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Archive for December 2008

Qatar sets up $1-B sovereign fund in RP

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 17:48:00 12/16/2008
Filed Under: Investments, Overseas Employment

MANILA, Philippines—Qatar will set up a $1 billion sovereign fund to finance infrastructure and other development projects in the Philippines, and will issue 128,000 working visas specifically for Filipino workers, Malacañang said Tuesday.

This was firmed up during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s four-day official visit to the oil-rich Middle East state, where she met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani, said Trade Secretary Peter Favila, who accompanied the President.

Favila said the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) has been given a list of development projects, from which to “cherry pick.” He said Qatar was especially interested to help in the development efforts in Mindanao, which is home to the Philippines’ Muslim minority.

Qatar will shoulder 85 percent or $850 million of the $1-billion sovereign fund, while the Philippines will account for the remaining 15 percent or $150 million, Favila said.

“That’s what they have proposed to us. They will put up a $1-billion fund dedicated to the Philippines to help in the development of the Philippine economy,” Favila said.

“Their particular interest is helping Muslims in Mindanao,” he said.

The sovereign fund is on top of the maximum of $1 billion that Qatar Telecom is investing in San Miguel Corp’s entry into the telecommunications sector.

The 128,000 working visas include allocations for the 37,000 jobs immediately available to Filipino workers in Qatar, Favila said, adding that Filipinos would be prioritized during hiring for future jobs.

The available jobs are in construction, fuelled by the “massive” infrastructure development there, the trade chief said.

“They really would need tens of thousands of workers there. There are new sites, satellite cities, on vast portions of the desert they are building highways, you name it,” he said.

Arroyo returned to the country from Qatar before dawn Tuesday.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-12-16T13:05:34+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Tue, 16 Dec 2008 13:05:34 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm12

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Qatari bank eyes stake in RP Muslim bank

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 19:07:00 12/16/2008
Filed Under: Banking, Investments

MANILA, Philippines—The Qatar National Bank is keen on buying 40 percent of ailing Al-Amanah Investment Bank of the Philippines, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said Tuesday.

With a 40-percent stake, Teves said the Qatari bank could take over management of Al-Amanah.

“The interest is there, especially because they would like to establish their presence in Mindanao and they would like to be able to sue this as a vehicle to expand the Islamic banking and commercial banking operations in the Philippines and East Asia,” the finance chief said.

“This will serve for us as a vehicle for more foreign direct investments from Qatar and the Middle East,” he said.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo arrived in Manila before dawn Tuesday from a four-day official visit to Qatar.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-12-16T13:00:45+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Tue, 16 Dec 2008 13:00:45 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm12

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Gov’t declares unilateral 4-day truce

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 10:41:00 12/16/2008
Filed Under: Holidays or vacations, Armed conflict

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) Malacañang has declared a four-day unilateral suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) with communist guerrillas during the Christmas holidays, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Tuesday.

The SOMO with the New People’s Army ( NPA) will be effective from December 24 to 25 and from December 31 to January 1, Ermita told reporters at the Palace.

This year’s holiday SOMO is shorter than last year’s, which ran for 22 days — from December 16 to January 6. Last year, the NPA also declared a SOMO — from December 24 to 25 and from December 31 to January 1.

Ermita said troops would remain “on alert” even while the SOMO was in effect, and especially on December 26, when the NPA, the guerrilla arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), celebrates its 40th anniversary.

“We are on alert… The important thing is that our soldiers, policemen and CAFGU [Civilian Armed Forces Geographic Unit] are in place while there is a SOMO,” he said.

Efforts to restart peace talks between the government and the political arm of the CPP, the National Democratic Front (NDF), fell through in late November after both parties failed to agree on how to implement a ceasefire.

Peace negotiations bogged down in mid-2004 after the rebels pulled out in protest of the government’s alleged inaction to remove them from the terrorist listings of the United States and the European Union.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-12-16T08:15:06+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Tue, 16 Dec 2008 08:15:06 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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No shoe throwing at Arroyo–Palace

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 14:01:00 12/16/2008
Filed Under: Politics, Conflicts (general)

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang expressed confidence that unlike United States President George W. Bush, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would not suffer the humiliation of having shoes thrown at her.

