Monthly Archives: February 2008

RP Gov’t Contests NYC’s Win on Tax Dispute

by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

NEW YORK — The Philippine government is going to contest the ruling of a New York City judge last week saying that the city can collect millions of dollars in real estate taxes on the Fifth Avenue building owned by the government of the Philippines, Consul General Cecilia Rebong told local media Wednesday.

“We will bring the recommendations of our legal counsel to Ambassador Willy Gaa, who is the chairman of the Philippine Center Management Board, and submit it to the judge along with new computations from our legal officer,” ConGen Rebong said.

US District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled that diplomatic privileges and niceties don’t exempt the countries from having to pay at least some local taxes on the buildings that house staff and offices for their missions to the United Nations.

Under international treaties, consulates and embassies are generally tax-exempt. Their status as sovereign territory often puts them outside the reach of US law.

But in New York’s case, the city argued that it had a right to collect taxes on portions of the structures used for non-diplomatic purposes.

Judge Rakoff said that the Philippines was not required to pay taxes on Maharlika, a restaurant that used to operate in the building.

“We had a very good presentation during the hearings. We won the case for the Maharlika restaurant. The judge did not side with us on the issue of PNB, which occupied the space occupied formerly by Maharlika and the one-room office of PAL,” ConGen Rebong said.

The Philippines’ building, on a prime stretch of Fifth Avenue, has had a variety of commercial tenants, including a restaurant (Maharlika), a bank (Philippine National Bank) and an airline office (Philippine Airlines).

“Back then, PAL and PNB were government entities and were used to promote the Philippines. Maharlika, as a restaurant at the Philippine Center, was used to promote Philippine culture through our cuisine,” ConGen Rebong said.

In a statement obtained by the Asian Journal, Ambassador Gaa said, “The Court has found tax liabilities on the portions previously used by PNB which primarily served the official transactions of the Philippine Consulate General and the Philippine Government in the United States and also on the office used by PAL, a government-controlled corporation at that time, that was officially mandated to promote tourism to the Philippines.”

“These findings appear inconsistent with the spirit of international law that we expected in our customary dealings with foreign nations,” the statement added.

India & Mongolia, Too

It all began in April 2003 when the city filed suits seeking unpaid real estate taxes against four countries. Aside from the Philippines, the city is also running after India and Mongolia. The city settled with Turkey in 2003 for $5.05 million in real estate taxes and interest.

India’s 26-story tower on East 43rd Street near the U.N. holds 20 floors worth of apartments, all occupied by diplomatic employees. According to the city, the Indian government owes $39.4 million as of September 2007. Mongolia’s six-story building on East 77th Street, which has two floors that serve as staff residences, owes $4.2 million.

For years, the three countries refused to pay their New York City tax bills, but the legal tide turned in the city’s favor when the Supreme Court ruled in June that the nations could, indeed, be sued over the matter in US courts.

For ConGen Rebong, it was not that they were ignoring the tax bills but it was a matter of principle.

“These foreign missions should not have been brought to court in the first place. We should not be taxed. We’re not supposed to pay the tax,” Rebong said, citing the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which gives tax exemptions for the residences of ambassadors and properties used to conduct diplomacy.

The city had been arguing that the Philippines owed $19 million, as of 2005, but that amount is likely to change since Judge Rakoff said the law didn’t require the country to pay taxes on a restaurant that once operated on the site.

The original assessment was that the Philippine government owed the city of New York $823,000. It ballooned to $19 million in 2005. The amount reached $37 million last year including interests and penalties.

“It is now down to $10 million, $400,000 of which represent the principal while the rest is accrued interest,” Consul Leandro Lachica said during the press briefing.

The long-running legal dispute had attracted attention from the US Department of State, which had sided with the foreign countries against the city. State Department officials had warned that if New York City won, the US might be forced to pay millions of dollars in taxes on various properties it controls abroad.

“It is good to note that the State Department shares our position but the case is between us and the city. Kailangan nating ipaglaban ito,” Rebong said.

Calls made to Robert A. Kandell, the lawyer representing the Philippines in the lawsuit were not returned as of press time.

(AJ with AP wire reports)

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City Atty. Delgadillo Sues HealthNet

By Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo filed a civil law enforcement action against HealthNet, Inc, and two of its subsidiaries for engaging in unlawful and deceptive practices. These subsequently led to the denial or delay of authorization of claims or canceling coverage after initially issuing a policy.

