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Duterte to promptly suspend, detain officials who will pocket COVID-19 funds

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Duterte to promptly suspend, detain officials who will pocket COVID-19 funds
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte updates the nation on the government's efforts in addressing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on March 30, 2020. KING RODRIGUEZ/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Duterte on Monday (March 30) warned officials who will embezzle funds meant for programs to combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that they will be promptly arrested and detained.

In a taped message aired late Monday night, Duterte said those that will be reported to have misused parts of the P275-billion emergency funds will also be suspended.

“Kung mamumulitika ka tapos mabalittan ko na ‘yun ang ginawa mo, I will suspend you ora mismo…I will detain you, and maybe I will release you pagkatapos ng Covid. Hindi ako nananakot,” the President said.

Duterte signed into law last March 24 Republic Act 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan Act).

He said he already issued the executive order detailing how the government will use the emergency funds granted by Congress to the Executive Branch via the Bayanihan Act.

Duterte said the money will go to the cash subsidy to the families affected by the lockdown, purchase of medical equipment and other needs to strengthen the country’s health system, and initiatives to shield the economy from the negative impact of COVID-19.  

He again thanked health workers in the frontline of the fight against the spread of the disease.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa hlahat ng ating mga doktor who are honest at talagag nagtratrabaho; sa inyo po personal kong gratitude na hindi mababayaran ng pera. Nagpapasalamat din ang tao bayan sa inyo, salamat po,” Duterte said, “at ako ay regularly makipag-usap sa inyo until this crisis is over. Huwag kayong matakot ngayon, may pera ako; kung may palpak man diyan ay aayusin namin.”

Duterte also identified and personally thanked the private companies and individuals who are donating massively to the government and private institutions that are involved in the coronavirus programs.

Agri chief assures rice supply not a problem

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Agri chief assures rice supply not a problem
Image Credit: https://www.bworldonline.com/

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar assured that the country’s rice supply at the end of March will be enough to feed Filipinos up to the next four months despite the lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“With harvest already coming in, along with the steady arrival of imported rice, we expect no shortage of the staple during the duration of the enhanced community quarantine and beyond,” Dar said.

Filipinos consume an average of 35,369 MT per day, or about 1.2 million MT per month, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

The country’s rice stock, meanwhile, is seen to rise to 2.66 million MT by the end of March, good for 75 days. This will be augmented by importation and new harvests.

“By end of June, rice inventory level is projected at 2.38 million MT, which is enough for 67 days. As a strategy, the DA will maximize government-supported expansion areas as a catch-up plan to stabilize food availability,” Dar said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is now considering early planting in most areas, including Regions 2 and 3, to boost production during the third quarter of 2020. The DA will also expand coverage in area planted, on top of the existing rice production areas covered by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. At the same time, the use of hybrid seeds is encouraged to boost productivity.

Dar assured that the DA is trying its best to cover all areas and concerns to ensure that Filipinos will have a stable supply of rice and other agricultural commodities.

The agri chief reiterated the importance of ensuring the unhampered movement of food commodities, as well as agri-fishery products, inputs, activities and personnel in the food value chain amid the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine.

“We can’t be complacent now. Cooperation, coordination, and understanding of each other’s plight can go a long way. Let’s help each other, consumer and producers alike,” Dar said.

Likewise, Secretary Dar called for the establishment of so-called mobility corridors for the food supply chain to move with ease –including personnel, processing, delivery, distribution, and management in food production.

Duterte pleads to Filipinos: Stay at home

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Duterte pleads to Filipinos: Stay at home
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte sanitizes his hands before holding a meeting with some members of his Cabinet to discuss updates on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Presidential Security Group (PSG) Compound in Malacañang Park on March 24, 2020. PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Like a father imploring obedience from his children, President Duterte asked Filipinos to follow the government’s advice to stay at home, as this will make or break the efforts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“I repeat: Stay at home. Huwag matigas ang ulo. The outcome of this war depends largely on you as well,” Duterte said in his latest televised message to the nation.

He stressed that the government will extend financial assistance to almost all Filipino families, “especially to those in the margins and the vulnerable groups.” “Huwag kayong matakot. Nandito ‘yong gobyerno ninyo para kayo pagsilbihan at totoong pagsilbihan,”

Duterte added: ”I now call on every Filipino to participate in this war by following the guidelines set by the national government and your local officials. Nothing is more important [now] than your cooperation…Gagawin namin ang lahat. Hindi namin kayo pababayaan.”

He also assured that government agencies will ensure the speedy delivery of essential medical supplies and equipment to health facilities, “from the approval, importation and to the delivery.” “Everything must go smoothly to make sure that we do not waste time…I do not want red tapes. I do not want so many questions. Pagka sinertify ng isang government employee ‘yan. I said, do not commit a mistake and we will all be happy and comfortable…Kung gusto ninyong magluko, huwag ngayon itong panahon na ito.”

“Yes, things will not be easy. [But] we Filipinos are tough. Mas malakas ang Pilipino sa anumang hamon. Now, we all must do what we can and must, para sa ating bayan. I look forward to the day that we Filipinos can finally claim victory in this war and emerge as a stronger and more united Filipinos and Philippines,” Duterte declared. 

The President also thanked the different sectors that are giving their all in the fight against COVID-19, especially the health workers. ”First, let me reiterate my sincerest gratitude to all our courageous frontliners in this war, especially our healthcare workers—our doctors, nurses, medical technologists, and other allied health professionals. Maraming-maraming salamat. Asahan niyo ang suporta ng inyong gobyerno.”

“I am saddened by the news that the virus has claimed the lives of our doctors along the way. Lahat po sila ay bayani and not only that, talagang bumilib ako. Bihira akong sumasaludo ng tao pero ‘pag mga doktor natin, mga health workers na nadisgrasya, talagang saludo ako sa inyo. Wala na kayo dito sa mundong ito pero ganun na lang ang pagtingin ko sa inyo.”

“To the able officials and staff of the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging and Infectious Diseases, thank you for staying on top of this situation,” he added. ”To the brave men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, thank you as well for ensuring peace and order in these trying times.”

“I also thank the rest of the frontliners who ensure that basic services are provided to our people, from those manning various government agencies, groceries, banks, food establishments, and delivery services, among others. Maraming, maraming salamat po.”

“To the gracious members of the private sector who are foregoing profit to alleviate the suffering of our people; to the valiant volunteers who are bravely supplementing our frontliners; to the noble civil society organizations who are working tirelessly in calling for donations and performing charity work— Thank you very much for your kindness, compassion and generosity.” 

Malacanang tells Filipinos to be wary of fake news as Congress grants Duterte special powers

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte holds a meeting with some members of his Cabinet to discuss updates on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Presidential Security Group (PSG) Compound in Malacañang Park on March 24, 2020. TOTO LOZANO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

With Congress granting President Duterte the much-needed special powers to better tackle the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019), Malacanang asked Filipinos to be on guard against people who are out to sow disorder and undermine government efforts by circulating fake news through social media.

“Once again, we urge our countrymen to be wary of rumors and false news designed to create panic and confusion propagated by the enemies of peace and order,” Presidential Spokesman and Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said.

The Palace was reacting to numerous fake reports that are popping in social media sides that make people worry, including an alleged plan by Duterte to impose food rationing as he implements his emergency powers.

