Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Virgin Mobile goes iPhone-only, offers a year of service for $1

by Sarah Perez/techcrunch.com


In attempt to woo customers away from competitors, Virgin Mobile USA today announced a deal that will see it transitioning to become an iPhone-only carrier. The company is also partnering with Apple to activate Virgin’s services in Apple’s stores. To kick off this change, Virgin introduced a limited time promotion that will see it giving away a year’s worth of unlimited talk, text and data for only a dollar.

There are a few caveats to this deal, of course.

Like most carriers, unlimited data is not exactly that. Customers who use more than 23 GB of data during one billing cycle will be deprioritized, Virgin says – meaning it will throttle your bandwidth as needed, especially in places where there’s a lot of congestion.

Plus, Virgin’s terms says it has the right to terminate your service is your off-network roaming usage exceeds either 800 voice minutes or 100 megabytes. (The plans come with 800 domestic voice roaming minutes and 100MB domestic data roaming, in addition to the unlimited data, talk and text).

Oh, and you’ll need to purchase an iPhone from Apple or Virgin, of course, then port your phone number over to Virgin’s Inner Circle plan.

Virgin is carrying the iPhone SE, 6, 6s, 6s Plus, 7 and 7 Plus on its website, in various configurations, at retail price, for the most part. The exceptions to that are the SE 32 GB and 128 GB model, which are discounted compared with Apple’s direct price. And the iPhone 6 32 GB is discontinued, so it’s also a cheaper pick.

While the $1 deal sounds like it’s too good to be true, there’s a bit of a catch with that, as well.

The deal is only being made available until July 31st, 2017; afterwards it’s a 6-month offer. In other words, this is a big carrot being dangled to attract a slew of new sign-ups at once. Virgin is essentially betting on the fact that customers will stick around when the regular plan pricing of $50 per month (which requires AutoPay) later kicks in.

There are also some optional add-ons for international calls, packaged into a $5 or $10 bundle, depending on your needs. These are focused on offering unlimited calls to select countries or landlines, unlimited texts, and other reduced rates. (The full details on those are here.)

Despite these caveats (another, arguably, could be that Virgin runs on Sprint’s network, which has its own set of challenges), Virgin’s Inner Circle comes with a series of perks, too. These are focused on tying the carrier to the larger set of Virgin brands, like its airline, hotel chain, and wines, for example. 

With Inner Circle, customers can buy a round-trip ticket to the U.K. on Virgin Atlantic and only pay fees and taxes on a second companion ticket, as well as take 20 percent off flights on Virgin America. You can get your third night free when staying at Virgin Hotels, and enjoy discounts on Virgin Wines and the Virgin Sport San Francisco Festival of Fitness in October. There will also be chances to win “bucket-list experiences” with Virgin Racing, Virgin Galactic and others, the company notes.

Carriers are always battling for customers and offering an ever-growing collection of outlandish promotions to win their business. Virgin Mobile’s parent company Sprint, for example, just this month began offering a free year of unlimited service to those who switch from another mobile operator.

While the promotion itself will eventually pass, Virgin’s larger business decision to stick only to iPhones is worth noting here. This is something Sprint’s CEO Marcelo Claure alluded to last year, when he said that Virgin was going to be de-emphasized ahead of a forthcoming shift in strategy.

Well, now it’s here. Before, Virgin had been an Android prepaid business sold through national retail stores. Going forward, it will instead tout its contract-free, iPhone-only model.

The partnership with Apple allows Virgin Mobile to become the newest carrier to sell its service in Apple’s stores, and makes it the first iPhone-only carrier in the U.S.

The company believes the change may give it a renewed shot at competing with its better performing rivals, like T-Mobile’s MetroPCS and AT&T’s Cricket Wireless, as well as non-traditional newcomers, like Google’s low-cost Project Fi.

“Virgin has always looked to shake things up and challenge the status quo in any sector we go into,” said Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, in a statement. “Mobile is no exception and with Virgin Mobile USA, we’ve now worked with Apple to create a compelling offer for our new Inner Circle plan. Simply put, when you buy an iPhone you will get the highest quality device and service plus access to an array of Virgin experiences and offers with our group of companies,” he added.

Virgin is officially announcing the news via its Facebook Page today:

Video link: https://web.facebook.com/VirginMobileUSA/videos/1717028971658426/

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There Are Some Hidden Features In Pokémon GO's Big Gym And Raid Update

Dave Thier , CONTRIBUTOR/FORBES


Photo: Pokemon GO. Credit: Niantic

Pokémon GO just got its biggest update since launch. The game is in sort of a limbo state right now, with the new update pushed out to phones all over the world but the new features for gyms and raids not yet live. We can see the little icons out in the world, but we still get the "gyms are under construction" message when we try to interact with them. I can also see raids listed under my "nearby" feature, but the game says that I'm not high level enough for this feature yet. This seems...incorrect. Unless Niantic is keen to rope off raids for 99% of its players. Some of the smaller quality of life features for the new update are already live, however, and you can see them in action now.

