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Know more about what is going on in the Philippines.

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MANILA, Philippines — The government has extended the travel ban imposed on 10 countries to prevent the spread of highly transmissible COVID-19 variants, Malacañang announced yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte approved a recommendation of the government’s pandemic task force to extend the travel restrictions on Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Sept. 1 to 5.

“These travel restrictions form part of the pro-active measures to slow down the rising number of COVID-19 cases, stop the further spread of variants and increase the country’s existing health care capacity,” Roque said in a statement.

The Philippines has been enforcing travel restrictions on India since April 29 and on Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka since May 7.

The ban was widened on May 15 to include the UAE and Oman, and on July 16 to include Indonesia.

Thailand and Malaysia were added to the list of countries covered by travel restrictions last July 25.

The ban does not cover Filipinos returning to the Philippines through the government’s repatriation efforts, but they still have to undergo quarantine and testing protocols.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the restriction is in compliance with a directive of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

 

Oman reopens to OFWs

As this developed, the government of Oman reopened its doors to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) three months after imposing travel restrictions, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported yesterday.

The travel restriction was lifted effective yesterday.

“Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello received a letter concerning the lifting of the travel restriction and that Oman will resume accepting our workers,” the DOLE said.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration will issue a resolution allowing deployment of Filipino workers to Oman.

DOLE said the Philippines would resume deployment to Oman as soon as the IATF lifts the travel restriction to countries with high prevalence of Delta variant. – Robertzon Ramirez, Mayen Jaymalin

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has extended the travel ban on ten countries to prevent the further spread of highly contagious COVID-19 variants, Malacañang announced Tuesday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte has approved the recommendation of the government's pandemic task force to extend the travel restrictions being imposed on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia from September 1 to 5.

"These travel restrictions form part of the pro-active measures to slow down the rising number of COVID-19 cases, stop further spread of variants, and increase the country's existing healthcare capacity," Roque said in a statement.

The Philippines has been enforcing travel restrictions on India since April 29 and on travelers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka since May 7.

The ban was widened on May 15 to include UAE and Oman and on July 16 to include Indonesia. On July 25, Thailand and Malaysia were added to the list of countries that are covered by travel restrictions.

The ban does not cover Filipinos who are returning to the Philippines through the government's repatriation efforts. They will still have to undergo quarantine and testing protocols on arrival.

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MANILA, Philippines — Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has been banned from operating passenger flights from Manila to Hong Kong for the next two weeks, but will continue to operate passenger flights from Hong Kong to Manila during the period.

The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that the Hong Kong government had banned PAL from operating flights between Manila and Hong Kong starting last Sunday up to Sept. 11.

PAL in a statement yesterday confirmed the suspension.

“Philippine Airlines passenger flights from Hong Kong to Manila continue to operate every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, according to our planned schedules. In the other direction, while PAL will not be able to carry passengers from Manila to Hong Kong up to Sept. 11 to comply with the restriction, we will continue to operate all-cargo flights into Hong Kong,” the airline said.

PAL said passengers affected by the ban may rebook, refund or convert their tickets into a travel voucher. Rebooking and refund service fees are waived.

The two-week ban, according to the South China Morning Post report, was imposed after three of the seven COVID-19 cases confirmed in Hong Kong on Sunday were found to have come from PAL’s flight PR300 from Manila.

PAL said all three passengers, two Filipinos and one Chinese national, presented negative COVID-19 test results when they checked in for their flight.

The airline said it consistently complies with industry and regulatory safety protocols in the Philippines and abroad.

 

“We reiterate that the top priority of Philippine Airlines has always been the safety and health of our passengers. We assure the flying public that strict safety measures are in place to protect our passengers throughout the journey on all our flights,” PAL said.

“Our advanced cabin air flow systems ensure a protective air flow inflight, and each plane has onboard HEPA filters to cleanse cabin air from bacteria and viruses. Our cabin crew who serve and assist wear full PPEs as well as face masks and shields. Every aircraft surface is also sanitized and disinfected after every flight,” it said.

In 2020, PAL was one of more than 150 airlines audited on its COVID-19 safety credentials by Safe Travel Barometer, an independent rating firm. PAL secured a 4.2 rating out of five, the highest score.

PAL said it was also the first local airline to be registered with IOSA, the IATA Operational Safety Audit that is the gold standard for adherence to international safety standards.

The airline completed its seventh consecutive IOSA renewal in 2019, marking a full 16 years of international safety compliance to date.

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MANILA, Philippines — Metro Manila will remain under modified enhanced community quarantine until September 7, Malacañang announced Saturday, as the country continues to face a surge in coronavirus cases partly driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

Like Metro Manila, the provinces of Bataan and Laguna will be under MECQ with additional restrictions on dining, personal care services and religious activities until September 7.

