(UPDATE 4) Economy posts strongest growth in 17 years

By Rosemarie Francisco
Last updated 04:26pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The economy enjoyed its highest annual growth in 17 years in the first quarter, thanks to healthy consumption and an expansion in back-office services.


First-quarter gross domestic product grew 6.9 percent on an annual basis, way above expectations. It expanded a seasonally adjusted 2.5 percent from the previous quarter, the highest rate in 11 quarters, the government said on Thursday.


“The Philippines is on a roll,” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told reporters in Canberra, where she is on a state visit.


“This is the fastest pace in almost two decades — 9.1 percent growth in services, 5.3 percent in industry, 4.2 percent in agriculture.”


Government officials said the 2007 target of 6.1 to 6.7 percent growth was well within reach and could be revised up, with the country now closer to hitting a hitherto elusive 7 percent.


Economists say the Philippines needs to grow about seven to eight percent annually to cut poverty substantially.


Economists had forecast an annual growth rate in the first quarter of 5.8 percent and quarterly growth of at most 2.2 percent.


“It’s a stunner,” said Bill Belchere, an economist at Macquarie Bank. “The good news is imports picking up in March, which signals that the exports sector is going to continue to be strong in the second quarter.


“You have business expectations and improving confidence there; you’re going to have a barn burner in the first half of the year.”


The Philippines’ main export is electronics, and it imports almost all the raw material used in the sector.


Annual GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2006 was revised up to 5.5 percent from 4.8 percent and full-year growth in 2006 was also revised up to 5.5 percent from 5.4 percent after the government accounted for an expanding business outsourcing sector.


In Asia, only Vietnam with 7.7 percent and China with a mammoth 11.1 percent have announced higher annual growth for the first quarter.


Central bank policy makers are meeting to discuss monetary policy on Thursday but no change in interest rates is expected, despite the acceleration in growth.




Strong growth should fuel more investor interest in the Philippines, where portfolio and direct investment inflows have already boosted the stock market and the peso.


“We have sustained the growth for some time, despite the low investment-to-GDP ratio,” Romulo Neri, economic planning secretary told reporters.


“We’d like it to improve, of course, and we’re trying to pump prime through infrastructure spending. Hopefully, the private sector will follow through with their capital spending.”


The government has said it expects work on roads and bridges to accelerate in the coming months after the lifting of a 45-day ban on spending for new capital projects ahead of elections.


Economists said robust consumer spending, a moderate recovery in farming output and sustained export growth all helped the economy pick up from the fourth quarter, when typhoons battered crops and infrastructure.


About a tenth of the country’s population work abroad and the money they send home underpins consumption, which accounts for some 70 percent of GDP.


The remittances, which last year hit a record $12.8 billion, also helped boost first-quarter gross national product, which expanded 6.6 percent from a year earlier.


Analysts expect exports, which grew at a solid annual rate of 13 percent in the first quarter, to lose momentum later in the year because of the strong peso and a slowdown in the Philippines’ main export market, the United States.


But other factors should boost GDP.


“We believe that, with ongoing strength of remittances and the desire by the government to spend more on infrastructure projects, GDP growth will remain relatively robust in the second and third quarter,” said Frederic Neumann, an economist at HSBC.


Arroyo congratulated her economic managers and Filipinos working abroad.


“As head of the NEDA Board, the highest economic policy-making body, I will promote policies to sustain the growth surge. These include maintaining macroeconomic stability, improving the investment climate, sustaining agricultural modernization, and achieving peace and order,” Arroyo said.


She said the government will adhere to the spending program set by the Development Budget Coordinating Committee and will continue to work with Congress to pass important economic bills.


“There is an urgent need to ensure that these gains will impact on the lives of the common Filipino, adding that the government will pursue programs including:


– Realigning the national budget to spend more on social services
– Improving the infrastructure network;
– Eliminating regulatory capture in the bureaucracy;
– Boosting and diversifying exports and expanding their markets;
– Raising agricultural productivity;
– Strengthening micro, small and medium-sized enterprises;
– Supporting mass housing;
– Protecting the environment, and
– Eradicating terrorism.


Even with the economic growth, Arroyo said a lot still needed to be done.


“Let us therefore be closely united, looking beyond our differences, and work together in the fight against poverty,” she added. – with Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, INQUIRER.net

Military chief accountant dismissed for dishonesty

Last updated 03:04pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007
MANILA, Philippines — Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has dismissed from service the Chief Accountant of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for falsifying his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALNs).


In a 29-page Decision, Gutierrez approved the recommendation of her investigators that found Generoso Reyes Del Castillo, Jr. guilty of “grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.”


