Independent research group IBON Foundation expressed dismay over Arroyo’s statement urging the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to conclude a regional free trade agreement with Japan .

As it is, different sectors have registered their opposition to the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), which Malacañang signed last year and which will take effect after ratification by the Senate.


Under the agreement, the Philippine government excluded only two commodities from tariff reduction while Japan protected 239 of its commodities, proving how JPEPA is grossly unequal.


IBON research head Sonny Africa added that the Philippines is set to sacrifice billions of pesos in lost revenues if the Senate ratifies the said agreement. If tariffs would be reduced to zero on trade with Japan under the JPEPA, the Philippines stands to lose some P10.7 billion (US$ 214.1 million) annually.


Meanwhile, Japan would forego smaller lost tariff revenues of P 7 billion (US$ 139 billion). IBON based its computations on trade levels with Japan in 2005 and the distribution of imports in the various tariff brackets.


JPEPA also threatens the country’s future revenues as the agreement may lay the basis for legal challenges if succeeding governments would eventually decide to take back previously granted tax and duty exemptions.


With JPEPA’s strict “expropriation and compensation” clause, it is possible that if the government imposes added taxes in the future, Japanese firms can invoke the JPEPA to demand compensation for these taxes on the ground that these were not in place when the investors first came in, and so did not factor in when they drew up their business plans, revenue streams and profit estimates.


Aside from being a drain on the country’s revenue generation, the JPEPA also represents a brazen impingement on the sovereign right of the Philippines to tax economic activity within its jurisdiction, Africa said.

A regional free trade agreement with Japan will profit Japanese corporations the most, especially since the ASEAN is Japan ’s third largest trading partner. By urging the region to sign a similar pact as JPEPA clearly shows whose interests Pres. Arroyo has in mind, said Africa

80 houses demolished in Lahug

80 houses demolished in Lahug

Cebu Daily News
Last updated 03:46pm (Mla time) 07/30/2007

Cebu City, Philippines – At least 80 illegal structures encroaching on the six-meter road in Sitio (district) Kamagong, Barangay (village) Lahug, Cebu City were demolished by the Special Prevention, Encroachment and Elimination Division (SPEED) last week.


Federico Mercado, chief of SPEED-Cebu City, said some house owners tried to resist but later agreed to the demolition after they were told that only portions of their houses would be affected.


Mercado said most of the houses encroached on at least two meters of the six-meter road.


For fear that the demolition would be done haphazardly, the owners themselves volunteered to destroy parts of their homes.


The city government did not give compensation to the affected families. /Correspondent Chris A. Ligan

Cebu Province’s founding day celebration starts

Cebu Daily News
Last updated 03:45pm (Mla time) 07/30/2007

Cebu, Philippines – Monday is the start of the week-long activities in celebration of the 438th founding anniversary of Cebu Province on August 6.


Mayors will join Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and the Capitol employees in the flag raising ceremonies on the Capitol grounds on Monday morning. This would be followed by the raising of the colors of the province’s 45 towns and seven component cities.


Opening of the agro-fair at the back of the Capitol building would then follow.


The portrait of former governors Sotero Cabahug and Buenaventura Gutierrez would also be unveiled on Monday in honor for their roles in the construction of the Capitol building.


The provincial government has also sponsored a nightly concert inside the Capitol compound as part of the celebration.


On Friday, the anniversary itself, the anniversary, the provincial employees from the six departments will compete in folk dance contest.


Roger Serna of the Provincial Information Office said that the employees would perform the original dances in Cebu including Sampaguita, Pandanggo sa Baso, Meligoy de Cebu, Mananagat, Sortedo Cebuano and Itik-itik Sibonga. /Reporter Nilda Gallo

Marian miracle site becomes tourist spot

More pilgrims troop to Sibonga

By Nilda Gallo
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 03:46pm (Mla time) 07/30/2007

Cebu, Philippines – Almost 10 years after the statue of Mary reportedly shed tears in Barangay (village) Simala, Sibonga, Catholic devotees continue flocking to the site for pilgrimage.