Chief among these is the ability to search through your Pokémon, something that's a nice little tool to have when you've got 200+ creatures in your collection. It's a bit easy to miss, but there's now a little search bar at the top of your "Pokémon" screen. You can type in the name of a creature if you want to check how many candies you've got or trigger an evolution, or you can search by type if you want to gear up for combat. The latter will likely be the most useful application of the new feature, especially with raids on the way. Having plenty of different types of Pokémon at the ready to counter some big monster is bound to come in handy.

There's also now a "visual indicator" for unvisited Pokéstops, specifically a little blue ring that surrounds the in-game icon. Before now, that information was conveyed by turning visited Pokéstops purple and then switching them back to blue over time. It appears Niantic wanted to go with something a little more distinct to make it crystal-clear when you could visit a Pokéstop again. It doesn't hurt that it's usable by colorblind trainers, either.

Just a few little features meant to augment the bigger changes that should hopefully be activating soon. Stay tuned for more updates on Pokémon GO's biggest change since launch, which the developer is hoping will get some players back out and playing as the weather gets hot in the Northern Hemisphere and kids get out on Summer break. We'll see. I tend to think that the combat system is fundamentally broken and tweaks won't save it, but it's possible that those gym badges are all I need to start fighting again.

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'Wall Street Journal' Fires Jay Solomon Over Ethical Lapses

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Photo: The Wall Street Journal has fired Jay Solomon, pictured in 2004, as its chief foreign affairs correspondent.
Gurinder Osan/AP


The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals — including one involving arms sales to foreign governments — with an international businessman who was one of his key sources.

The reporter, Jay Solomon, was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company, Denx LLC, by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company.

"We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgment of Jay Solomon," Wall Street Journal spokesman Steve Severinghaus wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. "While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards."

Azima was the subject of an AP investigative article published Tuesday. During the course of its investigation, the AP obtained emails and text messages between Azima and Solomon, as well as an operating agreement for Denx dated March 2015, which listed an apparent stake for Solomon.

As part of its reporting, the AP had asked the Journal about the documents appearing to link Solomon and Azima. The relationship was uncovered in interviews and in internal documents that Azima's lawyer said were stolen by hackers.

"I clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn't understand." Solomon told the AP on Wednesday. "I never entered into any business with Farhad Azima, nor did I ever intend to. But I understand why the emails and the conversations I had with Mr. Azima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities. I apologize to my bosses and colleagues at the Journal, who were nothing but great to me."

Two other Denx partners — ex-CIA employees Gary Bernsten and Scott Modell — told the AP that Solomon was involved in discussing proposed deals with Azima at the same time he continued to cultivate the businessman as a source for his stories for the Journal. Bernsten and Modell said Solomon withdrew from the venture shortly after business efforts began and that the venture never added up to much. They provided no evidence as to when Solomon withdrew.

The emails and texts reviewed by the AP — tens of thousands of pages covering more than eight years — included more than 18 months of communications involving the apparent business effort. Some messages described a need for Solomon's Social Security number to file the company's taxes, but there was no evidence Solomon provided it.

Denx was shuttered last year, according to Florida business registration records.

In an April 2015 email, Azima wrote to Solomon about a proposal for a $725 million air-operations, surveillance and reconnaissance support contract with the United Arab Emirates that would allow planes to spy on activity inside nearby Iran. Solomon was supposed to ferry the proposal to UAE government representatives at a lunch the following day, the email said.

"We all wish best of luck to Jay on his first defense sale," Azima wrote to Solomon, Bernsten and Modell.

Under the proposed UAE deal, Azima's firms were to manage specially equipped surveillance planes to monitor activity in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In October 2014, Solomon wrote to Azima in a text message: "Our business opportunities are so promising."

In another message that same month, Solomon asked Azima whether he had told a mutual friend about their business plans.

"Hell no!" Azima replied.

The emails show Solomon's relationship with Azima began professionally, as the reporter cultivated the businessman as a source of information about Iranian money in a Georgian hotel deal and other matters. A review of Solomon's published work over the past four years indicated Azima never appeared by name in the newspaper.

The hacked materials also demonstrate that Azima cultivated close relationships with fellow Western and American journalists, including those at the AP, and frequently communicated with them by phone, text and email. None appeared to involve the same level of personal involvement or referenced potential business deals.

