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DoLE rejects smoking ban

Raymart Lolo

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A smoking area outside a condominium. (YM image)

The Department of Labor (DoLE) on Friday announced its opposition to the proposal of the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to ban smoking as part of the government’s effort to curb the increasing number of COVID-19 transmissions.

“We can’t ban smoking because it will adversely affect the tobacco industry,” said DoLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

A smoking ban, according to Bello, has serious repercussions to businesses and employment.

Bello said the tobacco business remits to the government P145 billion in excise taxes yearly while employing 2.5 million workers.

“It contributes heavily to the universal health fund of the government. If we ban smoking, those figures will be severely affected,” he warned.

“We can smoke in smoking areas. But the condition is, [it should be] one smoker at a time,” Bello stressed.

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Layoffs loom for beleaguered US airlines

Agence France-Presse

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US airlines have been grounding planes and delaying jet deliveries to limit their cash-burn as air travel remains at about only one-third of its level a year ago.

NEW YORKUnited States — Workers from the beleaguered US airline industry are making a last-ditch public appeal this week to coax more money from Capitol Hill power brokers to save their jobs.

The first day of October concludes the period when US carriers that received billions in aid from Congress promised to refrain from laying off workers.

A package of loans totaling up to $25 billion to seven US carriers announced Tuesday night by the Treasury Department provides funds for airlines to ride out a prolonged downturn amid the coronavirus, but won’t affect plans for furloughs, airline sources said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday on CNBC he was hopeful airlines would postpone layoffs if congressional leaders can reach a framework for a deal, saying it was “critical” for Congress to act.

Meanwhile, flight attendants have taken to social media with tearful photos of what could be their last flight on the job and anxious appeals for lawmakers to act.

“I cannot afford to be jobless (for) over a year,” wrote one flight attendant on Twitter, saying she was a single mother who spent 14 years as a flight attendant. “American families need relief too!”

While the stalemate in Washington over stimulus has pinched unemployed workers and put public sector employees on notice, vulnerable airline workers have in some ways been the poster children for the impasse.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mnuchin held talks again Tuesday and agreed to keep negotiating. But a deal is still far from assured.

Voluntary exit

Since the coronavirus intensified in March, US airlines have been grounding planes and delaying jet deliveries to limit their cash-burn as air travel remains at about only one-third of its level a year ago.

Carriers have struck agreements with unions to spread out work among employees. Tens of thousands of employees have also accepted unpaid leave or early retirement packages to avert the need for involuntary terminations.

Still, the decisions will not be enough to avert all job cuts. Airlines have said they do not expect a full recovery until a vaccine is widely available, which company executives have said may not be until late 2021.

Unions have said 100,000 people or more could be laid off without additional federal aid, but analysts expect a smaller number than that as airlines and unions seek ways to avoid layoffs.

In the latest such deal, United Airlines on Monday reached an agreement with its pilots union to avert furloughs of 2,850 employees.

However, United is still on track to furlough as many as 13,000 other workers as soon as October 1. These include flight attendants and staff in other airport operations.

American Airlines has also said it expects to cut as many as 19,000 jobs.

Southwest Airlines has said it does not plan involuntary job cuts.

The Delta Air Lines pilot union last week said it reached an agreement with the company to avoid furloughs until at least November 1 to give congressional talks more time.

Delta has said earlier voluntary staff departures and union agreements averted the need for involuntary job cuts for flight attendants and other frontline employees.

Peter McNally, an analyst at research firm Third Bridge, predicted there would be significant downsizing throughout the industry.

“The businesses can not support the cost structure as it is,” McNally said in an interview. “They worked around it through furloughs and early retirement and voluntary departures, but there are still going to be a lot of layoffs.

“The recovery has just not come as quickly as people had hoped,” he said.

Public sector faces crunch

Airline workers are hardly the only losers from Washington’s inability to enact fiscal stimulus.

Laid-off workers had been receiving $600 in weekly supplemental unemployment benefits under a provision of the CARES Act that expired at the end of July.