Brother Martin Mary, one of the Marian Monks of the Eucharistic Adoration running the Mama Mary’s Sanctuary, said that every 13th day of the month, around 10,000 pilgrims visit the site where the statue of Mary reportedly shed tears in 1998.


Martin said he based his estimates on the number of hosts the monks prepared each month for the Eucharist.


Just a 15-minute ride from Poblacion, Sibonga, the Mama Mary’s Sanctuary is one of the destinations featured on the first day of the Suroy-Suroy sa Sugbo, a province-led tour to the province’s heritage sites.


Tita Soza of the Provincial Tourism said the sanctuary has been included among the featured spots because of participants’ demand.


The monks, however, are very strict on the tourists’ outfits. They bar those wearing sexy dresses, including spaghetti-strapped blouses and fitting jeans, from entering the church.


Notices are also posted on the way to the church telling visitors that smoking and loud noises are also not allowed.


The Marian monks conduct a procession everyday, carrying sacks full of written prayers and intentions from the pilgrims.


“It’s one way of offering a sacrifice,” Brother Martin said.


The processions are done inside the monastery at night when the pilgrims have already left the place.


The Marian Sanctuary is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily but Masses are held only on Saturdays, Sundays and every 13th day of the month.


Martin said the monks have to pray for Mary’s “intercession” everyday for all the petitions coursed through them to be heard.


He said the monks would place the written intentions below their knees as they kneel and hold hands in prayer.


The monks have displayed inside a glass cabinet, hundreds of letters thanking the miraculous statue for successful healing, medical operations and for passing difficult examinations.


Martin said the monks are going to send those letters to the Vatican for use by the Catholic Church Commission on Investigation to study the “phenomena” of the Virgin Mary.


Martin said those “phenomena” will only be called “miracles” when affirmed by the Vatican.


He said hundreds of pilgrims have already made their testimonies for a number of miracles that reportedly happened to them.


In 1998, the Virgin reportedly “helped” stop the spread of a killer epidemic that struck Sibonga.


With the continued influx of pilgrims, the congregation has been able to put up a church building.


But the church is unfinished yet. Its altar is still being built and there is no ceiling yet, Martin said.


He said the completion would depend upon the donations that would come.


The monks are also helping 146 poor children go to school, he said.

Controversial priests, others to be reshuffled

Controversial priests, others to be reshuffled
By Bernadette Parco
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 03:46pm (Mla time) 07/30/2007

Cebu, Philippines – Two Priests linked to controversies are among those scheduled to be transferred to other parish assignments within the year.


Monsignor Constantino Diotay, who had been embroiled in controversies concerning accounting and disbursement of church funds, and Father Benedicto Ejares, who was accused by public high school students of lascivious conduct, will have new posts soon.


However, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said the transfer was not because of the problems or complaints the priests were facing, but because their terms of office were over.


“Everybody who (has stayed for) more than six years (in their parishes) will be moved,” he told reporters on Wednesday.


Last year, the Kalihukang Katoliko Karon initiated a petition seeking the transfer of Diotay and Fr. Domingo Tapic to another parish after accusing them of implementing “moneymaking” schemes.


Diotay is the parish priest of the Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish priest in Pardo, Cebu City.


Cardinal Vidal said an investigation by the archdiocese showed that the properties allegedly purchased by Diotay were “all in the names of his relatives.”


Vidal denied parish funds were used to buy the properties.


“He has money, on his own. He is living frugally,” the prelate said.


Vidal said Diotay had been staying at the Sto. Tomas parish for eight years and is due for a transfer.


He also said that Diotay, who is more than 70 years old, would be retiring from active priesthood soon.


The retirement age for priests is 65, but permission to retire is only given by their bishops.


