Local airlines to lose $3.5 billion as flights grounded

Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star ) - April 4, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The turbulence in the aviation industry due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic is expected to translate to over $3 billion in potential gross domestic product (GDP) loss and more than 400,000 job cuts.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), passenger demand in the Philippines is seen to decline by 36 percent this year, resulting in a revenue loss of $3.51 billion.

This would translate to a potential $3.75 billion in lost GDP and some 419,800 job losses, IATA said.

IATA said the potential losses and impact are based on a scenario where severe restrictions on travel are lifted after three months followed by gradual recovery.

“Based on a scenario in which severe travel restrictions last for three months, the Asia Pacific region as a whole will see passenger demand reduced by 37 percent this year, with a revenue loss of $88 billion,” IATA Asia Pacific regional vice president Conrad Clifford said.

In terms of passenger demand reduction this year, IATA said the Philippines, along with Cambodia and Vietnam, would be on the lower end of the range, while Thailand, Pakistan, Korea, and Sri Lanka would see the largest impact.

“While each country will see varying impact on passenger demand, the net result is the same – their airlines are fighting for survival, they are facing a liquidity crisis, and they will need financial relief urgently to sustain their businesses through this volatile situation,” Clifford said.

IATA has reiterated its call to Asia Pacific states to take urgent action in providing financial support to their airline industry which was hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore have announced a substantial package of measures to support their aviation industry.

“But others in the region, including India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand, have yet to take decisive and effective action. Jobs as well as the GDP supported by the industry are at risk,” Clifford said.

Clifford said governments need to ensure that airlines have sufficient cash flow to help them during this period through direct financial support, facilitating loans, loan guarantees, and support for the corporate bond market.

Taxes, levies, and airport and aeronautical charges for the industry are likewise requested to be fully or partially waived.

“It is critical that these countries still have a viable aviation sector to support the economic recovery, connect manufacturing hubs and support tourism when the COVID-19 crisis is over. They need to act now – and urgently - before it is too late,” Clifford said.

The Air Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP) has requested for assistance for the airline industry in the form of relief on current working capital credit lines, emergency lines of credit for six months, longer term facility, and waiver of all navigational and airport charges.

Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, AirAsia Philippines, PAL Express, and Cebgo are currently “facing an existential threat to their survival” and as such, are in urgent need for government intervention to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in their operations.

Without relief, it said the industry’s cash position could deteriorate by $61 billion in the second quarter.

Travel barriers to control COVID-19 spread likely to slash 400,000 airline jobs —IATA

Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - April 3, 2020 - 8:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — Travel restrictions imposed to control the spread of coronavirus would cost the jobs of more than 400,000 people in the airline industry alone, highlighting the magnitude of economic impact from the disease.

The estimate is contained in the latest report of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which warned that Asia-Pacific airlines, including local carriers, would be “fighting for survival” as the global pandemic lingers and

“While each country will see varying impact on passenger demand, the net result is the same – their airlines are fighting for survival, they are facing a liquidity crisis, and they will need financial relief urgently to sustain their businesses through this volatile situation,” said Conrad Clifford, the organization’s regional vice-president.

In the Philippines, IATA estimated a total of $3.5 billion in revenues would be wiped out on a scenario that travel prohibitions remain in place over the next three months or until June.

Earnings would take a hit from the grounding of around 21.89 million passengers who are likely to demand ticket refunds, data showed. As revenues splutter, a total of 419,800 jobs are likely to get cut.

Over-all, the damage in the economy would be brutal, estimated to hit $3.75 trillion for the whole year, IATA said.

Despite what is appearing to be massive losses, IATA said the expected drop in passengers in the Philippines, at 36%, is still at the “lower end of the range” together with Cambodia and Vietnam which are projected to lose 34% of their flyers. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Thailand, Pakistan and South Korea, countries heavily dependent on their tourism sector, would lose 40% of their passengers. Sri Lanka’s client losses would be bigger at 44%, IATA data showed.

Across the Asia-Pacific, airlines are bound to suffer an average of $88 billion in revenue losses as a result of the global pandemic.

Clifford said the magnitude of the damage to the airline industry indicates that direct financial support from the government is needed by the sector “to tide them over this period.”

“Taxes, levies, and airport and aeronautical charges for the industry should also be fully or partially waived,” Clifford said.

“It is critical that these countries still have a viable aviation sector to support the economic recovery, connect manufacturing hubs and support tourism when the COVID-19 crisis is over. They need to act now – and urgently - before it is too late,” he added.

While assistance is yet to be extended, Air Carriers Association of the Philippines, an industry group composed Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air and AirAsia Philippines, formally wrote the government last March 25 for financial aid to help keep their businesses afloat while keeping their planes grounded during the community quarantine in Luzon ending April 12.

The three carriers have separately announced the suspension of all their flights in recent weeks, while also cutting jobs. PAL let go of 300 employees in February, while 150 Cebu Pacific workers were also laid off.

Lockdown must be extended for months to prevent Italy-like scenario, data scientist says

Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - April 2, 2020 - 5:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — The quarantine being enforced across Luzon and parts of the Visayas and Mindanao may have to be extended for several months since the Philippines has not yet contained the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as suggested by data, a scientist said Thursday.

Darwin Bandoy, a Filipino genomic data scientist and doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of the Philippines and the University of California, said that the country has not yet reached the point where its healthcare capacity can accommodate severe cases of COVID-19 should the country's infection rate continue to rise.

Bandoy is listed as a PhD candidate of Integrative Pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California. 

RELATED: No community quarantine extension, if…Task force to determine lockdown’s possible extension

“Based on the current data that is being generated from the Philippines, we have not yet flattened the curve and we need a few more months to completely flatten the curve,” Bandoy said in a Thursday interview with ANC.

“So when we say 'flatten the curve,' it's reducing the number of cases. There's a threshold that we want to reach and the threshold that we want to reach is the healthcare capacity and the condition for that healthcare capacity in simple terms is the number of ventilators for severe cases.”

RELATED: What ‘flatten the curve’ means in controlling the spread of COVID-19

The scholar said that the Philippines only has around 1,500 ventilators, estimating that a third of which are in Metro Manila.

“So if our severe cases went beyond that, it will be like Italy. We will be selecting who will die or not.”

Italy has recorded at least 12,430 deaths due to COVID-19 as of writing, the most in any country affected by the pandemic and accounting for more than a quarter of global deaths, according to the latest World Health Organization situation report.

“My estimate is that to prevent the current trajectory, we need a few more weeks and months to reduce that so that we will not overburden our healthcare which is already struggling as of the moment,” Bandoy said, estimating that it would take two to three months before the coronavirus curve is flattened.

The scientist said that if the enhanced community quarantine is lifted and "normal activity" resumes on April 14, "the epidemic curve will peak again after two to three months once you remove" the lockdown.

Better healthcare capacity could shorten quarantine

He recommended extending the quarantine until the country is equipped with the "necessary healthcare capacity in terms of hospital beds, in terms of ventilators" and if social distancing can be implemented properly on mass transportation.

“If we can implement proper transportation, social distancing procedures, disinfection, we can probably slowly introduce back to normal life but I wouldn't recommend opening school as of the moment,” he said.

Bandoy projects that if the lockdown is lifted and nothing is done to contain the outbreak locally, the peak number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines would be around 250,000, with 1-3% of which (2,500 to 7,500 people) accounting for severe cases.

RELATED: COVID-19 cases in the Philippines could reach 75,000 in months if not contained — DOH

Bandoy also clarified that the model he used has limitations since the Philippines has not yet conducted mass testing.

“There's some backlog and therefore that would be the limitation because it's very difficult to see where we are actually in the epidemic curve based on the model because we cannot ascertain 100%,” he said.

Young doctor in fatal flight ‘fought like a hero’

Charmie Joy Pagulong (The Philippine Star ) - March 31, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Before taking the ill-fated air ambulance for Tokyo, the young doctor on the flight had been busy as a frontliner in the battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr. Cenover Nicandro “Nicko” Bautista II, 33, who worked at the Mandaluyong City Medical Center, “fought like a hero,” according to his sister, singer Ria Bautista.

Nicko was among the eight passengers who died after the Lionair Westwind jet on a medevac mission exploded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Sunday night.

“I lost my brother on that flight. No words can describe how devastating it is to lose a family member in such a horrific way. How do you process something like this. How,” Ria posted on Facebook. 

“All I know is that he fought like a hero and I can only hope that his fight would not be in vain… RIP, Nicko. I love you my brother. I will honor you forever,” Ria added.

Nicko’s last Facebook post was on March 21, honoring a fellow doctor who died in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “WHEN YOU LIE. WE DIE. I stand with the medical community in honoring one of our fallen comrades in his battle with COVID-19. He was a frontliner who was fulfilling his line of duty. I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about him and now he lost his life early, simply because a patient and the family did not bother to disclose their travel history. Just because they thought it was better to lie to their doctors,” he said. 

“And because of that 1 lie, 1 has lost his life, while 38 more were quarantined, and a lot more unknown. Just because they thought it was better to lie,” Nicko continued. 

“Consider your actions. We try our best to protect you from this horrid disease, but who will protect us? Kindly do your part. Stay at home. Don’t lie to your doctors. Check your privilege,” he added. 

He offered prayers to the fallen doctor and said that the frontliners will continue the fight.

The Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila paid tribute to Bautista, a PLM alumnus.

“It is with extreme sadness that I inform you that PLM lost another one of its own while performing his sworn duty to save lives... Dr. Bautista is the second PLM doctor that we lost in two weeks. Dr. Israel Bactol died last week due to COVID-19 infection,” PLM president Emmanuel Leyco said.

Moscow begins lockdown during tougher push to curb virus

(Agence France-Presse) - March 30, 2020 - 9:24pm

MOSCOW — Moscow, with its more than 12 million people, went into lockdown on Monday while other parts of Russia moved to introduce similar steps to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

The enforcement of the strict new rules, which Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin suddenly announced late Sunday, coincided with the beginning of a "non-working" week declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The situation is certainly serious and everyone should take this very seriously," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Moscow, which has become the epicentre of the contagion in Russia, announced the new measures after many Muscovites failed to heed recommendations to self-isolate and instead went to parks for barbecues at the weekend.

On Monday, Red Square in the heart of Moscow was eerily empty, while the streets of Europe's most populous city were quiet even though traffic could still be seen on the roads.

Anna, a 36-year-old web designer living in south Moscow, said the lockdown would be hard for her and her five-year-old daughter.

"But I don't want Arina to get sick," she told AFP while on her way to buy some bread. "So of course we will observe the quarantine."

But some were in no hurry to take the new rules to heart. Three teenagers flouted social distancing rules, walking and laughing together.

"Staying home with our parents will kill us quicker than the coronavirus," said one teen as the others nodded.

Regions eye lockdowns

Muscovites are now only allowed to leave their homes in cases of a medical emergency, to travel to jobs judged essential, and to go to local grocery stores and pharmacies which need to enforce social distancing.

People are also allowed to take out the trash and walk their dogs.

Over the past 24 hours Russia has recorded 302 new cases -- the biggest daily increase so far -- taking the national tally to 1,835 cases of coronavirus and nine deaths.

But the real number of infected people is believed to be higher and critics have rounded on authorities for not proposing tougher measures sooner.

At least eight regions including the Western exclave region of Kaliningrad have already imposed or were preparing to impose strict quarantines.

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was the first regional leader to announce a lockdown last week, banning non-residents from entering the once restive region.

Masked men in black uniforms were policing streets in Chechnya armed with white clubs, according to a video published by independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

In a rare televised address last Wednesday, Putin announced that Russians would not be required to go to work this week, but would still get paid.

He also postponed an upcoming public vote on constitutional reforms that would allow him to stay in power until 2036.

'Pray at home'

The powerful Russian Orthodox Church, which had initially said authorities had no right to close churches, finally fell into line on Sunday, with Patriarch Kirill calling on the faithful to pray at home.

"You can be saved without going to church," he told believers in an address.

The new isolation rules, which will be policed by a vast system of facial-recognition cameras in Moscow, came into force as Russia also closed its borders.

Over entry of foreigners: Gov hits MCIA, DOT

Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon, Lorraine L. Ecarma (The Freeman ) - March 31, 2020 - 12:00am

EBU, Philippines — Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia has called out the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) and the Department of Tourism-7 for continuing to accommodate foreign tourists to Cebu without coordinating with the province.

"It's been such a frustrating battle when fellow Cebuanos do not cooperate with us, do not join hands with us to protect Cebu and the Cebuanos," Garcia said in a press conference.

She said she learned of 38 Swiss and German nationals who took private flights from different parts of the country and were allowed to land at the Mactan airport without the knowledge of the provincial government.

This despite the airport having sent representatives during the inter-agency meetings of the COVID-19 Task Force.