Aside from the dismissal, Del Castillo’s eligibility will also be cancelled, his retirement benefits forfeited and he will be perpetually disqualified from re-entering government service.


Del Castillo, entered government service on Aug. 1, 1971 as an accounting clerk but he rose from the ranks until he became chief accountant of the AFP on Dec. 29, 1994.


Based on his SALN for the period covering 1994 to 2004, the total income he and his wife, Grace Victoria Del Castillo, earned was P10,233, 736.86. Also, he has acquired several properties amounting to P14,463,901 and had an expenditure of P4,464,870.


Gutierrez explained that taking into account the total declared income of respondent from 1994 to 2004 is P10,233, 736.86, deducting his total declared expenditures worth P4,464,870, his disposable income for 2004 would be P5,768,866.86. But in his 2004 SALN, respondent has declared his total assets (real and personal) in the amount of P14,463,901.


Aside from that, further inquiry showed that Del Castillo had several undeclared properties and business interests such as the house and lot in Sta. Mesa, Manila acquired on Dec. 17, 1999 but which he declared only in his 2004 SALN. His wife also had several business interests in the Filipinas Tri Star Productions, Co., Ltd.; Colt Films, Inc.; Novastar Films, Inc.; G&L Food Services Co.; Nu Art Movies Corp.; and M&G Foodworks, Inc.


Del Castillo admitted that he did not indicate in his 1999 SALN the house and lot but that as far as the companies were concerned, he said that including them was immaterial because these companies were not operational.


However, investigators said Del Castillo had failed to present evidence showing that these companies were not operational.


Gutierrez said Del Castillo’s pronouncement that these companies in his SALN were not necessary “only confirmed the fact that the non-disclosure of the said partnerships and/or corporations was deliberate and consciously done.”


He also owned several vehicles including a Toyota Revo worth P879,000; a Mitshubishi Lancer worth P818,000; a Mitsubishi Pajero worth P2,750,000; a Lincoln Navigator worth P4,000,000; and a Honda 4-door Sedan worth P250,000, with a total cost of P8,697,000.


Investigation revealed that all the vehicles have been spotted parked inside one of the respondent’s houses and that the Lincoln Navigator was for the exclusive use of the respondent’s mother-in-law. inquirer.net


Estafa raps vs 2 PNB officers

By Jeannette Andrade
Last updated 06:58am (Mla time) 05/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines – Two former bank executives and three of their alleged accomplices, including a university professor, are facing charges of large scale estafa and swindling filed by the Philippine National Bank for allegedly defrauding the bank of P25 million from pre-terminated time deposits of the University of the Philippines.

In the complaint filed before the office of the Quezon City Prosecutor, the PNB—represented by UP Diliman branch assistant manager and regional review officer Malou Francisco—charged Rosemarie Ann Pamplona, the branch’s former junior sales and service officer, and Evangeline Domingo, a former senior sales and service associate, as well as alleged accomplices UP College of Statistics professor Joyce Raymond Punzalan; Jamie Santos; and Ely Zonda Clemente, of conspiring to defraud the bank of P25 million.

Francisco claimed the respondents “fraudulently” pre-terminated time deposits of UP Diliman to claim the amount which they deposited in at least three accounts belonging to Santos and Clemente. Two of the accounts held P8 million each and the third, P9,148,980.94.

The unauthorized pre-termination of the time deposit account was allegedly discovered after the university sent a written instruction to the bank on Feb. 28 to terminate one of its existing time deposit accounts.

Accounts for Santos and Clemente were allegedly created to receive P25 million from the terminated UP Diliman time deposit account. Punzalan’s checking account was also renamed in Santos’ favor.

To cover up the pre-termination of the time deposit, Pamplona and Domingo allegedly “manipulated” bank transaction journal entries to conceal what they had done.

Punzalan, in a counter-affidavit, denied any knowledge of the transaction. “It is obvious that I am also a victim of these illegal activities of Rosemarie Ann Pamplona and Evangeline Domingo, who evidently conspired and connived together with senior officers of the PNB in falsifying bank documents, particularly my checking account in order to defraud the bank of the amounts herein alleged, by using among others, my supposedly ‘closed checking account’ without my knowledge much less consent,” he said.

Punzalan denied knowing either Clemente or Santos, but said Pamplona was a classmate at the Statistical Center in UP where he took up a MS Statistics course. Pamplona had introduced him to Domingo, he said. It was Pamplona who convinced him to open a time deposit account which he changed to a checking account on the bank executive’s suggestion, Punzalan added. Pamplona and Domingo are reportedly in hiding.