Meanwhile, the following areas will be under the regular MECQ from September 1 to 7:

  • Apayao

  • Ilocos Norte

  • Bulacan

  • Cavite

  • Lucena City

  • Rizal

  • Aklan

  • Iloilo province

  • Iloilo City

  • Lapu-Lapu City

  • Cebu City

  • Mandaue City

  • Cagayan de Oro City

The government is hoisting general community quarantine with heightened restrictions over the following areas:

  • Ilocos Sur

  • Cagayan

  • Quezon

  • Batangas

  • Naga City

  • Antique

  • Bacolod City

  • Capiz

  • Cebu province

  • Negros Oriental

  • Zamboanga del Sur

  • Misamis Oriental

  • Davao City

  • Davao del Norte

  • Davao Occidental

  • Davao de Oro

  • Butuan City

Regular GCQ will be enforced in the following areas from September 1 to 7:

  • Baguio City

  • Santiago City

  • Quirino

  • Isabela

  • Nueva Vizcaya

  • Tarlac

  • Puerto Princesa

  • Guimaras

  • Negros Occidental

  • Zamboanga Sibugay

  • Zamboanga City

  • Zamboanga del Norte

  • Davao Oriental

  • Davao del Sur

  • General Santos City

  • Sultan Kudarat

  • Sarangani

  • North Cotabato

  • South Cotabato

  • Agusan del Norte

  • Agusan del Sur

  • Surigao del Norte

  • Surigao del Sur

  • Dinagat Islands

  • Cotabato City

All other areas in the country will be placed under the laxest quarantine regime.

The Philippines is experiencing its worst surge since the pandemic began, with health authorities logging the second-highest single-day rise in cases after recording 17,447 new infections.

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MANILA, Philippines — Amid the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, some overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the tension-filled Islamic country are opting to stay in the hope of security and working conditions returning to normal.

Filipino repatriate Elmer Presa told “The Chiefs” aired on Cignal TV’s One News Tuesday night that fellow OFWs in the private security firm he worked in are still in Afghanistan and encouraging him to come back.

“There are those who decided (to stay). From what we heard, there’s a transition government and (it is) allowing expatriates to work hand-in-hand with them (Taliban),” Presa said in English and Filipino.

Presa, a K9 deputy project manager in the private security company that is now working on the transition at the Taliban Aviation Center, escaped Afghanistan together with his American counterparts.

He said an Afghan friend in the company who worked well with Filipinos is now assigned at the airport and settling them into their old department. They are the ones encouraging him to return to get his old job back.

Working in Afghanistan for a decade, Presa noted how well Filipinos are treated by locals – even the Taliban – as he described Afghan culture as being quite similar to that of the Philippines.

However, Presa said that if he decides to return to Afghanistan, his only desire is to help in the rescue operations of other Filipinos.

He told The Chiefs how difficult it was to escape Afghanistan, enduring fear and hunger as he joined the group of Americans in walking for hours just to reach the international airport.

“Along the way, they (Taliban) are watching you while walking. So there was fear about what they planned to do,” he said.

At the airport, military planes were waiting to fly them out, with Presa’s group first landing in Qatar before flying to America. Aside from Qatar, other OFWs were flown to Germany and the United Kingdom from Afghanistan, he said.

22 repatriates arrive

Yesterday, 22 out of the 49 OFWs earlier flown out of Kabul by a British military plane arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

They took the Philippine Airlines flight PR721 from London to Manila, said PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna.

The Philippine embassy in London assisted the OFWs in securing air tickets for the flight to Manila and Ambassador to the United Kingdom Antonio Lagdameo saw them off at the airport.

The repatriates thanked PAL London country manager David Cochrane, PAL station manager Raashid Qureshi and their team for all the assistance to get them back home.

Like Presa’s friends, many in this group of repatriates said that if the peace and security situation improves in Afghanistan, they would consider returning to their employers. – Rudy Santos

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MANILA, Philippines — The rollout of the unified vaccination cards in Metro Manila can start on Sept. 1, according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

MMDA Chairman Benhur Abalos yesterday said local government units in Metro Manila have uploaded 90 percent of the data.

The data will be sent to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which will collate the information.

Mayors in Metro Manila earlier said they were targeting to finish uploading the vaccination data within this month.

Earlier in the month, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said locally issued vaccine cards of fully inoculated overseas Filipino workers were not recognized by the government of Hong Kong.

Abalos asked the DICT to develop a portal or a site wherein different local governments in Metro Manila could check whether a person has already received COVID vaccines, to avoid giving out third doses or booster shots.

