Giant shipworm discovered in PH

MANILA -- Ever heard of the giant shipworm? Probably not. After all, its description seems to be the stuff of myth: a worm measuring 3 to 5 feet long that spends most of its life in a hard shell resembling a tusk.
Well, it is myth no longer, as scientists have just found live specimens of the giant shipworm, or Kuphus polythamia, right in the Philippines.
The shipworm is, in fact, not a worm, but a rare species of bivalve or mollusk, a group that includes mussels and oysters. To be more specific, it is a type of saltwater clam. First documented in the 1700s, the shipworm was partly responsible for the sinking of ships, thanks to its natural tendency to eat wood.
The Kuphus polythamia is slightly different from the regular, ship-sinking shipworms. While scientists have known of its existence for years courtesy of fossils, it is only now that they’ve been able to study it firsthand.
The recent specimens were discovered in Mindanao, Philippines, vertically planted head-down in the base of a lagoon, where they feed on marine sediment and mud. Though the site, which was once an area used for log storage, boasts an overwhelming stench, the researchers were able to gather five living giant shipworms for analysis.
Packing the creatures into PVC pipes, the team brought their cargo to the University of the Philippines.
“We really did not know what to expect,” Daniel Distel, a research professor and the Northeastern University Ocean Genome Legacy Center director, told Seeker. “Most clams are white or beige or pinkish inside.”
‘Like an alien creature’
Margo Haygood – a University of Utah College of Pharmacy medicinal chemistry research professor and a colleague of Distel – described what it was like first laying eyes on the animals.
“We turned the pipes upright and filled them with seawater and airstones and put the animals in to acclimate," she stated. "Before long, I looked into the pipe and could see a strong jet of water coming out of the animal’s siphon. It was alive!”
She added: “The animal inside is dark gray, shiny and floppy. It looks like an alien creature.”
“It was really quite amazing,” Distel stated, speaking about his experience opening the creature’s tube-shaped shell. “I didn’t even have any idea how to open it, but I thought: ‘Carefully.’ ”
Distel admitted being shocked at the animal’s color. “Most bivalves are greyish, tan, pink, brown, light beige colors. This thing just has this gunmetal-black color. It is much beefier, more muscular than any other bivalve I had ever seen.”
According to the scientists from the US, France, and Philippines who have examined the organism, it is the longest bivalve in existence (that we know of). It is slimy and black, with a big ugly head and a tail composed of two siphons. One siphon draws in water, while the other expels it.
The organism secrets a substance to create its tube shell, which is composed of calcium carbonate. Additionally, it creates a hard cap as a head covering. The creature’s growth, which compels it to submerge itself even deeper into the mud, urges it to reabsorb said cap.
“If they want to grow, they have to open that end of that tube, so somehow dissolve or reabsorb that cap on the bottom, grow, extend the tube down further into the mud, and then they seal it off again,” Distel told The Guardian.
Living on bacteria and fart gases
Unlike the usual wood-munching shipworm found in oceans, the survival of the Kuphus polythamia depends on hydrogen sulfide and a special type of bacteria.
Hydrogen sulfide is a compound which you can find in human flatulence and rotten eggs, and which can also be flammable, corrosive, and poisonous in large volumes.
The bacteria, which make a home in its gills, burn the hydrogen sulfide in “the same way we burn carbohydrate or sugar to make energy,” said Distel. The Kuphus polythamia then feeds on the sugar.
Living in the mud, which is rich in organic substances such as the stinky hydrogen sulfide, provides the animal with an endless supply of life-sustaining nutrients.
Thanks to the creature’s strange diet, is digestive system is smaller than the usual shipworm’s.
The evolution of giants
It is not known how the giant shipworm evolved to be this way, but its size is indicative of a healthy diet.
“Gigantism is usually an indication of ample nutrients,” stated Distel.
In contrast, it’s increasingly becoming more difficult for its wood-munching, ocean-dwelling cousin to find food, given how humans are no longer using wooden ships to sail the seas.
“Most wood gets in the oceans via erosion of coastal forests and riverbanks,” said Distel. “People like to clear forests away from coasts and riverbanks so they can build homes, businesses and resorts. We also like to build dams and have dammed most of the great rivers of the world. As a result, a lot less wood makes it to the sea.”
As wooden ships have contributed to the spread of shipworms to various countries, it is possible human activity helped the creature find its way to the shallow bays of the Philippines, where it then evolved into its current form.
Shipworms have even become part of human diet in some places. Its taste is described as “a little more earthy-tasting” than regular clams.
While Haygood believes the shipworm “is valuable just because it's so strange and marvelous,” she also claims these organisms have “potential as sources of industrial enzymes for converting cellulose to sugar and for new antimicrobial drugs.”
'Like finding a dinosaur'
Distel believes the team’s find to be extremely remarkable. “To me it was almost like finding a dinosaur – something that was pretty much only known by fossils,” he said.
The researchers would likely have never found the Kuphus polythamia had they not chanced upon a Philippine documentary, shared on YouTube, about divers who collected the creatures. To prevent shell collectors from disturbing the site, the animals’ location remains a secret.
TV presenter, biologist, and Ugly Animal Preservation Society president Simon Watts was happy at the discovery. “It might well be monstrous, but that does not mean that it isn’t marvelous,” he stated, adding that the Kuphus polythamia evolved to survive in a “pretty disgusting” environment. “If you are down living among murky dirt, then aesthetics are surely not your number one priority.”
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. — GMA News