President Donald Trump authorized an additional $300 in weekly spending by tapping federal emergency funds, but those funds are also running out and expected to be gone in October, said Nancy Vanden Houten of Oxford Economics.

“Households got quite a boost from these benefits, so we’re going to see a pretty big drop-off,” she said in an interview.

Another vulnerable group is public sector workers, who face an uncertain future as governments struggle with lower tax revenues and, in many cases, balanced budget rules.

The most recent version of House Democrats’ “Heroes Act” includes more than $400 billion in funding for state and local governments, a provision Republicans oppose.

The Economic Policy Institute has estimated that failure to provide support to local government could cost 5.3 million jobs through 2021.

Without the funding, “they’ll have no choice but to do layoffs and cut social services,” said Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the institute, a think tank that advocates for low- and middle-income workers.

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Stock markets weaker after Trump-Biden debate

TDT

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US President Donald Trump (left) and Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on 29 September 2020. (AFP)

LONDONUnited Kingdom — Global stock markets were mostly weaker Wednesday following a chaotic US presidential debate in which Donald Trump again suggested the election could be fraudulent while hopes for a second coronavirus stimulus package out of Washington helped lift the dollar.

In Europe, London also sank as investors digested official data confirming that Britain’s virus-hit economy collapsed by almost a fifth in the second quarter.

Sentiment was additionally hit after Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell announced plans to axe up to 9,000 staff over the next two years to combat this year’s coronavirus-driven slump in oil prices.

Yet it was Republican Trump’s chaotic jousting with Democrat opponent Joe Biden that grabbed the spotlight.

“The US presidential debate has done little to boost market sentiment, as Trump fails to take his opportunity to regain ground,” said Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at online trading group IG.

“Pollsters point towards a potential Biden gain in the polls… with the president’s erratic style likely helping Biden to shift the focus away from his often lacklustre memory and debating abilities.”

Personal barbs

Trump and Biden traded personal barbs in the first of three debates ahead of the 3 November vote, with observers saying the president had needed a strong showing as he trailed in most national and battleground polls.

The much-anticipated match-up, however, descended almost immediately into a shouting match, with little of substance emerging from either man.

When asked if they pledged to urge calm and refrain from declaring victory if the election result is not immediately known, Biden said “yes”, while Trump would not commit, saying that if he saw “tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that”.

The president’s claims about voter fraud have raised concerns among investors that the result could be drawn out and fuel uncertainty for the US economy.

“President Trump and Democrat nominee Joe Biden engaged in what can only be described as a fact-free name calling contest,” said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

“Financial markets appear to have taken their cues from that, shrugging off some better than expected Chinese PMI data, which showed improvement in both manufacturing and services in September.”

The Chinese data failed to lift optimism, as the ever-present gloom of rising virus infections and deaths also continues to dampen the mood on trading floors as dealers fret over the re-imposition of containment measures in key economies.

Elsewhere, a top aide to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that the lawmaker had spoken for a second straight day with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over a long-deadlocked but much-anticipated stimulus package to rescue the battered US economy.

The pair have agreed to continue negotiating, raising hopes they could break a months-long impasse.

Key figures around 1030 GMT

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 5,883.59 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 0.6 percent at 12,747.03

Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 0.6 percent at 4,804.37

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.7 percent at 3,192.69

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.5 percent at 23,185.12 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.8 percent at 23,459.05 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,218.05 (close)

New York – Dow Jones: DOWN 0.5 percent at 27,452.66 (close Tuesday)

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2822 from $1.2863 at 2100 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 91.37 pence from 91.30 pence

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1716 from $1.1744

Dollar/yen: UP at 105.69 yen from 105.66 yen

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.2 percent at $38.81 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.6 percent at $40.37 per barrel

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Government seeks P540-billion support from BSP

Joshua Lao

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Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno said the national government has requested additional financial assistance in the form of a provisional advance.

