Daily Archives: February 5, 2008

New York Giants Ticker-tape Parade

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JDV Ouster from Lakas Party, Imminent

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA — Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez on Monday said that former House Speaker Jose de Venecia’s leadership in the Lakas party has been “eroded” by the decision of most of the party members to support his ouster as head of the lower chamber.

In an ambush interview, Gonzalez told mediamen that De Venecia’s ouster as president of Lakas is inevitable once Lakas and Kampi’s merger pushes through.

“How many people voted for him in Lakas [Party]? I don’t know if he can stay as president of Lakas especially with the expectation that Lakas and Kampi will merge. If Lakas and Kampi will merge I don’t see any place for the Speaker there,”the justice secretary said.

It would have been a different story, according to Gonzalez, if De Venecia accepted his defeat graciously and did not deliver a derogatory speech against President Arroyo and her family.

He added that De Venecia’s s speech turned off many of his colleagues in Congress, including his son Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr. who had wanted to keep him as speaker but changed his mind after hearing his speech.

“My son wanted to vote for the status quo but what turned him off was the speech. If he had not delivered that kind of a speech probably my son would have either voted no or abstained,” Gonzalez noted.

“I’m sure if the speaker accepted the situation very graciously, he might have been a bigger statesman,” he added.

Gonzalez also belittled the supposed negative impact on the Arroyo administration of De Venecia’s speech exposing alleged irregularities on the 2004 elections, pork allocations, road users tax, the ZTE deal and the privatization of the National Transmission Corporation (NTC).

The justice secretary also expressed optimism that Mrs. Arroyo will survive these fresh attacks against her administration.

“I don’t think that there’s much to worry most of the things which have been delivered last night had been delivered by other people already. It’s up to the people now to consider whether that speech is still valuable at this point considering the timing,” he said.

Gonzalez said De Venecia has apparently “crossed his bridges” already after he delivered the scathing speech against the First Family.


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Immigration, a Major Elections Concern

by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Political experts say no issue cuts to the quick like immigration in the coming presidential election. While the Republican hardliners are fighting illegal immigration as hard as they can, the Democrats are stressing that a comprehensive immigration reform program will be the top agenda of a Democratic presidency.

The issue is even dividing the Republicans. As Arizona Sen. John McCain takes the lead in many states, immigration hardliners are wrestling with the possibility that the man they call “Mr. Amnesty” (McCain has reportedly favored giving a path to citizenship to the country’s illegal immigrants) will be the Republican presidential nominee.

It seems the choice between a Republican and a Democrat rests on the issue  of immigration. If a Republican will favor immigration reforms, he is no different from a Democrat. “I might as well vote for Hillary,” Jim Gilchrist, founder of an anti-illegal immigration group, the Minuteman Project, said. On the possibility of a McCain presidency, Gilchrist joked, “I’ve already made my plans to emigrate to Australia.”

Definitely, the immigration issue is no joking matter. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the hardliner group, Center for Immigration Studies, said in a report that “I think there’s going to be a lot of Republicans who are simply not going to vote with him (McCain) because of this. They’re not going to campaign for him.”

McCain was part of the bipartisan coalition that tried to pass amnesty legislation in 2006 and 2007. In 2006 he voted in favor of S. 2611, legislation that would reward 10 to 11 million illegals with amnesty if they apply for legal status and pay a $2,000 fine.

He was also a co-sponsor of S. 774, the DREAM Act, that will supposedly provide in-state tuition for students who are not legal residents. How do the other presidential hopefuls plan to tackle this most important issue?

During the Democratic primary forum in Aug. 2007, Democrat Senator Barack Obama said “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.”

Obama also proposes giving immigrants, who are here, a rigorous path to citizenship.

“We want to have a situation in which those who are already here, are playing by the rules. [They should be] willing to pay a fine and go through a rigorous process [and] should have a pathway to legalization. Most Americans will support that if they have some sense that the border is also being secured. What they don’t want is a situation in which there is a pathway to legalization and you’ve got another several hundred thousand of folks coming in every year. That is a central position we should be able to arrive at,” he said.