The civil complaint, filed on Wednesday, February 20, in the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that HealthNet, Inc., HealthNet of California, and HealthNet Life Insurance Co. engaged in unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices and unfair, deceptive, untrue and misleading advertising in violation of California’s Unfair Competition (Business and Professional Code 17200) and False Advertising (Business and Professionals Code 17500) laws.

In the complaint, the City Attorney alleges that HealthNet purposefully used false and misleading marketing in an effort to gain more members. HealthNet collected applicants’ medical history using intentionally misleading forms that called for the applicant to make educated medical judgments. Submitted applications were generally accepted by HealthNet without any meaningful review of the accuracy of responses, informed investigation into the medical history of applicants or confirmation that consumers understood the application.

Only after policy holders submitted claims for medical services did HealthNet retroactively conduct investigations into their medical history in order to find discrepancies in the application to allow for a delay in payment or cancellation of coverage. “This practice of post-claims policy cancellation is unlawful, unfair and fraudulent,” Delgadillo claimed in the suit.

HealthNet went as far as creating a secret unit to cancel policies. The company routinely provided benchmarks – including goals for number of rescissions per year and dollars in claims denied – as well as economic incentives to individuals responsible for post-claims rescissions, with bonus payments for reaching company goals. The division met or exceeded its goals every year, denying more than $35 million in claims between 2003 and 2006, the suit alleged.

“Countless Californians who believe they have insurance actually have policies that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. At a patient’s most vulnerable moment, the insurance company won’t pay for care, or will cancel the policy altogether,” said Delgadillo. “Industry schemes to maximize profits at the expense of patients are unfair and unlawful, and they must be stopped,” he added.

The City Attorney also announced at a press conference at City Attorney’s Office in downtown LA that, based upon evidence developed in the course of his HealthNet investigation, he is initiating a criminal investigation of individuals associated with HealthNet’s illegal bonus payment program for cancellations in violation of California’s Knox-Keene Act (Health and Safety Code Sec. 1340 et esq.), and others who may have made false statements to the California Department of Managed Health Care regarding these payments, in violation of Penal Code Section 131.

The civil suit seeks to enjoin HealthNet and its agent from engaging in the illegal activities outlined in the complaint and order HealthNet to comply fully with the law. In addition, the suit asks the court to assess civil penalties of $2,500 for each violation of the Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law as well as an additional $2,500 penalty for each Unfair Competition violation that victimized any senior citizen or disabled person. Delgadillo also seeks to have wrongfully canceled policies reinstated and full restitution to all victims of the alleged practices by HealthNet.

“This lawsuit is an important step towards holding health insurance companies accountable for their anti-patient practices,” said California Medical Association President Richard Frankenstein, M.D. “Health insurance companies may say they are providing coverage, but time after time they do everything then can to avoid paying for health care for their policyholders.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Consulate and HiFi Rotary Club Plan Anniversary Convention

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Close to 30,000 Rotarians from all over the world, including Rotary Clubs from the Philippines, will attend the 2008 Rotary International Convention to be held at the LA Convention Center from June 11 to 18. This was announced by Vic Ching, President of Rotary Club of Historic Filipinotown (RCHF), during a courtesy call to Philippine Consul General Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon recently.

The RCHF is the only FilAm-chartered and established Rotary Club in the United States. It is celebrating its first anniversary this month. “We are one of the hosts clubs of the 2008 Rotary International Convention, and we have been named to host one event,” Ching said. “Our club has been given the task of hosting a one-night hospitality suite at the Wilshire Ebell Theater.”

He said that up to 5,000 Rotarians from the Philippines are expected to attend the Los Angeles convention. Sonny Gancayco, the club’s incoming president, said that the 2008 convention is a good opportunity for FilAm organizations to showcase their projects by participating in the trade component of the convention. “We are looking for local retailers to partner with us in this convention,” Gancayco said.

Addressing Philippine Tourism Authority Director Mary Anne Cuevas, Guila Maramba said that it would be worthwhile for the tourism industry to be a participant or a sponsor of the convention. Maramba and club president Ching informed the Consul General and PTA Director Cuevas that a 5-day sponsorship would cost $3,000.

