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Govt sets in motion second round of road-clearing operations, files cases against non-compliant LGUs

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Govt sets in motion second round of road-clearing operations, files cases against non-compliant LGUs
Image Credit: ManilaPIO

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has warned local government executives, especially barangay officials, to turn their complacency in implementing President Duterte’s road-clearing order into concrete actions within 75 days or they will face sanctions.

This is contained in DILG Memorandum Circular 2020-027 issued by Secretary Eduardo Ano on Monday (February 17) that triggers the second round of nationwide operations to clear all public roads of fixed and ambulant obstructions.

“I direct all LGUs, especially barangays, to clear roads from obstruction with the same urgency and enthusiasm as when the president directed before,” Año said.

To be removed are obstructions on all provincial, city, municipal and barangay roads, and national primary and secondary roads.

The DILG wants the barangay executives to take the lead in this new round of clearing operations in barangay roads and minor public-use streets—or the so-called tertiary roads—within their jurisdictions. They are also ordered to maintain other local roads turned over by the city or municipal government.

Ano said heads of LGUs who will fail to comply with the new directive will be given a show-cause order.

The DILG issued Memorandum Circular No.121-2019 last year to implement the first round of clearing operations, as Duterte said public roads should be given back to the people. The deadline then was 60 days.

Ano said: “Only 97 out of 1,245 LGUs were issued with cause orders, so far. We filed administrative cases against 10 local chief executives who did not to comply to the national government’s orders.”

About 6,682 primary and secondary roads nationwide, Ano added, have been cleared of all types of obstructions.

Ban on travels to and from Taiwan lifted

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Ban on travels to and from Taiwan lifted
Image Credit: thetravelmentor

Malacanang announced that the government has decided to lift the travel ban covering travels to and from Taiwan after a determination made by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) that Taipei has put in place strict measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus diseases (COVID-19).

The decision immediately drew a positive reaction from the Taiwanese government, which earlier threatened to retaliate if Manila would continue to impose the travel ban.

Salvador Panelo, the President’s spokesman and chief legal counsel, said: “Accordingly, travel may now be made by any national to Taiwan from the Philippines and vice versa. The lifting of travel restrictions for Taiwan has been agreed by the members of the IATF by reason of the strict measures they are undertaking, as well as the protocols they are implementing to address the COVID-19.”

The lifting of the ban on travels to and from was “effective immediately”.

In a statement, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines (TECO) said it welcomes the announcement. “Taiwan has taken all measures needed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Taiwan will continue to work closely with the international community, including the Philippines, to fight against the COVID-19 to safeguard the health and welfare of humanity.”

Aside from the Taiwan, the government is also likely to lift the travel ban covering Macau. 

Panelo said Macau has submitted the protocols it has been observing to contain COVID-19.

These measures, Panelo added, prevents potential carriers of the virus from entering and departing their territory and enable others to determine the recent travel history of any traveler exiting their borders.”

Manila previously banned the entry of any foreigner coming from China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Filipinos or holders of Philippine permanent visa are allowed to enter the Philippines, on the condition they will be on a 14-day quarantine.

Taiwan was included in the ban based on the advice from the World Health Organization.

The IATF met again on Friday (February 14) to firm up plans to address the threats posed by COVID-19.

TECO added in its statement: “The Republic of China (Taiwan) attaches great importance to its long-standing relationship with the Republic of the Philippines. We are determined to strengthen our bilateral ties and promote our people-to-people connectivity. TECO would like to express deep appreciation to all Filipino friends who have voiced their sincere support for removing Taiwan from the temporary travel ban. We especially commend the Manila Economic and Cultural Office for its tireless efforts to help remove Taiwan from the travel ban.”

Mayor Isko employs artificial intelligence in ensuring quick response to Manilenos’ concerns, complaints

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Mayor Isko employs artificial intelligence in ensuring quick response to Manilenos’ concerns, complaints
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

The Manila City government has partnered with Google Philippines and Sent AI, the pioneering Artificial Intelligence (AI) company in the Philippines, in creating a digitalized complaints desk system that is seen to speed up the feedback and response to concerns and complaints aired by its constituents.

Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso signed the agreement with Google Philippines and Sent AI recently for the MPIO Complaints Desk initiative, which is due for rollout by the second quarter of the year.

The MPIO Complaints Desk’s objective is to receive unobstructed feedback from the citizens ranging from traffic issues, petty crime, emergencies, and even concerns about class suspensions. Manileños can file complaints through Google Forms, which will then be compiled and submitted directly to the Office of the Mayor. 

Mayor Isko, himself, will have access to the system so he can see the progress of the concerns and know if they are being acted on or not. The mayor will also be able to view the system through his mobile phone so he can conveniently check on the complaints anywhere and anytime. “I will see if they will act on the matter… Bawal ang tamad sa Maynila.” Mayor Isko said during the MOA signing of the project. 


“We are dedicated to establishing a reliable grievance desk for Manilenos. With this new initiative, the public can rest assured that the Manila City Government will acknowledge, investigate and respond to their concerns efficiently,” Manila City Public Information Officer Julius Leonen said.

The system makes use of Google technologies and “Natural Language Processing”, a subset of Artificial Intelligence where a machine can understand and make sense of human languages. This feature helps the city government clear away the need for manual routing and re-routing of concerns because the system automatically analyzes the submissions and directs them straight to the department which can address the complaints. 

This will allow the City Government of Manila to resolve issues thoroughly and quickly without being bogged down by volume of feedback. 


“The mayor expects to leave no stone unturned for the millions of Manileños who have chosen to trust him with their unhindered feedback. He is confident in using the latest available technology as long as it will drive efficiency and productivity. This is why we are truly honored for this opportunity to help Mayor Isko and the City of Manila through innovative technologies.” says Ralph Regalado, CEO of Senti AI. 

Senti Techlabs Inc. also known as Senti AI ( is the pioneering Artificial Intelligence company in the Philippines. Backed by 30+ years of academic research in Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning, Senti AI’s main focus is to continuously create algorithms that would make computers understand and adapt to the way that Filipinos think and communicate.

“Google believes that technology plays a vital role in nation-building. We are honored to be part of this milestone and we are excited to see the impact of the MPIO Complaints Desk initiative to both the LGU and the citizens of the City of Manila,” said Bernadette Nacario, Country Director of Google Philippines. 

#YesToShutdownabscbn trends on Twitter

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#YesToShutdownabscbn trends on Twitter

The biggest network in the Philippines is now also at the center of a trial by publicity, with netizens tweeting by the thousands about ABS-CBN’s alleged violations of the Constitution that caused the hashtag #YesToShutdownabscbn to trend on Twitter on Wednesday (February 12).

The Kapamilya network became a top Trending in Philippines topic after the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed a quo warranto petition seeking the revocation of ABS-CBN’s franchise before the Supreme Court (SC), as well as a Manila Times report saying the corporation is now partly owned by foreigners, which violates the Constitution.

While some tweets directly attacked ABS-CBN over the alleged infractions committed by the network, some urged its management to use this opportunity to clear its name in court.

@Boymejo, for instance, said: “Sabi ng ABS-CBN wala silang nilabag na batas. Ok. Prove that to the Supreme Court. If you are right, the SC will just dump the Quo Warranto Petition of SolGen Calida. It’s that simple. Stop whining.”

