The Trump administration on Sunday again pressed for full school reopenings in the fall, even as resurgent COVID-19 infections raised mounting criticism that a premature return to classes could pose a danger of greater spread of the disease.
With the virus setting new records by the day in many parts of the country, a top health official warned that “everything should be on the table” and even US President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time.
But in two television interviews, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted on the need for schools to reopen, even as several states were registering record numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitals in many cities were struggling to cope.
“Kids need to get back to school, they need to get back in the classroom,” DeVos said on CNN, while acknowledging that local conditions should be taken into account. “Families need for kids to get back in the classroom. And it can be done safely.”
Yet, another administration spokesman cautioned Sunday that some areas might need to return to lockdowns.
Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health, said that with COVID-19 deaths continuing to rise, “everything should be on the table.”
“We’re all very concerned,” Giroir added on ABC’s “This Week,” as he called for the re-closing of bars, greater spacing in restaurants and the near-universal wearing of masks in the areas most afflicted, largely in southern states that reopened aggressively.
Pressure from Trump
The pressure to reopen schools has come from the top, with Trump threatening to withhold federal funding from schools that refuse to reopen — a stance that DeVos reconfirmed.
Trump has criticized guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control for the safe reopening of schools, saying they were too rigid and too expensive.
But many school systems say the safety of millions of students, teachers and staff can be ensured only with some combination of remote and in-person schooling — or in some cases remote-only teaching — and that a fully in-person approach, to be safe, would impose extreme costs.
DeVos was pressed as to whether the government would actually withhold federal funds from schools, which generally account for around 10 percent of local school budgets — a substantial contribution at a time when reopening costs for larger school systems can run to the millions.
“There is no desire to take money away,” she said on CNN. “In fact, we want to see schools open and have been committed to ensuring the resources are there to do that.”
But in a Fox News interview, she was more direct, explicitly saying that if school don’t reopen, they should not receive federal funds.
That drew a sharp retort from a top Democrat, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called DeVos’s remarks “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”
“They are messing with the health of our children,” she said on CNN.
“We all want our children to go back to school. Teachers do, parents do, and children do. But they must go back safely.”
The surge in coronavirus cases has pressed some governors in hard-hit southern states to retreat from their earlier efforts to reopen their economies, with some now embracing the wearing of masks.
Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, a Democrat, on Saturday imposed a mask-wearing requirement for most circumstances and ordered bars re-shuttered.
President Trump on Saturday wore a mask in public for the first time during a visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after downplaying the practice for months in defiance of his health advisors.
But Surgeon General Jerome Adams, in a reversal of tone, wore a protective mask during a television appearance Sunday, and Giroir separately emphasized the importance of masks.
“For this to work we have to have 90 percent of people wearing masks in public in the hot-spot areas,” Giroir said.
“If we don’t have that we won’t get control of the virus.
“It’s absolutely essential.”
The United States is the hardest-hit country in the world, with around 135,000 deaths and more than 3.2 million confirmed cases. Seven states set one-day death records this week.
Intensive-care units in many hospitals are operating close to capacity, and there were reports in Arizona of local authorities procuring refrigerated trucks because morgues were being overwhelmed.
Giroir stressed that progress is being made in some areas, with more testing and new treatments available.
But amid the record-setting rise in cases, he acknowledged that “we expect deaths to go up over the next two, three weeks before this turns around.”
The administration is preparing for a challenging time in the fall, Giroir said, with the coronavirus likely resurging even as flu returns.
“There are some data that you can get both at the same time,” he said.
“That’s not really good.”
1 killed, two hurt in PMA shooting
BAGUIO CITY — One was killed and two were wounded during a shooting incident at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Tuesday afternoon.
The fatality was identified as Staff Sergeants Joefrey Turqueza of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) while Vivencio Raton of the Philippine Army and A2C Christopher F. Lim also from the PAF were wounded in the 4:35 p.m. shooting at the B-1022 EP Barracks of PMA inside Fort Del Pilar, Baguio City.
According to the police report, Turqueza and Raton were at the 2nd floor of the barracks when Lim approached them and suddenly opened fire using his issued M16 rifle. Turqueza was instantly killed while Raton wrestled the gun from Lim.
Raton and Lim were initially rushed to the PMASH and later were transferred to the Baguio General Hospital.
According to initial investigation, the incident was allegedly caused by misunderstanding and heated argument.
Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah dies at age 91
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the architect of the nation’s modern foreign policy and mediator in some of the worst crises to grip the Gulf, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, the royal court announced.
Sheikh Sabah had earned a reputation as a shrewd, unshakeable leader who helped steer his country through the 1990 Iraqi invasion, crashes in global oil markets and crises in parliament and on the streets.
“With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn… the death of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Emir of the State of Kuwait,” said Sheikh Ali Jarrah Al-Sabah, minister in charge of royal affairs, in a televised statement.