Ching also announced that a plan is in the works to invite the world-renowned Madrigal Singers to perform in some segments of the convention, but they would need sponsors to help defray the cost of air transportation. He said that the convention’s potential tourism draw is at least 100,000 persons.

In a related development, Maramba told the Consul General that RCHF is putting together a $300K Internet-connectivity project for 42 public high schools in the Central Luzon province of Pampanga. David Maxwell, an officer of another Los Angeles City Rotary Club, announced that his club is on schedule for “Operation Smile” project that would provide free reconstructive surgeries to 220 indigent Filipinos this coming April. “These are all laudable projects. We do what we can because our funds are limited, and our participation in projects like these requires that we fundraise constantly.”

Cecille Ramos, President of the Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council also unveiled a project called “Adopt a Parol” (Christmas lantern). “We want to show to the rest of the state that this part of Los Angeles is safe for other California residents to visit. We want to make the Historic Filipinotown as a tourist spot,” Ramos said. She said the project would involve hanging 174 seven-foot diameter parols in a stretch of Temple St. from Alvarado to Hoover. These parols would draw power from the utility poles. Adoption of the parols would cost $1000 apiece, according to David Rockello of HFTNC. The parols would be lighted on Thanksgiving Day until January 6, 2009.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Multisectoral Coalition Meet on New York Healthcare Disparity: Kalusugan Coalition leads FilAm community

by Momar Visaya/Asianjournal.com

NEW YORK — Members of Project CHARGE (Coalition for Health Access to Reach Greater Equity) were joined by Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Ellen Young, City Council Members Alan J. Gerson and Robert Jackson, and the Asian & Pacific Islander Health Forum (APIAHF), to launch a 4-year national campaign to eliminate health disparities on Tuesday, February 19th in the Red Room of the New York City Hall.

Project CHARGE, composed of 14 local organizations, has been selected as one 8 coalitions funded nationally by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the APIAHF to address healthcare gaps in the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community.

Kalusugan Coalition, led by its chair Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, represents the Filipino-American community in this coalition.

“It is very important for our community to be represented here because like our fellow Asian Americans, our community has its share of undocumented immigrants, of uninsured family members. We have met people who have insurance but are not comprehensive enough to cover major emergencies,” Mendoza told the Asian Journal during the launch.

According to the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, there are real and human costs of not providing healthcare coverage for all APIs in New York City.  In New York City, an estimated 1 in 5 Asian Pacific Islanders has been uninsured in the past year.  Failure of the health system to educate the API consumer combined with the high cost of healthcare drives the API community to rely on a patch-work system for necessary medical care.

Project CHARGE is a component of an unprecedented $16.5 million community investment initiative in which key stakeholders will drive changes in healthcare access for the API community in New York City and nation-wide.

“The API community is locked out of the healthcare system because of the high cost of care and language barriers,” said Wayne Ho, Executive Director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families.  “This pioneering relationship between the Asian Pacific Islander community, government and the philanthropic sector will create real change for Asian Pacific Islanders and will improve healthcare access for all New York City residents.”

New York State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried said, “The daily reality for millions of New York residents includes having to deal with a healthcare system that does not speak their language.  Project CHARGE and the efforts of others to provide universal healthcare are all tied together and one cannot succeed without the other.  I am happy to be here today and together we are working to change that reality.”

“We want more people in our communities to get insured and we need to have affordable healthcare as well. This is very important for us,” shared Melissa Nibungco, development associate of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV and AIDS (APICHA).

This groundbreaking work will build a unified voice for underserved communities in the national healthcare debate.  “As the only Asian American representative in the New York State Assembly, I fight to ensure that the Asian Pacific American community has a strong voice in government,” said Assembly Member Ellen Young.  “This groundbreaking public and private partnership guarantees that all New Yorkers have an equal access to healthcare.”

At almost 12% of the City’s population, more APIs live and work in New York City than any other city in the United States.  By joining forces with the API community, decision- makers will be able to create policies that speak to the needs of all New Yorkers.

New York City Council Member Robert Jackson said, “healthcare is one of the major issues here in New York City.  As the co-chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus in City Council, I, along with my colleague John Liu and other City Council members, are point persons for the Asian Pacific Islander community.  We need to be able to know what is going on in the different neighborhoods in New York City from community members.  It is my pleasure to know that this grant will help Asian Pacific Islanders not insured and give them access to appropriate healthcare.”

