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Nograles turns over completed ‘Yolanda’ houses

In Cabucgayan, for our target 592 housing units, we’ve finished 494 which amounts to an 83 percent completion rate. The building of the other units is ongoing at Mont Peak Phase.

Francis Wakefield

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Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government never faltered in its commitment to provide safe and secure housing to “Yolanda” victims, saying President Duterte continues to address the pressing needs Filipinos with the assistance of various agencies, local government officials and stakeholders.

Nograles made the remark on Tuesday as he led national and local officials in the distribution of completed housing units to beneficiaries in Cabucgayan, Biliran province.

The virtual turn-over of 258 housing units at the Yolanda Permanent Housing Project at Mont Peak East 2, Barangay Pawikan, Cabucgayan, forms part of administration efforts addressing the needs of victims of typhoon “Yolanda.”

Nograles said despite the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were abe to complete the housing project to the benefit of the people.

He cited national government agencies and LGU for their cooperation and sense of urgency in completing the housing project.

Nograles specially mentioned Cabucgayan mayor Mirasol Masbang, vice mayor Gemma Adobo, their councilors and other LGU officials.

“This is our third virtual ceremony in just a span of a few weeks, but this is the first one for Biliran. While we cannot do a face-to-face turnover because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still getting the job done,” Nograles said.

“Despite the pandemic, I’ve personally witnessed how hardworking and dedicated our partners in government are, led by NHA (National Housing Authority) Region 8 under the leadership of regional manager Dodong Antiniero,” he added.

Nograles earlier wanted to ensure immediate turnover and transfer of completed housing units to beneficiaries to let them know the government cares.

The former Davao legislator likewise said the Duterte administration aims to finish the “Yolanda” projects before the President’s term ends.

He expressed strong belief such a goal is doable having seen the cooperation and hard work of all program participants.

“We fully expect that our beneficiaries will value the free housing units. Part of your duty is to ensure these houses are properly maintained and kept as symbols of a progressive community and a tightly-knit Filipino family,” Nograles, who is also chairman of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Unified Implementation and Monitoring of Rehabilitation and Recovery Projects and Programs in the Yolanda-affected Areas, said.

NHA data show that of 54,508 housing units allocated for Region 8, a total 35,462 have already been completed and another 10,877 are under construction.

“In Cabucgayan, for our target 592 housing units, we’ve finished 494 which amounts to an 83 percent completion rate. The building of the other units is ongoing at Mont Peak Phase 1,” Nograles said.

“Rest assured that once we finish, there would be an immediate turnover of Phase 1,” he added.

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Page three

Antiporda takes bay critic to school

Francis Wakefield

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The beach nourishment project which is a vital component of the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program is not overpriced as claimed by critics, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) insisted.

DENR Undersecretary for Solid Waste Management and LGU Concerns Benny Antiporda made the remark after Infrawatch PH Convenor Terry Ridon claimed the project cost is way beyond its intended budget of P389 million.

In the spirit of fairness, Antiporda said he took it upon himself to call Ridon over the phone and explain to him that the project is above board.

According to the DENR official, he called Ridon on three different occasions to make him understand that the overlaying of dolomite sand in Manila Bay was not overpriced as he thought.

The first time he called Ridon, Antiporda explained that the project is estimated to cover 30,000 square meters, length of 500 meters and a width of 60 meters.

But to make it looked overpriced, Ridon divided the project cost, which is P389 million, by 500 meters, instead of the number of square meters.

“This erroneous formula led him to conclude that the project costs P778,000 per meter. But if he divided P389 million by 30,000 square meters, the result would be P12,267 per square meter, which is quite reasonable. He certainly got a lecture on Math 101,” Antiporda said.

“I also explained to him that only P28 million was used to emplace the crushed dolomite rocks. Moreover, the amount covers not only the price of the crushed dolomites, but the whole package which includes the delivery cost from Cebu to Manila Bay,” he added.