Volunteers Needed for 41 Park Improvement Projects Statewide

Volunteers remove invasive plants as part of CSPF’s Earth Day Restoration and Cleanup.SAN FRANCISCO – On Saturday, April 22, 41 state parks across California will be the focus of California State Parks Foundation’s (CSPF) 19th Earth Day Restoration and Cleanup presented by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). In addition to being a presenting sponsor, PG&E employees, friends and family will be on hand at 10 state parks. More than 4,000 volunteers are
needed to help with environmental improvement projects statewide.
California’s state parks receive great benefits from the work
completed by volunteers during the annual Earth Day Restoration
and Cleanup. This year, food storage lockers at campgrounds will
be installed prior to the busy summer season, fencing and gates
will be repaired, native and drought tolerant vegetation will be
planted, rain barrels will be installed and trash will be removed to
create a more welcoming and sustainable environment for visitors. Businesses and individuals are needed to actively participate with
their communities to help steward and care for California’s 280
treasured state parks..

“Earth Day is definitely one of my favorite days of the year. I am deeply moved to see people from across California working together to restore our treasured parks that are near and dear to us all,” said Susan Smartt, interim executive director of CSPF. “The out-pouring of support during this annual celebration makes a difference everyone can feel great about when they visit their favorite state park,” said Smartt.
PG&E is providing a $200,000 grant to CSPF for the supplies and materials needed to complete 10 Earth Day projects in Northern and Central California. Other sponsors include Target, Oracle, Edison International, Union Bank, Intel, The Nature Conservancy, and Microsoft.

“Over the many years that I have been involved with this event, I have been especially impressed with the dedication of my PG&E colleagues and how they involve their children and neighbors. It teaches all of us respect for the parks and outdoors and instills a sense of good stewardship which is critical for the future of these resources,” said Tom Esser, a PG&E employee and volunteer who has participated for 15 years.

CSPF project sites across California:
Angel Island State Park (PG&E sponsored) – Marin County
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – San Diego County
Asilomar State Beach – Monterey County
Auburn State Recreation Area – Placer County
Benicia State Recreation Area– Solano County
California Citrus State Historic Park – Riverside County
Candlestick Point State Recreation Area (PG&E sponsored) – San Francisco County
Carlsbad State Beach – San Diego County
Carmel River State Beach – Monterey County
Castle Rock State Park – Santa Clara County
China Camp State Park – Marin County
Coast Dairies State Park, Panther Beach – Santa Cruz County
Crystal Cove State Park – Orange County
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park – San Diego County
Doheny State Beach – Orange County
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area (PG&E sponsored) – Sacramento County
Grover Hot Springs State Park – Alpine County
Half Moon Bay State Beach (PG&E sponsored) – San Mateo County
Henry W. Coe State Park (PG&E sponsored) – Santa Clara County
Huntington State Beach – Orange County
Lake Perris State Recreation Area – Riverside County
Lighthouse Field State Beach – Santa Cruz County
Malibu Creek State Park – Los Angeles County
McConnell State Recreation Area – Merced County
Millerton Lake State Recreation Area (PG&E sponsored) – Fresno County
Montaña de Oro State Park (PG&E sponsored) – San Luis Obispo County
Mt. Diablo State Park (PG&E sponsored) – Contra Costa County
Natural Bridges State Beach – Santa Cruz County
Portola Redwoods State Park – San Mateo County
Rio de Los Angeles State Park – Los Angeles County
Rio del Mar State Beach – Santa Cruz County
San Clemente State Beach – Orange County
San Elijo State Beach – San Mateo Campground – San Diego County
San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park – San Diego County
Sinkyone Wilderness State Park– Mendocino County
Sonoma Coast State Beach (PG&E sponsored) – Sonoma County
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park – Sonoma County
Sunset State Beach Park, Palm Beach – Santa Cruz County
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Beach – San Diego County
Trinidad State Beach – Humboldt County
Twin Lakes State Beach, Seabright Cove – Santa Cruz County