PNB president Omar Mier said the bank had sought a hold order to stop Pamplona and Domingo, longtime and reportedly model employees of the bank, from leaving the country. With Doris C. Dumlao

Pichay, Roco not about to concede defeat

Alleged irregularities in Comelec count questioned By Maila Ager
Last updated 01:47pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Unlike former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor, fellow administration senatorial candidate Prospero Pichay and the opposition’s Sonia Roco are not about to concede defeat as they continue to question the alleged “irregularities” in the counting of votes by the Commission on Elections.


Defensor, who is number 15 in the senatorial race based on the latest tally of the Commission on Elections, conceded last Wednesday. Pichay is number 16 followed by Roco.


“Hintayin natin ang [Let’s wait for the] Mindanao votes and I’m from Mindanao,” Pichay said in a phone interview.


“Yung pag-concede naman ni Mike [Defensor’s nickname] hindi naman forfeiture yun. Kapag nanalo siya, balewala din yung pag-concede niya [Mike’s decision to concede does not mean forfeiture. If he wins, even if he had conceded, that would mean nothing],” Pichay said.


Though she said she was not yet “officially” conceding, Roco sent a text message to reporters, saying that she had finished the race “with grace.”


“We have finished the race with grace. We have won with dignity and honor. Humanly, I did my excellent best,” she said.


In a phone interview with INQUIRER.net though, Roco said she recognized that she was stuck at 17th place and would have to do so much catching up to be able to make it to the “Magic 12.” But she added that she was not conceding defeat the way Defensor had done.


“I’m not officially conceding because I still question the credibility of this election and conceding would mean that I’m accepting the results,” she said.


Besides, Roco said there was no need to hold a press conference to accept one’s defeat since this was not a presidential election.


Roco specifically questioned the fixed ranking of her fellow opposition candidates — Loren Legarda and Francis “Chiz” Escudero — who have been consistently at first and second, respectively, in the ongoing tally by the Comelec.


“What I notice is the results were like stuck up already. Parang nakapako na. Kung may nadagdag na boto kung saan mang probinsya, hindi man lang ba magbabago ang ranking nila? Buti pa yung mga nasa bababa, nagpapalit-palit ng puwesto [It’s like they have been stuck there. If there were votes added to their names from other provinces shouldn’t their rankings change? Those who are ranked lower have been changing positions],” she pointed out.


She also questioned the absence of “number of voters counted” in some official municipal tallies in Bicol, which could be the basis for deciding whether there was a failure of elections in certain areas.


Pichay also questioned the alleged “discrepancies” between the tallies of the Comelec and the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel)


In Laguna, for instance, Pichay said the Namfrel tally recorded 307, 628 votes for him but in the Comelec counting, he got only 156, 969 votes in the same province.


He also noted the discrepancies in Cavite where he supposedly obtained 219, 164 votes in the Namfrel tally but got 196,601 votes in the Comelec canvassing.


He also cited Quezon province where he got 147, 432 votes from Namfrel and 135,113 votes from Comelec; and Oriental Mindoro where he got 66,428 from Namfrel and 49,363 from Comelec.


“I don’t want to complain, ayokong mag-sour graping [I don’t want to sourgrape]. Gusto ko lang malaman kung ano ang katotohanan. Ako ba ay nabawasan o sila ba’y nadagdagan [I just want to know the truth. Were my votes shaved or were their votes padded]?” he asked.

“I want the public to know kung sino ang nandaya [who cheated]. As far as I know, wala akong capability na mandaya [I don’t have the capability to cheat]. Lahat ng boto ko ay totoong boto para sa akin [All of my votes were real votes for me],” Pichay added.

Senate presidency–GO spokesman

By Veronica Uy
Last updated 12:18pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

PASAY CITY, Philippines — Senator Manuel Villar is likely to keep the Senate presidency in the 14th Congress, Genuine Opposition spokesman Adel Tamano told reporters Thursday.


The election of 12 new senators is likely to change the power structure within the Upper House.


At the Kapihan sa Senado, Tamano admitted that there have been talks regarding the post inside the coalition.


“Yes there have been discussions about who is going to be Senate president [within GO]…From our own analysis, Senator Villar will still retain the position,” he said.


“[The Senate presidency] involves coalition building of the current parties and coalition building in the personal and political level,” he said.


Tamano said the Liberal Party, which is a member of GO, might field Senator Manuel Roxas II as its candidate for the Senate presidency.