He said a third dose or booster shot is illegal. Anyone getting a third shot will be charged.

Some local government units in Metro Manila have opened their vaccination program to residents of other cities in order to inoculate as many people as possible.

Meanwhile, the proposal to provide “safer bubbles” for fully vaccinated people should be implemented only when more vaccines are available and a majority of the Filipinos are fully inoculated, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said yesterday.

Guevarra was reacting to a proposal of presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion to allow fully vaccinated people in establishments such as shopping malls and restaurants.

“I understand that the objective behind Presidential Adviser Concepcion’s proposal to give vaccinated persons greater mobility and access is to boost the revival of certain sectors of the economy. The idea is good but may be challenged as violative of the equal protection clause by those who have remained unvaccinated, but are nonetheless complying with mandatory health protocols,” said Guevarra, who is also a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

“Without prejudging the legal issue, the proper time to push for the proposal is when more vaccines become readily available to anyone anywhere and a majority of the people have been fully vaccinated,” he said.

Concepcion said that in Jakarta, Indonesia, shopping malls have reopened at 25 percent, but only for fully vaccinated people. – Evelyn Macairan

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MANILA, Philippines — It is within Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s right to seek any electoral post, Malacañang said yesterday, after the boxer-turned-lawmaker said he would make an announcement about his political plans next month.

“It’s the right of a Filipino as a Filipino to run and to be elected for any government post,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing.

During an interview after his unanimous decision loss to Cuban boxer Yordenis Ugas last Sunday, Pacquiao did not provide a categorical answer on whether he would seek the presidency in 2022.

Pacquiao, who has been critical of the Duterte administration lately, said he would make a “final announcement” on the matter next month.

The 42-year-old senator, however, said he was facing a “more difficult work than boxing” and that he wanted to “help the people.”

Despite suffering defeat at the hands of Ugas, Pacquiao fought a “very good” fight, Roque said.

“We thank Sen. Pacquiao for the unparalleled honor he has given to the country and for the joy that the pambansang kamao (national fist) has given to all Filipinos during his bouts for a very long time,” the Palace spokesman said.

Pacquiao has been the subject of Duterte’s tirades after the senator criticized the alleged corruption in government. Duterte has threatened to campaign against Pacquiao during next year’s elections if he fails to name the corrupt agencies and officials.

‘Bloody’ dispute

The dispute of the two warring factions of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) for recognition by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in next year’s polls is expected to be “bloody.”

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas said this yesterday as he compared the factions’ dispute to a boxing bout.

“It will be bloody, just like in boxing, because heavyweights are involved. It’s Pacquiao versus Cusi,” Abas noted at a press briefing during the signing of the memorandum of agreement for the opening of Satellite Voter Registrations in Ayala Malls.

Abas was referring to newly elected PDP-Laban president Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and Sen. Pacquiao, who are both said to be the legitimate leaders of the party.

Earlier, the two factions submitted their respective Sworn Information Update Statement with the Comelec as required by the poll body ahead of the May 2022 polls. The SIUS contains the full name of the party, headquarters address, list of current officials, list of elected members and list of members, among others.

Abas gave assurance that the Comelec is prepared to resolve the matter but he refused to discuss it.

“I don’t want to preempt our possible decision. But we have dealt with similar cases like that in the past, not only at the national but also at the local level as well,” he added.

But the official said the commission will decide based on “papers and depending on the provisions of the law, constitution and bylaws of the party.”

“We don’t care about their politics. For us, it is what is right,” Abas added. – Michael Punongbayan, Sheila Crisostomo

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MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health on Monday doubled down on its advice against treating coronavirus patients with ivermectin, following authorities in the United States' reminder also not to use it. 

Select groups and individuals in the Philippines have been touting the anti-parasitic drug as a treatment or preventive measure against COVID-19. 

"DOH is not recommending ivermectin and we continue to remind the public against its use," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a briefing in Filipino.

The comments came after the US Food and Drug Administration sought to address reports of people being poisoned after taking ivermectin pills for treating worms in horses.

"Evidence has shown it does not give you any benefit in preventing, shortening the duration of hospitalization," Vergeire said, "or the progression of your disease when you have COVID-19."

She added in Filipino: "This medicine has side effects that could be harmful to your body." Vergeire said, too, that the public should only take registered medicines and those recommended by the DOH.

Ivermectin's use in the Philippines has been encouraged by certain individuals, particularly by some lawmakers who led a distribution of the drug to locals. 

The Department of Justice called the move as "on its face" a violation of the law, but no one has been held responsible over it to date.

Philippine laws prohibit the distribution, among others, of unregistered drugs.