Antiporda said despite his explanation, Ridon merely shrugged it off and told him that he and other DENR officials should just explain their side to the public.

“That is what we are actually been doing all along,” Antiporda said.

“I also told Ridon that, “You don’t do that to a friend,” since I consider him as such, not to mention that he also once served under the Duterte administration as chair of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor,” he added.

According to Antiporda, he again tried to reach out to Ridon to reiterate their response to his allegation but his call again fell on deaf ears and he continued with his unfounded criticisms against the project.

“Finally, I called him for the third time as he kept on insisting that the project was overpriced despite my repeated explanation. Out of frustration, I blurted “bobo ka sa Math,” he explained.

Antiporda said in all these circumstances, he tried to reach out to Ridon in the hope that he would listen with an open mind about their mission to bring Manila Bay back to its former glory.

“But his actions tell us that whatever this government undertakes, it will only get a flak from him and his group. It is quite ironic because Ridon worked with us in the Duterte administration during its early years,” Antiporda said.

“No wonder President Duterte fired Ridon after finding out about his unnecessary travels abroad. In a span of only one year and two months, Ridon was able to travel to Ecuador (October 2016), Morocco (November 2016), New Delhi (December 2016), Beijing (July 2017), New York (September 2017), and Bonn, Germany (December 2017), spending more than P1.1 million for these travels,” he said.

Manila Bay grabbed headlines earlier as environmental groups criticized the move to put pulverized rocks along the shores of Manila Bay to expand the beach, saying it would hurt the natural ecosystem in the area and in Cebu, where the dolomites came from.

Environmental groups say dolomite harmed marine life in the bay, affecting fishermen near the area who depend on marine life as a source of income.

A dolomite is a calcium magnesium carbonate used for construction works.

Meanwhile, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu ordered the suspension of two mining firms in Alcoy, Cebu after an inspection he conducted Friday, pending the results of the investigation for the alleged coral reef damage, water quality monitoring, and ambient air quality.

Antiporda said Cimatu suspended the Dolomite Mining Corporation for its quarry operations and the Philippine Mining Service Corporation, a processing plant for dolomite.

Antiporda said Cimatu directed the Environmental Management Bureau in Region 7 to conduct a water quality sampling on waters below the conveyor at the ship loading facility, and ambient air quality.

He also ordered the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office in Cebu to conduct a coral assessment to determine the health condition of the corals which was the subject of the complaint by the Provincial Government of Cebu.

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DFA parries claims over seafarers’ plight

Gabbie Parlade

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The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday took exception to the claims of certain quarters over the repatriation of the 11 Filipino seafarers who have been stuck at sea in China since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the DFA said final arrangements are now being made after being in close coordination with the ‘team leader’ of the seafarers in Ocean Star 86 where upon learning their situation personal hygiene kits and other grocery packages were immediately sent.

“The latest of these care packages were given to the distressed seafarers this week when the Philippine Consulate General in Xiamen learned that the vessel was finally allowed to dock without yet being permitted to disembark its crew,” the DFA noted.

They said that this is in contrast to the reports made by Migrante International — an independent organization focused in the welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) — which DFA claimed to be ‘misleading.’

In the press release, they urged the national government for the immediate repatriation of the 11 seafarers who were said to be stranded in their ship for about one year and nine months.

In their report, they said that the seafarers were merely brushed off after stating their situation to the Philippine Consulate in Xiamen.

“The Philippine consulate in Xiamen, DFA and the Duterte government all behave as if they know nothing about the afflictions tormenting these stranded seafarers,” they said.

However, as a response, the DFA said that the Philippine Consulate General in Xiamen has made regular representations to Chinese authorities and ship owners in order for stranded seafarers to be paid with their regular salaries and allowances.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay earlier explained that one of the factors which have hampered their repatriation efforts were due to a number of countries who are not yet allowing the entry to their borders with risk of COVID-19.

