BFP Northern Mindanao braces for El Niño

THE Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Northern Mindanao has directed all its City and Municipal Fire Marshals to look for alternate water sources in view of the El Nino phenomenon that has threatened to prevail up to the mid-year.

"Due to the El Nino, the water crisis is inevitable such as some of the areas in the region are experiencing right now," S/Supt. Eleuterio N. Iturriaga, Regional Director of BFP-10, said during a recent forum held at the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), region 10, relative to the observance of the Fire Prevention Month (FPM), this March.

Thus, the directive for all the Provincial Fire Marshals of the region to supervise the City/Municipal Fire Marshals and help find solutions to look for alternative means to augment the existing sources of water for use of the fire trucks in their respective areas of responsibility.

He then required all the Fire Marshals of the region to submit a list of all the existing source of water they usually use for fire fighting and the alternative sources to be used on emergency during the El Nino months.
Meanwhile, Iturriaga has called on the residents to be vigilant and prevent the occurrence of fire during this time when load curtailment of electric power is being implemented due to the water crisis faced by the hydro-electric plants supplying the power needs of the region.

Talking about this year?s FPM theme of "Sustaining Fire Prevention through Active Community Participation," the BFP Regional Director urged everyone to help prevent the occurrence of fire by unplugging all electrical appliances and not leaving lighted candles unattended during power interruptions.

For the past two (2) months alone, a total of 60 fire incidents had occurred in the region, noting a 25 percent (%) increase in the number of fire incidents that occurred in the same period, last year.

Per type of occupancy, 51 of these fires were classified as structural of which 35 occurred in residential areas, six (6) in factories, five (5) in commercial districts, two (2) in government offices and one (1) each in storage, educational and mixed establishments.

Nine (9) others were considered as non-structural fires of which eight (8) were caused by grass, rubbish and forest fires and one (1) incident occurred inside a motor vehicle.
These incidents resulted in property damage worth Php26.71M or an increase of 156.22 per cent (%) over that of P10.43M in the same period, last year, Iturriaga added. (PIA 10)

Aquino to expand coverage of cheaper medicines law, Philhealth benefits

LIBERAL Party standard bearer Noynoy Aquino vowed to expand the coverage of the cheaper medicines law to benefit more people, especially the poor and the elderly.

“We will do this more vigorously. Medicines covered by the law only account for P2-billion of the P125-billion worth of pharmaceutical purchases in one year,” he told a press conference in Dumaguete City on Wednesday.

“What we need is a government that will look out for the welfare of the people and not of big business or pharmaceutical companies,” Aquino said.
He also intends to widen the coverage and increase the benefits provided by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth).

Aquino said many of the elderly don’t have access to professional health care.

“Sometimes, they don’t have health care at all. The Philhealth seems to be embarking on transforming itself into a financial institution, increasing its reserves instead of providing universal health care,” he pointed out.

Aquino’s sortie in Dumaguete is part of five-day swing by the Liberal Party slate in the Visayas.

RA 9679 mandates all workers membership in Pag-IBIG Fund, by January 2010

BEGINNING January 1, 2010, membership in Pag-IBIG Fund is already required to all employees compulsorily covered by the Social Security System (SSS), regardless of employment status, as provided by Republic Act 9679.

Republic Act 9679, also known as the Home Development Mutual Fund Law of 2009, further obliges previously waived companies to register their employees, upon expiration of their waiver of coverage.

Moreover, Pag-IBIG Fund membership shall also apply to all employees compulsorily covered by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), including uniformed personnel of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).

Foreign-based employers must also register their Filipino employees as required by the law.

The membership of the mandatorily covered employees should take effect upon the date of employment. However, actual membership in the Fund shall commence only upon remittance of the initial contribution and not at point of registration.To date, the monthly contribution rates shall be as follows: for those with monthly compensation of P1,500.00 or less the employee share is 1% while the employer share is 2%. For those earning monthly compensation of more than P1,500.00 employee share is 2% and employer share is 2%.

A member may be allowed to contribute more than the required rates should he or she so desires.

The employer, however, shall only be mandated to contribute what is required, unless it agrees to match the member’s increased contribution.
The employer assumes a fiduciary relationship with the Fund and the member concerned relative to the collection and remittance of the member’s contribution, required employer contribution and loan amortization, when the payment is made through salary deduction.

The employer shall be liable for the non-remittance of MCs and loan obligations as they fall due. A Penalty of three percent (3%) of the amounts payable per month, shall be collected, from the date the contributions and loan amortizations or payment fall due.

An annual dividend of not less than 70% of the Fund’s net disposable income is added proportionately to the members’ savings. The member’s earned dividend will be credited to his or her Total Accumulated Value (TAV). The TAV comprises of the member’s personal contributions, employer counterpart and earned dividends.
The benefits of a Pag-IBIG Fund member shall include the following: a) housing; b) short-term loans and other benefit programs; c) portability of membership; d) return of contributions; and e) death benefits.