State television had cut its regular programming and switched to a broadcast of Koranic recital before the announcement.
The emir had been receiving hospital treatment in the United States since July after undergoing surgery in Kuwait City.
No details have been disclosed on the nature of his illness or treatment, and the palace did not say where he died.
The emir, who has ruled the oil-rich Gulf state since 2006, had his appendix removed in 2002, two years after having a pacemaker fitted. In 2007, he underwent urinary tract surgery in the US.
Under Kuwaiti law, in the absence of the emir de facto power is passed to the crown prince, the late leader’s half-brother Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, 83.
Sheikh Nawaf, an elder statesman who has held high office for decades including the defense and interior ministries, is now expected to be appointed the new ruler.
The 15th leader in a family that has ruled for over 250 years, Sheikh Sabah weathered Kuwait’s crises with shrewd judgement and an iron fist.
As the country’s top diplomat for nearly four decades, he fostered close ties with the West, most notably the United States which led the international coalition that freed Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1991.
He later emerged as mediator between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran, and between Saudi Arabia and Qatar following Riyadh’s 2017 decision to cut ties with Doha.
Despite his advanced years, he remained deeply involved in global affairs.
“The loss of Sabah al-Ahmed will be felt deeply, both due to his prominent role as a diplomat and regional mediator and as a unifying figure at home,” said Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“Kuwaitis have appreciated his ability to keep the emirate out of regional conflicts and rivalries.”
Major policy changes are not expected under his successor, even since Kuwait’s Gulf neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, opted to normalise relations with Israel in a seismic shift.
“Kuwait’s leadership will prioritize stability both on the domestic front and in regional politics. The focus will be on the home front,” Diwan said.
“There will be a lot to manage domestically as parliamentary elections are expected in the next two months.”
Normalization with Israel is very unpopular with the Kuwaiti public, and there is significant support for the Arab world’s historic position of insisting on a resolution of the Palestinian cause before giving diplomatic concessions to Israel.
“There is no indication a future leadership would want to change Kuwait’s posture,” Diwan said.
Kuwait’s constitution stipulates that the ruler should be a descendant of the nation’s founder, Mubarak al-Sabah, but the throne has alternated between the descendants of his sons, Salem and Jaber, for four decades.
However, contestants for the role of Crown Prince include Sheikh Sabah’s son and former deputy prime minister Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, who is a heavyweight of Kuwaiti politics.
Cayetano ends Speakership shift on 14 October
There was no tense moment for Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco when he led a small group of 20 congressmen faced President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang Tuesday night.
The President again brokered talks between Velasco and outgoing Speaker Taguig City Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, using the meeting to validate his recognition of Velasco as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Sources said Velasco will assume the speakership post on 14 October after he agreed to let Cayetano finish his business until that day.
Mr. Duterte last week had told Cayetano and Velasco to honor their agreement.
There should have been no need for that meeting, though, had Cayetano not reneged on his term-sharing pact with Velasco.
That agreement was also brokered by the President last year. Cayetano had agreed to serve 15 months of the first half of their three-year term, after which he should step down to allow Velasco to lead the House for 21 months until the next national elections.
Cayetano since last year had accused Velasco of orchestrating moves to unseat him, allegations which not a few congressmen have denied.
Velasco also remained cool to those events by remaining faithful to their agreement.
“I am a man of my word. I honor our agreement and my gentleman’s vow before the President,” Velasco said then.
While Velasco was criticized by Cayetano’s allies for allegedly not moving an inch to claim the speakership, they were chastised by Velasco’s own supporters by saying there was no need for Velasco to force the issue.
“The agreement was 15 months for you, 21 months for me. That’s what the congressmen have agreed on. Those are the terms we have accepted,” Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza, one of the most senior members of the House, said.
Cayetano, however, tried to gather more than 200 congressmen to sign a manifesto of support for his continued stay as Speaker.
He was criticized by the other lawmakers for doing so.
The President’s announcement of the leadership change at the House was witnessed by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go. The lawmaker was also present when the President talked to Velasco and Cayetano in private.
Velasco was accompanied by Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel, Ilocos Sur Rep. Kristine Singson; 1-PACMAN partylist Rep. Mikee Romero, AAMBIS-OWA partylist Rep. Sharon Garin, Bacolod City Rep. Caraps Paduano, Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, Rizal Rep. Jack Duavit and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon.
Cayetano brought along his wife Lani, also a Taguig City representative, with Majority leader Martin Romualdez, Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, House committee on accounts chair Abraham Tolentino, Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo and House committee on good government and public accountability chair Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado.
Cayetano’s allies claimed the meeting was requested by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. It was denied by Executive Director Ron Munsayac.
“Boxing’s over,” Munsayac said, alluding the controversial issue to a sporting match.
