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Archive for March 2008

Teodoro: Troops on guard vs ‘desperate’ communist rebels

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:08:00 03/31/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Government troops are on guard against “desperate” communist insurgents who continue to warn of more attacks even as their numbers dwindle, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Monday.

Teodoro issued the statement after the New People’s Army (NPA) said it would attack businesses, including mining firms, as the rebel force marked its 39th founding anniversary over the weekend.

“The more they weaken, the more desperate they become, and we have to guard against that. Desperation, you know, conjures up more violent and more vile forms of reactions sometimes, and we really have to guard against such eventualities,” he said.

“We enjoin vigilance on the part of business establishments to be more security conscious and aware of their surroundings,” he added.

Teodoro said the rebel threat “borders on terrorism” and should be “condemned to the highest degree.”

“The general plan to guard specific communities is there and, perhaps, through adequate intelligence work, commanders in certain areas may want to factor into their preparations such a fact,” the defense chief said, when asked how troops would thwart the rebels’ plan.

At the end of 2007, the military estimated the strength of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, at 5,700.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given security forces until the end of her term in 2010 to defeat the communist insurgency, destroy Islamic extremist groups, and contain the Muslim rebellion.

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Mon+00:002008-03-31T07:17:20+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Mon, 31 Mar 2008 07:17:20 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Troops to train as paralegals vs human rights abuse raps

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 14:16:00 03/31/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The military will train soldiers on desk duty as paralegals to help fellow troopers facing charges of human rights abuse and other cases, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Monday.

The training will start in April and the defense establishment aims to train at least one soldier per battalion, Teodoro told reporters.

“To assist the soldiers, to provide them with advice, to answer basic petitions, which they may need, or which may be filed against them,” Teodoro said, when asked how the paralegals would assist the troops.

Asked if the training was part of the military’s efforts to improve its human rights record, Teodoro replied: “Everything.”

Teodoro conceded it is “difficult” to draft lawyers to the military service.

“In the implementation phase, we can use senior non-commissioned officers, those [who] do clerical and office work, [for the paralegal training],” he said.

Having soldiers as paralegals would also cut the military’s legal costs, he said.

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Mon+00:002008-03-31T06:49:29+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Mon, 31 Mar 2008 06:49:29 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Most Filipinos believe economy has ‘worsened’–survey

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:55:00 03/31/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Two in three, or 66 percent, of Filipinos believe that the economy “worsened” over the last three years and a growing percentage of the population consider themselves poor and their quality of life worsening, according to an independent survey.

The Pulse Asia Inc. findings are in contrast with the rosy economic picture that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has painted, with the end-2007 gross domestic product growing by 7.3 percent.

The independent study was conducted nationwide from February 21 to March 8. It has a margin of error of +/-3 percent and a confidence level of 95 percent, Pulse Asia said in a statement.

Asked to compare the state of the economy now from 2005, 66 percent said the economy was “worse now,” 23 percent said it was the “same,” while 11 percent said it was “better now,” according to the survey.

Of those who said that the economy was “worse now,” 75 percent said they “strongly felt” the deterioration in the economy, 22 percent said they “felt [it] somewhat, while four percent said they “did not feel” the deterioration, according to the survey.

Of those who said that the economy was “better now,” 20 percent said their “strongly felt” the growth, 56 percent said they “felt [it] somewhat,” while 24 percent said they “did not feel” the growth, according to the survey.

Asked to rate their personal situation, 71 percent said they were “very poor or poor” up from 68 percent in October 2007 and 75 percent in July 2007, the survey showed.

Fourteen percent said were “on-the-line” while only 15 percent said they were “well off or wealthy.” In October 2007, 18 percent said they were “on-the-line” while 14 percent said they were “well off or wealthy,” the survey showed.

Asked about their quality of life, 10 percent said they were “better now,” 31 percent said they were “same as then,” while 59 percent said they were “worse now,” according to the survey.

In October 2007, 14 percent said they were “better now,” 40 percent said they were “same as then,” while 46 percent said they were “worse now,” according to the survey.

“Difficult times continue for most Filipinos, with a big majority of them — 71 percent, or about 12.8 million households — saying they are very poor/poor,” Pulse Asia said.