Among the measures he said were currently done include having a discussion with respective authorities and the provision of a note verbale to meet conditions needed for their repatriation.

DFA said that since March around 188 seafarers have been repatriated from one of the areas in China.

To date, over 190,000 overseas Filipinos have been sent home where 66,029 of them are sea-based workers.

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Page three

Pardon not for drug-convicted Pinoys

Gabbie Parlade

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Friday revealed that Filipinos abroad who have been convicted of drug charges in the Middle East will not be allowed or assisted to a pardon by the Philippine government.

“I won’t allow the pardon of convicted Filipino drug dealers in the Middle East. My order to my ambassadors there is [to] exclude drug dealers from prisoner exchanges,” he wrote on Twitter.

Countries in the Middle East which impose the death penalty for drug trafficking include the Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Libya among others.

He suggested that these cases may have a connection with drug traders in the Philippines.

“I smell a local connection to the local drug trade. Sorry. No mercy,” he said.

Locsin said these cases are different from that of Indonesia which pertains to the conviction of Filipina worker Mary Jane Veloso in 2015.

“You destroy my people,I will let the law abroad destroy you. Unlike in Indonesia these dealers were not fooled,” he added.

Veloso was sentenced to death in 2010 after she was accused last April of illegal drug smuggling of heroin detected in her luggage — a charge she has denied saying that her recruiters were the ones who gave her the bags.

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PNP to strengthen online presence

Kristina Maralit

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The Philippine National Police will strengthen its online presence as part of efforts to have a wider reach in delivering relevant issues concerning public order and safety.

PMaj. Gen. Dionardo Carlos, Directorate for Police Community Relations (DPCR) chief, disclosed that PNP chief PGen. Camilo Pancratius Cascolan has tasked his office to closely monitor actions taken by all police units on reports sent by the public through their social media platforms.

The order was meant to improve the PNP’s online engagements given that recent data show barely 25 percent of the 1,776 official social media pages of the organization are actually active.

One issue that needs to be addressed is the seemingly reactive and passive stance of some PNP socmed pages that do not actively engage reports by netizens,” Carlos said.

The official likewise noted social media’s effectiveness as a tool in promoting pro-active information and awareness activities while building a harmonious interaction with the community.

By stepping up their engagements online, the PNP will be better versed on the public’s pulse and at the same time give netizens reassurance that the 205,000-strong police force are ready anytime and anywhere to address their concerns — all while ensuring that users’ digital rights are observed and “aligned with the objectives of the organization in promoting advocacy for honest, transparent and truthful social engagement over cyberspace.

“Policies and guidelines on social media engagement by PNP Units and personnel emphasize on awareness of data privacy and anti-cybercrime laws, and accountability of PNP personnel and Units in posting and sharing social media content,” stated Carlos.

“We will continue to adhere to our institutional policy that follows proper decorum in all public engagements including social media platforms, chat groups, and private sites,” he added.

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Chinese envoy fires back vs U.S. raps

GLOBALTIMES

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CHINA (Global Times) — China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, on Thursday fought back at US accusations against China over the handling of COVID-19.

At a summit-level debate on “global governance after COVID-19,” the US permanent representative to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, repeated President Donald Trump’s demand to hold China accountable for the spread of the virus.

In response, Zhang said Thursday’s meeting was a moment for solidarity and cooperation, as reflected by the appeals of the vast majority of Security Council members.

“Regrettably, we once again heard noises from the US that are so at odds with the atmosphere of the meeting. China resolutely opposes and rejects the baseless accusations by the US,” Zhang said.

For quite a while, some US politicians have been obsessed with attacking other countries and UN bodies. Abusing the platform of the United Nations and its Security Council, the United States has been spreading “political virus” and disinformation, and creating confrontation and division, he said.

Such practice cannot defeat the virus. On the contrary, it has seriously disrupted the joint efforts of the international community to fight the pandemic, he said.

