Philippine film star-turned-senator pleads not guilty to graft

admin   •   June 26, 2014   •   2394

Ramon ”Bong” Revilla, a Philippine action movie hero-turned senator, gives a thumbs-up sign inside a police van after his voluntary surrender at the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in Manila June 20, 2014.
CREDIT: REUTERS/AL FALCON

(Reuters) – A popular Philippine action movie hero-turned senator pleaded not guilty to plunder on Thursday in a case seen as landmark test of the government’s ability to tackle entrenched corruption in the poor Southeast Asian nation.

Ramon “Bong” Revilla, known for possessing amulets to defeat his enemies in film, stood quietly with about 20 other co-accused during the arraignment hearing. “Not guilty” one of the three judges said when they did not hear him enter a plea.

The opposition senator faces life imprisonment if found guilty of pocketing 224 million pesos ($5.11 million) from 2007 to 2010 from congressional funds. Revilla is being held at a police camp.

The plunder trial is central to President Benigno Aquino’s effort to shed the country’s image as one of the most corrupt in Asia.

The court set Revilla’s first hearing for July 10.

Two other opposition senators are facing similar plunder charges. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, son of former president and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, will be arraigned next week.

Juan Ponce Enrile, a 90-year-old former senate president and hero of People Power revolt against the dictatorship in 1986, is appealing to avoid detention due to his age and poor health.

Prosecutors, citing government-commissioned reports and witness testimony, said the three senators had siphoned off funds to non-existent non-government organizations for agricultural projects.

($1 = 43.8600 Philippine Pesos)

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Firefighters in race against time to extinguish fires in Bolivia

Robie de Guzman   •   August 26, 2019

Firefighters battled wildfires raging through Bolivia’s Robore region and the town of San Lorenzo on Sunday (August 25) that have engulfed rural villages and doubled in size since Thursday (August 22).

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Sunday said he was now open to international aid to fight the blazes that have burned unabated across vast swaths of hilly tropical forest and savannah near Bolivia’s border with Paraguay and Brazil. At least 1 million hectares, or approximately 3,800 square miles, have been impacted by the fires, officials said.

Video filmed by firefighter David Nina showed crews extinguishing fire in bushland, and walking through burnt out forest areas. In another video filmed by evangelical church volunteer David Ortiz, volunteers are seen helping people in a town and residents fleeing from impending danger.

Bolivia late last week contracted a Boeing 747 “Supertanker” from the United States to help with the fire-fighting, and has mobilised more than 2,000 firefighters, as well as small aircraft and helicopters. But the area affected by wildfire has nonetheless nearly doubled since Thursday.

Thousands of wildfires are also decimating the neighbouring Brazilian Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest.

The blazes have nearly doubled this year compared with the same period in 2018, prompting global outrage. (Reuters)

(Production: Monica Machicao)

Taiwan braces for typhoon Bailu, flights cancelled

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

Boats are tied securely at a fishing port in Taiwan in preparation for the anticipated arrival of Typhoon Bailu.

Taiwan braced for Typhoon Bailu on Friday (August 23), prompting cancellations of domestic flights amid warnings of floods and high seas on the island.

Typhoon Bailu, categorised at the weakest typhoon level by Taiwan’s weather bureau, was expected to approach the island’s southeastern coast early on Saturday (August 24), weather officials said.

Bailu was carrying maximum winds of 126 km per hour (78 mph) as it approached Taiwan, the weather bureau said, adding that the storm could gain in strength and become the first typhoon to make landfall on the island in more than two years.

Thousands of people were moved to safety, most of them tourists on islands off the east coast, while dozens of domestic flights and ferry services were cancelled.

After passing over Taiwan, the typhoon is expected to cross the Taiwan Strait and hit the Chinese province of Fujian, forecasters said. (Reuters)

(Production: Fabian Hamacher)

Florida scientists induce spawning of Atlantic coral in lab for first time

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

(Courtesy: Florida Aquarium)

Scientists in Florida have artificially induced reproductive spawning of an endangered Atlantic coral species for the first time in an aquarium setting, a breakthrough they say holds great promise in efforts to restore depleted reefs in the wild.

The achievement, announced this week at the Florida Aquarium in Apollo Beach near Tampa, borrowed from lab techniques developed at the London-based Horniman Museum and Gardens and used previously to induce spawning of 18 species of Pacific coral, officials said.

Scientists plan to use their newly acquired expertise to breed new coral colonies that can one day repopulate the beleaguered Florida reef system, one of the largest in the world and one decimated by climate change, pollution and disease in recent decades.

The newly cultivated corals should make for even stronger populations than existing colonies because each individual will be bred with characteristics that may be better able to withstand damage, Keri O’Neil, senior coral scientist at the Florida Aquarium told Reuters.

Inducing corals to release their eggs and sperm in aquarium tanks involves controlling their artificial settings to mimic their natural ocean habitat over the course of a yearlong reproduction cycle.

That means carefully regulating water temperature changes from summer to winter, and using special lighting to imitate sunrise, sunset and even lunar cycles that serve as biological cues for the coral in preparing to spawn.

Collaboration between the Florida and London facilities on the project began in 2017 as the situation facing Florida’s reefs grew more dire because of the spread of a new coral affliction dubbed Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

Atlantic pillar coral, which grows in colonies resembling finger- or column-like structures, has been particularly susceptible to the disease and is already classified as virtually extinct in the wild because remaining male and female colonies are too scattered to reproduce.

Corals are a type of marine invertebrate animal, typically living in colonies of tiny sac-like polyps that feed by filtering seawater through a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.

Corals are sensitive to major changes in water temperature, and the Florida Reef Tract, like other major reefs around the world, has been under pressure from climate change for years as the sea grows steadily warmer. (Reuters)

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