One of the most retweeted tweets was that of @Dutertenomics, which stated: “It is not about saving the employees of ABS-CBN, this is the wrong narrative created by ABS-CBN to cover their illegal acts against the People of the Philippines. This is all about doing what is right and just according to the law of the land.”

Even the talents of ABS-CBN like Vice Ganda and Regine Velasquez were attacked in the thread. @Djigd11 said: “it’s time to shut it down para naman mawala na si vice s TV puro lang kabaklaan turo s mga kabataan live national TV tinuturuan mga kabataan makipag relasyon s kapwa lalaki nakakasuka.”

Regine received plenty of rebuttals for her tweet: “Paano ang Pinoy kung walang Cardo, Vice Ganda, KathNiel?”

Fitch Ratings bucks naysayers’ claims vs Duterte administration, may upgrade PH’s credit rating

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Fitch Ratings bucks naysayers' claims vs Duterte administration, may upgrade PH’s credit rating
Image Credit: financial-regulation-matters / PCOO GOV

Debt watcher Fitch Ratings is apparently not being swayed by attacks against the Duterte administration, particularly its economic policies, noting that the agency is likely to raise its credit rating for the Philippines.

Sagarika Chandra, associate director of sovereigns team at Fitch Ratings, said the Philippines could see its credit rating improve to “A” from the current “BBB”. Its outlook could also be upgraded to “positive” from “stable”.

This is due to the “very strong” macroeconomic fundamentals of the country. 

“The macro story of the Philippines is very strong and it has stayed intact. Also, to add the infrastructure program of the government, that still remains on track,” Chandra said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).

Chandra noted that to get an “A” rating, the Duterte administration must sustain its “strong performance” in the macroeconomic front and further bring down its debt-to-GDP ratio.

An “A” rating and “positive” outlook will allow the country to borrow money at much lower rates. It is also an encouraging bet on the economic progress of the country, which will impact positively in its bid to attract more investments.

This also shows that what the naysayers are saying about the Duterte administration is not based on sound assessment. For instance, Chandra said what the administration critics are claiming that the review being done by the government on several state contracts with the private sector will drive away investors is not an accurate statement.

Also, Chandra said the effect of the novel coronavirus to the economy will not be that much because tourism only contributes 3 percent to the GDP.

“Looking at these factors together, it’s a credit that’s moving at the right direction,” Chandra said in the interview with ANC’s Market Edge.

Dar assures public pork supply still stable despite spread of African swine fever to more areas in PH

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Dar assures public pork supply still stable despite spread of African swine fever to more areas in PH

The supply of pork and pork and products in the country remains stable despite the emergence of the African Swine Fever in Davao Occidental and other areas in the country, the Department of Agriculture (DA) assured the public.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said of the country’s 12.7 million swine population, only 1.7 percent had been affected based on the recent report from the field.

Dar said: “From the 216,000 depopulated swine, only about 13 percent is sick, but because of the 1-7-10 protocol, we have to depopulate every hog within the one-kilometer radius.”

Pork makes up about 60 percent of the country’s meat consumption. Aside from the domestic supply, the country also imports about 320,000 metric tons of pork, most of them going to the food processors. The country’s per capita pork consumption is estimated at 16 kilograms today.

Dar said swill feeding primarily caused the outbreak, although the origin is still being traced. Identified possible sources of the ASF include food wastes from ports or smuggled pork products.

After reaching the remote town of Don Marcelino in Davao Occidental, ASF has also been reported in two barangays in Davao City. Mayor Sara Duterte has allocated P20 million to aid the affected hog raisers.

The Visayas island group is now the only area in the country that is ASF-free. The first ASF contaminations in the country were reported in Bulacan and Rizal. It has now reached the the northern tip of the country, particularly Kalinga and Benguet.

On Monday, President Duterte gathered local chief executives to come up with strategies that will prevent the further spread of ASF, as well as the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease.

Dar urged everyone to work together in helping the affected local government units to properly manage, control and contain the said problems.

Here are the alleged ABS-CBN violations that could cost the network its legislative franchise

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Here are the alleged ABS-CBN violations that could cost the network its legislative franchise

Even before it could see its franchise get extended by Congress, ABS-CBN’s existence is now also threatened by the quo warranto case filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to forfeit its legislative franchises.


Solicitor General Jose Calida filed the case on Monday, and Malacanang immediately said it has nothing to do with the OSG’s actions, even if President Duterte himself had repeatedly expressed his disgust over the biggest TV network in the country for alleged biased reporting and the management’s refusal to air his campaign ads in the 2016 presidential elections even they had been paid already.

What are some of the ABS-CBN’s alleged violations outlined by Calida as grounds for the revocation of the network’s legislative franchises?

*  ABS-CBN’s pay-per-view operations via ABS-CBN TV Plus and the KBO Channel are broadcasting for a fee without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission

  • The “ingenious corporate layering scheme” used by ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. to transfer its franchise without the necessary Congressional approval  
  • ABS-CBN issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners
  • ABS-CBN failed to publicly offer any of its outstanding capital stock to any securities exchange within the Philippines within five years from the start of its operations, which is an indispensable condition in its franchise

In a statement: Calida said: “We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefitting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers. These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years.” 


Rule 66 of the Rules of Civil Procedure states that a quo warranto case is a legal procedure against a person or a corporation that “usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise.” Former Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, for instance, was removed from her office via a quo warrant case.

It may be filed against “a person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise; a public officer who does or suffers an act which, by the provision of law, constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his office; or an association which acts as a corporation within the Philippines without being legally incorporated or without lawful authority so to act.”

ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise is due to expire on March 30, and lawmakers are not moving a finger to renew it.

Duterte proves he is not afraid of nCoV, plans to personally welcome Filipino repatriates from Wuhan on Saturday

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Duterte proves he is not afraid of nCoV, plans to personally welcome Filipino repatriates from Wuhan on Saturday
Image Credit: PCOO

President Duterte will continue to lead by example and show that his governance will not be hindered by the health risks posed by the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory syndrome (2019-nCoV ARD), even expressing his desire to personally receive the initial batch of Filipino repatriates from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the new coronavirus strain— on Saturday.

According to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the Chief Executive wants to join Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in welcoming at least 42 repatriates when they arrive at the Clark International Airport and head straight to the designated quarantine area in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

This is now being discussed by Duterte with the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Nograles said. “The President wants to be there. He’d like to be there on Saturday pero tingnan na muna natin sa PMS and PSG…That’s going to be a debate between the President and the PSG and the PMS.”

The President, Nograles added, is also not heeding the advice to limit his public engagements and even shake hands.

“He (Duterte) just wants to keep on doing the things he’s doing without imposing limitations sa kaniyang movement. He doesn’t want to change the way he conducts his business,” Nograles said.

Duterte earlier said that “there’s nothing really to be extra-scared of that coronavirus thing.”

The Philippines recorded the first 2019-nCoV ARD death outside of China, a 44-year-old Chinese whose 38-year-old companion is now being treated for the disease. A third confirmed case in the country is a 60-year-old woman.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said that as of the afternoon of February 5, there were already 133 PUIs [patients under investigation] for nCoV, 63 of them Filipinos, 54 Chinese and the 16 others of different nationalities. “Of the 133 PUIs, 115 are admitted and isolated while 16 have been discharged under strict monitoring.” 

The DOH, with the help of the police, is now also locating over 300 individuals who had contact with the Chinese fatality and his companion. The two traveled to Dumaguete and Cebu via Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific flights.

