Saturday, June 11, 2011

5 dead in Leyte road mishap

ORMOC CITY, Philippines – Five persons, including two children, were killed when the motorcycle they were riding collided with a mini-bus Saturday in Albuera, Leyte, police said.

The fatalities were identified as Nomer Durango, his wife Gloria, both 40; their daughter Julie Ann, 10; Regine Heredia, 2; and motorcycle driver Nilo Bernal, 43.

Heredia’s mother, Jenny, 21, was seriously injured taken to the OSPA Farmers’ Medical Center by members of the 78th Battalion based in Albuera, about 23 km from Ormoc City.

All of the victims were on a “habal-habal” – public utility motorcycles where passengers squeeze themselves in front and behind the driver that are common in the Philippine countryside. They were on their way from Albuera to the town of Baybay.

Inspector Pascasio Murillo Jr., Albuera police chief, said the motorcycle was about to turn left on the national highway in at Barangay Tinag-an when it was hit by a mini-bus headed for Ormoc.

The bus driver, Jiel Rubencia, 32, said he was cruising at a speed of 60 kilometers per hour when the motorcycle suddenly crossed the intersection.

He said he stepped on the brakes but they did not seem to work. The bus dragged the motorcycle about 50 meters away.

The bus owner, Edrito Deguiles, promised to shoulder the burial expenses of the fatalities as well as the medical bills of Jenny Heredia.

-with reports from Elvie Roa of Inquirer.net

US urges peaceful resolution to Spratly dispute

WASHINGTON—The United States is “troubled” by tensions triggered by a maritime border dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), US officials said Friday, calling for a “peaceful” resolution to the crisis.

“We’ve been troubled by some of these reports about the South China Sea and believe they only serve to raise tensions and don’t help with the peace and security of the region,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

“We support a collaborative diplomatic process… and call on all claimants to conform all of their claims, both land and maritime, to international law.”

He said the United States and the international community at large share an interest in maintaining maritime security in the region, citing freedom of navigation, economic development and respect for international law.

Beijing says it is committed to peace in the West Philippine Sea, but its more assertive maritime posture has caused concern among regional nations.

Tensions between China and Vietnam are at their highest level in years after Hanoi accused Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship in May inside its exclusive economic zone in the maritime waters.

On Thursday, Vietnam alleged a similar incident in the zone, saying a Chinese fishing boat rammed the cables of another oil survey ship in its waters.

Beijing countered by warning Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate its sovereignty in disputed West Philippine Sea waters.

The two countries have long-standing disputes over the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly archipelagos and surrounding sea.

Tensions have also risen this year between China and the Philippines, another claimant to the Spratly islands, where Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also say they have a stake.

In the past two weeks, the Philippines has publicly accused Chinese forces of being behind seven confrontations with Filipinos in the Spratlys in less than four months.

Chinese ambassador to Manila Liu Jianchao dismissed the reported incidents as mere “rumors” or exaggeration, even as he asserted China’s claim to the reputedly oil-rich Spratlys island chain.

Vietnam’s navy on Friday announced it will hold a live-fire drill in the South China Sea next week.

“We don’t support anything that adds to raising the current level of tension; we don’t think it’s helpful,” Toner said.

“What there needs to be is a collaborative diplomatic process, a peaceful process, to resolve various territorial disputes and otherwise,” he added. “Shows of force, other gestures like that, just I think raise tensions.”

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last weekend that clashes may erupt in the West Philippine Sea unless nations with conflicting territorial claims adopt a mechanism to settle disputes peacefully.

-with reports from Agence France-Presse

18-year old Filipino to be named world's shortest man

SINDANGAN, Philippines—A Filipino standing two feet tall is expected to be hailed the world’s shortest man when he turns 18 on Sunday, officials say.

Lolit Homay, municipal health officer in Zamboanga del Norte province’s Sindangan municipality, says Junrey Balawing was measured at about 24 inches (61 centimeters) from head to foot lying down and slightly above 23 inches (58 centimeters) standing up Saturday.

A representative of Guinness World Records is to announce the official measurements on Sunday.

Current record holder Khagendra Thapa Magar of Nepal is 26.4 inches tall. Junrey's breaking record will be 2.4 inches away from Khagendra's.

