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UFC scraps California event

Agence France-Presse



UFC 249, earlier planned to be held without live spectators, is scrapped altogether. W. Commons

The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Thursday scrapped controversial plans to stage a fight card later this month as the United States battles the coronavirus pandemic.

The mixed martial arts organization had planned to hold UFC 249 without fans at an undisclosed location, reportedly an Indian tribal reservation in California.

However in an abrupt U-turn on Thursday, UFC said it had postponed the event at the request of broadcasters ESPN.

“While the organisation was fully prepared to proceed with UFC 249, ESPN has requested the postponement of the event and subsequent bouts until further notice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a UFC statement said.

“UFC looks forward to resuming the full live events schedule as soon as possible.”

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that UFC chief Dana White planned to hold the event at the Tachi Palace Resort Casino in central California on April 18.

By staging the event on tribal land, the UFC could have sidestepped state guidelines aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19 infections that have brought sports to a standstill.

However the move met with resistance from California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who urged the UFC to postpone.

“This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential,” Feinstein said in a statement.

“Going ahead with this event is not the right move.”

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has already postponed three events after officials were unable to find venues to stage fights amid restrictions put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.




Final whale saved from grim Australia mass stranding




NEARLY 500 pilot whales were stranded in a remote Harbor in Tasmania, with only 110 surviving. W. Commons

A lone whale was rescued from among hundreds of carcasses Sunday, taking to 110 the number of creatures that survived a mass stranding in southern Australia.

The country’s largest-ever mass stranding saw around 470 pilot whales become stuck in a remote harbour on Tasmania’s rugged western seaboard last week, sparking a major effort to save the animals.

It was “absolutely remarkable” another whale was found alive six days after the pod was first discovered, a Tasmania environment department spokeswoman told AFP, adding that it had been taken back out to sea.

More than 100 rescuers toiled for days in chilly waters, but many volunteers and conservationists have now packed up as efforts turned to disposing of the remaining carcasses.

“There has been a tremendous team effort and this combined commitment has allowed us to get as many whales as we can back out to sea,” Parks and Wildlife Service manager Rob Buck said of the “complex rescue”.

With more than 300 carcasses spread across a 10-kilometre area (about 6 miles), authorities shifted their focus Sunday to a mass sea burial.

Boats have begun towing the dead whales into the open ocean, where they will be released over several days.

Authorities have warned that more whales could be found in the area, with some animals likely to become beached for a second time.

The causes of mass strandings remain unknown, but some experts have suggested the pod may have gone off track after feeding close to the shoreline or by following one or two whales that strayed.


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Cayetano flies to Davao, woos Pulong

Michelle R. Guillang



House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano flew to Davao City on Saturday to meet presidential son and Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte in a move thought to secure support from the Mindanao bloc.

With just a little more than a month before his tenure in the existing term-sharing agreement with Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco expires, the Taguig congressman met with President Rodrigo Duterte’s son seeking to strengthen his grip of the top position with the Mindanao bloc to go with his backing of the House’s supermajority.

Cayetano along with his wife Taguig congresswoman Lani Cayetano, House Committee on Appropriations chairman and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap and House Deputy Secretary-General Brian Yamsuan visited Duterte at his house.

The Saturday meeting was just one of Cayetano’s twice-a-week meetings with the other lawmakers in a race against time to obtain numbers in order for the House leader to keep his post and nullify the term-sharing agreement with Velasco.

Velasco is supposed to take over Cayetano’s seat next month.

Duterte, an influential member of the Mindanao bloc, earlier asked his fellow Mindanao lawmakers to call for the removal of Cayetano as House leader following complaints of unequal Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget distribution for 2021 among congressional districts.

Cayetano was found to have some P10-billion worth of DPWH’s projects lodged under the national expenditure program with his wife.

His allies are also getting more than the rest.

Aside from his efforts to woo the Mindanao bloc, various statements from the Office of the Speaker are being solicited to fellow congressmen to generate more support for Cayetano stranglehold of the seat.

Manifestation of the bloc leaders’ support to Cayetano and appeal to Velasco to forget the term-sharing deal started last Wednesday after the congressmen gathered for a supposed meeting to discuss the red tape-related complaints raised by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

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GCQ or MGCQ? Gov’t to decide on NCR’s fate

MJ Blancaflor



The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) would decide this week if Metro Manila and other areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) would be placed under a more lenient lockdown status.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed on Sunday that the IATF, which serves as the government’s policy-making body on pandemic response, would convene this week to discuss the matter.

Business groups, as well as Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, have been pushing to place the capital region under modified GCQ to allow the reopening of more businesses and public transportation.