Asked about the possibility that current Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. would vie for the highest seat in the Senate, Tamano said: “I haven’t talked to Senator Pimentel about it, but I think Senator Villar will keep the post.”

Namfrel to end quick count operations midnight of June 2

By Alexander Villafania
Last updated 05:00pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) will continue its operations until midnight of Saturday, June 2, before submitting its final tally on the results of the midterm elections last May 14, an official said Thursday.


Namfrel Secretary General Eric Alvia said that the terminal report would be released on midnight Saturday. The organization will then pack up on Sunday.


Alvia said hopefully, the poll watchdog would have covered at least 85 percent of the total number of voting precincts.


Namfrel, which has been doing its quick count at the La Salle, Greenhills in San Juan, extended its operations for another week when the tally was supposed to have ended last May 26.


La Salle is preparing for the start of classes on June 4.


Alvia said Namfrel would be releasing new tallies twice a day, the first to be released at 11 a.m. and the second at 5 p.m.


So far, Namfrel has tallied votes from 188,064 precincts or 83.68 percent of the total voting precincts.


As of 10:31 p.m. May 30, Genuine Opposition senatorial candidate Loren Legarda continued to lead with 14,690,237 votes, followed by Francis Escudero with 14,450,725 votes.


Six other GO candidates, two TEAM Unity candidates, and two independents complete the top 12.

North, South Cotabato poll supervisors relieved

Comelec orders probe into alleged cheating By Erwin Oliva
Last updated 06:14pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections has relieved the election supervisors in the provinces of North and South Cotabato, not Sultan Kudarat as posted earlier, to pave the way for an investigation into allegations of fraud in their areas of jurisdiction, according to a Comelec official.


Commmissioner Romeo Brawner made the announcement following the re-canvassing of South Cotabato votes that was held at the Philippine International Convention Center Thursday.


Relieved were Lilian Radam, election supervisor for South Cotabato and Yogie Martirizar for North Cotabato. Lintang Bedol, election supervisor for Magundanao could not be contacted, Brawner said.


Earlier in the day, the Comelec, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers (NBoC), said it was considering ordering the arrest of Radam, Martirizar , and Bedol after failing to appear at the PICC despite efforts by the poll body to have them at the canvassing site when their certificates of canvass are tabulated.


The Comelec said it had subpoenaed the three poll officers to appear at the PICC this Friday.


Lilia de Lima, lawyer for opposition senatorial candidate Alan Peter Cayetano, made a similar request to the Comelec Thursday and said that if the election supervisors would still not appear, her client would file petition to cite them in contempt and for the Comelec to issue an arrest order.


A complaint for electoral sabotage will also be filed against the poll executives, said De Lima.


De Lima claimed that their complaint stemmed from the discrepancies in the statements of votes by municipalities and the CoCs by municipalities in which from 50,000 up to 100,000 votes had been added to certain candidates although the lawyer did not name them.


Comelec executive director Jose Pio Joson said that these poll officers could face from one up to six years imprisonment due to violation of election laws, and the possible forfeiture of their government benefits and their right to suffrage.


“They need to come out and explain so we can prevent further speculation,” Joson said.


Joson also said that Brawner was even considering recommending the inclusion of these poll executives in the watchlist of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation.

Comelec exec caught selling dynamite sticks in Baguio

By Frank Cimatu
Northern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 03:52pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — What is a senior Comelec officer here doing with 600 sticks of dynamite?


Dionisio Oya, an election officer of the Commission on Elections Cordillera office, was caught red-handed selling four boxes of dynamite, four boxes of blasting caps and rolls of detonation fuses to a police asset shortly before Wednesday noon inside the Comelec compound along Governor Pack Road.


Oya is presently at the Saint Louis Hospital after he twisted his leg in an effort to avoid the entrapment operation.


Oya’s accomplice, Eugenio Diego, was detained Thursday afternoon at the Baguio City Jail.


Senior Superintendent Moises Guevarra, director of Baguio City Police Office (BCPO), said the dynamites might not be used for election purposes but Oya and Diego would be charged for violation of the Omnibus Election Code, as well as for illegal possession of explosives.

BCPO Operations Chief Fernando Moyaen said that the dynamites would probably be used for small-scale mining operations here.


The cache weighed more than 100 kilos and has a street value of about P104,000, Moyaen said.


The dynamite sticks were manufactured in Limay town, in the province of Bataan. inquirer.net

Abra mayor wanted for lawyer’s slay

By Vincent Cabreza, Desiree Caluza
Northern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 06:54pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — A judge here on Thursday sentenced a man to 16 to 20 years in prison for the 2005 murder of a public lawyer.


