Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Family struggles to survive in Padang lahar site

09 April 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—FOR BROTHERS JR, 3, AND Rod, 2, it’s just playing tag under the heat of the summer sun. But for their father Rudy Bermundo, 37, it’s chasing the wind for survival and a decent living after Supertyphoon “Reming” destroyed their house and livelihood.

Bermundo brings his two boys with him when he gathers gravel at the lahar site at Barangay Padang in this city every day.

His wife and youngest son are left at the upland barangay of Taysan where the “MMDA Village” has been built by the government to serve as temporary shelter for typhoon survivors.

While Bermundo sieves gravel from a small river channel with a metal net he made, his two children play—running and throwing stones—on the barren grounds of Padang. Heaps of sand and scattered rocks are all that can be seen with Mount Mayon in the background.

Bermundo was forced to build a shanty at the lahar site so he and his two sons need not travel back and forth to the relocation site every day. Transportation costs eat a substantial amount from his earnings.

He earns P80 per cubic meter of gravel collected, he said.

Late that afternoon, he estimated having already about three cubic meters to be fetched by the truck of a construction company any time, but he did not stop working.

He does this despite an ailment caused by an accident while working for a construction company.

A metal equipment fell on him, injuring his head and breaking his collar bone. He was brought to the hospital and confined for about two months. He was jobless for a year.

“I could still feel the pain. And now I can only do limited activities. But I have to work so we could have something to eat,” Bermundo said in Bicol as he showed the Inquirer his deformed left shoulder.


On hours when he doesn’t collect gravel, Bermundo plants root crops and vegetables in an area in Padang not affected by the lahar.

He would bring the harvest to Taysan for his wife to sell.

“Root crops easily sell at the relocation site. One time, I brought a can of ‘linsa’ (gabi root crop) and we were able to sell it for P200. I also plant hot pepper and sweet potatoes,” he said.

Bermundo said he had brought his two sons with him because they always got sick at the relocation site.

“I don’t actually want my family to live there, not unless the government gives us a permanent house to stay. But we have no choice,” he said.

The area where Bermundo collects gravel is almost exactly the same spot where their concrete house once stood.

He pointed to where his relatives’ house used to be. The tragedy was still fresh in his mind.

Some of his siblings and other family members died.

Just like many other typhoon survivors, Bermundo said he did not benefit from the food-for-work programs of the government and nongovernment institutions. He decided to move on his own without relying on the promises.

At the MMDA village and the refugee camp at Tagas, some families have put up stores in their tents.

Some were said to have started their business by selling part of the relief goods they had received and having whatever money they had recovered from rubble as capital.

At Barangay Busay in Daraga, some displaced children sell photos of Mayon to tourists visiting the Cagsawa ruins.

These children, who know much about the history of the volcano’s 1814 eruption, also act as tour guides after class hours in the afternoon.

Food for work

The World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations is one of the nongovernment organizations working to provide food support and livelihood to the refugees.

Syed Arefeen, head of the WFP’s Legazpi sub-office, said the agency planned to provide 5,788 metric tons of food to 500,000 people.

“But now, we only have 22 percent of the required funding of $4 million. We badly need more donations so we can continuously extend help not just to the relocation sites but also to the communities,” he said.

The WFP organizes food-for-work programs to typhoon survivors by giving them work for a week in exchange for a month-long supply of food.

“We make them help in the rehabilitation of damaged day care centers and repair other facilities in the community. There’s a lot of work to be done in the communities,” Arafeen said.

But for Bermundo, selling gravel and root crops on his own is the immediate thing he can do to at least give his family members their daily needs. He is still seeking to secure his family’s future with certainty.

And his children, having enough time to play and be just kids speak volumes of how responsible their father is in these dire times.

RP, US war vs high-seas drug smuggling

31 March 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—-ON THURSDAY, the US Navy ended its month-long “Exercise Fusion Piston ’07” with the Philippine Navy and other concerned agencies in Southern Luzon, which provided training on countering high-seas smuggling of illegal drugs in the country.

Edgardo Guevarra, Naval Forces Southern Luzon operations officer, said the exercise was important to teach concerned agencies how to unify their efforts in addressing the illegal drugs problem.

“The agencies would work on their own before without coordination. This exercise strengthened our effort to combat the smuggling of illegal drugs,” Guevarra said.

The US Navy-funded exercise offered courses on medical training, drug enforcement, local custom and immigration laws, procedures in handling evidence, drug identification, and firing.

Other agencies involved in the exercise were the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Philippine National Police, the PNP Maritime Group, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Customs.

Guevarra said the Americans are very particular in stopping illegal drug trade among countries.Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Salceda quits Palace post,runs for governor of Albay

31 March 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—PRESIDENT MACAPAGAL-Arroyo’s chief of staff has quit his post and set his sights on the governorship of Albay.

Joey Salceda, a former representative of Legazpi’s second district, filed his certificate of candidacy as an independent candidate on Thursday night. He said he resigned as Ms Arroyo’s chief of staff on Tuesday.

The gubernatorial race is now seen as a face-off between Salceda and the incumbent, Fernando Gonzales, who is seeking a second term under the ruling Lakas-CMD.

But two other independent candidates, Stephen Bichara and Abdel Noel Quiapon, are also in the running.

Salceda, Bichara and Gonzales belong to political dynasties.

The governor hails from Ligao City, where his wife, Mayor Linda Gonzales, is also seeking reelection.

Salceda is from Polangui, where his father, Jesus Salceda Sr., is mayor.

Bichara is the brother of former Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara, who is now running for Congress. Their father, Alfonso Bichara, is also a former Albay governor.

Salceda, a former chair of the House committee on appropriations, said he had always felt more comfortable in an elective position.

He said his program “Albay Mabuhay” would center on infrastructure projects such as the construction of the international airport in Daraga, and the provision of PhilHealth and scholarship benefits as well as agricultural livelihood programs.

“I am also thinking of ways to help the poorest barangays in Albay,” Salceda said. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

‘Reming’ survivors still crying for help

29 March 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Daraga, Albay

IT WAS ALMOST DUSK AND THE crisp, cool air outside the tents pitched in the grounds of the elementary school in the village of Tagas, Daraga, Albay, provided a welcome relief to Arlene Llorca.

Intermittent rains had forced the 44-year-old woman to stay inside her dwelling and endure the heat while she embroidered a woven bag.

A handicraft worker, Llorca and her family of six had occupied one of the classrooms in December last year. Lahar brought down by Supertyphoon “Reming” from Mount Mayon buried her house a few days before. They moved to one of the tents when classes resumed in January after a month’s suspension.

A neighbor, Amelia Quinalayo, 48, was not as “lucky.” She shares a tent with two to three other families.

“It’s hard to live with other families in one tent. Our children always get sick with colds or fever because of too much heat. Rainwater also drips inside our tents on rainy days,” Quinalayo lamented.

Like most of the other 471 families (2,127 people) from the two zones in Tagas who have been encamped in 47 other tents and 165 shanties, Llorca and Quinalayo have no choice but to adjust to their new environment—or what disaster officials call “temporary shelters.”

Almost four months after “Reming” struck the village, almost 300,000 families still live in these conditions.

Local government officials had told Llorca and Quinalayo that it would take two years before permanent relocation sites could be established. But Med Villanueva, liaison officer of Ayuda Albay, which oversees relief and rehabilitation efforts, said the period was merely an “optimistic” assumption.

Ayuda Albay, which was created through Executive Order 2007-1 of the provincial government to address the long-term needs of the typhoon survivors, has counted on the expertise and resources of over 27 member-organizations from the international nongovernment sector, which have been working in the cluster areas of shelter, food, education, livelihood, health, logistics and transport, and evacuation and transit center.

Gap in donations

One of the main problems they face is the acute lack of NGO help. “Many have given support but many are also pulling out one by one,” said Villanueva.

Regarding the survivors’ shelter needs, much “ayuda” (Bicol term for help) needs to be done immediately and the government needs to move fast, she said.

A study conducted by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) from Feb. 5 to March 2 showed that the local Red Cross and other agencies had resettled families in only 6.9 percent or 21,357 housing units of the 309,518 destroyed houses. This meant a “significant” gap of 288,161 housing units.

The UN country team is crying out for being “under-funded.”

IOM plans

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is part of the UN team, plans to decongest 13 schools still being used as evacuation centers.

“There is a pressing need to decongest these shelters. We hope to move the people out of the tents and build temporary houses for them while they wait for the permanent ones being built by the government and other organizations. This is also to mitigate health issues in congested camps,” said Ida Mae Fernandez, IOM project officer.

Fernandez said the group was looking for public land to be leased for them to build temporary shelters. The UN team, she said, had been working through a special consolidated fund of $42 million, of which 25 percent was already spent for emergency relief (the first stage of disaster response) and 75 percent was being used for early recovery programs.

Albay not OK

“We are in need of additional funds. We, in the IOM, need $1 million more to rearrange and rebuild the congested camps and provide some livelihood for the people,” she said.

The IOM now operates on a $250,000 (P1.24 million) grant from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and a 550,000-Euro (P36-million) funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office.

It mainly offers logistics and transport to other organizations and donors who do not have the capacity to carry their goods to Bicol.

“We are in need of more funds for recovery. If we do not get funds for livelihood and shelter of thousands of people, what can we look forward to?” Villanueva said.

“Everyone thinks Albay is OK and is springing back to life. But the truth is, we are not any closer to recovery. We still need help. And we make sure that help is directly brought to its intended beneficiaries.”

Extracting cash from Mayon’s rocks

22 March 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Daraga, Albay

VOLCANIC ROCKS SCATtered over barren fields would not mean much to ordinary people in Daraga town in Albay except as reminders of a tragedy for lahar survivors.

But for six years now, Vicente Ajero, 46, has been creating images out of the rocks, wielding a hammer and a nail used as chisel.

Ajero, who is called “Enteng Bato” in Barangay Busay near the Cagsawa Ruins, said he made his first sculpture after picking up a red rock while walking. He was fascinated by its color.

When he got home, he tried carving an image out of it with a hammer and a nail attached to a rubber pipe. He formed an image of Jesus Christ—his first artwork—in one week.

The image was important for him, he said. But, unfortunately, he lost it to a flash flood at the height of Supertyphoon “Reming.”

Volcanic rocks and other debris loosened from the slopes of Mount Mayon abound in surrounding lahar-struck villages like Busay, where Ajero’s Mayon Artstone Shop is found.

The shop is a 3-meter by 4-meter nipa hut that Ajero himself constructed. It is near the historical Cagsawa Ruins—traces of Mayon’s eruption in 1814 that killed 1,200 people and buried hundreds of houses in surrounding areas.


It is easy to carve Mayon’s rocks, the hardened magma locally called the “buga,” because they are soft and brittle, Ajero said. He uses the same kind of stone to polish the surface of his sculptures.

Ajero lives alone in a room in a dwelling damaged by lahar at Busay. He lost his house in the neighboring town of Camalig to floods. In his solitude, he draws out his ideas and emotions for his sculptures or the songs he writes, he said.

The types and sizes of design vary in his shop. He carves human images, Mayon, the Cagsawa belfry, candle holders, chairs, tables and many other items.

One of the designs closest to his heart is the “mother and child image” that reminds him of childhood days. His mother is now almost blind and lives with one of his siblings.

No two designs can be exactly the same, Ajero said.

“My design would depend upon the rock. I don’t usually think much of what design I am going to carve. I don’t sketch it first on paper. I just do it and would end up with all these designs,” he said in Filipino.

Among his collections are a mother breastfeeding a child; Daragang Magayon, the folkloric woman whose grave became Mayon; a woman under bed covers, and an almost abstract image of a man and a woman making love.

The price of each sculpture depends on how big or complicated the design is. Prices range from P300 to P10,000.

Ajero finishes his sculptures in one day (for the simple designs) to at most one month (for the complicated ones.)

The Cagsawa belfry costs P300; mortar and pestle, P350; candle holder that looks like a dumbbell, P150-P200; and mother and child varieties, P2,500-P10,000.

All of Ajero’s sculptures are unpainted so that, he said, it would look authentic and natural. But some volcanic rocks come in colors other than the usual gray.

Lean sales

Ajero had thought that he could earn a living out of his stone art. He never really earned from his paintings and his folk songs.

He survives mainly by doing contractual jobs. He now works for a project of the municipal government to clean and landscape the Ligñon Hill, where the unfinished Mayon View Deck lies.

Not many people seem to be interested with his sculptures, he said. During lean months, he would sell only two items.

“Almost none of the foreign tourists and travelers buy my work because they are hard to carry since they are made of pure volcanic rock. But I just love doing this,” Ajero said.


Ajero said he still saw hope in his craft and that it might just take him out of poverty.

“When someone buys my sculptures, I use the money to buy food and other needs. When there’s none, I only rely on my income from my contractual jobs,” he said.

If someone who trusts in his skills would be willing to invest in him, he’d be willing to take it. “In putting up this small shop, I did not have any capital but only my mind, my talent, and the rocks I can freely pick anywhere,” he said.

A Filipino expression puts it, “Pera na naging bato pa.” But Ajero said he wanted to be known as a man who could make a living out of rocks and reverse the adage to “Bato na naging pera pa.”

Supreme Court upholds poll win of Legazpi City mayor

20 March 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—The Supreme Court, voting 15-0, declared null and void the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ruling that declared former city councilor Michael Imperial as the winner of the 2004 mayoral race in this city.

The Court, in its decision, stated that the Comelec’s Second Division adopted a “manifestly unreasonable procedure” in the review of the election protest filed by Imperial on May 24, 2004, pointing out its failure to consider the condition of the ballots before they were recounted.

The ruling upheld the victory of Mayor Noel Rosal.

While Imperial claimed that he was cheated during the election, Rosal said that he was a victim of post-election fraud, claiming that election returns were tampered after the votes were counted.

Acting on Imperial’s petition, the Comelec recounted the contested ballots, which started in January 2005 and ended on Feb. 2, 2005.

After the recount, Imperial came out with more votes in allegedly tampered election returns.

To prove his allegation, Rosal intended to present 110 public school teachers, who had served as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), as witnesses.

The teachers claimed the signatures that appeared in the election returns were no longer theirs.

However, in an order on April 25, 2005, the Comelec Second Division ruled that the testimonies of the teachers were “unnecessary” and that the Comelec had the authority to determine by itself the authenticity of the ballots.

But the high court rebuffed the Comelec ruling saying “It should never be forgotten, though, that the superior status of the ballots as evidence of how the electorate voted presupposes that these were the very same ballots actually cast and counted in the elections”

It noted that Imperial himself earlier manifested that the question ballot boxes bore “overt signs of tampering.” Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Kenney says ties strong despite US stand on slays

17 March 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—The United States-Philippines military ties will remain strong despite the US Senate’s critical look at the country’s unsolved killings and its hunch that the US military aid to the government might have been used against leftist groups, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said in her visit to Albay yesterday.