The two houses of Congress have already passed the bill titled “Bayanihan To Heal As One Act” granting stand-by powers to the President to carry out effectively the national policy of stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“There is an urgent need to implement measures that will help address the health scare brought about by the spread of COVID-19 in our land. They include the effective detection of the virus among the populace, prompt testing by health facilities of patients, protection and access to transportation in favor of our health workers who are at the frontline of this battle, maintenance of availability and pricing of essential and basic commodities for consumers, and provision thereof to those belonging to the vulnerable sectors of society, among others,” Panelo said.

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act authorizes the President to immediately implement measures, such as:

Effective education, detection, protection, and treatment of Filipinos versus COVID-19; 

Expediting the accreditation of testing kits and facilitating the prompt testing by public and designated private institutions; 

Providing allowance or compensation and shouldering medical expenses in favor of public and private health workers; 

Directing establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, or relief and aid distribution locations, as well as public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel; 

Ensuring the availability of essential goods, in particular food and medicine, and protecting the people from illegal and pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution and movement of certain essential items; 

Directing the extension of statutory deadlines for the filing of government requirements and setting grace periods for payment of loans and rents; and 

Providing subsidy to low-income households and implementing an expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Program.

Panelo assured the Filipino people that the powers granted the President shall be enforced strictly in accordance with the Constitution. “The grant of powers is for a limited period and subject to the restrictions contained therein.”

President Duterte, in a taped message, said: ”I particularly thank Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for the strong and decisive leadership you have demonstrated in shepherding this measure to fruition during this critical time in our national history.” 

“To the members of both houses of Congress who sponsored and voted for this measure, I express my sincerest gratitude to all of you for granting our most urgent requests. Finally, the Executive Department can move, decide and act freely for the best interest of the Filipino people during this health crisis.” 

Duterte admin to give 18M families P5,000 to P8,000 cash subsidy under emergency bill

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Duterte admin to give 18M families P5,000 to P8,000 cash subsidy under emergency bill
Image Credit: PCOO

Lawmakers are now fast-tracking the passage of a bill that will give President Duterte the authority to re-allocate existing budget to fund various emergency programs, including the grant of P5,000 to P8,000 to 18 million families to tide them over the enhanced community quarantine.

These 18 million families are those belonging to the so-called informal sector, or those considered poor and with “no work – no pay” types of livelihood.

Both houses of Congress held special sessions starting on Monday (March 23) to speed up the passage of the emergency powers bill.

The House version of the bill, if passed, will allow President Duterte to gather about P275 billion from the unused 2019 budget and 2020 national appropriations.

Around P200 billion will go to the cash subsidy for the 18 million families. The Philippines is estimated to have about 22 million families.

The remaining P75 billion will go to other expenditures, including the purchase or medical equipment and goods that will allow the health sector to better combat the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The bill will also empower the President to direct private hospitals and hotels to operate under the direction of the government in managing COVID-19.

Duterte has already approved the grant of hazard pay to government personnel that are still reporting for work despite the lockdown. Administrative Order No. 26 grants a maximum of P500 daily hazard pay to them.

“Government employees and workers engaged through contract of service (COS) or job order (JO), whose services are urgently necessary and who physically report for work during the period of the Enhanced Community Quarantine are inevitably exposed to health risks and hazards,” Duterte said in his order.

Christopher de Leon is first Filipino actor to be infected with COVID-19

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Christopher de Leon is first Filipino actor to be infected with COVID-19

Veteran actor Christopher de Leon became the first coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) casualty in the Philippine showbiz industry.

The Kapamilya actor, now playing a key role in Kim Chiu-led series “Love Thy Woman”, announced via Instagram that his COVID-19 test yielded positive.

De Leon wrote: ”Today, our doctor confirmed that I have COVID-19. I’ve had no recent travel history outside of the Philippines and no known contact with anyone who is positive to have the virus. However, due to the nature of my work in the entertainment business, I have interacted with many people.” 

He advised those who came into contact with him “within the last week or two to observe stringent self-quarantine, observe for symptoms and follow the triage procedures published by the DOH, whether asymptomatic or not.”

The 63-year-old actor added: “Please cooperate with the authorities in their contact tracing efforts.”

De Leon was the first showbiz personality to test positive for COVID-19 in the country. 

He said his wife Sandy Andolong, their daughter Mica and their house helpers are now under self-quarantine. “In this time of trial, we ask for your prayers and we continue to praise and thank the Lord for His goodness in our lives,” he said. 

Kim Chiu, in an IG message to De Leon, said: ”Get well soon, Tito Bo! Let’s all include Tito Bo sa prayers natin!”

PH under state of calamity as more measures put in place vs COVID-19

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PH under state of calamity as more measures put in place vs COVID-19
Image Credit: PCOO

The entire country is now under a state calamity, which means prices of all products are already frozen, and the national and local government units can use available resources to prevent the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) while cushioning its economic impact down to the vulnerable sectors.

President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 929, which “will, among others, afford the National Government, as well as LGUs, ample latitude to utilize appropriate funds, including the Quick Response Fund, in their disaster preparedness and response efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to continue to provide basic services to the affected population.”

The state of calamity is effective for six months, unless changed by the President.

Memorandum Circular No. 77, meanwhile, directs the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Trade and Industry to continuously monitor the prices of basic commodities and enact price control measures as provided by law.

It said: “The ongoing global concern on the spread of the COVID-19 has increased the demand for essential emergency drugs and medical supplies, and basic food commodities, thereby making these products susceptible to acts of illegal price manipulation.”

Duterte has already placed the entire Luzon under enhanced community quarantine, to further limit the movement of people, and consequently possible carriers of the coronavirus.

At least P27.1 billion has been readied for various programs to contain the spread of the disease and support the public and businesses via various interventions.

“As directed by President Duterte, the government will provide targeted and direct programs to guarantee that benefits will go to our workers and other affected sectors. We have enough but limited resources, so our job is to make sure that we have sufficient funds for programs mitigating the adverse effects of COVID-19 on our economy,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said they are now closely coordinating with the Philippine National Police, Department of Interior and Local Government and LGUs for proper implementation of the food resiliency protocols – including the identification of food lanes and the implementation of quarantine measures for the movement of food and other agricultural commodities.

The DA chief said that only trucks and suppliers with accreditation from the agriculture department could use the proposed special lanes. “All vehicles carrying essential food commodities, agri-fishery products and inputs bearing government-issued stickers must be allowed passage at quarantine checkpoints through these food lanes.” 

Meanwhile, the Department of Health announced its emergency hotlines for all concerns regarding COVID-19: 02-894-COVID (02-894-26843) and 1555.

Duterte: Every Filipino is a soldier in war against coronavirus

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Duterte: Every Filipino is a soldier in war against coronavirus
Image Credit: PCOO

In expanding and enhancing the community quarantine to cover the entire Luzon starting Tuesday (March 17), President Duterte rallied every Filipino in the war against the “invisible enemy” known as the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“We are in a fight against this vicious and invisible enemy. In this war, we are all soldiers, bata lalaki, bawat Pilipino ano mang estado sa buhay ay maituturing na sundalo sa laban na ito,” Duterte said in his address to the nation as he announced his decision to lock down the entire Luzon.

Duterte assured this is not leading to a Martial Law.

“Let me make this clear, this is not Martial Law. Under the Constitution Martial Law is declared when there is invasion rebellion or if public safety requires it.  Huwag kayong matakot, walang magdi-display ng baril dyan, except the armed forces and police,” Duterte stressed.