Veteran journalists at prominent outlets such as the Journal have contacts, expertise and influence that can be valuable in the business world, said Kelly McBride, a vice president for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism education center based in St. Petersburg, Florida. But seeking to exploit those assets while a journalist would betray readers' trust in a reporter's impartiality.

"You can't have conversations about business deals outside your employment," she said.

Over decades, Azima has glided among different worlds, flying weapons to the Balkans, selling spy gear to Persian Gulf nations, dealing with a small Midwest bank and navigating Washington's power circles. In an April 2016 memo, a public relations firm he worked with, Prime Strategies, suggested Solomon could be called upon to "write a feature story about Farhad" to help combat negative coverage.

In May 2015, Bernsten — using an email under the alias "The Vicar" — told Azima of a plan to help a dissident member of the Kuwaiti royal family instigate public protests over corruption with the goal of bringing down the nation's government. Though the Kuwaiti plan involved Denx, Solomon was not included in the emails and said he knew nothing about it. It does not appear the plans were ever executed, as 87-year-old Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah remains in power.

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Rain doesn't deter protesters outside at Trump rally

"We're going to be in a constant state of, 'What happens next?'"

 

Photo:Protesters gather on the corners of First Avenue Northeast and Fourth Street Northeast outside the U.S. Cellular Center, where President Donald Trump held a rally in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Organizations that sponsored the protest included Action Iowa, Women's March Iowa, Indivisible Iowa, and Iowa Federation of Labor. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

By Chelsea Keenan and
Michaela Ramm The Gazette 


CEDAR RAPIDS — Heavy rains that came and went, and came again, didn’t deter scores of protesters who waved signs, chanted and elicited honks from passing cars while awaiting President Donald Trump’s arrival downtown Wednesday evening.

Familiar cheers and jeers rang out as about 150 protesters near the U.S. Cellular Center yelled “my body, my choice,” “lock him up” and “this is what democracy looks like.”

They were there to show concern for the environment, health care and public education as well as to support equality and what they feel had been positive progress.

Pink shirts and buttons dotted the crowd, as Planned Parenthood supporters came out to show their displeasure at what they believe to be attacks on women’s health care.

Planned Parenthood has announced it will close four of its 12 Iowa clinics on July 1 — a move affecting more than 14,600 people — after the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature earlier this year decided to forgo federal family planning dollars and instead set aside $3 million of state money to create a program that excludes facilities that also provide abortions.

The dollars are used to pay for cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing and birth control for low-income men and women. The women’s health organization is closing clinics in Keokuk, Burlington, Sioux City and the Quad Cities.

“I just can’t believe we’re going backward and not forward,” said Abbie Bowen, 55, from Cedar Rapids. “I’m terrified for young women who want to have control of their sexuality.”

This was the first time Bowen has ever come out to protest, she said, adding she was happy to see a strong showing of dissenters despite the gloomy weather.

“But it breaks my heart to see women in that line instead of this line,” she said pointing to the line of Trump supporters snaking around the arena and down Fourth Street SE. Thousands of Trump supporters stood in line, a few even over night, to get into the rally.

Avery Cassell, 37, a Medicaid recipient from Hiawatha, said he’s concerned about the future of the government-sponsored program, which provides insurance to nearly 70 million low-income and disabled Americans — about 600,000 of them Iowans.
Protesters listen to speeches across from the U.S. Cellular Center

The GOP-backed U.S. House plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — which is now being reworked by the U.S. Senate — gets rid of income-related tax credits in favor of age-based tax credits, eliminates federal funding for the Medicaid expansion starting in 2020 and places a per capita cap on the insurance program.

Cassell’s 11-year-old son, Logan, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he said, and he worries he won’t be able to afford necessary care.

“I feel like he doesn’t care about the people who are suffering,” Cassell said.

Health care wasn’t the only thing on protesters’ minds, as told by signs that ran ink and disintegrated during rains.

A pair of Cedar Rapids school district employees said they’re worried about future cuts to school programs, as well as anxiety some of their students are feeling.

“I teach second grade this year,” said Jenna Buhr, 26. “When he was first elected, I saw a lot of behavioral changes, I saw a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty with what was going to happen next with their families. Some of them worried their friends were going to be deported, because they didn’t know the facts of the issues and things. It was me trying not to put my beliefs on my students, but also let them know I was going to keep them safe and that I wouldn’t let anything happen to them.”

Maddie Paxton, 26, and Buhr’s partner of six years, said her school has a large number of students who rely on food assistance.

