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AFP contradicts PNP on Maute presence in Metro Manila

MANILA – The Philippine military said it has not monitored the presence of Maute Group members in Metro Manila, contradicting claims made by the police that the local terrorist group based in Central Mindanao has penetrated the country's capital.
"Insofar as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is concerned, wala tayong na-monitor na members ng Maute Group dito sa Metro Manila (we have not monitored the presence of Maute Group members here in Metro Manila)," said AFP Public Affairs Office chief Colonel Edgard Arevalo on Tuesday, March 21.
The police said they found an improvised explosive device (IED) at a residence in Barangay Culiat in Quezon City, where they believe the Maute Group members behind the foiled attempt against the United States embassy in November 2016 have been hiding.
The target was a suspected "Maute Group ally", a certain Jamil Baja Tawil who has an outstanding warrant for illegal possession of firearms. He was not in the house so the owner, Nasip Ibrahim, was instead arrested for allegedly coddling the terrorists.
"Whether they are supporters or members of Maute Group themselves, it is up to the PNP to make an assessment and we respect it," Arevalo added.
The military is also involved in the investigation of the foiled bombing at the US embassy. "Kung mayroon man na-involve sa foiled bomb attack, ito ay nandoon na ulit sa Mindanao," said Arevalo. (If there are members who were involved in the foiled bomb attack, they are already back in Mindanao.)
The military has been fighting the local terrorist group in Central Mindanao and closely monitoring its movements.
The AFP's aim is to significantly weaken the group by June 2017, its self-imposed target.
Arevalo said the military is always on alert and closely coordinating with the police. – Rappler.com


BIR files P9.56-B tax evasion case vs Mighty Corp

MANILA – The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has filed a P9.564-billion tax evasion complaint against cigarette firm Mighty Corporation and its executives for allegedly using fake stamps on their products to dodge excise tax payment.
BIR Public Information Chief Reymarie Dela Cruz confirmed that the agency filed the complaint before the Department of Justice (DOJ) Wednesday morning, March 22.
The complaint is filed against Mighty, together with its officers: retired general Edilberto Adan, president; retired judge Oscar Barrientos, executive vice president; Alexander Wongchuking, vice president for external affairs and assistant corporate secretary; and Ernesto Victa, treasurer.
The BIR said the complaint is based on "Unlawful Possession of Articles Subject to Excise Tax without Payment of the Tax, and for Possessing False, Counterfeit, Restored or Altered Stamps, in violation of Sections 263 and 265(c) of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, as amended (Tax Code)."
The complaint was filed following raids of the Bureau of Customs, BIR personnel, and local police on Mighty's warehouses in Sad Isidro, Pampanga yielding billions of pesos worth of cigarettes with fake stamps.
Mighty promised to cooperate with the government.
“The company welcomes the filing by the BIR of the complaint as it provides us an opportunity to clear our names and show we violated no tax laws,” Mighty's legal counsel, Sigfried Fortun, told Rappler in a text message.
Fake tax stamps
The BIR noted that the only Mighty production plant registered with the bureau is the one in Barangay Tikay in Malolos, Bulacan.
It was then discovered that 4 warehouses at the San Simon Industrial Park (SSIP) in San Isidro, Pampanga were being leased to Mighty.
BIR personnel inspected the Pampanga warehouses and random tested 10 master cases of cigarettes. BIR personnel declared the tax stamps on all 10 cases as fake.
After an inventory of all 66,281 master cases, the BIR found that 87.5% of the total 33,140,500 packs of cigarettes had fake tax stamps.
"The stamps are fake since they did not contain one of the multi-layered security features of a valid internal revenue stamp," the BIR said in a statement.
BIR also noted that because the Malolos warehouse was the only one registered with the BIR, tax stamps should have been affixed on the cigarettes inside the Malolos warehouse premises.
"They were not affixed at the production plant of Mighty Corporation in Barangay Tikay, Malolos, Bulacan as required by law since no official delivery receipts for the SSIP warehouses were presented by the respondent," the BIR said.
Duterte offer
The BIR pursued the case even after Mighty owner Alexander Wongchuking took the offer of President Rodrigo Duterte to pay the government P3 billion, which is "double" the P1.5 billion worth of Mighty cigarettes found with fake stamps.
Duterte threw the challenge to Wongchuking on March 9, and said in a media interview that if the businessman agreed, he would "forget about the printing of P1.5 billion worth of fake stamps."
Wongchuking wrote the Office of the President a week later to inform the Chief Executive that he was ready to settle for P3 billion – P1 billion up front, and the rest to be paid on instalment.
The amount of taxes Mighty allegedly owes the government, however, is more than thrice as much.
The President had earlier ordered the arrest of the Mighty owner for alleged "economic sabotage."
The President's directive, however, was not carried out then as there were no pending charges against Wongchuking. Instead, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II issued Immigration Lookout Bulletin Orders against Wongchuking and his brother, Caesar.
Mighty had denied the use of fake tax stamps, and alleged that based on its own check, the BIR used "faulty" machines during its raids.
The case against Mighty is the ninth case filed by the BIR since it started its Run After Tax Evaders (RATE) program when BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay took office. – Rappler.com