The enhanced community entails the closure of almost all establishments and ban on public transport in Luzon for the duration of the quarantine to control the movement of people, and subsequently the spread of the contagion.

Households should be confined to their respective homes.

“Ang general rule ay stay at home. If you leave your home to buy necessities, only one person ang puwede bumili, hindi puwede isama ang buong pamilya,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said .

These are the only establishments that will be allowed to operate: public markets, supermarket, groceries, convenience stores, hospitals, medical clinics, pharmacies and drug stores, food preparation and delivery services, water-refilling stations, manufacturing and processing plants of basic food products and medicines, banks, money transfer services, power, energy, water, and telecommunications supplies and facilities.

Restaurants will be allowed to operate if they have delivery services. 

For those who can’t afford to buy food and other supplies, the national and local governments, though the barangays, will deliver their needs to them.

Supply of COVID-19 test kits no longer a problem as UP-NIH commits to produce 1,000 units a week

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Supply of COVID-19 test kits no longer a problem as UP-NIH commits to produce 1,000 units a week
BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 05: Symbol photo of the coronavirus crisis. Diagnosis. COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 on March 05, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Health authorities around the world are concerned about the novel coronavirus. More and more countries are reporting diseases and new infections. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

Supply of test kits for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will no longer be a problem by next week, with the University of the Philippines (UP) committing to produce 1,000 units every week, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.

Eric Domingo, FDA officer in charge, said with the COVID-19 test kits developed by the UP-National Institutes of Health (NIH) already approved by the agency and pre-approved by the World Health Organization, the institute can now start producing the kits by volume.

“Ang pangako po nitong UP-NIH kaya nila at 1,000 a week tuloy-tuloy. Ang directive po e within one week, up na po dapat ang testing na ito,” Domingo said in an interview with radio station DZMM.

This will solve the supply constraints, as the country is currently buying kits from Japan. The test kit stocks right now is only about 2,000.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the country has enough budget for the purchase of COVID-19 test kits, with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation committing to provide a P2-billion funding for it. However, even the WHO said there is shortage of supply.

According to reports, the test kits developed by UP-NIH can yield “very accurate” results in just 2 hours.

This is better than the kits from Japan, which yield results in 24 hours.

With the test kits available, the government is advising those with fever and cough and have traveled abroad to go to accredited hospitals for free screening. The P2,000 cost for the test kits will be shouldered by the government.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has risen to 33 as of Wednesday (March 11) morning. Most of these are in Metro Manila, prompting President Duterte to suspend classes in schools in the region this week. Duterte has already a state of public health emergency.

DA, DTI advises Metro Manila residents against panic buying

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DA, DTI advise Metro Manila residents against panic buying

The Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have advised Metro Manila residents to free themselves of fears that the region would run out of food and other basic supplies during the monthlong community quarantine that will begin on Sunday.

The two departments said supply will not be a problem in Metro Manila, so there is no need for the public to engage in panic buying that will only worsen the situation by creating artificial shortage.

“The Department of Agriculture assures all Filipino families that there is enough food for everyone,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said.

“Wag mag panic buying dahil lalo ho talaga mag-artificial shortage, artificial pag may namamakyaw. ‘Yan po ay siguradong marereplenish dahil maraming stocks ang mga manufacturers,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

The DA regulates the sale of agricultural products, while the DTI oversees the manufactured goods. 

Dar said for rice, Metro Manila’s inventory is good for at least 9 months, and this will be augmented with the scheduled April harvest. The region consumes at least 26,241 metric tons (MT) of rice per week.

Meanwhile, the region’s requirement for vegetables and root crops, estimated at 5,000 MT per week, will be supplied Cordillera, Benguet, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Southern Luzon.

Also, the needed 7,934 MT of poultry and meat supply weekly and 8,000 MT fish demand will be met easily.

“Again, reiterating our call to the public, don’t hoard too much food. There is enough food supply that you can buy during this time of health emergency,” Dar said.

DTI, which chairs the National Price Coordinating Council, has already asked the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to help ensure hoarders, profiteers and those who will sell fake medicines and medical supplies will be dealt with accordingly.

“Ipapahanap namin kayo lalo na kung ang ibinebenta niyo mga medical products at illegal po ‘yun. Unang una hindi kayo certified seller, hindi kayo drug store at ang ibinebenta niyo ay walang FDA seal,” Lopez said.

Duterte places Metro Manila under lockdown

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Duterte places Metro Manila under lockdown
Image Credit: PCOO

President Duterte has placed the entire Metro Manila under community quarantine on Thursday night (March 12) as a way to contain the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has now taken the lives of five persons in the country.

Duterte, in nationally televised address, also said the Philippines is now under Code Red Sub-Level 2 alert, the highest level.

Community quarantine means there will be no land, domestic air and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila from March 15 to April 14. However, intra-region travel via mass transports like trains and metro rail transit will be allowed.

Duterte assured that this “lockdown” is now a Martial Law but is necessary in the fight against COVID-19.

“Ayaw naming gamitin yan kasi takot sa lockdown, but it’s a lockdown,. There is no struggle of power here, it is a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19,” he said.

Duterte added: “It’s subject again for review day to day, tingnan namin nangyayari if there is a slowdown in the contagion… Hindi ito martial law. It is not a martial law. It is not even something extraordinary. But what is sought to be solved here is the again, walang iba except to fight the virus, and to exact compliance.” 

Duterte also suspended work in the government’s Executive Branch, except for those dealing with health and emergency matters. Offices, however, need to ensure there will be a skeletal force manning their agencies.

Private firms, while encouraged to continue operations, will need to practice strict social distancing measures. 

Classes for all levels in Metro Manila have been suspended up to April 12.

“Mass gatherings, defined as a planned or spontaneous event, where the number of people attending could strain the planning and response resources of the community hosting the event, shall be prohibited during said period,” he also declared.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 52 as of Thursday night, with fatalities at 5. Four of those who died were Filipinos. The first fatality was a Chinese.

Several national government officials, local executives and lawmakers, meanwhile, have placed themselves under self-quarantine after they appeared in events that were attended by COVID-19-infected persons.

President also had himself tested for COVID-19 after he attended an event last March 5 where a COVID-19 patient was present.

UP-NIH just saved the day for Filipinos

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UP-NIH just saved the day for Filipinos
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

Filipinos should be thanking the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of  Health (UP-NIH) for successfully developing the test kits for the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) just as the world is starting to see a supply shortage amid the spread of the disease to over 100 countries.

The announcement made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that it has approved the UP-NIH-developed test kits, which were also pre-approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), was indeed a very welcome development, especially with local transmission of COVID-19 already happening in the country.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it: we have the money to buy test kits, but there is no supply. Currently, our COVID-19 test kits came from Japan, and there were only 2,000 units available.

Now, the UP-NIH has committed to produce 1,000 units of these test kits every week. Not only that, the locally developed kits were reported to be superior than their Japanese counterparts. According to the FDA, UP-NIH test kits can yield results in just 2 hours, as compared to the 24-hour wait for the Japan-made kits.

Raul Destura, who led the UP scientists in developing the test kits, said these were developed just two weeks after the WHO released the whole genome sequence of the virus.