The termination of Pag-IBIG Fund membership shall be upon the occurrence of any of the following, provided that the member’s financial obligations with the Fund are first fully settled, except in case of death of the member: a) membership term maturity; b) death; c) retirement; d) permanent total disability or insanity; e) permanent departure from the country; f) termination of service by reason of health; and g) other causes as may be approved by the Board. Therese C.M. Abejo / Pag-IBIG Fund

Arroyo has used ‘pork’ as a political tool – Chiz

OPPOSITION Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been exercising her power to impound pork as a political tool for the past five years.

”She has been exercising her power to impound pork not because of any lofty purpose but to give out or withhold political favor to help her allies and to strangle her political opponents,” he said.

”She will continue to do so, and with more reason in 2010, for the result of the coming elections could shape her political future,” Escudero, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws, said.

The bicameral conference committee had earlier inserted a provision that would make it difficult for Arroyo to impound certain portions of the P1.542-trillion national budget, particularly the allocations for lawmakers.

The Bicolano lawmaker’s pork barrel was withheld from him from 2005 after he played a key leader in the impeachment complaints against Arroyo.

Because of the abuses by this government, Escudero filed a resolution last year urging the Senate committee on Finance proposing the repeal or amendment of Presidential Decree No. 1177 and Book VI of Executive Order No. 292 “with the end in view of reverting to Congress the power of the purse as prescribed by the Constitution.”

He has also openly called for the abolition of the pork barrel and proposed substantial increase in the share of the IRA of local governments.

”Now that political loyalties have become uncertain, she will make use of the power of the purse in making sure that her allies will continue to toe the line and her enemies won’t have the resources to wage an effective campaign against her,” Escudero said.

”But there are limits to what this government can do to try to retain power. I am sure that the people will know what to do when the time comes,” he said.

Enrile: Telcos insist on denying consumer’s right to better and cheaper service

CITING reports that local telecommunications companies are still being plagued by the so-called “vanishing load” and text spam problems, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile once again called on his colleagues to fast-track the passage of Senate Bill No. 3465, which gives regulatory powers to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Under the proposed bill, the NTC will be given the power to ensure a fair and competitive business environment among industry players, which will ultimately ensure universal access to reliable and affordable services for the general public.
“I just received a report from the NTC that shows people still losing unused prepaid loads. Furthermore, text spams have more than doubled in the past two months, contrary to reports by these telcos that they have stopped sending unwanted texts to their customers,” Enrile said.

Enrile was reacting to data submitted by the NTC which showed that the Commission received a total of 312 telco related complaints from November to December last year. These complaints ranged from 195 instances of “vanishing loads” to 117 instances of spam messages.

“There were only 129 complaints last October. Why the increase? To have 312 complaints in one month shows that the telcos are telling the government that we are toothless and they (telcos) run the show,” Enrile stressed.

“Marami sa mga complainants, mga Smart subscribers. Nawawalan pa rin daw sila ng load. Malamang lalo na nitong nagdaang Pasko, I won’t be surprised if data will show that a lot of our kababayan were not able to send texts or calls to their loved ones for Christmas” Enrile fumed.

Enrile recalled that before the holiday season, telcos, specifically Smart and Globe, issued statements suspending their “unlimited text and call” promos, citing network congestion. The NTC countered with an order preventing them from suspending the promos, saying that to do so will only benefit the telcos and would be unfair to the millions of mobile phone subscribers who relied on their mobile phones to reach loved ones during the Christmas break.

The Senate President also said that “the act of these telcos to suspend their promos during the holiday season was suspect, and childish, coming on the heels of the order mandating them to follow a new billing scheme. It’s as if they are saying “we can’t get what we want, neither can the people and it’s (NTC’s) your fault!”

“Now they are asking the Court of Appeals to stop the NTC from implementing the per pulse billing regime, saying that they need more time to fix their systems” Enrile added.

“Several months have gone by, they have been given all the time that they need. This, again, is a delaying tactic. They must comply or they will face sanctions!” Enrile further said.

DOH: 2009 New Year revelry bloodier than 2008

THE Department of Health (DOH) retracted its earlier declaration that firecracker-related injuries were lower this year as scores of injuries continued in hospitals post New Year’s celebration.

DOH-National Epidemiology Center (NEC) director Eric Tayag clarified that 2009’s New Year revelry is more bloody compared to the previous year as the number of injuries as of January 3 rose 920, which is 26 percent higher to the those injured in 2008 with only 683 cases.

Tayag said out of the total number of cases this year, 877 were fireworks related; 42 stray bullet cases; and one watusi ingestion. There were also three reported dead according to some reports, he said.

Statistics from the NEC surveillance report also showed that 704 of the victims were males; 268 were children less than 10 years of age; 671 with injuries but no amputation; 81 with amputation; 74 with influence of alcohol; and 125 with eye injuries.