Another priest, Ejares, may also be given a new parish assignment. Ejares was accused by public high school students of lascivious conduct, while hearing their confessions during a Life in the Spirit Seminar in November 2006.


Ejares recently surfaced to answer the charges against him, saying that he was just making the students feel at ease.


He has since been placed on floating status and given no assignment.


“Maybe when he would be given a new assignment (during the reshuffling of parish priests). But up to now he still has no assignment,” Vidal said.


Vidal said the suspension of Ejares’ priestly faculties was still in place.


Ejares may perform “governance and administration duties” until his floating status is lifted. He may not celebrate Mass nor hear confessions “until everything is resolved,” Vidal said.

Cardinal happy Tom and Gwen ‘silent’

By Bernadette Parco
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 03:21pm (Mla time) 07/26/2007

CEBU, Philippines—Silence is bliss.


Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said he was happy that the word war between Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña has abated.


“You see, at least they are silent now…,” Vidal told reporters yesterday after saying Mass at the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. James the Great in the northern town of Compostela.


He said the two leaders might have listened to his advice after all.


Garcia and Osmeña have been feuding since February in what initially started as a disagreement over a failed land swap deal that escalated into a fight over territory and who has more political clout in Cebu.


Last month, the 76-year-old prelate told the two leaders to “stop, be silent for a short time and maybe cool off.”


Vidal also said that he was worried that the people’s right to receive basic services was not being met because the officials were focused on their very public feud.


Cardinal Vidal yesterday hinted that a dialog could be in the offing.


“I think they (Garcia and Osmeña) have already exhausted what they are going to say (against each other). So perhaps, after some time, we will be able to talk to them,” the prelate said.


Vidal, however, did not give details on the possible dialog.


Hopefully, he said, the end of the public quarrel as evidenced by the days of quiet on both sides would become permanent.


“Whatever work that (Garcia and Osmeña would) be (doing), they should be always at peace with one another so that they can serve us. The Lord came not to be served but to serve. See? They should also be like that,” said Vidal.


The prelate stressed he was not disappointed when Garcia and Osmeña failed to show up at the Mass for Accountability and Good Governance he officiated last July 14.


The Mass was attended among others by Representatives Raul del Mar(Cebu City north district) and Nerissa Soon-Ruiz(6th district); Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes and Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna; and Borbon Mayor Bernard Sepulveda.


“They may have their reasons,” he said, even as he noted that only a few officials took the time to attend the Mass.

Santiago de Compostela Cebu’s new pilgrim site

By Bernadette Parco
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 03:21pm (Mla time) 07/26/2007

CEBU, Philippines—Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal yesterday declared St. James the Apostle parish church in Compostela town as Cebu’s own ‘Santiago de Compostela,’ th e newest archdiocesan shrine for pilgrims to visit.


In a decree of conferment he issued on July 24, Vidal named the shrine “Santiago de Compostela,” in reference to the famous pilgrimage Cathedral in Galicia, Spain.


“They don’t have to go outside the Philippines or outside Cebu anymore because there is already a shrine here,” Vidal said.


“They (the faithful) can avail of the services (of the shrine) by going on pilgrimages.


While going on pilgrimages they have the opportunity to hear Mass and receive the sacraments and prayers in honor of the saint,” Vidal told Cebu Daily News.


Vidal said people who will visit the new shrine on specific days will be granted a “plenary indulgence,” which means, their sins will be forgiven after receiving the sacrament of penance and offering a prayers.


Pilgrims will attain this if they visit the shrine any day within July 25, 2007 and July 25, 2008.


Or any day of the year when July 25 falls on a Sunday.


He also said that the pilgrim can also partake of “spiritual benefits” if he visits the shrine any day as long as he walks in a procession at least a kilometer stretch to the shrine. If the pilgrim is sick, he may visit the shrine on a vehicle.


Vidal said that aside from the spiritual benefits, people can also take advantage of economic opportunities, like selling candles.


