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Rody won’t drop Sabah

Francis Wakefield

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Malacañang on Tuesday reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte will not drop the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, whose ownership rests with the Sultanate of Sulu despite it being part of the Malaysian Federation.

This was the assurance made by presidential spokesman Harry Roque, saying no less than the 1987 Constitution — unique as it is — has included claim on the territories it possesses sovereignty or has jurisdiction on.

Roque made the remark after he was asked during a virtual press briefing if the President has given specific instructions about the country’s efforts to reclaim Sabah.

The Sultanate of Sulu is claiming ownership over the island which it said was wrongfully federated into Malaysia in 1963.

Sabah is considered an ancestral property of the Sultanate.

Roque also made clear that the Philippine Constitution specifies territories of the country. And right from the start, the government recognizes its claim on Sabah, he stated.

The Cabinet official, however, said the issue should also not be a reason to sour the relations between the Philippines and Malaysia.

“Our Constitution is very different from the rest of the world because we are the only (Charter) with a definition of our territory. And included in the definition is our historical claim over Sabah,” Roque said.

“So, that will not be dropped by the President. And it is also not a reason for our good relations with Malaysia to turn sour,” he added.

“We Filipinos — even though we have issues that we cannot resolve, we give importance to our good relations, especially with our neighbors… in neighboring countries. We have this saying that it’s best to fight your relatives, but not your neighbors,” he stated.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Aquilino Pimentel III on Monday maintained that the Philippines can assert its territorial claim before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Pimentel said the Sultanate of Sulu has enough documents to prove its claim to ancestral rights and ownership of Sabah.

“These are documents addressed to the Sultanate of Sulu. Those are our legal basis,” Pimentel said.

The lawmakers explained that the Philippines can only settle the dispute with Malaysia before the proper court, pointing to the ICJ.

Unlike in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague which ruled in favor of the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Pimentel explained that the ICJ requires an agreement between the Philippines and Malaysia before it can hear the Sabah territorial dispute.

“The South China Sea or the WPS issue belongs to different court — ‘tribunal’ — because (it is) under (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea). Our claim there was over maritime features. (The) Sabah issue is a territorial issue. Hence, in my opinion, the proper court is the ICJ,” Pimentel, a lawyer, said.

“However, ICJ is governed by different rules. The two sovereign states must agree to the case being heard, as a general rule. Hence, let us invite Malaysia to have the Sabah issue peacefully and logically resolved through a court case where we can exhaustively argue our positions,” Pimentel added.

The Duterte administration, through several pronouncements by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., stood by its position that Sabah is part of the Philippines.

Malaysia has said it considers Sabah as originally a part of the Malaysian federation.

Sabah was a gift to the Sultanate of Sulu by a Bruneian leader whom the Tausugs had helped win a military dispute in the 15th Century.

It was leased by the British North Borneo Company in the 17th Century.

It fell in the hands of the invading Japanese forces during World War II and came under the control of the British government after the last great war.

It was during this time when the Philippine government was given its sovereignty by the Sulu sultanate, resulting in the 1950 House of Representative resolution laying claim to the island. The resolution was filed by then Congressman Diosdado Macapagal, who also filed the official claim to the island in 1962 after his election to the presidency.

The officially recognized leader of the Royal House of Sulu is Ampun Sultan Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram, who is calling for unity among the family members in order to pursue a stronger claim to Sabah.

Malaya federated with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak only in 1963. Singapore was kicked out of the federation in 1964.

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No El, no way

Hananeel Bordey

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Senators and President Rodrigo Duterte’s men promptly shot down a proposal emanating from the House of Representatives to postpone the 2022 presidential elections due to the flimsy excuse of avoiding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection.

In separate statements, the public officials chorused that the deferment of elections, as floated by Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Mikey Arroyo, is unconstitutional.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said, aside from being unconstitutional, postponing the polls may spark controversies.

“The idea presents a number of controversial and unconstitutional issues. To name a few, who will hold over their positions? If not, who will appoint their replacements? The tenure of elected government officials is fixed,” Sotto said.