“This effort is literally a matter of saving lives.  Overcoming the financial hurdles, expanding health access through education, providing culturally competent and language accessible care, treatment and referral – everything that this project and coalition is designed to do – We know that Project CHARGE will succeed on saving lives in the Asian Pacific Islander community,” said City Council Member Alan J. Gerson.  “I know that I speak for all of my colleagues as I pledge our support across all levels of government – not only the community’s allies in City Council but also in Albany.”

“This is the first time a national private foundation has recognized and sought to remedy the inequities that are happening in our community.  In this time of healthcare reform, efforts need to be made at the local, state, and national level.  We have to revisit what healthcare should look like and that it should be,” said Dr. Marguerite Ro, Deputy Director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF).  “”We thank the W.H. Kellogg Foundation for partnering with us and are very pleased to award this grant to Project CHARGE.  We expect the New York Coalition to help lead the way across the country developing strategies and advocating for equitable financial access to healthcare as well as access to quality care.”

“This coalition is a milestone in terms of Asian American and Pacific Islander health.  It has been a long time coming, but we are united from coast to coast,” concluded Suki Terada-Ports, Executive Director of the Family Health Project.  “We are excited to partner with local and state government and foundations to change the tide and raise the visibility of Asian Pacific Islanders.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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City of Victorville Honors FilAm Hero

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

VICTORVILLE — The City of Victorville honored FilAm Claro Claridad posthumously during a City Council meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Victorville Mayor Terry Caldwell awarded Claro’s widow Judith two plaques for heroism in front of a large crowd that included their four daughters, friends and relatives.

Caldwell read the citation and declared the 41-year-old Filipino a hero of the city. He said the honor is bittersweet.

“We’re always proud to single out people,” said Caldwell. “It’s difficult for all of us when the person that we honor can’t be here.”

Caldwell earlier asked the audience to reflect on their own lives.

“We are all brothers and sisters,” he said. “We are all connected in this life. We need to always come prepared to the aid of our neighbors, co-workers, even strangers. This individual took it upon himself to do what he could to save someone’s life.”

After the presentation of the plaques, everyone gave Claro’s widow Judith and family a standing ovation.

“I think of Claro and all he has taught me and I realize how much we have lost,” said Judith to the audience. “My children lost a very good father but they have gained a hero in their lives and in their hearts. Thank you for the honor you have given my husband. I truly feel that he deserves to be proclaimed a hero.”

Christmas Day

Claro died of hypothermia on Christmas Day when he tried to save kids, who accidentally fell into a frozen lake.

Claro was playing with his own children at Wrightwood when a few kids playing on the frozen lake broke through the ice and fell into the water.

The US Army veteran walked out on the frozen ice to assist the other adults and help the children get out of the water.

Everyone got out unharmed, but Claro tripped and fell into the water. He went under the surface and could not get out.

Rescue divers located Claro after a short search nine feet below the surface.

Authorities attempted cardio- pulmonary resuscitation. However, efforts to resuscitate him failed. He was pronounced dead at 5:05 pm.

Aftermath

It’s been a little less than two months since Claro’s death and his family is still grieving.

Claro’s mother Amelia Claridad-Oliveria said their family is trying to cope with their loss.

“[Claro] is a good son,” she said. “He’s a devoted family man, a good provider, good father and good husband.”

She said she misses him everyday.

“He called me everyday,” she said. “He always called me and said I love you. He always asked me to go to his house. He’s so sweet always kissing me. I love him and miss him.”

Claro’s widow Judith still has not met the children Claro saved.

“The families of the children are probably scared of a lawsuit but we’re not going to take any legal action. I just want to know who they are and what really happened. I’m just looking for some closure.”

Judith said that she would continue to pursue her and her husband’s plans for their children.

“I need to make sure they all go to college,” she said.

Friends of Claro Claridad have established a fund to care for his wife and children. He left behind a wife, Judith, and five children.

(www.asianjournal.com)

(For donations please deposit to Judith Claridad & Children Fund Washington Mutual Account Number: (340) 313- 5523.)

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Obama v. Hillary on Immigration (First of Two Parts)

by Maria Sunantha Quibilan/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Where do the presidential candidates of the Democratic Party stand on the issue of immigration? The IRC Americas Program, a nonprofit policy studies center, in their website presents the positions of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the issue in order to distinguish between them.

