Friday, September 30, 2011

FEU needs a storm of a game

REDEMPTION VS REIGN. Ateneo FEU clashes anew in the finals of UAAP Season 74.

MANILA—Ateneo sees no problem in facing a pumped up Far Eastern University in the UAAP men’s basketball championship Saturday.

Although ranged against a much improved Tamaraws, the Blue Eagles think there should be no question on their motivation to bag a fourth straight crown.
“I think people who assume that we are no longer hungry to win will be surprised,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black.
FEU mentor Bert Flores, though, finds more reasons to push the Tamaraws when Game 1 of the best-of-three title series unfolds at 3 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“There’s last year’s Finals,” said Flores, noting that the Tamaraws are aiming for redemption from last season’s championship meltdown. “We were badly beaten, so I think the players want to prove something.”

FEU, which clinched title berths in all divisions this season, also vie for crowns as the favorite in the women’s and juniors best-of-three Finals.

The top-seeded Lady Tamaraws clash with defending champion Adamson at 9 a.m., before the No. 1 Baby Tams take on surprise finalist National University at 11 a.m.
“The first game is really the most important,” said Flores. “I keep reminding my players that we’re almost there. Just two more weeks of staying focused.”

The Tamaraws of course, have a lot to deal with as the Eagles boast of an experienced cast—led by Nico Salva, Kirk Long and Emman Monfort—bolstered by rookie stars Kiefer Ravena and Greg Slaughter.

“We’ll continue to play the same way,” said Black of his Eagles, who topped the eliminations at 13-1 before disposing University of Santo Tomas in the Final Four.
“We normally go inside-and-out. We utilize [Slaughter's] size inside to force other teams to collapse and double-team against him.”

The Tamaraws, the No. 3 seed (9-5) who overcame Adamson’s twice-to-beat semifinal edge, are again expected to rely on their formidable backcourt bannered by RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo and Cris Tolomia.

“In a sense that’s going to be be a big challenge for us,” said Black. “We’re probably No. 1 in the league in shutting down the lane area. Now we’re going up against a team whose strength is perimeter play. We have to do a good job of not just shutting down the lane, but also to close out and challenge their shooters.”

Flores said his Tamraws have adjusted since their twin elimination loss to the Eagles.
“We have to work hard on our rebounding,” said Flores. “Ateneo is also good off transition, so we have to be ready for that.”

The Eagles surprisingly dumped the Tamaraws in the first round, 69-49, but had a tougher time in pulling off a 74-67 overtime win in their second meeting.

“The FEU team that’s playing right now is a much better team,” said Black. “They have a lot more confidence. They’re much more aggressive. They’re getting out trying to run fastbreaks and they’re really pressuring defensively.”

SBP sends Fiba Asia hosting bid

MANILA, Philippines—The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is going all out to gain homecourt advantage in the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship.

SBP executive director Renauld Barrios said the national cage body will submit to Fiba Friday its official bid to host the continental qualifier for the world championship set in 2014.

Barrios said the formal application to host on the final day of submission for bids comes with a cover letter signed by SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan stressing the country’s willingness to bring Asia’s most prestigious tourney to Manila.

China, which played host to the recently concluded Fiba Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, bagged the gold medal and the lone continental ticket to next year’s London Olympics.

The Philippines hopes to exploit the hometown support in the tournament which stakes three slots to the 24-nation 2014 Fiba World Championship set to be staged in six cities in Spain, including Madrid and Barcelona.

Barrios said they are working on a comprehensive cover letter that will provide a bird’s eyeview on the proposed hosting and supplement the bidding form provided by Fiba Asia.

The form is a simple checklist of forthcoming Fiba Asia tournaments a bidding country wants to host.

“We’ll definitely go for it,” said Barrios. “The attached letter will indicate how super serious we are to host it.”

The SBP made a bid for Manila to host this year’s Asian championship, but lost out to Lebanon.

Unimpressed with Beirut’s hosting of the Stankovic Cup last year, Fiba moved the Asian championship to Wuhan.

Besides the Philippines, Lebanon and China are also reportedly interested in the world qualifier.

Barrios said the SBP could stage the Asian championship in two venues—the Smart Araneta Coliseum and the world-class stadium being built at the Mall Of Asia in Pasay City.
“We have two good venues which can meet Fiba standards,” said Barrios.

“And we have experienced personnel who could organize an event as big as the Fiba Asia Championship.”

Barrios said they would deploy the same manpower when SBP successfully staged the Fiba Asia Champions Cup at the Philsports Arena four months ago.

PBA-Gilas partnership assured

Whenever a Philippine national basketball team doesn’t fare too well in a major international tournament, there is a negative effect on the PBA in terms of interest, attendance and TV ratings.

This is why we are confident—and so are PBA commissioner Chito Salud and chair Mamerto Mondragon—that the fine performance of the Smart Gilas national team in the recent Fiba Asia Men’s Championship in Wuhan would redound to the benefit of the PBA when its new season opens on Sunday.

After all, most of the Smart Gilas national team players will suit up for different teams, which has raised the expectancy level of the fans. High-flying Japeth Aguilar should provide some awesome dunks alongside Kelly Williams with Jimmy Alapag, who played so well in Wuhan, making the right calls for powerhouse Talk ‘N Text, back-to-back champions last season.

Former Alaska grand slam coach Tim Cone will try to weave the magic of his triangle offense with a popular and highly motivated B Meg Llamados squad backstopped by the fiery Mark Barroca. Surprise Governors Cup champions Petron will seek to blaze new trails with solid wingman Chris Lutz while his partner Marcio Lassiter is certain to show his tigerish defensive prowess and offensive skills along with streak-shooter JV Casio for the Powerade squad.

He may be getting on in years but Asi Taulava can still bring some electricity to the Meralco Bolts along with Smart Gilas reserve and big man Jason Ballesteros while feisty Marc Baracael fits nicely into the Alaska brand of play.