Garcia said she learned from sources that the foreigners landed at the general aviation area at the Mactan airport and were checked in later to two hotels in Mactan, a violation of the safety protocols the provincial government has laid down.

Cordova Mayor Mary Therese Cho also reportedly expressed alarm over the number of Germans checking into hotels in the municipality.

"We have special treatment for all of these foreigners unya nahimo na ta dire nga dumping ground… I did not want to say that word but Cebu has become the dumping ground of these foreigners coming from all over the Visayas and Mindanao, and even Manila," Garcia said.

Last March 27, the province banned entry of all incoming international passengers. The ban also covers repatriated Filipinos like Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Through Executive Order No. 5-E, the province also banned all incoming domestic passengers.

Garcia pointed out that while the province does not have a ban on outgoing travels, there are other functional airports in the country.

Garcia called on DOT- 7 Director Shalimar Tamano to stop allowing entry to foreigners here, especially now that the province is on enhanced community quarantine.

"Kung duna mo’y paglaban sa Sugbo, ayaw na ni buhata ninyo," she said.

"Manila continues to function. Maka-afford man diay ni silag private planes, ngano wa man ni sila mag-private plane diretso sa Manila?" Garcia said.

As of yesterday, Tamano did not respond to The Freeman’s request for comment. MCIA General Manager Steve Dicdican, meanwhile, said he was just following the law.

Dicdican responds

In a statement, Dicdican said the foreigners arrived on board a sweeper flight from other parts of Visayas so they could take onward flights to their home countries.

“We are supposed to be doing the whole-of-government approach, but that cannot happen if LGUs arrogate the jurisdiction and authority reserved for the national government. We should all be cognizant of our boundaries for there to be effective collaboration.

“We were just as surprised about their arrival as there was no prior coordination with the airport nor with the Department of Tourism, but they are specifically allowed by IATF Resolution No. 15 to make such travel," Dicdican said.

Dicdican said the resolution mandates free and unimpeded access to and from the airport and hotel for stranded foreigners, notwithstanding any LGU pronouncement to the contrary.

He said the Bayanihan Act also provides that it is the President who has the authority to limit and restrict the transportation sector, and that all LGUs must act within the letter and spirit of all the rules, regulations, and directives issued by the national government.

He said LGU officials disobeying national government policies or directives in imposing quarantines are criminally penalized.

“I am just following the law and the national directive. I suggest LGUs do the same. The air transportation sector is under the authority of the President and the DOTr/IATF during this time of national emergency, not the LGUs," Dicdican said.  JMO (FREEMAN)

Medevac company planes grounded

Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star ) - March 31, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has grounded the entire fleet of Lionair Inc. after one of its light planes crashed and exploded shortly after takeoff from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport last Sunday night, killing eight passengers and crew.

CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio yesterday said Lionair’s fleet will not be allowed to operate until the order is lifted.

He said investigators from the Aircraft Accident Investigation and Inquiry Board (AAIIB) of CAAP have also recovered the black box of the aircraft that could reveal why the plane exploded as it was taking off from the NAIA runway 06-24.

Probers are collecting parts of the plane, an Agusta WW 24 Westwind jet with registry number RP-C5880 owned by the Philippine firm Lionair Inc.

Those killed were the pilot, Capt. Mario Medina Jr., co-pilots Ren Edward Ungson and Melvin de Castro, Dr. Cenover Nicandro Bautista II, flight medic Edmark Jael, nurse Conrado Tomeldan Jr., Canadian patient John Richard Hurst and his American assistant Marilyn Vergara de Jesus.

Apolonio said the plane was on a medical evacuation (medevac) mission en route to Haneda Airport in Japan.

“While investigation on the medical evacuation plane RP-C5880 is ongoing, it has been decided that Lionair’s entire fleet will be grounded,” CAAP said in a statement yesterday.

Lionair is one of the leading helicopter and executive jets charter companies in the country with a fleet of seven planes and helicopters.

Malacañang wants a thorough probe of the latest plane crash at the NAIA last Sunday.  ?“We are so sad to learn that a plane crashed last March 29 taking the lives of the eight persons on board. We extend our deepest sympathies to the grieving families of those who perished in the crash,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement issued yesterday. ?“There must be a thorough investigation of the incident and the concerned government agencies must undertake measures to secure the safety of private aircraft as well as their passengers and crew,” he added. 

Lionair also operated the 11-seater Beechcraft King Air type medevac aircraft that crashed in Calamba, Laguna in September last year, killing nine people on board.?CAAP also clarified that Lionair, owned by businessman Archibald Po, is a charter airline operating and registered in the Philippines, and is not affiliated with Jakarta-based low cost airline Lion Air Indonesia.

According to CAAP, Lionair is already coordinating with the victims’ families.?CAAP said a flight safety investigation committee would look into possible violations of aviation safety procedures by the aircraft operator and/or the crew.?Investigation for the crash and resulting fire, meanwhile, will be conducted by the aircraft accident investigation and inquiry board.?The plane, a 10-seater WW24 Westwing aircraft had also been previously chartered by the Department of Health (DOH) to transport medical suppplies to the regions, was given an airworthy clearance for the medevac mission bound for Japan and had a full tank of aviation gas when it crashed.

Before the mishap last Sunday night, the aircraft was chartered by the DOH and airlifted medical supplies to the Bancasi Airport in Butuan City last Saturday. 

CAAP said the aircraft’s last recorded flight was on March 28, 2020 from Butuan Bancasi Airport (BXU/RPWE) to Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL/RPLL).

Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal and CAAP director general Jim Sydiongco went to the crash site.

Monreal said the aircraft reportedly encountered a technical problem while rolling for takeoff at runway 06. 

The MIAA Fire and Rescue team was immediately dispatched to the crash site to douse the flames with chemical foam. Unfortunately, no passenger survived the crash as they immediately cordoned the area, Monreal said.   - With Richmond Mercurio, Alexis Romero, Ben Serrano

‘No extended quarantine, no military control’

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star ) - March 28, 2020 - 12:00am

Palace asks public: Don’t spread fake news

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang refuted yesterday rumors that the government is planning to implement a 60-day extended Luzon quarantine and that the military will take over the government.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesman for the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), branded as totally unfounded, baseless and untrue the reports of a total lockdown.

“These rumors being spread via social media platforms and being sent via messaging applications are all fake news,” said Nograles.

Nograles, who is on self-quarantine, advised the public to refrain from forwarding or posting these rumors because they “unnecessarily cause panic and fuel detrimental behavior like hoarding.”

“Hindi po ito nakakatulong (This doesn’t help),” Nograles said.

He urged people to verify information they receive with legitimate sources of news as well as official government social media accounts and websites.

“We understand that the public wants information regarding COVID-19 and the enhanced community quarantine, which is why government agencies like the Department of Health make it a point to regularly provide updates,” Nograles said.

If there are major developments, only President Duterte, the IATF or the National Task Force (NTF) COVID-19 are the proper persons/entities who will make announcements.

Nograles pointed out that the government’s National Action Plan to Eliminate COVID-19 includes the adoption of measures that will provide clear, accurate and timely information to support COVID-19 pandemic operations, such as a system or platform for regular reporting and updating on COVID-19 related news.

He also said the individuals who spread false news about the disease might be indicted under the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act” or Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 recently signed by the President.

Nograles pointed out that Section 6(f) of RA 11469 states that “individuals or groups creating or spreading false information on social media and other platforms that promote chaos, anarchy, panic, fear or confusion can be penalized by two months imprisonment or a fine ranging from P10,000 to P1 million.”

“These rumors being passed around are not harmless and only highlight the need to institute measures to discourage the public from spreading them. Like a virus, rumours like these are dangerous and we need to take steps to stop them because they are harmful to the public,” he said.

China to lift travel curbs on Hubei province, including Wuhan

(Agence France-Presse) - March 24, 2020 - 6:54pm

BEIJING, China — China announced Tuesday that a lockdown would be lifted on more than 50 million people in central Hubei province where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.

But fears rose over a second wave of infections in the country fuelled by people arriving from overseas.

After two months living with draconian curbs on daily life, residents will be allowed to leave Hubei from midnight Tuesday if healthy, said provincial authorities. 

Wuhan city—the initial epicenter of the outbreak—will end restrictions from April 8.

Hubei ordered the shutdown in January but has been gradually easing rules and permitting people to move about within the province and return to work.

People who wish to travel in or out of Hubei or Wuhan will be able to as long as they have a "green" health code issued by authorities, but schools will remain closed.

Three airports in the province will resume flights from Wednesday, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

"I'm super happy," Hubei native Zoe Wang told AFP. "I'm going to be able to go back and see my parents."

"I really want freedom as soon as possible," one Wuhan resident named Willa said.

New cases have slowed dramatically over the last month, although the first locally transmitted infection in nearly a week was reported in Wuhan Tuesday, along with three cases elsewhere in China.

The figures pale in comparison to imported cases, fuelling anxiety about a possible second wave of infections just as the outbreak appeared to be coming under control.

Seven more people died, all in Wuhan, the National Health Commission said.

Second wave

Tuesday's 74 new imported cases were the most since officials started reporting the data at the beginning of March, and nearly double Monday's figure.

As nations across the globe battle to contain the pandemic, China's tally of imported cases soared to 427.

Most of them—380 people—were returning Chinese nationals, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.

Many cities have brought in tough rules to quarantine arrivals, and all Beijing-bound international flights are being diverted to other urban centres where passengers are screened for the virus.

Beijing authorities also said anyone entering China via another city before making their way to the capital in the last two weeks would be tested for the virus and told to enter quarantine.

But there are signs that life is returning to normal, with authorities saying Tuesday that a popular section of the Great Wall would re-open.

There have been more than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 in China and 3,277 deaths from the virus.

Cebu, Laguna close borders

Ed Amoroso, Mitchelle Palaubsanon (The Philippine Star ) - March 29, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Laguna and Cebu have been placed on lockdown as more coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases were recorded.

Laguna Gov. Ramil Hernandez ordered strict compliance with measures to implement a “total lockdown” even as he urged residents to cooperate and stay in their homes.

In an interview on Dobol B on GMA News TV, he said the lockdown, which took effect at 1 p.m. yesterday, would be implemented “as long as it is needed.”

There are now 23 COVID-19 cases in Laguna.

There are eight cases in Sta. Rosa, five in San Pedro, three in Biñan, two in Calamba and one each in Cabuyao, Los Baños, Lumban, Pila and San Pablo.

Only one resident per household is allowed to go out to get supplies during the lockdown.

Medical workers, those in the security sector such as police officers and soldiers, local and barangay officials and employees in businesses engaged in basic services are allowed to go out.

Meanwhile, Cebu will be on enhanced community quarantine starting tomorrow.

Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said non-essential trips from Cebu City to any area in the province and vice versa would also be prohibited after midnight tomorrow.

Garcia said only medical frontliners and those delivering essential services are exempted.

“I shall be issuing an executive order outlining the guidelines in the implementation of further restriction within the province,” she said.

Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella issued Executive Order 64 on Friday placing the city on enhanced community quarantine at noon yesterday until noon of April 28 “unless sooner lifted or withdrawn.”

Nineteen of the 22 COVID-19 cases in Central Visayas are from Cebu, the Department of Health-Central Visayas office reported yesterday. 

Sixteen of the patients, including two fatalities, are from Cebu City.

Barangay Caritan Norte in Tuguegarao City was also placed on lockdown after a local transmission of the flu virus was reported, Mayor Jefferson Soriano said.

Soriano said the 73-year-old mother of the male patient and two nurses who took care of him were also infected.

Barangay Salomague Sur in Bugallon, Pangasinan was placed on lockdown after recording its first case.

“He violated the full disclosure policy being implemented when he failed to state that he is a person under investigation (PUI),” Mayor Priscilla Espino said of the patient, who traveled to Manila.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said non-essential travelers, including residents stranded in the provinces, except Benguet, would not be allowed entry into the city for two weeks.

There are now 12 COVID-19 cases in the city. The first local transmission, which was reported yesterday, involved a health worker at the city health office.

Bulacan, Iloilo, Tarlac, Pampanga, Mindoro Occidental, Leyte, Bukidnon and Bayambang in Pangasinan had been earlier placed on lockdown due to COVID-19.

Davao closed its borders on March 19 with the suspension of land, sea and air travel to contain the spread of the virus.

More COVID-19 cases

In Zambales, a 70-year-old native of Cabangan town who recently arrived from Washington is the second COVID-19 patient in the province.

Noel Bueno of the provincial health office said the patient is confined at the Unihealth-Baypointe Hospital and Medical Center at the Subic Bay Freeport zone.

