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130,000 violated ECQ — IATF

Francis Wakefield

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Over 130,000 Filipinos have violated the guidelines of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine, (ECQ), the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-MEID) reported Tuesday.

Cabinet Secretary and IATF spokesman Karlo Nograles 130,177 quarantine violators were recorded, 30,366 of whom were arrested by law enforcers, citing the data from the Philippine National Police.

Meanwhile, 2,740 drivers of private vehicles have been apprehended by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority for violating social distancing rules, he added.

The Palace official renewed his call to the public to follow the ECQ guidelines.

Under the guidelines, only those who have “essential” work are allowed to go out of their houses to reduce the spread of coronavirus infection.

One household member shall also be allowed to buy food, medicines and other essential products for his family.

“These are not trivial violations. Every time an individual violates ECQ guidelines, he or she chooses to become a health threat to those who abide by it,” he added.

Nograles said the government will strictly enforce the ECQ until 30 April to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

“These are measures that are being adopted in order to ensure that the irresponsible behavior of a few does not threaten the welfare of the majority who followed the ECQ, and the stringent social distancing guidelines enforced by the government,” he said.

“This pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on our country. Lives have been cut short, loved ones have been taken from us. Never in our lifetime have we faced a public health threat of this magnitude,” he added.

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PPA launches contact tracing app TRAZE

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Dumangas port in Iloilo. (RGKRD image)

The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) has launched a contact tracing mobile application called TRAZE for use in all public ports in the country.

The launch of TRAZE is part of the Department of Transportation’s (DoTr) effort to control the spread of COVID-19 in the maritime sector. It will help hasten the conduct of contact tracing for COVID-19 cases using only a mobile phone even without an Internet.

In accordance with the directive of DoTr Secretary Arthur Tugade to expand the use of technology in transportation programs and systems under the new normal.

How to use the app is contained in the video instruction link https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1824140961058365&id=130406490431829.

The DoTr and PPA reminded the public to be well-informed and to cooperate with the initiatives of the government in fighting the spread of COVID-19.

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Iloilo City reverts to MECQ until Oct. 9

MJ Blancaflor

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Mayor Treñas recently placed the city hall under a three-day lockdown. (SBI image)

Iloilo City would revert to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from 25 September until 9 October following a spike of COVID-19 cases.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said this was the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases as formalized in its Resolution No. 74.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Jerry Treñas announced in a Facebook post that the local government’s COVID Team has recommended to impose a 15-day MECQ in the city, which is currently under a more lenient modified general community quarantine.

Under MECQ, all citizens are required to stay home, except those working in essential businesses or authorized persons outside residence. Public transportation and domestic flights are also suspended.

Treñas recently placed the city hall under a three-day lockdown after 33 of its employees from the Treasurer’s Office contracted the dreaded virus.

The city also imposed total lockdowns in 13 of its barangays to control virus transmission.

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House COVID-19 cases rises to 81

Michelle R. Guillang

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Another employee from the office of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has tested positive for COVID-19 raising to 81 the number of infected workers at the House of Representatives.

The latest case reported for work on 21 to 23 September and got tested after experiencing dry and itchy throat.

Meanwhile, two confirmed cases at the House have recovered, bringing down total active cases to 13.

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PLDT assures connectivity during emergency maintenance

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The AAG Cable System is a fiber optic submarine cable from the US to Southeast Asia.

Online classes and work from home won’t be disrupted when PLDT undertakes emergency maintenance activities of one of its submarine cable systems for five days, the telecommunications firm said in a Facebook advisory.

“In light of the emergency maintenance activities of one of our submarine cable systems Asia-America Gateway from September 26, 9AM to September 30, 5AM (Philippine Standard Time),we wish to assure PLDT and Smart customers of continued internet connectivity all throughout,” read the post in PLDT’s Facebook page Thursday evening.

“Students can still do their online studies and exams, and users in homes and businesses can go about their normal internet-based activities during this time,” it added.

PLDT said it has identified alternative cable systems to keep its connectivity resilient. Moreover, it adopted measures such as traffic rerouting and local caching to ensure that most frequently downloaded content are located in the Philippines.

 

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AFP, Facebook eye partnership to push fight versus terrorism, insurgency

Kristina Maralit

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and social media giant Facebook tackled the possibility of entering into an agreement to strengthen the government’s counterterrorism and anti-insurgency efforts, particularly going after those who are exploting the Internet to advance their cause.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay held a virtual meeting with Facebook Philippines’ Head of Public Policy, Clare Amador, on Wednesday, 23 September, to discuss ways both parties can work together to make cyberspace a safer haven for Filipino netizens.