At least 300 people who had contact with two nCoV patients now being traced by govt

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At least 300 people who had contact with two nCoV patients now being traced by govt
Image Credit: GMA Network

Contact tracing of the people that came in contact with the two Chinese nationals that tested positive for the novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) is now one of the top concerns of lawmakers and government officials.

This is because the two patients managed to travel to different places, such as Cebu and Dumaguete, and boarded Cebu Pacific (CEB) and Philippine Airlines (PAL) flights.

The problem now is that only 17 percent of the at least 300 persons who boarded the same planes with the Chinese patients have been accounted for by the Department of Health (DOH).

Because of this, Duque became the subject of intense grilling during the Senate inquiry on Tuesday afternoon. Senators said there was a failure of leadership on the part of Duque.

The secretary countered by saying he even personally supervised the contact tracing of the people that had contact with 2019-nCoV patients. 

He added that their search was hindered by the airlines’ reluctance to share information, citing the data privacy law. “Airlines are not sharing the contact details of the passengers. They are invoking confidentiality,”

“They’re saying that the airlines are the ones contacting the passengers and informing them and that we’re not given the number,” Duque said. “I’m told that these airlines are invoking the Data Privacy Act, I don’t know how. This is rather strange in a time of urgent situation, I do not understand why this is the case but I think that has to be investigated.”

This was, however, immediately denied by the two airlines.

PAL’s Cielo Villaluna said: ”Philippine Airlines shared contact details of passengers of the concerned flight. We shared it to enable DOH to carry out the callouts and on top of that, PAL carried out callouts.” 

Cebu Pacific, in a statement, said: “Per the request of both the DOH and BOQ, CEB has already provided a list of the passengers aboard both flights. There is no impediment whatsoever for CEB to provide any and all information that the BOH and DOQ would need from us for their purposes.”

But Duque is also looking at possible mishandling by DOH officials. “Heads will roll… Somebody’s head is really going to roll,” Duque said, without giving names.

Reports said the two Chinese patients boarded 5J 241 (Hong Kong-Cebu, January 21), DG 6519 (Cebu-Dumaguete, January 21), and Philippine Airlines’ PR 2542 (Dumaguete to Manila -Jan 25). 

Palace, Chinese-Filipino community ask public not to be swayed by people creating divisiveness amid nCov

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Palace, Chinese-Filipino community ask public not to be swayed by people creating divisiveness amid nCov

The Chinese-Filipino community is feeling the effects of the apparent hate campaign and discrimination against China being propagated by some groups to politicize the novel corona virus acute respiratory syndrome (2019-nCoV ARD) crisis and create divisiveness in the country.

Teresita Ang-See, president of the Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran Inc., said the growing “sinophobia” — and even Chinese bashing — is actually becoming more dangerous than the new coronavirus itself.

This, she said, is because some Filipinos who just happened to be Chinese-looking are also being bullied by their countrymen.

“Mas deadly pa sa coronavirus ang nangyayaring diskriminasyon at sinophobia, iyong Chinese bashing. Papaano kung iyong Pinoy maputi at singkit, kababayan mo pala tapos kung i-bully mo,” Ang-See said.

With this, she instead of the Filipinos standing united in preventing the spread of the 2019-nCoV ARD, the country is being divided by those sowing hatred against the Chinese.

The Chinese-Filipino community had already shown that they are ready to help in the campaign against the coronavirus by donating thousands of face masks on several occasions. 

“It’s very sad. I feel so sad na imbes na sa panahong ito (that instead at this time) we stand as one against this fight, this virus, it’s becoming divisive,” Ang-See earlier said in an interview with ABS-CBN.

She added: “During these times, we can’t have a you-against-me attitude. We are lucky because the virus did not originate from our country.”

Even Malacanang called on the public to be wary of people who are using the issue to saw divisiveness.

“In times like these, it is easy to mislead our fellow Filipinos so we urge the public to stop spreading rumors and goading fears as well as ending the stigma against a specific nationality or race,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said. “There is no room for discrimination and there should be none at all.” 

“This kind of mentioning the Chinese and blaming them, it’s like xenophobia,” Duterte said. “We are a community of nations. We cooperate. China has been kind to us, we can also show the same favor to them. Stop this xenophobia.”

Over the weekend, some groups tried to politicize the problem by calling for the ouster of President Duterte for not immediately banning the entry of Chinese nationals to the country.

Duterte, upon the advice of the inter-agency task force InterAgency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases (IAT-MEREID), already barred the entry of foreign nationals — not just Chinese— who visits China, Hong Kong or Macau in the last 14 days. 

The President convened the IAT-MEREID anew on Monday night to set new strategies in the campaign against the coronavirus.

Malacanang has also called on different political camps to stop politicizing the crisis. “Let us set aside our individual differences as we ask a moratorium to people who want to hijack this situation and reduce it to mere politicking because lives are at stake,” Andanar said.

The President also urged the public to be calm. 

“You know, this coronavirus is scaring people all over the country. The response of the people from the initial reports of coronavirus was almost hysterical when there was really no need for it actually,” he said. “If there is really a virus going around, why do you have to be hysterical? Why don’t you just go to the hospital and have yourself treated or if you are quarantined, if you suspect that you have acquired.”

PH may ban travelers from all countries with 2019-nCoV cases depending on WHO report

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PH may ban travelers from all countries with 2019-nCoV cases depending on WHO report

The Philippines could impose travel restrictions, not just for people coming from China, but also for all the other countries that reported confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they are now waiting for the risk assessment reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine what actions to take regarding the travel ban.

The initial subject of the restriction, he said, is only Hubei Province in China, the place where the new coronavirus strain originated. But this could extend to the whole of China and other countries.

“We have to look at the numbers also. We have to be careful because some of the numbers might be very few in some cases and there are some countries reporting also, and we might also extend that ban to al the other 14 to 17 countries, so kailangang pag-isipan maigi,” Duque said in an interview with ANC on Friday (January 31).

He said he will convene a meeting among the members of the inter-agency task force that includes the DOH, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Tourism and Department of Transportation, among others.

Duque said extending the coverage of the ban is the direction they are taking, pending the risk assessment report from the WHO. The recommendation approved by President Duterte, he added, already included this possibility of extending the ban to other places.

“That is the direction we are taking. I recommended a temporary restriction of travelers to Manila from Hubei, with the possibility that as soon as we get the risk assessment by the WHO, that many other provinces are in fact reporting increasing numbers of nCoV infection, we will include them in the travel restriction. The President already approved this recommendation,” he said.

This ban, he clarified, is not just for Chinese tourists, but all travelers.

Right now, Duque said the government already put in place a 14-day quarantine procedures for people coming from areas with nCoV cases, and this will include Filipinos that will be repatriated from Hubei.

The WHO has already declared the 2019-nCoV as a global heath emergency, which means all governments are advised to take measures that will prevent the cross-border spread of the novel coronavirus.

In the Philippines, one confirmed case has been reported, with 31 other individuals identified as persons under investigation. 

EDITORIAL: Let’s #PrayForChina, let’s pray for humanity

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Let’s #PrayForChina, let’s pray for humanity

Twitter’s trending topic #PrayForChina since the afternoon of January 31 just showed anew how compassionate and godly the Filipinos are.

Yes, every Filipino is afraid of the novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD). Some called for a ban against Chinese nationals. Some even cursed and badmouthed the Chinese. Some even used the issue to call for a change in government via the #OustDuterte. 

