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NEW YORK - Blue-chip stocks dipped on Wednesday to close at their lowest since mid-April after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stoked inflation worries and concerns about more credit losses dogged financial shares.
Technology shares snapped back after two down days, however, helped by some positive brokerage comments on chip makers and data showing unexpected resilience in private-sector employment and the services sector.
The market had spent much of the day up, but took a turn lower late in the session, after Bernanke said policy-makers were concerned by signs of rising long-term inflation expectations. His remarks renewed worry that the Fed's next step is to raise interest rates.
"Now the speculation is: 'Will the Fed raise rates?' So out of fear, people think we're back to the old word 'stagflation,"' said Victor Pugliese, director of listed equity trading at Broadpoint Securities in San Francisco.
Financials fell for the third day in a row on concerns about more credit losses, even as the chief focus of that worry for the past two days, Lehman Brothers, retraced some of the 18 percent it had fallen since last Thursday.
Moody's Investors Service said it is likely to cut the top credit ratings of the bond insurance arms of MBIA Inc and Ambac Financial Group on concerns about mortgage-related losses and limited new business prospects.
But the drop could have been deeper, had it not been for a pullback of $2 a barrel in oil prices to $122.30.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.37 points, or 0.10 percent, to end at 12,390.48, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index inched down 0.45 of a point, or 0.03 percent, to 1,377.20.
The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 22.66 points, or 0.91 percent, to close at 2,503.14.
Verizon Communications shares were one of the top drags on the Dow, on news that Verizon Wireless, in which the company has a 55 percent stake, is in talks to buy rural mobile service provider Alltel Corp for about $27 billion in debt and cash. Verizon shares fell 1 percent to $36.98.
Lehman Brothers' shares recouped 2.6 percent to $31.40. A major bond fund manager, Dan Fuss at Loomis Sayles, said he had been buying Lehman's debt and Merrill Lynch upgraded Lehman's stock to "buy."
Lehman shares had been a big drag early in the week on concerns it was looking to raise new capital.
Bank of America stock fell 2.1 percent to $31.99 after Merrill Lynch cut its earnings outlook on the No. 2 U.S. bank.
A report from the Institute for Supply Management showed the U.S. services sector, which makes up the bulk of the economy, expanded more in May than economists had forecast.
Economically sensitive stocks, such as communications equipment makers, drew strength from that report, as well as from ADP data that showed an unexpected gain in private- sector employment last month. The ADP report is closely watched as a prelude to Friday's government report on nonfarm payrolls.
Qualcomm was the top gainer on the Nasdaq 100, rising 3.1 percent to $48.45. Network equipment maker Cisco Systems shares rose 1.6 percent to $26.76. Chip maker Intel Corp added 2.4 percent to $23.48.
Chip makers gained after brokerages increased their price targets on Xilinx and Altera. Xilinx shares rose 3.5 percent to $27.86, while Altera shares ended up 2,8 percent at $23.54.
Not all financials ended the day in the red. Shares of credit card services company American Express Co gave the biggest boost to the Dow after its chief executive said full-year profit could increase up to 6 percent. American Express rose 3 percent to $45.64.
Trading volume was low on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 1.29 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of roughly 1.90 billion, while on Nasdaq, about 2.21 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 2.17 billion.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by more than 8 to 7, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners by about 4 to 3.
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Reuters NEW YORK - US pop star Madonna and her husband, British film maker Guy Ritchie, are not planning to divorce, her spokeswoman said on Tuesday, denying media speculation that their marriage is ending. "There are no divorce plans," Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's publicist, said in a statement emailed to Reuters. Rumors that the London-based couple planned to split have been circulating for months, fueled most recently by reports that the singer had lined up Fiona Shackleton, a lawyer for Paul McCartney in his bitter divorce from Heather Mills. The speculation reached a fever pitch last week in London, where the Daily Mirror newspaper dedicated two front pages to the plight of the couple's marriage. Madonna, 49, and Ritchie, 39, married in December 2000 at Skibo Castle in northeast Scotland. They met at a party hosted by ex-Police frontman Sting and his wife Trudie Styler. Their son, Rocco, was several months old on their wedding day, and in 2006 Madonna applied to adopt David Banda, a boy from Malawi whose mother died shortly after his birth. The adoption was approved by a Malawian court in May. Madonna also has a daughter, Lourdes, from an earlier relationship. She was married once before, to Hollywood actor Sean Penn, in the 1980s. Madonna is one of the most successful rock stars of all time, with global album sales estimated at more than 200 million copies. A multi-Grammy award winner, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. Ritchie is best known for his movies "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" , but he has come in for critical maulings since then, most notably when he directed Madonna in "Swept Away" . Asked if he would ever work with his wife again, Ritchie told Reuters in an interview in late 2007: "I don't know. We don't want to stick our chins out again."