Municipal administrator Allan Selda says the local government is preparing to celebrate the expected Guinness announcement with balloons and a cake for Balawing.

-with reports from Inquirer.net

SPOTTED: Unusual Bahay Kubo Song

Here's a very familiar song for a very unusual guest. The Bahay Kubo song, in this video, is being sung by a foreign-born Filipino kid named Luke. Just spotted this on youtube, and his way of singing Bahay Kubo is stunning. This video serves as a challenge to all Filipino parents and soon-to-be parents to look back to where they've come from, and engage their children in the culture that really defines a true Filipino.

The youtube user behind this viral video answered some of the questions:
1. Does Luke have a filipino parent?
Yes. Luke has 2 dads... one of his Dad, Wil is Filipino.

2. How did Luke learn the song?
Everytime Daddy Wil would change Luke's diaper when he was a baby... he would sing bahay kubo and 
 Luke would stop from moving around..making diaper changing easier for Daddy Wil. I guess he learned it from hearing it on a daily basis...

3. Where is Luke from?
Luke and his Dads- Wil and Clark live in the San Francisco, California area.

4. How old was Luke when the video was taken?
Luke was about 2 years and 3 months when that video was taken.

5. When will Luke have other videos?
We are working on another song... the life of a 3 year old toddler is busy... we will get one out soon.

This video was posted on December 2008 by wacuyco.

PAL Independence Day Fare Discounts

MANILA, Philippines—Flag carrier Philippine Airlines is offering fare discounts for as low as $649 from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas to Manila.

PAL in a statement said the fare discount is the airline’s way to commemorate the 113th Philippine Independence Day.

Sale period starts June 6 to July 6 for travel period outbound August 11 to November 6. Rates—quoted for Roundtrip Economy fare only and for weekday travel—exclude fuel surcharge, taxes/fees, Philippine Travel Tax and other airport fees and charges.

-with reports from Inquirer.net

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tacloban's Best Band: Island Paradise

The Pride of Tacloban City, the Island Paradise, triumphed in the Battle Robinsons Music Scene held at the Robinsons Place Tacloban last April 10, 2011.

I really look forward to seeing this band obtain regional and national spotlight, as it serenades its fans through its reggae-oriented music and enters the Waray-waray dialect into the local music scene.

Philippines orders US military equipment

WASHINGTON, DC—Amid increasing concern over renewed tensions in the South China Sea, the Philippine Embassy here is shopping for excess defense equipment from the United States under Washington’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

Jose L. Cuisia Jr., the Philippine ambassador to the US, said he has asked the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces back home to provide him with a wish list of military equipment they will need to shore up the country’s defense capability.

He said he expected the defense department to “prioritize” its modernization goals, but was careful not to explicitly link the purchase of US excess defense articles to the Philippine military’s job of securing the territorial sovereignty of the country in the face of China’s alleged intrusions into the areas of the disputed Spratlys group claimed by the Philippines.

“There are defense articles that will be available, and that’s why I’m asking the Navy, Air Force and Army what their needs are,” said Cuisia who made this disclosure during a visit at the embassy here last week of former President Fidel Ramos.

It is part of Cuisia’s job to negotiate with US officials contracts for the purchase of US military hardware. The FMS program is a standardized method for the sale by the US of defense equipment, services and training to foreign countries and governments. (See In the Know)

Cuisia said the negotiations with the US are only after the defense department, in consultation with the AFP, has determined “what the country needs.”

He said he has already seen the list provided by the Navy, but the other service commands—the Army and Air Force—have yet to come up with their own wish lists.

Hamilton class cutter

On May 13, Cuisia marked his debut as the new ambassador to Washington by signing the certificate of transfer of the decommissioned US Coast Guard Hamilton class cutter to the Philippines. (The cutters are called “Hamilton class” after their lead ship, the Hamilton, named after Alexander Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury.)

While in the US Coast Guard service, the vessel saw action in maritime safety and security missions, including drug and migrant interdiction, and search and rescue.

The patrol vessel, whose two 1,800 horsepower gas turbines can propel it to speeds of up to 28 knots, will be renamed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. It is the biggest ship ever to be acquired by the Philippine Navy, and will be sailed to Manila next month.