But it showed the real character of Filipinos when the hashtag #PrayForChina started to trend. 

One by one, Filipinos are giving their support to the Chinese, instead of condemning them for being the source of the new coronavirus. Several tweets were genuinely expressing their apologies to the Chinese people for blaming them for the spread of the disease. Some recounted stories of how some Chinese people were trying hard not to mingle with Filipinos so as not to create fear of transmitting the disease, even if no one was sure they were infected by it. Some also told tales of how some Filipinos treated some Chinese badly, even at the point of driving them away. But some also shared stories of how the Chinese felt comfortable and safe being here in the Philippines, simply because they know “Filipinos are good people”.

Many skeptics, agnostics and nonbelievers would probably just dismiss #PrayForChina as something that wouldn’t do any good. But it already did its purpose, which is to show to the Chinese that Filipinos as a people, nation and race are supporting—and not condemning—them. It is a big leap for humanity in this time of crisis. 

To quote @nexaaaay: “We should stop blaming the citizens and treat them as if they are the virus themselves. Prevention is okay, but we don’t have to disrespect others in doing so. This is NCov virus not Chinese virus. They are already struggling, let’s not add more burden to them.”

Let us remember that China also helped Filipinos a lot in the past when disaster hit some areas of the country. To name a few, China donated $1.4 worth of relief supplies to the Supertyphoon Yolanda victims; it donated P22 million to help the victims of the earthquakes in Mindanao last year; it gave P10 million for the Batanes quake victims. 

Now, the Philippines may not have the capability to help China in its fight versus the coronavirus. The best that the Filipinos could do, therefore, is to express support and solidarity.

The Philippines is a nation of faithfuls. It is said to be the only Christian country in Asia, and for God-fearing people, there is nothing stronger or more effective than prayers.

Let’s share this strong faith in God to the Chinese people. Let’s #PrayForChina. Let’s pray for humanity.

Filipinos rush to buy face masks while calls for ban on Chinese entry to PH mount after first nCoV case

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Filipinos panicked after hearing the official news from the Department of Health (DOH) of the first confirmed novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) case in the country, with videos proliferating on social media showing long queues of people buying face masks in drugstores.

Also, calls to temporarily ban people traveling from China reverberated, with some again using this development to criticize the Duterte administration for not immediately imposing the travel ban after news of the spread of 2019-nCoV broke out.

In a statement, Senator Ralph Recto said: “I think it is time to put a temporary ‘do not enter’ sign on our doorstep for visitors from China.” The Senate President Pro Tempore added: “Let us explain to them that we are not permanently closing our doors. This is not a permanent Great Wall. This is only during the duration of the coronavirus crisis.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the travel ban must firmly include both air and sea travel to prevent a local outbreak. “This includes a temporary ban on all cruise ships from docking at any of our ports.”

Senator Bong Go, President Duterte’s former special assistant, supported the call.

Before this, the DOH said there is still no need to prevent the entry of Chinese to the country, as this may strain the Manila-Beijing diplomatic relations. Now, this pronouncement is being used by Duterte bashers to criticize the government.

On Thursday afternoon (January 30), Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced that a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, China has been confirmed to be positive for 2019-nCoV. She arrived in the Philippines via Hongkong on January 21 and admitted in public on January 25 after experiencing a mild cough. The woman did not show other signs of illnesses.

Duque’s announcement read: ”I assure the public that the DOH is on top of this evolving situation. We were able to detect the first confirmed case because of our strong surveillance system, close coordination with the World Health Organization and other national agencies.”

“We are working closely with the hospital where the patient is admitted and have activated the incident command system of the said hospital for appropriate management specifically on infection control, case management and containment. We are also implementing measures to protect the health staff providing care to these patients.”

The DOH is now in the midst of contact tracing to know where the Chinese woman went in the country and who she can in contact with. It has been reported that she went to Cebu and Dumaguete.

Undersecretary Eric Domingo, the DOH spokesman, said she was brought to a hospital in Manila.

Just an hour after the DOH confirmation of the first 2019-nCoV case here, Filipinos started lining up in drugstores to buy face masks. This was shown in videos posted on Twitter by Raffy Tima and Miranda de Quiros taken in Manila and Quezon City, respectively.

Duterte says he already decided to end VFA when US Senate moved to ban entry of PH officials

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Duterte says he already decided to end VFA when US Senate moved to ban entry of PH officials
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte takes a bow before the guests during the 69th founding anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) at the DSWD Central Office in Quezon City on January 29, 2020. ALFRED FRIAS/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Duterte clarified that he had long decided to terminate Manila’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Washington, or right about the time the United States Senate moved to ban the entry of Philippine officials who may have a role in the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima.

Duterte said on Wednesday night (January 29) that contrary to what his critics are saying, his decision to end the VFA was not prompted by the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who was the chief of the Philippine National Police when de Lima was detained for alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade. 

“It started when they mentioned the US resolution in the US Senate. Noon pa lang ‘yung utak ko gumagalaw na. Ganoon ako. Hindi ako naghihintay. I just announce late. Pinapauna ko. Pero at that time I decided if they do this; I do it not only for Dela Rosa but for every Filipino,” the Chief Executive stressed.

He made it clear that the decision to terminate the VFA  was not just out of whim.

And to further show how disgusted he is, Duterte ordered the members of the Cabinet to refrain from travelling to the US indefinitely. “I will not allow any Cabinet member to go there at this time.”

To set the tone for the “boycott” on the travel to US, Duterte also rejected the invitation from President Donald Trump for the Philippine leader to attend a meeting in the US with other Southeast Asian heads of state. He is also not sending a representative to the Trump-proposed US-Asean Summit on March 4 in Las Vegas. 

Duterte said he declined the invitation for “strategic, geopolitical considerations.”

The VFA, like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty, are the military agreements that the Philippines currently has with the US. It will end 180 days after a notice was given by either party. 

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier said the process for terminating the VFA  has started. “The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly.”

Govt sets in motion repatriation, quarantine procedures for Filipinos in Hubei, China

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Govt sets in motion repatriation, quarantine procedures for Filipinos in Hubei, China

The Philippine government on Tuesday night (January 28) announced that it has put on standby two charter planes so Filipinos in Hubei Province — the source of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)—can be repatriated immediately should they wish to come home.

This was upon the instruction of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., according to DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido J. Dulay.

In a tweet at 9:34 p.m. on Tuesday, Dulay said :

This action followed a meeting between the DFA and the Department of Health (DOH) on what actions the government needs to take to safeguard Filipinos from the spread of the deadly 2019-nCoV, which originated in Wuhan, a city in the Chinese province of Hubei.

Around 150 Filipinos are currently in Wuhan, according to Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana. These Filipinos are now in distress as they are already running out of water and food supplies due to the lockdown implemented by the Chinese government in the area.

Should they decide to come home, Dulay said they will be immediately placed under quarantine, per the agreement between the DOH and DFA.

Reports said the 2019-nCoV has already claimed the lives of more than 100 people. The new strain of coronavirus has also reached several countries, including the US, Thailand, Japan and Taiwan.

The DOH said while 24 individuals are now being tested for possible 2019-nCoV infection in the Philippines, the country is still officially free from the disease as of now.

As another measure to protect the country from the new coronavirus, the Bureau of Immigration has already suspended the no-visa entry for Chinese nationals.