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CANNES, France - A powerful new film, made with a cast of former child soldiers from Liberia and shot in the streets of Monrovia, depicts the brutal chaos of civil wars that have consumed generations of African children.
"Johnny Mad Dog", by French director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, follows a band of Kalashnikov-toting boys with names like "No Good Advice", "Small Devil" and "Jungle Rocket" as they advance on the capital of an unnamed African country.
The cast, mostly former child soldiers themselves, lend a near-documentary authenticity to a film based on a novel of the same name by Emmanuel Dongala.
"I wanted to be very close to reality," he told Reuters at the Cannes film festival where the film is being shown.
"I needed to tell the truth about this subject. I didn't just want to take a child, a gun and to make an action movie."
Shot in a raw, dynamic style, his film paints a harrowing picture of a world where children are ripped from their families and made into amoral killers used by leaders of whom they are only vaguely aware.
Christopher Minie, who plays the teenaged Johnny Mad Dog and his subordinate, No Good Advice played by Dagbeh Tweh, mix callous brutality with occasional flashes of humanity that show the child that still exists beneath the cold-eyed killers.
"All the actors in the movie are non-professional actors but they have all had experience of the war," Sauvaire said.
"You can't imagine these kind of things, which is why it was very important for me to shoot this movie in Liberia with these kind of people," he said.
Dressed in bizarre outfits including colored wigs, a wedding dress, an American football helmet and a pair of angels wings, the fighters, themselves drugged and brutalized by their older commander, casually kill, rape and loot.
Amid the madness and terror, 13-year-old Laokole, played by Daisy Victoria Vandy, tries to save her legless father and younger brother, dodging through burned-out buildings and empty streets to avoid marauding gangs.
No accurate statistics exist on how many children have been recruited as soldiers in recent years but a report this week by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says tens of thousands have stopped fighting since 2004 as a long-running cycle of civil wars in Africa has ended.
Sauvaire said he had deliberately kept the setting vague because although the civil war in Liberia may have ended, the wider problem remained.
"Today we're talking here in Cannes and there are children fighting in Chad or Asia or the Middle East and to me it was very important to do a universal movie talking about child soldiers," he said.
The film coincides with the trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who is accused of a series of crimes committed during a civil war in which bands of drugged child soldiers played a leading part.
Sauvaire said he hoped the film, which will be shown in Liberia in the coming months, would help as the country finds its way back to peace after more than a decade of war.
"They told me, 'we want to talk about this, we need to talk about this, we don't want to do the same thing in a few years," he said. "The movie is also a way of understanding what happened in this war."
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By BOY VILLASANTA Director Maryo J. de los Reyes wish has been granted. This was after the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board gave his latest movie "Torotot" an R-13 rating. "I really wanted to get an R-13 rating so that a lot of kids will know more about crimes of passion," de los Reyes said. The movie, which is distributed by Viva Films, tells the story of two couples and how infidelity causes their relationships to crumble. The movie stars Viva Hot Babe Maui Taylor, Precious Adona, Andrew Schimmer, Baron Geisler and Yul Servo. Yul said the R-13 rating means that the movie will be shown in SM cinemas. "There is a moral lesson in this movie. It's not all about sex but examines the situations of Filipino families," he said. Yul is all praises for his co-stars Maui and Baron. "Baron would not have won the Cinemalaya Best Actor award if he wasn't any good. Im happy for Baron,â€ť he said. He said that aside from his acting roles, he is also busy with his duties as councilor of the first district of Manila. He said some of his proposed ordinances involve the preservation of old buildings in Manila and the patching up of relationships between Christians and Muslims in Quiapo district.
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By JAY RUIZ ABS-CBN News
Pag-asa Island, Palawan - The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday said they are ready to defend the territories of the Philippines in the disputed Spratly islands.