Asked on the progress of investigations, Vergeire said they have met with agencies but did not give anything specific.

"We leave it at that because it is still being processed but we have already coordinated with them," she said.

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MANILA, Philippines — Filipino workers are now barred from seeking employment in Afghanistan amid the prevailing tension in the Islamic country.

In a governing board resolution, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) ordered the imposition of a total deployment ban to Afghanistan.

POEA noted that the deployment ban was imposed to ensure the welfare and protection of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) previously placed Afghanistan under alert level 4 in response to the worsening security situation.

“Alert level entails imposition of an absolute ban on deployment, which includes returning workers due to large scale internal conflict,” the POEA pointed out.

POEA is extending assistance in the repatriation of Filipino workers from Afghanistan, where the Taliban took over in mid-August after a swift turn of events following the pullout of US troops.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration earlier assured OFWs of financial and other appropriate assistance upon coming home from the strife-torn state.

8 Pinoys refuse repatriation

The DFA yesterday said eight Filipinos in Afghanistan have deferred repatriation.

“An additional eight Filipinos have registered with the embassy but do not wish to be repatriated at this time,” the DFA said, but did not elaborate on their reasons for refusal.

A total of 175 Filipinos have been evacuated out of Kabul while 32 remain in Afghanistan, it said.

The DFA said 22 Filipinos requested company or government repatriation.

It confirmed that another 16 Filipinos have left the Afghan capital via a military flight and are now in the United Kingdom.

A group of 13 repatriates who left Afghanistan landed in Oslo, Norway while one made it to Almaty, Kazakhstan and another in Kuwait, the DFA reported.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs thanks all countries who continue to assist and cooperate with us in repatriating our citizens from Afghanistan. This help is essential in enabling our people to leave safely,” it said.

It also assured the public that all repatriates, wherever they may be or who request return to the Philippines, will be assisted. – Pia Lee-Brago

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MANILA, Philippines — Tropical Storm Isang (international name Omais) left the Philippine area of responsibility yesterday afternoon, but the Visayas and Mindanao would continue to experience rains and thunderstorms due to the southwest monsoon, the state weather bureau said.

In its weather bulletin issued at 4 p.m. Sunday, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Isang was at 605 kilometers northeast of Itbayat, Batanes with maximum sustained winds of 85 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 105 kph. Isang was seen moving north-northwestward at 15 kph.

Based on its track, Isang would be at 1,255 kms north-northeast of extreme Northern Luzon by 2 p.m. today, PAGASA said.

Meanwhile, weather agency said southwest monsoon or habagat would persist over the Visayas and Mindanao causing cloudy skies with scattered rain showers and thunderstorms especially in Western Visayas, Zamboanga peninsula, Palawan and Occidental Mindoro.

PAGASA warned that flash floods or landslides are possible during severe thunderstorms.

Metro Manila and the rest of the country would be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rain showers and thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon or evening, it said.

Thunderstorms may last for 30 minutes to two hours, PAGASA senior weather specialist Chris Perez said.

No gale warning was up in any part of the country but Perez said small and medium fishing boats that would sail in the western seaboards of Southern Luzon and Visayas must take extra precaution due to the persisting monsoon rains and thunderstorms.

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MANILA, Philippines — Starting Aug. 30, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are vaccinated against COVID can enter Hong Kong.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello reported yesterday that the Hong Kong government has agreed to open its doors to OFWs who can present vaccination certificates issued by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).

Bello said about 3,000 stranded OFWs could soon be deployed there.

“Upon presentation of the vaccination card issued by the Bureau of Quarantine, the OFWs can enter Hong Kong,” Bello said in a statement.

Bello said the Special Administrative Region agreed to accept the vaccination card issued by BOQ pending the issuance of a certificate bearing the passport number of OFWs.

The Department of Labor and Employment and the Philippines, Bello said, drafted a vaccination certificate bearing the passport details of OFWs as requested by Hong Kong.

“Pending inclusion of that detail in the yellow card, Hong Kong immigration will honor the vaccination certificates issued by the BOQ for incoming OFWs to Hong Kong,” he noted.

Although vaccinated, Bello said, OFWs are still required to undergo quarantine in specified hotels, the cost to be shouldered by employers.

The Hong Kong government is coordinating with partner hotels where the OFWs will be quarantined, he said.

Hong Kong imposed a travel restriction in March but lifted it last Aug. 9.

Despite the lifting of travel restriction, OFWs were unable to enter Hong Kong due to issues over non-uniformity of vaccination cards issued by different local government units.