SPEAKERSHIP ROW: Cayetano out, Velasco in
It has been a long tug-of-war between Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco for the speakership.
But all is well that ends well, at least in the case of Velasco and his camp, when President Rodrigo Duterte stepped into the speakership row Tuesday night that led Cayetano to finally yield the post he’s been trying to keep for himself until 2022.
Velasco, who has been composed all these days while in the middle of the power struggle, was finally made the new Speaker of the House.
Megawide targets P3 billion from float
Diversified engineering and infrastructure conglomerate Megawide Construction Corp. is expected to raise fresh funds from the capital markets through the issuance of P3 billion worth of new preferred shares, with an oversubscription option of up to P5 billion.
This development came after Megawide filed its application with the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) on 21 September 2020.
“We see significant opportunities in both our organic and external pipeline amid the challenges emerging from the health crisis. We are very thankful to our partners for arranging this facility and gathering together the sources and users of fund, especially in this critical yet exciting stage for the company,” Megawide chairman and CEO Edgar Saavedra said.
Proceeds from the issuance will be used to fund its runway for growth program, which primarily includes the development of the 1.7-hectare Lot 2 at the Pañanaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX), expansion of its pre-cast capacity, and initial design stages for the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) multi-use development.
Long list of projects
Other projects in Megawide’s pipeline include the Original Proponent Status (OPS), which is now in various stages of approval, for the MCIA Expansion Proposal, Carbon Market Redevelopment and the NAIA Rehabilitation Project.
Megawide believes that the government’s continued support to jumpstart the economy through the relaxation of credit, coupled with stable inflation and foreign exchange rate scenario, will support a favorable interest rate environment for the instrument’s pricing, which will be determined on the issue date.
“We also want to take advantage of this window of opportunity for investors who are searching for attractive investment alternatives and for projects that offer significant value. At the end of the day, we believe that all sectors – the public sector, private companies, and financial institutions – should come together for businesses to recover quickly. After all, we all share the single objective of economic progress and national development as we pursue our vision of a First-World Philippines,” Saavedra stressed.
RCBC Capital Corp. and PNB Capital Corp. are the joint lead underwriters for the capital raising exercise, which is targeted to be completed within November 2020.
World Bank casts lower GDP outlook, high poverty incidence
Multilateral lender World Bank (WB) cast a more glum outlook in gross domestic product (GDP) terms for the Philippines, penciling a sharper economic contraction than the government’s eyed minus 5.5 percent for 2020.
WB senior economist Rong Qian said that they are now looking at a 6.9 percent GDP contraction for the year, a notable revision from their previous minus 1.9 percent outlook.
According to her, the lower local output could be partly attributed to the government’s decision to revert major cities into stricter quarantine measures in August.
While at it, the WB economist said they expect a better GDP figure in the third quarter 2020 versus previous quarters as the government gradually opens up the economy, allowing businesses and other establishments to resume operations.
“We expect that the third quarter is better than the second quarter and also trade data and fiscal revenue has also shown recovery. So we hope this will (be) sustained,” Qian told reporters during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
“The forecast and assumption for 2021 is that (the Philippines) will continue this gradual reopening of the economy and that the COVID-19 is under management, at least we won’t see another spike (inactive cases),” she added.
For 2021, the WB economist said that they are projecting a GDP rebound to 5.3 percent and accelerating further to 5.6 percent come 2022.
On a separate development, Socioeconomic Planning Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon shared the same sentiment, citing a better GDP figure on a quarterly basis despite being lower year-on-year.
“It will definitely (be) positive…but year-on-year, it will still be negative. We’re looking at indicators such as the purchasing managers’ index. It’s still below the 50 percent mark,” Edillon said.
Higher poverty seen
Meanwhile, the country’s poverty level was expected to increase in 2020, owing to the pandemic’s impact, which displaced a lot of workers.
“We have estimated that the 2019 poverty will be around 20.5 percent and 2020 will be 22.4 percent, so it’s a bit less than 2 percentage points more during this pandemic,” Qian said.
US designer brands Donald Trump a ‘Ku Klux Klan tyrant’
A Paris fashion week show has called for the end to the “tyranny” of US President Donald Trump.
American artist Sterling Ruby compared Trump to the racist Ku Klux Klan in his women’s Paris show called “Veil Flag”, in which a black model was draped in a distressed denim version of the Stars and Stripes.
Ruby’s streetwear brand, S.R. Studio. LA. CA., made its fashion week debut in the French capital late Monday with a film featuring the flag and a spoken word poem.
“Where are we, and what has happened?” the poem began.
“No sovereignty, no empathy. A flag worn down, covered in hardship marching against leaderless leadership.
“Tread on me… Light me on fire… End the tyranny of the President Grand Dragon,” it added.
The Grand Dragon is one of the most senior members of the KKK, which despite its long history of racist violence is still legal and thought to be active in 41 US states.