Aboard a C-130 military plane, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and several senior leaders of the AFP visited Pag-Asa Island, one of nine islands and reefs occupied by the Philippines.
Upon his arrival, Esperon stressed that the Philippines will never surrender its claim on the occupied islands and reefs in the disputed area.
"We are not giving up our claim to any of the islandsâ€¦we are here to defend any territorial encroachment," Esperon said.
To support the soldiers and residents in the area, the AFP top brass brought with them to the island brand-new equipment and fresh supplies, including two generators and a satellite equipment that would allow easier communication among troops deployed in the nine occupied islands and reefs.
At present, there are about 80 Filipino soldiers deployed in the Spratlys, referred to by the Philippines as the Kalayaan Island Group.
For now the AFP has no plans of deploying additional troops in the area to prevent further tension among claiming countries.
Believed to be potentially rich in oil and natural gas, the Spratlys territory is composed of over a hundred islands and reefs being claimed by six countries: China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines.
Of the six, only Brunei has no military presence in any of the islands.
Pag-Asa Island is the largest island being occupied by Filipino soldiers and citizens.
Aside from Pag-Asa, there are six other islands and two reefs occupied by Filipino soldiers.
Though lacking of equipment, soldiers deployed in the area say they are ready to defend the Philippine territory.
"Our mission is clear: to protect our territorial integrity," said Lt. Jr. Grade Noel Cadigal.
But for Esperon, instead of engaging in conflict or war, the best way to resolve the Spratlys problem is through diplomacy and peace talks.
He believes that entering into agreements such as the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking between China, Vietnam and the Philippines is not a bad approach in solving the problem diplomatically.
"I think the problem of the Spratlys is best resolved diplomatically... Its better than war. We have to try to resolve this peacefully where everyone will benefit," Esperon said.
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Ely Buendia performs at the Eraserheads reunion concert, August 30, 2008.
Singer-songwriter and Eraserheads vocalist Ely Buendia is now at the Philippine Heart Center. He was transferred to the facility around 1:00 a.m. Sunday after being treated at the critical care area of the Makati Medical Center emergency room. Buendia had experienced chest pains and reportedly collapsed after the first set of the long-awaited Eraserheads reunion concert at the Bonifacion Global City open field Saturday night. According to ABS-CBN reporter Jeff Canoy, the singer was brought out of the Makati Medical Center in a stretcher. Buendia's family has declined to comment on his condition. Buendia's friend filmmaker Joyce Bernal has denied that the singer suffered a heart attack. She said Buendia suffered chest pains due to the stress brought about by his mother's recent death and exhaustion due to the rehearsals for the Eraserheads reunion concert. Buendia's mother died of cardiac arrest early morning of August 28. She had been recovering from surgery done just days before to treat her intestinal cancer. The concert's producer Francis Lumen, who is also the owner of MTV Philippines, said that Buendia is resting to recover from stress and exhaustion. Buendia's family is requesting the media to refrain from interviews and shooting video of the singer. The Eraserheads vocalist was rushed to the Makati Medical Center Saturday night a little past 10 pm, cutting Eraserheads concert shout. Bandmembers and Buendia's sister informed the crowd about what happened to the singer. Buendia's sister announced at the concert that the Eraserheads' frontman is in a lot of physical and emotional stress lately. Despite his mother's death on August 28, the Eraserheads vocalist decided to push through with the concert, anyway. There are unconfirmed reports that Buendia suffered a heart attack. A witness at the Makati Medical Center emergency room told that Buendia appeared unconscious and was taken to the critical care area late Saturday night. The witness said several doctors rushed to Buendia and a minor commotion ensued. The witness also said that the news going around the ER was that the singer had a heart attack. Buendia had a previous heart attack in January 2007. He underwent two angioplasty procedures at the Philippine Heart Center after doctors found at lest two blockages in his arteries. Doctors said the singer has a history of heart disease in his family and was genetically predisposed to it. The Eraserheads reunion concert became controversial after its first sponsor, cigarette-maker Philip Morris, was accused of violating Philippine laws prohibiting tobacco companies from sponsoring concerts and other promotional events. When Philip Morris pulled out of the production due to legal concerns, it was Lumen who took over the sponsorship of the show. The Eraserheads was the most successful Filipino band of the 1990s. They broke up in 2002. With a report from Jeff Canoy