“Are they going to keep that?” she asked. “You never expect young children to soak in or worry as much as they do, but they understand. They get it.”

The couple, holding a sign that read, “respect existence or expect resistance,” also worries about their ability to get married and whether same-sex marriage rights will be rolled back.

“I think it’s just a constant state of things being so up in the air and not knowing what’s going to happen next,” Buhr said. “I feel like in the next four years we’re going to be in a constant state of, ‘What happens next?’ We’ve come so far, and homosexuals, their community has blossomed with their rights and people realizing who we are and what we stand for and that we’re people, too, and we’re worried we’re going to be set back so many years.”

The protest — organized by a handful of Democratic groups including Americans for Democratic Action Iowa, Women’s March Iowa, Iowans for Public Education and Planned Parenthood Voters — also featured speeches from Democratic politicians.

“This is not about Republicans and Democrats,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker. “It’s about the soul of America and these policies are bad for workers, bad for the environment, bad for women and minorities.”

Walker said it’s important to focus on 2018 and 2020 — a sentiment other speakers echoed.

Walker is considering a run against U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, the 1st House District Republican, though hasn’t decided.

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Abortion Adds Obstacle as Republicans Plan to Unveil Health Bill

By ROBERT PEAR and THOMAS KAPLAN/NY Times


Photo: Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, hopes to unveil the contents of Republicans’ health bill on Thursday and pass it next week. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Abortion flared up Wednesday as the latest hot-button issue to complicate passage of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which Senate Republican leaders hope to unveil on Thursday and pass next week.

The repeal bill approved last month by the House would bar the use of federal tax credits to help purchase insurance plans that include coverage of abortion. But senators said that provision might have to be jettisoned from their version because of complicated Senate rules that Republicans are using to expedite passage of the bill and avoid a filibuster.

If that provision is dropped, a bill that has already elicited deep misgivings among moderate Republicans — and stiff resistance from Democrats, health care providers and patient advocacy groups — could also generate concern among abortion opponents, as well as conservative lawmakers.

Further complicating the measure’s prospects, insurance companies, which took a leading role in the health care fights of 1993-94 and 2009-10 but have been conspicuously quiet this year, released a blistering letter objecting to Republican plans to remake Medicaid and cut its funding.

The changes being considered in Congress could “amount to a 25 percent shortfall in covering the actual cost of providing care to our nation’s neediest citizens,” the top executives of 10 insurance companies wrote this week. “These amounts spell deep cuts, not state flexibilities, in Medicaid.”

As senators struggle to develop a health care bill, their handiwork appears to be too moderate for some Senate conservatives and too conservative for some Senate moderates. The latest version, without the abortion-coverage prohibition and with steep Medicaid cuts, may prove unacceptable to some in both camps. To pass it, Senate leaders can afford to lose only two Republican votes of the 52 in the chamber.

Republican senators got a glimpse Wednesday of the highlights of the bill, which was drafted in secret by the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and top aides. White House officials were granted a formal briefing, which risked irking many senators who had yet to see the actual bill.

The House abortion provision has sweeping implications because many health plans subsidized under the Affordable Care Act include coverage for abortion services. The provision has encountered outspoken opposition from officials in states like Oregon, where most health plans on the public insurance exchange cover abortion.

But senators said the provision might have to be dropped for a more prosaic reason: It may not comply with the Senate rules that Republicans are using to speed the health care bill through the Senate.

The bill is scheduled to go to the Senate floor next week under these procedures, which limit debate and preclude a Democratic filibuster.

“It’s one of the problems we have to work with,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said of the abortion issue. “We’re not quite sure how that’s going to be resolved.”

Mr. McConnell is determined to get a vote on the bill by the end of next week, before a break for the Fourth of July holiday, but he still does not have enough committed votes to ensure passage.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, made clear on Wednesday that he was not on board with the Republican bill.

“I’m still hoping we reach impasse, and we actually go back to the idea we originally started with, which is repealing Obamacare,” Mr. Paul said, adding, “I’m not for replacing Obamacare with Obamacare lite.”

Document: Health Insurers Speak Out
The House bill and the Senate version, like the Affordable Care Act, would provide tens of billions of dollars in tax credits to help people pay insurance premiums.

The federal government is expected to spend more than $30 billion this year on tax credits to help lower- and middle-income people pay premiums. The Senate bill would provide more assistance to lower-income people than the House bill, which bases tax credits on a person’s age.

The Senate bill would also repeal most of the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act. It would delay the effective date of a tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage, but Republicans plan to offer an amendment next week to eliminate this “Cadillac tax,” which is opposed by labor unions and employers.

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Senators Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, both Republicans, said they understood that the House restrictions on the use of tax credits for insurance covering abortion had encountered parliamentary problems.

