One last look at Noli de Castro

First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles

My childhood idol. Now, Noli de Castro seems to be just a thing of the past.

He describes himself as the man who turned down the chance to be President of the Republic twice. True enough, former Vice President Noli de Castro successfully resisted pressures for him to take his one-shot journey in politics farther to the Palace. He did not budge at the height of the ouster movement that rocked soon to be Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He also did not run for president last elections despite leading in surveys at the onset.

But more than the temptations that he avoided, the public asks the more crucial question: what then, has Noli de Castro done?

For the most part, de Castro was silent in his nine years in public service, save for his anti-poor remarks after gracing an event in Laguna. He was almost invisible under media’s radar, despite being a former hit in households as a broadcast journalist in Lopez-owned ABS-CBN Corp.

If his Facebook page would be used as measure of how he is liked by the online public, ex-VP de Castro’s score would be relatively close to none. (But he ranks morally higher than Arroyo for having no Facebook hate page). His Wikipedia page would not tell much about his political career either, except for a number of less-talked about government positions he occupied.

This is despite the fact that he topped the senatorial race in 2001 with 15 million votes as independent, a feat considered a first in Philippine politics.

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Dark clouds ahead for NoyBi?

When the incoming president of the land failed to clinch any Cabinet post offer with his supposed partner in the executive branch, the nation caught a glimpse of the friction within the incoming “NoyBi” administration – a sign of disunity at this early.

Exactly a week before they take their oaths, Vice President-elect Jejomar Binay expressed that he will not accept any Cabinet post offer from President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. He disclosed this after his meet with Aquino in the latter’s residence on Times St., Quezon City.

“Vice President-elect Binay reiterated to the President-elect his decision conveyed Monday evening, to decline any Cabinet position so as not to burden the president and allow him to focus on the many challenges facing the nation,” the camp of Binay said in a statement after the meeting, Manila Timesreported.

Aquino, meanwhile, told Malaya that “several positions were offered but the VP declined.” Both camps declined to name the Cabinet posts being offered.

Binay, who defeated Aquino’s running mate Sen. Mar Roxas, described the nearly two-hour meeting as “social” and “cordial.” “Magkaibigan naman kami nyan [Aquino and I are friends],” he said.

When asked why the meeting lasted for nearly two hours, Binay said it is proof of how social and cordial the meeting was. “Pagka hindi social, maiksi lang [If not social, the meeting would have been short].”

His rejection of Cabinet post offers from Aquino nonetheless created a buzz in the media and in blogs and online forums. In the eyes of some observers, it was an early sign of the rocky road that the Aquino administration would tread.

news report two days later by GMANews.tv revealed that Binay rejected offers to lead four government agencies in the next administration: Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the anti-corruption commission that will be formed to probe outgoing President Gloria Arroyo.

The Vice President-elect served as MMDA chairman during the administration’s of Aquino’s mother, the late Corazon “Cory” Aquino, and Joseph Estrada, his running mate.

In the latest development, Estrada urged Binay to accept the offer to lead the anti-corruption commission, saying he should not be an “NPA, a nonperforming asset,” Inquirer.net reported.

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A different Yellow Ribbon on Times St.

President-elect Aquino a no-show on Times St. as labor leaders on Friday aired their demands just outside his home.

For workers who have yet to hear from President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino about his plans for labor, it’s quite disappointing that Aquino has already talked to a number of business leaders — and has even offered some of them Cabinet posts. And it is perhaps more disappointing that Aquino has turned down the requested dialogue of labor leaders who wished to present sincere demands even as he granted visits of foreign envoys.

But the labor leaders aired their demands outside Aquino’s home nevertheless — using the same yellow ribbon which Aquino used as campaign icon and which, for the most part, is associated with the Aquinos. Bearing urgent calls for wage increase, Arroyo’s prosecution and junking of contractualization policies, these huge ribbons stood out from all other ribbons on Times St.

These ribbons could have been similar to the yellow ribbons plastered on vehicles, doors and profile pictures which semantically point to Noynoy Aquino and his popular appeal. But by simply attaching the usual placards, workers have used the political value and impact of Aquino’s pervasive campaign icon as springboard in forwarding concrete demands. It was powder keg made extra explosive.

What materialized on Times St. today – when a different set of yellow ribbons graced the middle-class neighborhood – hints at how Aquino will be “haunted” by his campaign icon in the coming days. Yellow ribbons are here to stay not to remind him of his electoral victory or of his parents, but to constantly remind him of the promises he dished out to the people.

DoLE okays mass layoff in PAL; union mass actions set

First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles

Around 2,600 employees of Philippine Airlines (PAL) move closer to mass retrenchment after the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) upheld the legality of PAL’s planned outsourcing/spin-off, Inquirer.net reported. The move is part of PAL’s corporate restructuring program.

In its June 15 decision, the labor department through acting Secretary Romeo Lagman said PAL’s plan to outsource its three units to third party service providers is “based on lawful ground and all in a valid exercise of managerial prerogative.”

The decision arose from the airlines company’s filing of position paper last month before the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) seeking the labor department’s nod on its plan to lay off thousands of its employees.

The country’s flag carrier welcomed the decision, saying it must now focus “on the tough challenge of surviving the crisis.”

“To do this, PAL must implement various revenue enhancement and cost-control initiatives that include outsourcing,” it said in a statement.

