24 January 2015

President Aquino orders thorough investigation of Zamboanga City blast
President Aquino instructed the police and the military to thoroughly investigate the explosion that rocked Zamboanga City Friday afternoon killing two people and injuring many others.

In a radio interview Saturday over dzRB Radyo Ng Bayan, Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President has been briefed on the situation that occurred in Zamboanga City.

“Nakakuha na po ang Pangulo ng full report on the incident. Nagbigay na po ng instructions ang Pangulo para naman po doon sa masinsinang imbestigasyon,” Valte said.

The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are leading the ongoing investigation, she said.

The President’s concern is the condition of those injured and the chief executive is thinking of possible assistance to those affected by the blast.

As to the possible perpetrators, Valte said: “As of now, what we can tell you is that current evidence available to us has indicated a particular direction.”

“Kumbaga, mayroon na pong tinutumbok based on the evidence that has been gathered, but we will leave that to the military and the PNP.”

Valte said she cannot comment at this time on the motives of those behind the attack. Authorities are still determining whether it was carried out just to hurt people, or to derail the Mindanao peace process.

The explosion rocked Barangay Guiwan, Zamboanga City on Friday afternoon, leaving at least 2 people dead and 52 others injured, according to Zamboanga City local officials.

Initial reports said the explosion hit a Kia car parked in front of a videoke bar near a bus terminal, located along the Maria Clara Lobregat Highway, past 3 p.m.

It was reported that Zamboanga City has been receiving threats from lawless elements following the intensified operations of the military against the Abu Sayyaf Group. PND (as)

Malacanang confirms receiving information about assassination plot on Pope Francis
The Palace confirmed receiving unverified information about the assassination attempt on Pope Francis when he was in a five-day visit to the Philippines.

“We were able to speak to those in the security establishments on that and I was told that they were aware of that particular piece of unverified information that was passed on,” Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview Saturday.

“Aware po sila, although they did make it a point to establish that the information had no details and was unverified, but because of the situation, it was passed on anyway,” Valte told dzRB Radyo Ng Bayan.

The report was raw information that was passed on and that was received, without much details, she added.

The country’s security establishment exercise prudence and authorities look into those things and they take it into account, the Palace official said.

Asked whether the measure to turn off cellphones signals related to the threat, Valte said it was not the reason. The decision to turn off the signals was made even prior to the reception of the raw and unverified information.

A former military intelligence officer claimed there were two attempts to assassinate the pope during his visit in the Philippines – one in Manila and another in Tacloban, Leyte.

The former officer claimed that four plotters with links to al-Qaeda were nearly cornered by Manila police hours before the mass at the Quirino Grandstand last Sunday but they managed to slip away in the ensuing commotion.

Few months ago, the Iraqi government warned that the Islamic State, which has been sowing terrorism in the Middle East wanted the pope killed, and that the threats against Pope Francis were credible. PND (as)

Conditional cash transfer program, not the only anti-poverty initiative, says Palace
Although the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program is one of the flagship programs of the administration, the government is also focusing on other programs to improve the lives of the people and lift them out of poverty, a Palace official said on Saturday.

The CCT program is widely reported because of its huge budget and for obvious reasons because the government has been increasing the coverage and beneficiaries of the program, Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview on Saturday.

The program started with more than 100,000 beneficiaries, and now millions of families are covered by the CCT program, Valte said over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

“It is one of the landmark programs, or at least, the flagship program of government, naturally, ang attention nakatuon diyan,” she said.

Despite the popularity of the CCT, it doesn’t mean the government will not concentrate on implementing other programs to help the people.

Among the government thrust is carrying out programs through the Technical Education Skills Development Authority, and extending livelihood assistance through the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

There are also facilities available for returning OFWs through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and DOLE, Valte said.

The Aquino administration has also increased the annual budget for education to prepare young people before they enter the labor market, Valte added.

In the 2015 General Appropriations Act, the biggest chunk of the budget goes to social services—to the DSWD, Department of Health, and to the Department of Education, Valte noted.

“This shows that the administration puts public money in programs that are targeted really to help alleviate, hindi lang ‘yung fifth quintile or ang poorest of the poor, pero pati din ang mga maitutulak na makalagpas doon sa poverty line natin,” she said. PND (as)

Palace wishes country’s Miss Universe bet goodluck
Malacanang wished Mary Jean Lastimosa, the country’s contestant for the Miss Universe beauty pageant, the best of luck when she vies for the beauty title Sunday in Florida.

“Goodluck. I understand that a lot of people are following… I see it on social media that a lot of people… You know, there’s a lot of excitement building up to the competition and truly we wish her luck,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview Saturday.

Lastimosa, a 26-year-old beauty queen from North Cotabato, will try to clinch the Miss Universe crown for the Philippines on Sunday (Florida time).

Miss Universe crown has been elusive for the Philippines in the past few years, although some of the country’s contestants made it to the top five since 2010.

The expectations are high for Lastimosa, with the country itching for another crown after the Filipino beauty queens failed last year to match the Philippines’ success in 2013 in the popular international beauty pageant.

On Wednesday night (U.S. time), Lastimosa participated in the pageant’s evening gown and swimsuit competitions along with other 87 contestants.

Based on their performances in the initial round, the judges will pick the Top 15 hopefuls who will advance to the Miss Universe finale to be held on Sunday in Florida. PND (as)