With an enthusiastic new television franchise holder in TV5, which telecast some of the best sports programs on its action-oriented AKTV IBC Channel 13, the fans can look forward to a new and innovative dimension in the coverage of the PBA.

We believe that with the performance of Smart Gilas in Wuhan, Philippine basketball, thanks to the passionate commitment of businessman-sportsman Manny Pangilinan,  is on the right track. By placing fourth, the Philippines jumped eight notches and made it to the top 50 in world basketball. The renowned NBA superstar Clyde Drexler even commended Smart Gilas and made some welcome suggestions.

What the public wishes to see—and the PBA has responded positively—is that all 10 teams in the pro league set aside their competitive differences both on the hardcourt and in business and industry and rally around Mr. Pangilinan and his Smart Gilas program. Indeed, the PBA can set an example for the rest of the sports organizations and business enterprises to follow in the interest of the greater good.

Never mind the pessimists and the perennial prophets of doom and just go ahead and do the right thing. Imagine if Rajko Toroman and his coaching staff that included Chot Reyes, Ryan Gregorio and Charles Tiu had the benefit of tapping the likes of Arwind Santos, Gabe Norwood, James Yap and Mark Caguioa, things may have been different in Wuhan.

Happily, both the PBA board and commissioner Salud have realized that the league needs to get together. Salud and Mondragon offered to consider a 16-man PBA pool even as the youthful commissioner correctly pointed out that we have a lot of room to improve and we are taking small steps to get there.

This is no small step in the public mind. It is—and must remain—a giant leap forward.

PBA News

Thursday, September 29, 2011

PBA launches 37th season; teams make a pledge

MANILA, Philippines—Assured by the promise of “no collusion” among the sister teams, the 37th Season of the Philippine Basketball Association, with an all-time high of three franchises owning multiple teams, was launched in earnest Wednesday.
Crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra will take on Rain or Shine in the lone match taking the lid off the Philippine Cup eliminations after the usual colorful opening ceremony at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

Only a total of six companies own the 10 teams in the field, with the San Miguel group continuing to have its three squads—Barangay Ginebra, Petron and B-Meg—and the PLDT franchise, aside from having Talk ‘N Text, also owning the Meralco Bolts.

Bert Lina became the third multiple owner after buying the Barako Bull franchise in the off-season, converting the squad to Shopinas while renaming Air21 as the Barako Bull Energy.

But commissioner Chito Salud declared during Wednesday’s press conference that the teams will be playing on their own merits.

“I haven’t seen indications that sister teams are giving way to each other (in the past),” Salud said. “Our format this year will ensure that, and I will be much stricter in three-way trades this year.”

“I’d rather err on the side of caution,” added Salud.

Barangay Ginebra board representative Robert Non said he is sure that players — and ballclubs — always play to win.

“Players earn no bonuses for losing games,” Non pointed out.

The league will be trying to surpass an impressive P90 million performance at the gates last season as it welcomes a bumper crop of rookies led by No. 1 pick JV Casio, who was tabbed by the rebuilding Powerade Tigers.

Smart-Gilas’ impressive performance in the Fiba-Asia qualifying in Wuhan, China is a wave that the PBA also hopes to ride on.

Salud said the Nationals, by placing fourth, will “bring basketball higher in the consciousness of the fans.”

New chair Mamerto Mondragon of Rain or Shine also announced that a proposal to help the Smart-Gilas program by giving 16 pro players to the pool is also in the works.

Talk ‘N Text, the defending champion, will be in the spotlight following its failure to pull off a historic grand slam in the Governors’ Cup, which undermanned Petron Blaze won.

The league will also have a new television coveror in AKTV5, which will broadcast the games over Channel 13.

Philippine Cup format calls for each team to play a total of 14 games, with the top eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals and the bottom two squads getting the boot.

The second conference, the Commissioner’s Cup, will have each team enlisting imports of unlimited height, while the season-ending Governors’ Cup will limit teams to reinforcements of 6-foot-5 and below.

Sunday’s game time will be at 6 p.m., just after elaborate opening ceremonies scheduled at 4 highlighted by the traditional parade of teams and their muses.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

UAAP postpones seniors’ finals game two due to ‘Pedring’

MANILA, Philippines – The second game of the seniors’ basketball finals between Ateneo and Far Eastern University will be postponed due to the stormy weather, the UAAP board announced Tuesday.

The hazards brought about by the heavy rains and strong winds of “Pedring” prompted the UAAP board to reschedule the match at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, after its president Ricky Palou announced earlier in the day that the games would still push through.

Game two of the best-of-three finals between the Blue Eagles and the Tamaraws will instead be played on Saturday, October 1, at the same venue.

But if the Tamaraws, trailing by a game against the defending champions, forge a rubbermatch, the schedule for game three has not been set.

Tickets for Tuesday’s game will still be honored on Saturday.

The women’s and juniors’ finals matches, however, went on according to schedule, with the participating teams at the venue as of posting time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

UAAP Finals: Ateneo Blue Eagles shoot for 4th straight UAAP crown

MANILA, Philippines—Ateneo tries to complete a historic quest Tuesday with coach Norman Black hoping the Blue Eagles would stick to what has made them successful all these years.

Black said the Eagles need another solid defensive effort to reward themselves with a fourth straight UAAP men’s basketball title against Far Eastern University.

 Kiefer Ravena of Ateneo tries to shake off Chris Eximiniano of FEU.

“That has really been the strength of our team,” said Black. “It has been our strength from the beginning, it has been our strength the last four years. We don’t have to worry whether our offense will be off. We’ll just go out and defend and still have a chance of winning.”

Game 2 of the best-of-three title series is set at 3 p.m. at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Another victory will put Ateneo in the elite company of schools that built varsity dynasties. La Salle was the last to string up four titles (1998-2001) after University of Santo Tomas pulled off the same feat (1993-1996).