The website points out the similarities in conviction between Clinton and Obama, which includes the shared belief that the country needs a comprehensive immigration reform that will pave the way to legalization for the approximately 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, given certain conditions such as learning English and paying a fine.

Both Democratic candidates support tougher border security measures, and stricter workplace enforcement which must be combined with legalization and labor rights.

With regard to guestworker programs, Clinton opposes one that “exploits workers and creates a supply of cheap labor that undermines the wages of U.S. workers,” while Obama states that the job must first be made available to Americans at a decent wage with benefits.

The candidates differ on their views regarding making driver’s licenses available to illegal residents – Clinton opposes this measure, while Obama supports it.

Following are some points, as published in the IRC website, of Clinton’s and Obama’s general positions and statements regarding some specific areas on the immigration issue:

Barack Obama on Immigration

General Position: “What we have to do is create a comprehensive solution to the problem. As president, I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need. Employers have to be held accountable. When we do those things, we can take the illegal aliens who are here, get them out of the shadows, make sure that they are subject to a stiff penalty, make sure that they’re learning English, and go to the back of the line so they’re not getting an advantage over people who came here legally.”

“We’ve got to fix a broken immigration system not just for the undocumented but for legal immigrants. Because the backlogs are horrendous, the fees have been increased and doubled and tripled, and as a consequence more and more people are having difficulty just trying to reunify their families even if they’re going through the legal pathways, and that puts more pressure on people to go into the illegal system. That is something we’re going to try to pass.”

I think it’s possible for us to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That’s what we’ve always been and that’s what we have to continue to be. And that’s why I’ve worked in the Senate and will work hard as president to make sure that we’ve got comprehensive immigration reform that has strong border security. We need to make sure that it’s orderly, that we don’t have thousands of people pouring over our borders or overstaying our visas.”

Employment: “I think that if they are illegal, then they should not be able to work in this country. That is part of the principle of comprehensive reform, which we’re going to crack down on employers who are hiring them and taking advantage of them. But I also want to give them a pathway, so that they can earn citizenship, earn a legal status, start learning English, pay a significant fine, and go to the back of the line. But they can then stay here and they can have the ability to enforce a minimum wage that they’re paid, make sure the worker safety laws are available, make sure that they can join a union.”

We have to make sure that employers are held accountable, because right now employers are taking advantage of undocumented workers. And we’ve got to give a pathway to citizenship. But people have to earn it. They’re going to have to pay a fine. They’ve got to make sure that they’re learning English. They’ve got to go to the back of the line so that they’re not rewarded for having broken the law.”

Guestworker programs:
“Before any guestworker is hired, the job must be made available to Americans at a decent wage with benefits. Employers then need to show that there are no Americans to take these jobs. I am not willing to take it on faith that there are jobs that Americans will not take. There has to be a showing. If this guestworker program is to succeed, it must be properly calibrated to make certain that these are jobs that cannot be filled by Americans, or that the guestworkers provide particular skills we can’t find in this country.”

Driver’s licenses: There is a public safety concern [with denying driver's licenses to illegal immigrants]. We can make sure that drivers who are illegal come out of the shadows, that they can be tracked, that they are properly trained, and that will make our roads safer. That doesn’t negate the need for us to reform illegal immigration.”

When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention. The problem we have here is not driver’s licenses. Undocumented workers do not come here to drive. They’re here to work. Instead of being distracted by what has now become a wedge issue, let’s focus on actually solving the problem that this administration, the Bush administration, had done nothing about it.”

The Senate Immigration Bill: Senator Obama played a role in drafting the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate passed before the 109th Congress adjourned. The bill, which President Bush supports, would provide more funds and technology for border security and prevent employers from skirting our laws by hiring illegal immigrants. The bill also would provide immigrants who are now contributing, responsible members of society an opportunity to remain in the country and earn citizenship. But not all illegal immigrants would be guaranteed the right to remain in the U.S. under this proposal: they would first have to pay a substantial fine and back taxes, learn English, satisfy a work requirement, and pass a criminal background check.

Obama offered three amendments that were included in the Senate bill. The first amendment would strengthen the requirement that a job be offered at a prevailing wage to American workers before it is offered to a guestworker. The second amendment would make it simple, but mandatory, for employers to verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States. And the third amendment would authorize $3 million a year for the FBI to improve the speed and accuracy of the background checks required for immigrants seeking to become citizens.