Philippine military officials have high hopes of acquiring a few other relatively modern patrol ships as the US will retire eight more Coast Guard cutters over the next five years.

Cuisia, however, seemed lukewarm to purchasing a decommissioned US warship because of the high price tag, even if it’s being sold at a “very big discounted price.”

“Is that what we really need? Do we need another one, or do we need something else?” he said.

“Do we need a frigate? Maybe that’s not what we need. Maybe what we need are fast patrol boats to go after pirates, after Abu Sayyaf, etc.,” he said.

Caution vs arms buildup

Ramos warned Philippine defense officials against promoting an arms buildup in the Spratlys group, a reputedly oil-rich chain of islands and reefs, which is claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

“There’s a buildup on many sides—even us. This is a little tiny buildup, which is the (purchase of a) Coast Guard cutter. Why don’t we use all this money that’s being budgeted for an arms buildup for peace, development and prosperity?” he said.

Escalating tensions in the Spratlys, which straddle busy international shipping lanes, is a relic of the Cold War, said the retired general who met with Cuisia and the Filipino community here during a 12-day swing of the US in May.

Ramos urged President Benigno Aquino III to accept an invitation from Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Beijing. He said this would help ease the tension over China’s recent alleged intrusions.

As early as March, Mr. Aquino has been invited by China to make an official visit, but MalacaƱang has yet to set a date.

Joint patrol of rivals

Ramos envisions a “common defense” of the South China Sea instead of rival claimants locked in a perpetual war mode, pointing their arsenals against each other.

His proposed setup is akin to a joint patrol of contested waters in which all claimant countries would contribute forces to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“What do we do with these existing armies? Why don’t we in Asia Pacific agree to treat each other like partners in peace and prosperity instead of us potential rivals 10 years from now?” he said.

Ramos noted the marked changes in the global security environment after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, which precipitated the disintegration of the Soviet Union and with it, the threat of international communism.

In both the Korean War and Vietnam War, the US had pursued a policy of containment, triggering the mushrooming of US military bases in Asia and around the world as the free world’s response to the advance of communism, he said.

The Philippines sided with the US in both wars, nurturing a political, economic and military relationship in post-World War II which did not always sit well with communist China.

But with China embracing capitalism, its economy is set to eclipse the US in 2016, as the International Monetary Fund recently predicted.

The real enemy

According to Ramos, the real enemy in the 21st century is no longer one country against the other.

“That’s outmoded. That’s a Cold War mentality,” he said.

“The force which is being applied one against the other and then continues to escalate should not just be identified with the No. 1 and No. 2 superpowers (the US and China) because who is the enemy? What is the enemy now? It’s international terrorism. It’s endemic disease. It’s climate change. It is poverty,” Ramos said.

“Can you imagine how much better the quality of life all around the world, especially in the Philippines and in China and in many parts of the world, would be if the huge amount of dollars, of yuan and pesos will be devoted to economic and social development?” he said.

The Ramos Peace and Development Foundation is working toward this goal of regional stability and prosperity, he said.

-with reports from Michael Lim Lubac of Inquirer.net

MI6 intel ops disfigures Al Qaeda site with cupcake recipes

Thanks to a hack by British intelligence operatives, would-be bombers downloading a recipe for making bombs from a suspected Al Qaeda online magazine may end up making cupcakes instead.

British intelligence MI6 operatives who hacked into the site also removed articles by slain leader Osama bin Laden, UK-based The Daily Telegraph reported.

"When followers tried to download the 67-page colour magazine, instead of instructions about how to 'Make a bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom' by 'The AQ Chef' they were greeted with garbled computer code," the report said.

The "code" was actually a web page of recipes for “The Best Cupcakes in America", published by the Ellen DeGeneres chat show.

It even included a recipe for Mojito and Rocky Road Cupcakes, the report said.

"The little cupcake is big again. Self-contained and satisfying, it summons memories of childhood even as it's updated for today's sweet-toothed hipsters," read the cupcake recipe page.

Both recipes replaced the original magazine's recipe for a pipe bomb, which The Telegraph reported as using "sugar, match heads and a miniature lightbulb attached to a timer."