University of the East holds the record with seven (1965-1971).

The Eagles, though, just want to focus on the game at hand.

“We have to adjust in our pick-and-roll defense,” said Black. “They (Tamaraws) were really successful in attacking us in the first half [of Game 1].”

Adamson earlier guns for a third straight women’s crown when the Lady Falcons try to sweep the Lady Tamaraws in Game 2 of their best-of-three at 9 a.m.

In the juniors division, the Baby Tamaraws gun for their first title since 1987 against the resilient National U Bullpups at 11 a.m.

The league will also honor the top individual performers in each division at 2 p.m. with Most Valuable Player Ray Parks of NU and Rookie of the Year Kiefer Ravena leading the awardees.

Ravena complemented the strong plays of Nico Salva and Greg Slaughter in Game 1 last Saturday, where the Eagles shot a remarkable 60 percent from the field en route to an 82-64 rout of the Tamaraws.

Despite admitting that the Eagles had “a perfect game,” FEU coach Bert Flores still thinks his Tamaraws can push the series to a decider.

“We’re still positive,” said Flores. “We have to pressure them (Eagles) because their execution is really good. We also have to work on our ball movement.”

Terrence Romeo, last year’s top rookie, carried the fight for the Tamaraws in Game 1 with 23 points.

And even with Ateneo owning the advantage at the low post with the seven-foot Slaughter, Flores wants to involve big men Aldrech Ramos and rookie Russel Escoto more in their offensive game plan.

“We have to give our big men more touches,” said Flores.

The Eagles, though, have history favoring them. Since the league adopted the Final Four format in 1994, all but four of 17 teams that won Game 1 went on to bag the crown.

Monday, September 26, 2011

UFL Cup kickoff, matches on AKTV

MANILA—Score another goal for local football.

For the first time, the United Football League Cup will be covered by AKTV, TV5’s prime time sports block on IBC 13, when it kicks off on October 8 from 2 to 6:30 p.m.

Select games will also be aired Saturdays throughout the tournament that has lured a record field of 28 teams, featuring mainstays of the Philippine Azkals, expatriates and fresh talents from the provinces.

Defending champion Global FC and league titlist Philippine Air Force head the favored squads along with first division campaigners Kaya-Cignal FC, Loyola Meralco Sparks, and Philippine Army.

Also tagged as contenders in the eight-month event are Green Archers United FC and newly promoted Nomads.

High-profile Azkals Phil and James Younghusband will strut their stuff for Loyola Meralco while Angel Guirado will spearhead Global FC’s attack line.

Not to be outdone, Kaya has enlisted the services of Nationals Nate Burkey and Jason Sabio to further bolster a roster that already parades Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo and internationalists Anton del Rosario and Yannick Tuason.

The United Football League Cup held its well-attended draw on Friday at the Edsa Shangri-La with the field divided into seven groups of four teams each.

Bracketed with the Nomads in Group A are Baguio FC, Union Internacional FC and Lions FC.

Loyola Meralco is in Group B with Internationale FC, Agila FC and Team Socceroo FC; while in Group C are Global FC, Pachanga FC, Stallions FC and Cebu Queen City FC.

Group D is composed of Kaya-Cignal, ABC Stars FC, Schwarz and Diliman Victory Liner FC; while Group E is made up of Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, Manila All-Japan FC and Laos FC.

The Green Archers United FC is bracketed in Group F with the Dolphins United FC, Pasargad FC and Forza FC.

Completing the cast is Group G comprised of Philippine Army, Manhur FC, Sunken Garden United FC and Garuda FC PH.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Philippines hosts first Asean Spratlys meet

The Philippines is pushing for the setup of a “Joint Marine Peace Park” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), part of its fresh proposals that seek to ease tensions in the region by delineating disputed areas and replacing military forces with civilians representing the various claimant countries.

Manila’s proposals came under scrutiny as it began hosting Thursday a two-day meeting of Southeast Asian maritime experts.

The gathering, the first of its kind, was an attempt by the Philippines to present a unified regional policy in confronting China’s exclusive claim over all the islands in the region.

The meeting was limited to maritime and legal experts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations(Asean), four members of which lay claims to the sea believed to be rich in oil.

The four claimants from Asean are the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. The other rival claimants are longtime rivals China and Taiwan.

Not all
The Philippine proposal maintained that not the entire West Philippine Sea is subject to a dispute, but only the Spratly group of islands which are sought by all six claimants, and the Paracel Islands which are being contested by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China refers to the strategic body of water as the South China Sea.

The proposed peace park “could be established in the joint cooperation area, or JCA, for the six Spratlys claimant-countries,” according to a paper from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), a copy of which was obtained by the Daily News Philippines.

“It would be a concrete implementation of the code of conduct (for Spratlys claimants) and a beginning of a more vigorous cooperation in the West Philippine Sea,” the paper said.

It noted that the code “would be specifically applied in the JCA” and “could be designed to prevent accidental military encounters through specific rules of engagement between and among the parties.”

The DFA paper said the JCA could be “demilitarized,” with police or Coast Guard staff replacing military personnel.

On maritime areas outside the JCA, the report said “joint activities that could be undertaken include search and rescue, oil spill preparedness, marine scientific research, and other conservation projects.”

And to transform the West Philippine Sea from a region of conflict into a so-called zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation, “the disputed areas must be clarified from the nondisputed waters,” the DFA said.

Once the disputed areas are delineated, claimants can decide to withdraw their troops, replace them with civilian forces and undertake joint research projects and disaster drills to boost trust, the proposal added.

For Manila, the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea are “specific, determinable and measurable.”

These areas can be determined and measured, it said, by making distinctions between “territorial disputes” and “maritime claims,” specifying the geological features being claimed, and applying the rules governing them under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

In the Asean bloc, the Philippines together with Vietnam has been the most vocal party in the dispute. China, however, prefers bilateral negotiations with each claimant country.