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MANILA, Philippines — Tropical Depression Isang entered the Philippine area of responsibility yesterday but will not affect current weather systems in the country, the state weather bureau reported.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Isang was monitored to be at 1,290 kilometers east of Northern Luzon as of 3 p.m. yesterday.

It was moving northwest at 30 kilometers per hour and was carrying speeds of 45 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 55 kph.

Metro Manila and the rest of the country could see partly cloudy skies with isolated rain showers and thunderstorms due to the easterlies. Temperatures will range between 24 degrees and 33 degrees Celsius.

PAGASA warned of possible flash floods and landslides during severe thunderstorms.

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MANILA, Philippines — The fate of Metro Manila and other areas placed on lockdown is expected to be known Friday as President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to announce the updated quarantine classifications and to discuss other matters related to COVID-19.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said members of the government's pandemic task force were expected to meet Thursday to discuss their final recommendation on the risk groupings of areas.

"Because there’s a tentative 'Talk to the People' on Friday, I think we expect the president to announce it. Unless, he will give authorization to have it announced earlier because the quarantine classification for Metro Manila will lapse on the 20th or tomorrow," Roque said at a press briefing.

Metro Manila has been under the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) since August 6 because of a rapid rise in COVID-19 infections widely attributed to the more contagious Delta variant. The nearby province of Laguna will also be under ECQ until August 20 while Bataan will be on lockdown until August 22.

The daily attack rate, two-week average attack rate and hospital care utilization rate are the main indicators being considered by officials in determining the classification of an area.

Roque previously said the government would consider the "total health" of Filipinos by preventing both the further spread of the virus and a higher hunger incidence caused by loss of livelihood.

Extending the lockdown will require the government to spend for financial aid for individuals whose livelihoods were disrupted by mobility restrictions.

Moderate risk

Roque said hospitals in the Philippines are not yet overwhelmed despite the continuous rise in the number of infections. As of August 18, about 68% of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, 60% of isolation beds, 66% of ward beds, and 53% of ventilators are in use nationwide.

For Metro Manila, the healthcare utilization rate is 61% for ICU beds, 58% for isolation beds, 69% for ward beds, and 59% for ventilators.

Roque said the healthcare utilization rates in Metro Manila went down because of the setting up of additional ICU beds. He said the number of ICU beds in the capital region has increased to 1,400 from 1,300.

There is no need to decompress hospitals for now since Metro Manila remains under moderate risk, Roque added. 

"The figures are very encouraging, our ICU utilization rate has decreased here in Metro Manila. We are at moderate risk at 61%...Even on a nationwide basis, we remain at moderate risk even for ICU beds," the Palace spokesman said.

"We hope the ECQ will already take effect so that our utilization rates will go down further," he added.

Roque, however, noted that the imposition of ECQ does not immediately lead to a lower number of cases.

"Maybe it would take another week before it goes down because the reaction is delayed," Roque said.

Transport bubble

At the same press briefing, Roque said half of Metro Manila's population should be vaccinated before the government can consider the proposal to come up with a transportation bubble for inoculated persons.

"Once we approach the 50%, we can talk about that but for now, only a minority has been fully vaccinated," Roque said.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion has urged the government to consider deploying buses for fully vaccinated persons, noting that under the set-up, there would be no gaps as they travel from their homes to their offices, and vice-versa.

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MANILA, Philippines — Financial aid and other assistance await overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) returning from conflict-torn Afghanistan.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Hans Cacdac said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello has directed the agency to extend all necessary assistance to OFWs coming home from Afghanistan.

“The benefits revolve around financial assistance, livelihood and scholarship for those with collegiate dependents,” Cacdac said during the Laging Handa public briefing yesterday.

All displaced OFWs will receive P10,000 financial aid while those with college dependents can avail themselves of P30,000 scholarship grant, he said.

Livelihood assistance amounting to P20,000 is also available for returning active OWWA members and P10,000 for non-active members. Assistance ranging from P100,000 to P1 million is also available to OFWs intending to venture into business.

Cacdac said the first batch of 35 OFWs who returned from Afghanistan are now under quarantine. About a hundred more are expected to be repatriated from Afghanistan.

“We are closely coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in the repatriation of OFWs from Afghanistan because we don’t have a labor office there,” he said.

Flights cancelled

Meanwhile, two attempts to evacuate Filipinos in Kabul on Wednesday night were unsuccessful due to the cancellation of all commercial flights in Afghanistan, the DFA said.

“Last night, two attempts were made to evacuate Filipinos via New Delhi and Islamabad. However, these were unsuccessful due to the cancellation of all commercial flights,” the DFA said in a statement yesterday.

“As experienced by the groups last night, access to and even within the airport is very difficult, and if able to check in, this is still no assurance that a flight would be able to leave,” the DFA said.