The leading cause of firecracker injuries was Piccolo with 267 cases; followed by Kwitis, 123; Luces, 57; Five-star, 53; stray bullet, 42; and Pla-pla, 41

Tayag cited three reasons for the increase of injuries this year; first, that there were a lot of merry-making because the decade had ended; second, that a lot of Filipinos seemed to be happier this year according to surveys; and third, due to the low price of Piccolo, which despite being banned, still reach the hands of mostly children.

The DOH-NEC director also expressed his disappointment over the rise of injuries this year despite their strenuous campaign, the “Iwas Paputok” 2009 program, which started since November 2009.

On January 1, 2010, the DOH reported that there were only 597 cases of firecracker-related injuries, which is supposedly 15 percent lower than 702 cases recorded in the 2008 revelries. However, more cases were recorded in hospitals during the weekend which grew the number of victims.

Tayag said they have been appealing to the police for the last two years to enforce a ban on the deceptively innocent-looking firecrackers that children found attractive, but in some local governments in Metro Manila, it was evident that banned firecrackers are still being sold in streets.

The DOH has actively campaigned on the ban against firecrackers with television ads, posters, billboards, tarpaulins placed in hospitals and government infrastructures nationwide and coordinated with police to confiscate banned firecrackers being sold in markets.

“I think our local government leaders should coordinate next year for them to have a more concrete protocol against the ban on fireworks in their jurisdictions,” he said.

Tayag said they are also expecting that the number of firecracker-related injuries will continue to rise as they will record all cases up to Wednesday (January 5).

Meanwhile, Tayag warned victims of firecrackers that if they failed to seek immediate treatment after sustaining wounds, they can have tetanus that actually lead to death.

The DOH said that tetanus is an acute bacterial disease caused by Clostridium tetani. Although deep wound is needed to support the growth of the bacteria, minor wound is usually the point of entry in children and adults. The incubation period of tetanus could be as short as one day to, usually three to 21 days.

Tayag said injuries sustained from fireworks should be washed immediately with soap and water and referred to medical personnel for proper wound care and tetanus immunization.

Symptoms of tetanus includes severe headache, irritable behavior, weakness, and lock jaw.

Pacquiao declares all-out support for Villar

WORLD boxing champion and Time magazine cover Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao declared his all-out support for Nacionalista Party (NP) president and standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar.

Villar swore in Pacquiao, who is running for congressman of Saranggani, along with his People’s Champ Movement local party slate, in the boxing icon’s mansion in General Santos following his 31st birthday celebration at the KCC Events and Convention Center attended by over 2,000 guests including Villar.

“Manny Pacquiao, who has thrown his best punches to hoist our country’s pride and honor, is a deeply valued partner in our campaign to help keep our people from being knocked out by extreme hardships,” the NP standard-bearer who was born to poverty in Tondo said.

Villar likewise emphasized, “Our affinity is anchored on our common backgrounds in poverty where we harnessed the Filipino values of hard work and determination which have seen us through our struggles.”
Pacquiao said, “Talagang nanggaling siya (Villar) sa hirap, at kung tutuusin, galing din ako sa hirap gaya niya. Siya ang karapat-dapat suportahan dahil alam niya ang damdamin ng mga mahihirap. Ito ay pabor sa atin, ang damdamin ng mahihirap, alam niya ‘yan.”
Taking oath as Nacionalistas with Pacquaio were his gubernatorial running mate Juan Domino and vice-gubernatorial bet newly retired provincial administrator Fred Basino, along with two board members and seven mayors of Saranggani. Pacquiao’s lawyer Franklin Gacal, congressional candidate for South Cotabato’s first district, also took oath before the NP standard-bearer. NP senatorial bet Ilocos Norte Rep. Bongbong Marcos attended the event.

At his birthday bash, Pacquiao introduced Villar as “the upcoming president” of the Philippines, and asked the NP standard-bearer to draw the winner of a brand-new car which the world’s no. 1 pound-for-pound boxer raffled off.
The well-loved Pacman is the first fighter in boxing history to win seven world titles in seven different weight divisions, following his victory over Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas on Nov. 14 via technical knockout in the 12th round. It was the most watched boxing event of the year where Pacman gained the WBO World Welterweight title.
As cover of the prestigious Time Magazine, Pacquiao earlier said, “It is a great honor for me to be the face of my people and let everyone know we are a small but mighty country." He joined the ranks of international sports superstars Michael Phelps, Serena and Venus Williams, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods as covers.

He arose from a niche sports star to a mainstream figure worldwide, with Time Magazine citing him anew as among its list of “people who mattered.” Pacquiao is also the first athlete the Philippine Postal Corp. has honored with his own stamp. The crime rate in the country dips during Pacquiao’s bouts, which are heavily viewed and cheered.