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Philippine News Digest 126

August 27, 2007 · 

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Contents:

  • DENR to probe tribe’s complaint vs mining firm
  • Priest shot dead in Ilocos Norte town
  • Scam seen in P18-M Zambales relocation plan

DENR to probe tribe’s complaint vs mining firm
Inquirer
Last updated 06:54am (Mla time) 08/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said Tuesday he would look into the complaints against an Australian mining company in Siocon, Zamboanga de Norte, that tribal folk brought to the attention of the United Nations.

However, he said he would not stop operations of the government-backed gold mine.

“We must understand their complaints as we must address them, and effectively correct the possible damage or injustices that have been committed,” he told reporters.

But he added that “It should not deter the nation from gaining from what our natural wealth [can contribute] to the economy.”

Earlier this month, three indigenous Subanon organizations sought the intervention of the UN Committee on Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) to stop the mine’s encroachment on their ancestral domain.

They also complained of harassment by paramilitary forces trained by the military and employed by the Australian mining company.

They urged the world body to appeal to the Philippine government to adhere to its obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which it ratified in 1967. T J Burgonio

Priest shot dead in Ilocos Norte town
By Cristina Arzadon
Northern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 05:02am (Mla time) 08/30/2007

LAOAG CITY, Philippines — “What are they doing to us priests?”

Fr. Leonardo Ruiz of the Laoag diocese’s Social Action Center raised the question shortly after a fellow priest, Florante Rigonan, was shot dead in Pinili town for still unknown reasons on Tuesday.

Rigonan, 48, had just left a house in the village of Puritac, Pinili, where he had dinner and performed a prayer service at around 10 p.m. when the gunmen attacked. He was hit several times, most of them in the back, as he was about to board his Toyota Hi-Ace van.

Police recovered 10 spent shells for an Armalite rifle from the scene.

“This is a sad day for the Catholic community,” Ruiz told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone. “You just don’t kill anyone, especially a priest.”

Rigonan was the first Catholic priest in Ilocos Norte to have been felled by assassins’ bullets in recent church history.

He had been the priest at the St. Isadore Parish in Pinili since 2001. He was also appointed diocesan spiritual director in 2001.

Ordained in 1997, he was first assigned to the St. Michael’s Parish in Currimao town in 1999.

Police said the murder could not have been politically motivated because Rigonan was not known to be involved in any church advocacy outside his parish.

The victim mainly performed administrative functions, said Ruiz, who leads church-initiated activities such as the anti-“jueteng” campaign and environmental protection.

Ruiz said Rigonan was a member of the diocese’s Commission on Temporalities, which is tasked with looking into the properties of the church. Aside from his parish duties, Rigonan looked into the welfare of the priests like their hospitalization and retirement.

The killing has sent a chilling message to members of the clergy, especially those who are known to be active in church advocacy, Ruiz said.

Rigonan was not known to be involved in church causes that could court the ire of certain people, “yet he was killed brutally,” he added.

Chief Supt. Leopoldo Bataoil, Ilocos regional police director, said he would personally supervise the investigation of the murder. He said the police had formed a task force to look into the motives. With a report from Yolanda Sotelo-Fuertes, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Scam seen in P18-M Zambales relocation plan
By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk
Last updated 04:59am (Mla time) 08/23/2007

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—The Zambales government’s task force monitoring the social commitments of a Korean shipbuilder has reported uncovering signs of corruption in the P18-million relocation program that the company has funded.

Mayor Jeffrey Khonghun of Subic, Zambales, supervised the program for some 400 families displaced by the shipyard project of the Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co. Ltd. in the town, according to the task force.

Gov. Amor Deloso on Monday told the Inquirer that Task Force Hanjin, chaired by former Vice Gov. Ramon Lacbain II, has found ’numerous irregularities’ in the relocation project in Barangay Agusuhin.

Hanjin general manager Jong Yu Pyeong did not answer the Inquirer’s call and text message on Monday inquiring about the alleged anomalies.

The task force reported the absence of bidding for the construction of public facilities, the collapse of two school buildings, large cracks on the walkways and walls of several classrooms, unstable footbridge, non-construction of water and drainage systems and road network, and non issuance of land titles to settlers.

Deloso said he confirmed the task force’s findings during a check at the site and consultation with residents on Wednesday.

He said the project might have gone wrong because ‘local government officials were in cahoots with erring contractors’

A copy of the purchase order by Hanjin to the North Bound Hardware and General Merchandise showed the company bought P18.28 million worth of supplies for 33 facilities.

Khonghun received a copy of the purchase order on May 16, 2006, the same document showed.

Based on the order, Hanjin intended the supplies for five rooms as teachers quarters, 18 classrooms and a library, three toilets and a lavatory, three elevated water tanks, two flagpoles, two school stages and a plaza stage, two chapels, a church, three shallow well hand pumps, a day care center, a school gate and marker, a health center, a playground and a basketball court.

But Khonghun said he had ‘no direct hand’ in the project. He said it was Hanjin that chose the supplier for the project.

Khonghun said he recommended the contractors when Hanjin officials inquired which were qualified.

‘Ako po ang namili (I chose them), he said in a phone interview. ‘I initiated the relocation project because even while the settlers were compensated for the damages when their houses were demolished, they would have no public utilities at the site. The municipal government also paid for the land survey.’

Hanjin paid damages of between P20,000 and P500,000 to the families, Lacbain said.

Khonghun said no public bidding and audit were held because the contract was between a private company, Hanjin, and private contractors.

“They are people of Governor Deloso,” Khonghun added, referring to the contractors.

Lacbain said there were three contractors, one of whom reported receiving only P3 million.

But Deloso said: “Even if they were my people, it does not matter. I was not yet governor then.”

“The point is Mayor Khonghun, the supplier and the contractors should explain how they spent the money and why the structures are damaged or missing. Those funds were intended for public facilities,” Deloso said. – End –

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