Since its inception in 1998, CSPF’s Earth Day Restoration & Cleanup program has resulted in 83,785 participants contributing more than 334,301 volunteer hours’ worth nearly $6.6 million in park maintenance and improvements. Additionally, nearly $5 million has been raised through the Earth Day program to benefit state parks and the millions of Californians who rely on them for recreation, education, and inspiration.

To volunteer on Earth Day, visit or call 1-415-262-4400. Space is limited, so advance registration is required. Parking fees are waived for Earth Day volunteers.
In-kind sponsors include Subway Restaurants and Peet's Coffee.

Media sponsors for 2017 include: KTVU-TV Channel 2 and KICU-TV, the Breeze 98.1, Half Moon Bay Review, Marin Independent Journal, Edible Silicon Valley and World Journal in San Francisco Bay Area; Santa Cruz Sentinel; the Sonoma Media Group including Froggy 92.9 and KSRO in Sonoma; KSOF-AM, Soft Rock 98.9 and KALZ in Fresno; Chino Hills Champion, San Clemente Times, Dana Point Times, The Capistrano Dispatch in Orange County; KLOVE/Air1, KKDO 94.7, KHITS, Entercom Sacramento, Auburn Journal and Folsom Telegraph in Sacramento; KSTT-FM and KVEC in San Luis Obispo; Riverside Press Enterprise in Riverside; and North County Sun, KSON, Sunny 98.1 and FM 94.9 in San Diego.

About Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric energy companies in the United States. Based in San Francisco, with more than 20,000 employees, the company delivers some of the nation’s cleanest energy to nearly 16 million people in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit and

About California State Parks Foundation
The California State Parks Foundation is a member-supported nonprofit dedicated to protecting and improving our state parks and expanding access to their natural beauty, rich culture and history, and recreational and educational opportunities for all Californians, now and in the future. For more information about the California State Parks Foundation, visit

Media Please Note:
For further details about the California State Parks Foundation’s 19th Earth Day, to schedule an interview, or for high resolution images, please contact Christina Mueller at (415) 215-3033 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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FAJ leader: ‘Never give up’

By Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Editor at large


OAKLAND, Calif. - Emotions are bound to pour out when the grass-roots organization Filipino Advocates for Justice marks another year of championing social justice next week.
"Isulong! Honoring our past, current, and future leaders," set for April 27 at Impact Hub Oakland, will be a celebration of collective accomplishments. More importantly, it will be a recommitment to honoring the legacy of the organizer who is stepping down after nearly four decades of leading the charge for the voiceless and underserved.
For 37 years, Lillian Galedo has directed FAJ, born in 1973 as Filipinos for Affirmative Action. That length of service exceeds the average career, but Galedo, 69, is anything but typical.
"I decided a while back I wanted to be a 'free agent' before I turned 70, shed my non-profit responsibilities, just community activism as a 'free agent'," Galedo explained the transition to this writer. "My retirement from FAJ was something I decided about three and a half years ago. The board has known for about three years, and we have been succession planning for over two years."
The timing of her departure could not have been less ideal, given the surge of anti-immigrant attitude since the presidential campaign and now with the aggressive policies in the administration of Donald Trump.
Not so fast: Galedo is not forsaking her mission.
Her activist flag will remain unfurled in her “lifelong commitment to progressive social change and community organizing”
"Who knew Trump would win? Like everyone else, I assumed Clinton would win," she expressed a prevalent sentiment. "I'm leaving my job at FAJ but not retiring from activism. There's plenty for all us to do."
Galedo will be passing the torch to Geraldine Alcid, whom she counsels to "never give up, work collaboratively in building strong movements." With causes teeming, she advises to " make sure to take care of yourself and family, (because) what we're doing is protracted social change."
She rolled off her short list of action items:
"Over the next few years I'll continue to fight for rent control and just-cause eviction in Union City and Alameda, and as an individual for progressive elected officials in both those cities." She vows to "remain involved in advancing immigrant rights and strengthening the resistance to the Trump Administration's racist, regressive and harmful policies."
FAJ morphed out of FAA, which was founded to wrest parity for Filipinos. In 2012, the pioneering group renamed itself Filipino Advocates for Justice to “better capture who we are and what we do,” Galedo told this writer while planning their 38th anniversary fund-raiser at the time.
Her involvement with the Filipino community began in opposition to the Marcos dictatorship and evolved into Filipino immigrant and Filipino American organizing as waves of newcomers arrived to flee the repressive regime and the poverty it engendered and ignored.
Social services provided lifelines for the weary newcomers. With mainstream agencies ill-prepared to respond with cultural sensitivity and linguistic competence, the responsibility fell on Filipino associations, clubs and organizations to fill the gaps in the spirit of "bayanihan."
"FAJ definitely struggled some years, with respect to funding..., but we have always attempted to be relevant to the big issues impacting the more vulnerable sectors of the Filipino community," the tireless leader looked back. "We come from a 'never give up' framework, strive to play a role in alleviating the suffering in our community, build leadership among the most vulnerable in our community; advancing progressive policies; build vibrant social justice movement."
The organization has acquired cachet because of its resolve, unwavering in pursuit of its objectives. No FilAm from her generation comes to mind as matching Galedo's ability to inspire engagement to confront the powerful on behalf of the marginalized multitude. None has consummated change who was not in elected office or owned a corporation.
With Galedo at the helm in the 1980s, FAJ in its earliest iteration advocated for amnesty added to IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act) in 1986, won implementation of a bilingual education plan in Oakland, and reformed excessive punitive disciplinary policies in Union City.
In the 1990s, her team formed FilCRA (Filipino Civil Rights Advocates), a national Filipino organization that rejected anti-immigrant policies in the state and nationwide, such as Prop 187, welfare reform, harmful immigration enforcement policies, English-only policies, and an attempt to end bilingual services.
New issues emerged with the new millennium, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001.
FAJ "defended the jobs of airport screeners who were falsely scapegoated for the 9/11 attacks," disproportionately affecting Filipinos who made up 60 percent of screeners in the Bay Area,” said Galedo.
The organization began rallying caregivers, ultimately helping establish the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights and initiating advocacy for greater labor protections for domestic workers.
As the Filipino population (immigrant and U.S.-born) soared, FAJ ignited voter registration drives. They set their sights on violence prevention in Union City and Oakland and halted development of the Union City hills.
This decade, FAJ won a domestic worker bill of rights. They helped fight for sanctuary city in Alameda. Recently they won just cause eviction in Union City; getting close to just cause eviction and completed profile for Filipino registered voters in Northern California, finding nearly 50 percent of Filipinos eligible to vote are not registered.
The rise of the Filipino population boggles even this seasoned warrior.
"The community's grown beyond my imagination," she said. "Thirty-five years ago Filipinos in the Bay Area probably numbered a little more than 100,000. Now the community's about 500,000-strong in the S.F. Bay Area, and are one of, if not the largest Asian population in California. And I never imagined that after all these years the community would still be predominately foreign born. It speaks to the continuing relevance of immigration on our community's growth."
She likes how her people have paid attention.
"The community is also much more empowered and civically engaged than when I started, except for the anti-martial law movement, which I participated in. Some cities have very large Filipino communities who have assumed positions of municipal leadership over the last 25 years. The Filipino community exerts local political power, and is helping to build citywide progressive coalitions in Union City and Alameda and other cities across ethnic lines, and is involved in building the progressive movement. We finally elected the first Filipino to the California state legislature."
District 18 (D- Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro) representative to the California Assembly Rob Bonta's political star rose simultaneously with Galedo's community leadership.
Many years a member of the FAJ board, Bonta's ascent to the state Legislature reflects the efforts of area activists who learned to build and nurture alliances, stayed in focus, believed in their endeavors and trusted their leader.
The current Assembly Assistant Majority Leader offers a loving tribute to the woman who once watched over him and his siblings over 40 years ago while his parents - her fellow activists - marched with clenched fists to unionize farm labor:
"Lillian Galedo is an institution and is simply irreplaceable," the fifth highest ranking Assembly representative told this writer. "Her unquenchable thirst for justice and her work in the trenches-- literally for decades-- transforming lives one day at a time is without peer and sets the standard for future generations. There will never be another like her."