For those who do not know, UP-NIH was established in 1996 by the UP Board of Regents. It was then declared as a national health research center by the government in 1998. According to its website, the NIH, while considered a unit of the University of the Philippines Manila, has its own Board of Advisers that recommends the general direction, determines priorities and thrusts of the organization, and generates resources in support of the programs and component units. The Board of Advisers is composed of the Department of Health Secretary, Chancellor of UP Manila, Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), the Executive Director of NIH, and 2 other recognized scholars appointed by the UP Board of Regents.

This makes facilities like the UP-NIH very crucial for the country. This should also make the policymakers realize the importance of providing adequate funding for them. This should also make the private sector more generous in their donations to these research institutes.

Just imagine the situation the country would be in if we could not develop our own COVID-19 test kits; underreporting of cases would surely persist. Not only that, the country would be ill-equipped in the fight against the disease. How would you know who to quarantine and cure if you do not have the test kits to determine who was infected?

Indeed, UP-NIH has saved the day for Filipinos. They should be thanked, congratulated and recognized properly for this.

Duterte to continue attending public events but suspends classes to shield children from COVID

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Duterte to continue attending public events but suspends classes to shield children from COVID
Image Credit: PCOO

With local transmissions causing the number of confirmed 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country to rise from 2 to 24 in just a matter of days, President Duterte on Monday night (March 9) ordered the suspension of classes for one week in Metro Manila as a preemptive move.

But Duterte said despite the suspension of classes up to March 14, barangay officials will help ensure chidden will still be studying their lessons as home, as recommended by Education Secretary Leonor Brions.

“The reason being that parang tignan natin yung incubation period which is not ordinarily like a normal virus, 3 or 4, ito umaabot ng 14 days. So itong 14 days na ito, one is to keep safe the children; second is we’re going to establish a benchmark kung ilan pa ang madagdagan. At ngayon kung itong walang klase, would it somehow reduce the number of the victims, if we keep our children sequestered at home and study there,” Duterte said.

Several cities in Metro Manila already had confirmed COVID-19 cases, including San Juan, Quezon City and Taguig.

The President said parents will be lectured “on the responsibilities of being a parent, that the children should study even while they are detained in their respective homes.”

He made the announcement shortly after his meeting with Metro Manila mayors and members of the COVID-19  interagency task force.

But while keeping the children from harm’s way, the President will not be distancing himself from public occasions and would still continue shaking hands with guests and participants of the events he will be attending. 

“Trabaho ko ‘yan eh. Puwera na lang kung ‘yung participants nila, matakot,” Duterte said. “No, I will not decline invitations. I will shake hands with everybody. I will go to Mindanao to visit my dead soldiers, if they are still there, and to congratulate my warriors. Namatayan ako ng apat na sundalo.”

He reiterated what he always says that if it is time for him to die, he will have no problem with. “Sinasabi ko sa inyo, na kung tawagin na ako ng Diyos ngayong oras na ito, pupunta na ako. Tapos na ako.”

Dominguez admits PH govt currently ‘powerless’ against money launderers

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Dominguez admits PH govt currently ‘powerless’ against money launderers
Image Credit: https://www.filipinovirtuallawyers.com/

The government admitted that the Philippines is currently ill-equipped in fighting the operations of organized money launderers, which is why the Congress needs to immediately approve laws that will amend the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) and the Bank Secrecy Law.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the head of administration’s economic team, said President Duterte wants the lawmakers to arm the regulators with “formidable tools” to effectively fight tax evasion and other financial crimes.

Right now, he noted that the country’s laws are plagued with loopholes that allow travelers to bring unrestricted amounts of foreign cash into the country, possibly to launder them here, or worse, for use by international criminal syndicates or terrorist networks.

Earlier, the Bureau of Customs revealed that the so-called Rodriguez Group and Chinese Group have been bringing in foreign currencies to the country for money laundering activities via travelers who are being allowed to enter the country’s ports without being checked.

Dominguez said: “It is also very likely that the bulk foreign currencies are coming through our financial system through other channels, not only through the ports. They do this because they can. Our laws have no teeth to investigate and prosecute these activities effectively. We don’t have enough tools to know where all this money is going, without being hamstrung by stringent bank secrecy laws.”

To remedy this, he said the DOF and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) have been jointly pushing for amendments to the AMLA and Bank Secrecy Law to strengthen the country’s financial system.

The Finance chief noted that the AMLA, enacted in 2001, remains a weak tool against money laundering and other unlawful activities, especially because tax evasion and other financial crimes are not among the predicate offenses listed under the law that would allow the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to examine bank accounts after securing a court order.

“This leaves us powerless in going after tax evaders and other criminals using funds for other illegal activities,” Dominguez said.

He noted that as early as 2016, the DOF has called on the Congress to pass amendments to Republic Act (RA) No. 1405, or the Bank Secrecy Law, to enable the government “to penetrate the wall of confidentiality used to conceal ill-gotten money by lifting the bank secrecy rules for suspected criminal cases.”

The DOF again tried to include the lifting of bank secrecy in the tax amnesty bill, but this was excluded by the Congress in the final version of the measure.

Absent the lifting of RA 1405 in the Congress-approved measure, President Duterte vetoed the grant of a general tax amnesty when he signed the Tax Amnesty Act into law in February last year, he said.

“Offering a general amnesty must come with the ability to verify whether those who availed of it are not repeating the same violations when evidence points to the likelihood that they are doing so,” Dominguez said.

“Now more than ever, we are ready to work with the legislature to advocate again for congressional approval of this crucial measure. We will likewise support the swift passage into law of the amendments to the AMLA to ensure that the Philippines will not be used as a money-laundering site for the proceeds of any unlawful activity,” he added.

He said that while these measures remain pending, the DOF, AMLC and other government agencies are utilizing currently available tools to curb tax evasion and other questionable activities, such as the unrestricted influx of foreign currency into the country.

‘Fatalistic’ Duterte to continue riding choppers even after PNP chief’s near-fatal crash

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The helicopter crash that injured the country’s top police officials on Thursday (March 5) will have no effect on President Duterte’s preference for choppers in getting to his sorties on time, his spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said. Panelo told reporters that knowing Duterte’s “fatalistic” orientation, a mishap occurring while he is riding a helicopter is something that the President just dismisses. This is why he is often seen taking helicopters to his official functions. He also joins aerial inspections via choppers. Panelo said this makes it very unlikely that Duterte will stop riding choppers, even after the near-fatal crash of a 2-year-old Bell 429 chopper in San Pedro, Laguna carrying PNP Chief, Gen. Archie Gamboa, Major Generals Jovic Ramos and Mariel Magaway, his comptrollership and intelligence heads, respectively; Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, the PNP spokesman; an aide, a technician and 2 pilots. “You know the President, the President naman always says ‘if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ Fatalistic siya eh,” Panelo said. Gamboa’s condition is already stable, with a picture of him on a hospital bed beside Senator Ronald dela Rosa, Duterte’s first PNP chief, already posted on social media. Only Ramos and Magaway were reported to be still in critical condition. “Initial accounts reveal that the mishap was caused by the helicopter getting in contact with a high-tension wire due to poor visibility. With this, we ask the public to refrain from making speculations relative to the circumstances as we wait for the official results of the probe on the incident,” Panelo said. He said Duterte will most likely visit the PNP officials, just like what the President always does when a uniformed personnel was injured while on official duty.
Image Credit: PCOO

The helicopter crash that injured the country’s top police officials on Thursday (March 5) will have no effect on President Duterte’s preference for choppers in getting to his sorties on time, his spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said.