The Senate chief expressed confidence that the conduct of the 2022 polls will be thoroughly reviewed especially the matters of health security and election fraud.

“That should be seriously studied. It’s not only the pandemic to consider,” he added.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the health crisis should not be used as an excuse to reschedule the polls and holding elections is a public service that the government “must ensure to deliver.”

“The idea to postpone the 2022 elections, if and when it happens, presents constitutional challenges,” Roque said.

The Palace official noted that the 1987 Constitution is clear on the fixed date for the national elections, which is the second Monday of May every sixth year after 1992.

“We can learn from the examples of other countries, such as the United States, which will be holding an election later this year, on how they conduct polls during COVID-19 pandemic,” Roque said.

“We must not use the existing global health crisis as a ground to cancel and reschedule the elections as this would not sit well with the public,” he added.

Final option
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said postponement of the elections should be “the last resort” and the government should make sure the polls will push through despite the health crisis.

“We still have time to prepare. Let us also study best practices conducted in other countries. Postponing the elections should be a last resort. The government must ensure continuity of delivery of public services, including protecting Filipinos’ right of suffrage, even in times of crises,” he said in a statement.

The government should study alternative ways to conduct safe, clean and credible elections which is in accordance with the law.

Senate electoral reforms committee chair Imee Marcos also opposed the suggestion noting other countries were able to hold the polls despite the pandemic.

“Many countries have held elections during the pandemic such as South Korea, Taiwan, Belarus, Singapore, Iceland, Poland and the US in November,” she said.

Rep. Arroyo has previously urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider postponing the 2022 polls amid the continuing spread of the dreaded disease.

Comelec chair Sheriff Abas responded by saying that the matter is up for Congress and President Duterte to decide.

The commission also said it plans to conduct the 2022 national elections for two to even three days should the contagion persists.

2-day polls pushed
Opposition lawmaker, Senator Francis Pangilinan, also reiterated that the suggestion is against the 1987 Constitution and pointed out that the pandemic should not be a reason to postpone the polls.

He backed Comelec’s idea to hold a two-day election to prevent flocking of people in voting centers.

He said basketball courts, plazas, gymnasiums, convention centers should be used to ensure social distancing.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson noted that extension of elected government officials’ term beyond 30 June 2020 is unconstitutional.

“Any discussion or debate on this issue is an exercise in futility, if not a waste of time and energy,” Lacson said.

Lacson also warned the Comelec of future legal challenges if they will push through with their suggestion to hold a two-day election as it goes beyond the day specified by the Constitution.

with MICHELLE R. GUILLANG
and MJ BLANCAFLOR

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Narcos get virus lull

Kristina Maralit

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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis has slowed down not just the movement of people, goods, and the country’s economy. It has also slackened the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, the Duterte administration’s top anti-narcotics official lamented Friday.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Wilkins Villanueva said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the agency’s drug-clearing operations in barangays, with local government units’ efforts mostly concentrated on battling the contagion.

Still, Villanueva assured that the agency, along with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement arms of the government, will not cease in exerting efforts to rid the country of the drug menace.

“Our drug-clearing operations in barangays have slowed down because of the pandemic. Local governments are busy with COVID-19 concerns, so, our rehabilitation program have been stymied. But it will not stop us from clearing barangays at that was what Chief PNP and I agreed on,” Villanueva said during his high-level meeting Philippine National Police chief PGen. Camilo Cascolan, National Bureau of Investigation director Eric Distor and Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael.

Grassroots campaign
“We will go straight to the barangays. Why? Because narcotics, no matter where it came from, may it be China, the Golden Triangle or Africa, it will surely land in the barangays,” he added.

Villanueva last 6 August, or 702 days before the deadline set by President Rodrigo Duterte to eradicate the country’s problem with illegal drugs, led the launching of the agency’s Barangay Drug Clearing Program (BDCP) which aims to clear the remaining15,388 drug-affected barangays by June 2022.

These barangays represent 36.6 percent of 42,045 barangays in the country that are still plagued by illegal drugs.

The PDEA chief shared that from July 2016 to 31 August 2020, 20,165 of the target number of villages have been declared as cleared, with most of the remaining drug-affected barangays spread out in Luzon and Visayas.