Beijing protest
Two senior Philippine diplomats told The Associated Press (AP) that Beijing had protested the two-day meeting.

Beijing has also questioned why Asean should deal with the disputes as a group when the majority of its members are not claimants, the two diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
One of the diplomats said that if Asean can forge a common stand, the bloc would later try to get China’s concurrence.

A draft statement to be issued after the meeting indicated all the participants were inclined to support the Manila proposal, describing it as “consistent with international law.”

They would urge the claimant countries “to meet among themselves and explore the possibility of defining” the disputed areas for joint projects.

Binay’s doubts
They would endorse the proposal to senior Asean diplomats for political deliberation, according to the draft statement, a copy of which was seen by AP.

Resolving the dispute “may take centuries,” said Vice President Jejomar Binay while talking to reporters after delivering an opening speech to the delegates at the conference.

Binay noted in the speech that the sea—through which more than half of the world’s supertankers pass—has “become a source of tension, which threatens the security” of not only the vital sea lane but also the region and the world.

But segregating the disputed areas would be tough. The Philippines, for example, claims as its own a potentially gas-rich area called the Reed Bank, which lies off the province of Palawan.

China, however, contests that claim, and two Chinese patrol boats tried to drive away a Philippine oil exploration ship from the area in March.

The Philippines protested the incident as one of several intrusions by China into its territorial waters that reignited tensions in the first half of the year. With a report from AP 


spratly islands

‘Ghost’ borrowers got P2.5B from Acef —Drilon

After phantom soldiers and fake veterans, now it’s “ghost” borrowers.
Senator Franklin Drilon warned that the government can no longer recover a total of P2.5 billion in loans that went to what he called ghost borrowers under the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (Acef).

The Senate earlier uncovered ghost soldiers and questioned the existence of centenarian World War II veterans at separate hearings on military corruption and the proposed 2012 budget of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office.

Acef, put up in 1996 after the Philippines joined the World Trade Organization, was meant to enhance the competitiveness of farmers and fisherfolk, and to boost the country’s food security.

Citing a Commission on Audit (COA) report, Drilon said many of the business ventures that got loans from the P10-billion fund might have been opened “just to make an advance” from the government credit line.

“The government is clearly prejudiced in this case because the amount could not be collected anymore since these are clearly ghost borrowers,” he said.
Among the alleged beneficiaries were politicians close to the Arroyo administration.

No response
Drilon noted that a total of 264 letters had been sent out to check on the status of the loans. But the government got no response from 140 beneficiaries, whose aggregate balance amounted to P2.1 billion, according to the COA report.

Twenty-seven of the recipients, whose balances were worth P370 million, were said to have returned the letters to COA “for various reasons.”

Drilon said borrowers whose combined loans amounted to P66.4 million “failed to pay back their loans due to the closure of the companies affected by typhoons and firms that no longer exist.”

Loans worth P1 million “may not be collected anymore because of death, insufficient address or unknown identity of the borrower,” he said.

Safety nets
Acef, funded by tariffs from agricultural products, is a mechanism aimed at providing financial support to the agriculture sector to increase its competitiveness in the global market.

The money from the taxes was supposed to be used to establish “safety nets” for those in the agriculture sector affected by trade liberalization.

In January, the fund was halted after officials saw irregularities in the program. Aside from the low repayment rate that left only P1.8 billion from the P10-billion fund, beneficiaries and former applicants also complained that past agriculture officials had asked kickbacks from them.

Agriculture officials said 110 accounts that drew funding from Acef were in arrears worth P3 billion. Many of these were projects worth P15 million and below.

Agriculture Undersecretary Antonio Fleta said Acef had a low repayment rate of 26 percent.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the beneficiaries did not find it urgent to pay back their loans as the program did not require any collateral or  did not charge  interest. In addition, many of the project owners turned out to be incapable of paying back the dues.

No trace
Some borrowers reasoned that they were left bankrupt by natural calamities, while others just vanished and could not be traced anymore, officials and records said.
Malacañang said individuals and groups that made a killing out of the fund should be unmasked.

“If there’s corruption, certainly we are eager to know who profited from that scam,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said at news briefing in the Palace.

Aurora province
An audit conducted by the Department of Agriculture showed that Senator Edgardo Angara’s home province, Aurora, received a total of P300 million from Acef.
The province got P200 million in 2008 for the concreting of the Baler-Casiguran Highway, while the Aurora State University received P100 million in 2007 for its Enhancement of Technology-based Agribusiness Industry program.

Angara, a former agriculture secretary, cried foul for supposedly being “singled out” in the controversy surrounding the alleged misuse of Acef.

“It is irresponsible to single me out and impute irregularities without proof. Do not turn this into a witch-hunt,” he said in a statement.

Angara called for “an honest-to-goodness performance audit of Acef to resolve the controversy once and for all, instead of resorting to useless and damaging labeling that characterizes the fund as worse than the fertilizer scam.”

He said both the agriculture department and the Senate oversight committee on agriculture should conduct a “full and fair audit” of Acef. He was the author of the law establishing the facility.

Publish all names
“They should publish all the names of the beneficiaries of Acef, from Day 1 to the present, whether individuals, corporations, provinces or universities,” said Angara.

The senator said it would be easy to trace where the money went and how it was used. “I see no reason not to publish this information, unless there really are ghost beneficiaries.”

Angara said the P300 million received by Aurora was spent for projects that were channeled to the right beneficiaries.

“Just because I am a native of Aurora does not mean I made a profit from Acef,” he said. “We have results and outcomes to prove that the money was well-spent. There is nothing to hide.”

Conflict of interest
The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said Angara had no moral ascendancy to conduct a probe of Acef because he was among those accused of benefiting from the fund.