“There is no limit to the number of shrines (in a diocese) but not every (parish) can be a shrine,” said Vidal.


He explained that only those parishes which meet the “special requirements” can be declared an Archdiocesan shrine. One of these requirements, is the age of the Church, which should date back to “antiquity.”


Another requirement is if people usually go there to pray and if the priest is willing to look after the “spiritual” well-being of pilgrims expected to visit the shrine.


“If they have these requirements then they can apply at the Commission on Worship, which will study the application.


If they qualify, everything will be documented and they give it to me,” he said.


“Afterwards, I ask my Council of Consultors for approval,” he added.


Vidal had earlier declared other Cebu parishes as archdiocesan shrines including one in Bogo town, Punta Princesa in Cebu City, Maguikay in Mandaue City and Tuburan town.


Cebu has three national shrines; namely, the Basilica del Sto. Niño, the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City and the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Virgin of the Rule in Lapu-Lapu City.

Emerging phenomenon draws praise, flak

Emerging phenomenon draws praise, flak
By Kristine L. Alave, DJ Yap
Last updated 05:42am (Mla time) 07/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines—Malling has been called the new national past time. Every weekend, hordes of people, families and teenage cliques, troop to malls for sightseeing, to shop and surprisingly, to hear Mass.


Church services in malls are a relatively new phenomenon, an indication of the pervasive influence of the mall culture and proof of the evolving Filipino lifestyle.


It also serves as the perfect example of the marriage between business and religion as it responds to a specific need of shoppers and lengthens their stay inside the store.


SM Prime Holdings Inc., which built a chapel inside one of its biggest complexes, the SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City, was one of first developers that gave a space for religion inside its mall.


Independent mall chapel


The Chapel of the Eucharistic Lord, located on the fifth floor of Building A, is the first and only independent mall chapel in the country, answerable only to the Archdiocese of Manila. The rest are under the jurisdiction of the parish where they are located.


Msgr. Bong Lo, chaplain, said the chapel was built nine years ago upon the prodding of SM matriarch Felicidad Sy, who happens to be a devout Catholic.


Before that, the mall offered Mass in the lobby, which eventually, could not accommodate the growing number of worshippers.


According to Lo, the chapel’s Sunday attendance is quite impressive, with about 1,100 people attending Mass regularly.


Lo said he could understand why people would want to attend Mass in the malls instead of the traditional churches. For one, it is more comfortable because of the air-conditioning, he said.


It is also more convenient for people as they can attend to their spiritual and worldly tasks under one roof, he added.


Asked if he is concerned that bringing the Mass, a highly ritualized and spiritual tradition, to a decidedly commercial and mundane environment, would cheapen what should be a holy and personal experience, Lo said that would never be the case.


“It’s a conscious effort of the Church to go where the people are. We have to meet people half-way. It’s the evangelizing spirit of the Church,” Lo explained.


The other pioneer is the Ortigas family, developer of the Greenhills Shopping Complex in San Juan City, which built both a chapel for Catholics and a prayer room for Muslims on its property.




The prayer room, built three years ago and the first in the country, created controversy when residents from the nearby gated subdivision opposed its construction for fear that it would bring unpleasant elements to the neighborhood.


In a move of solidarity with his Muslim counterparts, Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales also stopped the services in the chapel until the issue was resolved.


Rex Drilon II, chief operating officer of the Ortigas and Co. Ltd. Partnership, said the prayer room was built to accommodate the needs of Muslim traders in the Greenhills flea market.


Drilon said the prayer room, which is carpeted, air-conditioned, and has a halal canteen next door, was the company’s way of giving back to around 500 Muslim merchants and their staff.


“They pray five times a day. With the prayer room, they didn’t have to go to the Quiapo Mosque and come back to Greenhills again,” he noted.


Drilon added that he has heard complaints about mixing religion with business, but he has dismissed them all.


“There are ultra-conservatives who frown on this development. But God is everywhere. You don’t have to go to a church to pray,” he noted.