“No. Iba naman tayong mga Pilipino. Mas disente tayo, saka iba ang media sa atin [We Filipinos are different. We are more decent and the media here is different],” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

Over the weekend, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Bush during a press conference in Baghdad, where the outgoing American leader was on a farewell visit, to protest the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“That was an unsavory action, but it happens, people have to suffer for that especially the one who did it,” Ermita said, adding jokingly, “Pero palagay ko, baka may konting ano yan, may tama ng konti sa ulo [I think the attacker is a little crazy].”

Although no one has thrown anything at her, Arroyo has been heckled by left-wing militants during provincial sorties.

She also has not hosted a proper press conference in Malacañang in years, especially after allegations of massive election fraud and corruption were hurled at her in 2005.

In January this year, Arroyo answered a few questions from the media during the government’s year-end economic briefing for 2007.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-12-16T07:31:35+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Tue, 16 Dec 2008 07:31:35 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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Arroyo signs Renewable Energy Law

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 10:28:00 12/16/2008
Filed Under: Energy, Laws, Congress, Alternative energy

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law on Tuesday the Renewable Energy Law of 2008, which will provide mechanisms to further harness “green” energy sources.

The law aims to “accelerate” the exploration of geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, wind, and ocean energy; and increase the utilization and development of renewable energy, according to a statement released by Malacañang.

“Now, with our Renewable Energy Act, we can move aggressively to develop these resources,” Arroyo said in a speech before the signing.

“This is also timely, because it [renewable energy] mitigates climate change,” she said.

The principal authors of the law Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafuerte, Cebu Representative Raul del Mar, and Senator Edgardo Angara witnessed the signing, along with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Speaker Prospero Nograles, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and the President’s son, Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo.

Arroyo signed the law hours after she arrived from Qatar, where she embarked on a four-day official visit.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002008-12-16T03:50:44+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Tue, 16 Dec 2008 03:50:44 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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Arroyo hands off on Charter change mode

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Congress will decide on the matter, he says

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 14:57:00 12/15/2008

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has “no choice” on the mode by which the 1987 Constitution would be amended and would leave the decision to Congress, her spokesman said Monday.

“Wala hong choice ang Presidente, dahil hindi na siya nakikialam, dahil yung constitutional amendments na yan, nasa Kongreso na yan, sila na yung magdedesisyon [The President has no choice because she does not interfere in constitutional amendments. The matter is with Congress, and the lawmakers will decide],” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza told state-run radio station Radyo ng Bayan.

“Eventually, the people will make the ultimate decision because this will be submitted to a plebiscite. Whatever the decision of Congress is, the people, ultimately, [have the] sovereign power,” said Dureza, amid mounting calls for the President to declare her stand on the debate between a constitutional convention or constituent assembly to amend the 1987 Charter.

Last Friday, thousands marched to the Makati City financial district to denounce moves by Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives to convene themselves into a constituent assembly to rewrite the Charter.

While the pro-Arroyo majority said they would revise only the economic provisions, the President’s critics raised fears that Charter change would pave the way for her stay in power beyond 2010 when her term would officially end as provided under the Constitution.

Arroyo has kept mum on whether she would be pushing for a constituent assembly or a constitutional convention, where delegates who would revise the Charter would be elected. She also has not said whether she wanted the amendments to the Constitution before or after 2010.

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Written by joelguinto

Mon+00:002008-12-15T07:23:05+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Mon, 15 Dec 2008 07:23:05 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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Gov’t to intensify anti-corruption drive

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:59:00 12/15/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has vowed to step up its anti-corruption drive despite failing to secure a large-scale grant from the United States Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC), which has been hinged on how effective a government was in fighting corruption.

The MCC said the Philippines remained eligible for a grant or “compact,” but said that it would need to pass certain criteria first, according to reports.

“The government vows to further intensify its campaign against corruption. We need to show [this to] the international community, but most of all, [to] our people,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said in a statement.

Fajardo said that, among others, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo doubled the budget of the Ombudsman as early as 2007, signed into law Republic Act 9485 of the Anti-Red Tape Act, and pressed Congress to pass a comprehensive anti-corruption law.

“For our efforts to succeed, we need the support and vigilance of everyone,” she said.