“It appears that Angara has been used to practicing conflict of interest,” KMP vice chairman Randall Echanis said, noting that the senator is a member of the  congressional oversight committee on agriculture and fisheries modernization (COCAFM).

KMP also assailed former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap’s statement that the low repayment rate did not make Acef a failure or a scam.

“It is the height of callousness for Yap to simply dismiss reports that only big businesses and corrupt bureaucrats benefited from the Acef while farmers suffer from the brunt of the massive flooding of imported agricultural products in the local market,” Echanis said.

He said farmers affected by the impact of agricultural trade liberalization were more than willing to testify that they did not receive a single cent from  Acef.

Fund to reopen
The credit line is expected to reopen within the year, pending the Development Bank of the Philippines’ release of funds.

But Alcala no longer has full discretion in deciding who will get loans from Acef.
Loans amounting to P15 million and below used to require only the agriculture secretary’s approval after these had been passed by the reviewing committee.
Alcala said this rule was changed to include the two chairs of COCAFM, Senator Francis Pangilinan and Representative Mark Mendoza.

The change is part of the checks and balances instituted in preparation for the reopening of Acef.

“Before, the approval of loans P15 million and below was in the level of the secretary only after a review of the Technical Working Group. I did not approve of that anymore so the COCAFM chairs are now included,” Alcala said. With a report from Norman Bordadora


Philippines Government

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Aquino on martial law: Never again, never forget

Benigno Aquino III
President Benigno Aquino III. INQUIRER photo

NEW YORK—Filipinos should not forget martial law lest they repeat the mistake of one of the darkest periods in their lives, according to President Benigno Aquino III.
During a coffee break with Filipino reporters covering his US trip, the President was asked whether the people should forget or continue to remember how the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law 39 years ago on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).

He replied by quoting the writer George Santayana: “Those who forget the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.”

“If we don’t remember, maybe one day, given the right conditions, we just might get into that kind of situation and there will be no certainty that it will be peacefully resolved,” he said.

Mr. Aquino said the people should not forget how they were “conditioned” by the Marcos dictatorship to think that the nation then was in chaos and that martial law needed to be imposed.

He said it should be remembered that “the desire of one man and a group decided for the people then, and until now the people continue to suffer from the wrong decisions made.”

He cited as example the bad debts incurred by the Marcos regime from building the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

“What should we remember about [martial law]? Whatever those revising history say, let us not forget that the person who implemented it had then finished his term in office as allowed under the Constitution. He was supposed to be a bar topnotcher but he did a lot of things that violated the rights of the people, including trying civilians in military courts,” the President said in an apparent reference to Marcos who had a military court try and sentence to death his late father, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

The assassination of Ninoy Aquino on his return home in 1983 after three years in exile in the United States sparked the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship and installed his widow, Corazon Aquino, as President.

Human rights policy
In Manila, Malacañang renewed its commitment to uphold human rights in commemoration of the 39th anniversary of the imposition of martial law, but remained unclear on the definition of certain concepts that could lead to the adoption of a compensation bill for victims.

Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda boldly said that there was no political prisoner under the current administration and that extrajudicial killings were being investigated.

“We have made a very strict policy to uphold human rights. In fact, we have extended even to those who do not agree with this administration due process, both substantive and procedural due process,” Lacierda said at Wednesday’s news briefing.

“In fact, that is why it takes us so long to file cases. It’s because we are in strict observance of human rights. We believe in due process and we will continue to uphold due process and human rights in this country,” he said.

Lacierda, however, said more precise definitions remained elusive.

Asked to comment on the human rights situation in the country 39 years after the imposition of martial law, he said: “I think we need a better definition of terms and maybe clearer terms of reference with respect to human rights.”

Terms too broad
“Broad terms” related to the human rights issue are apparently getting in the way of the compensation bill for victims of rights abuse, particularly those under the dictatorship.

“There was a bill that was submitted by the executive branch, prior to the [Legislative-Executive Development and Advisory Council] meeting,” Lacierda said. “Unfortunately, the terms and provisions were so broad that these would not be able to determine how one can be called a human rights victim.”

Mr. Aquino thinks that the compensation bill should be fine-tuned and its provisions made more specific, Lacierda said. He said the bill was still “being worked on.”
Lacierda said violating human rights was not a policy of the administration.

“Proof positive of this is the appointment of Loretta Rosales [as chairman of the Commission on Human Rights], who was herself a victim of torture under the Marcos regime,” he said.

He added that there was no political prisoner under Mr. Aquino’s watch despite demands from the Left that certain prisoners be released because they were “consultants” in the peace negotiations between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front.

Lacierda also said the administration does not condone extrajudicial killings.
“So far, under this administration, there have been 10 extralegal killings that happened and they are all under investigation. Some of [the cases] have already been filed in court,” he said.

Philippines Government

OFW households saved less cash in Q3

LESS SAVINGS The appreciation of the peso has decreased the value of remittances in peso terms so that a smaller amount could have been apportioned by households for savings, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
Households that rely on money sent in by acquaintances and family members working abroad appear to have saved less cash in the third quarter, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

In its latest survey, the BSP reported that 35.5 percent of households dependent on remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) had less savings in the three months to September, compared with the 43 percent of respondents reported in the same quarter last year.

“The appreciation of the peso decreased the value of remittances in peso terms, hence, a smaller amount could have been apportioned by households for savings and purchase of big-ticket items,” the BSP said in a report.

The latest figure was also lower than the 44 percent recorded in the second quarter of the year.

There were 651 households covered in the BSP survey, which was conducted in July.
According to the central bank, OFW households are encouraged to set aside a certain sum for savings and investments to secure their future.

The BSP has been conducting seminars on savings and investments for migrant workers and their families. But it admitted that it still has a long way to go before most OFW households get to practice saving up and investing.