Mayor Julio Parayno III of Urdaneta, Pangasinan said the first COVID-19 case in the town is a 29-year-old male who traveled to Japan and arrived in the town on March 4.

Five of the COVID-19 fatalities are from Bayambang, Rosales, Lingayen, Bani and Urbiztondo.

Bataan Gov. Albert Raymond Garcia said three patients tested positive for the virus in Balanga City, Abucay and Samal, bringing to six the number of confirmed cases in the province. Garcia said one of the patients has recovered.

Surigao del Norte provincial health officer Arlene Felizarta said a PUI died on Thursday while waiting for test results.

As this developed, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Pangasinan passed a resolution on Friday expressing its “strongest displeasure” over the Sta. Barbara municipal government’s opposition to convert a provincial facility located in the town as a facility for discharged PUIs.

The Sta. Barbara town council passed a resolution on March 25 opposing the use of the Agricultural Training Institute-Provincial Nursery Pavilion as hospital isolation extension for PUIs.

Tarlac Gov. Susan Yap said the provincial government is constructing its own COVID-19 testing facility.  – With Bebot Sison, Artemio Dumlao, Eva Visperas, Ding Cervantes, Ric Sapnu, Raymund Catindig, Ben Serrano, Lorraine Ecarma

PAL struggles to continue international flights

Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star ) - March 22, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has mustered up enough strength to continue operating a number of international flights in the next few days amid losses.

PAL said it would operate limited international services to and from Manila in response to the government’s call to help foreign tourists return home and OFWs fly back to their places of work.

PAL flights between Manila and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, London Heathrow, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda, Osaka Kansai, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Guam will be operational until March 31.

However, PAL has decided to temporarily suspend services between Manila and Auckland, Port Moresby, Brisbane, Melbourne, Taipei, Jakarta, Bali, Sapporo, Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Dubai from March 20 to 31, while flights to and from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea, Qatar and Saudi Arabia remain suspended.

“A full restoration of PAL’s network is not possible at this time. The suspension of public transportation and other impediments to movement within and into Metro Manila, due to the ongoing community quarantine, have limited the manpower levels at Manila airport,” PAL said in a statement yesterday.

“Travel bans and restrictions imposed by various governments have forced the cancellation of some routes and significantly reduced actual travel between countries amid the COVID-19 situation,” it said.

The country’s flag carrier is “marshaling resources to operate limited international services on selected routes for March 20 and beyond” with the government’s lifting of the 72-hour window for international travel.

Departing foreigners flock to NAIA


Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star ) - March 20, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Foreigners swarmed the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 departure area as early as 6 a.m. yesterday to catch flights out of the country and avoid a government-imposed travel ban that was eventually lifted.

Several foreign nationals camped out at the departure area while waiting for their flights, some playing cards or just taking a nap.

A Caucasian man said he arrived in the Philippines on March 6 and had intended to stay longer but decided to cut his vacation short after the government gave foreign visitors 72 hours to leave or get caught in a travel ban.

Some Asians – apparently Chinese –were in raincoats and wearing masks as they awaited a China Southern flight to Guangzhou. Koreans were queuing at the Asiana Airlines counter for their flight to Incheon.

Many of the tourists went to the airport without ticket confirmation, as they were afraid to be caught by the travel ban.

They were already at the airport when word came out that the 72-hour deadline had been lifted.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) organized a sweeper flight to bring stranded foreign passengers in Cebu back to Manila.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) announced the lifting of the 72-hour window for foreigners to leave the Philippines after Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said at a press briefing that some changes had to be made in his March 16 memorandum on the enhanced community quarantine over the entire Luzon.

According to BI Commissioner Jaime Morente, foreign nationals may now leave anytime during the community quarantine period, unless their flights get cancelled by the airlines or the Civil Aeronautics Board.

“Our travel restrictions for foreign nationals arriving from China, Hong Kong, Macau, North Gyeongsang including Daegu and Cheongdo of South Korea, Iran and Italy still stand,” he clarified.

Visa suspension

The Philippines has suspended the granting of visa and visa-free privileges to foreigners.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the temporary suspension of visa issuance and visa-free entry – which took effect yesterday – was discussed and cleared with Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.

“Starting today, all our embassies and consulates will temporarily suspend visa issuance to all foreign nationals as well as the visa-free entry privileges of all foreign nationals,” an advisory posted by Locsin on his official Twitter account read.

All previously issued Philippine visas to foreign nationals are deemed cancelled. Visas already issued to foreign spouses and children of Filipino nationals remain valid.

The measure was adopted after the government placed Luzon on a month-long quarantine.

“Outgoing foreign visitors should be given all the help to get out,” he said in an earlier tweet. “Idiotic to detain them.”

Meanwhile, Taiwan announced yesterday it would bar foreign nationals whose flights departed after 00:00 Taipei Standard Time (GMT+8) on March 19 from entering the country in accordance with measures announced by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC).

Exempted are Alien Resident Certificate holders, personnel on diplomatic or official business, persons who can prove they are fulfilling commercial and contractual obligations and persons requiring special permission. Also exempted are those who transfer or transit through a third country.

Also yesterday, Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda released a statement expressing his country’s solidarity with the Philippines, “as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“As the Philippines’ partner in progress, Japan stands together with the Philippines in addressing this situation,” Haneda said. “Together with the rest of the world, we will get through this,” he said.

PAL flights

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) is considering operating limited international services on selected routes with the lifting of the 72-hour window for international travel.

In a statement, PAL said it is “marshaling resources to operate limited international services on selected routes for March 20 and beyond.”

The carrier, however, said the final decision would depend on whether the company, its service providers and the authorities can overcome increasing challenges, including the difficulty of securing enough manpower at the airports to support operations given quarantine restrictions and travel bans imposed by various countries.

“We at Philippine Airlines will do our part to help our customers and fellow citizens during the ongoing national and global emergency,” the airline said.

“We have so far maintained most of our international flights to help foreign tourists, OFWs and other people fly to their homelands or places of work, an urgent need identified by the Philippine government,” PAL said.

“We do so even if we are certain to incur a loss on these flights, and we are taking all necessary health and safety precautions to ensure a safe journey for the passengers and crew members on board,” it added.

“We salute our crew members, along with all our personnel and those of our service partners who show up for work in spite of COVID-19 concerns. We thank our customers above all for their understanding and support in this challenging time,” PAL said.

PAL said it is extending full free rebooking privileges to all passengers who were booked on any flight during the community quarantine period from March 15 to April 30.

It said any applicable fare difference is waived for passengers flying on the same cabin class on their rebooked flight.

Amid travel restrictions, some 400 foreign and local tourists including visitors on Siargao Island will be airifted out the island as a travel ban imposed by the provincial government took effect Wednesday.

Surigao del Norte Gov. Francisco Magtugas and provincial health officer Arlene Felizarta said the provincial government is arranging with operators of cargo planes and chartered flights for the transport of the tourists out of the island.

“We are now conducting actual physical count, inventory and monitoring, tallying of foreign and local tourists now in the island. Our estimate was between 400 and 1,000 tourists were on vacation in Siargao. Foreigners who are already residents or have married to Siargaonons – Filipinas or Filipinos – are exempted from the travel ban,” Matugas said.

Earlier, Matugas issued Executive Order No. 20-010 restricting the entry of people to Siargao island as precaution against COVID19. – Pia Lee Brago, Richmond Mercurio, Ben Serrano, Robertzon Ramirez

Guidelines for OFWs, balikbayans during the Luzon lockdown


Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - March 18, 2020 - 6:54pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases in a late night press conference Wednesday night announced that Luzon airports will no longer have to close on March 20, amid the enhanced community quarantine over the region.

This means that Overseas Filipino Workers intending to leave for, and return to, their workplaces abroad may leave any day during the lockdown in Luzon, which extends until April 12.Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that OFWs were allowed to leave because “they need to work abroad and they have contracts aborad.”

Here are some of the guidelines released by the task force that OFWs may need to know:

Arranging documents at POEA

With the suspension of mass transportation, OFWs with no private vehicle and intending to submit and prepare documents at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration are left with no means of transport.

Nograles said that they may coordinate with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to help them.

“We discussed that, that’s why this is included in guidelines that they may be helped by OWWA,” he said in Filipino.

Final departure briefing, Overseas Employment Certificate

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said OFWs may go to POEA to process their Overseas Employment Certificate, a requirement for all OFWs.

This is also because some recruitment agencies may not be open during the enhanced community quarantine.

Bello said they may also reach out to DOLE’s hotline 1349.

“What is important so you can fly out is that you have a verified contract of employment to where you are going. With that, POEA will give you an OEC. With that, you can go to your place of destination,” Bello said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Flights in Luzon airports

“OFWs, balikbayans and foreign nationals leaving for abroad through any parts of Luzon shall be allowed to leave the Philippines at any time for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine,” Nograles said.

Nograles stressed that “non-essential trips” abroad by Filipinos will not be allowed.

Transportation to, and from the airport

Private cars are allowed to ply roads in Luzon for essential travels. OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac told DZMM on Wednesday that OFWs heading to the airport may only have one companion or driver.

It will also help if the driver will have a copy of the OFW’s travel itinerary so they may present it at checkpoints.

Meanwhile, OFWs intending to leave the country may also tap OWWA to provide them with transportation services.

OWWA will also help balikbayans and ferry them “from international ports to their respective destinations in Luzon.”

Initial 72-hour window lifted

The announcement of lifting of the Luzon airports closures for OFWs and balikbayanas was almost 16 hours since Duterte first announced the stricter lockdown in Luzon.

Duterte first announced on March 16 that outbound passengers intending to depart via Luzon airports will have 72 hours from the effectivity of the quarantine—midnight March 17— to leave.

Following Duterte’s pronouncement, the Department of Transportation shortly released a guideline which includes:

Airport operation shall be limited to outgoing flights carrying foreigners and tourists. Filipinos are not allowed to go outside the country.

At 3:30 p.m. the next day, the Bureau of Immigration however said that Filipinos may leave the country as long as the country they are going to is not covered  by the travel ban.

In a message to reporters, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said: “We confirmed with the Secretary of Justice that Filipinos are indeed allowed to depart the country within the next 72 hours, excepts those covered by recently-imposed travel restrictions...unless their flights have been cancelled by the airlines or the Civil Aeronautics Board.”

Past 10 p.m., Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat said that the IATF was lifting the 72-hour deadline for those leaving aborad. “No more closures,” Puyat told Philstar.com.

Nograles confirmed this in a press conference later Tuesday night.

Philippines logs three more deaths as COVID-19 infections breach 200


Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - March 18, 2020 - 12:10pm

MANILA, Philippines (5th update, 5:40 p.m.) — There are fifteen new coronavirus infections in the Philippines, bringing the country’s total count to 202 on Wednesday afternoon.

The Department of Health also reported three additional fatalities, raising the death toll to 17. The country’s 15th fatality was a 58-year-old Filipino male from Lanao del Sur who had a travel history to Malaysia. 

The man, identified as Patient 201, was admitted at Amai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi City on March 10. He passed away Tuesday morning, a day before he was confirmed to have been infected. 

DOH said he died due to acute respiratory disease syndrome secondary to COVID-19. The man also had a pre-existing diabetes mellitus.

The 16th death was a 65-year-old male from Pasig City who had a travel history to London, United Kingdom. 

He was brought to The Medical City in Ortigas on March 10 and died on Tuesday evening due to ARDS secondary to COVID-19 and pneumonia. The man had pre-existing hypertension and diabetes mellitus. 

A 86-year-old woman from San Juan City also passed away. The woman who was admitted at Cardinal Santos Medical Center had no travel history and no exposure to a known COVID-19 patient. 

She expired on early Tuesday morning due to “septic shock secondary to pneumonia-high risk secondary to COVID-19. The woman had chronic kidney disease secondary to hypertensive nephrosclerosis, ischemic heart disease and peripheral arterial occlusive disease. 

Elderly people, those with underlying medical conditions and individuals who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of contracting severe COVID-19 disease.


The Philippines has a total of seven recoveries after the DOH announced three more patients have recovered. 

A 24-year-old Filipino from Makati City became the country’s fifth recovery. The man tested negative twice for COVID-19 and was discharged on Sunday. 

Another repatriate from the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise has recovered. The 36-year-old male from Camarines Sur tested negative twice for the illness as confirmed by Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital. 

A 34-year-old male from Quezon City became the seventh person to recover from the disease in the Philippines.  The man tested negative once for COVID-19 with the second test awaiting results. He was discharged from Makati Medical Center on Sunday. 

The jump in new coronavirus cases in March after a month-long lull prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the main island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine, in an unprecedented move to arrest the spread of the contagion.

He ordered some 55 million people to stay home and suspended mass transportation for a month.

The chief executive on Tuesday declared a nationwide state of calamity.