At the Power Plant Mall, tucked away in a corner of the third floor and just a few feet from the bowling alley, is a place not many would expect to find in a shopping complex—a chapel.


But while the serene atmosphere inside the hall seems out of step with the otherwise materialistic scene beyond its doors, people keep drifting in, perhaps for a moment’s prayer or to hear Holy Mass.


By any standard, the chapel, suffused in a pale golden light, has all the trimmings of any House of God, save for the synthetic rattan chairs in place of pews.


Stained glass windows overlook a park lined with palm trees; on the walls hang miniature carvings of the Stations of the Cross; and facing the tall wooden doors is an oil painting of Jesus Christ. Everywhere, in keeping with the gold-and-white motif, the mood is somber and peaceful.


On a humid Thursday afternoon, Fr. Albert Flores is celebrating Mass before a fairly sizable crowd of churchgoers.


Many of them belong to Rockwell Center’s target market, the A-B crowd. Clad in smart casual clothes, the congregation is mostly middle-aged with little children tagging along.


Almost natural


For many people, the celebration of Mass inside places like Power Plant Mall, and other shopping centers, has become almost natural in an age of increasingly busy and modern lifestyles.


“It’s not easy for us to go to Mass regularly on Sunday, so we have to find other ways to do it,” said one homemaker, Natasha, who did not want to give her last name.


“I think it’s a good thing they have a chapel here, because that way, I can pray more often, unlike before,” Natasha said.


“Before, every time we plan to go to church, it never pushes through for some reason or other. But here, for example, I can go to church before I do my grocery run,” she added.


Not everyone, however, is as comfortable with the idea of going to Mass inside a mall as Natasha. Take Victor Tabang, who works as a security guard at the mall.


The old fashioned way


According to him, he still prefers the old fashioned way of going to church in one’s Sunday best.


“It’s different somehow. When people go to church, that’s the only thing they are thinking of,” Tabang said.


But he said he understands why some people like going to church inside the mall. “We really can’t blame them. People are always so busy, so I guess they have no choice,” he said.


For Msgr. Nico Bautista, one of the more outspoken members of clergy, he has no problem per se with celebrating Mass, be it in “a mall, a school, a restaurant, or a basketball court.”


“It’s the Church’s way of reaching out to people. It’s the nature of the modern times, and if we have to celebrate Mass in a mall, so be it,” added Bautista, a member of the Movie Television Review and Classification Board.


But what infuriates the outspoken priest is the fact that the practice is also being done at the SM chain of malls.


Bautista, who celebrates Sunday Masses in Magallanes in Makati City, is convinced that the mall’s management, which has faced charges of unfair labor practices, should not allow Mass to be celebrated in its premises. (Lo refused to comment on Bautista’s statement.)


What do the faithful say about the marriage between the commercial and the spiritual? Does it bother them that, for some, going to Mass has become just another errand in the to-do list?


Churchgoers never seem to mind the contradictions, and mall chapels, from Megamall to Shangri-la Plaza are always full of Sunday worshippers.


Lively homilies


Rey Malabarbas, 27, and a Pasig City resident, said he prefers to hear Mass at the mall because of the lively homilies. He noted that the mall preachers do not drive him to sleep and that their homilies are always grounded on real, personal lives.


Another regular mall church-goer, Ella Napata, said she appreciates the service in the mall because it is convenient and the sermons are better than the ones told in her church. Apart from the Sunday Mass, Napata also attends the Wednesday novenas.


Both said there are always people who will consider going to Mass incidental to shopping. These people would just have to reckon with their conscience, they noted.


But at least they get to hear Mass, and that’s the important thing, they added, and certainly better than not going at all.

Village chief killed in Cavite

By Thea Alberto
Last updated 10:07am (Mla time) 07/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — A village chief was killed in Cavite Tuesday, according to reports reaching the Camp Crame national police headquarters.