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Rogue commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have strong ties with extremists, including the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah , and would continue to sow terror even when a final peace agreement is forged with the separatist group, security and intelligence officials said Sunday. Malacañang, on the other hand, has accused the MILF leadership of authorizing the atrocities, putting into question their sincerity in pursuing peace talks with the government. National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said Ameril Umbra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, heads of the MILFs 105th and 102nd base command, respectively, are not likely to heed orders from the leadership of the Muslim rebel group to yield or stop their atrocities owing to their extremist leanings. Gonzales disclosure came amid calls for the government to officially declare the MILF or at least the two commanders as terrorists. He said a relative of Kato, Umberil Kato, also has ties with the JI. We have been receiving reports for quite some time that Kato is more of a JI than an MILF leader, Gonzales told The STAR. And we have not disregarded these reports. Unholy alliances Gonzales said Kato and Macapaars groups have been also in contact or were contacted in the past by other extremist groups for some sort of temporary and convenient alliance with the objective of destabilizing the country. With this I mean the New Peoples Army and even extreme rightist groups, he said. He said nothing except the setting up of a fundamentalist and Islamic state would satisfy Kato and Macapaar. Now, there is a big debate in the MILF leadership on the peace process, Gonzales said. He said top MILF leaders conceded the attacks staged by Kato and Macapaar have damaged their groups credibility in the eyes of the government and the public as well as the international community. They leaders are really, really trying hard to strike a balance between showing sincerity and showing that they are a force to reckon with, he said. A senior intelligence official, in a separate interview, told The STAR that Kato has been giving sanctuary to foreign JI militants in his stronghold in Liguasan Marsh since 2000. The militants were seeking to spread JIs radical beliefs in the Philippines. In return, Katos men have been receiving training on urban terrorist operations, including propaganda and bomb making, the official said. The official, however, said Macapaar, based on intelligence files, was unusual because he has shown some leftist tendencies. Macapaar has not only dealt with the communist rebels in some occasions but attended a plenum of the top NPA and Communist Party of the Philippines leaders at one time in the past, the official said. Zachary Abuza, an author and expert on al-Qaeda and a senior fellow of the United States Institution for Peace , in an article noted that Katos command was one of the MILF units that posted the highest number of ceasefire violations. Gonzales also warned of stepped-up attacks from communist rebels to take advantage of the ongoing conflict in Mindanao. Joma Sison has given orders for guerrilla fronts to undertake attacks knowing that troops are busy in Mindanao, he said in a telephone interview. He said NPA commanders have been trying to link up with renegade MILF forces to maximize their planned attacks. Damaged credibility Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said if MILF chairman Al Haj Murad is not willing or capable of bringing in Kato, Macapaar and Commander Pangalian to answer for their terrorist acts, then he and his men must stand down as government forces enforce the law. He said there will be no letup in the government offensive against the three MILF commanders since they must be neutralized and punished in accordance with our law for their acts of terrorism against innocent and helpless civilians. The three are historically recalcitrant MILF commanders and may continue their violent acts even if agreements are signed between the government and MILF leaders, according to Dureza. The inaction of the MILF leadership will be construed as tacit approval of the criminal acts of its three commanders and will be a clear proof of MILF leaders insincerity to pursue the conclusion of the peace talks, he said. He added that the government wants to continue peace negotiations but not at the expense of the law. There is no all-out war in Mindanao. This is waging all-out peace in Mindanao, he said. Wheres anti-terror law? Meanwhile, opposition Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano assailed why the government charged the MILF leaders linked to recent attacks in Mindanao with common crimes instead of charging them with violation of the anti-terror law. He even cited jurisprudence that if it is established that the motive of the MILF for killing is to pursue its political agenda, the criminal case will likely be dismissed. Cayetano said if the MILF leaders are charged with violating the anti-terror law, the government can also pursue their financial supporters, including those from abroad. The senator noted how both the government and the United States were aggressive in pushing for the passage of the anti-terror law, but now that there are apparent