The proclamation enjoins all government agencies to render full assistance in combating the spread of the virus.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has infected nearly 200,000 people and caused almost 8,000 deaths worldwide, with most of the fatalities in hotspots such as China and Italy.

COVID-19 task force allows outbound flights during Luzon quarantine

Rosette Adel (Philstar.com) - March 17, 2020 - 10:44pm

OFWs, foreigners, balikbayans to be allowed to fly out

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:33 a.m., March 18) — The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases lifted the 72-hour deadline for those leaving for abroad that would have seen airports across Luzon close down, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said on Tuesday evening.

"No more closures," Puyat told Philstar.com when asked about the window for flights. According to earlier guidelines, airports across Luzon would close down as the last international flights leave.

This was later confirmed by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles at a press briefing late Tuesday night.

Airlines in the Philippines have already cancelled their domestic flights until the enhanced quarantine ends at midnight on April 13.

The 72-hour window began 12 a.m. of March 17 after President Rodrigo Duterte placed all of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine to restrict public movement amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The inter-agency task force on the government's efforts against COVID-19, however, recommended doing away with the 72-hour countdown to allow passengers with scheduled trips to leave the country.

The IATF last week recommended a community quarantine in Metro Manila and raising the alert over the novel coronavirus to Code Red Sublevel 2.

The recommendations in the resolution that the IATF passed needed the President Rodrigo Duterte's approval, which he gave.

Nograles, who announced the measure—one of many—said that the president had already approved the IATF's recommendations.

READ: Metro Manila quarantined for 30 days as alarm heightens over COVID-19

"The Department of Tourism welcomes the tentative lifting by the IATF of the 72-hour window for individuals departing overseas," it said in a statement.

Only outgoing international flights allowed

According to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, overseas Filipino workers, balikbayans and foreign nationals leaving for abroad through any of the ports in Luzon shall be allowed to leave the Philippines at any time during the enhanced community quarantine period, provided that they only travel to the airport within 24 hours of the date and time of their departure.

Outgoing passengers will be asked to provide proof of their departure such as an e-ticket or flight itinerary.

They will be allowed to be accompanied by none more than one person when traveling to the airport, who shall likewise carry a copy of the e-ticket or itinerary.

Nograles said that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration may provide transportation services to OFWs intending to leave for abroad.

"This provision shall not be interpreted to allow outbound travel by Filipinos to jurisdictions where travel restrictions are in place," the cabinet secretary said in a press briefer late Tuesday.

The Philippines previously issued travel ban on foreign travelers from China, Hong Kong, Macau and the South Korean province of North Gyeongsang.

The Department of Foreign Affairs early this week said that the government lifted the travel ban to mainland China to allow the OFWs there to return to the country. The lifting excludes Hubei province, where the ground zero of COVID-19 is located.

Meanwhile, Nograles and Puyat said “no hotels and similar establishments shall be allowed to operate during the Luzon quarantine.

However, hotels accommodating the following guests will be exempted from the closure:

A)    Guests who have existing booking accommodations for foreigners as of March 17, 2020
B)    Guests who have existing long-term leases;
C)    Employees from exempted establishments under the provisions of the March 16, 2020 memorandum from the Executive Secretary and subsequent modifications and clarifications

The IATF said that “no new booking accommodations shall be shall be permitted” by these hotels and establishments.

Hotel operations shall also be limited to the provision of basic lodging to guests.

Meanwhile, the DOT said travelers who are concerned they will be stranded may contact them for assistance by sending a message to the department's official Facebook page until their scheduled flights.

Puyat earlier said the DOT and tourism stakeholders as well as the IATF “will not allow any tourists to be stranded here in the Philippines.”

The concerned agencies are assisting both international and domestic tourist who were affected by the community quarantine in terms of recovery flights, transportation, meals and accommodation.

‘Postpone non-essential travel to COVID-hit areas in Korea’


Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — With no government decision yet on whether to ban travel to and from South Korea, Filipinos should hold off plans to visit Daegu City and Cheongdo county where an outbreak of COVID-19 has left hundreds ill, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a television interview yesterday.

He said it is best to avoid the two areas where a “localized” transmission of the virus was detected.

“I discourage absolutely any travel to those areas. It’s not prudent,” he said.

Based on a report of the Korean Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the number of COVID-19 cases in Daegu and Cheongdo had reached 893 as of 9 a.m. yesterday, including eight deaths. This was up by 60 cases from last Monday’s data.

The outbreaks had been linked to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu and a hospital in Cheongdo country.  

Duque noted the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) convenes today to decide if there is a need to impose travel restriction to Seoul.

He said the IATF will do “impact assessments” on economy, tourism and transportation before making a decision.

Taiwan travel ban lifted

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the inter-agency task force on COVID-19 (IATF-covid19) recommended the lifting of the ban after a meeting at Malacañang last night. 

Malacañang said the lifting of the ban takes effect immediately.

In a statement, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the IATF “has resolved to lift the travel restrictions imposed upon Taiwan, effective immediately.”

“Accordingly, travel may now be made by any national to Taiwan from the Philippines and vice versa,” he said.

“The lifting of the travel ban on Taiwan is highly assuring and we hope that the nCoV (COVID-19) crisis would soon be resolved, worldwide,” Puyat said in a statement.

“Ultimately, the recovery of all affected countries is a universal prayer, especially that tourism is an inclusive and sustainable business for and of the people,” she added.

Officials said the travel ban on China remains in force due to the huge number of COVID-19 related deaths and infection in their country.

The Philippine government declared a travel ban on China, Hong Kong and Macau last Feb. 2 but belatedly included Taiwan last Monday, supposedly as precautionary measure.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the task force – in lifting the ban – considered the absence of local transmission of COVID-19 in Taiwan as well as the low volume of travelers coming from that country.

He dismissed insinuations that the decision was due to pressure from Taiwan, specifically its supposed threat to remove the visa-free privileges for Filipino travelers.

“Two things come to fold, number one, the absence of local transmission in Taiwan and number two, relatively the low volume of travelers from Taiwan to Manila,” he said at a briefing in Malacañang.

“For us, purely on public health and public safety, and the need to see whether there is a threat, or if we can allow travelers from Taiwan to the Philippines,” he said.

Earlier yesterday, he stressed that the decision to include Taiwan in the ban was in the interest of the Filipino people. Immediately after announcing the ban, Taipei expressed outrage and threatened to impose unspecified sanctions on the Philippines.

“And we are aware of the sentiments of the Taiwan government vis-à-vis the travel ban and all of these will be considered in our deliberations, and hopefully come up with the consensus not just to address specifically the issue on Taiwan having been included in the travel ban,” Duque said.

He said the task force would also formulate a set criteria or parameters for determining inclusion or exclusions. “So that is what we will wait for, whatever consensus the task force arrives at, we will share with the media as soon as possible,” he said.

Reminded of an earlier Palace pronouncement that the government’s one-China policy was factored in in the decision to include Taiwan in the ban, Duque said: “The reason and the only reason I should like to believe that has been considered in including Taiwan in the travel ban is really nothing else than public health and safety. That is the only consideration.”

More bans unlikely

He also said the task force is not inclined to recommend to President Duterte any more travel ban for other countries. “None as of the moment. Let’s keep it at that,” he said.

In calling for the lifting of the ban, Taiwan insisted that it is an independent state with few recorded COVID-19 cases, compared to more than 60,000 in China.

Reading from the three-page resolution adopted by the inter-agency task force, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the IATF “independently” verified protocols and became “convinced that the protocols provide reliable assurance that sufficient measures are in place to effectively prevent potential carriers of the disease from entering or departing Taiwan.” 

“Whereas, the IATF is continuously monitoring several risk indicators and protocols from other jurisdictions such as Macau, with a view to modifying the current travel restrictions if considerations of public health will warrant,” the resolution read.

Aside from Duque and Puyat, the other signatories to the resolution are Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay, Interior Undersecretary Francisco Cruz, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Department of Information and Communications Technology officer-in-charge Manuel Anthony Tan.

In welcoming the Philippine government’s change of heart, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines (TECO) said Taiwan “has taken all measures needed to contain the spread” of COVID-19 and that Taipei “will continue to work closely with the international community, including the Philippines” to fight the disease and “safeguard the health and welfare of humanity.”

“The Republic of China (Taiwan) attaches great importance to its long-standing relationship with the Republic of the Philippines. We are determined to strengthen our bilateral ties and promote our people-to-people connectivity,” TECO said in a statement.

It expressed “deep appreciation to all Filipino friends who have voiced their sincere support for removing Taiwan from the temporary travel ban.”

“We especially commend the Manila Economic and Cultural Office for its tireless efforts to help remove Taiwan from the travel ban,” the TECO statement read.

Iligan City Rep. Frederick Siao and Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. said Taiwan should not have been covered by the travel restrictions in the first place.

“Taiwan’s health care system is much more advanced than the Philippines’. Their COVID-19 situation is well contained. Our Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan has taken adequate measures,” Siao said in a statement.

“The Department of Health should stay away from foreign policy issues while it deals with the COVID-19. Not including Taiwan in the ban would not violate the one-China policy,” the lawmaker stressed.

“The World Health Organization did not issue advisory of banning travels to and from Taiwan. Singapore has more issues on nCoV but it’s not covered by the ban,” Abante stressed.

‘Right thing to do’

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute said the lifting of the travel ban on Taiwan was the “right thing to do.”

In an interview, center president Susan Ople stressed it is “important to preserve the (country’s) relationship with Taiwan” for the sake of migrant Filipino workers.

“That’s good. Our workers will be relieved to know that they can go back to their jobs and that the ties between the Philippines and Taiwan will no longer be strained,” she added.

She maintained the country’s “good relationship with Taiwan should be preserved because it is one of the best labor markets and one of the most dependable trade partners that we have.” 

She added Taiwan has “a very fair and responsive labor grievance machinery” that allows a worker with grievances to seek help directly from its labor center.

“It is also one of the highest paying, even for factory workers,” she added.

Ople also pointed out that any travel restriction should be based on health considerations and not politics.

“This has to be seen purely in health perspective. It (travel ban) will be acceptable if it involves universal health concerns. But once you play politics, our workers will be affected,” she said.

Federation of Free Workers (FFW) president Sonny Matula said using the one-China policy as justification for the travel ban is “unacceptable.”

“It’s very welcome,” he said of the lifting of the ban. “We don’t think it is necessary at this point.  For one, Taiwan is far from the fire so to speak,” he told The STAR.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. yesterday turned down suggestions to impose a travel ban to and from Singapore amid the rising cases of COVID-19 infection in the island state.

“I will not support a travel ban to & from ASEAN Singapore. A ban should hinge NOT on the incidence & # of infections/fatalities but on the demonstrated capability of the state concerned to contain the disease & strictly regulate ingress and egress from its air/sea ports,” Locsin said on Twitter.

Singapore has the biggest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside China, at 58 as of yesterday.

Countries such as South Korea, Israel, Kuwait and Qatar have already advised their citizens to avoid travel to Singapore.

Changi Airport in Singapore is one of the busiest hubs in the world.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) said it has not yet imposed an entry restriction on travelers from Singapore.

Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval said the BI will impose a travel ban on Singapore only if the DOH recommends it.

“Changes in policy is subject to the recommendations of the DOH,” Sandoval said.- Catherine Talavera, Helen Flores, Robertzon Ramirez, Paolo Romero, Sheila Crisostomo, Cecille Suerte Felipe


US inspectors note improvements in NAIA security — DOTr

Add some more(Philstar.com) - February 9, 2020 - 11:23am

MANILA, Philippines — An audit of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport by the US Transportation Security Administration had no findings, the Department of Transportation announced Sunday, saying this means inspectors were satisfied with the security measures at the airport.

DOTr said auditors from the TSA and from the Philippines' Office for Transportation Security finished the audit of terminals and US-bound airlines operating at NAIA earlier in the week.

The department press release quoted TSA lead inspector Jose Liriano as saying that the audit team "appreciate the new technologies and equipment provided."

"We are grateful with the improvements made by the government specifically in collaboration with the OTS," he also said.

Among the aspects of airport operations that the audit looked into were airport and aircraft security, passenger and baggage screening, the training of security personnel, and compliance with international civilian aviation security standards.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the security improvements at NAIA were a product of the coordination among the department's agencies like the OTS and Manila International Airport Authority.

'Security is a commitment'

He added efforts to improve airport security will continue despite the TSA's rating.  

"Security is a commitment, it is a continuous process," he said in the DOTr press release.

"While we are happy with this news, we must remember that the more important thing is that we sustain and consistently improve our efforts to ensure the safety and security of the passengers."

The US Department of Homeland Security last August lifted a December 2018 advisory over deficient security at NAIA.