“What I heard earlier from the parliamentarian is they didn’t think it would pass” muster under Senate rules, Mr. Tillis said.

Mr. Tillis and Ms. Collins said they understood that Senate Republican leaders were hoping to devise some kind of workaround to address concerns of anti-abortion lawmakers. But it was not clear whether those anti-abortion lawmakers would be satisfied with such a plan, which could involve separate legislation.

Republicans have been promising to repeal the health law ever since it was signed by President Barack Obama in 2010. On Wednesday, in the final hours before the Senate repeal bill was to be unveiled, members of Congress, consumer groups and health care executives engaged in frenetic advocacy in hopes of shaping the bill.

Women’s groups and at least two moderate Republicans, Ms. Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, continued to object to a provision of Mr. McConnell’s bill that would cut off funds for Planned Parenthood.

In a letter to Mr. McConnell on Wednesday, more than two dozen House members in the conservative Republican Study Committee listed several parts of the House bill they view as crucial, including cutting funds to Planned Parenthood and restricting the use of the tax credits. The bill, they wrote, fulfills “an important conservative commitment to promote life and protect the unborn.”

Leaders of the 10 insurance companies told Mr. McConnell that proposed caps on federal Medicaid spending would cause “an enormous cost shift to the states,” which could force them to raise taxes, reduce benefits, cut payments to health care providers or eliminate coverage for some beneficiaries. Among those signing the letter were top executives of AmeriHealth Caritas, Molina Healthcare, Blue Shield of California and Healthfirst, in New York.

But Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, said the Medicaid provisions were one of the bill’s chief attractions for him.

“In my state,” Mr. Kennedy said, “we are now spending 47 percent of our budget on Medicaid. That’s up from 23 percent in 2008. It’s crowding out money for universities and roads and public safety and coastal restoration, and it just keeps climbing.”

Even senators who might support the legislation said they did not want to be rushed.

Asked how he felt about the prospect of having a vote on the bill a week after its release, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, “I feel terrible about it.”


Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said, “I need the information, I need to hear from constituents, and that’s going to take some time.”

Debate on the Senate bill will be shaped by an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which will estimate the impact on federal spending and the number of people without health insurance. Under the House bill, the office said, the number of uninsured would be 23 million higher than under the Affordable Care Act in 2026. And for some older Americans and sick people, it said, premiums and out-of-pocket costs could be significantly higher.

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NIA sees development of all irrigable land by 2022

Photo:The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has so far developed 1.85 million hectares, or some 59% of the country’s total irrigable area of 3.12 million hectares. AFP

NIA collections drop sharply to P1.3 billion

In a Wednesday briefing in the agency’s headquarters in Quezon City, NIA Administrator Ricardo R. Visaya said the agency is hoping to irrigate 100% of the irrigable land.

“By 2022, we hope to solve the equipment and personnel problems, and given an adequate budget. We hope we can do it by 2022, fully 100%. Another problem is natural calamities, which every year does damage to the irrigation system,” Mr. Visaya said.

“If there’s a 20% yearly increase in budget we can do it,” the official added.

The agency, throughout its 50-year existence, has so far developed 1.85 million hectares, or some 59% of the country’s total irrigable area of 3.12 million hectares.

This means the agency has to develop some 1.27 million hectares in five more years to achieve its target.

For this year, the agency is looking at irrigating 23,115 hectares and restoring some 13,507 hectares.

Asked if Mr. Visaya sees the target as attainable, he said: “It’s better to have a target... We will try. There’s no harm in trying.”

For this year, the agency has an approved budget totaling P38.37 billion.

The NIA is proposing a record budget of P45.86 billion for 2018, which, if approved, would represent an increase of 19% from 2017.

“As per our Corporate Planning office, the agency is still working for the breakdown of the said total amount. The proposed budget is also awaiting the Budget department’s Final Recommendation,” he added. -- Janina C. Lim

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Senators want to reopen probe of Espinosa slay, quiz DOJ’s downgrading of raps vs Marvin Marcos

By Mae Ann Los Banos and J.V. Arcena, News5 | InterAksyon


Photo: File photos of slain Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa (From PNP/PIO) and Police Supt. Marvin Wynn Marcos (From Philstar)

MANILA, Philippines – Why did the Department of Justice recommend the downgrading of charges against Police Supt. Marvin Marcos and his co-accused? What was the basis of the downgrading of charges from murder to homicide?

Why were the charges downgraded despite the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation that the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa was premeditated murder? Could there be somebody so powerful who wants Marcos and his men to get off the hook?

