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Cuba reluctant to cut ties with US

Agence France-Presse

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Cuba is bracing for the possibility of the United States breaking off diplomatic ties but will seek to maintain them nonetheless, Havana’s top diplomat in charge of relations with Washington told AFP.

“We must be aware that this can get worse,” said the official, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, summing up months of mounting tension between the two countries.

The reason for the downturn in relations — five years after an historic thaw between the Cold War foes — is simple, he said in an interview with AFP.

“Those in charge of US policy towards the Western Hemisphere have attitudes and positions that are extremely aggressive towards our country.”

“We are seeing that what they want to do is to break all the existing links, to close the embassies,” he said.

“We hope that this won’t be the case but we cannot trust that this will not happen,” said Fernandez de Cossio, director general of the US desk at Cuba’s foreign ministry.

“We are prepared, ready for such an eventuality but we do not wish it.”

The embassies were reopened in 2015, months after US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro agreed to revive diplomatic ties severed since 1961.

It was a shining moment that drew a line under nearly six decades of Cold War rivalry, and promised a new era of openness.

“It was an emotional moment for the Cuban people,” said Fernandez de Cossio, recalling the hope that prevailed in his country at the time.

‘Gradual erosion’

But five years on, he has mixed feelings about the progress made.

The first two years were unremittingly positive: travel and trade restrictions were eased, a direct telephone link was restored, and Obama visited Havana.

But then it all changed with the arrival of President Donald Trump in the White House.

“In the last three years, there has been a gradual erosion (of the relationship) until the current moment when the US government is clearly declaring its aggressive intent towards Cuba.”

As long as Washington maintains an economic embargo, which Obama failed to lift during his presidency, “it’s very difficult to think seriously about sustainable progress in the bilateral relationship.”

Right now “it’s at a very low point,” Fernandez de Cossio said, citing what he called the “drastic” US measure of depriving 11 million Cubans of fuel by targeting shipments from ally Venezuela with sanctions.

He also pointed to Washington’s criticism of Cuba’s foreign medical aid program under which it sends thousands of doctors abroad. That criticism, he says, “is an extreme which no American government has ever reached before.”

‘Hypocritical’

The US has focused its ire on Cuba over two issues: its human rights record and its support for Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Fernandez de Cossio dismissed the human rights criticism as “a pretext, totally hypocritical” given that Washington sponsors “the most brutal regimes on the planet.”

The Cuban government has always refuted the existence of political prisoners on its soil, estimated at around a hundred by various NGOs.

“Anyone who says or thinks that Cuba supports the Venezuelan government is absolutely right,” he said, as the two countries are long-time allies.

“But it is wrong to say that Cuba has a military contingent of 25,000 soldiers in Venezuela” — dismissing a US assertion about the extent of its military involvement in the country.

The Cuban diplomat said he isn’t holding out much hope that the upcoming US elections will change anything.

“Nobody knows what will happen in 2020 in the United States.”

But “Cuba has historically shown its wish for, and remains willing to build, a respectful, civilized relationship with the United States,” he said.

In that sense, “the Democratic presidential candidates all seem to be leaning, at least publicly, in favor of the resumption of the policy initiated by the government of Barack Obama, and this can be a sign of hope.”

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Yulo returns to action in Japan tourney

Ian Suyu

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Carlos Yulo registered a total of 83.398 points across six disciplines.

Filipino gymnast Carlos Yulo has finally ended his hiatus as he entered his first ever tournament this year in the 53rd All Japan Senior Masters Gymnastics Championships at Gunma, Japan Tuesday afternoon.

Yulo, who already secured his slot for the Tokyo Olympics next year, registered a total of 83.398 points across six disciplines of the tourney, formally signalling his first return to competitive action since his medal-hoarding quest in the Southeast Asian Games last year.

Tokyo Olympian and former world champion Kazuma Kaya grabbed the gold medal-victory after tallying a total of 86.998, while fellow star gymnast Wataru Tanigawa took the silver finish with 85.965.

Meanwhile, former Asian Games winner Kenta Chiba settled for the bronze medal with 85.166 points under his name.

It was a shaky start for Yulo as he stumbled in his forte event, floor exercise, garnering only 13.466 points. It was then followed with an underwhelming 12.900 point-performance in the pommel horse event.

However, the Malate-born talent maintained his composure and pulled off his best performance in the vault event to get an impressive 14.733 points from the judges. It was then followed by another thrilling stunt in the still ring event, where he received 14.100 points.

He managed to finish the tournament on a high note with 14.066 points in the parallel bars and 13.633 in the horizontal bar event.