Kenney, along with Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine National Red Cross and representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), visited this city to look into the week-long humanitarian programs being conducted by the US Marines and sailors with the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the benefit of storm survivors here.

The Bush administration on Wednesday chastened President Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration for not taking “sufficient action to address unsolved killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

Kenney said the US Senate is just exploring and probing with concern the issue on the country’s heaping cases of extrajudicial killings and it will not affect the military partnership between the US and the Philippines. “This is just an information session, which has great interest. And frankly, the United States people and the US Congress, like the Philippine Congress, care about human rights. They care about the Philippines.” Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

NPC disconnects power to Albay: Aleco fails to settle debt of P981 million

16 March 2007
Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—Power supply in the entire Albay province was cut off at 12 noon yesterday by the National Power Corporation (NPC) as the Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco) failed to pay its debt of P981.3 million.

However, power was restored at 2:30 p.m. after negotiations were made and an initial payment of P5 million was made.

Alex Realoza, Aleco general manager, said they received a disconnection notice from NPC on March 9 but they had requested that the disconnection be deferred while the cooperative worked out a proposal on how it would pay off the debt.

“I’ve talked with NPC’s Vice President for Finance Lorna Dy. She agreed to my request and assured that no disconnection will happen. I even told her if there was a need for me to go to Manila to negotiate but she said no. Now, we were surprised with the sudden disconnection,” Realoza said.

He said he called for an emergency meeting of the Aleco board members immediately after power was cut off to talk of means of restoring power in Albay.

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez, who was in Manila, met with NPC officials after he was informed of the disconnection.

“We are making arrangements between the NPC and the Aleco so that power can be at least temporarily restored,” Gonzalez said in an interview an hour after the disconnection.

US Marines land in Albay to help typhoon victims

14 March 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—AT LEAST 150 MEMBERS of the 3rd US Marine Expeditionary Brigade based in Okinawa and a 300-man crew based in San Diego, California, arrived here yesterday on a humanitarian mission to help the mudslide victims of Albay.

The Americans immediately fanned out after stepping off the USS Comstock, which docked at the Legazpi port.

The Marines will be involved in medical missions, repair of damaged classrooms and cleanup drives in six villages in Legazpi, Daraga and Guinobatan under the week-long P1.3-million project, said 2nd Lt. Brian Block, brigade spokesperson.

The contingent also brought 10,000 pounds of supplies, food, clothing and toys for the typhoon survivors.

Two medical teams each consisting of 15 Marines were deployed to relocation sites and transit shelters in Barangay Taysan in Legazpi, Travesia in Guinobatan, and Tabon-Tabon, Tagas and the Daraga North Central School in Daraga.

Capt. Lowen Gil Marquez, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Unit in Bicol, said six teams from the AFP and two from the Philippine National Police joined the project.

WHO assistance

Also yesterday, the World Health Organization announced it had delivered to the Department of Health and local government units in Bicol $150,000 worth of medical supplies, equipment and technical support for the region.

Dr. Malou Barrameda, WHO program officer, said the Italian government had donated, through the WHO, emergency health kits worth $21,617. Each health kit could meet the needs of 10,000 people for three months.

The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office in Albay said 3,202 families or 16,592 persons remained in 16 evacuation and transit centers in the province.

Most of the families are waiting to be moved into houses being built by the provincial government and nongovernment organizations like Gawad Kalinga and the Sisters of Charity.

Land for relocation needed

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez said in a radio interview Monday that 30 hectares of land were needed for the relocation sites.

Gonzalez said 500 houses were being constructed in Barangay Taysan in this city and 300 houses at a newly identified relocation site in Anislag, Daraga, Albay.

He said relocation sites had been identified in Barangay Culliat in Daraga and another in Camalig town.

Critics asked to give mine firm 100 days

07 March 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—LAFAYETTE PHIL-lippines Inc. (LPI) sent its third shipment of 1,415 metric tons of zinc concentrates to Korea, according to Junie Bernardo, chief of the mining, environment and safety division of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

The shipment came as business leaders appealed to the firm’s detractors to give LPI 100 days within which to prove that its operations were safe and abide by environmental rules.

The appeal came from businessmen’s groups in Albay.

The Rotary Club of Legazpi, Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Quota International Legazpi-Mayon issued a joint statement asking the project’s detractors to give it a l00-day honeymoon period “to further prove itself.”

The groups asked mining critics to check whether mining firms had been complying with requirements on how much they should spend for their host communities to improve lives.

“Vigilance is the price we must pay to hold Lafayette to all its commitments,” the groups said.

“Everybody must keep an open mind at least for this period, which is a reasonable request. In the event Lafayette reneges on its commitments, then we will lead all concerned citizens to compel the DENR to revoke its ECC and license to operate,” they added.

Bernardo said the estimated value of zinc concentrates shipped to Korea was about $500 per MT.

This developed as LPI’s mother company, Australia’s Lafayette Mining Ltd., completed a $15-million convertible note issue.

It was the first of a series of financial inflows that the company expected as a direct result of the government order early this month allowing LPI’s mining project to resume commercial operations in Rapu-Rapu, Albay.

Fund provider Southeast Asia Strategic Asset Fund (SEASAF) had been ready with the financing and was just waiting for Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes, also chair of the Pollution Adjudication Board, to issue the order for the project restart.

Two weeks ago, the company made its first shipment of 865 MT of copper concentrate to China with an estimated value of $695 per MT. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

26 Albay villages lahar ‘high-risk’ areas–Phivolcs

05 March 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—THE HAZARD MAP OF MAY-on Volcano is expected to change significantly as 26 villages in three towns in Albay have been identified as high-risk areas by a team of government geologists and volcanologists.

Alex Baloloy, science research analyst of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) in Bicol, defined high-risk areas as those that face great threat from volcanic hazards such as lahar.

Many of these villages were not high-risk areas until mudflows from the volcano swamped them at the height of Supertyphoon “Reming,” according to the risk assessment study conducted by the team in December last year.

The four villages declared “high-risk” or highly prone to lahar were Pawa, Bogtong, Padang and Bigaa.

Daraga town in Albay has nine villages identified as high-risk: Malabog, Pandan, Budiao, Busay, Malobago, Culiat, Kilicao, Bongalon, Binitayan.

In Guinobatan, the villages of Masarawag, Maipon, Tandarora, and Maninila were identified as “high-risk” after it was “affected by deposition” by “Reming.”

Masarawag and Maninila, which are both eight kilometers away from the crater, were only “moderately prone” to lahar before the mudflows on Nov. 30 last year.

In Camalig town, the formerly “moderately prone” villages of Tumpa, Sua, Tibobran, and Quirangay were now declared high-risk.

High-risk villages in Sto. Domingo town were San Isidro, San Antonio, Fidel Surtida, and Lidong.

Legazpi City, Daraga, Guinobatan, Camalig and Sto. Domingo towns are all located in the southeast quadrant of Mayon where the crater rim is lowest, making it the pathway or depository of volcanic debris ejected from the crater.


The high-risk villages should be a no man’s land but it would take an “expensive” massive relocation to attain it, Baloloy said.