These are but some of the numerous queries that senators want answered as they crossed party lines on Wednesday in initiating moves to find out why Marcos and his men were able to post bail and walk out of prison nearly three months since they were arrested and detained for the November 5, 2016 killing of Espinosa and fellow inmate Raul Yap while the two were imprisoned at the Baybay Provincial Jail in Leyte.

Koko wants probe of Espinosa slay reopened

Senate president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III wants to re-open the Upper Chamber’s inquiry into Espinosa’s slay. He told reporters that the Senate should see and review the counter-affidavits submitted by Marcos’ camp that convinced the DOJ to downgrade the charges against the police officers.

Pimentel said he also wanted to know if there was something irregular in what the DOJ did and whether there was corruption involved in its action favoring the accused. He said DOJ officials must be asked on what had convinced them to issue a resolution to reduce the charges.

On Wednesday, DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II washed his hands of the action of his own agency.

“Hindi ako ang nag-issue ng resolution na ‘yan [I did not issue that resolution]. I have not even read the resolution. I did not sign anything. It’s just one of the process sa amin sa [here at the] DOJ,” the DOJ chief told reporters.

“Sinasabi nila na may flip-flopping d’yan [They claim that there’s flip-flopping], there’s no such thing as flip-flopping here (DOJ),” he added.

Orceo resolution

The DOJ resolution was issued last May 29 by Undersecretary Reynante Orceo. It stated that “evidence on record” against Marcos and his men “do not support the allegation of evident premeditation” of the killing of Espinosa and Yap.

“The record is bereft of any showing as to when the respondents conceived the plan and as to what they would commit the crime. Not even a single affidavit or statements will corroborate said allegations,” Orceo’s resolution further stated.

But Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV isn’t convinced of Aguirre’s explanation and the arguments raised in Orceo’s resolution.

On Wednesday, Aquino told reporters that he had filed a resolution calling for an inquiry into the DOJ’s action, which “really puts into question the credibility of the institution and the Secretary.”

The senator said his colleagues would also file their own resolutions in relation to the surprising release of Marcos and 17 other police officers from the Philippine National Police (PNP)-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group’s detention facility in Leyte.

“Merong resolution na ipa-file ang mga iba’t ibang miyembro ng Senado. I think we’re asking some members of the majority na pumirma rin expressing grave concern do’n po sa pag-downgrade ng charges kina Superintendent Marcos ng DOJ,” Aquino said.

“Aside from that, meron din po tayong finile na separate resolution…an inquiry kung bakit po ito ginawa ng DOJ.”

“So dalawa ho ‘yan. May isa na magbubukas ng hearing para malaman po ng taumbayan ano po ‘yong rason kung bakit nag-iba ang pananaw ng DOJ…And ang isa pang resolution expressing serious concern mula po sa Senado.”

Aquino said that through a Senate inquiry, lawmakers would be able to quiz resource persons to find out whether Marcos and his men have a powerful protector.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, former DOJ chief, on Wednesday said a petition could be filed at the Court of Appeals to question DOJ’s move.

“Considering the overwhelming evidence against the accused, the families of the offended parties can question before the Court of Appeals the decision of the DOJ and the Regional Trial Court to charge the accused with the lesser offense of homicide on the ground of grave abuse of discretion,” Drilon said.

“The Senate has a stake in this case. The Senate unanimously took the position that Mayor Espinosa was murdered as he was killed with evident premeditation and abuse of authority,” Drilon said.

“What the DOJ did was really deplorable — when they acted contrary to evidence gathered, not only by its department, but also by the Senate and the National Bureau of Investigation,” he added.

On Tuesday, detained Sen. Leila de Lima asked how could the DOJ, thru Orceo, “not see and appreciate the presence of the qualifying circumstance of evident premeditation, and even abuse of superior strength, in the execution of such criminal act which bears the hallmarks of summary execution?”

“What does it make of the Senators and the NBI probers (who were convinced of the culpability of Marcos, et al. for murder), if people simply accept DOJ’s conclusion that ‘nothing in the records’ could prove evident premeditation?” De Lima, former DOJ chief, said.

“Something tells me that the DOJ’s initial adoption of NBI’s recommendation was just for show, a charade, so as to please or satisfy the Senate and the public. The actual game plan though was to downgrade the charges, as done now, and ultimately weaken the case vs. those rogue police officers and men,” said the lawmaker.

Order to kill Espinosa came from ‘very top’

De Lima said the downgrading of the charges had bolstered her “suspicion that Marcos, et al. were actually carrying out an order to liquidate Mayor Espinosa, and that such order came from the top, the very top.”