Tourism chief asks Robredo, media to 'tone down' statements on killings

BANGKOK, Thailand – Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo appealed to Vice President Leni Robredo and the media to "tone down" in its reporting of extrajudicial killings to make it easier for her to promote Philippine tourism.
"I have a great respect for VP (Vice President) Leni. Philippines is now becoming an alternate destination in Asia and Europe. Eh 'yung mga statements na ganoon, nahihirapan kami i-sell ang Philippines," said Teo on Wednesday, March 22.
(Statements like that make it hard for us to sell the Philippines.)
She was speaking at a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on the last day of President Rodrigo Duterte's official visit here.
"This does not only refer to VP Leni but also to media. Medyo i-tone down natin 'yung EJK (Let's tone down on statements on extrajudicial killings) because I'm always asked wherever I go, even in Asia and Europe, 'totoo ba ito?' (is this true?) and I would say it's safe in the Philippines and I would always ask them to come," she added.
Teo had been asked if Robredo's video message for a United Nations meeting, where she spoke of summary killings being linked to the drug war, has affected the country's tourism industry.
She said the effect can be seen in how tour operators from various countries have asked her if it's safe to travel to the Philippines.
Thus, Teo said it would help if media and officials like Robredo softened their statements on the summary killings of suspected drug personalities.
"I hope those statements can be toned down because we are having a hard time selling the Philippines. Just help us sell the Philippines," said Teo in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Tourism Secretary admitted, however, that there has actually been an increase in tourists travelling to the Philippines.
"Inspite of that, I still see that we have more tourists coming to the Philippines, especially in China, Europe, and Asia," she said.
The Duterte administration's drug war has so far been linked to the deaths of over 7,000 persons. Of this, some 2,500 are suspected drug personalities killed in police operations while 3,600 are victims in cases of "deaths under investigation."
The Philippine police says it has finished investigating the deaths of 922 individuals. – Rappler.com


PH to see hike in Russian tourist arrivals

MANILA -- More Russian tourists are expected to visit the Philippines after the successful participation of the Department of Tourism (DOT) in a travel and tourism fair in Moscow last week.
DOT and Filipino travel and tour executives joined the Moscow International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (MITT) last March 14 to 16 in line with the directive of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s to pursue stronger Philippine-Russia relations.
MITT is one of the top travel exhibitions in the world with over 1,600 exhibitors from 182 countries and regions.
The combined efforts of DOT and travel and tour executives reportedly yielded overwhelming response among more than 3,000 delegates worldwide which gathered for business to business (B2B) meetings last week.
DOT’s booth piqued the interest of thousands visitors and travel professionals as their booth highlighted the country’s prime tourist's attractions namely Palawan and Boracay, and emerging destinations like Davao and Siargao.
Aside from their MITT participation, DOT also conducted a Tourism Selling Mission last March 17 in St. Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia to maximize the presence of the private sector in Russia.
Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, in a statement, stressed the importance of strengthening relations with Russia as the Philippine’s advantage.
“We have a great advantage compared to other countries because the Russians, including President Vladimir Putin, have a great respect for President Duterte and his peace and order drive, making Philippines a safe place to visit,” Teo said.
Teo pointed out that Russia is seen as a highly-potential source of tourism revenue for the Philippines.
In 2015, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) ranked Russia as the world’s sixth biggest outbound market in terms of expenditure, spending $35 billion abroad.
“Russians spend more than others and they stay for an average of two weeks with their families in the Philippines,” Teo said.
Data from the DOT showed that more than 28,000 Russians have visited the Philippines from in 2016, an increase of 11.60 percent versus the same period in 2015. -- PNA