For more information on Isulong visit For FAJ, contact Judith Olais (510) 465-9876 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Trump 'verbally' confirms PH visit in November

MANILA – US President Donald Trump "verbally" confirmed his attendance to the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings in the Philippines in November, the official in charge of the event said on Wednesday, April 19.
Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, Director-General for Operations of the ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council, made the statement during a Palace press conference, when asked whether Trump had confirmed his attendance to the November summit.
"As of now, President Trump, for instance, when President Duterte called him up to congratulate him, had already indicated that he is coming in November. At least verbally, he said he is coming," said Paynor.
If Trump does not attend the Belt and Road Summit in China in May, the ASEAN Summit in November will be the first time that he will meet Duterte.
Duterte is scheduled to participate in the China summit. Trump is not among the Western leaders who have confirmed attendance to the mid-May event.
Duterte called Trump in December 2016 to congratulate him on his victory in the US presidential elections. The two apparently hit it off, especially after the US leader wished him well on his much-criticized war on drugs.
Duterte had often recalled his phone conversation with Trump in public events, complete with an impersonation of the controversial US leader. He, however, did not mention Trump's verbal assurance that he would attend the ASEAN summit.
Paynor expects "100%" attendance of ASEAN leaders and their dialogue partners to the November summit.
"Multilateral meetings of this sort, you usually expect 100% attendance. Many of the leaders who do not attend do so because of internal issues," he said.
Aside from the leaders of the 9 other ASEAN member states, leaders of the US, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other dialogue partners of the regional grouping are expected to grace the event.
Paynor, however, said there might be "one or two" leaders who may not be able to come. –


Multi-billion peso infra projects to start this year

MANILA -- The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has revealed the government's multi-billion infrastructure projects that would be undertaken starting this year.
During the Dutertenomics forum at the Conrad Hotel in Pasay City on Tuesday, April 18, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar and other members of the Duterte administration's economic team shared the respective plans of the departments in the next five years.
The DPWH chief noted that for this year, the agency will be starting different projects amounting to almost P500 billion covering undertakings in Luzon and Mindanao.
"The infrastructure program of this administration for this year 2017 is approximately P450 billion. If you were to add the projects in 2010 to 2013, it would be less than what we intend to spend this year in infra, increasing every year," he said.
Among the projects in the pipeline include the Luzon Spine expressway network which is a series of ongoing projects.
These projects are connection of high-standard highway network that will connect the northernmost province of the Philippines to the southernmost to Bicol; the TR4 high speed expressway going to Quezon and Lucena and Quezon-Bicol expressway; CALA-X, eastern alignment of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX).
"High speed network would be able to bring development thru all of Luzon. If you put these in numbers for instance today to get form Bicol to Metro Manila it will take you 12 hours when this high speed standard highway is finished before the end of the term of the president you can go from Bicol to La Union in less than 12 hours," Villar said.
"The South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and NLEX connector project which will make the travel time from Alabang to NLEX (Balintawak the entrance to NLEX) in 30 minutes," he added.
Likewise, included in the government's "Build, Build, Build," projects is the NLEX Harbor Link Segment 10, an all elevated expressway aimed at providing direct access between the port area and the northern provinces of Luzon via NLEX.
The 5.7-km expressway worth P10.5-billion, will decongest Metro Manila by providing an alternative entry to NLEX, bypassing EDSA and other busy streets of Manila.
Once opened, travel time from the Manila Port to the NLEX will take only 10 minutes.
The undertaking is set to be completed this year.
Villar said that also expected to have groundbreaking this year is the Cavite-Laguna that will connect Cavite expressway (CAVITEX) to the Mampalasan exit in Laguna.
"The President has also instructed us to go into most ambitious bridge program in the history our country, the Panguil Bay Bridge connecting Misamis to Lanao this is in Mindanao," he said.
Villar added, "the Leyte Tide Embankment this is also a project that will mitigate disaster. We all know what happened to Leyte before and this is a long term solution. It is a 21 km embankment at a cost of P2.1 billion that will also serve as a tourist attraction at the same time it will permanently prevent recurrence of what happened in Tacloban Leyte in the past. This is an example of our disaster risk resiliency program in the DPWH and is also scheduled to be completed before the end of our president's term in 2022."
"Build, Build, Build” is the mantra of the administration’s infrastructure program where several government agencies are partnering to implement major projects involving roads, bridges, railways, airports, and green cities to bolster development and ease traffic congestion in the country. -- PNA