Some Filipinos were able to leave through the help of their foreign employers.

The DFA confirmed that seven Filipinos were evacuated to Qatar on Wednesday while another five were flown to the United Kingdom.

“There are reports of other Filipinos who have left Kabul which our embassies are verifying. In all cases, the DFA will assist in their return to the Philippines,” the department said.

Of the estimated 90 Filipinos in Afghanistan, 79 requested repatriation, the DFA said.

It said it continues to work to repariate the remaining Filipinos in Afghanistan, exhausting all avenues to ensure their safety and eventual evuacuation.

DFA Assistant Secretary for public and cultural diplomacy Eduardo Meñez said “PAL has not yet been able to fly to Afghanistan, but we are also coordinating with all flights allowed to fly out of Kabul.”

A chartered plane hired by the DFA to pick up 132 OFWs in Kabul was not given clearance to land at the Hamid Karzai International Airport by the US Air Force operations team running the airport for safety reason. –  Pia Lee-Brago, Rudy Santos

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MANILA, Philippines — A tropical depression on Thursday entered the Philippines’ weather monitoring area, but is unlikely to directly affect the country throughout its stay, state weather bureau PAGASA said.

Tropical Depression “Isang,” whose center was last spotted 1,410 kilometers east of northern Luzon, packs winds of up to 45 kilometers per hour (kph) and gusts of up to 55 kph. 

PAGASA forecasts that Isang will remain far from the Philippine archipelago and will exit the Philippine Area of Responsibility by Sunday morning or afternoon.

Isang is expected to remain a tropical depression and may weaken into a low pressure area by Monday or even earlier.

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Yesterday, I met with Transportation Secretary Art Tugade to recommend the possible deployment of buses for fully-vaccinated individuals. As I have suggested, this is to make sure that fully-vaccinated passengers are still protected within a transportation bubble, so there are no gaps as they travel from their homes to workplaces, and vice-versa.  Currently, when fully-vaccinated individuals leave their homes, they commute alongside unvaccinated passengers, hence letting their guard down. With the regular buses, both the unvaccinated and the vaccinated are at risk to each other. We do not want a scenario wherein we just simply let the vaccinated individuals interact with those who are unvaccinated given the current threat from the Delta variant.

Consequently, I am pleased to hear that Secretary Art and his entire department will fully support us in making this initiative possible, as he asked if we can possibly donate about 40,000 doses of vaccines for our drivers. With this, we will do our best to help them secure those doses.

As I have presented to him, buses for fully-vaccinated individuals will be an extension of their protective bubble, which are their homes and workplaces. These are the safe spaces I have previously discussed in my concept of micro-herd immunity. Considering that their homes and workplaces are actually tagged as safe since those spaces comprise individuals who are also fully vaccinated, then the buses with fully-vaccinated drivers, conductors, and passengers can provide everyone inside with an optimal extension of protection as they travel back and forth.

The proposal complements what I discussed in an interview with Mike Enriquez last Tuesday, which is to only allow fully-vaccinated individuals to  enter various establishments in NCR after the lapse of the current lockdown. Since they are protected with the vaccines, we should allow them to go outside with greater mobility as they can help revive our country’s economy. We cannot do the same with unvaccinated individuals as they will risk themselves and our healthcare system if we allow them to be mobile as usual. At best, they should only be allowed to move from their homes to workplaces and vice-versa. This is not at all discriminatory as we are protecting them and the country’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed as the unvaccinated are the ones filling up the hospitals’ capacity. In the Philippine General Hospital, 187 individuals out of the total of 265 of COVID-19 patients admitted as of Aug. 15 were unvaccinated. San Lazaro Hospital, meanwhile, reported that 82 percent of the total severe and critical cases of COVID-19 were also unvaccinated individuals.

Given the threat from the Delta variant, we have to be extra careful as to who we should allow total mobility in NCR, given the number of cases exponentially replicating in numbers. Those who are not yet vaccinated must be limited to travel to and from their workplaces. If we truly want to safely reopen the economy, we must be careful in doing so by limiting absolute mobility to fully-vaccinated individuals. If the current lockdown will be extended, we must temporarily implement it for those who are not yet vaccinated, while the Delta variant is still here. The best thing we can do is to prevent unvaccinated individuals from infecting the vaccinated, and vice-versa.

This is also precisely the reason why we are asking the government to adopt this measure, following the models currently implemented in Singapore and France. We have to consider this not only because the unvaccinated individuals are putting themselves at risk, but also others with whom they interact with.