The peso’s appreciation was fueled by the surge in foreign capital inflows, particularly short-term investments in stocks, bonds and other securities.

The BSP said the sharp rise in foreign “hot money” inflows was due to the poor economic performance of the United States and Europe which, in turn, forced international portfolio fund owners to seek opportunities elsewhere, particularly in emerging markets like the Philippines.

Also, the rise of the peso has badly affected the fortunes of Filipino exporters, whose goods are now more expensive in dollar terms, and thus less competitive in foreign markets.

Traders have since urged the BSP to intervene in the foreign exchange market, particularly by making the peso much weaker against the US dollar.

But according to central bank officials, the regulator maintains a policy of allowing a market-determined exchange rate. They noted that a weak peso would not benefit all sectors, and that the regulator must stick to a bias-free policy.

However, the BSP does intervene in the foreign exchange market from time to time, but only to temper the sharp rise or fall of the peso.

Remittances from Filipino migrant workers continued to grow this year, particularly in dollar terms, despite the problems abroad.

The rise in remittances is attributed to continued strong demand for Filipino workers in overseas labor markets.

But economists said that while remittances have grown significantly in dollar terms, the peso value of the remittances have been registering almost flat growth because of the appreciation of the local currency against the US dollar.

Latest data from the BSP showed that remittances in the first seven months of the year reached $11.35 billion, rising by 6.3 percent from the $10.68 billion reported in the same period last year.

Philippines Government

Smart Gilas Pilipinas locks down on Syria, faces Chinese Taipei

WUHAN, China—Couldn’t get its offense going, Smart Gilas Pilipinas found redemption on the other side of the floor.

Smart Gilas Pilipinas held Syria without a field goal for over six minutes with a smothering full-court pressure and to prevail, 75-52, Wednesday night in the Fiba Asia Championship.

The Nationals unloaded 16 points during the Syrian meltdown in the fourth quarter as they notched a third straight victory in the second round and a 4-1 record at the end of the group stages.

Ranidel De Ocampo’s follow-up dunk off a wayward Jimmy Alapag triple ignited the scoring outburst at the beginning of the fourth while Marcio Lassiter and Chris Tiu responded with jumpers and penetrations, opening a wide 65-45 gap.

When center Eder Georges finally had that much-awaited bucket with 3:36 to play, the Syrians were already staring at the door with their fourth setback in five games sending them to the consolation round.

“Today’s an ugly win for us. We didn’t come out the way we expected. Good thing we picked up in the second half,” said Lassiter.

China’s scintillating 84-58 rout of Japan late Wednesday night guaranteed Smart Gilas the No.2 seeding in Group F and a quarterfinal clash against Chinese Taipei, No.3 in Group E.

The Chinese, fired up by a rowdy sellout crowd, swept the group stages and booked a fight-off with Lebanon in the quarters while the Japanese will grind it out with the Koreans in other knockout pairing.

The Nationals recovered from a forgettable first half as they began to hit their shots from the outside.

Three-pointers by De Ocampo and JV Casio and Marcus Douthit’s curl at the low blocks put Smart Gilas ahead, 42-41, after falling behind by as many as 11.

Douthit was assessed a five-second violation on the freethrow line and eventually got a technical for complaining, a call which peeved coach Rajko Toroman and the Smart Gilas bench.

Hasem Al Saman hit the technical freebies on the other end and the Syrians got their last taste of the lead as Smart Gilas finished them off with a 33-7 tear spanning the third and fourth.

“They (Syrians) have the size and we missed a lot of easy layups at the start. We struggled offensively and they had several lucky shots,” said Toroman.
“The defense was good in the second half and things opened up for us,” added Toroman.

In a game that determined the top seeding in Group E, two-time champion Iran (5-0) walloped South Korea (4-1), 79-62, to remain unbeaten entering the quarterfinals where the Iranians face Group F No. 4 Jordan.

The Jordanians (2-3) wrapped up the second round with a 94-80 triumph over United Arab Emirates (0-5) while Chinese Taipei (3-2) and Lebanon (2-3) will go to the knockout stage with confidence-building victories over Malaysia (1-4), 109-62, and Uzbekistan (0-5), 101-53, in Group E.

Meanwhile, Fiba Asia dumped Jordan’s protest against Smart Gilas. The Jordanians put the match won by the Filipinos, 72-64, under protest after organizers allowed Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz to play despite initially scratching them from the starter’s list.

Lassiter and Lutz were rendered ineligible by Fiba Asia officials and didn’t see action in the opening round before Fiba intervened and reinstated both players against Jordan.

The Asian championship, which stakes a continental berth to the London Olympics next year, takes a break Thursday before going full gear in the knockout stage come Friday.

Nothing seemed to go right for Smart Gilas in the second period after the Syrians overhauled a six point deficit and scored 21 points for a 32-23 halftime lead.

Japeth Aguilar’s alley-oop dunk off Mac Baracael’s feed broke a four-minute drought but guards Wael Jlilati and Vatche Nalbandian’s shooting hurt the Nationals’ cause.

Nalbandian canned two three-pointers and Jlilati had six points from the perimeter as the Syrians built a double-digit spread on Smart Gilas’ miscues.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

P10B agri funds drained

It was worse than the fertilizer scam.

A P10-billion fund meant to help small farmers, fisherfolk and agriculture entrepreneurs raise their skills and production was used as a cash cow of agriculture officials, politicians and businessmen “favored” by the Arroyo administration for almost a decade, officials said.

The discovery of irregularities in Acef (Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund) has led lawmakers and agriculture officials to suspend the program in January and to review its implementation.

What they saw, according to officials who checked the Acef records, was a long list of companies and beneficiaries who failed to pay back their loans.
The same officials also heard of complaints from borrowers who said that agriculture officials demanded kickbacks in exchange for loan approvals.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said his office had received complaints from beneficiaries and those who tried to apply for the fund that former agriculture officials had asked for kickbacks in exchange for approving their loans.