To date, about 3,000 families still live in 18 evacuation centers from a high 20,000 families displaced by “Reming.” Some of the evacuees have been moved to transit shelters in tent cities, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported.

Gov. Fernando Gonzales said the provincial government had been moving the evacuees to transit centers where they would be temporarily housed while waiting for permanent houses being built in relocation sites by government and nongovernment institutions.

Gonzales said his office had been careful in identifying relocation sites to ensure that it was safe and in the best interest of the displaced victims.

The final results of the Phivolcs study by a 10-member team of volcanologists and geologists have not yet been made public.

Baloloy said the study analyzed the mudflow resulting from “Reming” and was expected to reveal changes in the hazard map and other inputs to help disaster officials prepare for future emergencies.

With the thick deposit of volcanic debris that remain on Mayon’s slopes, Baloloy said the possibility of another lahar flow with the next heavy rains was always there.

Lahar flowed in Albay in 1984, which affected Padang in this city and Lidong in Sto. Domingo.

Another lahar flow occurred in 1981 which affected Mabinit in this city.

Last year’s lahar, which left over 1,000 people dead or missing, resulted in devastation in almost the same extent as what happened in 1814 when Cagsawa town was buried.

All that was left standing was the town’s church belfry.

Mayon’s alert status has remained at level 1 due to crater glow at night and some volcanic earthquakes resulting from the breaking of rocks and ascent of magma in the 2,461-meter volcano, Baloloy said. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

ALBAY GOV ASSURES DSWD chief: ‘We can account for every tent’

02 March 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez said he was wondering why Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral made such a “sweeping statement” Tuesday by questioning where the tents intended for displaced typhoon victims in Bicol went.

Cabral said the Department of Social Welfare and Development had turned over a total of 1,887 tents to the Bicol region.

Congested centers

However, she said, based on what she had seen on her last visit here early February, evacuation centers were still congested.

Bothered by this, she said she ordered a check of whether the family tents donated by local and foreign donors had been distributed to their intended beneficiaries.

Cabral also said it was unacceptable to her that a tent that was good for just one family was being occupied by up to three families.

Gonzalez said Cabral’s doubts could not be validated, adding: “Had she only inquired from us, we can account for every single tent delivered by the DSWD for typhoon victims in Albay.”

The governor said 500 tents were the last ones turned over to Albay and around 80 of these had been distributed to the intended recipients.

The remaining tents are being reserved once the refugees still housed in three schools in Daraga, Albay are transferred to transit centers.

He said the provincial government had been closely coordinating with the local social welfare and development agency regarding relief-distribution and rehabilitation efforts.

“Maybe (Sec. Cabral) was just confused. Or maybe she was talking of ‘congestion’ (that existed) a month and a half ago. But there have been day-to-day developments in our relief efforts,” Gonzalez said.

Bicol to get P5B for rehab, repair ofinfrastructure

25 February 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—THE BICOL REgion will get a total of P5 billion in rehabilitation funds, the lion’s share of a P6.7 billion package to be divided among 11 disaster-stricken regions, as soon as President Macapagal-Arroyo signs the 2007 general appropriations bill.

From the total P8-billion special budget granted under the general appropriations bill approved in the bicameral conference, P1.3 billion will be released as emergency and calamity fund of the National Disaster Coordinating Council while the P6.7 billion will be used to implement the Calamity Assistance and Rehabilitation Efforts (Care) program of the government.

Bernardo Alejandro IV, regional director of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol, said half of the P5 billion allotted to Bicol will go to Albay, the hardest-hit province.

Camarines Sur comes second to Albay and will get 27.8 percent; Sorsogon, 11 percent; Masbate, 4.5 percent; Camarines Norte, 4 percent; and Catanduanes, 2.8 percent.

Small slice

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez said the P2.5 billion to be released directly to concerned agencies for the rehabilitation of Albay is smaller compared to the P6-billion rehabilitation fund it originally requested, but with it, he said, “many things can be done already for the province to move forward.”

He said the rehabilitation projects will be implemented by the different government agencies but it is the provincial government that will identify what these projects will be.

In Albay, Gonzalez said, the priority components of the rehabilitation plan would be: infrastructure, social welfare, agriculture, and power restoration.

The Department of Energy, during the NDCC meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, reported that electricity had been restored in all municipalities in Bicol.

However, the DOE said 10 percent or 552 of the villages remain without electricity.

He said there was an immediate need for the Department of Public Works and Highways to fast-track the repair or reconstruction of flood control facilities, such as dikes, destroyed by the storms that hit Albay late last year.

Orlando Roces, DPWH-Bicol regional director, said the agency planned to spend P550 million for the repair and reconstruction of flood control structures.

New paths

He said it was important to redefine the pathways of water since lahar created new river channels and enlarged existing ones.

He added that the DPWH would prioritize the repair or construction of flood control structures in residential areas near river systems.

One of the main and biggest river systems here is the Yawa river system that stretches from Mt. Mayon to the Albay gulf by up to more than 7 km.

A total of P629 million will be spent by the DPWH for flood control, P156 million for damaged or destroyed national bridges, P158 million for national roads and P56 million for other infrastructure. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Palace role seen as cops keep 'jueteng' unmolested

22 February 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—THE INVOLVEment of Malacañang in the continued operation of the illegal numbers game “jueteng” is starting to rear its ugly head as the underworld lottery persists unmolested by police in Albay and other provinces in Luzon.

In Albay, draws are held three times a day despite demands by local officials and Church leaders for the police to stop jueteng and despite government claims that the small town lottery was picking up.

A bettor from Barangay San Roque in this city, who refused to be identified, said jueteng draws are held morning, noon and afternoon. She said the numbers 3 and 5 won in one of the draws on Monday.

Senior Supt. Herold Ubalde, Albay police director, said the police have not gone full blast in the campaign against jueteng because of the confusion created by STL, a government lottery designed to replace the illegal numbers game.

One and the same

He said jueteng and STL are using the same system, people and materials.

“We don’t want the STL to be used as a front for illegal gambling. But we also have to substantiate with evidence the possibility that the same people involved in jueteng are also involved in STL,” Ubalde said.

On Monday, ABS-CBN aired a report about jueteng operations in Albay showing footage of jueteng draws in Legazpi City, Tabaco City, and Polangui towns, all in Albay.

It also presented an interview with an informant only identified as Bong, a former bet collector, implicating 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman, an ally of President Macapagal-Arroyo, and Presidential Chief of Staff Joey Salceda in jueteng operations.

Bong claimed that a certain Carding worked as a jueteng collector for Lagman, while a certain Junjee collected for Salceda’s brother, Rey.


Salceda and Lagman denied their involvement.

Salceda, who served as Albay representative before he was appointed chief of staff of Ms Arroyo, said he has already ordered the Bicol police to stop the proliferation of jueteng in the region while Lagman said he was not involved, in any way, in the illegal numbers game.

Lagman added that he even received a letter from a former police chief in Albay saying that jueteng no longer existed in the province.

Ubalde, however, said jueteng operations were running when he assumed his post as provincial police director on Jan. 12.

Ubalde said even before Lagman called him up Monday night telling him to stop jueteng in Albay, police have already stepped up their campaign against jueteng. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Student leader killed in Camarines Norte

17 February 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—A member and former provincial spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students in Camarines Norte was shot dead by an unidentified gunman at 9:45 p.m. Thursday—just four meters away from the gate of his school.

