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Pope Seeks End To ‘Scandalous’ Inequality, Corruption In Philippines

By Girlie Linao, dpa (TNS)

MANILA — Pope Francis on Friday called on Catholic Church leaders and the Philippine government to end the “scandalous” inequalities brought about by rampant corruption in the country.

On the first day of a highly-anticipated four-day visit, the pontiff stressed the need for political leaders to show honesty and integrity in order to fulfill “the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity.”

During an address at the Malacanang presidential palace, Pope Francis called on government officials, business leaders and diplomats to “hear the voice of the poor.”

“(The biblical tradition) bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression, which give rise to glaring — and indeed scandalous — social inequalities,” he said.

The Argentinian cleric was honored with a 21-gun salute on the palace grounds, where he kissed and embraced children before holding a one-on-one meeting with President Benigno Aquino.

Pope Francis said bishops in the Philippines, where a quarter of an estimated 100 million people live on 1 dollar a day, have asked that 2015 be declared the official Year of the Poor.

“I hope that this prophetic summons will challenge everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of the community,” he said.

Before the pope’s speech, Aquino criticized Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines for failing to speak out about corruption in the administration of his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, who is being held on electoral fraud charges.

“We were taught that the Catholic Church is the true church, and that there is constancy, for it upholds the truth at all times,” he said.

“Hence, there was a true test of faith when many members of the Church — once advocates for the poor, the marginalized, and the helpless — suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day.”

In a mass attended by 1,500 priests, bishops and lay people afterwards, Pope Francis called on the Filipino clergy to combat inequality, injustice and corruption, as well as championing the poor.

“Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with our brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Be present to those who, living in the midst of a society burdened by poverty and corruption, are broken in spirit, tempted to give up, to leave school and to live on the streets.”

Pope Francis later met with Filipino families in a packed arena, where he blessed elderly, disabled and sick attendees.

He praised the resilience of millions of Filipinos battered in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people in the country’s east.

“I admire the heroic strength, faith and resilience demonstrated by so many Filipinos in the face of natural disaster,” said the pontiff.

Pope Francis was expected on Saturday to visit the eastern city of Tacloban, which was among the worst hit by Haiyan.

The Philippines is the largest predominantly Catholic country in Asia, with Muslims constituting more than 80 percent of the population.

Photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Flickr

Philippines Volcano Threatening Eruption, Thousands Evacuated

By Girlie Linao, dpa

MANILA — Tens of thousands of people living near the Philippines’ most active volcano began to evacuate on Tuesday after increased activity prompted government scientists to warn of an imminent eruption.

Dozens of military trucks were dispatched to pick up the residents in the danger zones around Mayon Volcano in Albay province, 330 kilometers south-east of Manila, said Major General Ricardo Visaya, a regional military commander.

“So far, there has been no reported opposition to the evacuation plan,” he said.

An estimated 12,000 families or nearly 60,000 residents are in the danger zones that affect three cities and five towns in Albay province, according to provincial Governor Joey Salceda.

“Everyone in the danger zones has to evacuate and we will guard these areas to make sure that none of them sneak back,” he told a Manila radio station.

Salceda ordered the mandatory evacuation after the alert at Mayon was raised to level 3 overnight, which means a “hazardous eruption is possible within weeks,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.

The institute said it had recorded 32 volcanic earthquakes, 72 rockfalls, and intense crater glow in the past 24 hours at the 2,472-metre volcano, which is famous for its nearly symmetrical cone.

“Rolling incandescent rockfall … last night indicates that the summit lava dome is breaching the crater on its south-eastern side,” it said in the latest bulletin.

“All the above data indicate that the volcano is exhibiting relatively high unrest due to the movement of potentially eruptible magma.”

Mayon has erupted about 50 times since 1616. Its most violent eruption was in 1814, when more than 1,200 people were killed and a town was buried in volcanic mud. An eruption in 1993 killed 79 people.

In May 2013, sudden explosions from the crater killed four foreign tourists and a Filipino guide.

AFP Photo/Charism Sayat

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Typhoon Kills Eight, Displaces Nearly 18,000 In Philippines

By Girlie Linao, dpa

MANILA — Typhoon Kalmaegi killed eight people and displaced nearly 18,000 people as it battered the northern Philippines on the weekend, the national disaster relief agency said Monday.

More than a dozen ferry trips and nearly 50 domestic flights were cancelled as the storm hit Sunday, cutting off electricity in eight northern provinces.

Kalmaegi was packing maximum winds of 120 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 150 kph, the weather bureau said.

Schools were closed in Manila and northern provinces, where 17,633 people were forced to flee their homes, the national disaster relief agency said.

At least eight people died when a ferry sank Saturday evening in rough seas off the eastern province of Leyte, the navy said.

Three bodies were recovered shortly after the accident, five more were retrieved on Monday by navy ships, navy Lieutenant Commander Marineth Domingo said.

“The five cadavers included an infant girl,” she said.

Rescuers saved 113 people from the boat that was en route to the southern city of Surigao.

In Manila, 15 crew members were rescued from a docked vessel that capsized after being battered by strong winds and big waves on Sunday evening, the Office of Civil Defense said.

The ship was undergoing repairs at the Manila port. Seven of the crew members boarded a life raft, while the rest swam towards the shore, the office said.

Kalmaegi left some roads and bridges impassable in the northern Philippines, officials said.

The weather bureau said the typhoon, which blew out of the Philippines on Monday, would bring more trailing rains to the northern provinces, while the seas would continue to be rough.

AFP Photo/Jay Directo

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