Panelo told reporters that knowing Duterte’s “fatalistic” orientation, a mishap occurring while he is riding a helicopter is something that the President just dismisses. This is why he is often seen taking helicopters to his official functions. He also joins aerial inspections via choppers.

Panelo said this makes it very unlikely that Duterte will stop riding choppers, even after the near-fatal crash of a 2-year-old Bell 429 chopper in San Pedro, Laguna carrying PNP Chief, Gen. Archie Gamboa, Major Generals Jovic Ramos and Mariel Magaway, his comptrollership and intelligence heads, respectively; Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, the PNP spokesman; an aide, a technician and 2 pilots.

“You know the President, the President naman always says ‘if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ Fatalistic siya eh,” Panelo said.

Gamboa’s condition is already stable, with a picture of him on a hospital bed beside Senator Ronald dela Rosa, Duterte’s first PNP chief, already posted on social media.

Only Ramos and Magaway were reported to be still in critical condition. 

“Initial accounts reveal that the mishap was caused by the helicopter getting in contact with a high-tension wire due to poor visibility. With this, we ask the public to refrain from making speculations relative to the circumstances as we wait for the official results of the probe on the incident,” Panelo said.

He said Duterte will most likely visit the PNP officials, just like what the President always does when a uniformed personnel was injured while on official duty.

Duterte removes red tape in release of funds for quick rehabilitation of Marawi City

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Duterte removes red tape in release of funds for quick rehabilitation of Marawi City
Image Credit: PCOO

President Duterte committed to speed up the rehabilitation of the war-ravaged Marawi City by removing all the bureaucratic hindrances to the quick release of funds while ensuring there will be no repeat of the terrorist attack in 2017 that displaced more than 40,000 residents.

This was the message of the Chief Executive to local government officials and leaders of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Marawi City in their meeting with related state agencies in Malacanang on Wednesday night (March 4).

He tasked Eduardo del Rosario, Task Force Bangon Marawi, to coordinate efforts of around 56 government agencies that will fulfill the President’s commitment to complete reconstruction works in Marawi City before he steps down in 2022. He vowed to personally monitor the ongoing improvements and rehabilitation work.

The rehabilitation initiatives were delayed by circuitous approval process in the bureaucracy. Del Rosario, will now work directly with the Department of Budget and Management for the quick release of funds and handle allocations for the projects.

The actual rehabilitation works started in September 2018 by clearing the city of unexploded bombs and debris. The task force reported that the city is now 99 percent cleared of explosives. The second phase of the rehabilitation effort involves the construction of structures and buildings in the city.

The President also sought the cooperation of Marawi residents in ensuring the attack launched by terrorist cell Maute Group in May 2017 will no longer be repeated by having permanent military installations in the city.

“I’m not after the Maranao, ang akin d’yan is the military should be there to avoid a repeat of… ‘yang military hindi ‘yang Maranao ang hinahanap n’yan, the terrorists that terrorize everybody,” he said. “Now, if you are bothered by my explanation to you, just look at what happened to the Middle East.”

But the government must also consider the local community’s sensitivities, its religion and culture, which is why Duterte said he would favor Muslim members of the armed forces to be deployed in Marawi City.

Under the security component of the Marawi City rehabilitation, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducts military operations against the remaining members of the ISIS-Maute group. 

“It’s the age of terrorism so we will just have to do something about it. Come up with something that can mitigate. Anyway, pagka-peaceful na, then it’s about time na the military will go out. My decision to build a military camp there will remain.”

BOC chief: Syndicates using travelers to sneak in foreign currencies to PH for money-laundering

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BOC chief: Syndicates using travelers to sneak in foreign currencies to PH for money-laundering
Image Credit: DickGordonDG

The government is now investigating two groups — the so-called “Rodriguez Group” and “Chinese Group” — after they were discovered to be behind the entry of huge amounts of foreign currency for possible money laundering via travelers entering the country.

In an order issued on Monday (March 2), Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez directed the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to work closely with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to look into the activities of these groups and stop their nefarious activities.

Dominguez’s order stemmed from the revelation of BOC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero that the Rodriguez and Chinese Groups already managed to bring into the country some $370 million (P18.74 billion) in US dollars and other foreign currencies using travelers arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

“Through backtracking and the intensified monitoring activities of the BOC’s Intelligence Group, Guerrero said the bureau learned that foreign currencies brought in by the Rodriguez Group through the NAIA amounted to about $200.24 million or around P10.18 billion, while the Chinese group was able to sneak in $167.97 million, equivalent to about P8.54 billion,” the Department of Finance (DOF) reported. BOC is under the supervision of DOF.

With this, Guerrero asked Dominguez to create an interagency body to keep tabs on the inflow of foreign currency into the country via the country’s ports of entry, and to recommend measures to deter the use of these funds for illegal activities.

“Given the global threat of terrorism, organized crimes, money laundering and the possibility that such foreign currencies find their way to such unlawful activities, it is respectfully recommended that an inter-agency body be established through a presidential directive, purposedly organized to monitor the continuous inflow of foreign currencies by individual couriers, profile the personalities involved and the recipient thereof, and recommend measures to ensure that such sums of money will not be used in any illegal trade or activities,” Guerrero said in his report to Dominguez.

He also brought this information to the Congress “as possible basis of policy changes on the protocol to be observed regarding hand-carried foreign currencies passing through our airports.”

The AMLC and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) were also apprised by the BOC of this unusual influx of foreign currencies, he said.

Guerrero noted that the country’s laws on undeclared and underdeclared foreign currencies are “not categorical, and sanctions provided are not deterrent enough,” unlike in other countries.

“In the United States, for instance, such attempts to underdeclare or not declare currency is defined as bulk cash smuggling and the penalties are far more severe than those provided under Philippine laws. Thus, it is not farfetched that the ease of bringing foreign currency in our territory can be taken advantage of by lawless elements such as terrorists,” Guerrero said.

The BOC, according to Guerrero, found out that the  Rodriguez Group had declared Excellent Forex Inc. as its recipient of the money, which entered the country from July 17, 2019 to January this year, while the Chinese Group brought in its stash from Dec. 17, 2019 to January.

He said the BOC learned that the couriers of the money are paid between P12,000 and P50,000 per flight.

These couriers travel almost twice or thrice a week and carry about one to two pieces of luggage, he said, and are able to escape detection because they are escorted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or of the airport police department at the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).

“Alarmed by the foregoing circumstances, considering the apparent intent of the said groups to bypass the country’s banking system and its prevailing regulations, this Bureau coordinated with and brought the matter to the attention of the AMLC. Since then, this Bureau and the AMLC remain in close communication regarding this concern. The NICA was likewise apprised of the said facts,” Guerrero said in his Jan. 29 report to Dominguez.

Guerrero said the BOC foiled an attempt by a Korean citizen last Nov. 30, 2o18 to bring into the country HK$3,83 million, which was not declared upon his arrival at the NAIA. The money was forfeited by the bureau but this case is still pending review by the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA).

Also, a criminal complaint for violation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) rules was filed against a Filipino who was caught trying to bring in $700,000 on Nov. 26 last year, Guerrero added.

This case is now pending before the Office of the City Prosecutor in Pasay City.

Guerrero said another Filipino was found to have underdeclared the correct amount of money he brought with him upon arrival here on Sept. 21 last year, which prompted Customs officers to confiscate the $501,600 he had with him.