Human rights group Karapatan in Bicol identified the victim as Farly Alcantara II, 22, of Mercedes town in Camarines Norte, a graduating business administration student at the Camarines Norte State College in Daet, the provincial capital.

He is the first student leftist leader to be killed in the country this year and the fourth in Bicol since 2001, said Vince Casilihan, staff of Karapatan-Bicol.

The victim was on his way home aboard a motorcycle with his professor when he was shot five times in the head. The professor was unharmed.

Col. Henry Rañola, Camarines Norte provincial police director, said the victim was shot using a cal. 45 pistol.

Investigation showed the suspect wore navy blue shorts and was about 5 feet and 5 inches tall, he said.

Recovered from the crime scene were four empty shells and two deformed slugs from the gun.

The motive of the killing was still unknown and the police was still conducting a follow-up investigation.

Dr. Sonia Carbonel, director of the CNSC Office of Student Services, said Alcantara arrived at the school past 8 p.m. from the Ateneo de Naga University in Naga City where he attended a competition.

“He was very happy informing us that he won third place in the business plan competition he attended. I was in the guard house checking on the students who were going in and out of the campus to attend the school event that night,” said Carbonel in a mobile phone interview.

She said at around 9:35 p.m. CNSC professor Willy Bermejo came to the guard house and offered Alcantara a ride home since they both lived in Mercedes town, some 60 kilometers away from the school.

‘Rise in dengue in Albay’

16 February 2008

DARAGA, Albay—Health officials noted an increasing number of dengue cases here even as the rainy season was over, with 23 cases reported in Albay from January to middle of February.

The highest number of cases come from this town with 18, covering 13 villages.

No deaths were recorded but health officials were keeping close watch if the trend would increase.

Dr. Mercy Chua, municipal health officer, said the spread of dengue could have been triggered by incessant rains in January and unclean surroundings after Supertyphoon “Reming” left massive devastation in Albay late last year.

She said mosquitoes could have found breeding places in enlarged bodies of water as portions of land were scoured by lahar from Mayon Volcano creating new river channels.

Chua said the Municipal Health Office had already conducted community assemblies—educating villagers on prevention and control.

It did not advocate fogging or fumigation since it only temporarily drove away mosquitoes. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Believers see ‘sad image of Christ’ on rock

15 February 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

GUINOBATAN, ALBAY—A boulder bearing what believers claim is a “sad image of Jesus Christ” is drawing the young and old alike to a village here.

Villagers last week found the rock in Barangay Maipon, which lost more than 200 people to torrents of sand and boulders loosened from the slopes of Mt. Mayon when Supertyphoon “Reming” hit the province on Nov. 29.

Reming left more than 1,200 people dead or missing in Albay.

Elen Isip, 44, a resident of the village, said the boulder carried a timely message.

“Many of us have forgotten Him and only remember Him when a calamity comes. We seldom pray or thank Him for His everyday blessings. Many also indulge in too many vices,” Isip said in the vernacular.

Bowing before image

The large rock is facing Mt. Mayon.

People come to see the rock in the morning and at dusk when the golden rays of the sun highlight the features of the boulder, she said.

On Monday morning, media workers and some 200 people came to the village to take a look at the large rock.

Isip said she saw some people bowing before the image.

People’s penchant for seeing faces everywhere they look—in the moon, Rorschach inkblots, clouds, interference patterns from oil spills, potato chips or cinnamon buns—are hardwired in the brain, according to scientists. (See story on this page.)

Biggest object

Neuroscientists quoted by the International Herald Tribune said a particular area of the brain gave faces priority.

Herminia Obenita, 38, said the boulder was the biggest object one would see in at the lahar-covered site.

She wondered how the flood carried it from the slopes of Mayon to where it is now.

Obenita said some of the displaced Maipon residents who had heard the news about the image would come from the Travesia Elementary School, where they are temporarily housed in tents, to see if it was true.

Few people were left in Maipon when the Inquirer visited the site Tuesday.

One could see mostly dry sand and rocks, newly created river channels, and abandoned homes.

There were workers reconnecting big rubber pipes as they were rebuilding the water system that distributed drinking water to the municipality.

Once in a while, displaced villagers go back to Maipon to dig up their belongings, according to Obenita.

Last Sunday, a man, by chance, dug out the decomposed body of a 5-year-old boy, who was identified by his grandmother by the shirt he wore.

Villagers watchful of Lafayette mining

15 February 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Rapu-Rapu, Albay

VILLAGERS LIVING NEAR THE Lafayette mining site in Rapu-Rapu, Albay would commonly say that they remain vigilant despite their qualms about the government allowing the full resumption of the company’s operations.

“Maybe there’s nothing more we could do to oppose the mining. But we would be in favor of it, if only the mining process is done correctly,” said Milo Asuncion, 47, councilor of Barangay Pagcolbon.

He said the residents were also afraid of the risks posed by the mining operations, especially during natural disasters, which may threaten fishing, their main source of living.

Aladin Valenzuela, 56, of Barangay Linao, however, said he was in favor of mining because it could give jobs to the villagers.

In fact, Valenzuela’s 21-year-old son and nephew were jobless until they were hired as laborers for the mining site.

“I used to plant coconut and abaca but since the typhoons destroyed my crops I could no longer earn a living. We now rely on my son’s earnings from Lafayette,” he said.

However, there were not really many jobs created by the mining company in the community, he said.

“Many would apply and spend money for the application but only a few could be employed in the company,” Valenzuela said.


For Asuncion, the mining company has yet to prove its sincerity in fulfilling its promise of development to the communities.

“They said they’d be putting up a water system in our village and create many jobs. But only a few of the many residents of Rapu-Rapu who applied for a job in Lafayette actually got employed,” he said.

Carlos Dominguez, Lafayette Philippines Inc. (LPI) chair and president, said the company created around 1,000 jobs in Rapu-Rapu and fed more than 700 people every day.

The LPI earlier filed a petition for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to permanently lift the cease-and-desist order it issued against the mining operations following two mine tailings spills on Oct. 11 and 31, 2005.

The mining company was given 120 days of test run to prove that it is capable of responsible mining.

The fate of the much-disputed firm operating a copper and zinc mine at Barangay Pagcolbon was determined on Feb. 8 in a meeting of the DENR’s Pollution Adjudication Board in Manila.

On that day, the mining firm was given the go-signal to resume operations by Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes.

In a statement sent to the Inquirer, Dominguez said the company was only partly thankful for the order to resume commercial operations.

“Our workers, suppliers and other business partners can now also look forward to the company’s stability. The whole mining industry here and abroad have been watching and monitoring our progress and will definitely show heightened interest in the Philippines as an investment area,” said Dominguez.

He said the company has met all the preconditions set by the government.

“We worked long and hard for this day. It’s been more than a year since we, an all-Filipino team, took over management of the Rapu-Rapu project to institute all the needed reforms to transform it into a model of responsible mining.”


Environmental activists, however, staged a rally in front of the DENR central office and shaved off their heads to protest “Lafayette’s denudation of Rapu-Rapu island.”

The Kalikasan-PNE, in a statement, called on the government to investigate the cause of reported mysterious deaths at Sitio Acal, some 15 kilometers away from the mining site.

Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan-PNE national coordinator, said the reported Sitio Acal deaths have been initially verified by field reports from the DENR-Bicol and the Rapu-Rapu Municipal Health Office documenting at least four persons dead and two sick.