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Mon+00:002008-03-31T06:30:11+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Mon, 31 Mar 2008 06:30:11 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Army: General, NCO in extort raps restricted until judgment

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:47:00 03/31/2008

MANILA, Philippines — An Army general and his subordinate facing court martial proceedings for allegedly extorting from soldier-applicant soldiers have been restricted to quarters in Fort Bonifacio and will there until their cases are resolved, a spokesman for the service branch said.

At the same time, the Army cancelled the appointments of 184 soldiers for “irregular” entry into the service, allegedly with the help of the accused, Major General Jose Barbieto and Staff Sergeant Roseller Echipare, Army public affairs chief, Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr., said.

Of the 184, 97 were undergoing training at the 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro City, while 87 were recently enlisted as privates, Torres said.

“The conduct of the pre-trial investigation, which normally precedes a general court martial, necessitates that those accused be arrested and confined,” Torres said in a statement.

“The restriction shall take effect until such time that their cases are resolved,” Torres said.

Upon orders of Army chief Lieutenant General Alexander Yano, Barbieto and Echipare were “confined and restricted in quarters” and placed under the custody of Fort Bonifacio camp commander Brigadier General Ricardo Morales, Torres said.

Barbieto was restricted a month after the Army started its investigation into the graft allegations against him. He was relieved as commander of the 4th Infantry Division after he was suspended by the Ombudsman.

“The Philippine Army is serious in implementing reforms within the organization. Lieutenant General Alexander Yano, Philippine Army commanding general, assured that there will be no whitewash and cover up, and due process will always be observed,” Torres said.

Barbieto and Echipare could be charged for violation of Articles of War 55 (officer making unlawful enlistment), 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman), and 97 (conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline), the Army spokesman said.

Barbieto is the second major general, after retired general Carlos Garcia, to face court martial for alleged corruption.

Garcia, a former military comptroller, was convicted by a court martial in December 2006 and sentenced to imprisonment, hard labor, and forfeiture of his retirement benefits.

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Mon+00:002008-03-31T06:28:38+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Mon, 31 Mar 2008 06:28:38 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Lack of fighter jets won’t stop Spratlys defense–PAF chief

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‘With warm bodies, if we die, we die,’ he says

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:07:00 03/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The lack of fighter jets will not stop the Philippine Air Force (PAF) from defending the country’ claim to the disputed Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea, the PAF commanding general said Friday.

When asked how the PAF would protect the reportedly oil-rich islands, Lieutenant General Pedrito Cadungog said, “[With] warm bodies, if we die, we die. Our mission is that simple.”

The PAF decommissioned the last of its F-5 fighter jets in 2005. It has converted several of its S211 trainer jets into fighter aircraft.

Acknowledging the PAF’s lack of air capability, Ceding said: “It is nearly impossible that we can claim sovereignty. As far as we are concerned, being truly Filipino, and understanding sovereignty, we offer our service and our lives over that part of our country.”

Cadungog issued the statement amid the controversy generated by the
Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU), a tripartite agreement among the Philippines, China, and Vietnam.

The political opposition is claiming that the Philippine government had softened its claim on the Spratlys by entering into the JMSU, in exchange for a multimillion-dollar loan package from China.

The Spratlys is being claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

On Monday, Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. visited Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys to “reinforce” the country’s claim on the islands.

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Fri+00:002008-03-28T07:53:05+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Fri, 28 Mar 2008 07:53:05 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Military engineers to renovate Pag-asa airstrip

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 14:46:00 03/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Military engineers will refurbish the airstrip on the largest Filipino-occupied island in the disputed Spratlys group after a private contractor backed out of the project, the chief of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said Friday.

Lieutenant General Pedrito Cadungog said the barracks of soldiers stationed on Pag-asa Island will be renovated to concrete and semi-concrete structures.

Cadungog said the infrastructure improvements on the island would not violate the Code of Conduct among claimant countries to the reportedly oil-rich islands, which prevents the buildup of military forces there.

“We are free to go there anytime. [There is] no violation [of the Code of Conduct] at all,” Cadungog told reporters at Villamor Airbase, the PAF headquarters.