“Most of the affected barangays are in big cities, the metropolis. It’s like this, wherever there is money, there is drugs. And if your barangay happens to be in a city where there is a lot of money, then definitely your barangay in one way or another will be affected by illegal drugs,” stated Villanueva.

“We are now at the phase where we do identification of target personalities and the conduct of intervention program for those identified drug personalities. For the remaining 33 percent of drug-affected barangays, we are headed towards the intervention program,” he added.

Real numbers bared
Meanwhile, latest data from government agencies involved in the war on illegal drugs, also known as Real Numbers PH, show that 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in 176,777 drug operations conducted until 31 August 2020.

Said figure is way below the more than 27,000 deaths critics and human rights advocates claimed to have resulted in the President’s unforgiving fight against illegal drugs.

For the same period, 885 government employees were also collared in stings broken down into 431 government workers, 352 elected officials, and 102 personnel from the military and police. Drug suspects arrested totaled to 256,788 with some 10,308 of whom were tagged as high value targets (HVT).

Narcotics and drug laboratory equipment worth P53.46 billion were also seized with methamphetamine, or shabu, accounting for P43.69 billion.

More than six hundred drug dens and 17 clandestine laboratories were also raided and dismantled during the said period.

Villanueva disclosed that PDEA, along with other law enforcement agencies, will resume `Oplan Tokhang’ once the COVID-19 crisis eases.

Knock-and-plead
As one of the administration’s way of addressing the drug problem, Oplan Tokhang became controversial and gained notoriety because of it being perceived as “a war against the poor.”

Villanueva clarified that it is not an anti-drug operation but a means to convince suspected drug users and pushers to peacefully turn themselves in.

Under Oplan Tokhang, to be done particularly in areas which have no barangay anti-drug abuse council, law enforcers would “knock-and-plead” with residents believed to be involved in the illegal drugs trade to mend their ways.

“The problem here in Metro Manila is that, Tokhang turns into an anti-drug operation. What is Tokhang for? That house visitation is just letting the people in the house, the house of the alleged drug personality where we will say `Hey, you’re in our list of durg users. Just go to the barangay and avail of the intervention program.

That’s the only purpose of Tokhang,” the PDEA director explained.

“We will knock on their doors, convince them to surrender because intervention is available. Now, if they don’t surrender, then we’ll resort to anti-drug operations because you refuse it,” he added.

Meanwhile, the PNP will conduct a case buildup against suspected drug personalities should they refuse to peacefully surrender to authorities.

“We will prove to the court that we need to arrest you because of illegal activities related to illegal drugs,” Cascolan, co-author of `Oplan Double Barrel,’ sequel to Oplan Tokhang which centered on HVT, stated.

He also reiterated the PNP’s resolve to prosecute and put behind bars policemen who are purportedly serving either as drug pushers or protectors of drug syndicates.

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Tugade: Pinoys won’t abandon ship

Raffy Ayeng

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TUGADE keeps his faith that Filipino seamen w i l l b o u n c e back from the c o r o n a v i r u s plague.

Despite the serious blow Filipino seafarers suffered from the global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade assured the world that Filipinos will continue manning vessels.

Tugade said the Philippines remains committed as a partner in global maritime activities.

In a virtual meeting during the celebration of the World Maritime Day 2020 which is a side event to the 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the DoTr chief emphasized the importance of maritime trade and shipping activities particularly during critical periods such as the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Tugade said Filipino seafarers will not falter in their professionalism and dedication despite the restrictions posed by the pandemic.

“Filipino seafarers carry with them the values of dedication, resiliency, discipline, and excellence. The country will continue to strengthen itself as a maritime nation”, he said.

“Our aspiration towards becoming a more developed maritime nation will grow with the years. We can assure you that. I am deeply grateful for your support and faith in us as we shape the Philippines into a maritime nation, ready to forge ahead with a remarkable and global impact,” Tugade noted.

Joining Tugade in the high-level virtual meeting were United Nations Global Compact CEO and Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo, International Labor Organization director general Guy Ryder, International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary general Kitack Lim, International Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Stephen Cotton, International Chamber of Shipping Secretary General Guy Platten and UNGC special advisor Sturla Henriksen who served as moderator.

370K Filipino sailors
In the meeting, Tugade highlighted Filipino seafarers’ contributions to global navigation as the Philippines has been providing international shipping with trained and qualified mariners for decades. Of the estimated 1.5 million seafarers worldwide, over 370,000 or about 25 percent are Filipinos.

The DoTr chief also highlighted policies adopted by the government that paved the way in strengthening the country’s maritime industry and the steps the Duterte administration took thus far to protect the health and safety of Filipino seafarers.

Among these measures, Tugade said, are the establishment of the “green lane” for the safe and unimpeded movement of seamen amid the pandemic, the identification of ports to serve as crew-change hubs and the establishment of one-stop shops for the uniform processing of those arriving in the country.

“I am happy to report that as of August of this year, the Philippines was able to activate three crew-change hubs in the country and are fast-tracking immediate activation of three more in the next 30 days,” Tugade noted.

Tugade added the validity of standards of training, certification and watchkeeping convention (STCW) certificates, record books, identification and record books of Filipino seafarers to ensure their unhampered deployment and crew changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The DoTr chief assured the other ranking global maritime officials that Filipino seafarers will continue to show professionalism and dedication despite the restrictions posed by the pandemic.

“Filipino seafarers carry with them the values of dedication, resiliency, discipline, and excellence, and that the country will continue to strengthen itself as a maritime nation,” he said.

Maritime-linked infra
Tugade also recounted the strides the Philippines has made in the development of maritime-linked infrastructure amid the pandemic.

Under the Duterte administration, 369 port projects were completed since 2016, which included 14 port projects which were recently inaugurated through a virtual event.

“I remember distinctly well when I had this conversation with IMO secretary general Kitack Lim in July where he encouraged us to continue on our firm policy to support shipping and the Filipino seafarers. Today, I am happy to declare and to report that as of August of this year, barely two months after that conversation, the Philippines was able to activate three crew-change hubs and are fast-tracking immediate activation of three more in the next 30 days,” Tugade remarked.

In his response, UNGC Special Advisor Sturla Henriksen acknowledged the dedication being shown by Filipino mariners.

“Having served many years with the shipping industry, I can confirm the commitment and the dedication of the Filipino seafarers is remarkable. So, thank you so much,” he said.

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Presbi’s take: APC coup fiction

Michelle R. Guillang

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The paranoia of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his allies of a supposed looming coup in the House of Representatives is baseless, according to Marinduque Governor Presbiterio Velasco Jr.

The former Supreme Court Associate Justice is the father of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, who, in turn, is being left in the lurch in the 15-21 Speakership deal through a gentlemen’s agreement of the two House leaders which President Rodrigo Duterte witnessed.

Governor Velasco asserted during a media interview that his son honors the term-sharing agreement and was in full support of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

“The gentlemen’s agreement stated that Speaker Cayetano will leave the speakership post this October. He (Rep. Velasco) did nothing against the Speaker,” Velasco said.

“There’s already an agreement. Why do we still have to mess up the situation?” he added.

The governor stressed Velasco chose to stay silent amid the alleged coup threats which Cayetano accused him for as to allow the House leader to self-govern.

Despite getting hit by wave of accusations, Velasco remained unfazed and expressed that he will not back out of the “15-21 deal.”

Manifesto being routed
Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice revealed that a manifesto has been making the rounds at the House of Representatives calling for Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to remain head of the chamber amid his term-sharing deal with Velasco.

In a radio interview, Erice confirmed that the manifesto is already in the House and he has already signed the document.

But the Caloocan lawmaker denied that Cayetano supporters were promised big cuts from the 2021 budget for projects, pointing out that his district even received one of the smallest allocations amounting to more or less P400 million. “I did not ask for any favors when I signed,” Erice said.

The solon also could not say how many lawmakers already signed the manifesto but pointed out that Cayetano has support from both the minority and the majority.

Erice also explained a leadership change in the chamber would not be prudent while the country is dealing with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic which is supposedly their reason to push for Cayetano to remain as Speaker despite the term-sharing deal.

