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PRC raises P19M to test the poor

Michelle R. Guillang

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The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has raised nearly P19 million in donations for the COVID-19 testing of poor individuals who have high potential for exposure to the disease.

“We have received almost P19 million donations to help the poor who are exposed to COVID and are not covered by PhilHealth,” PRC chairman, Senator Richard Gordon, announced recently.

He specified that PRC will test indigents, pregnant women and the elderly who are highly exposed to COVID-19 but are incapable of getting themselves tested due to financial restraints for free.

Gordon said the testing costs should have been covered by PhilHealth. It is, however, unclear in its guidelines if they can also avail its benefit package for COVID-19 testing.

“Definitely the testing of the health workers will be shouldered by PhilHealth,” he stated, citing the amendment he proposed to Bayanihan Act — the implementation of mandatory COVID-19 testing of public and private health workers every 15 days.

“If the health workers are no longer present, no one will be able to help us fight off the disease. We need to protect them,” the senator said.

Regular price

Those who can afford can pay P4,000, the regular price for the collection of swab samples and the testing at PRC.

The price is lower for PRC’s partnered local government units and organizations with which it has an existing agreement.

They are only charged P3,500 as the PRC will only have to test the swab samples which they have already collected within their jurisdictions.

“We need to collect the fees so our operations will be continuous and we will be able to purchase more testing kits from China,” Gordon said.

The lawmaker shared that the PRC had faced enormous challenges when it was only beginning to acquire the machines and equipment it needed to build a molecular testing laboratory.

“It is a ‘no-huddle offense.’ We chose to disregard the fact that it is difficult because we really have to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

Gordon averred that public health experts, scientists and epidemiologists should lead in the plan preparation.

The military, on the other hand, who are meant for war, must lead the implementation, he said.

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Lopez pushes MGCQ shift

Raffy Ayeng

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Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez supported the downgrading of the general community quarantine (GCQ) currently in force over Metro Manila to a relaxed modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), emphasizing that minimum health standards should always be in place.

In a speech during the Bayanihan: Rebuild Industries and Save Jobs program, Lopez said Metro Manila and neighboring provinces can now move to MGCQ to “further revive and revitalize the economy.”

“I have been pushing for an early reopening, I think since June-July, and right now we even say that it’s okay to move into MGCQ. In moving to MGCQ, that does not mean that we will remove all the minimum health standards. That is a misconception. Everything else stays the same,” according to Lopez.

The DTI chief emphasized that moving to MGCQ will still require the Inter-Agency Task Force to do the enforcement, isolating the positives, tracing, isolation, testing and treatment.

No big changes
“It’s still the same. Symptomatics should stay indoors. Everyone will still wear masks and face shields. Business is the same. Disinfection, verification, all of that will be the same, even under MGCQ. What I’m saying is that it is the “new normal,” Lopez added.

He relayed that the only difference during MGCQ is that the government will be able to bring back more jobs, more workers, more sectors and the remaining sectors that are still closed.

“In our estimate, we still have 10 percent of unemployment or 4.4 million who are jobless. So the DTI and BoI (Board of Investments) are really pushing for an MGCQ or whatever level, as long as we keep the minimum health standards as the “new normal” and the transmission will be controlled,” Lopez noted.

Decision time tomorrow
He noted the fallacy of being in the MGCQ would mean looser health standard that will bring people to a more dangerous situation.

He said that by now, people have already adjusted and have learned to live with the virus, and even danced with it.

“We have learned to dance with the virus. Move back, move, forward, move back if needed. We’re not worried about transmission because it’s the same enforcement that we will maintain. I just want to emphasize that,” Lopez said.

The country has been in the GCQ status since 1 September and will lapse on 30 September.

Metro Manila mayors will decide on Sunday, 27 September, whether to maintain the general community quarantine or downgrade the status to modified GCQ, according to Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez Wednesday, 23 September.

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Address U.S. bill, Drilon urges

Hananeel Bordey

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The government should not just “brush aside” a US Congress bill seeking to suspend assistance to the Philippine police and military over alleged human rights violations.

In a television interview, Drilon pointed out that the United States is monitoring the events happening in the Philippines including the state of human rights.