Last Monday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. visited Pag-asa Island and brought with him a satellite communications system that will connect troops on the island to military general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Asked if he was worried the planned construction on Pag-asa would trigger protests from other claimants, Cadungog said: “Not actually a lot of protests because they [other claimants] have their own occupied islands, like Vietnam [and] China

“As a matter of fact we are the legitimate claimant, as a sovereign country therefore they cannot complain about it. We are supposed to be the one complaining because those occupied islands by other countries are not supposed to be theirs,” he said.

However, Cadungog acknowledged that “relationships among friendly countries” in the Spratlys should be preserved.

The private contractor was supposed to refurbish the Pag-asa airstrip for P31 million but backed out unless the project cost was raised to around P100 million, Cadungog said.

Cadungog said the contract was scrapped with the P3.1-million performance bond that the construction firm submitted to the government, which represents 10 percent of the project cost, to be forfeited.

Asked if the refurbishing of the airstrip was meant to strengthen military presence on the island, Cadungog said: “Not necessarily strengthening, [but] providing presence.”

The PAF chief said Navy ships will start hauling building materials from Puerto Princesa in Palawan to Pag-asa Island next month, to take advantage of calm seas during the summer.

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Fri+00:002008-03-28T07:51:46+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Fri, 28 Mar 2008 07:51:46 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Filipina is customer service manager at Dubai Duty Free

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 14:40:00 03/27/2008

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Doing the job with a smile has taken this Filipina from arranging liquor bottles on store shelves to managing the customer service department in one of the busiest airports in the Middle East.

As manager for customer service at the Dubai Duty Free, Lilian Vargas, 54, manages a sales staff 1,600, 400 of which are Filipino.


“We [Filipinos] have a good work attitude. If it’s a decent job, we do it. We find ways to make work fun, even when displaying liquor bottles,” Vargas said in an interview at the Palm Jumeirah Hotel, during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s visit.

The President met with a group of Emirati employers, including Vargas, when she was here in late January to launch a hedging facility and an investment road show for overseas Filipino workers.

Vargas moved to the United Arab Emirates in 1984, after starting a family in the Philippines. She first worked as sales assistant at the liquor and tobacco section of the Dubai Duty Free.

She then rose from the ranks, getting promoted to shop controller, to retail manager, before becoming customer service manager.

“I make sure that everyone going to the airport has a fantastic shopping experience. I think we have become one of the friendliest airports,” she said.

Vargas said she recruits staffers from the Philippines, China, and Uzbekistan. She said 25 percent of the entire operations department of the Dubai Duty Free is Filipino.

“Customers love us for that, when we pay attention,” Vargas said, when asked if the trademark Filipino hospitality was a plus in her line of work.

The shop floor is unmistakably Dubai, with palm trees and white tent roofs, but the counters and store shelves, even nearby fast food outlets, are run mostly by Filipinos, who greet shoppers with a smile.

Nearing retirement age, Vargas is not about to slow down just yet. She said she wants to stay on until the Dubai Mega Airport finishes construction.

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Thu+00:002008-03-27T07:10:53+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Thu, 27 Mar 2008 07:10:53 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Incoming AFP chief sees ‘no reason’ to release Mayuga report

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:02:00 03/27/2008

MANILA, Philippines — A military fact-finding board’s report into the alleged involvement of senior officers in supposed poll fraud in 2004 will remain under wraps, the incoming military chief said.

Lieutenant General Alexander Yano, Army chief, said he saw “no reason” to make public the Mayuga report in full, and allegations that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cheated to win a fresh six-year term was mere “perception.”

Yano will replace incumbent Hermogenes Esperon Jr. when he retires on May 9.

Esperon was supposed to retire last February 9, but Arroyo extended his tour of duty for another three months. Yano will serve as chief of staff for 13 months. He will retire in June 2009.


The report, which was prepared by retired Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga, cleared four senior officers, including Esperon, of involvement in alleged vote-rigging operations. The military however refused to discuss the report in detail.

Mayuga started the investigation in late 2005 as the Armed Forces Inspector General. He finished the inquiry in early 2006, when he was Flag Officer-in-Command of the Philippine Navy. He retired in December later that year.

“If it’s not released now, then what’s the reason for me to do it?” Yano said, when asked if he would give the green light for the release of the controversial report.

Asked if he believed that keeping the report a secret cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Arroyo government, Yano said: “When you say legitimacy of the President, there are processes. She was declared, so what other processes do you think would strengthen or reinforce that legitimacy? Again, you are talking of perception.”

