So sick

N. Vizcaya cops rue lack of health care

CAMP SATURNINO DUMLAO, Nueva Vizcaya–Members of the Philippine National Police here are lamenting the alleged lack of basic health services for enlisted personnel, which they said, have affected their effective as law enforcers.

The police officers, who asked not to be named for ethical reasons, called on the PNP leadership to improve the organization’s health care program, following findings that a large number of them were considered physically unfit for the job.

They expressed dismay that while rank-and-file policemen have to be content with “dismal” health services in the countryside, their top-ranking officials “wade in millions-worth of perks”.

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Scuttled

COA: GMA rice program failed in N. Vizcaya

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The national government’s rice program in the province has failed because of the supposed inability of the local government to fully implement the terms of its agreement with the Department of Agriculture, according to the Commission on Audit.

In its 2007 audit report, Julieta Mangulabnan, COA regional cluster director, said the GMA Rice Program and other activities of the provincial agriculture office collapsed because the province did not look closely into how the programs were being carried out.

The COA report particularly cited the GMA Rice Program that was granted to the province through the DA, in the form of four sets of hand tractors “with complete accessories” amounting to P206,000, that were supposed to be used by local rice farmers.

“The provincial government should (have) strictly (complied) with the terms and conditions as stipulated in the MOA by way of monitoring the proper utilization, operation and maintenance of the machinery/equipment,” the COA report said.

The DA has been in the middle of public criticism for its supposed failed agriculture programs like the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani, the components of which were embroiled in controversies including the P728-million fertilizer scam and the P2-billion swine program.

Under the memorandum of agreement entered into by Dr. Gumersindo Lasam, DA regional director, and Gov. Luisa Cuaresma, the Nueva Vizcaya government, as counterpart, pledged to provide a shed for the equipment, and to see to it that these were properly used, operated and maintained.

COA documents showed that four complete sets of hand tractors were purchased and delivered in January 2007, and were received by Felipe Panganiban, provincial agriculture officer.

However, when a COA audit team visited the provincial nursery, the equipment could not be found, the report noted.

“(The team) was informed that (the hand tractors) were borrowed by some farmers directly involved in the implementation of the GMA Rice Program of the province.  However, no list of farmers to whom these equipment were issued was presented,” the COA said.

Due to the failure of the province to strictly comply with the MOA, the use of said machinery or equipment was not maximized to the fullest, and the purpose for the fund transfer was defeated, the report said.

The failure of the province to effectively implement the GMA Rice Program was aggravated by the diversion of about P1.5 million supposedly for grains modernization program, according to Board Member Patricio Dumlao Jr.

The amount, which was originally allotted for the purchase of hybrid seeds, was transferred to fund supposed “farm-to-market roads”, but was actually used to buy a bulldozer for Kasibu town.

“This are exactly the reasons why we are having this present rice shortage. It is preposterous that the funds for items which were supposed to be the highest in the priority list in our rice programs were being re-aligned to buy heavy equipment instead,” he said.

The province has already spent around P20 million for bulldozers and other equipment which, Dumlao said, were not fully utilized because these had bogged down after only months of usage, and have since been left to rot at the depot of the provincial capitol here.

This reporter tried to seek for comment Cuaresma and Panganiban at their offices on Friday but members of their staff they were in Diadi town for a meeting.

Disguised blessing

N. Vizcaya’s anti-mining folk see light in business meltdown

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Leaders of tribal communities here on Thursday expressed relief that the economic meltdown plaguing the international business community was working in their favor to drive out foreign mining companies in the province.

Peter Duyapat, chair of the Nueva Vizcaya Anti-mining Task Force (NVATF), said they were happy over news that mining companies, including three large-scale mining firms, were not spared from the present economic downturn.

“We believe that this is an offshoot of the people’s continued resistance to these mining projects. We feel that our tribal gods continue to help us out,” he said in the dialect.

Duyapat was reacting to news reports that the world’s mining companies, including those who have substantial investments in the Philippines, have lost a combined US$1.1 trillion in market value.

“Our people are starting to see these economic events as beneficial for our struggle because it these company do not have the money and continue to lose in their stay here, they will eventually abandon their projects and leave us all in peace,” he added.

Three foreign firms presently have large-scale mining interests in the province, which include Australian companies OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. and RoyalCo Resources Limited, and British firm Metals Exploration PLC.

Data gathered from officials websites of the Australian and London stock exchanges showed the three companies’ share prices plunged for the past six months.

Duyapat said Didipio folk are glad that OceanaGold failed to meet its targeted resumption of operations after a supposed two-month stoppage.

OceanaGold, which attempts to start its gold-copper project in Didipio village in Kasibu town, suspended its construction operations in late June, in what officials described as an attempt to cut down on company expenses.

Steve Orr, OceanaGold chief executive officer, then said the company needed about US$185 million in additional cash, and is considering a number of options to meet this need, including acquiring loans and mergers with other companies.

Duyapat and Didipio village officials, as well as representatives from various environment groups, met with lawyers of the provincial government on Wednesday to discuss legal strategies on the pending suits involving mining companies here.

“We are so thankful that for the past months, we have been able to sleep soundly, and we no longer needed to stay in the barricade,” said Tolentino Inlab, Didipio village council member, referring to a human blockade set up by Didipio villagers to stop the entry of OceanaGold heavy equipment in their area.

RoyalCo, which has been aiming to start exploration activities in Kakidugen and Pa-o villages, also in Kasibu, also suspended its activities in early July.

In an earlier interview, Joey Nelson Ayson, RoyalCo country president said they had to scale down their operations following the intensified campaign against large-scale mining in the province.

Ronald Gregorio, campaigns officer of Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, said the London-based MTL, which holds substantial interest in FCF Corp., is also expected to suffer the brunt of the global financial crisis.

Stink

Rushed P31M for repairs, roads hit

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Provincial officials here on Wednesday denounced the alleged “railroading” of the passage of two ordinances by the provincial board allocating more than P31 million for the concreting of roads and various repairs of facilities at the provincial capitol compound.

Board member Patricio Dumlao Jr. accused colleagues in the majority bloc of defrauding the people of Nueva Vizcaya by authorizing the release of funds without following rules laid down by law.

Despite protests from the opposition, the board here on Wednesday approved two measures separately allowing the release of more than P22 million and P9 million, supposedly upon the request of Gov. Luisa Cuaresma for a number of projects she considered “urgent”.

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Losers

Car dealers appeal Port Irene import ban

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The government is reportedly set to lose P100 million every year from taxes derived from the industry of second-hand vehicles should it insist on banning the importation of used cars at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZF).

Lawyer Alexis Medina, representing the Automotive Rebuilding Industry of Cagayan (Aric), said the government, which at present is the biggest beneficiary of the used-car industry, will also be the “biggest loser” due to lost Customs duties if Executive Order (EO) 156 will be fully enforced.

“This (data) is borne by the records of the Bureau of Customs. If the implementation of EO 156 continues, this income (of government) would be wiped out almost immediately,” he said.

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Stigma

‘Tribes still tagged as bad, filthy’

SANTIAGO CITY–Tribal leaders from all of Luzon on Thursday expressed lament over the supposed discrimination and oppression that their people continue to experience, 11 years after the enactment of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act.

Representatives from the country’s 18 tribes in six Luzon regions called for stronger recognition of their rights as indigenous peoples and protection of their environment amid threats of modernization.

The groups made the call during a forum in Balintocatoc village here Thursday, as part of “Timpuyog” (unity), a six-day nationwide celebration of this year’s indigenous peoples’ month.

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