Robredo to pay protest fee only after recount of Marcos ballots

MANILA – After former Senator Ferdinand Marcos settled the first half of the recount fee required by the Supreme Court (SC), will Vice President Leni Robredo pay her dues?
Robredo's election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said they are willing to pay only after the recount of ballots contested by Marcos is completed.
"We are willing to pay. We know the rules. We will only pay after Mr Marcos [has] already finished the revision and the recount of the ballot. In other words, kapag tapos na siya sa kanyang mga protesta (if he is already done with his protest)," Macalintal said in an interview on ANC's Headstart on Tuesday, April 18.
He explained: "Because the payment that we are supposed to pay is for our counter-protest. So the counter-protest will only start after the protest, and that is under rule 65 of [the] Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET)."
The SC, acting as the PET, earlier ordered Marcos and Robredo to pay a service fee for the precincts they are contesting. Marcos, who is contesting over 39,000 clustered precincts, was ordered to pay P66 million. Robredo was required to pay P15 million for the 8,042 clustered precincts she is questioning.
Both were required to settle this week the first installment of P36 million and P8 million, respectively.
Marcos, whose lawyer initially said they would file a motion for reconsideration regarding the hefty amount, paid the P36 million on Monday. He said his friends and supporters were able to raise the amount.
Robredo, meanwhile, filed a manifestation and a motion on April 12. Her lawyers argued that Marcos should first prove that his complaint has basis.
This can be done by the initial recount of ballots in 3 provinces that he will identify. Macalintal said this is also under the PET rules.
The Robredo camp also asked the PET to impose a P185-million fee on Marcos because he questioned the entire election system when he sought the preservation of the election paraphernalia of all 92,509 clustered precincts, which consist of 369,138 established precincts.
Robredo's lawyers again denied the accusation of the Marcos camp that they are delaying the proceedings.
"How could you say we are delaying? If you say that we are delaying, you are actually accusing the PET of not knowing what to do that we can actually delay the proceeding. That is an insult against the competence and the integrity of the PET. Because if the PET sees that we are delaying it, then we could be cited in contempt of court," said Macalintal. –


Bus in Nueva Ecija crash overloaded

MANILA – The public transport bus that figured in one of the deadliest crashes in the country so far, this year, was overloaded, the Nueva Ecija police chief said on Wednesday, April 19.
Senior Superintendent Antonio Yarra made the assessment in a phone interview with Rappler on Wednesday, or a day after a Leomarick Trans minibus fell into a ravine in Nueva Ecija, leading to over 30 deaths.
"Based on our account of deaths and injured, the bus was carrying 77 persons," Yarra said, adding that the minibus was supposed to carry only up to 45 passengers.
Initial reports placed the number of passengers at around 60.
Based on the initial report to the Nueva Ecija Police Provincial Office, the bus, which was traveling from Isabela to Candon City in Ilocos Sur, was at the curved portion of the Maharlika Highway in Barangay Capintalan when the driver "lost control" of the vehicle.
Yarra said based on the survivors' account, one of the bus' front tires exploded, causing it to overturn, and then fall into the ravine.
Authorities said that as of Wednesday morning, 31 people were dead following the crash, while 46 were injured and still confined at different hospitals in NUeva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya.–