"After months of direct engagement with the United States, the Government of the Philippines has made significant improvements to its security operations. Both the Manila International Airport Authority and the Government of the Philippines civil aviation security authorities have demonstrated they are willing to work toward sustaining those improvements," it said in 2019.

The US State Department provided $5 million for training and technology to help the Philippines inmprove its airport security, US Homeland Security also said.

Write aDOH recommends calling off big events, mass gatherings amid nCoV threat

Rosette Adel (Philstar.com) - February 10, 2020 - 12:06pm

 MANILA, Philippines— The Department of Health on Monday warned the public against organizing or going to events where a huge number of attendees is expected because of the risk of spreading the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD).

In view of this, Health Secretary Francis Duque III said the DOH is recommending the cancellation of big events or mass gatherings such as concerts, among others, “until further notice.”

“To further minimize the risk of contracting 2019-nCoV ARD, the public is advised to avoid crowded places and continue to practice self-protection measures,” the DOH said.

Novel coronavirus command center set up

Duque said the Health department already set up a command center that solely focuses on 2019-nCov ARD to expedite coordination and communication among government agencies involved in response and management efforts.

As of Sunday, there are 267 persons under investigation for the novel coronavirus in the Philippines. There have also been three confirmed cases, including one death.

Some concert and event organizers have already announced cancellations or postponements oamid the nCoV scare.

For its part, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat last week said "the safety and protection of our citizens thriving in our tourist spots, the employees of the tourism sector, and domestic and foreign tourists alike remain the Department of Tourism's priority."

The Department of Labor and Employment likewise advised workers who are sick to stay home and to also avoid crowds.

The DOH said that it is already conducting measures to prevent the spread of the fatal virus.

“We would like to assure the public that all measures to contain potential spread of nCoV infection are being explored, studied and implemented to keep the Filipino people safe from the threats of this infectious disease,” Duque concluded.

The World Health Organization said the outbreak appeared to be “stabilizing” but the death toll from the novel coronavirus surged past 900 in mainland China on Monday overtaking global fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, according to a report from Agence France-Presse.

Duterte withdraws cops, soldiers from Taal-affected areas

(The Philippine Star) - January 30, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is withdrawing police and military personnel deployed in areas affected by Taal Volcano’s unrest, saying they have already inhaled “about one sack of ash.”

Duterte said it would be up to local governments and the police units based in the danger zones to enforce the law once the troop withdrawal is completed.

“I’m withdrawing my police and...They have been there for so many weeks already. Their lungs are already filled with ash. I pity them... I’d leave it to the mayor and to the police, the police who are assigned there. There’s a police station there,” he said during the anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) yesterday in Quezon City. 

“I’d leave it to them to enforce the law as mandated by the authorities upstairs,” he added.

The President said the families of the government troops sent to the Taal area are also worried about their safety. 
Enough funds 

Meanwhile, the DSWD assured the public that the agency has enough resources to assist local government units (LGUs) in extending relief and shelter assistance to more than 100,000 families displaced by the explosion of Taal Volcano in Batangas last Jan. 12 even as the alert level has been lowered.

The DSWD said that it has a total of P910,245,390.43 in standby funds as well as a stockpile of food and non-food items to be distributed to the LGUs that may need relief goods for evacuees.

Their monitoring of the situation in Batangas has shown that there are still 109,054 families or 412,217 individuals in need of relief and assistance as of Jan. 28 as the alert level of Taal Volcano was lowered from 4 to 3.

The DSWD has so far provided P13,023,728.22 worth of augmentation assistance to affected families. The assistance, consisting of 29,043 family food packs, 6,360 ready-to-eat food, 1,870 sleeping kits and 4,643 plastic mats were issued as support based on the requests of the LGUs.


Maj. Gen. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., commander of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, said around 40 to 50 percent of evacuees have returned to their homes after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) lowered to Alert Level 3 the status of Taal.

“With the lockdown lifted in more areas around the restive Taal and the lowering of alert level from 4 to 3, the evacuees were allowed to look after their property including to take care of their animals, clean their houses,” Burgos said.

Brig. Gen. Marceliano Teofilo, commander of Joint Task Force Taal, said yesterday that the lockdown of four out of 10 barangays had been lifted and evacuees were allowed to go home to their villages within in the 14-kilometer danger zone around Taal Volcano.  – With Rainier Allan Ronda, Jaime Laude, Ed Amoroso, Gerry Lee Gorit

Philippines now capable of testing samples for novel coronavirus — DOH

Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - January 29, 2020 - 6:58pm

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday said that the Philippines would be able to locally diagnose the 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019 nCoV, in about 48 hours.

The Japanese counterpart of the local Research Institute for Tropical Medicine provided the RNA primer that would enable the Philippines to conduct confirmatory testing of the 2019 nCoV on its own.

The country still has no confirmed cases of the 2019 nCoV and the Department of Health is relying on an Australian laboratory to confirm the test samples of patients under investigation.

“The Japanese counterpart of the RITM today has just brought with them the team a primer — RNA primer — which is needed to help us identify whether the novel coronavirus suspected cases (are positive) once their throat swabs, their nasopharyngeal swabs are submitted to RITM for testing,” Duque told solons during the "Question Hour" held at the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

“With the RNA primer, yes, in about 48 hours, we shall be able to set up our own capability to detect novel coronavirus and no longer need to send for confirmatory testing to Melbourne, Australia.”

This would effectively cut the processing time in half since Australian experts would no longer need to be consulted for virus detection, according to the Health secretary.

As of Wednesday noon, the Health department is waiting for the screening results of 16 patients from the local RITM, as well as six confirmatory results from an Australia-based Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory.

Four patients have been discharged under monitoring.

One death due to pneumonia has been recorded for a PUI admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, but it is undetermined if 2019 nCoV factored in the case.

“For the first round of testing, we are adequately supplied. We will have to find out the volume of the supplies that have been brought by the Japanese contingent to help us precisely to do the testing ourselves and confirm it ourselves,” Duque said.

Embassy ordered to evacuate Filipinos in Iraq

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - January 8, 2020 - 9:59am

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos in Iraq are advised to evacuate the Gulf state as the Philippine Embassy has raised Alert Level 4, the highest crisis status.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez confirmed that the alert level in Iraq has been raised as a result of the government's coordination meetings on the situation in the Middle East.

According to the DFA website, Alert Level 4, which calls for evacuation or mandatory repatriation, is issued "when there is large-scale internal conflict or full-blown external attack."

In a live video on the Philippine Embassy in Iraq's Facebook page, Chargé d’Affaires Jomar Sadie announced that President Rodrigo Duterte has directed several government agencies to implement the evacuation of Filipinos in the Gulf nation following tensions between the United States and Iran.  

"The marching order for us is to conduct mandatory repatriation," Sadie said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Sadie reminded Filipino workers in Iraq to secure an exit visa and a ticket through their employers prior to the repatriation procedures.  

For those who do not have employers, Sadie said they should coordinate with the embassy in Baghdad.

"If you do not have an employer or if you are a victim of human trafficking, call us so we can help you or go directly to the embassy," he said.

Filipinos requesting repatriation or any other form of assistance may contact the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad through:

  • Contact numbers: 07816066822 (Jom) / 07516167838 (Jerome) / 07518764665 (Jobbi) / 07508105240 (Richard)

  • E-mail: baghdad.pe@dfa.gov.ph / embaphilbaghdad.secretary1@gmail.com 

  • Facebook: Philippine Embassy in Iraq

Data from the Philippine Embassy lists 450 undocumented and 1,190 documented Filipinos in Iraq, more than half are based in the Kurdistan region while around 847 are based in the Baghdad area.

According to Meñez, many of the Filipinos in the Baghdad area work with United States and other foreign facilities.

Iranian state media on Wednesday reported that Iran launched a missile attack on an Iraqi bases where US forces are based.

State-run PressTV reported that "tens of missiles" hit the Ain al-Assad base and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards promised "more crushing responses" in case of further attacks from the US. 

Philippines to send 2 battalions to Middle East for OFW repatriation

(Philstar.com) - January 8, 2020 - 4:15pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines will be sending two battalions of soldiers, along with air and naval assets, to assist in the repatriation of Filipino workers in Iraq and Iran.

Tensions have escalated in the Middle East after the death of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani from a US drone strike at an international airport in Baghdad last week.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana clarified that the two battalions — one from the army and one from the marines — will not engage in combat but will facilitate and assist in the repatriation of OFWs in Iraq.

The Philippine Embassy in Iraq has issued Alert Level 4, calling for evacuation or mandatory repatriation in the country.

"All Filipinos who want to go home, we will bring them home, especially those whose safety are in danger," Lorenzana said.

The Defense chief added that the government's priority is to evacuate Filipino workers in Iraq, Iran and Libya. While Libya is not involved in the US-Iran conflict, the country has also been caught between warring factions.

While the Department of National Defense and the AFP are plotting safe positions for the soldiers and assets, the Department of Foreign Affairs is negotiating their clearances.

The navy is ready to deploy two landing docks BRP Tarlac and BRP Davao del Sur, which can accommodate up to 500 people with luggage.

The military will also deploy one C-130 plane and one C-295 plane, according to Lorenzana.

Lorenzana added that the government may also lease cruise ships and commercial plan for repatriation, depending on the number of Filipinos who will be evacuated.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment has come up with alternative plans for OFWs who will be returning to the Philippines.

The DOLE has been talking with other countries such as China, Russia, Canada, Germany and Japan for possible redeployment of OFWs from the Middle East. The agency is also working on livelihood programs for returning OFWs who wish to stay in the Philippines.

The estimated number of documented Filipinos in Iraq is at 1,600 while there are 1,000 in Iran. 

Bello said there are more than 2 million documented Filipinos in the entire Middle East. This number could be doubled if undocumented workers will be included. — Patricia Lourdes Viray

DOLE condemns killing of Pinay in Kuwait

Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - January 1, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday expressed outrage over the killing of another Filipina worker in Kuwait.

“The labor department is deeply saddened and outraged over the violent death of Filipino worker Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende in the hands of her Kuwaiti employer,” DOLE said in a statement.

“The case is a clear violation of the agreement signed by both Kuwait and the Philippines in 2018 that seeks to uphold and promote the protection of the rights and welfare of our workers in the Gulf state,” it added. 

DOLE hoped for the swift resolution of the case and that justice will be served to Villavende and her family, it said. 

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is extending burial and livelihood assistance as well as scholarship to the family members of Villavende. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also condemned Villavende’s killing.

It summoned the Kuwaiti ambassador to protest “the seeming lack of protection of Filipino domestic workers in the hands of their employers.”

The DFA called for “complete transparency” in the investigation of the case and “swift prosecution of the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Philippine embassy in Kuwait is coordinating with Kuwaiti authorities “to ensure that justice will be served.”

Deployment ban urged

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP)  is pushing for a ban on deployment of OFWs to the Arab country.

“The government should stop sending Filipino workers and repatriate those already there,” the union said, signifying its protest on the death of Filipino domestic workers. 

“The Philippine government has no other choice but to send a strong reaction like it did last year in the wake of gruesome deaths of Filipino workers there by suspending immediately the deployment of Filipino household service workers,” TUCP said in a statement.

TUCP president Raymond Mendoza said the death of another Filipino worker showed that Kuwait is not providing conducive and safe working environment for OFWs.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) is closely coordinating with the employers for the immediate repatriation of the remains of the two Filipinas killed in a freak vehicular accident in Singapore last Sunday.

The POLO also provided assistance to four other Filipinos injured in the accident. 

“OWWA will provide burial assistance to the deceased OFWs as well as livelihood assistance and scholarship grants to their family members,” DOLE said.

Families of the injured OFWs would also receive livelihood and scholarship assistance from OWWA, it added. – Pia Lee-Brago

Fishers appeal for aid after P587 million worth of livelihood destroyed by 'Ursula'

Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - December 31, 2019 - 5:30pm

PANGASINAN, Philippines — Fishers group Pamalakaya has urged the government to provide aid to the victims of Typhoon Ursula, primarily fishers and farmers in the Southwestern Tagalog Region and the Visayas whose livelihood were damaged or destroyed over the holidays.

The fishers group said the government “should mobilize its rehabilitation funds to provide assistance to the rural sector in the most affected regions and provinces.”

“We humbly appeal to the national and local government units to immediately disperse aid to the fishers and farmers whose livelihood were ravaged by the last typhoon to hit the country this year,” Pamalakaya National Chairperson Fernando Hicap said in a statement.

Of the total P1.084 billion damages left by "Ursula," agriculture accounted for most of the cost at P782.984 million (about 72% of all damage), according to the latest estimates by the National Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Council.

Fisheries took the largest blow at P587.406 million, or 3/4 of all agricultural cost.