The forfeiture hearing on this case is ongoing at the Law Division of the BOC’s NAIA district.

Duterte: Next PH president should be ready to kill or be killed for country

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Duterte: Next PH president should be ready to kill or be killed for countr
Image Credit: PCOO

President Duterte just raised the minimum qualifications for politicians who will be seeking his endorsement in the next presidential election in May 2022.

Duterte, speaking at an event in Malacanang on Tuesday (March 3), said only those who are willing to kill and be killed for the sake of the country have the right to succeed him in 2022.

The President stressed: “Sa totoo lang presidente, ka at hindi ka marunong pumatay at takot ka pumatay, eh wag ka na maging presidente. Walang mangyayari sa bayan kung puro utos ka lang.” 

Because of this, Duterte said he is starting to doubt that someone has these qualifications among the current breed of politicians in the country.

“We’re getting old and the young are there. Wala pa akong nakitang new crop of politicians dito sa ating bayan. Frankly, wala akong nakita na pwede talagang maging presidente,” the Chief Executive said.

Duterte is known globally for his bloody war against illegal drugs, his flagship program and top campaign promise. He has repeatedly threatened to eliminate drug pushers, which was often realized owing to the thousands of drug peddlers that were killed during police operations. There were also rumors that Duterte has his own death squad that liquidates drug pushers.

“Ikaw na ang gumawa para ikaw talaga ang bida,” Duterte said.

This does not mean that Duterte also does not see his daughter, Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio, as a worthy successor. This is because Duterte has been saying he does not want her daughter to run for president.

Despite this, experts are saying that Sara will most likely succeed her father if she opts to run for president in 2022.

OPINION: Humility produces instant results

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Humility produces instant results
Image Credit: Tabloid PH

Even a giant should practice humility.

This was probably the lesson learned by ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ broadcast giant, as the company’s management finally opted to apologize to President Duterte instead of playing hardball with the Chief Executive that has already jeopardized the network’s very existence.

During the Senate hearing on the Kapamilya network’s franchise renewal last Monday (February 24), ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak aired the company’s apology to Duterte. He said: “We were sorry if we offended the President. That was not the intention of the network.” 

The display of humility produced instant results, based on the reactions from people close to the Chief Executive. 

Senator Ronald dela Rosa said he was already “one step closer” to supporting ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. Senator Bong Go said he was willing to talk Duterte into forgiving ABS-CBN and supporting a fresh franchise for the network. 

Then came the statement from the President himself that he has accepted the network’s apology, although he is still letting Congress decide on the renewal. 

The best statement of support that ABS-CBN got, however, was from Duterte’s favorite daughter, Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is being touted as the likely successor of Duterte in 2022.

She said: ”Davao City fully supports ABS-CBN sa kanilang pagpapa-renew ng kanilang franchise. Of course malaki din ang suporta ng ABS-CBN sa Davao City at sa buong bansa…Hopefully ma-resolve in a very positive way ang issue ng franchise ng ABS-CBN…Of course, alam niyo si President Duterte, maawain ‘yan na tao. Iniisip din niya ‘yung trabaho ng maraming employees ng ABS-CBN.”

At the House of Representatives, the committee that has shown reluctance in acting on the ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bills just directed the National Telecommunications Commission to give the network a provisional authority to operate effective May 4, or the day when its franchise would expire if still not renewed by Congress.

With all these developments, it is now hoped that the words are turned into action and the goodwill reciprocated.

President Duterte and his supporters have repeatedly said that ABS-CBN has shown bias in its reporting on numerous occasions, and evidently slanting its stories against the Duterte administration.

But Katigbak said: “Today, we want to make a categorical statement together with our chairman Mark Lopez that ABS-CBN does not and will not have its own political agenda.” It is high time that the network translated this into action via its reporting. 

With the crises—both manmade and natural—faced by the country today, Filipinos don’t need the kind of reporting that only fans division among the people. ABS-CBN should prove that it is really not allowing any political camp or group to advance its interest through its reporting.

ABS-CBN can always exercise its freedom of the press and expression, but not in a manner that is obviously slanted toward an agenda.

This doesn’t mean the network will now just turn a blind eye to wrongdoings or inaction on the part of the government. But these reports should be based on facts and balanced, not just focusing on the allegations of one side.

Of course, those in the political opposition and the leftist groups wouldn’t like this idea. Surely, Duterte and ABS-CBN patching up their differences would bring frowns to their faces. Leave them be. 

Just imagine the country’s largest broadcast network working together with a President that has an approval rating of 87 percent. This should do wonders in calling Filipinos into collective action in tackling the crises being faced by the country today.

Govt task force sets criteria in determining countries to be included in travel ban

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Govt task force sets criteria in determining countries to be included in travel ban

More countries, including Japan, could be included in the country’s travel ban depending on the criteria that will be set by the government in determining future travel restrictions to contain the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the new criteria is set for release on February 28 once finalized by the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Duque, in an interview with radio stations DZMM on Thursday (February 27), said among the considerations being looked at in including a country in the travel restrictions are the number of local transmission of COVID-19 and the volume of travelers that go in and out of that country.

Latest reports said there were already 186 cases of COVID-19 in Japan, with 8 fatalities.

The government has already banned travels to and from China and the South Korean province of North Gyeongsang.

If Japan is included in the ban, the Philippines’s tourism sector will surely suffer a big blow, as South Korea, China and Japan are three of the top 4 tourism markets of the country.

In 2019, there were 1.98 millions arrivals from South Korea, followed by China with 1.74 million, the US, 1.06 million, and Japan, 682,788.

These markets recorded hikes in tourist arrivals in 2019.  Korean arrivals went up by 22.48 percent, China by 38.58 percent, US by 2.90 percent, and Japan by 8.07 percent.

Overall, the Philippines received 8.26 million international visitors in 2019, up 15.24 percent from 2018.

“Depende, kung ito (Japan) ay pumasok (sa criteria)…Magde-decision ang task force,” Duque said.

Drilon starts process of granting provisional authority to operate to ABS-CBN

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Drilon starts process of granting provisional authority to operate to ABS-CBN
Image Credit: @PCInewsofficial

With the upper and lower chamber still showing clear bias for and against the renewal of ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise, opposition Senator Leader Franklin Drilon filed on Wednesday (February 26) a resolution pushing for the grant of a provisional authority to operate to the network giant.

The provisional authority that Drilon is seeking will be effective from May 4, or the expiry date of ABS-CBN’s 25-year legislative franchise, up to the end of the 18th Congress, in case the network’s application for renewal was not approved.

“It is therefore respectfully submitted that the Congress, by concurrent resolution, may authorize the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a provisional authority, subject to terms and conditions, to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated, authorizing them to continue operating subject to Congress’ eventual disposition of the renewal applications,” Drilon’s Concurrent Resolution 6 said.

The Senate Minority leader’s action was prompted by the declaration of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra during the upper house’s hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise last February 24 that the NTC can issue a provisional authority to operate to the network if ordered by Congress.

Drilon highlighted the urgency of the resolution, as there are now only eight session days before Congress takes a break on March 13. It will resume sessions on May, the last day of ABS-CBN’s franchise life.

“Both the Senate and the House of Representatives need additional time to review and determine whether or not ABS-CBN Corporation shall be granted the renewal of its franchise,” he said.

While the Senate is clearly on the side of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, the House of Representatives—where the franchise bill should emanate under the Constitution—continues to show reluctance to act on the matter.