Under modified GCQ, public gatherings such as movie screenings, concerts, sporting events and other entertainment activities are allowed, but participants may fill no more than half of the capacity of the venue.

The same rule applies to religious gatherings, community assemblies, and non-essential work gatherings.

However, researchers and analysts from the University of the Philippines (UP) have warned that a premature easing of GCQ in Metro Manila would lead to an “exponential” rise come Christmas time.

The UP group said in a report that while the situation in the capital region has “improved,” it has yet to achieve the 28-day case doubling time set by the IATF as a prerequisite to shift into modified GCQ status.

The GCQ status in Metro Manila would lapse by the end of the month and President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to announce his decision on the quarantine level on or before Wednesday.

Metro Manila is the region that has stayed the longest under GCQ for nearly four months, a quarantine classification which allows public transportation and most industries but prohibits tourism activities, entertainment events, and large mass gatherings.

Of the 61,766 active COVID-19 cases in the Philippines as of Saturday, Metro Manila accounts for 45 percent of the number with 28,010 infections.

Apart from the capital region, other areas under GCQ until the end-September are Bulacan, Batangas, and Tacloban City.

Roque previously said that the government is eyeing to place parts of the country without COVID-19 cases in the past month under the “new normal” classification, which lifts restrictions on business activities including travel, provided that minimum health standards are observed.

The “new normal” classification used to be the fifth and lowest quarantine classification until the task force temporarily removed it in June.

Under the current four-tier classification, the MGCQ is most lenient lockdown status.

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Senate eyes on time passage of 2021 budget

Hananeel Bordey



To prevent another reenacted budget, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sonny Angara said they eye the approval of the 2021 national budget before the year ends.

In a radio interview, Angara said that the Senate is already conducting budget briefings with different departments and government agencies so that they can tackle the Senate version of the proposed national budget immediately after the House of Representatives passed their version.

Appropriations bills like the national budget should emanate from the House of Representatives, according to the Constitution.

“Gusto natin on time ang pagpasa ng national budget, January 1 meron na tayong bagong budget para makatulong sa mamamamayan at mga bagong proyekto,” he said.

Angara noted that the feud among lawmakers in the past years have forced the government to implement a reenacted budget due to the delay of the approval of the new budget law.

“We are hoping for (the early approval) dahil nu’ng nagkaroon ng huling bangayan sa Kamara, nu’ng nagpalitan ng liderato noong 2018, medyo na-delay nang kaunti ang 2019 budget. So hopefully, lahat tayo sa Senado, sa Kamara ay natuto na d’yan ang uunahin ay pagpasa ng budget,” Angara hoped.

Angara also responded to criticisms that the 2021 national budget, as proposed by the Executive Department, does not respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that the 2021 National Expenditures Program will face numerous debates in Congress and the lawmakers can realign funding from programs that are less priority to those that should need more budget,

“Ongoing pa po ang budget at ang reaksyon natin ay pwede nating i-adjust ang budget, maraming pagdaanan ito. Kahit dumaan na ito sa committee level sa House of Representatives, alam ko hihimayin pa nila ‘yan sa Kamara sa plenaryo tapos kami naman (sa Senado),” he said.

Last week, the House Committee on Appropriations has already finished the budget briefings at the committee level. The bill will be endorsed to the plenary for the second reading.

Both Houses of Congress are now scrutinizing the P4.5-trillion proposed 2021 national budget.

The Department of Education will get the biggest chunk with a total allocation of P754.4 billion.

This is followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways with a proposed budget of P667.3 billion; the Department of Interior and Local Government (P246.1 billion); the Department of National Defense (P209.1 billion); the Department of Health (P203.1 billion); the Department of Social Welfare and Development, (P171.2 billion); the Department of Transportation (P143.6 billion); the Department of Agriculture (P66.4 billion); the Judiciary (P43.5 billion); and the Department of Labor and Employment (P27.5 billion).


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Luring HK fintech firms to Phl




ADVANCES in technology connect billions across the globe. (PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF GLOBAL BUSINESS OUTLOOK)

The coronavirus pandemic made financial technology, or fintech in cyberspace parlance, a way of life.

But strict regulations and the jittery market made fintech investments erratic.

In Hong Kong, China’s polarizing national security law forced technology firms to reconsider their presence in Hong Kong while some moved data and people out.

Companies that handle data deemed to endanger national security are punishable under the law which took effect in July.

Reports have it that Alibaba-backed Ant Group, China’s second-largest brokerage Haitong Securities, Huawei’s cloud division and Tencent-backed digital bank WeBank have approached Singapore industry groups.

But what if the Philippines make fintech regulations more attractive by addressing investors’ concerns?

House Bill (HB) 7760, or the Financial Technology Industry Development Act, will mandate the creation of a Financial Technology Office (FTO) within the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to draw up a financial technology industry roadmap.

HB 7760 also seeks to extend the eligibility for a Special Investors Resident Visa of investors and management staff, regardless of investment size, provided they are recommended by the BSP governor.

“We are in the game for fintech investments. We have 74 million smartphone users who spend about 10 hours a day on the internet. That is one of the biggest consumer markets for digital products in the world. For market-seeking firms, we are probably one of the most attractive,” Albay (2nd District) Representative and bill author Joey Salceda said.

Fintech firms use technology and innovation to compete with or complement traditional financial methods in the delivery of financial services. Among these are virtual banks, online lending facilities and crypto currencies.

“Fintech is the future of money. The Philippines can be a leader in this area. If we are going to dream the future up, let’s dream big,” he added. “The digital economy, while emerging, seemed to be still distant before the COVID-19 struck. Now, the digital economy is upon us.”

HB 7760 also includes the financial technology industry in the Investment Priorities Plan for 10 years, qualifying it for tax incentives on offer by the Board of Investments.

The bill recommends an annual review of policies and infrastructure for data security and management, to ensure that the country’s infrastructure and policies are compatible with basic standards for the development of a sophisticated financial technology sector.

The proposed FTO will recommend regulatory sandboxing, the practice of allowing fintech firms to pilot their innovations within a small but largely deregulated market. This will allow firms to fix glitches in their system with little risk, before they launch their services in the larger market.

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NextGen stars debut in French Open

Agence France-Presse



SEBASTIAN Korda has never played a tour-level match on clay. (PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ATP)

Sebastian Korda was one of three NextGen ATP stars to advance to the Roland Garros main draw for the first time.

The 20-year-old, son of 1992 runner-up Petr Korda, booked his place in the first round in Paris with a 7-5, 6-2 triumph against Aslan Karatsev on Friday.

Korda broke the seventh-seeded Russian on five occasions to claim victory in 90 minutes on Court 7.

“I was really emotional and super excited to qualify for the main draw,” said Korda.

Korda is not the only son of a former Roland Garros finalist to qualify for this year’s event.

Emilio Gomez, son of 1990 champion Andres Gomez, booked his place in the main draw on Thursday.

“It’s pretty cool and [I am] really happy that Emilio got through as well and to keep our dads’ names out there,” said Korda.

The American will make his second straight appearance in a Grand Slam main draw, following his debut at the level at this year’s US Open. Korda pushed eventual quarterfinalist Denis Shapovalov to four sets in the first round.

After failing to qualify in each of his three previous Grand Slam appearances last year, 21-year-old Jurij Rodionov will make his main draw debut at a major championship in Paris.

The Austrian, who claimed two ATP Challenger Tour trophies earlier this year, defeated countryman Sebastian Ofner 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 18 minutes.

Tomas Machac, who was competing in his first Grand Slam qualifying draw, overcame Frederico Ferreira Silva 7-6(6), 6-4. The 19-year-old Czech also claimed straight-sets wins against Julian Lenz and Go Soeda earlier this week.

Michael Mmoh will also make his debut in the first round at Roland Garros this year. The 22-year-old recovered from a set down to beat Renzo Olivo 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

“It feels awesome and I won a main draw match at the Australian Open and US Open this year and this feels better because it’s the first time I qualified for a Grand Slam tournament and I had to earn it the hard way,” said Mmoh. “It feels good to play well on clay and to win three matches.

“It means a lot to qualify and I found a way to win it the hard way. I am confident going into the main draw and I couldn’t be happier for Sebi. We spent a lot of time practicing together and it shows how much work we put in during the break.” (ATP)

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84th Malasakit Center opens in Zambales




Senator Christopher “Bong” Go on Friday attended the virtual launch of the 84th Malasakit Center at President Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital in Iba, Zambales.

The newly opened Malasakit Center in Zambales is the first in the province, ninth in Region 3 and the 44th in Luzon. The hospital is also a COVID-19-designated hospital where confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases are currently confined.

Expressing his concern for Filipinos who had to spend long hours in several queues just to seek government assistance, Go explained that the purpose of these one-stop shops is to ensure that Filipinos gain easier and more convenient access to medical and financial assistance from the government.

“Mahirap magkasakit, ito ang mga panahon na litong-lito ang mga kababayan natin at hindi nila alam saan sila hihingi ng tulong,” he added.

In Malasakit Centers, patients or their representatives will only need to fill up a unified form to request assistance, instead of having to visit government offices scattered in various locations. In addition, an express lane for persons with disability and senior citizens is also available.

Concerned agencies extending medical and financial assistance housed in these centers are the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Health, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

“Eighty-fourth na Malasakit Center na po itong sa inyo sa Zambales at tuloy-tuloy po ito dahil batas na po ito ngayon,” Go said.

“Sa batas na ito, magkakaroon po ng Malasakit Centers sa lahat ng 73 DOH-run hospitals at ‘yung mga local government hospitals na gustong magkaroon ng Malasakit Center, they have to follow a criteria na nakalaan sa batas katulad po ng inyo. Sumunod kayo sa criteria kaya meron na kayong Malasakit Center dyan sa Iba, Zambales,” he added.

With the enactment of the Republic Act No. 11463, otherwise known as the Malasakit Centers Act of 2019, all hospitals run by the DOH all over the country and in the Philippine General Hospital in Manila are now mandated to establish their own Malasakit Centers.

On the other hand, hospitals run by local government units and other public hospitals may also establish their own Malasakit Centers provided that they meet a standard set of criteria and guarantee the availability of funds for the operation of their centers, including its maintenance, personnel and staff training, among others.

Patients who would be admitted to LGU-run and other public hospitals but are eligible for medical and financial assistance could also seek assistance from the Malasakit Centers.

“Sa mga pasyente po sa Zambales, iparating nyo lang sa mga kapitbahay nyo na meron na kayong Malasakit Center. Para po ito sa mga poor and indigent patients. Wala pong pulitika dito, wala pong pinipili dito,” Go reminded the residents.

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James with triple-double as Lakers advance to NBA Finals




LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball agains the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. (AFP)

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers finished off the Denver Nuggets, 117-107, in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday (Manila time) to secure the first seat in the NBA championship.

James posted his 27th career playoffs triple-double with 38 points, 10 assists and pulled down 16 rebounds while Anthony Davis got 27 points to carry the Lakers, who wrapped up the best-of-seven series 4-1, back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Kobe Bryant-led squad won it all in 2010.

Los Angeles denied Denver a chance to mount another series comeback attempt. The Nuggets successfully pulled off historic come-from-behind victories in the first two rounds of the playoffs against Utah and the LA Clippers after being down 3-1.

The Lakers also booted out Portland and Houston both in Game 5.

James took over in the fourth quarter, relentlessly attacking the basket to keep the Nuggets, who erased a 16-point deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter, at bay.

Denver went down, 72-56, with eight minutes left in the third before the Nuggets chipped away their deficit to knot the game at 84 off a pair of Jamal Murray free throws with 11 seconds remaining.  Davis put Los Angeles back on top with a trey with just a second left in the period.

Kobe Bryant was NBA Finals MVP in 2010 when the Lakers lifted their 16th title, and it has been an emotional road to the finals this season for the Lakers after the death of Bryant in a helicopter crash in January.

They will take on the winners of the Eastern Conference final series between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. The Heat lead that series 3-2 with game six coming up on Monday.

“We’re going to enjoy it tonight, but we understand we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” James said as the Western Conference title was celebrated on court. “We understand there’s a bigger goal.”

Jerami Grant and Nikola Jokic had 20 points each while Murray had 19 for the Nuggets.

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North Korea warns Seoul’s navy over search for dead official

Agence France-Presse



North Korea on Sunday warned the South Korean navy to stop crossing into its territorial waters as ships search for the body of a Seoul official shot dead at sea by Pyongyang’s soldiers.

State media said the North will begin its own search for the body and warned that the South’s naval operations threatened to raise tensions.

The fisheries official was shot dead by North Korean soldiers on Tuesday — the first killing of a South Korean civilian by Pyongyang’s forces in a decade — prompting a rare public apology from leader Kim Jong Un.

Seoul’s military has accused the North Korean soldiers of pouring oil over the man’s body and burning it after shooting him.

The death was an “awful case which should not have happened”, the North’s official KCNA news agency said Sunday, adding that Pyongyang was organising a search operation in its waters to help locate the body.

It said the country was considering “procedures and ways of handing over any tide-brought corpse to the south side … in case we find it during the operation”.

But it warned that South Korean vessels near the site of the incident had crossed into North Korean waters.

“We can never overlook any intrusion into our territorial waters and we seriously warn the south side against it,” KCNA said.

“It arouses our due vigilance as it may lead to another awful incident.”

South Korea on Saturday demanded the North carry out a further probe into the shooting and said it would request a joint investigation if necessary.

Apologies from North Korea are unusual and the message from Kim came with inter-Korean ties in a deep freeze and nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington deadlocked.

There have been no North Korean media reports on the contents of the letter from Kim.

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