Trump has been accused of encouraging the rise of white supremacists in recent years.
With coronavirus infections rocketing in France, Paris women’s fashion week has followed Milan and London in going mostly digital, with labels presenting their new looks in short films.
‘The world has changed’
Rising French designer Marine Serre also raised eyebrows Tuesday with an unsettling sci-fi themed film called “Amor Fati”, inspired by Nietzsche, who made embracing fate — bad as it might be — central to his philosophy.
Serre, who made face masks a fashion item long before the pandemic to summon up her post-apocalyptic universe, said her new collection was “a mirror of the last five months.
“The world around us has changed radically” since the world was hit by the virus, she told AFP.
“I started putting anti-pollution masks in my collections a year and a half ago,” the 28-year-old added.
“I was going to work on my bike and the air was not great in Paris.”
Serre, who will show her film in the French capital’s biggest cinema later Tuesday, warned that some viewers may find it disturbing.
Her dystopian hooded outfits and body-hugging designs have touched a nerve with many younger fashionistas, fearful of what is happening to the environment.
Serre’s shows have also featured upcycled dresses made from old bedspreads and curtains.
Her clothes have since been championed by US singers Beyonce and Ariana Grande, with her crescent moon motif popping up regularly on the red carpet in outfits worn by actresses such as Chloe Sevigny.
She has also become a leading voice for more sustainable fashion.
With the Belgian master Dries Van Noten, she has called for a major rethink of how the industry works.
Their manifesto for responsible fashion has since been signed by hundreds of other designers.
Is Cayetano man enough to honor his word?
That is the hanging question that will soon be answered.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to meet Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Speaker Lord Allan Velasco Tuesday night to settle, once and for all, the speakership issue that continues to divide the House for days now.
Cayetano is expected to keep his word — upholding the term-sharing agreement forged between him and Velasco through the intercession of no less than President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2019.
And should Cayetano break his word, then the president’s credibility will suffer, said Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza.,
“Duterte was instrumental in forging it. He was the prime witness. He was the man in the middle 14 months ago when the election in the Congress did not take place because he brokered the agreement,” he said in an interview on Tuesday morning.
“Popularity is not the issue here. It is the word of honor and a gentlemen’s agreement. Usapang lalaki,” he stressed.
Atienza noted that it will be unfair to let Cayetano change the rules of the agreement now that his term will soon be over.
“The agreement was 15 months for you, 21 months for me. That’s what the congressmen have agreed on. Those are the terms we have accepted,” said Atienza.
To settle the dispute on the House of Representatives leadership, Duterte was expected to meet the two House leaders Tuesday night.
“Expected after the meeting is the final word of the President of who shall be the next House Speaker as the term-sharing period ends on September 30, 2020,” PDP-Laban Executive Director Ron Munsayac said.
France puts 5G mobile frequencies on the block
France on Tuesday began to auction off radio frequencies for the deployment of ultrafast 5G mobile technology, a process that will add billions of euros to the government’s depleted coffers.
Operators Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom, and Free are bidding for 11 frequency blocks that are currently unused, with the aim of offering 5G services in some French cities by the end of the year.
The fifth-generation successor to 4G technology promises radically quicker transfers of data, heralding major changes to an array of products and services from self-driving cars to remote surgery.
France was to launch the sale of the frequencies in April but postponed the auction because of the COVID-19 crisis.
France is lagging behind other countries that have already launched 5G services, with South Korea and China the most advanced.
More than a dozen EU countries have also started operating 5G services, but none as developed as the Asian frontrunners.
Activists and leftwing lawmakers in France have tried to halt the 5G rollout because of health and environmental concerns, but President Emmanuel Macron’s government has pressed on regardless.
Macron, eager to cast France as a start-up nation embracing cutting-edge technologies, this month even derided 5G opponents as wanting to impose “the Amish model.”
He said “France is going to pursue the shift to 5G because it’s the shift towards innovation.”
The government expects to make at least 2.2 billion euros ($2.6 billion) from the sale, a welcome windfall at a time when it is throwing all its financial firepower into the fight to limit the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout.
The deployment is also seen as a crucial boost for French industry, under pressure from new restrictions curbing economic activity.
“Everybody knows that this is extremely important for the economic recovery and for the future of the industry,” digital minister Cedric O told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday.
The main auction for frequencies is scheduled to last for 10 days, after which a second auction will determine the exact positioning of operators on each band, with the center of bands less prone to interference than the edges.
One complicating factor is the heavy restrictions placed on the use of equipment by Huawei, which some governments, especially the US, suspect of potentially helping China eavesdrop on western networks.
The absence of the Chinese behemoth, considered by many experts to produce the most advanced 5G equipment for the best price, will force SFR and Bouygues Telecom especially to switch to rival suppliers Ericsson and Nokia, a move requiring a big revision of their investment plans.