violations of it, he wondered why the government is not pursuing terrorism charges and why the US government is silent on it. Cayetano also questioned the interests of the other countries, including the United States and Malaysia, in pursuing the memorandum of agreement between the government and the MILF. Following Malacañangs reversal of its earlier announcement that it will no longer sign the controversial peace pact, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan also questioned the governments unclear stand on the issue. Malacañang needs to provide direction, not confusion. The uncertainty will only end if somebody truly takes charge. To put it simply, that really should be the job of the President, he said. Pangilinan is pushing for the creation of a new negotiating panel composed of highly respected individuals who have impeccable credentials. Internal strife Former Senate president Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, has deplored the internationalization of the Mindanao peace process, saying the unwarranted intervention of certain foreign countries is making it more difficult for the national government to resolve its internal problem with the MILF. Drilon said he has been receiving persistent reports that the intervention of some countries, including Malaysia and the US, was putting undue pressure on government negotiators to grant concessions to the MILF that clearly violate the Philippine Constitution, among them, giving away of certain territories. We certainly dont want to happen to Mindanao what happened to Kosovo, Drilon said in a statement. Drilon was also alarmed by the appeal of Murad to the Malaysian government to revive the Mindanao peace talks that were stalled when MILF forces attacked unarmed civilians in Central Mindanao last week. Murad also asked that the military be stopped from pursuing the MILF forces involved in the atrocities. I hope Malacañang will find the moral courage to send a diplomatic note to Malaysia, saying in no uncertain terms that the Philippine government will implement its laws against criminals who attack and murder unarmed civilians, Drilon said. I am sure that the Malaysian government will understand and will not give the impression that it condones the unlawful acts of the MILF, especially the unprovoked killing of innocent civilians, he added. – With Christina Mendez
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A son of Indanan, Sulu Mayor Alvarez Isnaji was arrested for frustrated murder in Zamboanga City, ABS-CBN Regional Network Group reported Friday.
Rommel Eming Isnaji was collared by authorities in Barangay Tumaga Thursday morning and was immediately committed to the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center.
Regional Trial Court-9 Judge Peter Eisma issued the arrest warrant against Isnaji for allegedly shooting a certain Ronald Montojo.
The Isnaji family immediately posted P200,000 bail bond imposed by the court for their kin's temporary freedom.
Isnajis father was tagged as the mastermind in the kidnapping of ABS-CBN senior correspondent Ces Drilon, her crew and Mindanao State University Professor Octavio Dinampo in June this year.
Another son, Haider, is also detained for his alleged participation in the kidnapping incident.
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Now that the Grand Dream Nights are just a few days away, the Top 6 Scholars of Pinoy Dream Academy Season 2 are undergoing intense training from all their mentors.
The final week before the much-awaited commencement exercises proves to be a tough one as the Dream Mentors are making sure that this season's crème de la crème have not forgotten everything they've learned about performing. Teacher Kitchy has been busy polishing the Top 6's singing techniques for the past few days. With the help of Teacher Monet, she has been pointing out the things that the Top 6 are still doing wrong and reminding them of the proper ways of correcting them. Meanwhile, Teacher Maribeth hasn't changed her stern and strict manner of teaching. She has been pushing the Scholars to perfect their choreography for the Grand Dream Nights, reminding them that the two-night finale is going to be the culmination of every single lesson they have learned in their three-month stay inside the Academy. Voting for the Top 6 Scholars is still very much open. To support your favorite, key in PDA space BUGOY, PDA space LAARNI, PDA space MIGUEL, PDA space LIEZEL, PDA space VAN, or PDA space CRIS on your cellphones and send to 231 for Smart and Talk & Text, and Addict Mobile subscribers, and 2331 for Globe, TM, Sun, and Bayan subscribers. You can also vote online thru www.pinoydreamacademy.com.ph Voting officially ends on September 14, 1 PM, on ASAP '08.
What other exciting events will take place during the last few days of Pinoy Dream Academy Season 2?
Stay tuned from Monday to Friday to Pinoy Dream Academy Season 2 Uberture, 5:30 PM, and Pinoy Dream Academy Season 2 Primetime, after Iisa Pa Lamang on ABS-CBN to find out. You can also watch the Scholars everyday on Studio 23, 12:00-2:00 PM and 24/7 online via TFCNow Video Stream .
For online updates, check out Pinoy Dream Academy 2's official website: www.pinoydreamacademy.ph
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