“I must say, enough is enough. You have created enough troubles for the world already,” said Zhang.

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Videoconferencing of cases now allowed

Alvin Murcia

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All trial courts are now allowed by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to conduct videoconferencing in criminal and civil cases.

In a circular approved by Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, all first and second level courts not yet authorized to conduct videoconferencing are hereby authorized to do so, “on all matters pending before them, in both criminal and civil cases, regardless of the stage of the trial, in accordance with existing circulars and guidelines.”

“Considering the successful conduct of videoconferencing hearings and the fact that all courts are already capable of conducting videoconferencing hearings through their respective Philippine Judiciary 365 Accounts, there is a need to authorize all other first and second level courts not yet authorized to conduct videoconferencing hearings to do so, in order to avoid any further delay in court action on pending cases before them,” OCA Circular 161-2020 continued.

Such hearings ensure cases are heard in a timely manner, and comply with the government’s social distancing and remote work guidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court said, videoconferencing may continue to be availed of by litigants in authorized courts during coronavirus lockdowns.

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Go extends aid to acquitted OFW

TDT

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Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said he has met the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who just returned to the country after being acquitted of murder in Saudi Arabia.

Rose Policarpio was incarcerated for six years for a crime she did not commit, but was released last January of last year.

During an interview with DZRH Wednesday, Go said Policarpio finally returned last Tuesday.

Policarpio thanked Go and those who helped her.

“First of all, I want to thank the Lord, our government, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh led by Ambassador (Adnan) Alonto. They did not stop until I returned home,” Policarpio said.

She thanked Go for extending assistance and support to help her restart her life. She also expressed her gratitude to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and Department of Social Welfare and Development for helping secure her release and assisting her when she came back to the country.

Go told Policarpio that he was merely doing his job as a public servant. He encouraged Policarpio to come to him if she needs more assistance, such as securing employment and called on all concerned agencies to extend to her other forms of support the government could provide.

“It’s part of our job, Rose. We are happy that you finally returned. What is important is that you safely returned and you can ask what we can do to help you,” said Go in Filipino.

“My office can still help you in a small way and I’m asking government agencies to help you whatever they can. If you want to find job here, we will help you find one,” he added.

Policarpio, then 31, flew to Saudi Arabia in 2013 to work as a food server but ended up working as a domestic helper.

Three men broke into her employer’s house and killed the Lebanese woman.

Policarpio claimed she fled the scene of the crime because the perpetrators attempted to rape her.

Based on the official police report, Policarpio had gone to the police and reported the incident. However, she was arrested and jailed instead.

According to Alonto, Policarpio would have faced the death penalty had she been convicted.

Throughout the ordeal, the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, through the help of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, worked closely and made strong representations on her behalf.

Their timely legal assistance ensured her rights were protected under Saudi laws.

During the interview, Go expressed concern that there remained many cases similar to Policarpio, adding they are monitoring death penalty cases and other calls for help from Filipinos abroad.

He recalled a similar case he had personally helped which involved an OFW who had been convicted of murder in Bahrain.

Roderick Aguinaldo was imprisoned for four years before he received a royal pardon from the Bahraini government. Aguinaldo returned home to the Philippines last 7 June.

Go lamented that while there are specific government programs that provide assistance (e.g. legal counsel and psychosocial counseling) to distressed OFW, they are scattered across various national agencies.

For this reason, the senator said he is pushing for the creation of a department which shall bring together these agencies and be entirely dedicated to handling the affairs of overseas Filipinos.

In 2019, he filed Senate Bill (SB) 202 which, sought to create this department. A second iteration, sb 1835, was recently filed which takes into consideration inputs from concerned executive agencies.

The proposed Department of Overseas Filipinos shall assume the functions of DFA-OUMWA, the Commission on Overseas Filipinos, all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices under the Department of Labor and Employment, the International Labor Affairs Bureau under DoLE and International Social Services Office of the DSWD.