“I do not know how serious it is but certainly, the government should not just brush it aside. It only means that the US Congress is conscious and aware of what is happening here,” he said.

“Whether or not the bill will pass Congress and signed by the President, certainly, we could not brush this aside,” he added.

Penn solon filed bill
On Thursday, it was reported that Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild introduced HR 8313 or the bill “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.”

According to the US Congress’ website, the proposed “Philippine Human Rights Act” was co-sponsored so far by 24 democratic lawmakers.

The filing of the measure was rooted in the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law which Wild claimed to be used in “ramping up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers, and political opponents.”

VFA again on line
Drilon’s fellow senators pointed out that approving the bill may raise more legal issues including the controversial US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement.

This is not the first time that US lawmakers used legislation in imposing sanctions against the Philippines over alleged human rights violators.

American President Donald Trump has signed the 2020 US national budget which includes a provision that bans any official who is involved in the detention of the administration’s staunch critic, Senator Leila de Lima.

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Summer Capital gets free WiFi soon

Caintig ensured the DICT’s commitment to maintain the speed of connection as the city government provides the network among its barangay units.

Aldwin Quitasol

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BAGUIO CITY — The Summer Capital of the Philippines will soon have free public WiFi.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong and Department of Information, Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio Honasan recently signed an agreement to support the people’s need for progressive and secured information.

The signing was held at the Baguio Convention Center (BCC) on Friday, witnessed by the members of the Baguio City Council, Baguio City Congressman Mark Go and the Baguio City administration headed by City administrator Bonifacio de la Peña.

Emmanuel Caintig, DICT Assistant Secretary, said the agreement is the first of its kind as it allows for the connection of a national broadband to the city of Baguio, aside from accelerating the role of WiFi to the city’s development.

Caintig ensured the DICT’s commitment to maintain the speed of connection as the city government provides the network among its barangay units.

Caintig said the city broadband comes with fast and high capacity connection to ramp up the demand for a good connectivity.  He said the City will have the capability to monitor the distribution of its internet to barangay halls and establishments. This will also strengthen free access of the people to public WiFi.

Magalong said this will help Baguio in gearing towards becoming a “Smart City” in which government transactions will be fully digitalized to the full convenience of the people.

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Explain environmental violations, DENR orders Hermosa LGU

Jonas Reyes

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The Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau  (DENR-EMB) has ordered the local government unit of Hermosa in Bataan and the Econest Waste Management Corporation (EWMC) to explain the reported environmental violations committed in relation to the operation of the Hermosa Sanitary Landfill Facility.

In a two-page Notice of Violation order issued by EMB Director William Cunado dated 24 September 2020, the agency is ordering the municipal government and EWMC, the company which used to operate the landfill, to submit their written explanation within 15 days on why there were traces of biomedical and electronic wastes found in the facility during an inspection made by the DENR-EMB recently.

The same inspection yielded that EWMC does not possess  a TSD Category C permit which allows ecowaste companies to accept biomedical wastes.

Mayor Joseph Inton earlier this year ordered the closure of the sanitary landfill over numerous violations including its acceptance of hazardous waste, having no separate cell for pathological and infectious waste, no daily soil cover, and failure to comply with specific provisions of Republic Act 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Act of 1990 and its implementing rules and regulations.

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Baguio City dad wants danger zones identified

Aldwin Quitasol

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BAGUIO CITY — Baguio City Councilor Arthur Allad-iw wants the country’s Summer Capital to identify areas susceptible to landslides.

With an ordinance that was approved on third and final reading, he is pushing for massive tree planting programs to avert future disasters.

Allad-iw identified 78 percent of a total land area of 57.5 square kilometers is characterized by gentle to moderately steep slopes of less than 30 percent.

Twenty-two percent of the area has steep slopes greater than 30 percent. He added that the city is a geo-hazard prone area as revealed in a study by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

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New access road benefits Southern Leyte farmers

Elmer Recuerdo

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HINUNANGAN, Southern Leyte — Farmers in the municipality will now have an easier time doing trade following the completion of a road project that will not only make transporting their crops and other goods to the market easier but will also provide better access for consolidators to bring their harvest to trade centers around the province.