Senator Hillary Clinton shares Obama’s views on the issue. “I am proud of America’s commitment to welcoming immigrants. We are all immeasurably enriched by the contributions of immigrants who have come to this country to find the American dream through their hard work. Our immigration system is broken, and it is past time that we came together and implemented an effective policy which respects our immigrant heritage, the rule of law, and human dignity. That is what I am committed to achieving.”

“A comprehensive solution to our immigration crisis must include strengthening our borders, greater cooperation with our neighbors, strict but fair enforcement of our laws, federal assistance to state and local governments, strict penalties for those who exploit undocumented workers, and a path to earned legal status for those who are here, working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar, including learning English. The solution must also protect the sanctity of families and repair the broken, unfair bureaucratic system that forces citizens and lawful immigrants to live apart from their spouses and children,” Clinton said.

Clinton was a strong supporter of the efforts to negotiate a comprehensive immigration reform package in the last two sessions of Congress. In 2007, she introduced a bipartisan measure to reunite hundreds of thousands of lawful permanent residents in this country with their spouses and minor children. She also led efforts for the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act, championed  the Access to Employment and English Acquisition Act, and co-sponsored the DREAM Act, which makes it possible for hardworking young people to attend college.

The other strong Republican contender, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, is less liberal on the issue. “I like legal immigration. I think having people come here from other countries with their skill and education enhances America. But I want to stop illegal immigration. I want to secure the border,” Romney said.

Asked to comment on an immigration bill the Senate could debate, Romney said he doesn’t agree with some part of the bill. “There’s something I don’t like in the bill,” Romney said. “There’s something called a Z visa and the idea behind the Z visa is everybody who’s here illegally today is given a Z visa that allows them to stay here for the rest of their lives. But that strikes me as being amnesty and [I find it]unfair.”

Another Republican nominee is a conservative hardliner, former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee. The Baptist minister pledges to complete the border fence by July 2010 and rules out a pathway to citizenship for people currently in the United States illegally without first returning to their country of origin.

Huckabee said immigrants who do not register within 120 days with Citizenship and Immigration Services and leave the country will be barred from re-entry for 10 years if they do try to apply for legal citizenship. He also pledged to complete a border fence and install an interlocking camera surveillance system by July 1, 2010 and said he would increase the number of border patrol agents. Employers who hire illegal immigrants would also be subject to penalties. Huckabee’s plan, however, includes an increase in the number of visas for “highly-skilled and highly-educated applicants.”

Legal immigrants to the United States are now at their highest level ever, with over 35 million legal immigrants as of 2006. This accounts for more than 10% of the US current population. Since 2000, legal immigrants to the United States number approximately 1 million per year, of whom about 600,000 are change-of-status immigrants who already are in the US.

Illegal immigration may be as high as 1.5 million per year with a net of at least 700,000 illegal immigrants arriving each year to join the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants that are already here.

The Philippines is the third top migrant-sending country in 2006, with 74,607 Filipino immigrants coming into the US that year, next to Mexico (173,753), and the People’s Republic of China (87,345).


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US Slowdown Affects Immigrants

by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Economists last week reported that as the economic slowdown continues to deepen across the United States, immigrants are increasingly in danger of losing their jobs and their homes due to the consequent Jose de Venecia subprime mortgage crisis.

Many Hispanic and Asian immigrants are the usual targets of subprime lending (also known as B-paper, near-prime, or second chance lending) which is the practice of making loans to borrowers who do not qualify for the best market interest rates because of their deficient credit history.

The term “subprime” refers to the credit status of the borrower (being less than ideal), not the interest rate on the loan itself. Subprime offers an opportunity for borrowers with a less than ideal credit record to gain access to credit, such as immigrants. Subprime borrowers may use this credit to purchase homes, or in the case of a cash out refinance, finance other forms of spending such as purchasing a car, paying for living expenses, remodeling a home, or even paying down on a high interest credit card.