With our local government units intensifying vaccination rollouts, targeting anywhere between 70 to 80 percent of our population in NCR, that will eventually allow us to put an end to all lockdowns if we can decrease infections coming from the unvaccinated population.

Meanwhile, the extension of the current lockdown depends on our health advisers and how they see the situation. The OCTA research group was quite spot-on. A few days ago, we hit over 14,000 new COVID-19 cases and they had predicted this weeks before. Even if some groups said that the point of concern is in other areas, the focus of the private sector is in the NCR where the lockdown is. I am sure that the IATF-EID will do the right thing. What is important is whatever step we will take, we have to look at a scenario where we can finally move out of a lockdown, be it on Aug. 20 or if they extend it until the latter part of August. This is because the question that must be answered is if the current two-week ECQ will actually suffice to tame the spread of the Delta variant as seen in the current data. With the hospital’s capacity at the point of exhaustion, we really need to recalibrate our current measures.

Again, we will not surpass this lockdown if unvaccinated individuals are given absolute liberty that they had during the pre-pandemic situation. They are the cause of increased transmissions and the best that we can do is to limit their mobility in the pandemic epicenter, which is Metro Manila. If we do not implement this, then there will be no way for us to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and lockdowns will just become a norm in our country. On the other hand, since the vaccinated individuals already have sufficient protection because of vaccines, we can allow their increased mobility since our economy will eventually depend on them. They will serve as a way to kickstart our economy with their increased consumption, which is crucial in NCR since our GDP is concentrated here. Furthermore, this is the best option to take since consumer activities in various establishments will come from the vaccinated, as opposed to limiting the mobility of both the vaccinated and unvaccinated altogether. Hence, if we implement the said proposal, it is tantamount to striking a balance between opening the economy and allowing the vaccinated individuals contribute to our country’s much-needed recovery.

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source: PHILSTAR News
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MANILA, Philippines — The government aims to issue digital COVID-19 vaccination cards by next month to address the lack of uniformity in certificates showing a person's inoculation status, Malacañang said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Department of Information and Communications (DICT) has launched VaxCertPH, which involves the setting up of a database of persons who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

He said the agency would then issue a digital certificate that is expected to be recognized by foreign governments.

The lack of uniform standards for authenticating vaccine certificates has stalled the processing of the employment documents of migrant workers. Hong Kong, which hosts about 130,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), has refused to recognize the vaccination cards issued by local government units. 

"It will be a digitally signed vaccine certificate to be developed for the DOH (Department of Health) and it will be fully compliant with the WHO (World Health Organization) new standard of digital documentation of COVID-19 certificates," Roque said during a meeting of the government's pandemic task force last Monday.

"Our appeal to our people, to our OFWs who need to leave, you can go to the Bureau of Quarantine to get yellow cards. But as soon as possible, we expect, maybe not later than September, we will be able to issue VaxCertPH," he added.

Roque said the digital vaccination certificates would be interoperable and cannot be counterfeited because it would be digitally signed. They can also be recognized by different applications being used to verify vaccination status like the IATA Travel Pass and AOKpass.

"Names of persons coming from LGUs (local government units) are being uploaded and the number of persons being registered in the DICT's VaxCertPH," the Palace spokesman said.

Roque said 77% of the line list have been submitted while 13.6% have data quality issues. Local governments are now being trained on the issuance and use of vaccination certificates, he added.  

Roque said while all WHO member countries accept yellow cards issued by the quarantine bureau, the international body is urging governments to fast-track the development of digital vaccine certificates.

The Philippines began vaccinating people against COVID-19 in March.

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source: PHILSTAR News
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WASHINGTON, United States — The White House said Tuesday that the Taliban had promised that civilians could travel safely to the Kabul airport as the US military stepped up its airlift for Americans and Afghans fleeing the Islamist group.

Some 11,000 people with US nationality remain inside the country, including diplomats, contractors and others, according to the White House, most waiting to be evacuated after the Taliban takeover.

Washington wants to complete the exodus before its August 31 withdrawal deadline, and thousands of US soldiers were at the airport as the Pentagon planned to ramp up flights of its huge C-17 transport jets to as many as two dozen a day.

US officials said they were in contact with Taliban commanders to ensure the flight operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport remained safe from attack and that citizens and Afghans seeking to leave had safe passage to the airport.

But State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the US could decide to keep its core diplomatic presence, now operating out of the airport after the US embassy was shuttered, after August 31.

"If it is safe and responsible for us to potentially stay longer, that is something we may be able to look at," Price said.

Taliban assurances

Price also called on the Taliban up follow through on promises to respect the rights of citizens including women. 

"If the Taliban says they are going to respect the rights of their citizens, we will be looking for them to uphold that statement," he said. 

