Daily Archives: February 19, 2008

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.


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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.



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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.


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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.


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Filipino Workers in Florida Victims of Fraud

by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Attorney General Bill McCollum of Florida sued Quality Staffing Services Corp (a Filipino-owned employment company)  and the Boca Woods Country Club (a country club development) for allegedly re-assigning more than a dozen Filipino citizens who were promised work waiting and busing tables but sent, instead, to other jobs and turned into indentured servants.

“A group of Filipino workers arrived in Florida last fall, having paid thousands for the opportunity to work here. Instead, they were forced to live in a crowded home and had their passports confiscated,” the Attorney General’s Office said Feb 14.

Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado, who own Quality Staffing, confiscated the workers’ passports and return airline tickets, the lawsuit alleges. They also have demanded between $10,000 and $15,000 from any worker who wants to be released from their contract, according to the lawsuit. Manuel and Baldonado could not be reached for comment and a representative of Boca Woods declined to comment on the case.

Quality Staffing Services Corp hired at least 13 and possibly as many as 50 Filipino workers to work in food service jobs at the Boca Woods Country Club starting in fall 2007.

The complaint, filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, alleges that the Filipino employees understood they would be working 35 hours a week for $6.67 an hour, or an average of $1,400 a month, and would receive free transportation to Florida from the Philippines.

When they arrived in Florida in October 2007, 13 workers who paid their own way here were sent to work at various country clubs in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties and to live in a three-bedroom house with 25 to 30 people, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“These people came to Florida believing they would have a chance at the American dream of earning a decent wage to provide for their families,” McCollum said in a statement. “Instead, they were trapped in low-wage positions and have had to depend upon handouts from friends to survive because of the apparently deceptive manner in which they were recruited.”

The workers paid fees to Quality Staffing, which had obtained a letter from Boca Woods Country Club stating the company was authorized to employ food service workers. But they never worked any food service jobs at Boca Woods, and they have earned “substantially less” than the guaranteed minimum wages, according to the lawsuit.

The Attorney General’s Office began to investigate the companies after receiving a complaint from the Philippine Consulate. The lawsuit accuses the companies of engaging in a “systematic pattern of conduct designed and intended to induce consumers to purchase their services via a series of false and fraudulent representations.”

The lawsuit asks a judge to issue a permanent injunction preventing all of the named defendants from engaging in business related to employment of temporary workers. The lawsuit requests damages as well as civil penalties against the defendants.


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