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Bacolod City, PhilippinesThursday, August 29, 2013
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Building the case

The United States and its allies built their case yesterday for likely military action against the regime in war-torn Syria over alleged chemical weapons attacks, despite stern warnings from Russia.

The ground for a military intervention was set out by US Vice President Joe Biden, who for the first time said last week's attack, thought to have killed hundreds, could only have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Britain joined the US in saying regime forces were behind the strikes, and Prime Minister David Cameron said London and its allies had to consider whether targeted military action was required to "deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons".

But senior officials in Washington told NBC news that possible strikes against targets in Syria could take place as early as today.

As the West inched closer to military intervention, UN inspectors in Damascus resumed their mission to investigate a site of the alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus.

Moscow, Assad's most powerful ally, again warned a military solution would destabilise the Middle East, and Syria's envoy to the UN blamed rebels in the country for launching the attack to provoke international intervention.

The economic cost also started to be counted, as global stocks dived and world oil prices hit a six-month high.

Biden said the United States was certain Assad's forces were responsible for the deadly gas attacks on August 21.

"There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria -- the Syrian regime," Biden said.

"The president believes and I believe that those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women and children should and must be held accountable."

Analysts expect to see cruise missiles launched from US and allied submarines, ships and possibly planes, firing into Syria from outside its waters and airspace.

During a news conference on Tuesday, however, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would defend itself.

"We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal," he said. "The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves."

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations also hit back at accusations of responsibility for chemical weapons strikes.

"Many facts tend to prove the innocence of the Syrian government, which has been subject to false accusations," ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari told state media.

Jaafari said such facts also showed that "armed groups have used chemical weapons in order to bring about military intervention and aggression against Syria".

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the American military was already prepared to act if President Barack Obama gave the order -- though White House aides said no final decision had been taken.

"We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take," Hagel told the BBC. "We are ready to go, like that."

French President Francois Hollande said his country was "ready to punish" those behind the chemical attacks and that he would meet the Syrian opposition's leader on Thursday.

In London, Prime Minister Cameron recalled parliament to discuss the crisis and slammed Syria's use of chemical weapons as "morally indefensible".

Cameron's office said evidence showed Assad's forces had launched a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus last week.

"Regime forces were carrying out a military operation to regain that area from the opposition at the time; and there is no evidence that the opposition has the capability to deliver such a chemical weapons attack," it said.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned of the consequences of any possible military actions.

Speaking to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Lavrov said "a military solution will lead only to a further destabilisation of the situation in the country and the region," his ministry said.

UN inspectors based in Syria, meanwhile, left their Damascus hotel on Wednesday to head to a site of one of the alleged chemical weapons attacks outside the capital.

The team of arms experts boarded a convoy of six vehicles in Damascus, the photographer said. It was unclear which site they were intending to visit.

This came a day after the experts suspended their mission for one day over safety concerns.

A military campaign in Syria is expected to be limited in scope, likely to last only several days and to target military sites but not the chemical weapons stocks themselves, sources in Washington said.

An official in Syria's main opposition National Coalition said the group expects a Western military intervention and it has been consulted over targets, which included airports, military bases and arms depots.

"It's a question of days and not weeks," said Ahmad Ramadan, adding that "there have been meetings between the Coalition, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and allied countries."*AFP

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Resolutions sought
on computer ‘scams’

Retired policeman Victor Eduardo yesterday said he will file a motion to resolve the case before the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas involving the purchase of computer units by the previous administration.

This was after the case filed before the Ombudsman against former congressman and now Mayor Monico Puentevella involving the purchase of overpriced computers had cropped up recently, with the exposé on the abuses of the use of pork barrel funds by some of the country’s lawmakers.

Eduardo had filed criminal and administrative cases together with Sarah Teresa Esguerra, now an executive assistant of Puentevella, and casual employee Othello Ramos in 2008 against former Mayor Evelio Leonardia et al, involving two separate procurements of computer units.

The first referred to the supply of 22 units of computers worth P1.2 million to the Office of the Mayor and members of the Sanggunian, awarded to PC City Corp., and the second to the supply of 20 IT packages with a total contract price of P5 million to Felta Multi-Media, Inc.

Eduardo said they have identified the alias John Doe, whose signatures were found in the purchase orders for both computer suppliers, as Alejandro Uberas of Brgy. Granada, so he will submit supplemental affidavits to the Ombudsman.

The complaint cited the 2006 COA Annual Audit Report which found the procurements to be highly irregular and overpriced by P103,597. Esguerra claimed that they could not find the computers that were purchased.

These cases were closed and terminated by the Ombudsman on July 9, 2010 and re-docketed for fact-finding investigation.

Esguerra said this is because they are reacting to Leonardia’s statement that “the best insurance against the pork barrel funds abuse is to prosecute case involving it”, and cited as an example the P39-million computer procurement scandal involving Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentevella, when he was yet congressman of Bacolod.

The complaint was filed by former City Legal Officer Allan Zamora against Puentevella who said the former solon bought the computer packages for P400,000 each, when the prevailing prices then ranged only between P29,000 to P66,000 each, using his pork barrel funds in 2002, 2004 and 2005.

‘NOT JUST ORDINARY’

Esguerra said the IT package in those times were not just ordinary computer sets purchased by the Department of Education in years 2002, 2004 and 2005.

The picture of Puentevella reportedly appeared when they were switched on.

The budget for the project was taken from the Priority Development Assistance Fund of former Congressman Puentevella, she said.

Esguerra said Puentevella did not participate in the bidding but only facilitated the transfer of funds to DepEd, and that it was DepEd which bidded out and purchased the project under former DepEd regional director Victoriano Tirol, Jr.

She said the purchases were done in 2002 for six sets of IT packages worth P2.4 million; 22 sets of IT packages worth P8.8 million in 2004, and four sets of IT packages for elementary and high schools worth P2.4 million in 2005.

‘OBNOXIOUS AND NAUSEATING’

In his complaint, Zamora said that, based on record, the Office of Puentevella had allocated and spent P10,435,720 in 2002; P15.2 million in 2004; and P13.2 million in 2005 from his annual PDAF for the purchase of the IT equipment for the various elementary and high schools in Bacolod.

The former CLO had filed the criminal charges before the Ombudsman against Puentevella, Tirol and the officers of Merryland Publishing Corporation for violation of R.A. 3019, or the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, on March 27, 2007, and requested the conduct of a full dress investigation of the apparent gross over price of the IT equipment.

Zamora said records from the Department of Budget and Management show that 38 public schools in 2004 and 33 public schools in 2005 each received a package consisting of only two computer units and accessories worth P400,000.

"The amount of P400,000 is rather disturbing if not highly, obnoxiously and nauseating unconscionable and over priced for the price of only two computer units and their respective
accessories," Zamora said.

Former City Legal Officer Joselito Bayatan said they have filed their answer where they raised that had the 10 percent allowable price variance been considered, there would be no overprice.

If the variance was slight, that would be immaterial and that is something that the COA should consider, compared to the case of Puentevella pending with the Ombudsman involving computers priced at P400,000 per unit, he said.

ONLY 43 OF 72

Bayatan said they discovered that Puentevella committed 72 units of computers but he only delivered 43 units to the different schools in Bacolod. He was not able to produce delivery receipts for 56 units amounting to P22,400, based on the allegation of the supplier.

They filed their reply to the counter affidavit on the basis of the undelivered 56 units, which Puentevella has not been able to refute until now, he said. There is a possibility that the 56 computer units may be in the form of a ghost project, he added.*CGS

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People & Events
Resolutions sought on computer ‘scams’

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