Legitimate projects were also set aside in favor of proponents who have questionable projects but are willing to provide kickbacks, officials said.
“As we investigated it, we found out that the majority of those who did not pay were the ones who were complaining about the kickbacks,” Alcala said. “It was as high as 20 to 35 percent,” he noted.

A senior agriculture official also noted that the Acef executive committee was lax in approving projects. Some proponents, who promised to give commissions, were not even required to appear at the Department of Agriculture to explain their projects, the official said.

Alcala said it was the Acef management that was accused of being the recipients of bribes. “They got money out of proceeds. After the funds are released, something goes to them,” he said.

Although the reports and complaints were numerous, Alcala said it was difficult to pin down the errant officials. “Of course, these had no receipts,” he said.

Some borrowers were also reluctant to say something on record because they knew that they got the deal out of bad faith, Alcala said.

The practice of asking for commissions in exchange for loan approval was confirmed by Gregorio San Diego, president of United Broilers Raisers Association (Ubra).

Four years ago, Ubra applied as a cooperative for the Acef to build a broiler breeder facility in Pampanga. San Diego said his group was encouraged by then Secretary Arthur Yap, but when the application reached the central office of the agriculture department, it was denied.

“They asked 10 percent from us,” he said, noting that it was considered a discount. “Others were told to give 35 percent,” he added.
In the end, Ubra decided not to push through with its application, San Diego said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, cochair of the congressional oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization, and sources confirmed that some of those who applied for the fund were personalities and politicians “favored” by the past administration.

‘Lender of last resort’

An industry source and an agriculture official, who reviewed the project and requested anonymity because of lack of authority to discuss the matter, described the use of Acef in the last decade as “plunder.”

“This was bigger than the fertilizer scam,” the industry source said, referring to the misuse of P728 million in agriculture funds under then Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante.

The fund, intended to benefit farmers, was said to have been diverted to the campaign kitty of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004. Bolante and former Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo have been charged with plunder at the Sandiganbayan.

“This was supposed to be for agricultural enhancement but they have become the lender of last resort,” the source said, referring to Acef.
Acef, established in 1996 and funded by tariffs from agricultural products, is a funding mechanism aimed at providing financial support to the agriculture sector to increase their competitiveness in the global market.

Safety net

The money from the taxes was supposed to be used to establish “safety nets” for agriculture sectors affected by trade liberalization.

“That was the basic tenet of Acef, but it was not followed. If it was implemented properly, say the industries were given common services, it would have made Philippine agriculture competitive. But this was not followed. Even those projects that were not aimed at competitiveness were given funding,” the industry source noted.

The fund was set up to enable farmers, fisherfolk, and cooperatives to upgrade their skills and facilities so that they can compete in an increasingly globalized agriculture market.

Loans up to P30M

Under the program, agricultural workers, cooperatives, nongovernment organizations, and local government units may take out loans ranging from P500,000 to P30 million.

Acef was supposed to have a 10-year life-span, but the agriculture department, during the term of former Secretary Yap, issued several memoranda extending the program and its scope.

Collateral-, interest-free

The program was especially designed to encourage small and medium agricultural enterprises to borrow from it as it does not demand a collateral from them and is interest-free. The lack of these requirements opened the fund to abuse and was the main reason for the low-repayment rate, officials said.

Acef contained P10.73 billion accumulated from collected tariffs from 1990 to 2010, according to the Department of Agriculture’s preliminary report as of February 2011.

During that period, the fund used P8.85 billion, mostly for grants and loans.
As of February, the agriculture department said P2.57 billion went to grants, while P5.82 billion went to loans to 299 accounts. Included in the loan portfolio was a P1-billion grant to the bankrupt Quedancor, which was supposed to be used for the agency’s training program. At about P372.78 million was used to fund scholarship programs.

Quedancor did not remit a single centavo to Acef and even borrowers who failed to pay were allowed to borrow huge sums again, officials said.
As of early 2011, only about P1.8 billion remained in Acef coffers as many of the creditors failed to pay back their loans over the years, the Department of Agriculture said.


Despite the huge amounts of money that were funneled into the fund since its creation, the credit mechanism that was supposed to improve Philippine agriculture, provide employment in the countryside and raise the income of farmers and fisherfolk failed in its vision.

In March, the technical working group on Acef said: “Available data indicate that the Acef has not been able to provide loans to the marginalized farmers and fisherfolk; but mostly to small and medium enterprises.”

In a report, the Commission on Audit (COA) said Acef was a failure. “The purpose of the program to raise farm productivity by extending credit to small farmers, fisherfolk and agricultural entrepreneurs was not achieved as manifested by the low collection rate of amortization due from the proponents. The inability of the proponents to pay the amortization is an indication that their livelihood agricultural activities did not succeed,” the report said.

Yap’s friend

One of the borrowers who was not punctual in paying his loan was Lyndon Tan, owner of Basic Necessity, a vegetable farm in Cavite, and a friend of former Secretary Yap.

Yap, project head of the book, “The Art of Agribusiness: 111 and More Success Stories in Agri-Entrepreneurship,” cited Tan as an example of a successful Filipino farm entrepreneur.

Tan, according to a recent agriculture department audit, sells his greens to supermarkets and restaurants. He borrowed P38 million from the fund for his farm in the mid-2000s. He only paid P4 million of it.

The COA also noted that Acef was inefficient and questioned why certain companies that did not remit were still given a chance to borrow millions of pesos.

In its 2010 report, the COA said five proponents with Acef loans of P72.245 million were given additional loans of P35.659 million for the same project, even if previous loans were not yet paid.