According to the report, the fatalities include a certain JV Ebrada, 17 years old, with swollen legs and feet. Among the sick were a certain Victor Ebrada, 40, who had swollen legs and feet and Maribel Dorado, 22, whose entire body was swollen.

“We are not inclined to take deaths from local communities lightly, especially if these may be related to environmental problems,” the group stated, adding:

“Whether or not the Lafayette mining operations is the culprit in the Sitio Acal deaths, we take this opportunity to assert that the real threat of heavy metal pollution on the local communities’ health will remain and will intensify for as long as Lafayette mining is allowed to operate in Rapu-Rapu.”

But Lafayette branded Kalikasan-PNE’s allegations as “baseless and irresponsible” citing the mining site’s 15-km distance from Barangay Mananao where the reported deaths occurred.

“Initial findings showed the deaths to have been caused by high fever or infection. Efforts to further verify these by getting official medical reports and death certificates are underway,” Lafayette said in a statement.

It added that Kalikasan-PNE and other groups have used similar tactics in the past and somehow succeeded in using the media in scaring the people unnecessarily, sometimes with dire consequences on the poor.

Copper and zinc

Marc Campos, senior vice president for production and commercial operations of the Rapu-Rapu Processing Inc. (RRPI), LPI’s affiliate company, said they had spent about $60 million in compliance to the preconditions, including mitigation measures like the strengthening of the dam system, to prevent spills from happening again.

Within the 120-day test run, LPI had produced 1,400 tons of copper concentrate and 1,500 tons of zinc concentrate with a total value of $2.5 million, Campos said.

Lafayette had made its first shipment of 805 tons of copper concentrate to the United States with a total value of $1.8 million. It is now working on its second shipment of 700 tons of copper concentrate worth $1.1 million, said Manuel Agcaoili, RRPI president.

The mine, operating in an 18-hectare open pit, is capable of producing 30,000 metric tons of copper and 40,000 to 50,000 metric tons of zinc annually with monthly exports of about $7 million per month depending on the market price of copper and zinc.

Lafayette gets nod to resume operations

09 February 2007

The Philippines gave the go-ahead Thursday for Australia’s Lafayette Mining to resume operations at its controversial Rapu-Rapu site, which had been closed for environmental infringements.

“The mining operations of Lafayette can now proceed,” Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes told a news conference as he formally announced the lifting of a “cease and desist” order on Lafayette issued in October last year.

But the firm now faces a wave of protests from the anti-mining community in Bicol.

In a statement sent to the Inquirer yesterday, the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (PNE), called on the DENR to defer the lifting of the cease and desist order.

PNE called on the government to investigate the cause of reported mysterious deaths at Sitio Acal, 15 kilometers away from the mining site.

Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan-PNE national coordinator, said the reported deaths were initially verified by field reports from DENR-Bicol and the Rapu-Rapu Municipal Health Office, which documented at least four persons dead and two sick.

“We are not inclined to take deaths from local communities lightly, especially if these may be related to environmental problems,” the group said. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Probe on damages to Pantao Port urged

03 February 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—Albay local officials have asked President Macapagal-Arroyo to order a high level investigation on the damaged P210-million Pantao seaport in Libon, Albay and the unreleased P100 million for the rehabilitation of the Libon-Pantao road.

Touted as the government’s flagship project in Bicol, the construction of the “all-weather” Pantao International Seaport officially started in July 2003 but it became controversial when typhoons “Milenyo” and “Reming” caused extensive damage to the port’s superstructure.

In a resolution unanimously approved on Jan. 31, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan raised why despite the millions of pesos spent for the construction of the port, it has not withstood the test of nature.

Albay Vice Gov. James Calisin said the provincial board’s committee on public works and public utilities earlier conducted an independent investigation of the Pantao Port.

“The committee has found out that substandard materials were used in the construction of the port. Until now the port cannot be used because of the damage when it should have long been operational,” Calisin said. “The taxpayers’ money had been used for the project but it is still a dead investment.” Ephraim Aguilar and Bobby Labalan, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Historian’s granddaughterfights for Legazpi’s heritage

01 February 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Legazpi City

PEOPLE ARE USUALLY NONCHAlant about preserving their heritage, but for Dr. Erlinda Gonzales-Belleza, 63, taking care of Legazpi City’s relics and book collection is a basic thing to do.

Belleza’s love for culture could have been inherited from her grandfather, Don Mariano Goyena del Prado, a Spaniard who was then a capitan de municipal (equivalent to city mayor) of Legazpi and historian known as the “Grand Old Man of Bicol Culture.”

Del Prado wrote the Bicol history book “Ibalon” in Spanish, now one of the rare books in the National Library.

He was also responsible for the identification of local and historical spots, and the public observance of important historical dates.

But beyond tending the Legazpi City Museum and Library every day, Belleza also carries out a mission to enlighten people about the value of preserving their waning heritage, which, she would say, is the primary key to the city’s progress.


Belleza, a museum curator since 2000 and was instrumental in its establishment in 1993, said she was bothered by the people’s lack of awareness of the significance of the city’s artifacts and records, and of keeping intact their culture that made them unique.

In the midst of infrastructure facilities that have sprung up in Legazpi to beef up tourist arrivals and improve the local economy, Belleza maintained that any form of tourism was essentially “cultural.”

She said the Bicolanos should shy away from the “4-S” of popular tourism—sun, sea, sand and sex—and should first focus on keeping what made their place unique in terms of its history and culture.

“Our visitors should experience who we really are and what we eat and drink. Instead of bringing them to restaurants offering foreign delicacies, why not let them eat our own pinangat or drink our own tinutong na bagas (rice coffee)? Our primary motivation should not be to please them but to earnestly impart to them our real own,” Belleza said.

Not many establishments in the city promote the unique Bicol culture. Instead, they are but imitations with traces of outside influence, she noted.

Relics ruined

Belleza could only lament that some people were misguided by wrong development mindsets.

“I’ve long been accused of being ‘antidevelopment’ for fighting the destruction of old historical landmarks in the city, which is still a threat to other remaining historical sites,” she said.

When the Peñaranda Park at the center of City Hall, the Capitol and St. Gregory the Great Parish in Old Albay District was renovated by the provincial government in 2001, three of the city’s historical landmarks vanished.

First was the Liberty Bell, a gift given by the Americans to the Albayanos on April 1, 1945. Inscribed in it were the words of the Americans to the people of Albay: “Individually or collectively, if oppression ever knocks at your door, feel free to ring this bell.”

Belleza said the Liberty Bell, which was a replica of the American Liberty Bell at the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, was not just the symbol of Albay’s liberation from the Japanese but that of the whole Bicol.

Albay was the starting point of the region’s liberation through the Albay Gulf in Barangay Rawis on April 1, 1945.

The bell was replaced with a fake. The real one is now in the protective custody of the museum.


Another case is the Peñaranda Monument, an obelisk erected in 1854 in honor of Albay Gov. Jose Ma. Peñaranda, who served on 1834-40. Through Peñaranda’s encouragement of agriculture and industry, Albay was transformed into one of the most progressive provinces.

After his term, the government structures of bamboo and thatch were replaced with sturdy rubble and lime. New roads were laid out and rubble bridges built.

Belleza said Peñaranda was also responsible for the opening of public highways and postal routes in northern and southern Luzon.

The concrete marker, placed on Dec. 15, 1948 and containing the names of the early city officials, was also destroyed.

On Jan. 11, 2002, Belleza wrote a letter to the National Historical Institute, asking for comment, recommendation and intervention on the redevelopment of the park.