Several Chinese schools in Manila have also suspended classes to make sure those who travelled to China in celebration of the Chinese New Year will not mingle with other students.

Twitter’s trending topic ‘Grabe January’ saw Filipinos including Kobe’s death in global tragic events this month

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Twitter’s trending topic ‘Grabe January’ saw Filipinos including Kobe’s death in global tragic events this month

Just like the rest of the world, Filipinos mourned the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, regarding the fatal helicopter crash as one of global tragic events that made January 2020 a month that made a lot of people suffer.

NASA Astronaut Christina Hammock Koch posted an image of the ash-covered Taal Volcano as seen from the International Space Station.

In the Twitter trending topic “Grabe January”, Filipinos listed down what they believe as the events that already caused grief and sufferings right at the first month of the year.

Included on the list are the Australia bush fire and other wildfires, the rise of the deadly novel coronavirus (or 2019-nCoV), the Iran-US tussle, the eruption of Taal Volcano, the numerous earthquakes, and the death of the player known globally as Black Mamba. Avid followers of James Reid and Nadine Lustre also included the JaDine breakup on the list.

Filipinos vented their frustration over what they said as “very long” and bad start for the year in the topic ‘Grabe January’ on Monday (January 27).

Filipinos love Kobe Bryant, 41, especially since they had close encounters with him on numerous occasions.

Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday along with daughter Gianna and several others, had at least six official visits to the Philippines during his National Basketball Association (NBA) career. His first visit was in August 1998 and wowed the fans at the old Araneta Coliseum with his awesome dunks. He returned in September 2007, July 2009, July 2011, August 2013, and June 2016.

Gianna Bryant and her father, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, attend the WNBA All-Star Game 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas in July. Both were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. 
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the premier professional basketball league in the Philippines, expressed its grief and gave tribute to the Black Mamba in a statement.

PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial, in a statement, said:

“The PBA has lost a dear friend in Kobe Bryant who leaves behind fond memories of seven unforgettable visits to our country. Kobe was an exceptional basketball player but beyond his athletic skills, he was known for his caring heart and love of family. His life was an inspiration and a lesson to everyone that with hard work, dedication, and self-sacrifice, nothing is impossible. At 41, Kobe is gone too soon but his legacy will last forever. The PBA mourns the passage of a man who has touched the lives of millions.  Rest in peace, Kobe.”

Kobe, in one of his visits to the Philippines, also played alongside other NBA stars in a game versus the Philippine national team that was preparing for the FIBA Asia Qualifiers.

EDITORIAL: DOH should be lauded for immediately treating 2019-nCoV a public health emergency

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DOH should be lauded for immediately treating 2019-nCoV a public health emergency
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

The pronouncement of the Department of Health (DOH) that the government is already treating the spread of the novel coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV) as a public health emergency even if no domestic case has been confirmed yet as of January 24 is indeed laudable.

This only shows that the DOH is now ready to take proactive measures to make sure the new coronavirus strain that originated from Wuhan will not reach Philippine shores; or if it is already here, it would not infect more Filipinos.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said it well in an interview with ANC: “We are treating it as a public health emergency. We want to make sure that if it does get here, we are able to contain it, isolate it.”

Declaring a public health emergency allows the DOH and other concerned agencies to tap the necessary resources to make sure proper actions and measures will be in place to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV.  In the United States, where there is a confirmed 2019-nCoV case already, a public health emergency declaration releases resources meant to handle an actual or potential public health crisis.

Why is this important? We all know how unscrupulous traders took advantage of the ash fall that reached Metro Manila after the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano last January 12. Due to the sudden spike in demand for face masks, some establishments reportedly raised the prices of their N95 and surgical masks, prompting the DOH and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to implement a price freeze and conduct operations against erring retailers and suppliers.

With the 2019-nCoV feared to be communicable, face masks would again be in demand. With the declaration of a public health emergency, authorities will be able to guard the public against overpricing and hoarding of N95 and other face masks again.

This is just an example. Of course, there are many other things that the government needs to do to shield Filipinos from this new strain of coronavirus. Some measures would certainly entail more budget, so the DOH and other concerned agencies should not be hindered by bureaucratic red tape in getting needed funds. 

In China, for instance, the Chinese government has started building a new 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan solely for coronavirus patients. The Philippine government, of course, does not need to do this also for now. However, interventions of a smaller magnitude—but would entail additional funding—need to be undertaken also as proactive measures. Ensuring adequate medicines and facilities for 2019-nCoV patients are examples. At the ports of entry, the quarantine personnel, as well as their testing capabilities, should be enhanced. Authorities should also prepare to dedicate experts and resources for the isolation of people suspected as being infected by the deadly virus.

The DOH is still waiting for the result of the confirmatory test on a five-year-old Chinese who arrived in sick in Cebu from Wuhan. Also, a 36-year-old Filipino worker in Wuhan just came homesick and is now in a hospital in Tacloban. 

While there is no confirmation yet that the 2019-nCoV is already here in the Philippines, it is indeed a positive signal that the DOH has declared that it already considers the spread of the new coronavirus strain as a public health emergency. Caution and preparedness are paramount in situations like this. As the saying goes—better safe than sorry.

UPDATE: Duterte won’t be cowed by world’s most powerful nation

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Duterte won’t be cowed by world’s most powerful nation
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers a speech after leading the distribution of benefits to former rebels at the San Isidro Central School in Leyte on January 23, 2020. VALERIE ESCALERA/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Duterte again showed that he will not be cowed by the most powerful nation in the world after he decided not just to turn down the offer of US President Donald Trump to visit Washington but also to end the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

These actions from Duterte were in retaliation to the Washington’s travel ban versus Philippine officials who had something to do with the prosecution of opposition Senator Leila de Lima, as contained in the 2020 budget law of the US. Already, the US visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, the Philippine National Police chief when de Lima was detained, has been cancelled. 

Duterte initially gave Washington one month to reverse dela Rosa’s visa cancellation or the VFA will be terminated by Manila. But on Friday afternoon (January 24), Panelo said the process to terminate the VFA has been started

Panelo said: “The process for terminating the same has started. The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said they are of the opinion that the Executive branch can end the VFA on its own, or without waiting for the Senate’s concurrence, similar to what Manila did when the country opted out of the International Criminal Court. “There is a view which I think I shared once—on pulling out of ICC as I did as UN ambassador—that while Senate concurrence is required to make a treaty; none is required to terminate it which is an entirely personal Presidential power. But that’s just a view.”

This view was shared by former Senate President Franklin Drilon and other senators.

The VFA, like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty, are the existing military agreements that the Philippines currently has with the US. It will end 180 days after a notice was given by either party.

Duterte wants assurance from Trump of a hitch-free travel to Washington in face of ban vs PH officials

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Duterte wants assurance from Trump of a hitch-free travel to Washington in face of ban vs PH officials
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers a speech after leading the distribution of benefits to former rebels at the San Isidro Central School in Leyte on January 23, 2020. VALERIE ESCALERA/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Update: JAN 24, 2020 ( 4:39PM ) –

Malacanang did not say it directly, but it appears that for President Duterte to accept US President Donald Trump’s invitation, there should be an assurance from Washington that the Philippine leader’s visit to the White House would be hitch free.