PNP warns against online 'kidnap-for-ransom'

MANILA -- The Philippine National PoliceAnti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) on Wednesday, March 22, warned companies in the country against ransomware, an online "kidnapping-for-ransom" modus of cybercriminals.
"Angtrending ngayon is ransonware. 'Yung they will automatically encrypt your file, para bang sa traditional may kikidnapin na tao tapos pababayaran,"Superintendent Jay Guillermo, PNP-ACG spokesperson, told reporters at the sidelines of the 4th National Summit on Cybercrime.
"They will kidnap your data, information tapos babayaran mo 'yun sa kanila for the password," he added.
He said when a data is encrypted, it cannot be accessed or opened by the owner unless they get the password.
He said those victimized by ransomware are mostly companies.
"Victimized are companies that have information, very vital yung information na 'yan. They will encrypt that file eh hindi mo s'ya mabubuksan kasi for you to open that you have to have a password," he said.
He said they are currently investigating two to three cases of ransomware in the country.
"It is already happening, but with regard tot he company wala pa namang reports.Only yung file nila it was encrypted. natakotlang sila if they (attackers) will use this information," he said.
He said attackers sometimes ask for a payment through bitcoin or cryptocurrency and an online payment system.
"Minsan two or three bit cons, mga P120,000 ang bit coin. Through virtual currency [angbayad]," he said.
Backing-up your files, regularly checking the backed up files and avoiding opening attachments on emails from anonymous senders or people you don't know are among the best preventive measures against ransomware. — GMA News


Employers group warns of job losses from 'endo' prohibition

MANILA -- The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) has warned of job losses due to the Department of Labor and Employment's (DOLE) order prohibiting the practice of "endo" in the country.

"We believe it will create some job losses, but still we will comply,"Sergio Ortiz-Luis, honorary chairman of ECOP, said in a phone interview.

"Kasi kapag ni-regularize mo 'yung isa, mawawalan naman ng trabaho 'yung isa. Kasi sa 'endo' circle 'yan.There were people working in rotation, but 'pag regular na mawawala na 'yung circle and also no other jobs are created," Ortiz-Luis said.

Last week, Labor andEmployment Secretary Silvestre Bello III signed Department Order (DO) 174 ordering an immediate prohibition on "endo" or the repeated hiring of workers by contractors under an employment contract of short duration that skirts the mandated six months for a worker to qualify for regularization.
ECOP President Donald Dee said the group is now working with DOLE to clarify some provisions of the new DOLE order.

"We are now meeting with DOLE to just make sure that we are on the same page as far as understanding the provision of DO 174," said Dee.

"We are organizing teams to go all over the country to explain how they implement the DO. We have asked DOLE to give our staff the necessaryorientation," Dee added. — GMA News