While 11 bills have been filed at the lower house seeking the renewal of the network’s franchise, the relevant committee has not calendared the matter for a hearing.

DOJ: National Telecommunications Commission can issue provisional franchise to ABS-CBN sans renewal

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DOJ: National Telecommunications Commission can issue provisional franchise to ABS-CBN sans renewal
Image Credit: GMA Network

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra clarified that the National Telecommunications (DOJ) can issue a provisional authority to operate to ABS-CBN should Congress fail to extend its legislative franchise when it expires on May 3.

This was the opinion given by Guevarra during the first day of the Senate hearing on the ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal on Monday (February 24).

“Congress, by concurrent resolution, may authorize NTC to issue provisional authority subject to such terms and conditions , authorizing them (ABS-CBN) to continue operating subject to Congress’s eventual disposition…,” Guevarra said.

NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, who was also questioned during the hearing, said 

with this opinion from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the commission will now wait for the action of Congress and it would give ABS-CBN the provisional franchise.

“We would have to put in the conditions that has to be issued by the NTC so if there are violations to those conditions, then we should be able to withdraw that provisional authority,” Cordoba said.

He recognized that there were indeed instances in the past when companies were allowed to continue to operate even if their franchises had expired. But these were allowed by the NTC based on the instructions given by lawmakers during the congressional hearings on the franchise renewal.

Cordoba said they needed an opinion from the DOJ because the case of ABS-CBN is different since there is a quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General alleging serious violations of the Constitution and laws against the network.

Before questioning the resource persons, senators also gave their opinion on the legality of the hearing they are conducting, as it could be violating the separation of powers among the three branches of government, as prescribed in the Charter, as well as the provision that states all legislative franchises must emanate from the House of Representatives.

The senators agreed that they can proceed with the hearing, as long as they would not report its result to the Senate plenary prior to the submission of the approved bill from the lower chamber. 

The network’s leadership came in full force, including Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer; Mark Lopez, chairman; Cory Vidanes, chief operating officer for broadcast; Mark Nepomuceno; Ron Valdueza, chief finance officer; Maxim Uy, ABS-CBN Legal Division; Mario Bautista, ABS-CBN General Counsel; and Enrique Quiason, ABS-CBN corporate secretary.

Netizens extend Salvador Panelo – Karen Davila ‘debate’ about ABS-CBN franchise on Twitter

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Netizens extend Salvador Panelo - Karen Davila ‘debate’ about ABS-CBN franchise on Twitter

Filipino netizens took to social media to weigh in on the supposed interview of Karen Davila with Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo that turned into a mini-debate on several instances regarding the franchise woes of ABS-CBN.

This caused the topics “Panelo”, “Karen Davila” and “YesToABSCBNShutDown” to trend on Twitter on Saturday (February 22). Netizens also reposted the interview done last Friday over ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) in their own blogs and YouTube.

Many said Davila got “burned” and “roasted” in her own show when she tried hard but failed to pin down Panelo over what is being alleged as Duterte’s hand in the quo warranto case filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) against ABS-CBN and the reluctance of lower house members to tackle the network’s application for franchise renewal.

For about 16 minutes, the two talked heatedly about the issue. At some point, Davila was already debating with Panelo, instead of just interviewing him. Davila even said in one instance: “this one, I just want to debate you with this”. In another instance, she said : “But, I can’t debate on this, sabi kasi, it will be discussed at the Senate for sure at one point…”

@freakincheL commented: “I am not against or anything with ABS-CBN franchise issue but the interview of Karen Davila with Sec. Panelo was soooooo on fire!! Mamsh hindi naka bawi si ate nyo Karen. I bet it was her longest 23 minutes of her life. Haha!”

@MegaMicrobe said: “This is one interview that made me grin from ear to ear. Karen Davila proved that not all who speaks good English has substance. I can’t even call her a journalist. Fried in her own TV program! Good job, Panelo!”

But there were also those who defended Davila. @iamjonamio, for instance, commented: “If you think Karen Davila looked dumb in her interview with Spox. Panelo, then you’re missing the point. It was so convenient for Panelo to use the doctrine of separation of powers as a defense even when the current admin benefited multiple times violating that doctrine.”

Duterte wants PH to strengthen military on its own, not keen on defense pacts with China, other nations

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Duterte wants PH to strengthen military on its own, not keen on defense pacts with China, other nations
Image Credit: PCOO

Contrary to insinuations that President Duterte will also be pivoting toward China for the country’s defense policies, Malacanang stressed that the Chief Executive will not entertain a joint military pact with Beijing after he junked the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.

Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s chief legal counsel and spokesman, said the President would rather that the country rely on its budget and capabilities in strengthening its military prowess than continue relying on foreign powers.

“Talagang desidido siya (Duterte) na tumayo na tayo sa ating kakayahan. If that will mean you will be spending more, then let’s spend more,” Panelo said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) on Friday (February 21).

Panelo narrated that he asked if Duterte is looking at having a pact similar to the VFA with China or any other country, and the President answered “no”.

Manila has already informed Washington of its decision to end the 20-year VFA, which legalizes the presence of US troops on Philippine soil and the joint US-Philippines military exercises. 

This was after Washington included in its 2020 budget law a provision that bans the entry of Philippine officials who had  something to do with the incarceration of opposition Senator Leila de Lima. 

Subsequently, the US visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa was scrapped.

But there is still a possibility that the Executive Branch’s move to end VFA without prior approval from the Senate could be questioned before the Supreme Court.

Panelo said for the President, the country’s only enemies are the terrorists and Moro rebels, which can be handled by the government troops. “Sabi niya ito lang ang kalaban natin. Kaya natin iyon dahil kung hindi natin kaya ito, wala tayong karapatan maging gobyerno.”

Duterte to boost PH shopping festival by joining tours around the country in March

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Duterte to boost PH shopping festival by joining tours around the country in March
Image Credit: PCOO

Despite the threat of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), President Duterte will be personally supporting the local retail and tourism sectors by joining promotional tours around the country in conjunction with the monthlong “2020 Philippine Shopping Festival” in March.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said Duterte will be joining them in touring the major islands in the country, including Bohol, Cebu and Boracay.

This is to impress upon foreign and local tourists that it is safe to travel around the Philippines even with the COVID-19 reaching the country.

The DOT said this will boost the first-ever shopping festival in the Philippines, which will run from March 1 to 31 in Metro Manila, Agusan Del Norte, Antique, Bacolod, Baguio, Bataan, Bicol Region, Bukidnon, Bulacan, Butuan City, Cagayan De Oro, Cagayan Valley, CALABARZON, Camarines Sur, Capiz, Cebu, Davao, Ilocos Norte, Iloilo, Lanao Del Norte, Legazpi City in Albay, Leyte, Misamis Oriental, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Nueva Ecija, Palawan, Pampanga, Pangasinan, South Cotabato (General Santos City), and Zambales (Olongapo City).

The DOT said it aims to position the country as a destination where shopping is fun, unique, and affordable. Based on DOT’s Visitor Sample Survey in 2018, shopping is the most common tourist activity in the country at 38 percent.

“It’s not hard to see that elevating the shopping experience will go a long way to enhance the attractiveness of our tourist destinations all over the Philippines, whether it is our big cities or in our beautiful provinces. We’ve recognized this in the National Tourism Development Plan of 2016-2022, where leisure, entertainment and shopping tourism is one of the 10 products we want to further develop in the next few years,” Puyat said.