This is in the face of Washington’s move to prevent entry of Philippine officials who have a role in the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima, as demanded by the US Senate.  Already, Senator Ronald dela Rosa confirmed that his US visa had been cancelled. Dela Rosa was the head of the Philippine National Police when de Lima was detained for alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade. The ban against travel of Philippine officials is included in the United States’ 2020 budget law.

Lawyer Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s chief legal counsel and spokesman, told reporters on Thursday (January 23) that the President believes that his presence in the US would not be appreciated by some American senators, and that he might not even be issued a US visa.

Repeating Duterte’s own words, Panelo said: “I do not even know if the US will even issue me a visa, I do not know if I will be allowed entry.” 

Panelo added: “He (Duterte) said he has to ponder over it because he doesn’t want to go there and if he’s already there, some US senators might be unhappy seeing him there.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Trump really wants to meet with Duterte in Washington, which is why another invitation from the White House was sent to Malacanang dated January 9, 2020.

Trump also invited Duterte and other Southeast Asian leaders last November to a US-Asean Summit in Washington in March.

Duterte had repeatedly said that he wouldn’t set foot on American soil, as he declared his pivot to China for the Philippines’ trade and diplomatic stance.

But Panelo said it is now likely that Duterte would accept Trump’s invitation, given certain conditions.

“The ball has been thrown to them then they have to do something about it,” Panelo said. “Let the US receive whatever signals it wants to receive from the statements of the President.” 

Airlines, government roll out preventive measures against coronavirus

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Passengers of an Eva Air flight from Taipei wear masks to protect themselves as they arrive at Naia Terminal 1 on Thursday, as Bureau of Quarantine staff track temperatures of visitors. Airports around the region tightened precautions against the 2019 coronavirus from China.

Crew members of a Cebu Pacific flight from Hong Kong, including four passengers suspected to have been exposed to a person infected with the novel coronavirus, were subjected to screening by quarantine officers upon their arrival at the airport.

Cebu Pacific Corporate Communications Director Charo Logarta Lagamon said the company has been alerted by reports from the Hong Kong media about the four passengers who inadvertently were exposed to a person infected with the coronavirus.

Lagamon said “none of the passengers and crew was held for further observation.” She said the crew members and passengers were aboard Cebu

Read More:

Photo Credit: BusinessMirror

Duque: Manila awaits advice from WHO on need to impose travel restrictions vs Chinese nationals

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Duque: Manila awaits advice from WHO on need to impose travel restrictions vs Chinese nationals
Image Credit: Marianne Bermudez/Inquirer

The Philippines would not jump the gun and restrict the travel of Chinese nationals into the country this early to help contain the spread of a new strain of the deadly coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they would still wait for official word from the World Health Organization (WHO) if there is a need to impose travel restrictions, especially with the coming Chinese New Year when more tourists from China are expected.

Interviewed over radio station DZBB on Wednesday (January 22), Duque said: “‘Yung usapin po na travel restriction ay pinag-iisipan na po ‘yan, pinag-uusapan nang malaliman ng WHO kasi kinakailangan kung magkakaroon ng travel restriction, ang mangunguna na dapat magsagawa nito ay ang China mismo… Sila mismo ang pipigil sa kanilang mga mamamayan sa pagbiyahe palabas ng China.”

The Philippines has placed under observation a five-year-old Chinese who arrived sick in Cebu from Wuhan recently. Health officials are determining if it was another case of the new coronavirus strain.

Duque said the situation is “very fluid” at this time. “Maghihintay tayo ng malinaw na gabay o guidelines mula sa World Health Organization na sila naman ang oras-oras na nakikipag-ugnayan sa Chinese Center for Disease Control at saka sa Chinese Ministry of Health.” 

The Philippines is receiving plenty of Chinese visitors, not just for tourism and leisure, but also work-related, as Chinese nationals man numerous offshore gaming hubs in the country. 

The Department of Tourism reported that in the first 10 months of 2019, a total of 1,499,524 Chinese tourists visited the Philippines, 41.13 higher compared to the same period in 2018.

Chinese nationals are expected to travel to different locations for the Chinese New Year (January 25) holidays.

In the meantime, Duque advised Filipinos to avoid crowded places, wash their hands regularly, cover their mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing, and to strengthen their immune system.

The DOH is also prepared for the possible widespread use of N95 masks once the situation requires it.

“Of course, makakatulong ‘yan (N95 masks) pero sa ngayon, hindi pa naman natin kinakailangan pa dahil wala pa namang abiso ang World Health Organization… Pero handa naman tayo na dapat maging available ang N95 masks para mapigilan ang paglanghap nag contaminated na hangin,” he said.

Pagcor’s P2-B project starts ball rolling on construction of permanent evacuation centers in disaster-prone areas

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Pagcor’s P2-B project starts ball rolling on construction of permanent evacuation centers in disaster-prone areas
Image Credit: Pagcor

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) will set in motion the proposals to build permanent evacuation centers in disaster-prone areas around the country.

Pagcor announced on Tuesday (January 21) that it is allocating P2 billion for the construction of a Multipurpose Evacuation Center (MPEC) in each of the 11 sites it already identified.

“Following ocular inspections and evaluation of the locations identified as calamity-prone, Pagcor submitted the list of the areas to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to ascertain the implementation of the project,” the gaming regulator said.

President Duterte, in a speech before victims of the Taal Volcano eruption in Sto. Tomas, Batangas on Monday, urged Congress to help allocate fund in building large evacuation centers in disaster-prone areas particularly in the provinces facing the Pacific Ocean like Samar, Isabela and Cagayan.

Several bills have been filed in both houses of Congress calling for the construction of permanent evacuation centers around the country.

At the Senate, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian filed Senate Bill (SB) 747 or “An Act Establishing Evacuation Centers in Every Municipality and City, Providing For The Necessary Facilities, Ensuring Their Structural Capacity, and Appropriating Funds.” Senator Bong Go, meanwhile, filed SB 1228 or “An Act Establishing a Mandatory Evacuation Center in all Cities, Provinces and Municipalities, Appropriating Funds Therefor.” 

A counterpart bill was filed in the lower chamber by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.

Pagcor said the P2-billion MPEC project is “the latest development in one of the agency’s major plans in fulfillment of its mandate to help uplift the lives of the Filipinos.”

Pagcor’s MPECs will be used to accommodate victims of calamities such as supertyphoons, floods and volcanic eruptions, as well as for other community endeavors.

Meanwhile, PAGCOR visited 11 temporary evacuation centers in Bauan, Batangas and Indang, Alfonso, Mendez, Amadeo and Tagaytay in Cavite during the first phase of its relief activities from January 15 to 17, 2020 to distribute relief packs to the 4,000 families displaced by the eruption of Taal Volcano.

The agency donated non-food items like mosquito nets, slippers, detergent soaps, hygiene kits and blankets. Some employees also pooled their resources to donate rice, water and used clothes.

Economic losses due to Taal Volcano eruption already at P6.66 billion as of January 20 – Neda

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Income losses due to the prolonged activity of Taal Volcano have been pegged at more than P6.66 billion already as of January 20, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

The figure takes into consideration the impacts on economic activities within the 17-kilometer high-risk radius from the volcano that covers 26 cities and municipalities.

The 6.657-billion economic losses already represent 0.26 percent of the gross domestic product of the Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (Calabarzon) Region.

Neda said foregone income in the agriculture and fishery sector is already P3.167 billion, industry sector at P711.9 million, and services sector at P2.778  billion.