Prior to this competition, Yulo has been continuously sharpening his skills in Tokyo, under the tutelage of noted gymnastics mentor Munehiro Kugemiya since January, a couple of months before the deadly coronavirus crisis quickly spread across the world.

p: wjg

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Velasco breaks silence, refutes accusers

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Rep. Lord Allan Velasco: Silence does not mean I am disinterested. (Facebook grab)

Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco broke his silence Tuesday night amid accusations by a colleague that he is plotting the ouster of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and
assume the post after allegedly being unproductive for the past 15 months.

“I have been silent during the duration of the Gentleman’s agreement in deference and respect to the sitting Speaker,” said Velasco in a statement following Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro’s charges against him.

“My silence does not mean I am disinterested nor I have turned my back on the covenant. Mum on issues means I just don’t want to call attention to myself,” Velasco said.

“Being party to the term-sharing agreement, one does not and should not seek to compete with the current Speaker as a gentleman’s agreement is in force. We will have our turn at the right time,” he added.

Velasco denied Castro’s allegations that he has been sitting idly and waiting for his turn to be Speaker under a term-sharing deal with Cayetano.

“Since I became a lawmaker I have worked quietly, away from publicity, to support this Administration and help accomplish the legislative agenda of President Duterte to improve the lives of the Filipino people. When both parties finally honor the agreement, I will show my colleagues the kind of leadership I espouse. Thereafter, at the end of my term, my peers can then be the judge of my loyal service to God, to the President, and ultimately, to the Filipino people. To God be all the glory,” said Velasco.

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TikTok urges social media alliance against suicide content

Agence France-Presse

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TikTok on Tuesday proposed an alliance with nine other social media platforms to work collectively and rapidly to remove suicide content, following an incident this month when a man killed himself on Facebook.

The Chinese-owned app said it had set out its proposal in a letter to the chief executives of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Reddit.

TikTok’s interim CEO Vanessa Pappas noted that each of the platforms had its own policies to take down harmful content and stop its distribution.

“However, we believe each of our individual efforts to safeguard our own users and the collective community would be boosted significantly through a formal, collaborative approach to early identification and notification amongst industry participants of extremely violent, graphic content, including suicide,” she wrote in the letter.

Pappas proposed a meeting of safety officers from each company to work out details of a collective approach, “which we believe will help us all improve safety for our users”.

TikTok launched its own investigation after clips of the man’s suicide were embedded into otherwise inoffensive videos shared widely on its global platform, which is especially popular with young teens.

The original video came from a Facebook livestream and showed an American man taking his own life, according to a warning TikTok sent to users on September 8.

Mea culpa

The video was uploaded to various social media platforms after a “coordinated attack” by people operating on the dark web, senior TikTok executive Theo Bertram told a British parliamentary hearing on Tuesday.

“Our hearts go out to the victim in this case. But we do believe that we can do things better in the future,” said Bertram, who is director of government relations and public policy for the company in Europe.

“We should now establish a partnership around dealing with this kind of content,” he said, noting the proposed alliance would build on existing collaboration by the social media firms against material showing sexual abuse of children.

Bertram refused to be drawn on TikTok’s travails in the United States, where a deal to restructure the platform involving Oracle and Walmart is in doubt, following threats by President Donald Trump to shut it down.

The executive insisted the platform, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is free of interference by Beijing but regretted instances in the past where it has taken down content critical of the communist regime.

Such content included references to the plight of Uighur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang, and to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

“There is no political censorship of any kind,” Bertram, a former adviser to British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, told the MPs.

“I accept there are things we’ve got wrong, but I believe TikTok overwhelmingly is a force for good.”

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Martires wants Office of the Ombudsman abolished, lifestyle checks discontinued

Michelle R. Guillang

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Ombudsman Samuel Martires said the government finds it hard to go after corrupt officials because witnesses are scared to testify.

Thus, it would be better that the office of the Ombudsman is abolished, Martires said during the House committee on appropriations hearing the budget proposal of his office.

Martires said investigators are not able to collect sufficient evidence for pending cases because nobody wanted to give testimonies.

“This is why we cannot arrest any corrupt official because the witnesses themselves are scared. We cannot accomplish anything if this goes on. As I said, maybe we could just abolish the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.

Martires even proposed that every government’s office could just create its own anti-corruption programs, thus his office could be abolished and would make the government spend less.

Also, Martires said the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) has been weaponized by the rivals of government officials, thus public access to SALN had to be restricted.

He said SALN has only been utilized by political opponents to destroy another official’s reputation and noted that SALN is not needed when a government official is sued for graft and plunder.

The Ombudsman on September 15 declared that SALN can only be accessed by authorized persons such as the person who filed the SALN and the one who he/she authorized; lawful order of the court to a pending case; and for the purpose of fact-finding investigations.