Raul Bernal was stabbed to death at Dra. Salamanca St., San Roque around 4:30 am, reports said.


The suspect, identified as Arjay Quilan, has been arrested, reports said.


Although the motive for the killing is not clear, police are not discounting the possibility that it might be related to the barangay elections this October.


On Monday, Chief Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao said they were trying to determine election hotspots to preempt an escalation of violence.

Baguio offers water recycling lessons

By Vincent Cabreza
Northern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 02:10am (Mla time) 07/31/2007

BAGUIO CITY — Folks here don’t need lessons in water recycling every time drought dries up Metro Manila’s faucets because there’s always a blow-by-blow instruction available from every household in the summer capital.


For the last 50 years, Baguio residents have been building water tanks that sometimes tower over their own homes to capture and conserve rain water.


In their houses are cabinets of recycled jars or a veranda of drums that are filled with tap water.


Many buildings here that date back to the 1960s have shower facilities or bathtubs, but none has been used for bathing.


Water storage


Bath tubs are particularly valuable commodities here because they are useful water storage facilities.


Maryanne, a 40-year-old housewife, said migrants and transient students, upon settling in, are often bewildered by households that wake up each day to collect bath water and laundry water in sealed receptacles.


The dirty water is later used to flush toilets, scrub floors or even to water plants.


“It doesn’t matter how often we take a bath or wash dishes, but we make sure we save in another receptacle the water we used for the last bath rinse, so we can also water our house plants,” Maryanne said.


The city’s terrain helped shape this peculiar lifestyle, Teresita de Guzman, general manager of the Baguio Water District (BWD), said.


Baguio has the highest rainfall in the country, but much of this water often slide down the city’s sloping hills towards low lying rivers that feed sections of Northern Luzon, she said.


Rain water


She said Baguio’s water distribution cycle relies instead on rain water absorbed and processed by the city’s natural aquifer.


The city also maintains a 10-hectare water reservoir on top of Mt. Sto. Tomas located between Baguio and Tuba, Benguet.


American engineers, who built the city from the ground up in 1909 for the colonial government, knew about the mountain community’s rain-drenched nature, according to local historians.


They set up an elaborate drainage system to feed the man-made lake at Burnham Park, knowing full well how strong the rains get between July and October, they said.


Weather observer Efren Dalipog said the Baguio weather office measured 11 millimeters of rain that fell here on Sunday (July 29).


The BWD said the rains so far have filled up only 5 meters of the 50-meter high reservoir.


However, residents are not panicking yet.


Baguio water has always been rationed during summers because it is often this water basin that supplies most of the city’s water during these periods, De Guzman said.


Perhaps the best indication of how successful Baguio recycling has been is BWD’s sales figures.


De Guzman said a household here consumes 23 to 25 cubic meters of water each month or 125 drums of water shared by six family members.


Maryanne said as long as the rations remain on schedule, no one is complaining.




Officials had blamed the shortage of water in Metro Manila on the denudation of the country’s watersheds.


“This is all about trees and watersheds,” said Sen. Loren Legarda in a press statement.


“We’ve been warning repeatedly about this in the past. The unabated destruction of trees has clearly diminished in a big way our natural ground capacity to hoard enough water,” she said.


Legarda chaired the Senate committee on environment and natural resources and authored two major environment-protection laws in the 12th Congress—the Solid Waste Management Act and the Clean Air Act.


She also founded Luntiang Pilipinas, the nationwide tree-growing program that received the United Nations Environment Program Award in 2001.


Two weeks ago, Legarda renewed her bid to totally ban all logging to safeguard the country’s residual forests and allow new trees to grow unmolested in logged over districts nationwide.


Legarda reintroduced a measure—Senate Bill (SB) 73—that seeks to prohibit logging operations of any kind for the next 25 years. The bill proposes to declare it illegal for any person to cut or destroy any tree standing on any forest, timberland, forest reserve or watershed.