Gemsum Marketing

The companies were identified by CAA as C and L Farms, Hi-Las Marketing Corp., Moraleda Farms, Queen’s Agro-Industrial Farms Inc. and Gemsum Marketing.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were 46 proponents who got loans from 2000 to 2008 but “have not paid a single installment,” the agriculture department said. Their loans from Acef totaled P802.95 million.

Baler-Casiguran road
Senator Edgardo Angara, a former agriculture secretary who authored the law that established the Acef, has been identified as one of the beneficiaries.
Angara’s home province Aurora received P300 million from the fund, according to an audit by the agriculture department.

Angara was cited by two sources as the one who recommended projects to the Acef committee.

The audit by the agriculture department found out that  Aurora, Angara’s home province, benefited from two grants.

In 2008, the local government of Aurora received P200 million for the concreting of the Baler-Casiguran Highway.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the Baler-Casiguran Road was built to serve Angara’s Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport project.

In 2007, Aurora State University received P100 million for a project called Enhancement of Technology-Based Agribusiness Industry.

In a phone interview, Angara said he could not recall recommending the grant of P200 million for the concreting of the Baler-Casiguran road.

“Who is the source of that report? I do not recall … Why would they even use the word competitiveness for that? And why would I recommend it,” he told the Inquirer Tuesday night.

Angara said it was more likely that the P200 million came from his pork barrel.

“And if it indeed came from my pork barrel, that would not be considered irregular since it came from my (Priority Development Assistance Fund),” the senator added. With a report from Cathy Yamsuan

Philippines Government

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fiba Asia: Smart Gilas repulses Jordan in the 2nd round

MANILA, Philippines—Smart Gilas Pilipinas showed no distraction amid eligibility issues surrounding vital cogs Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz as it pulled off a 72-64 stunner over Jordan Monday in the 2011 Fiba Asia championships in Wuhan, China.
The Nationals stirred the match in their favor in the second half, and held steady down the stretch— missing just one of its last eight attempts from the line—en route to their first victory in the second round of the competition.
Naturalized center Marcus Douthit put on a behemoth effort, despite a suffering a mild left-ankle sprain in the third period, as he scored 19 points and snared 15 rebounds.
Despite getting the go signal to play by Fiba’s general secretary Patrick Baumann also Monday, miscommunication with Fiba Asia nearly kept Lassiter and Lutz from playing their maiden game.
But the kinks were ironed out in time as both of the players were able to suit up, even as the 24-year-old Lassiter provided much-needed spark of the Nationals with 14 points.
Gilas, which plays Japan Tuesday, was clutching a precarious eight-point advantage—after trailing by as many as 15 points—midway in the payoff period when the stubborn Jordan, paced by star guard Sam Dahgles, made it a one-possession game.
Dahgles finished with 18 points highlighted by clutch baskets, while Jordan’s naturalized center Rasheim Wright, whose triple attempt could have given them a crucial lead in the last two minutes, added 16 points.
Jordan, one of the top teams in Asia, raced to a 17-2 lead in the first quarter but the Philippines, buoyed by the presence of Lassiter, slowly chipped the lead down.
At stake for the champion of the tournament is an outright berth to the 2012 London Olympics.
Philippines, 72— Douthit, 19; Lassiter, 14; Alapag, 11; Tiu, 9; Williams, 6; De Ocampo, 4; Lutz, 4; Casio, 3; Taulava, 2; Barroca, 0; Aguilar, 0; Baracael 0.
Jordan, 64— Daghles, 18; Wright, 16; Z. Abbas, 10; Abuqoura, 7; I. Abbas, 6; Al-Sous, 5; Zaghab, 2; Hussein, 0.


Pacquiao-Marquez Part 3 likely to be fought at 145 lbs

HOLLYWOOD?If the final chapter of the bruited Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez trilogy pushes true, it would be fought at 145 pounds.

Marquez has made it a personal crusade to exact revenge on the Filipino superstar, but he might not be able to fight Pacquiao at 147.

The Mexican holds court at lightweight (135). The last time he tried to fight at a catch weight of 144, he failed against Floyd Mayweather Jr., who came in two pounds over the contracted limit.

Pacquiao?s last four fights were fought at 147 or over. He had never exceeded 146 during weigh-in, however.

For Pacquiao adviser Mike Koncz, the logical weight is 144 to 145.
Pacquiao tipped the scales at 145 Friday, during the weigh-in for his successful defense of the WBO welterweight title Saturday.

The 37-year-old Marquez is the leading candidate to clash with Pacquiao, 32, on Nov. 5, the date chosen by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum to stage the pound-for-pound king?s next fight in Las Vegas.
Also on the list of probable contenders are Timothy Bradley and Zab Judah, according to Arum.
For Roach, however, ?the only sensible fight out of the three is Marquez.?
?They have history,? said Roach. ?He?s supposed to have Manny?s numbers, which might be true, but I think Manny has really progressed a long way since they fought a long time ago.
?I just want to like this fight just to shut him up and settle the score.?
Marquez held Pacquiao to a controversial draw in 2004 despite being knocked down three times in the first round. Their second bout took place in 2008, with Pacquiao knocking down Marquez in the third and eking out a split decision.
?We?ll talk about it,? said Roach. ?[Pacquiao] is weighing at 144 to 145 in his last couple of fights. Anyway, weight won?t be an issue.?

Pacquiao, who hosted a dart tournament in his unit at the gated Palazzo here Monday, has repeatedly expressed interest in fighting Marquez again.
The lure of big money?as much as $5 million plus pay-per-view and closed-circuit sales, according to ring pundits?and his desire for revenge may be enough for Marquez to accept Arum?s terms.

There?s a hitch, though.

Golden Boy Promotions has the right of first refusal over Marquez and unless it refuses to match Top Rank?s offer, the Mexican great can?t fight Pacquiao.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao, his wife Jinkee and his siblings will leave Los Angeles for Manila on Wednesday.


Pacquiao Marquez

By Roy Luarca
Philippine Daily Inquirer