In the 14-kilometer radius alone, Neda said close to 400,000 people will have to be evacuated in 16 cities and municipalities in case of hazardous eruption of Taal Volcano. 

Right now, or one week after the phreatic eruption of Taal and its continued activity, a total of 50,599 families, or 203,763 individuals, have been evacuated from the affected barangays in Batangas, Cavite and Laguna.

The Taal Lake alone provides sustenance to 2,761 fisherfolk gathering finish, crustaceans and mollusks.

“The lake is predominantly used for fisheries but has multi-resource uses such as recreation, tourism, navigation, water source for Tagaytay, irrigation and source of feeds for docs. As a major tourism destination area, the lake is used for sight-seeing, boating, swimming, sailing, and water skiing,” Neda said in its report titled “Preliminary Assessment of the Economic Impacts of the Taal Volcano Eruption”.

Taal Lake has an area of approximately 239 square kilometers and the lakeshore circumference is about 267 kilometers. Within the lake is a volcano island with an area of around 24 square kilometers. It is surrounded by eight rivers namely: Palico River, Obispo-Molino River, Dacanlao River, San Juan River, Calumpang River, Malaking Ilog River and Rosario River which serve as inflows and the Pansipit River as an outflow down to Balayan Bay.

Farm damage due to Taal eruption rises to P578 million; volcanic ash to replenish soil nutrients in affected areas

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Farm damage due to Taal eruption rises to P578 million; volcanic ash to replenish soil nutrients in affected areas

While the Taal Volcano eruption has already damaged P577.59 million worth of crops and livestock, the volcanic ash that covered several areas also brings benefits as it will improve soil fertility over the long term, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

Data released by the DA office in the Southern Tagalog region as of January 14 showed that the eruption has already affected 2,772 hectares of farm lands and 1,967 animal heads. 

Damaged farms had rice, corn, coffee, cacao, banana and high-value crops.

Alert Level 4 is still up in the area, which means a hazardous eruption is expected within hours or days.

Although currently destructive, the volcanic ash deposits will also contribute to the so-called “birth of soil”, or the renewal and replenishing of soil nutrients in the affected farms. The Bureau of Soils and Water Management said this will improve soil fertility on medium to long term.

The DA interventions so far include P21.7 million worth of crops and livestock to be distributed by DA CALABARZON to 17 LGUS including Agoncillo, San Nicolas, Talisay, Lemery, Laurel, Lipa City, San Jose, Nasugbu, Mataas na Kahoy, Balete, Cuenca, Alitagtag, Padre Garcia, Tanauan City, Malvar and Taal. 

“These interventions include the provision of livestock for restocking and rice and corn seeds, high-value crops planting materials and other production inputs,” the DA said.

Also, the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) has available drugs and biologics to be provided for the affected livestock. Also, two trucks are available to mobilize the affected areas for animal rescue and evacuation.

The DA added: “As for the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), a total of 5,000 coffee mother plants and 1,000 cacao seedlings are ready for distribution for damaged coffee and cacao areas.”

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will prepare immediate assistance in the form of fingerlings (7M fingerlings for tilapia; 20,000 for Ulang; 50,000 for hito; 100,000 for Bighead Carp; and 5,000 fingerlings for Ayungin) once aquaculture operation in the Lake will resume.

“Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) has an initial amount of Php 30M ready to provide to Rural Bank of Mt. Carmel as funds for the implementation of Survival and Recovery (SURE) Loan Assistance that will benefit around 1,200 farmers/fisherfolk in Batangas. In addition, the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) has available and enough funds to pay for the indemnity of the affected insured farmers and fisherfolk,” the DA said.

Road fissure caused by volcanic tremors destroys homes in a town near Taal Volcano

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Road fissure caused by volcanic tremors destroys homes in a town near Taal Volcano
A family in a van crosses a damaged road in Lemery town in Batangas province Tuesday. Photo: EPA-EFE

The frequent tremors caused by the Taal Volcano activity have caused a 3-kilometer fissure on a road in the nearby town of Lemery, Batangas, destroying around 20 houses and triggering fears among residents that it could be an active fault line.

Teresa Atienza, village leader of Barangay Sinisian, said the crack originated from the Taal Lake and had since branched into several small fissures since it was first noticed in the morning of January 13, or just hours after Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday (January 12).

“Ako po ay natatakot na baka isa itong fault line…ako po ay humihingi ng tulong sa mga expert para malaman kung ano talaga ang dahlian ng pagbitak na ito,” Atienza said in an interview over radio station DZMM.

Lemery is only about 12 kilometers away from Taal. 

Atienza said residents of the damaged houses have been relocated. They were advised not to return to their homes as the structures are no longer safe due to the continuous quakes in the area.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said around 200 tremors of below Intensity 5 have been recorded since Taal Volcano heightened its activity.

Taal Volcano’s condition remains on Alert Level 4, which means a destructive eruption can happen within hours.

Atienza said the fissure, reminiscent of scenes in the 2009 movie “2012” when cracks started to appear on Los Angeles roads before it was totally obliterated from the map, could reach as far as the city of Muntinlupa in Metro Manila, where there is an existing fault line.

The whole province of Batangas is now under a state of calamity, with more than 16,000 people already evacuated from areas within the danger zone as of the afternoon of January 14.

How the ashfall from Taal Volcano can harm you

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How the ashfall from Taal Volcano can harm you

The Department of Health (DOH) has advised the public to minimize exposure to the volcanic ash blown to Metro Manila cities after the Taal Volcano eruption on Sunday (January 12).

This is because the ashfall contains harmful substances such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fluorine and hydrochloric acid, among others.

Among the harmful effects of volcanic ash are: nose and throat irritation, coughing, bronchitis-like illness, discomfort while breathing, eye irritation and skin irritation.

Particularly vulnerable to these harmful substances are people suffering from asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is why they are advised to remain indoors. 

Interviewed over radio station DZMM, pulmonologist Giancarlo Arandia said the ash particles are so small that can easily enter the openings of the respiratory system.

Those who can’t avid gong outdoors, Arandia said they should use N95 masks or damp towel in covering their nose.

Ophthalmologist Nilo Flor Cruz also told DZMM: “Irritating ‘yung ash na ‘yon dahil medyo acidic ‘yon eh. Kung dati sa panahon ng Pinatubo, pwedeng mangalawang ‘yung mga bubong, paano pa ‘yung mata natin.”

He recommended the use eye of lubricant drops to remove the tiny ashes and also regular washing of the face.

The Philippine office of the World Health Organization gave these recommendations to the public: stay indoors unless absolutely necessary; avoid low-lying areas and areas downwind from the volcano; for children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems, wear masks that block small particles of ash; for the general population, wear a simple mask; wear protective eye gear; make sure food and water you consume are safe.

EDITORIAL: Does US Senate Resolution 142 carry weight?

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Does US Senate Resolution 142 carry weight?
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

Does Resolution 142 passed by the US Senate (or S.Res. 142) carry weight? In Washington, maybe; but in Manila, especially under a maverick Chief Executive like Rodrigo R. Duterte, nada.

The world knows that the Philippines gained its complete independence from America in 1946 through the “Tydings–McDuffie Act”, or the Philippine Independence Act, signed by President Harry S. Truman.

This means that for the Philippines, S.R. 142 should be nothing but an expression of the sense of the US Senate regarding the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, the oft-criticized bloody war against illegal drugs launched by the Duterte administration, and the perceived muzzling of critical press and political opposition in the country.