Western Visayas (Region VI), meanwhile, experienced most of the fisheries damaged per the NDRRMC’s situational report on Monday. The region suffered P560.515 million in fisheries cost, almost all the agricultural damage and half of all “Ursula” costs overall.

“Our rural sectors who endured the recent typhoon were not able to have a joyful celebration of the yuletide season due to the natural disaster that struck their communities. The government’s help in a form of livelihood support and economic relief is urgently needed so that the affected rural people could kick off the New Year with a fresh start,” Hicap said.

“The best gift that the typhoon-affected farmers and fishers could receive this holiday is for them to return to their wheels of production.”

Japanese woman is 8 millionth Philippine visitor

Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government remains optimistic in reaching its goal of 8.2 million foreign travelers for the year as it welcomed the arrival yesterday of a 71-year-old Japanese woman as the country’s eight millionth visitor.

Yachiyo Imamoto arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 on an All Nippon Airways flight from Yokohama along with her husband at past 1:30 p.m., according to the Department of Tourism (DOT).

The DOT gifted the Japanese couple with a round trip ticket to Manila and a domestic travel package, which includes lunch and dinner reservations.

“We are grateful to be chosen for this event. This is our eighth visit here and we always visit our close friends in the Philippines,” Imamoto said.

The couple had visited Cebu and Palawan.

“We will visit Baler this time around,” Imamoto said.

“The Filipinos are hospitable. I keep coming back for mangoes, masarap,” Imamoto’s husband, Tamio, said.

Tourism Assistant Secretary Roberto Alabado said hitting the eight-million mark in foreign tourist is cause for celebration.

“This is significant because this is the highest number we have achieved in terms of foreign arrivals,” he said.

With a few days left before the year ends, Alabado said the DOT remains confident of hitting the 8.2 million foreign arrivals target under the National Tourism Development Plan.

The DOT surpassed the 7,127,168 foreign visitors to the country last year.

Bureau of Immigration ports division chief Grifton Medina said they recorded around 100,000 tourist arrivals yesterday.

He said up to 700,000 foreigners usually visit the Philippines during the Yuletide season.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the relaunching of the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, reopening of Boracay, sustainable tourism advocacy efforts, improved air connectivity, hosting of big-ticket tourism events, intensified digital and online marketing, mainstreaming of different tourism product portfolios including culinary tourism and farm tourism, healthy private-public partnerships and international recognitions helped the DOT in breaching the eight-million mark.

Records showed that a total of 6.8 million foreign visitors arrived in the Philippines from January to October this year, an increase of 15 percent from the 5.9 million foreign arrivals in the same period last year.

Korea remained the country’s top source market with 1,609,172 tourist arrivals, up by 21.75 percent from 2018, followed by China with a total of 1.5 million arrivals, an increase of 41.13 increase during the same period last year.

The United States ranked third with 872,335 arrivals. Japan was fourth with 569,625 followed by Taiwan with 282,220 arrivals. – With Ghio Ong

Pagasa sees storm-free New Year

Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Fair weather will prevail in most parts of the country during the New Year as no tropical cyclone is forecast to enter the country until next week, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said yesterday.

However, the northeast monsoon will bring cloudy skies with isolated light rains today.

The Ilocos region, Cordillera Administrative Region, Aurora province and the rest of Cagayan Valley will experience cloudy skies with scattered light to moderate rains due to the tail-end of a cold front.

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The easterlies will bring generally fair and warm weather across the country tomorrow and on Monday, Rizal Day, with chances of afternoon or evening rains due to thunderstorms.

On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, PAGASA said it expects a surge of the northeast monsoon, which will bring cloudy skies with light rains over extreme Northern Luzon.

The agency said the tail-end of a cold front will also return during the period, bringing cloudy skies with scattered light to moderate rains over Cagayan, Isabela and Aurora.

Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon will experience fair and cooler weather, especially in the morning. The rest of the country will have sunny and warm weather apart from isolated rainshowers.

On Jan. 2 and 3, the northeast monsoon will affect the whole of Luzon, bringing cool weather conditions. It will also bring cloudy skies with light rains over Northern Luzon and passing light rains over the rest of the region, including Metro Manila.

The rest of the country will have fair weather with possible occurrence of isolated thunderstorms.

“No tropical cyclone is expected to affect the country throughout the outlook period. Still, in light of the holiday season, the public is advised to continuously monitor for updates,” PAGASA weather division chief Esperanza Cayanan said.

Rare annular solar eclipse visible next Thursday

Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - December 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos, particularly those in Mindanao, should watch out for the rare annular solar eclipse on Dec. 26.

The astronomical event can be observed in the southernmost part of Davao Occidental, and the best sites to view this are Balut and Batulaki in Sarangani, Davao Occidental, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.

The next solar eclipse will be visible in the country on July 24, 2074, said Mario Raymundo, chief of PAGASA’s Astronomical Observation and Time Service Unit.

Meanwhile, Filipinos will also witness the longest night of the year during the winter solstice tomorrow.

“The Sun will reach the winter solstice on Dec. 22 at 12:19 p.m. (Philippine Standard Time), marking the time when the sun lies at its farthest point south of the equator,” PAGASA said.

The event signals the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, where the Philippines is situated, and summer in the southern hemisphere.

“Philippine nights will be longer than the daytime. Earth has now completed another annual circuit around the Sun,” the weather bureau said.

Hundreds of aftershocks felt after big Davao quake

Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A total of 782 aftershocks were recorded from last weekend’s magnitude 6.9 earthquake that struck Mindanao as the death toll from the tremor rose to nine yesterday.

The strongest aftershock occurred at 4:18 a.m. and registered a magnitude of 5.3, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.

It was felt at Intensity 5 – classified as strong – in Digos City, Davao del Sur and Intensity 4 – moderately strong – in General Santos City.

Phivolcs director Renato Solidum Jr. warned aftershocks may last for weeks.

“We can still expect aftershocks for weeks but should show trend of decreasing numbers if no significant earthquakes happen,” Solidum said.

The Davao region, located in southern Mindanao, is one of the seismically active regions in the country because of the presence of several active faults, including the Tangbulan Fault, which triggered the magnitude 6.9 quake last Sunday.

“In terms of a series of strong earthquakes for several months in the same area, it may be considered unusual compared to previous events in other parts of the country. But it can be explained by the presence of several nearby faults in Cotabato, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat,” Solidum said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said the death toll increased to nine with 111 injured and one missing.

NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal said eight of the fatalities were in Davao region – three recovered from the collapsed grocery store in the town of Padada, one from Magsaysay town, one from Bansalan, one from Malita, one from Hagonoy and one from M’lang in North Cotabato. 

Timbal said search and recovery operations are still underway for another missing victim in Sarangani province, as search and rescue operations have already shifted to search and recovery.

The NDRRMC said a total of 111 people were injured in the quake-hit areas in Davao and Central Mindanao, which only last October were also rattled by two successive strong quakes.

It added that from the reported 20 damaged schools in Davao and Central Mindanao, the number increased to 128 yesterday with 19 facilities also damaged.

The Department of Education said it would need P250 million to repair or replace the damaged schools in the region.

Timbal said that of 31 private establishments that sustained damage in the two regions, nine were totally destroyed.

Disaster officials in Davao region, meanwhile, have provided 500 pieces of tarpaulins to serve as temporary shelters for the evacuees, two units of generator sets to the local government of Kiblawan, Davao del Sur and delivered 392 sacks of rice to the local social welfare office in the region for repacking and distribution to the quake victims.

The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) general manager Royina Garma said they will provide calamity assistance worth P5 million each to three towns in Davao del Sur that were severely hit by the quake.

Garma said P15 million in cash calamity assistance will be given to the municipalities of Matan-aw, Hagonoy and Padada.

Garma added the PCSO also issued medical assistance to the town of Padada.  – Jaime Laude, Janvic Mateo, Rainier Allan Ronda

Brace for typhoon at year’s end

Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — One more tropical cyclone is expected to enter the country before the end of the year.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said yesterday it was monitoring a shallow low-pressure area east of Mindanao.

PAGASA weather specialist Ana Clauren said the weather system has a slim chance of intensifying into a cyclone but it is likely to enter the Philippine area of responsibility in the coming days.

A total of 20 cyclones have visited the country so far this year.

Typhoon Tisoy, the 20th and the strongest cyclone to hit the country this year, left at least 13 people dead.

Tisoy will be “decommissioned” or removed from the list of PAGASA’s tropical cyclone names after it left some P3.67 billion worth of damage to agriculture.

PAGASA delists the name of a cyclone which causes at least 300 deaths or P1 billion worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Clauren said the easterlies would bring warmer temperatures in most parts of the country in the next three days.

“The northeast monsoon has weakened. We still expect relatively cooler temperatures in the mornings and nights, but warmer temperatures during midday until the afternoon,” she said.

The easterlies could also bring sudden light rains in some areas, she said.

Since the onset of the northeast monsoon in October, the coldest temperatures recorded  in Metro Manila and in Baguio City were 21.8 degrees Celsius and 11.8 degrees Celsius, respectively.

Colder temperatures are expected next month until February as the northeast monsoon peaks.

Tisoy to be removed from list of cyclone names

Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The state weather bureau will retire the name Tisoy from the country’s list of tropical cyclone names after it left massive damage to infrastructure and agriculture early this month.

Raymond Ordinario, senior weather specialist at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said the agency will come up with a new name by January.

Tisoy’s damage to crops was estimated at P3.67 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture.

PAGASA decommissions or delists the name of a cyclone when it has met at least one of these two requirements: at least 300 deaths and P1 billion worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

PAGASA has four sets of tropical cyclone names that are used alternately.

The agency also prepared an auxiliary list in case the number of tropical cyclones within the year exceeds 25.

Some of the decommissioned names include Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009 and Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013.

The decommissioning of “extraordinarily destructive storms” has been practiced by PAGASA since February 1979.

Meanwhile, Ordinario said no weather disturbance is expected to affect the country until the weekend.

The northeast monsoon, however, will continue to bring light rains over Cagayan Valley, Cordillera Administrative Region, Aurora and Quezon.

Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon will experience partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated light rains.

The Visayas and Mindanao will also have partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rainshowers due to thunderstorms.

Black Eyed Peas to sing praise for SEAG athletes

Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The 10 songs that rap band Black Eyed Peas will be performing at the closing ceremony of the 30th Southeast Asian Games at the New Clark City today are in praise of the athletes from 11 competing countries led by host Philippines that has bagged 377 medals (146 gold, 115 silver and 116 bronze) as of 8 p.m. last night.

“We are doing our hits and Tagalog parts in our album,” the band’s Filipino member apl.de.ap (Allan Pineda Lindo) told a press conference yesterday at The Peninsula Manila. “It’s going to be a celebration for the athletes that gave their all to have a great SEA Games for the Philippines.”

He is performing with co-members will.i.am (William Adams) and Taboo (Jaime Gomez).

“We see ourselves as citizens of the world,” said will.i.am. “We have played in the Super Bowl in the USA and it was amazing. There are American acts that come from America and brought American culture around the world, like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and others. We are bringing Filipino culture to the four corners of the world. Those who have never met a Filipino, who do not know Filipino culture, are educated through apl.de.ap.”

will.i.am added that playing in the Philippines is very memorable, thanks to apl.de.ap.

“It’s because our brother apl.de.ap is from the province here. He was raised here. He was a rice farmer. He had a humble beginning here. It’s amazing for him to have been given up for adoption, to come to America and start a group like the Black Eyed Peas and come back to his country to help

his people.”

He then added that one time, apl.de.ap told him and Taboo, “‘Hey, I bought a new house.’ We thought he was going to move to Manila and live in a big house. He said, ‘You’ve got to see it.’ So we went. The house was in Pampanga (where he came from).  He told us, ‘I want to make my neighborhood better’.”

apl.de.ap is building classrooms around the country.

“Being here in the SEA Games,” continued will.i.am, “is some kind of celebration. It’s an honor knowing where he comes from, how hard he has worked and meeting all the hurdles.”

Taboo has his own Philippine connection since his wife is a Filipina.

“I wouldn’t have married a Filipina if it were not for apl.de.ap. He showed me the beauty of the culture and also what it is like to love and appreciate family. I am a native American Mexican. We have a lot of similarities. My three children are here in the Philippines for the very first time.”

Incidentally, apl.de.ap admitted that he was nervous when he performed at the SEA Games opening ceremony last Nov. 30 at the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

“It was the first time that I was so nervous on stage. There were so many moving parts. It was all about timing. I got to see if afterward. The way it came out (on television) was so amazing. I was really proud of how they connected the rap part to Manny Pacquiao (who lighted the cauldron).”

Hero surfer pays courtesy call on Rody

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — For saving an Indonesian opponent from drowning during the surfing competition at the just-concluded 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, the Philippines’ Roger Casugay and the rest of the surfing team met with President Duterte on Tuesday at Malacañang.