Despite some reports that people are being harassed and even beaten as they try to leave, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said "large numbers" had been able to reach the airport.

"The Taliban have informed us they are prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport, and we intend to hold them to that commitment," he told reporters.

At the Pentagon, Major General Hank Taylor said that US military officials at the airport had also been in communication with Taliban commanders about ensuring that the evacuations would continue safely over the coming days.

"We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban," said Taylor.

He said that since the airport was reopened early Tuesday, the US military had evacuated close to 800 people, among them 165 Americans, on seven flights.

The others include Afghans granted US refugee visas, mostly for having worked as translators for American and NATO forces; other foreign nationals; and other unspecified "at risk" Afghans.

The US Department of Defense has poured troops into the airport since Saturday to protect the exodus as the Taliban insurgents entered Kabul after a lightning siege across the country and seized power.

Taylor said the number of US troops would rise from 2,500 on Monday to around 4,000 by late Tuesday.

He said the US aimed to increase its airlift to one aircraft an hour so that between 5,000 and 9,000 passengers could be carried out per day.

"We are confident we have taken the right steps to resume safe and orderly operations at the airport," he said.

Some other countries, including Germany and France, have also been able to pick up their nationals and Afghans qualified to travel to those countries.

Airport chaos

Taylor spoke a day after security broke down at the airport, with videos showing hundreds of Afghans on the runway trying to impede a giant C-17 transport and clinging to it.

Videos appeared to show two people falling to their deaths from the aircraft after it took off.

Another person was later found dead in a wheel well.

US Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said they were investigating the incidents.

"Before the air crew could offload the cargo, the aircraft was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan civilians," she said.

"Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible."

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source: PHILSTAR News
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MANILA, Philippines — At least 32 Filipinos have been evacuated from Afghanistan on Sunday night, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

They are now in Doha, Qatar while waiting for their flights to the Philippines, the DFA said in a statement Monday.

Another group of 19 Filipinos are also scheduled to leave Afghanistan immediately.

According to Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Ed Menez, less than 130 Filipinos remain in Afghanistan, which has been taken over by the Taliban.

The DFA has issued Alert Level 4, which means evacuation or mandatory repatriation, for Afghanistan due to the "uncertain security situation in the country."

"The Department and its Foreign Service Posts in the region and beyond are exploring all avenues of cooperation and are closely coordinating with governments and international partners to guarantee their immediate and safe passage," the agenecy said in a statement.

The DFA called on all Filipinos in Afghanistan to join the repatriation effort and to immediately contact the Philippine Embassy in Pakistan.

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The Taliban were in control of Afghanistan on Monday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war.

The astonishingly quick collapse of the government, with militants taking over the presidential palace on Sunday night, triggered fear and panic in the capital.

Thousands of people were on Monday trying to escape Kabul and the feared hardline brand of Islamic rule of the Taliban, with scenes of chaos as crowds gathered at the airport.

Ghani fled on Sunday as the insurgents encircled Kabul, with the Taliban sealing a nationwide military victory that saw all cities fall to them in just 10 days.

"The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen," Ghani said in a statement posted to Facebook, his first since fleeing.

— Patricia Lourdes Viray with AFP/Jay Deshmukh and David Fox

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source: PHILSTAR News
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MANILA, Philippines — Some 271 overseas Filipinos from Vietnam returned to the country over the weekend as part of repatriation efforts related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said a chartered Cebu Pacific flight landed in Manila on August 15.

In it were 163 passengers from Ho Chi Minh City and 108 OFWs from Hanoi. 

"Most of the repatriates were distressed due to economic difficulties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic," the agency said, "while some of them were stranded in Vietnam due to flight cancellations."

DFA added the government extended a $200, or an estimated P10,121 cash assistance to the repatriates. They were also given free RT-PCR tests.

Undersecretary for Migrant Affairs Workers Sarah Arriola on Twitter noted this was the second repatriation the DFA undertook in Vietnam this year. 

This brings the number of OFW repatriates from the said country to 414.

The Philippine embassy in Vietnam thanked the government in Hanoi for facilitating the exit visas of the repatriates, as well as for the quick approval of the flight. 

It said Vietnam also allowed necessary conditions for the OFWs to move through the regions there amid strict physical distancing protocols.

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source: PHILSTAR News
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MANILA, Philippines — The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority denied Saturday that mayors in the capital region have agreed to extend enhanced community quarantine until the end of the month.

“The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority denies a news report quoting Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez that all metro mayors have agreed to extend the enhanced community quarantine until August 30,” it said in a statement.

MMDA chairman Benhur Abalos said he spoke with Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez who refuted the story and denied that a meeting with Metro Manil