(www.asianjournal.com)

(To Be Continued)

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FilAm Groups Call for Arroyo to Step Down

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Progressive organization  BAYAN USA  leaders  demanded the resignation of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during a demonstration in front of the Philippine Consulate General Office in the mid-Wilshire district on Friday. The demonstration was in solidarity with more than 10,000 people assembled in protest in Metro Manila’s financial district in Makati City last week.

“We are gathered here today because of the continuing corruption of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime,” declared Terrie Cervas, BAYAN USA SoCal coordinator. “Not just corruption by the regime, but also the continuing human rights violations.”

The militants said they are unhappy with the recent developments in the Philippines, including the resurgence of the ZTE-NBN scandal that was exposed by Jun Lozada.

Chito Quijano, a union organizer of the California Nurses Association and a spokesman of BAYAN USA, said that the mass action was intended to send a message to the  Consul General  Mary Jo Bernardo-Aragon so that “she could send a message to Malacanang that for delicadeza purposes Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for the sake of our people and for the sake of our country, should step down.”

BAYAN USA is an alliance of Filipino progressive organizations in the United States. It has member organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and in Seattle, Washington; New York and New Jersey. The alliance is calling on all Filipinos not only those in the Philippines but also the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), migrant workers, and immigrants that have settled in the US.

“There are approximately five million Filipinos in the US, and certainly, we are well-informed,” Quijano said. “We should call our respective representatives in the (US) Congress and ask them to withdraw its support of the Arroyo regime.”

Quijano also said that the $300 million in military aid that the Bush administration is granted to the Philippines would mean that 20 percent of that aid would go to the pockets of politicians.

“It (military aid) is not going to help the Filipino people, but rather the military,” Quijano said. “The way I see it, that military aid from Bush would further aggravate the extra-judicial killings in the country.”

He revealed that close to 900 Filipino political activists have been assassinated allegedly by the Philippine military, and not a single person has been punished or imprisoned.

During the rally, Quijano read a statement from Fr. Ben Alforque, President of the US-based, National Alliance of Filipino Concerns.

“We support Lozada and applaud him (for making the ZTE-NBN expose) despite the dangers to his life and his family. We condemn the lies, barbarism and manipulations of the structures of government of the Arroyo regime. The Arroyo government has lost its moral ascendancy to govern. Therefore, she must resign, or the Filipino people should oust her.”

“I think it is about time that she resigns. The people would force her to step down. Just see, it will happen soon. It is time,” added Tulong Bayan spokesman Edwin Chu.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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DOJ Investigates the NBN-ZTE Scandal

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA – THE fact-finding investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) virtually turned into a venue for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Assistant Secretary Lorenzo Formoso III to defend the government’s decision to award the US$329 million national broadband network project to China’s ZTE Corporation.

In Monday’s inquiry, Formoso reiterated that Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI) which is being represented by Joey de Venecia III has no financial capability to sustain the project aside from its lack of congressional franchise to operate a telecommunications firm.

Formoso described AHI as “a shell company” with a capitalization of only P5 million when it submitted an unsolicited proposal to undertake the NBN project.

The panel headed by Justice Undersecretary Ernesto Pineda mainly focused their questioning on how the NBN contract came about and the officials involved in the transactions.

Pineda defended their investigation saying that it was not intended to further confuse the people with regard to the NBN-ZTE scandal.

He added that their investigation is totally different and more comprehensive than the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Formoso noted that supposed NBN-ZTE scam witness Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. was never part of the negotiations pertaining to the broadband project.

He said only himself and 15 engineering experts from the DOTC’s Commission on Information and Communication Technology (CICT) were always present when negotiating with ZTE officials regarding the NBN project.

The DOTC official said he could not recall seeing Lozada when he presented their evaluation to National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Assistant Director Ruben Reynoso last March 2007 recommending that ZTE’s proposal is the best for the country as its “technology is cutting edge and that the government could expect to recoup its investment in four years time as the NEDA placed the investment rate of return (IRR) at around 27 percent.”

Formoso noted that the NBN deal is a government to government transaction and was in line with the memorandum of understanding between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and China’s ZTE Corp., to cooperate in the development of various programs in the country including telecoms.

The DOJ also gave Formoso the opportunity to explain the DOTC’s side on the allegations made by NBN-ZTE scam witness Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. that the project was overpriced since the original proposal was US$262 million which later increased to $329 million.

The DOTC official noted that the contract price increased by $67 million since the original amount would only cover 30 percent of the country while the $329-million proposal will cover the entire country.

Formoso explained that there were softwares or applications that were included in the original the proposal of ZTE which the Philippine government does not need.

This prompted the Philippine government to ask for the exclusion of the softwares and instead asked the ZTE to increase the base stations for the project, resulting to a higher contract price.

He added that the ZTE proposal is advantageous to the government since it would entail a 20-year loan agreement at three percent annual interest only.

“The price appeared reasonable to us considering the due diligence in evaluating the three companies – Arescom, AHI and ZTE.  What is equally important is the 20-year loan-term at three percent interest rate,” Formoso said.

He also denied reports that certain government officials received kickbacks from ZTE as the project was strictly government-to-government and that there were no middle-men involved in the negotiations.

Formoso defended DOTC’s recommendation for a government-to-government contract instead of the build-operate-transfer (BOT) proposal of Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI), saying that “from a theoretical point of view, BOT is more expensive.”

“At the end of the day, we will still pay (for the BOT project),” Formoso said.

Formoso also stressed that the country would benefit more from a government-to-government NBN in terms of economy considering that the government is spending P3.7 billion annually for telecom services as compared to P1 billion a year in interest if the project is funded by foreign loan.

After the hearing, Pineda told reporters that the panel was able to establish that there is such a contract for the NBN project and it passed through the regular process.

“Likewise, we were also able to establish that Amsterdam has no financial capacity to sustain a project such as this,” Pineda added.

The panel has invited De Venecia, son of former House Speaker Jose de Venecia to appear before the panel on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the panel did not allow lawyer Heraldo Dacayo to answer questions on behalf of former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Romulo Neri, who recommended the approval of the NBN-ZTE contract.

Instead, the panel summoned Neri to appear before it on Friday.

The panel is tasked to study whether there were violations of the provisions of Republic Act 9184 or the Procurement Reform Act committed by any government official in connection with the NBN-ZTE scandal.

Pineda said the panel will also scrutinize the affidavits of those invited by the Senate to testify on the NBN-ZTE scandal for possible perjury.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Colma’s 1st FilAm Mayor Steps Down

by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES – Larry Formalejo, the first Filipino mayor of the town of Colma near San Francisco, stepped down from his post last week amid accusations of “inappropriate behavior”, after an incident stemming from his son’s DUI arrest in 2006 became public.

City officials have remained tight-lipped after releasing a report Friday calling for an investigation into Formalejo’s alleged misconduct. City Attorney Roger Peters explained that he did not reveal any details about the mayor’s inappropriate behavior prior to the meeting because he wanted to give Formalejo a chance to explain himself.

Having served as mayor since December 2007 only, Formalejo read his resignation letter to City Manager Diane McGrath before a packed Town Council meeting. Formalejo said that in 2006, his son was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Called to the police station by his son on the night of the incident, Formalejo said he attempted to seek “assistance with the officer in charge on how to help me with my son’s situation.”

It is unclear what Formalejo, who was then a council member, said to the officer after the arrest of his 21-year-old son, Dustin Formalejo. In his letter, he said, “I took some actions that may have been perceived as in conflict with my ethical obligations as a City Councilman at that time.”

Peters said Formalejo may have violated ethical principles, “not criminal in nature,” but that the suspected violation “involved contacts with city employees.” He said he thought resigning was the right thing to do “to avoid any perception of improper behavior.” The council voted to move ahead with an internal investigation, with the possibility of hiring an outside investigator. Peters is expected to report back to the group March 12 with his findings.

“Along the way, I have made some missteps,” Formalejo said. “You should know I have a family and a son I care for deeply. I’m accepting full responsibility for the situation, and I offer my apologies to everyone. I acted as a father who was simply concerned for the well-being of my son. I’m stepping down to avoid causing further disruption.”

Although he resigned from his seat as mayor effective immediately, Formalejo will keep his seat on the Town Council. It is his fourth year on the council and his term expires in November. With what he said was “great sadness and remorse,” he passed his gavel to Vice Mayor Helen Fisicaro.