“Despite warnings of the National Historical Institute to our local officials after I wrote the letter, they did not listen and still did what they wanted,” Belleza said.

Lastly, the Headless Monument, which was originally built near the port, was transferred to the Post Office compound because it was being desecrated by slumdwellers, who would tie ropes on it to hang their laundry.

The monument was built by Don Buenaventura de Erquiaga, the philanthropist founder of Legazpi College, in memory of the Bicolanos who suffered atrocities during the Japanese occupation.

Belleza said that according to urban tales, the Headless Monument was a man who carried sacks of copra unloaded from the ships at the port. He was beheaded by the Japanese soldiers when he was found to be “stealing.”

Kapuntukan Hill

Now, Belleza is still closely watching the developments that could lead to the destruction of historical and cultural sites. One of them is the ongoing reconstruction of the boulevard area that might destroy the rustic structure of the Kapuntukan Hill rising above the central business district.

The structure, strategically located at the coast of Albay Gulf, had served as lookout post against invaders.

“I have nothing against building new facilities and structures. They can build anything they want for as long as the original historical and cultural elements of the place remain untouched and preserved,” Belleza said.

She said she felt glad that, finally, the city included in its 2007 priority plans the putting up of a separate building to house the new Bicol Museum. She hoped it would be given funding and realized.

At present, the museum and library occupies a 339-square-meter hall at the back of City Hall. Last year, 9,192 people visited the museum and 1,383 went to the library.

The existence of a good museum and a library implies that the place is progressive, Belleza said.

She also saw the need to rewrite and reorganize Bicol history, this time, from the point of view of a Bicolano.

She called on people to give facts and donate antiques and memorabilia about Bicol’s heroes to the museum.

‘BANGON BICOL:' Livelihood project for typhoon victims

30 January 2007
Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—A PRO-ject that would equip typhoon victims here with skills and loans for small businesses was launched yesterday.

Called “Bangon Bicol,” the project is a joint effort of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Filipino Hairdressers’ Cooperative and this city’s local government.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said the 20-day project in Albay and Camarines Sur would benefit victims of Supertyphoon “Reming” by giving them alternative forms of livelihood while they waited for the rehabilitation of their farms.

The training courses offered in the project for women, men and youth were home care or housekeeping, hotel and restaurant services, food technology, massage, haircutting, computer and cell phone repair, and commercial bread-making.

Materials were also turned over to the local government yesterday such as livelihood kits and equipment.

“The long-term impact of this project is that we would create a lot of entrepreneurs. The people would no longer be employed but would run their own businesses,” Reyes said.

Wilson Serrano, 30, of Barangay Victory Village in this city, gladly received, while sitting on his wheelchair, a red bag full of livelihood materials for hairdressing.

He said he was grateful for the new hope given to him by the “Bangon Bicol” project and that through it, he could now help his family recover from the disaster despite his disability.

Serrano had polio when he was 2 years old, causing the deformity of his legs and feet that made him unable to walk.

5 activists killed in Bicol

25 January 2007

UNIDENTIFIED MEN SHOT AND KILLEDtwo members of the militant party-list group Bayan Muna in Sorsogon province, while two others were found dead in Ligao City in neighboring Albay on Tuesday.

A police report showed that Ruben Ermino was dropping passengers from his tricycle in Barangay Tabi, Gubat town in Sorsogon, when two men on a DT Yamaha motorcycle and wearing helmets shot him at close range at noon.

Seven hours later, two men barged into the house of Demetrio Imperial in Barangay Sogoy, Castilla town, and killed him on the spot.

The bodies of the other victims—Miguel Dayandate and Julio Camero—were found in Ligao, according to Chief Supt. Ricardo Padilla, Bicol police commander.

The latest killings brought to 113 the number of Bayan Muna members killed since 2001, when President Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power, an Inquirer tally showed.

Imperial’s wife Cristine, 31, denied that her husband was a former New People’s Army member or part of any leftist organization. He was just an ordinary coconut farmer, she said.

Shot in front of 2-yr-old son

“I knew my husband was already dead but they still shot him several times. How could they kill my husband in front of my 2-year-old son? They treated my husband like an animal and did not give him a fair chance to fight back. He was defenseless!” Cristine said.

Bayan Muna leaders have accused the Arroyo administration of condoning the murders, allegedly by security forces.

“Almost all deaths in Sorsogon are being blamed on us. Those accusing us should file a formal complaint in the proper forum and that would be the time we would answer them,” said Brig. Gen. Arsenio Arugay, 9th Infantry Division commander.

Bayan Muna appeal

In a statement yesterday, Bayan Muna leaders appealed to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to include the issue of rampant and intensifying killings in the country on their agenda.

They called for “justice to the families of the victims of extrajudicial killings, and the worldwide uproar over the ongoing slaughter of innocent, unarmed and noncombatant activists and other individuals in the country, especially in the light of the coming May elections.

Dayandate and Camero “bore gunshot wounds in the bodies and both were believed to have been killed elsewhere and dumped in Ligao City to mislead the investigation,” Padilla said.

They were reported missing last week, Padilla said. “We are still investigating the motive and identities of the killers,” he said.

Circumstantial evidence

“Circumstantial evidence points to the military,” said Neri Colmenares, a lawyer for Bayan Muna who took part in a small protest against the killings in front of the national military headquarters in Manila.

“Our protest is not only against the continuing killings but also against the government’s lack of political will to prosecute the perpetrators,” he said.

A military spokesperson for Southern Luzon, Lt. Col. Rhederick Parayno, denied security forces had a hand in the killings, and said one of the victims, Imperial, was spying on communist rebels for the military.

“The one who has a reason to kill him is the other side,” Parayno said, referring to the rebels.

An ordinary farmer

The military often claims that many victims of unsolved killings were gunned down during internal purges within the communist movement. But human rights groups, foreign businesses and the European Union have continued to press the Philippine government to do more to punish the killers.

“We expect that as the elections near, there will be a rise in political killings,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo. “They will continue with the killings with the hope that Bayan Muna will be crippled in the elections.” Reports from Bobby Q. Labalan and Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and AP

US, Red Cross execs give gifts to typhoon victims

23 January 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—UNITED STATES Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Sen. Richard Gordon, Philippine National Red Cross chair, arrived here yesterday to help the US Marines in giving away gifts to typhoon victims.

Hundreds of affected families received clothing, food, hygiene kits and other items in the project dubbed “Operation Goodwill,” an annual donation made by members of the 3rd US Marine Expeditionary Brigade and their families to communities and charitable organizations in the country.

Kenney said they came here to help the disaster victims get back on their feet and to think about how they could continue to respond to natural disasters.

“Man cannot control nature. We don’t know when a typhoon will strike or what it will do and when a volcano will erupt, so we can think about how we prepare for disaster,” Kenney said.

She said the Red Cross and the US were working together on how they could warn citizens and share information quickly in times of disaster.

Kenney and Gordon tested a newly installed nationwide text alert messaging system funded by the US Agency for International Development and managed by the Red Cross.

This emergency information system will alert local officials and residents with weather reports, evacuation instructions, and vital disaster information via text message.

Gordon said the new system would increase the people’s level of awareness and quicken the disaster response of authorities so communities would get answers to their relief needs faster.

Jon Lindborg, USAID mission director, said the big issue now aside from long-term restoration efforts comes in terms of disaster preparedness and planning.