“We have seen the leadership skills of Speaker Cayetano,” said Erice. “So the stature of the House will be okay if Cayetano will remain as Speaker.”

Meantime, Erice described that while Velasco acted as a “good brother” to his colleagues, what the House needs now is the “wisdom of a good father” so the deal should “make way” for Cayetano’s continued leadership.

Erice then called on Velasco to “sacrifice his personal ambition” for the betterment of all.

Deal is clear
Under the deal, Cayetano would serve as Speaker for the first 15 months, Velasco would take his place for the next 21 months until the 2022 national elections. Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, will be Majority Leader for the entire 18th Congress.

The resolution appealed to Velasco to junk the deal and let Cayetano extend his term until 2022. Allies of Cayetano have been using the plenary sessions as platform to express their continued support to the Speaker.

Buhay Partylist Representative Lito Atienza, nonetheless, asked Cayetano to honor the agreement “with no conditions” to demonstrate his palabra de honor (word of honor) and delicadeza (propriety).

The former Manila mayor also reminded Cayetano that he only assumed the leadership post “on the basis of the term-sharing agreement.”

“Cayetano did not carry the majority numbers at that time, and Cong. Velasco did not ask for that to be a condition before he agreed to the agreement,” Atienza said.

“Now that his term is about to end and Cong. Velasco is about to begin his, why is the Speaker’s supporters questioning if Cong. Velasco has the numbers? It is totally unfair to make it a condition now,” he added.

In March, when Cayetano initially accused Velasco’s group of a plan to remove him, Atienza dared Cayetano to name the congressmen who he claimed confessed about the coup.

Cayetano’s account was that Velasco offered House members committee chairmanships in exchange for their support for a move to oust him. Velasco, however, denied the claim.

with Elmer N. Manuel

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No regrets to stay put, Regine states

Raye Sanchez

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REGINE Velasquez chooses to be loyal. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/REGINEVALCASID

Despite all the issues that surround ABS-CBN, Asia’s Songbird Regine Velasquez bared she has no regrets with her decision to return home to the distressed media giant two years ago, saying it had been her wish to return and work for the people that she used to work with.

When asked about her sentiments during her appearance in entertainment writer G3 San Diego’s vlog last 23 September, the Kapamilya star revealed that she will never regret moving back to the company in October 2018.

Regine’s return to the network stirred controversy in the entertainment scene especially after the singer and actress has been with GMA for two decades and was considered as one of its prime talents. The announcement came as a surprise to many in the industry.

“It was my decision to go back to ABS, because I wanted to experience something else, something new. I wanted to work with the people that I used to work with before. But was not able to because of the whole GMA, ABS-CBN thing. So, I just wanted to experience that. Before the pandemic, I was able to experience it naman,” she stated.

Her moving back to ABS-CBN landed her as the main host for ASAP Natin ‘To and a judge for singing competition Idol Philippines. She was also able to lend her vocals to some teleseryes’ theme songs among other singing gigs.

Asia’s Songbird also revealed how she felt alive again when she moved back to ABS-CBN and shared her excitement with the live shows. She also disclosed that one of the things that she wanted was to sing for the company before its shutdown.

Regine is among showbiz’s A-listers who have been actively sharing their talents to raise funds for vulnerable communities impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. During her birthday concert in April, Regine was able to raise P4.2 million for Bantay Bata 163, a social welfare program of ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation.

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RSA places bet on Malampaya

Maria Romero

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Asian multinational San Miguel Corp. (SMC) is back in the energy game with the plan to acquire the 45 percent share in the Malampaya natural gas field that Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (SPEX) is divesting.

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Friday, SMC said its president and chief operating Officer, Ramon S. Ang, is looking to join the Malampaya consortium.

“We confirm that the company is interested in acquiring the 45-percent stake of Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. in the Malampaya gas-to-power project,” SMC said in a filing in response to a newspaper article quoting Ang.

The Daily Tribune reported on Friday that San Miguel Energy Corp. and state-owned Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC) are among companies interested in the 45 percent SPEX shares in the Malampaya natural gas project which are worth an estimated P28 billion.