“Call it a speculation, or even paranoia, but I’m almost certain that there must be something Mayor Espinosa knew or about to do relative to his son Kerwin’s so-called “pink book” or “blue book” that underlied the mastermind’s decision to kill the Mayor,” she said.

De Lima said “such pink or blue book, whichever, insofar as it includes my name is certainly spurious-as spurious and fabricated as all the other so-called evidence the DOJ purports to have as to my alleged involvement in the drug trade, either within or outside Bilibid.”

“Could it be that Mayor Espinosa was about to tell the truth or showed signs of revealing which names genuinely belong to Kerwin Espinosa’s list of drug protectors/beneficiaries and those that do not?,” she said.

“Was the father killed as a warning to the son so the latter could fully “cooperate”, as he did, in concocting all those lies about me and my alleged dealings with him (who I absolutely do not know from Adam)?,” added De Lima.

Duterte ordered Marcos’ reinstatement the same day he was sacked

Last December 5, PNP chief Gen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, during a Senate hearing, testified that in mid-October of the same year, he had sacked Marcos as chief of the PNP-CIDG in Region 8 after Kerwin Espinosa told authorities that Marcos was allegedly a recipient of drug money.

But on the same day that he was terminated, Marcos was ordered reinstated by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The chief executive, also last December, admitted ordering Dela Rosa to reinstate Marcos. He said he had told the PNP chief via a phone call to “not remove the guy (Marcos)” because the latter was part of an “investigative job” that Duterte was doing.

Weeks later, on November 5, Mayor Espinosa was killed inside his detention cell allegedly by Marcos and his men.

Later in the same month, Kerwin, a suspected drug lord, testified in the Senate that he had given P8 million to De Lima for her 2016 senatorial campaign through the lawmaker’s former driver and partner Ronnie Dayan.

De Lima was arrested on February 24 this year and detained at the PNP Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City after drug-related charges were filed against her before a Muntinlupa court by the DOJ.

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Resorts World invests P51 B in new hotel-casino

By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) 

Photo: “We have invested $1.3 billion in Resorts World Manila alone, and another $1.1 billion was earmarked for the Resorts World Westside City,” TIHG board chairman David Chua Ming Huat told lawmakers during yesterday’s hearing on the RWM attack. File


MANILA, Philippines - Publicly listed Travellers International Hotel Group (TIHG), which owns Resorts World Manila (RWM), is spending an additional $1.1 billion (almost P51 billion) in a new hotel-casino project.

“We have invested $1.3 billion in Resorts World Manila alone, and another $1.1 billion was earmarked for the Resorts World Westside City,” TIHG board chairman David Chua Ming Huat told lawmakers during yesterday’s hearing on the RWM attack.

Westside City is the group’s new hotel-casino project at the Entertainment City gaming complex of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. in Parañaque City.

According to RWM officers, 70 percent of TIHG is owned by Filipino investors led by billionaire property developer Andrew Tan of Alliance Global. The rest is owned by foreigners.

Chua is the president of Genting Hong Kong, a major foreign investor in RWM.

“We have built 1,934 hotel rooms, with another 1,620 hotel rooms in the pipeline under international hotel brands in support of the Philippine government’s thrust to promote tourism,” Chua said.

“We built the largest ballroom in the Philippines, the Marriott Hotel grand ballroom, to help boost the country’s position as a global destination for meetings, conferences and events,” he said.

Chua said RWM paid a total of P40 billion in license fees and other taxes to the government.

“Since 2008, we created 25,000 direct and indirect jobs. Currently, we have 6,000 personnel,” he said.

Chua reminded lawmakers that in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when foreign investors stayed away from the Philippines, Genting Hong Kong was perhaps the first major investor that partnered with Alliance Global to build the country’s first integrated resort.

Lawmakers subpoenaed Chua to an inquiry into the RWM attack on June 2.

Thirty-seven hotel guests and employees were killed when former government employee Jessie Carlos went on a rampage and set the casino on fire.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wanted Tan summoned but settled for Chua when he learned that the Hong Kong national chairs the board of the company that owns RWM.

RWM chief operating officer Stephen Reilly and president Kingson Sian led officers of the hotel-casino-mall complex in the June 7 and 14 hearings.

Some lawmakers question their leaders’ decision to have Tan or Chua in the hearings when Reilly and Sian could better answer their questions, as they are the ones running RWM’s daily operation.

Alvarez did not attend yesterday’s hearing.

Chua said he had been here until June 11, condoling with the families of the victims, including those who were wounded in the incident.

Looting

During the hearing, lawmakers indicated that the victims of the RWM attack could have been looted during the incident.

Relatives complained that the personal belongings like pieces of jewelry worn by the fatalities were missing.