Moreover, Martires revealed that he himself demanded that lifestyle checks of government officials be discontinued due to its consistencies with the provisions stated under RA 6173 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The law, Martires said, has provisions that seem to be illogical.

“We have a lot to discuss Republic Act 6173. Let’s take a look at it. I will give you my recommendations, those which must be amended to RA 6173, before this year ends,” Martires said.

“There is a problem with the SALN’s form. A big problem. There’s the market value. What should we do with it? Should it be depreciated? Land is a real property that does not depreciate, but a house does,” Martires stressed.

The ombudsman said this is one of the things which should be reviewed in the form of SALN.

“We have to restudy the form of the SALN which is being used as a weapon of the political rivals or whoever is raging against a public official in order to prosecute the official,” he said.

“But the root of this is the ambiguous law, the unclear system of the form of the SALN,” he added.

He underscored that an official cannot be laid charges against just for living extravagantly or beyond his income.

“Who are we to conclude that an official is corrupt? What’s simple living to me may not be simple living to you or to anyone,” said Martires.

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Cooper agrees to contract extension as Azkals target 2026 World Cup

Ian Suyu

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The Philippine Football Federation has extended Azkals head tactician Scott Cooper’s coaching contract with the goal of leading the national squad to at least the prestigious 2023 AFC Asian Cup before making a strong push for a historic appearance in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Cooper, who previously spent his career in the Thai League, has been with the Philippine team since 2018, but it wasn’t until the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers when he took the head coach position on a full-time basis.

Even PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta expressed satisfaction with the English manager’s performance so far in the qualifiers where the Azkals are third in Group A behind Syria and China.

“I think the team has improved under him and we look forward to him taking the team to another level,” said Araneta, who is also a member of the powerful FIFA executive council.

Though the squad remains in contention for the next edition of the World Cup in 2022, Azkals manager Dan Palami said that the 2026 tournament seems to be a more plausible target for them.

“We trust that coach Scott can take the team into where we want it to be,” said Palami.

“It is just unfortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic stopped our momentum, but we have set what we feel are realistic goals for the team in the future.”

Regardless of the postponement of the supposed resumption of the Asian Cup and World Cup qualifiers in October and November, as well as the AFF Suzuki Cup which was penciled in December, Cooper has kept himself busy in communicating with the players and sharpening the arsenal of the national team.

Cooper expanded the squad’s stock of talents by identifying young homegrown stars who have the potential to be groomed and developed as part of the senior team.

Part of his program includes the creation of the Azkals Development Team, who is tipped to compete in the upcoming season of the Philippines Football League, guided with the aim of giving the young talents the chance to flourish and compete in a more intense level of the game.

The said up-and-coming team is composed of a fine field of talents bannered by former Ateneo ace Jayvee Gayoso, prized forward Chima Uzoka and stalwart midfielder Christian Rontini.

“When I first came here, I saw the massive potential of the Azkals,” said Cooper.

“During this pandemic, we’ve been setting goals and putting plans in place to achieve those goals.I can honestly say that we can still get better and I am committed to lead this team as it continues to make its mark in Asian and world football.”

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Banned Geisler cries for justice

Ian Suyu

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Former Olympian Donnie Geisler expressed frustration over his expulsion from the Philippine Taekwondo Association (PTA).

Geisler, who represented the country in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, tagged his expulsion from the federation as an unexpected and unfortunate decision.

He said all accusations hurled at him by federation officials were baseless and was just meant to stop him from pursuing his business and passion in teaching the sport.

“From the looks of it, these are all baseless and intended to create leverage against me,” said Geisler in a statement that came a day after the PTA announced that he had been declared as persona non-grata.

“The truth is on my side and I will continue with this uphill battle until such time that discriminatory actions are stopped and justice is served.”

The feud between Geisler and the federation that gave him a break during his playing days had been simmering for the past couple of months.

It started when Geisler invited national athletes Samuel Morrison and Arven Tolentino to conduct online training in his Donnie Geisler Taekwondo Training Center without seeking permission from the PTA.

It didn’t sit well with the federation as it slapped Morrison and Tolentino with suspension while banning other national team members from doing business with him.

Geisler filed a case in the Philippine Competition Commission last May, saying that what the federation’s decision was discriminatory and anti-competitive against him.

Two months later, he filed a pair of legal case, this time libel and cyber libel allegations against PTA secretary general Rocky Samson.

Last Monday, the PTA formally cut its ties with its former golden boy as Manolo Gabriel, the PTA sanction committee chairman, announced that they have declared Geisler persona non-grata and stripped him of his rights and privileges as member of the federation.

“We still want to get to the bottom of this issue, we know that there’s truth that must be heard coming from my side,” Geisler said.

“Now, we are doing our moves. We are going to answer this soon. I’m sure this will not end here. A lot of things will be coming along the way.”

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PH eyes more contact tracers—tracing czar 

Gabbie Parlade

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Tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjie Magalong said the government needs to recruit more contact tracers amid the rising number of people who get infected with the coronavirus disease.

In a radio interview, he said that an ideal team of four people composed of a health worker and a police investigator should be allotted to trace the close contacts of each COVID case.

However, due to the lack of staff, some of the infected patients remain to have untraced contacts.

“Four is to one sana ang ideal kaya lang na-ooverwhelm po ng cases nangyayari po yan.  Kung minsan hindi na po nako-contact trace. There are places dyan sa Manila na tumatawag sakin mga tao nag [positive] na sila pero not one of the local government contact tracers ay tumawag na sakanila,” he said.

Although the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has ongoing recruitment and training allotted for thousands of contact tracers, he warned that it may not be enough.

“Malaking bagay iyong pag-recruit natin ng 50,000 na contact tracers. Pero kung tatanungin ninyo ako, is it enough? Hindi enough iyan, kukulangin tayo,” he said.

“We need volunteers, cause-oriented groups na sa tingin nila meron silang critical thinking ability, iyong members may investigative mindset, hindi naman naghahanap ng suweldo. They can always volunteer,” he added.

At present, the country has 97,400 contact tracers and may be increased to 150,000 as soon the government begins hiring.

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Hike healthworkers’ salary and they will stay, says Labor secretary

Elmer N. Manuel @tribunephl_lmer

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The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) on Tuesday urged the government to hike the salary of nurses that would convince them to stay and give their services in the country amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a television interview, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III explained that salary upgrade for nurses is long overdue, noting that it is one of the reasons why around 200,000 nurses in the country are unemployed even if the Department of Health (DoH) already launched an emergency hiring program.

“We need to upgrade the salary of nurses, especially in the private sector.  How can we convince them if they will be the ones who will pay for their needs?

“What’s happening now is that nurses have 10 to 12 hours of duty, but the salary ranges from P9,000, P15,000, and maximum P18,000, so you really cannot blame them if they want to leave,” Bello said.

The Labor chief also stressed that he and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III would need to go to Congress to call for passage of the law that would increase the salaries of nurses.

He also urged the nurses to assert their right by filing a complaint if they are being deprived of the benefits due them.

“They also have a responsibility to stand for their rights. Gather yourselves even for a day and file a complaint,” Bello said.

To recall, the government has suspended the deployment of Filipino health workers abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic, only allowing new hires who have completed their requirements on or before 8 March to leave.

The suspended deployment was eased Monday, when the President allowed all returning health workers and new hires who secured requirements by 31 August to leave the country.

Earlier this month, the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) called for an increase in the minimum wage and benefits of nurses working in the private sector, saying they also render the same service as colleagues in the public sector.

While nurses in the public sector are assured of a salary increase under the Department of Budget and Management’s Circular 2002-4 issued on July 17, FNU said nurses in the private sector were not included.

“Sadly, no equivalent decree that may apply for nurses in the private sector to accord them due recognition and at par compensation to ease them from their present miserable condition even though both belong to one profession rendering the same service for the general population,” the FNU said in a statement.

The FNU said some nurses in the private sector cannot even afford their own basic needs because their salary is “way below” the minimum wage. “The wage of nurses in the private sector is way below at P537 daily for those in NCR and much lower at P280 per day in BARMM with some nurses getting an insultingly low P5,000 to P10,000 average monthly salary,” said the FNU. “Worse, these overworked nurses are made to handle a patient load beyond the DoH-set standard of 1:12 patients with no additional pay for overtime or extended work,” it added.

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DAR gives self passing mark on agrarian justice delivery program

Francis Wakefield

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Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones gave his agency a passing performance despite the quarantine restrictions in Luzon during the early months of the new coronavirus pandemic.

“The DAR implementation of a swift and efficient agrarian justice delivery program is on the right track with the help of the department’s zero-backlog campaign,” Castriciones said.

He also paid tribute to the farmers for ensuring enough food for Filipinos as the country continues to deal with the virus.

He said the farmers are the real strength of the country.

“I want our farmers to trust that agriculture is their key to success. In the first world countries, their farmers are earning big and are treated well by their citizens. We would emulate these countries to empower our farmers by pooling all our resources to improve their economic and quality of lives,” Castriciones said.

The Secretary showed his appreciation to them when he visited some of the houses of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARB) to deliver their certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) in Benito, Soliven, Isabela.

Legal affairs office Undersecretary Luis Meinrado Pañgulayan earlier reported the good news in favor of the ARB with the signing by President Rodrigo Duterte of Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law which condones the interest payment and restructures the principal obligation of ARB.

 

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