S.R 142, titled “Condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila De Lima, calling for her immediate release, and for other purposes”, calls on the Philippine government to immediately release de Lima, “drop all charges against her, remove restrictions on her personal and work conditions, and allow her to fully discharge her legislative mandate, especially as Chair of the Committee on Social Justice.”

It also urges the government of the Philippines to “guarantee the right to the freedom of the press, and to drop all the charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler.” The resolution also calls on the President of the United States to impose sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (subtitle F of title XII of Public Law 114–32822 U.S.C. 2656 note) with respect to—

(A) members of the security forces and officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for extrajudicial killings; and

(B) officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention of Senator De Lima.

There is no way Malacanang would heed these calls of the US Senate. President Duterte had declared too many times that he wouldn’t mind losing the support of Washington and would prefer to be an ally of Beijing.

Not only that, Malacanang had repeatedly said also that the case of de Lima is now in the hands of the Judiciary. Any intervention on the case of de Lima from the Executive Branch, as what S.R. 142 is demanding, would prove the claims that— as mentioned in the resolution— “indeed, she has been the target of partisan persecution”.

President Duterte’s spokesman and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, in response to S. R. 142, said de Lima and Ressa “have been criminally charged in accordance with the law. They have availed – and are still availing – of legal remedies for their defense.”

So let the wheels of justice grind. If the prosecution couldn’t prove the guilt of both de Lima and Ressa, they would be freed in due time—with or without S.R. 142. The Philippines is an independent country with an independent judicial system. S.R. 142 should not carry any weight in their cases. Otherwise, the resolution would just be contradicting itself.

Local airlines commit to help in repatriation of Filipinos via free flights from Middle East

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Local airlines commit to help in repatriation of Filipinos via free flights from Middle East

The Philippine government now has multiple options—both via sea and air— in repatriating Filipinos that will be put at risk should tensions between the US and Iran escalate, after two local carriers have committed to free provide free flights from the Middle East.

This was disclosed by Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Director General Jim Sydiongco on Friday (January 10).

“Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have agreed to accommodate free of charge stranded Filipinos in the UAE or in any of its available Middle East flights, once the plans for the repatriation has been outlined,” said the CAAP official in a statement. 

Aside from air transport, the government is also preparing for the evacuation of Filipinos in Iraq, Iran and other areas in the Middle East via sea vessels.

Already dispatched to the region was the newly purchased BRP Gabriela Silang, which will be on stand by should the repatriation operation commence.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles also told reporters on Friday that “if needed, we might have to charter a cruise vessel para mas malaki.”

Nograles said the government is considering Qatar as transit point for the Filipinos that will be repatriated.

An initial P100-million budget was readied for the evacuation of Filipinos in Iran and Iraq alone.

Malacanang ordered the mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq after a series of missile attacks was launched by Iran against US installations in Iraq, in retaliation to the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

US President Donald Trump called off a counterstrike after he was informed that no American was killed or injured in Iran’s “calibrated response” to the Soleimani assassination.

Still, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said mandatory repatriation from Iraq remains in effect, “while Filipinos in Iran, Libya and Lebanon who wish to come home because of the recent tensions will be assisted by the government.”

Two battalion of soldiers will also be deployed to assist in the rescue in repatriation of Filipinos, and not to engage in combat.

“Personnel to be deployed in the conflict areas will exclusively assist in the repatriation and humanitarian operations,” Lorenzana said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said the government will pay for the penalties or debts of Filipinos that will be repatriated.

Competitive salaries for state personnel to allow the government to retain, attract talented workers

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Competitive salaries for state personnel to allow government to retain, attract talented workers
Image Credit: PhilippineRetirementVisa

Malacanang is hopeful that the salary increase for state employees under a new law signed by President Duterte on Wednesday (January 8) will allow the government to retain human resources that are either opting to go to private firms or work abroad due to their meager income.

Secretary Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s spokesman and chief legal counsel, said the 8-percent to 30-percent hike to be granted under the Salary Standardization Law of 2019, or Republic Act (RA) 11466, puts the compensation of government personnel on a par with their private sector counterparts.

This, Panelo noted, will help the government retain—and even attract—talented state workers.

He said: “The Palace hopes that this latest round of salary adjustment will motivate everyone in the public sector to work doubly hard and put more dedicated and competent service in their respective jobs.”

RA 11466 hikes the salaries of employees with Salary Grades 10 to 15 by 20 percent to 30 percent. Those with Salary Grades 23 to 33, meanwhile, will get an 8-percent increase.

The adjustments will be given in four tranches beginning this month up to 2023.

President Duterte has a Salary Grade 33, although he is not included in the compensation adjustment under the law.

Also excluded are Vice President Leni Robredo, the present members of Congress, military and uniformed personnel, employees of government-owned or -controlled corporations covered by RA 10149, and individuals whose services are engaged through job orders, contracts of service, consultancy or service contracts with no employer-employee relationship.

“The Office of the President notes that the law is at the initiative – and has the strong support – of President Duterte pursuant to his desire to upgrade the standard of living of government employees,” Panelo said. “The law is aimed at benefitting those hardworking men and women in the government, including our teachers and nurses who unfortunately have been neglected in the past.” 

Newly purchased vessel BRP Gabriela Silang redirected to Middle East for repatriation of OFWs

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Newly purchased vessel BRP Gabriela Silang redirected to Middle East for repatriation of OFWs
Image Credit: Dung Tran / Youtube

Newly purchased Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel BRP Gabriela Silang just received its first mission order even before it could reach Philippine waters after it was designated to head to the Middle East to help in the repatriation of Filipinos in the region as tension between the US and Iran escalates.

The French-made BRP Gabriela Silang is on its maiden voyage and was supposed to reach the Philippines on February 20 after it left Saint-Nazaire, France last December 30.

However, with Iran already starting its retaliatory actions against the US for the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, BRP Gabriela Silang’s course was redirected to the Middle East for its first tour of duty.

The Philippine Mission in Baghdad just announced on Wednesday (January 8) that Alert Level 4 has been declared over Iraq, which means Filipinos there need to be evacuated immediately. Alert Level 4 means there is large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external attack in the subject country.

This was after a series of missile attacks was launched by Iran on a military base in Iraq housing American forces.

In a Facebook Live advisory, Chargè d’ Affairès Jomar Sadie in Iraq said : “Inatasan na po ng Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ang iba’t ibang ahensya ng pamahalaan ng Pilipinas, kasama na po ang Embahada ng Pilipinas sa Iraq para ilikas ang mga Pilipino dito sa bansa. Ang marching order sa amin ay mandatory repatriation.” 

BRP Gabriela Silang will now had to Dubai and Oman as a standby vessel for the repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East. 

Around 1,600 Filipinos are currently situated in Iraq alone. Sadie advised them to contact the Philippine mission in Iraq at 07816066822, 07516167838, 07518764665 and 07508105240 for any concern regarding their documents and release from employers.

He said: “Kung wala kayong employer at biktima ng human trafficking, tumawag po kayo sa amin para matulungan namin kayo o pumunta directly sa embassy,” he added, noting that appropriate travel documents will be issued to them by the embassy. Kapag gusto ninyong umuwi at ayaw kayong pauwiin ng employer at hindi ninyo siya mapakiusapang mabuti, tawagan ninyo po kami at kami ang kakausap sa employer ninyo.”

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