Barangay officials uncooperative in anti-illegal drugs drive face charges

MANILA -- The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)has issued a warning to barangay officials who fail to reduce drug-related incidents in their respective jurisdictions will be charged with negligence of duty.
“If a certain barangay official was not able to reduce by lower than 50 percent the number of drug personalities in his area by June, we will file charges of negligence of duty against the barangay officials,” DILGSecretary Ismael Sueno said in an interview on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the 15th Meeting of the ASEAN Senior Officials Responsible forInformation (SOMRI) held Wednesday at the SMX Convention Center in BacolodCity.
Sueno said the department is working with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA) in identifying barangays that are seriously affected by illegal drugs due to larger presence of personalities involved such as users, pushers and financiers as well as the prevalence of drug dens in the area.
A DILG memorandum has reiterated the importance of the barangay’s anti-drug abuse councils (BADAC) led by the barangay chairman on the government’s campaign against illegal drugs and in drug clearing operations.
Under the DILG memorandum, failure of local officials to appropriate a portion of their budgets to assist or enhance Republic Act 9165or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 is a ground for disapproval of a barangay’s annual budget. Administrative charges for dereliction of duty will be filed against violators.
The department has also organized the MASA Masid (Mamamayang AyawSa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Iligal na Droga ) teams in various barangays nationwide.
MASA MASID is a barangay-based and volunteerism-based program of the DILG that adopts a multi-sectoral and mass-based approach in reporting incidences of illegal drug activities, criminality and corruption in communities.
Meanwhile, the PDEA has also set new standards for the classification of drug-affected barangays in the country.
A reported presence of at least one clandestine drug laboratory or marijuana plantation in the community will merit a classification of a seriously affected barangay.
Barangays will also be classified as seriously affected if more than 20 percent of its total population are drug personalities (users, pushers,financiers) and there is a reported presence of three or more drug dens or “tiangges" (flea markets).
Moderately affected barangays have two to 20 percent of its total population as drug personalities.
Those that have reported drug personalities that are less than two percent of the population will be classified as slightly affected.
According to the PDEA, 20 percent of the barangays nationwide are drug-affected at present. The National Capital Region (NCR) has the highest rate of affectation with 92.10 percent of the region’s barangays affected, followed by Region 4A (Calabarzon) at 33.78 percent. -- PNA


Over 100 ‘Yolanda’-hit families still live in rooms the size of 2 'ping pong' tables


MANILA – More than three years after super typhoon Yolanda pummeled the coastal town of Basey, Samar, more than a hundred families remain in bunkhouses, which were built as emergency shelters after the 2013 disaster. Each family lives in a room with a standard area of 8.64 square meters, similar to the size of two table tennis or "ping pong" tables.

Jap Cabuboy, whose family has been living in a bunkhouse in Canmanila village for three years, said they envy other Yolanda-hit families who have already transferred to permanent houses

“It’s our dream, and we have been waiting for it. We are willing to wait until the time when the government tells us to transfer to our new home. Most of us here feel bad on the very slow response of (concerned) government agencies,” said Cabuboy, whose wife works as an Overseas Filipino Worker.

The bunkhouses are located along the national highway in a local government-owned lot.

Melissa Eracho, who shares a room with a friend, expressed the same sentiment for the dilapidating bunkhouses.

“Some of our friends have decided to return back to our old places along river banks and coastal communities, classified as danger zones,” Erachosaid. “I hope President Rodrigo Duterte will check our condition so he can help us.”

The bunkhouse built by the Department of Public Works and Highwaysin Yolanda-hit provinces in Eastern visayas in late 2013 is divided into 24 rooms to accommodate more families.

The bunkhouses are made of corrugated sheets, plywoods and coco lumber. Each bunkhouse has four toilets, two bathrooms and a kitchen.

Basey Mayor Igmedio Ponferrada said those who remained in emergency shelters in Canmanila are recipients of housing projects funded bythe Diocese of Calbayog, United Nations Development Programme and Ledesma Foundation.

The mayor said hundreds of families remain in coastal communities while waiting for the completion of housing units being built by the National Housing Authority (NHA).

The NHA contractors have started building houses in Basey only last year, which is why all projects are still ongoing, according to Ponferrada.

“Looking for the site where to construct the house was one of the major hindrances. Adding up to the delay is the long list of requirements,” the mayor added.

Construction is ongoing for 3,000 permanent housing units in threesites in this town.

“We also want the permanent houses to be done as soon as possible because we have been spending a lot for electricity bill and daily water supply to the bunkhouses,” the mayor told PNA.