The 1.2-kilometer access road now provides an easier route in going to the villages of Patong, Ilaya, Nava, and San Juan in this town. Specifically, the road aims to connect these communities to raw material consolidators of coconut oil producer SC Global and agribusiness firm Kennemer Foods International in Sogod town.

Said project was established through the convergence of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) where they identified sites that have the need for access roads, which would hopefully spur development for the hard to reach communities and contribute to the holistic increase in the provincial income.

Hinunangan town is a second-class town with residents primarily dependent on agricultural, fisheries, coconut industry, rice industry, livestock and poultry production. The town is also considered as the rice basket of the whole province.

DPWH Southern Leyte chief Ma. Margarita Junia said the P17-million road project started last February and it has been regularly monitoring civil works to ensure completion of the road networks on time.

“We expect residents living along the alternative route to have a faster and easier way of transporting their agricultural goods to the trade centers,” Junia said.

The project is funded through the approved finance road projects leading to various industries and economic zones dubbed as “Roads Leveraging Linkages for Industry and Trade” (ROLL IT) Program, a convergence between the DTI and DPWH.

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Swine-flu hit hog owners receive aid

Jonas Reyes

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MALASIQUI, Pangasinan — A total of 189 hog farmers hit by the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak received financial aid from the provincial government of Pangasinan on Thursday.

Governor Amado Espino III rounded up the affected hog owners from the villages of Cabeldatan, Ican, Apaya, Polong Norte, Asin East and Mabultec and gave them P1,000 cash for each pig culled because of the disease which totaled to 1,221 swines.

Hog raisers from the towns of Mangaldan, Bugallon, Lingayen, Basista, Binmaley, and Calasiao were also earlier given cash assistance by the provincial government, while San Carlos City and Sual are next up on the list.

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Around 900K teachers to assist in 2022 polls — Briones

Hananeel Bordey

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Education Secretary Leonor Briones on Friday assured that there would be sufficient teachers that will assist in the 2022 Presidential and local elections.

During the Senate Finance Committee’s deliberations of the Department of Education’s proposed budget for 2021, Senator Sonny Angara has asked Briones if there are enough teachers who can assist in the 2021 polls as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering two or more election days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have 900,000 teachers and during the last election, the law provides volunteering, I mean participation in electoral process which is provided by law has to be voluntary. If you go by experience of last year’s election practically all, except those unable physically to participate volunteered to participate in the electoral process,” Briones responded.

“It has become part of tradition. The teachers are trusted and they live up to this high level of trust. Based on the earlier records, halos 100% except for those physically unable to participate. So I would imagine if there is a decision especially if it is covered by law, our teachers will participate,” she added.

Briones assured that there would be “sufficient” public school teachers to man the polling centers but in case they need reinforcement, the government can tap other sectors of society.

Angara asked Briones to provide more details in writing.

On Thursday, Comelec Executive Director Bartolome Sinocruz Jr. said in a House of Representatives budget briefing that they are eyeing holding two or more election days in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next elections will be held on 9 May 2022.

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VCO trials to end by October — DOST

Gabbie Parlade

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The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on Friday announced that trials for the virgin coconut oil are expected to end by October which will be followed by review and analysis on its possible treatment for COVID-19.

DOST Secretary Fortunato Dela Pena said that the trials are being held in two sites that handle varying levels of infected patients.

One of them is the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) which deals with moderate to severe cases and has only recently started.

The other is in a community hospital in Sta. Rosa, Laguna which is targeted for probable and asymptomatic patients.

He said that so far, the study in Laguna has gathered positive feedback where a majority of the 56 volunteers have already recovered and gone home.

“Of that number around 38 or 40 tapos na sila. So we are just finishing the 28-day trial for the remaining that will end on 16 October, after that gagawa na ng report,” he said.

On other hand, Dela Pena said that the Lagundi clinical trial which is another option considered as possible treatment may have already started after receiving all the required approvals.

Among the areas he mentioned where the trial will be held include the Philippine National Police Community Quarantine Center in the National Capital Region (NCR), the Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila, and the Quezon Institute Quarantine Center in Quezon City.

However, the trial for the use of Tawa-tawa hasn’t started yet as it is still awaiting the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the ethics board.

As of posting, the total COVID-19 cases in the country has reached over 299,000 with recoveries at 232,000 and a death toll of around 5,100.

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