Judge Fernando Vil Pamintuan of the regional trial court here meted out the punishment to Benedict Fassong, 28, three days after he issued an arrest warrant against the accused’s alleged clients, a reelected Abra town mayor and his father.


Fassong admitted shooting lawyer Eugenia Campol of the Baguio Public Attorney’s Office four times in front of her house at a subdivision here in September 2005.


He claimed that he was contracted to kill Campol by reelected Boliney Mayor Ronald Balao-as and his father, former Mayor Benido Balao-as. The contract involved a P70,000 payoff.


Fassong also claimed that the Abra official supplied him with the murder weapon.


Pamintuan ordered the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology to continue detaining Fassong in the city jail while the convict undergoes trial for a separate murder case that the judge is also handling.


Fassong’s lawyer, Pablo Wantingan, said his client has not indicated whether he would stand as state witness against Balao-as and his father.


Campol had defended her husband, Julius, in several cases involving Balao-as when she served in Abra. Julius is also an employee of the PAO there.


Campol was reassigned to the Baguio office’s family court division when she began receiving threats in Abra.

Senior Superintendent Alexander Pumecha, Abra police director, said the Boliney police tried to serve the arrest warrant on Balao-as on Monday but were told that the mayor had already abandoned his house. inquirer.net

Negros town mayor blames poll rival for ambush

By Carla Gomez
Visayas Bureau
Last updated 07:11pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — Pulupandan Mayor-elect Magdaleno Peña has linked his political opponent to an ambush Wednesday that left him wounded and his two aides dead but the police said they were exploring a number of other angles.


Peña is blaming Samson Mondia, the man whom he defeated in the mayoral race of Pulupandan, Negros Occidental.


Mondia denied having anything to do with the ambush, saying he has nothing to gain from it.


But police said there were many sides to the Peña ambush.


“Peña has a lot of enemies; we are looking into numerous possibilities,” said Senior Superintendent Rosendo Franco, Negros Occidental police director.


He said among the possible suspects in the ambush were people involved in politics; those in the drug trade who saw Peña as a threat in Pulupandan; those affected by a land problem in Pulupandan, particularly after he threatened to evict numerous tenants from his family’s farms; and the New People’s Army.


Peña has generated a lot of controversy since the early 1990s. He was behind the graft, theft and robbery cases filed against then Army General Raymundo Jarque who, frustrated about being relieved due to his pending cases, decided to join the New People’s Army in October 1995, after expressing doubt that he would get justice through the courts.


Peña filed the cases when Jarque, then head of the Army’s Negros Island Command (Nicom), his men and the Philippine Constabulary-Criminal Investigation Service (PC-CIS) personnel implemented a court order, reinstating Peña brother as administrator to their grandmother’s properties.


The Sandiganbayan cleared Jarque of all the cases in June 2005.


Peña is also embroiled in legal battles — one with his mother Lina and brother Bonifacio over inheritance, and another with his former live-in partner, television personality Plinky Recto, over custody of their young son.


He also generated a lot of heat in the just concluded elections when he filed grave threat cases against 182 supporters of his opponent in the mayoral race, all of whom were ordered arrested by a local court.


Peña has threatened to evict 3,000 Pulupandan residents that he said were squatters on his family-owned property.


Peña, however, told the police he knew who staged the ambush and even recognized all of them.


In a telephone interview Wednesday night, he said the armed men who got down from a light blue Revo ahead of his convoy did not conceal their faces and he could name all of them.


Jarque, when contacted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, meanwhile said he was surprised that Peña had been ambushed and asked how he was.


Peña survived with slight injuries but his driver, Jose “Moril” Merced, and bodyguard Ronnie “Boy” Gegavine, died in the ambush at Calle Montilla, Barangay Zone 4, Pulupandan, at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.


Peña’s three-car convoy were on their way to his estate in the village of Ubay when they were ambushed by heavily armed men standing in the middle of the road in Zone 4.


Also injured were his nephew, newly elected Pulupandan councilor Gerany Suatengco, who was hit by a bullet in the left knee; bodyguard Diego Anciano who was hit in the back; and the driver of the third vehicle, Bongbong Maravalles, who had a slight injury on the left arm.


Peña appeared unfazed by the incident. As he entered the Riverside Medical Center in Bacolod City on Wednesday with blood dripping from his left arm caused by glass and metal shards, Peña waved and shouted “It’s showtime!”


Franco said he would beef the police security on Peña, who already had three policemen assigned to him.


He said he would also increase the police forces in Pulupandan to prevent any further outbreak of violence in the town.inquirer.net