Manila subway eyed to be completed by 2024

MANILA -- The government's planned Mega Manila Subway is expected to be completed by 2024 with the contract targeted to be signed by Philippine and Japanese officials in November, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said Tuesday, April 18.
"It is targeted to be started in the fourth quarter of 2020 but I'm trying to push them to start it by 2019, with completion on the second quarter of 2024," Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said during the Dutertenomics Forum in Pasay City.
The planned subway was one of the rail projects agreed upon by Japan and the Philippines, earlier announced by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia.
"Target signing for contract is November this year," Tugade said, noting that the agreement is expected to be signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
According to Tugade, the subway system will connect Quezon City and Taguig City with a travel time of 31 minutes.
"It will be the first subway system in the Philippines and will be using the Japanese tunnelling expertise," he said.
Tugade also noted that further amendments to the project may entail the inclusion of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
"As of yesterday, we were discussing alignments. Tutumbukin 'yung airport... 'Yung airport isasama na 'yun sa project," he said. — GMA News


Duterte repeals Gloria Arroyo EO on military procurement

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has repealed former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's executive order that meant to streamline defense contracts.
Duterte signed on April 7 Executive Order No. 18, noting that EO No. 235 Arroyo signed in 2003 limited the authority of the Department of National Defense (DND) secretary to delegate the approval of procurement contracts and establish a single Bids and Awards Committee for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
"It has been observed that the implementation of EO No. 235 resulted in bureaucratic impediments and unnecessary delays in the procurement of important defense projects," the EO stated.
"The Secretary of Defense is hereby mandated to identify and institutionalize measures that will effectively monitor the operations of the separate Bids and Awards Committee which may be created pursuant to RA No. 9184 to ensure and promote transparency, impartiality, and accountability in procurement transactions," it also read
Nonetheless, all defense procurement contracts, including those presently being processed and/or reviewed, will be reviewed and/or processed in accordance with Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and EO No. 423 (s. 2005) as amended by EO No. 645 (s. 2007). — GMA News


ASEAN Summit in Manila to tackle West PH Sea

MANILA – The upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila will tackle the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute among other issues, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday, April 19.
In his first press conference, new DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said: "The leaders will be discussing regional and global issues of concern. We expect that the South China Sea will be among the topics discussed, among others – North Korea, for instance, terrorism, countering violent terrorism."
Whether Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "will be the only one initiating" the discussion on the sea dispute "remains to be seen," said Bolivar, a veteran diplomat who replaced now Ambassador-designate to Malaysia Charles Jose as DFA spokesman.
The 30th ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings will be held in Manila from April 26 to 29 this year.
Duterte will lead the summit as the Philippines this year chairs the 10-member regional grouping.
In relation to the sea dispute, one of the Philippines' main objectives is to lead ASEAN in crafting a framework code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
The Philippines aims to finalize the framework COC by the middle of this year.
Bolivar explained that ASEAN has held two working group meetings on the framework COC – first in Bali, then in Siem Reap.
He said there will be no such "formal" working group discussions in Manila on the sidelines of the 30th ASEAN Summit.
Still, Bolivar said in a text message, "The progress on the discussions on the framework may be discussed if any of the leaders bring it up."
'The best of the Philippines'
In Wednesday's press conference, Bolivar also explained the significance of the upcoming ASEAN Summit.
"Ito 'yung pagkakataon natin na ipakita 'yung pinakamaganda tungkol sa bansa natin, to show the best of the Philippines," the DFA spokesman said. (This is our chance to show the most beautiful things about the Philippines.)
Bolivar also said that chairing ASEAN has an "income generation aspect" in towns, cities, and provinces because around 150 international meetings will be held across the Philippines.
"Minarapat ng national organizing council na ikalat 'yung mga meetings kung saan saang bahagi ng bansa para buong bansa, ma-showcase natin during our chairmanship," he said.
(The National Organizing Council found it best to spread the meetings in different parts of the country so that we can showcase the whole country during our chairmanship.)
During the Philippines' chairmanship, another major event will be the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in May.
Bolivar said Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo will fly to Washington DC in May for the ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers' Meeting.
The DFA is eyeing a bilateral meeting between Manalo and Tillerson on the sidelines of the ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Bolivar said.
The Philippines received the ASEAN chairmanship from Laos, the host of the ASEAN Summit in 2016.
Under the Philippines' chairmanship, ASEAN is also marking its 50th anniversary.–

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