“This is very important – that looting had happened. Who entered the premises first?” Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel asked.

Pimentel cited the story of Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales, whose wife Elizabeth was among the 38 dead.

Gonzales told his fellow lawmakers that his wife’s Rolex watch, credit cards and automated teller machine (ATM) cards were missing.

“You wouldn’t believe this. Her ATM card had a P25,000 withdrawal transaction on June 5,” Pimentel, chairman of the committee on good government, said.

A police officer, who was not identified and among those who first responded to the scene, said they saw one body on the second floor with a wristwatch on. He said the watch disappeared when the body was brought to the ground floor.

“I think many of the victims may have been looted. This should be investigated,” Pimentel said.

Chief Supt. Tomas Apolinario, chief of the Southern Police District, said they would look into the issue and hopefully identify individuals who might have taken advantage of the situation. – With Delon Porcalla

- See more at: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/06/22/1712471/resorts-world-invests-p51-b-new-hotel-casino#sthash.QW8efrGD.dpuf

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Speaker Alvarez advises judiciary to discipline 3 CA magistrates

By: DJ Yap - Reporter / @deejayapINQPhilippine Daily Inquirer 

Photo: Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/LYN RILLON

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Thursday advised Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Court of Appeals (CA) Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. to “discipline” the three CA magistrates embroiled in the inter-branch tug-of-war over the release of six detained Ilocos Norte officials.

The House leader said the chamber would not budge on the issuance of a show-cause order demanding that the three CA justices explain why they should not be cited in contempt for granting the habeas corpus petition of the so-called “Ilocos Six.”

Alvarez, in a statement, said he appreciated the opinion expressed by Sereno and Reyes that the House committee on good government and public accountability withdraw the show-cause order, but that it was necessary for the chamber to assert its own authority.

“Such is a consequence of the court’s order that overstepped its authority and transgressed the committee’s contempt powers, which is a necessary extension of its legislative power affirmed by no less than the Supreme Court in numerous cases,” the Speaker said.

The House has been locked in a standoff with CA Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela after they ordered the release of the Ilocos Norte officials detained by the House committee for refusing to answer questions about an alleged anomaly involving the purchase of P66.45 million worth of vehicles.

READ: House, judiciary showdown looms over ‘Ilocos Six’

The six have been detained at the House of Representatives since May 29.

The CA attempted three times to serve the release order for the six officials, but the Speaker blocked it, threatening at one point to “dissolve” the appellate tribunal for interfering with the contempt powers of Congress.

READ: Speaker Alvarez threatens to dissolve Court of Appeals

In a rare joint statement on Wednesday, Sereno and Reyes urged the House leadership to “reconsider” its threat to hold the justices in contempt.


“Cognizant of its implications on (the) separation of powers and judicial independence, (we) express deep concern over the show cause order issued by the House committee on good government and public accountability,” Sereno and Reyes said.

They said the House had other legal remedies available to them in questioning the June 9 resolution of the appellate court’s Special Fourth Division.

But Alvarez said the House was not the one at fault.

“Let it be clear that the House of Representatives is simply doing its job based on jurisprudence and existing law. For the record, it is the Special Fourth Division of the Court of Appeals that violated the existing law and established jurisprudence,” he said.

He said he appreciated the need to keep the peace between Congress and the judiciary.

“True, harmony must be preserved among the co-equal branches of our government under the time-honored principle of separation of powers. However, it has become necessary for the House committee to issue the show cause order against the justices of the CA Special Fourth Division,” he said.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chair of the House committee on good government and accountability panel, said his committee would still issue the show-cause order against the three magistrates.

“If they want reconsideration, they must put it into writing so that it will be official,” he said. JPV/rga

 

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Who stole valuables from congressman’s wife?

by Ellson Quismorio

This was the question raised by Surigao del Sur (2nd Dist.) Rep. Johnny Pimentel at the continuation of the House of Representatives’ (HOR) joint panel inquiry yesterday into the Resorts World Manila (RWM) burning incident that resulted in the death of 38 people, including the perpetrator Jessie Carlos.

Pampanga (3rd Dist.) Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr. claimed that his wife, Elizabeth lost her valuables as she lay lifeless on the second floor of the RWM last June 2?

During the hearing, Pimentel, chairman of the House Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability, asked who between the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) personnel were first to enter the premises of the RWM.


“I’m asking this question because this is very important. This representation has received reports that there were some looting on the valuables of the victims,” he noted.

“In fact during the hearing at NAIA III, one of the BFP personnel testified that on their way up, they encountered an unconscious person and at that time, meron pang relo (he/she was wearing a watch). But when they came back, wala nang relo (the watch was gone).”

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