A newspaper report said the Philippines failed to score above the median in 14 out of 17 anti-corruption “indicators” set by the MCC.

Arroyo’s administration has been besieged with allegations of massive corruption, the most recent of which was the bribery scandal surrounding the $329-million contract between the government and China’s ZTE Corp. for the botched national broadband network (NBN) project.

The controversy spawned another failed impeachment attempt and wave of street protests calling on the President to step down.

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Written by joelguinto

Mon+00:002008-12-15T07:22:10+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Mon, 15 Dec 2008 07:22:10 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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Palace: ‘We’ll contain Ebola in hogs’

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But urges people to buy only ‘certified’ pork

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:58:00 12/11/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang assured the public on Thursday that the government is working to contain the Ebola Reston virus, which was found to have infected hogs in at least three northern Philippine provinces.

At the same time, deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo advised the public to buy pork only from stalls certified by the National Meat Inspection Service.

“The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health are working together to control it, but this strain is not known to infect humans and is an animal health issue,” Fajardo said in a statement.

In a separate statement, deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the health and agriculture departments to “monitor the situation and assure the people [that government] is taking all steps to ensure their health
and safety.”

Golez, a medical doctor, said Ebola Reston virus is different from the Ebola strain found in African monkeys, which he said was “very fatal.”

“There have been no recoded human deaths because of the Ebola Reston virus,” he said.

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said pigs in two commercial farms and two backyard farms in the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Pangasinan were found to have been infected with Ebola Reston.

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Written by joelguinto

Thu+00:002008-12-11T09:12:08+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Thu, 11 Dec 2008 09:12:08 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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Palace: ‘Let’s talk on Charter change’

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But will respect right to protest

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:15:00 12/11/2008

MANILA, Philippines — A day before a rally against Charter change in Makati City, which organizers predict will be huge, Malacañang on Thursday urged groups opposed to amending the Constitution to consider a dialogue on the matter instead of taking to the streets but said it would respect people’s right to protest.

“We should talk, dialogue, debate instead of protesting. There are more positive ways to make oneself heard. But this is a right and the Palace will protect that right,” deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said in a statement.

“We must all respect and protect the right to free expression. We assure that their rights will be protected. We hope the rally will be orderly and peaceful and respect the rights of others,” deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said.

The Palace had urged lawmakers pushing for amendments to the 1987 Constitution to hold dialogues with groups opposed to the move.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s critics warn that efforts to push Charter change are meant to extend her stay in office beyond 2010.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano said troops in Metro Manila would be placed on alert for the protest, which organizers say will be the biggest since February, at the height of the bribery scandal surrounding the botched national broadband network project.

“Our NCR [National Capital Region] Command, which is directly supporting the NCR police office, has contingency plans for any situation that may arise. We hope that nothing unusual or abnormal will happen but as we always say in the military, we hope for the best but we always prepare for the worst scenario,” Yano told reporters in Fort Bonifacio.

He said there was no specific threat to the rally, which would see activists, opposition, and church groups join forces.

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Thu+00:002008-12-11T09:11:26+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Thu, 11 Dec 2008 09:11:26 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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Arroyo visits Marines’ wake at Bonifacio

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:37:00 12/11/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited on Thursday the wake of five Marine soldiers who were killed in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan province over the weekend.

Arroyo was accompanied by Military Chief General Alexander Yano, Navy Chief Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez, and Marine Commandant Major General Ben Dolorfino at the Bonifacio Naval Station gym in Fort Bonifacio where the bodies lay in state.

She also met briefly with the relatives of the late Sergeant Wilfredo Abugan, Sergeant Roque Alejo, Corporal Daniel Discaya, Private First Class Rodulfo Budino, and Private Julius Deleña.

The President assured the families that they would receive the appropriate benefits and that the children of the slain soldiers would be given scholarships.

Yano said the families were given P250,000 each from the President’s social fund.

“We have to take care of those left behind, especially the families,” Yano told reporters.

“That’s part of our profession. From time to time, we suffer casualties,” Dolorfino said.

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Written by joelguinto

Thu+00:002008-12-11T09:10:29+00:00+00:0012b+00:00Thu, 11 Dec 2008 09:10:29 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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