PAL had announced early this year that it will outsource its Call Center Reservations, In-Flight Catering, and Airport Services units for the company’s survival as it claims huge losses due to the global crisis.

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Wanted: Bachelor’s official residence

First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles

President in House of Dreams? Photo courtesy of GMANews.tv (via Facebook)

Just as how undecided President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is on his wedding plans (Yes, he’s just leaving it to Madame Auring), the country’s first bachelor President also finds difficulty in picking his official home while serving his term. In this case, he cannot simply leave it to the stars. Time is running out.

Barely two weeks before he takes his oath as 15th President of the Republic on June 30, Aquino has to make up his mind quickly. One thing is for sure at this point: he will not be living in the Palace. He said Malacañang has negative vibes, adding that it is where the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family stayed for 20 years, and where President Gloria Arroyo lived for more than nine years.

A number of possible picks have been eyed, but none of them got the outright “Yes.” Such indecision has earned criticisms from netizens, while some simply wait for the President-elect’s final answer.

As of this writing, at least three places stand out as Aquino’s possible options: Times St. in Quezon City, Arlegui Mansion in Manila, and Bahay Pangarap (House of Dreams) also in Manila.

At home on Times St.

As early as the campaign period, Aquino has expressed that he would want to “go home” to his family’s one-story house on No. 25 Times St. at the end of the day. He said he would stay away from Malacañang so “the powers and trappings of the presidency would not go to his head,” Inquirer.net posted.

Times Street is a narrow street in Quezon City, easily accessible via Quezon Avenue and West Avenue. There are no gates to secure the street from any vehicle passing by. Yelllow ribbons have lined it since late PresidentCorazon Aquino’s death.

President-elect Aquino has been staying on Times St. since the May 10 polls, except for his short visits to their residence in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

In a press conference, the bachelor president said he feels at home in their residence on Times St. “This is my spiritual psychological well-being. I’m here in a very comfortable position,” he said, adding that it is where he grew up.

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Rights defenders meet at Digital Activism training

For human rights activists who attended the two-day Digital Activism training in Tagaytay, being “followed” does not necessarily mean one’s life is at risk – it could be a signal of support for the organization.

Sponsored by the Asia Foundation, the training held last June 17 and 18 at Taal Vista Hotel helped rights defenders in getting their message across the Internet more effectively through Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms and web tools.

Popular Filipino bloggers Tonyo Cruz, Janette Toral, Benj Espina, John Arce and Ellen Tordesillas discussed a host of web-related topics as 20 participants go twittering throughout the training using the event’s hashtag (#eactivism).

A total of 199 tweets with #eactivism have been recorded for the event, or 100 tweets per training day.

Event organizers have yet to determine whether such hyperactive twittering was spurred by the incentive given by Toral (she promised top Twitterers a copy of her book) or by the excellent dining experience.

***

Quick facts from the training:

– Metro Manila still largest base of Filipino internet users, but Olongapo, Tuguegarao catching up (Yahoo!-Nielsen 2010 survey)

– Music videos most accessed entertainment form, followed by movie trailers (Yahoo!-Nielsen 2010 survey)

– Filipinos the most avid viewers of videos online, accrding to a McCann suvey in 30 countries

– Each Filipino sends at least 10 txt msgs a day; 1 to 2 billion text msgs a day

Arroyo’s last offering for labor: P22 wage hike

First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles

After two years without any wage increase, the regional wage board in theNational Capital Region has granted a P22 increase in basic pay, raising the daily minimum wage of Metro Manila workers from P382 to P404. Coming from a long economic dry spell, the measly P22 hike may not be enough to quench parched pockets though.

The P22 increase was confirmed by National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) executive director Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III andNational Economic and Development Authority(NEDA) policy and planning director Dennis M. Arroyo, BusinessWorld reported.

Despite breaking the news, Dennis Arroyo said it is still unsure when the wage increase will be implemented, since concerned agencies should come up with the implementing rules and regulations.

The last time minimum wages were raised was two years ago, when the National Capital Region (NCR) wage board increased the basic pay by P15 in June 2008 plus a P5 increase in the cost of living allowance that was later integrated.

The Arroyo administration did not entertain any wage hike proposal within the two-year span, citing the impact of the global crisis on the local economy. This despite the fact that prices of basic goods and services, including petroleum products and electricity, soared several times.

The wage hike announcement came out just a few days before President Gloria Arroyo steps down – a timing suspected by critics to be part of a last-ditch PR stunt.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said on Tuesday the recent hike would not fan inflation, and that there would be enough space to keep policy stance in supporting the economic recovery, GMANews.tv reported. Last week, the BSP factored in a P25 wage increase in its inflation forecast for this year and next year.

Apparently, BSP’s calculation was a go-signal for this week’s measly P22 wage increase.

Workers led by KMU call for the abolition of the regional wage boards in a picket last June 10 (Photo courtesy of KMU)

‘Insult to workers’

Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, which has been campaigning for a P125-legislated nationwide wage increase, said the P22 wage increase is an “insult to minimum wage workers who have long fought for a substantial wage increase,” an ABS-CBNNews.com report said.

“For us workers, this is a big insult. It’s not even enough to buy a kilo of rice. One kilo of rice is worth P28 to P32, the type of rice that people can eat,” KMU executive vice president Joselito “Lito” Ustarez said in a radio interview.

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