When the real estate market surged, legal and illegal immigrants joined Americans in buying homes they could barely afford. Even illegal immigrants were able to buy US homes during the boom years, either by showing evidence that they pay taxes or by simply presenting false documents.

Many of the subprime borrowers took out high interest fixed-rate loans with a low entry rate that later rose sharply. But as prices slumped in the past year, many have been caught with mortgages higher than the value of their homes.

“Economic conditions are deteriorating and many immigrants now can’t work those extra hours or find that second job to keep up with their mortgage payments,” said Aracely Panameno at the Center for Responsive Lending (CRL) research policy group.

A Filipino couple in Southern California shared with Asian Journal that their mortgage bills doubled over the past few months, now forcing them to look for second jobs. They say they’re now thinking of selling their home. But if they are unable to sell in the next few months, they may have to foreclose, meaning an even bigger financial loss and a damaging black mark on their credit record.

US President George W. Bush and Congressional leaders are working on an economic stimulus package worth almost $150 billion to fend off a possible recession, and Bush last month unveiled a plan to slow the wave of home loan foreclosures by freezing the rates on some subprime loans.

Experts say, however, most of the immigrants in financial trouble are either not entitled to help under the rescue plan or are not taking advantage of it.

“If this keeps up and we lose our homes, we’re thinking of going back to the Philippines,” related one FilAm immigrant.


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SC Stops Senate from Arresting Neri

by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com

MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday stopped the Senate from implementing its arrest order against Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairman Romulo Neri in connection with his failure to appear during its investigation on the alleged anomalies surrounding the US$329 million broadband deal between the government and China’s ZTE Corporation.

In an en banc resolution issued Tuesday, the Court issued a status quo ante in favor of Neri, which in effect compels the Senate to maintain the situation prior to the issuance of the arrest order on January 30.

“Now, therefore, effective immediately and continuing until further orders from this Court, you, respondents Senate Committees on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon), Trade and Commerce, and National Defense and Security, your agents, representatives, or persons acting in your place or stead, are hereby enjoined from implementing your order of January 30, 2008,” the SC said in a threepage resolution.

Likewise, the Court ordered respondents — Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Committee on Trade and Commerce and Committee on National Defense and Security – to comment on Neri’s petition within 10 days. The SC also set the case for oral arguments on March 4.

The Senate committees order Neri’s arrest on January 30, 2008 after he failed to heed its subpoena compelling him to appear at their hearings on September 18, 20, October 25 and November 20, 2007 in connection with the ZTE Corporation.

In his supplemental petition for certiorari filed before the SC on February 1, Neri explained that he failed to show up on September 18, 20, and October 25 hearings because he was then out-of-town.

Neri, on the other hand, noted that he testified on September 26, 2007. During his testimony, Neri disclosed that former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Benjamin Abalos offered him P200 million in exchange for the approval of the project by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

Neri was then the secretary of NEDA when the broandband project was approved. He said he begged off from attending the November 20, 2007 hearing upon the order of the President invoking executive privilege.

“The gross arbitrariness of respondents’ order of arrest is patent on its face. This order of arrest elides, and sidesteps, the President’s invocation of executive privilege in behalf of petitioner,” Neri stressed.

In its original petition for certiorari filed on December 7, 2007, Neri maintained that the respondents gravely abused their discretions when they issued on November 22, 2007 a show cause order against him.

The CHED chairman insisted that his invocation of executive privilege is “wellfounded” as he is prohibited by law from disclosing communications made to him in official confidence.

He added that his discussions with the President were candid and meant to explore options in making policy decisions. Neri added that their conversations dwelt on the impact of the bribery scandal involving high government officials on the country’s diplomatic relations and economic and military affairs, and the possible loss of confidence of foreign investors and lenders in the country.

Neri asked the tribunal to rule annulling the arrest order, which he said has another “vice,” such that it punishes for supposed contempt despite that the Rules of respondent Committees have not even been published.

He said that the order for his arrest pre-empted the SC’s action on his original petition for certiorari.

“Quite clearly, respondent committees would lord it over two co-equal branches of government, to wit, the President and the Supreme Court,” he added.

SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez clarified that the status quo ante order does not cover Philippine Forest Corp. (PFC) chief executive officer Roberto Lozada, who was also ordered to be arrested by the Senate.

Lozada left for Hong Kong two hours before the Senate resumed its inquiry on January 30 into the anomalous broadband deal. Neri reportedly appointed him as technical consultant for the contract.

Lozada was scheduled to testify Wednesday, but sent word that he could not do so because he was on an official.


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Green Group Protests Long Beach Oil Refinery

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

It wasn’t his stove, though. The sound grew louder and the windows of his home in West Long Beach began to shake. The floors trembled.

He searched outside and discovered that the Conoco-Philip Oil Refinery had begun to flare, releasing combustible gas into the air. Red flames and stacks of smoke began to cover the night sky.

Torres went outside his home and saw another refinery flaring. Torres frantically called his friends and woke up his neighbors urging them to call the local Air Quality management district to report the incident.

“Sure enough it was an unplanned incident,” said Torres. “We called the district but we didn’t get a call back.”

Oil refineries like Conoco Philip are required by law to notify residents when flaring occurs. Flares are supposed to occur only during an emergency.

“It was flaring the whole night,” he added. “We were really worried because if they were burning off gases, people were being exposed to this and that people could have gotten sick that night.”

The incident happened on October 2007. Torres said flares from oil refineries in this area happen more often than is reported and people living around the area are getting sick.

Last January 30, Torres along with members of the Environmental Justice Network of Southern California (EJNSC) and People’s CORE banded together with local community members, students, parents, and health experts during a press conference in Carson to rally support for improving the air quality of West Long Beach residents and protest the major oil refineries in the area.

The West Long Beach area is home to more than 48,000 FilAms, according to the Census.

The Long Beach area – Wilmington, Carson, and South Gate – is also home to nine major oil refineries and one of the busiest ports in the world. Large diesel trucks with freights are a common sight on the freeways in and around Long Beach.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) found that oil refineries in the area are the largest regulated source of particulate matter emissions, emitting more than 400,000 new diesel-powered school buses. Another study reported that Long Beach contributes 1/ 5th of all the air pollution in the Los Angeles area.

The inhalation of enough particulate matter can lead to respiratory problems including shortness of breath, asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, and premature death. However, critics have said that common air pollutants have no link to a person’s health.

Doctor Shipra Bansal, a resident physician at UCLA Harbor Hospital, disagrees. Bansal serves the local area and has seen a dramatic increase of patients coming to the hospital with respiratory problems.

“I’m here because I’m concerned [about] the health of my patients,” she said.

During the press conference, People’s CORE unveiled a recent study about the health effects experienced by Carson residents after incidents of local refinery flares. Almost half of the residents surveyed were FilAms.

The group found that 95 percent of Carson residents surveyed who live near specific refineries experience negative health effects after refinery flares such as headaches, irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, and nausea.

Nearly 75 percent of residents also believe that local refineries negatively affect their or their family’s health. “The rate of asthma in these communities is overwhelmingly high,” said Kim Baglieri of People’s CORE.

Baglieri said that parents are now concerned because their children attend the local elementary schools. Del Amo Elementary School in Carson is only a few miles away from the BP/ Arco oil refinery. Baglieri said that students and teachers at Del Amo Elementary School have complained of health effects such as nosebleeds and headaches, experienced during school hours.

“Many school days have been missed by both teachers and students, and the start of the school year was delayed due to noxious gases and odors in the air,” she said. Patricia Pascual, a parent of two children attending Del Amo Elementary School, said she’s seen first-hand what air pollution does to kids.

She said her children Mikala and Michael have missed a number of days of school due to effects from bad air quality.

“Both my children have been sick several times,” said Pascual.

She said her daughter, Mikala, has rashes on her face, suffers from stomachaches and often vomits. Her son, Michael, suffers from headaches and bloody noses.

“I don’t have proof because I don’t keep the bloody tissues,” said Pascual. “There is a problem here. We’re hoping that by coming together and organizing a strong community we can have some action here and get something done.”


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