It will also exercise administrative supervision over the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and OWWA which shall be attached to the department.

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Koko’s case submitted for resolution

Alvin Murcia

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Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon yesterday disclosed that the breach of protocol case of Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel lll has been submitted for resolution.

Fadullon said he will submit to Office of Prosecutor General Benedicto A. Malcontento for signing.

Likewise, Fadullon said he is still awaiting the report of Assistant State Prosecutor Wendell Bendoval who told him to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

Earlier, the Department of Justice said it will look again into the complaint of breach in quarantine protocol filed against Senator Pimentel after receiving a report from the hospital the lawmaker visited in March while awaiting his COVID-19 test result.

The reopening of the criminal investigation was done after the National Bureau of Investigation received a copy of the incident report from Makati Medical Center Medical Director Dr. Saturnino Javier.

“In view of the foregoing and in line with the policy of admitting all evidence that could assist in the judicious resolution of complaint, the preliminary investigation of this case is hereby reopened,” Assistant State Prosecutor Bendoval wrote.

Pimentel visited the hospital in March to accompany his pregnant wife even though he was already showing symptoms of COVID-19.

He later tested positive for the highly-contagious virus, drawing outrage from the public for endangering patients and hospital personnel during his visit.

The senator was castigated by the hospital management for violating home quarantine rules, calling his action “reckless and unacceptable.”

Pimentel and the complainant, former dean of the University of Makati Rico Quicho, were then asked to submit their replies on MMC’s report by 21 September.

Legal experts previously said the senator may be fined up to P50,000 or face a jail term of one to six months for failing to disclose that he was suspected of having COVID-19 at the time.

For violating the enhanced community quarantine, he can be fined between P10,000 and P50,000 or jailed for up to a year.

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LGU told: Accept travelers

Elmer Navarro Manuel

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The Department of Tourism (DoT) on Thursday announced that it is already working its way to convince more local governments to accept holiday-makers despite their fears over the coronavirus pandemic.

In a radio interview, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that “almost all” tourist destinations in the country are already under the least stringent coronavirus lockdown level.

“The problem is, they are a bit wary of opening to people outside of their province or city,” said Puyat. “We need to talk to all our local government units to agree to reopening their tourism industry to those outside their city, municipality or province.”

The DoT chief explained that international tourist arrivals have dropped by 75 percent due to the pandemic and out of 5.7 million tourism workers in 2019, 4.8 million have lost their jobs or suffered a pay cut as of Thursday.

She also noted that the mountain city of Baguio will start accepting tourists from neighboring Ilocos Region on 1 October.

Romulo-Puyat added that she would ask an inter-agency task force to allow Metro Manila residents to visit Boracay when it further reopens on 1 October and remove age restrictions for tourists in the island.

“We are working for the tourism industry to slowly reopen, safely but surely,” said Puyat.

Metro Manila is still under general community quarantine (GCQ), which prohibits leisure-related travel to contain novel coronavirus infections and those aged above 60 and below 20 are also barred from leaving their homes.

“We will ask the IATF to remove the age restriction, to allow those aged above 60 and below 20 to travel because Filipinos travel as a family,” said Puyat in the same interview.

“We will also request that aside from letting those from GCQ areas fly to Boracay, we will also ask for the age restriction to be removed,” she added.

Puyat explained that those who want to visit Boracay need a negative PCR coronavirus test result 48 to 72 hours before their trip and they also need to register online with any of some 200 resorts and establishments that the tourism department has certified.

The Tourism chief said that Boracay tourists should also wear anti-virus masks “all the time” and observe physical distancing and the opening is backed by the Environment and Interior departments and Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores.

“It’s a go. Hopefully I think it has a 99.9 percent chance of opening,” said Puyat.

The resort island in 2019 closed for six months to give way to a rehabilitation of its sewage system. It reopened in October 2019, only to be shuttered again by the pandemic last March.

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