The campaign goes by the slogan “There’s Fun in Every Find”, a tweaking of the DOT’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” official marketing pitch. #FunFinds2020 is the official hashtag.

Puyat said the shopping fest will also feature variety of Philippine-made items. “Buying local helps support our craftsmen and artisans, as well as their communities; more importantly, it helps preserve our culture, traditions, and Filipino way of life.” 

During the shopping fest, foreign and local tourists alike can expect 15 percent to 70 percent discounts on many exciting Philippine-made products, including food and dining, jewelry and fashion, crafts, furniture, and decor, and beauty and wellness products, enabling shopping an integral part of visitors’ itineraries.

Travelers can also look for affordable airfares and cheaper hotel accommodations for the promotion period.

“We invite all tourists to ‘Be Part of the Fun’ by supporting the 2020 Philippine Shopping Sale this March. We also look forward to it becoming a yearly and anticipated feature on the nation’s event calendar,” said Puyat.

Interested consumers can revel on the shopping sale through participating malls such as Araneta Group, Ayala Land Malls, Inc., Duty Free Philippine Corporation, Filinvest Land Inc., Greenfield Development Corporation, Vista Malls, Megaworld Corporation, Oritgas Land, Power Plant Mall, Robinsons Land Corporation, Rustan Commercial Corporation, Shangri-La Plaza Corporation, SM Supermalls, and Stores Specialists, Inc.

Associations supporting the event are the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association, Philippine Franchise Association, Philippine Owners Association Inc., Philippine Retailers Association, Philippine Tour Operators Association, Philippine Travel Agencies Association, and Tourism Congress of the Philippines.

Airlines including Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Air Asia, Air Carriers Association of the Philippines will be slashing off airfare tickets to spur domestic tourism.

“This ambitious project, designed to increase tourism expenditure in the country, would not have been possible without the full support and cooperation of the nation”s mall operators, retailers, franchise holders, hotel and tour operators, and travel agencies,” added Puyat.

Tricycles, pedicabs now considered obstructions on national roads

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Tricycles, pedicabs now considered obstructions on national roads

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has extended its clearing operations on national roads to include tricycles and pedicabs, with local executives given 30 days to enforce it.

To implement this, DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año has issued a memorandum directing all local chief executives to strictly enforce the ban on tricycles, pedicabs and motorized pedicabs on national highways or they will face administrative sanctions.

He also directed the local government units (LGUs) to create their respective tricycle task force that will draw up a tricycle route plan in their areas. The ban includes those crossing or making a U-turn on national highways. 

Año, in his directive issued on Wednesday (February 19), said: “Matagal na nating ipinagbabawal ang mga tricycles at pedicabs sa national highway ngunit ang daming pasaway. Hindi lang ito nakakasagabal sa daan kundi nagiging sanhi ng sakuna sa kalye. Kaya dapat nang maging mahigpit ang mga mayor at ang pulis at siguruhing maipapatupad ang ban na ito.”

DILG Memorandum Circular 2020-036 mandates each city and municipality to create a tricycle task force separate from the tricycle regulatory boards to formulate or review its tricycle route plan. It will be composed of the mayor as chairman, the chief of police as vice-chairman, and the Sanggunian’s committee chair on transportation or public safety, the president of the Liga ng mga Barangay, the head of the tricycle regulatory board, the head of the Department of Public Order and Safety, the planning and development officer, the head of the traffic management office, and the local government operations officer as members.

Serving as resource persons are representatives from the transportation department and its attached agencies. The head of the city or municipal legal office will provide secretariat support to the task force.
“Local governments must review and modify tricycle routes according to the ban and are encouraged to include in their plans the construction of local roads or overpasses where the tricycles can operate,” the DILG chief said.

The task force is tasked to meet with stakeholders and rationalize all tricycle routes to enforce the ban, identify national roads within the jurisdiction of the LGU, and determine the present and proposed routes in view of drafting a tricycle route plan (TRP) within 30 days from the issuance of the memorandum.


The plan should include a schematic map of the location of tricycle terminals, the national highways of the LGU and the portions thereof to be used by tricycles if there is no alternative route. It must also detail the installation of appropriate signages, marks for lanes and other safety features to guide all vehicles; create awareness among residents and motorists of new tricycle routes or portions of highways allowed to tricycles because of lack of alternative route; a color scheme or emblem for tricycles that ply a route traversing a national highway; and penalties for violators.

Task forces of adjacent LGUs must coordinate and come up with a combined TRP. Each TRP is valid from two years after the issuance of the memorandum. The memorandum also orders the Philippine National Police to help local leaders in enforcing the ban.

The DILG Secretary said that non-compliance to the latest directive will warrant the issuance of a show-cause order, and failure to provide a sufficient response shall be a ground for the filing of appropriate administrative cases pursuant to Section 60 of the Local Government Code and other laws and policies.

“It is the responsibility of local chief executives to exact accountability and impose the corresponding sanctions against non-supportive or non-compliant local officials and employees,” he said.

He also said that compliance with the trike ban order will form part of the validation and assessment of the compliance of local government units to the continued implementation of the presidential directive on road clearing.

On top of Republic Act 4136, or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, prior DILG directives – DILG Memorandum Circulars 2007-11, 2011-68 and 2020-004 –have already been issued prohibiting the presence of tricycles and pedicabs on national roads and prescribing the operating conditions and franchising of tricycles.

Group of cable TV operators sustains OSG’s case vs ABS-CBN’s pay-per-view operations

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Group of cable TV operators sustains OSG’s case vs ABS-CBN’s pay-per-view operations
Image Credit: ABS-CBN

A group of cable TV operators echoed the allegation made by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) that ABS-CBN is illegally operating pay-per-view channels to the detriment of small to medium cable operators.

Estrellita Juliano-Tamano, chair of the Federation of International Cable TV Associations of the Philippines (FICTAP), said the franchise of the country’s largest broadcast network is only for free TV and test broadcasts.

This is why the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) ordered ABS-CBN in 2015 to stop offering pay-per-view channels through its TV Plus. 

This is also the reason FICTAP opposed ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal in 2014—or during the 16th Congress—when the network tried to obtain license for multiple channels, instead of just one.

Congress did not approve ABS-CBN’s application that time, which came as a relief to the FICTAP members.

Tamano stressed: “Kung na-approve ‘yun (franchise) noong 16th Congress, it will justify their pay-per-view.”

This, she noted, would have jeopardized the jobs of around 24,000 employees of the 600-member FICTAP. “Ang maaapektuhan ng ginagawa nila ‘yung employees namin, mawawalan ng trabaho. Bakit ganun, sila lang ang may 11,000? Kami ang mawawalan ng hanap buhay.”

Also, Tamano said ABS-CBN is now trying to force the renewal of its franchise in just so short a time, when the network did not bother to get congressional approval in the 17th Congress (or from 2016 to 2019).

“Bakit sila gusto nilang mag-shortcut? Kami, six years sa NTC para lang magkaroon ng license ang operators. Tapos sila shortcut lang?” she asked.

The OSG, in seeking the forfeiture of ABS-CBN’s franchise via the quo warranto case it filed before the Supreme Court, outlined four major violations of the network.

One of these is its “illegal” pay-per-view operations.

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. 

@ManilaPIO

“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. 

@ManilaPIO

“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 (www.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. 

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