Journalist were barred from covering the event, but official Malacañang photos showed Duterte mingling with members of the Philippine surfing team that participated in the SEA Games.

The President took pride in the Filipino surfers, particularly Casugay who also reaped praises from Indonesian President Joko Widodo for saving Indonesian surfer Arip Nurhidayat.

Nurhidayat was swept off his surfboard by high waves in the middle of the men’s longboard surfing competition in La Union last Dec. 6. 

Sensing a problem, Casugay rescued his rival, foregoing his chances of winning the surf competition. The two later surfaced on Casugay’s board, riding the waves which elated the onlookers. Due to the accident, the longboard competition was reset.

Many hailed Casugay for having showed true sportsmanship. He went on to win the gold medal in the men’s longboard last Sunday.  

Accompanied by the members of the Philippine surf team, Casugay was commended by the Senate last Tuesday.

Website lists 2 Philippine airports among best in Asia

Rudy Santos (The Philippine Star) - October 31, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Airport sleepers’ guide and resource website sleepinginairports.net has listed two Philippine airports as among the best in Asia for 2019.

Making it to the website’s top 20 Best Airports in Asia for 2019 are the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, which came in at No. 16, and Iloilo International Airport at No. 18.

Topping the list is Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Completing the best Asian airports list are Seoul Incheon, Tokyo Narita, Osaka Kansai, Taipei Taoyuan, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Jakarta, Tokyo Haneda, Mumbai, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Bangalore, Ho Chi Minh City Tan Son Nhat, Hyderabad, Da Nang, Islamabad and Kunming.

Changi Airport also topped the overall Best Airports of 2019 list,
followed by airports in Seoul Incheon, Helsinki, Tokyo Narita, Osaka Kansai, Taipei Taoyuan, Vancouver, Munich, Hong Kong and Amsterdam.

Meanwhile, making it to the website’s Worst Airports of 2019 list are Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport, Saudi Arabia; New York City LaGuardia Airport, US; London Stansted Airport, England; Juba International Airport, Sudan; Santorini International Airport, Greece; Cairo International Airport, Egypt; Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Ethiopia; Dhaka Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Bangladesh; Murtala Muhammed (Lagos) International Airport, Nigeria; and London Luton Airport, England.

Sleepinginairports.net, which was founded in 1996, ranks their Best and Worst airports from an annual survey submitted by readers rating their airport experiences based on factors such as comfort, services, facilities and things to do, food options, immigration and security, customer service, navigation and ease of transit, cleanliness and sleepability.

Philippine 8th favorite country among travelers

Christina Mendez, Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - October 26, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign visitors’ interest in the Philippines remains strong after the country was voted by readers of travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler as one of the favorite destinations in the world to visit.

Based on results of Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 20 Countries in the World: Readers Choice Awards 2019, the Philippines ranked eighth with a score of 90.63.

The magazine cited island hopping, surfing and shopping as some of the activities tourists can do in the country.

It also cited Palawan, particularly Coron, El Nido and Linapacan, as among the top destinations.

The Philippines joined the other favorite countries to visit that included Indonesia, Thailand, Portugal and Sri Lanka.

“Gaining yet another prestigious recognition as the 8th Favorite Country in the World speaks well of the concerted effort of the Philippine tourism industry stakeholders in nurturing the many natural wonders the country is blessed with,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said.

Department of Tourism New York attaché Francisco Lardizabal received the award in behalf of the Philippines during ceremonies at the One World Trade Center in New York.

“All these accolades that the country and our other island destinations continue to receive bode well for the country’s sustainable tourism development program as continuity is the very essence of sustainability,” Puyat said.

Malacañang lauded yesterday the DOT for efforts to promote the Philippines after the country placed 8th in the Readers’ Choice Awards 2019 of Conde Nast Traveler.

“The world has spoken: it is truly more fun in the Philippines,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

The Palace official is grateful to the readers of Conde Nast Traveler for making the Philippines eighth in their list of favorite countries in the world. 

“We commend the Department of Tourism, their industry partners and other stakeholders for their splendid job. In its most recent report, the DOT counted a total of 5,554,950 visitors between January and August 2019,” Panelo said.

On top of this, Panelo noted that the Philippines registered a 14.08 percent year-on-year increase in the country’s international inbound traffic.

The recognition comes on the heels of two major awards the Philippines won at the recent 2019 World Travel Awards held at Phu Quoc island in Vietnam.

Readers of Conde Nast Traveler also voted three Philippine islands as the best islands in Asia, with Boracay grabbing the number one spot, despite the six-month closure of the island last year due to clean up and rehabilitation efforts.

“This itty-bitty island (just under four square miles) in the Western Philippines is as close to a tropical idyll as you’ll find in Southeast Asia, with gentle coastlines and made-for-Instagram sunsets,” according to Conde Nast Traveler.

“Fold in a thriving nightlife scene, and you have one of the top tourist spots in the region,” it added.

The magazine acknowledged the island’s closure and ongoing rehabilitation, noting that it has “become too touristed” in the past.

At present, the Philippine government is implementing a carrying capacity for Boracay, with only 19,215 tourists allowed to be on the island at any one time, and 6,405 tourists allowed to enter the island per day.

“The aptly named White Beach is Boracay’s main draw, with powdery white sand and shallow azure water ideal for swimming and snorkeling,” Conde Nast said.

Following Boracay is Cebu and the Visayas islands landing in second spot.

“Located in the center of the Philippines, Cebu draws nearly two million travelers annually for its pristine beaches and diving off the island’s northern coast. Spanish and Roman Catholic influences permeate Cebu City; Basilica Minore del Santo Niño houses a small statue of Christ that was presented by Ferdinand Magellan,” Conde Naste said.

The magazine highlighted Cebu’s Kawasan Falls near Cebu’s southwest coast, noting its popularity among locals and tourists.

Magnitude 6.3 quake rocks parts of Mindanao

(Philstar.com) - October 16, 2019 - 9:20pm

MANILA, Philippines — A magnitude 6.3 earthquake rocked parts of Mindanao on Wednesday evening, with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology saying damage is expected in areas where it was felt at Intensity VII.

According to a Phivolcs bulletin, the earthquake was recorded 23 kilometers west of Makilala in North Cotabato at 7:37 p.m.

The quake was felt at Intensity VII — "destructive" under the Phivolcs Earthquake Intensity Scale (PEIS) — in Kidapawan City, Tulunan and M'lang in North Cotabato, where the provincial government has told local government units affected by the earthquake "to cause the suspension of classes tomorrow, October 17, 2019 in order to conduct proper assessment on the extent of damages in their respective areas."

According to the PEIS, "old or poorly-built structures suffer considerably damage" when an earthquake is felt at Intensity VII and "some well-built structures are slightly damaged."

The earthquake was recorded at Intensity IV (Very Strong) in General Santos City, where a fire was reported at a shopping mall after the earthquake.

Classes have been canceled for Thursday, October 17, in Davao City, which was also affected by the earthquake.

PAGASA: 'Perla' not yet a threat to country

(Philstar.com) - October 17, 2019 - 10:14am

MANILA, Philippines — Tropical Depression Perla, which is expected to remain over the Philippine Sea in the next two days, does not have direct effect to any part of the country yet.

“Perla” was last spotted 910 kilometers east of Tuguegarao, Cagayan, according to state weather bureau PAGASA. It packs maximum sustained winds of 45 km per hour and gusts of up to 55 kph.

The tropical depression is moving west at 10 kph.

No tropical cyclone wind signal has been raised yet.

“Perla” is not forecast to strengthen into a tropical storm and may even weaken into an LPA while still inside the country’s jurisdiction.

Northeasterly surface windflow is currently affecting Batanes and Cagayan. Residents of these areas may experience cloudy skies with light rains.

Meanwhile, Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula and Caraga will have cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms due to intertropical convergence zone.

Partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rainshowers will prevail over Metro Manila and the rest of the country due to localized thunderstorms. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

Onyok enters the Philippines, intensifies into storm


Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - September 29, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Tropical depression Onyok intensified into a storm shortly after it entered the Philippine area of responsibility yesterday. 

Onyok entered the country at around 2 a.m. and intensified into a storm before noon, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said. 

Tropical cyclone wind signal No. 1 was raised over Batanes and Babuyan islands at 5 p.m. yesterday.

PAGASA said the trough or extension of the storm would bring scattered light to moderate rains and thunderstorms over Bicol and Eastern Visayas. 

Residents were advised to brace for flash floods and landslides.

Fishermen were warned not to venture out in the sea in Batanes and Babuyan.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the center of Onyok was estimated 890 kilometers east of Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, packing winds of 75 kms per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 90 kph. It was forecast to move west-northwest at 35 kph. 

PAGASA said Onyok might  intensify into a severe tropical storm within the next 24 hours, but is “less likely” to hit landmass. 

Onyok is the 15th tropical cyclone to enter the country this year and fifth this month. 

The state weather bureau said up to six tropical cyclones might hit the country before the end of the year. It said two or three cyclones might enter next month, one or two in November and at least one in December.


Global warming accelerates; worst impact feared

Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - September 24, 2019 - 12:00am

UNITED NATIONS – Global warming has continued to accelerate in the past five years, with extreme weather events feared to be more destructive if the world fails to commit to ambitious solutions to stop climate change, scientists warned over the weekend.

The United in Science report, produced by leading climate science organizations across the world, revealed that climate change has continued to accelerate despite global efforts to curb carbon emissions that contribute to temperature increase.

“Climate change causes and impacts are increasing rather than slowing down,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and co-chair of the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

“Sea level rise has accelerated and we are concerned that an abrupt decline in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets will exacerbate future rise. As we have seen this year with tragic effect in the Bahamas and Mozambique, sea level rise and intense tropical storms led to humanitarian and economic catastrophes,” he added.

The WMO, along with other leading scientific organizations and climate scientists, released on Sunday a high-level synthesis report providing a unified assessment of the state of Earth system under the increasing influence of climate change, the response of humanity and the projected changes of global climate in the future.

Measuring the average global temperature from 2015 to 2019, the report noted that it has already increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times (1850 to 1900), up 0.2 degrees from the average increase recorded in the 2011 to 2015 period.

It also said the average global temperature for 2015 to 2019 is on track to be the warmest of any equivalent period on record, which is feared to cause more destructive typhoons, floods, droughts, heat waves and fires across the world.

Earlier reports warned that an increase of at least 1.5 degrees could result in irreversible impact of climate change that could affect millions of people worldwide, especially in vulnerable countries such as the Philippines.

The United in Science report noted the continuing decrease of sea ice and ice mass in the past years, with the long-term trend in the Arctic showing an approximated 12 percent decline per decade.

In Antarctica, scientists discovered that the amount of ice lost annually has increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017, while the Greenland ice sheet has witnessed a considerable acceleration in ice loss since the turn of the millennium.

The loss of ice has contributed to the rising sea level, which scientists noted to have amounted to five millimeters per year between 2014 and 2019, up from the four millimeters per year average between 2007 and 2016. The average sea level rise in 1993 was only 3.2 mm per year.

“The contribution of land ice melt from the world glaciers and the ice sheets has increased over time and now dominate the sea level budget, rather than thermal expansion,” added the report.

Scientists have also discovered a rising acidity of the world’s oceans, attributing this to its absorption of carbon emissions to help alleviate warming.

“The ecological cost to the ocean, however, is high, as the changes in acidity are linked to shifts in other carbonate chemistry parameters, such as the saturation state of aragonite,” read the report. “This process, detrimental to marine life and ocean services, needs to be constantly monitored through sustained ocean observations.”

Extreme weather

The changing climate could result in extreme weather events, including storms and flooding that lead to what the report described as the highest economic losses.

“Overall, the largest economic losses were associated with tropical cyclones. The 2018 season was especially active, with the largest number of tropical cyclones of any year in the 21st century,” it added.

“Heatwaves were the deadliest meteorological hazard in the 2015 to 2019 period, affecting all continents and setting many new national temperature records.”

Meanwhile, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization pointed out that climate change is a key driver behind the recent rises in global hunger and one of the leading contributors to severe food crises. 

“Climate variability and extremes are negatively affecting all dimensions of food security – food availability, access, utilization and stability,” it said.

Taalas stressed the need for significant efforts to slow down climate change and reach the target of limiting the increase of global temperature to only 1.5 degrees.

“The challenges are immense. Besides mitigation of climate change, there is a growing need to adapt. According to the recent Global Adaptation Commission report, the most powerful way to adapt is to invest in early warning services and pay special attention to impact-based forecasts,” he said.

“It is highly important that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, notably from energy production, industry and transport. This is critical if we are to mitigate climate change and meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement,” added the WMO official, referring to the landmark climate agreement signed in 2016.