Located between the cities of Daly City and South San Francisco, Colma is a small diverse community with an estimated population of just 1,280 residents (2004) of which about 50% are Caucasian, 25% are Asian, and 25% are other ethnicities. In Colma, mayors are not directly elected by voters but are selected by the council from among its members.

“I am very sad he resigned. He is the first Filipino mayor and I am just getting to know him,” said Josephine Mirando-Aquino, a member of the Filipino American Association of Colma and one of the many Formalejo supporters who crowded Wednesday night’s council meeting.

Formalejo is the third high-ranking town official that has been embroiled in controversy in the past two years. Last year, former Mayor Philip Lum and former Councilmember Ronald Maldonado were indicted on corruption charges for accepting first-class airline tickets from Lucky Chances Casino owner Rene Medina for trips to the Philippines. They were charged with fraud by the Department of Justice for accepting the tickets and failing to disclose the gifts on an income form. Lum was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison, while Maldonado was relegated to six months of home confinement with five years of probation and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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Former Secretaries Want GMA Out

by Jherlyn Meneses/Asianjournal.com

ABOUT 60 former Cabinet officials, including some who served under the Arroyo administration, called for the President to step down on Sunday. A statement was read outside the La Salle Greenhills gate after the Thanksgiving Mass for national broadband network (NBN) deal investigation witness Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr.

“We can no longer ignore the reality of a government gone wild, wreaking havoc on our rights and institutions in a climate of impunity. We can no longer console ourselves in the strength of the peso, narrowing deficits and an expanding economy. Even these ephemeral gains have not translated into a better life for the majority of our people, especially the poor,” said former Ambassador to the United States Alberto Del Rosario, who read from a statement signed by former secretaries.

The statement entitled “Time to Go: A call to our colleagues in government,” stated that as they held high positions in the current and previous administrations, they are now compelled to “speak up for our demoralized public servants and arrest the decline of our institutions of governance.” They noted that even the current strength of the peso could not hide the crisis the government is facing.

“We call on all government officials – Cabinet secretaries, Undersecretaries, heads of agencies – who know about these anomalous transactions to join the heroic stand of Jun Lozada to come forward and speak out,” the statement said.

Among those who signed the statement were former secretaries Florencio Abad (Agrarian Reform) and Edilberto de Jesus Jr. (Education), Jesus Estanislao, Ernest Leung, Vicente Paterno, Cesar Purisima and Ramon del Rosario (Finance), Jose Pardo and Juan Santos (Trade), Fulgencio Factoran (Environment), Dinky Soliman and Lina Laigo (Social Welfare), Benjamin Laguesma (Labor), Ernesto Garilao (Agrarian Reform), Jose Antonio Gonzalez, Narzalina Lim and Sostenes Campillo (Tourism), Benjamin Diokno (Budget), Senen Bacani (Agriculture), Cesar Sarino (Interior), Cielito Habito (NEDA), and Oscar Orbos (Executive Secretary) and Franklin Drilon (Executive Secretary, Justice).

The former Cabinet executives also called on “all those who know about extrajudicial killings and disappearances to go public and tell the truth.”

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law, meanwhile, agreed that Lozada’s “serious” allegations—which “suggest corruption and criminality in high places”—should be thoroughly investigated by the proper bodies “with prosecutorial power” such as the Ombudsman so that those found guilty are charged, and the innocent “cleared of all aspersions of doubt and infamy.”

Aquino, whose letter was provided by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye to Malacañang reporters, said that while Congress has oversight powers, “it clearly does not have the power to prosecute.”

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez issued the statement amid allegations that Arroyo is losing her moral authority to lead the country, which were made during a special Mass at La Salle Greenhills in support of Lozada.

“We have achieved 28 consecutive quarters of economic growth with a 7.3-percent gross domestic product growth in 2007, achieved one million jobs last year, decreased the poverty and unemployment rate. We have been applauded and respected by international governments on our fiscal reforms and macroeconomic fundamentals, and have had the strongest peso currency in a generation. No immoral government can sustain these gains,” Golez said.

He also added that the Philippines have been enjoying positive economic growth for the last eight years under Arroyo’s leadership, “and the economy is still soaring, defying the laws of gravity.”

Furthermore, Palace officials said that while they respect the La Salle Mass held that day in support of Lozada as a “a democratic exercise of religious freedom,” they called for justice based on due process, and not merely on emotions.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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