Amador discussed global efforts being exerted by Facebook, a member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), to fight terrorism propagated online and how it is dealing with harmful content on its platform.

Established in 2017, GIFCT is a consortium of companies dedicated to disrupting terrorist abuse of members’ digital platforms.

“We laud and express gratitude to the members of the GIFCT, including Facebook, for stepping up in its self-regulation initiatives that targets the dissemination of extremist propaganda, including photos and videos of terrorist violence. We likewise in the security sector shall extend any assistance as needed and our lines of cooperation shall always be open,” Gapay.

To recall, Gapay, upon his assumption as military chief, hinted in suggesting having a more stringent monitoring of suspected terrorists’ social media account in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Law.

Gapay pointed to many documented cases wherein social media was used by terror groups to sow violence, among them the Daesh’s reign of terror in the Middle East and the country’s own experience in fighting the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in the 2017 Marawi City siege.

Social networks, Gapay stated, were used as conduits in spreading violent extremism and terrorist propaganda.

The use of private messaging apps also continues as a means for terrorists to initiate communication with unsuspecting netizens followed by personally mediated and face-to-face meetings which end up in their recruitment and eventual radicalization.

“We seek an open and above-board partnership with social networking sites to prevent and counter the spread of violent extremism, without curtailing the rights of users to free expression and information,” noted Gapay.

 

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Chief Justice Peralta mulls holding online Bar exams next year

Hananeel Bordey

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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court is considering online Bar examinations in 2021, said Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.

During the Senate Finance Committee’s deliberations of the  Judiciary’s budget for 2021, Senator Francis Tolentino has asked the magistrate if it is possible to hold the examination virtually.

Tolentino, a lawyer, noted that this has been considered in other countries, specifically in Michigan, District of Columbia, Louisiana, and New York in the United States.

“We are thinking of that. We are considering that. Next year probably,” Peralta said noting that the Bar Examinations for 2020 have been postponed following the declaration of state of emergency brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Peralta also informed the committee that the high court has decided to hold bar exams simultaneously in Manila, Cebu, and one in Mindanao.

“We will not hold anymore the 2020 bar exams. We have moved the bar exams to November 2021. So there are no more bar exams for the year 2020. So ang mangyayari magkaksabay yung 2020 at 2021,” he said.

Peralta along with Court Administrator Midas Marquez virtually attended the Senate hearing to present the Judiciary’s budget for 2021.

For next year, the Judiciary proposed P55.88 billion but the Executive Department only allotted P43.54 billion under the 2021 National Expenditures Program.

The Judiciary has also presented their “motion for reconsideration” before Congress asking the Senate to revive the P6.58 billion worth of expenditures from their original budget proposal.

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Roque claps back at ex-DFA chief Del Rosario: Think of our qualifications before we dictate on the sitting President

MJ Blancaflor

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Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario should not dictate President Rodrigo Duterte’s next move to address the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, the Palace said Thursday.

In his televised briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque questioned Del Rosario’s “special qualifications” to tell the President what he should do after declaring that the Philippines rejects “any attempts to undermine” the 2016 arbitral ruling that ruled in favor of the country against China.

“Secretary Del Rosario, he is a Filipino. He is entitled to speak but I don’t think it’s proper to impose on the President,” Roque said.

The Palace official also took a swipe at Del Rosario, saying that it was his under his leadership at the Department of Foreign Affairs when the country lost control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 during a standoff between Philippine and Chinese forces.

Del Rosario previously admitted that the United States brokered talks to end the standoff between China and the Philippines at the resource-rich shoal and got the two countries to agree to simultaneously pull out their ships from the area.

The Philippines abided by the supposed agreement, but China maintained its presence at the shoal.

“I know he was secretary of Foreign Affairs for six years, but in those years, we lost Panatag Shoal and our physical possession of that island. So, I don’t think he has much to show by way of his actual accomplishment as DFA Secretary,” Roque said.

“And all I can say is think of our qualifications before we dictate on the sitting President who is elected by the public,” he added.

Roque said this after Del Rosario urged the government to take the “next step” of “putting into reality” the President’s invocation of the 2016 arbitral ruling which spelled out the country’s marine entitlements and junked Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

Del Rosario, a member of the Philippine arbitration team that challenged China’s claim on the disputed waterway before the Hague-based tribunal, said he was “heartened” to know that Duterte “is not at all impervious, but listens to the will of his countrymen.”

Duterte’s affirmation of the landmark decision against Beijing at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) early Wednesday was the first time he had raised the matter before the international community.

He spoke before a virtual roster of world leaders that included US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Duterte, accused of tip-toeing on the Hague ruling in exchange of Chinese aid, had sought closer trade and investment ties with Beijing since he came to power in 2016, including potential joint explorations for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

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Wild idea — Palace on suggestion to cut US security aid to Phl

MJ Blancaflor

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The Palace on Thursday expressed confidence that the United States would consider its close ties with the Philippines in deciding whether or not it would approve the “wild suggestion” of an American lawmaker to suspend Washington’s aid to the country’s security forces.

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild introduced the Philippine Human Rights Act bill at the US Congress which seeks to block American security assistance to the Philippines until the government makes reforms to the military and police.

The proposed measure outlines a “serious basic criteria” that would have to be met in order to resume funding, including the investigation and prosecution of human rights violators among uniformed personnel.

Also among the conditions that should be met are the establishment of rights protection of trade unionists, journalists, human right defenders, indigenous persons, small-farmers, LGBTQ+ activists, and government critics.

The bill also asks the government to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses.

In a speech at the US Congress, Wild, a Democrat lawmaker, claimed the “brutal” regime of President Rodrigo Duterte is using the pretext of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to “ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers and political opponents.”

In response to this, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque tagged the bill as “wild,” even as he noted that the Philippines would not interfere with the decision of the United States.

“That’s a very wild suggestion. We are confident that the State Department and the administration of President [Donald] Trump, because of our close friendship with him, will see the importance of cooperation between the United States and the Philippines,” Roque told reporters.

“Any congressman can file a proposed measure but its chances to pass into a law is very small. Let’s leave it at that. That is the personal opinion of Congresswoman Wild which is a very wild idea,” he added.

The bill, co-sponsored by 24 other US lawmakers, has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Financial Services of the US Congress.

“Let us make clear that the US will not participate in the repression. Let us stand with the people of the Philippines,” said Wild.

Duterte and his allies often blast foreigners who appear to meddle with the country’s domestic affairs when they seek to hold him accountable over alleged human rights abuses, particularly in his anti-narcotics campaign.

He appeared for the first time before the United Nations assembly early Wednesday, where he accused “a number of interest groups” of weaponizing human rights to discredit the efforts of his administration to eradicate the illegal drug trade in the country.

Duterte further accused his critics of pretending to be human rights advocates and spreading “malevolence and anti-government propaganda” even through schools.

Peter Murphy, chairperson of International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, said that Duterte’s message before the UN contained the “same poisonous language that has led to countless extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in these last four years.”

Murphy added that it is “perverse” for the President to redefine human rights as protection from illegal drugs, criminality, and terrorism, noting that human rights begin with the right to life as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“But the President has repeatedly and recklessly called for lives to be ended, women to be raped, telling his soldiers and police that he will take the blame,” Murphy said.

Duterte’s drug war has been the administration’s flagship campaign which has so far killed over 5,000 drug suspects. Human rights groups claim the actual number of cases is thrice that figure.

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AFP scrambles to save US funding; insists zero tolerance for human rights abuse

Kristina Maralit

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday insisted it will never support or tolerate any form of abuse by military personnel,  ensuring that all soldiers are trained to operate within the limits and bounds of the Constitution.

AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo issued the statement reacting to H.R. 8313, or the Philippine Human Rights Act, filed before the US Congress by Democratic Pennsylvania Representative Susan Wild seeking to “suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes.”

One such issue being targeted by the proposed US legislation is the alleged human rights violations committed by the military and police.

While the AFP does “not deal with policies and inclinations of foreign governments,” Arevalo said the accusation “is something vehemently denied” by the Philippine military.

“In many instances in the past, we have been empathic about human rights. The AFP has no record of abuses,” Arevalo said in his virtual presser.

He then challenged Wild and other American legislators to “bring their matters to prove their allegations” so that the AFP can conduct its investigation against soldiers who purportedly committed such dastardly acts.

“We will bring them before a court-martial. That is not allowed, that is not supported by the AFP,” stressed the AFP mouthpiece. “We ensure that all our soldiers are operating within limits and bounds of the Bill of Rights. “We say it is unfair to accuse the AFP of being a violator of human rights.”

If passed into law, the measure stopping US public funding for the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) will set the following conditions before it may be lifted:

·         Investigate and prosecute members of the military and police found to have violated human rights;

·         Withdraw military involvement from domestic policy;

·         Establish the protection of the rights of labor leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, indigenous persons, small farmers, LGBTI activists, and critics of government;

·         Take steps to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses; and

·         Fully comply with any and all audits or investigations regarding the improper use of security aid

 

 

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