Kenney and Gordon successfully sent the first text message using the new system. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Rebs admit killing former radioman

22 January 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—THE NEW People’s Army in Albay admitted having masterminded the killing of Jose Loreno, a former radio broadcaster, who was shot dead Thursday night while tending to his store in Daraga, Albay.

In a statement sent to the Inquirer by the National Democratic Front-Bicol, Greg Bañares, its spokesperson, said the operatives of the Santos Binamira Command enforced the “death sentence” on Loreno, who was “an active agent of the military and a high-ranking leader of the Kilusan Kontra Komunista (KKK).”

Bañares said Loreno was a legitimate target because of his resolute anticommunist stance and “his more than 15 years of active involvement in the fight against the revolution in Albay.”

He added that Loreno was a former NPA member but surrendered to the military in 1987 in Metro Manila and was recruited as a military agent.

The NDF-Bicol said the members of the KKK, some of whom were former members of the communist group, were being used by the military in surveillance, harassment, and political killings.

It warned it would impose “revolutionary justice” on military death squads responsible for leftist killings.

Police said Loreno, 56, suffered two gunshot wounds in the head and died instantly.

Supt. Jose Capinpin, Daraga police chief, said two gunmen approached the former radio broadcaster and fired at him at close range while a third gunman served as a lookout.

He earlier added that Loreno’s killing was not related to his media work and alleged he was liquidated by his former comrades in the communist movement.

The most recent political killing in Albay was that of Rodolfo “Ompong” Alavarado, Albay Bayan Muna coordinator, who was gunned down on Dec. 31 in Ligao City. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Ex-rebel assassinated in Daraga; police see NPA insurgents’ hand

20 January 2007
By Bobby Q. Labalan and Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—A FORMER RADIO BROADCASTer, who used to be a New People’s Army member, was shot dead by suspected NPA rebels at his residence in Daraga town.

Police identified the victim as Jose Loreno, 56, food vendor and resident of Barangay Maroroy in Daraga, Albay.

In a phone interview, Albay deputy provincial director Arnold Albis said Loreno was shot dead at around 7 p.m. Thursday while tending his store in Barangay Maroroy.

Supt. Jose Capinpin, Daraga police chief, said two gunmen approached the victim and fired at him at close range while a third gunman served as a lookout.

Loreno suffered two gunshot wounds in the head and died instantly, said Capinpin.

Two spent shells from a .45 cal pistol were recovered by the police at the crime scene.

The victim used the pseudonym Dayunyor Joe when he was still an active broadcaster.

Life—tough and wet—in MMDA Village

19 January 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—Even if life at the refugee camp has not been easy for her family, Salvacion Banania, 33 and a mother of four, has decided not to go back and live in Barangay Padang again.

“It’s not just my life that I am worried about. I cannot put the lives of my children at risk again,” Banania said, while carrying her daughter and cooking at the same time. Her daughter was running a fever for the fourth day.

Two of Banania’s other children were sick of fever, cough, colds, and diarrhea.

Banania said she thought it was because of the lack of potable supply of water and weather conditions in the refugee camp.

Staying in a transitional camp called the “MMDA Village” in Barangay Taysan here, 410 families are each living in a makeshift shelter made by the Metro Manila Development Authoriy.

“It’s too hot here during the day and too cold during the night. One night it was raining hard and my son was all wet,” she said.

Each shelter is a small cubicle made of plastic tent material.

“My husband tried to dig for our belongings and clothes so that we would have enough to wear but he was not able to find any because of the huge boulders and sand that buried our house,” Banania said.

She said all their belongings now were the goods they received from relief-giving organizations.

‘Legazpi will spring back to life’

18 January 2007

By Ephraim Aguilar
Legazpi City

DESPITE reports of people leaving Legazpi City and businesses planning to move to other places because of the devastation caused by recent disasters, Mayor Noel Rosal waxed optimistic that the capital will carry on and survive.

“Disaster has been a usual part of our lives here. But I believe that Legazpi, after the worst, has its own life and potentials,” Rosal said.

The central business district was among the areas badly hit by supertyphoon “Reming,” after being submerged in floodwaters.

While at least P100 million would be needed to rehabilitate the damaged infrastructure, crops and facilities, the city government only had P45 million available, Rosal said.

He was expecting to generate the rest of the amount from the national government and other sources.

The Department of Budget and Management pledged an initial P20 million for the reconstruction of the Bogtong road beside the heavily silted Yawa river, which was scoured by lahar from Mt. Mayon. The road serves as the passageway of buses and freight trucks to the city.

One of the priorities in the rehabilitation plan was the repair and unclogging of drainage systems and flood control facilities, since reconstruction would be expensive.

“Many of the areas downtown are below sea level. Now, we would have to unclog flood-control facilities. The dredging of heavily silted rivers and clearing of river channels would be our last defense,” he said.

Heavy rains over the week have caused minor flooding in low-lying areas and continued to cause fear among urban dwellers.

The repair of damaged schools and infrastructures was also a major concern in the rehabilitation plan.

Rosal said 80 percent of the public schools had been damaged by the supertyphoon.

One of the city’s biggest burdens is the total relocation of more than 500 families from Barangay Padang, one of the villages worst-hit by mudflows from Mt. Mayon.

He said the relocation will require about P30 million with every family given P60,00.

Friday, January 25, 2008

P250M spent for airport with no design

LEGAZPI CITY—ARroyo administration officials had already spent P250 million and will have P600 million more to spend this year, and use up a total of at least P3.5 billion for an airport project here that does not yet have an engineering or architectural design, officials said.

The Southern Luzon International Airport (SLIA) was touted as part of the development of Bicol into one of the super regions listed by President Macapagal-Arroyo.

Gov. Joey Salceda, former chief of staff of Ms Arroyo, said the project construction would start in October.

Salceda said Ms Arroyo had already directed the Department of Budget and Management to allot P600 million in the 2008 national budget for the project.

But the government, he said, had already spent P250 million for what he described as a rapid detailed engineering work, construction of an access road connecting a national road to the airport site, and buying lands that are in the path of the runway.

He said, however, that the airport’s design was still being created and on detailed engineering stage.

According to Macario Pavia, provincial planning and development coordinator, the Department of Transportation and Communications will provide updates on the progress of the engineering and architectural design of the SLIA on Feb. 8.

Survey work, he said, is already complete but will be finalized once the final design is completed by the DOTC.

Despite the absence of a detailed engineering and architectural design, officials said access roads had already been built and pieces of land in the project site are to be bought.

Pavia said a pre-feasibility study was done in 2000 for a new airport in Bicol during the term of then Gov. Al Francis Bichara, now a congressman.

But the site being considered at that time was different.

Pavia said that in 2000, proponents were looking at lands in Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Legazpi and Polangui in Albay.

Salceda said the P600 million that Ms Arroyo ordered the DBM to allot for the project would not be released without the detailed engineering design and project plan.

The allocation in this year’s budget, he said, would be spent for materials required in civil works.

Salceda, chair of the Bicol Regional Development Council, said Ms Arroyo identified the airport project as one of those that she wanted finished before her term ends in 2010.

The site was identified as a 200-hectare piece of property on a plateau in Barangay Alobo, Daraga.

Salceda defended the project against criticisms that it was not necessary because it was not viable.

No feasibility study was available for the project.

Critics said the planned airport might just lay to waste because the surrounding areas did not have industries that could justify its existence.

But Salceda said Mayon volcano and the tourism income it generated would justify the new airport. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon