Wake Up, Philippines!

P2.3B more pork for new party-list reps

Posted in Budget, Congress, Graft and Corruption by Erineus on April 22, 2009

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:55:00 04/23/2009

MANILA, Philippines—The House of Representatives will need about P2.31 billion for the pork barrel alone of the additional 33 party-list lawmakers that should be proclaimed because of a Supreme Court ruling that is effective immediately. This, on top of the P200 million needed for their staff and day-to-day operations.

The amounts exclude the expenses for their new offices, electricity and other needs for the remaining eight months of the year, Speaker Prospero Nograles said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court increased to 55 the number of seats in the House for party-list groups, or 20 percent of the chamber as prescribed by the Constitution, when it ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to follow a new formula for allotting party-list seats.

There are currently 22 seats in the 14th Congress occupied by party-list groups.

Each member of the House is entitled to P70 million a year in Priority Development Assistance Fund, more commonly known as the pork barrel, to finance their pet projects. Senators get P200 million a year.

The pork barrel is not given in cash, though. The lawmakers just identify the projects and beneficiaries for which funding should be allocated.

A total of P200 million is needed for the salaries of the lawmakers’ staff, office supplies and other office needs.

A lawmaker is entitled to a minimum of six regular staff members in the House, plus consultants.

Lawmakers also get transportation allowances, which varies depending on where their districts are located.

Supplemental budget

The House would need to pass a supplemental budget to fund the new lawmakers’ needs, according to Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte and Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia.

Garcia said the budget for 2009, which was already signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was intended for a House of 240 members.

Nograles also has another problem aside from where to get the funding.

Where to put them

He does not know where to put his 33 new colleagues since there are no office spaces currently available.

“My other problem is where to put these new party-list congressmen and where to get new funding for their staff and day-to-day operations because they have no allocation under the 2009 General Appropriations Act,” the Speaker said in a statement.

The other day, Nograles said that if there would be no budget for the new lawmakers, “then everybody takes a cut, I guess.”

He said new offices would be available at the Batasan Complex in Quezon City after the completion of the four-story South Wing Annex Building. The P700-million building is expected to be finished next year.

But the Speaker said he had no choice but to accommodate the 33 party-list representatives.


Affordable veggie meals

Posted in Food/Drinks, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on April 22, 2009
April 22, 2009, 2:11pm
Spicy Garbanzos Menudo. (Photo by PINGGOT ZULUETA)
Spicy Garbanzos Menudo. (Photo by PINGGOT ZULUETA)

Think hospital food and you will think twice about ordering. But at the Manila Adventist Medical Center and Colleges Inc. (formerly the Manila Sanitarium and Hospital) cafeteria, you are in for a nice surprise. This purely vegetarian eatery goes beyond the usual pinakbet and lettuce-and-tomato salads. The nutritionists and dietitians manning its kitchen and counters have found innovative ways to cook their greens.

The food offered behind the sanitized glass counters is really quite imaginative. You can choose from among unusual items such as the slightly spicy Garbanzos Menudo, just-right-to-the-bite Tofu Kilawin, and the filling Kidney Beans Guisado. The Mushroom Rebosado can stand to be a little crispier, but the veggie burgers and pizzas are guilt-free ways to have your “meat” and eat it too. The cafeteria also carries soups and desserts that are light and right. The great thing about these healthy items is that they are msg-free.

Another impressive thing about this cafeteria is their emphasis on wholistic health. According to the hospital’s director for marketing, Dr. Ian Kenneth C. Bermeo, the caf does not serve sodas, coffee, or artificial juices. At the end of the food queue, you will be greeted by a container of buko pandan or a fruity gulaman juice. Hot tarragon tea is also available for those who want to warm up. Then, as you pay for your order, another surprise is in order. The prices are so affordable, that a two-viand and one-cup-of-rice combo will set you back by only P75.

There are also wholesome breads that you can take home for the kiddies. The wheatgerm cookies make the perfect pasalubong, because they deliver the right amount for crunch without the cloying sweetness and the excess calories. The cinnamon bread is their best-seller, according to Bermeo, and with good reason. This cinnamon loaf is wheat-bread based, less sweet but more flavorful — because it is not smothered in sticky syrup, you get more of the cinnamon taste.

A taste of history

The cafeteria itself is a refreshing sight. It came as a surprise when Bermeo revealed that the eatery has been around since the 1920’s, making it probably the oldest existing vegetarian restaurant in the country. The venue is brightly-lit, modern, and very conducive for light, leisurely meals. You will forget the fact that you are right smack at the lower ground of a high-traffic hospital in Pasay City.

“This restaurant has been open to the public, and we get a lot of people here who are not just Adventists or vegetarians. The focus here is on good and healthy food. Many of the customers are not only from the hospitals, some come from the nearby bus stations, and those who just want to enjoy a wholesome meal,” says Bermeo.

The cafeteria has become so popular, that there are plans of building another restaurant within the same complex to accommodate the students of their nearby college.


Have a ‘cocktale’

Posted in Food/Drinks, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on April 22, 2009
April 22, 2009, 2:17pm
Peach Mango Smoothie
Peach Mango Smoothie

When the weather gets too hot and the heat becomes too unbearable, even burning sweat-drenched bodies, we start to find ways to beat the summer heat.

For most Filipinos, summer is synonymous with beaches and immersing in cool waters. But for those who can’t afford to travel outside Manila, the summer scene means stalls selling halo-halo in every street corner, hawkers with fresh buko and other tropical fruits, and every home starts to retail cool treats such as ice candy, samalamig, and what have you.

Through the years, the people’s palate and taste preferences have become more sophisticated. They start to wander into ice cream parlors that offer numerous flavors: from the simple and traditional vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, they now have more complicated flavors which can be a combination of two flavors or more. And they now come in different types: soft ice cream, gelato, and sorbets, among others.

Dessert places are also sprouting in the metro, people can now have frozen treats such as frozen yogurts, shakes, and smoothies; some even specialize in fruits and fruit juices. Just reading their menu is enough to whet the taste buds of the consumers. But nothing beats fruits as the ultimate summer treat.

As always, summer is the season to load up on fruits. Aside from the tasty possibilities, study shows that fruits have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that can control blood pressure, prevent diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, stroke and hypertension, and cancer, and maintain overall body health.

One of the cool places where Filipinos can simmer the heat down this summer is Cocktales, a dessert parlor by the Fruitas group. Lester Yu, Fruitas and Cocktales founder/CEO, originally wanted to provide an alternative dessert place for sweet-toothed individuals who want something light and healthy after a heavy meal, but the place is slowly gaining a reputation as a summer haven.

At Cocktales, dessert lovers can try their different concoctions that come in four categories: Desserts, Shaken, Stirred, and Hot Items.

Desserts are actually fruit bowls, with a bed of shaved ice and topped with a milky sauce. They have the Beauty Boost (a bowl of detoxifying papaya), Tropical Paradise (a mixture of various fruits), Caribbean Dream (a combination of banana and papaya), Coconut Paradise (a blend of various fruits with shredded coconut meat and topped with vanilla ice cream), and Mango Bananarama (a fusion of mangoes and banana, with tapioca and rice balls).

Then, there are the heavenly Cocktale drinks (of course, minus the hangover since they are just inspired by popular alcoholic drinks). They have the Chocolate Apple Martini, Vanilla Lychee Margarita (chilled lychee shake in margarita glass), Long Island Iced Tea (blend with the English breakfast tea), Watermelon Mojito with a touch of ginger and mint, Mango Daquiri with tapioca balls, and Piña Colada, a mocktail with pineapple and mint, among others.

Then “Stirred Up” the summer with these juices: OJ Booster (orange juice), Silk Skin (coconut juice with stripsof coconut meat and lychees), and Lemon Cola (cola with a kiss of lemon). Hot Items to watch out for are Nana Rosa’s Hot Cacao and Evening Calm.

Whatever you do to cool down, don‘t forget to drink lots of water to hydrate your body this summer!
Cocktales is located at the 5th level, Atrium of SM Megamall, with another one soon at Trinoma Mall.


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Taste the dream

Posted in Food/Drinks, Hotels/Restaurants/Bars by Erineus on April 22, 2009
April 22, 2009, 11:05am
O'sonho's Sea Bass. (Photo by PINGGOT ZULUETA)
O’sonho’s Sea Bass. (Photo by PINGGOT ZULUETA)

It has always been a dream for Cris and Nik Barancik to open a Portuguese restaurant so they could share their passion for the cuisine with everyone. With that, it’s only fitting to name their restaurant as such, o’sonho pronounced as “o-son-yo” which means “the dream” in Portuguese tongue.

“We chose that name because for us, opening this restaurant is a dream in so many ways. We have always aspired to open a Portuguese restaurant since we’re such big fans of their cuisine.

Whenever we travel, we’re constantly looking for the best Portuguese restos in the area and then when we come back here, we’re like, how come we don’t have Portuguese restaurants in the Philippines?” Cris tells.

Apart from that, the couple are big fans of eating out, all the qualities that they believe a good restaurant should have, they tried to put together in O’sonho; friendly service, reasonable prices, and good food.

“We wanted people to have a place where they can enjoy a nice atmosphere, very classy setting, and good gourmet food without spending too much. That’s also why we picked the name O’sonho, we want our customers to share the dream with us,” Cris quips.

Both Cris and Nik didn’t have formal training in culinary arts or restaurant management, but people would always see them hanging around the kitchen or serving and minding their guests.

“We believe that in the restaurant business, it’s good to talk to people and find out what they think about the food, their opinions, so we can always improve the dishes for them. If we don’t come here, we’ll never know. So we really make it a point to be here all the time,” Cris adds.

Consequently, all their hard work is paying off because since O’sonho opened two months ago, the feedbacks from their customers have been relatively good. A lot of foodies are even blogging about them, giving them praises and constructive criticisms.

But what makes Portuguese dishes distinct from other Mediterranean cuisines? According to Cris, Portuguese is closely similar with the Spanish cuisine in terms of being big in sea food, spices, garlic, and olive oil. However, Portuguese dishes are richer and more filling; its spices are more apparent and full-flavored.

Take for instance their Peri Peri Chicken marinated in peri, peri sauce; the crisp-skinned roast chicken is very tender while the herb, garlic, olive oil trio in their peri-peri sauce balances out the hotness of the chilies. As what Cris said, “It explodes in your mouth in a way that truly represents Portuguese cuisine.”

For fish lovers, their Bachalau de O’sonho is something to be reckoned with; it is made of salt cod fish – a fish that’s so salty, it needs to be soaked in water for a whole day to be edible – slow cooked with tomatoes, chickpeas, potatoes, carrots, herbs, and olive oil. It should be eaten with cheese and focaccia bread to temper the Bachalau’s overpowering flavor.

Although O’sonho specializes in traditional Portuguese cooking they also offer fusion dishes from different kinds of cuisine. Take for instance their Sisig Chorizo, they took the Filipino’s favorite sisig and added a Portuguese flair by adding chorizos and cooking it in olive oil. The crunchy sisig bits combined with the diced chorizos create a playful crunch in the mouth that’s surprisingly appetizing.
However, putting up a Portuguese restaurant was quite a challenge for the Barancik’s especially because Filipinos are not very aware of Portuguese cuisine.

“The biggest challenge is educating people about the cuisine because Filipinos, only like what they know. If you put up an Italian, Asian or, Spanish restaurant, sure ball na yan but with Portuguese you either have to be very adventurous or you have travelled in different countries to know what Portuguese cuisine is. There are people who come here and tell us, ‘you know I never realized Portuguese food is really good.’ So it’s all about getting people to know about it and getting them to at least try. I’m very confident that once they try it, they’d fall in love with it too,” Cris said smiling.

O’sonho is located at 20 Jupiter St., Bel Air, Makati City.


Constituent Assembly resolution filed

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Constitution by Erineus on April 22, 2009

By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:54:00 04/23/2009

MANILA, Philippines—A controversial resolution was filed Wednesday in the House of Representatives calling for a Constituent Assembly (Con-ass) to amend the Constitution even without the Senate’s participation.

Critics said the measure sponsored by Speaker Prospero Nograles was a ploy to draw the opposition into challenging its constitutionality in the Supreme Court, dominated by administration-appointed justices, and urged lawmakers not to take the bait.

The resolution seeks to gather 197 signatures, the magic number its principal author, Rep. Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, contends is needed to pass Charter revisions by members of the Senate and the House of Representatives voting jointly.

Majority of the senators believe that Charter revisions in the Con-ass mode require approval by three fourths of members of the two chambers voting separately. They contend that the Villafuerte resolution is unconstitutional and have announced they would challenge it in the Supreme Court.

“There is no road map to this but we have to be careful because maybe this is being done on purpose,” said Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III of the Liberal Party.

“Those who are advocating this mode is hoping that those against it would (go to court) immediately. We are all wary of this, of playing into their hands,” said Tañada.

Tañada said that most of the justices were appointed by the President, which could explain why her allies were challenging those opposing Charter change (Cha-cha) to go to court.

“I’m not saying the Supreme Court will decide in favor of them. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. But why are they challenging us? Maybe they know something we don’t know, we have to read between the lines,” said Tañada.

‘Fourth mode’

On Monday, Nograles introduced House Resolution No. 737—described as a “fourth mode” of Cha-cha calling for amendments to economic provisions in the Constitution by employing procedures in approving bills, but not by simple majority vote in each chamber but by three fourths.

The Constitution can only be changed through a people’s initiative, a constitutional convention and a constituent assembly.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said that Ms Arroyo’s allies have been moving to break every rule in the House to provoke the opposition into raising the issue in the high tribunal.

The Villafuerte resolution specifies that there would be elections in 2010 and the term of the president, vice president, senators, representatives and governors would not be extended.

With the filing, Villafuerte said Nograles should first set aside resolution 737 so that the House could debate first on the mode of changing the Charter.

Nograles’ 737 resolution has been scheduled for plenary debates. Villafuerte drafted the Con-ass resolution (No. 1109), but said its main author is Nograles.

Likely court challenge

Villafuerte said Nograles’ 737 resolution was “seriously objectionable.”

“Since Speaker Nograles himself is the author also of the resolution that I drafted, I think the proper procedure would be to suspend consideration of his 737 resolution on economic provision,” Villafuerte told reporters.

However, his proposal to defer discussions on resolution 737 was rejected Wednesday night.

Villafuerte said he expected that resolution 1109 would trigger a “justiciable” controversy to trigger a Supreme Court case to decide if the two Houses should vote separately or jointly.

The Con-ass resolution was signed by 174 lawmakers. It states that the mode for Charter change should first be established before any specific proposal to amend it could be made.

‘Foolish attempts’

Villafuerte also said in an interview that he only wants a Supreme Court case to be filed.

“Even if we get a favorable ruling, after the convening is considered constitutional, it is too late to remand or bring back the issue to Congress for the acceptance of specific amendments. At that time, that’s already the campaign period. Moreover, we still have to go through a plebiscite,” he said.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, president of the United Opposition, Wednesday said administration allies must concede defeat in their move to revise the Constitution after the Supreme Court ruled to increase the number of party-list seats in Congress.

“With one decision on a case filed a few years back, the Supreme Court has ended all these foolish attempts by Ms Arroyo’s allies to extend her term through Cha-cha,” Binay said. With reports from Allison W. Lopez and Rachel Miranda


RP is Asia’s Most Popular Destination

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on April 22, 2009
Makes mark in World Travel Fair 2009

April 18, 2009, 3:24pm

Shanghai, China — The Philippines was named the ‘Most Popular Destination in Asia, after a public vote and a strict evaluation process undertaken by professional jurors from the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration and VNU Exhibitions Europe, at the recent World Travel Fair (WTF) 2009.

“Our country receiving the highest laurel in Asia’s leading source fair in China is a notable milestone in the industry’s optimism in sustaining the momentum generated from efforts to reach this important market segment,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

The tourism chief added, “The Philippines is one of the fastest growing destinations in China’s outbound travel industry, recording a 74% month-on-month growth rate in visa issuances for February of this year.  We are also the nearest tropical beach country for the Chinese, as Manila is only two hours away from Guangzhou, while Cebu is only three hours away from Shanghai.”

Durano likewise attributed the win to the country’s competitive tour pricing, the remarkable progress of the transportation sector and the Filipino’s friendliness and hospitality.

Dubbed as the ‘Outbound Travel Industry’s Leading Source Fair in Asia,  the WTF receives thousands of travel buyers from China, Asia and the rest of the world, who come to hold exchanges with more than 500 exhibitors from 62 countries, held at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre.

“The Chinese travellers rank our country’s beaches and heritage sites high, as proven by the various recognitions they have awarded to our tourist spots,” Durano said further.

Beach holidays rank 79% among the top leisure activities undertaken by the Chinese, according to an outbound travel study in China, while the International Visitor Survey conducted by the DOT reported that foreign visitors rank the country highest for visitor satisfaction in terms of Filipino hospitality.

Due to its strong partnership with a consortium of travel agents, the DOT has urged the transportation sector to open direct chartered flights and daily regular flights to Cebu and Manila.  These developments have reflected a 61% increase in number of chartered flights operated in 2008 compared to last year.

Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions Eduardo Jarque, Jr. was enthusiastic to point out that the country has always garnered positive feedback from Asian tourists, “The Philippines has managed to secure, among others, the Best Leisure Destination in the last year’s WTF, for Boracay; the Top 10 Island Getaways for Chinese Summer Travel, for Bohol; the only Asian entry in the list of premier destinations in the acclaimed World Traveller Magazine; and Top 10 Most Searched Destination among Shanghai online users.”

Jarque was referring to Baidu, the biggest search engine in China capturing 68% of the Chinese online market (Google a distant second with 20% market share), which listed the Philippines in the Top 10 most searched travel destination among Shanghai online users from its latest report.

Meanwhile, Arlene Alipio, head of DOT Team China, noted that the flourishing outbound travel of China has been propitious to the Philippines as well, “Recent statistics from the China National Tourism Administration show that the number of Chinese travellers reached 34.4 million in the first nine months of this year, up by 14.8 percent year-on-year.  In September alone, about 3.7 million Chinese people travelled overseas, an increase of nine percent year-on-year.”

Shanghai-based Philippine Tourism Attaché to China, Gerry Panga, shared, “The country’s continued and consolidated efforts in promoting a wide array of travel opportunities to its Asian neighbours have indeed resulted to our strong market performance despite the global crunch.

RP posted a growth rate of 58.5% in 2008 in terms of visa issuances for travel to the Philippines from Eastern China plus Sichuan and Chongqing. Current growth rate stands at 20% from January to March this year, making the Philippines one of the fastest growing outbound destinations for Chinese tourists.

SC upholds oil deregulation law anew

Posted in Oil Deregulation Law, Social Issues/Concerns, Supreme Court Decisions by Erineus on April 22, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:31:00 04/22/2009

BAGUIO CITY—The Supreme Court has shot down for the second time a constitutional challenge against the law that deregulated the oil industry in 1997.

In an April 2 en banc decision that was released to reporters during the court’s summer sessions here this week, the high court dismissed a second petition from Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia Jr. challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 8479, or the Oil Deregulation Act of 1998.

As it did a previous petition that Garcia submitted in 1999, the high court said that the issue of whether or not there should be deregulation of the oil industry was political and outside its jurisdiction.

It said that the issue that Garcia raised a second time—the propriety of immediately and fully deregulating the oil industry—was not something for the court to resolve as it revolved around the “soundness or wisdom of the timing and manner of deregulation” that Congress wanted to implement through RA 8479.

Not a job for SC

“Quite clearly, the issue is not for us to resolve. We cannot rule on when and to what extent deregulation should take place without passing [judgment] upon the wisdom of the policy of deregulation that Congress has decided upon,” the high court said.

It also noted that Garcia’s including a proposal to shift to “a system of partial deregulation,” revealed the “political, hence non-justiciable nature of his petition.”

“That the law failed in its objectives because its adoption spawned the evils petitioner Garcia alludes to does not warrant its nullification,” said the decision penned by Associate Justice Arturo Brion.

Garcia, a former congressman for Bataan, first asked the high court to nullify the Oil Deregulation Law in 1999.

At the time the court ruled: “We are not concerned with whether or not there should be deregulation. This is outside our jurisdiction. The judgment on the issue is a settled matter and only Congress can reverse it.”

Infirmities corrected

In the latest ruling, the high court reminded Garcia that it was a 1997 Supreme Court decision which convinced Congress to correct the infirmities of the Downstream Oil Deregulation Act of 1996, or RA 8180, through RA 8479.

“We struck down [the Downstream Oil Deregulation Act of 1996] as invalid because… contrary to its intent, RA 8180’s provisions on tariff differential, inventory requirements and predatory pricing inhibited fair competition, encouraged monopolistic power, and interfered with the free interaction of market forces,” the high court said.

“Congress responded to our decision… by enacting on Feb. 10, 1998 a new oil deregulation law,” which Garcia has questioned twice before the high court.

Garcia’s second petition focuses on the impact of Section 19 of RA 8479, which prescribed the duration for lifting the price restrictions that protect the local downstream oil industry. Elmer Kristian Dauigoy and Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon