Senator Cynthia Villar on Tuesday questioned the inclusion of the middle class sector in the government’s subsidy program amid COVID-19 pandemic.
Villar posed the question to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) during the hearing of the Committee of the Whole, which deliberated on the government’s overall strategies against COVID-19.
“I want to ask you di ba ang families natin in the Philippines is 22 million, ‘di ba? Sabi niyo 18 million ang bibigyan because they are poor but do you know that 15 percent of our people are [in the] upper-middle and then the rich, di ba? Yung 18 million is 82 percent. So bakit bibigyan ang middle?” Villar, a known businesswoman before her foray into politics, said.
She pointed out that Filipinos who belong to the middle class still receive their salaries, regardless if they work for a private company or for the government.
“May trabaho sila, kahit lockdown, nagsu-sweldo sila. Sa gobyerno, kung employed by the government. Kung employed naman ng local, ng mga private, nagsu-sweldo din sila kaya nga nahihirapan ang mga companies kasi they have to pay for the salaries even if there’s no business,” she elaborated.
Under the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, the government will provide a P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy for around 18 million poor families, depending on the regional minimum wage, for two months.
Villar also questioned the number of estimated poor families, arguing that the 2015 census showed that poor and the lower-income families only compose 59 percent of families in the country.
She pointed out that 18 million families that benefit from the government subsidy program compose 82 percent of the total number.
“Bakit tayo naging 82 percent? Bakit natin bibigyan yung may mga sweldo naman kahit lockdown nagse-sweldo sila. Yung upper middle and the rich. I want an explanation. You determine that,” she asked.
Answering on Bautista’s behalf, acting NEDA Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua explained to Villar that they have considered the population growth from 2015 to 2020 that’s why they came up with the 18 million families.
“The 2020 estimate is now 24.6 million. Of which, 18 million are considered to be low-income or basically working in the informal sector. No work, no pay, that is the basis for the 18 million,” Chua said.
Despite Chua’s answer, Villar still asked DSWD to submit an explanation in writing.
(Update: Sen. Cynthia Villar apologized for her “seemingly insensitive” remarks on cash aid distribution to the middle class. She said she merely pointed out that workers who continue to receive salaries be excluded from government subsidy programs.)
Novavax enters late-stage clinical trials
US biotech firm Novavax said Thursday it was initiating its final Phase 3 clinical trial for its experimental Covid-19 vaccine.
The trial will be carried out in the United Kingdom and aims to enroll 10,000 volunteers, aged 18-84, with and without underlying conditions, over the next four to six weeks.
“With a high level of SARS-CoV-2 transmission observed and expected to continue in the UK, we are optimistic that this pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial will enroll quickly and provide a near-term view of NVX-CoV2373’s efficacy,” said Gregory Glenn, the company’s president of research and development, using the technical name for the formulation.
It is the eleventh Covid-19 vaccine candidate to reach the Phase 3 stage globally.
The company has been awarded $1.6 billion by the US government to develop and fund the drug, which is administered by two intramuscular injections.
The Maryland-based company uses insect cells to grow synthesized pieces of the spike protein of the virus, which it hopes will evoke a robust human immune response.
It also uses an “adjuvant,” a compound that boosts the production of neutralizing antibodies.
The company says the drug, which is a liquid formulation, can be stored at two degrees celsius to eight degrees celsius, refrigerator temperature.
In the spring, the company said it had proven the efficacy of a seasonal flu vaccine it had developed using the same technology.
PPA launches contact tracing app TRAZE
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.
Iloilo City reverts to MECQ until Oct. 9
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.
House COVID-19 cases rises to 81
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.
PLDT assures connectivity during emergency maintenance
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.
Arroyo raises possibility of 2022 presidential polls suspension
Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo on Thursday has raised the possibility of suspending the 2022 presidential elections in case the pandemic continues to drag on.
At the hearing of the Commission on Elections proposed 2021 budget, Arroyo, son of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, asked the poll chief Sheriff Abas if the body would consider postponing the national elections because of the pandemic.
Arroyo said that he is “very sure that many contaminations will happen” once the elections are pushed through.
“Do you consider the proposal of postponing the elections…coming from you and not from us, the members of the Congress? Because people might think we have a motive to extend our term,” said Arroyo.
He further mentioned the sentiments of the businessmen in his district, saying they opted to abstain from voting in the next election because they are afraid to contract the deadly virus.
“I hope the thought will linger in their minds. I’m not saying they should do it, just consider it,” he added.
In response, Abas said elections cannot be put off because it is a “Constitutional provision”. And besides, it is only the president and the Congress
could decide on the matter.
Nonetheless, the body had already created a committee that will prepare for the 2022 elections in case the pandemic continues.
Comelec Executive Director Bartolome Sinocruz, for his part, said if the pandemic persists until the next two years, it will implement the procedures applied in overseas absentee voting where Filipinos abroad could vote within a 30-day schedule.
He added that they will limit the voters inside a precinct to a maximum of five.
EU urges new measures to head off virus second wave
The European Commission urged EU members states Thursday to better explain and enforce social distancing and hygiene rules to halt a dangerous new wave of coronavirus infections.
Health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “In some member states, the situation is now even worse than during the peak in March. This is a real cause for concern.
“All member states need to roll out measures immediately and at the right time at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks.”
Europe has now had more than five million coronavirus cases, and several countries have begun reimposing local lockdown rules to head off a return to uncontrolled spread.
The death rate has not returned to the levels seen earlier this year, but cases of new infections are soaring once again in many areas.
But Kyriakides, whose office has sought to coordinate the response across the 27 member states, warned that some areas had clearly begun to lift restrictions too soon.
“What this means, to be very clear, is that the control measures taken have simply not being effective enough or not being enforced or followed as they should have been,” she said.
“We cannot lower our guard. This crisis is not behind us. Moreover, winter is the time of the year for more respiratory illnesses, including seasonal influenza.”
And she warned: “Today we’re here to call on everyone to act decisively… it might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”
Kyriakides said that member state governments would have to fight misinformation about the virus and reach out to young people to head off protests and conspiracy theories.
And she warned they will have to act quickly to prevent a need for a return to generalized lockdowns, which she said would hurt the economy, education, and the mental health of the public.
AFP, Facebook eye partnership to push fight versus terrorism, insurgency
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.
PBA bubble gets green light
The resumption of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) 45th season is finally a go.
PBA chairman Ricky Vargas on Thursday announced that they have already secured a provisional authority from the Inter Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) that will effectively allow them to restart their aborted season.
Vargas, who sat down with ranking IATF executives together with PBA commissioner Willie Marcial, said they have already secured the confidence of the government through the help of Bases Conversion and Development Authority chief Vince Dizon, who played a key role in holding the games inside the Clark Freeport Zone using a bubble concept.
“This is a happy event,” said Vargas, who has good relationship with Dizon after serving as president of the Philippine Olympic Committee during the country’s buildup for its hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games last year.
“We are happy to announce that, through the help of Sec. Dizon, we have secured the provisional approval of the IATF.”
The PBA had already ironed out all the kinks in its bubble plan.
The league would house around 350 delegates composed of players, coaches and team officials from 12 teams at the Quest Hotel inside Clark Freeport Zone.
Games would be held at the Angeles University Foundation gymnasium starting 11 October, but delegates would start entering the bubble on 28 and 29 September.
But now that the IATF finally issued its green light, the PBA will formally become the first league in the country to open amid the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dizon, who is also the deputy chief implementer of the national COVID-19 task force, explained that the PBA was given provisional authority because its health measures are strict and stringent than that of the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) group, which is composed of the Philippine Sports Commission, Department of Health and Games and Amusement Board.
“The current issue here is that the protocols stated in JAO are different from the protocols set by the PBA for the bubble,” Dizon said.
“We just need to amend the protocols and with the provisional approval, we now have the authority to begin the bubble.”