To stop a global temperature increase of more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, Taalas said the level of commitments by world governments needs to be tripled.

“And to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, it needs to be multiplied by five,” he added.

The report was released ahead of the Climate Action Summit convened here at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday.

The summit seeks to highlight concrete plans by leaders from government, civil society and the private sector to cut emissions and strengthen climate resilience.

It will also feature bold actions and multi-stakeholder initiatives that would address high-impact areas such as transition to renewable energy, adaptation and nature-based solutions.

Fair weather seen as ‘habagat’ weakens

(Philstar.com) - September 23, 2019 - 10:21am

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos can expect fair weather across the country on Monday after consecutive days of rains brought by tropical cyclones and southwest monsoon.

This is due to the weakened effects of the southwest monsoon or habagat, state weather bureau PAGASA said.

The weakened southwest monsoon is only affecting Northern Luzon. Residents of the area may experience scattered rainshowers.

Meanwhile, Metro Manila and the rest of the country will have partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rainshowers caused by localized thunderstorms.

The fair weather in most parts of the country comes after weeks of cloudy and rainy weather due to the southwest monsoon boosted by Severe Tropical Storm Nimfa and Tropical Depression Marilyn.

Thanks to monsoon rains, the water level at Angat Dam—Metro Manila’s main water source—increase to 191.56 meters from 157 meters in July.

The state weather bureau is not monitoring any weather disturbance around the Philippine Area of Responsibility. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

Hero surfer pays courtesy call on Rody

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — “ARAICoBeH is no longer your typical ‘hugot’ line,” the Philippine Biology Conferences said Wednesday.

This after Filipino researchers from the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines Diliman and Technische Universität München have developed a tool used to capture underwater images of coral reefs without the need to dive.

Researchers Caryl  Benjamin, Patrick Lawrence  Cadeliña, Aletta  Yñiguez, Cesar  Villanoy called this tool ARAICoBeH or A Rapid Assessment Instrument for Coastal Benthic Habitats.

Cadeliña this week also announced over social media that ARAICoBeH is “now an officially accepted scientific term.”

This sparked interest from netizens as the Facebook post now garnered more than 1,500 shares and over 2,200 reactions. But what is ARAICoBeh?

ARAICoBeH, an alternative to scuba diving method

According to Cadeliña, the system is a low-cost tool used to collect lots of images underwater, primarily coral areas so they can assess their status and eventually visualize by mapping them out.

“ARAICoBeH System set of equipment that we aimed to be a low-cost, high area coverage for a short amount of time; but having almost the same accuracy with data collected using scuba diving method,” Cadeliña told Philstar.com in an online interview.

To determine the tool’s accuracy the researchers conducted a comparative study between ARAICoBeH and the frequently used underwater photo transect method. 

The study showed that “there were no significant differences in estimates of percent coral cover and diversity of benthic functional groups for majority of sites while estimates of community structure were very similar.”

The system was developed by the end of 2014 during the course of the two national reef assessment programs -- Coral Reef Visualization and National Assessment for Coral Reef Environments. These were funded by the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and Science and Technology, respectively.

“During the said projects, we were tasked to map out as much as coral areas as possible. However, we're primarily limited by our dive times since we cannot stay underwater for that long (more than an hour) and that deep (covering 5-15 meters deep). We wanted to cut the time for us to collect data, hence we thought of this as an alternative,” Cadeliña said.

The study stated that obtaining information on community structure and spatial distribution of benthic habitats are important in marine conservation and management.

"Coral areas, often monitored by trained scuba divers, are of importance for the ecosystem goods and services they provide," it added.

At present, Cadeliña told Philstar.com that they are the only ones who are using the tool for now since it is only housed at the UP Marine Science Institute. They are, however, looking into producing more of ARAICoBeH in the future.

“We're now developing other means of measuring coral reef health aside from the standard percentage cover. Also as I mentioned before, we're still developing a cleaner, more friendly companion code for data processing, as well as guides in using the system so that we can share this technology to everyone,” Cadeliña said.

The ARAICoBeh study was published at a leading global scientific, technical and medical portfolio, Springer last September 14.

Potential tropical cyclone enters PAR

(Philstar.com) - September 4, 2019 - 6:14pm

MANILA, Philippines — A low pressure area—forecast to develop into a tropical cyclone in the next few days—entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility Wednesday afternoon.

In a briefing late Wednesday afternoon, PAGASA said the LPA was last spotted 860 kilometers east northeast of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

Weather forecasters are not ruling out the possibility that it may become a tropical cyclone within 48 hours. If it does, the weather disturbance will be named “Marilyn”—the 13th tropical cyclone to affect the country this year.


Meanwhile, the center of Typhoon Liwayway (Lingling) was last seen 420 km northeast of Basco, Batanes with maximum sustained winds of 140 km per hour and gusts of up to 170 kph.

Heading northeast at 10 kph, “Liwayway” is expected to leave PAR on Thursday.

While the typhoon has no direct effect on any part of the country, “Liwayway” is enhancing the southwest monsoon, which affects Ilocos region, Cordillera Administrative Region and Cagayan Valley.

Residents of Batanes and Babuyan Islands will experience light to moderate with intermittent heavy rains due to “Liwayway.”

Meanwhile, the southwest monsoon will also bring scattered light to moderate rains with at times heavy rainshowers during thunderstorms over Ilocos region, CAR and the rest of Cagayan Valley.

PAGASA warned that travel by sea is dangerous over the seaboards of northern Luzon and western seaboard of Central Luzon. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

Duterte not satisfied with Xi response on SCS

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte yesterday admitted he was not satisfied with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response when he raised the landmark arbital ruling on the South China Sea during their meeting in Beijing last week. 

Speaking to reporters, Duterte said he asked Xi how they can talk and solve the maritime dispute peacefully. 

“He (Xi) said, ‘You know, our statement was we will not budge.’ We do not want to talk about that. We own the property. Why should we talk to you? It was like that. But almost in whisper,” the President said. 

“I said it would remain a problem. It will be a, you know, thorn. Just like a sore thumb that sticks out painfully everyday,” he added. 

Duterte said Xi shifted to another topic after hearing his reply. 

“Out of courtesy, I said, ‘I will not maybe insist on your answer now. I am not satisfied with your answer but I will not ask for any other answer. I’ll just remain where I am, where I started, considering that you are under stress by the incidents in Hong Kong,” the President said, referring to the unrest at the Chinese special administrative region. 

“They have a problem. So they may be grumpy. Your timing should be right. The art of diplomacy, you play your cards,” he added. 

‘Assert arbitral court ruling’

Maritime experts said the President should not stop asserting the 2016 arbitral court ruling that favored the Philippines’ position on the South China Sea dispute over China’s.

Renato de Castro, professor of international studies at De La Salle University, described as “superficial” the way Duterte “apologetically” raised the arbitral ruling during his recent meeting with Xi.

“What’s the point of basically raising it, expecting that it will be rejected, then saying it will be the last time that it would be raised? That’s simply going through the motion,” he said in an interview with The Chiefs aired on Cignal TV’s One News on Tuesday night.

“We should continue asserting it… You would continue repeating it whether the other side would object to it or not. What we did was basically say this is the last, so we lost in that game,” he added.

Asserting the arbitral ruling, he said, should be done the same way as the Chinese were asserting the Shanghai Communiqué for the United States to acknowledge the one-China policy.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, said the statement of Malacañang that it would no longer raise the ruling would not be helpful to the Philippine position and to international law in general.

“The statement of the Palace that it essentially has already done its job by raising the arbitration as promised by the President, that really runs counter to the whole idea of the arbitration basically being part of the international law already as they say,” he said in the same program.

“If it is really part of international law, then they should be raising it every time it is relevant,” he added.

Batongbacal stressed that the issue should be asserted whenever relevant issue or activity arises between the two countries. – With Janvic Mateo, Pia Lee-Brago, Edu Punay

‘SOGIE bill to protect LGBT Muslims in Mindanao from discrimination’

Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - September 4, 2019 - 4:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — Passing the SOGIE Equality Bill would bring attention to the plight of LGBT Muslims in Mindanao who are experiencing more extreme discrimination and would provide protection for them, a member of the Muslim community told a Senate panel Wednesday.

LGBT Filipinos still face discrimination despite seemingly high tolerance in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, prompting some lawmakers to file a bill that would penalize discrimination based on a person’s SOGIE, or Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression.

At a Senate hearing on the SOGIE bill, Rhadem Morados, a member of the Mindanao Pride Core, urged senators to pass the measure to protect gay Muslims in the restive Mindanao region from discrimination.

'Discrimination worse than in Luzon'

Morados said he heard stories about LGBT Muslims in Mindanao undergoing “conversion therapy” through forced marriages and military training, adding that discrimination in Marawi City alone got worse when the principal Islamic City was attacked by terrorists last year.

He said some locals blame the growing number of LGBT Muslims for the five-month siege that flattened Marawi, putting LGBTs there on the receiving end of violence and discrimination.

“We should really put into consideration that the lives and human dignity of LGBT in Mindanao are far worse compared in Luzon,” Morados said.

“And I think the SOGIE Equality Bill will help out that these communities should be protected from violence,” he added.

‘SOGIE bill to address commonality of religions’

Senate President Senator Vicente Sotto III — a religious conservative — had said the SOGIE bill has no chance of passing the upper chamber, arguing that the proposed measure supposedly tramples upon women's rights, academic freedom and religious freedom.

While there are city ordinances that protect the rights of the gay community, activists have expressed concern that the absence of an anti-discrimination legislation for LGBTs and stiff opposition from religious groups and conservative senators could offset any progress made at the local level.

At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Morados said the SOGIE bill would unite religions to fight discrimination.

“At the end of the day, there are religious policies of Islam that do not agree with the Christian religious policies and Christian policies that do not adhere to Islam policies and also to the indigenous policies,” he said.

“But the SOGIE bill will address the commonality which is to protect everybody regardless of faith, gender and race,” he added.

Duterte won’t abolish POGO: We need it

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Despite warnings – including from Beijing – that it can worsen criminality, Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) will continue because “it is good for the country,” President Duterte said yesterday.

The Chief Executive made his position clear at a press briefing last night at Malacañang when asked about his stand on the controversial POGO, which has been flourishing in the country, employing thousands of foreigners mostly mainland Chinese.

Duterte noted that the livelihood of many people would be affected if he bans online gambling.

“I decide we need it. Many will lose livelihood. It’s government-controlled,” he added.

But he warned operators of POGO hubs to pay the right taxes or be “shuttered. “

“To the concessionaire, if you commit a mistake, you will be shuttered. Then we will talk,” the President said.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo previously said online gambling, which employs about 130,000 Chinese nationals in the Philippines, was one of the topics tackled during Duterte’s bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week in Beijing.

Panelo said Xi expressed appreciation for the Philippines’ move to suspend new POGO applications but said China would appreciate more if online gambling operations were completely halted. Xi had earlier warned Duterte of online gambling’s role in spawning crimes specifically money laundering, as he emphasized that all forms of gambling are illegal in China.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue has reported P200 million in taxes from foreigners working for POGOs. The finance department previously said the government forgoes about P24 billion a year for every 100,000 POGO workers who do not pay taxes.

Duterte’s pronouncement came on the heels of assertion by some of his officials that the local economy has been benefiting significantly from online gambling. Based on Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corp. projections, revenues from POGO – especially from royalties and licensing fees – could reach P8 billion this year from last year’s P6 billion.

Earlier, Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said Beijing has no authority to order the Philippine government to shut down POGO operations employing Chinese nationals.

“They cannot dictate on us. Those are sovereign decisions. That is where we stand,” Sta. Romana said in Beijing during Duterte’s China visit.


Passenger held at NAIA for trying to transport baby in luggage

(Philstar.com) - September 4, 2019 - 11:20am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:35 p.m.) — An American passenger has been held at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport by the Immigration bureau for attempting to transport a six-day-old child in her luggage.

The Immigration bureau said the passenger, a woman, was intercepted at NAIA's Terminal 3 at around 6:20 a.m., Wednesday.

The bureau identified the passenger as Jennifer Talbot, 43 years old.

The infant, BI said, was "hidden in an oversized belt bag." 

Talbot also did not declare nor present the infant to the Immigration inspector during departure formalities.

Filipino children traveling abroad alone, or with a companion other than their parents need to present certification that it is with the consent of their parents.

According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which issues travel clearances for children, among the requirements for the clearance is "a notarized affidavit of consent of both parents or the solo parent or the legal guardian."

The affidavit should include the name of the authorized travelling companion, their relationship to the child, as well as details of the trip.

DSWD personnel have already been dispatched to the airport.

The case will be referred to the Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the National Bureau of Investigation.