“The NG has requested for a fresh provisional advance of P540 billion to be settled on or before 29 December 2020, at zero interest,” Diokno said.

According to him, the request has not been approved yet but will be submitted to the Monetary Board soon.

In March, the BSP purchased some P300-billion worth of securities from the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) to support government programs against the COVID-19 pandemic.

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NLEx to hire 1,500 workers

Maria Romero

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North Luzon Expressway Corporation is hiring more than 1,500 technical and skilled workers to accelerate the construction of its 8-kilometer NLEx Connector road project.

NLEX President and General Manager J. Luigi L. Bautista shared the good news on Tuesday as it emphasized its effort to aid the government in its economic recovery programs.

Bautista said NLEX would prioritize the hiring of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been displaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Being a government partner in infrastructure building, NLEX Corporation and the entire Metro Pacific Tollways group is keen on helping the economy recover from the adverse effects of the pandemic.

With our ongoing projects, we can create more opportunities for people thus propel growth in the country,” Bautista said.

The tollways company is also mobilizing more construction equipment to improve productivity at the site and speed up the construction of the project.

The Departments of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Labor and Employment (DOLE) has previously instructed companies involved in the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program to extend employment assistance to repatriated OFWs especially those who were previously employed in construction.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar reiterated that the government’s massive infrastructure projects are key employment generators. 

In his previous statement, Villar pointed out that the yearly increase in infrastructure budget has generated 6.57 million jobs in four years.

According to Bautista, NLEX is currently working on the first five-kilometer section of the NLEX Connector from Grace Park in Caloocan City to España St., Sampaloc, Manila.

The all-vehicle class elevated expressway project will traverse the Caloocan Interchange, 5th Avenue/C3 Road in Caloocan City pass through España, and eventually link up with the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 at PUP Sta. Mesa in Manila.

Targeted for completion in 2021, the P23-B NLEX Connector aims to cut travel time from NLEX to South Luzon Expressway from two hours to about 20 minutes.

It is also expected to provide improved accessibility for cargo trucks bound for the Manila Ports and the international airports.

Once completed, some 35,000 motorists will be spared from using Metro Manila’s congested city roads daily as they will traverse their routes mostly above the alignment of the Philippine National Railways.

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‘Can you do a better job?’; Telcos told to improve services

MJ Blancaflor

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President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed anew to telecommunications companies to improve their services as the Philippines gears up for blended learning in public schools.

In his speech Monday night, the President said it “pisses him off to no end” that the Internet service in the country remains “very poor” despite his repeated requests to address the matter.

“I don’t know how to go about this but may I just appeal to iyong mga telecommunications to — can you — can you do a better job? Is there life after this kind of service that you are delivering to the public?” Duterte asked.

“If only I can address this problem in just one word, this problem has long been over,” he added.

The President noted that Filipinos have been complaining of not getting their money’s worth from the country’s telco services.

Duterte also renewed his appeal to local government officials to fast-track the approval of permits that would enable companies to build the structures or towers they need.

President Duterte, in his recent State of the Nation Address last July, threatened PLDT-Smart and Globe that he would take over their operations if they would not improve their services until December.

“The eternal complaint ever since telco came into being, it has been the agony of the Filipino people why until now our telcos are very poor,” he said.

The Department of Education is implementing a blended learning scheme, an alternative learning modalities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This means educational materials are coursed through the Internet, television, radio, and printed modules distributed by schools.

Private schools have started the school year while classes in public schools are slated to begin on 5 October.

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More funds to produce more seamen officers pushed

Raffy Ayeng

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The country’s premier maritime institution, the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), has sought more than P1 billion budget next year to fund the development of more officers to man international ships.

In an interview, MARINO Party-list 2nd Representative Macnell Lusotan said he is pushing for additional funds for the PMMAso the country could produce more officers than ratings, which will eventually bring the country back to its good old image as a top supplier of seafarer officers in the world’s fleet.