Also removed by the cyber attack were articles by bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and a piece called “What to expect in Jihad."

The report said British and US intelligence planned separate attacks after learning that the magazine was about to be issued in June last year.

According to the Daily Telegraph story, British intelligence continued to target online outlets publishing the magazine because it is "viewed as such a powerful propaganda tool."

It said the magazine is produced by radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and his associate Samir Khan.

Al-Awlaki and Khan are thought to be in Yemen, and associated with radicals connected to Rajib Karim, a British resident jailed for 30 years in March for plotting to smuggle a bomb onto a trans-Atlantic aircraft. 

— with reports from  TJD, GMA News

Economy Watch: Uneven growth in world services sector this May

LONDON — Service sector growth in major European and emerging Asian economies was uneven in May, surveys showed on Friday, with slowdowns in the euro zone and India but a strong upturn in Russia.

Purchasing managers indexes (PMIs), which measure the activities of thousands of companies around the world, showed growth in the euro zone's vast services sector sagged for the second month in a row.

While the surveys indicated a welcome easing of inflationary pressure in Europe, input prices surged in Russia and also in India, where the service sector expanded at its weakest pace in 20 months.

A confusing picture emerged from Friday's Chinese services PMIs. The private HSBC survey showed growth accelerating and input price growth hitting a six-month high, but a government survey showed slowing growth and price pressures abating.

On Wednesday, manufacturing PMIs had showed a broad-based cooling of growth in world factories, feeding fears that the world's main economic engines are cooling fast as richer countries cut orders.

"Putting the services and manufacturing readings together... I think the PMIs as a whole are sending a pretty clear signal that there's a slowing in growth taking place," said Malcolm Barr, economist at JPMorgan.

Overall, the PMIs suggested businesses are still feeling the disruption to supply lines caused by March's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the costs of the commodities boom earlier this year which are still filtering through emerging markets. US PMIs due later on Friday are expected to show a modest uptick in growth for the non-manufacturing sector, although the spotlight will be on non-farm payrolls that are expected to show a steep loss of momentum in the labor market.

Friday's Markit Eurozone Services PMI showed a fall in May to 56.0 from 56.7 in April, holding above the 50 mark that signifies growth for the 21st month.

It showed growing disparities between the euro zone's strong Franco-German economic core and debt-burdened strugglers like Spain, Ireland and Italy, whose service sectors edged closer to stagnation.

The euro zone economy's 0.8 percent quarter-on-quarter expansion estimated for the first three months could be as good as it gets for this year, said survey compiler Markit.

British service sector growth also slipped in May, although like the neighboring euro zone, there was an easing in the upturn of both input and output prices that will come as welcome news for central bankers.

Price pressures

No such easing was seen in the slowing Indian service sector, as input costs increased markedly despite a series of interest rate hikes aimed at stemming rampant price growth.

The HSBC Indian services PMI slipped sharply to 55.0 in May from 59.2 in April — a 20-month low.

"The easing momentum for business activity and new business is evidence that policy tightening and high inflation is filtering through to growth," said Leif Eskesen, chief economist for India & ASEAN at HSBC.

Russian service companies fared much better, with the PMI there hitting a 13-month high thanks to a faster increase in new contracts.

While input price inflation also rose, approaching recent highs seen at the start of the year, the Russian service sector looked in rude health.

"As opposed to manufacturing, the service sector surprised positively in May demonstrating broad-based growth in all sub-sectors and accelerating its expansion rate to above the long-term average," said Alexander Morozov, chief economist for Russia and CIS at HSBC.

In China, HSBC's services PMI showed a big jump to 54.3 last month from April's near record-low of 51.6, contrasting with muted gains seen in the manufacturing PMIs which have suffered from power shortages and thinning profit margins.

By contrast, the official government survey from the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing showed a slight slowdown in May — to 61.9 from April's 62.5 — as well as easing inflation pressure.

"Both indices measuring input prices and service charge prices dropped last month. That is a good sign and may help reduce inflation pressures," said Cai Jin, a vice-president at the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing.

-with reports from Reuters and GMANews.tv