Ang controls both SMC and Petron Corp which runs the biggest oil refinery in the country.

An industry source said Ang is intently studying a potential bid for the SPEX shares, which has about the same value paid by Udenna Corporation led by Davao City-based businessman Dennis Uy in acquiring the 45 percent stake of Chevron Corp. Uy also controls retail chain Phoenix Petroleum.

SMC had expressed an intent to bid for the Malampaya deep water gas-to-power pipeline as early as in 2015. SMC previously said it wanted to rebid for the facility once its franchise expires in 2021.

RSA addresses airport concerns
Ang, meanwhile, expressed appreciation for the support that SMC’s blockbuster Bulacan airport project has been getting.

“We are humbled and grateful for the expression of support from majority of Senators and stakeholders present at the Senate hearing on the proposed franchise to construct an international airport in Bulacan,” according to Ang.

He added the views of all stakeholders, particularly those who expressed concerns or opposition to the project, as well as those who offered inputs and suggestions, will be seriously taken into consideration.

He cited Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) director Renato Solidum’s observation that proper engineering intervention measures are needed to mitigate risks such as flooding, which, as was pointed out during the hearing, are present not just in Bulacan or Manila Bay, but in many coastal areas throughout the Philippine archipelago.

The airport’s design had taken most of the concerns into account and “we have actually started implementing sustainable measures to address flooding in Bulacan that has existed for several decades and has been made worse by clogged waterways and drainages,” according to Ang.

As a private investment, The Manila International Airport will be built at no cost to government and with no subsidies and guaranties.

“The public can be assured that San Miguel Corp. has studied the project, its feasibility, and all possible risks, and will incorporate these into the final design of the project,” he noted.

SMC had tapped three major global airport construction firms, Groupe ADP (Aeroports de Paris), Meinhardt Group, and Jacobs Engineering Group for the project.

“Among the airports these firms have worked on are Singapore’s famous Changi Airport, voted as World’s Best Airport for the 8th consecutive year this year; Charles de Gaulle Airport in France, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport in the United States,” according to Ang.

“This airport is perhaps the largest, most ambitious, and most game-changing infrastructure projects by Filipinos for Filipinos. An effort of this magnitude requires the cooperation and support of many stakeholders. As such, we remain committed to engaging the public as we move to make this vision a reality — and make this right,” Ang noted.

Employment generator
Groups of migrant workers, meanwhile, lauded SMC’s proposed construction of the airport in Bulakan, Bulacan saying it is a potential source of employment and livelihood opportunities for local and overseas workers displaced by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

“This bold move of San Miguel Corporation to push through with the airport project amid the uncertainty caused by Covid-19 has become the biggest ray of hope not only for the people of Bulacan but also for our OFW and other displaced workers,” Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said.

Ople, a resident of Hagonoy, Bulacan, added that aside from providing jobs and livelihood, the project would address the perennial flooding problem in coastal areas of the province.

“It doesn’t make sense to build an airport in a place where planes can’t even land because of constant flooding, so definitely this problem will be addressed by SMAI, a subsidiary of SMC in partnership with the provincial government,” she added.

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From refuse to reuse

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Efforts to recycle or stop the use of plastics instead of disposing of such materials are laudable. Plastic waste pollutes the environment and harms animals that mistake it for food.

Fast-food restaurants are doing away with plastic spoons, forks, cups and drinking straws. Many supermarkets have replaced plastic bags with paper or reusable bags.

A condom trader in Vietnam is also doing her share for the good of the environment. Inspired by a condom manufacturers’ release of reusable rubbers and DIY videos on how to make reusable contraceptive, Pham Thi Thanh adopted the business model for her small latex factory in Binh Duong.

Major prophylactic manufacturer Durex started replacing its single-use condoms with environmentally-friendly, reusable condoms in 2018, and its competitor, Skyn, followed suit with its own version.

Meanwhile, the female or internal condom, a soft, loose-fitting pouch with a ring on each end, can be washed, dried and relubricated up to seven times for reuse without compromising its contraceptive and protective functions. A DIY article published online indicates the following steps to do it: rinse, wash for 60 seconds with liquid detergent, rinse again, pat dry with clean tissues or towels, or air-dry, and relubricate with vegetable oil right before reusing.

After Pham Thi Thanh adopted the process, her factory was raided by police last 19 September. The 324,000 pieces of condoms weighing 360 kilos that were found in her premises were also seized for destruction as authorities consider them hazardous waste.

The condoms apparently used were ones that came from a supplier who fished them from hotel bins. Pham’s workers would then clean, dry and reshape them using different sized wooden dildos before repacking and selling them to nearby hotels, perhaps including the same ones they came from, and markets in the province.

Vietnam ranks 54th in Index Mundi’s list of countries that are high users of condoms. More than 16 percent of its male population aged 15 to 20 used condoms in the last 12 months, according to the report.

The list does not indicate if the condoms used are new or recycled ones. With the discovery of the reused condoms factory, though, it won’t be surprising if Vietnamese boys become the top users of reused condoms.

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VFA in eye of storm anew

Hananeel Bordey

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Senate President Vicente Sotto III is certain that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should be reconsidered if the US Congress passes the bill seeking to suspend assistance to Philippine police and military over alleged human rights violations.

“Then we should reconsider the VFA if they pass that,” Sotto said in a text message.

“It’s actually a big IF. If they pass a bill suspending security aid to us, then what will the VFA stand for?” he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson pointed out that there might be legal issues if the US Congress legislates such measure as the VFA is still existing.

More than that, Lacson said that approving the said measure will disadvantage both the United States and the Philippines in relation to the persistent threat of terrorism.

“If adopted and approved, the said bill — H.R. 8313 — will not only be our loss but theirs as well, considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders and timing. And they know that for a fact,” Lacson said.

Nevertheless, the lawmaker explained that it is the right of any member of the US Congress to file any measure.

Wild suggestion
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 yesterday 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.

AFP assurance
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 in reaction ng to H.R. 8313, or the Philippine Human Rights Act, filed before the US Congress by Wild where one issue being targeted 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 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.”

ATL passage
Just like in the Philippine Congress, the measure filed in US Congress will go through different referrals and debates.

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.”

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.

with Kristina Maralit
MJ Blancaflor
and Elmer Manuel

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New ASF cases may cause pork shortfall

Maria Romero

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The Philippines may possibly experience a shortfall on domestic pork production by year-end as new waves of African swine fever (ASF) outbreaks were recorded in six provinces.

In an online briefing on Thursday, Agriculture William Dar confirmed outbreaks in the provinces of Albay, Quirino, Laguna, Quezon, Batangas and Cavite on the main island of Luzon.

Citing its 11th report to the World Organization for Animal Health, Dar said 72 new outbreaks were recorded in the world’s 10th-largest pork consumer and seventh-biggest pork importer in the past two months amid limited movement of goods.

So far, the Philippines recorded an additional 33,406 culled hogs, bringing the total to 370,393 since the outbreak was first detected in August 2019.

There are 5,442 active ASF cases in the country, according to latest data.

Of the new outbreaks, Libmanan in Camarines Sur recorded the highest number of pigs culled with 3,024, followed by Sariaya in Quezon with 1,878 and Liliw in Laguna with 1,869.

Ilocos Sur is the latest province added to the list of ASF-hit areas. Sixty-seven pigs in backyard farms were culled in Tagudin.

To address supply gap, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is banking on government-funded restocking programs and additional importation of pork and pork-based products from disease-free countries.

According to Dar, the DA had released more than P700 million under its quick response fund to indemnify affected hog raisers.

It also set aside an initial P400 million to restock hogs and repopulate the swine industry.

The country’s hog production is seen dropping by 20 percent to 1.27 million metric tons this year as the deadly ASF continues to threaten the P260 billion swine industry.

In its latest report, the United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Services revised its initial forecast of 15 percent decline as the strict virus lockdown upends movements of goods.

Based on third-quarter data, there is also a projected decline of around 20 to 30 percent in total numbers and a significant drop in sows, indicating that the supply problem may persist until next year despite some hog producers reporting the start of repopulation efforts.

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