Lusotan said the Philippines presently holds the post as the top supplier of Ratings, or the lowest crew position in vessels, and only number two when it comes to officership, next to China.

“We have an oversupply of seaman on rating position. We have to help those Ratings to upgrade into officers to fill the shortage of officers in international shipping, based on BIMCO 2015 Manpower Report. Aside from upgrading ratings to be officers, we have to allocate additional funds to PMMA to double the volume of graduates of officers. Kasi pag-graduate ang isang seaman sa PMMA, pagsampa ng barko officer ka agad,” Lusotan told the Daily Tribune.

Once graduated in the PMMA, a Deck cadet will automatically gain the position of 3rd officer, while for Engine cadets, he will hold the 4th engineer rank.

Lusotan said the PMMA that in 2019, has only produced 220 graduates, and not all of these ventured to seafaring, as PMMA graduates can also serve in the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard.

“We have to produce more graduates from the PMMA. We have to allocate more funds to the premiere maritime institution to grant more scholarships,” Lusotan added.

PMMA Superintendent Commodore Joel Abutal, in a separate interview, said they eyed P1.3 billion budget for next year, “because they are anticipating that the government will provide them the training ship” that will start its utilization by next year.

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Amazon sets global mega-sale

Agence France-Presse

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The company has played a crucial role during lockdowns around the world. (GeekWire image)
WASHINGTONUnited States — Amazon on Monday announced the new date for its annual global mega-sale, which it said aims to promote small and medium-sized businesses despite accusations by numerous lawmakers and trade associations that the retail giant is trying to crush competition.

“Prime Day,” named for the Amazon subscription service that offers users free delivery and other perks, will be held on October 13-14, the company said.

Launched in 2015, the wildly popular sale is normally held in July but had to be pushed back this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of lockdowns, Amazon has faced a huge surge in demand for online shopping and delivery of household goods, forcing its warehouses and supply teams into overdrive.

In its statement, the group said it would spend more than $100 million in new promotions to benefit small and medium-sized businesses and help them win new clients.

The company has played a crucial role during lockdowns around the world, enabling people to stay at home by providing them with food deliveries, cloud services and entertainment on their screens.

In the second quarter, Amazon pulled in $5.2 billion in net profit, double the previous year, and in spite of the $4 billion it invested in managing the crisis.

“During the Covid-19 crisis, we hired an additional 175,000 employees, including many laid off from other jobs during the economic shutdown,” Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said in July.

“Third-party sales now account for approximately 60 percent of physical product sales on Amazon, and those sales are growing faster than Amazon’s own retail sales,” he said.

“Selling in Amazon’s stores has enabled hundreds of thousands of smaller companies to sustain and even grow their sales despite the Covid-19 crisis,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon’s dominance has been questioned by some lawmakers.

During a hearing in July on big tech companies including Amazon, Democratic congressman David Cicilline argued that Amazon’s dual role as both platform operator and a seller on the very same platform was essentially anti-competitive.

“These companies as they exist today have monopoly power,” Cicilline said.

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Wall Street ends volatile week on positive note

Agence France-Presse

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The Nasdaq to close 2.3 percent higher. (Dorval AM image)

NEW YORKUnited States — US stocks finished a choppy week solidly higher as tech stocks outperformed, though the cheer did not extend to Europe where investors were spooked by surging virus infections.

After a see-saw of a week in which indices repeatedly closed sessions in the red, the Dow finished up 1.3 percent on Friday while tech stocks, which had a banner August but have struggled for much of this month, pushed the Nasdaq to close 2.3 percent higher.

The dollar climbed against its main rivals, while oil prices dropped.

However both the Dow and S&P were lower for the week overall, and Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities, said the day’s gains were not indicative of broader momentum.

“The market has been under pressure for a while and is just catching a bit of a bargain-hunting Friday,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities.

Investors remain disquieted by the continued failure of Washington lawmakers to agree on more stimulus for the battered US economy.

