After a 15 year battle to reform the Philippines' excise tax system, President Benigno Aquino signed the sin tax bill into law on Thursday, Dec. 20. "Today, we sign, finally, a law that serves as an early Christmas gift to millions of Filipinos who will be covered by the universal health care program, who will benefit from new public clinics and hospitals that will be built, and who will be discouraged from smoking and drinking." Aquino said. The law sets higher taxes on sin products, overcoming a strong industry lobby that kept prices in the Philippines among the cheapest in the world. It will generate additional revenues of about P34 billion (nearly US$830 million) slated for a universal health care program and tobacco farmers' livelihood.
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The final five are called. The judges name the fourth, third and second runners-up. Only two are left onstage - Miss Philippines and Miss USA. For a heartrenching minute, Filipinos thought Janine Tugonon would bring home the prize after what many thought was a quick, substantive answer to her question: "As an international ambassador, do you believe that speaking English is a pre-requisite to be Miss Universe?" Her response: "For me, Miss Universe is not about being able to speak a specific language, it's about being able to influence and inspire other people. No matter what language you speak, as long as you have the heart and a strong mind, you can become Miss Universe." Miss Philippines is first runner-up to Miss Universe 2012.
Read more about the results, the live blog and the reactions after - all on Rappler.
She once played the role of first lady to her father, Park Chung-Hee, one of modern Korea's most polarising figures - admired for dragging the country out of poverty but reviled for his ruthless suppression of dissent during an 18 year military rule. Now 60 years old, conservative ruling party candidate Park Geun-Hye is the first female president of South Korea. She faces numerous challenges, including a belligerent North Korea, a slowing economy and soaring welfare costs in one of the world's most rapidly aging societies. Her victory is also largely seen as a vindication of her father's rule.
Read more about Park Geun-Hye and her policy on North Korea on Rappler.
The deadline looms, and US President Barack Obama is pushing the Republican party to "take the deal" even as a stalemate looms. The uncertainty pushes US stocks down. Obama says Republicans find it "very hard" to say yes to him while a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner called the White House "irrational." The looming fiscal cliff weighs heavy on Asian trading Thursday even as the Bank of Japan announced plans to expand the size of its asset-purchase program. Asian shares are mixed because of negative sentiment.
Read more about the negotiations, how it pulled US stocks down and how negative sentiment weighed on Asia.
After 14 years, the Philippines breaks records this week. Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation has struggled for decades with high population growth rates fuelled largely by ignorance and the lack of contraceptives. The Reproductive Health Bill, which languished for more than a decade in Congress, offers women the choice. Last week, a breakthrough as President Benigno Aquino certifies the bill urgent despite renewed lobbying by the Church. On Monday, the Senate votes on the controversial Reproductive Health bill on 2nd and 3rd reading, while the House of Representatives passes the bill on 3rd and final reading. On Tuesday, the work begins to consolidate both versions, and on Wednesday in record-breaking time, both chambers of Congress ratify the Reproductive Health bill that includes sex education and free contraceptions. The only thing left is President Aquino's signature which will turn this into law.
Read more on Rappler.
Is it a power play or due process? Cebu is the top vote-rich province in the Philippines with more than 2.4 million votes. President Aquino suspends its governor Gwen Garcia for six months for grave abuse of authority on administrative charges. Her vice governor Agnes Magpale is immediately sworn is. She is the sister of Sec. Rene Almendras, Aquino's chief of staff. Garcia refuses to step down, saying the charges and her suspension are politically motivated. On Twitter, she writes: "To whom this may concern: you can do your worst. I will continue to do my best for Cebu and my beloved Cebuanos." In another tweet, she adds, "I have always acted within the bounds of my authority. This is clear use and abuse of political clout for obvious political gain."
Read more about Gwen Garcia's suspension and her reactions and counter-charges - all on Rappler.
A scathing independent report says the deaths of 4 Americans, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens in an attack in Benghazi, Libya was because of major security failures and mismanagement of the State Department. It's triggered at least one resignation and 3 suspensions.
As America mourns the killings of 20 children ages 6 & 7 and 6 adults in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama called for "concrete" proposals within a month after a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden examines new gun control laws, better mental health access and the impact of violent culture. "I will be putting forward very specific proposals," said Obama. "I will be talking about them in my State of the Union, and we will be working with interested members of Congress to try to get something done."
The Philippines has had an incredible year, ending the Q3 as the second fastest economy in Asia. The World Bank upgrades its growth forecasts for the Philippines, and think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, expect growth of at least 7% next year. Still, old problems remain. How long before it trickles down to the poorest of the poor and unemployment declines?
Read more about the World Bank's forecast and the unemployment rate on Rappler.
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