Basey town is about 24 kilometers northeast of Tacloban, the regional capital. On Nov. 8, 2013, the town was one of the places heavily devastated by super typhoon Yolanda, leaving more than 200 people dead. -- PNA


132 NPA Rebels Neutralized Since Feb. 4

MANILA -- A total of 132 suspected New People’s Army rebels have been neutralized by the military since President Rodrigo Duterte terminated peace negotiations with the communists.

At a news conference on Wednesday, March 22, Armed Forces Public Affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said that of those neutralized from February 4 to March 22, 24 rebels were killed while 20 others were arrested by authorities.

Arevalo added that more than 80 communists have surrendered to the military. Meanwhile, government forces also recovered 83 firearms from the insurgents.

The military also reported 64 armed encounters with the NPA during the same period.

Arevalo said the latest encounter with the communist rebels occurred on Tuesday at 5:45 a.m. in Lupi in Camarines Sur. No casualties were reported on both the government forces and the insurgents.

Meanwhile, Arevalo said the NPA committed 67 atrocities since January15.

“Record of NPA atrocities from January 15 to present ay umaabot sa 67. There were eight incidents of ambushes, 33 na harassments, seven incident ng abduction, 14 na panununog, isang robbery,” he said.

Arevalo reiterated the AFP’s support of attaining lasting peace with the communist rebels, saying they only operate against the NPA for their illegal activities.

“Kung meron mang grupo na gusto ngpangmatagalang kapayapaan para sa kapakanan ng ating bayan at para sapag-unlad, yun po ang ating Armed Forces of the Philippines. We have been consistently working our best in order to ensure that that end is realized,” Arevalo said.

“Kung nagpapatuloy ang paglabag sabatas ng mga kagawad ng NPA kagaya ng pangingikil, panununog, pagpatay, at panggigipit sa ating mga kababayan at komunidad, wala pong magagawa ang inyong Armed Forces pati yung Philippine National Police but to enforce the law,” he added.

Arevalo said operations against the NPA will continue until a ceasefire is declared.

“Wala pang declaration, wala pang umiiral na [suspension of military operations] at nagpapatuloy ang focused operations against the NPA,” Arevalo said.

In early February, Duterteterminated the government’s peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front.

But formal talks are expected to resume on April 2 to 6 in The Netherlands. This came following successful backdoor negotiations early this month. — GMA News


Investors Optimistic About PH Equities in Next 6 Mos

MANILA -- Investors in the Philippines are quite optimistic about investing in local equities in the next six months, given the improving market conditions, the latest Manulife Investors Sentiment Index(MISI) showed.

"The Manulife Investor Sentiment Index survey revealed that 92 percent of investors in the Philippines indicate that the next six months 'will be a neutral to good time' to invest in equities," Manulife said in a statement on Wednesday, March 22.

The top reasons for the optimism are improving market conditions, better employment situation and stable market place.

"The Philippines delivered encouraging growth momentum in 2016. Looking ahead, we expect a continued execution of larger infrastructure spending and co-investing projects with private capital," said Aira Gaspar, chief investment officer at Manulife Philippines.

"This will generate positive multiplier effects on employment, manufacturing, retail trade and productivity. These factors, coupled with supportive structural reforms, would drive stronger corporate earnings and create new catalysts for Philippine equities," Gaspar noted.

The Philippine economy grew by 6.8 percent in 2016, the fastest since 2013, mainly driven by manufacturing, trade and real estate business activities.

"It is expected that the Philippine economy will continue its strong performance delivered in 2016 and keep its upbeat economic momentum this year," Manulife said.

Manulife also noted good prospects for emerging markets in the region, given the improvement in global economic momentum.

"Despite considerable global political uncertainties, modest improvement in global economic momentum is expected to continue this year," it said.

A separate survey by Thomson Reuters noted that business sentiment at Asia's top companies rose to its highest level in almost two years in the first three months of the year, on the back of positive economic signs from the United States and China.

Earlier this year, First Metro Investment Corp. (FMIC) said it expects the local stock barometer to reach the 2017 full-year target of 7,500. — GMANews

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