The side effect of that deadlock were felt in European trading, where Frankfurt and Paris ended lower though London eked out a small gain.

“The same old issues are holding these markets back, considerable economic and political uncertainty — particularly in the US — worrying Covid trends in Europe and a lack of new fiscal and monetary support measures in Washington,” said Oanda analyst Craig Erlam.

The need for a new stimulus deal was highlighted by data that showed jobless claims rising rather than falling last week in the United States, perhaps indicative of a stumbling recovery as the November presidential election nears.

US durable goods orders posted tepid growth of 0.4 percent in August, according to data released Friday, well below the revised level in July of 11.7 percent.

Aneta Markowska at Jefferies LLC said it was “a close call” on whether new stimulus would be agreed, adding: “While still possible, there is a high risk that it does not happen this year.

“Without it, we would expect the economy to hit a major speed bump in the fourth quarter.”

Europe is in the midst of a surge in coronavirus infections that has resulted in governments imposing partial lockdowns and social restrictions.

Two British supermarket chains are also now rationing certain products to avoid the panic-buying seen earlier this year.

“At this point in the recovery, a return to the Covid-19 abyss due to stricter lockdown measures is quite frankly something the global economy cannot afford,” said Stephen Innes at AxiCorp.

Key figures around 2030 GMT

New York – Dow Jones: UP 1.3 percent at 27,173.96 (close)

New York – S&P 500: UP 1.6 percent at 3,298.46 (close)

New York – Nasdaq: UP 2.3 percent at 10,913.56 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 5,842.67 points (close)

Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 1.1 percent at 12,469.20 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 0.7 percent at 4,729.66 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.7 percent at 3,137.06 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 23,204.62 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.3 percent at 23,235.42 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,219.42 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1626 from $1.1667 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2739 from $1.2743

Dollar/yen: UP at 105.59 yen from 105.41 yen

Euro/pound: DOWN at 91.23 pence from 91.54 pence

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.5 percent at $40.12 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.2 percent at $41.86 per barrel

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Group protests reopening of suspended mines

Francis Wakefield

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ATM said mining and river dredging should not be part of the economic stimulus for recovery. (ATM photo)
Environment and human rights groups trooped to the main office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City on Monday to protest the reopening of 13 cancelled and suspended mines.
 
The groups led by Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) said mining operations endanger the health of local residents in mining communities. 
 
They added that DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu’s decision to revoke the cancellation and suspension orders of 13 mining companies will worsen these conditions.
 
Jaybee Garganera, National Coordinator of ATM, reiterated their group’s position that “the DENR’s recommendation to re-open these mines should be rejected as DENR is unwilling to disclose the basis of this decision”. 
 
Garganera explained that mining and river dredging should not be part of the economic stimulus for recovery as a response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has severely affected the country’s economy. 
 
“Mining is part of the problem because it is directly linked to deforestation and climate change, which are both drivers to the evolution of new diseases and pandemics,” he said in a statement.
 
Meanwhile, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice Energy Officer Larry Pascua, said a report from the International Council on Mining and Metals revealed that the global mining industry is a significant contributor of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
 
“Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of climate-related disasters. With COVID-19, the urgency of addressing this threat increased rapidly,” Pascua said.
 
On the other hand, Sanlakas Secretary General Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, said economic activities that lower the resiliency of communities have no place in a pandemic. 
 
“Mining for recovery is only counterproductive. Government have to hold these companies accountable of the livelihood and natural resources they destroyed,” Pedrosa said,.

“These mining companies continue to operate with impunity because the government lets them,” he added.

Other environment and human rights group who joined the protest action and call to end destructive mining and climate change, and to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases include Bantay Kita, AKBAYAN, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, IDefend, Lilak, and Green Thumb Coalition, and Masbate-based organization Ang Aroroy Ay Alagaan.
The protest was a part of Mining Hell Week, an annual series of activities parallel to the International Mining Conference organized by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. It aims to represent and amplify the voices of mining-affected communities and marginalized sectors.
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