“Even if it is released or not, that is irrelevant as far as legitimacy is concerned because there are processes, and that is not part of the process,” Yano said in a recent interview with reporters.

Yano said “constitutional processes” and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) upheld Arroyo’s victory in 2004.

“That report is an internal report, so I don’t think that will affect the legitimacy. There are processes. We may have our own perception but they remain as perception,” he said.

Aside from Esperon, three other senior officers, all retired, were implicated in the election fraud scandal after their names were mentioned in purported wiretapped conversations of Arroyo and ex-elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Aside from Esperon, two others — retired Lieutenant General Roy Kyamko, and retired Major General Gabriel Habacon — allegedly helped Arroyo win the presidency.

The fourth officer, retired Brigadier General Francisco Gudani, was allegedly supportive of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., according to the wiretaps, which were leaked in June 2005.

Poe, who died in late 2005, was Arroyo’s closest rival.

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Thu+00:002008-03-27T05:27:50+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Thu, 27 Mar 2008 05:27:50 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Esperon: ‘Politics not in my plans’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 14:55:00 03/26/2008

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines — Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said he has no plans of joining politics, despite his showing in a recent survey of possible presidential candidates in the 2010 elections.

Esperon placed 12th in a Pulse Asia survey in which Vice President Noli de Castro clinched the top spot.

He ranked higher than such personalities whose names were floated for 2010 as Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte.

“Entering politics is not in my plans. I’m not looking into that,” Esperon told reporters here, on the sidelines of his visit to the Armed Forces Western Command (Wescom).

Asked if he might change his mind come election time, Esperon said, before bursting into laughter, “We’ll see. Politics is a difficult topic.”

Esperon gained attention for his tough stance against military adventurism. He is also known to be politically well-connected, having served as security escort under former president Fidel Ramos, and commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He was also implicated in the “Hello Garci” wiretapping scandal that exposed alleged cheating operations that supposedly propelled Arroyo to a fresh six-year term in the 2004 elections. A military fact-finding board cleared him of the allegations but its report was never made public in full.

In the Pulse Asia survey, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, an ex-Navy lieutenant implicated in failed uprisings in July 2003 and November 2007, was in eighth place. The military chief shrugged this off, saying, “I’m not even thinking of Trillanes. All I know is that he has to face two court cases.”

Esperon said his showing in the survey shows that the public “must be thinking that the AFP is doing good.”

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Wed+00:002008-03-26T07:07:16+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Wed, 26 Mar 2008 07:07:16 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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Esperon: Arroyo ‘Spratlys visit’ case of ‘wrong impression’

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:33:00 03/26/2008

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines — Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said he could have gotten the “wrong impression” that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wanted to visit territory in the disputed Srpatlys Islands occupied by the Philippines.

“I could have been wrong in my impression of what the President said. Alangan namang siya pa nagkamali [She could not have bean wrong],” Esperon told reporters here.

On Monday, Esperon told troops in a speech at the Western Command headquarters here that Arroyo was planning to visit Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys, which the Philippines calls the Kalayaan Island Group.

He joked that Arroyo even scolded him during a phone conversation last Saturday for not including her in his trip to Pag-asa Island on Monday afternoon.

But Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the President had no plans of visiting the Spratlys.

Asked if Arroyo had told him she wanted to visit the Spratlys, Esperon said: “That’s what has been impressed upon me, so if her schedule is free, probably…But my impression is she had wanted to come here, to Palawan.”

Had it been true, the President’s visit to the Spratlys would have come at a time when her administration is under fire from the opposition for entering into a tripartite agreement for seismic study in the reportedly oil-rich islands.

Administration critics claim the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) forged by the government with China and Vietnam weakens the Philippines’ claim to the Spratlys.

They also accuse the administration of entering into the agreement in exchange for a multi-million-dollar loan package from China to fun projects such as the scandal-tainted national broadband network deal.

A visit by Arroyo would also have come on the heels of a recent visit to the disputed islands by Taiwan’s leader, an incident that drew vigorous protest from other claimants, including the Philippines and China, which considers Taiwan a province.

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Wed+00:002008-03-26T06:05:09+00:00+00:0003b+00:00Wed, 26 Mar 2008 06:05:09 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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