer, citing executive privilege.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-02-05T07:52:57+00:00+00:0002b+00:00Tue, 05 Feb 2008 07:52:57 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am02

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Arroyo: ‘Focused like a laser’ on economy

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 14:36:00 02/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said she is “focused like a laser” on moving the economy forward, not on politics, in the wake of the ouster of her estranged ally, Jose de Venecia Jr., as House Speaker.

“We are focused, like a laser, pointed on the infrastructure boom, and the expansion of public services, and not on politics,” Arroyo said in a speech at the closing of the Energy Summit at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City on Tuesday.

Arroyo made no direct mention of De Venecia’s removal as speaker, a move spearheaded by her Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi, Partner of the Free Filipino) party and De Venecia’s own Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats.

The President also said the local economy is “resilient” enough to withstand a looming recession in the United States.

“Our economic turnaround is permanent. Now the economy is resilient to major economic disruptions, and to make sure it’s resilient, I have ordered a surge in infrastructure spending as a firewall against US volatility and as a springboard for further growth,” she said.

In an interview with reporters, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Arroyo and De Venecia needed a “cooling off period.”

“Let’s just observe a cooling off period for the time being,” the Palace spokesman said.

Asked if the President would talk to the former speaker, Bunye said: “Maybe. It’s a matter of time; maybe not immediately.”

Asked about former president Fidel Ramos, the founder of Lakas-CMD, Bunye said: “I got the impression that FVR [Ramos] wanted a smooth transition.”

“I’m sure that as a senior member of the party, he will do whatever is necessary to patch things up between members of the party,” he added.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-02-05T07:51:50+00:00+00:0002b+00:00Tue, 05 Feb 2008 07:51:50 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am02

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Palace to De Venecia: ‘Accept defeat, don’t rock the boat’

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Bunye calls valedictory ‘ranting of a loser’

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:28:00 02/05/2008
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang called on former House Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr. to accept defeat, and not “disturb political stability,” saying he could still play the role of “elder statesman.”

But at the same time, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye belittled De Venecia’s valedictory tirades against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the “ranting of a loser.”

“Speaker De Venecia feels bad, but I think he should realize, or he should consider, the bigger picture. Our country is moving forward so let’s not disturb political stability [and] economic progress. He can still play the role of an elder statesman,” Bunye told radio station dzMM.

“We hope he thinks about the situation and understands that what happened is the will of the majority, and many of his friends and supporters did not want it to end that way,” Bunye said in Filipino.

In a floor vote that started Monday evening and ended in the wee hours of Tuesday, Arroyo’s supporters at the House of Representatives booted De Venecia from office and installed Davao City Representative Prospero Nograles as Speaker.

Before he bowed out, De Venecia delivered a scathing speech, saying there was cheating in the 2004 elections and recounting the many times that he came to Arroyo’s rescue during the many crises her administration faced.

“And as to the allegations, well, we can repeat what others have mentioned on the floor: ‘Why only now?’” Bunye said.

“Why was he, up to the last minute, projecting the support of the President for his leadership? Up to the last minute, he was moving heaven and earth for a photo-op with the President during a golf game to show that the President supports him,” Bunye pointed out.

Bunye was referring to a golf game at Malacañang on Sunday, where De Venecia teed off but which the President failed to attend.

The President’s spokesman said De Venecia could have avoided the “acrimony” of the nominal vote had he agreed to a “graceful exit,” which was proposed to him during a caucus at the Palace compound Monday noon, hours ahead of the House vote.

“But he insisted. Everybody wanted the least painful way of effecting leadership change. He didn’t listen. With his speech, he lost the opportunity to act like a statesman,” he said.

Bunye added that De Venecia’s speech cost him votes on the floor.

“The things he said are like sour-gaping, and many were turned off,” he said.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-02-05T06:38:20+00:00+00:0002b+00:00Tue, 05 Feb 2008 06:38:20 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am02

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Arroyo eyes VAT refund on fuel vs price hikes

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 12:31:00 02/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The government is studying a possible value added tax (VAT) refund on fuel instead of suspending the levy to cushion the impact of rising prices, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced Tuesday.

“Instead of a VAT reduction, why not a VAT refund?” Arroyo said in a speech at the closing of the Palace-organized Energy Summit at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

Arroyo said she had instructed the energy and trade departments to study the proposal, in which consumers can redeem coupons.

The President said the money from the refunds would come from government shares in the Malampaya oil exploration project and “excess profits” from the sale of government power-generation assets.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-02-05T06:37:30+00:00+00:0002b+00:00Tue, 05 Feb 2008 06:37:30 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am02

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